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Looking at echoes of the 1994 Midterms in 2022 with Steve Kornacki: podcast and transcript

Chris Hayes speaks with Steve Kornacki, national political correspondent for NBC News and MSNBC, about parallels between the 1994 and 2022 midterms.

To understand the partisanship and bitterness of American politics today, we have to consider what happened in 1994, points out Steve Kornacki, national political correspondent for NBC News and MSNBC. That’s the story he tells in a new six-part original podcast series called “The Revolution,” all about how Georgia Congressman Newt Gingrich ushered in a wave of confrontation and conservatism. Lucky for us, Kornacki took some time away from the Big Board to walk through the history and distinct structural features of midterms, how we got to this moment and the numerous ways the elections this fall could parallel 1994.

Note: This is a rough transcript — please excuse any typos.

Steve Kornacki: People identify so strongly with party.

Chris Hayes: Exactly. Right.

Steve Kornacki: And it means that one of those differences between now and a generation or two ago is being a Democrat means the same thing, roughly, wherever you are the country. Being a Republican means roughly the same thing now. It just didn't exist like that before.

Chris Hayes: Hello and welcome to "Why Is This Happening?" with me, your host, Chris Hayes.

Well, the midterms are upon us. If you're listening to this on the day this comes out, they are a week from today. If you're listening to this after that, they're coming up or maybe it happened in the past and all the remarkable insight that we offer in this podcast will become completely wrong.

So, there is something of a shelf life here, although midterms are interesting both. There's the sort of short-term question of what's happening in the 2022 midterms when, obviously, the Democrats hold the White House, the House and the Senate by the narrowest of margins.

But then there's a broader question about midterms, why midterm elections have their own distinct structural features and how those play into the political landscape and then the history of midterms. And there are sort of strange elections.

I mean, other countries have these kinds of things. There will be elections for regional, political offices in places like Germany or Italy where they don't have a big national election. But then there will be parliamentary systems where they don’t really have midterms, right, because the legislative and executive are not divided the way they are in our constitutional system where you’ve got an elected president who's the executive branch and then you’ve got the legislative, which is another branch, and then they are coequal branches of government.

In a parliamentary system, you elect the parliament and the party that wins calls together a coalition. They appoint a prime minister who is then the executive, right? So, it's all one in the same.

So, even the nature of having these midterm elections is somewhat of a distinct feature of a presidential system like the one we have, which isn't necessarily shared by lots of democracies. And because of that, it does have a lot of distinct features. Unlike the presidential election when there is a single name, personality, candidate to unify around that everyone in the entire election will be voting for, a midterm is both a series of thousands of regional elections, sometimes really, really small ones, right, like your county chair might be up for election in a midterm election, and also a big national referendum on like how things are going, more or less.

And the interplay between those two is super interesting. The place may be to sort of think about the model for the modern midterm, right? We've been having midterm elections for a very long time. And in fact, we might get into some of the history.

But some of the dynamics you'll see in midterm elections in the modern era are shockingly long-pedigreed, right? Like 1874 midterms with Ulysses S. Grant in office sees the out of power party, the Democrats, who in that case are like the party of secession and treason, quite literally, and fresh in everyone's memory, like stormed back, right? Like people are like, ugh, enough of this Civil War stuff, enough of this stuff about the treasonous Democrats. We don’t like the way the country is going, we're voting for them

So, some of those dynamics are really old, but some are early modern. Some of them are products of modern political environments and modern polarization, particularly. And the kind of starting point for what you might think of as a modern midterm and in some ways the nature of modern nationally polarized politics are the 1994 midterms in which Newt Gingrich leads the Republicans to a shocking overwhelming victory two years into Bill Clinton's term.

And my friend and cherished colleague, Steve Kornacki, who's the national political correspondent for NBC News actually has a new podcast about those midterms, called The Revolution. Six-episode series launched October 31st and it tells the origin story of the 1994 Republican Revolution, which is what they talked about.

Of course, Steve has a been a political writer and commentator and correspondent for years. He's the author of the 2018 book, "The Red and The Blue: The 1990s and the Birth of Political Tribalism." He's also the legendary man at the board during our election season. Steve, it's great to have you in the program.

Steve Kornacki: Thanks for having me here.

Chris Hayes: Let's start with '94. Do you agree with that thesis that, I'm characterizing your own thesis, really, but that 1994 marks the sort of beginning of an era that we're kind of still in both in terms of partisan polarization and the way midterms operate?

Steve Kornacki: Yeah. I think '94 is the key election and I think '94 is the start of the era we're now in. It's an era of almost purely nationalized politics. In your set-up there, you're talking about how midterms are the sort of a combination of it. It's hundreds and thousands of different elections all around the country.

And the vision behind 1994, the vision that Gingrich brought to politics, brought to the House, and then ultimately brought to that 1994 Republican Revolution was that the midterm elections and elections for Congress, in general, shouldn't be a series of individual races playing out in unique places all around the country, but it should be essentially a national referendum on two distinct political parties.

And that was, you know, that was really not the case kind of prior to '94. You had in bits and pieces, but I mean, you had 40 years of Democratic control of the House leading up to 1994, which in and of itself is staggering. They called it the permanent Democratic Congress.

But if you look inside that Democratic Party, you had truly conservative Democrats from the south. You had truly liberal Democrats from the North. Their identification with the Democratic Party served their purposes in their distinct local political cultures.

But when they came to Washington, they represented very different definitions of being a Democrat. And it was true within the Republican Party, too. You have liberal Republicans, truly liberal Republicans from the north. You had deeply conservative, you know, Republicans from the Midwest, from Orange County, California, places like that.

And in the Gingrich vision was essentially within the Republican Party to create a clear definition of the Republican Party and then to create a clear contrast of that Republican Party with the Democratic Party and to make voters in every district around the country see that contrast and vote on that contrast.

Chris Hayes: And what's really key here and fascinating to me, I mean, they had controlled the House since '54. But that Republican control in '54 had only been a few years. So, prior to that, you have Democratic control from FDR through the new deal interrupted by a brief period in the '50s then back to Democratic control.

So, really, you're looking at a Democratic House with a little bit of an exception from the new deal through the Gingrich Congress. I mean, it really is like that FDR Democratic coalition holds for an incredibly long period of time.

Steve Kornacki: Yeah, yeah. And where it was breaking, though, was at the presidential level.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Steve Kornacki: And that’s what Gingrich saw.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Steve Kornacki: When you think ab out Newt Gingrich coming to the House, he gets elected in 1978, it's only a few years after Richard Nixon has won 49 states --

Chris Hayes: Right.

Steve Kornacki: -- getting reelected over George McGovern. Nixon gets 61 percent of the votes, one of the biggest landslides in American political history.

