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Shields, Brooks on ‘Encouraging’ Jobs Report, Romney Lacking ‘Heartthrob’ Appeal

March 9, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks discuss the week's top political news including the state of play among the Republican presidential candidates, efforts to woo female voters, Mitt Romney's style of campaigning and President Obama's record on jobs.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome, gentlemen.

MARK SHIELDS: Good to see you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, today’s jobs report, 227,000 jobs created in the month of February, the White House says this is an encouraging sign.

Mark, what do you make of it, and what effect on the presidential campaign?

MARK SHIELDS: The White House is right.

I think it's time for Mitt Romney to say the following: I don't make your heart beat. And I'm not going to be the heartthrob that you have always wanted to give you an emotional lift . What I am is, I am an incredibly dependable and competent person.Mark Shields

It is encouraging news. It’s sustained encouraging news, Judy, to the fact, as Diane mentioned to Ray in that earlier segment, 61,000 additional jobs for the previous two months. So it’s been a good record. It is not breaking the back of unemployment. It’s not Bill Clinton’s 22 million jobs in eight years, but it is certainly a significant improvement, the best since 2006.

And for the Republicans expecting to run on the economy, it is just sand in their gears.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Does it make it harder for the Republicans to run on the economy?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. My colleague Andy Lowry has a rule, which is, if the job number is 200,000 jobs a month more, that is good for the Democrat, more like 100,000, that’s good for the Republicans, and then 150,000 sort of in the middle there.

So that’s good, because, at 200,000, you are beginning to reduce the unemployment rate over time. And so this is clearly good. Also interesting, the psychological effect even beyond the job creation numbers, the fact that people are reentering the labor force, the fact that people are starting to quit jobs, assuming and being somewhat confident they can get another job, that’s a sign of a broader psychological effect.

So, without question, good news. The only lingering question, is the wages are kind of flat, as we heard. And then, will this be sustained? Usually, when you have job creation rates at this amount, you have really strong growth, 3 or 4 percent. But our growth, the projections are like 1.8 or 2 percent.

And so if the GDP growth is that slow, it’s hard to see us sustaining this level of job growth. Those projections could be wrong and we could have it, but a lot of economists think we may have hit a little lull there.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Mark, there are still gas prices going up, which have to factor in to people’s ability to pay their bills every month.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

Politically, I think the best note was struck by Alan Krueger, who’s the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. He said this is an economy on the mend. There was nothing triumphalist or nothing self-congratulatory about it.

It is very much, as I think David put it, an economy on the mend. The gas prices are real, Judy. And it’s been cushioned somewhat by the sustaining of the payroll tax cut and by low energy costs in this very mild winter. So people have probably a couple of extra bucks. But it’s going to start feeling — and it looks that gas praises are going to continue to go up.

And that is a problem. It became a problem politically yesterday when the president — the Keystone pipeline. He had to scramble to get — stop the number of Democrats defecting to support the Republican position, which is basically a jobs and gas prices vote, to limit it to 11.

So I think that was a direct reflection of gas prices.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And then you have the debate, David, where the president — on one side, the argument is there is only so much the president can do about gas prices. And of course the Republicans will argue there is a whole lot more the president should be doing.

DAVID BROOKS: Right. And he’s more or less right, though he — I do agree with the Republicans — the decision not to build the Keystone pipeline was an insane decision.

It didn’t do anything for the environment and it did hurt jobs. And so would that have had an effect on gas prices before the election? Absolutely not. There is really little the president can do short-term.

The final thing to be said on gas prices is that, as you talk to people, talk about the Iran situation, what happens if there is an Iran contretemps? I heard the quotes from very well-informed people that gas prices would lead to $8 a gallon. And that might not be long-term, but that would just send a tremendous shock through the economy and through the psyche of the American people.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let’s talk about the Republican primary, the Republican contest, Mark.

Super Tuesday’s behind us. We’re now into March. What does it look like? Mitt Romney had a good showing on Tuesday, but he hasn’t put away the competition.

MARK SHIELDS: I had an epiphany about Mitt Romney.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: Okay? I think Mitt Romney had won six out of 10 races. If you were giving him his report card, you would say he is A-minus arithmetic. The math is very much on his side. He’s D in chemistry, because he just is not connecting, all right?

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: I think it’s time for Mitt Romney, Judy, just to say the following.

Look, I don’t make your heart beat. I don’t put a step — sort of a life in your steps. And I’m not going to be the heartthrob that you have always wanted to give you an emotional lift or anything of the sort. What I am is, I am an incredibly dependable and competent person. I will be a great steward of this nation’s economy. I have no vices. I am a good family man. And this is who I am. I’m not going to be touchy-feely.

And he shouldn’t try to be. Today, in Mississippi, he stood up and said, “Hello, y’all.” That supposedly. . .

JUDY WOODRUFF: And talked about eating cheese grits.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. And it just is not — it’s synthetic and counterfeit and it doesn’t work.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that what he needs to do?

DAVID BROOKS: I think it would be a start.

You reminded me, as you were speaking, of a speech Mark Helprin, the great novelist, wrote for Bob Dole when he started his campaign, which was: I’m not the flashiest guy in the world, but I’m regular and dependable.

And it would be authentic, because he is not a heartthrob. The other thing I would say he needs to do he is, he needs to get on offense to actually control the debate, to actually issue some — get some arguments started. The coverage today of his campaign was about saying, howdy, y’all, or whatever he said, and then he stomped on a cockroach.

And so that was the coverage. And that’s partly because we’re trivial and we, like, cover trivial things, but partly because he wasn’t actually offering anything to talk about. And that’s been a perennial theme of his campaign, doing the same things over and over again, not controlling the discussion with something you are actually offering.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What should he be talking about?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I mean, I think he should be talking about things like entitlement reform. He could come up with a job program of the day. He could pick a fight about anything, have some policies on education, on families.

