On Friday’s “NewsHour” on PBS, New York Times columnist David Brooks and syndicated columnist Mark Shields reacted to Tea Party upstart David Brat, the Republican nominee for Virginia’s 7th congressional district contest this fall, upset of incumbent Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), the outgoing-House Majority Leader.
Brooks pointed out there were a number of valuable lessons to be learned from the surprise outcome, but added that ends any hopes of immigration reform making it through Congress in the near-term, which he argued was a negative for the GOP.
“So, to me, it’s really a horrible outcome for the Republican Party,” Brooks said. “And I think there is overwhelming data on this, that if the Tea Party — if the Republican Party doesn’t get right on immigration, it’s a threshold issue. They really do not do well in a national election for a long, long time. And every day, there’s more evidence that comes out, more survey data and everything. And so I think this makes it extremely unlikely the Republicans does get right or some sort of immigration reform.”
Transcript as follows:
WOODRUFF: I want to turn the corner to the big explosion in this country this week, David, which was Eric Cantor, House majority leader, top Republican in the House, lost. No one saw this coming. Why not? Lost nomination.
BROOKS: Well, it teaches us a few things. First, you can’t buy elections.
Eric Cantor outspent him by zillions to one, I think almost outspent him on steak houses alone compared to Brat’s entire combat. And so money — the limits on money were — once again, for the eighth million time, illustrated that you can’t buy elections.
I think the core story — there are two things, the core story of what caused the defeat and then the implications people are going to draw.
The core story that I think caused the defeat was people wanting some respect, feeling that Cantor had gotten out of touch with the district, too high and mighty, and the fact that he’s spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on steak houses maybe suggests they were right. And so I think he just lost touch with the district.
The implication that will be drawn is a much more ideological one, which was the Republicans cannot touch immigration, the Republicans could not compromise, and it is simply a fact that — the group The Third Way did a study where they asked Republican voters to analyze their own members of Congress. And Republicans voters think their members of Congress, Republicans, are much more centrist than they are.
Democrats line up pretty — the voters line up pretty well with their members of Congress. Republican voters do not think that. And so they’re of a mind to fire a certain number and Eric Cantor was one.
WOODRUFF: And what does that say? Mark, what does all this say about the Republican Party?
SHIELDS: Well, you put the question best. You said nobody predicted it. Nobody did, all the pundit class.
And ever since, the pundit class — as soon as the polls closed, the pundit class, all card-carrying members, two of them sitting here, but, with rare exceptions, had a total explanation as to why it happened, why Eric Cantor lost, and why Brat won, Dave Brat won.
And, Judy, it just strikes me that Mr. Churchill said it best. The winners get to write history. And Dave Brat said what his campaign was about. And he said that the principal difference between himself and Eric Cantor was immigration. He said that was what defined him.
And the reality is that he won, Eric Cantor lost. I think David’s statement — he spent a million dollars, Eric Cantor did, advertising Dave Brat’s name, which Dave Brat didn’t have.
SHIELDS: But I think there’s one factor that comes out of this, and having been up on the Hill yesterday, and that is, every member is terrified.
WOODRUFF: In both parties?
SHIELDS: In both parties, but particularly because they know — immigration is dead. Let’s be very honest about it.
Some people have tried to put a spin on it. There is no Republican who is going to raise this issue and say, we have to cooperate, we have to somehow accommodate the other side. We can work it out. That — if anything, Eric Cantor was accused of being squishy on that subject.
There is — the spines are absolutely terrified on the Republican side right now. And they just — they don’t know.
And it should be pointed out. We have been sitting here — at least I have been sitting here the last several weeks saying the establishment is winning this, the Tea Party is weaker.
WOODRUFF: Exactly. We were all saying the Tea Party was losing.
SHIELDS: Yes. That’s right.
BROOKS: And — but, nonetheless, if you take all those victories on one side and this one here, if you take in total the message, Tea Party.
SHIELDS: No question.
BROOKS: And so, to me, it’s really a horrible outcome for the Republican Party.
BROOKS: And I think there is overwhelming data on this, that if the Tea Party — if the Republican Party doesn’t get right on immigration, it’s a threshold issue. They really do not do well in a national election for a long, long time.
And every day, there’s more evidence that comes out, more survey data and everything. And so I think this makes it extremely unlikely the Republicans does get right or some sort of immigration reform.
SHIELDS: Could I say, I agree with David?
2016 should be a Republican year. You have got a president who is in a third term — second year of his second term.
WOODRUFF: You mean by historical…
SHIELDS: By historical — there’s no Democratic third term. His numbers are a lot closer to George Bush’s than they were to Ronald Reagan’s or Bill Clinton’s.
And so it should be a Republican year. And yet the Republicans just gave the Democrats an enormous advantage for 2016. If they are…
WOODRUFF: With just one congressional primary win?
SHIELDS: If immigration is going to be off the — no, Jeb Bush is no longer a hot property for 2016, because he is the pro-immigration candidate.
And, all of a sudden, if that becomes the third rail of Republican politics, that you can’t raise that in the 2016 primaries, then you’re going to be an older, whiter, more narrow, limited, minority party, and the Democrats just got unearned grace.
WOODRUFF: But how do you know this is going to last, I mean, that this nervousness about immigration — is this something that has legs, that is going to stick?
BROOKS: My instinct is that it will.
Now, it’s complicated. Rand Paul, he is sort of welcoming to immigration. Christie, a lot of the leading candidates are much more pro a comprehensive — some of comprehensive reform than the vote we just had.
Nonetheless, this vote underlines what will be evident in town halls as people are running, which is a lot of fervor on this vote side, on the anti-immigration side or anti-reform side. And it’s going to be hard for any candidate, especially a whole bunch of them, to resist that.
SHIELDS: And the message is, we come in the night, we travel night, we don’t have a big media buy, and we come upon you, and we don’t need millions of dollars.
WOODRUFF: The Tea Party.
SHIELDS: The Tea Party, and we will beat you. And we just beat Eric Cantor, and the only time the House majority leader has ever lost a primary. And this was unthinkable.
WOODRUFF: Does it matter whether they elect one of their own to be a leader, to hold the leadership position in the House of Representatives?
SHIELDS: I think they’re a party — I think the Tea Party, all due respect, is a party of opposition. It identifies grievances. It’s not much of an advocate. I don’t know what…
BROOKS: It’s very interesting.
I read — because I’m me, I read Dave Brat’s book, political theory.
WOODRUFF: Economic — oh, oh.
BROOKS: And it’s a very bold, very good book, by the way. He’s very smart, very — really good book.
But it’s very intellectual. It’s very oppositional, very bold, and that’s the style we have here. If I could just make one point wrapping up, Hillary Clinton, she’s had a very mixed weak, because the Tea Party, if she’s the nominee, makes it much more likely the Democrats will win.
SHIELDS: That’s right.
BROOKS: But if she’s sort of there and Iraq is exploding, that’s really bad for her. So it’s interesting to see the world from her vantage point.
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