And of course, McGovern represented, you know, sort of an insurgent force in the Democratic Party. Very, very much to the left, you know, amnesty, acid, abortion with the label that they tried to hang on him.

And Gingrich saw, I think, in that election among other things, he said, well, geez, you know, simultaneously in 1972, the country rejected McGovern-style Democratic Party liberalism to that degree and yet elected a massive Democratic majority to the House.

If we, he's thinking --

Chris Hayes: Right.

Steve Kornacki: -- can make every voter in every district see the Democratic Party is the party of George McGovern, they're going to start voting Republican and that was his goal.

Steve Kornacki: And there's two things that explain that and two things that I think that explain what Gingrich does, particularly, because where he is from, right? So, one is the idea of nationalizing elections and making our politics, in some ways, I talked upon parliamentary systems, more like a parliamentary system, right?

I mean, the idea before is like, you know, I live in Orange County and I've got Orange County concerns, like, the defense industry which is huge here, or land use and Colorado and what like, and my representative is like in the Tip O'Neill formulation, all politics is local and I deal with them and he was like, no, not a local.

There's two ideological coalitions and you're in one or the other and ours is the one you should be in.

Steve Kornacki: And he saw it, too, in the period when Gingrich was coming up, getting elected to the House and then sort of rising in the House and building his power in the Republican Party. You know, I mentioned '72 and Nixon, there was a whole generation there of Republican success at the presidential level.

So, you had Nixon winning 49 states in '72. You had Reagan winning 44 states in 1980, 49 states in 1984, Bush Senior wins 40 states in 1988. These are blowout, landslide Republican victories in presidential elections, landslides of a scale we just don't see anymore in this country.

Chris Hayes: Yeah, they're just probably off the table right now, I know.

Steve Kornacki: So, I think that really concentrated Gingrich's sense that there was a true kind of conservative majority out there. And I think when you say conservative, what he was always kind of searching for, I think this is a true line that could connect him to today because he's still certainly there today.

He was always looking for that sort of populist nerve. He thought there was, and I think thinks, he certainly thought there was a big majority out there but it was anti kind of liberal elite and make the Democratic Party the party of the liberal elite and there’ll be a backlash against that that won't result in 50-50, that will result in 60-40 to the Republicans.

Chris Hayes: And of course, that was the Nixon rhetoric and playbook. I mean, quite explicitly was the liberal elite, you know, the pointy-headed intellectuals, I mean the --

Steve Kornacki: Silent majority.

Chris Hayes: The silent majority.

Steve Kornacki: The silent majority. Yeah.

Chris Hayes: The way that he won those big majorities was that, of course, the other big part of this, you’ve got to talk about, is like there's a specific regional aspect of this, which is the Democratic Solid South. And I mean, what's fascinating about it is the endurance of basically the politics of the Civil War, the post-Civil War, the Jim Crow era, they essentially last until '94 and even past, right?

So, it's like you're a right wing conservative white Southerner, you don't like George McGovern. He represents the long-haired hippies and the war stuff, civil rights, but you vote for your local Democratic congressman because you're a Democrat and your daddy was a Democrat and your daddy's daddy was a Democrat and your grandpappy was a Democrat, you go all the way back, because the Democratic Party was the party of the white South from basically after Reconstruction until Gingrich kind of breaks it in '94.

Steve Kornacki: Yeah. But it's interesting, too, I mean, what makes it more complicated is in 1972, in the district, Gingrich ultimately wins a seat and he runs for Congress for the first time in '74. He ran in '74, loses. He ran in '76, loses, wins in ‘78.

His first two elections in '74 and '76 were against Congressman, Democratic Congressman, who certainly had won in the McGovern year of '72 and many others named Jack Flint who in the south had been a segregationist.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Steve Kornacki: And Gingrich had represented the integrationist side of the debate. Gingrich was not of the South originally.

Chris Hayes: Right. Right. Yeah.

Steve Kornacki: Gingrich was born in Pennsylvania, was a military brat, grew up overseas, spent some time and made his way to Georgia, I think, in high school and ended up getting a doctorate at Tulane. And he was a regional director for Nelson Rockefeller's campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. Rockefeller, representing the liberal Republicans.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Steve Kornacki: The pro-civil rights Republicans. So, there was this new to the early '70s who was also connecting with in place like his district in Georgia, they were the folks who'd been there and who could trace their lineage back generations.

There were also -- there's an influx of new people coming into the South because there was a lot of economic growth that was starting in the South.

Chris Hayes: Exactly.

Steve Kornacki: And there were these new suburbanites, ex-urbanites. Certainly, they were part of Gingrich's district who, I think, came from places where they didn't have a dog in the fight when it came to civil right. They were fine with civil rights. They didn't have any of the resentments or, you know, these sorts of things.

And Newt's original mission was to appeal to them. And their frustration or their attraction to Newt into the Republican Party was more just the idea, the government was too big. It would take -- the taxes were too high tax.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Steve Kornacki: Tax revolt was playing out in the 1970s as well. So, it's interesting that, you know, Newt was originally, on questions of race, he ran to the left of his opponent the first two times. Now, his third time running, he ended up getting a new opponent.

Chris Hayes: Yes.

Steve Kornacki: And he found some new issues. But that’s the complexity of the history of it.

Chris Hayes: Well, but that complexity is important one, right? Because it's the same thing with McConnell. You know, partly, what happens is it's the Southern segregationist white Democratic establishment becomes the foe for the Republican Party and they go at it in different ways, right? Because they're trying to get to win that back because it's impenetrable, the Republicans, for literally decades. Like you just can't win as a Republican.

I mean, the idea of like a yellow dog Democrat comes from this deep sectional heritage that's born of the aftermath Civil War, civil rights, all that stuff. But what does happen is, I mean, when you say like the tax revolt, like, these issues faces resolve and evolve in certain ways, that they are able to capture white voters who formally have been Democrats of high levels of racial resentment into the Republican coalition, otherwise they can't make it work.

Steve Kornacki: Yeah. Again, the tax revolt, though, is interesting because if you look at that, I mean, that was national.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Steve Kornacki: You know, and that was the thing, when I say the true line I draw with Newt and his career, I tried to picture Newt of the late '60s and the early '70s and he was somebody who was for civil rights, who talked about environmentalism, who talked about the ecology.

He would read these books by Alvin and Heidi Toffler about futurism.

Chris Hayes: Yup, yup.

Steve Kornacki: He was obsessed with that. Excessive population growth. These are themes that he would touch on. And he actually had a lot of, in those early days, liberals actually kind of liked him in his in his neck of the woods. But what he was looking for was then and later, again, I think was that populist nerve that would connect.

And I think the thing that happened in '78 that he saw, you had nationally the most famous kind of proponent of tax cuts at that point, supply-side, economic theory was Jack Kemp.

Chris Hayes: Yup.

