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Shields and Brooks on President Trump’s ‘angry mob’ rhetoric

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including President Donald Trump’s efforts to energize Republicans ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, accusations of voter suppression in Georgia, and the state of U.S.-Saudi relations after a Saudi journalist’s alleged murder.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We turn now to another busy week of news.

    With just over three weeks to go until the crucial midterm elections, President Trump is headlining rallies almost daily across the country, hammering Democrats, and trying to energize Republicans to get to the polls.

    A cue for the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Hello to both of you. It's Friday.

    So we do have the president, it seems, out on the campaign trail every single day, jetting out to whether it's Tennessee or Pennsylvania or another part of the country.

    Today, Mark, he is in Ohio trying to energize the Republican vote, the base, trying to get them out. Is it working, do you think?

  • Mark Shields:

    Republicans feel it's working better than it did two or three weeks ago, Judy.

    But I think what is remarkable about it is how constant it is. You said about energizing the base. It's about inflaming people. Donald Trump's message is never about forging a coalition, reaching across the divide, trying to enlist the majority. It's always about coming back to, it's us against them, and we may not be perfect, but, boy, those other guys are really bad.

    And I think that's the message. It's going to be a referendum, as it is every midterm, on the president. And his numbers right now are just about the same point where Barack Obama's were in 2010, when the Democrats suffered enormous defeat, Bill Clinton's in '94, when the Democrats suffered a big defeat, and 2006, George Bush's, when the Republicans lost control of the Congress.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you do have the president, David, out talking about Democrats are part of an angry mob, calling them evil, I mean, using some of the strongest language he has used.

    Is that likely to get his base even more fired up?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes. Yes.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    I think it's working.

    We're in an age of negative polarization. And that means you don't have to like your own party. You just have to hate the other one. And that means it's all about contempt. And has the other side made you appalled? Have they made you feel contemptuous?

    And one thing the Kavanaugh hearing has done is, it made both sides feel the other is appalling. And so that has fired up both bases. And the effect is — and it's always worth reminding ourselves that we no longer having one election anymore. We have a red state election and a blue state election.

    And they're increasingly disconnected. And so the odds are looking pretty good. The polls have been shifting in a Republican way on the Senate side in all those red states, Texas, Montana, and those places. And the Senate is looking more secure as of this moment.

    The House is looking more endangered for the Republicans at this moment, as suburban women move over to the Democratic side. So we have two different elections. And there seems to be pretty strong momentum in opposite directions.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How are Democrats countering this, I mean, this approach by the president, Mark?

    There's this couple of polls, including the one we did with Marist and NPR this week, that came out showed, yes, the enthusiasm gap has narrowed. It was the Democrats who were more energized. And, indeed, Republican seem to be more energized.

    What — how to Democrats come back?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, the first thing they ought to do is stop picketing and stop boycotting and organize.

    I mean, the most Democratic group in the entire electorate of voters is age 18 to 35. And they live everywhere. They aren't concentrated in certain districts, like perhaps African-American or Latinos are. They are everywhere. And if they vote, the Democrats will win big.

    I will say this. I think the most encouraging sign for the Democrats is, the Democrats do have a national macro message in this campaign. It's about checks and balances on the president. It's not a new message, but it's a message that certainly resonates with an awful lot of voters.

    It's about preserving the strength of health care, particularly the preexisting condition provision. But, most of all, I think it's contrast with the Republicans, who don't have a national message. They really don't. They're running micro campaigns.

    In one camp — one district, it's you double parked, and you got several parking tickets, or you were late on your library books, or you missed your mother's birthday. I mean, they're running very personal campaigns in a very micro sense. I think that's good.

    The final thing I would say is, look at the governor's races, the governor's races across the country, if you really want to see which way the country's going. They're going blue. They're not — they're not going red.

    When you have got Democrats competitive in places like Oklahoma and Kansas and South Dakota, which they are right as we speak here tonight, then there's a possibility of the Democrats sweeping that entire belt from the Midwest all the way to the East Coast.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We did hear, David, Al Gore, saying — talking about checks and balances, that that's a good motivating thing for Democrats.

    But what about that? I mean, is — are we seeing Democrats united in some way, in some — in a message that they're…

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, unity is not any parties' problem right now. They're both — they're all pretty unified.

    To me, one of the — an interesting debate is happening — you could call it the Michelle Obama-Hillary Clinton debate. And when Michelle Obama famously said, when they go low, we will go high, and she's sticking to that. And Hillary Clinton says, no, they are going low, we got to go low too.

    And you see that debate. I think, in this age, having the moral high ground is a bit of an advantage, a major advantage. And because of Donald Trump's behavior, he has put the Republicans at a moral disadvantage.

