Editor's note: This article has been edited for clarity.
The dimly lit green room of The National has the appearance of an 80s movie setting. Obscured by dark golden light, a pool table stands in the middle of the room shrouded in black. Three leather couches sit with a piano at one end of the room and a blinking arcade game sits at the other.
Seated on the couches are three former Obama administration staffers: Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett and Dan Pfeiffer. Along with the absent Tommy Vietor, the four of them make up the popular podcast, Pod Save America, a biweekly show on current events and politics.
For the past few weeks the men have been touring America recording live shows, including in Richmond. They invited the Collegian for an exclusive backstage interview before the start of their Sunday night show.
Question: There appears to be a recent rise in political podcasts. What made you decide to go into podcasting and what makes Pod Save America stand out from your competition?
Jon Favreau: We always say we try to have this “no bullshit” conversation about politics. I think the conversations you see about politics on television is often a little stilted or it can be too yelly.
Jon Lovett: We’re not yelly enough!
JF: We kept some of the yelliness. But, yeah, we thought we’d have an honest conversation that would inform people, but also be lighthearted, funny, but also get people active and more engaged in politics.
Q: Donna Brazile’s Op-Ed has made quite a stir recently. What do you think the timing of this op-ed has on this particular election and what effect could it have on future elections, especially regarding the trustworthiness of the Democratic National Committee?
JL: Here’s my shockingly nuanced position. Donna Brazile has been around a long time and she’s been involved in Democratic politics for a long time. I think it was totally, totally within her rights and the right thing for her to do to raise those concerns [about the DNC] and talk about them. I think that doing so the final days before an election was pretty cynical. I think this would have been a moment not to bring up the kinds of debates that might get people looking backwards, even if there are reasonable questions that she has raised about what we need to do to move forward.
Q: But do you believe there will be any long-lasting effects?
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Dan Pfeiffer: The issues she has raised are things the DNC in particular has been working on and need to work on. There is a deficit of trust about the DNC in the primary process and it will come upon Tom Perez, Keith Ellison and their team there to make sure that it is a transparent process that all the candidates who are on the 2020 ballot are bought in on. Otherwise, we will just replay this cycle. I have faith they will do that.
Q: Many are calling this particular election a “temperature gauge” of the nation. What do you think the effect this election will be nationwide?
JF: I do think we are already seeing that in other Republican candidates in other parts of the country — they’re all out there going to run a campaign like [Ed] Gillespie did that is based on using race and immigration to inflame the Republican base and hopefully try to depress Democratic turnout.
DP: I think, ultimately, for the people of Virginia, Virginia will make a decision on what’s best for Virginia. I don’t think this race will tell us who will win in 2020 or who will take the House in 2018, but to Jon’s point, Ed Gillespie has run a disgusting, shameless, racist campaign, and if he wins with that strategy, others will adopt it, and that’s not good for the country in 2020.
JF: We know that to win in 2018 we have to do better with turnout in off-year elections. There’s a good sign of turnout from the primary for this race. But we need to have Democratic turnout pick up, especially in off-year elections like this, to have really any hope of taking the House back in 2018.
Q: How do you propose the Democrats work to bring the white, working class Americans back on their side, especially the ones that feel as if they have been left behind?
DP: I think it’s worth remembering that Barack Obama was able to turn out young people, people of color, and do much better than Hillary did in rural America. It’s not that we need this message for this group and this message for this group, we need a message that is broadly appealing to people. Obama both had a good message and was a good messenger for that, and that is the path for 2020.
JF: People who say we have to focus completely on trying to win back white working class, white non-college educated voters are as wrong as people who say we shouldn’t waste our time on them at all. I think it's clear in the last election, if African-American turnout was a little higher, if more young people would have voted, Hillary would have won. We have to bring a message that breaches all of those groups.
Q: You reached out to the Collegian specifically for this interview, which we are grateful for. What made you decide to reach out to a college publication versus a larger network?
JL: We’re doing this because we want to help young people who maybe feel discouraged because we made our worst person President and they aren’t sure how to help and what to do. Their involvement matters, the stories they tell matters, they are all part of this process. You guys are playing such a big role in making sure people on your campus know what’s going on, not just on campus, but in the ways they can be involved in electoral politics in this state.
JF: I loved my college newspaper. The political debates that happened in that newspaper and what I learned about politics in that newspaper made me way more excited about national politics and made me want to be involved in politics far more than what I read in The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald and The New York Times when I was in college.
JL: I mean, you read The New York Times and it’s like 'blah, blah, blah.' It’s stilted, it’s written for an older generation–
DP: It’s like Middle English.
JL: It’s basically a dead language! We want to talk to people that actually sound like human beings, that are part of the world. New York Times reporters write things in little notebooks and follow people around, but they don’t know what it’s like to live.
Contact news writer Julia Raimondi at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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