DEANNA: Hi. This is Deanna from New York, and I am making breakfast with my 2 1/2-year-old daughter while we listen to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. This podcast was recorded at...
SCOTT DETROW, HOST:
Well, that is a nice image. It is 1:07 Eastern on Friday, November 12.
DEANNA: Things may have changed by the time you hear this. All right. Say, enjoy the show.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Unintelligible) the show.
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DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Oh, that's so cute.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: My daughter had her first sleepover on Saturday, and I cooked breakfast for her and her friend. We made tater tot casseroles. And they - so it was fun.
DETROW: Oh, man. That is a big moment for everybody.
DETROW: Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST, scotch (ph) version. I'm Scott Detrow. I cover the White House.
WALSH: I'm Deirdre Walsh. I cover Congress.
MONTANARO: And I'm Domenico Montanaro, senior political editor and correspondent.
DETROW: Look. Let's just be honest. It has not been an uplifting week here on the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. We have talked about the precarious place of American democracy. We have talked about investigations into January 6. Today, I think it's - it makes sense to provide some big-picture context to a lot of these storylines, and that is the increasingly divided partisan nature of the United States.
Domenico, you really dug into interesting new data from the Pew Research Center that looked at the different ways that Americans are divided. And on one hand, the top line's kind of obvious, but when you go down beyond it, it's really interesting. This is not a, you know, a down-the-middle split. There are a lot of different subgroups right now, and a lot of those subgroups are really distrustful of the other ones.
MONTANARO: Yeah. Look. I think that we all know inherently that the country is more complicated than right or left, you know, blue and red, liberal, conservative. But that's kind of how things get reduced when we talk about our politics because we have two major political parties, because winning is all about forming alliances. So, you know, the Pew Research Center did a massive study, big survey of more than 10,000 interviews. And for context, you know, most good national polls do about a thousand interviews with a randomized sample and weighting and all of that. But Pew did about - more than 10,000 interviews, and they found that we were actually able to be sorted into more like nine distinct ideological political categories.
DETROW: It's like a really depressing sorting hat.
MONTANARO: Well, you know, it depends on how you look at it, but I do think that there's a lot of overlap, you know, with some of these groups. But I think it basically runs the spectrum, gives us a much clearer view of the fuller spectrum of American political ideology, which ranges from what Pew calls faith and flag conservatives on the most conservative end to the progressive left. And there's been so much attention, you know, over these past few months because Democrats control Congress. On the things that divide Democrats, between these four categories that Pew found, the outsider left, Democratic mainstays, establishment liberals and the progressive left, and it gets boiled down to moderate versus progressive.
But what Pew actually found is that Democrats, for the most part, actually agree more so on the issues, which is a change from past years from, like, say, 25 years ago, when Democrats didn't always agree on things like abortion, gun rights on pot legalization. The right is more divided, actually, by the issues, although that's not what you seem to hear covered over and over again because of their unified opposition to President Biden at this point.
WALSH: Yeah, that seems like a really under-covered story, right? We've spent so much time because Democrats control Congress, but we haven't - if you look at the Republicans, their divisions seem almost more pronounced.
DETROW: And the interesting thing - and, Deirdre, you certainly see this in Congress - and if Republicans retake control of the House next year, we will see it even more. Domenico pointed out there's really hardly any overarching-policy-uniting themes among these Republican camps, and increasingly from lawmakers in Congress, you hardly hear about policy at all. Like, what specific policies are House Republicans pushing for? It seems to more be about, like, the whole cultural attitude that Trumpism has fostered.
WALSH: Yeah. I mean, I talked to a strategist yesterday for another story who talked about how more and more people are electing activists to Congress sort of on both sides and not as much legislators. And you sort of see this in this typology, right? I mean, it's just sort of the types of people that appeal to the different factions inside the party. And that will definitely affect how, you know, well or not Congress can function.
