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Shields and Brooks on Trump’s declining support, Biden’s campaign strategy

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Amna Nawaz to discuss the week in politics, including the growing rift between President Trump and Dr. Anthony Fauci, what GOP criticism of Trump means for his reelection bid, the latest primary election results and poll numbers and the ongoing debate over mail-in ballots.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    We now turn to the political analysis of Shields and Brooks. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Welcome back to you both.

    And, Mark, a very special welcome back to you. We're glad to see you again.

    I want to start with you.

    We heard Dr. Anthony Fauci tell Judy just a little while ago he believes he has the full backing of the White House, from the president on down.

    When you look back at the week and the criticism some White House officials were lobbing at Dr. Fauci, what were you thinking?

  • Mark Shields:

    I was thinking, he's a remarkable — he's a public treasure, somebody who is so large, that he doesn't personalize criticism, sniping from the White House that, obviously, is both jealous and upset with his candid assessment.

    I mean, I — he has an exceptional ability to explain the mysteries of disease and medicine to Americans, ordinary Americans, including this one, and do so in an unvarnished and just brave way.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    David, I got to ask you.

    The president's criticism, and other White House officials' criticism of Dr. Fauci, the lack of response to the pandemic that's led to some criticism of President Trump himself from within his own party I wanted to ask you about.

    We have now heard an outright defense of Fauci and criticism of the president from Senator Mitt Romney, from Congresswoman Liz Cheney. There was that scathing op-ed from Maryland Governor Larry Hogan.

    What does all of that, open critique from senior Republican officials, say to you now?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, there are a couple of gigantic curves that explain what's going on right now.

    The one is the curve of the daily infection, and that's just like zoom. That's up to 77,000 new cases a day now.

    The other curve is of Trump approval, and that's zoomed down. And then the third curve is Republican Party I.D. If you look at the Gallup numbers, in January of this year, if you asked people, what party do you sort of lean toward, it was 49 percent Republican and 30 — and 47 percent Democrat. So the Republicans had a 2 percentage point lead.

    Now it's 50 point Democrat, 39 Republican. The Democrats have an about 11-point party I.D. lead. That is just a monumental shift in six months. That doesn't happen very often.

    And Republicans are seeing that, and they're rightly panicking. They are rationally panicking, which is what they should be doing, and, therefore, the criticism.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Mark, speaking of shifts over time, I want to point you to some recent poll numbers we saw from The Washington Post and ABC News, showing that, regardless of what's happening in the party, President Trump is losing some support among core parts of his coalition from back in 2016.

    Among white evangelicals, support has dropped 16 points, now at 68 percent. Among white men without college degrees, it's dropped 15 points down to 56 percent. Among rural residents, it's down to 48 percent. That's an 11-point drop.

    Do you look at those numbers and see those as signs of trouble for the president?

  • Mark Shields:

    Oh, sure. They are signs of trouble, Amna, make no mistake about it.

    And the reality is this, that Donald Trump has had a very loyal, very consistent cadre of support, rather remarkable.

    As one of the most prominent and respected Republicans in the country said to me today, voters are just — and a Trump supporter — he said, voters are just tired. They're exhausted. They are tired of the chaos. They're tired of the melodrama. They are looking for calm, and they're looking for emotional maturity.

    And, as of today, Joe Biden is the one of the two who fills that bill.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    David, what do you make of that? Speaking of Biden, what does all this mean for him? It seems the campaign is very much steady as she goes, even as we have seen chaos in the Trump campaign, including a campaign shakeup, right, at the very top.

    There was the ousting of the campaign manager, Brad Parscale, for the elevation of Bill Stepien, who is now running that campaign. What does this mean for Biden?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, Biden is running an underappreciated campaign, I think a very good campaign.

    They are keeping him somewhat under wraps, but he's making enough statements to be in the news. And then he's focused his campaign and — at least a part of his campaign on the white working class. This is a class he emerges from. It's 44 percent of the electorate. It's whites without a college degree.

    And this is a very important part of the Republican base. This is the Republican base. Trump beat Clinton among this group by 28 percent. But Biden is able to speak to this group. He doesn't, frankly, offend this group by being, frankly, a coastal elitist.

    And in the two financial packages he announced this week, he sends money directly at the white working class.

    I had a chance, with a few other columnists, interview him this week, and he talked about manufacturing over and over and again, getting another — our industrial economy going and going again. And the people who would be hired would be African-Americans and members of this group.

    And so he's directly talking straight at them. And if he can take the white working class away from the Republicans, then he's recreated the New Deal coalition, and realigned our politics.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Mark, what do you make of the way that Biden's been messaging and laying out these new policy proposals? We know that there persists that enthusiasm gap, when you look at the numbers, right? More people are saying that they're enthusiastic about supporting Mr. Trump than say they're enthusiastic about supporting Biden.

    Is what he's doing enough and sustainable through November?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, I think — first of all, I stand corrected on Joe Biden.

    He finished a weak fifth in Iowa — a fourth in Iowa, a weak fifth in New Hampshire. He was given up for dead by many of us, and I think probably yours truly included, and went on to win in South Carolina and sweep to the nomination, without ever compromising and capitulating on the shiny objects of Medicare for all or whatever else. He had the resistance of standing against that.

