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Shields and Brooks on Va. voting rights for felons, toning down the Trump campaign

April 22, 2016 at 6:35 PM EDT
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s move to reinstate voting rights to former felons, whether Donald Trump has been putting on an act as a presidential candidate and whether Sen. Bernie Sanders will stay in the Democratic race.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And now to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome to you, gentlemen.

So, we just heard, David, from Governor McAuliffe of Virginia. He has decided, as we just heard, to allow 200 — in effect, 200,000 ex-felons, people who served their time for a felony crime, to vote. What do you make of it?

DAVID BROOKS, New York Times Columnist: Yes, I would love to see the ideological breakdown of ex-felons.

But I think it’s the right thing to do. I have never quite understood. You know, you’re assigned a cost you have to pay for committing a crime or even a felony. You do your time, you do your parole, you do your probation, you should be able to rejoin society in full measure.

One of the weird things in our whole criminal just system is, we have got people who are 50, and 60, well past what they call criminal menopause, and they’re perfectly upstanding citizens, and they’re not the person they were at 19, and yet we continue to punish them.

And whether they’re in jail, we should be more lenient on them. If they’re out, we should make them full citizens.


MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: I agree.

And I thought Terry McAuliffe, who is accused of being a super salesman, a huckster, whatever, I thought he was quite persuasive in his case that, especially in Virginia’s long history of denying the vote to people persistently, as part of governmental policy, given the historical record.

And once a person has paid his or her debt to society and is off parole, I mean, why not? And don’t we want them to become part of society again and the community?

JUDY WOODRUFF: I mean, apparently, there are more and more states that are doing this. And a lot of the questions…


MARK SHIELDS: Yes, and a lot of red states, too, so, you know, the whole political question.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So let’s move too the presidential contest and surprise — David, I want to ask you about Donald Trump.

The Republicans are meeting in Florida, the RNC, the Republican National Committee. Yesterday — or I guess last night, Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, in a closed-door session, said — and we — some of this was recorded, so we know that he said it — that, in effect, that what Donald Trump has been doing has been acting, play-acting, and he’s going to be changing his tune, and you’re going to see a different Donald Trump, and he’s going to raise money for Republicans.

What do you make of this?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, first, the RNC gathering, from what one can tell, it’s like the gathering of the Russian royal family in 1916.


DAVID BROOKS: They seem to have no spine, no argument. All they want is, they don’t want the show in Cleveland to be bad. And so as long as the show is good, we can have a disastrous royal candidate who will destroy the party.

And so they’re fine as long as there is no bad drama. And so they’re laying down. And Reince Priebus will go down as one of the worst RNC heads for what he — how he’s behaved this year.

Second, as for Donald Trump and what Paul Manafort said, A, it’s not credible. Donald Trump has been Donald Trump for a long, long time. He is not going to stop being himself. And that a voluble, large, loud, and sometimes obnoxious and sometimes appalling campaigner.

He’s not going to turn presidential, because he lacks the gravitas, he lacks the knowledge base and he lacks the core. And yet now he has hired this guy Paul Manafort who’s saying, oh, don’t worry, he’s not some kind of blowhard, he just a rank opportunist who’s been putting on a show all this time.

So, I don’t — I don’t — A, don’t think it’s going to work, and I don’t think it’s particularly attractive either.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, what do you think? Is it…

MARK SHIELDS: I think it’s quite attractive. I really do.


MARK SHIELDS: Judy, I think the Republican Party chair’s responsibility, any party chair, is not to give the party a candidate. It’s to give the candidate a party.

And if the voters choose otherwise, it’s really not the chairman’s credit or fault, the voters’ decision. The voters have made their decision. And I think that’s what we’re seeing both in Florida and in the Republican Party generally. There is a sense of inevitability.

It was such a crushing victory that Trump won on Tuesday in New York. And when Ted Cruz, the would-be alternative, finishes a distant third, so far out of the race, he’s no longer a plausible candidate himself. He’s just a vehicle to stop Trump.

And it looks like Indiana is the last shot. I mean, Donald — let Trump be Trump. Donald Trump has been this unbridled person who has been — totally contradicted himself. His positions on issues, Judy, are like the footprints at the seashore’s edge. They change with the tide.

They’re there today. They’re gone tomorrow. And it obviously hasn’t bothered them. It’s a personal choice on voters’ parts. And now he’s going to make a serious policy decision — speech, rather, on gender and foreign policy. And, you know, I think we will just continue to see new Trumps from here forward.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, you mentioned a changing position. He was — one of the things that he said in the — I guess it was on “The Today Show” yesterday, David, was — he was asked about this North Carolina LGBT law, the public — using public bathrooms.

And he basically said the Republican governor shouldn’t have changed the law, that he should have left way it was. And now conservatives, Ted Cruz and others, are coming back to say, this is not the Republican position.


So, that law is so bad, now I have to praise Donald Trump.


DAVID BROOKS: And so he’s right.

I mean, he made the obvious point. Is this really a problem here? Like, are there a lot of bathrooms at North Carolina where people are scared to go in? I don’t think this is a problem. This is — this is 1980s socially conservative culture war politics. Pick some issue that seems like something changing in the sexual revolution and try to mobilize the conservative base on the basis of it. That’s what it is.

And Donald Trump, to his credit, doesn’t play that game. He has moved on, as the Republican Party should have moved on. He’s playing a different game.

And so, to his credit, he’s not playing that game. Now, it should be said, people are saying, oh, he’s socially moderate. He’s socially moderate, but not in the way liberal Republicans are socially moderate or moderate Republicans are.

