If it seems like all your friends have a podcast now, just imagine how members of Congress feel.
Two lawmakers have already launched one this month. No longer do you need a book club for “deep and insightful conversations.” Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw has you covered with his new podcast, “Hold These Truths.”
The release comes a week after Democratic Rep. Jim Clyburn entered the podcasting domain with “Clyburn Chronicles,” which combines “lessons of the past” with “politics of the present.” The majority whip kicked off Black History Month with his first guest, Lonnie G. Bunch III of the Smithsonian Institute.
Crenshaw and Clyburn are going where other lawmakers — plus a disembodied ideological caucus — have gone before. Democratic Rep. Jared Huffman has a podcast. So does the Freedom Caucus; its logo is a microphone going up in flames.
Speaking of the Freedom Caucus, Chairman Andy Biggs has the cheekily entitled “What’s the Biggs Idea?"
Rep. Devin Nunes was a guest on that podcast, and finds the time to host a weekly one of his own, named after himself. Don’t expect bipartisanship: A recent episode is called “Rousing State of the Union Drives Dems Berserk.”
More measured is Ben McAdams’ “Washingtown,” which looks like a typo but is not. The Utah Democrat has been chronicling his transition from mayor to congressman, and wondering “whether it's possible to run this country the way we run our local governments." He’s not even the first one in his family to take the mic; his sister has an (unrelated) podcast.
On the Senate side, Sen. Ted Cruz saw an opportunity ahead of Donald Trump’s impeachment trial. “Verdict with Ted Cruz,” which quickly climbed the charts, attempts a “behind the scenes” look at the Capitol with “debates that will define our country for decades to come.”
On the campaign beat is “20 for 20” from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which claims to be “not really about politics.” Hosts Kevin McLaughlin and Matt Whitlock shoot the breeze with Republican candidates and senators.
“We have a lot of really interesting, funny members,” McLaughlin told Heard on the Hill.
It’s hard to keep momentum for these things going, as early adopters found.
Rep. Derek Kilmer stoked the trend in 2016 with “Quick Questions About Congress With Kilmer.” (Yes, that’s a tongue-twister, but he gets help from one of his kids, who sings the theme song.) The idea was to interview colleagues — from both sides of the aisle — while pondering questions like “Dear God, why would you want to be in Congress right now?” After a strong start, he’s slowed down considerably, releasing just a handful of episodes in the past two years.
When Heidi Heitkamp was a senator, she went full-on North Dakota with “The Hotdish,” and colleague Sherrod Brown named his “Canarycast,” after a pin given to him by a steelworker in Ohio. Both those projects are now defunct.
Sen. Bernie Sanders had a good run with the eponymous “Bernie Sanders Show” from 2017 to 2018, when he was between presidential campaigns. “Election days come and go, but political and social revolutions that attempt to transform our society never end,” went the marketing copy. (Podcasts, it turns out, are more like the former.)
Even Sanders, one of the most recognizable politicians in the country, had trouble racking up more than 2,000 reviews on iTunes. The trouble with podcasts — whether made by lawmakers or anyone else — is that they’re easy to make but hard to make well.
That much is apparent in the congressional offerings. Voices leap from quiet to booming. People sit too far away from the microphone. There are unexplained echoes and lots of “ums,” even from politicians extremely well versed in the art of public speaking.
Crenshaw and his guests crack open Dr. Peppers. Actually, that part is pretty compelling — fizzy drinks just have a mesmerizing sound.