Shields and Brooks on Obama’s historic Hiroshima visit, ‘normalizing’ Trump

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

    Welcome, gentlemen.

    So, let's start with where the president was today, Mark, at Hiroshima. Made a speech, didn't apologize, but he spoke of something that he said changed the world.

  • MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist:

    And it did, and he reminded us of how serious.

    He spoke seriously. He is, at the core, I think, quite a serious man, and reminded that — serious words on a serious subject, a president deals in that. And it's a reminder in the turmoil and the silliness of fatuousness of much of the campaign, that that's what a president does. And he addressed it, I thought, in serious fashion.


    What did you make of the president's remarks?

  • DAVID BROOKS, New York Times Columnist:

    Well, first, I think it was a beautiful speech.

    It was realistic about our human nature and our tendency to get into fights. And one of the nice little moments in there was when he tied the fighting of hunter-gatherers, the fighting of children on the playground to a nuclear explosion. It's just the same sorts of territoriality, tribalism, but with bigger tools.

    And so that was a nice tool and I think a characteristically Barack Obama-esque dose of realism. I was glad he didn't apologize. I think, on balance, the decision was the right one. He elliptically avoided that. He avoided mention of who actually started the war, which was diplomatic.

    And then, you know, as we heard earlier, he held out the hope of getting rid of nuclear weapons. I'm glad, as a matter of policy, he hasn't done much about it. He's reduced nuclear stockpiles less than the two Bush administrations did. And I think that's just reflecting of the dangerousness of the world.

    And to be honest, and this all goes the way back to the Cold War, I never got the whole reducing nuclear numbers thing entirely. Whether we have 20,000 or 10,000 or 5,000, one is bad. And so I never felt safer during the Cold War when we reduced it from 20 to 10, because if we shoot one, that's bad.

    But a lot of people put a lot of energy into this. I have quite never seen the point of it, to be honest.


    They do. They do. They do.


    Well, in the proliferation, I think it was just, more than anything, the sense of numbers and the direction that we're trying to change in that. I really do, but by reducing the numbers.

    We went from having, when Dwight Eisenhower was elected, five nuclear weapons, Hiroshima, Nagasaki weapons, to a million by the time he ended, the equivalent thereof.


    At the end of the Cold War.


    I mean, there is a limit, I guess, in how much you have to destroy the world.


    Well, there was the long reach of politics, I guess you could say, while the president was in Japan. He commented on Donald Trump. He said that world leaders tell him they're rattled by some things Donald Trump is saying, David.

    Donald Trump responded, and criticized the president, said he shouldn't have said that. But this all comes, David, as Donald Trump is figuring out his relationship with the Republican Party. He still doesn't have an endorsement from Speaker Ryan. He criticized the Republican governor of New Mexico.

    Where is he in his relationship with the Republican Party?


    Well, people are getting in line to different degrees. They're acclimatizing themselves.

    And, as I mentioned last week, they're normalizing Donald Trump, as if he's a normal candidate. And a lot of them will say, well, the Supreme Court is what really matters, and he will pick a better Supreme Court.

    And I — somebody make a good point. If David Duke was the Republican nominee, would you say the Supreme Court is all that matters? Would you support David Duke? At some point, to my mind, a line has to be drawn, that you just won't support a certain sort of person.

    But I have that a lot of Republicans are coming into view just saying, well, whatever, he's part of the team. And Marco Rubio has sort of slid into that. Ryan and Cruz are holdouts. And Ryan is like — he's like, do I really have to marry Henry VIII? Because it's bad.

    And then Cruz, it's personal. Some of the things Cruz said — that Trump said on the campaign trail just got into Cruz's — legitimately into his heart. And he is just, I can't go there.

    And so there's a slowly seepage into Trump world, but with a few, I would say, honorable holdouts.


    How do you size up his — this relationship-building exercise?


    Well, I agree with David about Ted Cruz. Donald Trump gratuitously slanderous Ted Cruz's wife. He libeled Ted Cruz's father for being potentially part of Lee Harvey Oswald's assassination of the president of the United States, suggesting that he was somehow a fellow traveler in that.

    This is a libel. You don't get over it. But I — at the same time, I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I cannot figure out any possible advantage to Donald Trump when he's got a problem with Latinos and with women to go into New Mexico, where the nation's only Latina woman Republican governor sits, who has not said anything negative about him, who endorsed one of his opponents, but has not been an attack dog on Donald Trump, and absolutely goes after her and is abusive to her.

    And I'm just saying to myself, what is the advantage to this? And I just — I think this man may be addicted to the roar of the grease paint and the sound of the crowd, or however it goes, smell of the crowd. And those rallies bring out something in him, and he just feels that he has to — and it's all personal, Judy.

    I mean, it's not a philosophical difference. It's not a political difference. It's all personal.


    There is an undercurrent here which has been going on.

    We have talked. And I do believe that a large part of Trump's support comes out of economic distress and social dislocation. But there has always been an ethnic element to it, and how much that plays a role in Trump's support is really impossible to measure.

    His voters are not as poor as we used to say. Their incomes are in the 90s, $90,000s. And so they're a lot of affluent voters. So, I not that they're not necessarily economically hurting. And so maybe — if there's a strategy there — and I think — tend to think there's not.

