The Pint-Sized Pundit And The Political Highlights Of 2012

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NPR's Political Junkie Ken Rudin recaps the week in politics and reflects on some of the significant political moments of the year. He also faces off in a trivia battle with burgeoning political junkie Gabe Fleisher, a fifth grader who drafts a political newsletter everyday before school.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Ari Shapiro Neal Conan in Washington. It's the day after Christmas, and while Santa did not bring a fiscal cliff solution, the president says he thinks there is still a chance. It's Wednesday and time for a...

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Hopeless optimist...

SHAPIRO: ...edition of the political junkie.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDINGS)

PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

VICE PRESIDENT WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad: Where's the beef?

SENATOR BARRY GOLDWATER: Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

SENATOR LLOYD BENTSEN: Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

SARAH PALIN: Lipstick.

GOVERNOR RICK PERRY: Oops.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: But I'm the decider.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCREAM)

SHAPIRO: Every Wednesday, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us to recap the week in politics. And the countdown continues. In just a week, the country will topple over the fiscal cliff if lawmakers and the administration do not reach an agreement on tax and spending reforms. Republican Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho was charged with drunk driving over the holidays. He's a Mormon who says he doesn't drink. And the NRA sparks a backlash after the Newtown tragedy with their proposal to put armed guards in schools.

In just a moment we'll review highlights from the year in politics, but first political junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 3A. Welcome, Ken.

KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: Hi Ari. By the way, this could make or break your career.

SHAPIRO: Thank you. Well, fortunately it's the day after Christmas, so not many people are listening, I'm told.

RUDIN: Everybody's listening.

SHAPIRO: Well Ken, as always, we begin with a trivia question. What have you got for us?

RUDIN: OK, well Mark Sanford, he's the former governor of South Carolina who left office in, shall we say, disgrace, he said he's thinking about running for the House seat about to be vacated by soon-to-be Senator Tim Scott. So the trivia question is: Who was the last former governor to run for the House?

SHAPIRO: OK, if you think you know the answer, and you have not won in the last six months, give us a call. The number is 1-800-989-8255. Our email address is talk@npr.org. And the winner gets a fabulous political junkie T-shirt and the no-prize button.

RUDIN: Oh my God.

SHAPIRO: So Ken, to the week in politics. The president's coming back; lawmakers are coming back to work on this fiscal cliff, single-digit days left to reach an agreement. Where do things stand?

RUDIN: Well, with all respect to the late Dick Clark, it feels like he's doing a countdown on New Year's Eve. There are six days to go, and it looks like both sides are not coming close at all to any kind of an agreement. Obviously Speaker Boehner's Plan B that he wanted to put on the floor for a vote last week, that would tax people who have incomes under a - over a million dollars, he didn't even have Republican support for that.

SHAPIRO: It was the more conservative plan but not conservative enough for his own party.

RUDIN: There are some Republicans who say no taxes period. So whether it's $250,000 or a million dollars, we're still not voting for higher taxes.

SHAPIRO: So any hope of a solution?

RUDIN: Well, it looks like - I mean, something's got to happen. It looks like President Obama - first of all, President Obama's coming back, he's cutting short his Hawaii vacation. He's coming back early. He'll be back in D.C. tomorrow. The House and Senate come back into Washington tomorrow.

It looks like they're going to have a vote on perhaps, on the tax vote, that those making incomes over $250,000 or less will get - have those Bush tax cuts stay in place.

SHAPIRO: But is this just to look like they're doing something as the days tick down? Is there any real chance of a really big deal?

RUDIN: No, not a big deal before, certainly, but they don't want, they don't want taxes to rise, and they don't want unemployment benefits, they don't want that to end, as well. So Obama's basically saying that OK, we'll give - we'll have a short-term fix, which is very popular in Washington these days or these years, and then we'll eventually - we'll hold off on the Draconian spending cuts and tax increases, and we'll talk about that in the new year.

SHAPIRO: OK, now the trivia question dealt with Mark Sanford, who may run for office in South Carolina. Let's talk about a few of these openings in the House and Senate that are coming up. What's happening in South Carolina?

