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Shields and Brooks on abortion law battles, 2020 generational divide

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s political news, including the role of foreign policy in the upcoming presidential election, restrictive new abortion laws, polling for presidential candidates and a generational divide in the Democratic Party.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And with that, we turn to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Gentleman, hello.

  • Mark Shields:

    Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, you have listened to the conversation with Congresswoman Gabbard.

    David, to you first.

    How much of a role is foreign policy going the play in this election?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, at the moment, I don't think a primary role.

    I was a foreign correspondent in the early '90s covering sort of Europe, Africa and the Middle East. And I remember, when the Clinton campaign started, suddenly, all my stories about these foreign policy issues disappeared off the American consciousness, because, when Clinton came in people said, something is happening right here.

    And, right now, the focus of voters' attention is the crisis right here. And so I think that's the way it is. It could change with one foreign policy crisis. It could all change. But, right now, this is a pretty domestically focused nation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, for Congresswoman Gabbard, I mean, Mark, as you heard her say, she's very focused on, what does the U.S. do, what's its role in the world, mistakes have been made.

    Is that a way to capture voters' imagination, I guess is what I'm asking.

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, it is if, in fact, David is right and an issue or crisis does develop.

    And I think we can see crises brewing at this point. George H.W. Bush, I think it's fair to say, in 1988, his foreign policy credentials, his own military experience, were strong credentials in his election, John Kerry's nomination in 2004.

    And Barack Obama, being the only Democratic candidate who had opposed the United States' war in Iraq was — that was his calling card. That was his credential. So, I mean, if in fact it's there, it becomes central, if it isn't. It wasn't in 1992.

    So, a lot of — just quickly, David, a lot of comment right now about how the president has handled North Korea, Venezuela, Iran. So, do we see that being a plus or a minus for the president?

    (CROSSTALK)

  • David Brooks:

    Well, I would say the big minus is the way he's frayed all our alliances, which makes all those issues harder.

    But his general posture is one of sometimes extreme bellicosity, with no convincing idea that he's actually going to do anything about these things. And so I think we're not very far — we're not very close to a war in Iran.

    I think he's loathe to do that. He'd be crazy to do that. But he is responding to a situation, which is a tough situation. If the intelligence reports are true that the Iranians told their militant armies that they sort of control in the region to target Americans, then that's something any American president is going to respond to.

    I'm not sure you can respond as well when you have no allies, or you can respond as well as when you have already walked out of the Iran deal. You have sort of left yourself in a hard place.

    And the thing that worries me is, the administration seems to think Iran is on the verge of folding, and that if they just up the pressure, get a little more erratic, then Iran will fold. Most experts I know do not think they're that close to folding, and we could be in a situation where things spiral.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark, let's turn to a domestic issue that a lot of people are talking about right now.

    And that is the anti-abortion movement moving essentially state after state in the last few weeks and months to impose even stricter limits on abortion, in the case of Alabama, the strictest limits in the country, basically saying all abortions are illegal. Doctors could go to prison.

    What do you see is going on here? I mean, what does this movement say to you? And do you think one political party or another — I mean, setting — obviously, it's a serious issue. But setting the issue itself aside, does one political party or another stand to lose from this?

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes. Yes.

    I would say that, first of all, the issue itself is thorny and unresolved in the country, and remains so, after some 45 years, unlike the country's moved considerably to the left or liberal position on gay rights, on same-sex marriage.

    Abortion has been stuck in — the Gallup poll has asked the same question annually. Do you consider yourself pro-choice or pro-life? The most recent, 48 percent of Americans considered pro-life, 48 percent pro-choice.

    But Lydia Saad of Gallup writes — and I think she's right — there is a consensus on this thorny, difficult issue on three aspects, on the life of the mother, should abortion be available and optional in the case of the life of the mother.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Mark Shields:

    And 71 percent of those who identify as pro-life say it should be, so seven out of 10. And the same thing by a simple majority — it's not quite that high — on the question of a pregnancy as a result of rape or incest.

    So I would say, in answer to your question, Judy, that, politically, this is a — it's — I don't want to say a suicide pact for Republicans. Republicans are very much on the defensive. And it will put them in a position where all those Democratic House seats that were won in 2018 in places like Pennsylvania, New Jersey got a lot tougher for — uphill for Republicans to win back.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I'm not sure.

    I mean, New York started this by passing a very liberal abortion law, which went all the way through the pregnancy.

  • Mark Shields:

    That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • David Brooks:

    Virginia, there was one that was proposed that didn't end up going anywhere.

    And so I — the polling data I look at has three positions. One, do you think abortion should always be legal? And you get like 27 percent.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • David Brooks:

    Should never be legal, 18 percent. Should be legal, which the European solution, which is just legal first trimester, harder the second, 50 percent.

    And that 50 or 55 percent has — as Mark says, has been very stable since Roe v. Wade. And — but the problem is, we took it out of politics, so we couldn't get to the moderate position. Now the extremists have taken over both sides.

    And everybody is speaking for these extreme position.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But I was just going to say, right now, it's the restrictive side that is having success in legislature after legislature.

  • David Brooks:

    Right. Well, in the red states, yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Mark Shields:

    I think David — both in Virginia and New York, the Democrats were seen, unfavorably and unfortunately, and I think wrong, as a party of infanticide. I mean, they really were.

    I mean, Ralph Northam, that's what got him into initial trouble.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The proposal that was put forward and then withdrawn.

  • Mark Shields:

    That's exactly right.

    But now I think there's no question that it's the Republican dominant position. That's why Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House leader, has tried to distance himself. He realizes this — this is a killer in suburban America.

