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Shields and Brooks on rancor in the electorate and the future of the Supreme Court

November 4, 2016 at 6:25 PM EST
In their final Friday political analysis before the election, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss Hillary Clinton’s shrinking lead, the rough language that has pervaded the campaign, the outlook for the congressional power dynamic, a year of 'irresponsibility' in government and prospects for filling the Supreme Court vacancy.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

So, gentlemen, this is the last time I get to ask you this on a Friday.

Mark, how does this race look?

MARK SHIELDS: It looks terrific. I mean, it really is.

And I just want it to keep going. I don’t want it to end.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: I wish it was like baseball. We could go into extra innings.

No, I don’t think there is any question the whole temperature, the whole atmosphere of the race changed over the last eight days, since last we were together, when — with the Comey announcement of the FBI investigation.

I think what had been sort of an assumed Clinton victory, and Democrats taking over the Senate, I think it was stopped in its tracks. And while I still think she is the favorite, and is the favorite, there is certainly a lot more doubt about the Senate today.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think she’s the favorite.

I have a sense that it would have happened anyway and that, at the end of the day, people were going to come home to who they were. And what’s depressed me, frankly, most about this race is, we went into this country a divided nation, and now the chasms are just solidified, so divided along race, divided along gender, urban/rural, college-educated/non-college-educated. We can go down the list.

And, basically, less educated or high school-educated whites are going to Trump. It doesn’t matter what the guy does. And college-educated going to Clinton. Everyone is dividing based on demographic categories.

And, sometimes, you get the sense that the campaign barely matters. People are just going with their gene pool and whatever it is. And that is one of the more depressing aspects of this race for me.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, and you say it almost doesn’t matter what they say.

But they’re going out, Mark, on — with some pretty rough language. She continues to say he’s unacceptable, he doesn’t have the character to be president. He is saying — continues saying she needs to be in prison.

Somebody at one of his rallies today said, “Execute her.”

We’re watching as low as it can get, aren’t we?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

Well, I think there’s no question Clinton — I’m not sure David’s right. He’s 97 percent right about 48 percent of the time.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: But, no — but on whether it would have narrowed.

I think there was a sense that she had the possibility of a decisive victory. And I think she, at that point, wanted, the Clinton campaign wanted to end it on upbeat and more positive.

The problem is, you have two candidates, Judy, we have said time and again, are personally unfavorable. So, the spotlight is unkind to each, whoever’s in that spotlight.

And when Donald Trump was in the spotlight, losing three debates to Hillary Clinton, and the “Access Hollywood” tape, it hurt him and helped her. And what happened is, that changed and sort of changed her strategy.

She was trying to shift the spotlight back to him, I think inelegantly and ineffectively, quite frankly, in the last week by bringing out the former Miss Universe and trying to do that.

The best closer, quite honestly, is Barack Obama. He’s the best closer since Dennis Eckersley or Mariano Rivera.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: He’s just a — he really knows how to close. If you want to see somebody do it well, just watch Barack Obama. He makes a far better case for her than she makes for herself.

Donald Trump is sounding the same theme he has sounded since May or June of 2015.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

And, well, it’s a campaign of hate. Obama is a campaign of at least hope. At least his first campaign was. This is just a campaign of hate. And, you know, people who don’t like Trump really don’t like Trump. And I guess I’m among them.

And we just saw in our report about the Trump voters in Pennsylvania. Did you see — when they were shouting on the road, did you see anything nice about Trump? No. Send Clinton to jail.

And so it’s just — what was it? There was a Burt Lancaster movie where he had love and hate tattooed on his hands. And there’s just a — we’re in a psychosis of what they call negative polarization, where nobody likes their side, but they really hate the other side.

And it feels like it’s just building and building. And so we have got this cycle. And I don’t know if it pops on Election Day. I hope so. But the idea that Clinton is finishing this campaign bringing Miss America or the Miss Universe to the rallies just seems wrong to me.

I do think she should have pivoted and say, I am change, I am change, because people do want some change. And to end on this negative note, I think especially for her — he has no choice — that’s his whole repertoire.

I think, for her, I think it’s a very questionable way to end the campaign.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, Mark, doesn’t that say that her campaign is really concerned here?

MARK SHIELDS: Sure.

And, Judy, Hillary Clinton is in Detroit, Michigan, the Friday before the election. Michigan is one of the 18 states and the District of Columbia that are the blue wall, that have voted Democratic for six consecutive presidential elections that are constituting the 242 of the 270 electoral votes that the Democrats start with.

So, no, there’s a concern. You can tell more from than polls — from polls — by the candidates’ schedules, and where they’re spending time and resources. So, no, I think there is a real, real concern.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

That sort of goes back to my point about demographics. Why is she in Michigan? Because Michigan was — we all thought it would be Florida, South Carolina, Nevada, all the — New Hampshire, the states we have been talking about. But there are a lot of white people in Wisconsin and Michigan.

