Shields and Brooks on Obama’s NewsHour interview, presidential legacy

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the week in politics and President Obama’s interview with Gwen Ifill, including the difference between factual analysis and political grandstanding, how effectively the president defended his economic legacy and the recent “Trump University” revelations.

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    And we pick it up from there with "NewsHour" regulars, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    It is not Friday, but we are happy to have you here.

    Of those comments, what stood out to you?

  • MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist:

    What struck me was the president was making the case for his eight years in office, that the change had been improvement.

    And implicit is a recognition that Donald Trump's candidacy is not simply a rejection of President Obama's two terms. It would be a repudiation of him. And even though, with Gwen's baiting, he wouldn't say his name or was very reluctant to say Donald Trump a name, I think the president recognizes that.

    And I think was sort of — he is champing at the bit to get in the campaign.

  • DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times:

    First on the repudiation point, his — David Axelrod, his former strategist, made this point months and months ago, that each election, people tend to have a psychological shift to the opposite personality type.

    So we went from the gut George W. Bush, to from the head Barack Obama, and now from Obama, we're going to from the wherever Donald Trump.



    And so they are radically different personality types. And I do think there is something for Axelrod's point, that people always look for something different.

    On the economic point, I think he's right and wrong. He's right about the gross numbers, that the unemployment rate is coming down, job creation has been pretty good. But it is a two-tier thing. If you look at manufacturing, especially over the last 19 months, it's just been hit. It's been hit by weak demand from abroad, so many countries in recession.

    It has been hit by high dollar. And so those sort of industrial places in places like Elkhart, Michigan, Upstate New York, Central Pennsylvania, those manufacturing sectors have been worse off now than they were even a couple of years ago because of sort of weak manufacturing.


    Mark, what about this idea there is a disconnect? Gwen brings it up. But also we had it on our Web site with different conversations that we had from the people that were in this town hall, that the president can lay out his case, and here are all the economic numbers, here are the facts, here is what your unemployment was, here is what it is now, but then you have somebody that stands up and says, you know what, I used to work at a manufacturing plant. And my job is gone. What are you going to do about it?


    No, that's right. Carrier air conditioning, which Donald Trump played to a fare-thee-well, quite honestly, and understandably, that they are leaving Indianapolis and going to Mexico and taking the jobs with it.

    I thought he made a better case. And it's a sense of trying to remind people, but it comes down to, how do you feel? I mean, President Obama has a surprisingly good job rating. David mentioned George W. Bush. George W. Bush in the fall of 2008, when John McCain was trying to win the Republican — another term for the Republican White House, had a 25 percent favorable rating.

    The president is over 50. I mean, he's got a higher job rating. But people don't feel good about the direction of the country. And I think that's real. And that's partly Washington. It's partly Wall Street. Things aren't working, that nobody really cares that the top 1 percent — I think there is a whole host of factors that contribute to that.

    But the president is — he is cerebral. He makes a cerebral argument. But, at a gut level, it probably isn't as persuasive.


    Is this — is this — sorry, you wanted…


    Yes, I would just say, it's so regional.

    If you go to the Industrial Midwest, yes, it feels like that. It feels bad. You go to the Bay Area, they're just adding jobs at a great rate. You go to Nashville. Orlando is back. Phoenix is back. Houston is exploding. And so the Sunbelt is back. And the Sunbelt was so badly hit in 2008, but it's back.

    The Industrial Midwest is almost in another little downward hiccup.


    Events like this, I mean, this — there was a specific reason he chose Elkhart. This was the first place that he visited after his presidency began. He wants to — this is a kind of legacy-solidifying look at how much this place has improved since I have been in office, right?

    But it almost feels like, as Mark said, almost a campaign-style event to solidify the legacy. Just reminder, I was pretty good for the country.


    Yes. It is not the right moment for that, probably.

    This is a moment when pessimism is just en vogue. And he's got numbers. He's got numbers on his side overall, as I say, but the country is not in a mood to think it's heading in the right track. There is almost a near consensus that we are not.


    Those numbers are pretty impressive. It was at 19.6 percent unemployment in Elkhart when he first went there, down to 4 percent. It is, once again, as it claimed to be, the RV, the recreation vehicle, capital of the world.

    But the mortgage and people who are behind in their mortgage payment or facing foreclosure, it was one out of 10 in 2009. Now it's one out of 30. I mean, those are all improvements. Those are all — and you could say, well, it would have happened anyway, it happened in spite of.

    But he took some real actions that were controversial that cost him politically to do it. And, you know, I think he's entitled to take some credit for the improvement.


    You know, there were e-mails going around today saying, you know what, the people of Elkhart succeeded in spite of the president.


    Yes. I think that was governor, Governor Mike Pence, I think. The Republican governor is up for reelection this year.

    The test to me whether the president is in good shape or bad shape is that Joe Donnelly, the Democratic senator, was there at the event. He's up for reelection next year, not this year. But, I mean, if you really think that somebody is Typhoid Mary politically, you can think of creative reasons not to be there.

    There are other subcommittee assignments that you — are going to keep you busy. But the fact that he was there with the president probably indicated to me that he felt that the president would be a help, rather than a hindrance to his own career.


    Despite the fact that the president wouldn't prefer to name Donald Trump out loud — it is almost like he is treating him like a Harry Potter character of Voldemort or something.



    Donald Trump is still right in the news. And here we have a possibility where possibly two of the — the Republican and the Democratic National Committee kind of nominees could have kind of legal clouds hanging over them or at least an investigation hanging over them as they become the nominees and representatives of the party for the presidency.


    Yes, well, the Trump thing in the news today, my newspaper had a good story on the Trump University.

    And we sort of had the outlines of the story, but I think what was fresh in some of the new documents that we now have access to is the way that professors at Trump University were really pressuring people to get out their credit cards, to get multiple credit cards, to max out their credit cards, just to give all this money to Trump University, and then they left these people high and dry and deeply in debt, offering them very little in return.

    So it was the machinations of scamming these people that we learned today.


    Fair that Hillary Clinton says this means that my competitor, my opponent is a fraud?


    Well, if you listen to the plaintiffs.

    I mean, Donald Trump did a classic Donald Trump defense, which is to attack the judge, not — who didn't bring the case, who's hearing the case. The judge isn't the plaintiff. The judge isn't saying he was scammed or bilked. The judge happens — Judge Gonzalo Curiel happens to be of Latin descent.

    Donald Trump accused him of having a vendetta because of that. He is a native of Indiana. And he — you know, this is classic, classic Trump.

    But David's former employer, The Wall Street Journal editorial page, today took him on as the politics of personal grievance, that he has an ability to personalize things, in addition to this legal case today. I think it is quite unparalleled in presidential nominees.


    All right, Mark Shields, David Brooks, thanks so much.

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