TOPICS > Politics

Shields, Brooks on Santorum’s Exit, Romney’s Poll Woes, Buffett Rule, Rosen Flap

April 13, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks discuss the week's top news including Rick Santorum's exit from the GOP race and what that means for Mitt Romney, plus Sen. Richard Lugar's tough re-election campaign, President Obama's push for the "Buffett Rule" and Hilary Rosen's swipe at Ann Romney.
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TRANSCRIPT

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

Welcome.

MARK SHIELDS: Welcome. Thank you.

JEFFREY BROWN: Mark, Richard Lugar, what do you make of that? Is that another sign of the diminishing or missing middle?

MARK SHIELDS: It is.

The strength of Richard Lugar is that he is somebody who has worked, forged consensus and coalition and compromise. And that is reported pretty vividly. That has become in many quarters the kiss of death, that we don’t want somebody who can get down and work across different factions. We want somebody who just meets our checklist, whether it’s on abortion or same-sex marriage or invading Iran or tax cuts or whatever.

If you want the rich to pay more, which I do, cut the damn loopholes. Don't put a Band-Aid on top of a diseased tax code.David Brooks, The New York Times

We just want this robot who is just going to go down there. And if he or she doesn’t, then get rid of them and put somebody else in. It’s an entirely different view of what government is. You have a representative go down who you agree with on most things who can work across and forge a consensus and a compromise, and compromise is not a dirty word.

JEFFREY BROWN: It’s interesting to hear people talk about how he has changed.

Has he changed, or has our definitions changed?

DAVID BROOKS: I think it’s our definition. I don’t think he has changed.

I mean, here he is seen as the quintessential Hoosier. So it is hard for me to believe he’s not quintessentially Indiana enough. He’s always been a pretty conservative guy. And he still is a pretty conservative guy. He is an institutionalist.

I often ask senators just in small chat, who have you met up here, who you really admire, you like the way they do business, and Lugar’s name is the number-one most often name in my experience. They mention Lugar as somebody who is a senator the way they want to be a senator.

He has a couple of things which have historically hurt people, first having long service, but second, especially, foreign policy. Being a foreign policy specialist is not necessarily the easiest ticket to reelection. There are a lot of heads of committees and things like that who have just lost.

JEFFREY BROWN: Especially a year like this.

DAVID BROOKS: Right, and especially when people hate Washington. My friends in Indiana say he is facing an extremely tough race, but he is a supreme Senate institutionalist.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, speaking of the middle, speaking of how politicians play to it, this was the week when Mitt Romney closed the deal, so to speak, right?

MARK SHIELDS: Mm-hmm.

JEFFREY BROWN: Does he now move to the middle? What does he do?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, he doesn’t move to the middle, announce I’m moving to the middle.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: But the middle does matter in American politics, Jeff, as long as independents and those who are undecided and ticket-splitters make the decision who becomes the next president. So it does matter.

And there is no question that Mitt Romney was pushed to the right by the campaign and probably beyond his natural comfort zone. But to win, he had to move over there. And I think that what he is facing right now is the problem that the charge against him leveled most vehemently by his principal challenger, Rick Santorum, was that he was the world’s biggest flip-flopper.

So he can’t be seen as moving overtly or abandoning positions that he took in this primary fight.

JEFFREY BROWN: So how does he do that? We heard of course the famous Etch-a-Sketch analogy a few weeks back.

DAVID BROOKS: Right.

JEFFREY BROWN: How does he appeal without losing his. . .

DAVID BROOKS: Right.

Well, the first thing he has got to do is be himself. And who is he? He is a data diver. He’s a problem solver. He is not a particularly ideological person. I think if you talk to people who have been working with him and have tried to advise him, when you give him some grand ideological philosophy, it just like goes straight through.

It’s just not the way he thinks. So he is a problem solver, wants to get the evidence and make a decision. And so I think going back to that, without renouncing anything he stood for, will be fine.

The second thing is look at who he has to deal with and who he has to win over. He has had a really bad several weeks in the polls, as a lot of men and women have fled from him. And the people in particular who have fled and who are the ones who are winnable are especially downscale voters.

