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After the election, how can America heal its political divide?

November 8, 2016 at 6:40 PM EST
As election results near, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks, Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report, Democratic strategist Cornell Belcher, Republican strategist Stuart Stevens and Andra Gillespie of Emory University join Judy Woodruff and Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the where a long election fight has left the nation.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: But, for now, our election night coverage continues with a team that’s going to be joining us at this table all night long.

They are New York Times columnist David Brooks, Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report, Andra Gillespie of Emory University, Republican strategist Stuart Stevens, Democratic strategist Cornell Belcher, and right here sitting next to me, Mark Shields, syndicated columnist, and joining us from New York, Jeff Greenfield, who has been reporting for the “NewsHour Weekend” throughout this campaign.

So, thank you to all of you for being here.

I’m going to turn to you, David Brooks.

You just heard the Democratic leader of the House of Representatives talk about, frankly, the problems Democrats have in states that used to be all blue.

DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times: Yes.

And it struck me that she didn’t claim they were going to take over the House, a bit of realism there from Nancy Pelosi, I think, but optimism — and maybe well-earned optimism.

It is still a party — a problem for the party that working-class voters, white working-class voters are more and more heavily Republican. One of the exciting things that happened, whether you like it or not, this year was that the white working class took over a party, and they took over a party that had formerly been a corporate party of the rich and the elites. And that’s sort of an amazing thing that happens in American — rarely in American history.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We have a problem with your microphone, David Brooks. We are going to fix that and come right back to you in a minute.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Amy Walter?

AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: Hi, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Hello.

AMY WALTER: And I think this may play out in the House tonight. As we’re watching these results come in, if the results play out as the poll numbers have suggested, where the Democrats are going to pick up seats will be in places that were formerly Republican, inner-city — or inner suburbs that were very Republican for much of our history now trending more Democratic, as white college-educated voters move into the Democratic column.

As working-class whites have moved out, white educated voters have moved into the Democratic column. And, at the same time, in places like the Iron Range in Minnesota, that upper rural part of Minnesota, you could see Republicans winning there, a district that Democrats have held for many, many, many, many years.

So, it’s really like a tale of two congressional districts. Right? We’re going to swap out the suburbs for the more rural areas. This has been happening over the last 10 years, but sort of at an accelerated pace, I think, this election cycle.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Stuart Stevens, are Nancy Pelosi’s expectations reasonable?

STUART STEVENS, Republican Strategist: I think probably she is going to probably call it pretty close to what’s going to happen.

You know, the big test, I think, tonight for the Trump campaign — and it’s going to affect these down-ballot races — is what happens with white college-educated voters? This has been a strong center of support for Republicans. No Republican has lost this in modern history. Even Goldwater won college-educated Republicans.

So, if Donald Trump, who has been losing them in polls, doesn’t carry them tonight, I think it’s going to have very interesting consequences up and down the ballot in some of these races.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark Shields, what are you looking at tonight?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Well, I’m looking at the fact that we’re going to make mystery. Either we will elect the first person in the history of the country who has never held a public office or served in the military of any kind in Donald Trump, or we will elect the first woman.

And only for the second time since World War II, we have got a possibility to electing a party to the third term in the White House. It happened with George H.W. Bush in 1988, and hasn’t happened other than that.

I think Democrats have a real problem culturally. I think they have become a cultural party, and I think a little elite and somewhat condescending toward white blue-collar working Americans. And I think that the Republicans had a great opening there.

Democrats are obviously far more comfortable with coastal types than they are with people in the heartland.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Cornell Belcher, I saw you smile broadly when Mark said that.

CORNELL BELCHER, Democratic Strategist: Well, it’s interesting that Democrats are now back-to-back majorities in national elections, and somehow the problem is Democrats have a cultural problem with working-class whites.

I think Democrats do have a problem with working-class whites. But, if you look into the future, I think the larger problem is the problem that Republicans have with the ascending electorate, right?

