Seven Republican presidential contenders gathered in California on Wednesday night for the second primary debate of the 2024 election season, but the absence of Donald Trump, the clear frontrunner in the race for the party’s nomination, again loomed large over the event.Seven candidates qualified for the second debate, held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Institute in Simi Valley, California. Those candidates were Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor, the former vice-president Mike Pence, the former UN ambassador and South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, the entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, the former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, and the North Dakota governor Doug Burgum.Asa Hutchinson, the former Arkansas governor who participated in the first primary debate, did not appear on Wednesday because he failed to meet the heightened polling requirements outlined by the Republican National Committee.Trump skipped the event – as he skipped last month’s debate – and instead delivered a speech in Michigan, where auto workers have gone on strike to demand pay increases. A day earlier, Joe Biden joined some of the striking workers on the picket line, and the back-to-back events provided an odd preview of the likely matchup in the 2024 general election.The second debate comes as Republican primary candidates have struggled to put a dent in Trump’s significant polling lead, even as the former president faces 91 felony charges across four criminal cases. One NBC News poll conducted this month showed Trump has the support of 59% of likely Republican primary voters, giving the former president a 43-point edge over DeSantis. Besides Trump and DeSantis, every Republican primary candidate remains mired in the single digits, the poll found.DeSantis in particular could benefit from a breakout moment to help dispel mounting doubts over his ability to challenge Trump for the nomination. The Florida governor has seen his polling numbers tumble in recent weeks, with one New Hampshire survey showing DeSantis dropping to fifth place in the second voting state.With less than four months left for the Iowa caucuses, the pressure is escalating for candidates to quickly prove their mettle in the primary. One Republican candidate, the Miami mayor Francis Suarez, has already dropped out of the race, and others may soon follow suit if they cannot gain momentum in the coming weeks.But some of the candidates, including Hutchinson, insist they will keep fighting for the nomination despite the significant headwinds against them. In a statement released on Monday, Hutchinson said he would move forward with events planned in early voting states even after he failed to qualify for the second debate.“I entered this race because it is critically important for a leader within the Republican party to stand up to Donald Trump and call him out on misleading his supporters and the American people,” Hutchinson said. “I intend to continue doing that.” More
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The Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, said on Wednesday he was “disturbed” by the fraud indictment against his fellow Democratic Senator, Bob Menendez, and that the New Jersey lawmaker has fallen “way short” of senatorial standards.Menendez pleaded not guilty earlier in the day to charges of taking bribes from three New Jersey businessmen, as calls for his resignation from his fellow Democrats escalated.He was released on a $100,000 bond and then left federal court in New York without speaking to reporters.Federal prosecutors in Manhattan last week accused Menendez, 69, and his wife, Nadine, of accepting gold bars and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash in exchange for the senator using his influence to aid Egypt’s government and interfere with law enforcement investigations of the businessmen.Schumer was the most senior Democrat yet to comment on Menendez’s alleged crimes, though he stopped short of calling for the senator to resign, as almost 30 of his colleagues in the congressional upper chamber have done.However, Schumer, from New York, said: “Tomorrow, he will address the Democratic caucus and we’ll see what happens after that.”The majority leader said he was disappointed and disturbed by the indictment.“We all know that … for senators, there’s a much, much higher standard. And clearly when you read the indictment, Senator Menendez fell way, way below that standard,” Schumer said.Menendez entered the plea at a hearing before the US magistrate judge Ona Wang in Manhattan. Wang said Menendez could be released on a $100,000 personal recognizance bond.The Democratic senator will be required to surrender his personal passport, but may retain his official passport and travel abroad on official business. His wife, Nadine Menendez, 56, and businessmen Jose Uribe, 56, and Fred Daibes, 66, also pleaded not guilty. A third businessman, Wael Hana, 40, pleaded not guilty on Tuesday.Menendez, one of two senators representing New Jersey, stepped down from his role as chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, as required under his party’s rules.But on Monday he said he would stay in the Senate and fight the charges. More than half of all US Democratic senators – including Cory Booker, the junior senator from New Jersey and historically a close ally – have called