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Shields and Brooks on blocking Trump, Sanders’ chances and Merrick Garland

March 18, 2016 at 7:57 PM EST
Judy Woodruff sits down with syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks to discuss the week in politics, including how the mainstream GOP can block a Donald Trump nomination, Bernie Sanders’ chances in the western states and Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland’s contested confirmation.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And that brings us to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

So, gentlemen, with that gentle note to end this week, David, where does the Republican contest stand?

DAVID BROOKS: I’m trembling at the loss of Sam Clovis from the ranks.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: Trump is looking like the nominee. I mean, he had this great night. He — if he continues as he has been going right now — and my paper reported — our Upshot department reported he will get the — what he needs. So he’s looking like he can get it.

There are two ways he cannot get it. One, maybe if Kasich drops out, there are some polls that show if Cruz is one on one, he could make some inroads into Trump. And then something behind the scenes or something — fiddling with the rules. I, of course, think they should do it.

But one of the features of this year is that Donald Trump has a monopoly on audacity and he’s the only one who takes action. So, what’s interesting to me about the Republicans right now is, with the exception of Florida Governor Rick Scott and Chris Christie, they’re not flocking to Trump. They do not like the guy. They’re terrorized of the guy. They’re repulsed by the guy.

But they’re not flocking to him, but they’re not doing anything against him either. They’re just sitting there like a psychologically depleted party.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, where does that leave — so that, Mark, he just marches on to Cleveland and the nomination.

MARK SHIELDS: He does.

What conservative philosopher and columnist George Will called the most gifted and diversified field of Republican candidates since 1865 is now down essentially to two, to Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, the quintessential conservative who cannot be nominated and cannot win. And that’s where the Republicans are.

Donald Trump, let it be said in his behalf, has won this nomination. I mean, the people who are trying to take it away from him have won nothing. I mean, John Kasich has won one primary, half as many as Marco Rubio won, I think, contests.

So, I mean, you know, but he’s won, and he’s won everywhere. I mean, it’s been across the board. I mean, this is a — it’s been an open assault upon the establishment, and he has captured it.

So, I just think that, you know, Lindsey Graham, a man occasionally known for spreading the ugly truth, said it’s — a choice between Cruz and Trump is the choice between being poisoned and being shot. And I think that’s where sort of the paralysis that David…

(CROSSTALK)

DAVID BROOKS: And he chose poison.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And then he went on to choose Cruz.

MARK SHIELDS: He did. He chose arsenic over — yes.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: That’s right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But if Trump has won it, then, David, is there any sign of Republican — I know you said he’s not getting the big endorsements, but is it that Republicans are not listening to the voters? What’s the disconnect here?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

Well, first of all, in the big Tuesday states, 40 percent of voters in most of the states said, if Trump were the nominee, they’d consider a third party. And so that’s some serious disaffection. You do not see that. Usually, people are rallying around at this point.

And, secondly, there are a lot of Republicans, including myself, who find him morally repulsive. And he’s just not — there are some things more important things than winning an election. And supporting a guy who tears at the social fabric, who insults the office of the presidency by completely unprepared for it, who plays on bigotry and fear, who is the sort of demagogue our founders feared would upset the American experiment in self-government, well, that kind of guy, you just can’t support, even if it means a defeat.

And I think a lot of Republicans feel that way, which is why you get those 40 percent numbers of defectors.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, Mark, are the two of you saying that literally there is no — I know David said, if something happened and…

MARK SHIELDS: Sure.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, I mean, are you saying the odds are just very much against any…

(CROSSTALK)

MARK SHIELDS: Oh, no, I think the momentum is with him. I think the numbers are with him, Judy.

Judy, probably it hasn’t been totaled up yet, but a good bet is there was $20 million spent against Donald Trump in Florida, $20 million in negative campaign ads that went from calling him — one group, secretive group associated with the Koch brothers called him a wealthy draft dodger.

They have never mentioned — they never used that term about Dick Cheney, but then they called Trump University a scam and accused him of being just a scurrilous, unprincipled person. And all this, and it apparently — you know, if anything, it didn’t lay a glove on him, and, if anything, increased his numbers.

I mean, he has a constituency that is indifferent to such charges. So, I don’t know what would be revealed. I mean, there has been enough already revealed about him and understood that would kill any other candidate.

(CROSSTALK)

MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, with that and with the talk about a whether you call it a contested convention or an open convention, is there a scenario under which the people who voted for Donald Trump or his delegates would go along with some other plan, some other result at a convention?

DAVID BROOKS: It’s hard to imagine, unless there was something — again, he’s like Rasputin. As Mark said, he just doesn’t go away. He doesn’t die.

Unless somehow something came up that we don’t know about that — where they lost faith, where they lost heart. But at this point, it’s hard to see it. He looks very much like the nominee. And, as Mark said, we have treated this — everyone says, oh, what a crazy year. It’s so unexpected. He’s been ahead for eight months.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Sure.

DAVID BROOKS: And only it’s because of the ignorance of people like me, who didn’t see that he’s ahead for eight months, so it’s a very simple storyline. He’s been ahead for eight months. He’s still ahead.

And so that’s been very stable. We all expected him to explode. The only surprise is, this has been so linear for him.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. No, there is always the blockbuster, the screenplay that reveals something about him, that he’s got eight secret families or something of the sort.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Somebody steps out from behind a curtain.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. No, but I just think everything is headed in his direction.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let’s turn to the Democrats.

