ROBERT COSTA: Hello. I’m Robert Costa. And this is the Washington Week Podcast.
Our guests tonight are Chuck Todd, political director and moderator of Meet The Press on NBC; Molly Ball, national political correspondent for TIME Magazine; Karoun Demirjian, congressional reporter for The Washington Post; and Mark Landler, White House correspondent for The New York Times.
The midterm elections are in the rearview mirror and it’s time to look at where the country goes from here. 2018 has been called the year of the woman. This week 34 women who were not previously in Congress won House seats, and there will now be at least 100 women in the House next year – that’s according to the Associated Press count – and it’s the largest number ever. Women still make up, however, only about 23 percent of legislators on Capitol Hill, but there are a number of firsts: two Muslim congresswomen and two Native American congresswomen have been elected, plus Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is at age 29 the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. What do we make of the year of the woman? Was it as much as we had expected, perhaps, a few months ago?
MOLLY BALL: I think it was actually more than you would have expected even a year ago because so many of these women won primaries, first of all. Some of them even going against the establishment – someone like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – had to actually, you know, fight the Democratic establishment in order to become the nominee. So, first, all these women got through primaries. That was a potential roadblock for a lot of the women who decided to run. And then a lot of them won their elections. And I think that tells you, first of all, the strength of women in the electorate, because so much of the – of the vote this time around was about women, particularly college-educated women, particularly college-educated white suburban women – my demographic, essentially – coming out in suburbs across the country, you know, as Chuck was saying on the main show, from Oklahoma City to Kansas City to San Diego. So all over the country women had – wanted their voices heard. And so these women, I think, are going to Congress on a mission, and they – and they are really poised to have a meaningful effect.
MR. COSTA: What drove women to not only be elected, but to come out to the vote – to the polls in droves? Was there – was there an animating issue in the data?
CHUCK TODD: Well, you can’t – I mean, let’s not forget what #MeToo did for getting women to run. First of all, there was the deluge of women deciding to run this year. That was the first, I would say, aspect of this. So you had a whole bunch of candidates, first time. You know, the other part of this is how many of these women won and it’s the first time they’ve ever run for any office. So that, I think, is – and you can’t – the combination of President Trump, Access Hollywood, #MeToo, look, it’s the whole soup, but this feeling of sort of the white male patriarchy a little bit I think did sort of inspire a lot of women to say, you know what, enough is enough; you know, instead of just complaining I need to get out there and do this myself.
So, in that sense, I have to tell you this group of women I think is going to be – my first midterm that I covered as a reporter was the 1994. And the class of ’94 for the Republicans was this class – and they produced senators, they produced governors, they produced a lot of – basically the entire bench for a generation of Republicans. I think this group of women – it’s about 28, I think, of the pickups for the Democrats – I think these – I think – I think there are people in here that will be president, vice president, governors, senators, certainly potential nominees for president and vice president. I think this group of women is going to be – it’s an impressive class. You look at an Elissa Slotkin in Michigan, you look at an Abigail Spanberger, these are – they have deep resumes, national – those – I point out two national security folks. But then there’s just women that are from other walks of life, in business, that are just going to add to some job diversity. You know, there’s too many just people that were just nothing but lawyers in Congress, and that is a big change, I think, that will – it’s a subtle thing now. I think it’s going to have an impact on legislation.
MS. BALL: But I do – I do just want to add we are seeing, you know – we talked about the realignment, and you’re going to see a really stark divide on the two sides of the House where you have a Democratic Party that is only – we still don’t know exactly, but between 30 and 40 percent white men, and a Republican Party that’s 90 percent white men. So you’re going to be able to see just looking at one side and the other of Congress the divide in America between, you know, an America that is – that is young and diverse and female, and an America that is old and white and male.
MR. COSTA: How is the White House thinking about this? The president went after Congresswoman Mia Love of Utah, an African-American –
MR. TODD: Haitian-American. Haitian-American.
MR. COSTA: Haitian-American, excuse me. A Haitian-American from Utah. She was defeated. He said she didn’t have, quote, “love for him.” And Cathy McMorris Rogers, a high-ranking Republican in the House GOP, has decided not to run for the leadership. Does the White House have any plans to try to address this issue as the Democrats make the gains?
MARK LANDLER: It’s not clear to me. And in fact, beyond the shots that the president took at female representatives, he also went after female reporters this week in a very aggressive and obviously kind of anti-feminist way, targeting three different African-American women reporters for asking questions. So I think that, you know, there are certainly people within the White House political operation that are probably looking at this and asking themselves, look, one of the reasons that Trump pulled it out in 2016, somewhat unexpectedly, is a certain number of women stuck with him, voted for him, that many people maybe didn’t expect were going to; how do we replicate that in 2020. It’s not clear to me that the president has a particular plan for that, beyond saying I love women.
