Shields and Gerson on Paris terror attack, Trump targeting Carson

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, first, this week, we have seen shifts in the 2016 race for president in both parties.

We start with the left.

Political director Lisa Desjardins reports on the next phase for Bernie Sanders.

LISA DESJARDINS: The summer for Sanders was a wave of big crowds, setting 2016 turnout records for both parties so far, 24,000 people in Boston, 27,000 in L.A., and 28,000 in Portland, Oregon, according to Sanders' campaign.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, Democratic Presidential Candidate: Whoa.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Unbelievable.

LISA DESJARDINS: But his headlines now center on a different set of numbers, the polling. Let's take a look at Iowa. In September, Sanders was on the rise, but he had ups and downs since then.

Meantime, Hillary Clinton is pulling far ahead, now by more than 20 points, according to poll averages there. And in New Hampshire, right next door to Sanders' home state of Vermont, he had a 10-point lead in September. Now he and Clinton are virtually tied. As Sanders' numbers shift, no accident, so does his strategy.

TAD DEVINE, Senior Strategist, Sanders Presidential Campaign: It's true we have entered a different phase of the campaign.

LISA DESJARDINS: That's Tad Devine, the strategist behind Bernie Sanders' campaign. He says the campaign now needs to get beyond the big crowd energy.

TAD DEVINE: We have got to balance it with the need particularly in the early states for him to be accessible, to talk directly to voters and to deliver his message to people who we can persuade.

LISA DESJARDINS: One way to do that? Go traditional, spend money on TV. This month, Sanders launched his first TV ad campaign, $2 million on this 60-second spot, including a biographical touch that is not in his stump speech.

NARRATOR: The son of a Polish immigrant who grew up in a Brooklyn tenement

LISA DESJARDINS: The ad is airing in Iowa and New Hampshire. And it came three months after Clinton launched her first TV spots there. And speaking of Clinton, Sanders is doing more of that, too. For months, he was the no-attacks candidate.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: This campaign I am running, let me reiterate, is not against Hillary Clinton or anybody else.

LISA DESJARDINS: He even avoided take a shot in their October debate.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: But I think the secretary is right, and that is that the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn e-mails.

LISA DESJARDINS: Now he's getting more aggressive and more critical.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: There are real differences between Hillary Clinton and myself. In terms of disagreeing with Hillary Clinton, yes, I do, on many, many issues.

LISA DESJARDINS: As his campaign tries to find the right formula, some political observers points out Sanders has two goals, the White House and his agenda.

Lara Brown is a professor at George Washington University.

LARA BROWN, Associate Professor, George Washington University: The real win for Sanders is not that he personally wins. It's that his ideas become more accepted and more kind of diffused across the Democratic Party. He really wants voters to appreciate who he is, what he believes and why it is important for them.

LISA DESJARDINS: Sanders has two-and-a-half months before the Iowa caucuses, when voters will weigh in on if his strategy is working.

For the PBS NewsHour, I'm Lisa Desjardins.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, Republican Donald Trump made news last night for a 95-minute-long speech in Fort Dodge, Iowa, that was full of attacks, including, apparently, on voters.

Here are a few excerpts, starting with Trump's words about rival Ben Carson and Carson's claim that he once tried to stab someone when he was 14 years old, but hit the person's belt.

DONALD TRUMP, Republican Presidential Candidate: I have a belt.

(LAUGHTER)

DONALD TRUMP: Somebody hits me with a belt, it is going in, because the belt moves this way. It moves this way. It moves that way.

(LAUGHTER)

DONALD TRUMP: He hit the belt buckle.

Carson's an enigma. He wrote a book. And he's doing great in Iowa. He's second in the polls. With all these professional politicians, I'm first, Carson's second. And I don't understand it. I really don't understand it.

I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me. I would bomb the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out of 'em.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

DONALD TRUMP: She's going to run. She's going to be the candidate, and she's going to lose.

How stupid are the people of Iowa? How stupid are the people of the country to believe this crap?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Before we turn to Mark Shields and Michael Gerson for comments on what is happening in the campaign, we want to bring you a quick update on the situation in Paris.

There are reports now of more gunfire and five explosions at the music hall, the concert hall where police say hostages are being held.

And let's turn now, on that note, to Mark Shields and Michael Gerson. David Brooks is away tonight.

So, gentlemen, this is a fast-moving story. Still very much that we — we know President Hollande has closed the borders of France. He has called an emergency.

