David Broder's Gone, but His Lessons Live On

As sad as it was, the news Wednesday that veteran political reporter and nationally syndicated columnist David Broder had died came to me in a poignant way.  I learned of his death at age 81 reading my Twitter items during the regular press briefing at the White House, surrounded by fellow correspondents.  Virtually all of them had known Broder or at least met him—most likely on the campaign trail, fighting to find a room in  hotels that were all booked in Des Moines, Iowa, prior to the presidential caucuses, or daring the snows of Manchester, New Hampshire, prior to the first-in-the-nation primary. 

That was Broder at his best.  Beginning in 1960 and throughout stints at the New York Times, the Washington Evening Star, and finally the Washington Post, he was a quadrennial fixture in all the states that were battle sites leading up to the Democratic and Republican national conventions.

Returning to my office that day, I polished off a feature on the movement to draft Donald Trump for the Republican nomination in 2012.  Along with talking to veteran political consultant Roger Stone, I had interviewed two little-known young people who were launching the Draft Trump 2012 committee because they heard The Donald speak and liked him—a decorated U.S. Marine Corps veteran from Missouri and a Young Republican National Federation leader from New York.  That was what David would have done, I thought.  He spoke to the celebrated and the not-so-celebrated-who-might-be-someday.

The Republican Establishment, a book Broder co-authored with Stephen Hess in 1967 (and which is in my office), put his lesson in writing.  The authors profiled the leading Republican contenders for President in ’68 (Nixon, Rockefeller, Reagan, Illinois Sen. Chuck Percy, and Michigan Gov. George Romney, father of Mitt), but also looked at the GOP’s up-and-comers in all 50 states.  Among those we were told to keep an eye on were Kansas Rep. Robert J. Dole (“a smoothly  handsome and well-connected fourth-termer with ambitions to rise to the Senate”) and Texas Rep. George Bush.  (“Moderate by Texas standards, with a secure political base, he can be expected to play an increasingly important role in state and even national Republican politics.”)

Broder talked to and remained in touch with Dole, Bush, and hundreds of others, from local officials to state legislators nationwide.  It is not hard to guess who was a big inspiration in my maintaining numerous rolodexes, or citing the locals rather than just the “names” in my weekly Politics column for HUMAN EVENTS.

It goes without saying that David Broder was more on the Left when it came to political philosophy.  His “opinion journalism” had long been out in public in his weekly columns and in numerous appearances on talk shows such as “Washington Week in Review.”  But he could also put his commentator’s cap in the closet and don that of correspondent for interviews with those who were his political opposites.  That David Broder knew how to separate the two roles is the reason for the outpouring of condolences that spanned the political spectrum—from Sen. Dan Coats (R.-Ind.) on the right to Nancy Pelosi on the left.

When we would see each other at political events, David—knowing full well where I was coming from—would introduce me to friends by saying, “I read him.”

The last time we spoke was in July of ’08.  It was the National Governors Association’s 100th anniversary meeting in Philadelphia, and it was a true feast for David, who loved meeting the governors at their session and learning about state issues and politicians with national stardom.  Former governors such as Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts and John Sununu of New Hampshire were all there, and greeted David warmly.

“I wouldn’t say that covering these governors conferences is the most important reporting,” he told me, “but it’s certainly among the most important.  So who have you been talking to?”

At the time we spoke, I had just come from an interview with one of the Republican governors elected two years before.  Her name was Sarah Palin.

I don’t recall what David’s reaction was.  But I have a feeling that today he’s smiling, knowing that his lesson of dismissing no politician—no matter how obscure—was learned by a colleague who will miss him very much.