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Shields and Brooks on Trump and race, Democrats’ 2020 values

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s political news, including President Trump’s personal attacks on Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland and other lawmakers of color, the significance of a wave of Republican congressional retirements and how the 2020 Democrats fared in the two-night debate in Detroit.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

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

    Hello to both of you.

    So let's pick up on Yamiche's reporting, David.

    All this comes after President Trump has been going after Congressman Elijah Cummings, going after Baltimore, calling it rat-infested, this just a few days after he went after four congresswomen of color, the Squad.

    Some people are saying the president's being racist. He says, "I'm the least racist person in the world."

    How do you see it, and what are the consequences?

  • David Brooks:

    I think I disagree with the president on that one.

    You just look at who he's attacking. It's one African-American or one person of a color after another. It's not dog whistle anymore. It's just straight-up human whistle.

    And so it is just pulling at this racial thing over and over and over again. And I don't know how it how much it affects people. I really don't know. I know people don't like political correctness. And when he does that, I think people really get a charge out of that.

    But going to clearly racist tropes goes well beyond it. We're walking into Father Coughlin territory. We're walking into George Wallace territory. We're walking into very ugly territory.

    And if this is what this election is going to become about, then it becomes, I would think, hard for people of conscience, whether they like Trump's economic policy or not, to wind up with him in however many months Election Day is.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Ugly territory, Mark?

  • Mark Shields:

    Ugly territory, Judy.

    It reached the point where, when it was reported that Congressman Cummings' house had been broken into, the president tweeted, "Too Bad," Elijah Cummings, the crime in Baltimore.

    This was too much for Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor, former U.N. ambassador, who said, this is — she took the president to task.

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • Mark Shields:

    Republican, as did Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois.

    No, the president — you think of the founder of that great party, the Republican Party, words of Lincoln, with malice toward none, with charity for all, let's bind up the nation's wound, the task we're about.

    This is just the opposite. This is salting the wounds. This is sowing division, and all for a very narrow political purpose. I do think that it reaches a point of diminishing returns, because, at some point, you're just not proud to say you're for Donald Trump.

    You can say, oh, he's my guy, or he fights my fights, or he's on my side, but Americans want their president to be a comforter in chief and a consoler in chief, as Ronald Reagan was at the Challenger crisis, or in tragedy, or Barack Obama was after the Charleston church shooting.

    That's what a president — to unite, to comfort and to bring out — he's the only voice that can speak to us, all of us, and for all of us, and he obviously doesn't want to speak to all of us or for all of us.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, David, you still have, as you heard in Yamiche's reporting from Ohio, people saying that they don't think it's racist, that they like the fact, as you suggested, that he speaks out.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, well, they do like that fact.

    The one thing I have noticed — I was at two conservative conferences over the past month. And they were pretty Trumpy, I guess. And they were 95 and 99 and maybe 100 percent white. And so, if you're conservative worlds, you're just not around minorities anymore. You're not around people of color.

    And then you say, well, shouldn't you get some people of color on stage just to hear viewpoints? And they say, well, we don't want — like, I don't see color.

    And if you're living in this country, with the culture of this country and the history of this country, you have got to see color. And you have got to affirmatively try to get different people in the same room. And it's just become a habit on the right to not care about that.

    And this wasn't always the case. And this is how Trump is influencing the party, and, frankly, how the party is influencing Trump. In the world — in the age of the Bushes, in the age of Jack Kemp, there was really aggressive efforts to try to diversify the party, with some success.

    And now that's not even tried. And it's not only Trump. It's up and down the whole apparatus.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And last night, Mark, as we have reported, Will Hurd, the only black Republican in the House of Representatives, announced he's not running again from Texas.

  • Mark Shields:

    He did, Judy.

    I think it's the seventh this week — sixth this week, ninth overall.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Total of nine, yes.

  • Mark Shields:

    And I think there's a couple of factors at work.

    I mean, what David mentions is one of them. The Republicans are becoming increasingly a white party. And Will Hurd, who is a former CIA professional and a high-qualified person, but prior to his retirement, or announce that he wasn't going to seek reelection, Susan Brooks of Indiana, who's been tasked for seeking women candidates for the Republican Party, and Martha Roby of Alabama announced their retirement.

    And I think what's significant about it is this. Ronald Reagan's last term, half the members of Congress who were women were Republicans, 12 out of 25. Now there are 102 women in the House of Representatives; 89 of them are Democrats, 13 are Republicans.

    Two of those 13 have just announced they're retiring.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Are not running.

  • Mark Shields:

    I mean, so you see it's a white male party. And that has — that's a finite demographic.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, you're — I mean, you're both talking — what are the consequences of this, David?

  • David Brooks:

    Of course, I think electoral ruin, though people have been saying that for a long time.

    And there was a book called "The Emerging Democratic Majority" that was probably 15 to 20 years ago from John Judis and Ruy Teixeira, who took a look at the demographics that were Republican, and they were all fading. And they predicted Democratic reign by now. And that hasn't happened.

    And that's because a lot of Latinos, as they assimilate, they become white. And so — and so they are voting Republicans. And whites have swung overwhelmingly to the Republican side.

    It's a short-term boon, like the country is 76 percent white, but it's a long-term catastrophe. And that's just talking politics. It's a short-term moral catastrophe for the party.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But in the short run, Mark, this could be good politics for Donald Trump?

  • Mark Shields:

    It's hard for me, Judy. They're maximizing a minimum, I mean, is what they're doing.

    There's not an inexpensive ceiling on the Trump coalition. It means getting every possible Trump voter out. There's no persuasion. It's all an organization effort. There's not — they're not reaching across the aisle and saying, we want to get you, come join us, we agree on 80 percent.