on Menendez, a powerful voice on foreign policy who has at times bucked his own party, to resign since the charges were announced on Friday.Dick Durbin of Illinois, the number two Democrat in the Senate, on Wednesday joined his colleagues in urging Menendez to step down, saying on X, formerly known as Twitter, that he believed he could no longer serve.Democrats narrowly control the Senate with 51 seats, including three independents who normally vote with them, to the Republicans’ 49. The Democratic New Jersey governor, Phil Murphy, who would appoint a temporary replacement should Menendez step aside, has also called for him to resign.The indictment contained images of gold bars and cash investigators seized from Menendez’s home. Prosecutors say Hana arranged meetings between Menendez and Egyptian officials – who pressed him to sign off on military aid – and in return put his wife on the payroll of a company he controlled.skip past newsletter promotionafter newsletter promotionThe investigation marks the third time Menendez has been under investigation by federal prosecutors. He has never been convicted.Pete Aguilar, chair of the House Democratic caucus, called for Menendez to resign during a news conference with House Democratic leadership.Menendez has had “an incredible track record” of service to the people of New Jersey and of having “lifted up issues that the Latino community cares about”, Aguilar said.“It doesn’t bring me or any of us joy to say that he should resign. But he should for the betterment of the Democratic party. For the people of New Jersey. It’s better that he fights this trial outside of the halls of Congress.”Almost 30 Democratic senators had called on Menendez to resign by mid-morning on Wednesday.On Wednesday, the judge ordered him not to have contact outside of the presence of lawyers with his co-defendants except for his wife.He also cannot have contact outside of the presence of lawyers with members of his Senate staff, foreign relations committee staff or political advisers who have personal knowledge about the facts of the case, though it is unclear how those restrictions would impact his work.Reuters and the Associated Press contributed reporting More
Moderate New York Republican Mike Lawler said members of the GOP blocking efforts to keep the federal government from going into shutdown before a Saturday deadline are ‘stuck on stupid’ in an interview with CNN.
Criticising members of his party, Lawler said: ‘Some of my colleagues have, frankly, been stuck on stupid and refused to do what we were elected to do, against the vast majority of the conference, who have been working to avoid a shutdown’ More
A majority of Black Americans say that their communities are unfairly depicted in news coverage, according to a sweeping new survey on Wednesday.Nearly two-thirds of respondents observed that their community received more negative coverage than other racial and ethnic groups, the Pew Research Center survey found. Roughly four in 10 surveyed said that the media not only stereotyped Black people but also felt that they saw racist and racially insensitive coverage sometimes or fairly often.The center’s findings reflect the shortfalls of a so-called racial reckoning that swept through newsrooms across the United States in 2020 following the murder of George Floyd, when news outlets focused on hiring for roles centering diversity and inclusion and reporters and editors focused on covering communities traditionally underrepresented in news coverage.The latest survey indicates that the so-called reckoning inside newsrooms has struggled to reach the communities that they are meant to serve, including as the news business continues to experience layoffs, and failed to change the way communities feel about the coverage they receive.Charles Whitaker, dean of the Northwestern University’s Medill school of journalism told the Associated Press he was unsurprised by the findings.He echoed the lack of nuance in coverage as a longstanding feeling among Black Americans who feel they are often portrayed as either victims of crimes or those who commit them. “We’ve known both anecdotally, and through my personal experience with the Black press, that Blacks have long been dissatisfied with their coverage,” he said.The center surveyed nearly 5,000 adults over the winter to get their opinion on how Black Americans felt about how their communities are covered in the news media. The feelings of unfair coverage cut across political lines with Black Democrats and Republicans feeling very similar about how news coverage stereotyped Black communities.More than two-thirds of Black adults surveyed noted that educating journalists about the history and context surrounding the issues facing their communities played a vital role in helping to improve coverage.What’s more, a majority of Black Americans also noted that including more Black people as sources in news coverage would also heighten feelings of fairness in coverage for them. A majority also found that hiring more Black people in leadership positions helped to make news coverage about their communities more fair.At least four in 10 people surveyed also found that hiring more Black reporters would make such coverage more fair. What’s more, they saw it was crucial that race and racial inequity coverage came from Black reporters, though just over half said it mattered as much for overall news coverage.skip past newsletter promotionafter newsletter promotionRichard Prince, a columnist for the Journal-isms newsletter, told the Associated Press that the findings reinforced the idea that Black Americans, like other groups, “want to be portrayed as having the same concerns as everybody else. Still, he acknowledged that progress had been made in the upper echelons of newsrooms at a time when the industry experiences layoffs, adding: “We’re integrating an industry that’s shrinking.”Few of those surveyed, no matter the age, say they were confident that their communities will be covered fairly over the course of their lifetimes. More
