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Shields and Brooks on Trump’s focus on immigration, midterm closing arguments

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the uptick of extremism during this election season, as well as the role of immigration and racial politics in the 2018 midterm elections.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, it is the final Friday before Election Day, and President Trump continues firing up his base — or trying to — on the campaign trail.

    For some analysis on that and more, it's Shields and Brooks time. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Hello to both of you.

  • Mark Shields:

    Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, David, the president — we have been talking about it all week — out on the trail, every day, in a way, presenting a darker and darker picture of what's going to happen if the migrants come across the border, if we let too many immigrants in, if this happens or that happens.

    Is this a successful strategy on his part?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, releasing a pretty straight-up racist video ad.

    So, it's a surprising strategy. The guy is sitting on the best economy of our lifetime, potentially. Wages are going up even for those at the bottom of the skill set scale.

    So he could have a very good story to tell: "Hey, you may not like me, but I gave you this economy."

    But that is not what he's doing. He mentions the economy, of course, but he's closing on immigration. And it's a big risk. And it's basically telling a lot of people that this is the heart and soul of the Republican Party, building a wall, keeping immigrants out.

    And it's a message built quite on a lot of bigotry.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark, what do you see?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, Judy, the earlier segment with Amna and Heather Long from The Washington Post, I mean, just summed up the campaign and the total disconnect.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    On the economy.

  • Mark Shields:

    It's just — it's remarkable, I mean, 250,000 jobs, biggest year-to-year increase in wages. I mean, it's just good news.

    You think they'd be humming, happy days are here again. Instead, the president's out there saying, I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore. I mean, it is a — it is a disconnect.

    And — but I think, at a political level, it's pretty obvious. It's a red state strategy to save the Senate. That's what it is. He's not — they have basically given up on the suburbs, I think it's fair to say, Republicans.

    If you are — if you're Barbara Comstock sitting here in neighboring Virginia…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Northern Virginia.

  • Mark Shields:

    … in Northern Virginia, in Fairfax County, I mean, this is not what you want to hear. I mean, this is a — you have got a great economy, just a remarkable economy, 97 consecutive months, going back — you have to include Barack Obama, obviously, in that — but of job growth.

    I mean, it is a — it's a boom. But he just avoids it, and basically baits and plays to — as David writes, to the darkest fears, rather than the aspirations, hopes and inspiration of the American people.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David, you finished using the word bigotry. I mean, what kind of long-lasting damage, if any, is being done right now?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I think, in the previous segment, we heard this could be a wave election. I don't think wave is the right word, because wave implies movement.

    And I don't think there's been much movement. I think the two parties are entrenching. And so people in rural America really like Republicans. People in urban and increasingly suburban America really like Democrats.

    And over the last three years, there's been not much change in the polls. But the entrenchment is there, so people are much more firmly anchored in their positions. And that tends to produce a Democratic House.

    The tragedy, to me, is that that sows a division, a very serious division. And we have talked about it. I have counted up how many states I have been in the last three months. It's been 23 states. And it's a sense that you get two different electorates who are not even having — it's not like they disagree on the issues. They're having two different conversations.

    And so you got that kind of division. And then this campaign really sows racial divisions in a pretty naked way. And, if it pays off, and if the Republicans somehow keep the House, well, that's just like a permission slip to a lot of pretty bad behavior, I think.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you mentioned wave. I think Patrick and Domenico were saying small wave, a wave in the Northeast, a different kind of a wave in the Midwest, and different parts of the country.

  • Mark Shields:

    Is this a meteorological show?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Mark Shields:

    Squalls. There's going to be Democratic squalls.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, Mark, I mean, you both have referred to this.

    The president — there was an ad put out by the White House this week showing a man who was convicted of murder. And they were comparing him to the migrants coming across the border today.

    The president himself tweeted a photograph of himself and talked about sanctions are coming, and people have made the comparison to "Game of Thrones," the TV — popular TV series.

    What are we seeing here?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, I think there's a historical guide here, Judy, for Republicans. And I think they ought to pause before they pledge over the abyss.

    I mean, two different states, California and Texas, and Republicans in California — in Texas, certainly under George W. Bush as governor, even Rick Perry, were welcoming and reached out to immigrants, said, we share your values. We welcome you. We want you.

    George W. Bush got 45 percent of the Hispanic vote in Texas while running for governor. In California, by contrast, in Proposition 187 in 1994, Governor Pete Wilson, in a tough reelection race, decided to ban any public services, including public schools, from the children of undocumented immigrants.

    And it passed. It got Pete Wilson reelected. And it made Hispanics permanently into a Democratic constituency, and made California permanently into a blue state.

    If you're interested in Republicans doing well, I think you would look at the Texas example and say, that's worked.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Mark Shields:

    But, obviously, Donald Trump has chosen a different class, and Republicans are following him, quite loyally.

  • David Brooks:

    And if I could just make one moral point, there are a lot of ways to be racist. You can use a racial slur. You can say something derogatory.

    But another way is to take a very unrepresentative, extreme example in one racial group, and pretend that they are the typical.

  • Mark Shields:

    That's right.

  • David Brooks:

    And that's exactly what this ad did.

