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Shields and Brooks on Trump’s nomination triumph, and why the Democratic race isn’t over

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And we take a close look now at this stunner of a week in American politics with Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields, and "New York Times" columnist David Brooks.

    Welcome, gentlemen.

    So, we just heard from a feisty Bernie Sanders. We're going to talk about him in a minute.

    But I first want to ask you about, I guess, kind of an earth quake that happened this week that many people thought wouldn't come, the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, David, is Donald Trump. I won't say if anybody in this room predicted he might not make this — reach this point, but what does it say that here he is against all odds?

    DAVID BROOKS, New York Times columnist: I'd like to assure you that he will not get the nomination.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    You know, it says a lot of things. It says the Republican establishment has been coasting on the fumes of Reaganite philosophy for too long which are not applicable to the day. It says that we have some people in America who are longing for a country that is never coming back, where a certain sort of white male ideal is the top of society and that's never coming back and they're looking for a white male to remind them of those days.

    It also says a lot of people are hurting for perfectly legitimate reasons. They've seen their jobs go, they've seen their neighborhoods go, they've seen their families go, they've seen drug addiction, they've seen unemployment, and they're pessimistic about the future and they're willing to take a flyer on the guy.

    And so, there are a lot of legitimate and illegitimate reasons why this guy is here. I don't think he's a legitimate candidate or would be a legitimate president but what he's done has to be respected to some degree.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    What would you add, Mark? How did he do this?

  • MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist:

    Judy, I think we missed the story, in the sense that we never examined the program sees that the Republican Party has been organized around, which is an aggressive foreign policy, a muscular defense policy, interventionists, a commitment to smaller government, and not open immigration but certainly, considerably welcoming immigration policy, and tax cuts.

    And Donald Trump went right by this argument. He basically did. I mean, he repealed the Republican interventionist defense foreign policy and, you know, emphasized his own opposition to the war in Iraq, and echoed some of the sentiments that the president himself has. I mean, our allies have to do more, that they have to contribute more to their own defense, and the responsibilities.

    But I would say beyond that, what he did was he put government — this is Henry Olsen, the conservative scholar's analysis, I think it's a good one — he advocates a government that is on the side of the people who are hurting, the people David described. I mean, he's not going to change Social Security. He's going to strengthen Social Security. He's going to make sure Social Security is there. He's going to make Medicare there and at the same time, he's going to use it to — aggressive opposition to trade policies, where these people in many cases as David mentioned have been the collateral damage.

    The big picture has been good. There are communities and families and individuals all over this country, and he spoke to them in a way that really neither party has and, you know, I think that has to be acknowledged, and just remarked upon. It's an amazing achievement what he's done.

    He's transformed the Republican electorate nominating the president.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, David, based on what Mark is saying and you touched on this a minute ago, I mean, what is the organizing principle for the Republican Party or people who vote Republican?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Well, I happen to figure the Republican Party is in a moment of cataclysmic darkness. But it's in a moment of pre-revolutionary moment that we'll probably have a cataclysm in the fall for the party, and then there'll be a moment of ferment where all sorts of different people begin to speak — trying to speak for the party and we'll have a scientific revolution, and then some new party will have emerged in five years. But I suspect it won't be Donald Trump because there is no there there, there's no policy there. There is Trump the personality but when he goes away, that's gone.

    What interests me about what he presents to the party that could last is a weird mixture of pessimism — build a wall, pull in American roles abroad and optimism.

    When you talk to the Trump supporters, they like the optimism, "Make America Great Again", you can't believe how great we're going to be. And so, there's this weird mixture of fear and hope that he embodies as a person.

    The other thing I'm thinking about is the next six months. We've seen in the last week or last day in training fire on Lindsey Graham and on Jeb Bush. He has great ability to train fire on people. That's going to be focused on Hillary Clinton for six months.

    What is that going to do to our politics? What is that going to do with the way she reacts? What is that going to do to the American psyche to have probably a level of personal viciousness that we actually haven't seen before because he does erase all the rules? That's going to have some permanent effect on the divisions within this country and probably at least in the short term not for the better.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    What about that, Mark? Does it make any difference that the leading lights in the Republican Party are either clearly not with him, the two former Republican — living Republican presidents, both Presidents Bush, Mitt Romney, John McCain are not going to the convention, they're not getting involved. Does that matter?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Yes, it speaks volumes. I mean, these are privileged observers who know the man. It's unthinkable that George W. Bush, the most recent Republican president could support him.

    I mean, this is a man, Donald Trump, who on the eve of the South Carolina primary, in the debate, accused George W. Bush not being simply being — having been negligent in the invasion of Iraq, or not having thought it through, but of deliberately and consciously knowing there were no weapons of mass destruction and sending Americans into combat and into death.

    I mean, that is such a charge of such magnitude and such seriousness, there's no way you could even, you know, stand in the same room with such a person which George W. Bush understandably does not want to do.

    But to David's point, what you're going to get I think from Trump is almost — it's the reality TV, sort of the wives of Jersey Shore, no thought goes, no matter how shallow, goes unexpressed. I mean, Lindsey Graham said he couldn't vote for him today. Fine, let it go. But he has to respond in kind.