Steve Kornacki: And Jack Kemp was then a congressman from New York, had been a quarterback for the Buffalo Bills.

And Kemp is trying to push the Republican Party in that direction. He succeeded in getting Reagan there in '80. But the big moment was the spring of '78, Proposition 13 passes in California.

Chris Hayes: Yup.

Steve Kornacki: And this is it, put strict limits on property taxes in California, limits on future increases, this sort of thing. And opposed by the entire political establishment, and passes overwhelmingly.

And it's like an a-ha moment for Newt, I think, and for a lot of others that like, ah, this, and so, that, Newt, kind of, I think, makes his pivot to the idea of supply side, the idea of tax cuts, the idea of oh, what Reagan would ultimately say in his inaugural speech, government is not the solution to our problems.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Steve Kornacki: Government is the problem. I think that's a big moment in there and Newt sort of sees that as that's one of the ingredients he needs.

Chris Hayes: How does he nationalize the race?

Steve Kornacki: Well, I think Newt understood. Key to the nationalization of politics, I think, is the nationalization of media. And, you know, part of all politics is local as everybody got their local newspaper.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Steve Kornacki: They read their local newspaper, there were all of the stuff in the communities. And, you know, I don’t think it's a coincidence that Gingrich arrives in the House in January of 1979. And for the first time in history, a television camera turns on in the House in March of 1979 and that's C-SPAN.

C-SPAN begins in 1979. And what you see is Newt's operating in a media atmosphere where you’ve got the big three networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC. And if you're Newt, you're a backbench minority party member of Congress, you're never going to get on. You know, you’re almost never going to get on the big three networks.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Steve Kornacki: And then there's The New York Times and The Washington Post and a couple of newspapers that will syndicate out their content in newspapers and there also, it's going to be a struggle to get their attention.

And he recognizes, with C-SPAN, that, hey, you know, every year, a couple million people are getting cable TV in their house and all the cable providers are going to put C-SPAN, you know, on there. And the House rules allow for, if you want it, at the end of the day, any member can claim time. Claim an hour of time, claim a lot of time to talk about whatever they want.

Now, nobody's going to be in the chamber listening --

Chris Hayes: Yeah. And without a camera --

Steve Kornacki: -- at night. Right.

Chris Hayes: There's no reason to do it.

Steve Kornacki: The only thing that people had used this for before was like they would, you know, read something into the record that would be like a proclamation congratulating the local Little League team and it would get published in the local newspaper and that was what this was used for.

But Newt understood that, you know, well, there will be people watching on television and there's going to be a camera trained on me and I give a speech. And he recruited. There was a small group of them at the beginning and they grew. And all of these national themes about trying to define the Republican Party, you know, as the conservative anti-elite, you know, party, stressing those themes, trying to define the Democratic Party as the party of the liberal welfare state, trying to find the Democratic leadership in this permanent Democratic Congress as kind of corrupt.

Chris Hayes: Corrupt. Yeah.

Steve Kornacki: You know, using the speeches to just hammer that message over and over. And it's a forerunner to cable news. It's even in many ways a forerunner to conservative talk radio that existed then but really didn’t explode until a few years later.

Limbaugh really didn’t come along until a decade later. But he understood that's where it was going. That's where our politics was going. CNN was launched in 1980. And you start getting political content there. Other cable networks are launched in 1996.

It all eventually evolves. But the evolution to a nationalized politics, I think, goes hand-in-hand with the evolution to a really nationalized media. And Newt saw it before just about anybody and saw the possibility.

Chris Hayes: It's funny you say that because I had Alaska Congresswoman Mary Peltola on my show recently. Now, Peltola is a local Alaskan official, indigenous woman who’s served in different positions in Alaska politics.

She won a special election this summer where she squared off against Sarah Palin and Nick Baggett who are both very big names of the Republican Party. They have ranked-choice voting. She won.

She looks like she's a shot to win in the ballots, unclear but she seems pretty good. And Alaska is not as deep red as people would think. It was a 10-point Trump margin, not 20 points, right? But pretty conservative place, pretty red state.

And so, I had her on. It was just so interesting because it felt like she was beaming from another world because the way I was talking to her and, like, the way runs, she ran a very local race.

And Don Young who preceded her was the longest serving member of the House before that, 50 years in that seat. He was a conservative Republican but also like incredibly heterodox and Alaska-specific in his constituencies and the stuff that he would go to bat on, and I think she learned from that.

And so, it was funny to talk to her because it felt like I'm time warping into a different world. And even in the time that I've covered politics, I'm 43 years old, in the 20 years I've covered politics, they’ve gotten so much more national, so much more nationalized.

So, when she talks about like here's the problem with our fish management and our salmon levels, right? It's like that's the way a lot of politics used to go, like, here's the steel factories down here, our number one industry is X. People are mad about this dam they just built up the river. Let's fight about that. Those would be fights, these localized fights.

And as local media has gone away particularly, I think you're totally right, and as national position, you just see less and less of that.

Steve Kornacki: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: Every fight is the big fight about, you know, the two parties.

Steve Kornacki: And in the measure of what you're describing is just you could split ticket voting.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Steve Kornacki: Which has just been on an absolute decline to, I won't say nonexistence because we have a couple of races coming up.

Chris Hayes: We're going to see it --

Steve Kornacki: In the midterms, right. Yeah. But I mean, you're talking about a split were, you know, in one race, the Republicans getting 53 and then the other, the Republicans getting 48.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Steve Kornacki: It's the difference between victory and defeat for one, but it still reflects a very narrow universe of people who are actually splitting their tickets. But, yeah, you know, split-ticket voting used to be extremely common. Now it's the exception to the rule.

And it's not just, I think, nationalized media. I think another step has been taken probably in the last 10 years or so. It's also how our media has become so personalized, and that is through the iPhone and through social media and these sorts of things.

So, now, it's not just you have everybody kind of following national narratives, but the narrative is tailored to whichever --

Chris Hayes: Totally.

Steve Kornacki: -- side media you want to get it from him. But it’s also, you pull out your phone at any moment in the day, and you open up your social media app of choice and you're just confronted with, you know, it reinforces all of your sort of tribal partisan instincts. And I view it as just in part, there's a return to our distant past here, where, you know, of course the media, the press started out as explicitly partisan.

Chris Hayes: Completely. Yes.

Steve Kornacki: I mean, you kind of getting back to that. And I think there's so many even deeper in us is, I mean, just my own view, and as human beings, we were just kind of hardwired to think tribally.

Chris Hayes: Yeah. Yeah.

Steve Kornacki: And so, there's an evolution of media that has synced up with something that’s just kind of innate in all of us and that's created us.

Chris Hayes: Yeah. I mean, we should know, right? Like there are examples in American history in this case and it's interesting to go back and I remember reading the Chernow Grant biography and there's some moment in there where Grant has gone back to St. Louis because he marries a wealthy woman from a sort of actually plantation family outside of St. Louis.

