On this special bonus episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, the triumvirate of former Obama administration staffers behind Crooked Media — Jon Lovett, Jon Favreau and Tommy Vietor — joined Kara onstage at South by Southwest. The group discussed the Trump administration and the challenges inherent in being the opposition party, plus how Crooked Media is trying to build a media brand that reflects the political climate.
You can read some of the highlights from the interview at that link, or listen to it in the audio player above. Below, we’ve posted a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.
If you like this, be sure to subscribe to Recode Decode on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn and Stitcher.
Kara Swisher: Hi, I’m Kara Swisher, executive editor for Recode. Thanks for listening to Recode Decode. Here’s a bonus episode from South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. I spoke with Crooked Media co-founders Jon Favreau, Tommy Vietor and Jon Lovett. Let’s take a listen.
Well, hi everybody. So we have an hour to talk and then a bunch of questions from the audience. So we’re going to use the Slido system, I’m supposed to say download the Slido, whoever the fuck that is, and #SouthbySouthwest. You know the drill and then we’ll ask really rude questions of these men. I’m going to try my best but we’re going to move on.
We were just sitting backstage and we were talking about a variety of things, and podcasts, and I’m so excited coming from Silicon Valley to be able to interview white men. I’m so excited.
First of all ...
Jon Favreau: Big switch.
Yeah, yeah. It’s a big switch for me. It’s usually not the sausage fest that’s happening here, but let’s get started into what you guys are doing.
Jon Lovett: When do we come on?
When do you come on? All right, here we go.
We’re going to start about what you’re doing, exactly. Why don’t you explain what you’re doing, because you’ve created several podcasts, but you’re creating a media company, essentially a left-wingy media company, correct? Jon, why don’t you start.
JF: So, we had a podcast called “Keeping It 1600” before the election. Then Trump won and we decided that we didn’t just want to continue the podcast, which we may have done if Hillary had won, but we wanted to get back into the game to some extent. We’d all been in politics for a long time, We wanted to not only continue the political podcasts we were doing but expand to a network of podcasts, expand into video, sort of create a progressive media company that didn’t just analyze politics like we did during “Keeping It 1600,” but also helped inspire activism and organize. So, we started Crooked Media. We’re in the very early stages. We have a long way to go. We hope to be a progressive media company that informs, entertains and inspires action.
So, progressive media companies have had not the best history. I’m thinking Air America, and we got Rachel Maddow and Al Franken, yeah, and others out of that, but it wasn’t a successful effort. Same thing with Current, other things. How do you guys look at this idea of it? What are you thinking?
JL: First, I don’t compare myself to those things.
Well, good idea.
JL: Yeah, I mean, look, I don’t think we’re approaching this thing like how do we build a successful progressive company. I think we’re starting from a simple idea of we want to have the no-bullshit conversation about politics. It’s resonated with people. There’s a huge appetite for a different kind of conversation that ... Look, we’re figuring this out as we go, right? We decided to launch and build it as we go because we just wanted to start talking and wanted to be part of this conversation.
One thing that is for certain is that there are tens of millions of people who are deeply unsatisfied with the way they get their political news. I mean, the way that we were thinking about it is like you turn on cable news and there’s a ton of great journalists but what you end up watching is world class journalists interviewing morons. Like, that’s not a sustainable system. It’s not a sustainable system. We all fucking hate the news. We turn it on. It makes us feel bad. The content is pretty bad. The way it’s delivered is worse. 2016, they’re laughing at me already?
Tommy Vietor: Now we got loose really fast.
JF: Start going.
JL: By the way, everybody whose flights were canceled, thank you for being here. You’re part of our key demographic, people stuck at the airport. A group with which we’re competing with CNN.
What was the question? So we’re going to do this ...
Basically, what the fuck are you doing?
JL: Yeah, yeah.
JF: Good question.
JL: We started with this podcast. It resonated with a lot of people. We’re going to try to figure out ways to bring that kind of a voice, a younger more authentic voice.
All these news outlets are all struggling with how to reach people and so many seem to have settled on a serious voice of authority with none of the actual authority behind it. We just want to sound like ourselves. We want to bring people who know something about politics, who have something to say, who care about these issues, who aren’t going to be part of a stilted, dead-language conversation that we’re all very sick of.
Well I’m not sure it’s authoritative. It’s screamy. It’s just pretty screamy.
JL: Yeah. For sure. That’s also bad.
So Tommy, you guys were at Bill Simmons’ The Ringer, and that’s where you got started with “Keeping it 1600.” Why did you leave? Because that’s what he is doing. So why not be part of that particular media organization?
TV: Sure. There’s a couple reasons. One is, you know, I think that if Hillary had won, we probably would’ve kept doing this as a hobby. But when she lost, I think we all had this existential crisis that if you watched the livestream, you saw happen in real time, where we figured like, we have to. It didn’t feel right to wake up every day and obsess about politics and what’s happening in the country and then go to work doing something else. For me, I needed to marry those two things up and make that my job and my life.
JL: Never watch that livestream, by the way.
JF: That was great. Watch us break down.
TV: It’s really sad.
TV: So I think what The Ringer is doing is great, but it’s like sports and culture and news. We’re trying to make something that’s very progressive and very activist. And on another end, we’re dedicating our lives to this. I’m moving down to LA. We’re starting an office. We’re hiring a team. We want to own and have the flexibility of creating all the content and making all the decisions.
But you were the big hit on that, correct? You were the big hit on The Ringer, correct?
JF: Those are your words.
Yes, they are. Ha ha ha. Was, were they ...
TV: We’ve been reading Bill Simmons for decade. His stuff is great and it always will be great. The Ringer is going to be fine.
Were they sharing revenue with you? I understand they were not sharing revenue with you and ...
TV: They were paying us dollars.
Okay, but enough dollars?
JF: They were paying us.
JL: Do you want us to get the contract out?
Yes, please. That would be great.
JF: They were paying us enough for what was a part-time hobby.
A part-time thing. But you guys wanted to start your own thing.
JF: We wanted to do a full time thing. And I said to Bill right after the election, we want to start our own thing because we want to not just be partisan, but also activist.
JF: I don’t think you want all this activism under the banner of The Ringer, which also does sports and tech and stuff and he’s like, “Yeah, I totally understand that.”
TV: We want to do stuff with this company that will have a political benefit that might not have any financial benefit. I think explaining that to someone, if you’re part of a broader organization, would be difficult.
TV: I think we can have that flexibility doing it our own way.
But you want to build a business, correct? I mean, that’s what you’re going for.
You’re one of the top ones on iTunes. I’m in the podcast business, you can make some money, you can actually make some real money. So are you raising money right now?
JF: We’re not.
TV: I don’t think we need to.
Not raising money. How are you gonna pay for it?
TV: We’re not gonna pay ourselves any money, but we’re gonna use the revenue from ads to invest in the business and try to hire a great team and get an office space.
So you’re not going the startup route, creating it, that kind of thing?
JL: Well, I just feel like the podcast is our seed money. I don’t know the venture fund terms.
JF: That was good, Lovett.
JL: The vultures are emailing us. I’m like, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t know what a seed route is. I want nothing to do with that. You guys are way, way too eager.
