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Shields and Brooks on New Hampshire’s primary influence

February 9, 2016 at 6:25 PM EDT
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to preview the New Hampshire primary with a look at how voter tastes have shifted since past elections, the influencing power of the Granite State, the popularity of Donald Trump and whether there will be more or less clarity about the presidential race at the end of the first primary.

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, who joins us from Manchester.

Welcome, gentlemen.

So, David, we were just hearing in that report from Hari how different the voters of New Hampshire are from the rest of the country.

When you look at Iowa and you put it together with New Hampshire, you are looking at a different group of the electorate. So, what are you looking for these voters to clarify tonight?

DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times: Yes. Obviously, they’re polarized. They’re whiter, but then they’re also more polarized.

What’s interesting to me is, this electorate, according to the exit polls, are more polarized than they were in ’08. The Democrats are much more liberal, significantly more liberal than they were in ’08. The Republicans are significantly more who say they extremely conservative than in ’12 and ’08.

So, this is an electorate, like a lot of people around the country, who have polarized. I’m also struck by how many late-deciders there are. If it’s half late-deciders, that means all that we have been talking about in the polls, I would be very surprised if we weren’t very surprised by what happens in the next few hours.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, what about that, the late-deciders, and also the difference? Well, and let me ask you first about the late-deciders. What does that tell you?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: The late-deciders tell me that it’s typical New Hampshire, where you get — in the last 72 hours, 48 hours, you get up to half of the voters deciding.

And one measurement I saw reported is that two-thirds of the voters said that the debates, which were last Thursday for the Democrats, last Saturday for the Republicans, influenced their decision in that late decision.

So, I think that will be a major part of the postmortem of the results tonight.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Mark, what about this question of, what are you looking for the results in New Hampshire to clarify? I mean, this is a different group of voters from the rest of the country.

MARK SHIELDS: It’s a different group of voters, Judy. It has always been a different group of voters. It is the gateway and the gatekeeper state.

Of the last 10 presidents of the United States, from Harry Truman forward, Dwight Eisenhower to Barack Obama, nobody has been elected president of the United States who finished lower than second in the New Hampshire primary or won it, either won it or finished second.

So, maybe history will be broken tonight, and somebody who finishes fourth will go on to be the nominee. But history is a very strong indication that, if you don’t finish in the top two in New Hampshire, you’re not going to have an inaugural parade next January 20. So, I think that’s what I’m looking for as much as anything.

I would also look for, quite frankly, Marco Rubio, who was running second in the polls immediately after Iowa and a stronger-than-expected showing, if, in fact, he does tumble to beyond fourth, or third, fifth in this tonight, I think the story has already been written. The narrative is there. It was the debate that did it to him, just as Howard Dean’s scream in 2004 became the explanation for his fall from grace.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, David, that’s a reminder that, tonight, we don’t just look at who the winners are in each party. We’re going to be looking closely at who comes in second, third and maybe even fourth.


There’s the results, and then there’s the narrative. And the narratives will be determined by the size of the victory. If Donald Trump, his final poll numbers around 31, if he’s down around 25, 24, 22, then we will have a pattern of underperformance. If he’s above 31, then suddenly he looks quite strong.

If John Kasich comes in second, suddenly, we have got fresh meat. We have got a new story to talk about. If Bernie Sanders can win — right now, he’s winning by like 15 in the polls. And — but if he wins by 25, suddenly, that’s a huge story. If somehow he loses, he’s done.

And so we will — the gaps between all the candidates will determine the narrative structure over the next few weeks.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David, are you hearing from these candidates an evolving message? Do you hear them saying the same kinds of things they were weeks ago? Or do you see something developing from these candidates that tells us more about them?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, well, Donald Trump evolves in random ways, but I don’t know that that’s developing.

What’s interesting is how much — you know, the polls to me about immigration on the Republican side are very disturbing. Two-thirds of Republicans here would like to have a temporary ban on all Muslims. On the other hand, immigration is not a very salient issue. It’s not one of the top concerns. Economy is really the top concern on both sides.