    I think, as we look at it right now, that Donald Trump, voters have really made up their mind about him. The five polls, national polls this month, Donald Trump is 37, 39, 40, 41, and 40. They have made up their mind they don't want Donald Trump for another — another term.

    And I think Joe Biden is very much in the position that Ronald Reagan was in 1980. The voters had decided — it was a very close race between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. Voters had really decided they didn't want Carter to come back for a second term, but they had doubts and reservations.

    In that one debate, Ronald Reagan put those doubts to rest by showing that he was nonthreatening, didn't want to start World War III, and was a reasonable person.

    And, quite bluntly, that's what Joe Biden has to do. He can win by not being Donald Trump. But he could win a real victory by being decisive and effective in the debate. And those debates are going to be the only time that there's going to be really a major event involving the two candidates all year.

    We're not going to have the rallies and the bandwagons and the bands and the balloons. This is going to be it.

    And I would — Peter Hart said, Joe Biden ought to just spent three hours every day just preparing and repairing and comparing and getting his story down, because that will be the test.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    David, do you agree with that? I mean, the next few months are not going to look like any other last few months leading up to a general election.

    Do you think those numbers for President Trump will hold, given that we have no idea what will happen with the pandemic next?

  • David Brooks:

    I don't see how they turn around.

    There must be a way. They may tighten. I don't know the future. But I just don't see an occasion — I agree with Mark. I think the American public has made up their mind. But who knows? You would not want to bet much money on a Trump reelection right now.

    And, as for Biden, like, even in our conversation this week — I have interviewed Biden many, many times over the last 20 years. And the Biden I heard talk this week was the same guy that I have been interviewing this whole time. The idea that he's lost a step, if so, it was not evident in our conversation.

    I do think — I'm admiring of the way he's running the campaign. I think that economic populism message, left-wing version of it, is the right way to go.

    And, as Mark says, he has not done the things that would offend the middle of the electorate. Even this week, he said: I'm not for defunding the police. I'm for increasing funding for the police.

    And that is by far a majority position in this country. It's by far a majority position in the Democratic Party.

    And so they're running a canny campaign. I would prepare for the debates, as Mark says, because I hadn't thought about it until this moment, that that is really the only possible turning point that we're going to probably see.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, before we know what happens in November — it feels like a long time away — Mark, I have to ask you about some election results we do already have and can talk about.

    We saw Jeff Sessions lose in Alabama this week. In Maine, Sara Gideon is now going to be the candidate running against Republican Susan Collins. That is a race that you have been following. What do you think will happen there? And what do you think that means?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, I mean, Susan Collins is not to be written off.

    I mean, she's 24 years in the United States Senate. She survived, wins in all sorts of problems in that state. But I think, this year, she's in trouble. And she's tied with Donald Trump, even though she has established her independent record over the years. She's very much tied, I think, in voters' minds.

    And she will run better than Donald Trump in Maine. I think, if Donald Trump loses Maine decisively, Susan Collins is in trouble.

    As far as Jeff Sessions is concerned, he was Donald Trump, really, without the meanness before Trump on immigration, on trade. And because he took that one stand on recusing himself, he became Donald Trump's lifelong enemy, even though he had been the first senator to endorse him.

    And Trump exacted his pound of flesh. He ended his career in Alabama. And it shows Trump's clout with Republican primary voters in Alabama, make no mistake about it.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    David, what about you? When you look at the results we have this week, what messages do they hold for what we could see down the line?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, the Sessions race proves why Democrats — why Republicans are walking into their doom and they're not defecting from Trump. They have no good options. If they defect from Trump, they lose their people. If they don't, they lose the rest of the country.

    In Susan Collins' case, I think she would like 69 percent of the vote six years ago. But the times have changed. And her approvals are way down in the upper 30s in one poll I saw.

    People want to take — they want change. And we saw that in the Engel race. We see it. People are disgusted with the way the country is being run right now. And if you're a moderate Republican, like a moderate Democrat, it's just not a great place to be right now.

    I say that with some evident sadness.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Mark, before we go, I have to ask you about another story we have been tracking about absentee ballots.

    We have obviously seen them play a much bigger role in the primary elections this year and mid-pandemic, and will probably continue to be through the general election.

    Reports about tens of thousands of absentee ballots or mail ballots being rejected so far. How big an issue do you think this is going to be? And what kind of impact do you think it could have moving forward?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, it's a major issue.

    I mean, just think about New York, the Empire State. They voted on June 23. We just got the results today. And you're right. There is — people are unfamiliar with voting by mail.

    We have a national pandemic. We have to have — we have an obligation, as a nation, to make it possible and easy for people to vote, and that their vote is counted.

    And I really think every state, every officeholder has that responsibility, certainly every governor. And I think it's obvious that the Trump campaign is not interested in a huge turnout. But I really don't think they will be able to stop it this year.

    The enthusiasm is higher right now than it has been in October of past presidential years, in the interest. And I think we're going to have an enormous turnout.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    A lot we do not yet know, and a lot of questions, especially amid this pandemic.

    David Brooks and Mark Shields, always good to talk to you, especially at the end of this particular week. Thanks so much to both of you. Please stay safe.

  • Mark Shields:

    Thanks, Amna.

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