And he's there and he's like sort of looking at some kind of possibility in office and there's some local race, city council or whatever, where it's just divided along abolitionist, non-abolitionist lines, like slave expansion or not. And it has just completely nationalized the politics, right?

Like there are other periods, like, during that period in the runup, like what ends up happening in the runup, civil wars, and like politics get completely nationalized at every single place and even really local races around the issue, right? The issue of the day which is slavery, its expansion or its abolition.

And so, there have been other moments or if you go back like you said, you know, to the founding era, where the press is just functioning as an adjunct to parties, and in fact, the present functioning as an adjunct to the parties is also like totally common throughout European democracies, both then and now.

So, like, that is like if you look at the grand scheme of Democratic politics, like more the norm than the midcentury three networks, big newspapers objective standard, like that's basically what it's mostly been. But it does, I think, have this really profound effect in how in a split-ticket voting and also just how these races are run which are now all about every issue in every district.

Steve Kornacki: Yeah. And the other within a measure, too is just the voter turnout level, participation level which is just at a level I'd never thought I'd see in my lifetime. You're talking about a 2014 midterm election, you just have to go back eight years midterm election at 86 million people voting it, then it was 116 million in 2018. And I think we'll see how it turned out. I think it will be between 120 and 130 million in the midterm election coming up.

I mean, so, this has also created this nationalization. I think it's created, you could argue, sort of the chicken and the egg here. But I think it's created an interest in a passion for, an attachment to politics and identification around politics --

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Steve Kornacki: -- among people who were 10-20 years ago, completely indifferent to it.

Chris Hayes: Well, and even, I mean, I've been doing my show now for, it will be a decade next year. So nine years and three quarters basically at this point or nine and half years more, and I was there in 2014. My show debuted in 2013. 2014, no one cared.

Steve Kornacki: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: I mean, it was dead.

Steve Kornacki: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: Like, it was just dead. You know, news sites, cable news rating. I mean, all that levels of political interest, it showed up in the midterms in 2014 with this really, really low turnout.

And things have now changed. And I think it is interesting too because I think people always say like partisan polarization is bad and I understand why they say that and I have agreements with that and disagreements.

But it's related to the higher levels of participation, which generally, from a small democratic perspective, I think it's good, right? So, it's funny to think of those two phenomenon, one which I think is typically decried, one is typically celebrated, as being two sides of the same coin.

Steve Kornacki: That’s why I say I think there's just something innate in us, where people like to be on a team. And people like to kind of be on a team that's against another team.

Chris Hayes: Yeah, yeah.

Steve Kornacki: And so, I think, it's not, you know, they're voting on party. It's unclear to me how much they're voting for a party as opposed to voting against a party.

We just had a poll the other day at NBC, I know you saw it. And it was, you ask Democrats if Republicans were given power unchecked, would they ruin America, 81%, yes. Republicans, if Democrats, would they ruin America, 79%, yes.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Steve Kornacki: That’s the level of regard each party has for the other. So, when it's that deeply felt, no wonder we're seeing numbers this big.

Chris Hayes: Yeah. In a sort of political science literature, they call it the negative polarization, right? You're polarizing around opposition to an outside party, although I think it's probably always been the case, that all polarization has a negative aspect to it.

Let's talk about the sort of period of midterms post '94, right? Because that does this sort of new thing but then we have a succession of nationalized elections that’s sort of, you know, called wave elections where we see sort of similar dynamics start to solidify in other midterms.

Steve Kornacki: Yeah. I mean, the one constant, so you have 40 years of uninterrupted Democratic control of the House until '94 if, we'll see, if the House flips in 2022, it will be the fifth time since 1994 the House has flipped. So, we we've gone from one kind of permanent reality to a new one where it's very common for it to flip.

And you just see every few years the mix kind of shifts. You know, it seems like, look, the Republicans got the House in '94, they were finally able to get the presidency back in 2000. And in 2002, they actually had a very good midterms, they got full control.

Democrats had a full control '93-'94. They lose everything in the Republican Revolution. Republicans finally line all the pieces up in 2002 with George W. Bush and he manages to get reelected. But then in 2006, it all comes crumbling apart in the 2006 midterm.

And then, Democrats, in 2008, are able to line everything up again for the first time since the Clinton years, and it comes crashing down in 2010. And Republicans are able to line it all up in 2016, crashing down into, so, we've seen the way our politics are now, it's very easy is almost, it probably is the word, it's relatively easy, it seems, for a party that’s out of power to get power by getting a reaction sort of by getting the country, or a key part of the country to kind of, you know, feel dissatisfied with the party in power.

But what we have not seen anybody really do in the generation since 1984, we haven't seen the party consolidate power, use the power, enact an agenda, and then have the country say, yeah, good job. Here's more power.

Chris Hayes: Right. Yeah. And I think, you know, partly they call that in political science research like thermostatic public opinion, right, where the thermostat, as you like, you know, is as it gets hotter, the thermostat moves back to sort of cool the room down, if it gets too cold, the thermostat moves to warm the room up, right, that public opinion is sort of acting, you know, every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and that we see that.

But that wasn't the case for years even if I think, what I think is important there, though, is that that public opinion dynamic is probably present. It's just the institutional structure of the parties and the coalitions is somewhat resistant to it because of the Solid South, because of the heterogeneous ideological affiliation of the parties, because of more localized media.

So, it's not like that phenomenon is actually new. Like, I think, you know, if you go back through history and you look at the, you know, newspapers about how people feel about, you know, Eisenhower and the Republicans in '52, like the Democrats are, you know, that dynamic is there but there's a very different institutional reality.

Steve Kornacki: Well, I think what's interesting about '94 and why I say it's such a unique one in the start of this new era is, yeah, sure, you had midterms, you could point to a bunch, think you already have, but you could point to others where they were, you could definitely argue like the 1966 midterm was nationalized, the Vietnam War, 1974 was nationalized, Watergate --

Chris Hayes: Right.

Steve Kornacki: -- huge year for Democrats.

So, you could have these major, truly major national events that could just kind of define and drive our politics. What's interesting about 1994 is what was the --

Chris Hayes: There's no event, right.

Steve Kornacki: Right.

Chris Hayes: Yes. Right.

Steve Kornacki: And it's like, okay, Bill Clinton had been elected in 1992, the economy was in pretty rough shape, but it was actually kind of improving, by election day, there was just, it took a while for people to take note of it, but the economy was not really in bad shape in 1994. There was no real, you know, war going on.

He had tried to overhaul the health care system. He had tried to enact a pretty ambitious agenda, but I think that it was --

Chris Hayes: The different category. Yes. Right.

