Margaret Hoover, a conservative, and John Avlon, an independent, are television pundits who are married to each other. Quite happily, if a recent visit to their Gramercy Park apartment is any measure. Their telegenic union may be a lesson in overcoming the orthodoxies that divide us.
Ms. Hoover, a former Fox News contributor who once scuffled with Bill O’Reilly when he got her name wrong (“I’m sorry, there’s a lot of blondes in this operation, I can’t keep you straight,” he told her), is a great-granddaughter of Herbert Hoover, the man who until recently held the double distinction of being the only civilian to serve as president, and also of being ranked by some political scientists among the top 10 of the worst presidents. (President Trump now shares that twofer.)
She is also the new face of “Firing Line,” the PBS talk show and playground of William F. Buckley Jr., the mischievous and polysyllabic conservative warrior who died in 2008. The show ran from 1966 to 1999.
To compare the drawling, sprawling Mr. Buckley, whose performance style Norman Mailer once described as a combination of “commodore of the yacht club, Joseph Goebbels, Robert Mitchum, Maverick, Savonarola, the nice prep school kid next door, and the snows of yesteryear,” with the diminutive, polite and well-prepared Ms. Hoover, 40, is impossible, so let us move on.
Their duplex apartment, part of a house once owned by Robert Winthrop Chanler, an Astor, artist and early-20th-century bon vivant, is traditionally decorated and includes much Hoover-abilia, like a sign that reads, “This Home is for Hoover because Hoover is for this Home.”
Visiting with the couple is a bit like hanging out with the members of a very good-looking high school debate team warming up for a match.
“He thinks the center right and the center left are so far aligned there should be some sort of centrist coalition,” Ms. Hoover said. “I don’t think that’s an effective mechanism. But I’d be more than delighted for him to go do that. My focus continues to be on the two party system ——”
Mr. Avlon broke in. “The party of James Madison,” he said.
“Hold on, you are mansplaining,” his wife said.
And so forth.
The pair met cute during Rudolph W. Giuliani’s 2008 presidential bid. Mr. Avlon had been Mr. Giuliani’s speechwriter when he was mayor, and came aboard to work on the campaign.
Ms. Hoover, who had worked on George W. Bush’s second campaign and in his White House, flew up from Washington to interview for the team. Before her arrival, Annie Dickerson, a Republican strategist, declared that Ms. Hoover was the woman Mr. Avlon would marry.
When she walked into the offices, Mr. Avlon remembered, he was “struck by the totality of her.”
It was early summer, and fate threw in some thunderbolts — an epic rainstorm that shut down New York City’s airports. While a staffer tried to find Ms. Hoover lodging on the campaign team’s meager budget, she and Mr. Avlon went out to dinner and argued over the institution of marriage, among other things.
Ms. Hoover: “Marriage is terrible, it’s for suckers.” (She was in an unhappy relationship at the time.)
Mr. Avlon: “Not if you find the right person.” (He was single.)
When no hotel rooms could be found, Mr. Avlon offered her his sofa. Really?
“Really,” she said. “I slept in my suit, though I needed a T-shirt and a pillow.”
“Apparently I was being unchivalrous,” Mr. Avlon said. “I just thought if I headed in that direction. …”
They stayed up late, still arguing, having moved on to his first book, “Independent Nation.” She thought its premise was “idiotic,” she said. “You pick a party and you use the party mechanisms to get things done.”
Ms. Hoover took the book home with her, however, and vigorously marked up the margins. “Her notes were so good, it was literally, like, WRONG, underlined, everywhere,” Mr. Avlon said. (Sadly that document from their courtship has gone missing.)
On the subject of mixed marriages like theirs, James Carville, one half of another famously bipartisan couple, liked to say that such unions are feasible, but perhaps not advisable.
Mr. Avlon reached for his wife’s hand. “Love is a verb, it’s not the flu,” he said. “Margaret comes by her partisanship very honestly” — meaning, she inherited it — “and there is certainly tension because Republicanism is the family religion and she married outside the faith.”
Ms. Hoover said, “What I learned from my husband is to assume the best intentions of the people you’re engaging with. We had to do that early in our courtship, in order for me to move past my tribalism.”
Her husband broke in. “Democracy depends on the assumption of good will among its participants,” he said.
