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Midweek In Politics: Voter Demographics And More


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.President Obama wins a second term; Democrats flip a handful of seats. in both the House and the Senate; and Republicans begin a new round of soul-searching.

SIEGEL: It's only Wednesday, but we have more than enough to talk about with our Friday regulars - E.J. Dionne, of the Washington Post and Brookings Institution; and David Brooks, of the New York Times. Welcome to both of you.

E.J. DIONNE: Good to be with you.

DAVID BROOKS: Good to be here.

SIEGEL: David - first, a question for you. One take on this election is that Republicans are a party of white people, and this is a rainbow country. Does the GOP have to rethink how it relates to blacks, Latinos; how it actually brings them inside the party?



SIEGEL: How do they do that, in that case?

BROOKS: Well, the Republican Party has become the receding roar, for a lot of white people who are longing for a way of life that will never come back. Every other institution, in American life, has done this - every university, every workplace. They've adapted to a world with many more Latinos, many more Asian-Americans; and many more single women, single men, college grads. Everyone's entered the 21st century, except the Republican Party. And so they just need to stop living in 1980. And the way you do that - first, the way they think they can do it, a lot of Republicans are already saying, well, we need to downplay the social issues; and we need to get our immigration policy right.

Those things are necessary, but not sufficient. The central problem is, they have an outdated story to tell about how people make it in America; sort of the lonely individualist. If you look at the polls - and I've been looking all day, at Asian-Americans and Latinos; how they look at America - they believe ferociously in work. And they think some government programs help them work harder. And so Republicans have to get on the right side of that issue of work. How do we help people work harder, and make their lives better?

SIEGEL: E.J., I have a different question for you. I'm still struck by the Democratic sweep of the upper Midwest; where Obama campaigned, very heavily, on the auto bailout. These were the very states where the Tea Party savaged the Democrats two years ago; in part, by complaining about bailouts. What's happened?

DIONNE: It is an amazing thing. I just want to underscore one thing David said, by quoting Mike Murphy, the Republican consultant; who said the coming war in the Republican Party is not between moderates and conservatives. It's between Republicans who know how to count, and Republicans who don't. And the changing country is something they're going to have to come to terms with.

But the auto bailout really goes back to some basic differences between the parties. Think about it - that the auto rescue was, in some ways, the most socialist policy - if I can use that term - that Obama pursued. It was direct state intervention in the operation of private-market companies, in the private market. And it worked; and that's why it mattered to voters. I think that when you go back to 2010, Michigan and Ohio had not felt the effects of it fully; and the economy, in general, was bad. But by the time you got to 2012, it was very clear that jobs had been saved.

And indeed, there was new investment going on, in American companies. I went out to Parma, Ohio, in the Republican primary; and you could sort of tell Obama was winning the Republican primary because they have stamping plant there - and there are plants like that, all over Ohio and Michigan. And people said Obama did a good thing; he saved something. And so I think it shows voters tend not to be ideological about these matters. They care about results, and this one produced results.

BLOCK: I'm curious to hear - from both of you - about the role of money in this campaign, post-Citizens United. When you look at the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on these races; and in particular, campaigns targeting Democrats - Sherrod Brown in Ohio, Bill Nelson in Florida, Joe Donnelly, Tim Kaine, John Tester, Tammy Baldwin, Heidi Heitkamp - they all survived. What's the takeaway, E.J.?

DIONNE: I've forgotten who said it, but someone said Republicans always say government should get a return on its investment. You wonder how many of these big donors are going to ask: What was my return on this investment, in this election? I don't think it proves that money doesn't matter. I think it proved that in this cycle, at least, Democrats were able to raise sufficient money. I mean, for goodness sake, President Obama spent about a billion dollars, and was able to reply to these things. The Obama superPAC ended up raising $90 million. But it does show that if there is reasonable parity, the other side can fight back. And you also need some good candidates, to win races. And in some of these cases, Republicans did not have - shall we say - ideal candidates.

BLOCK: David?

BROOKS: I guess I would say: Don't spend so much on marketing; spend a little more on product. And so - the Republican product was bad. And if you're a Republican billionaire, and you're listening to us, I guess I'd say, you spent a lot money on marketing. How much do you spend setting up a think tank, or an institution, that will help Republicans create moderate ideas? How much did you spend trying to create the Republican version of the Democratic Leadership Council? The odds are, you spent zero. And that was your mistake.

BLOCK: Speaking of product, can you look back and think of any Republican candidate who could have come through the primary process, and fared better in the general election, than Mitt Romney - David?

BROOKS: Yep, all of them. (LAUGHTER)Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie - listen, I'm going to give E.J. his week of irrational exuberance. But, you know...


BROOKS: ...we're basically returning the same cast of characters to Washington. We've seen very little change. Most parts of the country actually voted slightly more conservatively than they did four years ago. I'm not saying this wasn't a thumping for the Republican Party, but let's not get carried away with - as some vast endorsement of liberal policies. But if you had had a Mitch Daniels or somebody - or Chris Christie - who could relate to working-class people, rather than being Mr. Bain Capital, I think we'd be looking - I don't know if they would have won, but we'd be looking at a - sort of different country today.


DIONNE: Well, I'm actually not going to engage in irrational exuberance, much as I would love to.


DIONNE: But I do think that this election was a decisive choice. It wasn't a vote for some leftist utopia. It was a vote for balance over what a right-wing Republican Party was offering. I mean, the president was very explicit. He invited the country to settle the argument that had divided Washington for four years. Do you want to really preserve the New Deal, Great Society, Obamacare, social insurance state with some tweaks, perhaps some pruning; or do you want to throw it away, and cut taxes more? And I think it was a very clear choice on that.

And so I think it was for a very moderate version of progressivism. And I think what's going to be interesting is, do the Republicans assume that just because they held the House - which they held for some technical reasons; the way districts are drawn, in part - that their ideas are still as alive and well as they were before this election? I think that would be a terrible misreading of this outcome.

SIEGEL: I have a relatively short-answer question, same - for both of you to answer. We're hearing a lot of pious remarks about bipartisanship and cooperation; and how we have to be much more serious about finding solutions. As both of you look ahead to the next few months, are you actually hopeful that fiscal problems that defied that kind of attitude over the past couple of years, are now going to be settled? E.J. - first, you.

DIONNE: I think there's at least an opening. And maybe I'll back off and say, oh, I want irrational exuberance after all.


DIONNE: But, you know, I thought John Boehner made a very interesting statement today - which suggested he was willing to negotiate on revenues. I think there are Republicans, in the Senate, who want to make a deal. And the president's in a much stronger position.

SIEGEL: David, an even shorter answer from you.

BROOKS: I agree. I think Boehner sincerely wants a deal. And Republicans would suffer, if they don't cut one.

SIEGEL: OK. Thanks to both of you - David Brooks, of the New York Times; and E.J. Dionne, of the Washington Post and the Brookings Institution.

DIONNE: Thank you.

BROOKS: Thank you.


BLOCK: This is NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.