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Shields and Brooks on ‘anticlimactic’ Clinton victory, Trump’s ‘moral chasm’

June 10, 2016 at 7:29 PM EDT
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including Hillary Clinton’s becoming the first major-party female presidential candidate, Clinton’s commanding win in California, Sen. Bernie Sanders’ role in the election going forward and why the mainstream GOP’s opportunistic pivot toward Trump is untenable.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A historic week for Hillary Clinton. Bernie Sanders stays in the race, but pledges his support. And Donald Trump’s campaign tries to recover from a stumble.

That brings us to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome to you both.

So, let’s talk a little bit about the history. It took, what, just 240 years, but we do now have a woman as the nominee for president of a major political party.

Did you feel the history, David, this week?

DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times: Weirdly not. Maybe I’m a chauvinist or something.

But, you know, obviously, the transformation of the role of women is the biggest event of our lifetime. It’s the biggest transformation after thousands of years of human history to getting closer to equality on that front.

But Hillary Clinton, it was so long in coming, it didn’t, to me, feel like the big seismic shift, frankly, the way Barack Obama felt in ’08, I think because she’s such a familiar figure and because the social trend has been gradual in coming, that it didn’t feel like sort of this huge, momentous breakthrough moment.

And I think it’s in part because — and this maybe speaks well of the situation we’re in — it wasn’t like a feminist tide. It was a tide of her own grit, a lot of issues, the Democratic establishment. If you polled Sanders voters vs. Clinton voters, Sanders voters were more likely to think there was structural discrimination against women than Clinton voters.

And so she rode on the tide of merit, on issues, but not necessarily a feminist tide. And so this particular event didn’t feel a seismic opening, at least to me, that, say, the Obama did — thing did.


MARK SHIELDS: I’m a feminist.


MARK SHIELDS: No, Golda Meir is my guide on this. The only woman prime minister of Israel said, “that women are better than men, I cannot say, but what I can say is they certainly are not worse.”

And I think we have come to that point of equality in our politics. I have to confess that, 32 years ago, when Geraldine Ferraro was named by Walter Mondale, I was emotional. I thought of my mother. I thought of my wife. I thought of my daughter. I thought — it was just very in large part, I think, because — David said it — it was such a surprise. It was such a pioneer. And this has been.

JUDY WOODRUFF: This was less of a…

MARK SHIELDS: This was. And Hillary Clinton has been a formidable, significant political figure and actor for 25 years.

And — but there was genuine emotion in that hall. You could feel it if you watched it, when she accepted that nomination, and she obviously reciprocated it. But it was done not just as a sisterhood is powerful campaign. It was a political campaign and it was an effective one.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let’s bring it down to the politics of it.

Quite a good week for the Democrats, whether it was history or not, David. You had Hillary Clinton finished. She won California, pretty big margin. She got the president’s endorsement. She got the endorsement of the vice president. Bernie Sanders is not getting out of the race, but he now is signaling he’s going to support her.

Democrats seem to have pulled it together this week. What did you make of that?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, California was a big one. If she had lost California, then we have a whole different gestalt. We don’t have a different nominee, but we have a different feeling to the whole thing.

And so winning California, winning very convincingly, is a reminder, for all that we have been surprised by Sanders, she did win this. She won it cleanly and in a big way over the whole course of the primary season. And so she clearly deserves to be the nominee. And the Democratic big chieftains are coming together now.

The questions I would have for Clinton are that people are coming together, and they’re uniting and they’re strong, people like Warren, but this is not a year where the establishment is doing particularly well with the voters. And so I’m not sure how much it will help her in the campaign.

And while Trump’s poll numbers are really taking a hit, hers are sort of steady and they’re not steady at a great place. In three-way races — I’m really struck by the three-way races all the sudden, where she’s at 39 or 40, and Trump is at like 35, and then suddenly Gary Johnson, Libertarian candidate, is like at a 10.

And one can see there is so much dissatisfaction with those two that if Johnson could run a good campaign, he could stick around in the double digits and really he will be a big story as we talk about the rest of the year.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How much do you think, Mark, the fact that they sort of — the White House orchestrated this, this week, in a way that they just — they gave Bernie Sanders gave the space to get out when he wants to.

MARK SHIELDS: Democrats, historically, when they form a firing squad, from a circle. This was a total exception.

It was brilliantly choreographed. In addition to the president’s endorsement, a man not noted for his self-doubt, to say that she was the most qualified presidential candidate in his lifetime was quite an admission and statement.

I thought the other part of it, Judy, was the deference and respect and space they gave — given to Bernie Sanders, that he’s paid homage, he’s paid tribute, and I think deservedly so. He lost the nomination, but he won the future of the Democratic Party.

And I think the awareness of this and the awareness of the need for him not to be a Gene McCarthy, as Gene McCarthy was in 1968 when Hubert Humphrey lost the presidency to Richard Nixon by 511,000 votes, and Gene McCarthy waited, the great anti-war candidate, until six days before the election to endorse Humphrey, when, undoubtedly, that would have made a difference in the outcome.

And Bernie Sanders is not going to play this role. I think — I think all of that was good and positive and encouraging. And the idea that the Democrats are going to have a peaceful convention, they’re on the love boat now. A week ago, it looked like a civil war, or two weeks ago.