Republicans pushing for a federal government shutdown are “stuck on stupid”, a party moderate said shortly before one rightwinger reported that the House speaker, Kevin McCarthy, would not hold a vote on a bipartisan Senate plan advanced as a way to keep the government open.“The American people elected a House Republican majority to serve as a check and balance and be able to govern,” Mike Lawler, a Republican from New York, a heavily Democratic state, told CNN.“Some of my colleagues have, frankly, been stuck on stupid and refused to do what we were elected to do, against the vast majority of the conference, who have been working to avoid a shutdown.”If no agreement to continue funding the government is reached by midnight on Saturday, many federal functions will cease. Employees can expect to be furloughed and the public left without key services.Past shutdowns – most recently in 2013, 2018 and 2019 – have been stoked by Republican hardliners in Congress but have not paid off politically. The most recent closure was prompted by Donald Trump, then president, over immigration policy. The Congressional Budget Office put the cost of the 35-day shutdown at about $18bn and said $3bn was wiped off US GDP.Nonetheless, Trump is now backing a shutdown again and on Wednesday Bob Good of Virginia, a hard-right holdout, told reporters McCarthy had said he would not allow a vote on the stopgap measure reached by senators the day before.McCarthy is widely seen to be in a political vice, running the House with a five-seat majority, beholden to hardliners who in January forced him through 15 votes to become speaker and are now threatening to start proceedings to have him removed.Moderates like Lawler, who was elected in 2022 in an unusually strong Republican showing in New York, are at most risk of losing their seats next year, when Democrats will seek to take back the House.Lawler told CNN: “Two weeks ago, the speaker came forth with a proposal that would reduce spending by 8% in the 30-day continuing resolution, as well as enact most of the provisions of HR2 [a House bill] to deal with our border crisis,” Lawler said. “Unfortunately, folks like Matt Gaetz chose to oppose that for some ridiculous reason.”Gaetz, from Florida and a vocal Trump supporter, has led the charge against McCarthy. On the House floor on Tuesday night, he said the US would soon see if the “failed” speaker would turn to Democrats to keep the government open.“The one thing I agree with my Democrat colleagues on is that for the last eight months, this House has been poorly led,” Gaetz said. “And we own that, and we have to do something about it, and you know what? My Democratic colleagues will have an opportunity to do something about that too, and we will see if they bail out our failed speaker.”skip past newsletter promotionafter newsletter promotionDemocratic and moderate Republican support could help McCarthy keep the government open – but it would almost certainly spell the end of his time as speaker.On Tuesday, a source familiar with the thinking of moderate Republicans predicted the shutdown would “last about five days”, because a House rules committee block on a bipartisan deal meant it could only reach the floor on the first day of the closure, five days then being needed to get the deal to a point where “it will sail through both chambers”.The same source said hard-right Republicans simply wanted “to burn the place down”, adding: “These are not serious people. They believe anything that [Joe] Biden wants is bad, but the margins are so thin that their votes count.”Lawler said: “I’ve been very clear from the start, that I will not support a government shutdown, that we need to do everything we can to avoid one. Nobody wins in a shutdown. And in fact, the American people are going to be the ones that get hurt.” More
Tourists posed for photos beside the presidential seal, peered inside the cockpit, studied the nuclear football and gazed at a desk where a “Ronald Reagan” jacket slung over the chair, page of handwritten notes and jelly bean jar made it appear as if the 40th US president could saunter back at any moment.Air Force One is the star attraction at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, California. But on Wednesday it is competing for attention with a curving Starship Enterprise-style stage set featuring seven lecterns and microphones for the second Republican presidential primary debate.The Reagan library describes this as “the Super Bowl” of Republican debates, against the dramatic backdrop of the Boeing 707 that flew seven presidents and close to the granite gravesite where Reagan was buried in 2004, looking across a majestic valley towards the Pacific Ocean.