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Shields and Brooks on election results, national divisions

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including surprises from a very close presidential election whose result is still unknown, which groups of voters increased their support for President Trump, political challenges for the Democratic Party and what national divisions say about the future of the country.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    So, hello to both of you.

    We don't have a result yet, but the votes are being counted like mad. We know the results in a lot of states.

    We're waiting.

    David, what do you make of what we know so far?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, if ever there was a campaign that was going to be a blowout, I thought this was it. I thought we had an unpopular president that people were ready to get rid of. I expected a large margin. And I was wrong. It's a 2.8 percentage margin nationally.

    And so I think what we have learned is that we a very evenly divided nation, two groups of people in non-overlapping universes. For a time, it seemed — and I think people in both camps thought, well, the people on my team could eventually crush the people on the other team, and my team will get to rule.

    I think we now have to face reality. That's just never going to happen. The other side is never going to go away. And we have got to find a way to live with each other.

    And so, to me, that's the biggest takeaway of where we are right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark, divided country.

  • Mark Shields:

    Divided country, Judy.

    But if you look at it in historical perspective, in the last century, only three presidential challengers, nominees have defeated an elected president seeking reelection. And it's a pretty impressive group, if you think about it. It was Franklin Roosevelt, it was Ronald Reagan, and it was Bill Clinton, all of whom were at least two-term presidents. One was a four-term president, and I think history would say successful presidents.

    So, Joe Biden joins a pretty awesome group of people. He will end up, in my judgment, with a 52-47 popular vote percentage, decisively, and decisively in the Electoral College.

    David's right. It was close. We are divided.

    What surprised me, as much as anything, was the loyalty and the enthusiasm of Donald Trump's constituency. They turned out in surprisingly impressive numbers. And Donald Trump, if he got over his hissy fits and sort of the silly actions since the election, could take credit for the Republicans picking up House seats in 2020 and retaining their majority in the Senate.

    With the exception of Susan Collins, every other Republican Senate candidate who won, won with Donald Trump. Susan Collins had a 17-point split in Maine. That was the only ticket-splitting state in the country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, David, I know you have also — you have had a chance to look inside some of these numbers, why voters voted, who voted how, and why people voted the way they did.

    I mean, even as we're waiting for the final numbers, what does that tell you about the country, about who we are?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, I mean, the surprises were the gains that Republicans made among Latinos and African-Americans. Donald Trump had a higher share of the non-white vote than any Republican in 60 years, as he said.

    And that was a surprise to me. He doubled his support among the LGBTQ community. And so a lot of people are voting by different narratives. There is a certain narrative that he's a racist and that he's just a force for racism. I think there's a lot of truth to that narrative, but a lot of people clearly have different narratives in their head.

    And so I think people — we should be humble about generalizing across groups of people, especially people we have never met. And so I think that.

    The second thing is that the Republican Party really is the party of the — of people without college degrees, much more so than ever before. We saw swings of moderates, swings of college-educated suburbanites to the Democratic Party.

    And I think the Republican Party can — if they're going to be — feel good about this election, they can see the potential of a future party as a multiracial working-class party. If they can win support across racial lines among those without college degrees, then that's a very viable party, and they should really focus all their attention on, what can we do for people without college degrees of all groups?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What about that, Mark?

    And, as you look at how people voted, which way they went, what do you see? What does it tell you about us?

  • Mark Shields:

    Picking up on what David said, you can't make generalizations about people you do know, David. You have to make generalizations about people you don't know.


    But the point is that David touched on it on the white blue-collar male vote, one out of three voters in the country.

    This was the backbone of the Democratic coalition that elected Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman and Jack Kennedy. It was the message of the entire New Deal, Fair Deal, and New Frontier, that government had a responsibility to guarantee jobs, that you weren't the nation of self-reliance and independence completely, especially in the face of a Great Depression.

    But the important thing to remember is that the 346 firefighters who walked into the jaws of death and the fires of hell on September 11 to save strangers that never met and gave their lives so doing were white non-college males, for the most part.

    Those who volunteer to defend our country, whether it's joining the Marine Corps or the armed forces, and fight and die, it's their families, and they're the families of white, overwhelmingly white, not-college-educated males.

