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Shields and Brooks on Trump at the G-7, Democratic debates

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including whether impeachment will have any momentum when Congress resumes, President Trump’s performance at the G-7 summit, Joe Biden’s stories, the rules governing eligibility for the 2020 Democratic debates and the candidates’ latest poll numbers.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And 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, David, let's look at what we just heard from these voters in Andy Kim's district in New Jersey. You could say they are all over the map, but it is interesting, yes, it is a divided district. These voters really are divided.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    And, you know, I think impeachment is just this big mess of interruption in our process of government, to the extent that we have one. And that usually is accompanied by a cultural landslide, where people are talking about the issue of impeachment, perhaps on the front page, and the Watergate is breaking stories — The Washington Post and The New York Times are breaking stories.

    And as far as I can tell, the Russia investigation has drifted to the back of a lot of people's minds. And so there is a core that still wants to do it, and there are over half of the Democratic Caucus want at least an inquiry into impeachment.

    But I just don't feel the groundswell. And I do think that sense that let's have this campaign and let's get to the issues is just going to make this impeachment thing peter out.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark, what do you make of people, real people's reactions?

  • Mark Shields:

    I thought Betty Wilson, the voter in Burlington, had the best summation. I want to get rid of him, but let's just get on with the election, basically.

    And I think that is the prevailing attitude now. I don't think there is any question. I don't question the intensity, the sincerity, the conviction of those who seek the impeachment. But I think the practicality of that course has been disproved. And I think Speaker Pelosi has made her position pretty clear on it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you do have — David, you said it.

    You have now got more than half. You have got a majority of the Democrats who have now come out and said, we should move ahead with an impeachment inquiry. You have got some key committee chairs. You have got Jerry Nadler, chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

    So what happens?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    Well, to some degree — well, there is sort of the hard-core that wants to do this. Then some people are saying, I am for the inquiry, but I am not sure I am for impeachment, which gives you — you're able to play both sides.

    And then Pelosi's position has always been when the public case has been made for it. And unless there is a groundswell, I think — I don't think she would go ahead and say the public case has been made for it.

    And the risks of doing it are reasonably high. We have seen that against the Clinton impeachment that backlashes tend to happen. And that might happen in this case.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Risks?

  • Mark Shields:

    Sure. I mean, the steam went out of it, Judy.

    It is not a matter of — a topic of common discussion in the country. It is not at the top of any talk show list. It just isn't. There is an intensity obviously on the part of some Democratic partisans, but it's in no way is a majority position in the country or it hasn't changed. It is not a growing position.

    Bob Mueller's testimony came and it went, and it left in its wake no movement for impeachment. I think that is fair to say.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well…

  • Mark Shields:

    And, plus, we are on the cusp of going to Iowa. I mean, so there is an election.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes.

    Well, let's talk for a moment about President Trump coming off, David, the G7 meeting of world leaders last week. And I think it is fair to say this has been a tumultuous week for the president. His position on trade with China was in one place and then another and yet another.

    We were hearing something different almost every day. You look back on the G7, again, the meeting in France last weekend, and it was more characterized by tension that he had with other world leaders than by any sense that anything was getting done.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    That's sort of par for the course for G7 summits. But I think what struck me this week was how the debate changed around Donald Trump. There has been whispering, is he mentally not as fit as he was? Are impairments rising?

    That somehow seemed to rise and now become public conversation. When he said his father was with born in Germany, when your father was born in the Bronx, that's not something you normally get wrong. That his wife is good trends with the North Korean leader, when she had never met him.

    I mean, there are just a lot of things coming out of his mouth. And this has always been the case, but the verbal patterns — psychiatrists are not allowed to judge people they haven't met, but there are certainly a lot of people out there raising a lot of red flags.

    So, that — to me, among the tumult of — the political tumult the G7, the psychological tumult is almost one of the key takeaways.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you think we are in a different place with regard to all that with the president, Mark?

  • Mark Shields:

    I don't know, Judy.

    I think there is a fatigue about Donald Trump. I think there is a what is he going to do next attitude, and that, you know, what is the capacity for outrage? Have we reached those limits?

    As far as the G7 summit, what hit me about it was, I can't get over how he continues to denigrate President Obama. I mean, that just — it's gratuitous.

    And I had it explained to me by a Trump — longtime Trump watcher, who said, Trump knows that at that G7 meeting, they would rather have Obama than him — than rather have him.

    And so he is almost driven to make up stories about President Obama, that President Obama gave away Crimea to Putin, that — you know, it's just — it's sort of a fabricated thing. And that, to me, is bizarre.

    But the other thing about it is — and Adlai Stevenson once said, better we lose an election than mislead the American people.

    Donald Trump lies when he doesn't have to. On the meeting of the G7 on the environment, and he skipped it, and he said, well, my — the reason he wasn't there was that he was meeting with Ms. Merkel and the prime minister of India, both of whom were at the meeting.

    So it is not — it's just being — saying things that are so easily corrected and so easily proved that he is lying. And at some point, I would just think the burden of working for someone like that becomes unbearable, just unbearable. He lies to you, as a loyal staffer. He lies to the people he is dealing with.

    And, you know, at some level, in politics, your word is the coin of the realm. And he is just — he's overdrawn on that bank account.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, I don't want to draw too close a comparison here, but, David, this week there was attention to Joe Biden because he has been telling a story about meetings he had with U.S. — American veterans who were fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan and telling very emotional, compelling stories about pinning a medal on them and, you know, how one was — retrieved a buddy from a burning vehicle and another one rappelled down a cliff and so forth.