RUDIN: Well, this is one, of course, because Jim DeMint announced that he's going to resign from the Senate, the very powerful conservative senator, two-term senator, who's going to become the head of the Heritage Foundation. And he'll probably resign January 2. Tim Scott, now, soon to be the only, African-American Republican in Congress, will be appointed, has been appointed by Governor Nikki Haley to fill that Senate seat.

So there'll be an opening in the 1st Congressional District in South Carolina. Mark Sanford, who held that seat for three terms until he was elected governor in 2002, says, well, you know something, I'm really thinking about it. Now of course he did leave office in disgrace. He was censured by the state legislature. He had this affair, not on the Appalachian Trail of course but with his soul mate, not in South Korea, but the other soul mate...

SHAPIRO: The other kind of soul.

RUDIN: Thank you. By the way, Neal Conan usually laughs at those jokes.

(LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: He has a different sense of humor.

RUDIN: Yes he does. But also, the interesting thing is Jenny Sanford, Mark Sanford's former wife, is among those who said, well, I might be thinking about running.

SHAPIRO: So it could be Sanford versus Sanford. OK, so speaking of Sanford, your trivia question, who was the last former governor to run for the House, we have Justin from Newark, New Jersey, on the line. Justin, what do you think the answer is?

JUSTIN: Tommy Thompson?

SHAPIRO: Ken?

RUDIN: Well, Tommy Thompson, actually he was former governor, and he ran for the Senate this year, but he didn't run for the House. Actually, earlier in his career he did run for the House but well before he was governor.

SHAPIRO: OK, well, let's see if we've got a right answer out there. But meanwhile, there are other openings. Senator Daniel Inouye was laid to rest in Hawaii this week. President Obama was at the memorial service. Where does that leave his seat?

RUDIN: Well, it could be - there could be a successor announced as soon as this week. By all accounts, Colleen Hanabusa, who is the most senior member of the congressional delegation in Hawaii, and that's all of two years, she was first elected in 2010, Daniel Inouye, in a letter to the governor, Neil Abercrombie, said I would love for Hanabusa to be my successor. He wrote that shortly before he did.

And it looks like the governor will name a successor within the next day or two, and it's most likely to be Colleen Hanabusa, a member of the House. Also leaving, of course, is Daniel Akaka, the only palindrome in the Senate.

(LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: A-K-A-K-A.

RUDIN: A-K-A-K-A, and also that's 72 years of seniority that Hawaii's losing.

SHAPIRO: Wow.

RUDIN: Both Inouye and Akaka.

SHAPIRO: And then the opening that is probably getting the most attention right now, in the state of Massachusetts, Senator John Kerry moves to, presumably, assuming he's confirmed, he's secretary of state.

RUDIN: Well, the Republicans said from the beginning, when they were campaigning against Susan Rice, they said why not pick John Kerry, he'll sail through confirmation. And it looks like that'll happen. The president has nominated John Kerry. It looks like he will be - sail through, and then of course there'll be an opening in the Senate.

The last time that happened was of course when Ted Kennedy died, and there was an opening, and Scott Brown, the Republican, won that.

SHAPIRO: A Republican.

RUDIN: Now Scott Brown may or may not run again for that seat again, but there are a lot of Democrats who say we're not going to make the same mistake in 2010. Remember in 2010, Obama was unpopular; the Democrats were unpopular. It was perfect timing for Scott Brown. And the Democratic candidate was a terrible candidate, Martha Coakley.

SHAPIRO: Although the Democrats don't seem to be having a very easy time getting a great candidate this time around, either.

RUDIN: Well, they have candidates. The question is whether they'll coalesce around one. Now Governor Deval Patrick will appoint somebody. It could be just a temporary spaceholder, placeholder, and therefore it could be somebody like Michael Dukakis or Vicki Kennedy. Those names have been thrown out. Just some bad news to a lot of Americans out there, Ben Affleck announced this week he will not run for that seat. So...

SHAPIRO: So we're not going to have another movie star in the Senate, or - unless Kentucky, you know, there was talk about a movie star there running for - at least challenging Mitch McConnell (unintelligible)...

RUDIN: But Ben Affleck said no. Ted Kennedy Jr. said no. It's likely one of three Democratic members of the House will probably do it: Ed Markey, Mike Capuano and Steven Lynch. Those are three congressmen who are interested in that seat.

