TOPICS > Politics > Shields and Brooks

Shields and Brooks on primary points for GOP, politics of climate policy

May 9, 2014 at 6:32 PM EDT
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the week’s news, including the outcomes for Republicans in the first three midterm primaries, why the House GOP are pushing a Benghazi inquiry, the latest national assessment on climate change and NBA MVP Kevin Durant’s tribute to his mom and supporters.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Let’s start talking first about the politics of the week. We had some primaries. We have got Ohio, Indiana, North Carolina, 36 for 36 when it comes to the incumbents retaining their control.

So I want to ask you first, is this a sign of things to come, especially in these Republican races? Have the Republicans learned something from the previous elections, where they were displaced by more conservative or Tea Party candidates?

DAVID BROOKS: I think so.

You have the dynamic of the establishment vs. the Tea Party type, not strictly Tea Party. There are sort of rogue elements. I guess that would be Sarah Palin’s word. But Palin will go in and campaign for somebody. Rand Paul will campaign, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, generally against the establishment candidate.

And all those candidates lost this time. And so I think a couple of things have happened. The establishment has moved right to defang some of the criticism. Secondly, they’re better organized. And, third — and I just like to emphasize that a lot of the coverage has been, well, the money is flowing, the establishment has changed. Look at the voters. The voters make the decision.

The voters are not idiots. And they don’t want to elect people who are not electable. And I think the voters have also decided, you know, we actually do have problems. We people who believe in governance. And that’s really the crucial difference here. It’s not more conservative, less conservative. It’s do we want to use government to govern or do we want to use it as a platform for a radio and TV show?

And that to me is often the difference between the two kinds of candidates?

HARI SREENIVASAN: Mark, what about the impact of that?

MARK SHIELDS: That’s an awesome, cosmic conclusion off of three families, but I stand in awe, I stand in awe. I really do.

DAVID BROOKS: It’s part of a pattern, though. It’s part of a pattern and it’s been going on all year. And it’s also what I want to believe.


MARK SHIELDS: It’s what you want to believe about the voters are reflective, introspective, and they didn’t scratch their mosquito bites, which voters often do in primaries, send a message. It’s a Western Union experience.

I think that David’s point is very valid, that the Republican Party — Dick Lugar lost. Why did Dick Lugar lose in Indiana? Dick Lugar was clubbed over the head, that he had collaborated and worked with Barack Obama on nuclear nonproliferation.

Why did Bob Bennett lose in Utah, a certified card-carrying conservative? Because he had consorted with Ron Wyden to come up with a more modest health care bill. And across the board, that was the case.

So David is right. The establishment Republicans kind of preempted the insurgent move. That’s a pattern in American politics, that the populist movement, the progressive movement was preempted by the Democrats. It’s something. The Southern Dixiecrat movement was preempted by or co-opted by the Republican Party in this country.

And that’s what they have done. They have moved to tamp down the differences between themselves and the Tea Party. I think the most important race in 2014, so far, was the congressional race in North Carolina, where Walter Jones, a 20-year incumbent, 100 percent conservative, 100 percent record with the NRA, National Rifle Association, National Right to Life Committee, voted against Obamacare, both the bailouts, everything else, was opposed.

Two groups went in, Joe Ricketts, billionaire, founder of Ameritrade, and his political action committee, and the Emergency Committee for Israel. They spent $1.2 million in a congressional district where that can buy you eight months of television. And outspent 5-1, Walter Jones won.

But I’m telling you, this is the future. Walter Jones, to his everlasting credit, voted for the war in Iraq, had a crisis of conscience, and has written a personal note of condolence to 14,000 people who have lost their loved ones in Iraq and Afghanistan. And he’s become the most anti-war Republican in the House. That’s what they clubbed him over the head on.

But that’s the future. They will be put $10 million, $12 million, $15 million into congressional districts. And I’m not simply saying it’s from the right. It will be the left or whatever. That’s how important money has become in 2014.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, there are two things here. First, Mark is right. Everybody is going to look at the race and think I don’t want to get $1.2 million spent against me by these guys, so it will have an effect.

