The legitimacy of American elections was unchallenged for so long that they came to be accepted as political bedrock, certain to survive even the most severe earthquakes. But as the country approaches the first presidential election post January 6, the most serious insurrection since the Civil War, the foundation of the entire American electoral experiment is in danger of collapse. Candidates regularly challenge the results in courts, supposedly impartial election officials proudly declare their biases and millions of Americans dismiss the certified outcomes.
In this episode, Common Ground with Jane Whitney’s panel discusses the fate of the electoral system, the future of the two-party system, the national malaise that has left millions at both ends of the political spectrum feeling disenfranchised and the elevation of performative politics that threatens to sweep aside our constitutional guarantees.
One of the foremost advocates for a major reboot of the American political system is the former Republican Congressman from Florida, David Jolly, who co-founded a third party to press for electoral reform.
Jolly renounced his affiliation with the GOP after losing his 2016 reelection bid to former Governor Charlie Crist, ending a 62-year Republican hold on the district. A self-described centrist, Jolly said he felt lost in Donald Trump’s Republican party and wasn’t comfortable as a Democrat. “I couldn’t reconcile my own politics within the dogma of any major or minor party,” he said on The New York Times’ podcast “The Argument.”
His answer to bipartisan dysfunction was to co-create a new political party, Forward, through the merger of three political movements: Renew America Movement, founded in 2021 by former Republican governor of New Jersey Christine Todd; the Forward Party, started by the unsuccessful Democratic presidential hopeful Democrat Andrew Yang; and the Serve America Movement, a group of Democrats, Republicans, and independents that Jolly rallied to his cause.
In the wake of the acrimony and divisiveness that characterizes today’s partisan politics, Forward advocates for finding the ideological center through ranked-choice voting, non-partisan primaries and independent redistricting commissions.
“The United States badly needs a new political party — one that reflects the moderate, common-sense majority,” Jolly wrote with Yang and Todd in a 2022 Washington Post op-ed. “Today’s outdated parties have failed by catering to the fringes. As a result, most Americans feel they aren’t represented.”
Today, Jolly is a policy and politics analyst on MSNBC and NBC and his work is published in Time, USA Today, Roll Call, the Washington Post, and CNN.com.
Watching Donald Trump accept the Republican at CPAC in 2016, Nicole Hemmer, a historian who specializes in the conservative movement, suddenly understood the party’s transformation from Reagan-style optimism to the resentful and grievance-ridden politics of the new right. This wasn’t an overnight conversion but a gradual, quarter-century-long shift, she realized. Trump wasn’t the disease, but the symptom.
A professor at Vanderbilt University, Hemmer, who studies the trajectory and metamorphosis of the GOP and the far-right through the prism of the media, emerged as a leading historian-pundit in the aftermath of the 2017 Charlottesville ‘Unite the Right’ rally, when she hosted “A12: The Story of Charlottesville,” a six-part podcast series that sought to provide historical context to the events that had taken the city hostage.
She is the author of two books on conservatism, including Partisans, which posits that the tectonic shifts after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union pushed Republicans to the right, spawning the Party as it exists today. Without anticommunism as the organizing crux uniting the many strands of conservatism, she says, the decade saw traditional conservatives and the New Right diverge, driving the latter away from the relatively moderate doctrine of Reaganism and toward an increasingly radical, hostile, and nativist agenda.
While the 1990’s is “so often described as an era of polarization, [it] was actually an era of right-wing radicalization,” Hemmer writes in Partisans, which was published in 2022. “Even as the Democratic Party moved right, the Republicans moved even further, adopting what were once far-right positions on issues like guns and immigration and new procedural obstructions like extended government and impeachment.” The party traded free-markets and globalization for populist rhetoric and isolationism.
