Broder On Politics
With David S. Broder
Washington Post Columnist/Reporter
Thursday, Nov. 7, 2002; Noon ET
With such tight margins in the Senate and House, 2002 election was a nail-biter until the end. How did the parties handle their strategies in the midst of impending war on Iraq and the ongoing war on terrorism? How much did money reign supreme? How did two last-minute replacements on the ballot in Minnesota and New Jersey affect voters' feelings, much less turnout at the polls?
Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and columnist David S. Broder was online to talk the midterm elections and the political landscape in the midst of crisis on Thursday, Nov. 7.
The transcript follows.
Broder has written extensively about primaries, elections, special interests and the business of politics. His books include "Democracy Derailed: The Initiative Movement & the Power of Money," "Behind the Front Page: A Candid Look at How the News Is Made" and "The System: The American Way of Politics at the Breaking Point."
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
Alexandria, Va.: Mr. Broder,
Is there a Democrat out there who is capable of leading the party? Or anyone who even has the courage of his convictions now that the Paul Wellstone has left us?
David S. Broder: Your question is one I have heard from many Democrats in the last 48 hours. Certainly, there are plenty of Democrats with titles in front of their names. But leadership requires more than a title, as you know. It is established by actions, not words, and so far that demonstration has been lacking more often than it has been displayed.
Wheaton, Md.: Would you agree that the election results show that the public not only supports, but demands strong action on international terrorists?
David S. Broder: I would agree, but I have never doubted the public support for the war on terrorists, so I don't think it took an election to prove that proposition.
Gaithersburg, Md.: Mr. Broder --
I always enjoy your column. Now the question.
Were the results a reflection of Republican strength, or the lack of Democrat focus?
David S. Broder: How about: Both. Without exit polls, we can't say with any certainty what influenced votes. But the anecdotal evidence suggests that Republicans were motivated and Democrats were not.
Mt. Lebanon, Pa.: Tuesday's election must spell GOOD NEWS for Greens, Independents, and other third party types. With the GOP -- the party of big business, foreign adventures, and millionaire tax cuts -- having been joined by the Dems -- the party of Me, Too -- more disillusioned Dems will likely flee an outfit that now clearly "stands for nothing but the next election." Perhaps you, Mr. Broder, need to resharpen your own pencil and stop your practice of dismissing the prospects of new parties? For these new coalitions of disenchanted Americans will now with renewed enthusiasm stake out more acreage for themselves in America's evolving political landscape. This is a welcome development after years of two-headed hegemony from the American Business Party. Thanks much. Non-voter.
David S. Broder: Dear Non-Voter: I may need my pencil sharpened, but if the trends are such as you describe, how come a well-credentialed independent candidate for governor of Minnesota, Tim Penny, ran so badly? And by the way, you ought to try voting some time. It gives you another way of expressing yourself.
Oakland, Calif.: Several months ago, Tom DeLay made the surprisingly candid remark that conservatives and liberals differ in their world views. Polling has shown that regular church attendance is the strongest indicator of Republican voting. Do you agree that the divide between conservative Christian thinking and secular thinking is core distinction between Republicans and Democrats? What do demographic trends indicate about the influence of conservative Christianity on the future of American government?
David S. Broder: The gap between the strongly churched and the secularists is certainly one of the major fault lines in American politics, but not the only one. Race, gender and other divisions also matter a great deal. Most of the politicians I talked with this year had the impression that the Christian Coalition and similar groups were less involved in this year's campaigns than in past years, but without exit polls, we don't know how well they turned out.
Southern Maryland: After the Marilyn Quayle speech at the 1992 GOP convention, one of your colleagues quoted you as suggesting that the baby-boomers would still be fighting the "culture war" from their nursing-home wheelchairs. How much have things changed in 10 years for that generation's politics?
David S. Broder: Not a great deal. Look at Senator Daschle's reaction to the president's implication that the Senate doesn't care about national security -- you can see the scars of the Vietnam era debates have not healed. And look at the recent Georgia Senate campaign. I think those divisions persist.
