Shields and Brooks on Trump-Cruz wife feud, ISIS terror in Brussels

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, for another look at the war against ISIS and the battles on the presidential campaign trail, the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Gentlemen, welcome to you both.

So, let's pick up from where we were in that conversation we just heard.

Mark, they did — you did have this successful capture, killing of this top ISIS leader and another one recently on the battlefield, but in the wake of these Brussels attacks, growing chorus of criticism that the Obama administration is not doing enough to go after ISIS, that you're still seeing horrible attacks like the ones in Belgium.

Where do you — how do you assess the administration?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Well, the administration has taken on ISIS, its caliphate, that is, in Syria and Iraq, and I think it's fair to say that they're in retreat.

The problem is Europe. I mean, that's a problem. It's a soft target. It's free and easy access. And these are homegrown terrorists here. And what the United States can do is to encourage and urge and push for the sharing of information.

But there is a whole inequality of quality of intelligence in those countries. There is an unwillingness, understandably. There's language difficulties, and also there is a tradition. I mean, this is a continent that has lived under both Nazism and communism, and the willingness to let authorities have access to the metadata that we have done in this country with only limited resistance is a lot stronger there.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Only so much the U.S. can do, David?

DAVID BROOKS, New York Times Columnist: Well, I think there are two issues here.

First, in Syria, I think we bear a large responsibility. I think we withdrew from Iraq too quickly and it created this tremendous vacancy there that ISIS filled. I think we were too slow to recognize what was going on in Syria in the civil war, refused to arm people, refused to take down Assad, ignored the red line and then created a vacuum which ISIS then filled there.

And so that's partly on us. The European thing — I think that has nothing to do with what happened in Brussels. The European thing, as Mark said, it's a matter of ideas and alienated cultures. I lived in Brussels for five years. This was back in the '90s.

If you went to those neighborhoods which are a lot of Muslim people live there, they were isolated, they were different. It was like leaving Brussels and entering a different country, and there was just little integration, social, cultural, economic, between those areas and the rest of the country and the rest of the city.

And that sort of thing just gestated, gestated, gestated. And then when the radical ideology found — they found a lot of alienated people, and they only have to tap a few young men to create something like this.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Some of the criticism, Mark, is that the administration has just not put enough emphasis on this. Yes, the president talks about it and, yes, there have been a number of limited troops, special operations troops, and there may be more going over, but it doesn't seem to be a priority, enough of a priority for this president.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think the president can be accused legitimately of not having recognized the threat at the outset. And I think history will not be kind to the drawing of the red line in Syria, and for the United States.

But, A, the willingness of the United States for further action and deployment of military, even an all-volunteer military, is severely limited, Judy. And let's be very frank. The organizing principle of this was the United States' invasion of Iraq and the United States' occupation of Iraq. That remains to this moment the — whether we left early, should still be there, the fact that we went in, invaded and occupied this country, and it was a tragedy and a disaster, and we have reaped that whirlwind and it remains with us.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David, even criticism this week of the optics. The president was in Cuba for this historic visit and there were some voices, well, he shouldn't have gone to the baseball game, he shouldn't have gone on to Argentina, how much does that matter?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I think those criticisms are unfounded.

The president — we have a big government. We can do a lot of things at once. If the president had skipped the baseball game and gone home, what more could he have done? He has a telephone. He can make decisions. He can meetings.

It's my basic principle that's just political point-scoring. It's my most fundamental basic principle. There's never a good reason to miss a baseball game. And so his decision to do that, I fully support that.


JUDY WOODRUFF: And this was a big one.

But, Mark…

MARK SHIELDS: I disagree. I do think…


MARK SHIELDS: I think optics do matter.

I think the president could — the baseball game was probably the most important event emotionally and nationally during his trip to Cuba. I don't think he had to be there for the wave, when the crowd stands up for that. I don't think it's necessary for him to wear sunglasses and so — he could have gone to the game and the rest.

Optics, a terrible word, do matter, and if you have any doubts about that, virtually every paper in the country, certainly The Wall Street Journal among them, featured the master as servant this week. On Holy Thursday, there was Pope Francis kissing and washing the feet of a refugee, a penniless refugee. That is a visual.

I agree with David the president can do anything anywhere he is, but if you were sitting in Brussels and worried about your family or your relatives or your neighborhood, the picture of him kind of grinning at the game, I think, was probably not helpful.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And it was striking among some of the reaction among the Republican candidates for president.

David, you had Ted Cruz saying, what we need to do is send more security into patrolling basically neighborhoods where Muslim Americans live.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I have spent the last week so repulsed by Donald Trump, I had forgotten how ugly Ted Cruz could be, but he reminded us this week.


DAVID BROOKS: As I said and as everyone says, the reason we have terrorism is not because the Prophet Mohammed came down and not because there is a religion called Islam.

MARK SHIELDS: That's right.

DAVID BROOKS: The reason we have terror is that young men are alienated and feel they can wage war and a just war against societies that are racist and xenophobic and crushing toward them.

And if you want to spread the message, a good way would be to have extra police operations directed at Muslim neighborhoods. And so Ted Cruz's idea is probably the worst idea, well, only of the day, because we have a lot in this campaign, truly terrible idea, only saved by the fact it's almost certain he doesn't actually believe it. He just wants to sound like Donald Trump.