Hemmer, whose previous book, Messengers of the Right, traced the history of conservative media, is the founding director for the Center for the American Presidency at Vanderbilt University. Before taking up the position, she was a scholar at the Obama Presidency Oral History Project at Columbia University and co-founded Made by History, the daily historical analysis section of The Washington Post. Currently a columnist at CNN, she has regularly contributed to the New York Times, Washington Post, Vox, US News & World Report, and The Age in Melbourne, Australia.
Symone Sanders is a strategist and political commentator who became a household name while serving as the 25-years-old press secretary for Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential bid, the youngest person on record to hold the title in a major campaign.
It was the first step in fulfilling her childhood dream of being on the public stage, seen and heard by the masses. As a young girl growing up in Omaha, she would assume an alter-ego named “Donna Burns,” turn her kitchen into a studio, her fork into a microphone and act out imaginary TV broadcasts. “I wanted to have my own show one day,” she explained in an interview with The New York Times.
Years later, following her time on the campaign trail with Bernie Sanders, she went on to join CNN as a commentator, where she was known for her sharp rejoinders and her nimble exchanges with Republican guests. When Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, a former Virginia attorney general and Trump administration immigration official, told her to “shut up” during a live on-air spar, she co-opted his jab for the title of her 2020 memoir, “No, You Shut Up.”
“No one is going to hand you power or open the door for you to voice your opinion or your desires,” she wrote in the book. “You have to demand it. And part of the way you do that is saying out loud, to anyone who will listen, what it is that you want, and then backing those words up with actions.”
Sander’s indiscrete ambition paid off — after her stint at CNN, she in 2019 joined the Biden administration as a senior advisor, becoming one of the highest-ranking Black women in the White House. Picked for her unrivaled ability to harness some of the most important voting blocs of our era—young voters, Black voters, female voters — Sanders had direct access to Vice President Kamala Harris while serving as her chief spokesperson for her first year in office.
Following in the footsteps of former Washington insiders turned media anchors — such as George Stephanopoulos, David Axelrod, Nicolle Wallace, and Jen Psaki — Sanders in 2022 became the host of her eponymously named show, SYMONE, on MSNBC and now is co-host of The Weekend. Despite her former role in the Biden administration, she is known for biting critiques of the president, both “Bidenomics” and his reelection strategy.
Sanders is a former resident fellow of both Harvard's Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School and the University of Southern California's Center for the Political Future. She has served as the national chair of the Coalition of Juvenile Justice Emerging Leaders Committee and a member of the Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice.
On the bumpy ride that is the 2024 presidential race, Astead Herndon sits in the driver seat, craning his neck to warn us to buckle up.
Since 2022, Herndon has hosted the New York Times’ podcast, The Run-Up, which analyzes electoral campaigns on a “grassroots” level by addressing the questions and concerns on the minds of everyday voters. His lively interviews range from street-level one-on-ones to Thanksgiving dinners to roaming conversations at conventions.
In ads for the podcast’s 2024 season, Herndon called The Run-Up a guide to the “mess” that is this year’s presidential election cycle.
Though Herndon only began hosting the podcast during the 2022 midterms, election coverage has defined his career. Herndon’s earliest assignments were covering Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign rallies as a Boston Globe reporter. While most media outlets dismissed Trump’s racist rhetoric and conspiratorial thinking as fringe, Herndon acknowledged how quickly they came to define a part of the country’s political system.
The media treating Trump’s candidacy as benign or even as entertainment verging on a joke not only drove Herndon, who also is a regular CNN analyst, to focus on the real-world harm his administration caused and - after joining the New York Times in 2018 - pushed him to become a critic of the journalism industry, especially its myopia on race and the pervasiveness of racism.
The media underestimated the success of Trump’s racist tactics because of a “failure of imagination to really believe that nativism was where the base of the party was,” Herndon told Vanity Fair in 2022. The Chicago native has responded by committing to connecting with everyday people, both in gauging their feelings and in making sure his reporting is comprehensible. “I don’t want this to be a thing where we talk in shorthand and only people who speak a certain political language are getting where we’re going,” he said in the Vanity Fair interview.