But he also won. He got outspent 5-1 and he won. Now, in part, he has deep roots in the district.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

DAVID BROOKS: If you hadn’t been there 20 years, you’re not going to have those kind of roots.

But it is a lesson. And people in Congress, especially in the House, are terrified, but they don’t need to be, that you can get outspent. The money is not determinative. And they just have to be braver, because there is case after case of people getting badly outspent and still going on to win if they have done their job.

MARK SHIELDS: But, David, just point, not disagreement with David, but the natural inclination of saying I’m going to spend a million dollars against you, Hari, is, what do I have to do to make this go away? In other words, what vote do you want me to — in other words, do you want me to stop emphasizing this? And that’s a natural human inclination.

HARI SREENIVASAN: A chilling effect.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right, a chilling effect. Exactly.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, this week, in Congress, it seems that the Republicans are pivoting back to the B-word, Benghazi. It seems that they’re actually not talking about the Affordable Care Act nearly as much. We were talking about we will probably the eighth inquiry in this.

Is there merit to this and will it galvanize the base?

DAVID BROOKS: There’s some merit to it.

The administration did spin. And they’re not the first administration to spin, but on occasion they have had their foreign policy been overly influenced by messaging priorities. They’re not the first administration to do that, but they’re sometimes guilty. David Ignatius wrote a very good column that subject this week.

Is it the subject the Republicans should be emphasizing? Well, of foreign policy subjects, I think it probably would rank 47th. There are just much bigger subjects. Why are they doing it? I have a theory.

It is the voters don’t want to be interventionists abroad. The Republican natural tack is to attack the Democrats for not being strong and interventionist enough. Benghazi allows them to attack the Democrats for being either incompetent or weak, without the Republicans themselves having to commit to anything interventionist abroad. And so it’s a cheap way to score points without actually being for a foreign policy.

MARK SHIELDS: Has the White House been transparent? Absolutely not.

In this — two sentences in a four-page memo to Susan Rice, in which they said, just emphasize the Internet video was the primary cause of the outburst, that, I think, was the road or the mile, the bridge too far for John Boehner.

John Boehner didn’t want these hearings, and he had 190 Republicans sign on that they did, and he held them off because it’s going to be a disaster. It will be a disaster. It won’t be good for the country.

Running congressional hearings, the short list of successful congressional hearings have been run by exceptional legislators, people of great preparation, a thorough knowledge, a great staff of long time and of deep intelligence, John Dingell, Henry Waxman, Tom Davis, they did on baseball, Carl Levin, Sam Ervin.

And the failures, where people just go out and grab a headline, get on cable news that night — and, you know, all they want to do is get Hillary Clinton up there. And each of them wants their tete-a-tete with Hillary Clinton. And I think she will knock their socks off.

But I just think it’s not good for the country. It does sweeten the base for the Republican Party. The Tea Party is very energized on this. FOX News lives and dies with it. And so I think that’s basically why the hearings are being held.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, while we just talked about establishment gaining points at the polls, is this a sign that perhaps the Tea Party still has dominance when it comes to setting the agenda?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, the people who got the 190 votes, that’s lot more than the…

DAVID BROOKS: … 43 Tea Partiers.

It’s a lot of Republicans. And a lot of Republicans were offended that some e-mails came out which seemed to suggest some of the political spin. And then there’s just the momentum behind an investigation. You begin to believe.

But I would go after the administration on Ukraine. I would go after them on Syria. There are big subjects to go after them on. But there is always a temptation, since Watergate, a very dysfunction in our politics to try to win ideological battles through scandal means. And it’s always bad for the country, I think.

HARI SREENIVASAN: One of the things that we notice from the left is that the administration is pushing back on their climate agenda.

And the National Climate Assessment came out this week. I see a lot of responses to it, today President Obama making comments about solar energy, standing in front of a Wal-Mart, which didn’t do too well with a lot of his union-supporting base, but is that gaining any traction?

MARK SHIELDS: It certainly is intellectually.

I mean, I think the evidence is overwhelming, I will be frank about it, that climate change is real and that it’s human — the human cause and contribution to it is significant, and that the prospects are just absolutely daunting and terrifying.

