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Shields and Brooks on ‘sweet’ Mike Pence, the challenge for the Republican convention

July 15, 2016 at 6:30 PM EDT
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including Donald Trump’s veep pick, Mike Pence, who may not be the attack dog the candidate was said to have wanted. They also weigh in on what type of convention the nation should expect in Cleveland — and how many Trump relatives will speak.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And that brings us to the analysis of Shields and Brooks.

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

Gentlemen, we’re going to be lashed at the hip, I think, next week. You’re heading to Cleveland. And we don’t know whether there’s going to be disruptions or not.

But, Mark, let’s start by talking about Donald Trump setting the table. He has now chosen his running mate, Mike Pence. What do you think? We just heard from a reporter in Indiana. What do you make of this?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: I think Mike Pence was the least Trump-like of the three finalists. And in that sense, he makes sense.

He’s got conservative — solid conservative credentials, especially with social conservatives. And he’s articulate. He’s personable, he’s got national ambitions. He’s made no secret of them in the past.

I would just remind him that it’s — a successful vice president — an unsuccessful vice presidential candidate has been elected president of the United States exactly once in the nation’s history. I mean, we have got President Joe Lieberman, President John Edwards.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You said an unsuccessful…

MARK SHIELDS: An unsuccessful. Franklin Roosevelt, who lost in 1920, and got elected in 1932.

So, it’s not necessarily a road to the White House on an unsuccessful vice presidential campaign. But I think he makes sense for Trump, given Trump’s special problems.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Makes sense?

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: We will let you explore that.

DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times: He does have special problems.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Makes sense?

(CROSSTALK)

MARK SHIELDS: I think special…

(CROSSTALK)

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, all right.

Yes, I think so. Of the three that were available. It wasn’t like everyone was available to him, and so he picked the one who doesn’t cause him any problems.

I got to know Mike Pence. I first met him in the early ’90s. He was a talk radio host in Indiana. I think his slogan was, I’m the Rush — decaf Rush Limbaugh.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. It was.

DAVID BROOKS: And so he was less spicy. And his demeanor is sweet and kind.

And in the House, he was successful, because he’s a nice guy, genuinely nice guy. But if he was a decaf Rush Limbaugh, I don’t know what he is to Donald Trump.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: He is going to — I think he will disappear, frankly. I think it’s a less important vice presidential pick than any we have had, just because Trump is his own show.

And he hasn’t promoted a rival show. He’s just going to be his own show. And Pence will appear at the vice presidential debate, but I would be surprised if we were talking too much about him for the next few months.

MARK SHIELDS: One quick point, Judy, that Trump said that he wanted an attack dog, someone who could be a pit bull or whatever.

And Mike Pence is the opposite of that. He ran for Congress in 1988 and 1990 against a longtime Democratic incumbent, Phil Sharp, in that district, and he lost twice. And after the second defeat, he wrote an article entitled “Confessions of a Serial Negative Campaigner.”

And he apologized for running negative ads and so forth. I mean, that doesn’t sound like an attack dog to me.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, unless they wanted a Middle Western, Midwestern…

(CROSSTALK)

DAVID BROOKS: … something, compared to Donald Trump.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Sweet? Sweet?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But what does it say, though? We have been hearing in the last 24, 48 hours about Donald Trump maybe having second thoughts at midnight last night. There was the back and forth.

He told one interviewer: “I’m close to a decision. I want somebody on national security.”

And then he told somebody else: “No, it’s down to three.”

What do you make of this whole process?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, this is not a real campaign.

Like, there is a certain norm of the way things are done. Usually, when you announce your vice presidential candidate, there is like a professional rollout. Like, you do trivial things like updating your Web page, which the Trump campaign didn’t do for a little while.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

DAVID BROOKS: And so they’re just — it’s a one-man show.

And one gets the impression everyone else around is sort of in the dark, and Trump is deciding or not deciding. And, as a result, the institutional presence that a campaign has, where decisions get made, and things get done and conventions get organized, a lot of that, it’s unclear if that’s happening.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And speaking of that, Mark, comment on how they have handled this, the Pence rollout.

