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Shields and Brooks on John McCain’s patriotism, Florida election upsets

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including the service and sacrifice of Sen. John McCain, American political icon who died over the weekend, takeaways from Florida’s primary election, plus a warning made by President Trump to evangelical leaders about the stakes going into midterms.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    But first of the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    So, gentlemen, you just heard — you were sitting here, Mark, listening to Mark Salter remember his good friend John McCain.

    What are you thinking right now?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, I mean, Mark Salter was more than a wordsmith or even an alter ego. I mean, he was — he was John McCain. They were inseparable in thought and word.

    And I thought he expressed it well. I mean, it's an outpouring on the part of the nation, Judy, that is beyond presidential in its admiration, its affection and its sympathy.

    And I think it gives everybody in politics, in public life pause. I mean, what is it that this man had that made — that allowed him to touch so many people?

    David and I have been lucky enough to spend our company in the — our time in the company of people who run for office, most of whom we like. And I can tell you what everyone's going through in their mind right now, whether they're Democrats or Republicans or liberals or conservatives as they look at this outpouring of affection, and that is, damn it, I will never have a funeral like this.


  • Mark Shields:

    It's just remarkable.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And it's affection, as Mark is saying, David, across party lines.

  • David Brooks:


    And it's for values. And one of the things that's interesting about McCain is, though he fought in Vietnam, he's not really a Vietnam person. He's a World War II person. He missed the '60s. He was in Hanoi Hilton. So all the culture war and all the values shift, which was a lot about self, he never had that.

    For him, it was about country, about self. And I have been traveling around the country recently. And I found so many people are really attached to their town or their community or their ethnic group, not so many who are attached to nation.

    But that World War II generation and the people — the values of John McCain, he really was attached to nation. And it really was service to nation above Arizona, above anything else, above the Navy. It really was service to nation and a sense of, we're all in the same nation, we must at — all at some level be brothers with one another, and then a life of true sacrifice for the nation.

    I mean, it's worth pointing out the guy could not comb his hair. When they broke his arm, he could not get his arm — his arms up for the rest of his life to comb his hair. And so that's just a daily bit of sacrifice he did for the country as a whole.

  • Mark Shields:

    Could I just add one personal note?

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • Mark Shields:

    And that that's this, that Mo Udall, who was the Democratic — great Democratic congressman, environmentalist, and party leader, or Democratic leader from Arizona, befriended John McCain as a young member of the House.

    John was in the minority. He didn't really know anybody in the House of Representatives. Mo was a committee chair and influential. The Arctic National Wildlife to save is his project.

    And he befriended John. He included John. And John never forgot it. They struck, forged a great friendship. And Mo Udall, who was a giant, was — contracted Parkinson's in 1980. He was forced to leave the House a decade later.

    And he lingered in the ravages of Parkinson's for eight years, the last few of which he was crippled, uncommunicative, I mean, that terrible disease, that terrible scourge, on a cot in a veterans hospital in Northeast Washington.

    And one person, public person, regularly went to visit him, without cameras, without reporters, to bring with him the news of Arizona, to read, even though he was unresponsive, about sports, about Indian American, national — Native American. It was John McCain.

    And that's — that's an incredible value. And it's great. It's a wonderful tribute to him. And I just wanted to offer it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So many stories like that about him. And he will be laid to rest this weekend.

    So we turn from John McCain, David, to elections. The midterm elections are coming in a couple of months. There were primaries this week. Interesting, particularly, surprising results in Florida, in the governor's race.

    The man who was the most progressive in the race, Andrew Gillum, happens to be African-American, surprised everybody and won that. And then the very next day — or that night, I guess — the Republican nominee, Congressman Ron DeSantis, made some comments that are — some are interpreting as having a racist tint.

    Are we at a point now where we are just going to be dealing with this in every political discussion that we have? What do you — how do you see what happened in Florida?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, first, the Democratic Party is becoming more like itself.

    Gillum is a — believes in the $15 minimum wage, Medicare for all, getting rid of ICE, sort of the more progressive agenda. DeSantis is a pure Trumpian.

    And as for the comments, the thing — I don't know what's in DeSantis' heart, or whether he was trying to invoke racial stereotypes. I do know that, evidently, he doesn't hang around many African-Americans, because if you were to spend your normal parts of your day among African-Americans confronting difference, you know that saying the word articulate is a code word, and you know the word monkey, that's a code word.

    And so either he's got some nasty tendencies within himself, or he just doesn't get out much. And neither is good.

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • Mark Shields:

    I think David is absolutely right.

    I think that Congressman DeSantis ran and won as, I am the closest thing to Donald Trump you're going to get, except I'm Donald Trump with an Ivy League degree and a Navy discharge, and — but he blessed me, which he did. Donald Trump made his candidacy.

    As far as the shorthand, Judy, make no mistake about it. There is no phrase in the English language "monkey this up." Foul it up, screw it up, louse it up, but monkey this up is deliberate. It's conscious. And it's racial shorthand.

