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Shields and Brooks on Trump’s poll numbers, health care in a pandemic

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including polling on President Trump’s job performance, the federal response to a surging coronavirus pandemic, the administration’s effort to strike down the Affordable Care Act, congressional divergence on police reform and whether Washington, D.C., will become a state.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

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

    So good to see both of you. Thank you for being here this Friday.

    So, let's start with some interesting poll numbers. They show not only President Trump running somewhere between eight, 12, even 14 points behind Joe Biden, but the president's disapproval ratings are at record highs.

    This is from the new Marist poll the "NewsHour" does with NPR and Marist, 58 percent disapproval for President Trump, the highest it has ever been. And then you see on this second graph his ratings, disapproval ratings higher than President Obama at his — at this stage of his presidency or President Bush 43 at this point in their first term in office.

    David, how significant is this?

  • David Brooks:

    Oh, pretty significant.

    The numbers are devastating for the president. But, you know, big things have happened. We're looking at possible really serious and long economic recession or depression. We're losing the battle against COVID. We're having a racial reckoning.

    And a lot of white Americans are learning what daily life is like for African Americans. These are just gigantic things that are happening in the country. And on each one of them, Donald Trump is considered an inadequate leader by a lot of people. So he's losing college-educated women. He's losing some high school-educated white men, just across the board.

    In our New York Times poll this week, Biden was winning by 14 percentage points. These are — there's no way, other than to say that some seismic shift is happening in the electorate right now, and a lot of people want to fire Donald Trump.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark, what do you see in these numbers, and how significant do you think they are?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, I think they're encouraging for the Democrats.

    But, at the same time, Judy, for those who want to put the champagne on ice, I would remind them of the wisdom of Ann Richards, the late governor of Texas, who said, July results do not make a November election.

    And, you know, this is not the first time that Democrats have had a large lead in the summer, and not managed to win in November.

    But I think for Donald — I think David's absolutely right about Donald Trump. He — right now, this election is a referendum on him. And he is failing that test on virtually every major ground.

    There's only two times it's good to be a United States president, one, when things are going so swimmingly, prosperity, and there's peace in the world, and you get to that — bask in that warmth of the era of good feeling.

    The second time is, strangely enough, when there's a catastrophe not of your making, an earthquake or a pandemic, as we're having now. And that's when a president can console and lead and comfort a nation and be really a figure who brings everybody together. Donald Trump has failed that, and failed it miserably, and I don't see a recovery.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, David, the president, though, is having his first rallies. He was out in Tulsa last weekend. He was in Arizona a few days ago getting thousands of people to show up, in Tulsa, what is it, 6,000.

    He's dismissing, if you will, the COVID virus, though. I mean, he's saying that, if more testing — if there were more testing done, there wouldn't be a virus. He is trying play to his base.

  • David Brooks:

    To some part of his base.

    There's some of the base that likes him. They like the showmanship of the rallies. They like the jokes. They like him spending 20 minutes talking about walking down a ramp, which he did in Tulsa.

    But there's a part of his base — and these are people who have supported him in the past — who hate all that stuff. They vote for him for judges or for some other issue, or because they think he's decent on the economy. But now he's not decent on the economy.

    And they really don't like the idea of voting for a president who seems racist. And so they might be with him on other issues, but — so you're seeing him — people flake away from him for really serious issues, for really serious reasons, not for some temporary tweet.

    And so I agree with Mark. This is not the time to celebrate. But we have had such a stable set of polls over the last three years, where Trump has just hung basically solid vis-a-vis other people. And now things look different. And they look different because big things are happening.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark, I mean, could his arguments about the virus appeal to enough people to somehow persuade them that he's got the right argument going here?

  • Mark Shields:

    I doubt it, Judy.

    He has not been a national leader on this issue. I mean, in fact, he's been a sniper on the sidelines too much, criticizing governors in Michigan and Minnesota and Virginia for taking measures to — in their states to lead to a lockdown, in hopes of curtailing it.

    Somehow, there seems to have emerged a choice between public health and a strong economy. And Donald Trump says, well, I'm for a strong economy. Open up that economy.

    But the reality is, we will not have a strong economy without restored public health. I mean, that's the route and the road to it. And I just think that he's going down a dead end. And it shows terrible indifference to the people who are his most loyal supporters.

    Those 3,000 kids in Arizona without masks, without any social distancing, that's a — that's a terrible prospect of illness forthcoming.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that's the image that the administration's projecting, David.

    The vice president today defending those rallies, saying there's a First Amendment right to assembly, people have a right to go out and support the candidate of their choice.