JL: I’m like, we don’t need you people. We’re making money hand over fist.
JF: There it is, Lovett.
Which is very against ...
JL: People say that making money in the content media game is hard, and that is just not my experience.
It is, I agree with you.
JL: It’s honestly, like, a joke. It’s super confusing. Everyone is like, how are you going to monetize? Like, it’s easy.
JL: Just start talking and then the money rolls in.
Shh. Don’t tell them.
JL: I don’t know what other people are doing.
Yeah, yeah yeah.
JF: So clearly, we’re not raising money.
Right, good. Because you’re not good at it.
JL: I mean, you can give us money. It’s going to be a terrible valuation for you.
What is your valuation, Jon?
Obviously, for you, priceless in your head. But yeah, what is it?
JL: I’m going to have to say it, guys. Billion dollar business. How about the resistance? What do you want?
Okay. So let’s talk about the resistance, because ...
JL: People say you’re a very tough interview.
I don’t ... Jon, you’re ...
JL: Do you ever find that?
Uh, Jon, I do find that. I do find it, but I really do enjoy ... You know, it’s easier when I have to interview egomaniacs. Yes! There she is.
JL: That was great.
There she is.
JL: Oh I feel so good about that.
TV: That was really good.
You know I made Mark Zuckerberg sweat and almost faint.
Yeah. The only reason I stopped it is because I thought he would fall on the ground and I would have to do CPR and then that picture would go down. And you just don’t want that to happen.
JF: Weigh the options.
I didn’t want any lip action with Mark Zuckerberg.
JL: Dear Max.
JL: “You won’t believe what happen with Kara today. I’m trying to build a world where that doesn’t happen.”
In any case, let’s get to Trump, speaking of ...
JF: Egomaniacs. How’s this going?
JL: Speaking of egomaniacs.
Speaking of egomaniacs. So Trump, even though I did watch you on election night when you were weeping copiously and in real time. One could say Trump has been very, very good to you, at this point. It feels like that with us and a lot of media, people are suddenly activated, and I hate to use that word, but it does feel like that. The other day, George Stephanopoulos actually got angry and I didn’t know what to do with myself. Because, like, “Wow, you’re asking a real question that needs an answer,” rather than softer stuff.
Talk about what you feel the opportunity is now with the resistance, when you talk about the resistance.
JF: I would easily trade the podcast and everything we’re doing for Trump not being president right now.
JF: But look, I think he’s ... I don’t think there’s too many silver linings in this election, but what we have at least seen over the last couple of months is that it has spurred a level of activism and engagement, an interest in politics, that I haven’t seen since the early days of ’07 and ’08 when Obama started running.
And even then, because this is people who ... we are talking to people and people are coming up to us that have never paid attention to politics before, or have just sort of casually paid attention to politics before and now they’re saying, “I’m scared. I want to know what to do. I want to fix it. What should I do? Where should I go?” And you’ve seen these people show up at town halls and you’re seeing them show up at rallies. And you’re seeing them march. And so if we can, if that movement can come out of this and we can survive the Trump presidency, and people can be engaged. That’s a very good thing for democracy.
And how do you feel about that?
JL: I think that’s right. We’re in the middle of a national crisis. There’s a lot of people who are scared and worried and are either people who’ve paid attention to politics and have never been more engaged, or the kind of person who wasn’t paying attention. Either way they’re showing up at protests, they’re showing up at airports. They’re trying to figure this out. There’s so much coming at us. There’s so much crazy stories. It’s so hard to figure out what to trust. It’s so hard to know ... So often you turn on the news and there’s so little sense of history, so you have to find out, wait, is what Trump’s doing today, is this normal? Is this, does this just seem bad or ... Like firing U.S. attorneys, is that something that happens every time? Well, yes. Did they do it the normal way? No. It’s kind of weird, it’s kind of not weird.
There’s so much coming at us. There’s so much to parse. If we can play some small role in saying, “Hey, look, we’ve been there, we’ve worked in politics. We can get the people that we trust that are really smart to help us figure this out." That’s a role I’m proud to be a part of and it’ll be a smart part of that. And bring on people who can say, “Here’s what you can do, I know you want to help. I know you’ve never done that before. I know you’ve never been to a protest before. I know you’ve never been to a town hall before. This is great group, indivisible. We’re talking to them because they’re new and they’re trying to figure this out. You should go to their website. Go be a part of what they’re doing.”
So when you’re thinking about this, Tommy, when it comes around to getting people activated, getting people doing things, a lot of comparison made to the Tea Party, that sort of, the left Tea Party. Do you see that? Do you imagine that? Because they were super effective.
TV: They were very effective. They were very organized. I think there are tactics that you can borrow in terms of organizing, in terms of being present, in terms of just remembering how easy it is as citizens and constituents to scare the shit out of Congress. Because pressure works and it works fast. They cave quickly, as we’re seeing, on ACA repeal.
I think, we are part of a group of organizations that is riding a wave of interest in Trump. We approach this business with some humility, because we’re aware of that.
I think what Lovett was saying earlier, A) there is a cathartic effect to, when everyone around you, you’re watching this thing that happened, you feel like it’s crazy and you’re like, “Do you guys see this too?” I think hearing people that worked in the White House and done what we did is a helpful reminder that no, you’re not crazy, what’s happening is. And we’re a part of that.
So do you feel that, you all worked in the Obama administration, do you feel like you’re utter failures of what’s happened?
JL: That never occurred to me.
Because in a lot of ways, I want to get to the idea of like, every morning things change. But this is a reaction in a way and it is a failure in some fashion.
TV: I don’t think we ... within, I’m going to be like the reflective defensive Obama-guy, it’s encoded in my DNA and I can’t fix that. I do think, I think elections are unique events that are about one individual versus another individual. I don’t think you can blame everything on a predecessor in any election.
JF: We should thank God that Trump took office with relative peace and prosperity and not in the middle of crisis like when Obama took office, because God help us if we were in the middle of a crisis right now and Trump took over. I mean like, I think Obama accomplished quite a bit in two terms. Right?
What do you attribute the reaction to? Because even if you can say, “Hillary’s the worst candidate ever, she wasn’t likable,” whatever the fuck you want to say about Hillary in that part, it got really way too close given eight years, no matter who was the candidate.
JL: For sure, yes. Little things had to go wrong for Donald Trump to become president, Comey, emails, all that stuff. Big things did make Trump possible. Big, cultural, political, economic forces opened the door to someone like Trump. Barack Obama took office in the middle of a massive financial crisis. He was handed a bunch of messes all around the world and at home. We spent eight years doing a lot of good work, from rebuilding the economy, the stimulus, getting into health care, Wall Street, all the different things that amount to an incredibly successful legislative and administrative period of time. That being said, it didn’t solve every problem in the world and there are long, long-term trends that are really difficult to address.
One of the things we talked about, we talked to Seth Moulton yesterday and we asked him, like, “There is this anger, there’s this angst about the economy. Who do you see talking about the new economic vision? What should the democrats be saying?” And the thing that he said, which I actually think it’s a little bit inspiring, like we’re figuring that out now, that if this election does one thing it shows us that when the center-left when the center-right, when they’re not offering answers, it opens the doors to monsters. And that’s what’s happened here.
