Plot-Twist Politics

In 2016, the presidential election became electric.

Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have separately disrupted the fixed matchup of another Clinton and another Bush, and flat-footed, for now, the mainstream consensus about everything from who can be elected and what they can’t say, to what Americans want from both their leaders and their political process.

The Iowa caucus is days away, and what was laughable in the springtime now looks entirely plausible. Meaning upsets, betrayals, collapses and mis-coronations — all of which works well as pure drama.


Frank Rich is the perfect person to watch this shaggy-dog primary as a theater piece. At The New York Times, Rich began as a theater critic, then grew into the paper’s leading columnist who saw a mix of policy and performance, news and entertainment.

Today he practices both, with a column at New York Magazine and as executive producer of Veep, HBO’s fictional sendup of the very real pettiness, over-packaging and obscurity of our politics.

There’s more than a few irresistible storylines so far in this reality show of a primary process (and it’s still early).

Guest List
Frank Rich
columnist for New York Magazine, executive producer of HBO's Veep, and former theater critic and columnist for The New York Times.

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  • andreawilder

    I listened last night, while wrangling my car into a parking space. I would be very happy to have another pres. as calm as Obama at the helm. He does his job, I do mine, without theatrics.

  • As usual, this was a pleasurable podcast–thoughtful and articulate, with an interesting group of guests. I would suggest, though, that you might have found more answers about the appeal of politicians such as Sanders if you had spoken to people who are sympathetic to his candidacy. A lot of Sanders voters, rightly or wrongly, tend to think of Hilllary Clinton as the woman who was on the Wal-Mart board of trustees while they engaged in union-busting, in the Senate without speaking out against the invasion of Iraq, and someone who accused Barack Obama of being an unpragmatic idealist–exactly the same charges she now lobs at Sanders.

    I don’t quite understand your befuddlement that some liberals might not want to elect someone that close to Citigroup and the rest of Wall Street. I do, however, understand your belief that she is more practical. I just happen to disagree, just as I felt that Obama’s belief that Republicans would respond to reason was misguided. If you understand my beliefs, you did not represent them on the show.

    That said, I understand you can’t get to every viewpoint on every show, and I meant the praise I gave at the start of this comment. This critique is meant with respect.

  • Potter

    Money may not matter that much though it matters a lot. Bush came into this race with lots. I am also completely revolted by the Clinton System as well as the usual suspects, the Koch brothers organization.

    Thanks to Trump and Sanders, we get out of a Bush-Clinton choice though. So yes our democracy is more interesting than we thought… maybe too interesting when things get so dangerously close to going off the cliff. It’s not entertaining while it is entertaining. I hope it’s less and less so now as we sober up. True, Sarah Palin’s rapping is clever and funny…. for a minute.

    I don’t think “No Drama Obama” begat this very sorry drama. The Republican Party has been leading up to this frightful state for years. Frank Rich about Jeb! Bush, if he was implying that he would be a match for Hillary Clinton in ordinary times. I disagree. Jeb! is nowhere. But Hillary Clinton has no appealing vision either and she owes a lot. She’s about money money and money, you know, it buys. She’s informed yes, a woman yes, but one who has been way too eager to prove she’s got testosterone, tough and can go to war.

    I believe now Trump seriously wants to be president, but the entertainer-in- chief variety. He is improvising and it’s amusing how it works for him personally: the risks he takes! But also he’s misguided and ill-informed, a racist, a misogynist. He’s dangerous and he’s got his “lemmings”. (real lemmings aren’t the lemmings of myth). It’s not so amusing anymore, not just theater;it’s more frightening especially since, as we go on, Trump is improving his act!

    The other choices on the Republican side were not even mentioned in this show. They are chaff, including thankfully, I hope, Cruz. This is not leadership we are being offered. It’s not our better angels that are being summoned. Our system fails us, save for the rise of Bernie Sanders, which is major. I missed Sanders in this discussion.

    The show ended with the best and most serious and sober quote quote from David Simon of “The Wire” who mentioned Toynbee and Gibbons. He is not entertained. He says we need to find common cause, beyond “freedom” and “liberty. And we need to be responsible citizens. It was worth waiting for that.

  • Potter

    My blog-meister sends this re Norway and Sanders:

    American Democracy Down For the Count Or What Is It the Scandinavians Have That We Don’t?

  • Potter

    New BBC documentary. Well done. We should have done this here. Anyway it makes me, maybe for the first time in this so-called silly or entertaining season, very scared, very scared… not entertained.

    The Mad World of Donald Trump (2016) – YouTube

    • Pete Crangle

      Potter, thanks for sharing this. Stirring documentary. Affirms what I’ve been thinking for a while, which gives me little peace of mind.

      • Potter

        It scared the bejesus out of me.

  • christopherlydon

    Thank you, dear R.J.C.

  • Potter

    If Trump is going to get loud and precipitate action about familiar business-as-usual dirty tricks in the campaign, he’s doing us another service. The journey without a map might be frightening, it is, but hold on for the ride. We don’t need or want business-as-usual. Right?

  • Potter

    Can one laugh and be frightened at the same time?