It’s a point of diminishing returns at some point with working-class whites. Do Democrats need to do better with working-class whites? Absolutely, they do. But, without a question, when we see her re-cobble together that ascending electorate that makes up a majority in this country now, I think it’s going to be hard-pressed to say that right now Democrats are the ones with the problem.

MARK SHIELDS: Could I just dissent just briefly from Cornell? Got to set the evening, he did, early.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: That is this. The Democrats, in spite of assembling this national coalition and this majority, are noncompetitive in the House of Representatives. They’re frankly noncompetitive.

And they’re noncompetitive in districts that are basically blue-collar, white, more conservative culturally.

CORNELL BELCHER: But, Mark, what about — doesn’t that have a lot to do, quite frankly, with gerrymandering? We have gerrymandered these districts where…

MARK SHIELDS: They weren’t gerrymandered in 2010, Cornell. That’s all.

CORNELL BELCHER: Well, no, they were gerrymandered just before 2010.

MARK SHIELDS: No, they weren’t. No, they weren’t.

CORNELL BELCHER: Yes, they were.

MARK SHIELDS: It was the 2010 census that led to the redistricting,

CORNELL BELCHER: Well, they’re even worse now. Once upon a time in this country, you did have 30 or 40 congressional districts that were — when I was working at the DCCC, you really did have a lot more congressional districts that were highly contested.

That number is shrinking a lot now. And it has to do with people like me who are helping to draw these maps precisely in a way to keep incumbents in office.

MARK SHIELDS: OK.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Andra Gillespie, you wanted to chime in there?

ANDRA GILLESPIE, Emory University: So, if I will jump in here, what I would say is, it’s not just gerrymandering.

We also have to consider the ways that we have ideologically sorted ourselves into partisan camps in ways that we hadn’t before. A generation ago, you had liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats. Those don’t exist anymore. So, people understand enough about parties to know which issues and which bundles fall into which party, and they have fallen into those camps.

So, the question for tomorrow is, can people reach beyond the aisles and actually talk to people who disagree with them?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Amy Walter, you’re nodding.

AMY WALTER: Yes.

Well, and we’re self-sorting now more than ever. You talk to demographers, they will tell you that we’re moving ourselves into areas that relate to our own, where we’re most comfortable in sociocultural ways.

And if you look, for example, at the question — Pew has asked this question. And I think it’s fantastic. Do you want to live in a place that is a close-in area, where you can walk everywhere, but you have a smaller house, or you get a bigger house and a bigger yard, but you have to drive everywhere?

Guess what? Seventy-five percent of liberals want the close-in suburb. Seventy-five percent of conservatives want the place where you have to drive. And so, literally, people are putting themselves into different communities and separating themselves.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Jeff Greenfield, I want to invite you into this conversation.

Are the old boundaries still relevant today?

JEFF GREENFIELD, Special Correspondent: Less and less.

It’s just striking to me that the Democratic Party has been the party of the working man and later working woman since the days of Andrew Jackson. And, as late as 1992, when whites were a far bigger proportion of the electorate, Bill Clinton effectively split the white vote with his Republican opponents both in ’92 and ’96.

And one of the things that I think has happened is that the focus on mobilization, get your vote out, has, I think, had a big cost, which is that the candidates, even though they will use the rhetoric, the pieties, but, in substantive ways, do not speak to the broader country, because it has become harder and harder to speak to the broader country.

And I think, whatever happens tonight, this campaign has been a loss to the civic nature of what a campaign’s supposed to be like, because the strategy of both campaigns has been get your folks out, and the heck with the other folks.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David Brooks, if your microphone is fixed, I want to ask you to come into this conversation about whether we are making what was already a bad situation worse.

DAVID BROOKS: I was wondering why Mark was meddling with my microphone.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: No, I think one of the things, there has been the polarization, but there’s also the heat.