TV: One in five Trump voters gave Obama a positive approval rating, job performance, when they went to the polls. First of all, when you’ve been in office for eight years, right? There is a feeling of people want change and at the end of the day, if you had a positive image of Hillary Clinton you voted for her. If you had a positive image of Trump you voted for him. If you didn’t like either candidate, which was about 20 percent of voters, they voted for Trump by about 17 points, because he was the outsider that they didn’t like, versus what Hillary was, the insider they didn’t like. There’s a lot of complicating factors but in the end it’s that simple, it ended up being a change election.
Just a change thing. See, I think it was much more dramatic than that. It was things people didn’t see.
TV: I know, but for the casual observer. I’m saying a lot of people that go to polls at the end of the day do not pay attention to politics as closely as we all pay attention to politics, because they’re busy, they lead busy lives and sort of look at it from afar. And when you squint and look at it from afar you say, “He’s sort of crazy, but he’s an outsider so maybe he can bring change. She, I don’t know if I like her but she’s been there forever, so I’ll give him a chance.” And that tipped the election because it was that close.
JL: And I think it is really important for Democrats, for liberals to ask what weren’t they getting? What did they want to be different? What are the economic policies that we’re either not describing well or not offering? I think that’s a conversation that’s ongoing. It’s a really important thing.
Right now, really, Democrats feel united because we’re united against a terrible foe, but as we move forward it’s going to become more and more important for us to have a positive vision.
JF: Terrible foe.
JL: What do you want? A great and historic villain. Evil rises in the east. I don’t know what else to say.
We’ll get back to Crooked Media co-founders in a minute, but first I’d like to thank our sponsors.
So, it’s rather easy to play against Trump, as the villain. What fresh hell has he done today, essentially. The other day I was saying to someone, I went to the shower and he did something while I was in the shower and I’m like, “Fuck, I missed the episode!”
JF: That’s exactly right.
I think he fired Sally Yates. I was like, “Ack! How did he do that so quickly?” You can’t always be against ... The villain is always the appealing character. You think about just drama. You all live in Los Angeles, you live in San Francisco, but in Los Angeles, it’s easy to have an appealing villain, essentially, which is I think what this has been turned into.
It’s another thing to have a message. One of the things that I think was problematic for the Clinton campaign, is a lot of people, the coastal elites real did make fun of “Make America Great Again.” I thought it was a great slogan. I thought wow, that is a really good slogan. It makes, it’s very appealing. It makes you feel good and bad at the same time. It makes you feel like you want to do something.
Then when I saw “Stronger Together,” it felt like a glue commercial, to me. I was like, “Oh, okay, we’re stronger together.” Like, it didn’t, like, get you. What is the message for the democratic party? Then I want to get into All Trump All the Time, how do you guys cover this? What do you think about how he’s doing and stuff like that. What is the message? Because you all were involved in messaging. What is the message?
JF: This is the nature of politics that for the last eight years the message of the Republican party was, “Obama sucks and we’re not Obama.” And that led them to victory in the House, the Senate and the presidency.
JF: It did, you know. Now, I do not agree that we should do the same thing for the next eight years. And say we’re not Trump, we’re not Trump, because I do think you need a positive message. I do think what was tough, what was tough for Hillary and what was tough for that campaign, is just what you were saying, you go out there, you give a big speech on the jobs and the economy and then suddenly the “Access Hollywood” tape comes out, right? And the next day she can’t go do another event on jobs and the economy because no one is covering that, because Trump just said this crazy thing, right?
Everyone, the Clinton campaign excluded, kept getting sucked into the vortex of Trump. I think as we look to 2018 and 2020 there is going to be a temptation, because Trump is going to continue to do crazy things and tweet crazy things every day, so just make your message every day about what he did.
JF: But what you have to do is talk about jobs, the economy, health care and your positive vision for all of it.
TV: There is broader problem here, which is if you look at the research of how people and parties ... For the first time in history, Democrats are more defined by being opposed to the other than anything they stand for. I think we need to do a lot of work figuring that out again.
So what do they stand for? Because I don’t know what they stand for.
TV: It’s an ongoing message now, to me an economic, equality, health care, civil rights, I mean these are the ... stringing these together into a core message is something that I don’t think happened sufficiently the last round.
What do you think they stand for?
JL: Well, I think first of all this is one of the lessons. Kellyanne Conway, who I’m obviously a huge fan of, love her work, especially her, I’m more a fan of her early work, I don’t like the recent stuff. She said this thing and it’s still the smartest thing to me that anyone simply said about the election, which is there is a difference between what offends you and what affects you.
That’s something I think Bernie Sanders understood. I think that’s something we instinctively understood, but it was really hard to cut through with all the Trump nonsense, which is Stronger Together, Love Trumps Hate, these are about kind of values and how things feel and how things look. We needed to make that next step. We need to make that next step into, it’s not just that Trump is conducting business at Mar-a-Lago, and being bribed to do it, it’s that’s going to hurt you and the decisions he makes. I think coming back to, on the one hand, how Trump’s policies actually hurt people and not get dragged into the vortex of his bullshit. It’s going to be really hard.
The other side, I think, we’re not going to have the answer here today. What’s the Democratic message? Democrats lost elections up and down the board. We have to figure it out, it’s a really hard problem.
TV: I also think you can’t start from the question of “What’s the message, what’s the slogan?” You have to ask the big question. The big question right now that neither party has answered is, “How in a global economy do we live together and thrive together and make sure that everyone has a chance to succeed? And where’s the next generation of jobs going to come from? And as we become a more diverse nation, how do we make sure that we can live together and not always demonize each other?” Right?
There’s questions of where opportunity comes from, where does prosperity come from? How do we ensure some basic level of decency and equality in this society? Once we come up with those answers, then you can tell a story that leads to a slogan that leads to a message.
Make America Great Again only worked because there was actually, he told the whole story that went with that slogan, right?
TV: It was a story that we didn’t agree with. I think it’s a story that is in many ways wrong because he mischaracterizes where the country is, but there was a story to fit it, right?
What was interesting was the reaction to that, which I found interesting. It’s like, it is great. It’s not really a reaction. It’s great! It’s really great. You know what I mean? It seems like the irritating person at school, you know what I mean? “But you’re wrong. But you’re wrong.” I think a lot of the Left spends a lot of time being righteously indignant, like, “I can’t believe you said that!” And about the fortieth time, you’re like, “He fucking said it. He said it and he said it again and he said it again.”
TV: I think you can make an argument why America is great. I think you should certainly make that argument, but you have to flesh out that argument. You just can’t make fun of it.
But then you’re arguing you can’t. You also can’t make fun of it, and you’re arguing, you’re also on his agenda almost consistently, almost consistently all Democrats do is react.
TV: That was the story of the entire election.
Yeah. It’s like, “What I can’t believe is he said it,” I’m like, “He said it.”
JL: You know, I feel like on the far right they have this sort of vicious anger and hate and on the left we have our version, which is just incredibly annoying sanctimony and like high alert for sanctimony, all over Twitter. I don’t know if you’ve noticed.
