Brooks and Capehart on the tragedy in Uvalde and Georgia’s primary elections

New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post associate editor Jonathan Capehart join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including the potential for meaningful changes to federal gun regulations after the unspeakable tragedy at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and former President Trump's influence on primary races in Georgia and elsewhere.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Any meaningful changes to federal gun regulations appear unlikely, even after the unspeakable tragedy in Uvalde, Texas. And as the mass shooting unfolded on Tuesday, voters were casting their ballots in primary elections in Georgia and several other states.

    To discuss what this means for the November midterm elections and for the country as a whole, we turn to the analysis of Brooks and Capehart. That is New York Times columnist David Brooks, and Jonathan Capehart, associate editor for The Washington Post.

    Hello to both of you. Welcome to the program after another very tough week in this country that we love.

    Jonathan, the news we're hearing today about the slow police response is adding to the heartache of this awful event in Texas. But, at this point, how are you processing all this?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Slowly, painfully.

    I have to say, the overriding emotion is, I'm tired. I'm tired of watching grieving families pour their hearts out about losing their young children. I'm tired of politicians who don't move to do anything to even pass something that won't stop every mass shooting, but at least might prevent one or two or — we don't know.

    It's almost 10 years since we saw 20 children slaughtered at Newtown, something we had never seen before in this country. And here we are 10 years later looking at yet another mass shooting in a school, 19 children killed.

    What is it going to take to get folks in Washington, to get folks in statehouses to protect our children? I'm tired of politicians who go on and on and on about being pro-life and — for the unborn, but have seemingly no care for them once they are born.

    What is it going to take?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How are you dealing with this?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, some of the news stories are unreadable for me, the — especially the interviews with the surviving kids from that school.

    I guess, aside from the sadness of it, the frustration that Jonathan just expressed, I wonder what it's like for all of us to experience the news these days. And it's not only been this two weeks. It's, I would say, since 2013. It's been pummeling to experience the news and to be in the news business.

    And that can't not have an effect on us all, just the emotional blows, the moral blows, and then the haunting fear that these events are not isolated incidents, but part of a rising tide of menace across society, not only the mass shootings, racist, crazy, against children, but just a growing level of sense of people are under threat.

    And it could come from violent crime. It could be even trivial things. I talked to a guy who — nice guy who owns to a restaurant. He says he has to kick somebody out every week now for rude and brutal behavior.

    School board meetings, churches, co-op board meetings, just a rising tide of menace.

    Peggy Noonan, columnist for The Wall Street Journal said, people are proud of their bitterness now.

    And so I worry about the whole moral atmosphere of this country, of which these mass shootings are only the most cancerous effects.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we all know this shooting in Texas happened, Jonathan, 10 days after we had a shooting in a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, 10 people mowed down, all of them Black.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And this followed other mass shootings. There have been dozens.

    Looking at — you talked about, what are we going to do about it? What are we going to do about it? We look to Washington, we look to our leaders, and what do we see?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, we see inaction. We see them doing nothing.

    I interviewed Senator Chris Murphy on my MSNBC show this Sunday after Buffalo just two Sundays ago. And I asked him, what can you do? You were there during Newtown, and nothing happened. Not even a background checks bill could get through, overwhelmingly popular with the American people. Several gun safety measures are overwhelmingly popular with the American people, and yet Congress can't do anything about it.

    And he said to me, he's — he always has to be hopeful, but he's skeptical, and that maybe the only thing they can do is just bring bills to the floor and have people vote and have them be on record, and I'm adding this, standing against the safety of children, grocery store shoppers, parishioners, movie theater goers.

    It's heartening that Senator Joe Manchin, who was a part of that way back — way back when 10 years ago, the Manchin-Toomey bill — background checks didn't go anywhere — but now says: I think about my grandchildren.

    And that's nice. Good. Think about your grandchildren. But you know what? I don't have children. And my heart's still — I wish I were a member of Congress. I wish I was in a position to cast a vote that would make it possible to do something about this.

    But Americans will have an opportunity in November. If they are tired of seeing what's happening, then they can do something by voting with their feet and voting, going to the ballot box, and putting people in office who will do something to protect us, because I agree with you.

    There is an atmosphere of menace in this country. I feel it as an LGBT person. I feel it as a Black person. And, at a certain point, it's just going to be I'm going to feel under siege just as an American period. And that's no way to live.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you do have — but you do have, David — I mean, large swathes of this country believe that guns are right. They point to the Second Amendment.

    Today, just moments ago, former President Trump, speaking at the NRA convention in Texas, is talking about, we need to focus on mental health, that nothing — no new gun law could have prevented what happened in Uvalde.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I mean, their argument is that, A, it's a right guaranteed in the Constitution, B, they have an ethos of we take care of ourselves, and that we're going to provide our own safety.

    C, they have an ethos that the government's out to threaten. The gun rights are a way to prevent threat from the government. And, finally, it's become a culture war issue, where the gun has now become a mythic emblem of rural life. And a lot of people who support gun rights say it's just a bunch of coastal elites telling us how to live our lives.

    I think there may be some hope. I'm a little more hopeful, for two reasons. One, every time one of these events does happen, it does change minds. And if you look at the history, even from all the way through all these shootings, you see a spike in support for gun regulations, which then drops over time, but doesn't drop all the way back.

