Brooks and Capehart on October surprises with just a month until the midterms

New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post associate editor Jonathan Capehart join Amna Nawaz to discuss the week in politics, including October surprises in the U.S. and crises on the world stage with just a month until the midterms.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    October surprises here in the U.S. and crises on the world stage are rippling through American politics, with the midterms just a month away and early voting already under way in some states.

    That brings us to the analysis of Brooks and Capehart. That is New York Times columnist David Brooks and Jonathan Capehart, associate editor for The Washington Post.

    And welcome to you both. It's good to see you.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Good to see you too.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, we're in the final weeks before those midterm elections. You expect some potentially politically damaging stories to be dropping. We see Hunter Biden's name back in the headlines all week. Herschel Walker's name has been in the news over reports he paid for his girlfriend's abortion back in 2009, even as he supports a national ban.

    So, David, does any of this resonate with voters? Is it likely to move the needle?

  • David Brooks:

    You would think so.

    It used to be, if somebody did something really bad, Herschel Walker, a bunch of unacknowledged kids, like, that's not great if you're a family values guy. You would think it would hurt.

    And yet, if you look at the polls, they're pretty tight in that race. Walker was up one. Warnock was up more recently, but they're tight. And so the question becomes, maybe scandal doesn't matter. And so you work for — like, why?

    Well, one, I had a couple people — somebody in Nevada and somebody in Oklahoma said to me in the last couple of weeks, all politics is national now. You try to have local politics, a local issue, but, no, it's all controlled by the big national debate. And you tear up a church, you tear up a local community organization over the big national issues.

    Second, huge distrust for the media, so a lot of — I'm sure a lot of Georgia Republicans are saying, well, they're always going to play that game and just decide, we need to beat the other side. And it — maybe it's possible — I still think candidate quality has to matter in a Senate race, but maybe it's possible people just are so locked into their issues and want to beat the other side, that it really won't hurt him.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And, Jonathan, we have heard Mitch McConnell talk about candidate quality issues, right?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Right.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And yet Republican leadership is standing firmly by Herschel Walker.

    What does that tell you?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    It says a lot about the Republican Party right now.

    To your point, David, I think it was Dana Loesch this week really just put the — put her finger on what is happening with Herschel Walker and Georgia. And she said, basically — I'm paraphrasing — who cares about the children? Who cares about the abortion? All I want is the Senate seat for the majority.

    That is what this is all about. Candidate quality, yes, it should matter, but the Republican Party has made it clear. Senator Rick Scott, who is the head of the Senate Campaign Committee, by recruiting these folks has made it clear candidate quality doesn't matter. It's about putting people in position to win.

    The fact that the polls are close in Georgia, I think, says a lot about the parties, says a lot about Georgia, and says a lot about where we are as a country. There is no way — I am old enough to remember when a candidate like Herschel Walker wouldn't even get anywhere close to running in the primary.

    And now he's maybe 30 days away from being elected to the United States Senate from Georgia, given everything that we know — we know in the reporting.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Are there any more red lines here, David? Is it all fair game?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, a couple things.

    First, I have to say, sometimes, Democrats — I do remember the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. People stuck with Bill Clinton maybe when they shouldn't have. I mean, you can — all the way, go back to Chappaquiddick. And so people are partisan and see scandals through a partisan lens.

    What bothers me — I know Jonathan has a brilliant come back to what I just said.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amna Nawaz:

    We will get to it a second, Jonathan.

    Go ahead.

  • David Brooks:

    Is not that Herschel — well, it's bad enough the character issues.

    The guy is, in my opinion — and I am an opinion journalist. He's not even close to being qualified to be a senator. Like, he hasn't done the requisite things that one would do if one wanted to serve in high office. And so that — I think that is the media change, that anybody with a media — and there have always been athletes, but they have generally had some seriousness, Steve Largent, Jack Kemp.

    They had some serious policy chops.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Yes.

