Shields and Gerson on the Obama transgender decree, Trump’s campaign

 JUDY WOODRUFF: Now we turn to a week in Republican politics that saw the presumptive presidential nominee confront a divided party, and one in Democratic politics that saw the underdog candidate notch another primary victory.

We analysis it all with Shields and Gerson. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson. David Brooks is away tonight.

And we welcome both of you.

I want to start, Mark, with our lead story tonight, the administration, Obama administration, putting out a directive to public schools all over the country to make bathroom, locker room facilities available to transgender students. What effect do you see this having?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: In the real world in education, I'm not sure, Judy.

Politically, prior to today, the politics were all on the side of those who had opposed the North Carolina law, which basically restricted and came up with — was sort of a bogus boogeyman, which I guess is redundant, that there were all these men putting on women's clothes and going into restrooms to molest females.

I mean, it just — but they passed…

MICHAEL GERSON, The Washington Post: Yes, solving a problem that didn't exist.

MARK SHIELDS: Exactly. Exactly.

(CROSSTALK)

JUDY WOODRUFF: That was their allegation.

MARK SHIELDS: And I really felt that way. And I think that obviously the business community reacted as one and cost North Carolina great amounts of PayPal jobs, Deutsche Bank, Google, Coca-Cola. A Bruce Springsteen concert was canceled.

So, there was a defensiveness. Now, today, this — today's movement by the president strikes me that the silence on the part of Democrats, of Secretary Clinton's campaign, of Bernie Sanders' campaign, of other Democrats in leadership positions, I have yet to hear senators from the Hill or governors.

So, I'm not sure. The federal atom bomb of federal spending, talking $3 billion in the state of North Carolina, is an enormous, enormous weapon. But I'm not — the lack of enthusiastic response from Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders, I'm not sure that they see it as an unmixed political blessing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: At least at this point, we don't know that they have commented yet. We haven't heard of any comment.

MARK SHIELDS: They didn't rush to the microphones. Put it that way.

MICHAEL GERSON: Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Good way of putting it.

Michael, how do you read the political repercussions from this?

MICHAEL GERSON: You know, I don't know.

This is the kind of issue that is normally handled with culture norms, and people making compromises, and, you know, meeting real needs, because there is one here. People should be treated the way they want to be treated. That's a basic norm.

But now we have both sides politicizing this, raising it to the highest levels of stakes, likely to go in the courts, way up in the courts, resentment, conflict. It's turned into a culture war controversy. And we take issues like this that maybe people of good will could to some agreement on, and run them through this culture war machine of our politics, and then there has to be a winner and a loser, when, in fact, I think, on this type of issue, we have a long history of maybe reasonable people reaching accommodations in their own community.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But you're saying that's what the White House has done by coming out with this directive today, stirring it up?

MICHAEL GERSON: I think it's an overreach, but I think the other side overreached in North Carolina as well, and by politicizing this.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let's turn now to the story I guess that had everybody consumed, Mark, this week in Washington, Donald Trump.

Now that it looks like he has wrapped up the nomination, there is this dance, this effort under way to win over Republicans, especially Republicans here in Washington who still have not climbed on board, have not endorsed him.

What did that look like to you? There were meetings. There were — behind closed doors. Some of these Republicans have come over and said they will support him, but others are holding back.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, Judy.

House Speaker Paul Ryan being the most visible, I mean, a man who's earned his credibility and his reputation of being a man of conviction on issues like welfare, of immigration reform, of balancing the budget, of open and free trade, of controlling entitlement spending and limiting and privatizing Medicare, met with Donald Trump, who has run against all four, emphatically and loudly against all four, and said he was a nice man.

That's basically become the default position for Republicans who really don't like Donald Trump very much. Is he a nice man? Lindsey Graham is discovering in him qualities of warmth that had gone undetected in their fight during the primaries.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: And I think Paul Ryan reflects — he's trying to provide some cover to his own suburban Republicans that might be threatened by a Donald Trump candidacy in suburban districts, where there's a question of Trump being a liability to Republicans.

And, at the same time, he understands that you're far better off having a united party. I think what has helped Donald Trump, more than anything else, is that the first poll that came out, the CNN poll showing Hillary Clinton with a 13-point lead, 54-41, and then every poll since then has shown the race a lot closer, especially in battleground states of Ohio and Florida and Pennsylvania even.

So, perhaps associating with him is not the political threat or liability that it might have been. And I think you will see people nudging over.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But how do you — what is the thought process going on here, Michael, on the part of some of the members of Congress especially who were just unalterably opposed to him, were supporting others, and now they are moving over to his side?

MICHAEL GERSON: Yes. Yes.

I think Ryan has laid the predicate for eventual surrender. I think the normal reaction here is to try to rally the party, to pick the lesser of two evils, to find whatever agreement you can and emphasize it.

The problem is, this isn't a normal circumstance. You're not dealing with a man that has some different policy views, even on big issues. You're dealing with a man that's not qualified for the presidency, not qualified morally because he picks on minority groups, not qualified temperamentally.

I have seen what a president looks like. It doesn't look like this. And not qualified from background and experience, and so I think a lot of the political class is dealing with this as one of the normal issues of compromise, instead of looking at this, is he fit to be president of the United States? That's a question they want to avoid.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But what is the — what is that — again, I'm trying to get at what the thought process is, Mark.