MONTANARO: And I think the bright line in American politics is still the role of government. Do you believe that the government should do more, or do you think the government should do less? And that's sort of like the first door of this choose your own adventure when it comes to, where do you fit? Because Republicans, when we talk about some of those divisions on some specific issues, culture is what you hit on. That is one major area where Republicans are united. They believe that government's doing too much, everyone has the ability to succeed, obstacles that once made it harder for women and non-whites to get ahead are now gone, that white people largely don't benefit from societal advances over Blacks, that political correctness is a major problem, and military might is key to keeping the U.S. a superpower. Clearly, on the other side with Democrats, there are other things that stitch them together, but almost polar opposite of what we just laid out there for Republicans.
DETROW: I want to ask one thing about independents and this research because, you know, we have seen both parties increasingly try to appeal to their bases in a lot of elections and a lot of policies. And there's been all this conversation of, is this a moment for an independent, a third party to materialize? And the answer continues to be no.
DETROW: There was some good context for why that is here in that, you know, a lot of people feel like they don't fit into either of these parties, but they don't really have much in common with each other.
MONTANARO: Oh, my goodness. This is one of the areas that always continues to drive close watchers of politics, aka people like me, nuts - because there is no magic middle in this country, and the data here bears that out. There are definitely some, you know, overarching things that unite the people who believe there should be more than two parties. And that's basically a feeling that there aren't people speaking for them, that politics is just, you know, corrupt, and people are jaded toward it, right? And I get that.
But when - underneath the surface, when you ask people, their attitudes, their beliefs, they believe very different things. The groups that have the largest share who identify as independents in this massive survey are three groups - the ambivalent right, stressed side-liners and the outsider left. They believe very, very different things. They have very little in common politically. The outsider left - much younger. They're very socially liberal. The ambivalent right? Not so much. They're much more conservative socially. And if you were to get those three groups in the same room, they, I think, would have a very hard time, you know, puffing some white smoke and picking a new pope.
WALSH: I also think what Domenico raises just shows you, like, what the makeup of the sort of current elected lawmakers looks like in Congress, right? There are - like, the ranks of the moderate lawmakers who - from both parties who could possibly put together sort of bipartisan deals on things that they have in common have just shrunk incredibly. I mean, there used to be, you know, 10 years ago, there was this sort of moderate democratic group called Blue Dogs. There used to be about 60 of them. Now there's like 22. And they are the most endangered Democrats who face the strongest headwinds going into the 2022 midterms.
On the Republican side, there used to be a fairly sizable group of - I think they used to call them the Tuesday group and the Main Street Republican group that, you know, met every Tuesday to talk about, like, what are things we could work across the aisle on? They've retired or been voted out, and there are very few of them left.
And just the example of an infrastructure vote last week. Last Friday, only 13 House Republicans voted for a bipartisan infrastructure bill. I mean, back in the day of, like, big infrastructure debates, these were bills that got passed with like over 300 votes. I mean, these were things that everybody wanted to brag about.
MONTANARO: And I'll just say, I just want to make one other point about political power and who wields it and who's able to sort of drive the narrative on a lot of policy decisions. And those are the people who are most engaged politically. And when you look at the three core Republican groups and the three core Democratic groups, those are the groups that are the most fired up for the 2022 midterm elections. They're the ones who say in the highest numbers that who controls Congress after the 2022 midterms really matters.
When you look at those three middle groups, they are the least politically engaged. They are the least likely to say that the 2022 elections really matter and are the least likely to vote in those elections. So you wind up with this sense - if you feel this sense that the loudest voices and the staunchest advocates are the ones who are directing the process and have all the power, you're right, because they're the ones who actually vote.
WALSH: Democrats looking at this should have some red alarms going off because I think this underscores the enthusiasm that Republicans have for what's at stake in the midterm elections in a way that's probably, you know, more fired up than those on the left.
DETROW: All right. We are going to take a quick break. Domenico, stick around. Deirdre, we will call you back when it's time for Can't Let It Go. But coming up next, we are going to hear from NPR correspondent Tim Mak and some new reporting he has on the National Rifle Association.
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DETROW: And we are back. And joining us, our old friend, Tim Mak. Tim, it is nice to talk to you again.