    I tend to think he just gets carried away by his addiction to insult. And he just goes after people. But if there's a strategy, it's maybe to whip up every white person in America, he think.s

    I just want to mention, one other episode this week was the invocation of Vincent Foster's suicide, which was another appalling moment. And we're…



    The Clinton White House.


    The Clinton White House. It was a Clinton friend, friend of Hillary Clinton back, I think, at the Rose Law Firm.

    And he came to Washington. Whatever happened happened, and he committed suicide. And just to invoke the conspiracy theories that still swirl around that is just — you know, the mind boggles, if we weren't used to it.


    I was going to say, yes, he was critical of Governor Martinez, but what he had to say about Hillary Clinton, at one point, he was holding his hands over his ears and saying, her scream, I can't stand it. He called her a lowlife.

    And I guess, today, he was saying, "Does she look like a president?"

    How does Hillary Clinton, Mark, how does she counter that? Does she have a strategy for coming back at somebody who every day, it seems, has a new line of attack?



    Well, let me, first of all, recommend Sheila Anthony, who is Vince Foster's sister, had a beautiful piece today in The Washington Post asking, is there no limit to your shame? Do you have no sense of embarrassment?

    I mean, after five investigations, the Department of Justice, the special counsel, Ken Starr, all concluded, without a question, that Vince Foster committed suicide, and Donald Trump is saying there is something fishy here.

    What Hillary Clinton has going for her is a secret weapon, and it's called Elizabeth Warren. Elizabeth Warren gets under Donald Trump's skin. And I think she's been the most effective adversary. I think she's done more to unite the Democratic Party than either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.




    I mean, she obviously — he can't stay away from her. He is tweeting about her.

    And, you know, she had a line that absolutely drove him bats. And, in fact, I wrote it down, because I knew I would forget it. "A man who cares about no one but himself, a small, insecure money-grubber who doesn't care about who gets hurt, so long as he makes some money out of it. What kind of a man is that? A man who will never be president."

    And I think the fact that she hasn't endorsed Hillary is probably…



    Hasn't endorsed Hillary Clinton.



    Hasn't endorsed Hillary, hasn't endorsed Bernie.

    But it's interesting. I think — I don't think Hillary Clinton's figured it out. I mean, Hillary Clinton was playing defense this week.


    But whether it's Elizabeth Warren or not, doesn't Hillary Clinton, David, need to come up with some approach that works, that is an effective comeback?


    Yes. Well, I think she does, not that anybody else has managed to do this.

    Set aside the e-mail thing, but she's just had a very bad week. If you looked at her communication style, it's gotten almost soporific. She just can't do the Christmas.

    Trump, for all his moral flaws, is a marketing genius. And you look at what he does. He just picks a word and he attaches it to a person. Little Marco, lyin' Ted, crooked Hillary.


    Crooked Hillary.


    And that's a word. And that's how marketing works. It's a simple, blunt message, but it gets under.

    It sticks, and it diminishes. And so it has been super effective for him, because he knows how to do that. And she just comes, with oh, he's divisive. These are words that are not exciting people. And her campaign style has gotten, if anything, I think a little more stagnant and more flat.

    And so the tactics, it seems to me, is either you do what Elizabeth Warren has done, like full-bore negativity, that kind of under the skin, or try to ridicule him and use humor. Humor is not Hillary Clinton's strongest point.


    But even without Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton has these other problems. David mentioned the e-mails.

    How much of a problem is that for Hillary Clinton, Mark? And then, meanwhile, Bernie Sanders is still out there competing hard in California, trying to debate Trump. It was on again/off again. It looks like it's off.


    Well, first of all, Judy, we found out that they had not been candid, they have not been helpful, they have not been cooperative, they, the Clinton — starting with Secretary Clinton and her staff, with the inspector general, the State Department.


    On the e-mail.


    Said there were no rules broken. There were rules broken.

    You know, for a candidacy and a candidate who has suffered from perceived problems of lack of transparency and lack of candor, this was a compounded act of lack of candor and lack of transparency and forthrightness.

    So, yes, it's a problem. It's probably better that it happened on Memorial Day than happen on Labor Day or Columbus Day. But, as far as California is concerned, we get conflicting reports that the race has tightened, 850,000 new voters since the 1st of January until the 31st of March.

    It should be a state — it's a state she won against Barack Obama in 2008. It's a state with a large minority population of Democrats, which should be her strong suit.

    But, you know, I don't think there is any question that it's a horse race out there. Now, don't — the Democrats shouldn't get suicidal. Jimmy Carter lost the California primary in 1976 about to be nominated, eventually elected, by 1.3 million votes to Jerry Brown.


    Thirty seconds.

    What does Bernie Sanders want, David?


    Well, he's winning. I mean, he's rising.

    So, I don't — you go to the rallies, he must feel good. The numbers are swinging in his direction. And he believes in a cause, he believes in a mission. It's also psychologically super hard, especially if you're winning, to walk away from this thing.

    So, I understand why he's still going. I think he wants to change the country and change the party. And it's working, so why should he quit, frankly?


    But we will see about California, 10 more days.

    David Brooks, Mark Shields, thank you both.

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