TOPICS > Politics > Shields and Brooks

Shields and Brooks on Democrats’ fiery debate, Republican rivalry in N.H.

February 5, 2016 at 6:30 PM EDT
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including takeaways from Thursday’s Democratic debate showdown between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, plus how Sen. Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and Sen. Marco Rubio are faring in New Hampshire ahead of the primary.


The Iowa results are in, and there’s plenty of ground to cover as the candidates shift their focus to next week’s primary in New Hampshire.

Sen. Ted Cruz’s convincing win in Iowa puts pressure on Donald Trump to come out on top in New Hampshire, while Sen. Marco Rubio is experiencing a bounce in the polls thanks to his surprisingly strong third place finish in Iowa.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton (narrowly) beat Sen. Bernie Sanders, becoming the first woman in history to win the Iowa caucuses. But she’s trailing Sanders in New Hampshire — a state that she carried against Barack Obama in 2008.

As the race heats up, New York Times columnist David Brooks and syndicated columnist Mark Shields break down the Iowa results, last night’s feisty Democratic debate, and look ahead to Tuesday’s primary in New Hampshire.

Read the complete transcript:

JUDY WOODRUFF: And now more on the race for the White House.

As we heard, the Democrats squared off on the debate stage last night in New Hampshire. It was one of the most contentious meetings in the election cycle so far. One of the sticking points, how the candidates would get things done.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), Democratic Presidential Candidate: I am not going to make promises I can’t keep. I am not going to talk about big ideas like single-payer and then not level with people about how much it will cost.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), Democratic Presidential Candidate: Now all of the ideas that I’m talking about, they are not radical ideas. Doing — making public colleges and universities tuition-free, that exists in countries all over the world, used to exist in the United States.

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.

Welcome, gentlemen.

So, this is the first time, Mark, we have seen the two of them, just the two of them, on the debate stage. What did you make of it?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: I thought they played their roles exceedingly well. I mean, you had the battle-tested, experienced, pragmatist concerned with results against this fresh new face, 74 years old, the outside crusader with a noble cause.


MARK SHIELDS: And I thought each of them kind of made their respective case well.

Obviously want to give a shout-out, quite honestly, to Chuck Todd and Rachel Maddow, who I thought did a great job of moderating, let them debate.


MARK SHIELDS: Didn’t have artificial times imposed.

I thought Hillary Clinton, if you read the transcript, I think she comes across better than she does in person. And what is missing, there’s great factual command, but there’s nothing inspirational or aspirational about her candidacy at this point. And I think that’s missing.

Bernie is a lot of inspiration, and he’s excited. Democrats are a glandular party. They like to love to fall in love. And an awful lot of them have fallen in love with Bernie.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Glandular party?


DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times: Yes, I’m not going to explore that metaphor.


DAVID BROOKS: You know, he does have passion and he has got policies. He’s the most predictable candidate imaginable. He will talk about Wall Street, but then he will talk about his policies, free college education — a terrible idea, by the way, good way to subsidize the affluent — but, still, it’s a policy.

The health thing is a policy. The attack on Wall Street, it is a policy. What has — Clinton, of course she has policies. She has got white papers written somewhere in the campaign, but what is her main thing on the — when she’s talking? It’s a process. I can get things done in a certain way. It’s more gradualist.

Well, who’s marching to the flag of gradualism? And so I think, rhetorically, there is a disadvantage there, that he’s got substance and she’s got a process.

And, frankly, I do think, if you’re just a random voter, that’s not just campaign style. You look at her record in — as secretary of state, well, she had a lot of process, but what vision did she actually bring to the job? This has always been the knock on her as secretary.

So, you got to think, well, is this just part of who she would be as president? So, it’s not just style. It goes to something substantive as well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: He went after her, Mark, on a number of things, but we heard on Wall Street. He said her Wall Street connections, that she’s not enough of a progressive. How did she hold up, stand up to that?

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t think she has an answer, Judy, quite honestly.

