What Does Cantor's Loss Say About The Republicans' Future?
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. The big political news today means we are starting the program with a visit to the Beauty Shop. That is where our panel of women journalists and commentators take a fresh cut on the week's headlines. Sitting in the chairs for a new do this week are Professor Andra Gillespie. She's an associate professor of political science at Emory University. Bridget Johnson is Washington, D.C. editor for PJ Media. That's a conservative, libertarian commentary and news website. Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer prize winning columnist and author of "...And His Lovely Wife: A Memoir From The Woman Beside The Man." And Alexis Wilkinson is a student at Harvard University. She is president of the Harvard Lampoon, the school's undergraduate humor magazine. She's working as a journalist this summer. Welcome ladies to the shop. Good to hear from everybody.
ANDRA GILLESPIE: Thank you.
BRIDGET JOHNSON: Hi, Michel.
ALEXIS WILKINSON: Hey, great to be here.
MARTIN: OK, that's great. So let me start with Professor Gillespie because we wanted to talk about this political shocker that Republican Congressman Eric Cantor is out after a surprising primary defeat last night. He is the House Majority Leader and he lost his district, his Virginia district seat to Dave Brat, who is a tea party supported political newcomer. He's also a professor himself. Here he is, this is Dave Brat, after the victory.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
DAVE BRAT: The reason we won this campaign is, there's just one reason, and that's because dollars do not vote - you do.
MARTIN: So Professor Gillespie, this is, for people who don't follow this stuff closely, he, Cantor is being eyed as the next Speaker of the House, and our, kind of, political experts say they can't remember a time when a person in that position lost his seat. So tell us your take on this. What do you think this was about?
GILLESPIE: This is utterly shocking and I happen to be from the third congressional district in Virginia, which is right adjacent to that. So I grew up on the other side of the county from Eric Cantor and I was shocked. I mean, there are a couple of things that we have to think about. I've been on twice that couple of months. I saw the ads. I didn't particularly like the attack ads against David Brat, particularly as a professor. So the idea that you use your expertise to help out the state, I thought it was completely unfair. And it's...
MARTIN: What was the point of the ad? What were they saying, for those who didn't see them?
GILLESPIE: Eric Cantor tried to portray David Brat as a liberal, to try to say that he's really not a conservative. See, he helped Tim Kane out by serving on, you know, in an economic advisory position for the state. And so you had all these sort of caricatures as David Brat as a liberal college professor, see, support me. And I think there are two things. One, I think that evidences a certain sense of vulnerability because you rarely see ads for Eric Cantor in the district. He really hasn't had a competitive race since he won his initial primary to get into Congress in 2000. I mean, I think the other thing that really, kind of, comes forward in looking at the election results broken down by county. David Brat and Eric Cantor happened to be both from the same part of Henrico county. Brat beat him in Henrico county in his home base. He clearly beat him in Hanover County where he teaches. And he just performed strongly throughout the district. Cantor wins Richmond city, but that's a small part of, you know, of the district...
GILLESPIE: ...Itself. So I mean this was a Geo. T.V. thing. Brat won because he did retail politics and Cantor stayed on, and was probably on television more than he should've been.
MARTIN: OK Bridget, what do you say about this? You know, one of the things that people are saying is that this really puts the kibosh on immigration reform because Eric Cantor was going, moving to a position where you could actually get some legislation through. What's your take on that?
JOHNSON: Well, yeah. I mean, every time that you tweeted something about Cantor last night, you get a reply but he's an amnesty shill. You know, and I haven't really heard that sort of emotion since the mid-2000s. With the sense of (unintelligible) etc. But it's, it's confusing because Lindsey Graham won in South Carolina and he doesn't even have to go to a runoff. He had six tea partiers challenging him and he held firm to his guns on being one of the group of eight that put the immigration reform bill through. But so I think we're seeing...