And tonight is often — is a lot about the heat with which this campaign has been conducted. And what makes tonight significant is, A, the size of the margin and the nature of the concession speech and whether we’re a country — we’re certainly a divided country.

This election has been like a flash flood that wipes away all the soil and reveals the chasms that have been dividing us and exacerbates them. But whether we’re even one country after tonight — if Democrats win, how Trump reacts will be super important. If Trump wins, Democrats will be stunned. And a lot of people will be stunned. And how Clinton reacts at that moment will be superduper important.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Yes, exactly.

Andra, I want you to speak about that, because there’s been — I have been hearing conversation for days now about, what’s the reaction going to be like? Yes, the results are important, but are people even going to be able to deal with the results, whatever side you’re on?

ANDRA GILLESPIE: There have been some surveys in the past couple of weeks where people have been asked that question. And they said that they’re not going to be happy about this.

And so I think we can expect that half the country is going to wake up upset tomorrow. And that’s why it’s really important for whoever loses to accept defeat graciously, and also for the winner to accept winning graciously, and also send out a conciliatory balm to the other side.

It’s not going to be enough, sadly. And I think that it’s going to be pretty contentious going after that. But I think tonight is the night where both candidates can change the tone enough that they can actually get us through, you know, at least the next couple of months, so that we can set up a new government.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Stuart Stevens, what incentive does Donald Trump have or Hillary Clinton have to change the tone today?

STUART STEVENS: Listen, I think one of the key elements of democracy is, somebody has to be willing to lose.

And what’s been extraordinary, I think, about Donald Trump’s comments is challenging that before we even have results. It’s one thing if there is a razor-thin margin, like 2000, where you have one person winning the Electoral College ultimately and one person winning the popular vote. OK, that took 31 days. It was a nightmare for the country.

But to prejudge this and talking about a rigged system, I think, is very corrosive to the whole process. Our process is out there amongst these states with thousands and thousands of local officials, many of them Republicans, and they’re really good and decent people.

It doesn’t mean mistakes don’t happen. We are going to have 140 million, 150 million people voting tonight. There are going to be mistakes. But the system isn’t rigged. And I think that you need — to put that out is something. We need to try to heal as soon as possible.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Cornell Belcher, whose responsibility is it to try to do this healing?

CORNELL BELCHER: Leadership matters. And this shouldn’t be a partisan thing.

Look, John McCain, after losing, he called Barack Obama “my president,” right? That’s a tradition in this country right now. And I fear what’s happening right now is that we’re losing sight of that tradition in so much of the anger of our politics.

It is important, whether you’re a Democrat or you’re a Republican, that you embrace our system, because it is not rigged. And the moment our people start thinking — and I’m concerned about in the polling numbers that I’m see as well with so many more people actually thinking the system is rigged.

That’s how we lose our democracy, when people don’t believe in the system anymore and they don’t accept the outcome of our politics. What Donald Trump — because I think Donald Trump is going to lose.

What Donald Trump does tonight, I think, is going to be very, very important not just for him and his brand, but for our country.

AMY WALTER: but think about where we were. Even in 2000, that was a very contentious election. We always remember the aftermath of the election, but going into that election, George W. Bush, his overall favorable/unfavorable rating was plus-23. It’s the highest that we had seen since we’d been looking back for the last 20 years. So, he was very viewed positively.

Now we’re going into an election where both candidates obviously viewed negatively, Hillary Clinton somewhere around minus-10 or 15, Donald Trump even lower than that, maybe at 20, minus-20 or minus-30. So there’s no residual goodwill there, that at least George W. Bush had something to go on.

Neither one of these candidates have any of that to start with.

STUART STEVENS: I think this is why parties are so important at this moment, because parties have to step forward and do what the candidates sometimes find difficult to do.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right. We are going to have many opportunities tonight to come back to all of you.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, save those thoughts.

But we’re getting off — we’re getting off tonight?

HARI SREENIVASAN: Yes.

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