Yes, so I’ve noticed. Now it’s getting funny, actually. It’s getting funny, which is what you guys are using.
JL: “Dear Sir, How dare you. No sir, that is not what America represents.” How many more elections are we going to lose like this?
JF: Lovett probably has so many tweets like this.
JL: Oh yeah. World class hypocrite.
I want to get to Trump in a little bit. So what Democrats do have a sense of humor, are just going to pile through, which ones do you see? How do you look at the Democrats? Looking at you.
JL: You like what, like who we like?
Who do you like? Who do you like?
JF: Conwell Harris. Elizabeth Warren. Seth Moulton, who we talked to yesterday.
TV: Jason Kander.
JF: Jason Kander. There is ...
JL: That’s not an ... there is a lot of great people out there that we’re not going to ...
What do you like about them?
JF: So, I’m big on people who talk like ...
The only one that doesn’t feel like a non-carbonated beverage is Elizabeth Warren. We’ll call them non-carbonated ... you’re like uh.
JL: Oh, you mean like they’re not bubbly.
JF: Just let it go. Let it go, Lovett. Let it go.
JL: Effervescent. I’m not going to say that I don’t understand it.
JL: I get it, no I’m now getting it. I just didn’t want, I was, they’re not not carbonated.
Right, right. Right, right.
JF: Go on.
JL: How do you guys think this is going?
JF: I am very big on politicians who talk like normal human beings. And I think, like, the people we just mentioned? We had Congressman Seth Moulton on yesterday. He spoke like we’re speaking right now. He did not do the talk points all, “Here’s my America ...” He just didn’t do any of that stuff. Jason is like that. Elizabeth Warren is certainly like that, Kamala Harris is like that.
I think there’s a good group of Democrats. Sometimes as Democrats, we think like resume and where you’re from and who’s the perfect person on paper and all that stuff. I think that’s a mistake. I think you just need to ... I always say that after the 2004 election, when John Kerry lost because everyone said he was too elitist and too aloof and all that kind of stuff, well, we lost the white working class and so the answer is someone that has to connect with the white working class. We need a southerner. We need a populist. If you had told someone after the 2004 election that the answer to the Democratic party’s white working class problem was a black guy from the south side of Chicago named Barack Hussein Obama, they would’ve told you you were fucking crazy. But four years later he was president.
And the same thing with Trump.
JF: And the same thing with Trump. Exactly, and so people like Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump and Michelle Obama, who all come from very different backgrounds, what they’ve all had in common, is when they speak and communicate, they are very comfortable in their own skin. They don’t speak in a lot of bullshit. And I think that’s very important. And look, I think the person who wins in 2020, who wins the Democratic nomination, we might not have any idea who that is yet, especially in this kind of world. But as we’re looking for leaders who rise? I’m look for people who talk like normal human beings talk.
All right, what do you guys think?
TV: I mean, I think Jon’s sort of articulated our belief as a show here. But I agree that ... you know, I worked for John Edwards in 2004, and that was the perfect example of like a resume-based candidate. Good-looking southern guy that could appeal to XYZ state and if you think like that, that’s what you wind up with, like an Evan Byer or John Edwards, it’s just not going to connect with people.
Oh I think he got real interesting quick. And if he had pushed that other stuff first, I would’ve been like, I am down with you.
TV: Yeah, maybe ... The 04 race, that was pre all the worst stuff.
JL: Man, John Edwards, huh? That took a turn.
All right. Who do you like?
JL: Look, we talk about it all the time. I think we agree on this. I like our list.
Do you like any of the tech leaders or business leaders? Do you feel like President Mark Zuckerberg is a good idea?
JL: You know what? Let’s talk about that for a second. Here’s the thing, I don’t know what’s going on over there, but Mark Zuckerberg has a great story to tell. He builds a pretty impressive company, I don’t understand why he sounds like a Senator in his fourth term. Just talk, man, don’t be so afraid, Trump is president, say whatever you want. Anyone can say whatever they want.
JF: I worry that people are going to take from this, oh if that billionaire celebrity outside of politics can run for president so can I.
They all are saying it.
JF: They all are saying it, but it’s about the personality, it’s not about the resume. If there is a tech leader who goes out there and just has a no-bullshit conversation with the American people about what we need to do, then yeah, maybe they have a shot.
The Zuckerberg thing is like, they are so cautious, the statements are cautious, everything is calculated. It sounds so Washington right now.
They try and cover it.
JF: Maybe it’ll change.
JF: Maybe his listening tour will change.
JL: And like, they were talking about immigration and they put out such an overworked, you know, and they have good people, but somehow it comes from the top and you end up with something so overworked and so precious that it doesn’t say anything. It’s like, what are you doing here? Trump is president. You gotta say things!
Right. Well it’s very hard to get them to. It’s really amazing.
TV: The other thing is, I also worry that there is this sense that you can apply tech to any problem and that’s how we’re gonna solve it. Like if I hear someone say that we’re gonna hack the refugee crisis, I’m gonna lose my fucking mind.
They are very complicated problems involving human beings and governments and moral questions. It’s not that easy.
Well, they’ve kind of gotten their heads handed to them around the fake news stuff or hoaxes. I’m using the term hoaxes because the fake news word has gotten so bad lately.
JF: Yeah, that’s good. I like that.
Hoaxes, they’re just hoaxes. I think one of the things that’s been hard, Mark initially started like, “We have no impact on anything,” like, I don’t what you’re talking about, we’re a benign platform. It’s sort of that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” kind of attitude and I’m like, “Actually, bullets kill people, technically, which you make.”
JL: Fake news kills people.
Sort of, like it doesn’t, but it was interesting this shift of we’re just benign platforms and we’re here to help the world versus you have consequences to your actions. I think they’re starting, the penny is starting to drop and Mark did start with a 6000-word essay, which could’ve used a lot of editing, but in that zone, like okay maybe, possibly we have an impact.
JL: “We’re not a media company, we’re ...” Well, you’re something new and you’re kind of both. You have a really important role to play. You can’t pretend you don’t.
Let’s talk about Trump. Trump. Trump. Trump, because we love talking about him.
JF: Sure. Lovett.
How do you guys feel about Obamacare, and the repeal and Trumpcare, Obamacare-lite? How are you looking at that?
TV: Seems to be going swimmingly. I think what’s happening right now is Republicans and Donald Trump are reckoning with the fact that they told their base lies about Obamacare for the last eight years. Now, they’re the dogs who caught the car, and the Congressional budget office, a bunch of non-partisan nerds who crunch numbers, came out yesterday and said that it would leave 24 million people uninsured and then it also said that it’ll raise premiums and then premiums will finally start to come down in 2026 but only because older people won’t be able to afford health insurance. And so because the older sicker people are uninsured ...
JF: After they die.
TV: ... the premiums might come down for other people.
JL: After they die. Seems like the plan is like, if you’re a retiree and you don’t want to go bankrupt before you get Medicare, wrap yourself in some bubble wrap, stay very calm. Try not ... Eat healthy. Brace.
