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Shields and Brooks: The Week’s Political Developments

August 8, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT
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RAY SUAREZ: Now, the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and David Brooks of the “Weekly Standard.” Well, manmade earthquake this week in California. The government that touches the daily lives of one out of nine Americans suddenly seems up for grabs, David.

DAVID BROOKS: Amazing. An earthquake on the Republican side because suddenly for the first time in ten years there’s a viable Republican candidate for governor in the state of California, but more interestingly, an earthquake on the Democratic side there. There had been this core of support or at least nominal support for Gray Davis. People were going to stick by him. But once you had the behemoth on the other side, panic, the sense we have to get rid of this guy; we’ve got to find a replacement.

RAY SUAREZ: So you’re making a fairly dire forecast for Gray Davis, it sounds like.

DAVID BROOKS: It looks a lot worse for him than it did a week ago, certainly.

MARK SHIELDS: I’m not ready to predict. I think this race has had so many twists so far. It wasn’t going to get on the ballot, was going to get on the ballot, Dick Reardon is going to get in, he isn’t. I think there will be three or four more plot twists between now and October 7. There’s no question that the Democrats’ strategy, particularly Governor Davis’s strategy had been to de-legitimize the recall by making it a right-wing coup, a grab for power to overturn the election results of last November in which he defeated Bill Simon.

And that, of course, has been dealt a very serious blow on two counts – first of all, by other Democrats getting in. It required no Democrats getting in to legitimatize the question. The lieutenant governor, Cruz Bustamente, is in, John Garamendi, the insurance commissioner is in and also by the Republicans rallying, at least an awful lot of them, around a candidate who is pro-gun control, pro-gay rights, pro-choice and, he insists, pro-environment. So, you know, it’s the old cry of get me a winner. I don’t care what he believes, just get me a winner. I think an awful lot of Republicans see that in Arnold Schwarzenegger right now.

DAVID BROOKS: Not only the fact of someone like Bustamente getting in, you had Jerry Brown on this program last night, you had Willie Brown, you had Nancy Pelosi, you had just about every big Democrat in the state, pretty much circling around Gray Davis like vultures.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, let’s talk a little bit about what’s changed this week. You had Darryl Isa in and then a long list of what could charitably be called novelty candidates: the comedian, Gallagher, Gary Coleman, Larry Flynt, et al. Now it suddenly isn’t so clean. Ice is out, but there is going to be more than one Republican on that list, too, isn’t there?

MARK SHIELDS: Bill Simon, who lost to Gray Davis last fall, is planning on running even though people are trying to talk him out of the race. He is insisting he is going to make a race of it. Isa, who paid for the party, the invitations, the drinks, the food, everything, to sponsor and underwrite the entire referendum and recall, he, you know, he left tearfully yesterday, saying he was going to devote his energies to peace in the Middle East. I have to say one thing. I have been a staunch defender of California. California has done a lot for this country; it has given us a community college system, great leadership at the public level, and Earl Warren and Pat Brown and many others.

And I have to say this time California really, I think, has gone around the bend. And, you know, I can understand the historical imperative of the recall because the Southern Pacific Railroad owned everything in California– legislature, the courts, the city government, newspapers, public opinion. And that was the only recourse to it, but I got to tell you, direct democracy just absolutely destroys representative democracy. It destroys any chance of minority rights in making policy and making decisions, and I just think it’s a bad way to run the government of the fifth largest economy of the world.

DAVID BROOKS: I basically agree with that, though there has been a tremendous upsurge in interest in all this. Suddenly Californians are really interested in their state politics. And Schwarzenegger emerges as the person who could lose all this. I mean, it is his to lose. One of the things people outside California don’t appreciate is how much he has been involved in the state.

Last year he championed Proposition 49, which was an extended after-school day care proposition, campaigned up and down the state like a real politician. And in that campaign, gathered a group of advisers, a lot of which were Pete Wilson advisers, the Republican establishment. Not just a movie star coming in saying I’m famous, elect me. It is a guy who has built an experienced team and has already some experience of being an actual candidate.

RAY SUAREZ: And a very short campaign season.

MARK SHIELDS: Short campaign, high recognition name. Deep pockets — has a lot going for him. Gray Davis has presented himself in the last few weeks as a victim. People don’t respond to elected representatives as victims. He hasn’t been able to sell himself as a victim. He has got to do a major mea culpa, publicly saying I’ve gotten the message, I’m going to change. Then he has to, not a Rose Garden strategy as we talked about earlier on this show, I think he’s got to have a Trappist monastery strategy, he’s working 23 hours a day to keep nurses in hospitals, keep kids learning in schools and cops on the beat. That’s the only hope he has.