Shields and Brooks on Super Tuesday

JUDY WOODRUFF: And it would not be Super Tuesday without the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Gentlemen, welcome.

No comments about hair or anything else we saw or heard in the last few minutes.


MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Wow. Wow.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David, we have heard about past Super Tuesdays. What are you looking for tonight?

DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times: Well, Trump is the story.

I mean, Trump is one of the biggest political stories of our lifetime. And so the fact that — well, I'm supposed to be objective, but a bigoted buffoon may get the nomination of a major party is sort of a big deal. Everywhere I go all around the world, people are fixated on this fact.

And so, if he does what the polls suggest, that's just a major event in American political life, if he takes this gigantic step toward the nomination of a major party.

GWEN IFILL: Mark, I wonder if — we just heard the history of this and how we came to this point.

I wonder if that has something to do with where we are now. By creating a Super Tuesday that was supposed to come up with a…

MARK SHIELDS: Moderate, yes.

GWEN IFILL: … predetermined result, that it's backfiring now.

MARK SHIELDS: I think it has.

I mean, unintended consequences, the law thereof. It was organized by Chuck Robb, the former governor of Virginia, son-in-law of President Johnson, to really stop the Democratic Party from drifting to the left. And as William described beautifully in that piece, Jesse Jackson nearly showed how it could be done and became the model.

He upset the apple cart when Michael Dukakis in 1988 was supposed — was able to run what they called a four-corners strategy by winning Florida and Texas and the state of Washington and the Northeast as well.

But it — no, it has become — the difference between Super Tuesday and the events that precede it is that all of Iowa, New Hampshire, even Nevada, they see the candidates up close. They can touch them. They can listen to them.

Now it's strictly wholesale politics. It's what voters conclude from what they read, see, sense, communicate about them. And I think that's — Donald Trump has shown depth and strength in three different states, in winning New Hampshire and Nevada and South Carolina.

He's showing a breadth now that is really rather remarkable. If he carries Alabama and Massachusetts in the same day, it's been a long time.


MARK SHIELDS: Mitt Romney didn't do as well on Super Tuesday, nor did John McCain, the last two nominees, as it appears that Donald Trump is poised to do.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, David, can we really blame the calendar and Super Tuesday, because — is the argument that if Donald Trump had more time, he wouldn't be as appealing as he is?

DAVID BROOKS: I have been saying that for eight months, so, you know, I — no, he's…


GWEN IFILL: And you have not been proved right yet.


DAVID BROOKS: It's coming, sometimes in eight years, when he's out of office.

No, it's — I don't — you know, he's just dominant. He's dominant with moderate voters. He's dominant with downscale voters. But he's pretty dominant with upscale voters. He's beating people among Latino voters, at least those folks who vote in Republican primaries.

He's just amazingly dominant. And it's fascinating. The whole world is — whole media world is hating on him, John Oliver and everybody else. It's having no effect, no measurable effect.

GWEN IFILL: I want to just piggyback back to that, because it seems interesting to me, David, that Republicans are becoming more conservative, Democrats, according to exit polls we have already seen tonight, are becoming more liberal, and the twain isn't meeting here at all.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. No, that's true, though Trump shows that there was more ideological flexibility in the Republican Party than we would have thought.

Here's a guy who is praising Planned Parenthood, whose policies on health care are almost Sanders-esque sometimes. And so all the orthodox candidates, Bobby Jindal, gone.


DAVID BROOKS: And Ted Cruz is now the closest thing.

So, the couple races that I think are interesting to look at, obviously Texas. If Cruz loses, he's gone. But if he wins, he hangs around. Georgia and Virginia, maybe there is some hope there we see somebody with a strong second-place finish, but, mostly, if the polls are anywhere close to correct, we're just looking for strong second-place finishes in a couple…

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, Mark, the question people keep asking is, what else could Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio or any one of the other candidates who dropped out on the Republican side, what could they have done to have nicked or stopped or slowed down Donald Trump?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, they could have engaged him.

I mean, let's be very blunt about it. Jeb Bush, now departed from the race, was the only candidate who showed really any courage, any directness in confronting Donald Trump and was aggressive.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But look where it got him.

MARK SHIELDS: Now, Rubio did, in an act of desperation, very well. Don't get me wrong. He did a Donald Trump on Donald Trump, is what he did.

I mean, when we start to get into the size of hands as a question of presidents' qualifications, I mean, then we have really descended. And we have followed — we can't say that Donald Trump has not elevated the discourse in this.

So, no, I just — I think they gave him a ride. The rest of them were sniping at each other. Cruz was on Rubio. And they were back and forth, and at Jeb and so forth. But, I mean, nobody other than Jeb Bush took him on, and now the questions have been raised, whether it's Trump University. It's all been out there, Judy. That is not new information.

If somebody — the oppo research of every campaign had it, but no one wanted to bell the cat or beard the lion or whatever you want to — however you want to describe it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Our friend Amy Walter was here last night. And among other things, she said that if Donald Trump does as well as people expect him to tonight, it will be an implosion for the Republican Party, it will no longer be what it ever was.

Do you agree with her on that, David?


I mean, we have never seen a candidate at all like him. He's not a conservative by any principle. He's not a policy wonk. He has no policies and proposals. He has — and he has, frankly, racial attitudes that remind you of the ugliness of an earlier era of a different country.

And so that's just a gigantic shift for a party. And people are upset with the establishment. I realize that. But that doesn't mean the authoritarian solution is the solution. But there has been a rising sense of authoritarianism in the American people, which has been measurable in polls for a number of years, and now it's finding its political efflorescence.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let's talk about the Democrats for a minute, Mark.

