The Long Game

By Jon Ward

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An investigation into the reasons why Americans can't solve big problems anymore.

Episode Date
Mitch Daniels On Why Tribalism Opens the Door to Tyrants

It’s intriguing to wonder what might have happened to the Republican Party if Mitch Daniels had run for president in 2012. He was finishing up his second term as governor of Indiana, and was widely respected for the job he’d done. He was articulate, thoughtful, and had a wide breadth of political experience, having served as White House budget director under George W. Bush, and as a high-level political operative for years prior to that.

Mitt Romney won the nomination that year, but struggled as a campaigner against President Obama. Would Daniels have done any better? It’s quite likely. And if he had won the presidency, the Republican Party would have been led by a politician who downplayed social issues, rejected grievance politics, and focused like a laser on fiscal responsibility (even if that meant increasing revenue through tax increases). 

Daniels ultimately chose not to run, largely because he and his wife did not want to revisit painful periods in their marriage under the scrutiny of the nation. By all appearances, Daniels put his family ahead of his own presidential ambitions in that moment. And for five and a half years now, he has been president of Purdue University. 

I asked Daniels to come on the podcast after reading his commencement speech to this year’s graduating class at Purdue, where he exhorted the students to push back against growing tribalism in this country. "Life in a tribe is easy, in all the wrong ways. You don’t have to think. Whatever the tribe thinks is right, whatever the other side thinks is wrong. There’s no real responsibility; just follow what the tribe, and whoever speaks for it, says to do,” Daniels told the students. 

And he said that “tribes always gravitate toward tyrants.” I asked him to explain that comment, and we talked about his belief that healthy institutions protect the most vulnerable from injustice, and the nation from violence. We also talked about whether he regretted his decision not to run for president. 

Tech pioneer and analyst Jaron Lanier recently echoed some similar themes on Ezra Klein's podcast: "The way you become a autocrat or a dictator is you get everybody into pack mode, and you get them all afraid that they’ll all end up at the disadvantaged slot, that they’ll be the one who’s humiliated, the one who the pack turns on. And then everybody has to get in line," Lanier said.

Here is the Al Hunt article in Bloomberg News where Daniels was quoted as saying he felt politically "homeless."

Outro music: "Golden Kettle" by Mipso

Jul 13, 2018
Yuval Levin on What You Can Do To Help Solve Our Broad Social Crisis

“A key part of our task,” Yuval writes, “is simply to see what we lack.”

"And when you step back and listen, an awful lot of what’s distinct about this moment in America seems like a response to a certain kind of suffering: a response to being left behind, disrespected, robbed of place and dignity and hope ... The absence we feel looks like isolation and mistrust and alienation, and so it looks like a shortage of belonging and confidence and legitimacy ... When we look for solutions, we tend not to look to institutions but to individuals, to movements, to ideals, or to maverick outsiders.”

"The transformation of our understanding of the role of institutions does not simply explain all this. It is not the cause of our broad social crisis, and it doesn’t offer the answer to the challenges that crisis has posed for us. But it is the cause we tend to be most blind to, and is it is worth seeing and articulating. And it also does point toward an answer to one of the deepest quandaries that now confront us.”

"And by failing to see the formative purpose of institutions, we undermine that purpose, and so we advance an idea of institutions as not molds but platforms, and contribute to a set of social transformations that tend to separate people in the very attempt to unite them, to undermine our aptitude for freedom in the very act of liberating us, to eat away our capacity for patient toleration, our decorum, our forbearance, our restraint; to cause us to mistake expression for reflection, affirmation for respect, reaction for responsibility, and empty celebrity for an earned reputation."

Yuval Levin is editor in chief of National Affairs, a right-leaning quarterly journal. He is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. And he is the author of four books. 

In April, he delivered three lectures at Princeton University as part of its Charles E. Test, M.D., Distinguished Lectures Series. Yuval titled his talks, "Why Institutions Matter: Three Lectures on Breakdown and Renewal."

The videos of the lectures can be viewed by clicking on this link.

You can listen to my first interview with Yuval for the Long Game podcast, on July 19, 2017, by clicking here, or on iTunes here.

