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Shields and Brooks on shutdown’s ‘tectonic’ effect for Republicans

October 11, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s top political news, including how Republicans and Democrats have fared in the “catastrophic” polls coming out of the shutdown, and whether or not a solution to the stalemate is in sight.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks. Gentlemen, together again.


JUDY WOODRUFF: So, the government shutdown, the debate, the argument over the debt ceiling, Mark, help us understand where we are with all this. We’re struggling to understand it.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, substantively and politically.

Politically, Judy, this has been an unequivocal catastrophe for the Republicans. The Republican Party is paying an enormous price. They have got the political equivalent of halitosis right now. Voters have turned against them. They have the lowest rating in the history of the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, the lowest rating for either party in the history of the Gallup poll.

So, it’s been a disaster. People blame them for it. Barack Obama now gets less blame for this than Bill Clinton in the 1995-1996 closing, which is regarded in retrospect as an enormous blow to the Republicans then and an advantage to Clinton running for reelection.

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So, there’s no question, that part of it is resolved. So, wherever we go forward from here, it’s on the carcass of the Republicans. The Republicans are really in the position now of essentially suing for peace.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, wherever we go.

Where are we going, David?

DAVID BROOKS: I suspect we’re going toward a deal in a couple days maybe, a reasonably short amount of time, where the government reopens. And it will not be a complete surrender by the Republicans, but pretty close, I would say.

They may get — the medical device tax may be removed from the Obamacare. That’s not exactly what this was fought over a long time ago.


DAVID BROOKS: But I suspect they are going to extend — maybe we will have some budget negotiations in the future. I don’t know how long they will extend the spending. But the polls are just — as Mark said, they’re just catastrophic. I’m not sure how longstanding they will be. But the problem for the Republicans is tectonic, that they’re in this place where they’re catering to 28 percent of the country, which is about the support they have now. And they’re just estranged from the other — help me here — 62 percent — and so…



DAVID BROOKS: Seventy-two — my math skills, great.

So, that’s — they’re just in an insular rut. And the question to me going forward for the Republicans is, does what I call the survival caucus take on the suicide caucus? And, if you can’t take on Ted Cruz, then you don’t survive as a party. And so they have to make that decision. Short-term, I think the government will reopen soon.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, it’s that bleak, Mark, for the Republican Party?


And, Judy, it’s not a great lift for the Democrats. The Democrats obviously are profiting from the Republicans’ problems, but it isn’t like the Democrats have soared. It’s a little bit like the Rodney Dangerfield question, how is your wife? Compared to what?

I mean, compared to the Republicans, the Democrats look like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and FDR rolled into one. But the president’s numbers have not gone up dramatically. And I agree with David.

It’s a tough — Tom Davis was on the broadcast last night. You interviewed him.


MARK SHIELDS: And he made the very good point that 80 percent of Republicans go home to districts, and all they talk to are Republicans.

Well, if you only talk to people who agree with you, it’s pretty easy to come to the conclusion that, boy, you’re in the majority. And I just think this is a — I mean, it’s not simply a Republican problem, but I think, right now, it’s a Republican problem when they’re caught in this situation.

But the real cost beyond the political advantage right now is the erosion and hemorrhaging of confidence in government and in our ability to act collectively. We don’t have the optimism or the confidence right now to build an Erie Canal, let alone a federal highway system or a Continental Railroad.

I mean, I just — I think that in the long run is a terrible price we’re paying.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. I think it’s a — that’s a price for the country.

It’s also, frankly, a price for liberals and for Democrats…

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, who believe in government.

DAVID BROOKS: … who is the party of government.

And if you had told me a couple years ago, we’d have a financial crisis caused on Wall Street, an oil spill caused by an oil company down in the Gulf, widening inequality, stagnant wages, the things Bob Reich was just talking about…


MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.


DAVID BROOKS: … you would think, well, we’d be in a big liberal era.


DAVID BROOKS: And so why aren’t we? And it’s because people don’t have faith in the instrument. They don’t have faith in government.

And a lot of perverse things have led to that erosion of faith, some of it events like this, some of it like TV shows. I think “60 Minutes,” which, without meaning to — I don’t think they have a politics agenda — but every week, if you do scandals in government, then people think, oh, they’re all kind of — a lot of scandals there in Washington.

And so there’s been an erosion of support over a generation. And that’s why we’re not in a liberal era.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But you’re not saying that’s just due to what the Republicans have been doing, or are you? Is that what you’re saying, that the Republicans, one party has caused confidence in Washington, confidence in government to drop?

MARK SHIELDS:Well, I think it’s fair to say that the Republican Party right now is dominated by an anti-government spirit and an anti-government belief.

And David’s right. The Democrats believe, historically and presently, that government is an instrument of social justice and of economic progress. And one of the problems — and David made good points — is that we have not celebrated the successes.

We have 215 land grant colleges and universities in this country. We’re the envy of the world, what a public educational system. But we never celebrate it. We don’t celebrate the fact that we have taken 98 percent of the lead out of the air.

And I think this is — I think Democrats have failed to do it. I think when you just come before people and talk about a litany of what’s wrong, instead of that we are a more just, more humane and more compassionate society — Bob Reich made very good points in his piece with Bob and Paul Solman, and they’re valid points, but we have had enormous progress.

That’s how you build confidence about doing something in the future.

DAVID BROOKS: I would say, though, that it’s a generational-long thing. The trust really begins to go down in the late ’60s, early ’70s.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s true.

DAVID BROOKS: So, Vietnam and Watergate played a big role.

But then I would say — it might be an ideological point — the expansion of government into all areas of life, without really being able to deliver, like on the war on poverty and on other things, I think that probably hurt.