I mean, she showed her independence. She has defied him or challenged him to show a vote where she had changed her policy, she had changed because of her contributions. But it’s a mystery to people close to Hillary Clinton, to her campaign, strong supporters of her, who was separated in 2000 from the Clinton Foundation, from all that outside fund-raising, when she became a United States senator, went to the secretary of state’s job, and all the way through 2013, she was insulated and isolated from some of the mishaps or happenings that were going on at the foundation and allegations.

She comes out. Instead of remaining pristine, she plunged into that, money-making, knowing full well that it was going to be raised, if not — and it remains a mystery. And I don’t think she does have an answer. I really don’t. And I think he’s tapped into something that’s very deep in the Democratic Party.

The Democrats are generally overwhelmingly disappointed in Barack Obama and Eric Holder, that nobody, for the millions of people who lost their homes in the mortgage crisis and the banks, that nobody has ever been held accountable.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you think she deals with this Wall Street issue?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Well, early in the week, she dealt with it extremely poorly. That’s kind of the money they offered me, so I took it. So, that wasn’t good, and scarcely better in the debate.

And so she has to have some answer. They’re going to ask her to release the transcripts of the remarks. I guarantee you or I strongly suspect she will never do that, because she probably said some nice things about the audience who were paying her so much money. I do not believe it has influenced her votes. So I think she’s right about that.

But it doesn’t look good. The weird thing about the Democratic Party now is that Wall Street has become the center of evil in the country. Now, I didn’t like what happened in 2008. I think that fees these hedge funds charge are crazy, especially given their performance.

But the problems of the middle class are caused by technological change and globalization. They’re not primarily caused by Wall Street. And creating this boogeyman, as Sanders does, as Wall Street, that is the wrong problem. And he’s creating a false narrative, which just is an economic reality of why we have wage stagnation and inequality and all the rest.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Mark, what about him going after her, we have heard different iterations of this, that she’s just not truly progressive enough, that she’s part of the…

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, I don’t think that a lot of Democrats spend time about arguing whether you’re progressive or un-progressive or whatever.

She has a record of — the thing is that, to some degree, she’s almost like the incumbent, Judy. For 25 years, she’s been going to New Hampshire. But her identification with children’s issues, family issues is deep and strong.

But I really do think that this is — David makes the case on technological change and so forth. But, I mean, I think the reaction to the mortgage crisis was, this is a terrible thing. We must find the people who did it and give them billions of dollars.

I mean, that was basically the response. And I think there is a — just a simmering anger that remains presently in the electorate that he has tied in to. The advantage he has is that he knows exactly what he believes. He has said the said thing for so long. He’s never going to be tripped up. I mean, he’s totally consistent.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And she goes after him, as we heard, David, for just having these pie-in-the-sky ideas that he can never carry out.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think she’s right about that. I think they’re unaffordable.

The Washington Post had a good editorial on how unaffordable a lot of these things are. And unless he can sweep the House of Representatives and get 60 votes in the Senate, he has no implementation strategy.

Now, does she have one? That’s an interesting question. You could argue that maybe. But I’m not sure she has a better implementation strategy anyway either. It’s not as if the Clintons are non-polarizing. They are polarizing figures.

But she surely has a better shot of an implementation strategy than Bernie Sanders or Ted Cruz. I mean, it’s tough to hear any of these candidates give you a plausible story about how their agendas could possibly get passed in this climate.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let’s talk about the Republicans.

Coming out of Iowa, Mark, Ted Cruz gets a big lift, but it is said that New Hampshire is not great political territory for him.

MARK SHIELDS: No. One-third as many New Hampshire voters are evangelical voters, self-identified, as there are in Iowa. In other words, there are three times as large a percentage in Iowa.

And New Hampshire is a — call it non-religious, irreligious. Religion doesn’t play a central role. And I think he’s been on the defensive ever since Iowa because of the dirty tricks, or whatever you want to call them, toward Ben Carson. And somebody that, as a part of his basic speech, says we must raise up the body of Christ in his rallying cry, I mean, this raises a charge of a little hypocrisy or inconsistency.

I will be fascinated to see if Ben Carson in Saturday night’s debate uses his time to reprimand and censure Ted Cruz and the tactics he sued. So, Cruz has now just said they’re not going to spend more time and effort and resources in New Hampshire.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Ted Cruz, and then we look at Donald Trump, who, David, was leading in Iowa, came in a pretty distant — well, four or five points behind. The air came out of some of that balloon. Where does he go next?