But here we are, two or three days ahead of the start of the convention. We still, as far as I know, as of an hour ago, didn’t have the schedule. We don’t know who’s speaking in what order, the kinds of things that the candidates normally do.

MARK SHIELDS: Historical and traditionally, yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Does that matter? I mean, can he just put on a great show and that’s all that really counts, or what?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think the convention, whether it’s for the Elks or for the aluminum siding industry or for a party, is basically the same thing.

It has — it’s to energize the people who were there, to validate them, to unite them. And in Donald Trump’s case, I think it’s to run a normal convention, and one where he’s not in any way criticizing or censuring Republicans who aren’t there, that he rises above, shows a spirit of magnanimity.

And I think that’s it, perhaps a lot more important whether Bobby Knight stiffs him and Don King doesn’t show up and Mike Tyson is invited.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

I do think that that’s one of the keys for this convention. For me I want to see at least 30 or 40 members of the Trump family actually speaking at the podium, which it seems we’re getting close to that number.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: But I do want — it will be curious to know how organized it is, because if they can’t organize a convention, how do they organize an administration or a fall campaign?

And then the emotional tone. Conventions are like coronations, but if you watch the Trump speeches leading up in the last couple of weeks, it’s filled — it’s sour. He’s sour. He’s filled with resentment. People aren’t treating me nice. CNN has been mean.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s exactly right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Yes.

DAVID BROOKS: And so that’s not a normal convention mood. So it will be interesting to see if he can pivot and actually be happy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And on top of that, you have these world events that we’re following, this awful attack, Mark, last night in France, with all the — so many people killed in this sort of unspeakable act by this man who drove his truck through the crowd.

And then, tonight, we’re watching and trying to understand what’s going on in Turkey. What effect do events like this have on a presidential election?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, there is a certain numbing effect right now.

It’s crisis upon crisis, tragedy upon tragedy. And, I mean, I think we’re reeling, quite honestly. And Nice was just of a different order of magnitude, the idea of driving a truck through families and people celebrating independence day at 70 miles an hour, and not slowing down.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But does it mean that…

MARK SHIELDS: As far as our politics are concerned?

JUDY WOODRUFF: That Americans want a leader who is more stable, or someone who is going to change things?

MARK SHIELDS: I think there is always — in the short run, the call for bold action over thoughtful, restrained action has an appeal.

I mean, people are enraged, they’re insecure, they’re unsure, and the sure, certain trumpet that sounds has an appeal at a time like that. I mean, it’s not like we’re on the eve of an election, and not whether Donald Trump has a program or the credentials. But he is the bold voice, as opposed to the voice of restraint and experience that Secretary Clinton purports to offer.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I don’t think Trump would exist as a viable candidate if it’s not for this climate for the past couple of years of psychological blows the world has endured.

You start with the economic stuff, anxiety which is of longstanding nature, but you go back to the beheadings, the ISIS beheadings. These were psychologically damaging for the country. And what we felt last week — we were on the show last week. It was rough.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Yes.

DAVID BROOKS: It was a very depressing week.

And then this week is worse. And what’s going on in Turkey, it’s just the world is spinning out of order. And so that implicates the campaign in two ways. This campaign is in part a debate between an ardent nationalist, which Donald Trump is sort of a European-style blood-and-soil nationalist, vs. a candidate on the Democratic side who is more of a globalist, who believes in global institutions.

And these attacks all around the world, we see the dark side of globalization. And so I do think they help Trump. And then to me, the interesting thing is, people are going to want order, as Mark said. They are going to want somebody who is going to preserve order.

Normally, that means they want experience. And that would be good for Clinton. But I think in this climate of chaos, they are going to want toughness and the sort of like this authoritarianism. And that’s sort of up more Trump’s alley.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Even when there’s no link, no proven link, yet?

For example, in France, this man who drove this truck, Mark, they still don’t have a connection between him and ISIS. It could have been the act of one person disgruntled, upset with his life.

MARK SHIELDS: No, you’re right, Judy.

But, to David’s point, it’s nationalism, too. He was a Tunisian, of Tunisian origin and descent. So, he was the other. And think this is very much — that is very much in our politics.

