Mike Murphy hosts the podcast Hacks on Tap with David Axelrod, and these days, he consults for the group Republican Voters Against Trump. We've invited him to play a game called "Consulting, meet insulting." Three questions about insults through the ages.
Click the audio link above to find out how he does.
PETER SAGAL, HOST:
And now the game where people who've spent years acquiring expertise find it all useless. It's called Not My Job. I'd call political consultant Mike Murphy a hack, but he beat me to it. He hosts the podcast "Hacks On Tap" with David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs, where they talk about their experiences running campaigns. He's done it for John McCain, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mitt Romney. These days, he consults for the group Republican Voters Against Trump. And we are delighted to have him here. Mike Murphy, welcome to WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.
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MIKE MURPHY: Well, thank you for having me. I'm excited.
SAGAL: It's a pleasure to have you here, especially this week. And we want to talk to you about all kinds of things about the election. But I'm very curious. I know what kind of people grew up to be comedians - very nervous, insecure people.
SAGAL: But what kind of people grow up to be political consultants?
MURPHY: Well, boy, it's a whole gamut of weirdos and strange people because it's kind of an eccentric business. I mean, I got there 'cause I picked the wrong major in school. I was a Russian area studies major back at Georgetown. And by the time they'd beaten Russian into me and all this Cold War stuff in the early '80s, I figured out that the Russians couldn't build a toaster. So I was very interested in politics. I love theater, and the theater of politics was attractive. So a broke-down congressman who nobody would work for hired me out of my dorm room to make a few radio spots. And he won. And next thing I know, I'm a political consultant.
MURPHY: So everybody has a story like that in this business.
SAGAL: So how do you know? I mean, 'cause you're supposed to be the guy who says, this is what the ad should say. This is the message. How in the world do you know those things?
MURPHY: Well, we kind of cheat, you know? We poll people. We call them up and ask them questions, scientifically. And, amazingly, they tell us a lot of stuff. And we just try to move them around with advertising and speeches and all the stuff you do in a campaign. In most places, 80% of the vote is predetermined, you know? They're going to vote for a bag of nails if it has an R or a D after it. But that 15 to 20% you can persuade, the whole campaign's about trying to move them. And they're stubborn. The joke campaign consultants call voters, affectionately, as goats 'cause they're hard to move.
MURPHY: But if you can move them, you can win an election.
SAGAL: Well, you'd be surprised what we call you guys.
MURPHY: Well-earned, I'm sure.
SAGAL: What do you do when those middle voters, those voters you need to convince want something really, really stupid?
MURPHY: Well, you know, in the great American democracy, there's nothing in the Constitution that morons don't have a voice.
MURPHY: Occasionally, we elect a few. So, you know, you try to keep them away from sharp tools and anything flammable, but you talk to people in their own language. And that's one thing Donald Trump - he speaks moron really, really well. That's both one of his strengths and one of his disgraces.
FAITH SALIE: In this election, Mike, what we keep hearing is that there aren't so many people up for grabs. So what do you do in an election like this when there's not so many people to persuade?
MURPHY: Well, it is a smaller universe. You're right. But we go to the highly technical political consulting tool of the hammer and chisel, and we just try to chip them off. I mean, one thing we're doing at RVAT is we're running what we call a permission campaign to give Republicans - it's OK to leave the herd this time. I mean, I like to joke. I'm supporting Biden, but I'm renting. I'm not buying. And if we can take Trump down to 89% of Republicans instead of 95, even that little move there - that can flip a state.
SAGAL: RVAT is Republican Voters Against Trump.
SAGAL: And that's a group you've been a part of how long now?
MURPHY: I joined it 'cause, one, I'm on that team. And second, I thought, hey, let's go to Florida 'cause if you win Florida, it's over. And I've done a lot of races down there. I was Jeb Bush's guy in his governor races. So we pulled together about 10 million bucks, and we've been pounding the hell out of them down in Florida. Project Orange Crush, we call it.
MURPHY: And we're better at politics than puns, but it's the best thing we had in the day we had to figure it out. And so that's been going on since early spring.
SAGAL: Now, you're running against Trump as a consultant, but you've done it before. You weren't working on the Jeb Bush campaign in 2016, but you were with a PAC that was supporting him, right?
MURPHY: Yeah, it was fun. The problem is Republican primary voters - they wanted an outsider, and they saw Trump as somebody who was credentialed outside of politics. I mean, even if all he did was sit in a cardboard boardroom and pretend to fire Gilbert Gottfried, who was paid to be there for not selling enough popcorn, it gave him this persona as the can-do guy, you know? He straightened out Gary Busey. He can run the country.
SAGAL: So what happens if the president loses reelection and leaves office? What happens to the Republican Party? Do all the people who, like, right now are aiding and abetting say, Donald who? Do they all pretend that they didn't mean it the whole time? Or do they all come out and say, no, no, it was just a terrible dream. It's all over - and go back to trying to be normal? Or is this a permanent change?
