Shields and Brooks on the danger of our ideological divide
JUDY WOODRUFF: But, first, for the second time this week, we get the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields, and New York Times columnist David Brooks, who's joining us tonight from Houston.
And it's so exciting. We get to see you twice this week.
MARK SHIELDS: Right.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The first time, Mark, of course was after Wednesday night's debate, the final debate between these presidential candidates. What has changed since then?
MARK SHIELDS: I think the third debate, Judy, I think there was an awareness Donald Trump is not an unintelligent man. And he understood, I think, two things after the debates, A, that Hillary Clinton had beaten him in three debates.
She was better prepared. She outflanked him tactically. She got him to go for the bait on things like choked when meeting with the president of Mexico. And also there has to be the understanding that this was — because he was trailing, has been trailing in the polls, this was the last great chance where two campaigns collide, they're on the same stage, he could challenge, change the terms of the debate. He didn't.
And he, I think, almost as a consolation, has tried to divert the debate that he's losing to a discussion, I mean, a reckless and dangerous discussion, about the legitimacy of the American elections, something that's never been challenged before by any major party candidate.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Where do you see things right now, David?
DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I do think there is an acceptance, I don't know if in Donald Trump's brain, but certainly in the Republican Party, about the fact that he's going to lose, or the likelihood that he's going to lose.
And the question becomes, how do people react to that? Two weeks ago, I was in Idaho, and I ran into a guy who said, well, obviously Trump is going to win because everybody I know is voting for him. And I tried to persuade — argue with this guy, well, if you look at the polls, he is actually not leading.
And this guy just wouldn't accept that. That was not part of his lived reality. And you got the sense a guy like that, if Trump does lose, will be very angry and disbelieving and may be sensitive to the idea that the election was rigged.
Yesterday, I was in Mississippi. And there, there was a quietude, a passivity. I don't know all the stages of grief, but acceptance is one of them. And there was a level of acceptance in a lot of the folks I spoke to there. I suspect that the latter group is the larger part and that, even if he does protest the election in some way, there will be some acceptance that he lost fair and square.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, how much fallout is there over Trump's unwillingness to say that he will accept the results of the election, whatever they are?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think, first of all, Judy, it puts other Republican candidates in a terrible position.
I mean, you have noticed the parade, the cavalcade of Republicans attesting to their belief in the ballot box, the belief in legitimacy and validity of American elections. Republicans are on the ballot on November 8. They're going to win or lose by 100 votes or 200 votes in some cases. Do they want the legitimacy of that election tested?
So, I think, in that sense — but just enlarging upon what David — the point David made, it's not restricted to the Trump people who don't believe. There are Democrats who don't believe that — there is a cleavage and a divide in this country like I have never seen before.
If you're on the other side from me, you're not simply wrong or ill-informed or mistaken. We don't share the same country, the same values. You may not be the same kind of an American I am.
I think it's really dangerous and it's an enormous challenge for the next president.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, David, you're seeing that out there on the trail, if you will, where you have been traveling around the country.
I want to ask you, though, about Trump's continued, I don't know — how do you describe the state he's in? He goes to the Al Smith Dinner in New York City last night. This gets a lot of coverage today, where he — instead of doing the sort of self-deprecating jokes that people traditionally do, he really continues to go hard after Hillary Clinton.
Does it matter at this point that he's still angry?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, angry is what he does.
I have to say, I read all the coverage, expecting to be appalled by his speech and cheered by Clinton's. I thought they were both pretty bad. I thought they were both a little too harsh.
His was worse, but hers wasn't funny or particularly well-delivered. So, it's going to be a dreary couple of years of comedy acts, no matter who is elected.
I do think that his attacks, the line that she hates Catholics, is just tone-deaf and it's just inner bitterness that is coming to the surface in unattractive ways. And I do think, starting with the — not only starting, but continuing with the claim that he won't accept the — automatically the results of the election does fundamentally undermine the etiquette we have built up in our society.
Our system is not only based on rules, but a series of self-restraints that we won't be as barbaric as we could be in competing for power because we know if we're all barbaric as we could be, the whole country and the whole society falls apart.
And my critique with conservatives who say, well, I really hate the guy, but I need to vote for him because of the Supreme Court, the problem is that the moral foundation of the society, the way we interact with each other is more fundamental than the Supreme Court.
And if that gets polluted and that gets destroyed by somebody who's just brutalistic and savage, then it doesn't matter who's on the Supreme Court because we have lost our country. And so I think their argument that the Supreme Court is worth it is basically the wrong argument when he's behaving this way.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Pick up on that, Mark.
MARK SHIELDS: Sure.
No, the Al Smith Dinner, first of all, it's a marvelous occasion. It's really where people, candidates do come. And, Judy, you have covered enough campaigns. One of the first things every press secretary assures you is, the boss has a wonderful sense of humor, because not to have a sense of humor is considered flagrantly un-American.
And I remember George W. Bush at that dinner in 2000 standing up and saying, look at this audience, designer dresses and white tie and tails, the haves and the have-mores. Some people call you the elite. I call you my base.
