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Shields and Brooks on Biden’s DNC performance, Trump’s RNC approach

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including reaction to the Democratic National Convention and Joe Biden’s acceptance speech, what to expect from President Trump at the Republican National Convention next week and concerns about delays in U.S. mail service ahead of the election.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The Democrats spent this week making their case for a Joe Biden presidency. Next week, it's the Republicans' turn to argue for four more years for President Trump.

    But, tonight, it's the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    It is so good to see both of you. We have seen you — you have seen us too much for the last four nights, but we're so glad to have you back.

    David, the Biden campaign is putting out positive vibes tonight. They're saying: We think we did really well. We raised $70 million over four days. A lot of people were watching.

    How do you think they did? What stays with you?

  • David Brooks:

    What is that Beach Boys song, "Good Vibrations?"

    Yes, they have earned them. They had a convention that vastly exceeded expectations, certainly my expectations. They had a candidate who delivered an address with a fierce urgency that you can't fake, actually.

    And they had Barack Obama, Michelle Obama. They had a series of remarkable performances that I think, for the first time in this campaign, not only generated opposition to Donald Trump, but generated some general and genuine enthusiasm for Joe Biden.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark, what do you — what's your takeaway?

  • Mark Shields:

    I couldn't disagree more.

    No, Judy, it was a…


    It was a very, very positive convention, make no mistake about it.

    Barack Obama being the big surprise. After four years of Democrats waiting for him, his being circumspect and restrained, he arrived with a full-throated indictment of Donald Trump, and Donald Trump's failure to lead, and Donald Trump's failure to protect the country in its great crisis, and basically made the case that Donald Trump did not devote the time, energy, effort, and probably did not have the capacity to be president.

    But I think — and I agree with David about Joe Biden. It was — in many respects, it was a great advantage to have the remote convention, because Joe's tendency often is to win everybody in the room, and which he tries to do and does when he's speaking.

    But, here, he had 24 minutes. It was — he stayed within himself. He made the case, I thought, compellingly.

    But, more than anything else about the convention, to me, I was reminded of the words of the poet Maya Angelou, who said, people will forget what you did, people will forget what you said, but people will not forget how you made them feel.

    And the vignettes about Joe Biden from Greg Weaver of Amtrak, who suffered a heart attack, a conductor. Joe Biden knew his children, his grandchildren. Joe Biden, as vice president, reached out and contacted him in a barbershop in New York City to be sure how he was doing, that Joe Biden, the way he treated the elevator operator at The New York Times.

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • Mark Shields:

    He didn't get the endorsement of The New York Times. He got her endorsement. She nominated him and said that there's more than room in his heart for himself. There's room for me and so many others.

    And, finally, as you commented, Brayden Harrington, the 13-year-old, brave, courageous young man from New Hampshire, who revealed that Joe Biden had told him: We're in the same club, we're stutterers, and helped him and gave him the courage.

    And I think that came through probably more strongly than anything else, and I think to Joe Biden's advantage.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, David Brooks, did they do what they needed to do? And did they miss the mark on anything?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, they did three-quarters of what they needed to do.

    What's impressive about the Biden campaign is that they had a theory about two years ago, and they have stuck with the theory. The theory is that the country is exhausted and wants a uniter. And they ignore Twitter. They ignored a lot of the left-right thing. They just pursued that theory.

    What they did not do is go to the heart of this electorate, which is working-class voters in the Upper Midwest. It's sort of mind-boggling to me. In 2016, Hillary Clinton made a colossal error by ignoring those voters in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan and such places.

    And if the Democrats lose those states again, the indictment — and a correct indictment — will be that they made the exact same mistake in 2020 as they made in 2016.

    And I think it's just because they don't have the vocabulary or the cultural knowledge to know how to talk to those voters. I just think there are not enough people in the Democratic Party who emerge from those communities and know what concerns them and know how to talk to them.

    And it could just be an inherent error and shortage in the party.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark, do you agree? They failed to reach these voters in the heartland, many of them white working-class voters?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, I think Joe Biden has an enormous advantage over Hillary Clinton in that respect, just in his natural rapport and his record in dealing with working people and working issues.

    But the Democrats have to be wary of becoming a party that — where people shower before work, instead of after work, who don't work by the hour, who don't pack a lunch. And I think that remains a problem.

    But Donald Trump's doing everything he can, as he did with Goodyear, in trying to boycott Goodyear tires in Akron, Ohio, and a great American company, to lose — to win back for Joe Biden and the Democrats this group.

    I thought the biggest mistake of the night, Judy, of the entire four week — week was your coming to us when John Legend and Common were singing…


    … and asking us…


    I mean, I have heard nothing but unmitigated criticism of what the hell we were saying, when people wanted to hear them.

    And what was David — what was David Brooks' bestselling album, they wanted to know.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we have heard some of that as well. And we apologize to anybody who thought we made bad decisions. But we try our best to get it right.