Well, he, of course, missed the day today because he can’t afford to stay in New Hampshire, apparently. He can’t afford the hotels there and has to stay at home in New York.


DAVID BROOKS: He’s magnifying, I think, his weaknesses.

Some of the things he said and some of the things he’s tweeted, saying I actually would have won Iowa, but Cruz cheated, that’s not — that’s unnerving. That’s not the way you react to a defeat. And so I think if people had any doubts about his stability, as Lisa said, with the nuclear trigger, this sort of magnifies it.

With Cruz, we saw the guy has an iron wall around him. He has extremely conservative voters locked down. But it’s very hard for him to reach out to anybody else. There is just an iron wall separating him from moderate voters, from other kinds of Republicans.

And so, if you look at the post-Iowa polls in New Hampshire, you see Cruz dipping a little — I mean, Trump dipping a little, Rubio rising a lot, so he now looks like the alternative, and then Cruz getting no bounce because of that wall around him.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And I want to ask you about Rubio in a minute.

But, Mark, do I hear you — both of you saying that Trump really — it’s hard for Trump to find some kind of footing in New Hampshire?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean, he’s enjoyed a large lead in all the public opinion polls up until now.


MARK SHIELDS: I don’t know, Judy.

Someone who predicates it on, I’m a winner and the people on the other side are losers, and then doesn’t win, that’s what he was selling, there was something special about him. And I don’t know. I think the debate Saturday night, not to put all the — everything into that, but I think it’s going to be a test of him and policies.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Tomorrow night.

MARK SHIELDS: I mean, for example, in an interview with Anderson Cooper, he said we — the United States gave Iran $150 billion.

I mean, now, the United States didn’t give Iran. That was — it was Iran’s money, its assets that had been frozen. But his real holes on policy matters, I think, are a real problem for him. And, you know, I don’t know. If Rubio were to finish first in New Hampshire, I think it basically propels him in a remarkable fashion.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, what is this magic, David, that Rubio seems to have caught?

And, by the way, we have got these other three well-known establishment candidates, John Kasich, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, who finished way back in Iowa, but are still trying really hard to show up in New Hampshire.


They’re trying hard, but what happened, what the Iowa result has done is given Rubio some distance between him and the others. And so he seems like the alternative. And I think, for the other three, if they don’t tie or beat him, then I don’t see any justification for their continued campaigns, which is not how they’re talking, but I think that’s just the reality.

Rubio has gotten a nice bump. He’s a good communicator. And the important thing is, he’s acceptable to all parts of the party.


DAVID BROOKS: And so he ran — we forget, he ran as a Tea Party candidate.


DAVID BROOKS: And so — but now he’s seen as Mr. Moderate.

But he’s — I think he’s the 77th most — he’s in the 77th percentile of conservatism in the Republican Congress, so he’s more conservative than the average congressional Republican, which is — means he’s pretty conservative.

But he’s acceptable to all sides. He has a nice disposition. We will see, as Mark says, in the debate, when he gets attacked from all quarters, how he handles it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Forty-five seconds, Mark. What about these other — these four, Rubio, but the other three who are trying to catch up?


Rubio is the closest thing to Jimmy Carter in 1976 I have seen, in the sense that he’s an incredibly disciplined candidate, just as Carter was. He’s on message. He’s running on biography. And he’s broadly acceptable to all the elements in his own party. And he also — there is implicit electability, and that — which is Bernie Sanders’ Achilles’ heel at this point, quite honestly.

The others, I mean, this is it. You remember Jon Huntsman made his fight in 2012. Unless one of them breaks through and almost closes to the third or fourth, I don’t think any of them expects to be second at this point. And I think it’s going to be tough to go on, especially if Rubio gets the bounce.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I remember one of these people at the table — maybe both of you — speaking the name Rubio even some time ago.

We will see. Just a few nights to go, New Hampshire, and both of you are going to be with us Tuesday night.

Thank you, David Brooks, Mark Shields.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you, Judy.