    And so, gradually, you see. And then I think there is the possibility of changing the way we talk about this in order to get people who are winnable. And that's not to phrase it as gun control, we're going to take away your guns. That's the phrase that is gun regulation. Like, we have driving regulation. We have cars. And we regulate the cars.

    And there are all sorts of things you could do that are kind of like what we do with cars. Like, we could raise the rage limit at which you buy a gun. It's 18. This kid was 18. You could raise it to 21. That would make a difference. Background checks. The red flag laws. If you see somebody in your orbit who is suicidal or something, you can go to a law enforcement and make it impossible for them to get guns.

    There are a whole series of things. Somebody made the point — I think, was my colleague Nick Kristof — that if you — if I lose my phone, and you pick it up, it's basically useless to you, because you don't have my code. Why can't guns be like that?

    And so there's a whole series of things that can be done that are just normal, because we do them for cars.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Yes.

  • David Brooks:

    And — but it — we have to somehow stop this from being a culture war issue, because then it's just hopeless.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But my sense, Jonathan, is that even moderate Republicans, many of them are resistant to doing even these modest steps.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Right.

    I'm sorry, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    No — that David just outlined.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Right.

    And I have no explanation for it. I don't — I seriously don't understand. What about a 48-hour waiting period or, for someone 18 years old, parental consent? They're willing to put those restrictions on young women who are seeking reproductive care. Why not do the same thing for anybody wanting to buy an assault rifle, an AR-15, a weapon of war?

    Seriously, I don't understand. How many more babies are going to have to be killed, slaughtered in classrooms before Congress does something, before moderate Republicans come out and say, this is not what we're for, before NRA members, who we keep hearing, vast majority of them are very nuanced — they understand what's going on, and yet their leadership is doing something completely different.

    I would love it for somebody at the NRA convention happening right now as we're speaking…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    … were to rise up and say, this is not who we are.

    But that's not going to happen.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you think something could happen. Is that what you're saying?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    Well, maybe there are majorities.

    And I do think public opinion gradually — like as you say, public opinion is overwhelmingly in one direction. I just have to hope that something can be done.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We have to have hope. We have to have hope.

    We mentioned former President Trump. In many ways, he was on — not on the ballot, but his choices were on the ballot, Jonathan, in some more of these primary races this week. And we saw several the people he endorsed not win. Now, there's still some out there running who very much have the Trump imprimatur.

    But what does this — does this say that maybe there's a weakening of his influence? What do you see?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    I think it depends on the state. It depends on the jurisdiction.

    I mean, his — David — yes, David Perdue got stomped by more than 50 points by Brian Kemp, someone who Trump was desperate to knock out. Didn't happen. Brad Raffensperger, another person, survived a challenge. But you can look back at J.D. Vance, who Trump swooped in at the last minute and put him over, or Mastriano in Pennsylvania.

    To me, the larger — the bigger issue is not which Trump-endorsed candidate wins in which one loses how many. To me, it's how far, is the person who wasn't endorsed by Trump, policy-wise, how far is that person away from Trump?

    And, to me, you — Trumpism with Trump or without Trump is here. And so, great, Brad Raffensperger beat out the Trump-endorsed candidate, but I don't think there's a whole lot of daylight between Trump and Raffensperger on anything else that goes beyond the big lie.

    That, to me, is the big, concerning issue.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Is there much distance?

  • David Brooks:

    No. No.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    I mean, Trump was Trump, because, in 2016, the Republican elite was over here, and the Republican voters were over here.

    And Trump somehow noticed this and said, I will be over here, thank you very much.

    The Republican elite is now over here. And this is what normally happens in American history, that you get a third-party candidate or some new force, and then one of the parties co-opts it. And that's sort of what's happened.

    And so I think that makes Trump actually weaker, because now there Trumpists everywhere. And so he doesn't have the one unique lane that he had in 2016.

    I also do think it's a sign in Georgia, when you get the governor, lieutenant governor, and the secretary of state, all Republicans, all standing up to Trump together, with a lot of the other Republicans in the state of Georgia, it shows that if you combine together to stand up to Trump, you can beat him.

    And I think it also shows that January 6 — this was really about January 6, more than all the other primaries. And it could be a sign that that — the big lie is not a winner. It's just not something Republicans want to go to the mat for anymore.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Could be. A number of them are maybe changing their mind, but a number of them are saying, I don't want to talk about it, but neither are they saying that there weren't new problems in 2020.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Right. And that's a problem. That's an issue.

    And, as I have said before, I'm hard-pressed to tell you what any of these Republicans running for office, what they're for, beyond their position on the big lie, whether they're for it or against it.

    And when it comes to Mastriano, the gubernatorial candidate in Pennsylvania, if he wins, the big lie is going to be front and center come 2024, because he, as governor, appoints the secretary of state. And we have a major — then we would have a major electoral state that could mess up a peaceful transfer of power.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    No matter what, we're going to end, as David said, on a hopeful note.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We're going to do that, no matter what.

  • David Brooks:

    Pulling a rabbit out of the hat.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David Brooks, Jonathan Capehart, thank you both.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Thanks, Judy.

  • David Brooks:

    Thank you.

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