But I don’t think, politically — and I will be very cynical — we have big Senate races in West Virginia and Kentucky, the two or the three biggest coal-producing states, and Louisiana, a major energy state, and Mary Landrieu’s chair of the committee.

I think the president will do what he can on executive orders, and that way. But I don’t see it becoming a political issue that leads to legislation and statute.

DAVID BROOKS: I completely agree, for those reasons.

And if you ask voters what they care about, it’s a very low-ranking issue. So if we want a solution, you almost think we have to wait for some technological advance, some scientific advance, some innovation. The political process is not even close to getting at this one.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Is there even the possibility that, away from just the climate conversation, just the fact of the optics of him standing in front of a Wal-Mart while the administration has been for a living wage?  And there’s quite a few people who feel like Wal-Mart is not paying that. Is this the right place…

MARK SHIELDS: Well, it’s a good question. And they have gotten criticism.

But Wal-Mart, you can’t just say there’s good and there’s bad guys. Wal-Mart has not certainly been an admirable employer when such a large percent of its work force is on Medicaid. But at the same time, they have been in the front in solar and on energy. And I think the president is trying to build support where he can build support, and not just going to his natural base and warming them up, no pun intended.


DAVID BROOKS: America shops at Wal-Mart. This is not Anne Klein. So it’s a no-brainer. This is where America shops. If you reach some people, go to L.L. Bean. That’s fine. But America shops at Wal-Mart.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, this is — this would be the Doubleheader taking over the broadcast program, where we used to do this thing online, where we talked about the sport of politics and politics of sport, because most folks don’t know how such rabid sports fans you are.

This week, it actually crossed over out of the arena of sports. This was the most valuable player of the National Basketball Association, Kevin Durant. This is a guy who averages 29.6 points per game, the Oklahoma City Thunder. Again, people gets get these awards every year, you never really hear about it.

But we want to play a clip of the speech, especially because it’s Mother’s Day weekend. Let’s take a look.

KEVIN DURANT, NBA MVP: You made us believe. You kept us off the street, put clothes on our backs, food on the table. When you didn’t eat, you made sure we ate. You went to sleep hungry, you sacrificed for us. You’re the real MVP.


HARI SREENIVASAN: Obviously, we’re seeing pictures there of his mom.

LeBron James, which is sort of a household name, he’s won four I think of the last five or so. Just to give you an idea of how massive the switch was in the votes, I think this guy got 119 votes to be the MVP, and LeBron James got six.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

HARI SREENIVASAN: It really — but just the speech kind of seems to have crossed over. A lot more people than folks who pay attention to basketball paid attention to this.

MARK SHIELDS: It’s a tribute. It’s such a testimonial, and it’s so real.

What do we seek? We seek the authentic. We prize the real, the human, the humane, the unpretentious, the genuine. He was all of these things. And very few people knew about it. And it was just — it’s an absolutely touching exchange. And the NBA ought to buy time and show that instead of the next tattooed jerk who is threatening a referee.

I mean, I just think it’s marvelous and Mother’s Day is the perfect time for it.

DAVID BROOKS: People should go online and watch the whole thing. I defy them to get through it without crying.


DAVID BROOKS: He used the word unconditional at one point in there.

And it’s especially noteworthy because of the way sports have taken off among young people and the way parents put the pressure and all the travel teams. What he talked about wasn’t only his mom, but his brothers, his friends, on how they were with him win or lose, whether he was doing well or not.

There was no withdrawal of affection if he wasn’t doing well. There was no extra cheering if he had a fantastic game. It was just unconditional support, I’m with you, I’m with you, I’m with you. And the love that he showed is a renunciation, a rebuttal of some of the pressures that are taking over youth sports and really is a model for all parents to see to remind them what the real priorities are.

HARI SREENIVASAN: You guys both are great sports. And thank you for being here. And Happy Mother’s Day to you all and your families as well.

DAVID BROOKS: And maybe our mothers.


HARI SREENIVASAN: Maybe your mothers.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.