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Shields and Brooks on South Carolina stakes, Trump’s virus response

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including whether former Vice President Joe Biden will have a decisive win in the South Carolina Democratic primary, what’s at stake for 2020 Democrats on Super Tuesday and how the Trump administration is responding to the threat of novel coronavirus.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And for more now on the state of the Democratic primary, we turn to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Hello to both of you.

    So, Mark, let's pick up with where Lisa left off. The people she's talking to are saying this is a state that Joe Biden has to win. How do you see the Democratic race?

  • Mark Shields:

    I see it the way Lisa does.

    Lisa said, the title fight, as she put it, is down at Tom Steyer and Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden. Joe Biden appears to be in good shape. He was helped by the endorsement of Jim Clyburn, the dean of the South Carolina Democrat.

    It's an unlikely battleground, Judy. I mean, no Democrat has carried South Carolina in the last 11 presidential elections. No Democrat has been elected to state Senate from South Carolina in this century. It's a little bit like the Republicans fight coming down to D.C. or Massachusetts.

    But Clyburn, in endorsing eloquently Biden, said he'd win by double digits. We have established that winning is coming in first. But if Joe Biden wins by eight points, is that a disappointment? Does he have to win by 12 or 15?

    But, right now, it does look good for him. And he needs it desperately because he only has skeleton campaigns of the rest of the big Super Tuesday states.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Before we get to Super Tuesday, what does South Carolina look to you, David?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I do think it's — I think — I was thinking a 10-point.

    He's now in the polls — it's around 13 or so, if you take the averages. But if he has a 10-point win, then he can stay afloat, and people think, oh, there's a logic for his candidacy. There's a logic to think that he could be the one. If you get a finalist vs. Sanders, it could be him.

    If he doesn't do that well, then I don't really see the logic for the Biden candidacy. This is his best shot right here. And if he does poorly, even loses, to me, there's no more logic for the campaign. He's not going to be the one-on-one.

    Sanders, it'll be interesting to see how many African-American votes he can get. He did well with Latinos in Nevada. He spent four years cultivating links to that community, less so with African-Americans.

    But if he can do well, or well enough, then we think — we have to conclude his ceiling is much higher than we thought it was. And he romps into Super Tuesday.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Mark, you picked up on the strength of these campaigns after South Carolina.

    I mean, whatever happens, whether it's Joe Biden with a big lead or Joe Biden just barely, or somewhere in there, what shape are these campaigns in to go on to Super Tuesday, 14 states, 1,350 delegates?

  • Mark Shields:

    No campaign — every campaign is message, is momentum and is money.

    And Mike Bloomberg has the money. Bernie Sanders has had the momentum up to this point. But there's no way, Judy, that you can run simultaneous campaigns in 14 states, especially big, complex states like Texas and California and North Carolina and Virginia.

    So, it really is — it's an up for grabs. I have talked to at least half-a-dozen people in Virginia in the last week who said they had no idea — these were active Democrats who had no idea who they are going to vote for. And they don't know. They're kind of narrowing it down.

    And I don't know what the significance is going to be. I think Bernie is in the best shape. And I think we still have to come back to that rule about winning is coming in first.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You mean best shape overall?

  • Mark Shields:

    Overall.

    But I will say this. If Joe Biden does have a 12-, 14-point win in South Carolina, it hurts Mike Bloomberg, I mean, because then it really in a way helps Bernie Sanders, because it defuses, again, the opposition.

    And it doesn't focus on one single formidable challenger, whether it's Bloomberg or Biden.

    And then I just thought the debate Tuesday night was a disaster for the Democrats. It was the Bickersons. They were haranguing. They were yelling, interrupting, talking over, with the exception of Bloomberg and Buttigieg. They were the only two, I thought, that sort of showed some restraint.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, David, how do you see it lining up, I mean, coming out of South Carolina, whatever…

  • David Brooks:

    Well, I think, first, Super Tuesday's a mistake to be this early.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • David Brooks:

    We shouldn't be closing down the race so early into it, which is essentially I think what's going to happen, with like 40 percent of the delegates chosen.

    Second, I think Sanders looks strong and California and Texas and a lot of the bigger states, though what Mark says about voters not being prepared like the other voters — I was in Watts and Compton and South Central L.A. last week, and I talked with 15 people.

    I was saying, who's — this is a Latino African-American community. Who's making sparks in this community? And of those people, I'd say a bunch, maybe the majority, certainly, couldn't name the candidates.

    Like, they were against Trump. They knew that. That was clear. But they hadn't clued in. Now, you ask about local politics, they have got a lot of opinions. And so the national politics swoops in and all of a sudden people have to make a view, but they have been focusing on, frankly, more important things in their lives.

    I would make a call to Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. I think Bernie Sanders represents a challenge to their style of Democratic Party. And the only two people who can create unity in an anti-Sanders wing are Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.

    And if they came in said, we're going to organize, so we don't divide the vote five or six ways, then they could be the only ones to do that. They're probably not going to do it. They're going to sit on the sidelines. But I do think, if they want to defend the Democratic Party as they understand it, this is the week.

    This is the moment when they say, it's going to be Biden, and we're all going to work together, or it's going to be X, and we're all going to work together. I do think there has to be some leadership. Otherwise, it looks extremely likely to me that Bernie Sanders just walks away with it.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes, right now, we know that Mike Bloomberg has the money. The question is, can he get the votes?

    And if Joe Biden does have a big win, and gets the votes, the question is, can he get the money? I mean, he has a television buy in six figures for 13 states. I mean, and that's a pittance.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Bloomberg?

