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Mark Shields and Michael Gerson on New Hampshire primary, Trump vs. DOJ

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including Sen. Bernie Sanders’ victory in the New Hampshire primary and how it shapes the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, President Trump's strategy for reelection and the political conflict surrounding the Justice Department.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that brings us to the analysis of Shields and Gerson. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson. David Brooks is away.

    Hello to both of you.

  • Mark Shields:

    Judy.

  • Michael Gerson:

    Good to be here.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, we have had a primary, New Hampshire. We now know what happened in the first-in-the-nation contest, after Iowa, where there was some confusion about the results.

    Mark, what do we make of it?

  • Mark Shields:

    Judy, here's the bright side for the Democrats. It broke the turnout record, after a disappointing turnout in Iowa the week before. Among Democrats, there was a new turnout record. So, enthusiasm was up.

    Bernie Sanders got half as many votes as he got four years ago against Hillary Clinton. He beat Hillary Clinton by 57,000 votes. He beat Pete Buttigieg by 3,900 votes. And yet winning is coming in first. And Bernie won. So, Bernie coming, out of a popular vote, if not a delegate vote, win in Iowa, and a popular vote win in New Hampshire, has to be considered the front-runner at this point.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Has to be considered the front-runner. Any doubt about that?

  • Michael Gerson:

    No.

    I think the biggest results of New Hampshire were results of exclusion. I think that Warren is now not competing very effectively for the left lane of the Democratic Party. Sanders really solidified that. And I think Biden took a real blow in the results, coming in fifth, it was.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Fifth.

  • Michael Gerson:

    That — for the former vice president to do that.

    So you have clarity on the left in the Democratic Party, but you do not have Bernie Sanders proving yet that he can go beyond his traditional coalition of young people and very — and liberals. These results didn't prove he can move beyond that. And if he's going to unit the party, he's going to need to do that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And can he do that? That's the big — that's the question.

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, I'm not sure he can, but I think it's also — we ought to at least mention the other candidates quickly.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    For sure.

  • Mark Shields:

    Amy Klobuchar, after really having a disappointing showing in Iowa in her next to home state of New Hampshire with a fifth, had a strong third, a surprising third, and did it on those who disparaged debates as being important events.

    I mean, it was her Friday night debate and her performance there that probably saved Bernie Sanders, if you think about it, because Joe Biden was collapsing, as Michael pointed out, and the Biden votes were up for grabs. They either have to probably go to Buttigieg or to Amy Klobuchar.

    Amy Klobuchar got the lion's share, based upon, in my judgment, her performance that night, and Buttigieg's less-than-spectacular performance in the debate. He did very well. He had a strong second. He's been exceeding expectations more than anybody else in this rate, has Pete Buttigieg.

    But now we go from what's called retail to wholesale. In retail, in Iowa, New Hampshire, by effort and energy, you can meet enough voters. You can talk with them. You can…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Coffee shops, door to door.

  • Mark Shields:

    Coffee shops, exactly.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Mark Shields:

    And you do it. And you have the time to do it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Mark Shields:

    And that's what the premium is upon.

    Now, Judy, it's landing on tarmacs, it's going to TV studios, 14 states on one day, on Super Tuesday. It changes. And the premium becomes money and resources, a lot more than it does time and effort and human energy.

  • Michael Gerson:

    I agree with that, except for one thing.

  • Mark Shields:

    OK.

  • Michael Gerson:

    I think Buttigieg and Klobuchar need to prove they can go to minority communities and get a significant amount of support.

    If I were Buttigieg, I would have his supporters from Indiana down in South Carolina right now spreading the word that this guy is acceptable.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes. Yes.

  • Michael Gerson:

    So, I…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You think that's his main challenge, Buttigieg's main challenge?

  • Michael Gerson:

    Well, his main challenge is that he's the mayor of a small town and — was the mayor of a small town — and has to keep proving that he can play in that league. So he has to keep winning in order to do that.

    But I think, in order to do that, he's going to have to show that he can appeal to Hispanic and black voters. And I think that's a requirement.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Nevada coming up a week from tomorrow, the 22nd of February, Mark.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    There's a powerful culinary workers union there which said it's not endorsing in the race.