  • David Brooks:

    And that seems lacking here.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    I will let you respond, since David name-checked you there.

    Do you have a…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Oh, no, we can move on.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amna Nawaz:

    OK, wonderful. Love that.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Amna Nawaz:

    I do want to ask you, David, though, on something else on domestic politics, but because we saw Republican Senator Ben Sasse with the announcement that he plans to resign at the end of the year. You know him.

    And I just wonder if that struck you or surprised you? Because now we have another of the very few Republican public critics of former President Trump stepping out of politics.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes. So, it didn't surprise me.

    The timing surprised me. But I have had this conversation with him several times. When he talks — he was a college president before this. And when he talks about being a college president, his eyes just light up. When he talks about being U.S. senator, his eyes shut down.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    And so it's just a fact, not only for Ben Sasse, that a lot of people don't like being in the Senate right now. It's just not much fun.

    And I think being an educator really is where his heart is. And so why lead a life where you — you can have a big impact as an educator, so let them do that.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Probably says more about the state of the Senate than anything else, right?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes. Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Meanwhile, look, on the world stage, I have to ask you about something we heard from President Biden that we reported early in the show.

    Last night, he offered a very stark assessment of where things are in Russia's war in Ukraine and what is at stake. Here's just one quote from what he said, as reported — quote — "For the first time since the Cuban Missile Crisis, we have a direct threat to the use of nuclear weapons. I don't think there's any such thing as the ability to easily use a tactical nuclear weapon and not end up with Armageddon."

    David, it's about as plainly as it can be stated, Armageddon. Did that strike you?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, we're not at the Cuban Missile Crisis.

    But I have been wondering. Putin's been talking about nukes. How seriously does the administration take it? And my impression is that they don't think it's probable, but they do think it's possible, and they're really worried about it. And that's in part because Russian military doctrine is different than ours.

    We put nuclear weapons in a different category. Russian military doctrine puts tactically smaller nuclear weapons as a legitimate weapon of war. And so it's not as big of a hurdle for them to use them. Whether it would help is very, very unclear, by the way.

    But the administration is working super hard to send messages to Russia that this really would be catastrophic if you did this. And so I think that statement was part of that.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But, in terms of public messaging, I mean, this is much further than even the White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, has gone. She's been asked about it. She said, we don't have any new information about an imminent threat.

    National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has also not gone this far. He said Armageddon.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    I listened to you read it and I read it on the screen. And I'm sitting here trying to think, what's the — where's the hair-on-fire statement here, other than Armageddon?

    I heard about that last night, and I thought, this is the president being the president. This clearly is top of mind for President Biden. This is clearly something, to David's point, that not only is the administration taking seriously in private, but it's something that it seems the president is taking seriously. personally. It is top of mind.

    And we have seen many times when the president, he says things and people run out and say, oh, my God, he said this. It's a gaffe. It's a mistake. The administration runs out and tries to dial it back. But he ends up coming back to it. We have seen that time — how many times? Five times when it comes to Taiwan.

  • David Brooks:

    Taiwan, right.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    To Taiwan.

  • David Brooks:

    They always walk it back.

    Sometimes, you have to think, oh, this is just presidential policy. Like, he is the president. He gets to make policy. But they shouldn't be walking it back all the time.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    And I think with the president using in a stark word like Armageddon, I think — to David's point, I think he's sending a message to the Russians.

    But he's also saying to the American people, actually to people around the world, let's not pretend that Putin, in this losing war, wouldn't use tactical nuclear weapons. We need to be ready for this. Just get our minds around — get our imaginations working to the point where we could see this happen. And then, once you do that, you can figure out, how do we — how would we respond?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The stakes could not be higher.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Go ahead, yes.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • David Brooks:

    … has to deal with the fluidity of the situation. We have been surprised three weeks ago, when the Ukrainians began to make a march. This past week, they're taking a bunch of territory, super ambitious, super mobile.

