TOPICS > Politics

Shields, Brooks on Gates’ Legacy, Gingrich Campaign ‘Meltdown,’ Weiner Fallout

June 10, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
Columnists Mark Shields and David Brooks discuss the week's top political news, including what's ahead for the Pentagon and NATO as Defense Secretary Gates nears retirement, how Newt Gingrich will fare in 2012 after losing so many key campaign staffers and what lessons can be gleaned from the Rep. Anthony Weiner scandal.

JEFFREY BROWN: And now to the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.


First, we will take a deep breath after that powerful piece.

David, I want to start, go back to Secretary Gates on NATO. Were you surprised? Who was he speaking to? What’s — what’s — what’s he saying here?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, he’s making a profound point.

First of all, I think he’s the best secretary of defense maybe in the country’s history, so he’s probably worth listening to — a rare combination of personal modesty, but also forceful policy views.

And he’s pointing out the fact — he mentioned that he was a child of the Cold War. And he mentioned that the NATO alliance, the Western alliance, has been a beacon and an enforcer of Western values for all of our lifetimes. And that’s very much in doubt going into the future, the fact that, as he said, he can’t sustain really troops in Libya — or not troops in Libya, but an action in Libya. That is really a relatively minor action.

The fact that Western European defense budgets and maybe Western European values don’t support, can’t support military action fundamentally undermines what has been really the core of global stability since World War II. And so that’s sort of a profound thing to put at risk.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, you know, Mark, in terms of context, I was struck when he also said, if you had to go to the American public — taxpayer, and if dollars were part of this, as well as power…


And I really think that David’s respect for the secretary, which is real and, in many respects, justified, the reality is that there is no — diminishing popular public support in the Congress and in the country for the United States’ policies.

I mean, you can say it’s economically attributed or originated. But Susan Collins in Leon Panetta’s hearings this week to be secretary of defense asked the question: Tell me how this ends?

And nobody can tell. There is no definition of victory. There is no prospect of victory. And I think, in part, his exhortation is that the drawdown, which is coming from the United States, is to try and keep NATO from even making theirs a more dramatic cutback in the Afghan…

JEFFREY BROWN: Yes. Do you sense that this debate over the drawdown is — I mean, something happened this week. It got stronger this week, didn’t it?

DAVID BROOKS: The call for the drawdown?


DAVID BROOKS: Well, the — the politics has changed a little.

The poll — the polls have bumped up a little for the Afghans. But I think, if you look at the polling, people are — people are suspicious of it. The country’s hurting economically. Why are we spending money over there?

But I think Gates’ argument, I think he says there has been progress in Afghanistan. If we can sustain fighting on this pace and make this progress at this pace for another fighting season and maybe a little longer, then the Taliban will be weakened enough so they will have an incentive to negotiate.

And so that’s his strategy. And I think it’s a plausible strategy. I think he’s to be trusted maybe more than anybody else. And so I would pay a lot of attention to what he said. And I think the president will have political running room to do that, because while people are suspicious of Afghanistan, they’re not on the streets about it, and I think they will defer to expert opinion, which Gates certainly represents.

JEFFREY BROWN: What do you think of that? What is happening within the administration now?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think, first of all, the question is whether the Taliban or the American public will be the first to come to the conclusion the war can’t be won.

Part of this is to keep the Taliban, to try and — the only hope is for a negotiated settlement. There’s not going to be a V.A. day celebrated, a victory in Afghanistan, or a victory over the Taliban celebrated in American history books.

And I think — I think the administration, it is in very tough negotiations right now as far as the deficit reduction and the debt. And that — this has to come into that, into play. We’re talking about large sums of money beyond the troops and the number that we have committed there.

So, I think it’s — I think it’s got a political traction to it right now. There’s fewer and fewer Republicans who are blindly committed to United States engagement around the world. It’s not — it’s a respectable Republican position now in the Congress to question, even to criticize and to oppose, United States — extension of our mission in Afghanistan.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, now, speaking of political traction, let me use that to make a segue to traditional American politics.