SHAPIRO: OK, we're going to talk a bit more about John Kerry heading to the State Department, but first let's see if we can get an answer to this trivia question about the last governor to run for the House of Representatives. We've got Audrey(ph) in Minneapolis. Hi Audrey.

AUDREY: Hi, love the show and listen every week to Ken Rudin. But I'm going to guess Mitt Romney.

RUDIN: Well Mitt Romney, well he's a former governor, and the only thing he has run for since he is a former governor was president of the United States, and he didn't do too well in that. He did run for the Senate before he was governor, but he never ran for the House.

SHAPIRO: OK, let's see if we can get one last try at the right answer here. We're going to go to Mike in Golden Valley, Minnesota. Hi Mike.

MIKE: Hi, how are you?

SHAPIRO: I'm good. So what do you think?

MIKE: I'll go with Bill Janklow from South Dakota.

RUDIN: That is the correct answer.

SHAPIRO: Congratulations.

RUDIN: Bill Janklow was a four-term governor of South Dakota. When he was term-limited in 2002, he ran for the House, elected to the House, and he resigned in 2003, by the way, after he killed somebody in a - he went through a stop sign, killed a motorcyclist. But Bill Janklow, former governor who died in 2012, by the way, went to the house for one term.

SHAPIRO: All right, thanks for the call, Mike.

RUDIN: And Mike gets the T-shirt and the button...

SHAPIRO: And the button, that coveted button.

RUDIN: He doesn't get the Neal Conan ding, ding, ding, which is, you know, what every American is looking forward to.

SHAPIRO: Mike, just hold on the line for a minute, and we'll get your information. Meanwhile, Ken, John Kerry moves to the State Department after a kind of difficult shuffling in the Obama administration, first trying and failing with Susan Rice. Where does this leave things now?

RUDIN: Well of course he didn't - Obama - basically Susan Rice was a trial balloon, just as Chuck Hagel for Defense is a trial balloon. He never nominated Susan Rice, but clearly she wasn't doing well with Republicans. And I think John Kerry, of course some Republicans say well this will open a seat for us, but mostly he's one of the club. He's been around for a long time. He's also very close with Obama. Remember as the...

SHAPIRO: He played Romney in the practice debates.

RUDIN: And he did better, and apparently he infuriated President Obama during the debates, but also when he was the presidential nominee in 2004, it was his decision to have Barack Obama be the keynote speaker.

SHAPIRO: When Obama was relatively unknown.

RUDIN: That's right, and now he's very famous.

SHAPIRO: So you mentioned Chuck Hagel, the trial balloon for defense secretary. Talk about what happened with him last week.

RUDIN: Well, there's a lot of things going on with him. First of all, he was under the gun with gay rights supporters when he - 18 years ago when James Hormel, who was President Clinton's ambassador to be - ambassador to Luxemburg, Chuck Hagel said something like he opposes the nomination of an openly, aggressively gay diplomat, which wouldn't reflect American values.

Well, the human rights campaigns, a lot of pro-gay rights groups, were, you know, just outraged by that, said it's unacceptable.

SHAPIRO: They've come around in the last week, but it doesn't sound like Hagel has the support that the White House necessarily needs for it.

RUDIN: Well, Hagel did apologize on the gay comment about James Hormel, but he still hasn't backed down for what Jewish group thinks is insensitive when he said that, you know, he's against the - he's complaining about the Jewish lobby when it comes to Israel. And of course a lot of Jews said, well, that should really be the Israeli lobby, not the Jewish lobby.

And also he refused to condemn or put sanctions on Hamas and Hezbollah, and a lot of Jewish groups were upset about that. And he also supported Barack Obama over John McCain, and McCain is not happy about that either, in 2008.

SHAPIRO: Last thing just briefly, the NRA had this very combative statement on Friday, followed by a tense exchange on Sunday morning talk shows. Backlash?

RUDIN: Well, there seems to be a backlash. But again, once again, you know, they once talked about we're going to work to solve a solution to this horrible, horrific shooting, once again another horrific shooting, this time in Newtown, Connecticut. This is a terrible tragedy. Something must be done. And then ultimately the NRA is saying we're not going have automatic - a ban on automatic weapons, we're not going to have all these restrictions in there. Who knows what's going to happen?

SHAPIRO: All right, stay here with us, Ken. Coming up, we're going to have a little more junkie, that is actually a little junkie. We'll meet Ken's mini-me in just a minute.