MARTIN: So you don't really see a kind of a national issue here because one of the things that people are interested in this is that a lot of people were saying well, the tea party, kind of, has had its moment and come and gone. And so that's, people are, kind of, drawing a big national conclusion from that. I think what you're saying is all politics is local. Maybe this is really about issues there in the district, as opposed to, and how Eric Cantor presented himself to his district as opposed to any big theme?
JOHNSON: Well, I mean, I was talking to a person high up in Cantor's office just last week and they said we're not worried about it. And I know (laughing) a lot of other political reporters in town heard the same thing. Graham was worried about it. And because Graham was targeted early on as one of the people that they could take out. But, you know, the tea party is hit and miss. You know, it's been a movement based more on emotion than hard-core political strategy. You know, case in point is the primary challenge that was given to Speaker Boehner and his opponent (laughing) did, like, a Viagraesque commercial, banking on the mispronunciation of his name. And so you've gotten some very non-serious candidates. You've gotten some who've been able to wage these upsets like Cantor last night. And it's, it's surprising. I don't know if it's a trend that we're going to see because, you know, we saw a lot of people come in 2010 that went out in 2012 because people in their districts realized, you know, wait, do you have what it takes to be a leader?
MARTIN: Interesting point. Connie Schultz, what do you think?
CONNIE SCHULTZ: I've been all over the map on this in the last 12, 14 hours because so many journalists got this wrong. So many reported based on the polling they were given. And I'm wondering what pollsters are going to make of this because they were either really, really wrong or somebody was lying throughout it. It's, coming from Ohio, where Boehner is, who is considered always to be just unbeatable. I think one of the big lessons I'm hearing, I've been interviewing some activists out of Virginia. Democratic activists, 'cause I, when I first got up, I thought I wonder if a lot of Democrats crossed over in this open primary. The analytics are not bearing out on that. Certainly some of them did, perhaps a couple thousand did, but that wasn't enough for the 11 point lead. What it does tell me though, when I talked to some of the Democratic activists this morning, trying to make some sense of this is, you've got two groups who feel disenfranchised so often in the mainstream coverage and in mainstream politics right now. And that's people on the left and people on the far right. The far left, far right. I hate that people are pro-woman tend to be classified as left. I don't quite understand why that should be a leftist issue but it is right now. So I'm wondering if this means their voices are going to be heated in a way they haven't been before. Because nobody called this right, including the Cantor campaign.
MARTIN: You know, that's true. In fact, there was a story paper saying he was actually at, at what I call my northern office Starbucks...
MARTIN: ...While his voters were casting their ballots, he was at Starbucks meeting with, you know...
SCHULTZ: Isn't that stunning?
MARTIN: So yeah. Don't tell people you're at Starbucks. If you're just joining us we're in the Beauty Shop. We're talking about this week's political news on hot topics. We are talking with Connie Schultz, that's who was speaking just now, Andra Gillespie, Bridget Johnson, and Alexis Wilkinson. So let's turn to another big political story of the week. Hillary Clinton's new book "Hard Decisions" hit shelves Tuesday. But earlier this week, she sat down with Diane Sawyer. She talked about Benghazi, Monica Lewinsky, and about the, what she said were she and her, the former president's, financial troubles, saying that once they left the White House, in her stint as First Lady, that they were dead broke. And she later clarified her dead broke comment saying, quote, I fully appreciate how hard life is for so many Americans today. We have a life experience that's clearly different, in many dramatic ways, from many Americans. But we've also gone through some of the same challenges many people have, unquote. So Alexis, I'm sure that you just finished classes. And so, probably, the last thing you want to do is crack open a major tomb like this.
MARTIN: But I am interested in how this is striking you. How is all this striking you?
WILKINSON: Well, I haven't, because of what you just said, I haven't finished the book yet. But I watched the interview, and I, I am just, I'm really looking forward to the 2016 election. And I think, just, she was so, in that interview, so sharp. I mean, Diane went so hard on her on Benghazi. And even on the age thing and her health I thought, I was watching that like wow, she's really going to do this. But Clinton just came right back at her like, oh, yeah, isn't it great to be our age? I just thought that was so funny. And I think, you know, to really challenge her, you're going to, you're going to be able to be smarter than she is. So you're going to have to come at her with something crazy. And I think, you know, right now, Eric Cantor's, you know, upset being an example of, like, Republicans have plenty of crazy up there sleeves. So I'm just, you know, sitting with the popcorn, just ready to see how it all (laughing), it all shapes out. I'm excited. It's going to be good.
