Steve Kornacki interviews Walter Mondale for Salon





[Steve Kornacki is the news editor for Salon.]

You know the basic midterm narrative: The GOP, written off by pundits as a dying party after Barack Obama's sweeping 2008 victory, has staged a remarkable revival and is now poised to deliver a brutal blow to the first-term president on Nov. 2. Republicans are already celebrating their comeback — and promising an even bigger year in 2012.

Oddly enough, Walter Mondale knows exactly how they feel.

His party's obituary was written by the press after the 1980 election, when Ronald Reagan capitalized on stagflation to score a 44-state landslide over Jimmy Carter. Just like Obama, Reagan came to power with enormous expectations and soaring popularity — only to watch it all melt away in his first two years on the job, thanks to a brutal recession and double-digit unemployment. In the 1982 midterms, Democrats picked up more than two dozen House seats — a more impressive feat than it sounds, given that the GOP had only 191 seats to start with. Reagan's approval rating fell below 40 percent, and pundits began dismissing him as a one-termer.

It was in this environment that Mondale, who had served as Carter's vice president, decided to run for president in 1984, and polls at the end of '82 showed him leading Reagan by nearly 10 points. Of course, that's not how the race ended up two years later, when Mondale lost 49 states to Reagan. But his experience is worth keeping in mind now, with Republicans confidently predicting an end to the Obama presidency in 2012.

I spoke recently with Mondale, whose memoir, "The Good Fight: A Life in Liberal Politics," was released earlier this month, about the political parallels between '82 and '10, the ways in which the '82 recession was different, and what it was like to run against Reagan at the peak of his popularity....



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