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David Brooks and Jonathan Capehart on coronavirus failures, anti-Trump Republicans

New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart join Judy Woodruff to analyze the latest news, including the possibility that the Washington Redskins will change their name amid growing pressure for racial justice, the failures that have driven a massive surge of coronavirus and Republicans who oppose the president.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now we turn to the analysis of Brooks and Capehart. That's New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart. Mark Shields is away.

    So, I had planned to start out by asking you both about presidential leadership and COVID, but listening to that conversation right now between Amna and Kevin Blackistone, I have to ask you both quickly.

    David, what do you make of the fact that the Washington Redskins are now seriously looking at changing their name?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, I think they should.

    I think there is a greater awareness of names. There was a study done, I think, in 2016. They asked Native Americans, are you offended by the name? And 90 percent said no.

    But that is shifting. And the most recent study, there was a Berkeley study that said many more are offended. And if people are offended by a name, especially if it is about their own people, then it is clear it is wrong to use that name.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Jonathan Capehart?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    It's long past time for the Washington football team to change its name. This is a long time in coming.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we will see what happens, but, clearly, forces are — forces are in motion.

    So let's come back to the COVID — COVID-19.

    David, two days in a row, the most cases in a single day ever. We are setting record after record. President Trump has had a controversial set of decisions that he has made, today heading — tonight heading to Mount Rushmore.

    What are we — what is your assessment at this point of the leadership from very top on this pandemic?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, Trump has been a failure at it since day one.

    He has denied it. He has had crackpot theories about it. He has offered no leadership at all.

    But I have to say, when you look at 57,000 new cases one day, at 55,000 the day before, that's not only President Trump. That — it wasn't Trump who went to the bars in Nevada and Arizona and Texas and California.

    That's a country giving up. That's a collective failure. That's a country that just got tired, and decided, eh, we're just going to go out.

    And the result is a social breakdown and a humiliation for the country. We had one job as a country this year, and that was to bend the curve on COVID. And that's a job that most European nations, many other nations did.

    And we failed at it. And now we're in some sort of exponential growth, where the curves are rising as fast as they were in March. And that's not — that's on Donald Trump, for sure. And I don't take it away from him. But that's on a lot of us.

    It was a collective failure.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Jonathan Capehart, where do you see the responsibility lying here?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, look, I agree with David that the president has been a complete failure when it comes to the COVID response.

    And, also — and I also agree with David, you know, it is not just the president. It's the people going to the bars, the people going to the beaches, the people going to pool parties and house parties.

    But we have to remember, though, that people look to leadership. They look to the president for leadership. And what we have seen over the last few months is a parallel universe that has been set up, where the president happy-talks the nation about the virus going away and disappearing in the heat and injecting people with detergent and disinfectants.

    And then you have Drs. Birx and Fauci desperately trying to get facts and information out to the American people, and not being able to break through because the president of the United States will not model the behavior that would filter down to everyone to send the clear signal that this pandemic is serious, and here is what I am doing that is part of the effort to slow it down.

    If he had done that from the very beginning, washed his hands, put on a mask, not call it a hoax, and make up all sorts of racist names for it, but if he had just shown that kind of symbolic leadership, I doubt we would be in this situation that we are in right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What about that, David?

    I mean, the uncertain trumpet, and we know governors, different governors have done different things. We heard from two mayors a little earlier in the program. I mean, the leadership overall has had — has been setting an example at the same time followers have been deciding what to do.

  • David Brooks:

    Well, we have had failures on all sorts of scales.

    The CDC messed up the first test. The FDA didn't allow private testing. We have had just institutional failure after institutional failure.

    And I do think we have had social failure. I had hopes early in this pandemic that we would draw together as a people, that this crisis would cause us to come together. I don't really have hopes of that anymore.

    If you look at America, in America, we understand what position we are in right now; 71 percent of Americans are angry about where the country is; 66 percent are fearful; 82 percent are dissatisfied.

    I think we all understand that this is just an awful moment. It's July 4, but it's an awful, humiliating moment for the country.

    And it starts with Trump. I had hopes that, OK, we don't have a leader, but we can, decentralized, do the right thing. But it turned us each into our individual epidemiologist. And we're all trying to make decisions individually, without any collective decision-making from a leadership class.

    That is huge on Donald Trump. It's also huge on a country that has come to disrespect expertise and authority. So, I think there is a lot of — this is a bad moment, and there's a lot of blame to go away.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Jonathan, what about that? And then you have Joe Biden saying what he has been saying, essentially, this week accusing the president of surrendering to the COVID.