There are a lot of college-educated women who are really very strongly on the Democratic side. He is probably not going to get those people. But where he has really seen slippage is among high school-educated women. And so he has got to provide an agenda based on security and social mobility for those people. So far, he shows no sign of doing that.

So far, even at the NRA today, he is still doing the quintessential Republican line, it’s all about freedom, let’s cut government. He has got to do more than that. George W. Bush did more than that, H.W. Even John McCain had service. It wasn’t just, we hate government. It was something to help people out. And he’s got to give a “help you out” agenda.

JEFFREY BROWN: What of Rick Santorum? You mentioned him. What of his followers? What of the people who voted for him?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think, first of all, Rick Santorum did something that very few people do. Most people who run for president have been successful before they do. They have been governors, senators, or success in business. And most of them lose. And most of them leave as diminished figures.

Rick Santorum came in as a marginal dark horse and leaves as a much enhanced figure, having won 11 contests. Ronald Reagan in 1976 won 12, and he is the ostensible leader of that conservative cultural social wing of the Republican Party.

JEFFREY BROWN: I was thinking back earlier. We barely talked about him in the beginning.

MARK SHIELDS: No. It’s just amazing. It is remarkable.

And it’s also to me a validation of the value of having two states like Iowa and New Hampshire early, where an underdog, underfinanced candidate who is written off by all the wise guys and all the pollsters, by sheer effort, energy, discipline, determination, and effective message, his campaigning in 99 counties in Iowa, enabled him to spring the upset and to do it against money.

I mean, it was really was quite an achievement. Now, he then blew it with one of the truly — two of the most devastating self-inflicted wounds in my political experience, when he said John Kennedy’s Houston minister speech made him throw up, and Barack Obama was a snob basically by wanting kids to go to college.

And he lost Michigan that closely. But, that said, like all people who have challenged, whether Jesse Jackson in ’84 or in ’88, or John McCain in 2000, or whoever else, Gary Hart in ’84, Pat Buchanan in ’92, what they want is the validation at the convention. They want that moment where they can make a speech, where their supporters can cheer and make noise-makers and so forth.

And I think that it is in Mitt Romney’s interest to accommodate them.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, does he have more than that, a role more than that?

DAVID BROOKS: I think so, as a spokesman.

Listen, we are going to have a guy from Harvard Law School running against a guy from Harvard Law School. And so we can move the capital to Cambridge, save time.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: And so Rick Santorum represents and spoke for a group that’s not like that.

JEFFREY BROWN: Not even Harvard-Yale, right?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Right. No, it used to be we would have Harvard-Yale. That was at least — that was diversity in the old days.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: So — but now we have a guy from Western Pennsylvania whose grandfather, famously, coal miner — and who won over a lot of downscale voters specifically by talking about how I’m going help you and especially by talking about how social values interacted with economic values, how divorce and family breakdown really hurt the country’s economic prospects.

He didn’t do it as aggressively enough, but he did it. And so keeping those items on the agenda, both for Democrats and Republicans, very valuable thing to do.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, let’s look at, I guess we could call this the flap of the week, which was Hilary Rosen referring to Ann Romney as, what, hasn’t worked a day in her life, and, therefore, her husband shouldn’t look to her as, right, a source on the plight of woman.

What do you make of that?

DAVID BROOKS: Yeah.

Well, I think Hilary Rosen was graceless from start to finish, frankly, throughout all this. I personally think — and a lot of people have said this — it’s like — I think John Dickerson called it the umbrage wars, where somebody says something stupid and everybody pretends to be really upset, and then people pretend to be really upset. And this is what passes for media and Twitter politics these days.

I think there was a time when a lot of people said, oh, people, women who stay at home and raise their kids are somehow not doing enough with their lives. I really think that’s an extremely small minority these days. Maybe some people still believe that. But I think most people know how hard it is to stay home and raise kids.

So I don’t think it’s a real issue, in that I don’t think people really — there are not that many people who agree with the idea that stay-at-home moms are working any less hard than anybody else.

JEFFREY BROWN: Go ahead.

MARK SHIELDS: I disagree.

