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'Landslide' podcast traces the roots of our political divide

A charged political climate. A Republican presidential primary looking poised to be a blowout. A general election that could have seismic repercussions on the country’s direction. That’s all true in the current 2024 presidential race, but a new podcast proposes it was also true back in 1976, in an election that shaped the conditions for today’s political environment.
The podcast is “Landslide.” Its creator and host is former WFAE reporter Ben Bradford. “Landslide” is distributed by the NPR Network, and produced by NuanceTales in partnership with WFAE. “Landslide” debuts Thursday, Feb. 22, and will appear weekly after that. Distributed by the NPR Network on all major podcast platforms, Landslide traces the roots of our modern political divisions back to the pivotal election that set the Republican Party on the path to becoming the modern, socially conservative party it is today.

It's a history that feels at once familiar and new. Here's the show's description:

"In the mid-1970s, the Republican Party looked on the verge of self-destruction. Until 1976. A political earthquake: A cutthroat, razor-close, deeply personal battle for the Republican nomination, and the party's identity. It resurrected the GOP, remade it as a conservative party, and pulled the country sharply to the right. This is the story of the closest presidential primary race in American history, what followed, and how it reshaped the political parties — opening the partisan rifts that divide us today."

Listen to the trailer.

The podcast follows Ford vs. Reagan in 1976 and its effect on the GOP, continuing through the general election race, and culminating in 1980. Over the course of seven episodes, the narrative podcast tells the story of three unlikely presidents, their bitter campaigns against each other, and how they upended American politics — propelling the nation and political parties into today's division.

"It's a wild story, definitely stranger than fiction. You hear so much that could have been pulled from today's political scene," said Bradford, host of “Landslide.” "The other side of it is that our current political crises did not just suddenly emerge, and if we want to make sense of them — if we want solutions — we have to understand the root causes."

The campaigns of Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and Jimmy Carter pushed the country to the right, reorienting what Americans expected from their government. It cemented a political realignment, pivoted the GOP to fully embrace social and cultural battles, and helped reframe the political debates between the parties from questions of policy to fundamentally moral conflicts.

North Carolina also played a key role in the 1976 election, when Sen. Jesse Helms and a network of activists and organizations known collectively as the "New Right" revived Reagan's seemingly moribund campaign, nearly propelling him to the nomination that year and setting him up to become the Republican nominee in 1980.

About podcast host and creator Ben Bradford and NuanceTales

An award-winning public radio reporter with an inside perspective into the nation's political system, Ben Bradford is the creator, producer, and host of the political history podcast series Landslide and the Audible Original Of The People, and founder of the independent podcast company NuanceTales. Before learning he preferred journalism, Ben spent two years as a press secretary for a senior member of Congress. Then, as a reporter, he covered politics in both a red state — North Carolina (at WFAE) — and blue California, where dozens of public radio stations relied on his statehouse reporting. His work has aired on NPR, the BBC, and Bloomberg Radio, as well as in newspapers around the country. Most recently, Ben reported for the iconic business program, “Marketplace.” He's won a national Edward R. Murrow award for his political coverage and numerous regional awards.

About the NPR Network

The NPR Network is a local-national media network comprised of independent public media organizations in communities around the country, founded on a mission to create a more informed public. Through the Network, NPR and Member stations are working together to bring America closer through free and independent journalism, music, politics, culture, and more. This collaborative initiative aims to engage more audiences with public media content through all digital platforms. NPR Network content is available through local Member stations (npr.org/stations), NPR.org and NPR One, and wherever podcasts are found.