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New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post deputy editorial page editor Ruth Marcus join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including how primary races once again demonstrated the strengths and limits of former President Trump's influence over the GOP, Rep. Liz Cheney's future, and the threats facing federal agents as they continue to investigate Trump.
This week's primaries once again demonstrated the strength and the limits of former President Donald Trump's influence over the GOP.
To discuss that and much more, we turn to the analysis of Brooks and Marcus. That's New York Times columnist David Brooks and Ruth Marcus, deputy editorial page editor for The Washington Post. Jonathan Capehart is away.
It's so good to see both of you on this Friday night.
But the subjects are a little — a little tough to talk about.
I do want to start, David, with what I interviewed the former FBI agent Frank Montoya about a few minutes ago, and that are this ongoing, this flood of not just strong comments, but threats against the FBI, the Department of Justice since the search of former President Trump's home.
How seriously should we be taking all this?
I think pretty seriously.
I think he made a good case. I have friends who are FBI agents, and they have been over my house for dinner. And in the middle of dinner, they get a text and they got to run. These are men and women who are — who are just responsible citizens. They take protecting this country very seriously.
And they are patriotic. And I think, in the case of Donald Trump, it's a bit of projection, that the assumption that nobody is on the level, that nobody's disinterestedly serving the country is maybe a Trump mentality, but it's not the mentality of a lot of people who work for the federal government. And it's not the mentality of most people who work in the FBI.
They are disinterested. They want to protect the country. They want to be public servants. They're not particularly political. And so to portray them as some sort of partisan witch-hunt is just a distortion of reality. And then it becomes dangerous when it turns into incitement.
Ruth, how dangerous is this? I mean, the language is — I was reading some of it a moment ago, sharing it with the audience.
Some of it, it is truly over the top.
It is reprehensible, the quote that you had from the most recent comments of President Trump calling these atrocities.
We know what atrocities are. And FBI agents conducting a search under the auspices of a warrant approved by a federal judge are not committing atrocities. They are actually following the rule of law.
And if there's any party that should recognize this and leap to the FBI's defense, the defense of law enforcement generally, it's the Republican Party, which has been beating its chest about Democrats being soft on crime and clamoring, supposedly, for defunding the police.
The FBI are the folks who have been working diligently before and after 9/11 to keep us safe from foreign terrorists. The notion that they have somehow been transformed by this or other acts into the enemy, the enemy that's being targeted by Donald Trump, is just — it's beyond the normal gaslighting that we're used to.
And it's a slur on people who, as David said, really put their lives on the line, devote their careers, upend their family lives to help all of us.
Well, as we say, it's something — it is something that we're watching. It doesn't seem to be dying down or slowing down in any way.
I do want to bring us tonight to the primaries this week.
David, Liz Cheney, there were so many — so much focus on her contest for reelection representing the state of Wyoming in the Congress. She lost by 40 points. And I want to ask you both about it.
But, first, here's just a clip of just part of what she had to say in her concession speech on Tuesday night.
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY):
I ask you tonight to join me.
As we leave here, let us resolve that we will stand together, Republicans, Democrats and independents, against those who would destroy our republic. They are angry, and they are determined, but they have not seen anything like the power of Americans united in defense of our Constitution and committed to the cause of freedom.
So, David, she saying that — and she went on to describe this movement that she's — or organization she's creating to try to stand up to the former president.
But, I mean, what are the prospects for that effort? I mean, how possible is it to change minds?
Well, not very.
It's clear she wants to run. She made a reference to Abraham Lincoln, who served in the House and then ran for president. And she'd be a formidable candidate in some way. I think she'd get a lot of funding. She'd get a lot of media attention.
The question should be, if she ran for president, is, first, should she — could she get on the debate stage with Donald Trump? The Republican National Committee would do everything possible to prevent that.
On the other hand, I don't think there's a mainstream media organization who would host a Republican debate without Liz Cheney on the stage. And so that has some power. And I assume every non-Trump candidate wants her on the stage.
So, if she got on the stage, it would have power, at least in the national conversation. And so I do think she's somewhat formidable.
I think the overall story the last couple of weeks is that this is once again Trump's party. I really felt that — a month or two ago, that a lot of Republicans wanted to move on. I no longer think that. I think this is now Donald Trump's party. If he wants the nomination, he can get it. He will get it.
And I read an interesting interview with a guy who was consulting with Ron DeSantis, the governor from Florida. And he said, once the FBI did the search on Mar-a-Lago, we sort of just stepped back, because it was clear there was no avenue for anybody but Donald Trump to get the nomination.
And I think that's the reality right now.
So, Ruth, do you agree it's Donald Trump's party? And if it is, what does that say about what Liz Cheney is trying to do?
Well, it tells us that Liz Cheney is an incredibly brave and a not uniquely brave person, but an unusually brave person, if you compare her behavior to the behavior of most of her colleagues in elective office.