  • Mark Shields:

    Not endorsing. Did take a shot at Bernie Sanders.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Did take a shot.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    They put out a flyer saying they don't like his single-payer…

  • Mark Shields:

    They have got a Cadillac health plan.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I interviewed him on the program yesterday, and he said he does protect their workers.

    But the point is, he didn't get that boost that he would have liked.

  • Mark Shields:

    No, nor did Joe Biden.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Nor did Joe Biden.

  • Mark Shields:

    No. And they are important.

    But you're right. And that is a Latino, Hispanic constituency, largely. And…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But coming back to Klobuchar quickly, though, Mark.

  • Mark Shields:

    Sure.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I mean, Pete Buttigieg has a lot to prove. She has something to prove, doesn't she?

  • Mark Shields:

    Oh, absolutely. Yes.

    No, I mean, Michael spoke of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders for the liberal wing. For the woman alley, she seems to have prevailed over Elizabeth Warren at this point.

    What she has to do, Judy, is put together a national campaign on the fly. You don't have — time is your enemy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Klobuchar.

  • Mark Shields:

    Klobuchar.

    She doesn't have the resources. She's got to raise money, hire people, and campaign in places all at the same time. What she's got to do is figure out, picking one or two states on Super Tuesday and figuring, I'm going to make my fight here, challenging Bernie.

    And Buttigieg, to the same degree, has to do the same thing, and making those — we can't cover 14 states at once. OK? There's going to be two or three that are going to emerge as the battleground. And it's going to be strategic convincing the press and public that these are the two or three states. And that's where I think Buttigieg and Klobuchar's chances lie.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Michael, we have got — we have a week from tomorrow is Nevada, and then the Saturday after that is South Carolina…

  • Michael Gerson:

    That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … where you do have a different electorate. Something — more than 50 percent of the Democratic vote there is African-American.

    So Buttigieg has his work cut out for him. So does Sanders, for that matter, and Klobuchar. But let's not forget — I do want to come back to Biden, and Elizabeth Warren, who faded. She came in ahead of Joe Biden, but far back, I think, from where some thought she might be.

  • Michael Gerson:

    Yes, I agree with that.

    South Carolina is Joe Biden's last stand.

  • Mark Shields:

    Absolutely.

  • Michael Gerson:

    I think that Warren has invested some time and attention in Nevada. And I think she's going to need to show some strength there in order to feel like that she can move along.

    But there is going to be a fight for that moderate, liberal lane right now. Biden seems out of the running. Buttigieg and Klobuchar seem in the running. But then you have Bloomberg in the wings, essentially betting that all of them will fail, and that he will be the ultimate alternative to Bernie Sanders.

    And I don't know if that strategy works or not, but, so far, it's coming — some of the steps have taken place.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, before we get to Bloomberg — and I want to ask you about that, Mark — Joe Biden.

    He has come in a distant, what, fourth in Iowa, fifth in New Hampshire. He argues he can come back. That's only two states out of 50.

  • Mark Shields:

    It is only two states out of 50.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I mean, has that been done before?

  • Mark Shields:

    They're the two that gets the most attention every four years.

    I agree with Michael. South Carolina is it. There are no moral victories in South Carolina. Joe Biden has to win. And he was basing his confidence on his strong support in the African-American community.

    We saw the African-American community turn on a dime in 2008, when they were overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton until Barack Obama won in Iowa. And once he won in Iowa, the African-American community in South Carolina said, my goodness, this fellow really does have a chance, and they switched.

    I think Joe Biden now, who is running on electability, a no longer relevant thesis, has to bank on the loyalty of the African-American community and his long service and identity there and his service with Barack Obama.

    But that's it. I mean, that's it for him.

    Judy, when he said at the beginning of the debate, we took a gut punch in Iowa and I'm probably going to lose here, anybody who was going to go door to door for him that weekend just said, wait a minute.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And then left New Hampshire before…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Mark Shields:

    And left New Hampshire and said, well, maybe I ought to look at Klobuchar and Buttigieg.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, now — so, let's come back to Michael Bloomberg, because you're right, Michael, he does seem to be out there waiting, spending, what, $300 million on advertising.

