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Shields and Brooks on Hillary Clinton’s election candor, Trump’s dealing with Democrats

September 15, 2017 at 6:40 PM EDT
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Hari Sreenivasan to discuss takeaways from an in-depth interview with Hillary Clinton on her election memoir “What Happened,” President Trump’s move to work with Democrats on protections for young undocumented immigrants and what it means for his base of support.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: And now it’s time now for the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

First off, your reactions to the interview so far?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: What I find interesting is, I don’t pay any attention to books from politicians.

And the only time I listen to any politician waxing semi-candid is when they are either over 70 or given up all hopes of the White House.

And I think Mrs. Clinton is not 70, or close to it, I guess, but she’s obviously given up all hopes to the White House. And, in that sense, there’s a lot more candor, than I think I have certainly seen in past books, an admission that every candidate is ultimately responsible for his or her campaign, victory or defeat.

And every campaign is inevitably a mirror reflection of the candidate. And she does accept responsibility, but she doesn’t do it exclusively. She wants to share it with some in the press, with other forces in our society.

DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times: Well, as for the book, it’s tough to be reflective and a good storyteller and be in the public sphere.

You’re so active that you don’t have time for reflection. And I read the book. And I thought it was interesting, by political standards, way more interesting. I think she’s right, as she said in the interview, that it was just not her year. She’s not going to the anger, outsider politician.

I think she’s pushed up too much emphasis on Comey and all that other stuff and the Russians in blaming this. But she has cusps of thoughts throughout the book.

For example, at one point, she says she really loves the parable of the prodigal son. And she says, I’m so much like the older brother, who is the rule follower. And, of course, then you think, well, Bill Clinton is the ultimate younger brother, the prodigal son. And she’s on the cusp of a really interesting insight about her relationship with him.

But she can’t — she never, never takes the next step. And I think that’s just because active people — I remember I once interviewed Margaret Thatcher, and she was the same way — so much active, not a writer, not reflective, not getting the analysis you actually want.

But that’s just a product of being in the public sphere. I think the book with is far more interesting than most political books of that sort.

MARK SHIELDS: Obama wrote a very book, but he wasn’t a presidential candidate at the time.

HARI SREENIVASAN: There’s a section in there about foreign policy where she kind of slips back into secretary of state mode.

Almost you could see she’s excited to weigh in on this. And she also takes Secretary Tillerson to task. Well, he has never called me. I don’t necessarily know what their foreign policy is.

MARK SHIELDS: No. That was. It was really a memorable passage in her interview with Judy.

What’s interesting is, Donald Trump — Rex Tillerson, of course, serves at the pleasure or displeasure of Donald Trump. And Donald Trump, unlike anybody else in American history after winning the presidency, made no attempt to reach out.

In fact, he’s continued to berate her and beat her up at his rallies and continued to have rallies and run against her. So, it’s almost made her toxic to his administration.

But I’m surprised that Tillerson, once he got the job, didn’t call her and have a sit-down. And I think — I just think it’s part of it.

But, if you think about it, Donald Trump, once he won, never reached across. He never met with Jimmy Carter. He never talked to George H.W. Bush.

There was not a — so, I guess Tillerson doesn’t surprise me. But there’s no question she’s totally disappointed and disenchanted with his stewardship at State, and very frank about the National Security Council, and the disarray, the Michael Flynn period, and that McMaster has spent the last seven months trying to get rid of the people that Flynn brought in, and he’s had to wait for General Kelly to get there to complete the…

HARI SREENIVASAN: Yes.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Well, she’s an institutionalist.

When she was in the Senate, she respected the rules and the standards of the Senate. When she was secretary of state, she was very much of the building and of the body and going around the world interviewing people.

And I generally like institutionalists. I think organizations are really what change history, rarely a random person. But let’s face it. This election was about anti-institutionalism.

It was about, we don’t like the way those things are working in Washington. Let’s burn the place town. And so it’s not surprising the Trump administration is bad at institutions, and they’re hollowing out all our institutions. They were sort of hired to do that.

I happen to think that was a mistake, a bad way to run government, but that sort is what they were hired to do.

HARI SREENIVASAN: There’s also a section on race where she weighed in on the divisiveness that she says Trump exacerbates.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

I — there’s a mixture here. Trump clearly plays identity politics, and white identity politics. And race has been a strong factor in this election. There’s no question about that.

I think it’s always necessary to be careful and not say Trump won because of race. I think a lot of the people who voted for Trump voted for him on a million different reasons, a lot of them quite legitimate reasons.

And so I think she sometimes, in this interview with Judy, gets a little close to saying, he’s the KKK candidate.

I think that’s overly simplistic. Is there a white identity stream running through his thought which is deeply disturbing? Well, after Charlottesville, we saw that to be the case.

But I don’t think you want to play this election as, well, white racism won this election. I don’t think that’s fair.

MARK SHIELDS: I disagree, to this extent.