MARK SHIELDS: I think David put his finger on it.

I would say this. It's ironic, Judy, that the Republican Party, to avoid Donald Trump, is rallying reluctantly, against their own will, around Ted Cruz. He reminded them and everybody else why they didn't like him in the first place. This is an awful, awful position.

In fact, when the Anti-Defamation League comes out and compares it to the imprisonment and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, when police Commissioner Bill Bratton in New York says he has no idea what he's talking about, there are a thousand Muslim Americans, many of them combat veterans, on the New York police force. It's just — it was — it's beyond stupid.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, that occupied a lot of the week, but something else that occupied a fair amount of time, at least became a war of words between the two leading Republican candidates, had to do with women.

And we're going to take a sidebar look at that and then come back and talk to both of you.

Ted Cruz blasted his main rival, Donald Trump, today in Wisconsin.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), Republican Presidential Candidate: Years from now, when my daughters Google this, they will read these lies.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Cruz accused Trump of being behind tabloid accusations of extramarital affairs. It was the latest in the escalating war of words over women this week between the two candidates.

It all began with this ad, a photo of Melania Trump, a former model, posing for "British GQ" 16 years ago posted on Facebook by an anti-Trump super PAC ahead of the Utah primary caucuses Tuesday. Within hours, Donald Trump tweeted a response, wrongly attributing the ad directly to Cruz's campaign, and warning him to — quote — "be careful."

DONALD TRUMP (R), Republican Presidential Candidate: Ted Cruz knowingly, in my opinion, had this article sent all over Utah, had the picture saying, is this want you want? Essentially, is this what you want for a first lady? First of all, she would be a great first lady.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A fury in the Twitterverse ensued, as Cruz hit back, defending his wife, Heidi, and calling Trump a coward.

A day later, Trump ratcheted up the war of the wives, when he retweeted an unflattering image of Mrs. Cruz. Polls show Trump's standing with women voters has worsened in recent months. According to the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, 64 percent of women say they have a strongly unfavorable reaction to him. That's 18 points higher than it was in August.

So what do we say about this? Did we ever think this was going to be the lead story out of a campaign for president of the United States?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, that's the first thing I was going to say. Are we really here? Is this really happening? Is this America? Are we a great country talking about trying to straddle the world and create opportunity in this country?

It's just mind-boggling. And we have sort of become acculturated, because this campaign has been so ugly. We have become acculturated to sleaze and unhappiness that you just want to shower from every 15 minutes.

The Trump comparison of the looks of the wives, he does have, over the course of his life, a consistent misogynistic view of women as arm candy, as pieces of meat. It's a consistent attitude toward women which is the stuff of a diseased adolescent.

And so we have seen a bit of that show up again. But if you go back over his past, calling into radio shows bragging about his affairs, talking about his sex life in public, he is childish in his immaturity. And his — even his misogyny is a childish misogyny.

And that's why I do not think Republicans, standard Republicans, can say, yes, I'm going to vote for this guy because he's our nominee. He's of a different order than your normal candidate. And this whole week is just another reminder of that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Could this finally be something, Mark, that really does hurt Donald Trump?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, we have predicted nine of his last eight stumbles, and they have yet to all materialize.

Judy, whoever did that political action committee ad has to be thrilled, because it elicited from Donald Trump the worst of his personality, the bullying, the misogyny, as David has said, brought it out.

But I think it's more than childish and juvenile and adolescent. There is something creepy about this, his attitude toward women. Take Megyn Kelly of FOX News, who he just has an absolute obsession about, and he's constantly writing about, you know, how awful she is and no talent and this and that. It's an obsession.

And I don't know if he's just never had women — strong, independent women in his life who have spoken to him. It doesn't seem that way. His daughter…

JUDY WOODRUFF: She has asked him tough questions in that debate.

MARK SHIELDS: She just asked him tough questions and was totally fair, by everybody else's standards.

But there is something really creepy about this that's beyond locker room. It's almost like a stalker, and I just — I thought this was — it actually did the impossible. It made Ted Cruz look like an honorable, tough guy on the right side of an issue.

And, you know, I just — I just marvel at it. And I don't know at what point it becomes, you know — politically, he's still leading. And I would have to say he's the overwhelming favorite for the Republican nomination.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And what was striking is that this ad, David, which presumably had very limited circulation, might have gone almost unnoticed if it hadn't have been for what he — how he reacted to it.

DAVID BROOKS: The odd thing about his whole career and his whole language, his whole world view is there is no room for love in it.

You get a sense of a man who received no love, can give no love, so his relationship with women, it has no love in it. It's trophy. And his relationship toward the world is one of competition and beating, and as if he's going to win by competition what other people get by love.

And so you really are seeing someone who just has an odd psychology unleavened by kindness and charity, but where it's all winners and losers, beating and being beat. And that's part of the authoritarian personality, but it comes out in his attitude towards women.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And just 10 seconds.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, I would say, in his defense, which I didn't think I would use that phrase, his relationship with his children seems quite good, with his daughter and with his sons. And they seem like — they don't seem like malevolent people at all. They seem like they're very benevolent people.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Makes you wonder what their reaction is to all of this.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark Shields, David Brooks, we thank you.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.

DAVID BROOKS: Thank you.