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Shields and Brooks on Republican victory, immigration confrontation

November 7, 2014 at 6:20 PM EDT
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the Republican domination in the midterm elections, the impact of voter turnout, which policy items might offer opportunities for compromise and which might be political land mines.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The midterm elections came and went this week, as you may have noticed, and Republicans rode the wave to control Congress.

To break it all down, we turn to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Gentlemen, you have had three whole days to digest the results of this election.

What was the main message, David?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think it was just the breadth of the Republican victory.

We were all focused on whether it would be seven or eight seats in the Senate. But the more impressive thing, they obviously won the Senate, they won the House, they have kept the House. But just in the states, I didn’t expect the governorships in all these Midwestern states, Bruce Rauner’s win in Illinois, the win in Maryland.

They control two-thirds of the governorships. They have never had, at least not in the last century, this many state legislators, this many legislators in all the different states. They control unprecedented levels of state legislators. They have now got a farm team across the country of rising politicians who will rise.

And so they have become, with two-thirds control of all these states, these governorships and now majority control in both houses of Congress, the governing, the dominant governing party in the country.

And what they do with it remain to be seen, but a lot of people have said, oh, the Republican is so extreme, it’s a dinosaur, and I have even said some of that, over-relying on some of the demographics. But they are the dominant party in this country right now. And how can you be out of the mainstream if you dominate that much?

JUDY WOODRUFF: What was your main takeaway 72 hours later?

MARK SHIELDS: Thrashing, trouncing.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: You used wave.

No question about it, it was a repudiation of Democratic governance. And I — like David, I was particularly struck and impressed by the Republican victories in deep blue states, in states that Barack Obama carried twice, and deep blue states like Massachusetts, Illinois and Maryland in particular, but the reelection of controversial Republican governors like Scott Walker in Wisconsin and Rick Scott in Florida.

Beyond that, there were 256 Democrats in the House of Representatives the day that Barack Obama took oath of office in 2009. There will be about 185 six years in. So the Senate goes from 60 Democrats to 45. I mean, those are numbers that are just of hemorrhage, dimensions and proportions. And it’s a real rejection of Democrats.

The president, I thought, was rather cavalier in his press conference when he said, the Republicans had a good night. The Republicans have had a good six years at the polls, with the exception of the president’s election and reelection.

I just think it’s — for Democrats, it’s a terrible, terrible, crushing defeat, and one that leaves them, I hope, engaged in serious introspection, because they went through a campaign where they had no economic message.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, something else the president said was that, yes, he hears what the people who voted said, but he also notices the two-thirds who he said didn’t vote.

So, is this — David, is this a diminished result? Does it mean less because you had a lower turnout, I guess the lowest turnout in decades?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I don’t think so. First of all, you win. You get the power. You have control of the office.

Second thing is, not turning out is a vote. The president failed to mobilize, the Democrats failed to mobilize their people. And the Republicans succeeded in mobilizing their people. And that’s because there was so much disappointment and dispiritment even on the Democratic side with the Obama administration.

And so I don’t think it invalidates what happens. And even in states where the turnout was pretty good, like Colorado, Republicans did quite well. Now, if they had a presidential year, turnout, would it look different? Obviously. But an election result is an election result. That’s an excuse.

The core problem for the Democrats is that they have — they’re intellectually exhausted. They have a diagnosis of a big problem of inequality. They have — they’re on the heels of a financial crisis caused in part by Wall Street. This should be a golden left-wing moment. This should be a progressive moment in this country.

And they don’t have even the twinkle of a big agenda. And they don’t — the instrument they rely on, government, is mistrusted. And so it’s not a progressive era, but this should be a big left-wing era, if they had a set of ideas.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Mark, just an excuse that the turnout was low and you didn’t really hear — you didn’t hear from as many voters as you needed to, to understand what the American people really want?

MARK SHIELDS: Judy, you only get to complain in democracy if you vote. I mean, it’s that simple.

Now, I’m not talking about efforts to suppress people or make it difficult for them to register. I’m talking about — which I think we all abhor, and I know everybody on this panel does. But I’m talking about people who just don’t disturb themselves.

But you have to give people a reason. It’s great to have the mechanics and slice and dice the electorate and to find out that this voter likes foreign movies and is a vegan and goes to church every other Sunday, but unless you have got a message for them — now, I don’t — I, quite frankly, don’t see what the Republicans — the Republicans who won don’t come with any cohesive message themselves.

All 14 of the ones who were running and the ones who won, with the exception of Shelley Moore Capito…

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean in the Senate.

MARK SHIELDS: In the Senate — all want to repeal, are on record wanting to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Every one of them is against any legal status, citizenship, path to citizenship under immigration. So Domenico’s observation and report earlier that there would be nothing on immigration reform is just borne out. I mean, these are not people who came on a — running on a platform of, we’re going to cooperate with the president, we want to work closely with the White House.

Quite the opposite. And they going to take the party — I think Mitch McConnell and John Boehner right now realize that, as David has pointed out, that the Republican Party has to show some governing capability, and — but these are people who didn’t come here to establish a record of collegiality.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think I disagree a little on those big issues that Mark mentioned, obviously. I mean, I agree with Mark that, on the big issues of immigration, on whether they are going to repeal health care, there’s going to be no cooperation.

