Brooks and Marcus on polls this week catching up with reality
JUDY WOODRUFF: And that brings us to the analysis of Brooks and Marcus. That's New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus.
Mark Shields is away.
Hello to both of you.
So, we're going to get to Hillary Clinton and the e-mails in just a moment.
David, let me start with Donald Trump and the rough week that he's had. How do you size it up? I don't know even know where to begin, whether it's with the Khan family or something else. What do you see when you look back at this week for Donald Trump?
DAVID BROOKS: Let's stick with the top 150 gaffes, and that will limit our time.
DAVID BROOKS: I think the significant thing is the shift not so much in Trump's personality — he's been doing this kind of stuff a lot — it's concentrated maybe this week — but the shift in the polls.
I think, finally, if you have 47 bad weeks in a row, on week 47, people begin to notice. And so this is the first time — we have been saying, he goes too far, this will really hurt him, and nothing has hurt him.
But now he's really been hurting, and nationally, not only in a post-convention bump for the Democrats, but I think some evidence of sustained support. National, Clinton is up by 6, 7 points, if you average all the polls together.
But I think the significant thing is, if you begin to look at the state polls, and what's Trump's support in these crucial states that he has to win, the Wisconsins, the Michigans, the Pennsylvanias, the Colorados? And he's at like 36, 38 percent in a lot of these states, New Hampshire, too.
And if he's that low, and you're trying to imagine him rising 13 points by Election Day, that's super hard to imagine in all these different states, unless something really big happens. So this is the week, I think, that the polls really shifted, and the whole nature of the race shifted as a result.
JUDY WOODRUFF: and Ruth, we know it's early, but these polls numbers don't look good. What led to this for Donald Trump?
RUTH MARCUS: Donald Trump led to this for Donald Trump.
RUTH MARCUS: He took a bad week last week, when Hillary Clinton had an excellent convention, and he — it seems like ages ago now — made that good convention even more problematic for him by talking about the Russian hacking into — encouraging Russian hacking into her e-mails.
Then he had a week — and like David, you don't know where to start. I have never seen a week in politics where a candidate, in the course of a single week, inflicted more damage on himself than normal politicians do in the course of not just a regular campaign, but in the course of an entire career.
He picked fights with everybody. He picked fights with a baby. He picked fights with the speaker of the House. He found himself splitting from his own vice president. And he just doesn't — we have talked for a while about Donald Trump and the pivot, and the whole Republican Party has been waiting for pivot.
And I'm stealing a line from my colleague Alexandra Petri here, but waiting for pivot with Donald Trump is like waiting for Godot. It's not going to come.
And David is exactly right. This is the week when the polls started to catch up with the reality. And I think what's happening here is we're not in the primary campaign anymore. We're really in the general election season.
And these missteps, to be kind about them, really do start to have a cumulative impact.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, David Brooks, are these the kind of missteps that can't be undone? Is that what you're saying?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, I do think they're not missteps in a way, because they're not errors. They're him.
I do think we have seen — we have seen this all along from him, two things, one, incapacity for empathy. So, a normal person looks at Mrs. Khan and sees a woman in deep pain and has an instinctual response of respect and admiration for what she has endured and sympathy. And you respond in a certain way.
But he's shown an incapacity for that for a long time. And then the second thing is just an incapacity to control his own attention and to say things that are just inappropriate for a politician or inappropriate for a human being. And so you get these trains of thought that go on where a word sparks off a thought, that sparks off a thought, that sparks off a thought.
And it gives the impression of someone really not in control of their own attention span. And so these are characterological. And I think that is what sent the shivers through the Republican Party. And it's become the subject of the debate this week, not did he make a mistake, but is this in a sense who he is?
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Ruth, a lot of people may be coming to that conclusion, but there are still others who are sticking with Donald Trump.
RUTH MARCUS: Sure. Like he told us, he could — Donald Trump supporters are Donald Trump supporters, and they have stuck with him through a lot of things.
As he told us, he could shoot somebody in the middle of Fifth Avenue, and it wouldn't dissuade them. But those — you can win the Republican nomination with 10 million voters, 13 million voters. You cannot win the general election. You need 65 million voters for the general election. That's his problem.
When you take an electorate where he's alienated big chunks of it, right, African-Americans not for Trump, a huge swathe of the Hispanic community not for Trump, women, who make up more than half of the electorate — this week, we don't even talk about it, because it was so minor. He made these dismissive comments about sexual harassment. If his daughter was sexually harassed, well, she should just find another career or another job, that's the way to deal with it.
When you start alienating all these people, you are left with a shrinking pool of voters to win an election with.
And I want to say one thing about winning the election, because among the many things that — I know why the Republican Party has shivers up its spine. What put shivers up my spine with Donald Trump this week was his suggestion that, if he does lose, that the election will be rigged, because I don't think there is evidence of that. And that is not the American way of losing elections.
When Al Gore lost the election and the Supreme Court ruled against him in 2000, he issued a gracious statement about how it was the time for healing. Donald Trump in 2012 was tweeting about the need for revolution when Mitt Romney lost.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.