    And America remains pro-choice and anti-abortion.

  • David Brooks:

    It's like what the NRA did to the gun issue, these people are doing to the abortion issue.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes. That's right. Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, we talked to Congresswoman Gabbard before, but I want to come back to 2020.

    We did have a couple of new people jump into the race again this week, including the mayor of New York. We now have 23 Democrats — and maybe I'm forgetting somebody.

  • Mark Shields:

    David is about to announce.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I know, David, you're running.

  • David Brooks:

    With Mark as my…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Mark Shields:

    That's right.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Mark Shields:

    I'm on his ticket.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But for all the numbers in there, the polls are showing — and, granted, they're early — Joe Biden is pulling away.

    We looked at a new FOX News poll that came out last night or today. And it shows — when you ask candidates — who can beat President Trump, Joe Biden is way out there, 49-38. And you can see these other numbers, Bernie Sanders, 46-41.

    But it's — it seems to be the who can beat Trump that is the question. And there's another poll. People were asked who can — top qualities for the Democratic nominee, can beat Trump, 73 percent, beating every other quality that matters to people. What does that say to us?

  • David Brooks:

    Right.

    And it struck me on that poll that new ideas was down at 47. We don't need new ideas. We just want to beat Trump.

    And so for a lot of voters…

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes. That's a new idea.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    That is a new — like, Trump has been a daily nightmare, a daily horror show. They just want him to go away, for the sake of the country. And so Biden seems like the most stable who can do that.

    The thing that strikes me about the polling data is how the Democratic Party, how the Democratic voters break down. There's no divide on gender lines, which is surprising, because we have all these women voting. There's no divide on race lines. There's no divide on economic lines, education lines.

    Those divides don't matter. Age matters. So, Biden does extremely well among voters over 45, moderately well among middle-aged voters, and not so well at all among younger voters.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • David Brooks:

    And so that age divide is the younger voters who want systemic change, and the older voters who don't want the party to get too far left and who want some stability and restraint.

  • Mark Shields:

    Judy, I hate to rain on anybody's parade.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Go ahead.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Mark Shields:

    At this point, Judy, in the 1992, when there was an open seat for the Democratic presidential nomination, Bill Clinton was at 6 percent and running in fifth place.

    At this point in 2004, Joe Lieberman was leading.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I realize there's a danger in bringing up polls at this point.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

    No, but the thing that I would be concerned about is — if I were Donald Trump, I mean, Donald Trump is consistently at, what, 40, 41 percent in those polls?

    I mean, if the Democrats nominate someone who isn't under indictment, detox or suspicion of dealing with foreign dynasties, I mean, they're almost in a position of strength.

  • David Brooks:

    But the generational thing will last, because we saw that with Bernie against Hillary, that there is a generational divide in — on the left these days.

    You see it in your workplace. You see it everywhere.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • David Brooks:

    And so, somehow, there will be an old person candidate and a young person candidate. And we don't know who that will be.

    But that divide is a permanent feature right now of the Democratic Party.

  • Mark Shields:

    I'm not so sure. But…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    About — you're not so sure about the generational…

  • Mark Shields:

    I'm sure about the division. I'm not sure that each side will have a candidate. I think that's — that's what I meant.

  • David Brooks:

    And it should be said 60 percent of voters are over 45.

    There's a lot more older voters.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes. that's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But is there a message, though, that's coming through to the younger generation?

    I mean, I'm not sure what the cutoff point is, whether it's 30 or 35, as we said. But is one of these or more of these candidates making an open appeal to young people?

  • David Brooks:

    Bernie and Elizabeth Warren. And Warren's had a very good week.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Bernie Sanders is in his 70s.

  • David Brooks:

    And it's a higher level — yes, it doesn't matter what age the candidate is.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • David Brooks:

    It's emotional tone, the message of anger and fed-up-ness, the systems have failed us, that's the Warren-Sanders message. And that's what seems to appeal to 35 — as it did with the Bernie bros all along for…

  • Mark Shields:

    Anybody who watched Bernie Sanders in 2016 was just overimpressed — I mean, I was — by the youth of his audience.

    I mean, it was a young, in many cases idealistic, passionate, but also scornful of the political establishment. So, I mean, I think that's a truth of our politics right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Including the candidate we talked to tonight. I mean, she was a huge Bernie supporter in 2016.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we said, she's the second youngest. Pete Buttigieg is 37. She's 38.

    But I guess my question is, are we going to see just sort of a naked appeal to young people? Or are we — David, you're saying we're already seeing it. We're seeing it in Bernie's message — and Bernie Sanders' message and in…

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

  • Mark Shields:

    Youth is idealism. Youth is not a time, a calendar. It's a frame of mind. It's a state of mind. It's a perspective on the world of what's possible.

    I mean, I think that's what — the themes you will be hearing, rather than just a, oh, boy, you and I have the same birthday and we also like the same music.

  • David Brooks:

    Weirdly angrier, though. Like, in '68, I don't know — Gene McCarthy, I don't know if he was playing to idealism or anger.

    This is Iraq. We have lived through Iraq. We have learned through the financial crisis. We have lived through Trump. This is not working for us. And so it's an impatience.

    And the older voters are, no, let's have some steadiness. Let's continue what we were doing under the Obama era.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But in a way, it says that Joe Biden is the one who can expect some arrows, slings and arrows coming his way.

  • Mark Shields:

    Absolutely.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right.

    David Brooks, Mark Shields, thank you.

  • Mark Shields:

    Thank you, Judy.

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