MARK SHIELDS: Over-promise.

DAVID BROOKS: It’s over-promise, and it’s also a case where you have just become a less trusting society.

If you ask Americans, do you trust the people around you, for most of the 20th century, yes, I trust my neighbors. I trust people around me. Now majority, no, I don’t trust people around me. We have become more — less deferential to institutions, less social trust in general.

And it’s hurt all sorts of institutions, the media, government, law, but government among them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But what does that mean for the future?

I mean, elections, the Congress will go on. The executive branch will go on. We will continue to elect — I mean, what does it mean down the road, as the government tries to solve problems, as this country tries to solve problems?

MARK SHIELDS: The costs are enormous.

I would say, if we had a parliamentary system right now, we’d be looking at a Democratic landslide, but — I mean, because the Democrats have now emerged in the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll as the more popular party. There’s always been a parity it seems between who we prefer in the Congress.

And I think that it’s going to take the Republicans — it’s going to take a real cold shower. They have had a stonewall of reality they have run into. The idea, Judy, that a serious political party, John Boehner, as speaker of the House, would propose repealing a statute that was ratified by the definition of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan in the last election, having been — Obamacare having been passed, they said the election was going to be about Obamacare, both of them did.

And the idea that you could repeal it with one house control of the congress was just — I mean, it’s beyond delusional.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But the conservative — I have talked to members of the tea party this week. They still believe that’s the right thing to do, that just because it’s settled — just because it’s law doesn’t mean you can’t take another look at it.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, you can take another look, and I might be in favor of taking another look, but you have got to look at reality. You have got to know what country you’re living in and what year it is.


DAVID BROOKS: And so you got to know there is no path there. There was never a path…


DAVID BROOKS: … for Ted Cruz to be successful.

And so part of politics is having the passion of your beliefs, but the prudence of the reality. And he might have had the passion of his beliefs, but he’s — it’s demagoguery to think that you can just do that without doing the practicality.

And so he, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, they led the Republican Party on a suicide mission. The Republicans know that. They knew it beforehand. They were saying beforehand…

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, why did they go along with it?

DAVID BROOKS: Because they were all afraid of getting primary-challenged.

And they — I think most of them could beat the primary challenge, but they just don’t want the challenge. And so they’re willing to ride it again. And, frankly, I don’t know about — I haven’t been told this, but John Boehner’s speakership was fragile, not that there’s a great alternative sitting out there.

But for him now to have fought this fight, even if they lose, even if the party is hurt, I think his speakership might be a little more secure actually, because he can say to those people…

MARK SHIELDS:His speakership isn’t going to be secure if the Republicans lose the House.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Do you really think that’s possible?

MARK SHIELDS:I think it is. I think this is — I think this is…


JUDY WOODRUFF: In the next election?

MARK SHIELDS: I think this is — I think this has the potential of scrambling it.

If the Republicans continue the way they are — I mean, this is a party that — if this voice remains dominant, Judy, they are going to go through in 2016 exactly what they went through in 2012, which was that Mitt Romney essentially beat — used anti-immigration to isolate Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich and his principal opponents, and married himself to a policy that was unacceptable to the country, but that was necessary and imperative to be the nominee.

If that is — if there is going to be that litmus test after litmus test that — the next Republican nominee, they’re going to be a — they’re going to be a minority party. You can’t — you can’t hold on as an island in Congress and continue to lose national elections decisively.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think — I agree with you on the national election front. I think they have problems. The demographic problems are well-known. I think, in the midterms, I think it’s hard to see the Republicans losing the House. They’re reasonably entrenched in those districts. This is frankly not that big a news event to people. It’s not like a transformational news event that is going to linger on necessarily year after year.

Most people don’t notice the government is shut down. We have got nice traffic here in Washington the last week. I like it. But some people are suffering. That’s true. And — but as a national transformative thing, the way Watergate was, the way Vietnam was, I’m not sure we’re there.

MARK SHIELDS: I couldn’t disagree more.

We’re talking — we’re talking, Judy, about — we’re talking about going on, passing the debt ceiling, and keeping government closed. That comes to nine million Americans under women’s and infant child care who will be cut off. That’s nutritional. That’s postpartum. That’s pregnancy counseling and assistance for all kinds of people. That’s 86,000 kids in Head Start being cut off.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, the White House is saying they won’t go along with that.

DAVID BROOKS: Just to be fair, I’m not saying that I approve of…


MARK SHIELDS: No, I know you’re not.

DAVID BROOKS: I’m just saying, as a matter of politics, the polls suggest 80 percent don’t notice. And so I’m just saying, politically…


MARK SHIELDS: Well, Peter Hart, the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, said this is — he said, if you are a Democratic partisan, you would look at this poll with glee.

But as anybody who believes in democracy, this is an enormously serious survey. And it’s one of those bench watermarks in political attitudes and public attitudes. And I think we may be on the cusp of that. I really do.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Under a minute. Where does the president go from here. What is his standing coming out of this, David?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think he needs to figure out, can — if this is a big defeat for Republicans, are they weakened on immigration? Can he — is the tea party weakened?

Does he now have an opportunity there, or is that still probably not going to happen? So, I would be looking at the other party to see, what opportunities do I now have? He may have more.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, I mean, I think the president is very much in a strengthened position as far as — but his own numbers don’t begin to approach those of President Clinton or President Reagan in their second terms.

I mean, he has — he looks — and has withstood really severe winds, whereas the Republicans haven’t. But I think he has to — at the same time, having prevailed in this encounter, you can’t say, we closed the government and made people suffer for the repeal of a medical device? You can’t — that can’t be the answer.

At that point, there’s going to be even greater public outrage.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you, gentlemen.