Cumberland, Md.: Will the Democrats control the Senate during the Lame Duck session or will the election results require a new vote on that issue?
David S. Broder: My understanding is that as soon as Jim Talent's election in Missouri is certified, which should be a matter of days, the Senate will revert to Republican control. As you know, he was elected to serve the balance of the term of the late Mel Carnahan, so Mrs. Carnahan, who was serving by appointment, will have to vacate her seat for Mr. Talent very soon, giving the Republicans their 50th vote.
Mt. Rainier, Md.: I have to agree with you about the "fecklessness" of the Democratic Party as a whole, and the sheer lack of courage they have displayed for years. As someone who wants desperately to have a progressive/liberal politician to vote for, it is very discouraging. I can vote for Republicans who disagree with me totally, or vote for "Republican lite" who at least don't disagree with me totally. Who is finally going to have the courage to say to the estate tax is a good idea and that we need to roll-back the last tax break because it is crippling the government? Wasn't it Reagan who told us there is no free lunch? When is someone going to say that the corporations have been given too much power and too many breaks, that the off-shore banks are a refuge not only for drug-lords but also our own corporations (which is why Bush backed away from doing anything about the money-laundering these banks do). Corporations that are getting every benefit from a first-class business environment ought to be paying the taxes that keep that environment first-class rather than sloping off to Bermuda. THEY believe in the free lunch for sure!
David S. Broder: I cannot predict when or through whom the Democrats will find their authentic voice. But I am hearing from a great many disillusioned Democrats who share your views.
Washington, D.C.: Mr. Broder:
Thanks for taking the time during a crazy week for you. How much of an impact was the Homeland Security bill and the failure of the Senate to pass it? It looks to me like without that weapon, Chambliss would not have been able to use his despicable ad, but as it happened, the ad was effective. I also wonder whether Shaheen and Strickland might have won as well without this issue (I assume Mondale and Carnahan were cooked by local issues).
David S. Broder: The honest answer is that, without exit polls, we cannot say with any assurance what part particular issues played in the outcome. At the anecdotal level, my impression is that a particular piece of legislation may have been useful for illustrative purposes in an ad--but people were judging on broader impressions of the candidates than on specific votes.
Arlington, Va.: I'm a Republican but I'm cautioning my GOP brethren not to get "irrationally exuberant" over Tuesday's results. After all, by my math, had about say 150-250,000 vote total gone the other way, the Senate would have remained in Democratic hands. The country's still equally divided. My question is, what direction do you think the Democrats go -- back to the left to fire up the base (the Gore approach) which will kill them in the general in '04 or hew to the DLC line?
David S. Broder: The first test of that question will come when House Democrats choose a successor to Dick Gephardt. The lines are clearly drawn between Nancy Pelosi and Martin Frost. The House Democratic caucus is to the left of the party in general, which helps Pelosi, but Frost has been an indefatigable fundraiser, so it becomes a fair fight. Ultimately, the direction of the party will be set in the contest for the 2004 presidential nomination--and it's far too early to handicap that race.
Burke, Va.: I noticed that female Democrats did especially bad in many of the highly publicized races -- e.g., Townsend, Shaheen, Carnahan, whereas female Republicans -- e.g., Dole, seemed to have done relatively better. Given the prominence of national security issues, is there a perceived leadership weakness among female Democrats? Or do men see them as tied too much to liberal feminist ideology? Of course, Connie Morella lost locally, but she was not a typical Republican. Also, is Nancy Pelosi likely to win the new House Minority Leader position? I think this would be a bad move to the left for the House Democrats.
David S. Broder: It's really not safe to generalize about women candidates. Democratic women won governorships in Michigan and Kansas and, apparently, Arizona, while losing some other races in Massachusetts and Arkansas and Hawaii, in addition to those you mentioned. I don't think there's any simple explanation for those results -- and I am skeptical that the national security issue played a big part.