He’s socially moderate in a populist way, which is a different sort of moderation, but he does end up moderate on a lot of social issues. And to his credit, he’s just not stuck in the culture war. He is not stuck in Jerry Falwell lands.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, we should note, President Obama over in London today in a news conference, Mark, no surprise, criticized the North Carolina law.

But what — you said a minute ago that Trump — or I thought you said Trump is inevitable now. Is that really…


MARK SHIELDS: I think there is a growing sense of inevitability. I mean, he’s going to sweep the Northeast. So, now you’re left with John Kasich, who’s won one state and has had two semi-weak seconds in New Hampshire and New York, and a lot of wonderful editorials, and fawning praise from many in the press. But there isn’t anybody standing between him and the nomination, except him, which he is.

On the North Carolina thing, Judy, it reminds me of the furor — remember Phyllis Schlafly leading the charge about unisex bathrooms, how they were a threat to Western civilization. She had obviously never been in an airplane.


MARK SHIELDS: Or, if she did, she must have been uncomfortable on long flights.

And this is a solution without a problem. And, politically, where Trump shows a certain shrewdness is, he’s come down on the smart — not only the right side, the enlightened side, the smart side politically. The business community has moved as one against this sort of thing.

And Governor Pat McCrory, the Republican incumbent in North Carolina, is now trailing in the latest Elon college poll Roy Cooper, the Democratic attorney general, and his job rating has fallen to its lowest point, as a consequence in large part, according to the pollsters, of this whole brouhaha.

DAVID BROOKS: Could I just pick up on the Trump evitability?


DAVID BROOKS: I think he’s evitable, not inevitable.


DAVID BROOKS: Because it’s likely…

JUDY WOODRUFF: We like it when you make up words.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I just chopped them up.


DAVID BROOKS: He’s likely to get the nomination.

But you should go back to these delegate numbers. He still — people have factored in the New York victory. He is going to do well in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut, all these states. Indiana, we’re not sure. There’s a poll that shows him up, but the polling is bad in Indiana. It’s hard to reach people because of state law.

But say Cruz does well in Indiana, and then say Cruz does well in California, which is possible. And Trump would really need a pretty significant percentage of the delegates to get over the top. And if you look at the smartest analysis of people who are breaking down — there’s a guy named Sean Trende at RealClearPolitics who is breaking it down like congressional district by congressional district.

He has him coming close, but, and best-case scenario, getting a majority of the delegates, but easily not getting, easily coming up short, and that — maybe he can buy enough delegates to get over the top but there is still a significant, even a 50/50 chance he doesn’t quite get the delegates there. And then he has to scramble.

MARK SHIELDS: I just want to say, I defer to Sean Trende on his knowledge of congressional districts and the politics.

What I said was, there was a growing sense of inevitability. I think the wind is going to out of the sails of the anybody-but-Trump movement.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Two quick other things I have to ask you. Is Bernie Sanders — he didn’t do well in the state he was born in, Mark, in New York. Hillary Clinton won by 16 points.

What does Bernie Sanders want right now, and can he get it?

MARK SHIELDS: Hillary Clinton won a smashing victory in New York. And I think she has a clear path to the nomination.

Bernie Sanders has made history. He will leave this campaign, when he does, as the major leader of a national movement. He has changed the whole ethos of the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party had argued, we have to take big money, because, otherwise, we’re unilaterally disarmed.

This is a man who, with seven million individual contributions, has outraised Hillary Clinton with $182 million, and running on issues of economic justice, of inequality, of controlling the banks. So, saying that the message of representing the small people, the message of Franklin Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt, the malefactors of great wealth driving the money changers out of the temples of civilization, is all of a sudden current and vital and relevant, it’s an amazing achievement.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You’re saying the Democratic Party has changed?

MARK SHIELDS: I think Bernie Sanders has given every Democrat — has robbed them of the excuse that we have to take big money, we have to sort of mute our social economic values message just in order to mollify those guys who write the big checks, that there’s an alternative move.

And I think he’s changed that dialogue and the terms of the debate.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that enough for him, David?

DAVID BROOKS: I agree with Mark. He has done that. It’s not enough for him. He’s not going to win the nomination. He just doesn’t have the delegates.

I do think, if he continues to fight — and I don’t think it’s likely — the way he fought in New York, he will end up hurting his own movement. It will end up seeing, oh, it wasn’t about the causes, it was about Bernie, because, A, the highly confrontational style he took in New York didn’t work.

And, B, it will really begin to do damage to their nominee. Hillary Clinton is now having to spend a lot of money in places like New York and Pennsylvania and California that she will not need to spend money in the fall, but she’s having to do that because he’s pressing her in those places.

And he will begin to — if he keeps fighting, it will really begin to drain her and it will sour the mood around him, I think.

MARK SHIELDS: I disagree. I really do.

I think she’s a better candidate when she’s in a competitive situation. I think the New York campaign was New York values. That’s the kind of thing New York races that we’re used to. Whether it was for — it didn’t bring out him at his best. He made the mistake of thinking he was going to win and saying he was going to win.

He should have played it as the underdog. But I think he has not made this a personal campaign. He’s never brought up Bill Clinton’s $500,000 speeches, 11 of them given to foreign audiences while she was secretary of state. He hasn’t charged her of being part of the 1 percent and living in a bubble.

He hasn’t — really has been on the issues of economic loyalty and on economic concentration.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We have about 10 seconds left, no time to ask you about the new currency. I think you both probably think it’s too soon to put a woman on our new bills, right, the $20, the $10, and the $5.


MARK SHIELDS: They’re not serious about this, are they?

JUDY WOODRUFF: We will talk about it next week.


DAVID BROOKS: Thanks for that, Judy.


JUDY WOODRUFF: David Brooks, Mark Shields.