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Shields and Brooks on Polls, Biden and Ryan Debate Style, and State of the Race

October 12, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
NewsHour political analysts Mark Shields and David Brooks talk to Judy Woodruff about the reliability of polls to gauge voter behavior, body language and debate style from Joe Biden and Paul Ryan, what topics weren't discussed at the 2012 vice presidential debate and the state of the race post-debate.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Gentlemen, welcome.

So, we just heard it from Paul Solman, Mark. Is it the markets or is it the pollsters or the academics who give us the most accurate forecast?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, we’re all prisoners and products of our own experience. So, like Lech Walesa, I have always trusted the polls.


JUDY WOODRUFF: OK. And you are going to leave it at that?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. I just — I have relied on polls.

I’m fascinated by the market, as well as the academic study. But, you know, a good pollster is something once, one finds good pollsters, is to cherish and to value and to learn to trust.

JUDY WOODRUFF: To embrace.

MARK SHIELDS: Mm-hmm, to embrace.

DAVID BROOKS: I like the checks, whoever gets the most money.

DAVID BROOKS: That’s it.

Listen, I like the polls. I like — whoever is ahead in the polls is more likely to win than the other guy. I get that. I like the economy. It’s really important in determining an election. What I hate are the forecasts, when they say so and so has a 66 percent chance of winning or a 32 percent chance of winning.


DAVID BROOKS: Because, if you tell me you think you can quantify an event that is about to happen that you don’t expect, like the 47 percent comment or a debate performance, I think you think you are a wizard. That’s not possible.

The pollsters tell us what’s happening now. When they start projecting, they’re getting into silly land. I mean, the last comment — not to pick on the Iowa markets — believe me, I pay tension to the Iowa markets. They have done better in the last — since 1988.

That is a sample size of six. What study would have a sample — we have had six national elections since then? Who has a study with a sample size of six? So I like the polls. I like the economy. I don’t like the forecasts.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, you heard it here.




JUDY WOODRUFF: So, now let’s talk about what happened last night, the debate between the vice presidential candidates. It’s 24 hours later.

Mark, what stands out?

MARK SHIELDS: What stands out is that Barack Obama has had two character witnesses. Bill Clinton in September made the case for Barack Obama better than Barack Obama has made it for himself. And Joe Biden in October made the case for Barack Obama and his record and his administration better than Barack Obama has.

And I would hope that Barack Obama will study the game films of both Clinton and Biden in preparation for next Tuesday night. I mean, I think Joe Biden gave — Democrats today were singing all over town. I mean, they were tap dancing, they were so happy, in large part because he brought passion.

He made the case. He brought the case against Mitt Romney, the 47 percent, the fact that Mitt Romney’s effective tax rate, what he pays to the federal government, is lower than that of a secretary or a firefighter. It was just — it was just — it reminded Democrats on why they were Democrats too. And I think that really, really did help.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So he brought what the president needed last night?

DAVID BROOKS: Halfway. He lifted the morale of the Democrats, but I think it is simultaneously and also true that he offended a lot of people.

A lot of Republicans were deeply offended. A lot of independents will be offended. There are sort of two phases in the series of the debate, for the people who watched, which was a lot, by the way. I was surprised.

MARK SHIELDS: Fifty-one million.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. So, people are really interested. So it’s very high ratings.

But then there’s the discussion period about the debate. And that discussion period is mostly about Biden’s manners. And so I personally didn’t like the manners. I find Biden extremely engaging and charming and also annoying simultaneously.

And so, if I had interrupted Mark — or if anybody came on the “NewsHour” and behaved the way Biden did, we would kick them off in the middle of the set. It is just not what discussions should be like.

And not only the “NewsHour.” You could go on HARDBALL, and you don’t talk that way. And so I do think the extreme condescension, the constant interruption, the weird smiling, I do think that will dominate the discussion phase.

And I do think that will turn off people because independents really don’t like the way politics works. And I do think that will help symbolize it.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, not to get into markets and academics and polls, but there was one poll done by CBS of independents and uncommitted voters. That was their entire sample after the debate. And Biden won 50-31.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Just independents?

MARK SHIELDS: Just independents, just uncommitted, or people who were supporting a candidate, but said they could switch, could leave that candidate.

And so Biden did — I didn’t find — I mean, Joe Biden’s default facial expression is a smile. I mean, if he’s irritated, he smiles. He’s got great teeth. I don’t blame him for smiling.


MARK SHIELDS: But if he’s happy, he smiles. If he — if he is a little nervous, he smiles. I didn’t find it to be — I mean, he did interruption, but I didn’t find it to be so over the top.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You didn’t think it took away from the substance?

MARK SHIELDS: I think that you could certainly — on a split-screen, you would prefer it that he hadn’t done it the way he did it. And there were occasionally some sounds of displeasure.

But I thought at no point did Paul Ryan express or manifest, other than the one time he raised the question — and I thought it was perfectly appropriate on his part — where he said, I think we would be better off if — people would get more out of this if we didn’t interrupt each other.

And I thought that was an appropriate statement on his part.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, David, it’s interesting you say that, because last week, the president was criticized for not engaging. But your point is, the vice president went too far in the other direction.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, there’s engaging and not engaging. You make your case strongly.

And I think Obama made — had several chances to make his case strongly on health care, on Social Security and other things and just didn’t make his case. But that doesn’t mean you interrupt every few seconds. That doesn’t mean you mug for the camera when the other guy is talking.

I think it’s more that. And, as I say, what we have to do in the next — what the next president is going to have to do and vice president is deal primarily with the fiscal cliff right away, which is all these things we are winding down. That will take a very complex set of tradeoffs with the other party.

