NEW YORK (AP) — David Axelrod makes a point of not just talking to people he agrees with politically on his podcast and CNN series, which resumes this weekend featuring longtime GOP operative and former Secretary of State James Baker.
Their discussion, which includes a testy exchange on the 1988 presidential race and views on the NFL national anthem protest, airs Saturday at 7 p.m. EDT. Subsequent episodes of "The Axe Files" will feature House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, actor Tom Hanks and Condoleezza Rice, who was secretary of state in George W. Bush's administration.
"I have a great respect for people who are in the arena, whether I agree with them or not," Axelrod said. "One of the problems of our politics is that we dehumanize each other. Instead of just disagreeing, we try to destroy each other. My view is that if you get to know people as human beings, it's harder to do that."
In Baker's case, it struck Axelrod how the future GOP stalwart got into politics after his wife died and his concerned friend, George H.W. Bush, tried to get Baker to move forward by involving him in Bush's U.S. Senate campaign.
Baker doesn't attack President Donald Trump but, as a former White House chief of staff, identifies with the difficult job that Trump's chief, John Kelly, faces.
"Baker chooses his words carefully, but he was very clear on his view that it takes different skills to run the kind of business that Donald Trump ran and to run the United States government," Axelrod said. "Perhaps random tweets is not the best technique."
There's an element of journalism in what Axelrod, a former Chicago Tribune political reporter, is doing. But his access, and the comfort level of his subjects, is largely dependent on his life as a top aide to former President Barack Obama.
With Baker, "I was able to ask him more questions from the perspective of having worked in tough campaigns, and was able to probe some of the decisions he made," he said. "I really felt like there was a level upon which we could speak that was unique to people who've shared that experience."
Still, he doesn't confine his subjects to politicians. Hanks is the outlier in the upcoming batch of episodes; Axelrod was interested in his acting roles based on historical figures and his work producing documentaries on history.
Through writing, tweeting and CNN commentary, Axelrod hasn't kept his opinions about Obama's successor to himself. He's often asked about his concerns about Obama's legacy, and Axelrod said he's more interested in people who may be affected by changes in policy — those now covered by health insurance or children of immigrants.
"I have a real reverence for institutions of our democracy," he said. "More than any particular issue, the thing that worries me today is how casually some of our democratic institutions have been denigrated and degraded. That, to me, is the greatest concern."