And, Mark, it's a reminder that even though foreign policy, defense policy has not been front and center, I think, in the minds of most Americans, something can change in an instant.

MARK SHIELDS: No question, Judy.

And there is a sense of shock, but an increasing awareness of vulnerability. And I think that's what — the reaction and understandable reaction is of most people, beyond the obvious sympathy and sense of outrage that the people have done it and the sympathy for those who are suffering. But it does remind us of our vulnerability.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And it's clear at this point that President Obama and administration officials have said, Michael, there is no indication of an immediate threat to the United States, but, of course, that's where your thinking goes.

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, this is one of the strategies of al-Qaida-like organizations, spectacular attacks designed to demoralize countries.

This was true of the U.S., true in Britain in 2005 with the underground attack, and it's true in France now. But it doesn't work. It actually hardens resolve. And, you know, France is playing an important role in the Middle East. I think that they're not going to be deterred from that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we will continue to monitor it, but it's disturbing, at the very least, horrific as the scale of it unfolds.

So, let's turn back to the campaign, Mark. We just heard a little bit of what Donald Trump had to say in that really surprising speech that he made last night in Iowa.

What are we to make of this? He went after Ben Carson. He went after many of the other candidates, used some very, very tough language.

MARK SHIELDS: Judy, I don't know what to make of it. In 48 hours, he went from the Milwaukee debate, where he was subdued, repetitive, uninteresting, I mean, not Donald Trump at all, the man who had generated such great audience numbers for these debates, to a screed last night, the 95-minute screed in Fort Dodge, Iowa, in which he berated, savaged, if you would, Dr. Carson, yes, but every other candidate, George Pataki, Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, John Kasich, everybody basically except Ted Cruz, who was spared.

But, for the first time, you had a sense that he wasn't just talking about just perceived shortcomings, whether it was low-energy or sweat glands of a candidate, and people could kind of giggle, sort of a mischievous giggle. I think he made us — watching it, I think he made people uncomfortable in that room, and especially going after Ben Carson, who is the best liked and the most popular.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean based on the reactions of people…

MARK SHIELDS: Of people there and of the reports that I have read and talking to people who were there.

I do think that there was an uncomfortableness about it. And I don't know which Donald, Donald Trump it's going to be, whether it's the Milwaukee Donald Trump, which was sort of — I don't know, sort of "presidential" — in quotes — that he didn't go after anybody. Everyone was elegant. The questioners were elegant. It was an elegant evening — to this person who really savaged and basically accused Ben Carson of being a psychopath — pathological, I guess. Excuse me.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Michael, what do you make of it?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, there are a lot of problems with our presidential nomination process, but it does over time reveal candidates, reveals them under pressure.

And this was very revealing. I think that people have a democratic duty to watch what took place in those 95 minutes, as much of it as you can stomach. You know, Trump was vile and vulgar and vicious and morally deformed.

This was an unbelievable performance. And, you know, I think conservatives just have to have a tough time defending this. If this isn't the line, there is no line. This was really the worst type of politics. And, you know, we will see what the effect is. He has jumped the shark so many times and avoided the consequences, but this really struck me as something different.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is it worth even speculating about why, or is it just — there is just no way to know, I mean, why he would do that?

MARK SHIELDS: I don't — I don't pretend to know. I really don't.

I mean, it appears that Ben Carson bothers him, and Ben — the fact that Ben Carson is ahead of him in certain polls.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The two are leading in the polls in Iowa right now.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. He — I think Ben Carson is ahead in Iowa, and — at least in the Des Moines Register poll, which is sort of the gold — it is the gold standard.

And I think that's part of Donald Trump's introduction of himself every time: I'm leading in all the polls.

And I don't know if he's bothered by that or just what it is. But…

MICHAEL GERSON: And Trump's biggest strategic failure in this speech, he actually attacked Carson's religious conversion.

So, this isn't the way things happen. That is a central tenant of evangelical belief, the possibility of redemption and conversion. I once was blind, and now I see.

By attacking that, in a very religious state, Iowa, I can't imagine what reason there could be. This was religious — this was religious illiteracy. It also really showed a hostility toward the evangelical tradition. That — I can't explain that at all.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let's turn to — we just heard that really good report from Lisa Desjardins, our political director, about Bernie Sanders.