    And the Democrats' problem, I think, is one of attitude as much as it is of platform. I mean, the Democrats, that were once a shot and a beer party have become a Sauvignon blanc party arguing about which wine is more sensitive.

    And I really — I really do think this is a problem for Democrats. And they have to — they have to approach with some humility this very important constituency, which Donald Trump beat them almost 2-1 and beat Joe Biden, I mean, who is really probably the personification of what the New Deal was, in terms of personal style, personal values, and personality.

    So, he wasn't beating an elitist Ivy Leaguer. So I think that's a real problem for Democrats. And I would add the Hispanics. I think we have learned painfully, did Democrats, that they're there anything but a monolithic constituency, as most proved by the results in Florida.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I want to turn you, David, to the president's reaction so far to the results of the lashing out, the accusations of fraud and the rest of it.

    How much does all that matter? I mean, does the delay in announcing — in knowing the result, how much will that matter in the end?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, well, I thought the president in his press conference last night was awful, horrific, if we weren't used to him, but also wan. He looked like he was not really fighting; he was just constructing rationalizations for a man who can admit that he can lose at anything.

    And I think I have been heartened, I mean, as we heard from William and others, that there is a lot of crazy stuff going around on the Internet, a lot of conspiracy theories, as if the Democrats have this elaborate vote-rigging thing in which they lose the Senate. Like, it doesn't pass even surface plausibility.

    But what has heartened me is that, so far, our system seems to be holding better than many people feared. A lot of Republicans are happy to see Trump go and are ushering statements or just non-statements and not getting on this train.

    And state legislators in places like Pennsylvania have said, we're not getting involved in this. And the nightmare scenario was that you would get competing slates of electors from places like Pennsylvania. But that would require the complicity of a lot of the politicians in these states.

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • David Brooks:

    And, so far, they don't want to get involved.

    So, that's — I think the system is doing way better than we could have feared.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You do have Lindsey Graham out there echoing what the president is saying.

  • David Brooks:

    Oh, yes, for sure, there are some. And FOX is divided. The all-important FOX News seems to be divided.

    But, so far, we have not seen violence that much in the streets. So far, it looks like calmer than many predicted.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark, what's your — what is your take on the president and how he is reacting so far and what it says?


  • Mark Shields:

    David, he's younger and more optimistic.

    I have to say, I haven't found that many good Germans among the Republicans who are resisting the — just think, Judy. The president, before the largest audience in the history of humankind, according to him, took an oath to solidly preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

    I just wish he would reflect on that for 30 seconds. What he is doing is undermining confidence and trust in our — in each other, in our country, in our ways.

    I have been incredibly impressed by the quality of the secretaries of state who have come on, almost overwhelmingly women, Republicans and Democrats, who have explained what they're doing, have done it in a thoughtful and informed and intelligent way. I have been impressed by the seriousness of purpose that the people have taken in counting.

    But I'm waiting for the Republicans. I'm waiting for Rob Portman of Ohio, who everybody says is such a good guy. I'm waiting for him to stand up and say, no, Mr. President, this is wrong.

    And we're hearing from the usual suspects. Lindsey Graham makes Tonto look like an independent spirit when it comes to President Trump.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, David, here at the end, I mean, you're not worried about the fact that — I mean, we don't know how long it's going to take. I mean, there may be a call tonight, for all we know, but it is taking days.

    Do you have concern that that leaves — casts a pall over this somehow?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, for sure.

    I mean, there will be a large number of Americans who — if Biden wins, who think Joe Biden is an illegitimate president. We're not — we shouldn't pretend that we're ending an age of polarization.

    I'm just hopeful. We're having a different sort of polarization.

    Donald Trump was a cultural figure. He was not a policy person, not a government person. It was always: My tribe is good. Your tribe is evil.

    And so we have had that kind of polarization. I'm hopeful, if Donald Trump is off the scene, at least there won't be a guy at the top waging a holy war against another identity group every single day.

    And so I'm sticking with my blind and completely unrealistic optimism, no matter what's Mark says.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, we're going to let you do that, David Brooks. And we're all going to wait and see what happens.

    David Brooks, Mark Shields, thank you.

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