RUDIN: I am so dreading this.

SHAPIRO: I'm Ari Shapiro. Stay with us. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SHAPIRO: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Ari Shapiro. It's political junkie day, Ken Rudin with us rain or shine, in today's case sleet, and Ken, no ScuttleButton this week, but your fans can find this week's Political Junkie column, as always. It's about people in the political world who died in 2012. And that's at npr.org/junkie.

RUDIN: Speaking of dying, this next segment, I'm dreading this next segment.

SHAPIRO: Well, we have a special junkie treat for you, Ken. Watch your back, there is a new junkie in town, and by town I mean St. Louis, Missouri. Gabe Fleisher starts his morning at six. He scours the Internet for the political news of the day and drafts a rundown with all the information. He sends his newsletter out and then takes off for his day job as a fifth-grader. He joins us now from St. Louis Public Radio. Welcome to the show, Gabe.

GABE FLEISHER: Thanks.

SHAPIRO: How did you get interested in politics?

FLEISHER: Well, I don't really know. It was in the 2008 elections, and I guess just so many people would talk about it, and it seemed interesting.

SHAPIRO: When you were seven years old.

FLEISHER: Six.

SHAPIRO: Six.

FLEISHER: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: And where do you get your information from?

FLEISHER: A lot of different sites: politico.com, New York Times, Washington Post...

SHAPIRO: The Political Junkie column every week I'm sure.

FLEISHER: Yes, definitely.

RUDIN: Thanks, Gabe.

SHAPIRO: So how did you start doing this daily newsletter?

FLEISHER: Well, I'm very interested in politics, but I find that a lot of other people get uninterested because of all the fights in Washington. So I wanted to inform people. And so I started with just my mom, and then...

SHAPIRO: She was your first subscriber?

FLEISHER: She was.

SHAPIRO: And how do you get more subscribers from there?

FLEISHER: Just friends of people who are on, and a lot of different ways, and now 375 people read it every day.

SHAPIRO: Is Ken Rudin a - Ken, are you a subscriber?

RUDIN: I absolutely am.

SHAPIRO: You are?

RUDIN: I found out from him that Obama beat Romney. It was in his newsletter.

SHAPIRO: Gabe, you wake up before school to put this together every day. That seems like a lot of work day after day. Why do you keep doing it?

FLEISHER: I find it's a lot of fun, and I love being able to inform people each and every day, and I love reading people's comments and their info, and it's very interesting to do it.

SHAPIRO: OK, so what do you plan to do with this? Where are you going to go from here in the far future, say middle school?

(LAUGHTER)

FLEISHER: Well, some people tell me I get a little more homework. So we'll see if I keep on doing it, but for now...

SHAPIRO: So you mean if the masses insist that they need this to continue, you'll keep it going, but otherwise you may or may not?

FLEISHER: Well, I hope I get to continue it, but we'll see.

SHAPIRO: Gave, do you have any idols in the political journalism community that you'd like to say on the air right now, any people you admire very much?

FLEISHER: Well, Ken Rudin of course.

(LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: That's all I need, thanks.

SHAPIRO: Is it hard from St. Louis to track what's happening in Washington/

FLEISHER: Not at all. In this age, you know, there's political news all over the Internet and newspapers and magazines, so...

SHAPIRO: So just give a sample of like what was the top item in today's post-Christmas newsletter?

FLEISHER: Well, I'm actually on a winter break right now, but I'll be back on January 3, when Congress reconvenes.

SHAPIRO: All right. Well, we've arranged for a little contest between our two junkies, our resident junkie and our guest junkie.

RUDIN: Oh no.

SHAPIRO: We're calling this Stump the Junkie, and we have asked you each for three trivia questions. So I'm going to pose the questions here, and I'll give you each an opportunity to respond to see which generation has the dominant junkie here.

RUDIN: You know, I'm twice his age.

SHAPIRO: You're 22? Is that so?

(LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: OK, Gabe, you ready?

FLEISHER: I'm ready.

SHAPIRO: And Ken, you ready?

RUDIN: I am.

SHAPIRO: OK, first question is to you, Gabe. You ready?

FLEISHER: Yes.

SHAPIRO: Who was the youngest elected president?

FLEISHER: That would be John F. Kennedy.