    And keeping go — staying high, staying reasonably civil, not totally going into the gutter with Donald Trump strikes me as the right Democratic strategy and the right strategy for any movement, because once you go down there, you self-corrupt.

    And so I — one begins to see — Eric Holder said, if they go after us, we kick them. You're beginning to see a lot of people getting so angry about Kavanaugh and other things, any means necessary. To me, that is a mistake just for the soul of your party.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I mean…

  • Mark Shields:

    Let me say, I agree with David.

    I think it's not only the right thing to do, but the wise thing to do. I think it's in the best interests of the country. And I would say, at a practical level, you can't compete with Donald Trump. He's just better at it than anybody else.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Better at what?

  • Mark Shields:

    Better at finding, identifying the weakness or shortcoming of his opponent, and then exploiting it.

    It is a major talent. He did it serially to each of his Republican challenges in 2016. He did it to Secretary Clinton in the election. And that's really what makes this midterm election. He is searching for an opponent that he can do the same thing.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes. And the politics he specializes in is, I don't really like those kind of people.

    Like, we used to have debates about health care, about economic policy, about foreign policy. Now it's just, those people are really bad. Those people who say you're bad, actually, they're the bad ones.

    And that's a style of politics. Somehow, we have gotten away from issues. And the governor's races are — maybe that's a third electorate, because the governor's races tend to be a little more about issues. And they are swinging to the Democrats.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And in one — one governor's race, I don't know if it's swinging to the Democrat, but it's in Georgia, Mark, where you have Stacey Abrams, African-American woman running for governor.

    She is now working — pointing out her Republican opponent, who's the state attorney general…

  • Mark Shields:

    Secretary of state.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I'm sorry, secretary of state — pointing out that he is, by virtue of an action he's taken in the last few weeks, suppressing the votes, she says, of 53,000 potential voters.

    What, I think most of them, more than two-thirds of them happen to be African-American. And she's trying to make an issue of this, saying he should step down as the state — as the secretary of state.

    Is that something that, in a place like Georgia, is likely to be effective?

  • Mark Shields:

    Certainly, Stacey Abrams' campaign is interested in registering and turning out African-American voters.

    The idea of any minority group, especially one that has been a marginalized minority group, electing one of its own to the governorship is a motivating factor to vote.

    The fact that Brian Kemp, the secretary of state, has not recused himself, and that his office has — seems so overtly engaged in the suppression — 70 percent of the 53,000 people who now, as registration has closed, have been told that they couldn't vote, it does seem beyond bad play or bad form.

    It really seems like just bad ethics.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    As secretary of state, David, he oversees elections.

  • David Brooks:

    Right. Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, he's also running for governor.

  • David Brooks:

    I don't know how clear the suppression is.

    He — the Republicans are claiming that, if you come to the polls with I.D., you will be able to vote. So it's unclear to me how serious that is.

    But it's a no-brainer that, if you're running for an election, you shouldn't be supervising the election. Like, you're the — you're the hitter and the empire. And that doesn't work. And so he should have recused himself long ago.

    And, to me, it's just a no-brainer. That's obviously what you do in any normal circumstance.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Few minutes we have left, I want to ask you about the — what's been going on this week with Saudi Arabia and the U.S.

    Mark, the Saudi journalist who disappeared is believed to have been murdered inside the Saudi Consulate in Turkey, in Istanbul, Turkey.

    The — Trump — President Trump and the people around him seem to be holding back in their criticism of Saudi Arabia. The president said it's not good, it doesn't look good.

    But where — what should an administration that has had a — tried to be close to Saudi Arabia be saying right now about what appears to be this unspeakable thing that happened?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, I mean, an American administration would be expected to have a moral bearing, a Republican or Democrat, and a moral foundation.

    This administration, this president has never made any pretense to it. I mean, he lives by the golden rule. And that is, he who has the gold rules.

    And he is quite open about it. I mean, he has reduced this — the charge is so serious that a crew recruited by the Soviet — by the Saudis themselves, by the powers to be, of 15 people went in and took Khashoggi, and then dismembered him, went in with a saw that cut up bones.

    I mean, it is that beyond human decency.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Unimaginable.

  • Mark Shields:

    So, it's unimaginable.

    So, I mean, to me, that is — that's what's missing here, is any sense of morality, most of all.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Just 30 seconds. Sorry.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    I mean, usually, when you sell your soul for money, you try to hide the fact, but it's our official policy now that, if you're rich and you buy a lot of stuff from us, then you can do all sorts of monstrous things.

    And it is a commercial mentality that is not what we have stood for all our lives, or not what we would expect in any human being. Saint Augustine said, we have different loves, and some are higher than others, and our love for basic decency should be higher than our love for money.

  • Mark Shields:

    Amen.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    On that note, David Brooks, Mark Shields, thank you.

  • Mark Shields:

    Thank you.

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