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, I would say, to piggyback on something David just said, look, you have like Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan, who is trying to do the right thing, but yet was getting incoming from the president of the United States, hurling insults at her and demanding that — and supporting the people who were protesting armed on the steps of the capitol in Michigan, trying to get her to change her mind in doing the right thing.

    So that's also a part of the mix.

    And I think what Vice President — former Vice President Biden has been doing since the pandemic happened, and especially his remarks this week, is setting up a contrast, a very visible and unmistakable contrast, from his wearing — from his strong words against the president, to his wearing of a mask, to having reporters and spectators socially distance around him.

    He is sending the signal that he takes this pandemic seriously. And he has his actions and the symbolism match the words that he is saying. And that is why I think, in addition to the failure that president has shown, that's why I also think that there is the yawning gap, it appears, in the polling between the president and the former vice president, because, at this moment, at this time in the country, where the nation feels either humiliated or down or feel like everything is going off the rails, here is a person who is running to be president of the United States who, at a minimum, is projecting stability.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David, what is your take on Joe Biden's message right now?

  • David Brooks:

    I think it has been clear. I think it has been good. It has not been loud, but it doesn't need to be.

    People can see Donald Trump. I think Biden is running a — frankly a very successful campaign. We look at these things by the polls, and he's doing very well. But I do think it's still mostly anti-Trump.

    If you look at where Trump has lost support, first, he lost it massively among seniors because of his poor handling of COVID, and then his horrible handling of all race relations, anything race-related, more than horrible. He's lost it among many groups, among young, among people who think — who like the way he handles the economy, are disgusted by his behavior on race.

    And so he's lost another chunk of voters on that. And Joe Biden just has to say, hey, I believe in science, I believe in the Enlightenment. This is not a high bar that he has to pass because of the competition, but I think he's clearing it with ease.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, speaking of losing chunks of voters, when it comes to Republicans, we have seen the Lincoln — so-called Lincoln Project, the last — they have been around for several months now, Jonathan.

    And then, just in the last few days, we have been watching alumni of the George W. Bush administration, another group of Republicans, coming together to oppose the president, trying to come up with a message.

    What is going on here? What has triggered this? And is it effective, do you think?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Well, I do think it is effective, because what you have happening here is a group of Republicans talking to Republicans trying to convince those who might still be on the fence to turn away from the president.

    Make no mistake, the Bush 43 alumni who have come out against President Trump, the Lincoln Project folks, these are not Democrats. They are not switching their party affiliations. I am sure most of them, if not all of them, respect former Vice President Biden as a person, as a statesman, but they are not going to be changing their party affiliation.

    What we are seeing is some consistency here. Those Republicans are the ones who have constantly talked about rule of law, respect for the Constitution, powers of the executive, there being some limitations on it, and standing up for the rule of law and democracy.

    And those are all the things that President Trump has been thumbing his nose at for the entirety of his presidency. And so what I view is happening is, a group of stalwart Republicans, tried-and-true Republicans, who are standing up for the office of the presidency and for the republic and doing everything they can to communicate to the nation, but especially to Republicans, that what is happening now cannot stand and that the country needs to go in a new direction.

    And the way to do that is to remove President Trump from office.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, David, can that be effective, if it is built on an anti-Trump message, to get back to what you said a moment ago? It is not a pro-Biden message. It's an anti-Donald Trump message.

  • David Brooks:


    And I think, for a lot of people, that's enough for right now.


  • David Brooks:

    People like Biden. I think (AUDIO GAP) his agenda. But, right now, that seems to enough.

    I had a lunch with a Republican senator a couple years ago now. And he ran. He was up in 2016. And he said, what was interesting about my rallies in 2016, he said, I didn't know any of these people, that they were not the Republicans I had known in my state all of my life.

    There was a new group that came in and took over. It was a hostile takeover of the Republican Party. And the people in the Jefferson Project, and people in the Bush campaign, are conservatives. Trump is not a conservative. He is an anti-leftist. And there is a difference.

    And so, if you are a Bush person, say, and a lot of the Jefferson Project people are McCain people, you served a man of character. You sort of believe in America's expansive role in the world. You believe in immigration.

    What the Trump party offers you is neither character nor good policy. And so for a lot of people, I am surprised it has taken them this long. This is a clear choice, that they need to change, and they are willing to give up on judges and some of the other issues they care about just for the moral health of the country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, it is a remarkable turn of events. So much to talk to both of you about.

    We hope you have a great Fourth of July weekend in the midst of this terrible time of pandemic and so much more.

    David Brooks, Jonathan Capehart, we thank you both.

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