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Shields and Brooks on how shifting demographics are affecting elections

November 8, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss their takes on the week's political news including the gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey, the future of "partisan posture" among changing demographics and Obama's apology over cancelled insurance policies.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, the Virginia governor’s race was just one of the big political stories of the week. And Shields and Brooks are here to talk about all of them. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome, gentlemen.

So, David, what would — you both have been listening to Dante Chinni. What would you add to what he said about what happened in Virginia?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, first, on those terms, hanging on to exurbs was actually key for the — for the Republicans. It was a much closer race than we thought it would be. And they have lost some of those exurban counties.

There’s a county called Loudoun County. If anybody has ever flown into Dulles Airport, it’s sort of generally around there. And they have lost some of those because a lot of immigrants are moving out there. They held on. It was reasonably close. But, basically, it’s not neuroscience.

McAuliffe won — among people who opposed President Obama and oppose Obamacare, he won 11 percent of those people. He won people who are in the other party, partly because of Cuccinelli’s social positions and Cuccinelli just seemed too strident. So, if you win, people who are in the other party, you don’t have to win a lot of them. That’s going to help you out.

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He had a more moderate, Clintonian posture. Cuccinelli had a much more strident, partisan posture, and so the waverers went over to McAuliffe.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, what is your take on Virginia?

MARK SHIELDS: I think a couple of things, Judy.

And I thought Dante’s piece was fascinating and revealing. But, first of all, the efforts to bring in President Clinton and even President Obama paid off for Terry McAuliffe on Tuesday. Twenty percent of the electorate turned out to be African-American. That’s exactly the same percentage it was in 2012. He needed that. He lost white voters almost as decisively as the president did.

The other thing is — and kind of a bookend to it, what Dante was talking about — Terry McAuliffe lost voters who made between $30,000 and $200,000. He overwhelmingly won voters who — 11 percent of the voters who earn less than $30,000, who are mostly minority, mainly minority.

But among voters earning over $200,000 in Virginia, who are 11 percent of the electorate, Terry McAuliffe won them 55 to 39.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And why do you think…


MARK SHIELDS: So it’s almost a barbell. You know, in other words, you have got the Democratic strength is at one end. In the middle, it wasn’t — it wasn’t there economically.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, is that good news then for the Democrats or not?

MARK SHIELDS: I — I don’t think there’s a — great news — I mean, the Democrats can look at it and say, look, there are five statewide offices in Virginia, two United States Senate seats held by Democrats, governorship held by a Democrat, won by a Democrat, Terry McAuliffe.

The lieutenant governor is a Democrat. The attorney general’s race, the only one still to be decided, the Republican have a very narrow lead. But there’s a possibility they could have all five statewide offices in Virginia. That would be quite a testimonial to the party.

DAVID BROOKS: Just on that barbell, there’s a couple of things to be said.

First, there’s a useful distinction to be made between professionals and managers. People who are professionals, lawyers, teachers, doctors, they’re tending to vote more Democratic. People who are managers, mid-level corporate executives, they are tending to vote more Republican. There are a lot of affluent Democrats, especially in these inner-ring suburbs in Arlington and places like that, who are making a decent amount of money and they’re tending to vote Democratic.

The second thing to be said is, especially when you have a candidate strongly identified with social issues, politics is generally about social identity, not about economic class interests. People vote and join the party that feels like people like themselves. And for the highly educated people around Washington, D.C., because of social issues, because of a lot of issues, they just feel Democratic, whatever the economic incentives are.

MARK SHIELDS: And I think you have to say, this is the highest I have ever seen voters say that abortion was an important issue; 20 percent of the electorate in Virginia said that on Tuesday. And Terry McAuliffe won them overwhelmingly.

So his portraying Cuccinelli and Cuccinelli’s own positions as somebody who wanted to repeal or illegalize abortion except in the life of the mother, criminalize abortion, did work for McAuliffe.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me turn you both to New Jersey.

David, Chris Christie, running for reelection, a Republican, ran a very different race for Republican than Ken Cuccinelli ran in Virginia.

DAVID BROOKS: In ways, though, the same story. It’s obviously a blue state.

He won a lot of people who support President Obama. And so, if you can do that, you’re doing OK. So, he did it. McAuliffe did it. And he won a lot. He got a huge margin. I think the key moment for Christie was in Hurricane Sandy, when he made it clear he loved the people of New Jersey more than he loved his own party.

And that tribal affiliation, you are my people, I’m with you, I think it just changed the trajectory of his governorship. And now he’s launched off. His victory speech was a presidential campaign speech, and he’s launched off with a mission to reshape at least part of the Republican Party to look more like him.

And so he’s appearing on a lot of Sunday shows this coming Sunday. And he’s on a mission.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you read Christie?

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t know to whom Christie is a bigger threat, the Republicans in the primary or the Democrats in a general.

Conservatives are suspicious of him for the reason that David started — I mean, you’re either an ideologue or a pragmatist in this business. And those conservatives who are mostly ideologues believe what is right works. A pragmatist, who Chris Christie turned out to be, most conspicuously and historically in the case of Hurricane Sandy, is a pragmatist who believes what works is right. And if it involves working closely…

JUDY WOODRUFF: He brought the president in.

MARK SHIELDS: … working closely with the president, crediting the president for the people of New Jersey under a time of — it worked for him.

But I would say this. After he said that abortion was a big help to Terry McAuliffe, this is a man who is pro-life, who is against same-sex marriage. He carried 57 percent of women, running against a woman Democrat. He won 51 percent of Latinos, 66 percent of independents, and a majority of voters between the ages of 25 and 29.