JF: They tried to make Obamacare like, “Oh it’s a government takeover,” it’s socialized medicine, death panels, all these hoaxes, conspiracy theories. The truth is Obamacare was a rather conservative version of universal healthcare, borrowed ideas from Mitt Romney, the Heritage Foundation, Individual Mandate, all of these policies that people on the right had been talking about for years, and so because they branded it as this government takeover thing, even though it really wasn’t, now that they’re trying to fix it, there’s nowhere further to go on the right except to say the government doesn’t have any responsibility to insure people.
Their base ... Donald Trump is not president because a lot of people wanted to lose their health care. That’s not why. In fact, when he ran for president he promised he wouldn’t cut Medicaid, that promise has already broken with this bill. He promised he would cover everyone, have insurance, that promise is already broken. He’s been very successful in lying to people and gas-lighting people and stuff. But once people start to get these cancellation notices, if this passes, or once people realize that they can’t afford to get their health care anymore, he’s not going to be able to lie his way through that. That’s going to be felt.
So what do you imagine is going to happen now? The media’s been super aggressive on it, but every time media does this and, “Oh, he wins.” That kind of thing. In that way it is like a game.
JF: He’s never been president before.
JL: And this is the first thing he’s tried to pass. Everything else up until now has been executive orders. This is the first thing he’s actually tried to pass through Congress since he’s been president.
TV: We’ll see if he commits to this, right? Because every once in a while he gets up there and he’s like I tell Paul Ryan and the gang that we should just let it all crash and burn for two years and get the political consequences, the benefits, but that’s not right so let’s push this bill. As he reads coverage of how bad this bill is, as he sees Republicans start peeling off, I wonder if he’ll stay committed to pushing this through.
I don’t know that, it’s not clear to me what the constituency is for what they’re trying to do, besides Paul Ryan’s stupid PowerPoint and his better way nonsense.
JL: Even Brietbart today is kind of turning on the bill.
Yeah, that was interesting, they published the Paul Ryan ...
JL: Yeah, so I don’t know what’s going on, they’re playing, I don’t know, it’s a bunch of idiots playing chess. I’m not really sure what’s going on over there. It’s like, “Well, we’re playing chess but we don’t really know the rules.” I also don’t know the rules.
They’re turning on each other.
JL: Yeah, maybe. So who knows. You see Republicans in the Senate, and this bill can never pass. You see Tom Connelly in the senate, why would the Republicans walk the plank on this bill, it can never pass the senate? There’s the venn diagram of like, the bill needs to be evil enough to pass the House and bad enough and give enough tax cuts to the rich and give enough subsidies to pass the House, but then it also needs to be reasonable enough and moderate enough to get through the Senate. There may not be an overlap there, so ...
TV: The number are three and 22. The Republicans, if they lose 22 House members, they can’t pass it in the house. If they lose three senators they can’t pass it in the Senate. You could imagine maybe Paul Ryan getting enough Republican congressman to pass the bill either the way it is now, by Trump browbeating them or by making it like Lovett said further to the right. Even if that happens there’s now eight Republican senators have gone on record in the Senate having problems with the bill. And they can only lose three, so it’s tough. But I do think, I mean, this happened during the campaign.
It all looks messy from the outside right now and we can all laugh at it. But we have to be part of this fight if we want to stop it. This is the most winnable and consequential fight yet of this presidency and every single person has to stand up and speak out for it, because that’s the only way we’re going to stop it.
But do you imagine something where we think we got him, and then he gets out again?
TV: A couple times.
JL: It’s not “Breaking Bad,” I mean, maybe. Like, I don’t know. We have to fight it. It’s really hard to pass legislation. We’re protected by the institutions of our government, still. Is there a chance we think we have him in our grasp and he slips through our fingers? Yeah sure.
TV: Well look, there’s also, if nothing passes, the Trump administration would need to shore up some of these markets where some of these insurers have been leaving anyway. They were leaving the last year of the Obama administration, which is a very fixable thing, you just provide some more subsidies, you make sure that people buy health insurance with the mandate. You can make it work. They can decide if nothing passes, we’re gonna let it, not fail, but we’re gonna make sure it doesn’t work and then try to blame the Democrats, that very well could happen.
That could happen. So you feel it’s gonna fail at this point.
TV: At this point it doesn’t look too good, but I, like I said, I think it’s up to ...
JF: We’re out of the prediction business.
Wire tapping. How do you feel about it?
TV: Not for it.
JF: What part about it?
JL: Well, Tommy’s the one, he put on a pair of overalls and black hat, went into Trump Tower. Open that microwave door.
What do you make of it? I mean this is ...
JL: Got in there with the wires. Tommy sees it all. It’s a lot of ice cream and yelling at the TV, frankly, I don’t know what people are so worked up about.
What do you think about ... why do you ...
JF: I mean, the broader story, I think, of Trump’s crazy wire-tapping tweet is something we’ve been watching for a while, which is he consumes, not media but conspiracy theories, whether it’s Brietbart or some random guy who tweets that three million people voted illegally in California. Then, he regurgitates it to the masses. I don’t think he understands what a FISA court is. I don’t think he understands what wire-tapping really means. It may be the case that there was some collection of information regarding contact from a server to the Russian bank, like that’s something we’re reading about.
The president of the United States cannot order the wire-tapping of an American citizen. Period. That’s because of reforms after Nixon, because he did that against his political opponents.
To just blithely accuse, to just wake up Saturday morning pissed off at the world and tweet that the former president of the United States wire-tapped you is so monumentally insane.
Where do you think it’s coming from, because a lot of people do think it’s all calculated.
JL: I think his father wasn’t very loving. I think he has a chip on his shoulder about that.
Not enough hugging his children.
JL: Right? I think he struggles with a lack of self worth. He inflates his own sense of ego, but at the end of the day, he hates himself the most. There’s no amount of attention and praise that can fix that problem. It’s sort of a vicious circle. So he gets angry.
Thank you. Okay, that was good.
JF: This is a softball, like here it comes.
I was waiting for self-hating homosexual in there and I was like, “Let’s go there.”
JL: No no. I don’t like myself. But I love being gay.
JF: I think he has advisers around him, like Steve Bannon, who is feeding him this bullshit. The most frustrating part of this is, he controls the entire intelligence apparatus of the United States. He has the coolest job in the world. He could ask for any piece of information at any time whenever he wanted it. He doesn’t do that because he’s not an intellectually curious person.
TV: The answer is out there. He can find the answer.
JL: Who killed JFK?
TV: What happening at Area 51?
JL: The moon landing, did it actually happen? No.
JF: Who killed [James] Dean? The idea that they’re like, to prove this claim we’re gonna ask Congress to investigate the executive branch. Who runs the executive branch?
JL: Today they’re blaming it on, oh those were air quotes. “Tap.”
What do you think about that, the reaction?
JL: That’s the most important thing too, like Donald Trump is going to do what Donald Trump is. He’s in a new and strange house but he’s behaving in the exact same way. He’s just going through the motions. What is so dispiriting, what is so heart-breaking, what’s so enraging, what makes this so painful, is he is defended by people who know better on the Hill who have refused to hold him accountable, and he has people around him, people like Sean Spicer, people like Kellyanne Conway, Reince Priebus, who have given up any semblance of their integrity to create a way to make Trump not look bad.
