Former U.S. Representative Tom Davis, a Virginia Democrat, said in an interview airing this weekend on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt” that Republicans won’t be harmed in November’s congressional election by the intra-party schism that ousted House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, though inaction may hurt the party’s chances of winning the presidency in 2016.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: We begin the program with former Virginia Congressman Tom Davis, who probably knows more about politics than any man alive. Tom Davis, let me ask you, the shockwave from the biggest upset maybe ever, Eric Cantor, Virginia, continues to reverberate. What effect is it going to have in the Republican Party?
TOM DAVIS: Well, I think among members it’s going to have a huge effect. They see their leader being basically defeated for sitting down with the president, for trying to work out an immigration bill, for raising the debt ceiling. So it’s going to affect Republican congressional behavior; I don’t think there’s a question about it.
HUNT: Making it even more polarized.
DAVIS: Right. I mean, it made a tough situation even tougher -- not just on immigration but on everything, at least through the primary season and probably through November.
HUNT: Tom, the narrative a few weeks ago was that the establishment -- the Chamber of Commerce, Karl Rove, and everything else -- had really turned back the ultra right wing. The Tea Party was in eclipse. But Virginia and the Mississippi race, doesn’t that raise doubts about that narrative?
DAVIS: Yes, look, the Tea Party -- the elements never went away. What happened is the Republican establishment started to learn how to empathize with, how to coalesce them, how to, you know, really bring them in to the fold a little bit. Mitch McConnell had a tough -- theoretically a very tough primary, and he was able to get in and handle it. And different leaders handled it different ways.
DAVIS: Leaders are never popular, particularly when Congress is at 15 percent.
But what you have is a lot of people right now that are -- have been upset for some time. Wages have been stagnant for a long time. You’ve had an economic meltdown, bailouts for Wall Street, two wars that went sideways. They don’t trust the government at all.
HUNT: So this intra-party friction is going to continue for the foreseeable future?
DAVIS: Well, until the Republicans learn how to harness it and work it together and recognize their destinies are intertwined, it’s going to be a good off year for Republicans, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to get a presidential year (ph).
HUNT: Let me get to that in just a minute, both of them.
If Cochran loses in another two weeks, what effect does that have?
DAVIS: Well, I think it’ll have the same effect. It’ll embolden these guys, like -- it’s a caffeine jolt basically for the Tea Party groups. It’ll embolden them for the rest of the primary season.
There are a couple other races coming up where I think there’s going to be some challenges that we need to watch.
HUNT: We’re going to go to those elections in just a second, but Kevin McCarthy almost certainly is going to be the new House majority leader. Size him up and how will he be different from Eric Cantor?
DAVIS: I knew Kevin when he was the minority leader in the California Assembly. And he impressed me then with his ability to work with people, to understand the big picture, to know you had to get to A to B and, no, it wasn’t going to be a straight line.
So I think he is an excellent choice at this point. He has studied this; he’s studied politics in some kind of depth. And you hate to lose Eric. I think Eric had really matured into a strong leader, but I think Kevin McCarthy is a good choice.
HUNT: And how will McCarthy be different than Cantor though? What’s -- does it have any practical effect?
DAVIS: Well, we’ll have to wait and see, but I think on the issues they’re two peas in a pod; you saw that Cantor endorsed McCarthy right away as his -- a leader.
But Kevin brings with him a California perspective, being from a very competitive state, so he understands the competitive factions that about 20 percent of our members face.
HUNT: And you hear complaints from some of the red states, some of the ultra right guys, that we need our people in the leadership, not just people from blue states.
DAVIS: Well, that’s right. And I think that will go into the whip’s race; that will be a factor in the whip’s race.
HUNT: That will make someone like Scalise a favorite in that race?
DAVIS: Well, I think it gives Scalise an argument that we need a Southerner (inaudible) caucus, and we need somebody from the right inside the canon.
HUNT: But you don’t expect anything to happen legislatively for the rest of this year, do you?
DAVIS: Well, you hope you’ll get some appropriation bills and so on, but, look, let me give you -- it’s not just the House. The Senate -- Republicans in all of the bills before the Senate this year have only been given nine amendments of theirs to vote on. So the Senate’s in a shutdown mode as well, unless there’s some emergency and they pass something over.
So it’s basically we’re in gridlock.
HUNT: And does Kevin McCarthy, if he wins, as he’s expected to next Thursday, does that mean he’s also going to win in December when they come back for next year?