I’ve always believed that his Stormy Daniels issue posed a bigger threat to him than perhaps we understood electorally – not so much legally, but electorally – and I haven’t changed my opinion on that. And nothing that came out of the midterms would lead me to question that.
MR. COSTA: When you think about Leader Pelosi, now going to be Speaker Pelosi, a historic moment for her to come back if she wins the gavel, second time to be speaker of the House.
KAROUN DEMIRJIAN: Second, yeah. I mean, she’s broken the glass ceiling already once for having been speaker before, and now she is going to – I mean, she’s going to have a position to basically be in charge again and be setting the – be the face again of women in politics in Washington. The only thing is that this returns us to the question we were talking about before, which is that she’s a past generation, and does it count enough to have, you know, the same woman be always in charge. I mean, there is a generation of younger women that are kind of going to come up. Are they going to necessarily support her because she’s a woman, or are we going to see the kind of next-stage feminism where you have women disagreeing with each other within a party about what actually is going to be the more – the more appropriate agenda for the party to take on, especially when it comes to women’s issues? And that could be an interesting debate that’s happening in the Democratic Party, but the Republican Party is going to be left behind in this debate because they’re just not the same people there.
MR. TODD: Well, I know that Senate Republicans are a little panicked about this, at least, and they are trying to get I think Deb Fischer or Joni Ernst, senators from Iowa and – to try to get them –
MS. DEMIRJIAN: Judiciary, or – well, because they need somebody to –
MR. TODD: Well, no, there’s that. No, they’re trying to get one of them to actually run for leadership –
MS. DEMIRJIAN: All right, that makes sense.
MR. TODD: – for maybe a number four post or something like that, simply because they got nothing.
MS. DEMIRJIAN: More immediately, they need somebody who’s female on the Judiciary Committee. The memory of that all-white side of the aisle at that Kavanaugh briefing, especially when we’re looking down the pike at potentially more Supreme Court nominees – poor Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I hope she’s healing up quite well from her broken ribs – but it raises the question again. There’s other people that may not be able to, you know, serve out the next two to six years and we may be doing this again. They need a woman there. I’m sure they’re eyeing the new crop of people they have. It’s Marsha Blackburn. If Martha McSally wins, she may be a good candidate for that. But right now, they’ve got to fix their image problem and then they definitely have to move into fixing their, you know, standard bearer problem, and losing Mia Love is a problem for that because she could speak to a broader segment of the population than the GOP actually has people for.
MR. COSTA: One woman that Democrats had high hopes for did not have a victory celebration Tuesday night despite a last-minute push – celebrity push – by Oprah Winfrey. Democrat Stacey Abrams has not yet secured the governor’s mansion in Georgia. That race may end up in a recount. And in Florida, Democrat Andrew Gillum got last-minute help on the campaign trail from former President Barack Obama.
But Republican Ron DeSantis, a congressman, appears to have won by a razor-thin margin. But that race, of course, could also be contested in the coming weeks. And in Texas, as I said during the show, Democrat Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke raised historic amounts of money, had tremendous media coverage, but fell short of unseating Republican Senator Ted Cruz.
What do these races and these candidates tell us? I mean, you think about Gillum, Beto O’Rourke, Stacey Abrams – progressives. They’re energizing the Democratic electorate yet not pulling through just yet in the red states. Maybe they will. The votes are still to be counted.
MS. BALL: Well, it’s interesting because you already have an argument going on. In fact, you had an argument going on on the left. I was starting to get the pre-spin before the election was even held between the liberal anti-establishment sort of Bernie side of the Democratic Party and the moderate establishment sort of third way side of the Democratic Party. They were – they were at each other’s throats before these races were even decided, blaming each other or trying to claim credit for the wins that happen.
And on the one hand, you have a lot of progressives saying, well, look how close Beto got. He absolutely outperformed expectations, came within a couple of points of winning a Senate race in Texas. I mean, that’s a really, really, really hard thing, something that – no Democrat has won statewide in Texas since 1994.
So they’re going to – so they count that as sort of a moral victory. On the other hand, you hear some saying, well, how much better could he have done had he taken that same charisma, that same inspiring quality, and not run quite so far to the left, not run on impeachment and abolishing ICE and some of the rather extreme left positions that he took.
And so – and, you know, that’s something that Gillum and Stacey Abrams also had in common. They’re running in these red states on a very far left message and so you’re going to hear an argument about that.
