Back in David Axelrod as Barack Obama’s political guru and spin guru — the bard the future president pitched to voters on the campaign trail, and his He was a working reporter in Chicago before he became an “information specialist” in the White House—before he became a national figure.
He enjoys hitting back at Schlitzes and knocking down “cheezeborgers” with scribes like Mike Royko in the Billy Goat Tavern, the legendary local reporter on the Chicago Tribune’s once bustling Michigan Avenue Haunt down HQ, or meet the source for matzo ball soup and corned beef sandwiches at Manny’s Delicatessen, just minutes via Lower Wacker Drive.
Axelrod started out as a cub reporter working the night shift at The Trib and eventually became a political writer before deciding to join the fray himself.
He lives for small victories in journalism, like his sweet talk at the wedding of a powerful local couple, pleading with the receptionist that his editor might fire him if he doesn’t pay attention to the bride and groom. In Chicago police’s Escorted, he returned to his colleagues on the periphery as a hero of conquest, arms raised like a Roman emperor who had just conquered Gaul.
In the years away from Obama’s side, Axelrod founded and built University of Chicago School of Political Science.
He became an unabashed truth-teller to his fellow Democrats, sometimes irritates them by contradicting party lines — For example, recently, he pointed out that President Biden will turn 81 on Election Day in 2024, when voters may be looking for a new candidate.
Axelrod worked closely with Biden for years as a senior Obama White House aide. He admired what he said was the former vice president’s sharp political instincts and praised his achievements.
“I mean, this guy has purged Trump’s country and, under very, very difficult circumstances, has managed to achieve legislative goals that Obama didn’t achieve,” Axelrod said. However, he added: “The issue is not so much a political issue as it is an actuarial issue. It’s something he needs to face.”
This week, Axelrod is celebrating the 500th episode of his podcast “The Axel Files” with a conversation with R&B singer John Legend. Rare in an age of TV shoutouts and supplement-powered podcasts, his shows, as he puts it, are a laid-back, no-nonsense approach to listening designed to get guests “off their lines and into Their lives”.
“When I started podcasting, I didn’t even know what a podcast was,” he said.
In its seven years of existence, Axelrod has booked luminaries like Judge Sonia Sotomayor and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, and even Olympian Megan Laura Pinault and Michael Phelps.
As he explains, he embraces the news adage: “If you investigate people’s stories, it’s harder to be hated.” To that end, he has also collaborated with people including John Bolton, Liz Cheney, Kellyanne A slew of former rivals including Conway, Lindsey Graham and Karl Rove broke the proverbial loaf.
Often, he’ll find a way to bridge the political divide, because when he discovers that he and Rove, a rarely human Republican operative protected by what Axelrod calls a “hard-skinned,” share a tragedy – A parent when they are young.
“Sometimes you talk to people you don’t think you appreciate, right?” he said. “Then, you learn some elements of that.”
Axelrod even considered how he would tackle the most vexing topic: the interview with Donald Trump.
“There are a lot of interesting questions to ask that have nothing to do with January 6,” he mused.
For example, Axelrod said he would ask Trump to respond to what the former president’s father, die-hard real estate developer Fred Trump once said: There are two kinds of people in this world. There are killers and there are losers.
“I would try and find out how he processed all of that,” Axelrod said, before returning to the difficulty of how, exactly, to frame such a conversation given Trump’s attempt to overthrow a duly elected president. “But then people would say, ‘Well, gosh, how can you sit down with him and not ask these questions?’ So it’s complicated.”
During the two-hour talk at Manny’s, Axelrod went from storyteller to philosopher to armchair psychologist to expert.
He also offered his analysis of the midterm elections, which he said could be a trend for Democrats in a few months.
“You know, in many ways, you can’t have a more hospitable environment than the Republicans this year,” he said, noting voters’ concerns about inflation and the president’s low approval ratings.
Axelrod says a ‘confluence’ of factors — Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade; mass shootings in Uwald, Texas and Highland Park, Illinois; and Jan. 6 hearings in Congress — Come together to make many voters think Republicans are too extreme.
“The only people who could possibly save the Democrats,” he said, “are the Republicans, and they’re doing everything they can to do that.”
Here are some highlights of Axelrod’s insights on the subject of the interview, edited for length and clarity:
Sanders is Axelrod’s first podcast interview. It was 2015, Axelrod said, when the Vermont senator was becoming a national celebrity and was “very all the rage” on college campuses.
Axelrod recounts how Sanders initially refused access to the institute’s rented Mercedes Sprinter van to pick him up and take him to a live event at the University of Chicago, Senator graduated in 1964.
“So Bernie looked at this and said, ‘I’m not going to ride that. I’m not going to get involved in that,'” Axelrod said. “So we negotiated curbside at O’Hare. And we basically had an agreement that we would put them two blocks from the event so no one would see him leave this Mercedes Des.”
“He and I have one thing in common: We both lost our parents to suicide. When people have struggles like this, I try to talk about them, in part if people are listening to people who are going through these struggles or losing someone , they’ll understand they’re not alone. Carl’s bark is very tough and has a reputation for it. But I don’t see him the same way. Because of that, we’ve actually continued and done things together in suicide prevention.”
“The father abandoned the family when she was 3 years old. It turns out he had another family, he moved into another family and he had a child about the same age. So he left her and her mother and moved Entered another woman and another child, who was her time and lived in two towns. She didn’t see him again until she was 12.
“She was reluctant to delve into it. But in the end, she said, ‘You know, I remember coming home from school one day crying hysterically because I was one of only two fatherless kids in school. “The other’s father disappeared in Vietnam.”
“As he said, he’s been through a lot — deep, deep, deep depression. I’d love to talk to him about how he’s going through it. But it’s sensitive, you know, because I don’t want to Trust the people who will say you made him a victim – all of that – but he’s a human being.
“He did his part at Political Science. He was great. He answered questions and he was asked, ‘Who is the funniest senator besides you? “
“He said, ‘Lindsey Graham’ and everyone was moaning.
“Franken went on to say: ‘No, no, Lindsay is very, very interesting. So I’ll give you an example. The day before he made a big change, I went to him. I said, ‘Lindsay, if I In South Carolina, I will vote for you. Before I could say that, Lindsay said, “That’s my problem. “
the one who escaped
More than once, Axelrod tried to lure Biden to sit with him for an interview in a variety of ways. No luck so far.
“I’ve been trying to get him on the podcast for years,” he said. “I don’t want to talk to him about politics. With Biden, I want to talk to him about the whole challenge of growing up with a stutter and how it shaped him.”
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