Charlie Cook is editor and publisher of the Cook Political Report and a political analyst for National Journal magazine. Cook is considered one of the nation’s leading authorities on American politics, and The New York Times has called him “one of the best political handicappers in the nation.”
Cook will be the keynote speaker at the Indiana Chamber’s 2016 Legislative Dinner on February 9. (Get your tickets now!) I recently spoke with Cook for an evaluation of this very turbulent time in American politics. Here is an excerpt from the conversation.
In 2014, the GOP had a major shake-up when Eric Cantor, a member of leadership, was unseated in the primary. In Indiana, we had a similar shock in 2012 when Richard Lugar was ousted. What are some ongoing lessons for long-standing legislators to take from that? Is that mostly a GOP predicament due to its Tea Party elements, or are do you see any Democrats potentially dealing with primary turbulence in the near future?
Cook: Washington and Congress have never been beloved, and alienation is increasing. But it shows you have to be back in your state and your district, and really keep a tight feel on the pulse back home because it can get out from under you. Cantor was a bright, effective member, but he went on the national stage and became a major force in the national Republican Party. But to do that meant not going home and keeping fences mended as well as he should have.
Sen. Lugar had become this enormously respected figure in terms of international politics and the world scene, and a real statesman. But that came at a cost. And not having a home back in the state became symbolic of something.
So yes, there’s a “Tea Party versus The Establishment” dynamic in the Republican Party, but there’s an older dynamic of “going national” and maybe not tending to things back home quite as attentively as you have to in an era when people are so suspicious of politicians. But there’s certainly more volatility and anger within the GOP right now than there is in the Democratic Party. Although Sanders and the Occupy Wall Street movement shows it does exist in the Democratic Party, it’s more profound in the GOP. We’re not seeing Democratic incumbents knocked off in the primaries at the regularity we see in the GOP.
What shocked you as far as the most surprising election result you’ve seen in the past 20 years?
Cook: I think Obama beating Clinton. There were signs early on that he had a unique appeal with younger voters … but to have someone who had just barely been a member Congress upset one of the biggest names in the Democratic Party, it was one of the biggest shocks I’d ever seen.
In some ways, freshman senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz – although philosophically they’re very different from where Obama was – (remind me of that) but the idea of a first-term senator doing that well was unprecedented. It showed you that a lot of the old rules may not be applying.