“As a new field of Republicans make their case to be the next President, the legacy of Ronald Reagan looms larger than ever,” the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute, which sustains the library, said in an email statement that will be put to the test at 9pm ET. For there are some who argue that Reagan would no longer recognise a Republican party that now belongs to Donald Trump.“There are no more Reagan Republicans,” said Jason Johnson, a political analyst and professor at Morgan State University in Baltimore. “Having this debate at the Reagan Library is almost a troll of the legacy of actual Republicans in the party because they are no more. The last real Republicans in the party were probably Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. The rest of these people are frauds, clowns and sycophants.”Reagan and Donald Trump are the two best US presidents of the past 40 years, according to Republicans surveyed recently by the Pew Research Center (41% said Reagan, who held the office from 1981 to 1989, did the best job while 37% said Trump did). Neither man will be at the two-hour debate – frontrunner Trump is skipping it again – yet both will help to frame it.Several candidates have been straining to drape themselves in Reagan’s political finery. Former vice-president Mike Pence often talks of how he “joined the Reagan revolution and never looked back”, and took his oath with his hand on the Reagan family Bible. This week Pence received the endorsement of five senior Reagan administration officials who praised his stances on limited government, lower taxes, individual freedom, strong defence and abortion restrictions.Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina has fondly recalled Reagan’s “optimistic, positive revolution” while also approvingly recalling his decision to fire more than 11,000 air traffic controllers who went on strike in 1981: “He said, you strike, you’re fired.” Scott’s campaign has promoted a quotation from Senator Mike Rounds: “Tim Scott is the closest to Ronald Reagan that you’re going to see.”Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, has asserted that it is this generation’s “time for choosing”, a nod to Reagan’s 1964 speech that made him a breakout conservative leader and paved the way for his election as governor of California. In the first debate, biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy called himself “the only candidate in this race, young or old, black or white, to bring all of those voters along to deliver a Reagan 1980 revolution”.Even Trump has recently begun referencing Reagan as he seeks to navigate the electorally awkward territory of abortion restrictions after the fall of Roe v Wade, stating that “like President Ronald Reagan before me, I support the three exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother”.The Reagan Library and Museum, unabashedly laudatory with little discussion of the former president’s record on race relations or Aids, leaves no doubt as to his status as a political touchstone. It chronicles his rise from small-town Illinois (“Almost everybody knew one another”) to General Electric to Hollywood, where his role as football player George Gipp in the film Knute Rockne, All American earned him the nickname “the Gipper” – and the myth-making was under way.A bumper sticker that says “Win it for the Gipper” features in a display on the 1980 presidential election, as does a campaign poster with the pre-Trump slogan: “Let’s make America great again.” The Reagan revolution was assured when he beat Jimmy Carter by 10 percentage points in the popular vote and took 44 of the 50 states – unthinkable in today’s polarised politics.Visitors see a replica of Reagan’s Oval Office, a display of first lady Nancy Reagan’s fashion and a paean to the trickle-down economics now rejected by Joe Biden as a failed economic philosophy, accompanied by the celebrated Morning in America campaign ad and a piano version of Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA – now familiar as Trump’s walk-on song at rallies.There is a gallery devoted to Reagan’s “peace through strength” approach to the cold war and “evil empire” of the Soviet Union, including a replica of the Berlin Wall and statues of Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Among his quotations: “We know only too well that war comes not when the forces of freedom are strong, but when they are weak. It is then that tyrants are tempted.”Jonathan Alter, an author of presidential biographies, said: “Unlike Trump, where it’s all about him, where it’s a cult of personality, with Reagan it was heavily ideological. It was all about trying to restore limited government with a strongly anti-communist foreign policy. So it was cut spending, cut taxes, increase defence. That was their agenda and that became the animating idea of the Republican party.”After he left the presidency, Reagan told the Republican national convention: “Whatever else history may say about me … I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears, to your confidence rather than your doubts.”There has, many would argue, been a significant shift in tone in the Republican party since then. At last month’s first Republican debate in Milwaukee, Pence insisted: “We’re not looking for a new national identity. The American people are the most faith-filled, freedom-loving, idealistic, hard-working people the world has ever known.”Ramaswamy retorted: “It is not morning in America. We live in a dark moment. And we have to confront the fact that we’re in an internal sort of cold, cultural civil war.”This once unthinkable repudiation of Reagan implied that the 40th president’s “shining city on a hill” has given way to the 45th president’s “American carnage”. Bill Kristol, a founding director of the Defending Democracy Together political group and former Reagan administration official, said: “I talked with someone 10 years ago. He was a prominent person who said, ‘I wonder if the mood of America is changing.’ I said something conventional about Reagan Republicans.”Kristol went on: “He said, ‘I don’t think that stuff would work any more. The country’s getting more and more pessimistic.’ I said, ‘Well, the voters still want to have hope and an upbeat message.’ He said, ‘I’m not so sure about that.’ Trump, in the way he’s a good demagogue, saw that. You wouldn’t be penalised for being down. Quite the opposite.”Perhaps the area in which Reaganism is closest to being nothing more than a museum piece is foreign policy. Trump has embraced the old foe, Russia, and called Vladimir Putin a “genius”. He has dragged the party towards “America first” isolationism and anti-interventionism. Ramaswamy has vowed to cut off financial support to Ukraine in its war against Russia.Joe Walsh, a former Republican congressman, said: “Reagan believed we were an example for the rest of the world and charged out to help spread freedom around the rest of the world. The fact that the Republican party has become pro-Putin under Trump – Ronnie just wouldn’t understand it. It goes against everything he believes.”Reagan signed a law granting legal status to nearly 3 million immigrants. Walsh added: “This is very much a-build-a-wall-around-America, keep-everybody-out kind of Republican party. Reagan had a lot of flaws … [but] we were the city on the hill and we welcome all who want to come here.”David Prosperi, an assistant press secretary to Reagan, said: “When Ronald Reagan was running for president he said, ‘I didn’t leave the Democratic party. The Democratic party left me.’ I think today he might just say, ‘This Republican party has left me’.”But there is a school of thought that the former film star Reagan and former TV star Trump have more in common than their devotees would like to admit.Reagan’s critics say he cut taxes for the rich and sowed distrust in government. He spun exaggerated yarns about a “Chicago welfare queen” and a “strapping young buck” using food stamps to “buy a T-bone steak”. In a call with President Richard Nixon he referred to African UN delegates as “monkeys”.Reagan launched his 1980 election campaign with a speech lauding “states’ rights” near the site of the notorious Mississippi Burning murders of three civil rights workers – seen by many as a nod to southern states that resented the federal government enforcing civil rights. Once in office, Reagan opposed affirmative action and busing programmes.Kevin Kruse, a history professor at Princeton University, said: “While it’s right to be alarmed by the way in which Trump has moved things into an unprecedented realm, we’d be mistaken to believe this is somehow entirely brand new. I know that the ‘never Trump’ crowd in the Republican party have created this kind of fictitious version of Reagan that was wholly different from Trump. But there are elements of this here.”Reagan arguably tapped into the same populist forces that Trump would later fully unleash. Kruse added: “Reagan, before the presidency, ran for governor of California, where he was very much seen as a backlash candidate, the voice of white resentment. As president, it was much more of a dog whistle approach. Trump is loudly screaming what Reagan said softly with a smile.” More
This July the body of 16-year-old Duvan Tomas Perez “became entangled” in meat processing machinery in Mississippi, according to a statement from Mar-Jac Poultry, the company where the boy was working. Perez was too young to be working there, according to Mar-Jac, which blamed an outside staffing company for failing to verify Perez’s age and identity. Perez was not the first worker to die at the plant in recent years, and he was not the first 16-year-old to die at work in the US this summer.American legislators should be working to crack down on child labor, here and abroad, but instead, politicians – including Democrats – in at least 11 states have introduced or passed bills that weaken child labor laws. At a time when adult workers are demanding a fairer slice of the increasingly behemoth pie of corporate profits, child labor is a capitalist work-around to increase the labor pool and lower the wages of all those who have to work for a living.I’m embarrassed to be writing an anti-child labor article in the year 2023, as if this is some Charles Dickens novel leaking gruel and cruel men. It is not as if child labor had ever disappeared, of course; children around the world toil in fast-fashion sweatshops and among the mountains of garbage in other countries but produced by Silicon Valley. This is unfortunately where capitalism is heading, and has always been heading: children competing with their parents for jobs amid the ruins of societies we sacrificed for profit. But for awhile it seemed like child labor might have escaped the empire to live primarily in its colonial subjects.Child labor was once as rampant in the US as it is in the countries of the developing world. In 1900, one out of five American children – including children as young as 10 – were employed. A quarter of textile workers in the American south were under the age of 16. In the north, factories relied on child labor so heavily that some areas suffered from “boy shortages” that led to corporate agents traveling the country in search of orphaned children to put to work.It is difficult to calculate the total number of legal and illegal child workers in the US today. In the agricultural industry alone, there are likely hundreds of thousands of children, largely from Central America. A New York Times investigation earlier this year found that many US brands directly or indirectly use child labor, including Lucky Charms, Nature Valley, Ford and J Crew. While some of that work is legal, the federal government, at least, has been cracking down on illegal child labor. The number of minors in child labor violations has increased by 283% since 2015, according to the Economic Policy Institute. According to the US Department of Labor, over 800 companies illegally employed children in the past fiscal year, and one meatpacking company was fined for employing children across 13 different plants.Legal child labor may seem like an odd turn of phrase but child labor isn’t at all banned in the US. The 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act created a federal minimum wage and banned children under 16 from “hazardous” work, but left agricultural workers out of many of its reforms. This is why so many children are “legally” employed, and why many agricultural workers in the US do not have a right to a minimum wage.These policies allowed the US to maintain its long history of relying on slavery and near slavery for its agricultural wealth and give companies the ability to replace adult workers with children when adult workers demand decent pay – an increasingly common occurrence since Covid reminded workers of how important they are, and how little they are valued.The pandemic killed over a million Americans, many of them workers or potential workers, and brought on a wave of retirements that left an even larger hole in the labor market. Holes like this can increase the value of individual workers and allow them to negotiate for higher wages, a trend that followed the bubonic plague in Europe. The meat-processing company where Duvan was working alluded to the underlying conditions that landed the company with child workers: “Due to an unprecedentedly tight labor market, Mar-Jac MS relies on staffing companies to fill positions at its facility,” a statement the company issued in July said.While some companies are turning towards automation, others are turning towards taking our teens from schools and into factories. Instead of cutting CEOs’ record salaries, corporate leaders – and their political allies – are fighting to maintain low wages by any means necessary.Iowa has moved to allow children as young as 14 to work in industrial laundries and meat coolers, as well as created a special license to allow some 14-year-olds to drive up to 50 miles for work between 5am and 10pm. Nebraska has moved to join other states in allowing employers to pay people under 20 less than minimum wage – as low as $4.25 an hour. These laws are being pushed by groups such as Americans for Prosperity, various chambers of commerce, and restaurant associations aiming to hire younger bartenders.Some legislators characterize the work that killed Duvan as potential sources of revenue for struggling immigrant families. But this is a macabre policy solution birthed by a sanguinary system. Instead of putting children to work, we ought to ask ourselves if a system that cannot rid itself of child labor is worth keeping.
Akin Olla is a contributing opinion writer at the Guardian US More
Immediately before Michael Wolff published The Fall: The End of the Murdoch Empire, the emperor himself, driver of its expansion and its bitter divisions, stepped aside. Last week, Rupert Murdoch announced he was anointing his eldest son, Lachlan, as his successor, which per Wolff’s narrative will have been a bitter blow to everyone, including Lachlan.Wolff’s latest book joins an oeuvre that is remarkable for its access: in 2008, he wrote a biography of Murdoch, The Man Who Owns the News, for which the mogul gave him 50 hours of interviews. Never mind that it’s the longest Murdoch has ever spoken to a journalist, it’s probably the longest he’s ever spoken to a friend. “We really got along. He’s inexhaustible on the subject of the media, and I, too, am inexhaustible on that subject. We had a very good time,” says Wolff. So long as they were doing business or gossip, that is. “He’s very hard to talk to personally; he can’t reflect on his own past and his own experience. He can talk about his family; he was weirdly transparent about his children. But about himself, what he might be feeling, no.”Ten years later, Wolff, who is now 70, produced what will probably be his defining work, the trilogy about Donald Trump’s White House: Fire and Fury, Siege and Landslide. The books distilled qualities evident since Wolff’s first piece in the New York Times Magazine ran in 1974: an exquisite eye for detail and mischief, expert pacing and a peculiar ability to get people to talk to him, even if they know – as by now they must – that he’s going to stitch them up like kippers. “I’m always surprised,” he says. “I have no real explanation except that people like to talk about themselves. I think of myself as a writer, not