TOPICS > Politics > Shields and Brooks

Shields and Brooks on the alt-right and a general lack of trust in Clinton

August 26, 2016 at 6:20 PM EDT
In the presidential election arena this week, the two major-party candidates called each other racists, and questions arose over Donald Trump's support among alt-right enthusiasts. As for Hillary Clinton, she seems to be focusing on casting herself as the lesser-of-two-evils option. For analysis, we turn to syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

HARI SREENIVASAN: That brings us to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Let’s start with your reactions to what you saw, this group of voters.

MARK SHIELDS: It’s always great to hear the voices of real voters.

I mean, they’re — you know, we see polls, and it’s 57 percent, we figure everybody’s monolithic. And yet you get — what you get is, you get the texture in the conversation like that.

And I found Alison really almost compelling, the woman who had voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and really felt that she and the demographic of, I guess, white American voters had been neglected and forgotten.

I just — in the past eight years, and Democrats’ attention to other agendas. And I just — I found the voices just really revealing. And most of all, it shows the lack of enthusiasm about this election. When 51 percent of Republicans, according to Gallup poll, and 42 percent of Democrats say they wish their party had nominated somebody else, I think it was reflected in Judy’s session.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, first, I disagree with Mark. I think we are real voters.


DAVID BROOKS: Do we not bleed?


DAVID BROOKS: But, yes, I’m really shocked. Like a lot of people one runs across, a lot of people in that focus group were — just couldn’t imagine a Trump presidency, but found Clinton distrustworthy.

And then say she wins — and according to the upshot out of my newspaper, it’s like an 88 percent chance or something like that. But say that we go to an inaugural or we go into an administration with someone the country fundamentally doesn’t trust.

And what does that do to the morale of the country? And is there a way she can become more trustworthy, where she can reintroduce herself in some way, maybe after an election, not in the heat of a campaign? Somehow, it just seems so dispiriting, if she does win, that we would go through four years where people feel this personal distrust for the commander in chief.

That can’t be good for the country, if it stays like that.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Today, there was even a tepid endorsement by Bush adviser Paul Wolfowitz, saying that he would vote for Clinton, but really it just came down to this choice between the lesser of two evils. It seems so much that these campaigns right now is positioning about not that our candidate is not so great. It’s just that the other candidate is worse.


But the last endorsement in the world that Hillary Clinton wants at this point is the man who made the case publicly to go to war in Iraq and admitted that the argument was — consensus argument was on weapons of mass destruction, because that was what everybody could get behind.

So, the cause — cause for going to war was just, you know, a contrivance. So, it’s not — Hillary Clinton probably doesn’t want to be reminded of her support for that venture. And I think she probably now has enough Republican foreign policy endorsements.


HARI SREENIVASAN: Also this week, we talked a little bit about the rise of the alt-right movement, the white supremacist movement.

We have got this week one candidate calling the other a racist, and then him responding back that she’s a bigot. Where are we here?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Well, I guess we’re getting it out in the open.

I happen to think Donald Trump’s campaign began with an act of ethnic signaling, or more. When the San Bernardino thing happened, and he wanted to ban Muslim immigration into the country, entrance into the country, that is — that was blanketing an entire ethnic group or an entire religion. And that’s bigotry.

And so that was the thing that exploded his campaign. And there have been just signals all along the way between alt-right and the Trump campaign.

And it just seems to me there is always a danger in every party to be taken over by some radical, angry fringe, the John Birch Society for the Republican Party in the 1960s. Hubert Humphrey was — spent — and Eugene McCarthy and other people spent a lot of time trying to get the communists out of the Democratic Party in the 1940s.

There was a famous confrontation in Minnesota where Humphrey’s suit was wet — was — he was spit upon so much, it was soaking wet. And parties have to control themselves so some vicious element doesn’t take over.

And the Republican Party has not controlled the alt-right movement. And, therefore, it has come into the movement. Trump has welcomed it in with a wink and a nod.

And it is a long-term problem for the party. It is a long-term problem that you’re basically an all white party. And so that’s just a core problem that Trump has now exacerbated and blown up.

HARI SREENIVASAN: I mean, Secretary Clinton might have not called him specifically a racist, but she’s basically pointed instance after another after another where — and this is during a week where Donald Trump goes out and tries to lure African-American votes, Latino votes.

MARK SHIELDS: To be very blunt, I will state my case.

Donald Trump has gone to, on a consistent basis, the meanest corners of the American soul, appealed to the basest and darkest side of all Americans. He began his presidential bid publicly by charging falsely, by alleging libelously that the president of the United States wasn’t an American: My people are out there. They’re finding all of this stuff.

He began his candidacy with, they’re rapists, they’re murderers, they’re coming here for that purpose, speaking of Mexican immigrants to this country.

David said about the Muslim ban. He’s going to build the wall. I mean, it’s — everything about it has been dark and mean-spirited.

But let me just say one caveat. And I thought Hillary Clinton delivered the speech well. She wasn’t strident. But this is the worst course for her to win a campaign, because you win a campaign this way — and he’s not a dog whistle. He’s a canine choir, OK, of dark impulses.