Outro music: "Cudi Montage" by KIDS SEE GHOSTS, Kanye West & Kid Cudi

Jun 29, 2018
Adam Wren On Finding His Way In A New Journalism Landscape

I talk with Adam Wren about what it's like to be a journalist entrepreneur, covering national politics from the Midwest while also starting a state news-focused newsletter. And Adam shares his observations of Vice President Mike Pence, and how the Indiana Republican establishment is now shaping the future of America. And we talk about our mutual experiences writing profiles of Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly, a Democrat who's up for reelection this fall.

Jun 25, 2018
Terry Sullivan on the GOP & Marco Rubio's 2016 Loss

Republican political operative Terry Sullivan discusses the move away from issue-based campaigns, toward contests based around personality and image, whether Sen. Jesse Helms was a racist, and how bad advice to Marco Rubio led to the moment that became the downfall of his presidential candidacy.

For examples of people losing touch with their senses, read the mentions below these tweets:

My tweet on Michelle Wolf is here.

Jake Tapper's tweet about "Camelot's End" is here.

On Jesse Helms:

David Broder's 2001 piece on Jesse Helms, headlined "Jesse Helms, White Racist," is here.

Broder's piece on Byrd when the former Senator died in 2010 is here.

You can watch video of Chris Christie's kneecapping of Marco Rubio here.

Here is the transcript.

I talked to Christie the day of the New Hampshire primary about why he never went after Trump the way he did Rubio, and wrote about it here.

Outro music: "Palmetto Rose" by Jason Isbell

Jun 18, 2018
Lee Drutman on Ranked Choice Voting & Multi-Member Congressional Districts

I’m beginning to think that ranked-choice voting might be a way for voters to exercise quality control in a party primary in a way that party bosses used to. The way it works, if no one gets 50 percent then the candidate with the least support gets eliminated, and the votes they got go to the candidates who their supporters ranked second. In 2016, Donald Trump won most GOP primaries with 30 to 35 percent, meaning that 2/3 of Republican primary voters wanted another candidate. How many of those voters do you think would have ranked Trump second? And there is a fight over ranked choice voting happening right now. It is being used for the first time in a statewide election tomorrow, June 12, in Maine, in primary contests for Congress and governor. Lee Drutman, of the New America Foundation, joins me to talk about it. 

Here's a good New York Times piece on how ranked choice voting works.

And here's a good NPR report on what's happening in Maine.

Lee's piece on multi-member congressional districts is here.

David Brooks praised Lee's idea in this piece.

Here's a link to the Jennifer Lawrence ad supporting ranked choice voting.

Outro music: “Future Suite” by Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks 

Jun 11, 2018
Amy Walter On the California Primaries

Voters in five states will go to the polls today to vote in primary elections, but in California, Democrats are facing an unexpected challenge. They need 23 seats to retake control of the House of Representatives this fall, and there are as many as 6 or 7 seats in California alone that are prime targets for flipping from Republican to Democrat. But because of California’s unique rules for primaries — crafted with the intent to increase participation and fairness — the very intensity of enthusiasm among Democrats in the Trump era might be their undoing. Amy Walter, National Editor at the Cook Political Report and host of WNYC radio’s The Takeaway Fridays, talks about how this reform -- like so many others -- has had unintended consequences.

Here's Amy's piece on the California primary, "The Party *Doesn't* Decide," in the Cook Political Report.

Here's Amy's colleague, David Wasserman, with a more detailed piece on the districts in which Democrats are in danger of being shut out.

Here's the piece by Jonathan Rauch that Amy references during the show: "How American Politics Went Insane"

Jun 05, 2018
AB Stoddard Has Watched Congress Collapse

AB Stoddard, associate editor and columnist at Real Clear Politics, has been a working journalist for two and a half decades. She started covering Congress in 1994, and so she has seen the institution go through most of the big changes that have turned it into such a dysfunctional place. We talked about her work with the group No Labels to get rid of the Hastert Rule in the House, about her father's role in bringing "Roots" to television, and about how she's balanced motherhood with her career.

Jun 01, 2018
DNC's Ken Martin Says 'Resistance' Has to Mature

"At some point, they need to channel that energy into really tangible electoral activity if they're going to actually get power back from Trump and the Republicans, and to do that, the best place for that is two political parties and working in concert with our candidates up and down the ballot ... I believe that political parties matter, that they still matter. They're very important, and I would say, in a weird way, probably even more important now, as you start to think about the outlets for all of this energy out there," said Martin, the chair of the Minnesota Dems (the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party) and Vice Chair of the Democratic National Committee. We talk super delegates, caucuses, and how the Democratic party grew weaker under Obama.

