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Chris Hughes Is About to Turn 100

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Hughes and Eldridge’s real home is an hour and a half upstate in Garrison (“Maximum retreat in the minimum amount of time,” theorizes an acquaintance of theirs). The property includes a farmhouse built in the 1800s once owned by a Vanderbilt and a 5,000-square-foot main house with eight fireplaces and more than enough acreage for their Rhodesian Ridgeback, Lucy, to roam.

The house in Garrison is also in the congressional district that Republican Nan Hayworth won, in a surprise, in 2010, and friends of theirs say that Eldridge talked about running for the seat, which another gay Democrat, Sean Patrick Maloney, took back this November. Eldridge denied to me that he considered it (he and Hughes threw fund-raisers for Maloney) and says he is now primarily focused on helping with another Cuomo initiative: campaign-finance reform. The strategy is duplicated from the gay-marriage fight: pairing a private, outside education-and-fund-raising effort with the governor’s Albany inside game. Just to avoid the appearance of hypocrisy, Eldridge says that he and Hughes are now matching campaign donations with donations to campaign-finance reform.

And for now, Eldridge is not running for anything. “No, no, no,” says Hughes. “He’s 26. He’s going to do all kinds of things in politics, but I don’t think there’s any rush.”

Things had been grim for some time at The New Republic before Hughes bought it in March. It was down to being printed twenty times a year. Foer—the most recent wunderkind editor in a long line of them including Andrew Sullivan, Hendrik Hertzberg, and Michael Kinsley—had stepped down in the face of all the layoffs mandated by ownership, which kept changing. He was replaced by Richard Just, also young, who made the best of a bad situation (even getting The New Republic a National Magazine Award nomination a year ago). “Richard and I were both very, very worried,” says Wieseltier, head-to-toe in black and wearing aviators when he greets me in his corner office, which is almost comically stacked with books. “We would constantly commiserate about, you know, what the fuck we were supposed to do. Then one day he came in and said, ‘Do you know who Chris Hughes is?’ ” Wieseltier didn’t but suggested that Richard cold-call him. “Next thing I knew, Richard and I were meeting Chris for brunch at the Mandarin Oriental.”

By doing this, Just saved the magazine but not his job. He had misunderstood Hughes’s intentions. Which were to be hands-on. Hughes ordered the presses stopped on the first issue because he found the cover line too unserious (“Cry Babies,” for a story about Wall Street turning on Obama). He wrote the editorials and took up the restaffing of the magazine himself, sidelining Just. He tried to hire, or hire back, writers from magazines with circulations far larger than The New Republic’s. He was going to re-create the magazine as something like The New York Review of Books meets The Economist, he told these people, who were amazed by his bustling persona and confidence. Among those he tried to lure over: Ryan Lizza, a former New Republic writer now at The New Yorker; Hanna Rosin, another alumna now at The Atlantic; Mark Leibovitch, at the Times Magazine; Dexter Filkins, formerly of the Times; as well as several writers for this magazine. None of the big names joined this small ship, however inspiring its new manifest, other than Walter Kirn, who’d been at GQ and who wrote an evocative memoir this summer about his parents converting to Mormonism and the meaning of that church to him.

Foer was editor-at-large of the magazine at the time—“and very much at large,” he says when I meet him in Hughes’s office in D.C. Foer is a gregarious, at times bro-ish (in a nerdy way), 38-year-old who grew up in D.C. and had spent nearly his entire career in the cloisters of The New Republic, pausing in his twenties to write a book called How Soccer Explains the World (it opens winningly with the confession that “I suck at soccer” and explains that his parents hoped playing the sport would “necessitate my becoming more aggressive, a breaking through of inhibitions”). He grew up in Washington in a family of overachievers: his younger brothers are Joshua Foer, who wrote a best-selling book on memory, and the novelist Jonathan Safran Foer (who was for a while working on an HBO show based in part on the Foers’ Washington and the Peretz-era magazine). He’s thoroughly a part of the native life of that town; his wife was even one of the producers of The Real Housewives of D.C. While at large, he’d been helping take care of their kids and working on an anthology called Jewish Jocks and a history of liberalism in America—which was really a history of the magazine.


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