Newt Gingrich, what — his entire senior staff leaving him. What do you make of that?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. I think I said on the program that I wouldn’t trust him to run a 7-Eleven. I mean, he has zero management skills. He has zero sense of constancy.

He has got what is poisonous in any campaign, an active spouse bossing around the campaign staff. This is all a recipe for a meltdown. And the meltdown came. I don’t think too many people took him seriously as an actual candidate. And he seemed to think he was running on the strength of world historical ideas, whereas his staff seemed to think he was running a presidential campaign.

And so they had a difference of vision, and they thought he was out to win votes. He thought he was out to gain a place in Aristotle’s pantheon.


DAVID BROOKS: And so there was a clash there, but I don’t think — I don’t think too many people really thought he was really running a real campaign. And I don’t know why it was news to people who were working for him.

JEFFREY BROWN: Have you ever seen anything like this?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, this is my 12th presidential campaign, and I have seen candidates fire campaign managers. I have seen candidates lay off staff in the middle of a campaign or switch staff.

I have never seen 16 staff fire a presidential candidate…


MARK SHIELDS: … which is — which is — which is what this was.

And I agree with David. Newt — Newt took a different approach. Newt refused to accept what every other presidential candidate knows, and that is, in order to be nominated in a contested year, you have to win, ideally, both Iowa and New Hampshire, but at least one of the two.

And the voters of Iowa and New Hampshire, call them what they are — I happen to have great respect for them — but they want to see candidates. They want to take the measure of candidates personally. They want a sense of their personality, to hear their answers, to hear their questions answered, to be asked for their vote.

And Newt Gingrich treated this like it was either a — he was promoting a book or he was on a movie tour.


MARK SHIELDS: Yes. He was going to do talk shows. He would come in and do talk shows and maybe do an op-ed page piece.

And that — David’s absolutely right. I mean, he just had no idea of what a campaign — he couldn’t run a two-car funeral.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, do you think he’s still a viable candidate, if he ever was?

MARK SHIELDS: I — he is dead man walking right now.

JEFFREY BROWN: Dead man walking?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. I mean, he will be at the debate on Monday in New Hampshire. And he will probably say something provocative, but there will be less and less attention paid to him.

JEFFREY BROWN: There was also — oh, go ahead.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, somehow, we have to police the people who are not really running for office. They’re running just to promote their books or their movies or their documentaries or to raise money. And they’re not real candidates.

They take advantage of the fact that there’s lots of media paying attention to the race to become pseudo-candidates. But they’re just famous for being famous, and they’re not real. And, somehow, we have to start policing this, because it’s just too easy for any author to go in and say, “Hey, I’m running for president. Sell my book.”

JEFFREY BROWN: It was also of course widely noted that two of these top people have close ties to Governor — to Governor…


JEFFREY BROWN: … Rick Perry…


JEFFREY BROWN: … in Texas.

MARK SHIELDS: … who is…

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, do you read much into that?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean, I was talking to a Republican today whom I have great respect for who he said he thought Rick Perry was one of the few people who, if he came into the race, could put together the cornerstone pieces of the cultural and social conservatives, that is, the National Rifle Association, the right-to-life movement, and the Tea Party.

And, as Richard Fisher of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank, this week said — said today in The Wall Street Journal, 37 percent of the jobs created in the United States since the recovery began, the vaunted recovery in 2009, have been created in the state of Texas. So, he’s got a story to tell.

And you’re right. David Carney and Rob Johnson are — who were closely identified — who were in the Gingrich campaign, who quit yesterday, were closely identified with Rick Perry. Johnson has been his campaign manager, and — and Carney had been his principal consultant.

JEFFREY BROWN: You read anything into this?

DAVID BROOKS: I do. I still hear that he’s not running, but I’m not sure they have made a determination.

There’s the fact that he’s from Texas. There’s a lot of sense another governor from Texas wouldn’t — wouldn’t fly right now.


DAVID BROOKS: And there’s — you know, he is not the greatest campaigner. He did run a good race against Kay Bailey Hutchison.

I guess, among the candidates, I keep hearing more about Rudy Giuliani this week, that he’s likely to get in.

JEFFREY BROWN: Do you take that seriously?

