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Shields and Brooks on Biden’s presidential pondering, voter perceptions of Clinton

August 28, 2015 at 6:25 PM EDT
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including whether Vice President Joe Biden will join the 2016 presidential race, whether Hillary Clinton has stumbled as a frontrunner and why Sen. Bernie Sanders still seems like a long shot despite drawing huge crowds.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Vice President Joe Biden weighs a run for the White House. Party loyalists criticize Hillary Clinton’s handling of her personal e-mail account. And Bernie Sanders continues to draw huge crowds and pulls ahead in New Hampshire — just a few of this week’s news developments, as we turn to the analysis of Shields and Brooks.

That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome, gentlemen.

MARK SHIELDS: Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, we have been spending a lot of time talking about the Republican race for the last few weeks. Let’s spend some time tonight talking about the Democrats.

Joe Biden, David, a lot of talk about whether he’s going to get in. He’s been meeting with the head of the Teamsters union. He met with the liberal darling Elizabeth Warren, Senator Warren. He’s got people advocating for him now at this big Democratic gathering in Minneapolis.

Do you think he’s going to get in?

DAVID BROOKS: No.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: No.

Well, first, God bless him for his resilience. The guy loses a son, and still wants to serve the country and still is emotionally strong enough to do it. I salute him. And — but — and he’s a wonderful man, and he’s a great public servant.

But what the country is in the mood for is anti-establishment. I think that’s one of the reasons Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush are sailing into headwinds. Bernie Sanders has it. Donald Trump has it in spades. Joe Biden doesn’t have it.

And so whatever the problem is with the Clinton campaign, Joe Biden also has that problem. And so I think he will get a sense of that larger atmosphere, let alone the money and the organization and all that, and Hillary Clinton’s still formidable strength, really. And so my guess — it’s a guess shared by a lot of Democratic insiders — is that he won’t do it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you share the guess?

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t.

And, you know, and with great respect for David, but I don’t think anybody knows. As David indicated, he wasn’t sure. It’s the most personal decision imaginable. And, as David touched on, with the death of his son Beau in May, it becomes even more personal. It’s a family decision. He’s a grandfather.

I mean, he really is. What you see with Joe Biden is what you get. And that is — David’s right. It is not an anti-establishment, but America is craving authenticity in 2016. And Joe Biden brings authenticity to it. He’s also a happy warrior. He also communicates with working-class voters a lot better than most Democrats do, and I think better than Mrs. Clinton, Secretary Clinton did, except in the late primaries in 2008.

So I think he probably had ruled it out, he had accepted it earlier, and Hillary Clinton had wrapped up endorsements. She had money, she had support, and she stumbled. Make no mistake about it. And she looks vulnerable. And there’s a surge of affection for Joe Biden, and I don’t think he’s made the decision.

I think he’s going to make it shortly. His conversation with Elizabeth Warren, there was no offer, no ask. They spent an hour and 50 minutes together. And 90 percent of it was talking about issues, and 10 percent — 10 minutes or so about politics.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let’s speculate here.

David, if he did decide to get in, what would be the pros? What would work for him if he got in, and what would be the problem?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, as Mark said, a guy from Scranton. He’s got some beautiful stories to tell.

Just a quick one. When his dad was unemployed in the Depression, got a job at a car dealer, and for the Christmas bonus, they were at a party and the car — the ownership of the dealership, as a bonus to the workers, threw a bunch of silver dollars on the dance floor and expected people to grab them and pick them up. And Joe Biden’s dad quit on the spot. He wasn’t going to be treated that way.

And that’s like an authentic part of life and that’s a sense of dignity that he was raised with. Joe Biden quotes his dad and mom all the time. When he campaigns, the entire family campaigns with him, his sister. So, all that stuff, that authentic stuff, is real.

And he’s sort of been chained for the past eight years. You can imagine he’s urging to express himself. So, he has some great natural vitality. As a campaigner, I remember following around him the last time. He would give a really good speech, and then two other speeches would come. And so he’s always had a problem controlling his tongue and keeping his temper. Maybe he’s going to be a little better at that.

But he’s a lovable guy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you see as the pros and cons if he gets in?

MARK SHIELDS: The pros, Judy, are basically, as Secretary Clinton — the Democratic Party has as its whole card is empathy, and that is a sense on the part of voters that they care about people like me.

In 2012, there were four presidential qualities that the exit poll of voters on the Election Day. They asked, who has vision to the future, who’s a strong leader, who has — who shares your values? Mitt Romney beat Barack Obama by 10 points. Who cares about people like you, 81-18 Barack Obama.

Bill Clinton always had that. Bill Clinton, when you questioned his candor, his forthrightness, or his behavior, there was always a sense he cares about ordinary people, there is a real commitment there.

She, in this latest Quinnipiac poll, national poll yesterday, you know…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Hillary Clinton?

MARK SHIELDS: Hillary Clinton. Who’s ahead, who’s behind us doesn’t mean anything.

They asked, who cares about people, the needs of someone like you? And she was 46 percent agree, 51 percent disagree. I mean, that is a killer. Joe Biden has a far more positive rating, as does Bernie Sanders.

I mean, with Hillary Clinton, the first woman candidate and a Democrat who has been — Children’s Defense Fund and health care and all the rest of it — that’s a real problem. I don’t care how many endorsements you have got, how many superdelegates you have got. That becomes a real problem.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it is her perceived weakness that — as you said, Mark, that has generated all this talk around Biden and the consideration presumably by Biden.

