The year in politics
We wrap up 2021 with three of our favorite Axios political voices.
- Plus, your best moments of 2021.
Guests: Axios co-founder Mike Allen, Axios managing editor for politics Margaret Talev, and Axios political reporter Alexi McCammond.
Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Julia Redpath, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Alex Sugiura, Sabeena Singhani, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Jayk Cherry, Ben O'Brien and David Toledo. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.
NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today! It’s Friday, December 17th. I’m Niala Boodhoo. Today for our last podcast of the year, we turn over the mic to you to share your best moments of 2021. But first: the year in politics – with Mike Allen, Margaret Talev, and Alexi McCammond – is today’s One Big Thing.
NIALA: On Fridays on Axios Today we often wrap up the week in political news. Well since this is the last Friday of the show for this year before our team takes some time off, so we thought we’d go BIG and a little longer than normal, and wrap up the entire year with three of our favorite Axios political voices – co-founder Mike Allen, managing editor for politics Margaret Talev, and political reporter Alexi McCammond. Good morning and welcome!
MARGARET: Thanks, Niala. Great to be here.
ALEXI MCCAMMOND: Thank you.
MIKE ALLEN: And Niala, congratulations on an awesome year for Axios Today.
NIALA: Thank you. Mike, let's start with you. If we go back to the very start of this year, I'm just thinking about the photo of the year that you were just talking about this week. And it was from January 6th. It was of the Capitol insurrection and we're still talking about it in December. How had, did that shape this year in politics?
MIKE: Spoiler alert – it's also going to shape all of next year. The strong indications the 1/6 committee will go all the way past the midterms. And why shaping conversation? It matters. I think that in the moment, we weren't sure, is this the 9/11 for Margaret's daughter? And increasingly, it definitely was a 9/11 for democracy. And it's one of those situations where we just keep learning more.
MARGARET TALEV: It does fundamentally matter whether Americans believe that their vote counts and that a vote has to stand, whether or not you disagree with it. And the revelations of this committee, the text messages among president Trump's closest advisors, on that January 6th day, some of the other documents, this is not just a political probe. This is a substantive connecting of the dots to help Americans understand for now and for history, what happened on that day and how we got to that point.
MIKE: Yeah, so we're told that the chief of staff at the end of the Trump administration, Mark Meadows, turned over 9,000 documents. What have we seen? Like six of them or something, there's much more to come, including a text that we've seen from another member of Congress that says Mark Meadows, check your signal. Now, anyone in journalism knows what that means. It's like the old, pickup the phone, right? Like you're trying to lose your paper trail.
ALEXI: What's really frightening about January 6th, is it was the first real time that we saw these online conspiracy theories moving offline in a way that resulted in death, danger and chaos, and also in a way that people continue to write off as just another normal day, further kind of cementing these two realities that we're living in increasingly because of our partisan politics.
NIALA: Margaret, Joe Biden took office shortly after this, of course. What expectation did he set as he began this year?
MARGARET: The crux of his message was I'm going to return America to more normalcy. His message was, I'm not Donald Trump. I'm a competent stewart of governance. I can get vaccines into American's arms, get the pandemic under control, get the economic impacts of the pandemic under control and restore the US to a different role in the world than it had been for the last four years. And I think what we've seen over the course of last year is just how difficult that has been. He and his team were able to create a framework to get that vaccine available to all Americans who wanted it very quickly. They got that infrastructure bill done. They're working towards getting the Build Back Better done. Having said that, it was a much rougher year for Joe Biden than he wanted. And just as was the case for Obama, when he and Biden took office, these bigger crises, in that case, it was a financial crisis, in this case a health epidemic that turned into an economic crisis, they just prove much larger than having, infrastructure or policies in place could, could fix.
ALEXI: You know, a lot of other things happened, Afghanistan, obviously – a big thing, that really kind of shifted the administration's priorities, and shifted the things that they had to respond to given what was really going on.
NIALA: When we think about, Mike, everything that Biden was facing on day one. How would you judge how this year has gone for the Biden administration?
MIKE: You've been asking your listeners of Axios Today, what was your best moment of 2021? And if you were to ask president Biden that, on truth serum, you can argue that it was Inauguration Day –
MIKE: –because he came in and we talked right on Axios today about how he had the biggest inbox of any president since FDR and president Biden talked about his four colliding crises: that you had the economy, that you had covid, that you had climate, that you had racial equity. But then look at what's been added to the world's biggest inbox, supply chain, inflation, gas prices, a possible hot war with China. It's a long list.
NIALA: Lexi, if you're thinking about the Republican party and their biggest moments of the year, what would those be?
ALEXI: I think just the way that they've been coalescing around Donald Trump, in spite of him not being technically the official leader of the party anymore, following through on their promises, even before Biden was elected to block what they considered to be too expansive and socialists pieces of legislation. We're seeing that happen with voting rights. Democrats have been trying to get that through the Senate, that's been blocked at least three times now. So, I think we're really seeing the Republican party just continue to take shape in the mold of Trump and Trumpism, which is important to note because you know, Biden on the trail during the presidential election would say, over and over again, that without Trump in the oval, Republicans would kind of, go back to the party that he knew them to be.
MARGARET: The Republican party’s two greatest moments of the year were Glen Youngkin’s win in Virginia, and Joe Biden's continuously declining poll numbers. And those two are their roadmap for 2022.
NIALA: What are your one big things for 2022? Can we go around?