May 25, 2018
Ambassador Tim Roemer on $$$$ in Politics

Tim Roemer is a former Indiana congressman and was President Obama's first ambassador to India. He now represents a group that believes American democracy is broken and is trying to bring Republicans and Democrats together to fix it. Issue One is working on Capitol Hill with lawmakers to push a handful of reforms. One would require the largest digital platforms such as Google and Facebook to disclose and publicize any entity that pays more than $500 to promote its content online, with an aim toward shining a light on any attempts by foreign entities to influence American politics. We talked about what it means to him when we say that money in politics is a problem, and what the solution is.

May 21, 2018
Reed Galen Likes Sore Losers

“The angrier the electorate, the less capable we are of finding common ground on policies, or even of treating our opponents like human beings," a political scientist wrote recently. Reed Galen is trying to start a new political party that is built on the belief that American politics has to restore the dignity of every person as one of its foundational principles. Reed is the chief strategist for the Serve America Movement, an organization started in 2016, which is building organizing infrastructure in a handful of states this year with the goal of being ready to spring into action if a legitimate independent candidate for president runs in 2020. We talked about the group's origins and its plans for 2018 and 2020.

May 14, 2018
Joel Searby Wants to Take Down the Two-Party System

Joel Searby, a former adviser to Evan McMullin's presidential campaign, is now trying to persuade a group of senators -- whom he would not name -- to form a caucus that would elect a bipartisan slate of leaders in the Senate next January. We talked about this effort, as well as his reflection on the McMullin campaign and why it’s still deeply in debt, and on the introduction of ranked choice voting in Maine.

May 08, 2018
The Missouri Governor's Scandal

Embattled Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens is a textbook case, like President Trump, of the danger of political parties losing control over their primaries. When Greitens ran for governor in 2016, he promised in a TV ad to “take dead aim at politics as usual” and then shot a machine gun at a target that exploded and sent flames high into the air. The only thing exploding now, however, is his political career and the Missouri Republican Party with it. Read more of Jon Ward's article on this story at Yahoo News here.

May 01, 2018
Matt Bai Thinks I'm Crazy (or at least wrong)

Matt is one of the best journalists in America. He's a weekly columnist at Yahoo News and author of two books, "The Argument," and "All the Truth is Out." His second book has been turned into a major motion picture, starring Hugh Jackman, and titled The Frontrunner, in theaters this year. Matt's column this week was a response to the piece I wrote that grew out of this podcast. My piece was published Tuesday, and called, “Power to the party: Why political reforms can be bad for democracy.” Matt’s response to this was called, "We need stronger candidates, not stronger parties.” Matt writes that he’s long been a skeptic of political parties, and that just because Donald Trump has been a destructive outsider, that doesn’t mean non-politicians who run for office have to be negative forces. "I still believe that an unconventional campaign — a candidate respectful of governing expertise, but determined to rethink how we use it — can be the thing that restores our faith in public life,” he writes.  

Apr 20, 2018
Summary Episode - Everything We've Covered So Far

If you're a new listener and wonder what this show is all about, this episode will get you caught up. I go back through why this podcast exists, and what each guest has talked about. There are clips of the most important portions of each show, and the most robust explanation to date of why this podcast exists.

Show Notes:

My dispatches from the Republican National Convention:

Mike Lee predicts backlash after RNC smothers delegate rebellion

In Cleveland, a dazed GOP marches toward a Trump nomination

Chaos on the Convention Floor

The Cleveland convention is ratifying the GOP’s loss of party power

Here is the first episode of The Long Game, which uses the convention as its jumping off point. 

Audio of David Axelrod full interview with Chris Wallace, from January 12, 2017, is here, and transcript is here

Here is the link to the July 14, 2016 episode of Slate’s Political Gabfest, with David Plotz, Emily Bazelon and John Dickerson. 

Here are the links to the individual episodes of Long Game interviews, which are highlighted in this episode:

Video of the event at the American Enterprise Institute, with EJ Dionne, Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann, is here.


Apr 13, 2018
Steven Levitsky, author of "How Democracies Die"

Steven Levitsky is professor of government at Harvard University. He has spent most of his life studying Latin American politics and history, with a focus on political parties, authoritarianism and democratization, and weak and informal institutions. In 2018, he and fellow Harvard professor Daniel Ziblatt, an expert on democracy in Europe, wrote a book called "How Democracies Die." Here, Steven and I discuss what he means when he calls political parties the "gatekeepers of democracy," and why the Democrats reduction of superdelegates in their presidential primary may have unintended negative consequences. 

