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Shields and Brooks Foresee Republican House Takeover

October 29, 2010 at 6:04 PM EST
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Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks give pre-election analysis and predictions in the closing days of campaigns across the country, saying it's likely that the GOP will regain control of the House of Representatives.
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JIM LEHRER: And now to the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks. Mark joins us tonight from South Bend, Indiana.

First, for the record, David, is today’s bombing threat likely to affect voters’ attitudes in any way between now and Tuesday, do you think?

DAVID BROOKS: I really don’t think so. It’s interesting. The polls have really hardened over, I would say, the last week or so. I haven’t seen much movement in any way. I think people have decided. If — maybe if there had been some — something terrible had happened, but it is an election about the economy, about pervasive issues about national decline. I don’t think this will have a big effect.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: I do, Jim. I think the president, obviously, acted forthrightly and quickly. But — so, I think, in that sense, there’s no negative to it, and maybe a small uptick, positive, for the Democrats, but certainly not a game-changer.

JIM LEHRER: All right, David, back to the election itself. Do you still feel that this is going to be a good night for Republicans on Tuesday?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. As I said, nothing changed. I still think about 52 House seats and eight or so Senate seats.

JIM LEHRER: And 52 translates, of course, into…

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. They only need 39.

JIM LEHRER: Thirty-nine.

DAVID BROOKS: So, I think they will take control. I mean, I could be wrong. But they could do a lot better.

Stu Rothenberg, one of the experts in this sort of thing, says it could go as high as 70. I’m not — that’s unlikely. But the wave is still there. And I think it’s been baked in for a long time. I think, if you take a look at when the change happened, it was really about the spring and summer of ’09, when you began to see the Tea Party movements rise, that health care summer.

And what you began to — saw was the independents shift over. My newspaper had a poll this week showing that the independents favored Obama by eight percentage points in ’08. Now they favor the Republicans by 20. And that shift is really, I think, the big shift. And that happened sort of April, May, June ’09.

And things have happened since then, but that basic logic, when people make up their mind, I think that’s really carried out.

JIM LEHRER: You have seen no real major change since then?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, there have been changes in individual races, what happened in Florida. But Scott Brown won in Massachusetts. Chris Christie won in New Jersey. The trend was sort of starting then.

And I don’t think anything’s really changed since. The fundamental — it’s adjusted here and there, but, fundamentally, that trend is pretty consistent.

JIM LEHRER: Mark, you see it the same way, first of all, that it’s going to be a good night for Republicans, along the lines as David said?

MARK SHIELDS: I do, Jim. I think there’s a good chance that — I think the Republicans will win the House next Tuesday. I don’t know the precise number, but, over the last two elections, the Democrats have won 53 seats from the Republicans, and it’s entirely possible that the Republicans could win them back, that we could be back to where we were four years ago.

I think that the primary motivation in this election, and the landscape is simply that, when the economy is bad, the economy is the only issue. Between 1930 and 1936, four elections, the Republicans lost 193 House seats simply because it was their depression.

And I think that we have seen very few swings of any magnitude in this country over the last year. That’s why the last few elections, that’s why 2006 and 2008 were a little bit surprising. But I think the economy is a killer for the Democrats, 9.5 percent unemployment, and on top of the reality that the — we’re just having a jobless recovery at this point.

JIM LEHRER: Sure.

DAVID BROOKS: Could I…

JIM LEHRER: Yes, go ahead.

DAVID BROOKS: I think I just disagree with that about 35 percent or 40 percent.

Obviously, the economy is the substratum of what’s happened. I do think there is some ideological element here. I do think health care was a big debate. And I do — one of the things you’re noticing in the polls so far is that the Democrats in the House who voted against health care are doing a lot better in the — among the close races than the Democrats who voted for it. So I think that was a big issue in swinging the electorate.

And then beneath the economy — and this is something Mark has said in the past, and I think he still agrees with — we have had a series of elections where the ins have been thrown out. And I think that reflects something deeper than the unemployment rate, which reflects a fear of economic — of national decline, that we somehow lost…

JIM LEHRER: Just general decline?

DAVID BROOKS: And that’s values, that the people who work hard are not being rewarded. The people who don’t work hard are being rewarded or work badly or in financial games are being rewarded, that something fundamentally is sort of wrong with the country.

And, as a result, people are looking for anything to get us back on track, as someone said in that last report.

JIM LEHRER: Sure.