  • Mark Shields:

    Three-fifty.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A modest amount.

    Is he in a position to benefit if this race remains muddled coming out of these next…

  • Michael Gerson:

    Well, as the focus comes to him, he has baggage, stop and frisk baggage, baggage as the mayor.

    He has — if you watch commercials, at least where I am, in Virginia, you see him with Barack Obama all the time. He's trying to establish that he cooperated with him.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Mark Shields:

    … his running mate.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Michael Gerson:

    Yes, exactly. Yes.

    And, so, I think he's trying to, you know, take care of that. And he's going to have a unique advantage, completely untested, with those 15 or 16 states on Super Tuesday. He's going to be able to spend a lot in each one of them.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And he suggests, Mark, that he's in his — whenever you see him making a speech, every time he's out there, he's prepared to go toe to toe with President Trump.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

    In a strange way, I think that's a mistake and one of the few mistakes he's made. Americans do not want a Trump vs. Trump race. They don't want an insult race. I think one of the great appeals, sleeper appeals, of Pete Buttigieg in this entire campaign is that he lowers the emotional thermostat in the room, that he speaks reasonably.

    Coming back to Michael Bloomberg, Judy, you're absolutely right. I have never seen anybody spend like this before. But his campaign has been totally controlled. He's never mixed it up. Now there's even some mention that he might not even go to the debates, where you get a sense of people and how you feel about them.

    And Americans, in the final analysis, Michael worked with George W. Bush, of the last seven Republican nominees, the only one to win a popular majority of the vote in a presidential election in 2004.

    Why did they vote for George W. Bush over John Kerry, who, I think, by most testaments, won the three debates between the two men? Because they prefer, I like over I.Q. They were more comfortable with George W.

    There's no comfort level with Michael Bloomberg at this point. Nobody knows him. We don't know if he's got a temper, if he's got a sense of humor, if he's self-deprecating. Can he mix it up?

    He's never mixed it up in a debate or in Iowa or New Hampshire. I think that's what we're going to have to find out. And if in a month from now, we're talking about his spending, rather than his ideas and how he's different and what he's going to do differently, we know where he is on climate change and gun control, then I think his campaign will be in trouble.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, the man they all want to remove from the White House, Donald Trump, has had quite a week or so, Michael.

    And in just the little bit of time we have left, his campaign raised $60 million just in the month of January. I know we talked about Bloomberg money, but, for the president, I mean, sweeping all the other Democratic candidates.

    And he's embroiled right now in this larger-than-life sort of contest, whatever you want to call it, with the Justice Department.

    You put that together with his — the way he's come after people who were critical of him during the impeachment process, is he building the case that is going to keep his supporters behind him, and push him back to the White House, push him back to a second term in the White House?

  • Michael Gerson:

    Well, I think this campaign of retributions against his enemies — he has an enemies list that he's public about, unlike Richard Nixon — does, in fact, fit into his campaign strategy.

    His argument is us v. them. And them is the deep state, the Democrats and the media.

    So, when he picks these fights over the Stone trial or whatever, it is feeding into his narrative, which is really disrupt everything. And I think that it's — he feels it's working for him right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark, just a few seconds.

  • Mark Shields:

    A few seconds, Judy.

    I mean, here's a man who's pushing prosecutors to prosecute James Comey and Andrew McCabe and intervenes for Mike Flynn and for Roger Stone.

    Why Roger Stone? I think this open speculation, and very plausible, Roger Stone's the one person that could tie Donald Trump to WikiLeaks and to the Russians in the 2016 campaign.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You mean after all that investigation?

  • Mark Shields:

    After all that investigation.

    He — that's what he did. That's what he was lying about. He was the intermediary. And I think that it's not out of loyalty or affection. I think it's out of vulnerability. He's still concerned with that 2016 election, rather than worrying about 2020.

    Judy, how about — how do you feel if you're Susan Collins, if you're Rob Portman, if you're Joni Ernst, and you said, oh, yes, we voted to acquit, but he's going to change, he will be chastened?

    He will be chastened? I mean, this is the new chastened Trump? I mean, he's unburdened and unfettered and scary.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark Shields, Michael Gerson, thank you both.

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