SHAPIRO: Congratulations, well done. OK, we've got one point for Gabe. Ken?

RUDIN: I'm losing already.

SHAPIRO: Who is the only president - this question comes from Gabe again - the only president with a Ph.D.?

RUDIN: Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton? Rutherford B. Hayes?

SHAPIRO: Yikes. Oh, Gabe, you want to give him the right answer?

FLEISHER: It would be Woodrow Wilson.

SHAPIRO: Woodrow Wilson, what did he have a Ph.D. in?

FLEISHER: Political science, I believe.

SHAPIRO: Of course. OK, next question for you Gabe. You're one for one so far. OK, and this is a little tricky because you got JFK was the youngest elected president. Who was the youngest president?

FLEISHER: Theodore Roosevelt, who took over when William McKinley died, and he was - well, assassinated, and he was vice president at the time.

SHAPIRO: Bravo. I am very impressed. OK, Ken.

RUDIN: Gabe, I gave you nice questions. I can't believe you're doing this to me. OK.

SHAPIRO: All right Ken, which president lived the longest?

RUDIN: That would be Gerald Ford.

SHAPIRO: Well done, congratulations. OK, one for two. Gabe, back to you for your third and final question, and you may notice a theme here. These are all related to age. Who was the oldest elected president?

FLEISHER: Ronald Reagan.

SHAPIRO: Well done, three for three, our young junkie has shown his stuff. And Ken, just to save face here, the third question from Gabe: Which president had the longest time between his last political office and his presidency? Of course, this doesn't count the presidents who never served in political office before taking the White House.

RUDIN: The longest...

SHAPIRO: The longest period of time between the last political office and the presidency? Oh boy, I'm glad I don't have to answer these questions.

RUDIN: No seriously, my baseball glove, there was a hole in my globe. I would've caught that ball, but there was a hole in the glove that...

SHAPIRO: Gabe, you want to give Ken a hint? There's a...

FLEISHER: One second - this, he's actually a very popular president, one of our best.

RUDIN: Oh, Nixon.

(LAUGHTER)

FLEISHER: Yeah - no.

SHAPIRO: Here's another clue. There's currently a movie with the title of his name.

RUDIN: Oh, the guy who succeeded Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson.

SHAPIRO: All right, well Ken, you got one out of three, and Gabe with three for three. I think - does this mean you're our new political junkie? Have you just dethroned our junkie?

(LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: It's been a pleasure having you on the show, Gabe.

FLEISHER: Thank you.

RUDIN: Happy new year.

SHAPIRO: That's 11-year-old Gabe Fleisher, editor-in-chief of "Wake Up, It's Politics," giving Ken Rudin a run for his money, with us from St. Louis Public Radio. Gabe, happy new year, thanks for joining us.

FLEISHER: Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: And since this is the last political junkie show of the year, Ken let's take a look back at the political highlights from 2012. What was your top political moment from the year gone by?

RUDIN: Well, I would say other than being humiliated by Gabe Fleisher, I would say that, I would say that the election of Barack Obama, that sounds like a simplistic and obvious answer, but the fact is he went into this year with very high unemployment, with Republicans chomping at the bit to defeat him, with many polls showing that a lot of Republicans could defeat him, and yet somehow he just stayed true to his, you know, to - stayed his course.

And while the Republicans were eating their own for the longest time, and even when the Republicans were somehow coalescing around Mitt Romney, Romney helped end his own campaign by...

SHAPIRO: A lot of self-inflicted wounds.

RUDIN: A lot of self-inflicted wounds, starting with the 47 percent, to a lot of the comments he made during the debates. And ultimately what happened was that the coalition that had elected Republicans in the past, mostly white, was no longer the key to election. You had large amounts of Hispanic, women, gay and lesbian, African-American coalitions that - Asian-Americans that turned out in huge numbers.

And while Mitt Romney, as all Republicans seem to do, won the white vote pretty handily, he overwhelmingly lost the other groups that I mentioned.

SHAPIRO: And Ken, is what we saw in 2008, in terms of that demographic shift, is that a permanent fundamental shift in American politics, or did the Obama campaign just have a better turnout machine with its base groups than the Romney machine had with its base groups?

