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Shields and Brooks on Roy Moore’s political future, Democrats’ Virginia victory

Syndicated Columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including accusations that Judge Roy Moore pursued relationships with teens and had sexual contact with a minor decades ago, a wave of Democratic victories in statewide elections, including the Virginia governor’s race, and the larger trends facing both parties.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Even with President Trump in Asia, there was no shortage of political stories at home, as voters took to polls in several states, an Alabama Senate candidate became embroiled in a sexual scandal, and Republican senators revealed details of a tax plan they see as a must-pass.

    And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Welcome, gentlemen.

    And what a difference 24 hours makes when it comes to Roy Moore.

    David Brooks, we didn’t know about this, I guess, a little more than 24 hours ago. Now we do, these accusations that he, as a young man in his early 30s, was with several young women, including one 14 years old.

    He today is denying all this. He says it’s a political smear, but, just in the last hour, we have learned that two Republicans senators have withdrawn their endorsement, Mike Lee of Utah, Steve Daines of Montana.

    Can he survive this?

  • David Brooks:

    I don’t think so, not — I don’t think he can be seated. He can survive.

    You think you have lost your capacity to be disgusted by what goes on in this country. And this, it should be said first, is a very credible, well-sourced story. The people didn’t come out of the woodwork. The women who are the accusers were pulled out and interviewed and finally consented to give their stories.

    So, it seems to be quite a credible story. And what’s disgusting is not only his behavior, alleged behavior, in those incidents, but the actual behavior of a lot of Republicans in Alabama these days, who are either casting it off as no big deal, or giving the excuse, well, in the Bible, Joseph and Mary had a relationship, and Mary was a teenager.

    One doesn’t even know where to begin that kind of excuse. And so, suddenly, this of sort of stuff is tolerated because our party has to win and beat the other party.

    And so this is the ultimate test of conscience for the Republican Party. Most of the Washington Republican Party — Republicans are passing that test, but, in Alabama, maybe not, and maybe they can keep him in the race.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It is the case, Mark, most Alabama Republicans are defending him.

    Now, the governor, we heard her a few minutes ago. She is saying what these allegations are, they seem credible.

  • Mark Shields:

    They seem credible.

    And Richard Shelby, the senior Republican senator from Alabama, uncharacteristically, came to the microphone yesterday to address them as serious charges, and was part of the chorus of Republican senators who were certainly quite serious about the Washington Post story, and treated it seriously, and suggested that Roy Moore would be better leaving.

    But I think, Judy, when you look at this, it just stands as a stark contrast, what’s happened. David said our team vs. the other team, how deeply that has changed in just six or seven years.

    There was a congressman from New York named Chris Lee. He was a Republican congressman in a safe Republican district upstate. And he was exposed as showing a bare above-the-waist photo of himself online to a woman he had met on Craigslist, and passing himself off as a 39-year-old divorced lobbyist, instead of a married congressman.

    One hour later, one hour later, after meeting with John Boehner, he resigned from the Congress. I mean, that was — there was a sense then that that was wrong, it was unacceptable.

    These same Republicans who are now springing to his defense, especially the conservatives in the press, rightly went after Anthony Weiner for sexting and sending sexual materials online to women, teenagers, inappropriately, illegally, and he’s paying for it.

    Never once did he allegedly touch any of them or undress any of them or take them to his apartment. And that’s what Roy Moore — these are serious. And, today — we went from fake news yesterday from Roy Moore to, today, didn’t generally, as a 30-something attorney, date teenagers.

    And, you know, so I just think — I think this thing is headed very south in a big hurry for the Republicans in a bad way.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you see this as a test somehow for Republicans, David?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I think it’s a test for Republicans, especially in this regard.

    This is a predicate for what — when — if Bob Mueller comes with charges to Donald Trump, he’s going to say, fake news, fake news, fake news. And that’s more or less what a lot of people in the Trumpian movement are doing. No fact is fact. A fact they don’t like is just fake news.

