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Shields and Brooks on Trump v. Pope and Scalia’s Supreme Court successor

February 19, 2016 at 7:10 PM EDT
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including Donald Trump’s war of words with Pope Francis, GOP candidates’ strategies in South Carolina, burgeoning support for Bernie Sanders in Nevada and the controversy over the late Antonin Scalia’s Supreme Court successor.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Tight races in South Carolina and Nevada, the intersection of politics and religion, and a congressional battle brewing over an eventual Supreme Court nominee.

We turn now to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Gentlemen, welcome.

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Good to see you.

So, David, today, it’s Apple. Yesterday, it was the pope. Who gets the better of this exchange between Donald Trump and the pontiff?

DAVID BROOKS, New York Times Columnist: Everything sacred in our world is being attacked.

I think it’s an accumulation of things for Trump. It’s — you start the week attacking George Bush and the Iraq War. You call everybody a liar. Then you have the pope thing. Then you have the Apple thing.

The question is, will fatigue ever set in? And some of the polls suggest no. In some the polls, he’s still doing solidly. But there are another set of polls. There’s a stream of polls, including the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, which suggest it’s beginning to hurt him and that he’s beginning to slide. There is some exhaustion factor.

So I don’t think it’s one thing that’s — but it’s the accumulation of bombast. And there may be this — we may be getting to the moment — and I thought he was completely unhinged in the debate Saturday night — where that begins to have some telling effect.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you see some of the magic maybe dissipating from Donald Trump?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, I agree with David, first of all, on the debate.

My only explanation for it is, he was unnerved by the public booing. And the booing was so sustained. And this is a man who feeds off the adulation of his own rallies. There’s no way in the world you planned going into a national debate for Republicans on national television that you were going to suggest — charge, not suggest — charge that the last Republican president of the United States not only knew that there were no weapons of mass destruction, but took the country into war knowing that.

So, it was just — it was really bizarre, beyond. As far as the pope is concerned, it will come as an enormous surprise to Donald Trump that the pope has probably no idea who he is. The question was, what about someone who advocates building walls, rather than building bridges, and closes off any access or really compassion to those who are suffering from forced migration and the dispossessed?

And the pope said, that’s un-Christian, and I think by just about any definition. There is an iron rule in American politics about the clergy, whether it’s the pope or a rabbi or a minister. And that is, they should never interfere in politics, unless they — the one exception being when they agree with me and my side.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: So I think that, after John McCain and Mexicans and Muslims and Megyn Kelly, the pope — I wouldn’t put Apple in the same category as a sympathetic institution.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: But, at some point, the accumulation of the people he has just not only made enemies with, but denigrated, I think, becomes a weight too heavy for his candidacy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, maybe another problem for Donald Trump, David, is the endorsement of Marco Rubio by the Governor Nikki Haley in South Carolina. Does something like that help Rubio? Does it move him?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I think, in general, endorsements don’t matter, but in this case it matters, I think, in part because of the debate performance from a couple of weeks ago where his campaign seemed to be in decline. This helps revive the story that he’s on the rebound.

And, indeed, if you look at the polls, he’s on the rebound. To me, the most interesting story on the Republican side, unless the polls are completely wrong, Trump will probably win. But Rubio could beat Cruz for second. They seem neck and neck in most of the polls.

And if Ted Cruz comes in second in South Carolina, an evangelical-heavy state, a pretty conservative state, that says something about — that says something serious about the Cruz candidacy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see the Rubio/Cruz thing? Cruz has been — gotten in trouble, as Lisa just reported, Mark, over those TV spots he’s been running. And he has really been in a tough back-and-forth with both Trump and with Rubio.

MARK SHIELDS: Did anybody notice that they were shaking hands with their left hands? That’s how bad that was. It was really a lousy Photoshop job, in addition to being cheap and tawdry politics.

I think that, as a general rule, endorsements, unless it’s the spouse of one candidate endorsing the opponent…

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: … really don’t — people don’t quite say, I was undecided. I was either going to vote between Kennedy and Nixon, but the lieutenant governor endorsed Nixon, so I’m going to vote for him.

But it’s a very personal — but I do think Nikki Haley may be the exception. She’s one of the — she’s 4-1 favorable among Republican voters. She has a favorable rating among African-American voters, rare for any Republican in the country, let alone one in South Carolina.

And it’s just really — I think it does give him a little narrative that — with Tim Scott and Trey Gowdy, that he is on the rebound and coming back.

If, in fact, Ted Cruz, having won Iowa and finished third in New Hampshire — and it was expected that once they went below the Mason-Dixon Line, you were getting into his favorable territory — if he finishes third, I think it’s a real setback for him.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I have to ask you both about Jeb Bush, one of the so-called establishment trio. David, he had his brother the former president in there. He had his mother, Barbara Bush, as we just reported, in there. What’s going on with Jeb Bush? Is this helping him?

DAVID BROOKS: The press thought Bush was coming back until — and he’s — I think if he hangs around 10, he can stay in until Florida. He’s got the money.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ten percent. Yes.

DAVID BROOKS: I think he’s performing well.

People have sort of closed their mind, but if he falls down to around 5 or 6, you know, then, nationally, he’s at 4, so that’s not good. And so I think he can hang around, just because I — he may feel…

(CROSSTALK)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Even if he comes in fourth or fifth?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I see Mark frowning at me. And I hate to — now I have the lord judgment upon me.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: But I still think he feels called to hit back at Trump. I think he would hate to think that he wasn’t there to hit back at Trump.