MARTIN: Connie, what do you think, what do you make of the whole thing so far of the attack lines being, kind of, directed at her, how she handled the interview? How is that all striking you?
SCHULTZ: I watched the interview late last night. And I was struck, I was reminded of what Karl Rove tried to do a few weeks ago, and I remember tweeting this out, that he was calling into question her brainpower. And I said that's going to so work for him. And today, this interview, and then the conversation she's having this week, to me illustrate she is back. And she is strong. That she can also be so tone deaf, even the apology, sort of, for what she said about income disparities. I wish she had just said wow, was that a stupid thing for me to say, an insensitive thing for me to say. Because they're in a different stratosphere from most Americans. And you may as well just own that. I think she seems very direct. Her book is boring so far from what I could tell. And I expected it to be boring. I mean, I appreciate policy. I appreciate that she's been in the thick of it all, but I knew she was not going to set off any bombs in that book. So the challenge then for reporters, you could see it in her interviews is, how do we get her going? How do we spark that other conversation? Because she made clear in her book she wasn't going to gossip. Well, good luck with that.
MARTIN: Professor Gillespie, is it hurting your feelings as a political science professor to hear people talk about this as boring, or are you just like, yeah, kind of?
GILLESPIE: No, I mean people say that political scientists can't write, so that's normal...
GILLESPIE: ...For me, so it's okay. One of the things that kind of struck me, I picked up the book yesterday and I've been observing elections up here in New Jersey this week, so it's been hard for me to get through it. But one of the things I did was I read the first few pages and then I made sure to look at the pictures. And I think that Hillary Clinton has had a couple of problems. She has had a problem of feeling warm and empathic, empathetic towards people, and then she also has to deal with, sort of, the challenge of, kind of, being a trailblazer and being a woman running for such a high-profile office. And I looked at the pictures in "Hard Choices" versus the pictures in "Living History" and it seems like she's trying to appear like she's leaning in. So to try to take the zeitgeist of the day of women, sort of, taking their opportunities and making the most of them and to make herself look presidential. So almost that ready to lead mantra that she tried to use in 2008. Thinking that she may have, kind of, already, sort of softened her edges a little bit and come across as more personable. That's why I think the houses issue was a problem because, you know, when I heard that, I was like oh, your life must be so hard. You had trouble getting together down payments for two mansions. Oh yeah, my life is so like that.
MARTIN: Yeah, she did say that. She said well, you know, we had to have mortgages. You know, we needed mortgages for houses.
GILLESPIE: Yeah, we've all seen the houses. Yeah no.
MARTIN: It's that plural, the plural, that plural gets you every time. That extra S. It's that extra, remember with Dan Quayle and misspelling potato? It's that extra letter that just gets you, you know, every time.
GILLESPIE: And we saw the pictures, so we know that they're not little split-level ranches or nice little bungalows that they, you know, were struggling to pay for.
WILKINSON: So, you know, that's still going to be a problem with her. I mean, I've heard other democratic commentators say, and I have to somewhat agree, nobody - this is not the Mitt Romney 47 percent comment. I do not think she's going to have that issue. It's just a question of actually being able to balance her humanity with being able to demonstrate that, as a woman, she's capable to lead on all the issues. And that, you know, she should be the one, as the wife of a former president, to break this glass ceiling for women.
MARTIN: All right, we need to take a short break. But when we come back, we are going to continue this Beauty Shop roundtable with our panel of women journalists and commentators. We also want to talk about a recent op-ed about campus sexual assault that has a lot of people talking. So we're going to talk about that and more on Hillary Clinton and other stories of the week just ahead on TELL ME MORE. From NPR News, I'm Michel Martin.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.