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Shields and Brooks on 2020 election predictions

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including the closing campaign strategies of President Trump and Joe Biden, the potential influence of the Supreme Court with the addition of Justice Amy Coney Barrett and predictions for election results.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now, for their final Friday analysis before the polls close, it's time for Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields, and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Hello to both of you, only a few days to go. Let's talk about it.

    What does this race look like to each one of you?

    David, you first.

  • David Brooks:

    Well, the polls are seeing — if 2016 hadn't happened, we'd think, oh, this is going to be a very clear Biden win.

    But 2016 didn't — did happen, so we don't know.

    I think what strikes me most about the electorate right now is just how fraught they are. Seventy percent of Americans say that there will be permanent damage to this country if the wrong candidate wins, if the other candidate wins. Eighty percent of Democrats say that, if Trump wins, he will take us gradually toward dictatorship. Ninety percent of Republicans say, if Biden wins, he will take us gradually towards socialism.

    So, there's a great sense in the country on all sides that, if my side loses this election, the country is in mortal peril. And so that's what makes this such an intense election.

    The piece of good news to me is that, if you ask people, what's the single biggest problem facing this country, 90 percent say polarization and division. So, they want to heal it, even though they know it's divided. And the reason Biden is winning, in my view, is because he's made his whole campaign about that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark, what does it look like to you?

  • Mark Shields:

    It looks, Judy, like an important election.

    Nobody has ever said, this is the sixth most important election of our lifetime, but I think this is a critically important election, because just think if Franklin Roosevelt had not been reelected in 1936, the whole definition of the presidency, the leader as this optimistic, rallying figure, inspiring figure, would never have come really to being into American life.

    Roosevelt became the standard.

    If Donald Trump is reelected in 2020, it will redefine the presidency and what Americans expect of the president and of each other. I don't think he will be. I think Joe Biden will be elected next Tuesday, and for a whole host of reasons, that America, and especially at a time of this coronavirus, are — we are looking for a we president, and Donald Trump has been a me president.

    He's been quite incapable of addressing that, stepping up to it. He's been on the river denial as far as the crisis itself is concerned, telling us, sort of in Pollyannish tones, that it's going to be better, or it's already better. We just don't see that it's better.

    And I really think that Americans are looking for a different kind of leadership, decidedly different leadership. And I think Joe Biden represents that to them, and to a majority of them.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, David, what are you — what are you basing your hunch that this is or your belief that this is — that Joe Biden is going to win?

  • David Brooks:

    It's between a hunch and a belief. It's somewhere in the middle there.

    I'm dumb. I look at the polls, and I look at the obvious stats. I mean, he's up about eight or nine nationally. He's up in almost every state. For Trump to win, he has to win every state where it's within the margin of error. That's just a remarkable accomplishment. It would be nearly — it's a tough accomplishment. He probably has a 10 percent chance at it.

    Approval rating is the obvious thing you look for in a presidential reelection race. And Donald Trump has a 42, 43 percent approval rating. Joe Biden has a 52 percent. So this is not rocket science here. He's got to lead.

    And I think he has picked — as Mark said, it would have been so easy for him to reflect the anger of the country back upon itself and run an angry, divisive campaign.

    I have never seen a campaign that has so studiously avoided wedge issues. He's run a unity campaign, unity campaign, unity campaign. And I think that's where the American people are right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Mark, what are you basing your confidence that this is going to be a Biden victory? What do you see?

  • Mark Shields:

    I have a divine…



    I base…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We knew it.

  • Mark Shields:

    I come back to the Gallup poll David referred to — or I think was referring to.

    No incumbent president has ever been reelected whose job rating in the Gallup poll was below 48 percent approval. Donald Trump has never once reached majority approval in the country. And now, as David pointed out, he's at 43. You just — you don't get — you don't win at 43 in a — essentially a two-candidate race.

    The second thing I would base it on, Judy, is the 19th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. If this election were and, as the originalists tell us, was all about the way our founding fathers intended it to be, and white men of property were voting, Donald Trump would be reelected.

    But thank God for the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which extended voting rights to people of color in this country, particularly African Americans. Donald Trump will not be reelected.

    And if it was just white men voting, he would be reelected, which is, in itself, rather embarrassing, as a white male.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And what about messages you're hearing, David, from these two candidates at the end? What are you hearing that sums up the essence of their campaign?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, Joe Biden gave two speeches recently that were sort of hallmarks of the campaign. The first was at Gettysburg, which was about a nation divided cannot stand. It was about unity.