Steve Kornacki: -- this is when you say the nationalization of politics, I think the kinds of stuff that Clinton was attempting, the Democrats were attempting in '93-'94, in a nationalized environment, they paid a much bigger price for politically then they might have, you know, before that.

Chris Hayes: More of our conversation after this quick break.


Chris Hayes: One other aspect that I think is really interesting just to talk about for a little bit, too is it's totally, this nature of the Gingrich revolution '94, the nationalized election has totally changed the nature of the House, in particular, the House of Representatives.

I mean, the kind of like Schoolhouse Rock bill becomes law, right? Like under this, like, quasi-permanent system of Democratic majority, it was just a totally different universe in which like the committees meant everything, committee seniority meant everything. The committee chairs had unbelievable amounts of power. Getting out a powerful committee and working your way through meant everything.

Dan Rostenkowski, you know, the legendary Ways and Means chair from Chicago who was subsequently indicted, you know, these kind of old school titans as committee chairs and the decentralization of kind of parliamentary style party control really made the House a different place to operate in.

It has become now much more, and I just saw this amazing graphic being sent around by the, I think it was the Freedom Caucus, it was to their recruits were running for Congress who were probably going to enter it, just being like you may think you're going to have a say in all this stuff, but you're not.

It was like this myth where have you seen this sheet? It's very fine --

Steve Kornacki: I have not. No.

Chris Hayes: It’s like myth, reality. Like, myth, I'll be able to get my bills and vote. Reality, blah-blah-blah. Myth, all these. Like, and it basically, what it is describing is a leadership-run House which it now is.

Steve Kornacki: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: Like leadership runs it, leadership really decides like when votes happen and then people vote, basically, largely along party lines and that’s kind of the show. It's a very different system from the system that Gingrich was very successful in kind of bringing down.

Steve Kornacki: Yeah. And Gingrich was given, I mean, a thing we explore in this podcast, too, is we kind of go through the events of starting the late '70s through the '80s and the early '90s. One of the things that Gingrich saw as the media was nationalizing was an opportunity to create drama in the House, drama that would be compelling and it would be politically mobilizing that would make his point about, you know, he was saying there was basically a corrupt Democratic machine that was running the House.

And so, it was to take things that, you know, had been happening for a long time and to get a spotlight on them. And a lot of the things that Gingrich chose to highlight frankly, you could say he had a good point on.

Chris Hayes: Yeah. Oh, yeah.

Steve Kornacki: And, you know, that --

Chris Hayes: Well, it was a fairly, it was a somewhat corrupt Democratic machine that ran the House.

Steve Kornacki: Yes. It was. I could point to all sorts of examples but, you know, one that comes to mind, I think it's a key moment, is there's a transfer of power, and we get into this in the podcast, but there's a transfer of power in the House in 1987, it’s when Tip O'Neill retires. And this is how it went. You know, a white-haired Democratic speaker would run it for 10 years --

Chris Hayes: Right.

Steve Kornacki: -- and then hand it off and then it was --

Chris Hayes: Right.

Steve Kornacki: -- so, it was time for Tip O'Neill to hand it off and Jim Wright from Texas becomes the new speaker. He had been the Majority Leader for a decade before that.

And Wright had a vision of a bit like what you're describing here of a more centralized House speakership. And he wanted to be a much more active and singular force in negotiations than the Reagan administration in its final years and Republicans, excuse me, in the Senate.

And so, they had this vote in the fall of 1987 and it was a tax cycle. Wright wanted to get it through as leverage for his negotiations. So, he had a piece of leverage to take into negotiations with Reagan White House.

And Republicans were against it and a number of conservative Democrats were against it, too, and they take the vote and it's going to be closed and the vote fails by one vote. And the Republican starts celebrating on the House floor. And then Wright is presiding over the House chamber and he does not bang the gavel then.

Chris Hayes: Keep it open.

Steve Kornacki: Keeps it open and he's got a guy from Texas, he's from Texas, too. He's got a guy who he helped get elected. He's got a vote in his pocket, calls the guy back to the House floor, guy changes his vote, now, it wins by a vote, gavels it through. The time delay did this, by the way, for Republicans --

Chris Hayes: Medicare Part C.

Steve Kornacki: This is where he got the idea from.

Chris Hayes: I remember the Medicare Part C votes.

Steve Kornacki: This was --

Chris Hayes: I remember interviewing Sherrod Brown in his Capitol office when he was a member of the U.S. House telling me about, and that he held that open forever.

Steve Kornacki: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: I mean, because he didn’t have, unlike Wright, Wright was like, I know the guy.

Steve Kornacki: Right.

Chris Hayes: Wright calls him back.

Steve Kornacki: Right. Right.

Chris Hayes: They’re late (ph), they're just like running around who they can find open for 10, 15 hours.

Steve Kornacki: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: Democrats just losing their minds.

Steve Kornacki: They want it open (ph), yeah.

Chris Hayes: They did it.

Steve Kornacki: They did it. And what happened was it's such a key moment because, again, Wright had taken over for O'Neill. Most Republicans in the House, they didn’t like the Democrats, Tip O'Neill was an affable guy.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Steve Kornacki: Okay? Jim Wright wasn't.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Steve Kornacki: And so Newt, this is right around the same time that Newt has seen some reporting on Jim Wright having a book deal, a very unusual book deal where he’s getting a 55 percent royalty and seeing the people buying his book or buying it in bulk and they're basically his political supporters and they're basically unions and Democratic-aligned interest groups.

So, Gingrich has this idea of launching an ethics campaign against Jim Wright and try to make this, and there is this, you know, shoot the generals. This is one part of that old House system.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Steve Kornacki: Republicans initially don't want anything to do with this. That maneuver I just described happens, I don’t think it's any coincidence that two weeks later is when Newt announces he's going after Wright.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Steve Kornacki: And the Republicans don’t all line up and say we're with you, but they don’t stop him.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Steve Kornacki: And I think that’s a key moment.

Chris Hayes: Let's take a listen of Gingrich sort of crowing about his anticorruption bona fides.


Newt Gingrich: By 1984, I had already moved to expel one convicted felon from Congress, Congressman Charles Diggs in 1979; helped expel Congressman Kelly from the House Republican Conference because of Abscam in 1980; supported the expulsion of Congressman Ozzie Myers for corruption in 1980, the first explosion in American history for corruption; and moved to strengthen the sanctions against one Republican and one Democrat during the page scandal.


Chris Hayes: So, he's the sort of combination of ideological polarization but also against the establishment because the establishment was Democrats. And of course, I remember in 2006, that entire playbook, it's turned on him because you’ve got this enormous corruption scandal involving the House leadership, the Abramoff scandal. Bob Ney ends up going to prison over it.

Steve Kornacki: Yeah, yeah.