I thought she put it — she couched it. She said, he gives rhetorical encouragement to white supremacists.

And I don’t think anybody can argue with that. And his revised position number nine on Charlottesville, that there’s bad dues on both sides, he just — his — didn’t know who David Duke was.

There’s no question that he is — the great original sin of America, which has been so prominent in American politics and so central to our presidential experience of the past 60 years, that Donald Trump is an outlier, and remains an outlier.

He doesn’t see the duty or the responsibility of a president to bring together the country racially. And I think she’s legitimate with that. And certainly his language has been loose.

HARI SREENIVASAN: There’s a pivot we will make in the conversation where she actually gives credit to Donald Trump on sort of the DACA conversation, the immigration conversation that is now happening with Democrats.

For what to be the second time in a month now, Trump has sided with Democrats, much to the chagrin of Republicans.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

So, all my life, I have been waiting for a president who would go with the Democrats when the merits of the argument are on their side, and go with the Republicans when the merits are on their side, and now finally it turns out to be Donald Trump who is doing this.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: So, oh, well.

I guess I think two things. I think that, one, this particular deal, if it is a deal, is a good deal. And I think most of the country — only 12 percent of the country thinks the DACA people should be sent out of the country. It’s a pretty popular position to want to some way codify their position in this country.

And the wall is a stupid idea. I don’t think Donald Trump actually believes that we should build a wall with Mexico. And so, if that is the deal, that’s a good deal on the merits.

Can Donald Trump continue to be a bipartisan president? Well, I wish we had a skilled political operator who could do that. I don’t think Donald Trump is that skilled political operator.

It takes great skill to go with one party and then go with another. And I fear what he’s going to end up doing is isolating himself, the distrust with both parties, isolating himself from his administration, which is pretty down-the-line conservative, and discrediting bipartisanship along the way.

So, if we are going to have an independent president, which is something I think we need, I wish it was somebody a little more politically skilled.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Does the president deserve credit, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, he does deserve credit.

Talk about motives, but if, in fact, 700,000 Americans can come out from the shadows, and not be at the whim or the cruel caprice of a brutal employer who wants to expose them, or some personal enemy, or some sheriff who is looking for headlines, yes, I mean, that is good.

That is good for America. I agree with David, the numbers. Americans are overwhelmingly in favor. You’re talking about misanthropes in the single percentage numbers of people who really want to punish and send back kids who were brought here at the age of 3 and have grown up and are working here.

But I think what I find most fascinating, to me, is, is the Cleveland Indians have been on a 22-game winning streak, and Donald Trump has been on an uninterrupted losing streak since January.

And when you’re in a losing streak, you change the lineup, you change the batting order. He changed teams. He just said, no, no, this Republican team isn’t working. I’m going to work with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi.

It will last about the extent of — most of his relationships have a very short shelf life, and political relationships anyway.

And I think — but, yes, if this does achieve that — we’re a long way from getting there. And the Republican leadership and the Republican membership in the House, in the Senate have their feelings hurt, have more than that. They have had their prestige undermined, their power sabotaged by the president doing this.

DAVID BROOKS: Trump is going to go so far left, he’s going to be filling in for Mark on his weeks off. We’re going to go all the way up the other side.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The seat is open here any time he wants.

(LAUGHTER)

HARI SREENIVASAN: But speaking of — continuing with that sort of sports analogy, but what does this do to his die-hard fans, the ones that show up in the middle of winter?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

I think the evidence so far is that it doesn’t really hurt him. There are some of the die-hard fans, like Ann Coulter, who are upset. And there are a lot of people who are burning their MAGA hats, the make America great again hats, because they’re upset.

But if you look at the Sean Hannitys and those people, and a lot of the people who are calling into the Rush Limbaugh show, they want to drain the swamp. And they don’t like Mitch McConnell very much.

And if he goes against Mitch McConnell and he changes things up in Washington, so far, the evidence is, they are willing to stick with Trump and not really walk away from him.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Mark.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

No, I mean, among the Republican voters who supported him in the primaries in 2016, three out of five of them thought that immigration has been — has weakened the country.

But among Republicans at large, those who didn’t support him, three out of five believe that immigration has strengthened the country. And, overwhelmingly, that is the case.

And I do think that he probably — he has great political insights. And he said, when I stood at Fifth Avenue and shot somebody at high noon, people wouldn’t leave me.

And he does. He has a very loyal constituency. And I don’t think it hinges on this issue by any means.

He’s going to have to come away with something. And what could kill this in the House is the Republicans in the House have never passed immigration reform at any time, because they could not get a majority of the majority.

So, they’re going to have to come up with something that’s tough, whether it’s a wall or it’s bamboo shoots under the fingernails of people who come in illegally or something, which may be a deal-killer for the Democrats.

So, that has been the case in the past. And I fear that we’re a long way from this being signed into law.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you both.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.

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