    But it turns out these are different things that happened jumbled together with some, frankly, inaccurate pieces.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You know, there's been — some are saying this should be connected and compared to the president. Others are saying in no way.

  • David Brooks:

    Oh, I think in no way.

    I mean, Biden may be aging, and maybe that's an issue. I think it is a legitimate issue for voters to think about. But he is not mendacious, he is not irresponsible. He may embellish a story to improve its dramatic effect. And he may be for getting things.

    Our memories are just much more fallible than we think. Every memory expert will tell you that. And when you're on the campaign trail doing thousands of events traveling everywhere, things get jostled in your mind.

    So, it could be just the normal jostling of campaign. And for some reason, we have gotten into a pattern where a Biden gaffe is the story. So he will do eight good things in the campaign, tells one mistake, and that's the story, because that's the story we associate with Joe Biden right now.

    But it is something for voters to monitor. I don't think embellishing that kind of story is like something that is necessarily a sign that he is over the hill.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Biden's campaign, Mark, is saying the press is making too much of this.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

    The Biden campaign ought to shut up. I mean, they really do. The last thing in the world you want to do as a campaign is tell voters what matters. Right now, it doesn't matter to voters.

    We went through a campaign in 1980 where the president of the United States running for election got 49 electoral votes and six — carried six states, Jimmy Carter, against Ronald Reagan, a man who said that trees cause more pollution than automobiles, a man who said there was more oil under Alaska than there was in Saudi Arabia, a man who said that maybe Darwinism, you know, should we ought to teach creationism as well?

    But there was no malice with Ronald Reagan, and voters saw that. They said, yes, he said things that weren't totally factually true, but it wasn't mendacious, to use David's word, and it wasn't an attempt to aggrandize him.

    All of Donald Trump's lies are to put him in a better light. Joe embellishes, Joe embroiders, and I think it can be a proxy for age when he starts doing that. And I think that they have to be worried about that.

    But I don't think the two are comparable at this point, either morally or politically.

  • David Brooks:

    It is noticeable with voters that people will forgive you for getting the facts wrong if you get your basic narrative right.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • David Brooks:

    That if you — basically, the America you see is the America voters recognize, that's what they care about.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Meantime, we know that Biden is going to be — and we have got a picture of the 10 Democrats who have made the next debate stage.

    That means 10 others didn't make the debate stage. This was Democratic Party rules, David, that said you had to have 130,000 people giving you money, and you had to be at 2 percent in several polls.

    Some of the candidates who didn't make cut are saying these rules aren't fair.

    What do you think?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I think they are fair.

    Getting to 2 percent is not like — it is not like the British invasion, the Beatles landing at Shea Stadium. It's 2 percent.

  • David Brooks:

    If you're out there campaign with all your might, and you can't get 2 percent, to me, something is not working.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But their point is, we are still five months away from people voting.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, but the reality is, at some point, the voters can't really entertain 22 people up there — or 20 people over two nights.

    And so there has to be a winnowing process. This seems to me a pretty effective one. I was surprised so many made the last round, frankly. I thought they set the standards too low.

    So now we can take a look at, frankly, the people who are plausibly likely to be the nominee, and take a more closer look. And I think that serves the party and I think it serves the voters.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What do you think about these debate rules?

  • Mark Shields:

    I think the debate rules are a direct consequence of 2016, when the Democratic National Committee and party favored Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders, unfairly.

    They were promulgated. They were there. Everybody knew about them going in. We could argue about whether they're fair, whether 2 percent this early is fair. But everybody knew the rules they were playing by.

    So I think, in that sense, that the party is doing better than it did four years ago. The problem is that some of the more electable Democrats in my mind are off the stage, I mean, whether it is Senator Bennet or Governor Bullock, are not going to be there.

    So their campaigns then have to make that decision, what do I do? They have got to do something dramatic and bold to reassert themselves into the debate. And that becomes a problem. But…

  • David Brooks:

    I wouldn't think it is a death sentence for them, because you look at how much movement there has been, Warren was down in the dumps, and now she is surging.

    Buttigieg was up. Now he's down a little. I am really struck by how voters are really moving around.

  • Mark Shields:

    But I just think the coverage is going to the 10.

  • David Brooks:

    For sure.

  • Mark Shields:

    And that's going to be the…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Going to go to the 10 who are in the debates.

  • Mark Shields:

    The news directors are going to say — and so you have to do something, if you are Senator Bennet or Governor Bullock or the others who are not there to break through that coverage.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It is pointed out for the October debates, the rules are going to stay the same. So, some of them who didn't qualify this time may be able to qualify next time, maybe over two nights.

    But, David, only in just — in a few seconds we have left, we are starting to see the shape of the race. I mean, all of the candidates on stage are people we're — I guess somebody pointed out Andrew Yang is the only non-politician on the stage.

  • David Brooks:

    Right.

    He's run a real, vital campaign.

  • Mark Shields:

    He has.

  • David Brooks:

    And then Warren, I think, is the story. She's slow, steady growth, based on fundamentals, based on strength, frankly, based on likability.

    If people — Democrats pick any candidate that's their magic ticket, they like her. She's taken 45,000 selfies. That's a lot of hard work.

  • David Brooks:

    So I think her move is right now the story of the moment.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We're going to leave it there.

    David Brooks, Mark Shields, thank you both.

  • Mark Shields:

    Judy.

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