    And if The Washington Post, with a very well-sourced story, can’t be can be believed and can be just dismissed as fake news, then everything can be dismissed as fake news, and we have lost all sense of reality, basically.

    And so I think the party not only to behavior about harassment has to show some spine, but on the basic respect for truth, if we can’t have some basic respect for evidence, we really do not have a democracy. And that’s what’s ultimately at stake here.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that brings up, Mark, what — so much else of what we have seen in the political climate of the last year and more.

  • Mark Shields:

    No, it does.

    And the charge — I think David makes a good point and a solid point. I mean, we have to have an agreed-upon — to have any kind of a debate and dialogue in a democracy, we have to agree on facts, and that — and if something comes from a source that I don’t like, I just can’t reject it, if in fact — and this is a well-sourced story by The Washington Post.

    And it is — you know, it’s serious.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And as we — I think we reported a few minutes ago, too, The Post also reported, the woman who made these — one was 14 years old at the time…

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … The Post has reported she voted Republican in the last few elections, voted for Donald Trump.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, it’s harder to make the case that this is a Democratic smear.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, David, I guess you could argue this has not been a good week for Republicans, looking back to the Tuesday elections across the country, but mainly those governor’s races in New Jersey and especially in Virginia.

    What’s the lesson are Republicans to take from this, because we’re hearing different analyses of this?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I take attack the maximalist position.

    When you have an unpopular president, of course, his party is the more likely to lose elections in an off-term election. But this to me is much deeper. We’re in a moment of historical transition. The fundamental tectonics are changing in our politics.

    And, to me, the two big things that happened in especially the Virginia race was that it used to be, on the outer rings of a lot of suburbs, you had a lot of people who worked in office parks, or worked for corporations, generally pro-capitalist. They tend to be Republican.

    And this time, those sorts of people voted for the Democrats by tremendous majorities. There’s a county — one of the fastest and richest, growing counties in the country called Loudoun County, which is out past Dulles Airport. That was a pro-Bush county. It went for the Democrats this time 60-40, by landslide proportions.

    And that’s going to be happen all around the country. And that’s just devastating for Republicans around the country.

    The second thing that leapt out at me was the youth vote. Young people under 28 voted the Democrats 69-30. That’s a gigantic proportion — 28-44 almost as big a proportion.

    So, you’re basically losing the future by epic proportions. And what the Republican Party has done, if this continues, is they have basically shrunk their coalition to an unsustainable size in a lot of states.

  • Judy Woodruff:

     How do you look at the Tuesday results?

  • Mark Shields:

    Let me just add two things to David’s diagnosis, which I found penetrating and perceptive.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Mark Shields:

    And that…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That’s a compliment, I think.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes, it is. After eight months, I thought I should give him one.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Mark Shields:

    But, no, I think, Judy, when anybody wins a national election the way Donald Trump did, I mean, it was a unique form — nobody had ever won that way before.

    And everybody in politics kind of looked, and they were nervous. They said, is this the new form? Do you have to be bombastic? I mean, do you have to use locker room or bar room language and engage in feuds, and you got to be that kind of colorful and dominate the news constantly?

    The man who won in Virginia was the ultimate non-Trump. Ralph Northam is a physician, eight years, VMI graduate, Virginia Military Institute, eight years in the Army, married to Pam, an elementary school teacher, colorless.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Said he voted for George Bush.

  • Mark Shields:

    Voted for George Bush, nonbombastic, and earnest.

    And he won a bigger victory, he won by a margin three times larger than Barack Obama carried Virginia. I mean, it was that impressive. And he won across the board.

    So, I think, when you look at the Virginia results, there is one number that jumps out. Democrats, it has become a blue state. Democrats have not lost a statewide election in Virginia since 2009. That’s across the board, with all the constitutional offices and president and Senate.

    But Republicans, because they won in 2009 and controlled the redistricting process, drew the legislature seats, gerrymandered, so there were 66 Republican seats and 34 Democrats.

