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Shields and Brooks on government shutdown blame, Trump’s first year

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week's news, including the government shutdown showdown and the battle over an immigration deal, and how it will stick with voters on Election Day, plus what voters are thinking at the first anniversary of President Trump taking office.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now, on the eve of the anniversary of his first year in office, the president faces the possibility of a domestic crisis, a midnight deadline to keep the federal government open. And with fears of a shutdown growing, both parties are pointing fingers at the other.

    That brings us to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Welcome, gentlemen, on this deadline night.

    So, David, where is your finger pointing?

  • David Brooks:

    I really don't know. I'm embarrassed for my country.

    We have gotten used to these shutdowns, but we really shouldn't ever. It's all so stupid. If we had like a Dwight Eisenhower or Franklin Roosevelt, they would just say, OK, let's get in a room, we will figure it out, and they would act like grownups.

    They would feel so demeaned to go through the rituals of condemnation. And so we shouldn't forget that elemental fact, it shouldn't be like this.

    The second thing, though — and the way I think this is actually a significant moment is that it does represent the parties defining themselves in the base, in the middle of a big demographic shift in the country.

    This is all funneling down to a debate about immigration. We used to have debates about the size of government or debates about war and peace, but immigration is now one of the central issues in American life, and it's really at the core of this thing. And the Republicans clearly feel, especially in red states, they can go to red states and say, you know, we wanted to keep government open for Americans, we wanted to keep health care for Americans, we wanted to keep the Army for Americans, and they wanted to hold it up for a bunch of illegal Americans.

    So which party do you support? And that's what the Republicans are going to hang their hat on in a country that's rapidly diversifying.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How do you size all this up?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, the only place I disagree with David is, the Republicans don't say illegal Americans. They say illegals.

    And like everybody else, like David and I, and I'm sure you, we made a decision at the age of 6 or 8 where we were going to live, where we were going to go to school, and what country we were going to — whose flag we were going to honor.

    And, overwhelmingly, this is an issue on which Republicans are on the short side. Americans of both parties, independents believe that people who have been brought here, had no decision in illegal entry, who've grown up here, worked, and contributed to the country are entitled to legal status.

    The problem is, quite frankly, the Democrats have chosen this as the one issue to make a fight on, and which does echo not simply the cause itself, but the politics of 2016, and identity politics.

    And of all the targets of opportunity that Donald Trump and these Republicans have given them, from knocking people off of health care, to attacking widows and orphans, they have chosen this one.

    It is one, quite frankly, this issue, that the Democrats prevail on overwhelmingly across the country. What Mitch McConnell and the Republicans in the Senate are playing right now is state-by-state politics. It puts Democrats in red states, they think, on the defensive, whether it's Joe Manchin in West Virginia, Joe Donnelly in Indiana.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, it sounds like, David, Mark is saying the Democrats are making the wrong call by hanging this argument, hanging their argument on whether to keep the government open on immigration.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, well, I would say it depends on your time frame.

    In the short term, it probably redounds to both parties' ill will. Nobody is going to be persuaded here. The polls say who's to blame. Democrats say the Republicans are. Republicans say the Democrats are.

    This is not the sort of issue on which people are persuaded by evidence. They just go back to their partisan camp.

    In the medium term, 2018, if it matters in 2018 — and I think the parties' basic posture on immigration will matter– I agree with Mark. It's bad — if you're a red state senator trying to hold onto your seat, this is a bad posture for you. It's just not good.

    In the longer term, of course, if the Republicans maintain the party, not only of Donald Trump, but they turn into the party of Tom Cotton, who wants to cut legal immigration by 50 percent, then that to me is ruinous for the party.

    And one of the things that's fascinating, I think one of the reasons there is so much confusion here, is this was a party that had a very strong Lindsey Graham, John McCain, George W. Bush wing. And, suddenly, that's shifted. And how far has it shifted? Has it shifted all the way over to Tom Cotton? A lot further than a lot of us thought.

    And so people are trying to catch up to where the party has shifted. And Donald Trump has muddied the waters by being here, being there, being there, but mostly pretty restrictionist.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark, you're saying the Democrats had a choice. They didn't have to make this about DACA, about immigration, but they chose to do that, and they are taking a risk, you're saying.

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, yes.

    Let me be very clear. I think Democrats are on the right side of history. I think they are on the right side morally. I'm talking about the political judgment and the political assessment that is made. And will it work for Democrats in House races across the country generically? Yes, it will give — put the Democrats on the advantage, Republicans at a disadvantage.

    But when you're Mitch McConnell and you're trying to hold on to the Senate, you're trying to figure out how I can put Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota on the defensive. The Republicans can't find anybody to run against her. Everybody's passed on it.

    And how do they take on Claire McCaskill in Missouri or Joe Donnelly in Indiana, both of whom have proved themselves to be formidable in red states and in winning elections?

    So I think that's really where it is. I just think that there are more opportunities for the Democrats who, in 2016, were, and I think rightly, rightly, targeted as a party of identity politics, of reaching out to constituency by constituency.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • David Brooks:

    I would say the one thing that — the tide has been swinging, it looks like, in the Democratic direction in 2018. And the only way they can mess it up that I can imagine so far is if they have a base election, if they go — if they make their voters in New York, and San Francisco and L.A. super happy but make the voters in Indiana and Tennessee and Missouri super unhappy.

