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Analysts Discuss Elections, Rumsfeld and Changes Ahead

November 10, 2006 at 6:20 PM EST
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RAY SUAREZ: Next, to the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Mark, we talked a lot about results, and numbers, and margins. Who are your winners for the week? And some of them may not have even been on balance any more.

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Well, no, I think that Senator Barack Obama, no question merged as a full-blown political superstar, I mean, transcending ethnic, racial divisions. I mean, he was much in demand, much cherished as a Democratic surrogate and advocate across the country.

I’d have to say women in general — I mean, the Democrats elected Amy Klobuchar to the Senate from Minnesota, or she elected herself, and Claire McCaskill in Missouri.

But then I’d add to that, certainly, Nancy Pelosi, an historic first speaker.

I guess, beyond that, I’d have to say that the unsung story of this campaign, Rahm Emanuel did a good, terrific job in the House for the Democrats in the campaign committee, but it was really Chuck Schumer, chairman of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, and Harry Reid, the Democratic Senate leader, who backed him up every step of the way.

They intruded in primaries, which has never been done before. That’s considered bad form, but think about it.

RAY SUAREZ: Anointing preferred winners?

MARK SHIELDS: And backing people, and risking anger.

RAY SUAREZ: “This is the guy we’d rather see as our party’s nominee”?

MARK SHIELDS: Best example, Ray, was Bob Casey in Pennsylvania, a pro-life Democrat. Chuck Schumer got 10,000 e-mails, messages and calls from the National Organization of Women and other abortion rights groups, who are just livid that he had anointed and backed Bob Casey. You got Ed Rendell, the Democratic governor, to do the same thing.

They did in Rhode Island with Sheldon Whitehouse. They did it in Ohio, with Sherrod Brown, same thing. Jim Webb in Virginia, they intervened before the primary, who ended up beating George Allen. Harold Ford in Tennessee, and Amy Klobuchar, we mentioned, in Minnesota, and went and chased Claire McCaskill down in London to persuade her. And Harry Reid talked to her husband to tell her that it would be OK.

So, I mean, that was really a first, and they did a terrific job. And they risked making lifetime enemies, and they made some, in the process.

Midterms helped Sen. Clinton

David Brooks
New York Times
I think Democrats are going to be more confident about the future, less risk-inclined when they think about the presidential nominee.

RAY SUAREZ: David, your winners for the week?

DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times: Well, first of all, I do agree with that. When you look back, the candidate selection was a crucial thing. I was actually in Chicago this morning, and there's a little monument to Rahm Emanuel now in...

DAVID BROOKS: I guess my winners -- I've done my love song to Barack Obama -- but I actually think Hillary Clinton is a winner.

RAY SUAREZ: How so?

DAVID BROOKS: I think Democrats are going to be more confident about the future, less risk-inclined when they think about the presidential nominee. They're going to think, "Well, maybe we are a majority party. Maybe we can win. Why should we take a risk with somebody like Obama, whatever his amazing skills, who's young and inexperienced? Maybe Hillary Clinton can go over the top." So I think there will be more willing to go with the establishment figure, basically.

And then on the Republican side, you would think McCain, because the Republicans will surely say, "We got to craft a new course." And yet, as I look at the early post-election recriminations, there's a lot -- a big strain on the Republican Party of people saying, "We lost because we weren't conservative enough. It's because we did the bridge to nowhere. We spent a lot of money, and we've got to get back to our roots."

And I'd say that's almost the dominant argument you hear now. And so that doesn't mean there's any good alternative to McCain, but it does mean that the party's reacting in a not-expected way.

President, Cheney, moderates lost

Mark Shields
Syndicated columnist
You lose people like Jim Leach of Iowa and Nancy Johnson of Connecticut...you're taking to a considerable degree the middle out of the Republican Party and making it a more conservative institution.

RAY SUAREZ: And beyond those who literally lost their races, some losers for the week?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I guess I would say Ted Stevens. Ted Stevens is a great appropriator, and I would say all the people who appropriate money, senator from Alaska, author of the bridge to nowhere, all the people who appropriate money who have been relying on these earmarks and these pork barrel projects.

I think the Republicans have learned their lessons, so the Democrats have got to have learned the lesson, that the idea, the traditional machine politic idea that you win elections by buying votes with pork barrel projects, I think that was repudiated here.

And there's just one other, I'd say the consultants. The consultants did not have a big effect on this election. It was the issues that had a big effect.

RAY SUAREZ: Mark, your losers for the week?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, certainly, the president, because, I mean, he was very much the issue in his war, the Iraqi war, with which he's so closely identified.

I think the vice president is a major casualty. I think he understands, because he's been the principal confident, the architect to a considerable degree, the advocate of the war policy. I think he finds himself now with Don Rumsfeld, who was his longest friend -- I mean, they came out of the Ford administration together -- and probably his strongest supporter gone from defense, facing off against Jim Baker, and Bob Gates, and maybe even Condi Rice, a little bit isolated.

The meeting yesterday with the Democratic congressional leaders, an hour and 10 minute lunch, five people. He never said a word. So there's a sense that perhaps he got it.

I'd say, in addition to that, Ray, I'd add that moderate Republicans, and I think that strengthens the point that David was making about the conservatives sort of saying, "We lost because we weren't pure enough or zealous enough or convincing enough."

I mean, you lose people like Jim Leach of Iowa and Nancy Johnson of Connecticut, and maybe even Rob Simmons and Lincoln Chafee. I mean, you're taking to a considerable degree the middle out of the Republican Party and making it a more conservative institution, Charlie Bass of New Hampshire. So I guess those would be the losers that I see.

Rovian approach: success, failure?