Chris Hayes: You’ve got a huge corruption scandal that the Democrats are then able to turn around and basically run the Gingrich playbook right at the Republicans, which belong with the Iraq war, it's a huge part of that 2006 campaign.

Steve Kornacki: Yes. I mean, again, keep in mind when Gingrich is getting to the House, he's getting to the House a couple years after Watergate.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Steve Kornacki: And Watergate has fundamentally changed the relationship of the press with politicians in Washington, D.C. And you’ve got a lot of young reporters in there. You’ve got a lot of reporters there who are kind of --

Chris Hayes: Looking for the next Watergate.

Steve Kornacki: Looking for the next Watergate. You’ve got --

Chris Hayes: I've got a book deal for you.

Steve Kornacki: You’ve got a new level, a previously unheard of level of public cynicism when it comes to politicians, when it comes to Washington, when it comes to Congress. And so, Gingrich seized, the Diggs one is a perfect example. Gingrich gets to the House in January of '79.

Charlie Diggs from Michigan had been elected in 1954. He had been there a generation and it was basically a kickback scheme, you know, involving money and the staffers. And he had been convicted. And he's vowing to appeal and kind of, you know, he was in generally good standing with his fellow Democrats. And so, you know, they kind of figured out, well, the guy is probably going to jail anyway. But in the meantime, if he's, you know, appealing, that’s fine.

Chris Hayes: Sure. Right.

Steve Kornacki: And Gingrich senses right away, he knows how, if the average American hears about this --

Chris Hayes: Yes.

Steve Kornacki: -- how they're going to feel about it. And so, he waits for a moment when Diggs votes on a tax bill and says the Democrats are letting a man convicted of corruption vote to spend your tax dollars and he calls for an expulsion vote on Diggs.

And, again, it's one of these things where even the Republicans are sort of like, wait, we don’t do this, no. He had to fight to get Republicans to go along. He ends up getting an expulsion vote. They don't expel. They do end up reprimanding him and he does end up going to jail.

But it was, again, that was right away. That’s a freshman coming into the minority party. He's telling them all these things about how, you know, he's going to lead them in majority. They all think he's just this kind of crackpot or this irritant and much worse, some of the things that were said about him by Republicans. But yet, he forces their hand.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Steve Kornacki: Because he saw there's a populist power to that kind of thing.

Chris Hayes: We'll be right back after we take this quick break.


Chris Hayes: So, we're now in the era where you've got these models, '94, 2006 was a little different because it's not the first one that happened after unified control. But in some ways, there's sort of a delayed reaction because 2002 was a strange election because of 9/11.

You got 2006, then you’ve got 2010, the Tea Party. You’ve got 2018, which is a little more complicated because they held the Senate and partly, that's because of the polarization that happened that’s so profound that you start to see that operate on its own.

This year, I think there's sort of two things happening, right? Like, obviously, the political gravity is pulling towards a Republican victory, just the thermostatic thing we talked about. Democrats control the House, the Senate and the presidency.

We're also coming out of a once-in-a-century disruption that's produced all kinds of social disruption every possible direction. And I've, you know, covered on the show, written about it. I mean, we've done podcast about it whether that's like the increase in overdoses, amount of people that are drinking, auto fatalities have gone up, interpersonal violence has gone up, you know, people are no longer commuting to work.

Like just everything has changed. And inflation is eight percent, right? So, it's like in some ways, the easiest thing to do, is the out of power party, and I think it's funny when you look at other countries, every opposition party of anywhere on the ideological spectrum is basically running the same campaign, right?

Doesn't it suck to pay this much money for milk and gas? Elect us. And it doesn’t matter, you could be like you could be the hard right Natalie (ph). You could be Labour in U.K. You could be the greens in Germany. It's all the same message because the easiest thing in the world do as an opposition party is be like, things are too expensive, vote for me.

So, in all those senses, it seems like, yeah, the Republicans are favored here. And then there's like two other things. So, the Dobbs decision this summer, which I think really did change things, and then also just this new landscape rim in terms of partisan polarization. And I think also January 6th and Donald Trump and his specific hold on the party and also the way that he looms as a kind of national figure that then changed some of those calculations. What do you think?

Steve Kornacki: Yeah. No. I mean, I have a lot of questions, you know, going into this one. And I think that the sort of entrenchment of the polarization, tribalism, whatever you want to call it, I mean, you mentioned 2018, it's reflected, when you look back at those 2018 results, it was a very good midterm for Democrats.

They got the House. They gained 40 seats in the House. They didn't flip any seats where the margin had been more than 10 points, the presidential race. You know, in other words, they got low-hanging fruit and attainable fruit.

It wasn't this massive wave where districts that had voted, you know, Republican, you know, given Trump like 60 percent or something were suddenly going Democratic. And then as you mentioned, you know, a series of red states at the presidential level but had Democratic senators, North Dakota, you know, Indiana --

Chris Hayes: Missouri.

Steve Kornacki: Tennessee. Right. You know, they were wave proof for the Republicans. So, I do think that this sort of nationalization of politics has built in some wave resistance. But I think, you know, 2018 showed us anything inside 10 points that year wasn't safe and even if you had made the cut-off line, even smaller in 2022 for what Republicans need to get the House, that would still give them enough seats, you know, for Democrats to actually keep the Republicans, I mean, maybe they will, maybe people will be listening to this after the election.

But the idea of, you know, a good Republican year, Republicans got a very good year and it wouldn't be anything like 1994 and yet, they could emerge --

Chris Hayes: Exactly. Yeah. I mean --

Steve Kornacki: They could emerge, you know, with House control.

Chris Hayes: Yeah. The way that I look at is like if you look at a 2014 year, it's not going to be that's going to turn out (ph) but just like a 2014 year of Republican performance like they take the House.

Steve Kornacki: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: No question.

Steve Kornacki: No. In 2014, I think they gained 13 House seats.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Steve Kornacki: In 2014. They gained like eight Senate seats.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Steve Kornacki: It brought them to their highest level in the House, you know, since 1928 at that point. But, yes, I think as the polarization and really takes hold more and more, it just leaves for both sides fewer and fewer places where you can really contest things.

Chris Hayes: Although one thing I think is really interesting is you do see some places and we'll see what election day says but I'm sort of obsessed with this idea of like I think it's weird and I think this has mostly been on the Republican side partly because of Trump's influence and partly because of his influence to the primary where, you know, you're talking about Tip O'Neill being an affable guy legendarily, right ?

Like there's a certain kind of political personality who’s like intentionally kind of trollish. That is so strange to me from, when I was covering politics, I was like when you called someone like political, you were saying it like they kind of want to be liked by everybody and they're not like a shock jock, right?

But then you’ve got these candidates who, you know, Don Bolduc is a great example in New Hampshire who’s like much more kind of shock jock model, right? And when you look at him compared to Sununu who was the governor, like you do see a gap, right? Like you see a place where candidate quality, and in this case, you got incumbency, Sununu is the incumbent governor.