    And they risk that sort of fissure with this.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So that's the state-by-state or district-by-district political calculus.

    But, David, is there a price to pay from standing back and looking at this from the way Washington runs standpoint, from the fact it just looks, again, like it's a place where they can't get the job done?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, I think the big story there is a lot of people around the country look at Washington and say, why would I ever want to go there? Why would I ever want to pay attention to that stuff? Why would I ever believe in that system?

    And that's a problem for the country as a whole. It's just, government is obsolescence. If we're going to fix problems, we have got to do it some other way, because that thing ain't working.

    It's a more specific — and Mark has made this point in the past — it's a more specific problem for Democrats, because the party of government has to live with the discrediting of government.

    And in the long term, as people become more disgusted and distrustful of government, it served the Republican Party, at least politically, reasonably well.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And this coincides, Mark, as we have been saying, with the one-year anniversary of President Trump's year in office, time in office.

    How does he come through this? I mean, how is he looking right now? Does he come out of this looking stronger? What?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, I wanted to take a step back, so I talked today to Peter Hart, who conducts with Bill McInturff, the Republican, Peter being a Democratic pollster, the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll. And they did a year assessment.

    And Peter said the most common word that was used to describe voters' feeling a year ago about Donald Trump after the election was hopeful. The most common word used now is disgust. And he called it the year of alienation, that Donald Trump — and why is this important, Judy, how people — because a president needs a reservoir of good feeling and goodwill and confidence.

    Ronald Reagan had it at Iran-Contra. And it sustained him. John Kennedy had it at the Bay of Pigs, where people had a personal relationship. Lyndon Johnson didn't have it. Richard Nixon didn't have it. So when they hit rough patches politically, they didn't have that core of affection, feeling, confidence that voters just extended to them and gave them the benefit of the doubt.

    And Donald Trump doesn't have it. He lacks it. Voters don't think he has temperament, maturity, judgment or selflessness.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But he does have that core of voters who say they're still with him, the 35, 40 percent.

  • Mark Shields:

    He does. No, no question about it.

    But, Judy, think about it. We now have the best economic times probably since the late 1990s, tech boom, really just phenomenal times economically. The stock market is going through the ceiling. And he's still, you know, mid-30s? I mean, ordinarily, any president, president — would be 60 percent favorable in this kind of an economic…

  • David Brooks:

    And that base, it's a slow erosion. It's a lot slower than I thought, but it's an erosion.

    I cited on the show several weeks ago the FOX News voters are less pro-Trump than they were. I saw a poll today. Among white evangelicals dropped — support — favorability for Trump has dropped 17 percent, from 83 percent, down 17 percent.

    So that's an erosion. And all of this — this porn star stuff, this stuff he says about the countries, that has this slow erosion. It doesn't mean they're fleeing, because what we have in this country is negative polarization. Nobody likes their own party very much, but they really hate the other party. So that inhibits it. But we're seeing just a steady, slow drip, drip, drip.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you still have — you look at the polls, you look at interviews that are done with voters. I have seen some of them in the last few days that people have gone out and done these one-year-in interviews.

    The people who liked him, many of them are still saying, I just like the fact that he's standing up to the establishment, that he's telling everybody to go jump in a lake.

  • David Brooks:

    Some of this is aesthetic, a mode of talk.

    The things he said about El Salvador and Haiti and those countries, a lot of us find it offensive. But a lot of people, whether they think anything of those countries or not, they think he's talking straight, that's the way I talk, that's the way we talk in the bar here.

    And so that was never going to hurt him, that kind of stuff. Straight talk, even if it can be vile, that doesn't hurt him because people see it as, he's like me and he's sticking it in their eye, those people who I dislike.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Mark, you brought up the economy. In the end, the old saying is people vote their pocketbooks, they vote their wallets.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, two things.

    From all available evidence at this point, I mean, it's heading to be a bad Republican year across the board in the face of these economic tailwinds that — not headwinds, but tailwinds, that should be helping the party in the majority.

    I just point out one thing, Judy. We go through this about the closing of the government. In both '96 and '13 — Bill Clinton was president in '96, Barack Obama in 2013 — in both cases, voters overwhelmingly blame the Republicans.

    The Republicans retained their majority in the Congress, even though they had closed down the government, in '96. They picked up dozens of seats in 2014, even though they were regarded as the villains in closing down the government and depriving people of public services.

    This has never been an issue on which voters have voted in an election.

  • David Brooks:

    There's a lot of news between now and 2018 to come.

    But I do think the fact that we're focusing on race, that the Democrats have said, we can pin Trump racism, that's what we're going to run on, and the Republicans have said, we're going to pin American identity vs. the aliens, that's what we're going to run on, it shows what a different era this is.

    It's not a normal economic era. It's not a peace and war era. It's an identity era. And even something as silly as a government shutdown revolves around fundamental issues of race and identity.

  • Mark Shields:

    It's a good point.

    And let's be very honest. Donald Trump's, the president's remarks, his despicable and loathsome remarks about people, where they come — the countries they came from, gives the Democrats an opening, an advantage, if not a challenge, to raise this issue.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Something that will be remembered. Well, we will know in a few hours what happens.

    Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you both.

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