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Shields and Brooks on John Bolton’s worldview, Trump’s shifting legal team

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including President Trump choosing John Bolton for his third national security adviser, the departure of John Dowd from the president’s Russia probe legal team, plus former model Karen McDougal sues to be able to tell her story of an affair with Trump.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that brings us now to the analysis of Shields and Brooks.

    That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    So, gentlemen, I'm actually going back to what we were talking about earlier in the program, Mark, and start with John Bolton.

  • Mark Shields:

    OK.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The president making a lot of news, making news on his own, tweeting last night the surprise announcement that H.R. McMaster was out, John Bolton's in, and this on top, as you just heard from Yamiche, one change after another at this White House.

    What are we to make of this?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, first of all, I would like to associate myself with the remarks of Nancy McEldowney, who was on the show. I think she's absolutely right about John Bolton.

    John Bolton is not just ideologically fixed where he's been. Unlike his apparent foes within the administration, Jim Mattis, secretary of defense, and Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, he has never comforted anybody dying in battle. He's never written to a next of kin.

    He avoided military service himself, yet it's his prescription for virtually every situation that arises, whether it's North Korea or Iraq, for which he has never apologized, for which he was a relentless advocate, and wrong.

    So, I just think, temperamentally, Judy, he is the worst possible choice that Donald Trump could make. He is brutal to people who work with him. And I just think, what he is, is he's a flatterer. And Donald Trump, we know, is incredibly susceptible to flattery.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David, what do you make not only of Bolton, but just the sequence of changes, almost one right after the other, at the White House?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, first, on Bolton, I think, ideologically, Trump probably should have picked him first. I think a president should pick the sort of person who shares their world view.

    And if there is anybody in the Republican foreign policy galaxy who shares President Trump's world view, it's John Bolton. In the administration, he came up with the — he was talking about America first long before Donald Trump ever was.

    When he served earlier in the earlier Bush administration, he was a relentless foe of sort of the Republican establishment, the Colin Powells. He was a relentless foe of the conservatives — of the neoconservatives, who believed in democracy and human rights..

    He was an old-style what we call paleocon, power vs. power kind of conservative. So, Trump at least got somebody he agrees with.

    Temperamentally, I agree with Mark. He was famously thought of as a kiss-up, kick-down kind of guy. He was famously thought of as someone who didn't look at issues honestly, look at intelligence honestly, but came with a highly ideological predisposition.

    I don't think he's the worst thing in the world. He comes across a lot of issues that I do think seriously increases the chance that we will have some military action in North Korea and Iran. But he's not a complete loon. He just has a bellicose, old style, we need just to be more powerful than anybody else around, and we need to threaten that power all the time, which, when you take — combine it with a temperamentally unstable president, that's a dangerous combination.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Dangerous combination?

  • Mark Shields:

    Dangerous, dangerous combination. And I think David is — suffers from an excess of charity.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Mark Shields:

    No, I agree with his analysis, up to the point.

    Donald Trump, if you will recall, ran on a foreign policy, all by himself, that he had opposed the war in Iraq, that he was the only Republican who had, just as Barack Obama was legitimately the only Democrat in 2008 who had opposed the United States going into Iraq, won the nomination and won the presidency.

    I'm not saying it was the sole reason, but it certainly gave him a uniqueness and distinction that he claimed for himself. The evidence for it wasn't necessarily overwhelming that he had been a dove from the outset.

    But that is the polar opposite of John Bolton in that sense. And Trump wanted a less aggressive, a less assertive American military presence. And I think the voices of restraint in this administration have been diminished. And I think that it's down to Mattis and Dunford.

    And I'm just grateful the two of them are there.

  • David Brooks:

    I still think it's far from a sure thing that it will be super bellicose, super militaristic.

    The foreign policy school that Trump has somehow glommed onto and then John Bolton definitely subscribes to really goes back into ancient pre-World War II Republican history, which was much more heartland, much more isolationist almost, but no sense of foreign policy idealism, no sense we want to make the world a better place, that we want to give people dignity, we want to give them human rights.

    That's not part of the equation. It's much more, we're in a great power struggle, and they're tough and we're tough. And that's just the way they see the world. It's an old-fashioned, more, as I say, pre-Cold War style of Republican foreign policy. But it did tend to be non-adventurist.

    And so there was some restraint even back in the early America first days.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So you don't see them being quick on the trigger?

  • David Brooks:

    As I say, more quick on the trigger than with Rex Tillerson and H.R. McMaster, that's for sure, but I wouldn't say we're necessarily marching off to war.

    I do think Trump still — his instinct is, I don't want to spend blood and treasure abroad. His constituency doesn't want to fight another war. I think he would be slow to want to commit troops anywhere, just by his instinct. He's a domestic policy guy.

