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Shields and Brooks on Trump’s acquittal, Iowa caucus chaos

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s political news, including the Senate’s decision to acquit President Trump on both articles of impeachment, Trump’s State of the Union address, the messy Iowa Democratic caucus results and which 2020 Democrats have momentum going into the New Hampshire primary.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now for their take on the chaos at the Iowa caucuses, Tuesday's State of the Union address, and Wednesday's Senate vote to acquit the president on both articles of impeachment, I'm joined by Shields and Brooks.

    That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Hello to both of you.

    So, let's talk about impeachment first. The process is finally behind us. The president was acquitted, Mark.

    Looking back on it, what do you make of the process and the outcome?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, let me begin by saying, David correctly predicted the outcome.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Mark Shields:

    And so, you know, I have to defer and acknowledge that.

    Judy, there was a reluctance on the part of Nancy Pelosi and the speaker — and speaker and the leadership to approach impeachment. They didn't see it as a political winner. But it was forced upon them by the president and by the revelation that he was shaking down, if not extorting, an ally to obtain unflattering, libelous information on his principal — a principal political opponent.

    So they were left with no choice. I think that, you know, several people acquitted themselves well. I will say that Mitt Romney restored some faith in the process. We have gone through a great time in American politics where religion is involve where your question is, does your faith inspire your politics, or does your politics shape your faith?

    And I think Mitt Romney, to his credit, stood as a witness to his belief and his convictions.

    But Donald Trump emerges from it emboldened, as by — demonstrated by his remarkably egregious behavior since then at the Prayer Breakfast, in the White House, and public utterances, and in today's actions.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What are we left work, David, after this process is over?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, it could be, as Mark said, they were forced to do it by the president's behavior. I think that's a plausible argument.

    I do think they paid a political price. When this started, in Gallup…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    They being the Democrats?

  • David Brooks:

    The Democrats. The Gallup had Trump approval at 39 percent. The latest Gallup number is 49 percent. That's a gigantic leap.

    The Republican Party is more popular now than any time since 2005. More Americans identify with the Republican Party than the Democratic Party now. And as Gallup — the Gallup, when they announced these numbers, they said this is sort of what happened when Clinton was impeached.

    There's something about this process the American people don't like, or some percentage of the American people. So, I think there was a political cost.

    It may not be — it might have been worth the political cost just to do something right for the country and to enforce the norms of our democracy.

    And in the days since, we certainly have seen a moral contrast of a bold sort. The Romney — the speech he gave, he had a phrase in there, he did in abeyance to his creator, but he also said, I have to live under the censure of my conscience.

    And I love that phrase. And how many times have you seen a politician recently use that phrase? And so he had to do the right thing. And politicians don't like acting alone. They'd rather go in a group. And Romney was alone among Republicans.

    And so, maybe in the long term, when we look back on this era, we will celebrate Nancy Pelosi for doing it. I wish there had been a way where they could censure something else to get this done more quickly, so we could move on, because the outcome was foreordained.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, Senator Romney, Mark, has already gotten the censure of the president.

    The president has been — turned around and accused him — talked about what a terrible campaign he ran for president.

    We are left with a — what we watched at the State of the Union, the president clearly — I mean, he was more restrained that night, but then, in his speech yesterday, lashing out at Romney, at Pelosi, and then, on her part, having torn up the speech on live television.

    We — the country feels just — we were divided, but now really bitterly divided.

  • Mark Shields:

    No, I think you're absolutely right, Judy.

    I — the president, one of the few people he quoted approvingly was Douglas MacArthur. And it was MacArthur who said, lord, build me a son who is humble in victory and proud in defeat.

    And Donald Trump was the antithesis of that. I mean, he was — he was vengeful, he was vindictive, he was mean-spirited, and small-minded, and not only his attack upon Mitt Romney, but how about the cultish, slavish reaction of his assembled serfs? Because they are.

    They are political and emotional serfs of his, whether they're in the Cabinet or in the Congress. I mean, to applaud that — I feel sorry for Utah. It was just amazing.

    Now, the State of the Union address, in his defense, he did do — he outstripped everything that Ronald Reagan had ever done in acknowledging people from the balcony.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The president. The president.

  • Mark Shields:

    The president did.

    I mean, that was — I mean, there wasn't an emotional chord he didn't touch.

    But as far as a speech and reporting to the state of the union, contrast it with FDR's four freedoms State of the Union in 1941 on the eve of World War II, I think, as an institution, the State of the Union address is probably handicapped, if not hobbled permanently.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I actually thought it was his most effective speech as president.

    He had some of the stuff he has always had, which is these bogus stories of crimes that immigrants have committed.

    But if you go back to his campaign in 2016, it was an American carnage campaign. It was all crime. It was all fear. It was all division.

    But now he has turned — and I think he's done a little bit of as — the best he can do with his character, morning in America, just bragging on the economic success we have had as a country over the last years, which he is absolutely correct about; 59 percent of Americans say they're better off this year than they were last year. That's the highest number in the history of that question.

    And so the economy is doing really well. And if he can run a campaign as, hey, you don't have to like me, but I can deliver a good economy, that to me is his best campaign.

    And he then follows it up with gracelessness. But if his approval rating stays at 49, people seem to be willing to tolerate gracelessness.

  • Mark Shields:

    Just one thing, that a cynic is somebody who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

    I mean, America is are a lot more than the economy. I mean — and you're absolutely right. The Democrats should acknowledge we have the lowest unemployment, or the gross domestic product has grown.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we talked about that on the program.

  • Mark Shields:

    There's no question about it.