DAVID BROOKS: And they’re not quite sure where that is, but they’re ready to move.

JIM LEHRER: Do you see it the same way, Mark, that there is a kind of unrest generally that’s — that’s underlying all these things, including the economy?

MARK SHIELDS: There is, Jim. There’s a pervasive pessimism, there’s no doubt about it, and a concern about their children’s future, as well as the future of the country, in the sense that the United States, exceptionalism included, is no longer going to be the biggest, most important, and most successful nation in the world.

I think that — I don’t think there’s any question that that drives it. But this will be the third election in a row, as David mentioned, that we have driven — that the ins have been driven out. And I think the election landscape is quite similar. I mean, voters are angry at their own conditions. They feel that the government — over the past 10 years, the political system has produced 9/11, two failed wars, an economic meltdown, and the loss of a sense of American optimism about the future.

That is a pretty serious indictment to make of the political process. And, you know, that is, I think, the reality that voters are confronting. And there isn’t any consensus emerging. That’s where I disagree with David. There’s no sense of where we’re going.

I mean, we’re for eliminating the deficits and extending the Bush tax cuts. I mean, that seems to be the extent of the landslide without a mandate that Republicans are on the cusp of winning.

JIM LEHRER: What about that, David? We had — on the NewsHour the other night, we had the woman who runs the Bloomberg poll, and showed that, while the Republicans are doing very well, they’re not doing very well at all in terms of their policies. It’s just that, well, guys in charge, get them out of there. But they don’t necessarily support what the Republicans say they want to do.

DAVID BROOKS: Right. Well, the Republicans do have some advantages in some polls on some issues, like taxes and spending, like that.

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

DAVID BROOKS: Nonetheless, it is certainly true the oddity of this election is that the party that wins will be phenomenally unpopular. The Republicans are at the historic lows on popularity. And, so, that’s sort of a unique thing.

And one of the things that is interesting — we have been talking to Republican leaders in the House this week — was, they’re aware of that. And they — they say, listen, the public wants us to stop what the Democrats are doing, but they’re not exactly in love with us. And so what we have got to do is try to offer predictability and stability and reassurance, that business people want to know what their health care costs are going to be, what their tax burden is going to be, what their regulatory burden is going to be. We have got to try to be reassuring and safe over the next few months, if we take control.

Now, that’s what the leadership wants. Whether the new people coming in want to project reassurance, and safety and caution, I’m not so sure.

JIM LEHRER: Ann Selzer, again, in that Bloomberg poll, her folks poll — the polling showed that people also want both sides to work together. They don’t want any more gridlock. They don’t want any more stalemates.

So, if the Republicans take control, they’re going to have to work with the Democrats, the Democrats who are already there are going to have to work with the Republicans, or this whole thing isn’t going to work.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. I’m a little dubious that that is going to happen.

JIM LEHRER: Are you?

DAVID BROOKS: One of the things…

JIM LEHRER: No, but I mean that’s what the polls reflect that the people want.

DAVID BROOKS: That’s clearly what the polls reflect.

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

DAVID BROOKS: But, as we just saw in Michigan, the politicians are more extreme than the people. And that’s true nationwide.

JIM LEHRER: Mark, a specific. There was a story late this afternoon which said that, if it does turn out the way you two and everybody else think it’s going to turn out, with the House becoming controlled by the Republicans, that Nancy Pelosi will not only not stand as the minority leader, the Democratic minority leader of the House, probably will not run for reelection, and will leave the House.

What do you think of that? Have you heard that?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, yes, I have heard it, Jim, but certainly not from Nancy Pelosi or anybody close to her.

But the pattern in the past has been, when your party loses, or you disappoint your party, or the speaker, in the case of Denny Hastert, resigned after the Republicans lost the House in 2006. Newt Gingrich resigned in 1998 after his party suffered a defeat in those midterm elections.

Tom Foley, of course, lost the House…

JIM LEHRER: The seat. Yes, he lost his seat, yes.

MARK SHIELDS: … in 1994, but — that’s right, in the Democratic devastation, debacle that year.

So, I think there’s probably little chance that Nancy Pelosi or any speaker would want to remain in the House after — you know, after a defeat, and after the party’s lost it. The idea of hanging around to be…

JIM LEHRER: Sure. What about — would you agree with those who say, Mark, that the biggest loss, if it happens, for the Democrats will be in Nevada, if Harry Reid, the Senate — now Senate majority leader, loses his seat? Do you agree?