    And so that — that's just a straight-up racist maneuver. And the weird thing is — weird is an understatement — is that it wasn't really an ad released for the public. It was a video ad released so people like me would complain about it.

    And then they could say, oh, look, the media is complaining about this. You remember how much you hate those media people?

    And so it's designed to yank our chain, basically.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes.

  • David Brooks:

    And so we're put in the position of, either we say what's unacceptable is unacceptable, or we allow it to pass.

    And so we're in a no-lose position. Either way, Trump gets to say, you're against those people, you're against those people, see, those people hate me, you're on my side.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And it reinforces the point — the point the president is making.

    And, Mark all this on the heels of the pipe — series of pipe bombs that were mailed around to people, Democrats who have been critical of the president. We heard today there was another pipe bomb that had been mailed to Tom Steyer, the billionaire who's been running those ads calling for the impeachment of President Trump.

    And then, of course, the terrible shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh last week. And at one point, then we heard the president this week talk about that slowed his momentum.

    But, I mean, we have come to — we have come to a moment, I think, where I think a lot of people are asking, is this the way it's going to be, where we just — where people feel released to do more and more acts of violence, that there's something out there that condones that or supports it?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, I certainly pray not.

    But I don't think there's any argument that, whatever Donald Trump does well, he doesn't do the job of the consoler in chief, of uniter. It is not only bothersome — and Charlottesville being a perfect example, but, I mean, Pittsburgh.

    The one saving grace was, he didn't say anything when he went to Pittsburgh publicly. And I think it's fair to say, Judy, without being harshly partisan, that Donald Trump, there's a teleprompter Donald Trump, and there's an authentic Donald Trump that we see in tweets and his public utterances.

    And to see him winking and nodding, say, oh, I'm not saying anything bad, at his rallies, see, oh, aren't I being a good boy, I mean, it was — it was so offensive. And it was Helsinki, it was Charlottesville, and it's Pittsburgh.

    And to complain that the massacre of 11 people, 11 Americans, because of their religion by a hate merchant, that it was somehow an interruption, a discommoding for his campaign, is just really offensive.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    And I would say, when you have a society with a lot of social breakdown and social isolation, you have a tinderbox. You have got a lot of lonely young men who have had to — according — this guy in Pittsburgh had no friends in high school, few friends in adulthood. His neighbors said he lived in his own world, sitting alone in his car smoking and listening to the radio.

    That — people like that sometimes make a desperate bid to go from insignificance to infamy by doing something big. And they sometimes do it by killing innocents.

    And then when you throw extremism onto that tinderbox, you're going to wind up with a lot of this. And so it's those two things, I think, that have created the mass of shootings, sometimes against innocent school kids, sometimes against innocent worshipers at a synagogue.

    And so both — it takes both those elements, but we have a lot of both those elements. We have a lot of isolation, and we have a lot of extremism.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, as we come down to just not even four days now, Mark, until people — until Election Day, is there a message, is there a clear message from Democrats? Do they need to be united in a message? What are we hearing?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, I mean, the Democrats have essentially been, we're going to be a check, a balance, we want balance restored, we're going to be a check on Donald Trump.

    They have obviously emphasized health care and the Republicans voting 54 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and now saying that, well, but we want to preserve the preexisting condition.

    But there isn't an overarching Democratic message. And I think the Democrats, quite frankly, even in the face of the caravan, have not had a coherent or united message to answer for it, I mean, that maybe — I think at some point, they have to assert that illegal immigration is illegal.

    And while we recognize the suffering of people, that this is — just can't be accepted. And the only answer is not just they're 1,000 miles away, and they're going to be a month before they get here. I really think that — I think that's been a lack of the Democratic policy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And sending troops to the border and ending legal asylum and so on.

    But what do you hear from the Democrats?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    Well, first, it's not hard to say, illegal immigration is illegal, but we're for diversity. Like, some party ought to just stand up and say, we are for diversity.

  • Mark Shields:

    That's right.

  • David Brooks:

    We believe it's good for the country.

    And I wish the Democrats were doing a little more of that, or a Republican.

    The word — the key word I think of in this election is unraveling. I think there's a sense, both on the Republican side and the Democratic side, that something is unraveling. And they tell radically different stories.

    From the Republican side, it's immigration is causing a social unraveling, media elites are causing a cultural unraveling, there's an unraveling between men and women on gender roles. And that's one sense.

    I think, on the Democratic side, there's a sense that our norms are unraveling, our sense of unity and tolerance is unraveling.

    And so I think the — it's not a normal election, because it's about existential angst and a sense of fear that something fundamental is happening in our society.

    And so, yes, it is about health care. Yes, it is about immigration, but there's that much deeper sense of anxiety that I think is really what this election is about.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Which raises questions about, whatever the results are, how does that — how does that shift?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

  • Mark Shields:

    It's going to be a realigning election, Judy. (LAUGHTER)

  • Mark Shields:

    It is.

    I mean, at the end of his election, you will see groups that have never voted Democratic before voting overwhelmingly Democratic, including suburban high-education voters, and people who voted Democratic all their lives have gone to the Trump side.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we are so glad that the two of you are going to be with us on election night, all night long.

    Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.

  • Mark Shields:

    Thank you.

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