Brooks and Capehart on the Buffalo mass shooting, primary results, public opinion on Roe

New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post associate editor Jonathan Capehart join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including the reaction to the racially motivated massacre in Buffalo, the implications of primary results as the U.S. moves toward general elections and public opinion Roe v. Wade.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    This week, the nation has been searching for answers after the racially motivated massacre in Buffalo. And some general election matchups that could have far-reaching political consequences are taking shape, while other primary races are still too close to call.

    For analysis on all this, we turn to Brooks and Capehart. That's New York Times columnist David Brooks, and Jonathan Capehart, associate editor for The Washington Post.

    Hello to both of you on this Friday. It's very good to see you, although we start with another very tough story, David.

    And that is, we began this week with that awful mass shooting of Black Americans in Buffalo. What does that say to you about where we are as a country when it comes to race and when it comes to guns?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, Jonathan can speak to this more than I.

    But I think one of the truths of 400 years of this country is that it's hazardous to be Black person in America. And that comes from slavery. That comes from discrimination. That comes from lynching. And it comes from white supremacist and racist violence. And so that's just a reality.

    And those who stoke it do it in a lot of different ways. And one of those is a theory that says a race of one group of people is going to swamp a race of another group of people. Using those categories, using that language, the Great Replacement language, that is ineluctably tied to a culture of racial hostility.

    And that's just the fact. I think it's perfectly legitimate to have a wide variety of views on immigration, but when you start using those racial categories and talk about replacement and swamping and the white America under threat, you're feeding into a culture.

    Ideas have consequences, and they will lead to violence.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Jonathan, I mean, there's almost an inevitability about this now.

    I mean, are we as a country, accepting that this is just part of who we are? Some of us are, I should say.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Yes.

    I appreciate David's — David's words at the outset of his answer.

    Look, I remember the first time I got an e-mail from someone who had read something I'd written in The Washington Post years ago, who was complaining to me about white genocide. That's the term — that was a term of art then, white genocide. Whites were being killed off and replaced.

    Now the Great Replacement Theory is the happy, smiley face of the white genocide thinking out there. Back then, it was the fringe. Back then, this was a person out there in the far right swamps.

    But then President Trump comes in and takes the lid off of our national demons. And now what we have are sitting members of Congress, people in the leadership of the Republican Party in the House, Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, who are trading in this language.

    They might not use the exact words Great Replacement Theory, but everything else that they talk about is parroting those talking points. When the Great Replacement Theory is given a home and aid and comfort by leaders in this country, what are — what else are we to expect?

    And that is the — that is the danger that we're in right now. We have seen far too many communities of Americans being targeted by people who adhere to this Great Replacement Theory. We have now — we have seen Blacks targeted, Jews targeted, Muslims targeted.

    At some point, this nation as a whole will have to start taking this seriously. And leaders, Republican leaders, need to speak up if the Great Replacement Theory does not speak for them.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David, do you see any signs anywhere that people are taking this seriously enough to — in a way that we may be able to come together and have a serious conversation about this and address who we are right now?

  • David Brooks:

    You know, I think we are having a conversation.

    It's been four or five years since at least 2014 and Ferguson. It's been at least years of difficult conversations, which many people have been in the middle of. So I think it's been an era of progress, not necessarily on racial harmony, you wouldn't say that, but deeper understanding on the part of a lot of people of what the experience of Black America is.

    At the same time that some people have become better educated, some other people have become radicalized. And this is a combination of just the racist genotypes that have flown through our history. It's a combination of mental health problems. It's a combination of the extreme social isolation that drives people to seize onto these rabid antisemitic and racist conspiracy theories and want to take some action.

    So, at the same time, I think we are having progress in America on racial, at least communication, we're also seeing reaction against significant — as Jonathan says, a significant minority.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you see any glimmer of progress on this?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    I suppose the glimmer of progress is that when I say what I just said in response to your first question, that I'm not going to get a bunch of blowback from people saying, what are you talking about? You're over — you're hypersensitive.

    That won't happen again, because — I think because of Ferguson, because of George Floyd, where the two-year anniversary is coming up next week, because of the litany of things that we have been through, racial things that we have been through over these years. That the conversations we have been having over the years are much more sophisticated, much more nuanced doesn't mean that we're making the leaps of progress that I hoped we would.

    But at least, when we have these conversations, there's no one saying, oh, well, you're being crazy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we know that this is one of the issues that is going to be playing out in this year's midterm elections.

    And we have, David, some results to look at again from this week. And let me ask you first about the Democratic primaries. There were several primaries in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and other states. We see, for the Democrats, in a few races, important races, progressive candidates came out ahead of the moderate, so-called mainstream Democrat.

    What does that — what does that tell us about what shape Democrats may be in, in the fall?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, there's some — there was some supposition when Joe Biden got elected that we would — we had this moderate Democrat in the White House, and that we would — the polarization of American politics would maybe slow down or stop.