    Not only, you're articulate, is the mayor, he's also — in addition to that, he's a performer, a great performer. And this is — I'm glad he was called out on it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Which is what DeSantis said about Gillum.

  • Mark Shields:

    That's what DeSantis said about Gillum.

    But David's point about Trump, I think it's absolutely pervasive. His influence in our politics is total, not simply in Republican nominations, not only in the choice of Republicans, where his endorsement means so much, but among Democrats.

    I mean, Gillum is — he's eloquent. He's charismatic. He's got a great story and a great record. He was a good candidate. But he was also calling for the impeachment of the president, in addition to that progressive agenda.

    And that is not a disqualification. If anything, it's an endorsement in this political climate.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, one quick other thing that — it came separately, it was, David.

    But the president this week, in a meeting with evangelical leaders, said that if Democrat — in so many words, he said, if Democrats win these midterm elections, he said there's going to be violence. And he predicted they will move quickly, and talked about Antifa, this group that's been identified on the far left.

    How do we read that?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, Donald Trump is a man of great subtlety and nuance.


  • David Brooks:

    He — it's a standard demagogic trick to take the extreme of your opponents and pretend they're the mainstream of your opponents.

    And so Antifa does exist on the left. It's pretty, pretty extreme. And some on the left, frankly, have taken the radical Charlottesville types and said they are the Republicans. But neither are true. There is a mainstream of each party.

    But in — but in a climate of hyper-distrust, the willingness to believe the worst of your opponents seems to be an easy sell these days. And so I'm sure it's a tactic that Trump will use over and over again. I'm sure it's a tactic some on the left will use.

  • Mark Shields:

    Judy, if, in fact, you're opposed to building the southern border wall, you're for MS-13 flooding the country.

    You're defending and, if anything, justifying the undocumented immigrant who is accused of murdering Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts. You're indifferent to this flooding of criminals.

    The argument, shortly stated politically, is fear and loathing. We are surrounded by hostile forces who want to destroy you. And I'm the only one who could protect you. And unless I'm there to do so, you are in an absolutely hostile environment that will attack and destroy you.

    It's terrible politics. There is nothing about trust. There is nothing — it's very minority in its coalition. But it is Donald Trump.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Completely different story this week, development, David, and that is, in the Catholic Church, it's like throwing a hand grenade in.

    An archbishop, a man named Vigano, sent a 7,000-word letter, made it public, basically accusing the Vatican, accusing Pope Francis of not just covering up sexual abuse in the church, but fostering a pro — a homosexual climate.

    Now there are 1,400 Catholic women who are telling Pope Francis, His Holiness, that he must come up with some kind of an answer.

    I think the question is, some are saying this archbishop was aligned with conservative causes. What do we have going on here?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, it's a little replication of our politics.

    At the — at the heart of this is Theodore McCarrick's alleged abuses, which stretch back decades, involve 11-year-old boys, decades' worth of pre-seminarians who were under him.

    I mean, it's really — the allegations of abuse are, if not Harvey Weinstein levels, somewhere in that ballpark. They're horrific.

    And so the Vigano letter is about that and then what happened to allegedly cover it up. So it's about an abuse scandal.

    What bothers me is about the way it's being discussed. It's not about abuse. It's, are you left or right? This should not be about homosexuality. This should be about abuse. They are different things. And yet it's being treated on the progressives, saying, well, that guy's just a right-wing loon. And then on the conservative side, they're saying, it's the gay lavender mafia.

    And so what we're seeing is not an — people are excusing a crime because they want to have a culture war. And that's been true in a lot of the reporting. It's been true in a lot of the commentary. And it just shows how this tribal, us-vs.-them mentality can — can take over a whole culture and distort debate over whether — whether — did what Vigano say happen really happen?

    That's the core of the thing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Just a minute, Mark.

  • Mark Shields:


    I mean, I — let me — let me just endorse what David said. As a Catholic, practicing, admittedly and manifestly imperfect Catholic, I feel anger, betrayal, disgust at what's been revealed about my own church's hierarchy and its rush to protect itself in the midst of this abuse of children, and its indifference to the protection of the victims.

    But David's right. This is about something larger in the church. And the church is in trouble. It's wounded. Make no mistake about that.

    But this is a — any institution, Judy, church, political, that involves belief and conviction and movement falls into one of two categories. It's seeking converts, welcoming the stranger, welcoming — opening its doors, or it's seeking and hunting down heretics. And that is, unless you are totally pure, you can't be among us.

    The second group is very much in ascendance in its criticism of this pope. I'm a partisan of Pope Francis, make no mistake. I'm a great admirer. But he faces an enormous responsibility now. The church is in trouble.

    He has to explain it. There is a question, especially with Father — where Cardinal McCarrick, the archbishop of Washington, is involved. What did the cardinal know, the pope know? What did he — when did he know it? What did they do about it?

    Because these are — these are grievous charges. And we're talking about victims whose lives were permanently and profoundly and negatively changed.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's a huge, huge story, and we're going to come back to it.

    Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.

  • Mark Shields:


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