Electoral Lessons (Transcript)

Date: 7 November 2014
Publisher: PBS Newshour
Byline: Mark Shield and David Brooks
Headline: Electoral Lessons (Transcript)

JUDY WOODRUFF:And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

David, what can Democrats learn from Michelle Nunn’s Senate victory in Georgia?

DAVID BROOKS:Her victory should encourage Democrats, but it may be singular.  She’s an attractive candidate who won strong support from Democrats and Independents.  She had great name recognition and popularity based upon her father Sam Nunn’s long service in the Senate.  She said that she would follow her father’s long term support for centrist, bipartisan, policies.  Most Democrats don’t have a father who served in the Senate, and most can’t win Democratic primaries by supporting centrist, or bipartisan, policies.

JUDY WOODRUFF:Mark, what can Democrats learn from the Republican victories in Senate races?

MARK SHIELDS:Judy, Democrats woke up Wednesday morning feeling like Republicans felt in 2008.  Next year the Republicans will have a dramatic majority in the Senate and an increased majority in the House.  It’s dramatic because the Republicans did this without a charismatic leader like Barack Obama and without a leader, they had to run on policies.

The word existential is overused in modern political jargon, but the Democrats had an existential crisis.  Centrist and purple state Democrats avoided Barack Obama but they asked “his” black constituents to come to the polls and vote for them.  Not unsurprisingly, African-American voters didn’t turn out in the same numbers that they did in 2008 and 2012 when Barack Obama was at the top of the ticket.  Using David’s word, this may also be singular.  In 2016, the Democrats may have a great candidate like Hillary Clinton at the top of the ticket.

JUDY WOODRUFF:David, is Mark correct that this was a singular result for Democrats based upon President Obama’s falling popularity?

DAVID BROOKS:Mark is probably right about Democrats and the President, but Republicans may have solved an even bigger existential problem for themselves with their “No Todos Los Primos” platform.

JUDY WOODRUFF:And for our viewers that means “Not Everybody’s Cousins”.  What problem did that solve?

DAVID BROOKS:As Mark has said on this program, the Republic Party is perceived as too white, too male, and perhaps too old to win a national election for President.  In this election, Republicans fielded a group of candidates with Anglo and Hispanic surnames that explained in Spanish how a Republic Congress would make life better for Mexicans and other Latin American immigrants.  In districts and states where they did not have a Spanish speaking candidate, they used candidates from outside the district, rather than actors and actresses, to explain their platform in Spanish media.  In Spanish media, they avoided any discussion of Obamacare.

They threaded a political needle by separating blacks and unions from Hispanic voters.  They promised to pass legislation that imitated the “Bracero” program and will provide immediate visas for agricultural and industrial workers.  They promised that visas would protect visa-holders from police harassment and deportation.  They conducted polls among Mexican voters and learned that economic and deportation issues were more important than citizenship.  This allowed them to avoid discussions of citizenship that tend to favor Democrats.  The most significant part of their platform is that kept repeating that blacks and unions opposed their platform because they did not want competition from honest, hard-working, Mexican immigrants.  They took a page from the Democratic playbook and heavily promoted their message in traditional, and store front, Spanish speaking churches and combined their visa platform with message about traditional family values.

JUDY WOODRUFF:Mark, threaded a political needle?

MARK SHIELDS:The Republicans were just short of immoral in playing the race card in these races.  Issues of language, culture, and race and deeply convoluted with Latino communities.  The problems at last summer’s World Cup in Brazil illustrated the conflicts between dark-skinned and light-skinned Latin Americans.  The Republicans will reap a terrible wrath if they continue to incite animosities between the Black and Latino communities.

JUDY WOODRUFF:David, reap a terrible wrath?

DAVID BROOKS:Whites in general, and Republicans in particular, are reluctant to discuss race or racism.  Only elements on the extreme fringe discuss rectifying the damages from reverse discrimination.  When Eric Holder calls for an active discussion about race, he is really calling for a discussion based upon ideas promoted by Democrats and their African-American constituency.

JUDY WOODRUFF:And you’re referring to Attorney General Eric Holder.

DAVID BROOKS:Republicans may have converted a two-way discussion of race between whites and blacks into a three-way discussion between whites, blacks, and Hispanics.

Blacks in the US may not see themselves as privileged, but undocumented Mexican immigrants certainly do.  These immigrants don’t see themselves as illegal, but merely as lacking documents.  They do know that they don’t have access to welfare, food stamps, subsidized housing, or preferential access to jobs and education.

Some Republicans feel that Asian-Americans were slow to recognize that racial preferences for blacks reduced their access to Berkeley and UCLA.  Many of the Republicans were the Reagan-Democrats from the 1980’s.  They’ve developed sophisticated approaches to a multi-ethnic society.  They believe that they can convert several generations of Hispanics into loyal Republicans using the same techniques as Ronald Reagan.

MARK SHIELDS:Judy, these Republicans are using cynical tactics and cheap theatrics.  They think that they can craft an immigration bill that does not include citizenship so that Democrats will oppose it and the President will veto it.  They fan the flames of racism at their peril.

JUDY WOODRUFF:It’s at our peril that we postpone this discussion until another program.  David Brooks, Mark Shields, we thank you both.