    This is a man who's going to need, in our current political climate, 90 percent-plus of Republicans to have any kind of a chance to be competitive, and he doesn't have them now, and, you know, I just don't think if you're going to continue sniping and griping and just denigrate and demean other Republicans that you're ever going to get him.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Do you think there will be a third-party move on the part of conservatives, David? What —

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    No, there is not enough self-confidence to do that. There is not enough organizational structure. Right now, the Republicans who were non-Trump are deeply unhappy, deeply immobilized. Morale is low, conviction is low.

    So, I don't think they're going to do anything. They're just going to sit and avoid and hope to survive.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But there are tough decisions that Republicans will be making in the weeks —

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    It's especially tough, Judy, if you're a Republican running for Congress. I mean, you know, we now have nationalized our elections to the point where people vote the same way for president they vote for Congress, and there is very little overlap. And if Donald Trump is going to be in trouble in your district, you know, that's a problem for Republicans.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, let's talk about the Democrats, David. We just heard from Bernie Sanders. He didn't show any signs of slowing down. He's going to fight to the last dog dies, I guess, as somebody would put it.

    What do we have happening here in the Democratic race for president?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Well, Hillary Clinton's pretty weak. I mean, the loss — I confess I was surprised by her loss in Indiana. Usually, once it sort of gets settled, the party coalesces, but that doesn't happen. That is not happening, in part because he has his issues, he has his following, in part because she just hasn't been able to rally and inspire. And her base, her supporters, it's almost demographically defined, not intellectually or emotionally defined.

    And I — you know, she gave a speech in West Virginia this week which in some levels was a fine speech but it sounded like every other political speech you've heard, and the political proposals in there were fine, you know, expand community college, let's look at job training programs, they were fine. But they did not inspire an interest, they did not seem new, they did not seem fresh, and this is a year where freshness is really called for because of the mood of the country.

    And, so, I think imaginatively, she has not risen to the moment and still has not risen to this moment. She's now training fire on Trump and that will probably be enough. But in terms of inspiring people for an agenda when and if she becomes president is not really there yet in my mind.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    What do you see happening?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Well, I disagree in the sense that what have been her liabilities in the primaries, and they — and Bernie Sanders has a remarkable story. I mean, he's got 18 primary and caucus victories when people had written him off before.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And he's going to win more —

    (CROSSTALK)

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    He's going to win West Virginia and Oregon, according to poll information.

    And so, you know, 20 heading into California. It's pretty — it's remarkably impressive, 2.4 million contributors and all the rest of it. But I think in a strange way, what have been Hillary Clinton's liabilities, the lack of incitement, the long resume, the sort of stability and predictability could become great assets in a general election, running against this mercurial, flamboyant figure.

    I mean, she's going to — it's going to look like, wow, that's bedrock I think to a lot of American voters. Even ones right now who don't like her, don't intend to vote for her, she is going to look like the beacon, the island in a contest if it is a Trump-Clinton race, and I think it is a strength of hers, her stability and predictability and sort of solid commitment to policy and facts and background.

    I think that — I think that in a strange way what has been a liability could be a great asset.JUDY WOODRUFF: Could that work to her benefit? I mean, she still has to deal with Sanders.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Right. No, I agree with Mark. Generally, voters vote for the candidate of order, the one who seems safest, and she's certainly compared to, you know, Mr. Thermonuclear, Self-Implosion, Donald Trump, yes, she does seem safe.

    But I still think even — so she's likely to win, obviously. But as a president, being the status quo, being sitting on the course is probably still not what the country wants. And, so, I do think, if I were her, I would think where can I be more daring than I have been, and who can I hire that's more daring than I have been?

    Where — because Trump has — Sanders has big ideas, Trump has ideas that are big but hollow, but all of the sensible people have really small ideas. And I think she's included in that, and, frankly, Paul Ryan is, too, right now. I think a lot of his instincts are right. But the idea is people have been constrained by the last 20 years of what we can think about. And so, the ideas coming out of people that are respectable are just not big and daring.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Speaker Ryan has said he won't — at this point, he's not ready to support Trump.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    No, but I mean, you know, Bernie has got a big idea, free tuition at colleges. That's an idea sponsored by another Vermont member of congress, Justin Morrill, in 1862, in the middle of the Civil War. And we built the University of California, one of the great university systems and that's produced 81 Nobel Prize winners.

    So, you know, we're a time of small, timid ideas and have been. I mean, Barack Obama had big ideas in 2009 and 2010, and the voters spoke rather resoundingly in 2010, and he has not had anywhere near a working majority in the Congress since.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, I covered 2010. I didn't cover the Vermont politician in the 1800s.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    No, that was free tuition. That was Abraham Lincoln signing. Those were two Republicans. Those were big ideas. You know, the gross domestic product was then? Seven billion dollars and we did it. Isn't that remarkable? And we can't do it now?JUDY WOODRUFF: We're remarkable still.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    How does he know all this?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    He was there!

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I was.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    David Brooks, Mark Shields, thank you.

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