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Shields and Brooks on Gov. Christie’s Message of Sacrifice, Ryan’s Earnestness

August 29, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill to evaluate convention speeches by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Ann Romney, to discuss why foreign policy has been a non-issue at the RNC, plus the "wonky earnestness" of Rep. Paul Ryan.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And with us tonight once again are Shields and Brooks.  That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

So, gentlemen, we’re now into the second full day of the convention about to get under way.  What are you hearing? What are you — as you talk to people, do they feel the first day was a success?  And I ask in particular because there is some controversy about how well the keynote speaker did last night.

Mark, what do you think?

MARK SHIELDS: There is great controversy swirling about, about how well the keynote speaker did.  And I think David and I are in a distinct minority.  We were both…

GWEN IFILL:  Chris Christie, we’re talking about.

MARK SHIELDS:  Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey.  I thought he just blew the hinges off the door.  I thought he made a very strong case for change and outlined the kind of change that he would foresee in a Republican administration and Republican leadership.

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And — but there seems to be a majority opinion that in fact Chris Christie talked more about Chris Christie and what he had done and New Jersey, and not enough about Mitt Romney.  And I guess that’s the two cases.

DAVID BROOKS:  Right. And part of the controversy over Christie was, is he too negative?  And the argument is we have had some pretty tough years and he’s offering more toughness, more hard times.  Is that really the country wants to hear?

And that’s go to something you can’t see.  There’s lights between us, but there is a debt clock and a lot of Republicans are saying let’s not emphasize debt.  Let’s emphasize growth and how we’re going to get growth.  And the reaction, some of the reaction was he was too blood, sweat, toil, and tears.

GWEN IFILL:  Well, I guess that’s my question.  Who is the last president who got elected by emphasizing all the tough choices?


DAVID BROOKS:  Well, Walter Mondale rode to victory on that.

GWEN IFILL:  Exactly, saying that we have to raise taxes.  And this party praises Ronald Reagan as the being the great optimist, the great preacher of uplift.  So maybe this is not what they came to hear.

MARK SHIELDS:  I thought Christie’s message was optimistic.

I thought that he said teachers are not in it for the glory and for the money, obviously.  Obviously, they’re in it because they love children.  They said seniors are not selfish.  I thought it was really a tribute to what he felt was the true middle of voters.

But that — you’re right, but isn’t it time for some candor?  I mean, Americans do know that we face tough choices, that we’re not going to face the hot fudge sundae diet lineup of you can just eat six hot fudge sundaes and have a 28-inch waist by Tuesday.

We’re going to have to make some sacrifice across the board.  And he’s the only figure on the national stage this year who has said that, who said everybody is going to have to sacrifice.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Well, that’s my question, because election year after election year, and particularly this year, it seems to me, voters are saying we’re tired of politicians telling us everything is going to be fine.  We know there are going to be tough choices required.  So what’s wrong with doing that?

DAVID BROOKS:  Well, we will see if the electorate is ready for that.  And, frankly, in some states, the electorate has voted through gubernatorial races, yes, we know there have to be cuts, we’re voting for the guy with cuts.

And that’s sometimes a Democrat.  Rahm Emanuel campaigned in Chicago on that platform.  The said, OK, we need it.  And sometimes for Republicans like Scott Walker.  And so the question is will the electorate really do that?

I thought the reason Christie had to say what he did is to lay the predicate for Medicare.  And Paul Ryan I assume is going to talk about that today, say Medicare is just an unsustainable program.  And that’s only defensible if you can lay a larger context that we’re on an unsustainable path.  And I thought that is one of the things Chris Christie did.

GWEN IFILL:  What was the larger context that Ann Romney was trying to lay last night, and did anybody pick up on it?  She clearly was making a pitch to women voters:  I like him.  You ought to like him, too, get to know him.
But did that really resonate?

MARK SHIELDS:  Not being a woman voter, I have a tough time…

GWEN IFILL:  Really?


MARK SHIELDS:  But I don’t know if it resonated.

I have to say, I mean, I find her to be an appealing and commanding presence, but I thought her message was, quite frankly, ineffective, that it didn’t reveal anything personal about him.  It was anecdotally bereft of anything interesting — 47 years, and there isn’t a single story about one funny thing that Mitt did.  We were assured he had a sense of humor.  We were assured the same thing about Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter, but we never saw evidence of it on the public stage.