But, David, how vulnerable is she really? She’s out this week. She’s taking responsibility for the decisions she made on the personal e-mail server. She’s talking about how she’s — she’s talking about a little bit tougher on the campaign trail, comparing how Republicans view women with how terrorists view women.

Is she turning this around? I mean, how do you see her vulnerability?

DAVID BROOKS: I think she’s both an extremely likely nominee and also kind of weak.

And I just don’t think there’s a plausible alternative right now. So I think she’s going to be the nominee, but her weaknesses have been on display. The first is the e-mails. We don’t know. Things are going to come out. They have got the servers. They’re going to apparently be able to recapture some of these deleted e-mails, and some of those things may, may not come out, but that’s sitting out there.

Second, as I say, the establishment thing is a problem for her. And, third — and I think this is really the most serious one in a way — is, there is sort of just an unconscious boredom about her people. She doesn’t — I mean, the country sort of — people don’t — 30 percent think we’re headed in the right direction. There is a desire for something change — for something new.

And her events — I haven’t been to one of her events, but I’m reading them, seeing them on the TV. They don’t look exciting. They don’t look like they’re passionate. They don’t look new and fresh.

And so, when you have a campaign that’s not that creative, apparently, you have got a problem, and especially in a year like this, when a Bernie Sanders and a Donald Trump and somebody fast, new and at least vibrant seems to capture a lot of oxygen.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Mark, she’s also got the polls saying people talk about her — quote — “not being trustworthy,” not being honest. Is that real at this stage of the campaign?

MARK SHIELDS: It is.

I thought, again, the idea that where people volunteered a word about her — it was in one of the polls, Quinnipiac, poll — that doesn’t mean anything unless you narrow it down to Democrats and independents, because Republicans are going to cite what they find the most. The same thing if you are talking a Republican to Democrats.

So, but there’s no question there are doubts about that. The e-mail remains a problem. The other thing that’s a problem is that inevitability is not a campaign strategy. Now, people should be with us because we’re going to win. We’re going to win because people are with us.

And that’s not it. There isn’t a sense of purpose or energy or mission in the campaign thus far. I mean, she’s a — she was a very good candidate in 2008 at the end of the race, after she had been beaten badly in states like Iowa, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, and Texas. She was a lot better candidate than Barack Obama was at the end.

But David mentioned Bernie Sanders. Could I just talk about him?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I wanted to ask you both about that.

MARK SHIELDS: OK. OK.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Because we’re sitting here talking about Hillary Clinton’s problems. We’re talking about Joe Biden may or may not get in.

Bernie Sanders, meantime, still drawing big crowds, David, pulling ahead of Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire, a crucial first primary state. Is he looking any more plausible?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I’m a little more humbled about it than I was.

I thought he wasn’t plausible at all. And the thought was sometimes parties elect or nominate a candidate who is unelectable, but not that unelectable. And I still think he’s sort of unelectable. The country is just not as far left as he is.

But I must say, the evidence is growing that his support is growing. I don’t know if it’s widening, though, and whether it’s widening out of the white university towns. And if he can do that, then you begin to think, well, maybe, maybe. But until he can do that, I still think it’s extremely unlikely that he will be the nominee.

But he will continue. He’s where the heart and — the economic heart and soul of the party is right now, and especially among progressives in university towns or places like Seattle. He’s right what they need. And he’s got the outsider thing, which is so big this year.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see Bernie Sanders?

MARK SHIELDS: I’m more impressed. I really am, and have been.

Before I became a pundit, I used to work in political campaigns, three presidential campaigns.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Oh, that’s what you were?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, no inaugural speeches, but three presidential campaigns and 38 different states.

And I can tell you, getting a crowd is a lot of work. It’s a lot of work. That’s why people don’t try and put crowds together. I mean, it requires — if you have got a ballroom that holds 500, you have got to have 750 there, because the last thing in the world you want is a press report that begins, speaking to a half-empty high school gymnasium, Senator Brooks said — outlined his program.

And the size and intensity and enthusiasm of a crowd drives press coverage, and it overcomes skepticism in the press and it enlists people. Bernie Sanders had 27,500 people in the sports arena in Los Angeles in August.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

MARK SHIELDS: A Democratic campaign event in Los Angeles is a party at Steven Spielberg’s house hosted by George Clooney.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: I mean, they don’t get 27,500 people. That is remarkable — 11,000 in Phoenix, I mean, 28,000 in Portland on a Sunday.

I mean, it’s — that is real intensity. Everything about Bernie Sanders, I think, translates it in a year when money is king. And Donald Trump, in a strange way, has been the greatest campaign finance reformer by pulling back the curtain and saying, this is how it works. I give money, the senator calls me back, and he does or she does what I want them to do.

And Bernie Sanders has raised an average contribution, 80 percent of his money, $31. I mean, it’s…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Small donors.

MARK SHIELDS: It’s small donors.

And I would say this, Judy. We in the press are not biblical scholars, but we love the David/Goliath story. And he is the David. And it is a message. He’s — it’s not the messenger. He’s not a charismatic, compelling personal figure. He has a compelling message.

And that, is, you know, to the — to Wall Street and the rest that you’re going to pay your fair share and you’re not going to get away with murder anymore.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We’re going to leave it there.

Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you both.

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