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Chuck Todd Annual Award Breakfast

Our Town by William Kelly: Biden-Trump rematch mirrors stubborn political divide, pundit says

A top political expert shared his insights on the 2024 presidential election with a Palm Beach Civic Association audience earlier this week.

Chuck Todd, chief political analyst for NBC News, was the keynote speaker at the Civic Association’s Annual Award Breakfast on Monday, March 18, at The Breakers.

The picture he painted was rather daunting.

Todd, who hosted NBC’s Meet the Press from 2014 until September 2023, was interviewed by Michael Pucillo, chairman and CEO of the Civic Association, in a “club chair format.”

Many Americans are disappointed with the prospect of a Biden-Trump rematch, Todd said. At the same, however, voters remain deeply split along ideological or party lines.

With the nation carved up between “red” and “blue” states, the winner will be determined by the electoral results in up to eight battleground states, Todd said.

Those to watch most closely are Wisconsin and Michigan, he said. Wisconsin is a stark example of the “negative polarization” that has gripped the nation.

“Wisconsin is evenly divided by extremists,” Todd said. “There are no swing counties.”

Biden’s strength is in the northern states, and he can reach the 270 electoral votes needed to win the election without winning the Sun Belt states, Todd said.

“But if Trump takes the Sun Belt, he still needs to win one of those northern states,” he said.

Abortion, immigration, inflation, and the overseas conflicts in Gaza and Ukraine are the four major issues of this campaign year, Todd said. Issue-voters are most likely to be motivated by abortion or gun control.

The overseas conflicts are of lesser importance to most Americans but, if still raging in the fall, will hurt Biden because he won’t appear to be in control, Todd predicted.

Most voters are motivated more by their hostility toward the opposing party than by their position on any given issue, Todd said.

Our system of Republican and Democratic primaries reinforces the political divide by motivating candidates to play to their base instead of reaching toward the center.

“We are in this binary mindset,” he said. “It isn’t the way it used to be, and it isn’t the way it should be.”

The political landscape isn’t likely to change as long as presidential contests continue to be close, he said. Both parties will continue to strategize at the margins until there is an election year when one side claims a lopsided victory. As an example, Todd cited the 1988 presidential contest, when Democrats were forced to move toward the center after George H.W. Bush humiliated Michael Dukakis in that year’s election.

We are unlikely to have a successful independent or third-party presidential candidate as long as the political center remains hollowed out, Todd said.

“I think the country needs to be educated again on why it’s okay to disagree and why we do it here,” he said. “Why did the Greeks invent politics? So we could solve disputes without violence. We’re not supposed to get everything we want.”

Pucillo asked Todd who is going to try to heal this country. Todd leaned forward in his chair and answered without hesitation.

“It’s organizations like this that are going to heal the country,” he replied. “Our politicians are not setting a good example. If we are going to have a civil society, we need strong civic associations like this. I’m impressed at how bipartisan it is because a lot of associations aren’t anymore. Fight like hell to keep it.”

Brooks Award

Bob Wright, who retired as chairman of the Civic Association in April 2023 after 13 years at the helm, was honored at the breakfast with the Civic Association’s 2024 William J. “Bill” Brooks Award for outstanding service to the community.

Pucillo credited Wright, who is retired as president and CEO of NBC, for having the vision to expand the Civic Association’s communications outreach. Weekly PBTV newscasts, Our Town news articles, Studio 33480 on-camera interviews with local newsmakers, and The Civic monthly newsletter are all posted to palmbeachcivic.org and emailed to nearly 5,000 recipients via Constant Contact.

“Today we are connected in ways that we never were before Bob’s tenure,” Pucillo said. “It’s appropriate that Bob’s work with the Civic Association be recognized not only for what it did for the Civic Association but for this community as a whole.”

Wright said he was humbled to receive the Brooks Award, which is named for the late Town Council member and former general manager of WPTV NewsChannel 5.

“Bill Brooks was a good friend of mine,” he said. “He was an outstanding leader in Palm Beach and shared the Civic Association’s mission of improving and protecting the quality of life on this island. I’m honored to join the many exceptional citizens of our beautiful community who have received this award before me.”

Wright received a standing ovation from the audience.

The breakfast was sponsored by Florida Crystals, which has underwritten the annual award gathering each year since 2018. Pepe Fanjul, Jr., the company’s executive vice president, said Wright is a “very deserving honorary” of the Brooks Award.

“Bob has achieved so many great things in family and business and has given so much to this wonderful organization,” he said.

 

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