“Can I put in a little texture?” his wife said. “Most people aren’t Republicans four generations down from a president. There’s something really specific about being a Hoover and the pejorative term that was multigenerationally tethered to economic hard times, misery and antipathy for the struggles of ordinary people. Which is completely antithetical to the real story, which is that Herbert Hoover was an orphan who came from nothing and achieved international prominence by keeping a third of Europe alive.”
Ms. Hoover was referring to the 31st president’s food relief efforts in Belgium after World War I, when he was still a private citizen.
As a Hoover, she grew up in a defensive crouch, as she put it, because history has tended to blame her great-grandfather for the Great Depression.
She is an energetic booster for her relative. Years ago, she wrote “American Individualism: How a New Generation of Conservatives Can Save the Republicans,” a handbook for renovating the Republican Party (and his legacy). It pairs the tenets of Hooverism with a focus on millennials.
Partisanship as a shield was also baked into her upbringing in Denver. “My dad always said we were Western conservatives,” said Ms. Hoover, meaning a blend of Western individualism and a libertarian’s approach to social issues.
She came to Washington after Bryn Mawr (and a job at a law firm in Taiwan), hoping to find like-minded Republicans. But she was put off by the social conservative policies championed by the younger Mr. Bush’s circle. (Ms. Hoover is a founder of the American Unity Fund, which promotes gay rights as a tenet of conservatism.)
Mr. Avlon, who grew up in New York City, is a grandchild of Greek immigrants. Their experiences have made him, he said, a proud patriot. He avoided Washington after Yale, and went to work for Mr. Giuliani because he believed that he could be more effective in city politics. Mr. Avlon is fond of quoting Fiorello LaGuardia: “There’s no Democratic or Republican way of cleaning the streets.”
The Obama years strained the marriage, philosophically: Health care, the remedies for climate change and the Iran deal were particular sticking points.
But President Trump has brought them together.
Under Ms. Hoover’s direction, “Firing Line” is a safe space for a certain brand of conservative (Paul Ryan and John Kasich have been guests). But others are welcome: This week’s offering will be Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 28-year-old democratic socialist who unseated the Democratic incumbent in a New York’s 14th congressional district last month.
The look of the set is 1980s retro, or classic PBS, which owes allegiance, stylistically, to no known time period. The discourse is civil and substantive.
A few weeks ago, when Ms. Hoover was a guest on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” Mr. Colbert reminded her of the original manifesto of National Review, the conservative magazine that was Mr. Buckley’s second bully pulpit, which was, in part, “To stand athwart history yelling, Stop.”
“Margaret Hoover,” Mr. Colbert said, “what do you stand athwart and what are you yelling?”
What might Mr. Buckley make of his soft-spoken successor?
“I can’t presume to speak for W.F.B., but speaking for myself, I’m glad that Margaret has resurrected ‘Firing line,’” said Christopher Buckley, the novelist, essayist and son of William, in an email. “It was a gutsy thing to do, inasmuch as many out there are doubtlessly primed to pounce and say, ‘You’re no William F. Buckley Jr.’ (I’ve heard it many times myself, believe me.)”
“She’s smart and has an appealing way,” he added. “She doesn’t hurl herself at the camera the way so many others on chat TV do. So I’m rooting for the show, and for her.”
It would appear that Ms. Hoover and Mr. Avlon, in their new roles, have pledged to turn the volume down, at least on television.
“I’m not sure that’s my role,” Mr. Avlon said.
“Well, hold on, you always say you want to shed light not heat,” Ms. Hoover said.
“You’re right, sorry,” he said.
“The silver lining in this civic stress test,” Mr. Avlon continued, meaning life under the Trump presidency, “is that we’re going to roll up our sleeves and not treat our democracy as a spectator sport. This is not a drill.”
Ms. Hoover said, “I have more faith that our system can withstand a bad apple. You approach it like the house is on fire, but the house is not on fire. We have a fireball in the Oval Office, but the house is not burning.”
There was a lot more in this vein, but then Toula Lou, the couple’s daughter, who is 2 and a half, woke up from her nap ready for a snack. (Their son Jack, 4 and a half, was at day camp nearby.)
There are a few theories about why bipartisan marriages are often composed of a Democratic male and a Republican female. One is that Democratic men are more attractive.
“Who would date a Republican? I would never date a guy with short hair,” Ms. Hoover said.
“Well. …” Mr. Avlon said.
Ms. Hoover said, “That was just me biding my time until I met you.”
Another theory proposes that if you can’t win it, you marry it.