And on the Republican side, Kasich and Trump are getting the highest ratings on the economy. So, they focus on that. But I guess the thing that’s most interesting to me, as in the whole campaign, is the electorate is more interesting than the candidates.


DAVID BROOKS: There are a lot of people who are Democrats who just want to stop Cruz or stop Trump, so they’re switching over to vote on the Republican side, even though they might be progressives themselves.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It is interesting, Mark, the number of — what we have been hearing reporters say. They talk to voters who say, well, I’m either going to go Trump or Sanders, or they will name a Democrat or a Republican.


JUDY WOODRUFF: What are we learning in this process about just how unhappy the American people are? Do we better understand the appeal of these outsider candidates?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think Trump and Sanders, you could say they — these are very much outsider candidates, I mean, who are politics as usual, Washington, the political establishment — they give cold comfort to members of that group or that organization. They are both outsiders. They’re both highly critical. They — I think that is a major thing.

Just one point about New Hampshire, Judy. Today, they had a snowstorm. They will have a turnout in New Hampshire, if history is our guide again, that will be higher than all but 44 states in November, I mean, in a primary in February.

I mean, these are people who take it seriously, take their responsibility seriously. And, I mean, they really do a rather remarkable job. So, their decision is — has to be paid attention to, and it will have enormous implications.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we will be paying attention.

David, you mentioned — we were talking about Trump a minute ago. There’s been a lot of coverage today of the remark that he made last night which everyone has bleeped out, at least all the news organizations have bleeped out. And yet the crowd cheered.

What do we learn from that?

DAVID BROOKS: Part of his appeal is anti-political correctness.

He understands that to show that you’re against the establishment is not only to show it on positions. You show it on manners. And, so, in my view, he’s taken the manners of professional wrestling. He’s in the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame, and he’s brought it to politics.

And so the word he used last night was another — yet another example of that. And people like me tut-tut about it, but the crowd cheered. There is a certain number of people who say, well, that’s how I talk, too.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, should we draw bigger conclusions or just say, this is just one rally, one Donald Trump remark?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, if Donald Trump wins, as the polls predict that he will, I mean, he has to be taken more seriously, Judy.

And this is such a departure from how Americans regard their presidents, whether it’s George Washington or Abraham Lincoln or anybody who served in that office. We expect a level of civility. We expect a level of discourse. And Donald Trump, by any measurement, is not presidential by that standard.

And I think there’s matter of taste, as well as sensibilities, that he offends an awful lot of people. I will be interested in the exit polls and how many people who don’t vote for Donald Trump tonight have an unfavorable view of him. Remember, in Iowa, a majority of Republicans who didn’t support Donald Trump had an unfavorable view of him.

And that, of course, would, I think, be a reflection of his manner, his approach, his attitude, his disparagement of his opponents, and just calling everybody who has ever served in Washington in the past generation stupid. And that — I think that there are consequences to that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, David, just quickly, does this campaign feels — we have been saying this for months, that this campaign feels like a different one.

Do you go into tonight’s voting, tonight’s results still feeling that this is — this stands out as something really different from what we have seen over the past few decades of this?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. We have…


DAVID BROOKS: We have certainly broken every rule of etiquette. We have certainly had the confusion of candidates.

I guess I’m mostly struck by how nothing will be settled. We may be more confused tomorrow than we are today if we get another scramble of new candidates, a Kasich or a Bush rising. And, so, usually, there’s a winnowing and a clarifying. We may be more confused after New Hampshire, at least on the Republican side.


MARK SHIELDS: And we will find out, Judy, whether, in fact, there is such a thing as a firewall after tonight. If, in fact, Bernie Sanders wins big, if he gets the big mo’ of legendary American political lore, and starts to move, and even in areas where he’s unknown previously.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we look forward to having Mark and David with us all evening.

Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.

And stay with us. We will have a lot more on the New Hampshire primary on our “PBS NewsHour” special report. That’s at 11:00 p.m. Eastern.

Plus, tune in on Thursday. Gwen and I will moderate the Democratic presidential debate, in partnership with Facebook, from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. That starts Thursday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.