And so, and, by the way, so I don’t think — Biden, so condescending, I don’t think he set his campaign up for thinking they will take that seriously. And I do want to add one thing, which is a paradox. What I am discussing so far is the presentation we saw last night.


I do think, by the way, that Biden actually in reality in the Senate has been a deal-maker.


DAVID BROOKS: And more of a deal-maker than Paul Ryan.


DAVID BROOKS: So, I do want to separate the presentation…

JUDY WOODRUFF: This is a different format.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. This is a campaign debate.

I mean, and Joe Biden has had, you know, a record of 40 years of working across the aisle, of being open and friendly to — understand this. Joe Biden was on a rescue mission last night. He was in damage control, because, in Denver, the president of the United States was guilty of unilateral disarmament against Mitt Romney.

He just didn’t — it’s a lot better to have a debate when both people show up. And Barack Obama didn’t show up. And that left Joe Biden with a real — he had to make the case that wasn’t made. And because the president didn’t even engage in Denver, you can see, in spite of the polls in Paul Solman’s piece, you can see the surge of Mitt Romney in a state like Florida, where the issue of Social Security, the president said, well, there’s no real difference between us.

That gave Mitt Romney an opening that he has driven at least two Cadillacs through. And…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, what…

DAVID BROOKS: Would you ever do that? Would you ever — we debate on TV. Would you ever behave the way he did?

MARK SHIELDS: No, but I just — I didn’t — see, I didn’t find it as offensive as you did.

And I think if that happened, it would show in your face. Now, maybe because Paul Ryan was so preternaturally cool last night and calm — and he was, and I thought to his credit, and by contrast — but he never registered a sense of outrage or anger that he was hurt by it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What about on the substance, though? Did we learn anything new from the two of them? Are we — are there difference between the candidates, the Romney-Ryan team and the Obama-Biden team, is it more clarified as a result of last night?

DAVID BROOKS: I think there were vulnerabilities we knew about which we saw developed.

So Ryan’s weakest moment by far was trying to defend the tax plan and how are you going to balance the budget. He really was — that was an embarrassment, because he just doesn’t — there is no substance. There is no answer to that question, how are you going to cut all these taxes?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Because they haven’t laid out the…


DAVID BROOKS: And, you know, somebody released a study today. If you got rid of every loophole out there, you could reduce the rates by 4 percent. So he’s promising 20 percent, and not getting rid of every loophole. So it just doesn’t add up. So, we saw that exposed.

The Benghazi thing, that hurt Biden a little.

JUDY WOODRUFF: This is Libya.

DAVID BROOKS: The Libya thing.

I think a lot of things actually in retrospect, as I think about the debate, were not explored as much as they should have been, the jobs and Medicare. I think that actually the Republicans dodged a bullet, because with Ryan sitting right there, Biden could have spent a lot of time on Medicare, attacking the Ryan plan, which is an unpopular plan. And I think the Republicans, since it was so truncated, they dodged that one.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I just think Joe Biden was taking on one against two.

I mean, so, the case — for example, he pointed out, which the president didn’t even mention last week, that Paul Ryan had been a sponsor of President Bush’s bill to privatize, partially, Social Security. And, you know, he — I thought — maybe they aren’t new issues, but to most voters they are new issues.

And I thought he raised them very effectively. What Joe Biden can do is, Joe Biden can talk and put a human face on issues. It doesn’t sound like a Washington think tank or a policy conference of white papers. Joe Biden talks like he just came from talking to people, whether it’s in a church hall or at a community center. And that is a — that’s a great gift, and it’s something the Democrats need desperately.

DAVID BROOKS: And it was a deficit of Paul Ryan, as one of us said last night, that when he was asked about character, when Ryan was, he talked about policy. And so it was — it was a much more earthy…

JUDY WOODRUFF: And the vice president called him on that at one point.

DAVID BROOKS: Right. And he is an earthy, rooted, very authentic guy who was talking about his past, talking about his family all the time.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, as we wrap up here, where does the race stand now and what does the president and what does Governor Romney need to do next Tuesday?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think it’s basically a tie.

I think, if you look at nationally, Romney is up one. If you look at the swing states, Obama is up one. Obama still has an advantage in Ohio and some those other states, but it’s extremely close. And so, to me, what Romney has to do is fill in that bipartisan thing, which I think that’s what — that was effective for him in the first debate: I can work across the aisle.

You know, it depends on which Romney you are choosing from, but he has to fill that in. And Obama has to lay out more of a vision. I still go back to that again and again.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And he has to do it in a town meeting format, with voters asking questions.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. And he can’t come out and try and overcompensate, the president can’t, for his missing in action in Denver, because it is a town hall format, and you’re answering the questions of real citizens.

And you just can’t turn and say, well, that’s a good question, Judy, about climate change, but let me tell you about David. He didn’t pay his taxes.

You can’t do that there. But it has got to draw — he has got to draw differences, Judy. He’s got to give a sense of how the next term is going to be different from this term, I mean, how it’s going to be better.

And remember this. I mean, since the debate, the president seems to have talked about the debate every day, and I was too polite and so forth.

This election is about the people. It’s about the voters. And I think that’s so important for him. For Mitt Romney, he’s got to forget — he’s never going to be likable. I saw that again — again in Ohio this week,a focus group done by Peter Hart. They’re just never going to like him.

So what he has to do is sell himself as the Lee Iacocca 2012, that I can turn this country…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Competent manager.

MARK SHIELDS: That I am the guy. He saved Chrysler. I can save the United States of — you know, the economy. That’s all.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, every Friday night, the two of you save the NewsHour.



JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark Shields, thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And Mark and — I know. I know.


JUDY WOODRUFF: And Mark and David are going to keep up the talk on the Doubleheader. That’s on our website coming up after this program.