  • David Brooks:

    Well, I sort of have some sympathy for that.

    If we're going to have the George Floyd protests, which I think we should have had, you can't say to one group of people, you can protest, but, to another, you can't, obviously, once that precedent was set.

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • David Brooks:

    Though, you know, the more I think about this whole administration, there was a crucial moment, when the president basically chose Jared Kushner over Steve Bannon.

    And what's interesting about the Bannon populist wing is, they were very quick on this COVID situation. They were saying, this is a major crisis way back in February. They were: Let's take this seriously. Let's be the side of order. Let's be the side of the health hawks, if you want to put them that way.

    And Trump went the other way early in his administration, away from the populists, and toward more Wall Street people. And he said: No, it's nothing, because I don't want to hurt the market.

    And that shift in the administration, looking back on it, was one of the pivotal shifts in the administration. And I hate to be a praiser of Steve Bannon, but I think, frankly, the president would be a — in better shape, both substantively and politically, if he had listened to people on that wing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Interesting. We have forgotten about that.

    And, Mark, on top — to top it all off, it's what we talked about early in the program, the administration going to the Supreme Court to try to yet again do away with the Affordable Care Act.

    Is this something that's likely to win him friends and admirers at this stage of his reelection effort?

  • Mark Shields:

    No, Judy.

    John Boehner, the former Republican speaker of the House, was very candid on this subject, said, 25 years as a Republican in the House, not once, never once did Republicans ever agree on a health care plan. And he was absolutely right.

    There's never been a Republican health care plan. They're trying to repeal, replace the — the Affordable Care Act, but at a time when 20 million people are turning to it, having lost their jobs, and at a time when it is more popular than it ever was when Barack Obama was president, and with every health care group of any significance and hospitals and doctors and — except the American Nurses Association — opposing the administration this.

    What happens if they win and there is no Affordable Care Act, and there is no preexisting condition coverage? And I just — it's an absolute political folly.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I want to ask you about that, David. And then — and then I have got two or three other things I want to ask.

    So, go ahead, if you want to comment — comment for us on the Affordable Care Act and the administration trying to — yet again to get rid of it.

  • David Brooks:

    Well, just quickly, if you're a Republican Senate candidate in Arizona or Georgia or wherever these close races are, suddenly, you have got to defend the idea of taking away this insurance for preexisting conditions, at a moment when having had COVID-19 could become a preexisting condition.

    It's political poison for any Republican Senate candidate in a close race.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David, I'm going to stay with you.

    Police reform. After all these rallies around the country, it's clear there's a lot of sentiment for looking at ways to improve policing in this country, the House and the Senate completely — Republicans and Democrats completely at odds over this. What's going on?

  • David Brooks:

    On this one, I blame the Democrats, frankly.

    I think Tom (sic) Scott, the Republican from South Carolina, who was the Republican sponsor, put together a good-faith bill. It had not everything the Democrats wanted, obviously, but it had some stuff. It had the — making lynching a federal hate crime. It had — against choke holds, more transparency for police misconduct.

    And then Scott said, we're going to let you vote on amendments. And so maybe — and he said that maybe I'd support some of these amendments.

    And so he had a pretty open process. I'm a big believer, if you can take half a cake, take half a cake. And then, if Democrats win November, they can get the whole cake. I think they should have compromised on this and accepted half a cake. It would have been a step forward to a better police force.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark, should the Democrats have tried to sit down with Tim Scott or any of the other Republicans?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, I think Tim Scott — I think Tim Scott, who is an authentic figure on this and absolutely a man of reality, talked about his own personal experience of being stopped seven times by Capitol Hill Police, he, a United States senator, and being asked for identification and papers.

    And so he showed a sensitivity to it. But I think there was a skepticism about how much he could deliver.

    But I did honestly think there was a chance. I thought that — for legislative compromise on this. I'm less confident of that today than I was last week. It's an election year. The Senate is about to take two weeks off. The closer we get to election, the less chance there is.

    And I'm sad about it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And just very quickly to both of you, what year will the District of Columbia become a state?



  • David Brooks:

    I will live here and die here and never see it.


    So I'm pessimistic about it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Mark?

  • Mark Shields:

    I'm more — I'm more optimistic, Judy.

    I mean, District residents pay more in taxes than 22 states, the residents of 22 states combined. They — at the same time, they die at a rate higher than Americans in 14 other states in wars.

    At some point, they have got to be accorded citizenship. And I'm hoping that it'll be in the next administration.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Citizenship, yes, but no voting representation.

    Mark Shields, David Brooks, we will leave it there. Thank you both.

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