Shields and Gerson on the 2005 Trump tape, Russian hacking and the upcoming debate

Politics

JUDY WOODRUFF: It's also the moment we turn to the analysis of Shields and Gerson. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson. David Brooks is away.

Gentlemen, welcome.

So, there was a lot of news that we learned about late this afternoon that has to do with this campaign.

But, Mark, I do want to start quickly with a question about Georgia. The very fact — and you heard to some of the voters we talked to — the very fact that a state that Mitt Romney won by eight points four years ago, where it's close — I mean, it's still uphill for Hillary Clinton, but it's close because of what we talked about.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

No, it is. Defined — the interviews defined the enthusiasm gap. It isn't just on one side. It's on both sides. There's minimal excitement. And, for Hillary Clinton, I think what came through in your piece is, it's not a question of the percentage of the African-American vote, in addition trying to get 30 percent of the white vote, but it's numbers.

She could get high percentages, but if you don't get numbers in the turnout — but the hope, obviously, is that Georgia can move eventually, if not this time, into the category of Virginia, North Carolina, states that have changed, Colorado and Nevada.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Michael.

MICHAEL GERSON: Yes.

I think that the Republican fear is exactly the Virginia example. When Barack Obama won it in his first term, it was the first time Virginia had gone Democratic since 1964.

MARK SHIELDS: That's right.

MICHAEL GERSON: And now it's not even close. It's because — Hillary Clinton is ahead by about eight points in Virginia.

The state has gotten more diverse, more Hispanics and Asians, more college-educated people. It's gone in a certain direction that I think Republicans fear for a couple of these states that region.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, as we said at the outset, there's been a blizzard of news late this afternoon, Mark, starting with the Obama administration naming Russia, saying high officials in Russia were behind these hacks against the Democratic Party and other Democratic figures.

Then you had WikiLeaks coming out soon after with information about John Podesta, who is Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, and some e-mailed exchanges over nuclear energy, and then the Washington Post story, which I think I want to start with that, essentially releasing the audiotape — and you heard it in John Yang's report — showing — videotape showing Donald Trump's lewd remarks about women about 10 years ago.

MARK SHIELDS: Judy, let's get one thing straight. This is not locker room talk. This is not a preteen, adolescent finding dirty words.

This is a 60-year-old man being obscene, obscene toward — in discussing women, boasting, bragging in the worst and most offensive way.

And I just think the political implications are profound. Senator Kelly Ayotte, Republican in New Hampshire, has said she would vote for Donald Trump, but will not endorse him. In a debate this past week, she was asked, do you consider Donald Trump to be an appropriate role model for the children of New Hampshire? "Absolutely" was the end of her answer, was immediately pounced on. She apologized. Cut a spot.

Every Republican candidate in the country who is in a competitive race is going to be asked in the next week, whether in a debate or where else, by opponents or by the press, do you consider Donald Trump to be an appropriate role model for the children of our state?

And it just — as far as the women's vote you just reported on in Georgia, it makes it so, not simply difficult. It makes it almost impossible for somebody with self-respect, who has a mother or sister or a daughter, you know, somebody like this in Abraham Lincoln's chair.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Michael, how do you assess this?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I think the problem here is not just bad language, but predatory language, abusive language…

MARK SHIELDS: It is.

MICHAEL GERSON: … demeaning language.

That indicates something about someone's character that is disturbing, frankly, disturbing in a case like this. And I think evangelicals have a particular problem right now. I mean, they are the people who argued, many of whom, leaders, argued that character counts during the Bill Clinton years.

And now character apparently doesn't count at all. So, I think there's a deep tension here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And Trump's response was to say, well, Bill Clinton has used far worse language than you heard here on the golf course, he said.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. That's a hell of a defense. And the other thing he said was just more disparaging remarks he made earlier that it was just entertaining or amusing.

But Michael makes a central point here. The Republicans have, with some pride — George W. Bush won the White House by promising to restore dignity to the Oval Office. And they were or presented themselves as the family — the party of family values.

It is impossible to say that today about the Republican standard-bearer in any way. And I just have to say that we're forgetting moral values. We're just — we're talking about the Supreme Court. Character doesn't count. The only thing that counts is the Supreme Court, apparently.

MICHAEL GERSON: And there will be a question on Sunday night, certainly.

There are women in the audience who are going to be asking questions during the debate. There will be a question saying, why should I support this disgusting boor?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Yes, we're told — we learned today this is a group of uncommitted voters in the Saint Louis area who have been put together by the Gallup Organization.

But, Michael, turning to the other — one of the other stories of this afternoon, the administration announcing after four months of saying they weren't ready to say whether it was Russia officially behind these hacks — they're now saying it was Russian — top Russian officials who were hacking the Democratic National Committee.

MICHAEL GERSON: Yes.

This has all the appearance of a foreign power trying to undermine structures of legitimacy of an American election. That is a serious matter.

I would — if I were the media, I would be wary of using anything that came out of these document dumps which serves the purpose of a foreign power. But, at the very least, Americans have to discount this. This is an attempt to hijack and change American democracy by a foreign power. It can't be accepted.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, I mean, I agree.