And there seems to be, Mark — he's trying a different tack here. He wants — he — is it that he doesn't feel his message is getting across? What is — what do you think is behind this?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, Bernie Sanders' problem has always been the same.

I mean, Hillary Clinton, while she's a polarizing figure nationally and has a ceiling, as pollsters say, of how far — how she could go, is enormously popular with Democratic primary voters and she has a big national lead.

Bernie Sanders' best bet has — I think has always been a two-state strategy. It's necessity being the mother of invention here, but to compete where he can compete, where the resources would be of some parity, in Iowa and New Hampshire, where he can have a chance, and to make the case, Judy, basically not against her, but a case of, whom do you believe, whom do you trust? I mean, who do you think the 1 percent are most against? Who stood up on the war in Iraq? Who stood up against Wall Street when they were…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Reminding people.

MARK SHIELDS: Reminding people that he is — who is really against the trade pacts that have cost Americans jobs?

I think that is probably his best strategy, and to make it a case of — that he's not been a candidate of convenience, that he's been a candidate of conviction.

MICHAEL GERSON: Right. It's also a reflection that a couple — in the last couple of weeks, Hillary Clinton has essentially sewn up the Democratic nomination.

When Joe Biden didn't get in, when she did very well in her — in the hearings…

MARK SHIELDS: Benghazi.

MICHAEL GERSON: … when she did very well in the debates, when her poll numbers stabilized and began to go up.

She is a commanding position right now. This is a reaction to that. I don't think that the — Hillary Clinton's campaign is afraid of Sanders. I think it's afraid of the James Comey, the FBI director, because that's where the real threat comes from. That looks like an expanding investigation over the possibility of, you know, hindering an investigation. And that, I think, is the real source of concern.

MARK SHIELDS: I will just add one thing, Judy.

And that is if, in fact, Bernie Sanders were to win Iowa and New Hampshire, that changes the dynamic of the race. The inevitability of Hillary Clinton or anybody who just has taken a beating or a licking in the first two contests, the dynamic changes, and that sense of inevitability is frayed, if not eroded.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And that's where he's really — he's putting a lot of that focus right now.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, he is.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I want to ask you both about the — really what I think — one of the things that emerged from that debate that you talked about, Michael, Republican debate this week, and that is on immigration.

You saw a clear split between those Republicans who were arguing, like Donald Trump, do everything you can to keep — to get those who are here, undocumented immigrants, out of the country, and those in the party who are saying, wait a minute, that doesn't make sense.

MICHAEL GERSON: Yes, I think, clearly, for Republicans, in order to have a chance going forward, not just this election, but future elections, because of the nature of demographics, the candidate that comes out of this is going to have to repudiate the idea of mass deportations.

They're going to have to positively distance themselves from this and win. So it's someone like Jeb or someone like Rubio or someone like John Kasich that can play that role.

The question is whether the forces of really nativism within the party can defeat them, can make it impossible for a viable Republican to get the nomination. And I think that's the main issue we're going to see.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, are you — but are we now seeing a situation where if you're a moderate Republican and you say just enough to appeal to Hispanic voters, that maybe Republicans have a shot, have a chance on the immigration issue that we didn't see?

MARK SHIELDS: This, to me, is suicidal on the part of Republicans.

I mean, we have an increasingly minority America. The Republican primary electorate, Judy, is 6 percent minority and 92 percent white. The general election in the country in 2012 was 72 percent white — it could be down to 71, maybe 70 — and 26 percent minority. That's Latino and African-American, Asian, and others.

And I just think that they're playing to an older, whiter, more conservative electorate, the Republican candidates are. And I will say this. If immigration, that is opposition to immigration, categorical, just outspoken, untrammeled opposition to immigration of all sorts, becomes the litmus test of who wins, the Republicans will lose.

And I don't — one place I just disagree with Michael is, I think Marco Rubio really faces a test. He's trying to have a — keep a foot…

MICHAEL GERSON: He's straddling…

MARK SHIELDS: He's keeping a foot, because he was…

(CROSSTALK)

MICHAEL GERSON: But he was burned in that process.

MARK SHIELDS: I agree.

But I thought Ted Cruz had the best night when he made the economic populist argument. If those were lawyers and bankers and journalists coming across the Rio Grande, there would be a concern they would go out and have our jobs taken.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark Shields, Michael Gerson, we thank you both.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.

MICHAEL GERSON: Thank you.