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Brooks and Capehart on President Biden’s first month in office and Rush Limbaugh’s legacy

New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including Republican infighting, the legacy of Rush Limbaugh and President Biden's first month in office.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now we turn to the analysis of Brooks and Capehart. That's New York Times columnist David Brooks and Jonathan Capehart, columnist for The Washington Post.

    So good to see both of you on this Friday night.

    It's the first time we have seen you since the impeachment trial last week, ended last Saturday, President Trump.

    Jonathan, it seems almost every day this past week, though, we have been hearing from different Republican state officials about how they were going to punish or censure Republican senators who voted to convict, whether it was Senator Cassidy in Louisiana, Senator Toomey in Pennsylvania. There's talk that he will be censured.

    How deep is the animosity toward these lawmakers who voted against former President Trump?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    I think the animosity is deep, very deep.

    I mean, these state party chairs, one might be responding in their own capacity, these state parties in their own capacity, but they are reflection of the Republican Party base.

    You know, Judy, when I interviewed former RNC Chairman Michael Steele back in August of 2016, and I talked to him about the candidacy then of Donald Trump, running for president, being the nominee, and he told me then that he thought that the nomination of Donald Trump would hasten the conversation that the Republican Party needed to have about who they are, what they value, and certainly about the role of race within the party.

    Fast-forward, Donald Trump becomes president, Donald Trump loses an election. But, in the process, Donald Trump has transformed the Republican Party into one that is completely loyal to him. And so people who voted for his impeachment, people who voted for him, voted guilty, wanted him to be convicted in the last go-round with this impeachment trial, they — those are the folks who are riling up this super loyal base within the Republican Party that is loyal to Donald Trump.

    And I think what we're going to see down the road is, whether these censure votes, whether these reprimands of these Republicans, who I think voted their conscience, whether those actually have any political power, meaning bumping them from office in that way.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David, how do you see this animosity, division inside the Republican Party?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, Trump is popular.

    And when Democrats in the media seem to be attacking Donald Trump, the Republicans sure rally around; 78 percent of Republicans say right now they want Donald Trump to play an important role in the future of the party.

    Underneath that, there are divisions. And they show up between the normal Republicans and the Trump Republicans. And you can ask, do you feel more loyal to, the party or Donald Trump? And there, it's about 50/50. And then there's an important split when you ask Republicans, should we work with Democrats?

    And there again, you see the regular Republicans vs. the Trump Republicans. The regular Republicans, who seem to be a slight majority, want to work with Democrats. The Trump Republicans do not.

    I think the party leaders have decided, we can't have this fight over Donald Trump. We have to displace Trump with policy-making. And so, today — this week, Tom Cotton and Mitt Romney began to work together to create a bill that would raise the minimum wage and fix enforcement of immigration on the border.

    And they're trying to make the party a regular party, so it's not just a media party, but a party that actually does legislation. And I think that's a pretty promising way to try to displace Trumpism.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, meantime, Jonathan, you had President — former President Trump coming out this week, appearing on three different, I guess, conservative TV channels, still talking about how the election was stolen, attacking Mitch McConnell.

    Does — is McConnell hurt by this? I mean, I guess I'm asking, how lasting is this damage the former president is still trying to level?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Look, in a battle between Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump, I would put my money on Mitch McConnell.

    Senator McConnell is worried about two things, one of which he has succeeded. Judges was the first one. But the most important thing is power. He lost the Senate majority, primarily because of what then President Trump did that allowed those two Georgia seats to flip to the two Democrats, Warnock and Ossoff.

    But, also, Senator McConnell wants that majority back. And so that's why I think we saw him on the one hand vote for the acquittal of Donald Trump, but then, after that vote, excoriate Donald Trump, lay the blame right at his feet. And, in doing that, what I think Mitch McConnell is doing is creating an environment for his — for his caucus and those Republicans running for the Senate in 2022 and 2024, giving them the room to be able to run races that would give them the best chance at winning.

    And when it comes to Donald Trump, it's all about him. It's not about the party. It's not about policy, as David was talking about. It's about him and loyalty to him. And so, if you're Mitch McConnell, and you are about power, but you're also about doing things that advance the Republican Party, you're going to do whatever it takes to push Trump to the side and make it possible for those candidates to come to the fore.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, David, who's got more muscle, Mitch McConnell or Donald Trump?

    And I do want to ask you both about Rush Limbaugh, but McConnell first.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I was — I questioned McConnell's strategy last Saturday, doing that acquittal vote and then excoriating, as Jonathan said.