  • Mark Shields:

    No.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Oh, I'm sorry. You're talking…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Mark Shields:

    No, Bloomberg spent $187 million among these states.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Oh, I thought you were…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Mark Shields:

    Joe Biden has spent less than a million.

    I mean, he doesn't have — in California, as David's paper reported yesterday in a terrific piece, he has one office. And when the reporter went there, it was padlocked.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I saw that.

  • Mark Shields:

    And when he went back the second time, they had tables set up for volunteers, and there were more tables set up than there were volunteers.

    I mean, so put — if he does win, it's a great tribute to his popularity, to the vestigial good feelings that people have for Barack Obama and for Joe Biden. But it's not any campaign that's been persuasive.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It is a — I mean, it's hard to even imagine gearing up for 14 states in three days, if you're not already there.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes, I agree. No, you can't do it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's just — but what about David's saying some somebody has to come out of the great leadership of the Democratic Party and give some guidance?

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What do you think?

  • Mark Shields:

    I mean, I will wait for that duo to emerge arm in arm and say, we're here selflessly to save the Democratic Party.

    I mean, it would be welcome, but don't sit up waiting for it.

  • David Brooks:

    No, I understand that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Coronavirus.

    David, the number of cases are growing. We saw what's been happening to the markets all over the world this week. The president yesterday named — or this week — named Vice President Pence to head the government response.

    But we're already hearing sniping, criticism. I mean, what do you see coming from the federal government? Does it give you confidence that the country is ready?

  • David Brooks:

    Not exactly.

    So, I was disturbed. Tony Fauci, who is often a guest on our program, was supposed to do all five Sunday shows from the National Institutes of Health. And he withdrew. And why he withdrew is a mystery, but it seems to have something to do with the White House, that he didn't get the permission he needed.

    And that's not a good sign, because Tony Fauci is a straight dealer, tells the truth. And so if Mike Pence is — if they're politicizing that, that's a problem.

    The second thing and the larger issue is, it's like we had a fire department — or we have a fire, so we build the fire department right away. We dump the fire out. And then we say, well, we don't even know another fire department anymore, so we close down the fire department, and then another fire, and we scramble — we have to scramble to have a fire department.

    And so, apparently, what's happened is that we have learned a lot about these diseases. But I was just told that we have — the White House shut down the global health office within the National Security Council.

  • Mark Shields:

    That's right.

  • David Brooks:

    And so that's shutting down something we're obviously going to need, because we have been hit by disease after disease after disease.

    And we just shut down the fire department between each one of them. And so there's nobody to focus attention. There's no global organization to like — a SWAT team to go in. It's just — it seems post hoc every single time.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I interviewed Mike Bloomberg yesterday in Houston, Mark, who said that the country needs somebody in place all the time, not just, when there's a crisis, to name someone.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

    I mean, this is made for Bloomberg, really, an issue in terms of competence. If he would stop saying management, if he would say leadership, instead of management — to say management, and he loses 15 million workers on the spot.

    But he's right. I mean, he's got a record he can speak of. He's dealt in public health. He is established.

    But, Judy, the question comes, is this 329 million Americans, is it a public health crisis, or is it a personal political crisis for a 73-year-old man who's sitting in the White House?

    I mean, the president has personalized this, that somehow his opponents are out to get him. First, there is denial, there's no problem. And then it's his opponents are out to get him.

    And it just — all I can compare it to is that terrible moment in a subway trip between two scheduled stops, and the train stops, and it goes dark, and everybody sits there in terror.

    And what we are waiting for is a strong, informed, intelligent voice to come on and say, this is what's happened. This is what is being done. This is what we're asking for you. And this is how we're going to get out of this.

    And that was — that is missing. And when you silence the voices of people like Tony Fauci, the people at Centers for Disease Control, I think you lose that. You want everybody speaking through a single microphone — megaphone, headed by Mike Pence, who, in 2000, let it be noted, said smoking isn't deadly, because not everybody who smokes dies of smoking. Only a third die of smoking-related illnesses.

    I mean, this doesn't give you the greatest scientific confidence in the world.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It was another point Mike Bloomberg made yesterday, that this is the — this is the man who said smoking didn't cause — is there — does it become — how much of an issue, David, I should say, does this become among these presidential candidates, the Democratic candidates?

  • David Brooks:

    I could become — like, it could take over the election.

    I mean, I really have no idea. I'm not qualified to know how big this will spread. But I saw an article that most Americans will get some form of it, and not a bad form, but some form. And if that — if we start canceling events, if the economy goes down, if we can't gather in crowds, that is suddenly a gigantic event.

    And so many people who were Trump's critics or who even sympathize with him, but didn't think he was a great manager, a great leader, suddenly, they all say — we have been saying this for years — well, at least we haven't had a real crisis. And then, suddenly, we get a real crisis.

    And so to look at it in the crass political terms, I don't see any upside for Trump. I do see significant downside, and a lot of upside for the Democrats, since they are the party of health care, and since they are the party of government.

    And so I think it could — it could really shock us, how big this becomes, as it is already as in other countries.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It already is, Mark.

  • Mark Shields:

    No, it is, Judy. And…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Ten seconds.

  • Mark Shields:

    OK, 10 seconds.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, I have enjoyed being with you.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Mark Shields:

    David seems like a nice person.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That was unfair.

  • Mark Shields:

    Thank you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We will make up for it next week.

  • Mark Shields:

    Oh, you better, Judy!

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.

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