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Shields and Brooks on Trump’s 100-day performance

April 28, 2017 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 an evaluation of President Trump’s first 100 days in office, a lack of legislative traction in the Republican-led Congress and public perception that Democrats are out of touch with Americans’ problems.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields, and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome, gentlemen.

So, we’re just one day away, David, from the 100-day mark of the new administration. What are we thinking right now?

DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times: A hundred days is a stupid marker — 99 days, much better.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: No, it’s not a success.

But I think what’s striking, he has had the obvious failures, the health care and all the rest. And I think what’s striking and makes me remain curious about the next four years is the change. I mean, it’s just rapid change. We have never seen a president change this much from being a populist to being a corporatist, from being the Bannon dark knight to shifting to putting pretty straight, at least people who are — putting a process around him.

And so I would say there’s been some improvements. He’s never going to be a deep thinker. He’s never going to have an overall strategy, but the level of flexibility is to me actually one of the more striking and maybe hopeful that he can learn from failure.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Some improvement, Mark.

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Judy, there’s an old formula in Washington. When someone changes and moves in your direction, politically or philosophically, that person has grown. And when he moves in the other direction, of course, he’s Benedict Arnold. He’s a Judas Iscariot. He’s a traitor.

Donald Trump has one loyal constituency. And to listen to David — and I think his point is right — he has changed. He’s turned his back on that constituency.

Three out of four Americans approve of one thing Donald Trump has done. And that is forcing companies to keep jobs in the United States. That was the populist theme. That was something that no other president has won the White House on. And he, under the pressure of the 100-day deadline, which he kept disdaining and then genuflecting before and feverishly pursuing, Donald Trump came up with a one-page tax plan that turned his back totally on the people who elected him.

And his secretary of the treasury could not even tell you what a family making $70,000 a year with four — two children, whether they would pay more or less in taxes.

But he could tell you one thing, that Donald Trump’s Cabinet would pay and Donald Trump in that plan would may measurably less. It was a plan designed for the deserving rich.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you’re saying they did put out a plan, a one-page plan.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But it doesn’t tell us much more, David, about what they really will do.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, two things.

First, which way is he moving? He’s not moving toward people like me. I’m not part of the corporate elite.

MARK SHIELDS: No, I know that.

DAVID BROOKS: I am flattered by the reference.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: He’s now moving from a version of populism to a version of corporatism.

And if there was a good version of populism, where he would really help the people who voted for him, that would be great. That wasn’t something he was going to be capable of doing. He had an ethnic populism can which as most an ugly version of populism.

And, second, by the way, there’s no constituency for populism of the good sort in the United States Congress. So, that was never going to happen. So he has moved toward something which does help his friends in big business. There’s no question about that.

I happen to think that’s a less dangerous mode of change. It’s more conventional anyway than being a populist. If he tried to being an American Le Pen, an American Putin, that was the truly dangerous thing. And that part, he’s rejected.

So, I think at least we have avoided a really ugly version of the White House, at least right now. The second thing about the tax plan, he’s never going to be deep. He’s never going to be substantive. He wants things, the tax plan right away. The Treasury Department has no time to actually put anything together.

So, they gave him a page which they think will please him, which is right. It wasn’t a tax plan. It was just 100 words off the top of their head. And that’s why I thing he will little mark with this tax plan. That thing is sure to fail, at least in its present form.

And so he just floats across the surface without really causing any change, just a lot of ruffling.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Whatever it is, Mark, I mean, David’s point is that it’s better than what it sounded like it was going to be during the campaign.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I don’t know.

He did — he turned his back on the people who elected him. What Donald Trump did that no Republican had done since Ronald Reagan was to break through among blue-collar white voters, working-class voters in this country, who Democrats had kind of assumed were part of their constituency, had taken for granted, and who had paid the price of globalization, whose own fortunes had suffered, the shrinking of the middle class, established once again this week by Pew in its research in this country.

And Donald Trump said, I recognize you, I’m with you.

And whatever else has happened, I mean, the virtue of Donald Trump as a candidate was, he says what he means. And it turns out, he didn’t mean what he said.

And, Judy, you cannot talk about Donald Trump without talking about the Republicans. And the tax thing is one thing, because that’s just a piece of paper. But the health care thing is failure, a total philosophical, political and courageous failure of a political party, as well as the president.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Because they talked about it for so long.

MARK SHIELDS: They won four elections. They won four elections in a row for the Congress on it, Judy.

And let’s just get one thing straight, one thing straight. The Democrats passed a bill in 2010. And they had 179 witnesses appear before Congress. They had 78 separate hearings in Congress. They have had 230 amendments they considered. They passed — they accepted 121 of them.

It was a two-year ordeal. And these people have invested nothing. They can’t even come up with a repeal bill. It is just — now all they’re trying to pass in the House is what — the legislative equivalent of a dead fish. They just want to get it out of them across to the Senate.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that on the president, David, or is that on the Republicans in the Congress?

DAVID BROOKS: It’s on both. The president came in with no plan, with no strategy, with no people. So, he is just a guy with words and tweets.