So, he was laughing at himself that he was the candidate of the well-off or whatever else. And I think Trump just missed this completely. But I agree with David that there was too much of an edge even in Clinton's remarks. But Trump just missed the whole thing, and it was — it's a tone-deafness that's — it's unsettling.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let's talk a little bit, Mark and David, about what Hillary Clinton is saying out on the trail.
She isn't hitting as many campaign stops as he is, but, David, we see today she is talking to voters about — she is saying things like, think about the future of the country. What sort of future do you want, what sort of country do you want? She said at one point, you live your life. I will do the worrying.
Does it sound like she's already winding this thing down?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, there is a lot of let's go for the landslide talk out of the Democratic Party, which a normal — the normal rules of campaigning, that's a no-no.
You want your people to come out. You don't want them to think, oh, we got this one in the bag. And so they may be trying to run up the score just to renounce the whole idea of the Trump idea. I get that.
But it's come out in the WikiLeaks. And it's been evident. And Mark and I have been talking about it at each debate. It's not clear to people outside the campaign and even, as we learned from WikiLeaks, inside the campaign, what the core passion is.
What are — the core, animating thing that she would go to the mat for? And I still think that's true. And in her rallies this week, it's still evident that she doesn't have a core rally, except for denying Donald Trump — a core passion, except denying Donald Trump the presidency.
I hope she finishes with something, because, in the likelihood that she wins, something to coast off of to sort of give herself a sense of priorities for the next few months and then the first 100 days.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You know, Mark, that's a critique that you and David have been making for some time.
MARK SHIELDS: Repetitively.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Competitively. You have been making it repetitively, competitively.
MARK SHIELDS: I have anyway. David makes it freshly.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But some version of it, you both have been critical of her for not having a theme to her campaign.
Do you just at this point assume we're not going to hear it, or…
MARK SHIELDS: Yes, I don't think it's there. I don't think the lift of a driving dream or whatever, the Obama lift, the Reagan lift, I just don't — I don't think it's there.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Stronger together doesn't…
MARK SHIELDS: Stronger together is, I think, a preposition and a comparative adjective, but it's not really an action verb or what it is.
I do think it makes sense for the Democrats to — that Trump has done a favor for them as far as turnout, because there isn't that kind of enthusiasm and passion for her candidacy. And by his question of legitimacy, the idea that your vote does count, that it does matter, because, if it's close, he's going to raise questions about it.
So I think, in a strange way, he's become the turnout agent for Democratic voting on November 8 by his questioning of the legitimacy and saying he's going to challenge whether — the constitutionality of the vote. So I think, in that sense, it works.
But I don't think we're going to get that — not going to take us to the top of the mountain.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, is he doing her that favor?
JUDY WOODRUFF: Go ahead. Go ahead, David.
DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I would say I ran into a guy in Louisiana, in New Orleans, because I'm going to the fun places, too.
And he said he was going to vote for neither of the candidates, just because he was so appalled, until that Trump reference to not respecting the election results. And then he decided to go for Clinton, because he said, listen, this guy's got to lose badly. We have got to at least defend that principle.
And so I do think that what he said sort of over — did overshadow everything he said in the debate and will drive up some of Clinton's margins potentially.
JUDY WOODRUFF: There is so much talk in this country about how divided the country is still going to be, Mark, after this election.
Is there anything these candidates can do, either the candidates at the top of the ticket, Paul Ryan, or any of the other candidates can do to begin to address that, or do you just wait until the election is over and hope it works out?
MARK SHIELDS: You hope that there will be a sense of resolution.
I think Democrats ought to be concerned, Judy, that the party, in this election, has become almost prideful about the college-educated vote that it's getting, the support that Hillary Clinton is getting against Donald Trump.
And, understandably, white working-class voters or working-class voters have felt abandoned, have felt, in many senses, disparaged by the political leadership of the country. And they have been the core historically of the Democratic Party, whether it's Norma Rae or Joe Hill or the great stories of fighting for the underdog.
And I think the Democrats, I would hope that Hillary Clinton and the Democratic leadership wouldn't be quite as smug about saying, oh, we have got the college-educated, aren't we something, and understand that the anger and the sense of outrage and hurt that these people are feeling, many of whom are supporting Donald Trump, is legitimate and real.
And they feel abandoned by the Democratic Party, by Washington and certainly hurt by Wall Street.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, David, no matter what the outcome, the Democrats are due for some soul-searching, along with the Republicans?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, everybody.
I mean, I certainly hear a lot of people say that Trump not only incited some bad things. He also exposed some things. He exposed pain in the country that a lot of us didn't have the full extent of, some of the divisions and chasms in the country.
And so that's been an education which Donald Trump has given us, to his credit. And, secondly — and maybe it's just what people say to me, but I hear a lot of desire for a snap-back, that we have had so much vulgarity, so much throwing away of any standards of decency, that there has been a lot of people coming forward and say, no, let's — on matters of how we talk to each other, on matters how we respect each other and relate to each other, let's not only stop doing this, let's snap back and address the problems that we have all been suffering under during this election campaign.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Wouldn't that be a welcome thing?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, David, the coarsening of the culture didn't begin with Donald Trump. He's accelerated it, but it did not — we have coarsened our country over the last generation.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you both.