DAVID BROOKS: I take it a little more seriously. I’m not sure. He will have to really step up his game if he is going to compete. He wasn’t a good candidate last time. He will have to show he actually — you know, to run for president, you have got to be willing to eat dirt and crawl on the ground.

MARK SHIELDS: It is a tough job.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. And Gingrich wasn’t willing to do that.

JEFFREY BROWN: Eat dirt and crawl on the ground.


MARK SHIELDS: No, but it’s physically demanding. It’s psychologically demanding. It’s emotionally demanding. It really is.

The apocryphal anecdote about the rural New Hampshire voter who said — asked about John McCain, he said, “I don’t know. I have only met him three times.”

I mean, that — there really is an expectation that you’re going to go there and you’re going to ask people for their votes in their living rooms, and you’re going to listen to them. And it is tough. Rudy refused to engage in 2008. He never had a town meeting.

People talked about John McCain getting rid of his staff in 2008. John McCain won — won New Hampshire in 2000, when he had 114 town meetings, where he just stood there and answered every question available to him. That’s the kind of commitment that’s required, that Newt, obviously, wasn’t able — wasn’t willing to make, and Rudy just showed himself incapable of at all in 2008.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, last couple of minutes, and we will end on a political story of another nature, which is Anthony Weiner.

You took the high road, I noticed, in your column today, right?


JEFFREY BROWN: You brought in Trollope and other novelists to talk about writings about politicians who do good, right…


JEFFREY BROWN: … or behave, I guess.

But do you draw any lessons from all of this?

DAVID BROOKS: … Anthony Trollope to talk about Anthony Weiner.

JEFFREY BROWN: Yes, yes, the Brooksian — the Brooksian high road. So — but — but…


But, you know, my problem with Weiner was not that — the emotionally stunted things he did late night on tweeter — on Twitter, but it was just him before all this. Some people come to Washington because they care about governance. They want to pass legislation. He came to Washington to get on TV.

And he wasn’t a force in the legislature. In fact, he was a negative. He undermined legislative efforts. And so he tried to get on TV. And so — and he tried to do it in an extremely partisan, predictable way.

So, my problems with Weiner start long before he ever started sending out tweets. And so, now that he’s done that, I think his effectiveness as a public spokesman for anything is severely undermined. So, I would advise him to take a look at what he wants to achieve in life and maybe — if he’s going to stay in Congress, maybe trying to pass some legislation, work on an issue or two.



Well, the first lesson is that shame is dead, officially dead in American public life.


MARK SHIELDS: Shame. I mean, how anybody facing the shame that he today bears, and could think about staying and remaining, it — he’s lied to his constituents. He’s lied to the press, which is fine. Everybody lies to the press. He’s lied to the country. And he’s lied to his colleagues.

I mean, so he has — he’s a man who started with no friends in the Congress. He never had time to make friends. And just contrast that when Charlie Rangel faced a rough patch a year ago. People on both sides of the aisle came to Charlie Rangel’s defense and said, let me tell you about the Charlie Rangel we know.

I haven’t heard anybody talk about the Anthony Weiner that we know who is capable of countless kindnesses and acts of loyalty. Narcissism — we have seen narcissism in both these cases, in Gingrich and in Weiner.

You remember Chris Lee, the Republican congressman from Upstate New York who resigned after it was revealed he had a bare-chested photo and an overture, romantic overture?

JEFFREY BROWN: Another social media…

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. But he looks like — he looks like Nathan Hale compared — compared to Anthony Weiner…


MARK SHIELDS: … who wants to hang on. I mean, he’s a distraction to his party. He’s a distraction. David is absolutely right.

But, during this whole time, the Democrats had their one piece of good news since last November. Kathy Hochul won Chris Lee’s seat on Medicare and the voucher system, the Paul Ryan — and she’s got no credit. Nobody has seen her because of Anthony Weiner.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, we have got to leave it there.

Nathan Hale, Anthony Trollope, Mark Shields, David Brooks…

DAVID BROOKS: I didn’t know Nathan Hale was so buff.


JEFFREY BROWN: OK. Thank you both very much.