    The Russians are falling back away from the places they just called Russian territory. And so a losing Vladimir Putin becomes a very different animal. And that's what they're trying to grapple with. And, at the same time, support in Europe for the war is rising, not falling, even with the tough winter they're about to have.

    The Europeans have done a good job of stockpiling energy. And so things are just looking very good for the Ukrainians, all of which has to look pretty menacing for Vladimir.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    At the same time, the global crises do keep piling up. I mean, you also just saw this week the OPEC Plus countries decided to slash oil production drastically, right? Russia is obviously part of that decision, along with the Saudis.

    That means more oil revenues for Russia. It's going to fuel the war in Ukraine. President Biden's going to have to deal with all that back here, right? Inflation is likely to persist. Gas prices are going to go up. Is he doing enough to respond to all that?

  • David Brooks:

    There's nothing he can do. Inflation — I mean, he tried to get the Saudis not to do this, and that failed.

    And so he's doing what he can. He's going to have to face the inflation. I think that the main thing is to win the war in Ukraine. Like, the inflation is survivable, but this could be an epochal victory for the forces of liberal democracy if Ukraine does this.

    And so helping the Europeans, preparing the Americans, and then ultimately aiding the Ukrainians is — that's the number one thing in the world right now.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Inflation is survivable, but people feel it every day. It is top of mind. There is an election looming.

    Is there anything else he could be saying to message to American people, or will they just blame him anyway?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Oh, they will blame — no matter what he says, they will blame him.

    And I'm sure people will make the link and say, oh, OPEC Plus countries cut production. That's why my gas prices are going up. He went to Saudi Arabia and fist-bumped MBS, and look at where we are. He failed. And none of it makes — none of it fits. None of it is truly connected.

    But when you're going to the gas pump, and it was, say, $4 yesterday and $4.45 the following week, you don't care about those nuances, right? Mr. President, what happened?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Yes.

    Well, listen, if we can end with a moment of Zen, if such a thing exists in American politics today, and also call attention to the fact that millions of people are still really struggling in Florida more than a week after Hurricane Ian ripped through.

    I want to share a couple of pictures we saw when President Biden made a trip down there. He and Republican Governor Ron DeSantis shared a stage. They walked around meeting with people .They even shared a handshake, if you can believe it. I have to pause as I say that. It's a rare sight these days.

    And I just wonder how that moment sat with each of you.

    Jonathan?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    It is that moment, a little bit of a ray of hope that, in all of the partisanship we have seen…

  • Amna Nawaz:

    I want to note your fingers are this far apart.

    (LAUGHTER)

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    This is a ray of hope that, of all the horrible things that Governor DeSantis has said about the president and the administration, that he's done, with sending migrants to Martha's Vineyard, that, when his state got hit by the hurricane, he didn't play politics with their lives.

    He said, Mr. President, welcome to Florida. Let me show you the damage. Please help.

    I only say a ray because he then apparently went on a conservative radio show and then blasted the administration. So, that's why it's a ray of hope and not — oh, sorry — a glimmer of hope, not a ray of hope.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Not a full ray.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Not a full ray.

    But it's a good thing to see that they could put politics aside long enough to try to help people in need.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    David, what did you think?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I was thinking, remember when we used to live in a country that was divided and polarized? And then it all was over.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    The two got together. I saw angels coming down from heaven, cherubs coming out of the Palm Beach club and coming over.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amna Nawaz:

    There was music. Harps were playing.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes. So it — no, I agree with Jonathan. It was nice to see politicians behaving like normal human beings.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Is — does it take a national tragedy, though, for things like this to happen?

  • David Brooks:

    There's a little more of that in private than they can allow and — and if you get members of Congress together, on the rare occasions when they get together, there's a lot more of just normal human beings speaking with each other.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, I don't think we can do enough to remind people those moments exist, even though we don't always get to talk about them.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes. Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    David Brooks, Jonathan Capehart, always good to see you. Thank you.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    You too.

  • David Brooks:

    Thank you, Amna.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Thanks, Amna.

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