MARK SHIELDS: And the Republicans, who looked were going to have a boring convention, now there’s a restiveness and restlessness in the ranks.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, the two of you have been saying, I think, for some weeks that you don’t think Hillary Clinton has a single message for her campaign. And, David, you were just hinting that that is still the case.

Where do you come down, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, she doesn’t.

The reality is, this is a change election year. As popular as Barack Obama, and he’s at 51 percent favorable rating, some — four out of five American voters want the country to head in the right, a different direction. They’re not satisfied with the economy. Barack Obama could not win a third term on a referendum.

He could if he was running against Donald Trump. But — so, there’s a change — you know, after two terms, there’s a desire for change in the country. And Hillary Clinton is a candidate of continuity. And that’s a problem. And her message as of now is the change of Donald Trump is so reckless and so dangerous, that I am the safe and sensible alternative.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that enough?

DAVID BROOKS: Oh, yes, probably.



I mean, people — I still sense people will be sick of Donald Trump and they will go for her. At least she will be competent and she will be normal. But one — it’s not sufficient for the country. It’s enough politically. But it’s not sufficient for — as Sanders even spoke this week, I was really struck by how he opened the campaign really well with a core message.

But the message just sat there. He had the same message from beginning to end, the same few talking points from beginning to end. It would have been interesting to know, if he had expanded that message or taken it the next step, a different kind of issues, if he would have done better.

But Clinton has not had those issues. And her incrementalism is not sufficient, as Mark said. And what will be interesting, if she can take some of the left-wing policies — one of the things we have seen from Trump is how ideologically flexible the country is right now, that they just want different, and they’re willing to grab from column A and column B.

Trump is a flawed messenger, but if Clinton could grab some column A from the left column and some unpredictable things from the right column that could appeal like to the family we just saw in Kai’s piece, suddenly, that’s a real message.

But, as I say, a lot of this is characterological. We just haven’t seen imagination from her over the course of her political campaign. We have seen determinedness, industriousness, but we haven’t seen the unexpected.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let’s talk about Trump. He has had a really bad week, as his campaign has gone.

Mark, he really has not backed down from the comments he made about the judge of Hispanic heritage, Mexican heritage. And you see the Republican Party struggling to try to figure out what to do about it. What shape is he in right now?

MARK SHIELDS: He’s in bad shape.

And I say that, Judy, because think about this, if you’re a Republican. A week ago, the Democrats had a terrible, terrible week. The inspector general’s reports from the State Department came through on Hillary Clinton’s private e-mail. It showed that the Clinton people had disassembled, that they had not cooperated, that they had actually made it more difficult for the investigation and had not been forthcoming.

But, in addition to that, we had the worst job creation numbers we’d had in six years. And yet Donald Trump dominated the news the whole week, and Hillary Clinton made the news and dominated it in a positive sense with her speech critical of him.


MARK SHIELDS: So, you know, Donald Trump now is going to a teleprompter, as we saw today and we saw on election night.

Donald Trump on a teleprompter is about as electrifying as the recorded message you get calling the airlines and saying, calls will be answered in the order by which they were received.


MARK SHIELDS: He loses all of Donald Trump.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David, how much damage has been done? Is he going to be able to pick himself up and keep going? What do you see?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, he will be able to pick up. There will be ebbs and flows.

But we have — he’s had so many bad weeks with no effect in the polls, but, this week, there was an effect in the polls. So, he was dropped, I don’t know, six, 10 points. There was a chunk down.

And then the flaking way of the Republicans, the Ryans and even the Mitch McConnells are beginning to grow wobbly, Scott Walker. The whole party is, like, oh, no, what are we going to do?

And I understand why Ryan is trying to hang in there. He wants unity. His theory is that, if we get unified, we will — that’s the only way we can win as a party. And his theory is, I have got a policy agenda. If I hug Donald Trump, maybe he will take part of it, but if I push him away, he will never embrace my agenda, and I care most about my agenda.

But I think that is unworkable and frankly not morally sound, that policy. It’s unworkable because you can’t share a stage with Donald Trump. He’s not a sharing guy. He’s a sole figure who doesn’t do collaboration. He doesn’t do reciprocity. He doesn’t do teamwork. And you can’t have unity with a guy like that.

I wrote in my column today it’s like trying to hug a tornado. It’s just not going to work, because you will get what we just saw. And it’s immoral, or amoral, at least, because you can’t embrace somebody who says racist things because he happens to agree with your defense budget.

The character is foundational. And Ryan is trying to paper over a moral chasm with policy. And it’s just not — it’s not the right thing to do, in my view.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Pretty tough.

MARK SHIELDS: It was tough. It was a good column. And it was — David said it well.

Donald Trump, to quote David, which I’m always reluctant to do…


MARK SHIELDS: … but he has no horizontal relationships. And I think that’s true.

Mo Udall, a wonderful congressman from Arizona, said, always beware of any presidential candidate who doesn’t have friends his own age who can tell him to go to hell and — when you’re wrong. And I just don’t see that in Donald Trump.

I mean, I see a lot of relationships and a lot of vertical relationships and good relationships with his family. But, I mean, I think, Judy, the vote for president is a very personal one. And people are going to make their decisions based on, as Heraclitus said 25 centuries ago, character is destiny, and it will be in 2012 (sic).

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, he’s going to — I guess next week, he is going to try to talk about Hillary Clinton’s character.



JUDY WOODRUFF: And we will see what he says.

Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you both.