And so there’s another route that he has in ways we didn’t expect, because of the way the demographics are just driving this election much more than ideology was in years past.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I hear people saying, don’t the American people deserve a better election than this? Couldn’t somebody have found a way, Mark, for the candidates to talk about something uplifting, or was it always going to come down to this?

MARK SHIELDS: Boy, I don’t know.

I mean, you have two candidates who were highly unfavorable. And the idea of somehow convincing people that their perceptions, in some cases long-held, were inaccurate or incomplete, the more appealing route, quite frankly, in the campaign was to try and hit the other fellow over the head.

David is right. It would be a negative mandate. And one other point David makes that is a good one, and it’s good to recall historically, Theodore White wrote that America is Republican until 5:00 or 6:00 at night.

And that’s when working people and their families got off work, had supper, and if America is going to vote — be Democratic, it’s going to happen between 5:30 and 8:00 at night. That has been totally turned on its ear.

The working-class, blue-collar, non-college-educated base of the Democratic Party is the base of Donald Trump’s campaign this year. And the Democrats are now an upscale party.

So, each party, just its message is totally out of kilter. The Democrats have an economic message that is directed at people at the lower end. That has been their cornerstone. The Republicans has been more upscale. Now the Republicans have a very low-scale, by economic standards, base. Donald Trump has.

And it’s just total conflict, Judy. And I think it became easier, quite frankly, just to hit the guy over the head than to try and make the positive case.

DAVID BROOKS: I would say some of it was contingent on Donald Trump being Donald Trump and changing the rules of the way we talk to each other.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

DAVID BROOKS: Some of that was contingent.

But a lot of it is baked structurally into our society. And so we had a lot of good things over the years that were really good for America. I think globalization has been really good for America. I think the influx of immigrants has been really good for America. Feminism has been really good for America.

But there are a lot of people who used to be up in society, because of those three good things, are now down, a lot of high school-educated white guys. And they have been displaced.

And shame on us for not paying attention to that and helping them out. And, therefore, as a result, what happened was, they were alienated, they got super cynical, because they really were being shafted. And so they react in an angry way.

Well, that’s not a shock, given the last 30 or 50 years of American history. And so, for us going forward, it’s to not reverse the dynamism of American society and the diversity. It’s to pay attention to the people who are being ruined by it, and so this doesn’t happen again.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it means there is a lot of sorting out to do after this election.

I want to ask you both about the Supreme Court.

Mark, we have heard from Republican senators in the last few weeks that they’re, no matter — if Hillary Clinton is elected — this is an if — no matter who she puts forward, they’re going to make sure that she doesn’t get to fill that last — that ninth seat on the court.

How are we to think about the Supreme Court anymore? We have now gone the better part of this year, since Justice Scalia’s death, President Obama’s nominee can’t get through. Has this become a litmus test of the litmus test?

MARK SHIELDS: Judy, in a year of irresponsibility, this is a new depth of irresponsibility. To say that the constitutional mandate of a national election, where millions of Americans vote and pick a new president, that that president is — what that president does, and under the Constitution, of nominating judges and justices, is somehow moot, and I’m not going to pay any attention to it, that’s unacceptable.

It really is. It’s beyond irresponsible. It’s beyond reckless. It is really — I think it’s criminal. I basically do. And anybody who holds that position, I think it’s self-disqualifying for any public office.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We heard it from John McCain. And I guess, this week, there was a comment from Richard Burr, the senator from North Carolina, and others.

MARK SHIELDS: I think Senator Cruz has put on — I think Senator McCain did walk it back, but you’re right. He did say it on radio.

DAVID BROOKS: My views about this are like Mark’s, only stronger.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: I think it’s in the Constitution. And we not only have rules in the Constitution the way it should work. The president should be able to nominate justices. But we have an etiquette around the Constitution.

And what’s happened in America is, that etiquette has been acidified away. And I hate the nuclear option of going for 50 votes in the Senate. But if they behave this way, then I think the Democrats might be justified and go to the nuclear option, because we actually have to have a government. We have to have people confirmed and put into office.

And — but it’s the degradation of the way our government is supposed to run.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I didn’t give you all any warning about this, but I want to ask it in the last minute or so that we have left.

What do you say to the American people at this point about the choice they’re making, about how much difference it makes?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, it does. We know presidents make choices. We know — we have no idea what’s going to come up on a crisis over the next four years, unexpected, internationally, domestically.

And who that president is, the judgment, the intelligence, the confidence that that president has can very well determine whether we survive, let alone prosper, as a people.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. It’s a job. It’s a job that involves some patience, a tolerance for boredom, the ability to work friendly with other people, to herd majorities. It’s a job.

And I can’t say who I’m going to vote for, but one person is clearly disqualified for that job. And I can’t mention his name.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: David Brooks, Mark Shields, we will see you on election night.

And, by the way, Mark and David will be back here, along with other guests, on election night for our special coverage. It starts at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, and we want you to join us, too.

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