TIM MAK, BYLINE: It's always good to be on the pod.
DETROW: So you do a lot of reporting on the National Rifle Association, and you had a pretty big story this week about a really important moment in American gun culture, in the NRA and a lot of things. And that was tapes of their internal reaction after the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, which killed 13 people at a Colorado high school. And I feel like in a way that's hard to explain because there have been so many horrible, similar shootings since then was just this seismic moment of pure horror that something like this could happen. And, of course, the NRA had to respond. And you have new exclusive reporting about what they were saying and thinking.
MAK: Well, that's right. Basically, the NRA, the day after Columbine, scrambles onto a conference call. These are senior executives and officials and lobbyists and advisers. And they have a huge problem. Not only did this tragedy occur, but in just over a week, they had planned a annual convention in Denver, not far away from the site of the shooting. So it's a serious crisis for the organization.
And so what we got was 2 1/2 hours of these officials all trying to strategize and figure out how the NRA would react and respond to this to these shootings. And it really sets the tone and the basis for the NRA's response to school shootings in the era to come, in the 20-plus years since. You kind of see how this strategy is developed in real time as they're discussing their options.
At one point, there's this discussion between Wayne LaPierre, who's the head of the NRA, and Marion Hammer, who's a top lobbyist and longtime official in the organization. And they're arguing about whether they can cancel this convention.
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WAYNE LAPIERRE: We have meeting insurance.
MARION HAMMER: Screw the insurance. The message that it will send is that even the NRA was brought to its knees, and the media will have a field day with it.
MAK: And you can really hear in some of this audio just how much the lobbyists and officials are concerned about how the media will portray the NRA going through with its annual meeting in Denver.
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JIM BAKER: This is the same concern, obviously, that everybody has is that at the same period where they're going to be burying these children, we're going to be having media within 10 miles of our convention center, the world's media trying to run through the exhibit hall looking at kids fondling firearms, which is going to be a horrible, horrible, horrible juxtaposition.
MAK: That voice you heard there was Jim Baker. He was the NRA's top lobbyist at the time.
MONTANARO: Yeah. I mean, look. I think it's really interesting how obviously the NRA and any other, frankly, big organization or corporation is going to look at how they come across optically in the face of something that really involves, you know, their culture, their materials. And we've seen the playbook that the NRA has used, you know, since Columbine. And, you know, I think for a lot of us, having covered Sandy Hook, for example, in Newtown, Conn., you know, listening to members of the NRA and Wayne LaPierre, the head of the NRA, saying things like there should be more guns in schools, kind of leaning into that message and using it against people, I think, has laid the basis and foundation for, you know, not just the NRA's response to things that put them in a corner, but a lot of the Republican right, frankly, when they feel backed into a corner, they find a way to hit back using the thing that they see as a vulnerability. And no one did that better than former President Trump.
MAK: What's really interesting in these tapes - right? - is that you hear NRA officials taking a look and considering a different option, a softer message, maybe canceling their convention or conceding some sort of responsibility, even the idea of setting up this million-dollar victims fund that they talk about on the call. But instead, they back away from that. They're really consumed by this idea or they land on this notion that if they concede anything, that that will be as if they're accepting responsibility or accepting that they're complicit in this shooting. And this is a message that once they land on, they don't move away from - not after Columbine, not after Sandy Hook, not after a Parkland. It really begins to get baked in to the NRA's playbook in the years ahead.
DETROW: Do you think there's an alternate world where, if they had taken a different approach in that particular moment since it was such a big cultural moment where they stick to that tone, or do you think there were so many factors that they would have kind of ended up on that hard-line tone that we're so used to in the decade since?
MAK: I think they could have. They could have taken a different tone. But I think they're always thinking about the pressures they're under from their own membership. You know, they've got a lot of very activist ideological members who would have created a lot of problems for them if they had been too conciliatory with people who wanted gun legislation at the time, for example.