RUDIN: Well, that's a good question because of course you saw Obama put that coalition together in 2008, and then the Republicans came back in 2010 and won all those congressional seats. But there seems to be an understanding by Republicans that we can't win with a kind of dialogue and rhetoric that we've had in the past.

And there are other Republicans, there are other faces. It may - I don't know if it's just window dressing or not, but you see the Tim Scotts, the Mario Rubios(ph)...

SHAPIRO: Marco Rubio.

RUDIN: Marco Rubios, the Ted Cruzes, a lot of new voices, new faces in the Republican Party saying the old way may no longer work.

SHAPIRO: Well, let's talk a little bit about that tension between the old way that helped Republicans in Congress in 2010 and the new way that could be the path of 2012. There was one sort of quote that seared itself in the public imagination that captured some of the problems with what the Tea Party movement has done within the Republican Party.

This was Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin of Missouri, who sparked a massive controversy with just a few words.

REPRESENTATIVE TODD AKIN: If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.

SHAPIRO: Obviously, he lost that race. But beyond that, what did him and this year's election broadly say about the role of the Tea Party in Republicanism?

RUDIN: Well, in fairness, Todd Akin wasn't necessarily the Tea Party's choice in the primary. He was - he got backed by Tea Party and other conservatives once he got the nomination. But I think what it did say about Republicans is that sometimes, you have to compromise. Sometimes, you have to look towards the middle ground. I mean, for all the problems people had with Dick Lugar and other moderates in the Republican Party, they were winners, and they didn't - you know, they won over and over again.

But when you have nominees backed by the Tea Party, backed by conservatives, like Todd Akin against Claire McCaskill, who was ripe for the picking, when you had somebody - when you had Richard Mourdock in Indiana who - a solid Republican seat, in 2010, when we had Christine O'Donnell in Delaware, a sure Republican pickup, when you nominate very conservative opponents - candidates, you hurt the opportunities for Republicans to reach out to the broad middle.

SHAPIRO: I mean, let's remember, this was a year when, by many accounts, Republicans were supposed to take control of the Senate, and instead, they ended up losing seats. And yet, we still see fewer moderates of both parties in the House and Senate now than we did before. When does this pendulum swing back?

RUDIN: Well, I don't know if it does, because you make a good point about the moderates leaving - the Democrats, like Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson, people like that. Whatever you think of them, they were talking across the aisle - Olympia Snowe on the Republican side, Dick Lugar in Indiana, who I mentioned. So if the moderates are leaving - or the centrists are leaving and you have more and more conservative Republicans and more and more liberal Democrats, it's hard to make the case that any time soon they'll be talking to each other, and we'll see what happens with this fiscal cliff argument.

Let's talk about one moment in the past year when there was a glimmer of bipartisanship. Just after Hurricane Sandy - this was New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a surrogate for Mitt Romney and previously outspoken critic of President Obama, and here's what he had to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE: I have to say, the administration, the president himself and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate have been outstanding with us so far. We have a great partnership with them, and I want to thank the president personally for his personal attention to this.

SHAPIRO: OK. So Chris Christie, one of the guiding lights, bright future of the Republican Party...

RUDIN: He was the keynote speaker at the convention.

SHAPIRO: ...keynote speaker at the Republican Convention, offering a note of bipartisanship, which has been followed in the fiscal cliff talks by extreme partisanship. Of course, Christie's not involved in that. What do you see as the prospects for bipartisanship going forward?

RUDIN: Well, Christie said, look, when you have a terrible tragedy - as Hurricane Sandy was - you put politics aside and you do what's right for the state. And he got pilloried for saying nice things about President Obama. But the point is, this comes right before the election. It basically drowned out - that's not supposed to be a pun. I didn't mean it that way. But, you know, it blocked out all of Mitt Romney's comments. And it basically - the focus was on a president doing what a president is supposed to do. And it just so happened you had a Republican governor praising him.

And by doing that, it just show what President Obama can do, has done and what he can do with the bully pulpit, and Mitt Romney was just, you know, just completely blocked out of coverage for days and days.

SHAPIRO: We've got Political Junkie Ken Rudin in the studio with us, and you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. But, Ken, how much of the prospect of bipartisanship has to do with just the map? I mean, Christie is a governor in New Jersey, which is a relatively blue state. Members of Congress in the Republican Party who are not reaching a deal with Democrats over the fiscal cliff in many cases come from districts that are so tightly drawn, they are more at risk of a primary challenge from their right than they are of losing to a Democrat in a general election. So they have no incentive to be bipartisan.

