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Shields and Brooks on the Election Results

By The NewsHour, The NewsHour - November 3, 2010

JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, Judy Woodruff receives election analysis from Shields and Brooks.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And that is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks. Gentlemen, welcome back from last night and election coverage.

So, you have had a few hours to look over these results, 60-plus seats in the House, pickups in the Senate, the statehouses. What does it mean, Mark? What are the voters trying to say?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, first of all, Judy, the results speak very loudly for the voters.

I mean, of the 60 seats that the Democrats lost in the House, 48 of them, by the calculation of one senior party strategist, were moderate to conservative. So, the sort of middle of the Democratic Party has been carved out. The Democratic Caucus...

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean those who lost?

MARK SHIELDS: Those who lost. And so the Democratic Party in January will be a far more liberal, more homogeneous party than it was.

What the voters were saying -- and I think Michael Barone, the conservative author, deserves credit for identifying this earliest -- and that is, blue-collar voters in areas of the country that have been hurting economically for more than a generation, Upstate New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, instead of voting Democratic, voted Republican in 2010.

They expressed their dissatisfaction about their own political pain and dislocation, and sustained dislocation, by voting Republican. I think that was a loud message...

JUDY WOODRUFF: And -- and you're saying moderates took -- took a hit...

MARK SHIELDS: And moderates -- moderate Democrats took a hit. I mean, a lot of the Democrats who had won in 2006 and 2008, where there had been a concentrated effort by Rahm Emanuel and Chris Van Hollen, the leaders of the party's campaign committee in the House, to recruit candidates who could win in Republican areas, who didn't meet a liberal litmus test.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you read the results?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I actually have the same thing. I came prepared to say the exact same thing.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Hmm.

DAVID BROOKS: You know, you take these working-class voters. They had, surprisingly -- they had been with the Republicans under Reagan. They had supported Bush.

But then, as the Bush term went on, they became disaffected with Bush, and especially Bush economic policies. And, in 2006 and 2008, they switched, not all of them, but a significant number of them switched to the Democratic Party. But then what happened was the stimulus package.

The exit poll shows that a third of voters think it was harmful and a third think it made no difference, so two-thirds thought ineffective. And then -- so they just decided: I'm not seeing income growth. I have tried tax cuts. I have tried debt. They're not helping me.

And, so, they flipped away from the Democrats on the grounds that the Obama economic policy, which was the stimulus package essentially and some other things, wasn't helping them. And that doesn't mean they have embraced the Republicans, but it was those working-class voters who shifted overwhelmingly.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You look at the exit polls -- and there were different ones -- but the ones I looked at, when you -- people were asked, what's the next -- the top priority for the next Congress, 37 percent -- 39 percent said reduce the deficit. Almost as many said spend to create jobs.

So, when John Boehner today, the -- presumably the next speaker, Mark, says he wants to listen to the voters, which message is he saying they should listen to?

MARK SHIELDS: Whichever one he chooses.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: No, I mean, I think the deficit is not an unimportant issue. And, certainly, Ross Perot proved that in 1992, that could it be the basis of a major national candidacy.

But I think what it really comes down to, Judy is economic growth and jobs. And I think if the president talks about anything else or is concerned with anything else, I think he does it at his own political risk, and at the risk of just separating himself, estranging himself from his voters.

And I think the same is true for John Boehner. I mean, John Boehner has got a more complex job, because he's got a more complex caucus, I think, than Barack Obama is dealing with.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Was the message so clear?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. No, I think there's a lot of projection going on here. If you looked at the exit polls, the independents were more likely than other voters to really be alarmed about the deficits. They were also more likely than other voters to want to protect Social Security, Medicare, and all the things that create the deficits. And so a lot of the upset about Washington over the last couple decades is really projecting our own problems onto the Capitol.

If the American people are not willing to square that circle, then how can you expect elected leaders to do that? And that was evident in the exit polls.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, we saw President Obama today come out and say he felt bad for those Democrats who had lost. And, at one point, he said he took a shellacking. Mark, was this what you expected from him today?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think it was reality-based. I mean, the Democrats did take a shellacking. We heard that they had lost 19 state legislatures, control of houses in 19 different state legislatures.

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