Washington, D.C.: Will there be a campaign between Frost and Pelosi? How can Dems get involved in the direction of the party?
David S. Broder: There will be a campaign between Frost and Pelosi, but it will take place among their colleagues in the House. If you have a favorite, you should let your representative, Eleanor Holmes Norton, know.
Flint, Mich.: Thanks for doing this. You travel around the country. Do you see any interest on the part of young people for joining the military?
David S. Broder: Not especially. Recruitment has stayed at about the same level it was before 9/11.
Clarksville, Tenn.: There were a number of moderate Republicans recruited and supported for some of these races. Moderates in the GOP don't usually shave much say. Do you think they will have more say now?
David S. Broder: There is no firm definition of a moderate or a conservative Republican. Lamar Alexander, the new senator from your state, has been called both. As a general proposition, those who call themselves moderates -- the two women senators from Maine, for example, or the Republicans who are part of the "Wednesday Group" are a minority within the Republican caucuses.
Maryland 8th District: Mr. Broder. I was very frustrated by all the negative (and vacuous) political ads on TV. Personally, I think it's unethical. Were there any politicians that clearly resisted the urge to go negative? Also, who makes the nasty political ads? Are there advertising agencies that are known for being negative or particularly deceitful? Is there any way to encourage the ad agencies to stop?
P.S. I always vote, but I empathize with the non-voter that wishes there was a stronger third party option.
David S. Broder: Many people share your disgust with the negative ads, but they persist because politicians and consultants believe they are effective. The ads are made by people hired as media consultants, but they are approved by the candidates or political parties, so that is where ultimate responsibility lies--unless they are paid for by outside groups running independent campaigns They cannot be regulated under the First Amendment, but sometimes stations reject them if convinced they are simply false. The Minnesota Senate campaign, after Sen. Wellstone's death, was relatively free of them. And, I am told, so were a couple of contested House races in Utah.
Washington, D.C.: Hi David --
I was really touched by Walter Mondale's concession, and thought he was inspiring. And he said something I thought was interesting. In praising Tom Daschle (which I know he had to do, but man -- whatever), he said that a majority leader can't do much without having a minority who's willing to work with him. Do you think that Lott will find a minority who's willing to work with him, or will it be gridlock as usual? Also, I can't help but thinking that it didn't help President Clinton much to have Dems in control of both the House and Senate. Unless the Republicans will be smarter.
David S. Broder: Thanks for your good question. With the Senate agenda back in Republican control, I expect to see President Bush revert to his style of the first six months of his term, before the Jeffords switch put Senator Daschle in charge. On the two big bills Bush was then working -- the tax cut and education reform -- he reached out to enlist Democratic allies. My guess is that is what he will attempt again, and, unless rebuffed, will persist.
Washington, D.C.: Mr. Broder:
What do you think will happen in the Louisiana run-off next month? Certainly both parties and all the special interests will be pouring resources into the State. While Landrieu won a plurality with 46 percent of the vote, the three Republicans in the race took 51 percent, which would seem to suggest Landrieu may be in a precarious situation.
David S. Broder: Louisiana figures to be close, but the Democrats have a knack of producing the number of votes from New Orleans that a candidate needs. Sort of reminds me of Chicago in the days of my youth.
Laurel, Md.: Dems picked up governorships, except in the Northeast. Has the Republican Party successfully assimilated a non-Southern style of candidate that can be successful where Newt Gingrich/Trent Lott style can't?
David S. Broder: The Republicans have gotten smart about electing governors in the Northeast, but they do that by focusing on state issues. New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont all have or will have Republican governors, but the senators from those states all are Democrats -- or in Jeffords' case, vote with the Democrats. Clearly, the magic formula has not rubbed off on the Republican candidates for federal offices.