RUDIN: Well, that all just seems like why the president seems to be looking at the Senate for the fiscal cliff negotiations, people like Johnny Isakson of Georgia, who's very conservative and who may very well be faced with a Republican primary challenge from the right in 2014, because he is talking about we have to give a little to get a little. And they're - but there are some Republicans, in their defense on guns, on taxes - it's hard to defend some things. But the point is they were elected.

They said what they were going to do. They were reelected on that. And the fact is, you have a Republican-controlled House that was elected on pro-gun, anti-tax sentiment, and they say, well, how are we going to just give up our principles in the name of bipartisanship?

SHAPIRO: Ken, let's talk a little bit more about the main themes of the political year gone by. I can think of so many catchphrases, whether it's binders full of women or horses and bayonets that just caught fire on social media - which certainly existed before, but I never saw it have the kind of impact before that it had this year. Was this the year of the meme? How is social media changing politics?

RUDIN: You know, I think the first time we saw it, perhaps, was right prior to 2008. Well, first of all, Howard Dean talked about it for the long time - longest time when he was running in 2004. And then we had George Allen, the then-senator from Virginia, who was likely to be a frontrunner for the Republican nomination in 2008 until a handheld iPhone took pictures of him...

SHAPIRO: I think it was before iPhones were available, but it was a portable video camera.

RUDIN: No. I think it's on the phone.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

RUDIN: I think it was a videophone.

SHAPIRO: The word was macaca.

RUDIN: Macaca, talking about that, and it went viral, and it ended his Senate career and, of course, ultimately ended his political career, as we saw this year. So we see more and more people not getting their news from the old standby TV networks - the CBSs, ABCs, NBCs of the world - or even cable, but a lot on the Internet, a lot on iPhone, a lot with Jon Stewart, things like that.

SHAPIRO: Another big political landmark: In May, this president became the first in history to show his support for gay marriage.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

OBAMA: At a certain point, I've just concluded that for me, personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.

SHAPIRO: And, Ken, this was a big year for gay marriage in other ways, too. The Supreme Court just agreed to take two cases on the subject. There were ballot measures that affirmed gay marriage for the first time by popular vote...

RUDIN: Ever. Right.

SHAPIRO: ...for the first time ever. Where's the country going on this?

RUDIN: Well, it seems like, you know, I think Vice President Joe Biden started it off by saying that he sees nothing wrong with same-sex marriage. And remember, President Obama was very, very cautious. He was evolving his issues. His mind was evolving about gay marriage. But then you saw at the Democratic Convention, gay marriage was an issue that was celebrated for the first time at a convention. As you say, for the first time in popular vote historic, same-sex marriages were passed by voters in four states - or at least three states, plus another one where it wasn't rejected. And you had more gay and lesbian members elected to the Congress than ever before.

It's a kind of thing that, ultimately, maybe it took, you know, decades, much longer than it should have. But it seems like - if you look at the polls, it seems to be a sea change in this country on issues like same-sex marriage that you wouldn't envision 10 or 20 years ago.

SHAPIRO: OK. So, Ken, a year ago, it would have been easy to forecast the biggest political story of 2012, the president election. More of a challenge today, but I'm going to put it to you, anyway: What do you forecast as being the biggest political story of 2013?

RUDIN: I think the biggest story is going to be the fact that this young kid, Gabe Fleisher, is very, very ill...

(LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: ...and he'll be unable to replace me on TALK OF THE NATION. I think that's...

SHAPIRO: What a terrible thing to say (unintelligible).

RUDIN: No. I mean - no. I mean, his foot would hurt. I mean, his mother wouldn't let him come to Washington. I think that is an understated story for 2013.

SHAPIRO: The overprotective Ken Rudin is our resident Political Junkie, and he joins us here in Studio 3A, as he did almost every Wednesday through all of 2012. Ken, it's been a pleasure having you, and we'll have you back in the New Year, as long as Gabe doesn't step in.

RUDIN: He doesn't have to be sick, just not feeling well.

SHAPIRO: OK. After a short break, we'll return with New York Times columnist Charles Blow. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

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