“How Democracies Die," by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt

Steven Levitsky's personal page at Harvard is here

Reviews of the book by Jennifer Szalai in the New York Times and by Yuval Levin in The Weekly Standard

Apr 03, 2018
What I'm Reading #2 - Dan Koch - "How to Think" by Alan Jacobs

Dan Koch, host of the Depolarize podcast, joins me to talk about his thoughts while reading "How to Think," by Baylor literature professor Alan Jacobs.

Mar 30, 2018
Seth Masket

Seth Masket is the chair of the political science department at the University of Denver. He has dared to say what few will: that for party primaries and maybe all of American politics to be more productive and functional, it might need to be a little less democratic. He and fellow academic Julia Azari wrote a New York Times op-ed in December titled: “Is the Democratic Party Becoming Too Democratic?”

Seth is the author of two books. His most recent is called “The Inevitable Party: Why Attempts to Kill the Party System Fail and how they Weaken Democracy.”

The text of my introduction to the show, along with all the links below, is posted on my Medium page devoted to this podcast. Seth’s bio is here.  Here are Seth’s two books:

How to Improve the Primary Process? Make It Less Democratic,” by Seth Masket, Pacific Standard Magazine, August 11, 2017

"Is the Democratic Party Becoming Too Democratic?” by Julia Azari and Seth Masket, The New York Times, December 11, 2017

Here’s How a Responsible GOP Might Behave,” by Seth Masket, Pacific Standard Magazine, February 28, 2017

Seth referenced this paper: The Losing Parties Out-Party National Committees, 1956-1993, by Philip A. Klinkner

We talked about the big idea in this book, and how the 2016 election did not adhere to this theory: “The Party Decides: Presidential Nominations Before and After Reform,” by Marty Cohen, David Karol, Hans Noel

"Weak parties and strong partisanship are a bad combination," by Julia Azari, Vox, November 3, 2016

I wrote this at the 2016 Republican convention: "The Cleveland convention is ratifying the GOP’s loss of party power."

My piece on The Centrist Project from April 2017 is here.

Seth wrote about The Centrist Project in June 2017. That piece is here.

My more recent piece on Unite America, the new name of what used to be The Centrist Project, is here.


Mar 05, 2018
What I'm Reading #1 - "12 Rules for Life" by Jordan Peterson

I'm introducing a new feature to The Long Form podcast, where I'll post short interviews with friends and public figures about the book that they are in the middle of. I don't want polished hot takes about a book someone has finished and fully digested. I want mid-process description of what sparks are flying around people's heads midstream through the book. And I love to know the backstory of how and why people start books. What intrigued them? What attracted them? And what are they getting out of it right now? 

I'm starting out with a look at one of the books I'm reading, "12 Rules for Life" by Jordan Peterson. He's a psychology professor at the University of Toronto who has developed a cult following particularly among young men. I think after listening to this you'll have a better understanding of why. 

Show Notes:

Anthony Bradley tweet thread on why young men are into Peterson. 

"The Voice Evangelical Men Wish They Had," by Anthony Bradley in Fathom Magazine. 

"The Jordan Peterson Moment," by David Brooks in The New York Times

Peterson interview with Cathy Newman of Channel 4 News

James K.A. Smith tweet about Peterson's "manhood-under-attack" "myth"

Vice segment on Peterson: "Jordan Peterson Is Canada's Most Infamous Intellectual"

Extended clip of Jay Kang interview with Peterson. 

Video of Peterson's complain about the Vice interview. 

"What’s So Dangerous About Jordan Peterson?" by Tom Bartlett in The Chronicle of Higher Education

Feb 23, 2018
Norm Ornstein
He thinks machine politics is a distraction. Norm Ornstein has a different take from Jonathan Rauch and Elaine Kamarck on why our politics is broken. Ornstein believes increasing voter participation and reducing the role of money in politics are better goals, and that the Republican Party is far more of a culprit in creating dysfunction than are the Democrats. Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote a book late last year with Thomas Mann and EJ Dionne called "One Nation After Trump."

Show Notes:

Opening and closing song: "Mass Appeal" by Gangstarr. 

Norm's book from 2012, co-written with Thomas Mann and EJ Dionne, updated in 2016: "It's Even Worse Than It Looks Was: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism."