Sean Spicer says, “We’re going to release a statement, we’re going to get Congress to investigate,” that is all just a way to deal with the fact that the president is a jackass, and lying and horrible and they know it and they’re selling their souls to defend him.
JL: I don’t know, ambition, not thinking it through.
JF: These people make decisions because their base is all worked up or they think the Republican base is all worked up because they are incited every day by the Sean Hannitys of the world and the Breitbarts. These people get spun up and the politicians are like, “Well, we can’t go against the base because then we’ll get attacked by Breitbart.” It’s all fear of losing their job.
TV: And we were talking about this a little backstage. You see all these tech companies, sort of dipping their toe and being a part of these advisory panels. I think that’s an incredibly bad idea. Because I think if you put your lot in with Donald Trump, you’re going to own a lot of this shit he does, even if you think you can distance yourself from that specific thing.
JL: We’re all in Trump University now.
We want our money back.
JL: You learning a lot? You like your teachers?
There is a feeling, though, that it’s part of a bigger master plan, all the chaos and mania is all manufactured.
JL: Nationalism is not that hard. It’s not that hard to incite people against another, and it’s also — and this is the harder thing: Democrats have, and the challenge we have all the time, is we believe in governing and governance and trying to find middle ground. Steve Bannon’s stated purpose is he’s a Leninist and he wants to burn the thing down. So maybe that’s the master plan. I’m not ascribing a lot of brain wattage behind sort of the daily execution of that plan, but they have all the levers of government so they should be able to ...
TV: That is the exact point right there. It is so much easier to burn down a barn than to make people believe that government can work for them. That is the harder challenge, so no matter what happens, we will always have the more difficult challenge, because government screws up a lot of time. It leaves people behind. It’s not perfect.
For Bannon and for Trump, it’s not genius to say all your problems — to say you can blame it on this person that doesn’t look like you or you can blame it on politicians, or you can blame it on ...
JL: And that’s why Barack Obama, maybe the maddest he ever was, was when healthcare.gov didn’t work. Because he had been trying to talk about, like on the campaign 07-08, he had been talking about making government cool again. All politicians run it down, criticize it, rightly so, there’s some basic competence and some basic need there for a lot of people, and when that didn’t work that infuriated him because it undercut the faith in everything we’re trying to build.
Absolutely. It’s astonishing. It’s astonishing Tinder works every day and they couldn’t get a website to work. I actually said that on “Meet the Press.” It was a group of white guys and me on “Meet the Press,” which was very exciting for me. I said, “You know, Tinder works every day.” And they said, “Are you comparing health care to Tinder?” I go, “No, Tinder works, you can get fucked, easily.” So no, I ...
JF: Dave Letterman, over to you.
I think it was one of those guys, they all look the same to me.
We’re going to take another quick break now for a word from our sponsors, we’ll be back with more Crooked Media in a minute.
When you think about this administration, are you scared?
JL: I’m very ...
What a fucking goat rodeo this is?
JL: Both. I’m scared sometimes.
Why is that? It seems like it’s out of control. I don’t think it is.
JF: Because right now, the world is a relatively stable place right now, at least the United States is, and I am very worried. I mean, it’s all fun and games now, wire-tapping and these crazy conspiracy theories. But when a crisis hits, I don’t know how he’s going to react, but I don’t think it’s going to be well. And so that sort of ... that’s what keeps me up.
TV: I was in the national security staff. I was a low-level two-bit spokesman, but I sat in on a lot of meetings where I saw very serious people making decisions. I understand that the work that you have to do to manage a North Korea is ongoing and constant. It requires pushing the government and bringing them together and working these problems every day. I have no sense that that’s happening. You add to what Jon said, like when Barack Obama, when Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to blow up a plane over Detroit, or you know, when any of the various sort of crises hit, whether it was a domestic shooting or a terrorist attack, he first and foremost viewed his role as talking about the resilience of the United States, and bringing people down and making sure there wasn’t hysteria and people turning on each other.
I do not think that will be Donald Trump’s instinct. I do not think that will be Steve Bannon’s instinct. I think they will see a political opportunity.
JF: Also, like when Obama walked into office, there’s a second financial crisis, right? No one wanted to take a vote for the financial bailout. No one wanted to take a vote for the auto bailout. But Obama, Democrats and some Republicans came together to do that, knowing that it was going to be unpopular because they knew that if they did not do that, the economy would’ve collapsed and the global economy could have collapsed with it. That took some political courage. I could not see this Congress and this president taking those same steps.
Are there any Republicans? Jon, which ones do you like?
JL: I think Ben Sass is really interesting and has had some integrity.
JF: Justin Amash.
JL: Yeah, I mean man, some people that I would not expect to like. It’s not that hard. Seth Moulton, Democrat, we had him on the show yesterday and he was saying that, he goes to the House gym and he works out with a bunch of Republicans. When they’re in the gym and they’re talking, they all know how crazy Donald Trump is. They all know what he’s doing is wrong. Then they put their suits on and they go out to the podium and they lie.
It’s not that hard to show integrity in this moment and there are very few who have done it.
TV: John McCain has been running the Maverick play longer than like Stockton and Malone ran the pick and roll, every time they’re like, “Oh my God, if you smoke out …” So, I do think there’s some value in what they’re saying. I’d love to see them push a little harder here.
JL: Right, because him and Lindsey Graham have an act going.
TV: They have an act, they have a shtick and it worked very well.
JL: Statler and Waldorf from the Muppets. “I hate this.”
JF: I’ve been impressed with like, there’s a lot of political operatives that are Republicans who have sort of spoken out and decided this is not going to be my, like whether it’s Nicole Waller or Tim Miller or Stewart Stevens or Mike Murphy, a lot of these folks who were Romney people, Bush people. But it’s funny when you get to elected office, you see fewer, you don’t see as much of that.
JL: You see a lot more Marco Rubios.
I want to finish up on the media itself and then we’ll get to some questions, we have a whole bunch of questions. Just one or two minutes on that. How do you look at how the media has performed here, in general?
There’s lots of different, there’s print media, there’s ... but it’s all pretty much the same. How do you look about how to ... A year and a half ago, I was at a party and there was all campaign reporters from the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal. They were all treating Trump like a circus act. They were like, “Oh, he’s nothing.”
I was like, “He’s kind of interesting, don’t you think? I like Make America Great ...” “Oh you don’t know what you’re talking about. The powers that be will not let Trump win.”
And I said, “Are they going to shoot him? Because otherwise I don’t see how they can stop him because he’s really appealing.” It was sort of a total missing in action kind of thing. Do you think they have recovered that now?
JF: I’ve learned not to lump the media all in together.
JF: That’s one thing I’ve been trying not to do. I think journalists, people who go out and do reporting, have done an outstanding job and they’ve been doing an even better job in the Trump era. I think that political analysis is still as broken as it ever has been.
JL: A raging dumpster fire filled with idiots and his campaign rejects and valueless creeps. Just a bunch of TV-hungry maniacs.
TV: That’s why we’re starting a media company. To Jon’s point, I think there were decisions made early on. I want to be more careful about this too because I feel like we were ...
JL: Oh. Careful.
TV: We’re going careful now.