Look, Donald Trump has a death grip on the party. If you dare to cross him, and then don't at least apologize on bended knee, your political career, your career in elective office is over.
Liz Cheney understood that. She went into this race knowing that, when she did what she did, she — despite being a Cheney here, in Wyoming, where I am right now, in Cheney country, because I'm in one of the two counties that actually voted for her, you are going to lose.
She did it anyway because she thought it was important to call him to account. And that's why she's flirting with this presidential run. She's not — and I'm going to quote Hillary Clinton, which I never thought I would do in a sentence about Liz Cheney. She's not in it to win it, as Hillary Clinton used to say. She's in it to stop him, to do what she can to stop him.
Is that going to be easy? Certainly, on what David describes as his march — successful march to the nomination, no. But somebody has got to try. And I have to say, I am incredibly impressed and, quite honestly, thankful for what Liz Cheney has done and is trying to do.
David, what arguments work, would work in the environment that we're in? Again, in a Republican — in a Republican Party that, as you say, Donald Trump is dominating, what arguments would work against him right now?
I have not encountered that argument.
One of the things that I thought was that, if you had a bunch of lifelong Republicans saying, I'm a Republican, I'm a conservative, but I just don't think — I think Donald Trump is a menace to our democracy.
And The Lincoln Project and lots of other people have put up ads — and Liz Cheney is a personification of this — and said, no, this guy is a menace to our democracy for X, Y and Z reason, that that would at least have some credibility with Republican voters.
The evidence so far is, it does not, that Republican voters like Donald Trump. They think the election — the economy was good under Donald Trump. They think it's bad now. Their number one focus is defeating Joe Biden and the Democrats, who they think are out to get them and out to get Donald Trump.
It's just a very rare thing in American life in 2022 to go against your party and to say the focus is someone — the real threat right now is someone in my own party.
That's what Liz Cheney did. And I absolutely think she's right. I think she's incredibly brave. I think the physical threats against her are real. And she's facing up to those. But there are just not a lot of Americans who are willing to go against their own party in 2022.
And so, if there are arguments to persuade pro-Trump people not to be pro-Trump people, well, I would say they have not worked for six or seven years.
But meantime, Ruth, a number of the Senate candidates and governor candidates, for that matter, in some states around the country that Donald Trump has endorsed are not doing well in those races.
And that was acknowledged just yesterday by the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell. Here's just a clip of what he had to say talking to an audience.
I'm now told we don't have the clip. I'm just — the — just — I will just cite to you part of what he said. He said he thinks there's a greater likelihood that the House would flip to Republican than the Senate. And he said candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome.
And, of course, that's being read as the Trump-endorsed candidates are the ones having difficulty. What does that say to you?
Well, it says to me that that's a potential answer to the question that you just asked David, which is, what, if anything, could dissuade Trump voters and Trump supporters from continuing their support for him?
And the only answer I can come up with is this — to have leaders of the party, if they are willing and have the fortitude to do that, to come forward and say, in more precise and straightforward language than Mitch McConnell has been willing to, this guy is taking us down. For the second cycle in a row, this guy, the former guy, is going to deny us or, after the election, has denied us control of the Senate. This guy is going to imperil our ability to take back the White House.
There are other people who embody the beliefs that — and personality traits even that you found so compelling in Donald Trump, but you could have Trump without the baggage.
And that is — I'm grasping at straws here, but that's the argument I would make.
I think that I took Senator McConnell's words and his political analysis to be a kind of Mitch McConnell's version of a hair-on-fire moment, that he — Mitch McConnell, more than anything else, wants to be Majority Leader McConnell again. He thought he was going to get that last time. He didn't, largely because of Donald Trump and Donald Trump's insistence on making trouble for candidates, especially in Georgia.
And he's looking at it slipping away from his grasp again. It very well could. That can fairly be tied to Trumpists and Trump-backed candidates. Republicans have been able to do this successfully in getting some of the crazier, more extreme candidates off the ballot, and — but they're risking the potential to seize control of the Senate now.
So — and, David, what does it say to you that some of these Trump-endorsed candidates could cost the Republicans a majority?
Yes, I see it a little — slightly differently.
Mitch McConnell's absolutely right. Candidate quality really matters in the Senate race. And Herschel Walker in Georgia, Dr. Oz in Pennsylvania, J.D. Vance in Ohio, they're way underperforming.
But I don't — I don't think this reflects on Donald Trump. The king clown somehow makes — makes himself electable. The junior clowns have trouble. And so the people who are pretending to beat Trumpists are somehow less persuasive.
I don't think this is a sign that we should think that Trumpism is not super powerful. I think it is. It's just some of the juniors, the minor league clowns, who are — who are just not running up to speed.
And I do think those races are really in trouble. And, as a result, Mitch McConnell is absolutely right. The Democrats are much more likely to retain the Senate.
All right, I'm keeping all those images in my head tonight and for the weekend.
David Brooks, Ruth Marcus, we thank you both.
Thank you, Judy.
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