That is terrifying to Democrats right now, just looking at those numbers. Those are impressive statistics.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But he’s clearly somebody everybody is looking at for 2016 already, right?

DAVID BROOKS: Right, and in part because this coming presidential — the last Republican primary process which we were stuck with was miserable. It was horrible. There were no debates. It was Looney Tunes.

And this one is actually a big debate.

MARK SHIELDS: You didn’t say that at the time.

DAVID BROOKS: I didn’t — I felt it. I felt it in my heart.


DAVID BROOKS: Some — you remember those debates? They were Looney Tunes.



DAVID BROOKS: The — but now you have got like a real argument between at least two very substantive people.

You have got Christie on one side. You have got probably Rand Paul or Ted Cruz on the other. And so we will figure out where the party is going to stand on a whole bunch of issues. And so this is going to be a great campaign.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, Mark, right next to — door to New Jersey is New York City, where a progressive, I guess we can’t use the word liberal, but a liberal Democrat, Bill de Blasio, won the mayor’s race.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. He didn’t win. He didn’t win. He rolled like nobody has rolled in that state.

He beat a very respectable Republican candidate, Joe Lhota, who had — been deputy mayor to Rudy Giuliani, had headed the New York transit system. He had the endorsement of New York papers, including The New York Post, the leading businesspeople.

He beat him 3-1. He beat him on every single demographic group that Dante could break out. And it was impressive. I really do think that this was the clarion call. There’s a sense in the country that the system is rigged for the top 1 percent and that the other — the rest of the country is lagging and being jobbed, that we have decriminalized Wall Street malfeasance, that if you want to pay a check and kind of get a little slap on the wrist, you can still go to dinner parties and keep your freedom, and that there’s a sense of income inequality and economic inequality.

He tapped into it and tapped into it very big. And I think it’s an emerging issue, I have said before, in 2016. I think it may be even sooner than that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is this an issue with legs, inequality?


Well, first of all, that is a real issue, maybe the biggest domestic issue of our time. So, you have got some economic fundamentals there. Wage stagnation is a real issue. And so you have had the Democratic intelligentsia, such as it is…


DAVID BROOKS: That wasn’t fair. I apologize.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That was very…



MARK SHIELDS: Whoa. There’s a certain…



DAVID BROOKS: So you have got the writers, the academics, they have been on this issue.

They, frankly, have been further to the left than even Barack Obama has been. They have wanted — you have got to have policies commensurate with the size of the problem, and the activist base has been there. There haven’t been that many candidates, except maybe Elizabeth Warren, who have tapped into this.

Now you have a candidate who has tapped into it. And so I do think we will see a primary challenge to Hillary Clinton from this side. That’s where the a lot of the ideas are. That’s where the a lot of the donors are. There’s just a lot of energy there, maybe more than any other spot in American politics right now.

So, I do think we will see more de Blasios. The one caution, I would say, is remember the irrational exuberance that surrounded the Occupy movement, when people thought, oh, this is a big coming thing. Well, not really. The Occupy movement wasn’t the Tea Party movement. It was not as big, not as enduring.

So, I’m not totally confident, but I do think this is where the energy is in the Democratic Party and we will see a rise of economic progressivism.

MARK SHIELDS: This is based on reality. I mean, it’s reality-based.

I mean, you can’t look at the 21st century in the United States and see anything but the median household income has gone down every year. I mean, so we’re not talking about some fabricated grievances. This is truly reality.


MARK SHIELDS: There’s a city, New York City, with 379,000 millionaires. I mean, this is not — this is the tale of two cities, truly.


But the only thing is, you need — the problem is real, but people have to trust government as a solution, and they’re not there yet.


DAVID BROOKS: And Obamacare, frankly, isn’t helping them with that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, speaking of trusting government and Obamacare, the president apologized this week, said if he misled somebody because their policy — health care policy is being canceled, he feels sorry. He’s asking people to forgive him.

What’s the significance of this, David? I mean, this is kind of unprecedented, isn’t it?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, they have had a series of obvious failures in the rollout, and the administration has decided slight shift of tenor.

Instead of saying, well, there are winners and losers, we have got to tolerate some losers because there are going to be some winners, more of them, they have shifted to, nobody will be a loser. And I think it seems like they’re going to try to make the people whole who have lost their self-insured plans.

But the fact is, there are losers. There are going to be losers. Basically, you’re taking a lot of young, healthy people and trying to get them to subsidize poorer, sicker people. And to me, the big — there’s going to be a whole series of problems going down the road. One of them will be the burgeoning reality right now, which is that older people are signing up. Older, sicker people are signing up for this thing.

Younger, healthier people, who you need to fund the thing, are so far not signing up.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Mark, Democrats are getting upset about this. A group of senators went to the White House this week. If they’re not nervous, they’re just — they’re downright angry about it.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. I didn’t think the president’s statement worked. I really didn’t. It was: If I have offended anybody, I’m sorry.

It wasn’t — this is — the president is on — it’s one of the YouTube realities. He’s on record 39 different times saying, this will — you will not lose it. You will not have to change your doctor. And I just think that this is one where you stand up. You cannot trifle with the most indispensable currency any president has, and that is his integrity and his veracity.

And I just think the president just stands up and says: This was my fault, my bad, and it will not happen again, and I am responsible.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We’re going to leave it there.

Mark Shields, David Brooks, we thank you.