James Comey. Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Ann Coulter. Al Franken.
Those are some of the controversial figures that will take the stage next weekend in Nashville as part of a political conference.
Those who have attended Politicon call it the Comic-Con of politics.
They aren’t necessarily wearing costumes, but they are wearing their drama suits. There’s a lot of intense emotions and moments at this event.
Last year, TurningPoint USA founder Charlie Kirk debated liberal political commentator Hasan Pike on socialism and capitalism.
During that panel, Kirk accused Hasan of being bothered by facts, while Hasan accused Kirk of acting “literally like a politician nonstop with talking points!”
For the last four years, Politicon has taken place in Los Angeles, and some of the things said during the panels have made headlines. Like when conservative commentator Tomi Lahren and liberal comic Chelsea Handler debated in 2017 the Trump’s administration military transgender ban.
“When it comes to effectiveness on the battlefield I don’t believe that the military is a place for a social experiment, I don’t believe it’s a place for feelings in individuals,” Lahren told Handler.
Handler pushed back.
“I don’t think it’s a social experiment because the trans community, they are not going away,” Handler said. “It’s only going to get bigger.”
Simon Sidi, one of the cofounders, says there’s more than shouting, clapping and booing. He says Politicon brings folks from different ideologies into the same room.
“People are very passionate about politics, and people want to see the heroes and the villains,” Sidi told WPLN. (Full disclosure: Politicon is a business supporter of WPLN.)
Los Angeles, where the conference has been based at for the past couple of years, has the ability to attract big headliners. So, it’s hard to ignore the fact that a conference like this is making its way to Tennessee, a state where presidential candidates have barely visited in recent years.
Sidi, who called Tennessee “the heart of the country,” said it’s easy to travel to Nashville from the West and East Coasts. And he pointed at companies relocating to Tennessee as another reason for bringing the conference to town.
“We felt Nashville was a perfect place because it’s a liberal-arts city in a very conservative state,” Sidi said.
That’s something that factored into the decision to bring another political event — Unrig Summit — to Nashville earlier this year. Unrig is similar to Politicon, but more focused on finding common ground by having more temperate discussions.
Joshua Graham Lynn, one of the organizers of that event, said outsiders often see Nashville as a conservative town because of its ties to country music. But then when they come here, that’s not what they see.
“At the same time, Nashville is a vibrant and diverse city just like any other big city in the country, where you get real big, progressive influences,” Lynn said. “I think those two things collide really wonderfully in Nashville in a way that doesn’t happen in places like San Francisco or New York.”
Lynn also said Nashville’s popularity is on the rise. And this combination, of having a fairly liberal city in a solidly conservative state, is a perfect backdrop for interesting characters at Politicon like Sean Hannity and Lauren Duca to throw some verbal jabs.
Our ongoing conversations about Tennessee politics are available in The Tri-Star State podcast. You can listen by visiting wpln.org/tristar or subscribe using your favorite podcasting app.