But you win a campaign this way, and you have agreed upon nothing about where we are as a people, what we ought to do next, what we ought to think about as the great challenges facing our country in the next generations.

All you have greed upon is that the person is unacceptable. And your political honeymoon, your presidential honeymoon basically ends on Tuesday — about midnight of election night. There is no agreement on who we are as a people, what we ought to do as a people.

So, I would just say, if this is where we’re going in this campaign — it’s obviously where he is and where he continues to go — but if she goes that way, and just to drive him down further, it’s going to be a terrible, terrible result.

DAVID BROOKS: I also do think one has to — and she wasn’t too guilty of this, I don’t think.

One has to continually distinguish between Trump and the Trump supporters. And it’s too easy to say, oh, they’re all a bunch of racists.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

DAVID BROOKS: Which is — we don’t know. And it’s probably — it’s not true in our experience.

MARK SHIELDS: It’s not fair. Yes.

DAVID BROOKS: It’s unfair.

And so I think my answer has always been, he’s the wrong answer to a right question, that a lot of people feel a lot of anxiety. They feel they have lost dignity, they have lost a role.

And, sometimes, in those cases, they do go to a little ethnic tribal fear. But the way to ease that fear is not to say, oh, they’re all a bunch of racists. And she’s not guilty of that, but it’s something that is floating around in the conversation.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, she did a pretty good job of separating, tactically and strategically, the Republican Party, the Paul Ryans, the Bob Doles, the John McCains, that he’s an aberration, he’s an anomaly.

I thought that was a well-crafted part of the speech.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Let’s talk a little bit about immigration.

If you’re a Trump supporter, you call it a pivot. If you’re a critic, you say this is a flip-flop, but what to make of this particular change in his stance?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, well, the change — the fact that he’s changing stance is not surprising, because the man has a severe problem with impulse control.

The fact that he was consistent for a little while is the odd situation for him. The only thing he’s been consistent upon is narcissism so far. And so this was him responding to different audiences.

And so a new campaign team comes in, and they look at a bunch of poll numbers, and they see he’s not doing well, and he’s especially not doing well among moderate Republicans. They are not doing well among Latinos. And so there is this very crude pander both on him saying he will be great for African-Americans, and then on the immigration, the pander.

And the crudity of it is what is so striking. Here’s a guy who actually — to the extent that people really did like him, or do like him, it’s because he speaks his mind. And to throw that away on such a blatant flip-flop is a sign not just that he made some strategic pivot or something. It’s a sign that he has attention span problems, and that he has — he just wants to please whatever audience he happens to be in front of at that moment.

And there is just not a lot of competency he has shown.

MARK SHIELDS: The defense of Donald Trump consistently has been, look, he may be a bully, he may be a blowhard, but at least you know where he stands, he’s not your typical politician. You get — he is who he says he is.

And he turns out not to be who he says he is. He began the campaign, that was the raison d’etre for his candidacy was building the wall, and rounding up these 12 million undocumented immigrants, or illegals, as he called them, and banishing them to the outer darkness of the netherworld, or wherever.

And now — now the ban on all Muslims was just a suggestion, he says. Now he’s backing off on this. So, what is it? To me, I’m always skeptical about motives, but I have to look at it and say, Mitt Romney carried white women by 56 to 42 over Barack Obama for his vote.

He’s getting murdered among white women right now, especially college-educated white women. Why? Because he is who he is. And it’s an embarrassment to say you’re for Donald Trump. You can’t do it. You can’t look at your kids in self-respect.

So, to make him somehow, I think — make them less uncomfortable in somehow supporting him, I think it’s a vote to try and appeal to the moderate Republicans David’s talking about to come home. It’s OK. He’s really not as bad as we thought he was or he seemed to be. See, he’s really moderating.

To me, that’s what this…

DAVID BROOKS: In this cosmos of Trump bashing, I feel like I want to say some nice thing about Donald Trump.

And the Wollman ice rink in Central Park, which he built, is a fantastic ice rink.

MARK SHIELDS: It is. And he built it when it wasn’t being built. That’s right.


HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, let’s try to get through a couple of non-Trump-related topics then.


HARI SREENIVASAN: Bernie Sanders’ new political organization about the revolution had a bit of a rocky start. A bunch of his aides decided to leave en masse because they were concerned about the direction that it was going and who was leading it.

Does this mean the end of the revolution, or is this just a step?

MARK SHIELDS: This means that putting together an organization after a campaign based on a campaign is always difficult. It’s frequently attempted, rarely pulled off.

But I don’t think there is any question that constituency is still there. This is very much a change election. This is a change — you heard it in Judy’s piece. People want a change. This is not a status quo election.

The problem is that Trump, we mentioned him, represents a change that is chaos to people and scary.


And with Sanders, when you get an outsider, you’re not going to get — you’re usually not going to get a lot of competence. What you want are insider’s competence with an outsider’s perspective. And that’s a rarity. Usually, when you get somebody who has not been in the system, just putting together organizations, a lot of the management stuff has not been their bailiwick.


MARK SHIELDS: Howard Dean did a pretty good job after 2004.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks, thank you both.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.