It’s a bit on the Congress, but it’s also just a bit on the party. There is no plan that could pass with all the Republican votes, because every time you get the Freedom Caucus, you lose the moderates. That’s just the iron rule.

And so if you wanted to do the kind of government I think Mark and I would probably find some favor with, he would have come in, Trump would have said, I’m going to help my people. And I’m going to do first a big infrastructure spending bill, then maybe a payroll tax cut, and then moving things, some education things, just everything at that group.

But to get something like that passed would have required breaking down the polarization of our politics, and getting some Democrats and some Republicans. And that would have been great. But it would have required such legislative skill and experience that was completely beyond the capacities of this White House.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What about just the style of this president, Mark, the fact that he made just an offhand statement this week, tweeted, we’re going to do away with NAFTA, I’m going to terminate it?

And then, within 24 hours, he was saying, well, I heard from the presidents of Mexico and Canada — the prime minister of Canada — and I’m going to negotiate it.

And then we have been talking tonight about North Korea, the tough language, the tough rhetoric back and forth about whether we’re going to be tough.

Has this proven effective? How do you see it?

MARK SHIELDS: Picky, picky, picky. You just want to find fault.

No, of course it hasn’t, Judy. It’s been a failure. I mean, he had no honeymoon. This was a shorter honeymoon than Liza Minnelli’s. This thing was over in 24 hours. And he ended it.

He now — think about this, how inept this president has been. His popular act a was proportional, in most people’s judgment, response to the outrage and international offense of the Syrian government, poison gas on its own people, all right?

And a plurality of Americans, in spite of the economic news you presented earlier this evening, see the economy getting better. And with those things going for him, his own favorable rating fell in the polls.

I mean, so, no, I mean, there’s total — there’s dissatisfaction with him. He’s going to be Typhoid Mary politically heading into 2018 on this chaos.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, David, you’re saying that he’s learned something, that he’s grown in office.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, are we talking about the same …

DAVID BROOKS: Listen, his 100 days are not a success. This is not FDR we’re talking about here. It’s a failure.

But I’m looking for opportunities for growth. It’s like when you have a student who gets an F, you go, oh, you got a D-minus. That’s so much better.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: So, I’m looking on the bright side.

And if you go from dangerous to fickle, I think that’s a good move.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: And so — and then the final thing I will say, I’m really struck by Bob Costa.

Our colleague from Washington Week did a great — with Ashley Parker, a great piece on his television watching habits. And he had this interview with AP where he talked about how hard it was to rip himself away from the habit of watching every single TV show about himself.

And so you see a guy sort of transparently and naively struggling certainly with maybe narcissism, but certainly the TV obsession. And the lack of attention span is what causes all this fickleness.

Whoever saw him last gets the policy for the day. And will that settle down, or will we just sort of get a weather vane for the next four years? I don’t know.

But I do think that the first 30 days was unsustainable. He was crashing every hour. And that’s calmed down a little.

MARK SHIELDS: I stand in awe of David’s optimism. I do. I really do.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Fickle better than dangerous.

MARK SHIELDS: And, no, I appreciate it.

But, Judy, two things have occurred under Donald Trump, and Donald Trump deserves credit for. For the first time since it passed in 2010, the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, is now more popular than it’s ever been before, a majority of Americans. It’s more popular than Donald Trump, if you want to do it just on a comparative.

And the other thing is that Americans who had been on a Tea Party tear for smaller government now government, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, to do more. They want it more — to do more in their lives and to be more active.

So, this just goes completely antithetical to the Republican ideology of a smaller, leaner, cheaper government withdrawing. And so, no, I think there’s great change in the air. I don’t know where it comes down, but it’s hard for me to see that there’s any hand on the rudder of the ship of state.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But his supporters — and we keep saying this in the polls, and the reporters who are going around the country talking to people who voted for Donald Trump, David.

They still like what he’s doing.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. No, they do. People are solid. People are mostly driven by partisanship. The prism through which they see reality is their partisan identity.

And so that will take some time to shake off. I do think it can be shaken off. It seems very, very likely to me this tax reform is not going to go anywhere, at least anything like its current form.

And so how does he react to that? At what point does the economy take a dip and maybe people say, hey, what exactly are you doing for me now?

But I do think that will be a while. Partisan identity right now is so strong that if you ask people how is the economy doing, it doesn’t matter how the economy is doing. It happens — it’s whether their guy is in power is how they see it. So, that loyalty will stay there for a little while.

MARK SHIELDS: Just one thing, Judy.

And before Democrats start popping the champagne, 67 percent of Americans feel Democrats, the Democratic Party, is out of touch with what’s going on in their lives, more than — a lot more than they feel that about Donald Trump.

So, if anything, yes, 96 to 98 percent of the people who voted for him are with him and would do so again. But, I mean, the Democrats have to be a lot more than just, we’re not Trump. That is not the answer to their problems.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s not yet the makings of a comeback.

MARK SHIELDS: No.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark Shields, David Brooks, we hope both of you come back.

Thank you.

MARK SHIELDS: Oh, wow.

(LAUGHTER)

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