(CROSSTALK)

JUDY WOODRUFF: How is it that some members are finding him acceptable and others are still — are holding out? And Paul Ryan is holding out, but the sense is that he is going to come around.

MARK SHIELDS: The question at the office pool is, will Bernie Sanders endorse Hillary Clinton before Paul Ryan endorses Donald Trump?

But I don't think there's any question, after the post-session, that Paul Ryan is heading in that direction. Judy, if you're running for reelection, it's always easier to run on the same ticket with your presidential candidate lined up, because, for your own survival, if you break with the presidential candidate, that presidential candidate has some loyal supporters who may exact retribution on you, even though you're running for the House or the Senate, that you turned your back on our guy and punish you.

So, it's easier to do that. But, you know, I have to say, I think, in the case of Lindsey Graham — this is projection on my part — why he's going soft on Donald Trump or sounding softer, is that his best friend in the world, John McCain, is up for reelection and in a very difficult race in Arizona. And Donald Trump could be a liability there. And he just feels that, somehow, if he goes easy, that this will be less of a problem for John McCain.

MICHAEL GERSON: Yes.

And I do have to say, we knew this would happen. When you get the nomination, controlling the party is powerful. But when you see it in reality, it's kind of revolting.

Somebody like Rick Perry, who was the leading critic of Donald Trump's character early…

(CROSSTALK)

MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

MICHAEL GERSON: … talked about him as a cancer on conservatism, now angling for a vice presidential nod.

You see some — a serious person like Senator Corker, who seems to have ambitions in that administration. It's a sad thing, in many ways, to watch what happens when political reality takes hold in these cases.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you — how do Republicans reconcile what appear to be changing stances on positions, on raising taxes one day, saying, no, I'm not raising taxes on the wealthy the next day, different statements on whether the wall is going to be built and how high it's going to be?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

Well, there's two things to bear in mind. Donald Trump has no public record, OK? So, he doesn't have policies. He's never had policies, never been a policy candidate. He's disdained white papers or think tanks or anything of the sort. He's been a campaign of bumper stickers. Build a wall. Make Mexico pay for it. Take it back. Send them back. Round them all up.

That's it. So, as a consequence, he has no — he has a very tenuous connection with the positions he's taken. I mean, they're not based upon votes or anything of the sort.

MICHAEL GERSON: But I think it is important. You know, he doesn't have consistent views. When he changes his views, he doesn't have any reason for changing his views, which is just extraordinary.

MARK SHIELDS: That's right.

MICHAEL GERSON: But it calls attention to the fact that he was never offering policy from the first day of this campaign.

MARK SHIELDS: No.

MICHAEL GERSON: On issues like jobs, on issues like immigration, what he's arguing is that he should be in charge.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

MICHAEL GERSON: OK?

This is an essentially authoritarian appeal. The people — many people who support him are essentially giving up on self-government, saying he should take care of it, he should be in charge…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

MICHAEL GERSON: … when, in fact, this is pretty weak hands to put in charge.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I want to save a little bit of time for the Democrats, Mark.

MARK SHIELDS: Sure.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Bernie Sanders won his 19th primary this week, West Virginia.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, he did.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is there a chance that he could be the nominee of the Democratic Party?

MARK SHIELDS: There's a chance, a very, very slim chance, probably not a realistic chance.

Hillary Clinton has an air of inevitability about winning the nomination. But Bernie Sanders has momentum. He's won 11 of the last 16 contests. He's won the last two. He has — both races in May. He's on his way in Oregon.

You know, so he has this sense. And he made a very strong statement on Tuesday night, that Donald Trump would be elected over my dead body. We're going to stop him.

He opposed him. So, Hillary Clinton would like to be rid of Bernie Sanders. Bernie Sanders has a constituency of young people, energy and passion that she needs desperately. She needs desperately to win and her campaign needs that infusion of sort of idealism. And I think Bernie Sanders is probably the only agent who can deliver it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Michael, how does this affect what she needs to do between now — if she is the nominee — between now and November, the fact that he's still in here and Donald Trump sewed it up for the Republicans?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, we are seeing a significant — she's won the nomination, essentially, not certainly, but essentially.

We're seeing that a significant portion of the Democratic Party wants to humiliate her eve, though she's won the nomination. That is a serious thing. It points out that she's not a particularly strong candidate. Trump and Hillary Clinton are some of the least liked politicians in America.

It's an extraordinary race. There are many people who are in the never Trump camp, but there's also a number of people who are in the never Hillary camp. And that race could be closer than people think.

MARK SHIELDS: But Bernie Sanders, in his defense, he has — he wants his campaign to have stood for something. And it has. It certainly has.

But he wants to carry it to the fight for the platform of the party, to the positions. I don't think it's humiliation of her that drives him at this point. I mean, he's been through all of this for so long, and he wants his people to have their moment in the sun.

I think it's absolutely natural.

MICHAEL GERSON: But the alarm bells are going off. So, you have senators pressuring him to get out of the race because Trump looks stronger than they thought.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And that's a new phenomenon.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Gentlemen, we thank you both. We're going to leave it there.

Michael Gerson, Mark Shields, thank you.

Recently in Politics