    Napoleon said, if you're going to take Vienna, take Vienna. But maybe Jonathan is right it sets the Republicans up for a good run in 2022. And let's face it. You would have to think it's likely the Republicans will take the House and Senate. That's just the way — what happens in midterm elections. The opposition party does very well.

    And I think McConnell's main goal is to keep really extreme Trumpians from getting Republican nominations in these Senate races and House races. And so maybe he's playing that game, just trying to ride this thing out and not try to fire everybody up and fire up the Trumpian base.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, David, in just a few words, the legacy of Rush Limbaugh.

  • David Brooks:

    Well, he changed media. He changed AM radio. Before Rush Limbaugh, hosts tended to be not too opinionated. After Rush Limbaugh, on left and right, hosts are super opinionated.

    He changed conservatism from George F. Will and William F. Buckley to what we have today. So, he had a big positive effect on media, I think, or — and a pretty negative effect on American conservatism.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Jonathan, it was on the media, as David says. It was also on the Republican Party and on conservatism broadly.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Right.

    My relationship when it comes to Rush Limbaugh is more than complicated, as someone who was attacked by him many times when he was on the radio. I mourn for his family. I mourn for his family and the people who loved him.

    But I — I, quite honestly, do not, simply because of the corrosive nature of his radio programming and what he did with the power that he had, the corrosive nature that he had on American politics, on American political discourse.

    And legacies can be good and legacies can be bad. And I think, for me, personally, Rush Limbaugh's legacy is one that has harmed the country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, President Biden, first month in office, after tomorrow.

    David, what are you seeing so far? And before you answer that, let me ask you both to respond to something President Biden said at the CNN town hall on Wednesday night, reminding us that he's not comfortable yet in this new job. Let's listen.

  • Pres. Joe Biden:

    I was raised in a way that you didn't look for anybody to wait on you. And it's — we're — I find myself extremely self-conscious. There are wonderful people that work at the White House.

    But someone is standing there and making sure I — hands me my suit coat.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, David, I guess I should have said not comfortable with the trappings of the office yet.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    I mean, it's so weird being president. Every president talks about this. You're never alone. They — Secret Service knows when you go to the bathroom. They know when you're in the elevator. George W. Bush would ride his motorbike — or his bike, his mountain bike, up at a training center, a Secret Service training center in Maryland, and he would try to ride in front of the agents, because he said that was the only time of his week when there weren't people in front of him, and he could look out and sort of be alone.

    And so it's just very weird being president and I think very hard.

    As for President Biden, I think he's doing a lot of sense of sensible things on his own.

    What's different from the Obama start — and Obama had a bigger Senate majority — Obama passed some big legislation right away, Lilly Ledbetter week one, children's health care week two, the stimulus package week three. So, there was a lot of legislative action.

    There hasn't been as much from President Biden.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Jonathan, how do you see these first 30 days?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, I see them as terrific, if only because we have a president of the United States who's focused on governing, who's focused on doing things on behalf of the American people, but who is also not focused on being in our faces 24 hours a day, seven days a week with all manner of vitriol and nastiness towards his political opponents or even regular citizens.

    Judy, what I love about that clip you showed of President Biden talking about his not being comfortable with the trappings of the presidency is, that's the man the American people voted for.

    It's a person who — for whom service, public service, the emphasis is on the service, but it's also the public, someone other than himself. He is that boy from Scranton whose family had hard times, and he worked his way up to the highest office in the land.

    And the idea that with this office comes someone who hands him his suit coat in the morning, or, to David's point, he and his family now are never alone, I think it resonates with the American people, because this is someone for whom power is something that's part of the job. It wasn't anything that he strove for just for power's sake.

    For him, being president of the United States is about helping people.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, David, less than a minute, but your thoughts on whether he's getting people behind him? I mean, is it your sense that he's building the kind of public support he's going to need?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I think he is, actually.

    He's amazingly done very well at holding the Democratic Party together, which was not natural. I think he's done that extremely skillfully, his approval rating. There really have been not so many flaws — not so many errors, one little error about — how when schools are going to reopen, but, pretty much else, it's a professional organization, just as it was a professional campaign.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right. It's only been a month. We will do this every month, every week. We will keep asking.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How's he doing? How's he doing?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Very good to see both of you. Have a good weekend.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • David Brooks:

    Good to see you too.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David Brooks, Jonathan Capehart, thank you both.

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