    The second this week was in Warm Springs, Georgia, at FDR's home, which was about healing. It's where FDR went to heal. And so that's a reference to COVID, a reference to unity.

    And so he has just stuck with that message. His team and he decided this was going to be the message a year ago, a year-and-a-half ago. They have ridden this message. And it's taken them where they are.

    The Biden — the Trump message, I think the smarter message he should have run on was what his Mount Rushmore speech was several months ago, which was, the other side is trying to change America. And that's a theme that has some resonance.

    He instead tried the Hunter Biden thing. And the Trump e-mails I'm getting today are, let's save the nation from Antifa.

    Somehow, when I think of average Americans wherever, somehow, I don't think Antifa is the core problem. But they are running now on the message that, if Biden wins, there will be riots and chaos everywhere. It may work. You hear that a lot from Trump supporters. But I can't imagine that's a swing voter election.

    The final quick thing to say is, a lot of people say, oh, you can't persuade anybody, there are no persuadables. Joe Biden, if he wins, it'll be because he's persuaded people, he's won people over.

    And it's a good lesson that you can persuade American voters.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Mark, what do you — what are you hearing in their messages that sums up, is the essence of what they have been trying to get across to the American people?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, elections are, finally, in the last analysis, the final analysis, not about candidates. They're about voters.

    And the voters have made this a big election. I mean, the voters decided Joe Biden. I mean, Joe Biden defied history by finishing fifth in the Iowa caucuses — fifth in New Hampshire, fourth in Iowa. He was dead, until the voters of South Carolina, led by Jim Clyburn, overwhelmingly African American, decided, no, we want him.

    And, at that point, the Democratic voters across the country said, Joe Biden is our candidate.

    So, in that sense, it's an election where the voters not only will decide, but took over.

    As far as Joe Biden is concerned, he is the matchup, as they use in athletic terms. He is running a campaign essentially of character and decency. It's a big issue in an election, make no mistake about it. We're talking about national public health, about national health, about 21 million Americans being out of work.

    I mean, it is a — and the climate. Make no mistake, the climate is a real issue, whether you just look at floods, hurricanes, fires. So, I mean, these are — it's a big, big issue election. And I think we will come out of it. I think Joe Biden's done a — himself and the country a great service by not making it an ideological election.

    And the — but it's a campaign without a memorable debate. And, truly, David talked about the Gettysburg speech, which was a good speech — without a memorable, galvanizing address by either candidate.

    And Donald Trump chose to make it about personal grievances, about people who weren't grateful to him, people who weren't loyal to him, by mistreating Martha McSally in Arizona this week, in a gratuitous rudeness that was just unthinkable for any national leader.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    One other thing that happened this week, I don't think we have ever had, David, a Supreme Court justice confirmed this close to an election.

    Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed by the Senate on Monday. She took her place at the court on Tuesday. She hasn't written an opinion yet that we know of. But the court is edging toward — it's weighing in on some ballot questions.

    What do you make of that? Is — do you see it having an impact, ultimately, here?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, the first thing I noticed is how much volume of cases they are taking. The Supreme Court doesn't have to take cases. But they're taking a lot of election cases. And a lot of it is about when you should stop counting votes, whether — when do you count the mail-in ballots.

    I think their decisions have generally been sensible, but they're certainly taking on a lot of cases, which gives the suggestion they're not going to suddenly butt out after Election Day if something comes to the court.

    The nightmare scenario is that Pennsylvania, which now the Supreme Court has allowed voting to be counted for things that come in three days after Election Day. The Republicans sued to stop that and make it just count the ones that are there.

    The Supreme Court ruled on that. But there was no Barrett on the court, so it was 4-4. It was a tie. And if it comes back to the court, if the Republicans sue again after Election Day to halt the counting on November 4 or 5, Amy Coney Barrett will be there.

    And so that will be the first case. We will see whether, suddenly, this — she will be the decisive vote in an extremely tendentious case.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In a close election, Mark, she and the court could make — obviously make a difference.

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, we certainly saw that in 2000, Judy, when an activist court, in a partisan decision, made the presidential verdict.

    The — I return to the 19th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which are remembered, I think rightly so, as expanding the franchise, of including Americans, of making sure that all voices were heard and all votes are counted.

    And that does not seem to be the animating idea or value of the court, I mean, that we — don't we want every vote to be counted and every — any voice to be heard? I mean, isn't that what democracy is about? And that's what we aspire to be and tell our children that America represents.

    And I really — I hope that the court will butt out.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Very good questions you're raising. Don't we want every vote to be counted?

    Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.

    And we will see you on election night next Tuesday.

  • Mark Shields:

    Thank you.

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