University Republicans and Democrats hosted Chuck Todd for a discussion about the state of national political discourse.
By T. Kevin Walker
The moderator of “Meet the Press” says his viewers tune in for something different from the fluff and gotcha journalism they see all too often throughout the rest of the week.
“They want information, not affirmation. They want a debate, but they want it civil,” Chuck Todd said Saturday to a capacity crowd at the George Washington University’s Jack Morton Auditorium. “There is an expectation on Sunday morning – that really should also be there on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday – that there’s a higher bar, and you don’t get into the petty.”
The GW College Republicans and GW College Democrats organized Mr. Todd’s appearance as part of this year’s Colonials Weekend activities. Frank Sesno, director of the School of Media and Public Affairs and a former CNN anchor and correspondent, engaged Mr. Todd in an hour-long conversation that focused largely on the state of the nation’s political discourse.
Mr. Todd, who has moderated NBC’s venerable Sunday morning show since 2014 and also serves as the network’s political director, said that these days, political and ideological divisions go far beyond party affiliation. The 2016 election cycle illustrated that the issues are much more nuanced now, he said.
“We have a third-party president or a no-party president. Trump is really not married to a party,” said Mr. Todd, who added that the “grassroots populist conservatives” who elected President Trump have very little in common with other Republican leaders like House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
As for Democrats, Mr. Todd said as 2020 draws nearer, the divide between progressives and the old guard that was magnified in the 2016 primary will become more pronounced.
“Democrats will have to decide if they want an aggressive progressive: sort of a progressive Trump or are they just going to want to win by doing whatever it takes to win,” he said.
Mr. Todd attributed the lack of trust between the news media and a large segment of the American public to a deterioration of solid local reporting.
“We lost the trust but not [because of] politics. I think the trust actually got severed when we stopped serving our role as protector of the individual, protector of the consumer, the watchdog for the little guy,” he said.
As an aside, Mr. Todd conceded that politics, shares some blame.
“It doesn’t help when you have a political party that uses press-bashing as a strategy. Over time, it does have an impact,” he said.
A native of Miami, Mr. Todd attended GW from 1990 to 1994, fulfilling his dream of living in Washington, D.C. His career took flight at “Hotline,” the “National Journal’s” popular political blog, where he worked in various capacities, including editor-in-chief, for 15 years. He joined NBC News in 2008 as chief White House correspondent. Mr. Todd is the 12th moderator of “Meet the Press,” which, in its 69th season, holds the record as the longest-running program in television history.
“I can’t imagine having half the success I have had in my career if I hadn’t come to GW,” he said. “What I appreciated then and what I appreciate now is that the political climate at GW has always been civil.”
That civility was exemplified by the university’s Democratic and Republican student organizations joining forces to sponsor Mr. Todd’s talk, according to GW College Democrats President Jazmin Kay.
“In this current political climate, it is so important to have people coming together from both sides of the aisle,” she said.
When asked by an attendee about colleges establishing so-called “safe spaces,” Mr. Todd made it clear that he is not a fan of these virtual borders that are designed to protect students from discrimination and criticism.
“That really bothers me. The idea of coming to college was to expand your mind and expand what you learn – not close it off and shut down debate and opposing views,” he said.
Drawing on his own background, Mr. Todd said he would have been ill-prepared for the real world had his mother decided to shield him from anti-Semitism.
“She could have easily put me in a safe space, and then at 25 I’d think, ‘What the hell is this?’” he said. “I think it is important for any of us to know that there are people who may hate us simply because of ethnicity, the color of our skin, religion or whatever it is. That is a learning experience.”