  • Mark Shields:

    John Bolton's application for the job was his most recent piece in The Wall Street Journal advocating the legal case for the United States attacking North Korea preemptively and unilaterally.

    That is not World War — pre-World War II Republicanism, which was, if anything, isolationist.

    I mean, the national security adviser, Judy, has to be, to be successful, an honest broker between Defense and Treasury and State and all the competing interests, and present to the president the distilled views and honest options that are advocated by his appointees.

    And there's no evidence at all that John Bolton is equipped temperamentally or experientially for that role.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I totally agree with that. He doesn't fit this job at all.

    And I guess the one fear you would add is not so much what you believe, but just a swirl of machismo.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • David Brooks:

    This is an administration which is — whose masculinity is on high decibel, while being extremely unstable.

    And so that would be the — the whipping up in a frenzy would be the part I would emphasize, I would worry about.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Other than that, it's very calm.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, but you not only have all that, these changes.

    You have from the outside — and we just heard Yamiche talk about this, Mark — the lawsuits from these three women, two of whom say they had an affair with the president and they're filing suit for different reasons, the third one having to do with something related, saying the president sexually — or harassed her physically, and she's saying that she was described as not telling the truth, and she said she's been defamed, and she's suing for that.

    Meanwhile, you have the Russia investigation going on. The president is rotating now out some of his lawyers. John Dowd, the lead lawyer, is out with the Russia case, investigation. Other lawyers may or may not be coming in.

    How much jeopardy could the president be in when it comes to all of this?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, I think — I honestly don't know, Judy, how much legal jeopardy he's in.

    I would say what he's finding out are the limitations of being president. I mean, when you're a billionaire in New York, real estate, and you have got somebody who's going to bring a charge against you, there are ways of dealing with that, whether it's through veiled threats or power or talking to people or money or payoffs.

    And those aren't available to you as president in the same way. And so you end up with Michael Cohen, your attorney, claiming, unbelievably — it doesn't pass the sniff test, it doesn't pass the smell test, it doesn't pass the risibility, laugh-at test — that he came up with $130,000 out of his own pocket and the goodness of his own heart to get Stormy Daniels to drop any action or make anything public about her relationship with Donald Trump.

    I mean, you know, at some point, at some point in this whole drama, the religious right has to confront itself in the mirror, and it has to look and say, you know, we're not asking the president to be a paragon of personal behavior, but when his behavior apparently reaches the level of just total, total dishonesty and deception, and is — becomes a sham of the promises that he's made, then, you know, we have to withdraw our support.

    And I just want to challenge the Republicans. Who, besides Jeff Flake and John McCain, out of the hundred Republicans on Capitol Hill — the hundreds of Republicans, is going to have the courage and the integrity to stand up and take him on?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, well, I would have thought these evangelical Trump supporters would have left Trump after the first of the six or seven deadly sins. And now we're up to 800.

    So, I'm not convinced anything else will happen. Maybe if there's photographic evidence, that that will change some minds. But you look at some of the polling, when that "Access Hollywood" tape came out, Trump support increased. It didn't go down among some of those people, because they found themselves in the tribal war, and the logic of tribe kicked in.

    To me, the Dowd resignation, or whatever it was, that's a big event, because it really does signal the — Dowd, one of the things, he was cooperating with Mueller.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    This is the lead lawyer.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes, John Dowd, that's right.

  • David Brooks:

    He was — he wanted to play professionally with Mueller and not be — let's not going to go full-scale war.

    And his departure suggests that full-scale war or something closer to it is coming. And the Republicans are going to have to think about that. And if there's any shred that they — if he fires Mueller, we get into this full-scale battle, that they will separate themselves from Donald Trump, they better prepare for that now, because it's certainly looking a lot more likely today than…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Mark Shields:

    He's right.

    I mean, at this point in the White House, you need an I.D. card to say hello at a Cabinet meeting or a staff meeting. It's changing so fast.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Or a name badge.

  • Mark Shields:

    A name badge.

    And for Donald Trump, as was said of a British politician, he treats the truth like a second home. He doesn't live there all the time.

    I mean, we saw that on his idle threat today about vetoing the bill. We were told that General McMaster was going to stay, and then he's gone. We were told as well that John Dowd and the legal team was intact, and he's gone. And Joe diGenova was coming in, and now he's not.

    So, at this point, there has got to be total chaos there.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Where do we look for — David, in 15 seconds, for stability in this White House?

  • David Brooks:

    The chaos is the stability.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    It's in the president himself. It's just — he's going to be like this as long as he's there.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right. We heard it here first, second, third.

  • Mark Shields:

    Wow. Wow.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David Brooks, Mark Shields, thank you both.

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