MR. TODD: But, you know, can I – I’ll tell you, though, and I – look, as somebody who thought Gwen Graham was going to be the better candidate for Democrats to nominate in Florida than Andrew Gillum, I think I’m completely wrong and, you know, I’ve seen this – look at Georgia. Jason Carter, President Carter’s grandson, got walloped. Michelle Nunn, the centrist Democrat running for Senate in 2014, got walloped. It’s not lost on me, and especially as the Sun Belt becomes the next battleground, OK, it’s going to decide our presidential elections probably starting in about 2028. It’s not quite there yet. The Midwest is still the swing area but it’s dripping down to the Sun Belt. Phil Bredesen ran as somebody who basically apologized for being a Democrat. Beto O’Rourke ran as somebody who was an unapologetic Democrat and Beto O’Rourke, frankly, came pretty darn close. Phil Bredesen got wiped out. And it’s not just him – Claire McCaskill, Joe Donnelly. The centrists didn’t get close, and I’ll say this.
MS. BALL: Well, you know what else is in the Sun Belt? Nevada and Arizona.
MR. TODD: I think as a – as a way to build the party I think that – look, Gillum flipped counties. Abrams flipped counties that hadn’t been flipped before – Gwinnett. Beto flipped counties. I don’t know. I think the progressives might have a case.
MR. COSTA: Karoun, then Molly.
MS. DEMIRJIAN: I was just going to say that the Nevada, Arizona – I would agree that Arizona is in the flippable – that the – still in the purple state category. I’ve been wondering why we still call Nevada and Colorado purple, really, because they’re blue at this point.
MR. TODD: No, they’re blue. Totally agree. Just like Ohio.
MS. DEMIRJIAN: They’re just very – yeah.
MR. TODD: Ohio’s probably red now.
MS. DEMIRJIAN: No, that’s – that was solidified when Jacky Rosen unseated Dean Heller. I mean, that was the one thing that made you say maybe, maybe. But, look, I think the thing that we have to take into account also is where Trump went and what Trump said. Like, he is still a very, very powerful force to be reckoned with. The fact that he got behind Ted Cruz in the home stretch of the Texas race I think mattered for knocking down Beto’s numbers. I think it mattered for Indiana as well. If it –
MR. TODD: I disagree. I think – I think, though – I think – well, I can tell you that Cruz’s pollsters believe that Trump’s visit hurt, didn’t help. They really believe and they walked me through. I didn’t –
MR. COSTA: So they didn’t want him to come?
MR. TODD: No. They wanted – if he came they wanted him in west Texas. By coming to Houston it ended up being a net negative. There was a way for him to be helpful, they would argue, but not there, and it was – it was why Martha McSally and Dean Heller said, please don’t come.
MS. DEMIRJIAN: Please don’t show up.
MR. COSTA: Well, Mark, final thought on this. As the president looks ahead to 2020, is he going to continue to go out there everywhere to all these different states?
MR. LANDLER: He’s talked about going out early next year and starting MAGA rallies all over again. I assume he – the 2020 campaign begins in January. This is –
MR. TODD: Really, January? Not this week? (Laughter.)
MR. LANDLER: Well, he’s got to nurse his wounds for –
MR. COSTA: I like that it starts in January. Let’s have a few months off –
MR. TODD: Yeah, I fear – I fear he already started. (Laughter.)
MR. COSTA: – a few months before we start going to Iowa in January.
MR. LANDLER: (Inaudible) – through Thanksgiving and then starts. But, no, this guy will be unlike any president we’ve ever seen. He will campaign continuously for the last two years of his first term and it’ll be – perhaps for those of us who worry about how he governs, this isn’t a bad outcome. On the other hand, it’s going to be exhausting and, as a few other people have pointed out, the battleground states have actually narrowed, I think, a little bit through the course of the midterms. So you could actually see the president going to six or seven states repeatedly for 24 months. Just think about what that’s going to look like.
MS. BALL: And it’s just – it’s a nightmare for Republicans, basically. I mean, they’re caught in a trap. He’s got – they can’t denounce him without losing their base. But they can’t win back the suburbanites without denouncing him.
MR. COSTA: The ones who denounced him – Charlie Baker in Massachusetts ran away from Trump, he wins. Hogan distanced himself from Trump –
MS. DEMIRJIAN: That’s Massachusetts, though. I got to –
MR. COSTA: It’s true.
MS. DEMIRJIAN: I grew up there. I mean, that’s what – it’s Republican governors and Democratic everything else there.
MR. COSTA: He’s one of the most popular governors in the country, Charlie Baker.
MS. DEMIRJIAN: But this is the pattern. I mean, since Weld, it’s just been Republican governors except for Deval Patrick –
MR. COSTA: You’re right.
MS. DEMIRJIAN: – and then everything else is super blue.
MR. COSTA: That’s it for this edition of the Washington Week Podcast. You can listen on your favorite podcast app or watch us online on the Washington Week website. While you’re online, check out the Washington Week-ly news quiz. I’m Robert Costa. See you next time.