Norm's book from 2006, co-written with Thomas Mann: "The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track."

The paper by Jonathan Rauch and Ben Wittes from May 2017: "More professionalism, less populism: How voting makes us stupid, and what to do about it."

Rauch & Wittes were responding in part to this paper from June 2015, by Mann and Dionne: "The futility of nostalgia and the romanticism of the new political realists."

And here's Elaine Kamarck's paper from April 2017: "Re-inserting peer review in the American presidential nomination process."

The exchange between Ornstein and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, at the beginning can be viewed here, and you can read about it here.

My profile from December on Warren Throckmorton, the evangelical professor who turned against 'reparative therapy' for gays.

My profile from September on Jemar Tisby, an African-American Christian living in the Deep South whose outlook on racial reconciliation darkened after the election of Donald Trump.
Jan 12, 2018
Elaine Kamarck

"When politicians can't get anything done, it breeds distrust. It breeds anger ... The weakening of parties ... most people think it's a good thing," Elaine Kamarck says. But, she warns that "the weakening of parties has meant the weakening of government. People don't like that, but very few people see the connection between political parties and government." Kamarck, a Brookings Institution senior fellow and a Democratic National Committee member and superdelegate, talks about her proposal to have a party gathering prior to the presidential primary to vote on potential candidates. But she says she doesn't care if superdelegates go away. She also says she doesn't fault Reince Priebus for not doing more as RNC Chairman to block Donald Trump from the nomination.



Oct 20, 2017
Jonathan Rauch

Jonathan Rauch's 2016 Atlantic cover story, "How American Politics Went Insane," argued that we've reformed our politics into dysfunction. We talk about how telling people to vote or participate in the process is not, on its own, going to solve our problems. We need people to either get involved in political parties or delegate authority to them. The irony, he says, is that "an unmediated, direct democracy, is less democratic and less representative than mediated democracy.” 

Episode 1 explained how I got interested in the topic of institutions by asking myself why the Republican Party was powerless to stop Donald Trump. Episode 2 explored the question, “What are institutions and why are they important?” Episode 3 looked at ways in which institutions can be harmful. This 4th episode is the first of a few that will look closely at the specific institution of political parties. 

Opening Clip: From The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

Opening Music: "Power" by Kanye West 

Books/Articles by Jonathan Rauch

Other books or articles mentioned:

Closing Music: "Rita" by Madeline Kenney

Sep 19, 2017
Jemar Tisby
Jemar Tisby is one of the more compelling figures I am aware of when it comes to race and Christianity in America. He is the president of the Reformed African American Network, and is obtaining a PhD in the history of race and religion at the University of Mississippi. Jemar is on a "journey to figure out how … social justice and historic Christian faith connect: how faith catalyzes justice." And while he believes his faith identity transcends skin color, he rejects the idea that white and black Christians -- in particular -- should avoid or bypass the hard conversations that need to take place about racial justice and white supremacy in America today. I wanted to get his take on institutions early on in this podcast to help us think critically about the topic. We may need to regain an appreciation for the good institutions can do, but we need to remain clear-eyed about the injustice that can also be perpetrated through them as well.
Aug 14, 2017
Yuval Levin

Yuval Levin, one of the most plugged in, influential conservative intellectuals in the country, joins me to talk about how modern Americans often think of institutions as platforms for self-promotion rather than molds that form us "into human beings who are capable of being free men and women, who will choose to do the right thing, generally speaking, and so can be left free to choose, and don’t have to be coerced into being responsible.”

President Trump, Levin says, is a vivid example of someone who views institutions this way, and as a result, has hindered his ability to be successful. Trump has behaved not as a president would, but as a "performance artist," Levin says. 

Jul 20, 2017
The Origin Story

In this inaugural, introductory episode, I tell the story of standing on the floor of the Republican convention in Cleveland as the GOP squashed an anti-Trump rebellion. It caused me to start thinking about the role of institutions like political parties. I explain why this podcast exists, how I'm going to structure it, and how I got interested in the topic. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis recently said that the biggest threat to the country is not ISIS or Russia or terrorism, but "the lack of political unity in America." The disunity we are now experiencing is increasing the massive distrust of institutions that in many ways is what brought us to this point. The question is, where do we go from here? We can't go back in time, but what lessons does our history hold for us?

Jun 21, 2017