DAVIS: Well, let’s wait and see what the elections are like. It’s a funny thing what elections can do. If it’s a good election cycle, I think absolutely. If there are disappointments, I think they’ll be looking for more change.
HUNT: And tell us what you expect in November of 2014.
DAVIS: Well, I think right now, as you take a look at the polling, you track it, you have the president’s numbers tumbling at the White House, it ought to be a pretty good midterm. In the House, I think you’ll see modest Republican gains only because they’ve won most of what they could win and there aren’t that many competitive seats left. Eighty percent of the seats in the House are just non-competitive. The race is the primary. And I think Republicans will pick up some seats. They’re shooting for an 11-seat gain; that would be, when they shoot for the moon, so that gives you the depth of what they’re talking about.
HUNT: Probably half of them.
DAVIS: Yes, probably a half dozen to a dozen seats would probably be the mark as we sit here today. The Senate’s clearly up for grabs, though, because all of the fighting is in red states.
HUNT: And you think -- you mentioned Obama’s not popular. You think he’s in real trouble, don’t you?
DAVIS: Well, I mean, he’s going to finish out his term at this point.
DAVIS: His numbers are -- his numbers are tumbling. The economy doesn’t seem to be improving. You’ve got foreign policy issues. You’ve got -- everything he seems to do at this point seems to be controversial. He’s having a hard time putting two or three dots together in a row that are successful.
HUNT: And certainly Iraq doesn’t help that.
DAVIS: No, Iraq doesn’t help that. Even bringing this prisoner home kind of blew up on him. The economy’s shaky. You still have the Ukraine. I mean, you’ve still got Russia on the Ukraine. And people look at this, they’re saying, “What’s going on?”
HUNT: Tom, let me ask you about -- let’s go beyond 2014. And let’s talk about the next presidential election. Obviously the -- what you say is the internal Republican schisms aren’t going to hurt in 2014, the dynamics are with the party. Does it worry you that it will hurt for 2016?
DAVIS: I don’t think there’s any question. I mean, here’s the problem is --
HUNT: There’s no question it will --
DAVIS: Excuse me, that it hurts. Because in 2014, they’ll have a good time.
DAVIS: They’ll have a good season; they’ll think everything is fine and well. Well, off-year elections are often about just sending a message. And it’s a different electoral turnout than you’ll get in a presidential year. Presidential year, everybody shows up, and all of sudden failure to act on immigration, and some of these other issues, could come to the front and are motivating factors for the Democratic base.
In addition to that, you have to go through a Republican nomination process where the base doesn’t want any immigration reform, but once you get outside that base to the electorate at large, it seems to be favored. But it particularly is incendiary to immigrant groups that Republicans seem to be so harsh on this.
So they’re going to have to come terms with trying to put a product on, because it’s -- it’ll be a choice in that presidential year, 2016. It’ll be two different visions for the country. We don’t really need to offer a vision in 2014. We’re just kind of there to put a check on the president.
HUNT: Do you think that some of the leading candidates will shy away from issues like immigration because of that split?
DAVIS: Well, shy away meaning try to avoid it and saying no changes?
DAVIS: Well, it’s clearly a factor with the Republican base and so, as you go into the primary season and you stick your neck out on that issue, as Leader Cantor did, and try to step back. I can give you anecdote after anecdote where members stick their neck out on an issue -- I remember one member said he’s going to reopen the government and all of a sudden the messages pouring in, he had to walk it back.
The Republican base is angry right now and they’re I think as interested in expressing anger as they are in governing. How you mold that is going to be difficult for the next leader, but, look, I think it’s a great opportunity if we can learn to work together.
HUNT: Tom, two years in politics is an eternity. But as of today --
DAVIS: Six months is in eternity.
HUNT: Two days -- but as of today, who’s the leading and the second leading candidate for the Republican nomination?
DAVIS: It’s hard to say. I will say this, I think if Huckabee gets in this race -- he’s been away from the fray, he’s a positive guy, you’ve got great (inaudible) with social conservatives, he could be a contender. I would not underestimate him. He’s always had a good bout in Iowa; he’s been on Fox News for a few years. So I think he’s -- he’s certainly a contender on this.
Rand Paul has a built-in base at this point. If Jeb Bush gets in or Christie -- somebody’s going to claim that more right-of-center establishment mantle. So I think it’ll be an establishment track and I think it’ll be a more conservative track and we’ll see what happens.
HUNT: Tom Davis, a great guru on American politics. Thank you so much for being with us.
And when we return, unrest in Iraq. We’ll talk to former U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte. We’ll be right back.
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