Hillary Clinton is way ahead, David, in terms of delegates, but Bernie Sanders — and Bernie Sanders didn’t win any primaries this week, but he’s campaigning hard and he says he’s going all the way to Philadelphia, to the Democratic Convention.

What is that — I mean, what do we have here on the Democratic side?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I think the Democratic side is even more ironed shut down than the Republican side.

I think she’s on a march. And she got has nearly twice the number of delegates he has got. And she’s just been very solid in her demographics. Now, she’s amazingly weak outside of her demographics. Among young people, he’s getting like 80 percent in some states. It’s amazing.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. Yes.

DAVID BROOKS: And among minorities, she’s very solid. Among middle class, among moderate Democratic voters, she’s very solid and she’s holding her people.

And I think that is what is frustrating for Sanders. She’s a fox, and he’s a hedgehog. She knows a lot of things. He knows one thing and he keeps repeating it and repeating it. He doesn’t adjust tactics. He doesn’t shift. He’s just doing that thing.

And so that thing wins over a certain demographic, young people and the left, but there just aren’t enough of those people to knock her off. And so I think she’s looking — she’s sitting very pretty now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You see any way he could pull this off?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, again, when you have two candidates in a race, yes, there is always a possibility. I recall rather vividly eight years ago, when she was asked if she was going to get out, and she said, no, anything can happen in a race when there is two people.

Bernie Sanders has run an absolutely exceptional campaign, and continues to do. He has dominated — as Donald Trump has dominated the dialogue and the debate on the Republican side and gotten the attention, he has totally dominated the debate on the Democratic side. He has moved her on trade, on the TPP.

He has moved her on preserving Social Security. She’s now pledged to not touching a single hair on the gray hair on the beautiful head of Social Security. That had been a traditional Democratic sort of moderate position, or new Democrats, that you had to limit entitlements.

So, I mean, Bernie, he is — he has really been the driving force in this campaign. David’s right; 80 percent of voters under the age of 30 supported him in several states. And he came back. You know, I was thinking of Massachusetts, where, in 2008, Barack Obama had the support of Governor Deval Patrick and Ted Kennedy, and he still lost by 15 points to Hillary Clinton.

He almost beat her there. And he’s won a number of states. And what lies ahead, he’s quite confident. So I just — he has four million individual contributions. So, he’s given the party a lot of energy. I don’t think he’s got dreams that he’s going to be the nominee at this point, but I think he’s got — he’s leading a cause.

JUDY WOODRUFF: President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court to take the spot that Justice Scalia, the late Justice Scalia had, David, Merrick Garland, what do make of the choice, and what does it say about what the president wants on the court?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, frankly, I think it’s an excellent choice. He’s a guy with apparently an amazing temperament. He is the model of judicial restraint.

He seems to be a man of both amazing integrity and capacity to be emotionally moved. And so everything I hear about him is superlative.

And, if I’m a Republican, frankly, running the Senate, I’m thinking, this is the best I’m going to get. And if Donald Trump is down 15 points in the summer or fall, I would confirm this guy, because Hillary Clinton, if she gets elected, who knows what the Senate will look like. It will be, from a Republican point of view, a lot worse.

So I think Republicans should say, OK, we will take this guy, because he’s — from their point of view, he’s a model of restraint.

(CROSSTALK)

MARK SHIELDS: I agree and echo what David has said about Judge Garland.

And, Judy, the knocks on him from the liberal side is, A, he’s a white male. And, you know, you have to have somebody who’s, I don’t know what, biracial or something else.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But he’s too much of a centrist.

MARK SHIELDS: That he — and he’s 63 years old, which doesn’t seem old at all to me.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: But — no, but the irony here is, I think the Republicans have put themselves in a terrible position. I really do.

I mean, before the body was cold of Judge Scalia, before his family had been told, Mitch McConnell tried to head off a charge from the conservative insurgents against the establishment that they weren’t sufficiently conservative enough, so they are going to earn that.

And they have taken a position basically that comes down to this. Barack Obama is the only president since World War II other than Dwight Eisenhower to twice win 51 percent of the popular vote. And what they want to say is, he’s got a three-year term for his second term.

So, by that logic, that logic, the people should decide. The 24 Republican senators who are up for reelection this year shouldn’t vote on anything between now and November, until the people have spoken. I mean, so I just really think they have taken a terrible political position, and I think it’s increasingly unpopular and eventually unsustainable.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, their defense — in their defense, the Republicans, David, are saying, well, but this is to replace Antonin Scalia, who was standard-bearer, conservative for, what, 25 years on the court.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, but I agree with Mark philosophically. You are elected for four years and you get to nominate for four years.

Some people — Justice Marshall in the old days, under John Adams, I think it was, was nominated in a lame-duck section.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

DAVID BROOKS: And so that’s the constitutional historical precedent. So, philosophically, I think Mark is right.

Politically, I can’t imagine Republicans will pay a price for it. I do not think there are a lot of voters out there thinking, oh, you have got to give this guy a hearing. I just don’t think it’s a voting issue. So I do not think Republicans will be compelled to fold on this one.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Does it matter for the court that it sits with eight members until whenever?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, of course.

(CROSSTALK)

MARK SHIELDS: A closed mind is a terrible thing to tamper with.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: No, I mean, I think it will — it puts people like Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire on the defensive. It puts Rob Portman on the defensive. Already, Mark Kirk has changed.

I just think that states like that — I mean, Chuck Grassley is looking like a tower of Jell-O at this point.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: On that note, Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you both.

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