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Shields and Brooks on the NRA’s endorsement of Donald Trump and the Bernie Sanders factor

May 20, 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 what the NRA’s endorsement of Donald Trump means for GOP unity, whether Democrat Bernie Sanders still poses a serious threat to Hillary Clinton’s nomination and what will happen to his supporters if she wins it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And now we turn to the presidential campaign, where the party front-runners have been trading barbs this week, among other things, on foreign policy.

During a CNN interview Thursday, Hillary Clinton criticized Donald Trump’s handling of issues, saying Trump is not qualified to be president.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), Democratic Presidential Candidate: Whether it’s attacking Great Britain, praising the leader of North Korea, a despotic dictator who has nuclear weapons, whether it is saying pull out of NATO, let other countries have nuclear weapons, the kinds of positions he is stating and the consequences of those positions and even the consequences of his statements are not just offensive to people. They are potentially dangerous.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Trump shot back Thursday night at a fund-raiser for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

DONALD TRUMP (R), Republican Presidential Candidate: Today, we had a terrible tragedy. And she came up and she said that Donald Trump talked about radical Islamic terrorism, which she doesn’t want to use. She used a different term.

And I’m saying to myself, what just happened about 12 hours ago? A plane got blown out of the sky. And if anything — if anybody thinks it wasn’t blown out of the sky, you’re 100 percent wrong, folks, OK?

JUDY WOODRUFF: And then, today, there was more tough talk at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention in Louisville. Trump brought up the mass shooting in San Bernardino last year.

DONALD TRUMP: If we had guns on the other side, it wouldn’t have been that way. I would’ve — boom.


DONALD TRUMP: If we had guns on the other side, it wouldn’t have been that way.


DONALD TRUMP: And then you have the gun-free zones, gun-free zones. We’re getting rid of gun-free zones, OK, I can tell you.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Trump, who has previously supported some gun restrictions, received the NRA’s endorsement today.

Hillary Clinton, meantime, was off the campaign trail today, while her opponent, Bernie Sanders, stumped in New Mexico.

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

It’s great to have you both. Thank you for being here.

So, David, Donald Trump wins the endorsement of the National Rifle Association. Not a surprise. What does it mean for him?

DAVID BROOKS, New York Times Columnist: Well, he’s beginning to get the lay-down from the Republican base.

What’s happening is — I have had so many conversations this week, the last couple of weeks — he’s becoming normalized. A lot of people who a week ago thought he was the biggest monster since — coming out of the swamps, now think, well, you know, he’s a little more conservative than I would — or less conservative than I would like, but I think we can educate him, we can bring him along.

So, now he’s just a normal candidate. And that’s part of the general lay-down in front of him. And he has got to be thinking, man, this is easy. But it’s — it’s pretty much happening, not across the board. A lot of people are just laying low, but he’s gathering the base.

And the one thing that I think was a misstep was, he listed his Supreme Court choices this week.


DAVID BROOKS: And, to me, his fall campaign is not about winning over the Ted Cruz people. It’s about getting all the disaffected people across the ideological spectrum, including potentially some Sanders disaffected people.

And so making him on social issues and on court issues a very traditional orthodox conservative, seems to me, scares away a lot of people who are really his potential in the fall.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see, Mark, what he’s doing?

I mean, he’s appealing to the NRA, saying, we’re not going to have any more gun-free zones, and then this — this — what David brings up, trotting out the names of 11 judges who he says are potential for the Supreme Court if he’s elected.

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Yes, I just see this on the part of Trump — the judges, I see it a little bit differently. That is, just he’s reaching out to the base. He’s trying to reassure them, look, you know, I’m OK.

And it’s providing cover to them. Hey, look — you know, they don’t want to support him. They have got doubts about him. They’re afraid of what he might do by Columbus Day or Labor Day, to the point where he not only embarrasses and hurts Republicans, but embarrasses and hurts them for having endorsed him or stood with him.

So he’s just kind of providing cover: Well, he was going to give us the right kind of judges.

The gun-free zones I mean, this is a man of enormous flexibility. He didn’t just say that he was for an assault weapons ban. He wrote it in a book. When you write it in a book, it’s something — it’s just not off the cuff. And now he’s totally changed his position on that.