    But, I mean, America stands for a lot more than that. And the values of this country have been tarnished and diminished.

  • David Brooks:

    Well, you can beat a strong economy, but you have to have something else people care about most.

    Nixon had law and order in '68, a strong economy. 1960, John F. Kennedy had the missile gap. Last time, actually, Trump had white American nationalism.

    But you got to have some other issue. And I'm not sure the Democrats have found that issue. And they're doing a big-mistake by poor-mouthing the economy, I think.

  • Mark Shields:

    I couldn't agree with you more. There's no point in poor-mouthing the economy.

    But America's larger than just the gross domestic product.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But another thing the president was crowing about was the chaos of the Iowa caucuses, Mark.

    We saw a state that was the first in the nation, all eyes on Iowa.

  • Mark Shields:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we didn't have results…

  • Mark Shields:

    No.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … until partial results the next day, supposedly final result yesterday. There may be a recanvass.

    I mean, where does this leave the Democratic Party?

  • Mark Shields:

    A disgrace, a disgrace, Judy, yes, an absolute abomination.

    I mean, and Democrats stand guilty, the Democratic Party of Iowa in particular. I mean, Iowa had one responsibility. It's been given an enormous opportunity. And that was to winnow. Iowa winnows, the only time we hear the word winnow in American politics. It winnows it down.

    Three tickets out of Iowa. Now everybody comes out of Iowa. I mean, there was no winnowing. And the loss of confidence. All that effort, all of that energy, all that idealism poured in.

    But the other thing, Judy, you cannot ignore, is that only 170,000 people showed up. There were 240,000 in 2008 with Barack Obama.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The numbers.

  • Mark Shields:

    I mean, Democrats are not excited. They're not energized, at least in turnout numbers.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You say no winnowing.

    And yet, David, Joe Biden's camp seems to be worried. They have reshuffled the leadership, as we just heard Lisa reporting.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders seem to have gotten a little bit of a lift.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, for sure.

    But I think the result in Iowa guarantees that we're going to have a long battle, that Mike Bloomberg decided to double his investment. Tom Steyer released an ad today directly going after Buttigieg and Biden by name. And so it's about to get a lot more brutal.

    I do think Sanders is now the front-runner. And Buttigieg has the advantage of having run a good operation. The doubts people had about his age, well, campaigns matter. And if you run a good campaign, then that says, well, maybe he's experienced enough to do this job.

    And Biden did not run a good campaign. And what disturbed me, frankly, today about the Biden campaign is, my newspaper did a recriminations story. And a lot of the people, almost all the people in the Biden campaign in Iowa went on the record.

    And when they go on the record, that's not a good sign, because that means there's real, I'm saving myself, or whatever it's going to be, or they're so fed up with the way the campaign was run.

    So running a good campaign means you outperform your expectations, which Buttigieg did. Running a bad campaign means you underperform, which Biden did.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How do you size up the shape of these campaigns?

  • Mark Shields:

    I think Buttigieg comes out with considerable momentum.

    Bernie, Bernie Sanders, got less than half of the vote that he got four years ago in Iowa as a percentage. Granted, there was a bigger field, but he was one-on-one at that point.

    And I think I think that, right now, from every — all my reports, that it's a Buttigieg-Sanders race in New Hampshire.

    What Buttigieg did in Iowa was, he didn't just go to — like Warren and Sanders did, to the pockets of Democratic energy and enthusiasm and the campuses. He went statewide, so it was a lot broader victory.

    I think it'll be a little tougher to sell, I am the candidate of the heartland in Laconia and Manchester and Concord, New Hampshire, than it was in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids.

    But I think that he did pass the first test. Running for president and being able to run a successful campaign is a pretty good test for somebody in whether, in fact, they're up to that challenge.

    And I think — I think he's met it right now. But I think this is Joe Biden's last stand, I mean, if he doesn't do it in the debate tonight, and somehow turn it around.

    But every report is the lack of energy and intensity in that campaign.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In the…

  • Mark Shields:

    That's — electability, Judy, and experience are two — a pair of threes in a poker game. They're not a winning hand.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But this is somebody who we are told has a great organization and a lot of favorable — I mean, a lot of voters behind him in South Carolina, Nevada.

    So, we don't — we can't look in the crystal ball, but…

  • David Brooks:

    Yes. No, I certainly would not write off Joe Biden just yet.

    But we have to see, will the African-American voters in South Carolina go to somebody else? There's been no evidence that Buttigieg appeals to African-American voters. There's been some evidence that Bernie Sanders does.

    I really do think you have to think — I think I agree with Mark Buttigieg is looking very strong. But I think you have to say, Sanders is now the clear front-runner. He's just national. He's experienced. He's built an organization. He's competitive everywhere.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you see it's Sanders and Buttigieg?

  • Mark Shields:

    Going — in New Hampshire.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In New Hampshire.

  • Mark Shields:

    And I think New Hampshire — what New Hampshire says, Iowa picks corn, we pick presidents. That's what they always say, chauvinistically.

    We will find out Tuesday.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A little — excuse me.

    One note that I'm hearing from our producer Sara Just, and that is that one more evidence of, I guess you call it, vindictiveness from the president, the removal of Gordon Sondland, who's the U.S. ambassador to the European Union…

  • Mark Shields:

    Oh, really? Oh, boy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … who was another major figure in the impeachment hearings in the House.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Mark Shields:

    They're going to go after everybody who testified.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, we will see where that goes from here.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We just learned that news.

    Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you both.

  • Mark Shields:

    Thank you.

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