David raised the point about chaos in the world. This is why the convention is important and Donald Trump’s deportment, comportment are, because, I mean, because this should be an advantage to him right now, as the out-party and the one who has been preaching this message of nationalism.

But he does projected chaos. And I think to that degree this — it hurts — it will hurt him, if in fact, at the convention in Cleveland, he personally exemplifies or represents chaos or the convention itself does. I think that’s a risk, a high risk for him.

DAVID BROOKS: It should be said that the New York Times/CBS poll came out this week, and it showed Clinton and Trump tied at 40.

And what is interesting about the polls over the past couple of months, is that he doesn’t move. He’s at 40. She rises and falls, but he doesn’t move. And so a lot of this climate is, I think, more affecting her vote somehow than his vote.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And that poll — those polls, I guess — and she did slip — I guess came after the really bad week she had with the release of the e-mails.

DAVID BROOKS: Some of it was the e-mails, but I think some of it was also just the Dallas, the police killings, somehow the sense of just social unraveling, all the comparisons people were making to 1968.

JUDY WOODRUFF: She did this past week — it seems like it was forever ago, but it was just Tuesday — she did get the endorsement of Bernie Sanders, who held out for a long time, Mark. Is that — how much — go ahead.

(CROSSTALK)

MARK SHIELDS: I think the timing was better. If anything, she did need a lift this week.

After Comey and the e-mails and after Dallas and after Baton Rouge and after Minnesota, she needed — Secretary Clinton needed a lift, and I think Bernie Sanders’ endorsement gave her a lift. If it had come two weeks earlier, as so many Clinton folks were urging and exhorting him to do, I don’t think it probably would have given the kind of upper that she did need at that time, even in the midst of a week in which it was very much eclipsed.

But Bernie made a good case for her candidacy, basically, based on Bernie’s campaign.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I was going to say, how enthusiastic was it?

(CROSSTALK)

MARK SHIELDS: No, that’s it. Nobody delivers. We don’t deliver anything in this country anymore, Judy. Nobody delivers votes.

But his enthusiastic endorsement of her and the party unity are going to be important.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you think?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I think the Democratic Party will be united.

I have always thought that. She has now 85 percent of his vote. By the end of the convention, it will be 90-something. It will be united. I think what’s changing is, are his issues on the forefront anymore?

And so, if we look around the world right now, are the banks really what people are fearing most, or is it ISIS, or is it…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Inequity.

DAVID BROOKS: Or is it racial issues that have suddenly risen to the fore?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

DAVID BROOKS: And so I think some of his issues, at least for the time being, are being eclipsed, and so that changes the landscape for her.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, speaking of one of those, we have almost forgotten to mention that there was another terrible — there were shootings, we have been watching, Mark, of black men by police.

But then we had just within the last week the terrible massacre of police officers in Dallas. And then there was this quite remarkable memorial service this week. And you were telling us earlier today it may be the one bright spot.

MARK SHIELDS: It was. It was the one bright spot for me in the whole week. It was almost traditional.

It was what Americans have come to expect at a time of crisis and tragedy. And that is bipartisanship. I mean, Ted Cruz, one of the president’s archest critics, flew down on Air Force One with him. John Cornyn, the Republican leader in the Senate, deputy leader, introduced the president.

The president — President George W. Bush, I thought, gave a quite personal Dallas perspective. And the president is comforter in chief. He does it so well. The police chief of Dallas, David Brown, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump ought to be grateful that he hasn’t entered any of the races. He’s just so impressive.

And I just thought there was a sense of unity, of reconciliation, of national agreement at that Dallas ceremony.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Quick word?

DAVID BROOKS: And I have to say, that’s what real America is.

I have been on this tour of the country the last several months to San Antonio or New Mexico or Fresno or West Virginia. And it’s — the country is filled with healers, people healing the social fabric. And we get down. The news events are horrible.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We focus on the bad things.

DAVID BROOKS: But there is a day-to-day reality. And it’s actually a little closer to what President Obama was saying than sometimes the coup and some of the horrible events that do we have to cover, obviously.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it’s a better note to end on than most of the news tonight.

David Brooks, Mark Shields, thank you both. And we will see you in Cleveland.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you. Look forward to it.

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