MURPHY: I think there'd be a big civil war in the Republican Party about our future. And I think a lot of the collaborate - I mean, I'd love to do show trials. I mean, I want the Home Improvement Commission from "Tin Men" with the ceiling fans and the whole deal and haul them all up.
SAGAL: So that brings up - I guess one of my last questions is, are you looking forward to going back to being evil once this is over?
MURPHY: I have major evil plans. I want to make Dracula look like Mother Goose.
MURPHY: I can hardly wait.
SALIE: But when you say there's - you think there's a coming civil war inside the Republican Party, who's on the side of good? Who's on the side of repentant? I mean, you've got Mitt Romney and Jeff Flake.
MURPHY: Wait a minute.
SAGAL: Let's be honest.
SALIE: And you talk about walking away from losers.
SAGAL: Not so much good but less evil.
MURPHY: Wait a - I thought this was Limbaugh. Am I on NPR or something?
MURPHY: What the hell's going on? There's a lot of good. There's room for a center right. And I think we're right on most policy. What drives me crazy is when the left does stuff I don't like as a conservative. I got no high moral ground anymore. What am I going to say? Our - my guy just, you know, ate his hat.
MURPHY: I mean, you know, so we're not even in the game.
SAGAL: Well, Mike Murphy, it is great to talk with you. But we have invited you here to play a game we're calling...
BILL KURTIS: Consulting, Meet Insulting.
SAGAL: You do consulting, which is cool. But you know what's really cool? Insulting. We're going to ask you three questions about insults through the ages. Get two right - you'll win our prize for one of our listeners, the voice of anyone they might choose for your voicemail. Bill, who is Mike Murphy playing for?
KURTIS: Jen Lee of San Francisco, Calif.
SAGAL: You know, it occurs to me, Mike, after talking to you for a while, I think you're probably rather familiar with the art of the insult.
MURPHY: That's a stupid question.
MURPHY: Yes, yeah. Maybe, maybe once in a while.
SAGAL: Well, let's see how you do here. Here's your first question. Insults in the 18th century were a bit more creative than they are now. Which of these was a common insult in 1700s Britain - A, you are a thief and a murderer - you have killed a baboon and stolen his face; B, I'm not so concerned that you might contract the pox as I am that the pox might contract you...
SAGAL: ...Or C, your mother is of particularly large dimension?
MURPHY: Tough one. I'm going to rule out A 'cause it's right out of my dream journal.
MURPHY: So I'm going to go - B sounds like Talleyrand, the great insulter of Napoleonic France. I'm going to go with B.
SAGAL: Wow. You actually attributed something we made up to Talleyrand. I'm very impressed.
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SAGAL: No, it was A. It was A. You're a thief and a murderer. You've killed a baboon and stolen his face. They're very colorful back then. This is not a problem. You have two more chances. Not everyone handles insults in good humor as proven by which of these - A, Pope Francis, who once said that he would punch anyone that insulted his mother; B, Mother Teresa, who once said, next person who makes a penguin joke gets typhus; or C, Mister Rogers, who once shouted, touch my sweater again and I'll end you?
MURPHY: Wow. I think A sounds right to me.
SAGAL: You're right.
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SAGAL: Pope Francis is, in fact, a mother's boy. He said that about his mother. This is great. If you get this last one right, you win. Even the classiest of people occasionally need to lash out. Which one of these cultural icons was known to unleash a sick burn? Was it A, Ludwig van Beethoven, who once told a fellow composer, I like your opera. I think I will set it to music...
SAGAL: ...B, Mahatma Gandhi, who, when asked, what do you think of Western civilization? - replied, I think it would be a good idea; or C, Pope John XXIII, who, when asked how many people work in the Vatican, replied, about half?
MURPHY: I'm going to go to A again.
SAGAL: You're going to go to A again. You're right.
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SAGAL: But all three of them were, in fact, real.
MURPHY: Oh, really?
SAGAL: Yes, you were right. Of course. Bill, how did Mike Murphy do on our quiz?
KURTIS: Two out of three. Mike, you're a winner.
SAGAL: Well, congratulations.
MURPHY: Oh, excellent.
SAGAL: One more victory to put in your belt. But I am now, as a person hosting you, obligated to ask you the question which you, as a political consultant guesting on a show, are obligated to answer. What's going to happen on Election Day?
MURPHY: Joe Biden is going to beat Donald Trump like a slow government mule.
SAGAL: All right.
MURPHY: He's going to win Florida early, and he's going to break him quick.
SAGAL: All right. Well, we'll check back in with you to see how you did. Mike Murphy is a political consultant and reluctant Biden voter. You can hear him twice a week on the Hacks On Tap podcast. More information is at hacksontap.com. Mike Murphy, what a joy to talk to you. It's just been awesome. Thank you so much for staying with us.
MURPHY: Thank you. Of all the media I've done, this has impressed my wife more than anything.
MURPHY: So thanks for having me on.
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ROBBEN FORD: (Singing) I'm a political man.
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