You see this also a bit in Ohio with Mike DeWine who, again, is like a very old-school Republican, like no one would call his personality like abrasive or his like public pronouncements like, you know, provocative or shocking like he's a very old school kind of country club, Chamber of Commerce (ph) Republican.

And then you got J.D. Vance who's running, again, the polling might be wrong but right now, the polling has some, there's like a 10-point gap probably between them. Vance probably still wins that Senate seat. But, again, it's like one of these things where like polarization is squeezing things together. But you do still see in these state-by-state races campaign, Herschel Walker is another one, where there's a gap between a more sort of like, I don’t know the right word like --

Steve Kornacki: Well, there’s a Trump gap.

Chris Hayes: A Trump gap. Yeah.

Steve Kornacki: No. I see it. And one of the questions I have going into the election, you know, is basically will that get overridden once voters go to the polls --

Chris Hayes: Yeah, right.

Steve Kornacki: -- and they have to confront a choice between a Democrat and a Republican.

Chris Hayes: Or is the Trump gap a polling gap? I mean, that’s the other thing. We might be dealing with measurement error.

Steve Kornacki: Yeah. I suspect that's less the case. It's just the fact that you do get divergent results in these races, you know.

Chris Hayes: Right. In the same poll (ph).

Steve Kornacki: But, yeah, like there is a voter out there, Georgia is a very good example as you mentioned it, the voter out there tends to be in the Atlanta suburbs, doesn't like Joe Biden, doesn't like the Democratic Party.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Steve Kornacki: And doesn't like Donald Trump.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Steve Kornacki: And Brian Kemp checks all their boxes.

Chris Hayes: Yup.

Steve Kornacki: -- because he's not a Democrat. He's not a Biden guy. And, by the way, he stood up to Trump. And Trump came after him and he stood his ground and he won.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Steve Kornacki: And so, he's polling quite well in Georgia right now. Meanwhile, Herschel Walker is really kind of, you know, Trump pretty much recruited him into the race and he's kind of, you know, tethered to Trump in a lot of ways. And he's not performing at that level. So now, do the folks who go out there, and I think that that voter I'm describing was a Biden voter in 2020.

Chris Hayes: Probably. Yeah. Yeah.

Steve Kornacki: More likely to be a Biden voter. I’d put it that way in 2020. It's why Biden one Georgia in 2020.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Steve Kornacki: That’s the way to say it. And, you know, so just that voter go out there, vote for Brian Kemp for governor and then ultimately, look at that Senate races, oh, there's Herschel Walker. But then now, they have inflation, Biden, Democrats so --

Chris Hayes: Right, right.

Steve Kornacki: -- or which one of those are more powerful, I don't know, and there's a series of places where that is the question and that's the issue, I think.

Chris Hayes: It is interesting, too, because, I guess, I'm thinking through like just, we're talking about Gingrich and polarization and what we're polarizing around, like in my lifetime, there's never been polarization around the central figure the way they're doing it now with Donald Trump.

Steve Kornacki: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: Right? Like you can say like there's polarization around like education levels, urban-rural, all the stuff. But there's polarization around him that is powerful and also cross pressures people who might otherwise consider themselves Republicans or conservatives.

Steve Kornacki: I think the polarization that, I say aiming (ph) for polarization again, I think Newt really believed looking at those presidential election results that his product wasn't creating a 50-50 split. I think he really thought he was tapping into a 60-40 split.

Chris Hayes: No. He wanted the prominent silent majority, Nixon coalition --

Steve Kornacki: Right.

Chris Hayes: -- to be a governing ruling coalition at all levels in government.

Steve Kornacki: And he thought that --

Chris Hayes: He was going to get it.

Steve Kornacki: -- it existed and it was more, and '94 was validation of it and we could go from there about how that kind of fell apart or didn't quite live up to what he expected. But I think what that was, was a lot of residual stuff from the '60s, from the sort of cultural revolutions of the 1960s.

And the rise of the baby boomer generation and so much of the energy, conservative energy in the early 1990s and in the 1994 midterms, it was anti-Bill Clinton, it was anti-Hillary Clinton, it was anti-Bill and Hillary and it had a lot to do with them representing a --

Chris Hayes: Kind of (inaudible) character.

Steve Kornacki: Correct. Correct. And that was where Clinton was, simultaneously, this guy who had kind of mastered talking to people across the political spectrum, winning in Arkansas as it was a still a conservative state and voting Republican at the statewide level and really finessing these hot-button culture war issues, but at the same time, he was the guy who, you know, he didn't inhale but he was around marijuana, you know. He was the guy who had, he had gone out of the draft.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Steve Kornacki: There's no question he had. He had done in a Clintonian way but he's gotten out of the draft. There was the Gennifer Flowers, all. And, again, and a lot of this stuff ironically, Newt, in his personal life, was guilty of many things.

Chris Hayes: Well, right.

Steve Kornacki: So, that's a whole other part of it. But in terms of the resentment that those aspects of Clinton generated in people, I think, was a big part of the energy there.

Chris Hayes: Yeah. And I think that this idea, I mean, the thing that I think about is, again, to go back to sectionalism like the cornerstone of an enduring majority that there was a national majority, was a kind of sectionalism having to do with the Solid South in which regionalism had produced this strange coalition that wasn't ideologically polarized because of the legacy of the two parties.

So, like as a Democrat, it sort of moved around towards liberalism. The Republicans had been like the liberal party and Democrats moved towards liberalism. But because of the inheritance of the Solid South, they had stocks of them. You have this coalition together. I just don't see that no one can predict the future. But it would take some crazy realignment to produce anything that stable again.

Steve Kornacki: Yeah. And again, I think a necessary ingredient was it just, everything was under the microscope of the national news media or the national media, not even the news media, just national media, social media, whatever you want to call it. But everything gets watched, videotaped, recorded, thrown up on social media. And I think it just makes it makes it tougher for things to simultaneously exist that are in tension with each other.

Chris Hayes: Right. But you could have, I mean, just to respond to that, right, like so the sectionalism that produced that enduring majority, which I think is distinct and partly both a byproduct of like the central sectional conflict of United States history, right, which endures through like incredible amounts of time, and any time you show up like a map, like the choropleth, right, like whatever it is, it shows that region of the country usually in a different color whether it's, you know, maternal fatality rates, whether it's gun violence, right? There's just sort of sectional difference in those states that endures in some ways.

But the question is can you have a durable majority that is more national in flavor, right? So, like you can imagine like our politics get nationalized and they get polarized, but they get polarized in such a way that the dream of the, whether it's the conservative Nixonian silent majority or the emerging Democratic majority, the Obama coalition, that there's some 55-45, you know, standing durable thing that just seems unlikely to me.