The gun-free zones, Judy, to me, it’s just — it’s irrational, that somehow packing heat, bringing a concealed weapon into an elementary school area or on a campus is going to increase personal safety.

That absolutely bizarre, boom, at San Bernardino — he can’t leave San Bernardino, for good reason. It was a political masterstroke on his part. I mean, San Bernardino, the tragedy that happened, the mass murder, what did he say after? I’m for banning Muslims of any kind from coming into the United States.

And what did it do? It was a 2-1 approval among Republican voters. And his numbers went up. So, I mean, he’s going to play that card, and that’s what he’s doing.

DAVID BROOKS: There’s a couple of other things going on here.

One is just the — like, does the president have power to end all gun-free zones around schools? School — there is a federal law that George W. — H.W. Bush passed.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

DAVID BROOKS: But the schools — the localities and the states have some say in all this.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right. Right.

DAVID BROOKS: And so he does — he doesn’t really have the power.

It’s like a symbolic issue. So much is symbolic. Even his reaction to the airplane that crashed, he — in narcissistic fashion, frankly, he chose the reality that was useful for him at that moment. And reality bends around him.

And so we don’t know what happened to that plane. But he said — and then we just saw that clip — if you disagree with me on this unknown thing, you’re 100 percent wrong. And that’s the reality force field that he creates around himself.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But he seems — as Mark was saying — and I guess you’re both making this point — he seems to be able to say whatever he believes at that moment, but then to say something different later.

And is he being held accountable by the voters? Or are his people just so enamored of what they’re hearing and what they’re seeing, Mark, that it doesn’t really matter what he says?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think the National Rifle Association would have endorsed a ham sandwich against Hillary Clinton.

I mean, he could have got up and said anything. This is — his past positions mean nothing. They were going to endorse him. And his past positions mean nothing to him. I think the man could pass a polygraph. I mean, he has already done this on Libya.

Just now it turns out that his position on Libya, where he’s criticized Secretary Clinton for the United States toppling — or being involved in the toppling of Gadhafi, and then leaving the country to its own resources, which proved sad and inadequate, that this was a tragedy, now it turns out that Donald Trump was all for going into Libya, for bringing full force.

Now, I think this is a cumulative thing. And maybe it doesn’t matter in the primary. I think, when you’re talking about a crisis, a national crisis — and every campaign has them — we had it in October in 2008 with the financial crisis and the collapse. And Barack Obama looked steady, looked sure-footed.

John McCain, the elder statesman, the senior guy, didn’t — wasn’t — yes, it was his party, and he was in a terrible bind with George Bush in the White House, but he didn’t look sure.

So, I don’t think that Donald Trump, this sort of reckless impulsiveness is going to wear well.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, the problem is…

JUDY WOODRUFF: You don’t? You don’t think…


MARK SHIELDS: No, I don’t.

I think there will be a time. If a question becomes, you know, what should the United States do and, you know, he says it — tweets at 6:00 in the morning, send the 82nd Airborne in, there may — I think there is a question of restraint and judgment and seriousness and maturity.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, the problem is, this is a binary choice. This is an election of one person against another.


DAVID BROOKS: And so large majorities of Americans think that he is not honest and trustworthy. But the exact same percentage think Hillary Clinton…


MARK SHIELDS: That’s true.

DAVID BROOKS: A large percentage do not think he shares their values. The exact same percentage think Hillary Clinton — a large — or a significant majority disapprove of him, but nearly as many disapprove of Hillary.

And in a weird — he’s going down, but somehow Hillary is following him straight down. The Hillary thing is a mystery to me. She was up at 66 percent approval rating when she was secretary of state. It hasn’t been that long. She’s just fallen in half.

And so her approval ratings have just taken this long, slow slide. And so she’s at parity, basically, with him, except on the temperament issue, which is why she’s hitting that over and over.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Where he is — he’s something like 70 percent say…

DAVID BROOKS: She’s at 21 percent advantage over him.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Over him on that.

MARK SHIELDS: On the secretary of state, just in fairness to her, when you’re secretary of state, she had the support and endorsement of a lot of partisan Republicans.

