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Shields and Brooks on Trump’s attacks, Biden vs. Sanders on health care

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 attack on four congresswomen of color, the Republican response to Trump’s controversial rhetoric, whether race politics is smart election strategy and the battle over health care policy among 2020 Democrats.

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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.

  • Mark Shields:

    Thank you, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So let's go back to these attacks by the president. They have now lasted a full week on these Democratic congresswomen, all of them, congresswomen, all members — all women of color.

    He has called them a variety of names and he's told them, David, to go back to their countries, their home countries. Of course, they're all U.S. citizens. Three of them were born in the United States.

    What does all this tell us about President Trump, about these women member of Congress, about our country? And what does it say about racism?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, it's racist. Let's get that off the top. It's a pretty clear example of it.

    To me, it shows that what Trump wants to do is make this election about what America is. And he has a certain vision of what America is.

    And his vision, America is xenophobic. The good people of the heartland are being threatened by outsiders and by Muslims and by people who don't look like them. It's a vision that is nostalgic, looking backward to the past. And it's a vision of a white America, that white Protestants created this country, and the rest of us are here by their sufferance.

    And this is the national story he wants to tell. And I think it's up to the rest of us to tell a better story about America, that we're a universalistic country, we're a country defined by our future, what we're building, and not by our past, and that we're a country that's traditionally had a mission to cross frontiers.

    And one of the missions we have right now is to create a mass multicultural democracy, where people of all races can be united in one democratic process. And that is a hard thing to do.

    But Donald Trump is pointing us in the exact opposite direction.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How do you see all this?

  • Mark Shields:

    I see it probably less cosmically than David…

  • Mark Shields:

    … although I agree totally with his historical and philosophical perspective. I don't think Donald Trump has a vision.

    I think he has a vision of the campaign. What Donald Trump wants to do — Richard Nixon, who, along with Franklin Roosevelt, only two Americans ever to run five times for national office, and win four times, said of vice presidents, when you pick a vice presidential running mate, it never helps you, it always hurt you, because you're either explaining or defending or apologizing for what that vice presidential nominee said that morning in Portland or Peoria.

    Case for the prosecution, Sarah Palin and John McCain. And what Donald Trump is trying to do, in a very cynical and callous fashion — and David's absolutely right about the racist implications of it — is to marry these four freshman members, to make them the running mate, whoever the Democratic nominee is.

    And the Democratic nominee then would have to — these — the four of them — let's be very blunt about it — like Donald Trump, are heliotropic plants. Heliotropic plants, sunflowers, seek the sun. They turn to get the sun's rays.

    These four women have shown a remarkable facility and gift for seeking cameras and seeking microphones, and winning that attention, just as Donald Trump did.

    And so that's what he wants to do. They have said — got there by saying terribly controversial things, by criticizing their own party leadership. And that's what Donald Trump wants to do to whoever the Democratic nominee is.

    He knows, if the election of 2020 is a referendum on who he is and his failings, Americans do not like him. They do not trust them. They do not respect him. They do not think that he is an object of inspiration in any way to them or their children. Then he loses. But he has to make it about something other than himself.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But — so, David, does this help the president? I'm asking in part because we watched the cross-section of Republican reaction. Some Republicans were critical.

    A few, a number of them embraced him, but a lot of them were quiet.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, there are two theories of how Trump could win this election.

    One is — and they're both based on, I, Donald Trump, have to win over people who don't like me, because the majority doesn't like Donald Trump.

    The one theory is, he drives the Democratic Party so far left that people think they have no choice but to vote for Donald Trump.

  • Mark Shields:

    The '72.

  • David Brooks:

    Right.

    And by embracing the Squad — and by attacking the Squad, he forces the entire Democratic Party to embrace the Squad, and the Squad becomes the voice of the Democratic Party, at least for a week.

    And that's one theory.

    The second theory is, I don't like Donald Trump, but I like this economy. And that theory is, you lay low and just let the economy do your speaking for you.

    Laying low is not really Donald Trump's style. So he's going with this.

    Do I think it will end up working? No, because, fundamentally, the vast majority of America like living in a diverse country. The vast majority of America abhor racism. And so it may work with a small base, but I think, on balance, the evidence is very clear the vast majority of the country finds it repellent.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we had a crowd behind him this week in North Carolina, Mark.

  • Mark Shields:

    He did. They were — he was with the crowd, and then he was against the crowd. Now he's back with the crowd, we have learned most recently.

    Judy, the vote for president is the most personal vote that any of us Americans cast. We're far more apt to cast a vote based on issues, whether it's the economy, or immigration, or the environment, for the United States senator for Congress.

    But in a presidential race, we have an information overload. We have a feel for who these people are as individuals and whether we would like them, whether we trust them.

    Donald Trump is presiding over the greatest economy, in employment terms, in the history of any American under the age of 68. You could say, 50 years ago, it was, you know, almost as good. We were at war then. This is a peacetime economy. It's a remarkable thing.

    And yet, Judy, we sit here tonight, and 13 percent of Americans say they're often inspired by what he says. And half of Americans say they're never inspired. Americans do not trust him. I mean, one-third think he's honest and trustworthy.

