Yesterday marked a milestone in National Review’s life online — the retirement of the Campaign Spot by Jim Geraghty. Jim’s blog has had many iterations — including the Kerry Spot and even the Turkey Spot — and you can rest assured that he’s not going anywhere. He’ll continue to write pieces for the homepage, and to blog on the Corner. Here, we talk about some of the highlights of his National Review blogging history and his perspective on America’s past and future. — KJL
Kathryn Jean Lopez: Do you have top ten moments?
Jim Geraghty: Rathergate ranks up there. There was an event, at one of our former editor’s houses, before the election in 2004, where Rich introduced me as “Pajama been Bloggin’,” my nickname from the Pajamahadeen years. I was greeted with this strange roar of familiarity and warmth from the room, from quite a few big-time movers and shakers in the conservative movement.
I also remember that fall there had been some controversy, and the Bush-Cheney campaign had offered some pretty mealy-mouthed spokesman’s statement in response. You and I had both written something in the vein of, “this charge is coming from Kerry and Edwards, and even though it’s baseless, it requires a response from the President and Vice President.” Apparently somebody in the Bush-Cheney campaign read that, got on the horn to Cheney’s people, and within a few hours, Cheney had added something to his stump speech pushing back on the accusation. As a wire-service reporter, I was used to being absolutely ignored, and now all of a sudden, I’m witnessing consequences to what we wrote like that — it was a real testament to the reach and influence of NR.
The election nights are probably the most memorable — 2004, obviously, not just because Bush won, but because that night I met a good friend who may have known even more than I did about the election, down to the precincts, Marshall Manson.
I remember in 2010, we played the theme to ‘John Adams’ in Cam’s studio every time a tea-party candidate won; it felt like such a vindication and this imminent return to our founding values. As we all know, things didn’t work out quite so simply. I spent election night in 2012 down in Dallas, Texas, doing in-studio coverage on TheBlaze, finishing up coverage after Glenn Beck and a lot of the big names had gone home, some stunned and most thoroughly depressed by the results. Amy Holmes and a few of us went back to our hotel and pretty much cleaned out our mini-bars as we contemplated another four years of Obama. The tone of the Morning Jolt the following day was sobering, but that doesn’t mean it was written while entirely sober.
This most recent midterm election was a strange one, because once again I was down in Dallas, playing the role for TheBlaze, and they wrapped up all of my appearances by 10 p.m. Of course, a lot of the biggest races weren’t called by then, so I ended up enjoying one of the most satisfying nights for conservatives in a while in a hotel room alone. Earlier that day, one of my sources in the Virginia Republican party told me the early vote had looked phenomenal for Ed Gillespie, and that all of the data they were tracking suggested an upset was really possible. I think he said that if I posted any of that before the polls closed he would hop on a plane and beat me senseless. As we all know, Gillespie came oh-so-close to beating Mark Warner, and Campaign Spot was telling people that, oh, 30 seconds after the polls closed.
Earlier this year, CPAC generously named me journalist of the year for my work at National Review. They asked me to make a few remarks, and while I’ve spoken about all kinds of political topics to all kinds of audiences, I learned that night that it’s a lot harder to speak about the people who matter most to me, who made me capable of doing what I do — the editors, co-workers, my parents, my wife, the boys, and my dearest friends.
Lopez: Do you have a favorite politician of the last decade or so?
Geraghty: There are a lot whom I not only agree with, and whose style of leadership I appreciate, but who have been particularly kind and generous with their time. Senator Pat Toomey ranks up there. He and his campaign really enjoyed the recurring joke about the approach of “Toomsday” in the 2010 campaign, and turned it into a T-shirt. He brought one for me when he went on that year’s NR cruise. There’s nothing like a senator-elect personally delivering a T-shirt to you to fool other people into thinking you’re a big shot.