And once it became obvious she was a presidential candidate — but, no, I do not argue that she has slipped. What we have is two candidates who are unpopular. Hillary Clinton, however, is seen as smart and experienced and someone who is knowledgeable. And, you know, I think the question on Donald Trump, the jury is still out on that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean on…

MARK SHIELDS: On those qualities. I mean, I think they both — they have the liabilities that you mentioned and David mentioned of trustworthiness and honesty.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But they both have positives as well.

But we also need to mention, of course, that there is still another Democrat out there that Hillary Clinton is running against in Bernie Sanders, David, who was out this week still saying he’s in it until the end. His campaign put out a statement yesterday saying there are growing doubts about Hillary Clinton as the party’s nominee.

Where does this Democratic race stand? People are — should we be asking, is it really over or not?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think it’s over just on the delegates.

And she has won, I don’t know, 60 percent of the votes. And she’s about 9 — on the average of polls, she’s about 9 percentage points up in California. So, probably, she’s going to be the nominee. Almost certainly, she’s going to be the nominee.

But I sort of sympathize where Sanders is, because the Democratic establishment is now saying to him, you have got to get out of the race or you got to tone down your rhetoric because you’re beating our candidate.

And he can say, well, yes, I’m beating your candidate. So, if he keeps winning, and so why should he get out? Winners don’t have to get out. They can keep going. That’s like the rule.

And so he can — both because he’s doing pretty well, reasonably well, second, because he believes in not only his candidacy, but his ideas and more specifically reforms of the process. And so — and, by the way, I do not think this is going to hurt the Democratic candidate in the fall.

In 2008, 60 percent of Clinton — only 60 percent of Clinton supporters said they would vote for Barack Obama. Sanders people are much more positively inclined toward Clinton than Clinton people were toward Obama.

And by six months from now, believe me, all this will be forgotten, and I think the Democratic Party is a much more unified party.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But is there still — I mean, what do you make of the race that’s still there between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton?

MARK SHIELDS: What I make of it is this, Judy.

Bernie Sanders 12 months ago launched a quixotic, improbable campaign. He was at 3 percent in the polls. Well-known pundits and wise people sneered, even snickered at his candidacy. She was 65 percent to 3 percent.

Over the past 12 months, Bernie Sanders has filled auditoriums of 27,000, 25,000, 20,000 people regularly. He has consistently won primaries. He’s dominated the debate. He’s raised $200 million.

There are three surviving candidates, three. There is only one who is favorable in the eyes of the voters. That’s Bernie Sanders. There is only one who trounces Donald Trump by large margins. That’s Bernie Sanders.

We had four primaries in the month of May. He’s won three of them. So the idea — is there anybody on the Democratic leadership, in the party, or the White House who understands he’s done so well? And you let him get out on his terms. He wants to make his fight.

I agree with David. The numbers are very much in Secretary Clinton’s, — the likelihood of her being nominated is overwhelming, but Bernie Sanders has enlisted millions of people. She needs those people in the fall, especially young people that are — have been indifferent to her candidacy.

And that’s why — of course he’s going to make the fight and make — carry it through. And he should. And they ought to give him some space and time and respect.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But my question is, what happens to all that enthusiasm that is out there right now for Bernie Sanders? Does it just sort of shift over to Hillary Clinton? It’s not going to happen overnight, presumably.

MARK SHIELDS: At the convention, Bernie Sanders stands up, and he says, this is the fight we have fought.

We have fought the good fight. We have kept the faith. We have not finished the course, but the rest of the course is, we have to stand to stop Donald Trump from ever being elected president. We have to stand with Hillary Clinton. I will do everything in my power over the next three months to make sure that Hillary Clinton is the next president of the United States.

DAVID BROOKS: He could tone down some of the rhetoric. She has not stolen the nomination from him.


DAVID BROOKS: The process may not have been totally honest — or not totally fair. But it was — she won fair and square.

I happen to think a lot of those voters will go away. I think the fall campaign is going to be so negative, that it will drive down turnout, and the sort of people who are likely to not — to say just say I wash my hands of this are especially his young — Sanders’ young voters.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, we end up…

MARK SHIELDS: That’s why it’s important that they keep him in the tent, very much in the tent, and honor what he has done.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we have got a few more weeks to watch the primaries. They’re not over yet.

Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.