  • Mark Shields:


  • Judy Woodfruff:

    But, David, OK, now it's the Republicans' turn. It's President Trump's turn.

    What does he need to do next week?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, first, scare people.


    Show that this is a country in disorder, crime is rising, violence in Portland.

    Talk about China, which the Democrats did not do enough. Talk about the threat and say, hey, I might not be as nice as Joe Biden, but you need me.

    And I think that's the key thing. And the second way Trump will say you need me is, they didn't talk about their policies at their convention. But what they really stand for is the Green New Deal and opening the border and all that.

    I expect the Republican Convention, weirdly, to be weirdly more policy-oriented.

    The final odd thing about the Republican Convention this year, which is unprecedented in my lifetime, in all our lifetimes, is that the 2012 nominee would be not welcome there. Mitt Romney would be not welcome there. John McCain, if he were alive, would be not welcome there. George W. Bush, the last Republican president, would be not welcome there. George H.W. Bush, the previous Republican president, would be not welcome there.

    This is a party that's utterly transformed, and the previous nominees will just be not welcome at the party as it currently exists.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark, as you look ahead to what the Republicans need to do next week, what are you thinking?

  • Mark Shields:

    I think it's fair to say, Judy, not only would they not be welcome, but not one of the four would want to be there at that convention, which also speaks volumes about the change in the Republican Party.

    I think that they have got a tough, uphill fight. I mean, Donald Trump has spent 40 — four years concentrating on his base. And, Judy, this is going to be a different election from 2016.

    Forty-six percent, regardless of how acutely it's distributed electorally, is not going to be enough to win the White House back. And he's got to expand. And I don't know where he goes to expand. All he does is drill down on his own side.

    And I really feel, if anybody has any extra empathy, they ought to extend some to the people who are trying to put together this Republican Convention, because I think his whims are changing it from hour to hour, and the direction it's going to take, and the message it's going to deliver.

    And I just — I really think it's an uphill — it's an uphill struggle from here, politically, to make a theme, to develop a theme.

    What are you going to run, on sleepy Joe, after Joe Biden just ran — gave a 24-minute speech that was the equal of any given?

    Fox News, before the convention, asked, do you think Joe Biden has the mental acuity to be president, in a poll, and 47 percent said yes, and 39 percent no. They also made the mistake of asking it about Donald Trump, and 51 percent said, no, they didn't think he had the mental acuity.

    So, there's two themes that have kind of gone by the board, sleepy and mental acuity.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, one of the things the president has been talking about — and we heard about it earlier in the program and just now from viewers, David — is what's going on with the Postal Service.

    The postmaster general went before the Congress, a bunch of senators today, got grilled over that. He assured them that everything's going to be fine. But a lot of Democrats are saying, this is something they need to — we need to watch.

    How serious an issue is this? How much do you think it's going to play a role in this election?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, Donald Trump's comments are a serious issue, because they will serve to proactively delegitimize the election if it comes out in the way his followers don't like.

    And so they will have an excuse. And they will say, see, Donald Trump said this all along. It was those mail-in ballots, a system that we know is honest.

    As for what's actually happening in the post office, I think much — vastly too much is being made out of this. The Postal Service is a service in financial trouble. The amount of mail is down sharply. The nature of the mail has shifted from letters to packages.

    So, shifting over from some of the sorting machines for letters to other things, and making room for packages processing machinery seems to be just the normal thing you do. There's no evidence that I have seen that any of this is done with bad motives, other than try to save the Postal Service.

    We get 160 million voters maybe or so, probably less. The Postal Service delivers 430 (sic) pieces of mail every day. There should be some expectation, as there has been all these centuries, that they can do this job and that they're going to do this job.

    And if we — it's worth watching. But, so far, I don't see any evidence that the Postal Service has become some sort of corrupt and untrustworthy institution.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark Shields, only about 30 seconds on the Postal Service.

  • Mark Shields:

    I don't think — Judy, I don't think that anybody is suggesting the Postal Service is.

    We're talking about the leadership. And the old line, you don't talk to the monkey, when you can talk to the monkey grinder — Donald Trump has made quite clear what his intentions are. He does not want millions of Americans voting by mail in the middle of a pandemic, in which the United States has paid a greater price in personal lives and suffering than any industrialized nation and many non-industrialized nations in the world.

    And this is obviously a priority of his that far exceeds the pandemic itself. He keeps talking about it, and says on the record that, if people vote by mail, the Republicans — if everybody votes by mail, the Republicans will never win another election.

    I think we need all the light, all the sunshine, all the antiseptic and dyspeptic we can keep on this story. And I look forward to the hearings on Monday.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We will keep covering it.

    And we thank you both after really an extraordinary week.

    David Brooks, Mark Shields, thank you.

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