MONTANARO: Well, but what's interesting now is that how much the tide has changed a little bit with gun restrictions groups really kind of growing in a degree of prominence while the NRA has struggled. I wonder if back then there were alternative voices within the NRA who said, you know, maybe this isn't the best approach. I mean, I think it's interesting to think about what we've talked about earlier in the podcast with the Pew typology that's out and how Democrats have now changed from, you know, where there was a disagreement 30 years ago, frankly, among some Democrats who were more pro-gun rights, that doesn't exist anymore, that wing. And everyone sort of sorted them right or left. And it's way less of a bipartisan organization now.
MAK: Right. I mean, at the time of Columbine, their greatest strategic allies are moderate Democrats, right? And that continues to be the case for the next 15 years or so up until Sandy Hook. But at the time, you know, the NRA really prided prided itself in being able to reach out to some number of moderate Democrats. And moderate Democrats really did reach out to the NRA as cover, especially in rural areas for political support. The thing is, though, that the NRA has undoubtedly changed over the last 20-plus years. I mean, after Columbine, the NRA does support expanded background checks. But, of course, they reject that idea in the years to come and really strongly reject it after Sandy Hook.
DETROW: And if you are interested in that storyline and many things that happen next, you are in luck because Tim, in fact, has a brand new book about that called "Misfire." Tim, it was nice to hang out with you for a little bit. And great reporting.
MONTANARO: Thanks so much.
DETROW: We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, it is time for Can't Let It Go.
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DETROW: We are back. And it is time to end the show like we do every week with Can't Let It Go, the part of the show where we talk about things from the week we cannot stop talking about, politics or otherwise. First of all, Deirdre, welcome back. We missed you terribly over the last 10 minutes or so.
WALSH: Glad to be here.
DETROW: Domenico, why don't you go first?
MONTANARO: Well, the thing that I can't let go of this week is a Louisiana hurricane, and not one that, you know, may have touched down on the coast or any of that. I'm talking about Julia 'Hurricane' Hawkins, the 105-year-old former Louisiana teacher who was the first female track and field athlete in the world to run in the 105-plus age bracket and to clock a time in the 100-meter dash this week.
WALSH: Wow. There's a 105 age bracket for this?
MONTANARO: She created it (laughter). She had the record from 100 to 104. And, you know, track and field - and my dad's a track and field coach - and it's all about personal bests, you know. And I think that what she was able to do, you know, is just sort of remind people that, you know, you might be sitting there on the couch lazily thinking I don't have time, I can't get up - there's a 105-year-old lady out there who just finished a 100-meter dash. She also has a world record for her age group in the 200-meter dash and a record for the javelin.
DETROW: What was her time?
MONTANARO: Well, you know, her time was one minute, two seconds.
DETROW: That's - OK.
MONTANARO: You know, but she's able to do it.
WALSH: That's impressive, man, for 105.
MONTANARO: What I love about her is her competitive spirit. You know, she said that it was wonderful to see so many family members and friends. But she said, I wanted to do it in less than a minute. And when someone in the crowd asked whether it made her feel any better to realize that her time was less than her age, she simply said no.
DETROW: Got to keep working, you know.
WALSH: I bet she beats the time next time. She's going to run again.
MONTANARO: The best part about this is that she said that she was a lifelong cyclist who just gave it up late in life because of the lack of competition. Just go get them, girl. That's all I got to say.
DETROW: Deirdre, what about you?
WALSH: Well, the thing I can't let go of this week is political, but it's also because I like it when politicians are accountable and transparent for their actions. And this is a story about the attorney general of Michigan who overserved herself at a tailgate recently. This is the big rivalry game in the Big Ten - Michigan, Michigan State. So obviously, if you're an elected official of the state, you go to that game. So it turns out she had two Bloody Marys on an empty stomach and was a bit of a mess at the game.
DETROW: I mean, that's a baseline for a lot of people at a college football game, but probably not attorneys general at a college football game.
WALSH: Yeah. The thing that was fascinating to me was that she owned up to the fact that things didn't go so well for her in a post on her Facebook page. And she called it, quote, "tailgate gate." I don't know why she felt the need to post this, but I give her a lot of credit because it's a lot of personal information, including that, she said she - there was no food, so it seemed like a good idea to have two Bloody Marys since if you put enough vegetables in them, they amount to a salad. I don't really know that that's the best idea.