Hillary Clinton is looking like she's in pretty solid shape. But Bernie Sanders says he's not walking away. He says he's staying in this race until the end. He's been running around the country campaigning everywhere. What does he represent for her at this point?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, he represents her hope and salvation.

I mean, Hillary Clinton was a great candidate in 2008, when she was beaten, when she was an underdog, fighting back against Barack Obama, who was headed as a steamroller toward the nomination. That brought out the — the Clintons do not do well in political prosperity. They don't do well when unchallenged.


MARK SHIELDS: And she became a better candidate after she lost New Hampshire. Bernie Sanders raised $40 million last month.


MARK SHIELDS: I mean, that is phenomenal. That is almost three times as much as Hillary Clinton made — raised in the month of January.

I mean, so he represents, I think, a hope for her, in the sense that there's a competition that continues. If he wins a couple of states tonight, which they're holding out hope that they can, he's certainly alive. He's got an intense and passionate following. And I think it's — she's now referring to him again as her esteemed colleague, which is an indication she thinks…

GWEN IFILL: Because she's attacking Trump instead.

MARK SHIELDS: But the reason she has got this big league is because of the Democratic Party's equivalent of the House of Lords, which is what the superdelegates are.

I mean, if you were once the Democratic leader of the city council in Minneapolis, you're going to be a super delegate, I mean, for no other deserving reason. And so she's got an enormous lead among them, so leading among the House of Lords. And the question is, can you win primaries? And she's done pretty darn well recently.

GWEN IFILL: Are Democrats hoping for and are Republicans fearing the potential for a third party, that Republicans say, we can't have this? We have had some leaders say that already. "I will not vote for either of them."

And then finding someone to anoint and come to the rescue — and Democrats, of course, would love that.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I still don't think it would happen. Obviously, Michael Bloomberg is the obvious case.

But the states are basically partisan. The parties — people are basically locked into their party ideology, even if Donald Trump is the nominee. So the idea that Mike Bloomberg or some third-party candidate…

GWEN IFILL: Mitt Romney?

DAVID BROOKS: That would be a total implosion for the Republican Party.


DAVID BROOKS: I doubt even he could carry any states, and then, even if they did, it would just get thrown to the House of Representatives. And a body made of entirely of Republicans and Democrats is not going to elect a non-Republican or Democrat. So, I think there will be no third party.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But isn't it not really clear which part of the Republican Party Donald Trump doesn't represent?

Because they're — you hear very conservative Republicans saying they don't like him, and you hear more moderate Republicans saying they don't like him. So, who do you run to satisfy the rest of the Republican Party?

MARK SHIELDS: I — I think that's a very legitimate question.

He is — whatever else he is, he's his own man. He walks where he chooses to walk. He doesn't truckle before any particular constituency in the Republican Party. I don't care who it is. So, in that sense, it's a strength.

The problem that Republicans, the sense of panic among Republicans in Washington is that he will be a disaster in November and take with him the Republican control of the Senate and a lot of — put in jeopardy a lot of moderate Republican House seats.

And so that's what they're anxious about. They think that this is not a man who is going to win a majority of the country in a presidential election in November.

GWEN IFILL: You know, winners or losers aside, how would you guys assess the tone of this campaign in the last couple of weeks?

It's certainly nothing like we have ever seen, and I wonder if you think that's for good or ill.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we won't let you repeat anything you have heard.

GWEN IFILL: Nothing.



It's for ill. The Democratic side is fine. It's a normal race. You have sort of moderate vs. a lefty. But the way the Republicans are going after each other and the screaming, to me, some — there was a pivot point, which is why I think this is such a big moment in American politics. It was the first debate.

Donald Trump had already attacked Carly Fiorina for the way she looked. He then turned to Rand Paul and said, "I'm not going to attack him for the way he looks, but there's a lot to work with there."


DAVID BROOKS: And so, at that moment, a lot of taboos just crumbled and dissolved. And we entered a new world.

As I have said on this program before, Donald Trump spent 25 years in the world of professional wrestling, and he just brought that style. And it happened to play. This is not about policy. This is about manners. He was against the manners that we have assumed to be the manners of the public discourse. And he's dissolved them all. And it's paid off for him so far.

GWEN IFILL: And, in the end, it wasn't just him doing it.

DAVID BROOKS: Oh, absolutely. People had to go there.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Rubio followed him right down that path.


MARK SHIELDS: Rubio got bigger crowds and more enthusiasm, a bigger reaction when he started doing it, too.

I would compare it to the impeachment, the language. You almost had to get the children out of the room when the news came on in impeachment.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean the Bill Clinton…

MARK SHIELDS: Bill Clinton's impeachment and all the surrounding events and testimony there.

But that was mercifully over. You know, it happened, and then it was resolved. And then we didn't have — this is heroin in the bloodstream, I mean, because politics is the most imitative of all human activities, with the possible exception of political journalism.


MARK SHIELDS: And, you know, people win elections. And if you used a blue bumper sticker to win, my goodness, I'm going to use a blue bumper sticker.

And this is going to be it. Donald Trump is going to be — you know, you steal a hot stove and go back to the smoke, you're a child molester, you're whatever else, I mean, he's just kind of taken all standards and removed them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And it's working.

MARK SHIELDS: And it's working. I mean, that's it. That's why I say it's like success is emulated.


Well, Mark Shields, David Brooks, we will be talking to you and watching you, I don't know, eat your words or whatever.


GWEN IFILL: Thank you.

Tune in tonight for more Shields and Brooks, as I just said, plus the latest results this Super Tuesday. We will have special PBS "NewsHour" coverage at 11:00 p.m. Eastern.