    So, Donald Trump has to make this election not about him. If it's about him, if it's a referendum on him and his qualities, because Americans have already decided. They don't. He's never been a single day of his presidency had a majority of Americans say they approve of him, with this greatest economy ever.

    So, I mean, he wants to make it — he doesn't want to make it about him. He was smart, he would just withdraw and go to ground zero and say, look at the economy. I have done it. I'm working on it. That's all I'm doing, and keep — he can't. He cannot.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    It's worth pointing out that my newspaper had an analysis today by heliotropic on how the Electoral College could differ from the actual popular vote. And the analysis was, Trump could lose the popular vote by 5 percentage points, which is way more than I think the 2.8 he lost last time…

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes. Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes.

  • David Brooks:

    … and still carry the Electoral College.

    So this really is about Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, among other things, the president managed to overshadow what had been a dispute between the Squad and Speaker Pelosi, but also overshadow a lot of what the Democrats, who are running — running for president, running against him next year, are saying out on the campaign trail, David.

    But there was one dispute among these candidates that I want to ask the two of you about, and that's on health care. Bernie Sanders is out there saying, let's move to single-payer, doubling down on that, saying that's the way we take care of all Americans.

    But you have Al Gore doubling down on Obamacare. What does this add up to?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    I mean, Joe Biden was…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What did I say? I said…

  • David Brooks:

    You said Al Gore.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I meant…

  • Mark Shields:

    He may very well be…

  • David Brooks:

    Is he running too? Is he going to be on the debate stage?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, overshadow, but not that much.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Joe Biden

  • David Brooks:

    Joe Biden.

    You know, I, of course, think Joe Biden's policy is a better policy. And I just think, politically, it's better because I just don't think 170 million Americans with their private insurance plans are going to want to give that up.

    And I happen to think that's a death knell for any Democratic candidate.

    To me, the interesting question can be for Democrats to say, hey, all we have got to be is neutral to beat this guy. Let's be neutral. And let's not get carried away.

    And that would be a very rational way to conduct this campaign. Let Donald Trump kill himself and let's just not be objectionable.

    It's not in the spirit of the Democratic Party right now. The ideological fervor is with the — Warren and it's with the Squad. That's where the excitement is. And so it'll be interesting to see if somebody can pull off a campaign that basically says, let's not get carried away.

    To me, it doesn't feel like that kind of year. It feels like a year where fervor is going to defeat that kind of moderation, if you want to put it that way.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Where do you see the…

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, I would just point out Jonathan martin, David's paper, today spoke about seven Democratic governors who won in 2018, who are quite upset, exercised about the theme, the direction, the passion of these Democrats.

    David mentioned the states…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That they're moving too left, too far to the left?

  • Mark Shields:

    That they're moving too left.

    And I take the consensus, certainly my own was, and of Democrats I talked to after the first debates, was also one. I didn't — very few who were cheered by it whose objective and principle, operating principle was nominating a candidate who could defeat Donald Trump and be a good president at the same time.

    So, you look at this, Judy, and I think you have to say that, if you — you just won the election in 2018. Granted, it was a congressional election, but health care was the dominant issue.

    John Boehner, who was the Republican speaker of the House, 25 years in the House of Representatives, freed of all obligations, given the candor of senior statesmanship, said, in 25 years in the House, never once, in all the years I worked on it, did the Republicans ever come up with a single health care plan.

    And he's absolutely right. There was never a consensus Republican health care plan. There wasn't in 2017. There wasn't in 2013. There wasn't in 2019.

    And so the point was, the Democrats can't give it away. This is their issue. They're the ones who sought — were fighting to protect preexisting condition for voters.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you're saying that's what Bernie Sanders…

  • Mark Shields:

    And I think that's exactly what Democrats do when they talk — I mean, you talk about winning the states David mentioned, where they're — those are states that do have strong labor union memberships.

    Labor unions have won for their membership, especially the industrial unions, autoworkers, steel, so forth, they have won great health care plans. Now, you start the election by saying, we're going to get rid of these, we're going to start — 170 million Americans with private insurance, you're not going to have it, going to have a better system, come on.

    I mean, is this realistic? Is this plausible?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, I mean, it's striking, but the fervor with the — Sanders, it strikes me, this whole week, the Pelosi vs. the Squad, and then Sanders vs. Biden, there's — there's a split here between people like Pelosi, who is pretty liberal.

    But she basically grew up in a time when you worked within the system. There's a system here, you have to compromise, you have to dialogue, and you just get what you can. The question is not, what do I want? It's, how much can I get right now?

    And a lot of people say, no, I'm not working within the system. I'm blowing up the system.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • David Brooks:

    And, frankly, Donald Trump on the right is a little bit. The Squad is certainly that. And Bernie Sanders is certainly that.

    And I was very struck by how tough Sanders went after Biden, called him a liar.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • David Brooks:

    That was above — which he wasn't. He didn't lie in that case.

    And so it was a pretty brutal campaign, if people want to tear down not only the system, but parts of the Democratic Party.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we are watching it.

    And we need to be talking about these Democratic candidates, because they are — they have got another debate coming up next week. And we're going to be looking at that.

    David Brooks, Mark Shields, thank you both.

  • Mark Shields:

    Thank you, Judy.

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