When was the last time in the space of 16 hours the president of the United States, the vice president of the United States, the first lady of the United States and the president’s campaign manager all distanced themselves and repudiated a statement made by a supporter?

So, I think it did — they were terrified of it, being tarnished. The Obama campaign was terrified.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, it also comes amidst this war on women, right, this idea. . .

MARK SHIELDS: The alleged war. . .

JEFFREY BROWN: The alleged, yes.

MARK SHIELDS: The alleged war on women.

But, no, I think what you have with Romney is you have an awkward, emotionally detached, sort of personally inept candidate who has not been able to connect with voters.

What the Romney campaign wanted most of all was to have the face of the campaign become Mrs. Romney, who is authentically natural, appealing, just inviting and welcoming. She is just — and a great witness for him, okay?

How do they get her out? And what the Obama campaign does, through Hilary Rosen, who is not with the Obama campaign, but certainly is a strong supporter of the president, is to make her not simply the centerpiece, but to make her a sympathetic and appealing figure. And it just put — and it put the Obama campaign very much on the defensive, because women are the key. And if in any way you energize stay-at-home moms who have been indifferent, who are basically Santorum or other conservative candidates, and not for Romney, and they all of a sudden say, gee, we can bond with the Romneys, then you have energized a constituency that has been dormant and almost indifferent to Mitt Romney.

JEFFREY BROWN: And Ann Romney no longer a secret weapon.

DAVID BROOKS: No.

And I agree with Mark about her quality as a candidate. If you look at all the campaigns, all the — president, vice presidents and all their spouses, she’s the best. She just trusts — audience. . .

JEFFREY BROWN: She’s the best. . .

DAVID BROOKS: As a campaigner. I think they should flip the ticket or whatever the spouse relationship is.

MARK SHIELDS: She is just awfully good.

DAVID BROOKS: She just — it is a natural. She goes out in front of a crowd and she just has a natural instinctive trust. Whereas Mitt Romney wants to meet people, he works hard, he’s a good guy, he doesn’t have that instinctive trust. Like sort of a spiritual stage dive where you will catch me, she has that.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right.

Just a short amount of time left, I want to talk about the tax issue. The president raised the so-called Buffett rule this week. Is it good economic policy? Is it good politics?

MARK SHIELDS: Is it good policy? I don’t think you can separate the two.

Is the answer to the nation’s problems? No. Is it a step to make available to voters a choice with a tax system that we have right now and to change it? It’s not going to solve the deficit. It’s not going to bring down the nation’s debt. But I do think it’s an important principle that taxes be based on the ability to pay.

And they are not right now. And if the idea that people making millions of dollars paying less than 15 percent, I think it is a legitimate issue for the president to raise. It is a political issue. Is it going to embarrass Mitt Romney, who paid — who made $21 million and paid at 15 percent? Yes. Is it intended to do so? Yes.

But that does in no way — the longest trip of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. This is a step towards tax reform.

DAVID BROOKS: It’s a step backwards.

JEFFREY BROWN: A step backwards.

DAVID BROOKS: It’s a subterfuge and a deception.

First of all, it only raises $5 billion, $7 billion a year. In a trillion-dollar deficit, that’s peanuts. Second, if you want the rich to pay more, which I do, cut the damn loopholes. Don’t put a Band-Aid on top of a diseased tax code. And the president is not willing to have a real tax reform.

But if you want to do that, do have a real tax reform. And don’t pretend to tell people you can have the government you want and somebody else is going to pay. There aren’t enough rich people to pay. So I think this is a — it’s a political gesture that is not going at the core issue.

JEFFREY BROWN: Very quickly.

MARK SHIELDS: Just because you can’t do everything doesn’t mean you don’t do something. It is not the panacea. And I agree with David. And a tax isn’t going be to be done by the top 2 percent paying the whole freight. That is impossible. But it is a step. And Republicans are wrong to oppose it.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, we’ll no doubt keep talking about tax policies over the next months.

David Brooks, Mark Shields, thanks very much.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you, Jeff.

And if you want even more of Mark and David, and who wouldn’t, right, then you can catch them later on with Hari on our website for what we call The Doubleheader.