There are a million things to talk about in the country. But he’s got to have something new each day, something that begins to have an argument.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, meanwhile, Mark, he has Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich nipping at his heels. Now, the Romney camp says it’s just about mathematically impossible — you mentioned arithmetic a moment ago — for them to catch up.

MARK SHIELDS: Arithmetic.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that right, that it’s just about impossible?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, I mean, the argument is there that it becomes very, very tough for them. I think it becomes almost impossible for Gingrich.

His own campaign has said he has to win both Alabama and Mississippi on Tuesday if he’s even going to be a regional candidate, which would then give himself Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi.

But Gingrich does make one point about Romney that I think is valid and deserves Romney’s attention. And that is, Romney has beaten Rick Santorum in both Michigan and Ohio by outspending him at a minimum of 4-1. And Gingrich points out you’re not going to have that kind of luxury advantage against Barack Obama in the fall, that this is a weakness of Gov. Romney’s campaign. He just can’t go in and outspend and just dominate the airwaves that way.

So I think that Santorum is pushing hard, and understandably, to win one of those two states. And if he does. . .

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mississippi or Alabama next Monday — Tuesday.

MARK SHIELDS: Mississippi or Alabama Tuesday. And if he does, I think it makes tough for Gingrich to go forward.

He is in a position one-on-one with Romney to be at least competitive. And I think most measures I’ve seen, he would get at least a majority of Gingrich’s vote and that Romney wouldn’t.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But it doesn’t look like either one of them is going to get out any time soon.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, there are a lot of conservatives right now who are holding fire on Gingrich, who are backing — who are going, okay, he deserves next Tuesday.

But if he loses one of those two states, then I think will you see a wave of people, not even just Republican, but really quite conservative people, saying, Newt, you had your chance. We have got to have a one-on-one.

And I was thinking, with the good economic news, a lot of Republican voters might say, we may not win anyway, let’s go with a guy we really believe in, and Santorum could have an advantage.

Now, the Romney people are right. It is very hard to see how Santorum gets the delegates. But a guy named Sean Trende at RealClearPolitics did a very good analysis saying it’s possible to see how Mitt Romney doesn’t get the delegates. It doesn’t mean Romney — that Santorum gets them, but Romney could do about as well as he’s been doing in state after state and still fall 75 delegates short by the time of the convention.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Meaning you get to the convention and nobody has. . .

DAVID BROOKS: Right. And, presumably, the party would sort of heave him over the top. It’s hard to see somebody else getting. But it would certainly not be a sign of strength.

MARK SHIELDS: Judy, one point that I think bears mentioning here, and that is Newt Gingrich in Oklahoma, Tennessee, and — Oklahoma, Tennessee, and, what was the third Southern — Georgia. . .

JUDY WOODRUFF: Georgia.

MARK SHIELDS: . . . last Tuesday, his campaign was outspent by his super PAC 70-1, 70-1.

The super PAC has become the substitute for the campaign, for the party and everything. As long as you have got one angel, one angel with deep pockets and wants to be a kingmaker or believes devoutly in you, it can keep you going.

Historically, when votes dried up, your money dried up. But that’s one of the problems the Republicans are going through right now. It’s totally disconnected to any electoral reality. And so that makes it tougher for Romney as well, that these guys can hang around, even though — Santorum has done pretty well and won a number of primaries. But Gingrich, by historical standards, should long be gone from the race.

DAVID BROOKS: And that will be a permanent feature of politics from now on as long as Citizens United is there.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Only a minute or two left, but, David, a lot of talk this week about the women’s vote and whether the Republicans have done some long-lasting damage to themselves with all this talk about birth control, contraception, turning many women off.

How do you see that?

DAVID BROOKS: I really don’t think so.

You know, I think women are as divided as men on a lot of these social issues. There are a lot of pro-life women, a lot of pro-choice women. There has been historically generally a bit of a gender gap, though, in some elections, it’s disappeared. And so I assume that will be there. But I don’t think there is a women’s position on a lot of these issues.

And so I expect the gender gap will be about what we have seen in past elections.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Which is, unmarried women tend to favor Democrats, married women tend to favor Republicans, although more women were with the Republicans in 2010 in the. . .

DAVID BROOKS: Right.

MARK SHIELDS: But President Obama carried women by 13 points in 2008. I mean, they were key to his election.

And the difference is, it’s between unmarried women and married women. John McCain carried married women in 2008.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see this, though? Do you see Republicans doing. . .

MARK SHIELDS: I think Republicans, I think they were ill-served by the hearings on Capitol Hill.

Darrell Issa’s committee lined up six males to comment and to be witnesses on the subject of contraception. Once it switched, Judy, from a debate about religious freedom to a question of contraception, I think the Republicans were in terrible shape. I think that Rush Limbaugh hurt the Republicans, quite honestly, when he equated anybody seeking contraceptive aid as being a slut or a prostitute.

There’s very few people in the country who don’t have a close relative who is on contraceptive medication.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you see this dying out as an issue?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think the contraception, it is tough to see anybody raising a — fighting a campaign on contraception.

And just quickly on Rush Limbaugh, I’m not sure people really see him as a Republican. I don’t think there has ever been historical evidence that he has swung a lot of votes. People see him as a conservative movement/entertainer guy. I’m not sure he — people see him as the center of the Republican Party.

MARK SHIELDS: I think Republicans have treated him with a respect and a deference.

A lot of Republicans seek his approbation. It is almost, I don’t want to say like a papal audience, but, I mean, they are thrilled to be mentioned by — he did go after John McCain. It didn’t deprive McCain of the nomination.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We’re thrilled to have the two of you.

Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.