Falls Church, Va.: Do the party chairmen play a significant role in the success or failure of these elections? If so, how would you grade Terence McAuliffe, and were the Republicans helped when Gov. Gilmore was forced out?
David S. Broder: The party chairmen do not set policy or strategy. McCauliffe is an effective fund-raiser, and Marc Racico is both a friend of the president and a loyal partner to Karl Rove, so the White House was glad to have him in the job.
Somerville, Mass.: Aren't the arguments that the Democrats ran a poor campaign, and that Bush has a mandate incompatible. You can't argue that the Democrats presented no vision, and had poor candidates and not take away from the Republican side of the victory. If one team doesn't show up, the other team doesn't win by playing a great game. Of course Bush claimed a mandate from an election he lost at the same time his party lost seats so I expect him to make the claim anyway.
David S. Broder: No, I don't think they are incompatible -- unless you are overstating both propositions. The Democrats presented some excellent candidates, but many of them lost. In states I was covering, such as North Carolina and Massachusetts, I thought the Democrats had very good candidates. But there is no question in the view of anyone I've interviewed in the last two days, Democrat or Republican, that Bush's campaigning was an important ingredient in the Republican victories--and as you can tell from some of the other questions this noon, there's also no doubt that many Democrats found their own party's message muddled and weak.
Alexandria, Va.: Hey, Mr. Broder, hope you are enjoying a fine day. I have two questions:
One, do you think Sen. Jeffords is feeling a little queasy?
Two, what happened to Max Cleland?
Thanks for your time.
David S. Broder: I haven't talked to Senator Jeffords, so I don't know how he's feeling. We have a front-page story today on the Georgia race, which has information in it that may help you understand why Senator Cleland lost.
Cleveland, Ohio: Is too much being made of the Democrats not offering a clear alternative to the Republicans? Much of the analysis I've read suggests that Democrats should have stood up to Bush on the Iraq issue. But isn't it possible that their losses would have been much worse if they took that stance? I believe Sept. 11 made security far and away the most important issue to voters; in this election, unlike most, the economy was not of paramount importance.
David S. Broder: You may be right, but we are crippled in going beyond anecdotes in gauging the impact of particular issues on the 2002 vote. Losing exit polls was a major blow to post-election analysis.
Madison, Wis.: Here's a paradox, Mr. Broder. You have said frequently that the American people are split right down the middle between Democrats and Republicans. Yet Republicans now control all branches of government, just as the Democrats did in 1964 when the electorate was overwhelmingly Democratic. How do you explain this? Is it that the Republican half is more well-to-do, giving the GOP a fundraising edge? Or something else?
David S. Broder: Your question fits with a discussion we had in our political staff meeting this morning. I think it is timely now to reexamine the 50-50 nation thesis, in light of the big Republican victories. We will be doing that, but we need to dig more deeply into the election returns and the post-election polling before we can attempt an answer.
South Bend, Ind.: Don't you think the Democrats should borrow a page from the GOP playbook: concentrate on the House, think long term, groom these district candidates for the House races and in the meantime get a message? Granted The Bush folks have a good plan but they often come up short on follow-through domestically. For example the leave no child behind that the House simply refused to fund.
David S. Broder: I would agree with both your points. And it may be that having governors in states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Illinois will provide a base from which the Democrats can rebuild their stable of candidates and -- even more important -- of ideas.
Annandale, Va.: One piece of good news to me as a liberal is that Lugar will head the Foreign Relations committee -- he's the best from either party for this job. My question is about Democrats in 2004. Given the lack of incumbent governors with experience, they will be hurting to find someone outside the Beltway with any stature. I assume, and hope, Davis is too damaged. What do you think are the chances Vilsack is interested or that the party is interested in him? What about a former governor like Carper or Bob Graham?
David S. Broder: The candidates you mention are fine people, but running for president is a time-consuming and expensive task. I'm not sure they are up for that.
I'm afraid this will have to be my last answer today. Thanks again to all of you. I'll do this again soon.
That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.
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