The presidential option of economic sanctions are on the table and, you know, what the retaliation will take. But I would say it's the end of the reset with China. That's for certain. And the conclusion, the statement that only…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Reset with Russia.

MARK SHIELDS: With Russia. Excuse me.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Yes.

MARK SHIELDS: Only — only Russia's senior-most officials could have authorized, said the director of intelligence and the Homeland Security Department. This is pretty profoundly serious.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And seemingly hand in hand, or at least the timing is — may be more than coincidental. WikiLeaks released the John Podesta e-mails. So, he's, of course, Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman. He's run his own lobbying firm in Washington for a number of years. And we haven't really seen much of that yet, but it's supposed to be having to do with nuclear energy and…

MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

No, it's — New York Times had a big story last year, front-page story, about the sale of that uranium company that was authorized by the United States government to Russia, with Russia controlling it. And the allegations are that there were contributions made to the Clinton Foundation which were kept from the Obama White House.

Now, whether in fact that's confirmed, that's pretty serious. That's going to cause some real tensions, understandably, if that's the case, within the Democratic family.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And I'm sure reporters are going to continue to pore over this.

MARK SHIELDS: Exactly.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Michael, we have got — we do have the second presidential debate coming up Sunday night in Saint Louis.

MICHAEL GERSON: Right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It is a different format.

Is one or the other — we have talked about all the news that may or may not be asked about. But does this format benefit one or the other of these two people?

MICHAEL GERSON: I think so.

This is a format that doesn't reward aggression. It rewards empathy, explanation. Those are not Trump strong points. He has not done a run-through, a full run-through of this, according to his own campaign, in private.

He had an event in New Hampshire last night which was supposed to be like a — this sort of event, and he did terribly. It is quite possible that he will have a second miserable performance.

And I don't think that will make Republicans denounce him broadly. It will mean just that the balloon is out of Republican morale completely. And they will start looking at 2020, knowing that they don't have a competent candidate.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see this debate?

(CROSSTALK)

MARK SHIELDS: Half the questions will be from the audience…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Moderators.

MARK SHIELDS: … and half from the moderator, and from people.

The problem with these debates like this is that you can't really prepare for them, because the questions are so individual and personal or even idiosyncratic.

Now, it does — Secretary Clinton has a lot richer and deeper experience in doing these, obviously, than Donald Trump.

But the people at home, you can't — I can't attack you, Michael, if we're doing a town meeting or a town format. You have to answer the question that is asked.

And what people at home are gauging, Judy, is, how does this candidate respond to the questioner? Do they show respect to the questioner? Do they try to understand why the questioner is asking that? Do they respond to the question?

That is really what — I mean, is there empathy? Is there a human connection between the two? It's where Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney in 2012. He lost the voters on who was a stronger leader, who had a vision for the future, but on who cares about people like me, he trounced Mitt Romney. And I think that will be a gauge of this Sunday night.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it sort of faded into the back of the news today, Michael, but it was just three or four nights ago that we had the vice presidential debate between Mike Pence and Tim Kaine. A lot of conversation about that in the day or so after it, but did that have a lingering effect on this election of any kind?

MICHAEL GERSON: Very marginal temporary moral boost for Republicans, who were looking for any good news after a pretty disastrous week.

But when you analyze it, Mike Pence could only defend Donald Trump in some circumstances by projecting an image of himself, as though he were — that Trump held his views on Russia or his views on Syria. And that's really not true. So, it was a weird way to defend the person at the top of your ticket. And I think that was noticed.

MARK SHIELDS: It's a good point.

I thought Mike Pence, upon reflection to me, came across a little bit like your favorite aunt who refuses, in spite of first-person evidence that grandpa has been drunk and disorderly in public, that, says, no, no, grandpa would never do that, even though grandpa is being taken off in handcuffs.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: I mean, Donald would never say those things about our good neighbors to the south.

MICHAEL GERSON: When he did.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. Donald would never say that about our good co-religious Muslim friends.

And I think the Democrats did a terrible disservice, the Clinton campaign did, to Tim Kaine. Tim Kaine had the earned reputation of being one of the most respected and well-liked, and not cheap partisan members of the United States Senate. And they turned him into an attack dog.

(CROSSTALK)

MARK SHIELDS: He didn't come across authentic. It wasn't good. And it was — it just really — I think, for short-term benefit, I think they tarnished the brand, which is an awfully good brand.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Last thing I want to ask you two about very quickly is the Libertarian candidate for president, Gary Johnson.

He — if this is a close election, Michael and Mark, he could — his — whatever he gets could make a difference. We have seen him this week talking more about foreign policy and saying he — it's OK not to have an opinion about it.

Just in 10 seconds, how much of a factor is he?

MICHAEL GERSON: Marginally hurts Hillary Clinton, but probably not a big factor.

MARK SHIELDS: Less today than he did last week, and perhaps less tomorrow than he did today.

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

And we hope you will be sure to join us right here on this Sunday for special live coverage of that presidential debate. It starts at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

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