RUTH MARCUS: And so I'm very nervous about what could happen, not just if Donald Trump wins, but if he loses.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But, David Brooks, there presumably are some Americans who think an election like this could be rigged. Do we think that's why Donald Trump raised that?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, his campaign — I still think he's the wrong answer to a right problem, that the people who support him, some of them are — have some racist tendencies, and some sexist and some very ugliness.
But a lot of people support him for good reasons. And we shouldn't totally dismiss the support there. And he did raise $82 million over the recent period. So there is some real fervent support there. And they're people who have lost faith in the system, and they have lost faith in America, and they have lost faith in the idea that, if I do A, I will get B, that the normal chain of responsibility is working for them.
And so they — Ruth is right. They could take a look at an election defeat and decide that the whole system is rigged and their level of cynicism could go up another notch, if they're — if that is inflamed. And that's the danger that was Ruth was pointing to.
I do think there's a problem here this week — because he's not going away, because he has this base of support — for other Republicans.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.
DAVID BROOKS: If he would just go away, then they would have an option.
But I do think they can no longer sustain the position they have had, which is, I really have contempt for this Trump action, that Trump statement, and that Trump statement, but I still support the guy.
I think that's becoming much more untenable for them. And they have to think of a plan B.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And that's the question I really did want to ask both of you.
Ruth, what about that? I mean, how long can a number of these Republicans who are saying disagree with him on a number of things, but I'm still going to support him because I don't like Hillary Clinton?
RUTH MARCUS: Well, the ones who are up for reelection are in just a very exquisitely difficult situation, because there is a group of core Republican Party voters who will punish them if they divorce themselves from Trump, but there is a group of voters in the middle who will punish them if they don't divorce themselves from Trump.
So I'm thinking about somebody like Senator Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire, who — Trump is down 15 points in her state. She was down 10 points in a very close, difficult race against the governor there, Maggie Hassan, for reelection. What's a Kelly Ayotte to do?
And then you have those sort of leaders of the congressional wing, who I think eventually will come up with — and you started to see it this week — come up with a plan B, much like with Bob Dole in 1996, which is to say, OK, you don't like Trump voters, but keep us Republicans in charge to keep a check on that dangerous President Clinton who is coming in there.
JUDY WOODRUFF: In the Senate and the House.
RUTH MARCUS: In the Senate and the House.
JUDY WOODRUFF: David, I want to — I do want to turn to Hillary Clinton.
We heard Lisa Desjardins's report sort of dissecting what Hillary Clinton said today, what she said in the past about these e-mails. Otherwise, Hillary Clinton has been a pretty quiet figure over the last week or so. She's been the beneficiary of Trump's problems. But how much does this lingering set of questions around the e-mails stand to hurt her?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, her best move, given what Trump has been doing in the last week or two, is just to be boring. And she has a capacity to do that. So she's been laying low.
I do think that we're now parsing how many e-mails, where the C was on the e-mail. And Lisa laid it out, for anybody who wants to just — what exactly happened. But I do think the damage done to her, which is lingering, is just in the idea of having a separate server, that the basic fact of the situation was that she was playing outside the rules.
She has this strong distrust of the system at large, and, therefore, she's building walls around herself and her e-mails and her communication. And so the secretiveness and incommunicativeness that has surrounded her the last couple of decades is really the core of this scandal, not exactly how many servers she had or what she said at this press conference.
And that does certainly link…
JUDY WOODRUFF: Ruth, how do you see this?
RUTH MARCUS: I'm going to be harder here on Hillary Clinton than David was, because there is the original sin of not having a regular State Department e-mail and the separate server.
But then there is the second sin, or I would call it just political malpractice of her inability/refusal to come up with an honest, credible, consistent, non=-parsing explanation for what was going on here.
So, she took a bad situation, and she has consistently and almost every time she has addressed this situation, made it worse, instead of making it better. And it just goes to what has always been her biggest weakness, which is that honesty and trustworthiness. They started out with a problem, and they kept digging that hole.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, David, what kind of damage are we talking about for her? Have we already seen the maximum damage this issue could do to her? Could it grow?
DAVID BROOKS: I don't think it will grow. I think we're in the petering-down phase of it.
But she's distrusted, and she is distrusted largely. Her favorable/unfavorable is actually getting a little better. So, I think it's — people have factored in that she can lie, that she's very secretive, that she's insular, that she is not the most super likable person in the political landscape.
But, right now, it's certainly not — and it's keeping her numbers pretty low, by the way. I talked about how low Trump's numbers are in a lot of these states. Hers are significantly higher, but they're not where a Barack Obama, a Bill Clinton or George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan would be. She is still a significantly unpopular politician. She just happens to be the luckiest politician in America, running against a guy who is super unpopular.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Thirty seconds, Ruth.
RUTH MARCUS: Super unpopular and super incapable of containing himself.
So, if somebody had locked Donald Trump in a room and taken away his cell phone this week, what would we have been talking about all week? E-mails and Hillary Clinton's interviews. Instead, we were talking about the Khans and everything else.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And there may be more to talk about next week.
RUTH MARCUS: There most certainly will.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Ruth Marcus, David Brooks, have a great weekend. Thank you both.