a journalist, and what does that mean? It means I’m not there to challenge anybody, I’m there to see what the experience is, and to try to put that on paper. I try to fade into the background.”Anyway, back to Lachlan, who takes over the company “theoretically”, Wolff tells me, over video call from an austere-looking room in Manhattan. He’s “a Hamlet figure. Does he want this job? I think many people who have worked with him and his siblings would say, in an ideal world, probably not.”Could Murdoch have stepped aside because of Wolff’s warts-and-all exposé? Does that sound like the kind of thing he would do? “From my point of view, I would say it’s not a coincidence,” Wolff says, picking his words judiciously, like a seasoned, picky traveller at a hotel buffet. “Obviously I speak to people inside the empire on a constant basis, and the feeling is that the book was a bus headed right at them. It’s a fairly vivid description of the problems of a 92-year-old running a public company, and he runs two significant public companies.” These are, of course, the Fox Corporation and News Corp, which, in fact, represent the rump of Murdoch’s empire, after the $71bn (£58bn) sale of 21st Century Fox – the film and television arms of the corporation – to Disney in 2019. But nevertheless that rump continues to change the shape of politics in the US and elsewhere. “The book created the environment where he was going to have to do more explaining than he wanted to do.”Just how many warts are there in Wolff’s book, though? The story it describes is, at root, quite sad: Murdoch wanted a rolling news channel and created Fox News in 1996, putting it under the control of the late Roger Ailes, for a number of reasons of which managing, controlling, manipulating and tamping down Murdoch’s warring sons were not the least. Murdoch was never even that into TV news, apparently, preferring print, but what he’d made ultimately delivered a new politics, culminating in Trump, whom Murdoch loathed.But Disney bought all the important bits of the business, leaving Murdoch with the thing he hated: Fox News (give or take what’s still a considerable newspaper empire; Wolff is not that interested in print, at least for the purposes of this book). So now Murdoch can’t get rid of Fox, because it’s all he has, and he can’t even change it, because it’s just making too much money.You’d call it Mephistophelean, except Murdoch didn’t sell his soul, he sold something he actually cared about – his news credentials. My sympathy for him would be greater if the devil only had plans for the Murdochs, but these new politics affect us all. If I had one criticism of Wolff’s overarching analysis, it’s that if you consider the UK for five seconds, it falls apart: Murdoch was never riding the tiger of Fox News here, he was tending the Sun and, for many years, the News of the World, his babies, and he still managed the slow-motion transformation of our politics, to a toxic sink where immigrants are to blame for everything and a blond sociopath could sweep into power on buffoonery. But I guess we just have to get used to our new place in the world, where nobody considers us for five seconds. And if I’m complaining, imagine what Australians have to say about their media’s virtual omission from the Murdoch story – they’ve been dealing with this family for a century.“There’s another theory inside the company,” Wolff says, about the abdication: “This is a Murdoch ruse. He doesn’t want to testify in the Smartmatic case.” Fox Corporation is being sued for $2.7bn for spreading the conspiracy theory that voting machines were rigged in the 2020 election; a similar case brought by Dominion resulted in an astronomical payout by Fox. Wolff reveals in the book that Murdoch thought the suit would cost $50m. By the time the firm walked away this April, it had cost $787.5m.Obviously it’s hard to even consider the Murdochs now but through the lens of Succession. Which one’s meant to be Kendall again, and did he win? “The superstructure of Succession takes a lot from the Murdoch story,” Wolff says. “But the Murdochs really don’t figure into any of the characters in an exact way. In no way. They aren’t those people. Murdoch, in the flesh, is incredibly conflict averse. Never engages. Very courtly. Very polite. In person, not in the least bit bullying or demanding or even functionally a know-it-all.” (According to The Fall, James Murdoch is “a prick”. I liked the brevity.)Wolff doesn’t fawn in front of big money and even expresses sympathy for the Murdoch heirs, who each got $2bn from the Disney deal. “When you have $2bn, that money owns you. You have to go to work for it. It essentially creates a full-time job which you very well may not want but you would be stuck with.” But he does surrender to its logic. “Theoretically,” Wolff says, “Rupert Murdoch didn’t have to go along with this. He could have said, ‘No, I’m closing Fox down. Or I’m going to let James run it.’ But temperamentally, after 70 years in this business, I think that it was beyond expectations for him to give up this incredibly powerful profit machine. Fox News has made more money than any other news business ever. And I’m sure he goes to bed at night thinking, ‘That’s something I’ve accomplished.’”Between that and Wolff’s fascination with the players at Fox News, first Ailes – with whom he had an affectionate lunching friendship – then Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity, as well as sundry female anchors with fun-sounding drink and nymphomania problems, he emerges with an engaging but vexingly neutral narrative. “I’m not particularly interested in politics,” he says. “I think that the real issues are about people’s personal motivations. I think even if that’s in a political setting, which Fox is clearly, in fact what’s pushing these characters forward is not politics, it’s something else, it’s something a lot more basic.”So, ratings, yes? “What’s the overarching motivation of people on television? It’s to stay on television. People who have been on television can’t live with not being on television. Their lives diminish. They become incredibly bitter and angry.” Yes, but do I really care whether or not Carlson is patting his jowls every night and staring down screen mortality? Or is it more important that he actively created the environment for overturning Roe v Wade, because that’s the bit of his life that intersects others’?When you’re talking to Wolff, you have to turn down the bit of your brain that raises objections like that, just as he turns down that bit of his own brain.He was telling me about Ailes, the architect of Fox, always vehemently opposed by both James and Lachlan Murdoch (the only thing they could ever agree on), who was brought down by sexual harassment accusations in 2016 and died the next year. Ailes created the behemoth by recognising that some viewers didn’t want progress; they wanted to stay in 1965. “He made a business of the left-behinds. That’s interesting, from a business standpoint, because the left-behinds previously had no commercial use. He figured out how these people could be monetised, and that changed everything.” Once they’d been monetised, they were a calculable entity, looking for a political home.Ailes had another interesting mantra: it’s not enough to make conservatives happy; you have to make liberals angry. Which, again, feels like an important insight, but Wolff’s response to “alt-right” provocation feels … well, you decide: “I wouldn’t say that I enjoyed every moment I ever spent with Roger. You know, he had these political views that were reprehensible. He would get on these rants and you knew that if you let him go all the way down, at the end of the day the Jews would be killed. You would have to veer him off if you didn’t want to hear that. I remember, once, he was on a rant, and I interrupted him to ask about his son. His son was born when he was 60. I myself at that age was considering having another child. So we had this lovely conversation which precluded having to talk about some ugly politics.”Did more baby Wolffs result from this conversation? “No, my wife persuaded me to have a baby when I was 60, but he helped. Not only has it not been a disaster, then I had another after that.” (This family is with his second wife, the 43-year-old journalist Victoria Floethe. He has three children with his first wife, the lawyer Alison Anthoine.) And what is the consequence, the hangover, from checking your moral compass at the cloakroom while you dodge antisemitic necropolitics over linguine?Wolff’s adventures in Trumpland landed him in hot water from all quarters: the president tried and failed to block publication; numerous sources complained about Wolff’s reporting of off-the-record conversations, or the conversation simply not unfolding the way they remembered it; and then there were people lodging my kind of objection, which is essentially, “Come on, this isn’t a game.” But now the dust has settled, Trump is “no longer upset. I’ve been to Mar-a-Lago to have dinner with him and Melania. He calls me from time to time. And it’s as though we are – actually, I don’t know what we are. We’re friends? That can’t possibly be. But we have some relationship.”He quotes a lot of people as thinking Trump is a moron, but does he think Trump is a moron? “I certainly think he’s unlike anyone that I or, I would go so far as to say, any of us have had any experience with. Sometimes he can certainly sound like a moron. He can sound as if he knows literally nothing about anything. But on the other hand, obviously he does know something. He has keen instincts. Obviously on some level he’s a genius. So I guess you can be a moron and a genius.”How would Wolff write himself; what’s his motivation? “It’s partly that I’m a storyteller. But I would also say that I’ve spent my time trying to get rich. On quite a number of occasions I’ve set out to get rich beyond my wildest dreams and never succeeded. It makes me interested in people who have. Most journalists have accepted the fact that riches are not for them. But I never accepted that.”I then ask how he’d feel if Trump gained a second term in 2024, and he says he’d feel like he had to get back to work. Any anxieties about the future of democracy at all? “I feel that American democracy is pretty damn strong, that it can probably withstand Donald Trump. It can withstand Fox News. America survives, it grows, it prospers. Could that end? I guess it could. Would we know it ends when it ends, or would we only know that in hindsight?”“I’m a fundamentally optimistic person, who keeps having children,” he says. Maddening. A lot of fun. Still maddening.The Fall: The End of the Murdoch Empire by Michael Wolff is published by The Bridge Street Press (£25). To support the Guardian and Observer, buy a copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply. More