Week in politics: 2022 delivers another highly charged political year
ALINA SELYUKH, HOST:
2022 gave us another highly charged and surprising year in politics.
(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Last year, COVID-19 kept us apart. This year we're finally together again.
LIZ CHENEY: There was no ambiguity, no nuance. Donald Trump made a purposeful choice to violate his oath of office.
CHUCK SCHUMER: This election is a victory - a victory and a vindication for Democrats, our agenda, and for the American people.
DONALD TRUMP: Just as I promised in 2016, I am your voice. I am your voice.
SELYUKH: Joining us now to talk about all of this is NPR's Ron Elving. Good morning, Ron.
RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Alina.
SELYUKH: Let's start with that last, very familiar voice we just heard - former President Donald Trump. Quite a contrast between how he announced running for president last time, how he announced this time.
ELVING: Yes, the first time was in Trump Tower, which at the time seemed a symbol of Trump's commercial success, his business success. Now he's retreated to his personal palace at Mar-a-Lago in Florida, where he is increasingly isolated and besieged. Back in 2015, when he first declared, there was a big reaction to things that he said about immigrants. Well, that kicked off his campaign, and it knocked our national politics off kilter for years.
So this time around, not nearly as much attention to every word he said. That was our introduction in 2015 to Trump's method of blowing up the internet and picking up the pieces. Now, he's not nearly the same presence in social media. And nothing he said this time was particularly memorable. He continues to deny that he lost in 2020. And that disproven claim has already caused a world of trouble and seemed destined to continue doing so for Trump and for Republicans and for the country.
SELYUKH: At the same time, Ron, has there ever been a president who, after losing his reelection, continues to eclipse the man who beat him, at least in terms of media attention?
ELVING: No, not since the 1820s, not even remotely - but there is a demonstration of how people can get whatever version of reality they prefer now just by switching channels or changing their Twitter feed. We have to say, too, that Trump just keeps doing things we have to report - taking a trove of classified documents home that he was not entitled to take, resisting all efforts to get his story told on the January 6 attack on the Capitol. So it's no wonder that that January 6 committee concluded that Trump was uniquely responsible for that attack. Meanwhile, the private Trump organization has now been found to be in criminal violation of the law in New York, and state authorities are closing in on him elsewhere, too. And yet, he insists he remains the rightful head of the GOP. And many in that party still seem to agree. So he's hard to ignore no matter how delusional he seems to become.
SELYUKH: OK, but about the Biden administration, shouldn't it have come to dominate the news by now in its second year?
ELVING: In the first year, this administration had a lot to deal with - the COVID devastation, the ugly withdrawal from Afghanistan, for which it was at least partially responsible, steadily falling approval ratings and great difficulty moving big bills in Congress. But the second-year trajectory has been quite different. It's been a lot more legislation than we've seen any other president get through in a single year in quite a long time, including infrastructure spending, investments in climate change. And he's had the opportunity to unite the Western world against Russia after Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine. That's made him look like a strong figure on the world stage, just as that botched Afghanistan withdrawal made him and the U.S. look weak.
SELYUKH: Thinking back on the year as far as real political surprises go, the midterms seem to stand out, don't they?
ELVING: In any president's first midterm, his party loses seats, sometimes many seats. The last two Democratic presidents, Clinton and Obama, saw their party massacred in the House. But this time on the numbers, it just didn't happen. The Republicans picked up a handful of seats. They got to a bare majority, but they don't have anything like the 20 or 30 that they expected to have to govern with. And at this point, well, the confusion just continues to grow around the speaker election. We simply don't know who the Republicans are going to elect for speaker next week. We still think the odds are on Kevin McCarthy for lack of another candidate, but it doesn't look like he's got the votes on the first ballot.
SELYUKH: That's NPR's Ron Elving. Thank you so much, and happy New Year, Ron.
ELVING: And also to you, Alina. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.