    I mean, this is just mining down, is what it is.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, there was some diversity among the Democrats, the Democrats running for president this week. They debated on two nights.

    There was diversity, but there's also some division, David. We saw, I think, clearly ideological divide between the so-called moderates, the so-called progressives, the liberals in the party, and, in the eyes of some, a more critical, personally critical debates than they would have liked to have seen.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes. If you want to get your moment on TV, you got to attack somebody in your own party pretty roughly. And so that happened.

    My main takeaway was that Democrats don't understand what this election is about. We just spent a few minutes talking about Donald Trump and racism. That's what this election is about. This election is about Donald Trump and what kind of country we're going to be, what the values of our country are going to be, what the atmosphere is in which we're going to raise our kids.

    And Trump is a culture revolutionary. He's not a policy revolutionary. And he will make this election about him every day and day with his tweets and whatever.

    And he has a values campaign. And he says he wants a certain sort of masculinity, a certain sort of country. And, to me, it's up to — you can't beat a values revolution with a policy proposal.

    And so they need to talk about values, and they need to tie it to policies, but say, I'm for kindness, I'm for diversity, I'm for honesty.

    And the only person who seems to get that is Marianne Williamson, and because she's not just trying to run a purely economic campaign. She at least gets it. She's got wackadoodle ideas on other things, but I think what she says about that and what she says in the debates was exactly right.

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • Mark Shields:

    Marianne Williamson?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Marianne Williamson.

  • Mark Shields:


    I finally knew David would come over to the Democratic side. I didn't realize Marianne Williamson would be the catalyst to bring him.

    Judy, I would say the debates contributed to the destruction of overconfidence on the part of Democrats going into 2020.

    They was sobering. They were unsettling.

    They took — been — since Franklin Roosevelt was elected some 76, 80 years ago or more, the..

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I didn't cover that one.

  • Mark Shields:

    I didn't. I was doing youth for Roosevelt.

    There's been one Democrat who won a popular majority of the vote in two successive presidential elections, 50 plus one. His name is Barack Obama.

    And to see these candidates, especially those on the liberal side, distancing themselves from Obama and highlighting Obama's imperfections — Obama wasn't perfect. He was a public servant, not a perfect servant.

    But, I mean, he achieved great things for the Democrats, in terms of the Democratic objective and the Democratic vision. And the idea that — David's right. They're running against Donald Trump.

    I think part of the problem that Joe Biden has is that Joe Biden is remembered for two debate performances, and rightly so, by most Democrats. In 2008, he crushed, not surprisingly, Governor Sarah Palin, the vice presidential nominee chosen by John McCain.

    In 2012, he took on the cover boy of The Wall Street Journal editorial page, the favorite son of the American right, Paul Ryan, and he vanquished him.

    And unfortunately for — I think for Biden, he's being compared in some Democrats' minds to those two sterling performances, which are now are 12 and 8 years ago.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you think people are focused on that?

  • Mark Shields:

    I just think — I think there is a sense of, is this the same guy who was so good in 2012 and 2008? And he was in both of those.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But where do you see the race right now?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I still think Biden is the front-runner. I don't know how it'll be.

    But if you're the front-runner, people are going to take a lot of shots at you. And people took a lot of shots at him. And this time, he was fine. He was fine.

    And so, if you're the front-runner, and you survive without any change in the race, that's good for you. And so this was good for Biden. There were some people who moved up and down. Cory Booker probably moved up, Kamala Harris probably moved down a little more. Warren probably moved up.

    And so there's little ups and downs. But I wouldn't say the race has been transformed by these debates. And Biden has a pretty solid majority, even though Twitter hates him. But he's still in the lead.

    And there's — it's a fragile lead, but it's made stronger by the fact that no alternative moderate has emerged, Amy Klobuchar.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Alternative to Biden.

  • David Brooks:

    None of those haven't yet taken that role.

    And so if people want to be not Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, where do you go?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But what do these candidates need to do, Mark?

    David is saying they need to talk about values. They need to talk about what Donald Trump represents and speak…

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, I think it is — you identify where you want to go by how you view where America is and how we got here.

    And I think the Democrats could claim the American narrative. I mean, we are a people who came from all corners of the earth and overcame enormous obstacles. And we have forged into one people.

    And lord knows, I mean, it's taken the blood, sweat and tears of all generations of people. I guess where I would perhaps — I do differ from David is, I think there is a strong spiritual, almost religious chord to the Democratic story.

    I mean, there is no abolitionist movement in this country without religion. There is no anti-war movement without religion in its ranks. There is no civil rights movement.

    And the Democrats can claim in all three of those.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you think they're talking about that?

  • Mark Shields:

    I think that you say, this is who we are. This is what we have done. This is what we have achieved. This is where we want to go from here, rather than get into Section 11-A of 14-B of your 23rd-point program, which I think just takes all the music, all the romance and all the spirit out of politics.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, David, in 30 seconds, they're mainly talking about health care and…

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, that's because the two big idea generators in the party are Sanders and Warren, and they're very wonky, and they're very materialistic, and they're not particularly spiritual.

    And there are some people in the party who they get — they — of course, they detest Donald Trump, but they're some — you get the impression their main enemy is the Obama mainstream, and they want to have that fight. And they want to have that fight as the way to get the nomination.

    And so that's why it's gotten so nasty so quick.

  • Mark Shields:

    Listen to Elizabeth Warren's speech at the PUSH conference. It was highly religious. It was on Matthew 23, and it was quite spiritual.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Last words.

    Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.

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