DETROW: I've heard that argument.
MONTANARO: Do we have the badum-tish (ph) symbol for that one?
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MONTANARO: That sounds like a joke I would make.
WALSH: So she went to the game, and there was a picture of her sort of slumped over in a seat. It looked like she was essentially passed out. And she basically just said, look, I'm human. Sometimes I screw up. This wasn't my best. And I apologize to the state of Michigan and to people. And I learned my lesson - no more Bloody Marys for me. I guess this way she figured, I'm just going to get it out, and I'm going to get out the story in my own words and own it, and she did.
MONTANARO: Know your limits. That's the moral of the story.
WALSH: So, Scott, what is it that you can't let go of this week?
DETROW: I began the morning really proud of myself and thinking I was on it, and it turned out I was very much not on it. And I'm embarrassed, but I'm going to talk about that. So we I think we have touched on this before. The producer of this podcast, Barton Girdwood, is a Taylor Swift superfan and keeps up with pop culture in a way that at times I do not. And back when we used to sit next to each other in an office, he would often marvel at my total lack of awareness of, like, really big pop culture moments.
He loved Taylor Swift. We played this moment on the podcast a few years ago. We will play it again. This is audio from the moment that the tickets open for the Tiny Desk concert at NPR when Taylor Swift played at NPR. This is Ayesha and me explaining Barton's legitimate freakout as that moment happened because I thought to roll on it.
Four, three, two, one.
BARTON GIRDWOOD, BYLINE: What? An error occurred? What's happening?
DETROW: And that's Barton. And it continued like this because the site was just overwhelmed. And it started to - it wasn't processing the applications. So I'm clicking, I'm clicking. Barton's clicking and clicking. And the tension really escalates.
Oh, no. It's frozen.
GIRDWOOD: Error with the submission? No. Yes. Yes.
DETROW: And this is Barton celebrating his success.
In my head, that was like nine years ago. I think it was maybe two years ago. I truly don't even remember. He went to the concert. I stood next to him at the concert. He had a great time. I think I'm like, you know, I listen to Taylor Swift music, but a big moment in Barton and my relationship was that for several months he would say every day to me, you need to calm down. And I was like, what's wrong with you? Why do you keep saying that to me? And then one day I was like, Barton, I just realized that that is a song that was released four months ago. And he was like, OK, good for you.
MONTANARO: I was going to say, I didn't sit too far from you guys. And I knew the joke. And this went on for months.
DETROW: It went on for months. I was unaware. So that brings us to this morning. I wake up. I was aware that the "Red" rerecording was out.
WALSH: It's a big day, yeah.
DETROW: And I thought that this was new information with the 10-minute song of "All Too Well." And I was like, guys, oh, my God. It's about Jake Gyllenhaal. The sister she left the scarf at was Maggie Gyllenhaal. This is amazing. And I was like, I'm so on it. This only happened hours ago. And then Barton was like, Scott, everyone's known this for 10 years.
DETROW: I'm trying.
WALSH: Well, it's nice that you guys have that relationship that you can have that back-and-forth. But I'm excited about the new drop.
DETROW: And, you know, if you're like me and you were totally unaware of the context that has been out there for a decade, lots of really interesting clues to figure out, so...
MONTANARO: And this - apparently this new one is her attempt to reclaim ownership of some of her old music, which is - has its own sort of, you know, monetary implications in the pop culture world. So pretty interesting power move on her part.
All right. That is a wrap for today. Our executive producer is Krishnadev Calamur. Our editors are Muthoni Muturi and Eric McDaniel. Our producers are Taylor Swift superfan Barton Girdwood and Elena Moore. Thanks to Lexie Schapitl and Brandon Carter as well.
I'm Scott Detrow. I cover the White House.
WALSH: I'm Deirdre Walsh. I cover Congress.
MONTANARO: And I'm Domenico Montanaro, senior political editor and correspondent.
DETROW: Thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.
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