Morton Kondracke Joins Alumni, Faculty for Debate Analysis

For Dartmouth Trustee Morton Kondracke ’60, speaking to an audience hungry for political insight made moderating Dartmouth’s pre-debate panel a lot like his tenure on The McLaughlin Group—except that the seasoned newsman got to finish a sentence without being interrupted.

Veteran journalist and Dartmouth Trustee Morton Kondracke ’60 (center) moderates an October 11 panel discussion before the GOP presidential debate at Dartmouth. Other panelists are, from left: Professor Linda Fowler, Joseph Rago ’05, David Shribman ’76, and Professor Matthew Slaughter. (photo by Jeff Woodward)

The panel, “Leading Voices: What’s at Stake in the Republican Debate,” brought alumni and faculty together to provide expert insight on the day of the GOP debate on campus. Joining Kondracke were Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists David Shribman ’76, executive editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; and Wall Street Journal Editorial Board member Joe Rago ’05; Linda Fowler, professor of government and the Frank J. Reagan Chair in Policy Studies; and Matthew Slaughter, associate dean of the MBA Program and the Signal Companies’ Professor of Management at the Tuck School of Business.

“It was an honor to be on the panel,” said Slaughter. “I always welcome the opportunity when Dartmouth alumni of some stature come back and I get to spend time with them and hear their insights from the world.”

And Kondracke, a print and broadcast journalist for five decades, certainly has stature. He retired in April after 20 years at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper where he was executive editor and columnist. He remains senior editor there and continues to write a monthly column, as well as appear as a commentator on Fox News.

His journalistic march through politics has included time at The New Republic, where he was executive editor and senior editor; Newsweek, where he was Washington bureau chief; The Wall Street Journal, where he spent time as a columnist; and regular stints on This Week with David Brinkley, and, of course, his 16 years fighting to get a word in on The McLaughlin Group, the syndicated public affairs TV show.

He’s also a veteran of presidential debates. Kondracke was on the panel that questioned candidates Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale in 1984, in Kansas City.

In retirement, Kondracke is researching and writing about the late U.S. Rep. Jack Kemp, a Republican from Buffalo, N.Y., perhaps best known for the fervor with which he championed tax cuts as a central tenet of economic policy. Last April, Kondracke was appointed the first holder of the Jack Kemp Chair in Political Economy at the Library of Congress’s John W. Kluge Center.

He’s writing about Kemp’s career with an eye toward eventually authoring a biography of the legislator. Kondracke is also the lead interviewer for the Jack Kemp Foundation’s oral history project. “He was an American idealist,” Kondracke says of Kemp, the author of President Reagan’s economic plan, which brought prosperity to an ailing nation.

Kondracke said the “Leading Voices” panel was a pleasure to moderate because the panelists on the Moore Theater stage with him are at the top of their game. “I knew that this was going to be easy. All I had to do was toss tennis balls and watch them knock them out of the court,” he says.

Recalling the sense of optimism Ronald Reagan brought to the 1980 presidential campaign, despite the country’s fiscal difficulties, Kondracke asked the panelists if any of the GOP candidates had a similar outlook. Shribman got a laugh from the audience when he answered that although Romney is ahead in the polls, his personality is nothing like Reagan’s. “There isn’t a soul on earth, except maybe his wife, who’s passionate about him,” said Shribman.

But not all the talk was humorous, as Kondracke called on the panelists to discuss a number of topics, including the GOP lineup, what they’d ask the candidates if they were on the debate panel, the financial crisis, and Obama’s chances of winning re-election.

“I don’t think there is any political scientist who thinks this will be anything other than close,” Fowler said of the 2012 general election.

Shribman, a former College trustee, later said of the experience, “It’s always fun to return to Dartmouth. Nicer still when the campus is alight with activity and when outsiders can see what makes us love our College so much.”