    We can now toss aside that hope. And so it is not. I think the progressives did indeed do quite well this week. And whether that will hurt Democrats in the fall if they present people who are less electable, I'm not sure.

    I look at John Fetterman, who won the Democratic primary for Senate in Pennsylvania. I find him a very attractive figure and probably a politically compelling figure. He's the 6'8" guy who wears Carhartt. He dresses working class. He wears baggy shorts.

    I think, if you're a progressive Democrat, and you can show you have nothing to do with East Coast cultural elites, you're in pretty good shape. And so that guy has clearly made this cultural statement about who he is.

    And he's going to get attacked for being for Medicare for all or for other left-leaning policies, but he strikes me as a pretty compelling figure, and a — maybe a new sort of — a different kind of really aggressively working-class progressive that we haven't seen a lot of, frankly.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But that's not what the mainstream Democrats in many of these races thought would happen.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Right.

    But I think — as I look at these races, I keep thinking about, when we're talking about Democrats, we're talking about them, are they progressive, are they moderate? And when we do that, we're talking about issues. As David just said, Medicare for all is one of them. Canceling student debt is another one, expanding health care.

    You name the policy, there's some moderate vs. progressive thing going on.

    But when it comes to Republicans, we're not talking about policies. Everything revolves around Donald Trump and the big lie and where those respective candidates fall in that — in that little play.

    So, when we get Democrats and Republicans in the general election, it's going to be the Democrat talking about policies and the Republican trying to show just how much they are close to Trump?

    I'm still trying to understand what the general election really is going to look like.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, in fact, David, we did see in the Republican primaries in these states, I mean, whether former President Trump's chosen person came out on top or not, to a candidate, most of these Republicans don't believe Joe Biden won legitimately.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, didn't Dr. Oz have had a proposal to reform the federal budget process? Wasn't that part of Dr. Oz's thing?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    No.

    I think one thing I learned about the Republican Party from the last week and really the last two weeks is, there was some thought that Trumpism could be contained. It could either be contained by building a wall of non-Trump candidates around him — or in the party, or you could have establishment figures sort of embracing Trumpism, at the same time they watered it down, which is normally what insurrection — what happens to insurrections.

    I think we — that's another theory we can toss out, because Trumpism is now pervasive in the party. And if I had any lesson to draw, it's that Trumpism is actually bigger than Trump. And so his own personal endorsements do make a difference, clearly, but the nationalist posture, the populist posture, the talk about the stolen election, this is all now pervading the party.

    And so what will the fall election be like? I think it will be about none of these things. I actually think it will be about inflation, crime, schools, and the culture wars. But — so I don't think it'll be about stopping the steal, because, if Republicans were going to get punished for that, they already would have been punished for that.

    And they have — in the polls, at least, they have certainly not been punished. But it's definitely a Trump-Trumpist party right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, pick up on that, Jonathan, because one of the culture war issues is what — of course, that Supreme Court leak opinion from a few weeks ago.

    We have a new poll "NewsHour" did with Marist and NPR showing something like two-thirds of Americans don't want Roe v. Wade to be overturned. Does that give us some kind of sense of what happens? We don't know what the court is going to do.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But if the court comes forward with something that looks like that leaked draft, what does that say about the — where we're headed in these elections?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, it says we're headed for a very bumpy road.

    It says that the Supreme Court doesn't care about public opinion. The support for Roe v. Wade has all — there's always been a majority American support for Roe v. Wade. The fact that an opinion, draft opinion, was leaked, and we got to read it, knowing where the American people are on this issue, and, still, a majority of the court in this draft — draft opinion wants to overturn Roe v. Wade, I think that says more about the court than it does about the American people.

    And I understand that it's a co-equal branch of government and that they should be separate and apart from the people. But the people will rise up. I mean, the American people are — will be very concerned if the official ruling from the Supreme Court in that case looks anything like that draft opinion.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Less than a minute, David, but what do you think it portends if the court comes up with what it looks like they're going to, and public opinion is in another direction?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, setting aside this particular issue, I'd be proud that the Supreme Court ignored public opinion. That's their job. Their job is to look at what's in the Constitution and make a decision. So, I — that part, I think they did absolutely right.

    The second part of your poll was — showed how, while people want to keep Roe, they also are very moderate or somewhere in the middle on what restrictions they want to see on abortion and that, as Lisa said the other night, somewhere between 15 and 22 weeks is where most people would like to see some sort of restrictions come in.

    I'm very curious to see if there's a single state that gets there, because the parties are so incredibly polarized on this issue.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, it's one that we are watching very closely in these weeks to come. It promises to hold all of our attention for the rest of this year.

    David Brooks, Jonathan Capehart, thank you both.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Thanks, Judy.

Listen to this Segment