TV: Thirteen minutes, nuance. We were very critical of the media. I think it’s very important to talk about what the criticism was. A lot of it was cable news. A lot of it was business decisions made by top people to show Trump constantly, while their reporters ...
I mean now, though. Now do you think they’re ...
TV: I think they’re a hell of a lot tougher on him now than they were before.
I still think there’s a dumpster fire.
TV: The reporters I think are doing ... I mean, you look at Jake Tapper, he’s doing tough journalism every day.
He is, actually.
JL: I think that what happened in the run-up to the election, I think that there was this perception, I’m sure, that Hillary Clinton would be the next president so they treated her like someone to be held accountable, like someone to be president, and they treated Trump like a TV show a little bit. I will always remember the New York Times ...
JL: I’ll forever remember the New York Times on the day that they had four or five email stories that blanketed the front page, and ...
JF: No, it was about the letter, it was about Comey’s letter
JL: Comey’s letter.
JF: There was no allegations, there was no proof, there was no nothing. It led the entire New York Times a week before the election and then the night before the election when Comey said, “No, we’re just kidding. By the way, we’re just kidding. Nothing was wrong here, she’s fine.” NBC Nightly News led with “Hillary Clinton Avoids Email Controversy on Final Day.”
JL: Which is, wait, did she? But, ah, but, ah ...
JF: That was a bit.
JL: What were we talking about? You guys see my hand movements.
The media. The media. The media. The dumpster fire.
JL: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So I think that they’ve been chastened. I think that one thing that they’ve been learning how to do is how do you deal with the fact that the president’s a liar. And that you can’t just report his accusations. There are bright spots and failures. I think that we have a problem of, the conversation around politics is broken. The journalism is excellent.
TV: Those are one of the things that we think about constantly, is that people are getting information in different ways. I think if you’re betting on cable news being the primary way people are getting political news in 10 years, you’re crazy. So we’re trying to figure out how to reach people entirely mobile. I think a podcast is a part of that. But I think what the Snapchat folks are doing, “Good Luck America” with Peter Hambie, if you’re not thinking about these people who aren’t googling Barack Obama or going to nytimes.com about how to reach them where they are, you’re not going to be communicating with the people you need to reach.
JF: And if we don’t figure out a way to reach them, then the hoaxes are going to reach them, right? They’re going to get it on their Facebook page.
So you have a Jon Lovett Filter on Snapchat now?
JL: Let’s talk about that after.
JL: That’s an idea.
All right. Let’s get to some questions. Let’s see, what do you think of what is happening in France right now with the rise of the far right-wing Marie LePen?
TV: It’s scary. It’s weird, the convergence of rhetoric. You know, you see like Nigel Farage and Steve Bannon and Marie LePen meeting, having conversations. I think Europe ... we should be nervous about Europe for a couple reasons.
I think they are susceptible to some of the fake news, like Russian hacking. Things we saw that were so pervasive in our election. I think that’s something they’re sort of sounding the alarm on, rightly so.
I think that they’ve dealt with ... We’re really lucky to have two big oceans on either side of our country. We have very safe steady borders, they do not. What has happened in Syria and Iraq in terms of the refugee crisis, has been disruptive and it’s adding on to a problem of a failure to assimilate communities together. People feeling disaffected and unemployed and dealing with economic problems as well.
It makes me very nervous about the ability of nationalism to really work. And to push someone like her with some pretty abhorrent views, it’s scary.
JF: It’s frankly an easier sell in Europe than it is here. And it happened here.
Now the Dutch are, now they’re ...
JF: What? Yeah. Steve King’s favorite guy there.
It’s fascinating that Germany is sort of the bulwark against alt right.
TV: Yeah, I mean thank God for Angela Merkel.
What are your plans to give Crooked Media a more diverse voice? I would agree with that. You all somewhat look the same.
TV: Us, too.
JL: I was told that being gay doesn’t count.
No it doesn’t count, not anymore. It’s like trying to get into nursery schools in San Francisco, it used to be easy, but now there’s too many gays with children.
JF: Kara Swisher, too many gays with children.
JL: It’s why I like Pence doing like an anti-gay EO, be like bittersweet.
JL: We get a little bit of that vibe back. I don’t want that to happen.
Yes we do. It’s so pleasurable for it to come back.
TV: This is something we talk about and think about a lot because it’s important for a number of reasons.
It’s important to us because we know we have blind spots. When you’re literally same looking, same age, same work background, we’re missing perspective and we’re trying to create a company that’s going to reach a whole universe of people.
So, we’re working on diversifying our team internally as we hire people. We’re a two-month-old company, so we haven’t made a lot of decisions yet. That’s very, very, very important to us.
The more podcasts, the more diversity.
JF: Yes, both.
TV: We’re trying to recruit people to join Crooked Media that have diverse perspectives, diverse voices, that are coming from different background than us and different views. I think a year from now, I don’t think this is a company that is set up for us to talk. I think it’s a company that brought together really smart interesting people to have a better conversation about politics. We might not be a part of those conversations.
JF: We don’t want it to be built just around us.
JF: I think we want diversity of background, diversity of viewpoints, diversity of life experience, that is incredibly important to this company and that’s what we’re thinking about as we go beyond just the three of us, which it is right now.
JL: We have good company. We started because we’re friends.
I had ranked you, remember, backstage I had ranked them, I said, “Oh, here are the left-wing dude-bros.” Douche-bros? Yes, I said douche-bros. And then I said, compared to the tech douche-bros. Compared to the right-wing douche-bros. You said, “Where are we on the list?” I said, “You’re at the top, but it’s a really low bar.”
JF: We’ll take it.
JL: I’m sorry I missed that conversation. Sounds delightful.
I know you did.
JF: Yeah, you showed up late.
Meaning that you would have shows that are, how do you look at, like you just don’t want to fill in spots, but what is the thinking behind that?
TV: Well for one, it’s like, it’s not filling slots, that’s not how we think about it at all. It’s like bringing people to the table as partners to help make every single decision and who are diverse in perspective and background and understand things we don’t know. That’s part of it.
But then, our first show is “With Friends Like These” with Ana Marie Cox. You should all subscribe on Itunes, it’s great.
TV: Her show is about bringing people who disagree together and bridging divides. So it’s a content in the individual ...
JF: And she’s done it a couple of different ways, like her first episode was she interviewed a pastor who both of his counties in Wisconsin voted for Trump so she got that, she then had a great interview with a friend and the whole episode was “Being the Black Friend” and that was her second episode. She’s doing a great thing cause she doesn’t, she just like, “I don’t just want ideological partisan differences, but difference across race and religion and having all these uncomfortable conversations.”
Right, sort of your family Thanksgiving dinner, essentially.
The U.S. has never been as ripe for tyranny, could it be a gift that Trump pulls people back to reality and back to care as an external uniting threat? There’s this whole meme that he’s going to be King Trump. Do you think that? Do you feel that, or do you think it’s just being used to scare people?
JL: I think that, first of all, it’s really hard to predict. I think that being afraid that he is going to become an authoritarian, a true, a full authoritarian, I think it’s more effective and more practical to think, “What can I do to protect institutions right now?” At the end of the day, Trump leads off as a bitter president who undermined a bunch of institutions and changed the presidency in a bunch of negative ways, that’s still terrible.