I do think those opportunities — and I think the Republicans, especially Boehner and McConnell, have done a reasonably good job in the days since the election of indicating a willingness to cooperate on at least on some things. There are some things for which there is bipartisan support, the Keystone pipeline, patent reform, trade policy, the medical devices tax.

There is maybe a half-dozen medium and small things to be done. And it seems to me that — it is possible at least to get something passed, which we haven’t had in the last four years. And that’s endangered either if the Ted Cruz of the Republican Party takes over, which wants maximum confrontation, or it’s endangered if the president pushes this immigration thing, in which he grants a lot of people effective amnesty, millions of people, if he redefines their status.

That would be regarded by Republicans as extremely confrontational and that would end any hope of compromise.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But why…

(CROSSTALK)

DAVID BROOKS: … slightly willing to compromise on a few things, at least

JUDY WOODRUFF: But why is that any more confrontational than the Republicans saying, we’re going to go after and try to kill health care reform again?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. I think if they lead with health care repeal, I do think that would be. And if the president leads with that immigration reform, that would be as well. But start with the small stuff.

MARK SHIELDS: They — repealing taxes is not controversial.

And gridlock and dysfunction…

JUDY WOODRUFF: The medical device…

(CROSSTALK)

MARK SHIELDS: Medical device taxes. I mean, you have got to come up with $29 million — billion dollars to make up for it.

And I think every Republican I heard this year is on record against any tax increases. So, that’s one thing. The second thing, Judy — and I think it’s awfully important to point out that Mitch McConnell now is against gridlock and dysfunction.

There were 458 times during Barack Obama’s six years in office that there had been a filibuster or the threat of a filibuster to stop the Senate from acting. During Dwight Eisenhower’s eight years, there were two. During Ronald Reagan’s, there were 75 in eight years.

This is in six years. So it’s going to be a total — it’s going to be a 180 if, in fact, this does happen. And the Senate is tough, because all it takes is one person to stop it. And you can talk about it’s not being a Ted Cruz caucus or a Mike Lee caucus. But I really think it’s going to be a problem for the Republicans. And I think that’s where the action is, is to watch that dynamic.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So you’re saying you don’t take Mitch McConnell at his word when he says, I’m looking for ways to cooperate? I’m first going to look for areas of agreement with the president, is what he said.

MARK SHIELDS: I think he understands it’s important for the — if the Republicans are going to be a governing party and seen as responsible and an alternative in 2016 to national leadership, they have to demonstrate, now that they’re in charge, that they can pass something besides a motion to adjourn or a Mother’s Day resolution.

And I think that he understands that. I think the trade authority is a natural one, because it divides Democrats and it unites Republicans, and with the president, who wants that trade authority. I think the — and probably the medical device taxes.

But I think, once you start to get into issues like immigration and what we do with the environment, you have got candidates who want to abolish EPA. You have got — who just got elected. You have got a senator from Iowa who wants to not raise the minimum wage, wants to abolish the minimum wage.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, David, you’re saying you still see that there is some space here to get…

(CROSSTALK)

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Let’s not go from nursery school to graduate school. Let’s try kindergarten.

And we can get some legislative kindergarten, some small things. And some of the things can be economic. I think you can get some proposals, to maybe even early childhood, though that may be a stretch. But there are some — there may be some things, some infrastructure. There has certainly been bipartisan support for that, lowering the tax rate, something to get more people a little happier about the economy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I want to come back though to the president, because both of you referred to not a message.

And yet, when we heard from the president, he was saying, again, you know, he said, I hear you, and he also seemed — I mean, he’s insisting, Mark, on immigration reform, which is what we’re talking about.

It’s that if he doesn’t get it, then he’s going to act. Do you think the president got a message from this election, I guess, is my question.

MARK SHIELDS: I’m not sure.

I will say this, Judy. If you were a Republican who lost in 1982 in Ronald Reagan’s first midterm, you had the comfort and the consolation of having voted for something big, even though you lost, or the same thing if you were a first-term Democrat with Bill Clinton or even a first-term Democrat in Barack Obama. You had voted for affordable care. You had voted for stimulus. You had voted for Dodd-Frank. You had really taken some tough stands.

You lose in 2012 and you lost because of the climate of this administration has created because of Veterans Administration, because of Ebola, because of the Secret Service, because the sense that they — of ineptitude of governing, not because of tough heroic stands or votes you have cast. And so there is a certain resentment, and I’m not sure the president has gotten that message.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

Well, politically, they obviously made a mistake by thinking demographics could carry them along the way and they didn’t actually need issues. And that was a consultants’ fantasy. And that hurt the Democrats.

On President Obama, the immigration thing is important. I support the idea of giving all these people this new status. But doing it by executive functioning — function, executive action, redefining the status of millions of people without a law, without going through the normal process, that strikes me as an extreme abuse of executive power, whether you support it on policy or not.

And that is why that particular action that he’s talking about is so confrontational, because it’s not only policy a lot of Republicans object to it. But as members of Congress, they object to it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right. Well, we never object to the two of you. We’re so glad you’re here.

David Brooks, Mark Shields, thank you.

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