He, of course, would hurt the anti-Trump cause by getting out, but I’m sure that’s not how he feels in his heart.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

That Wall Street Journal/NBC poll that David cited did an interesting thing. They did matchups if it did come down to two candidates, if it were Marco Rubio against Trump, or it were Ted Cruz against Trump. And both of them would beat Trump by 16 points, which is pretty impressive, 56-40.

So there is a real ceiling Donald Trump has. The one candidate Donald Trump did beat in a matchup was Jeb Bush. And I just think, at some point, it becomes just obvious.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean in a head-on-head, head-to-head.

(CROSSTALK)

MARK SHIELDS: Do you want to go home to Florida, where you were a successful and popular two-term governor, and lose, and especially if Marco Rubio, the mentee, gets the boost out of South Carolina, and the mentor — having finished sixth in Iowa, fourth in New Hampshire, I mean, do you really continue with another fourth in South Carolina?

I think it becomes awfully difficult, almost painful.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me move you quickly to the Democrats.

Nevada, they’re voting in those caucuses tomorrow. David, both of you said last week words to the effect that you don’t see Hillary Clinton has a rationale to her candidacy. Seven days later, do you still feel the same way?

DAVID BROOKS: I do.

She’s gone more aggressively in trying to use identity politics to trump class politics, which I don’t think is a good strategy in 2016. This is a very economic class war they’re having. And secondly, the interesting thing about what’s happening in Nevada is that it’s close. It didn’t seem that way several weeks ago.

And that’s because Sanders has done well with Latinos. And it’s interesting. There is a difference between the way Latino voters are reacting and African-American voters, especially in South Carolina. The African-Americans are still pretty solidly behind Clinton, but the Latino voters are not.

And so, assuming he does — ties or even wins, the question will be whether people in South Carolina in African-American communities, in other communities are willing to take another look at him, because there’s a lot of people who really haven’t focused on him yet.

And so, if he does win Nevada, that changes the storyline and gives him just another — just another step up of what has been a series of pretty good steps over the last six weeks.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you see going on with Clinton-Sanders?

MARK SHIELDS: I wish I could disagree with David.

I think that Bernie Sanders right now is in a period of momentum. And I think what’s interesting, Hillary Clinton since April has slipped in overall polling by the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll — they put up of their surveys together — with every demographic group, I mean, across the board, age, income, education, gender, nationality, but particularly among Latinos, which there is no explanation for it.

And her campaign, when New Hampshire looked sort of dreary, had boasted openly that they had a 25-point lead in Nevada, raising expectations. As far as her rationale, it’s basically it’s Hillary’s turn. She’s strong. She’s tested. We live in a dangerous world, and she’s ready, and you need somebody there who is steady and ready.

Or the third one is, do you want Barack Obama’s third term? I promise you, I will give that.

That seems to me to be the rationale for her candidacy at this point.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And she was making what appeared to be an effort to nail down her strong position on immigration, on supporting…

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. She did have one great spot — I don’t know if you have seen it — where the little Latino girl…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Yes.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. Her parents are going to be deported. And Hillary Clinton shows a kindness and a compassion, a soft side, which I think has been missing totally from her candidacy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally, I want to come to the death of the Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

David, reflections on him before we talk about the politics of it?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, he was a joyous spirit, poker player, cigar, wine.

So, if you want to convert people to your side, you can issue court opinions, but be a pleasant spirit. And I’m really impressed by the court. We have so much polarization. They generally are friends with each other and they work hard on that. It’s a very impressive institution.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. He — Abner Mikva, former congressman from Illinois, member of the Court of Appeals, remember, when he was nominated, he said he had served…

(CROSSTALK)

JUDY WOODRUFF: A Democrat.

MARK SHIELDS: A Democrat.

When Antonin Scalia was nominated to the Supreme Court, he said, great guy, just a terrific guy. I disagree with him on everything.

And I think that was it. He never let the disagreements define any relationship. And the one with Ruth Bader Ginsburg, you see the two of them laughing and thoroughly enjoying each other in an open and natural way, which is refreshing in Washington in this particular era.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I think you could see that as they were standing there today at the Supreme Court.

There may not have been disagreements that way, but there certainly are disagreements politically, David, over what’s going to happen now. The president says he’s going to nominate someone. The Senate Republican leadership is saying, well, we’re not going to confirm them. We may not even consider.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Well, of course they should consider. He is president. And the Constitution says the president nominates, and the Constitution is there to put rules around our struggles for power.

John Marshall was nominated by John Adams, like, after the election had already happened. And so I think it’s totally fair. And the Republicans are going to probably get away with not doing anything.

And, to me, what it will do — and I don’t know the effect of this — it will polarize the bases. It will create more conflict. It will elevate the social issues on the Republican side. It will elevate campaign finance on the Democratic side. And so it will probably have a polarizing effect on the election.

If the candidacies are strong, it would probably help a Cruz and a Sanders because of the issues that would get elevated.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Less than 30 seconds.

MARK SHIELDS: Oh, I think Senator McConnell could only have been trying to appeal to the restive, restless, angry Republican primary voters who are so disappointed in the Republicans in Congress, that they said they haven’t overturned, they have been rolled by Obama. He was going to step out.

Before the body was cold, before condolences were offered to the family, he announced that there would be — regardless, made no difference whom the president nominated. It was — and he got a number of Republicans in tough races to follow him, I mean, Senator Ayotte in New Hampshire, Senator Portman in Ohio, Senator Johnson in Wisconsin.

They’re all — they made a big mistake. That is not the American tradition. And I think it was a misstep politically.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you get the last word.

Mark Shields, David Brooks, we thank you both.

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