I think the more people mocked Mitt Romney for his white-bread, Dudley-do-Right dweebishness, the more I liked him. Governor Jindal was extraordinarily generous with his time in that 2011 piece, and I’ve enjoyed all of our chats since. I’ve enjoyed my interactions with Rick Perry and Marco Rubio this cycle. I remember when Rubio first came into NR’s Washington offices, and I remember writing a profile back in August 2009. A lot of politicians want to meet NR, hoping they’ll be called the next Reagan or something, and they frequently don’t live up to the hype. But I remember all of us coming out of that meeting really impressed with him.
Back in the 2010 cycle I remember watching Democratic representative Phil Hare declare, “I don’t care about the Constitution,” and saying that his Republican rival, Bobby Schilling, had a real shot. I think a lot of people thought I was insane, and Schilling ended up winning.
Mark Sanford gave me his first interview during his comeback bid, and he became the first political figure I’ve had to offer a disclaimer for; as my dad became more active in Hilton Head–area politics, Republican clubs, Tea Party groups, etc., he formally endorsed Sanford. Whatever you think of Sanford, he thoroughly out-hustled his Democratic opponent, doing ten-event days in the final weeks.
My brother is now working for WWE, which makes me wish I had been a little kinder in my assessment of Linda McMahon’s bids for Senate in Connecticut.
Bob McDonnell stands out in the “why did I ever like that guy?” pile.
Lopez: What has writing for National Review meant for you?
Geraghty: It’s the opportunity of a lifetime, and I’m blessed to have it. A good team with good leaders is hard to find in this business. Everybody above me has given me exquisite freedom to write what I want to write, and been exceptionally forgiving on those occasions when it hasn’t worked out right.
In a lot of ways, National Review is like a small family business. We’re not owned by some larger media entity or conglomerate. For better or worse, there’s no Uncle Rupert. That’s probably a financial drawback and an editorial strength — we never have to worry about whether what we’re writing will offend “the suits.” I think what’s amazing, once you see the place from the inside, is how much we punch above our weight. You’ve heard the stories of people coming into the New York offices and picturing something much bigger, fancier. This is it, my friends.
Lopez: Who will be president next?
Geraghty: Not Hillary. That’s about 48 percent hope, 52 percent assessment.
I’m a big fan of a Serpentor Project for the RNC, where we take the DNA of all of the top-tier GOP candidates and genetically engineer a candidate who has all of their advantages and none of their disadvantages. Rubio’s charisma, Jindal’s policy knowledge, Walker’s steadfastness in the face of adversity, Cruz’s combativeness, Perry’s ability to connect with people, Bush’s familiarity with the challenges of the presidency, Paul’s focus on expanding liberty, Huckabee’s folksiness, Fiorina’s sharpness on the stump. [Cue irate e-mails for my failure to remember your preferred candidate and your sense of their greatest strength.]
Lopez: What have been President Obama’s upsides? Downsides?
Geraghty: How long do I have to get back to you on the upsides? Um . . . he’s been good for gun sales? Good for Fox News ad rates? I suppose we on the Right could say he’s a teachable moment for the country.
In terms of downsides . . . how much time do you have?
You might say the presidency of Barack Obama is a natural end result of a cultural shift that really picked up steam when you and I were teenagers. The 1992 election was the first presidential election to feature MTV’s “Rock the Vote,” which featured Madonna and other celebrities urging young people to vote. It was a turning point in trying to make politicians and presidential candidates “cool.” It was cool celebrities telling young people that voting was cool. And we knew which candidate that year was going to be the cool one: Bill Clinton on The Arsenio Hall Show, wearing shades and playing the saxophone, and so on. But politics, governing, lawmaking — these things were never supposed to be cool. By 2008, you saw discussion of Obama as a “brand.”
If readers of Campaign Spot ever suspected I was an astronomic-scale dweeb in high school, they’re correct. But I’d be happier with a world where the “cool” people went off and did their “cool” stuff, and left politics and governing to the rest of us who actually know about it and care about it.
