TOPICS > Politics > DNC 2016

What Hillary Clinton has to do to beat Donald Trump

July 27, 2016 at 6:35 PM EDT
New York Times columnist David Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report weigh in on how politics in America have changed, as has the rules for both parties. “Hitting the normal Democratic buttons may not be enough,” says Brooks. Shields suggests Clinton is missing an opportunity by not pursuing disaffected Republicans turned off by Donald Trump.

buttonGWEN IFILL: With that, we turn to syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks, and Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report, who are also joining us around the table each night for many long hours to talk about our live convention coverage.

I want to start with you, David Brooks.

We saw Bill Clinton last night begin to make the case. Today, Donald Trump seemed to jump back into the spotlight. What’s going on here?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, he can’t be out of the spotlight, and he’s clearly decided that bad publicity is better than no publicity.

And so he did something — when you think about it, we’re so inured to what Donald Trump is about to do that, if you step back, what he did today was kind of amazing. It wasn’t really treasonous, but it sort of felt sort of that way, I mean, calling on the Russians to release documents and break into — or presuming they have them from Hillary Clinton’s server.

It’s just mind-boggling, frankly. And if it was done in a normal political year, it would be a career-ender. But that’s clearly not the case. And so what he’s done is, he’s stolen the spotlight. And now the Democratic Convention is, on a lot of screens, the small screen, and Donald Trump is the big screen.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You agree, Amy Walter, Donald Trump’s stolen the spotlight?

AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: Well, you know, this convention tonight was already going to be focused on national security. And there’s been a lot of talk both in conservative media — and we talked about it, too — that with all the crises going on around the world, and it seems like daily or weekly attacks in Europe, that the fact that this convention has not yet brought that up has been glaring.

And we now know we have Leon Panetta tonight. We’re going to have the president talk about this. Those issues were already going to be in the fore.

But the question with Donald Trump, look, I completely agree with David. There is now an emoji going around — I don’t know if you have seen it — that goes, like, like, does it matter? What does this mean?


AMY WALTER: And on the one hand, you would say, absolutely, that would be a career-ender, this is the end of the campaign, this is where, right, you’re talking about temperament, et cetera.

On the other hand, you have a candidate in Hillary Clinton who has problems with e-mails. And the issue of a server being hacked is a real big deal. And having the focus once again on Hillary Clinton’s e-mail server and its vulnerability is not good for Hillary Clinton either.

GWEN IFILL: But, Mark Shields, tonight, we have the president of these United States, we have Joe Biden, his vice president, we have Tim Kaine, who was just nominated this afternoon to be vice president.

Is it possible really for anybody to steal that spotlight?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think Donald Trump has absolutely dominated the story, for the very simple reason, the Republicans have enjoyed historically and recently an advantage over the Democrats on national security, sort of national muscularity issues.

And in a time, as Amy described, of increasing concern, anxiety in this country about security, about the well-being of people’s lives, Donald Trump, I think, in strange way, frittered it away, what was Republicans — by appearing to be more defensive and supportive of Putin than he is of his own United States.

At the same time, any time e-mails and hacking are in the story, it is not good for Secretary Clinton or candidate Clinton or nominee Clinton.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, David Brooks, with Donald Trump hanging out there and all the other Republicans who are just salivating waiting for there to be a big mistake, a big, frankly, blowup out of this convention, what does Hillary Clinton need to do tonight and tomorrow night?


I would say this is beginning to feel like a successful convention. The first couple of hours were rocky. Then we had a sort of transition the first night, and then Michelle Obama’s triumphant address, and last night, Bill Clinton’s very, very successful address.

I imagine Barack Obama will be very good tonight. I imagine Kaine will be very personable. And so it’s beginning to feel like a successful conventional convention.

But the thing we have to doubt is, does that matter anymore? Are the rules so different? Has basically the transformation of society changed the rules? The unhappiness along class lines? Divisions along racial and ethnic lines? Have all the rules gone out? And so we’re witnessing a fundamental transformation of how politics is done, how the divisions in society is done.

And so hitting the normal Democratic buttons may not be enough anymore. And I think that is the open question that we will face in the weeks ahead.


AMY WALTER: And then add on top of that historic disapproval ratings for both of these candidates.

And so what success normally would be is a bump coming out of this, and we have seen in recent years that the bumps have gotten smaller and smaller as, again, the media landscape has changed.

In this case, for Hillary Clinton, just to move her unfavorable ratings a couple of points would be success, but she’s still going to be underwater. And I don’t think most Democratic strategists if they were honest would tell you they don’t believe she’s ever going to be in positive territory.

So, again, is it a success? On paper, sure. But is it going to move the normal — the numbers normally like we would see? Unlikely.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Mark, yes, weigh in on this.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, no, the argument that always exists in campaigns, are we going to be a campaign of mobilization? That is, are we going to up the numbers of our own base voters?

In this case, Democrats, it would be minority voters, younger voters and women, especially in Hillary Clinton’s case, to try and reconstruct the Barack Obama model and win on that. Or do you go into persuasion, which is to try and reach out and reach the disaffected Republicans?

I see no effort to make it legitimate for Republicans to come over and to find what we have in common, especially Republicans who are alienated, threatened and just turned off by Donald Trump. I don’t think Michael Bloomberg is the answer to that. I mean, that’s not exactly your garden variety suburban Republican. He left the Republican Party for his own devices and his own interests.

So I think the Democrats, it ties Hillary Clinton very much to Barack Obama, because David has talked about she has to talk about change and how she’s going to be different. But at the same time, it’s an election of continuity. It has to be different, but it has to be she’s trying to get Barack Obama’s constituency energized and out in this election.

GWEN IFILL: Mark Shields, I want to ask you another question. If we time, everybody can weigh in.

But Joe Biden, tonight, in many ways, this is his farewell turn, at least at a national convention. Tell us about that.

MARK SHIELDS: Joe Biden, it’s — what it might have been?

I mean, 1988 — elected to the Senate in ’72 at the age of 29 — 1988, a serious candidate, stumbled, fell on a plagiarism charge, ironically, and then bounced back, was a very successful senator, with friends across the aisle, becomes vice president, was sought out as a possible, very likely candidate to succeed Barack Obama, in spite of his age and the personal tragedy of his son Beau’s death, and being a grandfather.

But he is a — Joe is a throwback. Joe is a throwback to the time when senators knew each other on the other side of the aisle, when they traveled across the world together, when they knew each other’s children, when their kids went to school. It was a different Washington, and Joe Biden embodies it at its best.

GWEN IFILL: We will talk about it some more later tonight.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And Joe Biden talks about that a lot.


JUDY WOODRUFF: So, all right, thank you all. And we will see you a lot of you later.

And starting at, speaking of which, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, David, Mark and Amy will be back for our special coverage, NPR-“PBS NewsHour.” We’re all part of this coverage of the Democratic Convention here in Philadelphia.