Steve Kornacki: No. That’s right. And I think the thing that’s been missing and the other thing, I guess, that's been missing this last generation that used to be common was the landslide. And now, we have had this landslide. House in midterm elections did a swung control of the House realm. But, I mean, like at the presidential level.

Chris Hayes: Yes. You don’t get those.

Steve Kornacki: You got Bill Clinton in 1992 because you had three straight landslides. You know, as I said, 44 states, 49 states, 40 states going the Republican way. And then it took that for Democrats to sort of say, we’ve got to do something very different here and that was Bill Clinton in 1992.

I think parties right now, the sort of an aspect of this nationalization and polarization is party may be out of power but it doesn't feel that far from power. And so, when it feels that close, it doesn't feel this need to dramatically revisit any of these for that season or anything, you know.

Chris Hayes: No. Because it is. I used to go --

Steve Kornacki: It might dig in further in fact.

Chris Hayes: Covering 2016, I would go to parties, events, and people would say to me, can Trump win. And I would say, if you, right now, were the nominee of one of the two major parties, you, like literally you, I don’t mean like an abstract you, I mean, like you college professor, you whatever, your floor would be 42 to 43 percent.

Just out the door, put your name on as the Democratic or Republican nominee, your floor is 42, 43 maybe, maybe 44. If that's your floor, like, yeah, it's kind of coin flip.

Steve Kornacki: Yes.

Chris Hayes: So, yes, of course, he can win, you could win. And I think, you know, we're seeing that in some ways play out. I mean, the level of polarization means the person that wins a primary in a contested state, I mean, Herschel Walker who I think, if you were whether Democrat or Republican, if you're recruiting candidates at like a draft, Herschel Walker probably wouldn't be in like your top 10 for a bunch of different reasons. Like he can very well win that seat.

Steve Kornacki: Yeah. Because people identify so strongly with party.

Chris Hayes: Exactly. Right.

Steve Kornacki: And it means one of those differences between now and a generation or two ago is being a Democrat means the same thing roughly wherever you are in the country. Being a Republican means roughly the same thing now. It just didn't exist like that before, you know.

And if you look at what Newt was trying to achieve there and I think, again, he felt that there was an ideological consensus around, the size of government’s another one, you know, he thought that the government shutdown in 1995 would be the moment they kind of broke the Democrats once and for all.

And what it actually did was he created a kind of reaction to Newt --

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Steve Kornacki: -- a reaction to the Republican Party. And it actually caused a large number of people to look at and say, oh, I'm team blue, I'm on the Democratic. Blue and red didn’t exist as concepts until 2000.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Steve Kornacki: But I think one of the things was the rise of the Republicans was a response to how successfully Newt had sort of defined the Democratic Party. And then now, Newt and his crew are defining the Republican Party and there was a reaction to that. And it convinced a whole lot of people, oh, I'm not on that team, I'm on the blue team.

Chris Hayes: I'll never forget being at the bus stop by my house in the Bronx where I would go and take an express bus down to Manhattan to go to high school in, was it '95 is the shutdown?

Steve Kornacki: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: So, I was 16. And there was, at the bus stop, there's New York Times, Daily News, New York Post. So every morning, I mean, guys, before smartphones, right? So, I'd come out and like I would see that morning's papers there as I waited for the bus. Sometimes I would buy one although there's always one at home at the end of the day.

And I remember that it was the Daily News, New York Post, it was like Newt crying --

Steve Kornacki: Daily News with a ‘Cry Baby’ cover. Yeah. Yeah.

Chris Hayes: Yes. And I remember seeing that and it was brutal. I'm like that was like the peak.

Steve Kornacki: Right.

Chris Hayes: Like Newt backlash.

Steve Kornacki: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: He was whining that he didn’t fly on Air Force One or something, right?

Steve Kornacki: Clinton didn’t come back to talk to him on Air Force One.

Chris Hayes: He's on Air Force One but Clinton didn’t come to him.

Steve Kornacki: They were coming back from Yitzhak Rabin's funeral and it was during the government shutdown. And he complains to the press that, you know, Clinton had wasted a perfectly good opportunity, you know, and he had to sit, you know, elsewhere. And yeah, and it was, I mean, but that was the thing with Newt, it was like all this stuff that he had done in 16 years building up to 1994, he had never had to contend with the kind of microscope that came with the speakership.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Steve Kornacki: And so, suddenly, all the stuff he says, he's somebody who's prone to just kind of have his musings that are, you know, some are very interesting, but they can also be very polarizing, and he did that as speaker.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Steve Kornacki: And he took tons and tons of heat. He was a huge political liability for Republicans in 1996 for Bob Dole in 1996, you know. And as I said, I think to me, '94 is the birth of what we would now call red America, it's when it really kind of coalesces.

But '96, the Clinton reelection, which is powered by a reaction to the Republican Congress and Newt Gingrich and the government shutdown, '96 is the birth of blue America because Clinton's biggest gains between '92 and '96 are states that are now the bastion of -- New Jersey, you know.

Chris Hayes: Right. Right.

Steve Kornacki: Illinois, West Coast.

Chris Hayes: Right. Right.

Steve Kornacki: States that were within reach for Republicans.

Chris Hayes: Right. That were swing states, right.

Steve Kornacki: Bush, Sr. carried California. Bush, Sr. carried Illinois, you know. Unthinkable now. Those suburbs of Chicago, you know, even Orange County begins the shift. All these suburbs begin really that sort of painting blue of America’s suburbs. I think that's where it starts.

Chris Hayes: Well, you can hear more about all of that in the great new podcast, "The Revolution" with Steve Kornacki, six-episode series. Steve, of course, is the author of "The Red and The Blue: The 1990s and the Birth of Political Tribalism" which is on the same topic. And he will be covering the midterms for us here at MSNBC as our national political correspondent.

Thank you so much. It's a very busy time. I appreciate you taking some time.

Steve Kornacki: Thank you for having me, Chris. I enjoyed this. Thank you.

Chris Hayes: Once again, great thanks to the one and only Steve Kornacki who, let me tell you, is very, very busy. So, it was extremely generous of him to spend an hour with us and with you in your earholes. You can always tweet us with #withpod, email Be sure to follow us on TikTok by searching for WithPod. Why Is This Happening is presented by MSNBC and NBS News, produced by Doni Holloway and Brendan O’Melia, engineered by Bob Mallory featuring music by Eddie Cooper. You can see more of our work including links to things we mentioned here by going to NBC

Tweet us with the hashtag #WITHpod, email Follow us on TikTok by searching for WITHpod. “Why Is This Happening?” is presented by MSNBC and NBC News, produced by Doni Holloway and Brendan O'Melia, engineered by Bob Mallory and features music by Eddie Cooper. You can see more of our work, including links to things we mentioned here, by going to