Lopez: What are America’s greatest challenges?
Geraghty: Well, first and foremost, the world still has a lot of people who want to kill us. I’d rather kill them first or persuade them that killing any of our people will bring such a hellacious retribution against them that it’s not even worth attempting.
I’m going to do something uncharacteristic and quote Tom Friedman — think of it as a broken clock being right twice a day.
I’m going to do something uncharacteristic and quote Tom Friedman — think of it as a broken clock being right twice a day:
If you are self-motivated, wow, this world is tailored for you. The boundaries are all gone. But if you’re not self-motivated, this world will be a challenge because the walls, ceilings, and floors that protected people are also disappearing. That is what I mean when I say ‘it is a 401(k) world.’ Government will do less for you. Companies will do less for you. Unions can do less for you. There will be fewer limits, but also fewer guarantees. Your specific contribution will define your specific benefits much more. Just showing up will not cut it.
A lot of this is the consequence of globalization. Somewhere along the line, the American economy became this grand opportunity for the smart, the driven, the talented, and the exceptional — and a lot tougher for anyone who didn’t have those traits, but who are good, decent, hard-working people who deserve to make a good living. We never had a national referendum on that, and we never had a national debate on that; this wrenching economic change just happened. I also think that a lot of schools do a terrible job of preparing young people for this economic reality.
Socially, I’d like a society that helped out parents, instead of seeming to make them feel like they’re always swimming upstream. The next hipster who rolls his eyes and tsk-tsks at my boys behaving like boys in Starbucks is going to end up wearing his decaf-soy latte. Last week I noted how leviathan is starting to be felt in my neighborhood of Authenticity Woods, Fairfax County.
Of course, while I’m socially conservative a lot of days, I have my libertarian moments. Particularly in this era of ratting out your neighbors for free-range parenting, I think we could use a giant serving of “this is none of your darn business.” I want everybody to stay out of my business, and I’ll stay out of yours. In fact, you have no idea how little I care about your business.
Lopez: What have been America’s best days as you’ve experienced them?
Geraghty: If you grow up with Ronald Reagan as president, you enter life thinking all presidents are that good.
If you grow up with Ronald Reagan as president, you enter life thinking all presidents are that good.
There’s been a lot of despair in the conservative movement since 2012, and we really need to shake it off. A little while back, Ace of Spades and I debated this, and I suspect more vocal conservatives agree with him — “we’re not the country we used to be, we’ve become a lazy, entitled, media-addled, ignorant, shallow, materialistic, and dishonorable shadow of our former selves, ” etc. Sure, those people exist, and they’ve always existed. Americans who work hard — take care of their kids, contribute to charity, serve at their church or other community organization, serve in the military — don’t really grab the headlines. We still have a lot of those people, doing the best they can, day after day. I think we do them a disservice if we think the shouting Obama-Phone woman represents modern America as a whole.
I think if you spend a lot of time following politics, it’s probably inherently depressing.
Lopez: What did you learn in Turkey?
Geraghty: There are a lot of wonderful places in the world to visit, but not many I’d want to live.
Lopez: What is your hope for America as a father?
Geraghty: One of my most deep-rooted fears is that by trying to teach my boys right from wrong, I’m teaching them to be suckers. You try to teach your child the value of hard work, the value of honestly, the need to treat people with kindness and so on, and maybe the rest of the world isn’t teaching their kids the same things. A lot of parents aren’t even in the picture for their kids, and the lessons that are getting fed into their heads are more or less the opposite of what those kids need.
So my hope is that the boys grow up strong, smart, confident, and big-hearted, and that the country is in a good shape as they enter adulthood — secure, prosperous, full of opportunity, and considering how things are going lately, still having a Constitution and rule of law. I mentioned earlier that politics is probably inherently depressing. Parenting provides a pretty good contrast. When I shift from writing duties to daddy duties late in the day, I’m shifting from a world where I can’t control much to a world where I have a lot more control and influence.