The other thing to keep in mind, you know, if Trump gives this joint address to Congress, right, and of course a group of people that I’ve criticized lightly during this event say, “He became president, he’s finally presidential now.” What does that mean? It means he walked, he gave the speech, he succeeded, he didn’t fall down. He had the pomp and ceremony of being the president of the United States. He gets those cultural institutions. He gets those norms. We have given them to him.
So we have to protect the ones that aren’t as fun, like the oversight and the rule of law. I think that has to be our focus
JF: The media and the courts.
JL: He can be very, very destructive long before he’s Putin.
TV: I do a foreign policy show called “Pod Save the World,” you can all subscribe.
JL: We’re just hitting all of our marks.
TV: And all our bases here.
I was talking to a guy named Mike McFaul, he’s a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, and I asked him a similar question. People who are Russia experts like Julia Ioffe, was sort of pointing out similar things. There are parallels, and I think what the thing about Putin’s rise is that people didn’t fight hard enough early. Especially when it comes to defending the press.
First the judges, now apparently the congressional budget office needs protecting.
TV: U.S. attorneys. Right, every non-partisan institution that he doesn’t like he’s savaging. I think it’s important to fight these things early. I don’t know if that’s a blessing in disguise, but a more aware, a more awake population, that’s probably good.
So next question, did Hillary lose because of policy, personality or Putin?
Which one, you gotta pick one.
JF: I don’t know if policy should go there, I don’t know that there was a policy. I think, look, the Putin thing is hard to tell what kind of effect that had, it’s hard to measure it. But clearly the combination of WikiLeaks, I think Comey probably had a bigger effect on the undecided voters on the end.
JF: Is that Putin? Yeah, that’s Putin. I think that had then, but that said, I think that Hillary was in a position to have Comey tip the race, because she probably was ... she was a candidate who was of Washington, and that’s not just a specific Hillary problem. Like, I was on the Kerry Race in 04 that was my first race, John Kerry had that some problem.
JF: People who have been in Washington a very long time tend to be a little stiffer and a little more cautious when they’re out on the campaign trail. It’s not just specific to Hillary. Bernie was actually an exception. Bernie’s been in Washington for I don’t know how long.
JF: He didn’t seem like he was Washington. He still sort of broke out of that.
JL: Yeah I ... I’m sorry.
JF: No go for it.
JL: You know look, on the policy front, I think one lesson I take away from the election is there’s a lot of, “Look how thick this policy proposal is.” You look at the proposals on minimum wage or college, you took simple elegant Bernie Sanders ideas and it’s not about left versus right but just simple digestible ideas, like this is going to help you, it’s simple, it’s for you. I think there’s a Democratic apparatus that treated seriousness with how complicated it was, how you can massage the tax credits to not hurt the deficit in a certain kind of way and I think that’s the kind of thinking we need to push aside. Because we’re in the wilderness, we’re an opposition party. We need to have simple clear proposals.
TV: I think it’s very frustrating ...
JL: Simple clear proposals. The rare applause line.
That’s very Hamiltonian.
TV: I feel bad for friends who worked on the campaign, because they sort of get called sore losers when they talk about Putin. But as a guy who has worked on a campaign comm scene, you can’t underestimate the damage that did to the mood music of the election. Every day you’re dealing with Putin and John Podesta’s emails or whatever it is and you cannot get a message out that’s hard to get out anyway. So, like, I don’t discount that. I think what we screwed up and what I personally screwed up as a Democrat, was clearly the rise of Bernie saying we hate Washington. The rise of Trump said we hate Washington. We said, here’s a fixture of Washington for 30 years, right?
Voters said no. That’s not what we want. I don’t think that’s personality, I don’t think that’s policy, I don’t think it’s Putin. I think it’s a fundamental misreading by Democrats of what people wanted.
JF: And some of that was set before the election even began. Even if you think she ran a great campaign, it was just sort of baked in.
JL: And, three million more votes, a hundred thousand votes go the other way, we’re having a very different conversation.
JL: It’s worth pointing out.
But we always point it out. That’s ...
JL: I don’t always point it out. I rarely do, I forgot for a long time.
But the thing is, it doesn’t matter.
JL: It doesn’t matter. That’s the thing about the Putin, it doesn’t matter.
Don’t do that, “If only ... “
JL: Oh so close! I feel like she almost became president. We almost weren’t in a nightmare.
TV: Hey, how’s it going.
Yet not. All right. Last question.
JL: What’s happening?
So last quick question, and then I want you each to answer this and then say who, if you could pick almost any Democrat, anyone in the world you would pick to run in 2020, who would it be? It says Corey Booker wasn’t on your list of promising Dems, what’s your thinking?
JL: You know, that’s why these lists suck. You always leave someone off the list.
Yeah. But you left them off.
JF: You know who I forgot? That I really like? Deval Patrick. I could see Deval coming out of his retirement.
JL: I like Deval Patrick.
But anyone else, think of someone completely out of, you could just grab someone from anywhere, business, Hollywood, anywhere.
JL: Living or dead?
Yeah, living or dead, okay, good.
JF: Barack Obama?
No, he can’t do it.
JL: I don’t think this is going to be fruitful. I don’t think we’re going to want to pick somebody. I think you’ll be unhappy with this as a last question.
All right. Well, what would you like for the last question?
JL: I don’t know.
No. Answer my fucking question.
JL: This is a tough interview.
It’s super hard for a lesbian to beat a gay guy. It really is. Yes, see now you did the ...
JL: We just have a natural rapport.
Yes, you did the thing.
JL: I mean, look, we come from two different worlds.
JF: What you guys missed is that there was an email chain where Kara told Lovett she didn’t think he was funny so the result is ...
No, I said he was passively funny, that was different. Which really, I use that ...
JL: Going on my Twitter profile, momentarily.
I did it because I knew the adverb would bother him. Pick one person, we gotta go.
JF: I’m picking Deval Patrick.
JL: So, annoying that he thought of Deval and now we want to say Deval.
TV: I’d like to see Elizabeth Warren run.
Elizabeth Warren, really? Elizabeth Warren.
JL: Yeah, Elizabeth Warren, Deval Patrick, those are my choices.
TV: I’d like to see an Elizabeth Warren that is willing to let it rip and see where she goes.
JF: Come on, do an original one, Lovett.
JL: An original one, who I ...
JL: Oprah? What are we even doing? I’m not into the Secret thing, I’m sorry, that was some dangerous nonsense. If you wish it you could be a billionaire like me. Where are they? Where are the Oprah billionaires?
All right, so not Oprah? Elizabeth Warren?
JL: Ah, you want me to come up with somebody new?
Yes I do. It’s not that hard.
JL: Give me some options. Al Franken. Al Franken. I love Al Franken. I have loved Al Franken forever.
All right. I’m going with Jennifer Lawrence because everybody likes her.
JF: Oh great.
JL: Good lesbian answer.
Exactly. No, the lesbian answer is Kristen Stewart, because they want to hit it.
JL: You’re just trying to get her.
Yeah exactly. We just want her to hit us. Thank you so much, Crooked Media.
JF: Thank you.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.