Just one other thing on the Christie thing, and that is, he set the bar a lot higher for Mitt Romney.  I mean, Chris Christie said, any leader who tells you we’re not going to have to have sacrifice for everybody is not an honest leader, he’s not being candid with you.

That’s a predicate for Mitt Romney to meet tomorrow night and a standard that we will find out whether in fact he is that honest leader.

DAVID BROOKS:  I would just say I thought Ann Romney’s speech has not aged as well. I thought the strong point, as I said last night, was the “I will not fail.”

And that should have been the core.  You don’t like him, but government really can make a difference.  We can govern this country better, and this is the guy who will not fail you.

And she should have said, I will not fail you in government.

MARK SHIELDS:  He won’t.

DAVID BROOKS:  He will not fail you in government, in business.  He just doesn’t allow himself to fail.  And whatever you think about him, that’s what you need right now.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  But does that turn on its head this idea that people have to like a president in order to vote for him?  Are you saying that the Romney campaign has just decided, we know people are not going to warm up to him?

DAVID BROOKS:  They still have a zone of privacy around them that, apparently, they’re not going to break.

She didn’t break it by giving any personal information.  And I think that’s a matter of pride and a matter of what they see as propriety.  And they’re just not going to go there, and it may come back to hurt them.

GWEN IFILL:  Can I ask about foreign policy?  Because we had Vin Weber and Norm Coleman here earlier.  They’re both senior advisers, foreign policy advisers to the Romney campaign, and we asked why there wasn’t more conversation about foreign policy.  They said, oh, well, we had to talk about the economy.

This is what the foreign policy advisers said.  You would think they would say, well, we have something to say.

MARK SHIELDS:  Well, I mean, national security has always been historically a great Republican advantage.


MARK SHIELDS:  It is not now.  I mean, Barack Obama gets the highest marks of any area — 54 percent approve of his handling of our foreign policy.
So that’s basically off the table.  And, plus, you have got in Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan somebody — two men with basically no foreign policy, national defense credentials.  So talking about it is not the strong suit.

DAVID BROOKS:  I think that’s good news.

We have a foreign policy bipartisan consensus almost in this country.  There are differences here and there.  But you take the last five years of the Bush administration and the three-and-a-half years of the Obama administration, you can hardly tell the difference.

We have a pretty good consensus on how we want to do things, mostly because we haven’t been challenged by anything divisive, like Iran.  But I think that’s a good thing that we actually have a consensus about a few things.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  What happened to the sort of continuing assumption that the Republican Party was the party of national security, that it was Democrats who just had to keep on proving their bona fides when it came to keep the country safe?  Is that still the case?

DAVID BROOKS:  Well, a few hundred or a few thousand drone strikes seem to have taken care of that.  Obama has pretty much continued and even advanced what Bush was doing on this front.

MARK SHIELDS:  And two failed wars, I think, Iraq and Afghanistan, that certainly tarnished — and I will tell you this.  It is an indictment of us as a people and of the leaders of this country that we are not debating and discussing Afghanistan, that there are, tonight, 80,000 Americans in peril, in harm’s way, and it goes undiscussed and really undebated in this country, and essentially, uncovered.

GWEN IFILL:  Including here.

Describing — except, of course, at this table.  Describing what is at stake the next evening and tomorrow, what does each side, but especially these Republicans, what do they hope to lay out as the theme for tonight and tomorrow night especially?

DAVID BROOKS:  Well, first, I think Condoleezza Rice is going to surprise people.  I have seen her give many speeches.  They always get standing ovations.  She’s good.
The second thing, Paul Ryan, as I said, he’s earnest.  The difference about Paul Ryan is Republican nominees tend to like the young, glamorous person, Sarah Palin, Dan Quayle, but they don’t have weight.  Paul Ryan does have that weight.  And so he will bring a wonky earnest.

GWEN IFILL:  Very quick.

MARK SHIELDS:  Wonky earnest, but I think it’s still a ticket that needs personalization and a personal warmth.  And I think that’s a test for Paul Ryan tonight.