MIKE: Niala, my one big thing for 2022 is when we have this conversation a year from today, will president Biden look bigger or smaller? Will he leave a more transformed country? That's gonna be much more clearer a year from today.
ALEXI: The one thing that I'll be watching for in 2022 is voting rights and not just at the federal level, but really at the state level, because we've seen voting restrictions and voting expansions move across the country. But the thing that binds them is that they're all inspired by the lies around the 2020 election. So I think it's not just voting rights, but it's voting rights coupled with these conspiracy theories that continue to kind of proliferate in our politics.
MARGARET: I'll be watching the impact of Donald Trump putting his thumb on the scale in dozens, maybe more than a hundred races around the country, in Republican primaries, state, federal, local, school boards, canvassing boards, elections offices. Do his efforts weaken or strengthen the Republican party? And how does that set them up to try to retake power in 2022 and to shape the presidential race in 2024?
MIKE: I'm going to add a crazy between the lines to Margaret's point, and that is, the Republican party today is Trumpy-er than it was in November, 2020. You look at all those offices that Margaret mentions that he's putting people up for. He's very involved behind the scenes on setting up House and Senate candidates who get his endorsement. Working to change the election machinery in states, states are being redistricted based on elections that happen under Trump. And as you look at who's running in 2024, there's not a person who's viable, who wants to, can cross him.
MARGARET: The future of American democracy really is being shaped right now as we speak. And I don't know if most Americans are paying attention to it. I think people are paying attention to their gas prices, their heating bills, their jobs, their health –
NIALA: the pandemic.
MARGARET: The pandemic. Everybody's still watching the pandemic, but there's actually a much larger political transformation taking shape in the open, right in front of us with really, really profound implications for what we expect from our government and what it means to be an American.
ALEXI: Lots to watch. Let’s buckle up.
NIALA: Thank you to the three of you for being a part of Axios Today this year. And we look forward to hearing from you next year. Mike Allen is Axios’ co-founder, Margaret Talev is Axios’ managing editor for politics, and Alexi McCammond is a political reporter for Axios – thank you, and happy holidays!
MIKE: Niala, thank your listeners. We love the listeners of Axios Today and my colleagues here for their great coverage. And Niala, have the best holiday.
ALEXI: Thanks, Niala.
MARGARET: Thank you.
NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today! I’m Niala Boodhoo. It’s been another tough year. For all of us. But there has also been joy. For me, one of the very best experiences in 2021 was being able to travel again - and see family I hadn’t seen in two years in person – even attending my niece’s high school graduation. So before we go today, let’s hear a few of YOUR stories…about your best moments of 2021.
CHRIS NICOLS: Hi, Axios Today podcast. This is Chris Nichols. I'm an English instructor at Paris junior college in Greenville, Texas. And my best moment of the year was when we finally had a spring graduation that was face-to-face. Students that I hadn't seen since we broke for spring break the prior year for the pandemic, just seeing them, waiting for them, and saying, hey, it's Mr. Nichols. And they say, oh, Mr. Nichols. And it was just the greatest moment to see how excited they were to finally see me and me to see them and to all of us get to celebrate this huge monument in their lives together.
AMY C: This is Amy in Colorado. Axios asked what was your best moment in 2021? I'm interpreting that as when I was at my best in 2021. And that was during a two hour phone call on a Sunday afternoon in early June of this year. My brother who lives on the east coast is disabled, and he has mental health issues that lead to behavioral problems. And he has alienated most of our family. On that day, he was in pain, he was injured. And through careful conversation, I helped him take the first steps to getting safer and getting healthier. And I'm happy to report that I have my brother back. My best moment was when I decided during that phone call to step up for him. Thanks for asking.
MICHAEL ALEF: Hi, Niala. This is Mike in Alef, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the best moment of 2021 for me was the birth of our second son, Andrew on November 17th.
AMY EARHEART: In May of this year, I successfully defended my dissertation for my doctorate of education. I am now proudly Dr. Amy Earheart, a teen mom who has worked hard to smash stereotypes about young parents.
DON PAYNE: This is Don Payne with my best moment for 2021. My best moment this year was with my eight year old grandson, Mason. I bought him a large kite shaped like a whale, and we flew it together on a sunny Saturday afternoon in Sugarland, Texas, just south of Houston. In August 2020, Mason's mother Christie, who is my daughter was murdered by her ex-boyfriend. So it has been a very tough 16 months for the whole family, but especially for Mason. Once I found out that he had never flown a kite before I wanted to give Mason that first experience, I was not disappointed. I've not heard him laugh that hard and have so much fun in a long time. For both of us, it was a day of peace and pure joy.
NIALA: Here’s to more moments of peace and pure joy for the rest of this year and into the next. Thanks so much for sharing your incredible stories, as well as thoughts, feedback, and ideas that help us make the show. Our team is taking a break for the holidays but we are BACK on Monday, January 3rd. In the meantime, you can text me your story ideas for the new year – the number is (202) 918-4893. Or if you didn’t get a chance to tell us about your best moments of 2021, we’d still love to read them. And that’s all for this year! Axios Today is brought to you by Axios and Pushkin Industries.
We’re produced by Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Lydia McMullen-Laird, David Toledo, and Sabeena Singhani. Our sound engineers are Alex Sugiura, Ben O’Brien and Jayk Cherry. Julia Redpath is our Executive Producer. Sara Kehaulani Goo is our Editor In Chief. And special thanks to Axios co-founder Mike Allen.
I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - and have the best end to your year. We’ll see you in January.