    On last Tuesday, the Democrats went in, and they won at least 15 and maybe — there’s still three to be decided — they may have won a majority. So they took that many seats away from seats that had been drawn for Republicans.

    That was because D was next to their name and R was next to the Republican name. That was Trump. That was energy, it was passion and all the rest, and good people. But, I mean, it really reflected that Donald Trump had become an albatross for the Republican candidates.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, speaking of that, David, the White House and Steve Bannon, their former chief strategist, are saying the mistake that Ed Gillespie, the Republican, made was not embracing Donald Trump enough. That was what the president himself said — He didn’t embrace me enough.

    So, what’s the message for Republican candidates this year?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, well, they weren’t watching the campaign, I believe.

    They are essentially arguing that Ed Gillespie would have won if he had had even more commercials about the Confederate statues, he would have won college-educated women voters if he emphasized the MS-13 gang even more. It’s just not plausible.

    He ran a pretty Trumpian campaign. It was all over the press. And in the days when he — in the final days, where he seemed to be gaining, the story from Bannon world was that he was embracing Trump, and it’s totally a winning strategy. So, again, they sort of dump people who are losers pretty fast.

    I would issue one word of caution. The Republicans are shrinking, but are we necessarily in for an era of Democratic dominance? I think it is worth pointing out that I do think that they had a good candidate, or moderately good candidate, but this wasn’t a victory the Democrats earned. This was the Republicans handing them a big slice of the electorate.

    And, to me, what’s happened, because of these elections, is the most interesting story in politics is not what the Republicans are doing. It’s how the Democrats react to this opportunity. Do they become a party that extends outward and seizes the ground that the Republicans are seemingly ceding them, or do they retreat and just go back to their base?

    What you’re seeing around the world is not left-wing dominance. It’s the collapse of all parties. And we could begin to see that too.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How do you think Democrats are going to respond? What do we know?

  • Mark Shields:

    I hope that they don’t start imposing litmus tests. I hope that they believe in coalition politics. If we agree, 80 percent of us, then that’s all you really need to be a political party.

    You can see the signs from people like Tom Steyer, the billionaire environmentalist, who is imposing, you have to believe this, and if you don’t believe that, or you don’t believe in a universal national payer health insurance…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Calling for the impeachment of…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes, calling for the impeachment of the presidency, calling that you have to be totally, absolutely pro-choice without any qualms.

    The fact is, Judy, that the Democrats do have an opportunity. And they had a great victory. The Republicans have retreated. The Republicans in Virginia are on the verge of becoming like the Republicans in California, a party that is unwelcoming and openly hostile to people who aren’t white. And you’re seeing what has happened.

    But I will say this. There are 9.2 million Americans who voted in 2016 for Donald Trump who had voted for Barack Obama. And the Democrats have to address and speak to these people, to their anxieties, to their economic stagnation, and to their well-being, and not simply play to the people who are disaffected right from Donald Trump right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And just quickly, David, are Democrats doing that yet? Are they doing it at all?

  • David Brooks:

    Not so much.

    I think the party, if you look at the fundamentals, how they think about the world, the Democratic Party has shifted very sharply to the left, in fact, further left than their policies have.

    So one would expect the shift to the Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren direction to continue. And that will be a challenge for a lot of people who are living in the Loudoun County I mentioned.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Democrats doing what you…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Mark Shields:

    I think the test is coming in 2018.

    In the recruitment of candidates, I would have to say they’re doing a good job. And they did a good job in Virginia to find candidates who match and are comfortable and congenial with the voters they’re seeking to represent.

    One shout-out. Tom Perriello, who lost the Democratic primary to Ralph Northam, former congressman, was a liberal alternative to Northam in the primary, could have sulked, could have gone away.

    He spent al his time, effort and energy working with those legislative candidates, recruiting them, helping them. And if the Democrats win a majority, he deserves a little credit.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Helping his party.

    I’m going to give you both a credit.

    Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you both.

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