David Brooks
New York Times
I don't think a lot of Republicans blame Mehlman. He did what he could. He wasn't in charge of the Iraq occupation.

RAY SUAREZ: It's interesting that neither of you mentioned Ken Mehlman or Karl Rove. And yet, to a degree, this is being read by commentators and analysts as a repudiation of both the Mehlman approach of bringing minorities and women to the Republican column, and Rovianism, of ginning up the base and just trying to get a few independents and winning.

DAVID BROOKS: Right. I would say, in the short term, I don't -- and I don't think a lot of Republicans blame Mehlman. He did what he could. He wasn't in charge of the Iraq occupation.

MARK SHIELDS: That's right.

DAVID BROOKS: And I think he is thought of, I think, as a very professional party organizer who did the micro-targeting, the strategy they had for getting out the vote, which probably reduced the Republican losses. So I think his reputation is actually fine.

Rove's reputation has not -- actually, within the Republican Party, has not been destroyed. Nonetheless, I do think the long-term strategy he did have, which was a base strategy -- and it was a theory more than a strategy, a theory there were no people in the middle, that everybody was committed and there were very few voters you could persuade either way, I think that overall theory was certainly disproved by this election.

MARK SHIELDS: No, and we had mentioned it before the election, that we thought that this was a real test. And the fact that independents and moderates ended up by 20 percent margins voting Democratic over Republican was certainly a repudiation of the Rovian approach.

I think Ken Mehlman made admirable overtures to enlarge the Republican Party among African-Americans, among Latinos. But the Latino effort was sabotaged by the House Republicans on immigration, and the African-American was sabotaged by weak candidates, I mean, Ken Blackwell in Ohio and then Lynn Swann, who may have been a good candidate in Pennsylvania, just running against Eddie Rendell, who's a political powerhouse.

DAVID BROOKS: I think Blackwell could have been a good candidate. I just have one more loser. I could go on for probably an hour with losers. But Mark raised the issue of Latinos.

J.D. Hayworth, a Republican who ran in Arizona, really wanted to shut the border. Those hard-core restrictionists, big losers, that side of the immigration debate.

Rumsfeld's role in election results

Mark Shields
Syndicated columnist
You take Don Rumsfeld away...And if the policy isn't dramatically changed, improved, revamped, then all the criticism then falls on George Bush.

RAY SUAREZ: The touch screens on American's voting machines have barely cooled, and Donald Rumsfeld was the soon-to-be ex-secretary of defense. Were you surprised by how quickly that happened?

DAVID BROOKS: I was surprised that it happened then. I mean, as has been reported and as a lot of us had been hearing, people in the White House wanted to get rid of Rumsfeld for a long time, and they didn't in part because they thought this would be an admission that the war was a failure. And that's why they didn't do it before the election, even though it had been in the works for quite a while.

I think that was a mistake, because Rumsfeld wasn't only about the war. Rumsfeld became a values issue for a lot of voters. Voters took a look at Bush -- voters who associated with Bush, they took a look at the guy and they said, "If he doesn't fire Donald Rumsfeld, maybe he's not like me after all."

And so it was -- they were sort of wondering about Bush, the guy, that he wouldn't get rid of somebody who was so clearly responsible for something that went poorly. And so I'm of the school that they should have fired him six weeks ago, eight weeks ago, or really two years ago.

RAY SUAREZ: So to get this straight, are you suggesting that there are some narrowly defeated Republicans who might today plausibly argue that the president didn't help them win re-election?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, because I think the main argument you heard, especially in sort of middle-of-the-road, suburban-office-park types, was these people don't handle information well. There's no consequences for bad decisions.

And that was -- it's more than just what's happening in Iraq, bad as that is. It's, "Are they handling information well. Do they act the way I act in my office?" And when you lose that sense of shared experience, shared behavior, then you have alienated voters.

MARK SHIELDS: The 10 Republican moderate House members who lost, I mean, they lost in districts where Iraq was the central, if not defining and dominant, issue. I think the president's move in cashiering Rumsfeld a lot of earlier would have been an indication that he was open to change, that he was -- that he was, in fact, reacting to the new reality.

I don't think he did it for a very simple reason, Ray, and I'd cite the example of Jim Rhodes, who was the four-time governor of Ohio, a statue of him in downtown Columbus, master politician. He had a chief of staff that everybody complained about.

Legislators said the chief of staff was treacherous. Major contributors said he broke his word hourly to them. Campaign chairmen said in, he said he wouldn't return their calls. And they came, and they went to the governor. And they said, "You got to get rid of Roy." And the governor heard them, too, "That's terrible, that's awful." They left, and the governor's secretary turned and said, "Well, Governor, are we going to get rid of Roy?" And Jim Rhodes said, "No, you never take the punching bag out of the gym."

And Don Rumsfeld has been the punching bag. I mean, you take Don Rumsfeld away -- I mean, he hasn't been a rogue secretary of defense. He hasn't been a freelancer. He's been executing, maybe not well, but the policy that George Bush approves of and George Bush endorses.

So, I mean, you take Don Rumsfeld away, and if you want to criticize it, Bill Kristol at the Weekly Standard or John McCain could say, "You've got to get rid of Rumsfeld." Well, Rumsfeld's gone now. And if the policy isn't dramatically changed, improved, revamped, then all the criticism then falls on George Bush.

RAY SUAREZ: But, quickly, does this create the possibility for that dramatic change that Mark just mentioned?

DAVID BROOKS: I think they are dramatically changing. I mean, I have spent the day talking to Democrats and Republicans, and there is a real sense that this is a moment to dramatically change things. And I think the administration is more open than I had thought to talking with Iran even; they think that's possible. And so they are open to that stuff.

RAY SUAREZ: Fellows, good to see you. Have a great weekend.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you, Ray.