MARK SHIELDS: I do, Jim. I think Harry Reid got the opponent he wanted. You will recall — maybe you don’t — but in the Republican primary in Nevada…

JIM LEHRER: Oh, I recall everything, Mark.

MARK SHIELDS: … Sue Lowden, who — I know you do, Jim, but I was thinking maybe of a viewer out there who had forgotten it for just a second.

JIM LEHRER: Oh. Oh, I see. OK.

MARK SHIELDS: That Sue — Sue Lowden, who had been the Republican state chair in Nevada and a former Miss New Jersey and a very plausible candidate, was the party’s favorite. And she made the mistake of saying in a town meeting that, in the olden days, what we used to do with doctors is, you would pay the doctor in a few chickens.

Well, Harry Reid’s campaign exploited that, to the point where it became almost ludicrous and an object of ridicule, she did. And he got Sharron Angle, the candidate he wanted to run against, the Tea Party favorite, who had lost a state Senate primary herself, a Republican state Senate primary.

And to lose to her, I think, would be personally devastating to him, and it will be a real knock to the Democratic Party, if they lose the Senate Democratic leader.

JIM LEHRER: Reverse the question. Let me reverse the question to you, David, is, from the Tea Party — Tea Party point of view, knocking off Harry Reid, would that be the number-one accomplishment?

DAVID BROOKS: I would think so. I’m hearing a lot more talk in the last few days about the governors and the state legislatures, because this is a year ending in zero. And so once you win the governors and state legislatures, you can begin to control where the lines are drawn for the congressional races.

And there are a bunch of states in the Northeast and Midwest that are going to lose a seat, and from the southwest going to gain a seat. And so you can really lock in your people. And so, in the last few weeks, I have heard a lot more about that than even some of these headline races that we’re talking about.

JIM LEHRER: You know, Andy Kohut also was on the program the other night. And he was saying that the — his polls show that there’s great interest in this election, and there’s going to be a heavy turnout.

But then he pointed out, the reality is, that means 40 percent of the qualified eligible voters are going to vote. How do you see that?

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Well, we were up in ’08. And so 40 percent for an election, a midterm election, probably not too bad.

The question always has been for political scientists, if we only have 40 percent turnout, what would the electorate — what would the election look like if we had like 90 percent?

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

DAVID BROOKS: And my reading of the studies they have done is that it’s generally representative. So, elections wouldn’t turn out very differently if everybody started voting. The people who do vote more or less represent the people who don’t vote.

JIM LEHRER: Mark, you have been around the country a lot during this campaign. How do you measure the level of interest that you have found?

MARK SHIELDS: Jim, I really find a great dissatisfaction with this campaign from people I talk to.

There’s — one looks at television advertising — if you’re traveling, it’s impossible to escape the spots — and the negative element of them is really relentless, and the cookie-cutter aspect, to the point where some of these outside groups, for example, have said — there’s one in North Dakota they’re using that is used everywhere.

Earl Pomeroy, the Democrat in North Dakota, Democratic congressman at large, said he’s contributed to the economy and the terrible economy in North Dakota. North Dakota has less than 4 percent unemployment, 3.7 percent unemployment. Now, people in North Dakota don’t like their economy. I don’t mean that.

But there’s a certain — and the Democrats, to be fair about this, they went back and they decided they couldn’t make this a national election, because, with the economy going against them and with the sense of checks and balances, that voters were tired of one party being in control — they didn’t trust the Democrats in control. They didn’t think their lives had gotten better in the two years.

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

MARK SHIELDS: The Democrats had run everything. But the — so the Democrats decided to individualize their races.

JIM LEHRER: And they got — they got personal.

MARK SHIELDS: They couldn’t run a national campaign.

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

MARK SHIELDS: They got personal. They went back, and your eccentricities, your records, whether it’s a driving record or a divorce record or an academic record or whatever else, to kind of make it an individual, mano a mano race, rather than on the national issues.

JIM LEHRER: OK. Well, look, we have to leave it here.

MARK SHIELDS: It’s kind of a — it’s, yes, a disappointing year.

JIM LEHRER: We’re going to leave it here. And have a good time in Indiana. And David and I will continue to talk in D.C., OK?

(LAUGHTER)

JIM LEHRER: Thank you, all three of you.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.

JIM LEHRER: All two.

(LAUGHTER)