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Shields and Brooks on Warren’s farewell, Biden’s surge

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including a week of dramatic shifts in the 2020 Democratic presidential race, what’s next for the campaigns of Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s disappointing finish and how President Trump is handling the novel coronavirus outbreak.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now, to help make sense of a turning point week in the race for the Democratic nomination, here are Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Hello to both of you.

  • Mark Shields:

    Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, the Earth shifted on its axis, or at least the Democratic Party, the Democratic primary did, David. We had South Carolina, we had Super Tuesday, we had four presidential candidates drop out, or maybe more than that.

    What happened?

  • David Brooks:

    Oh, I have never seen anything like it.

    It was — in the 48 hours after South Carolina, the polls were moving so fast, some pollsters were saying that polls that were 12 hours old were obsolete. And it was a spontaneous move by millions of people all around the country in different demographics, turning as one, and reaching the same conclusion, that it's got to be Joe Biden.

    And why they didn't do that six weeks ago or four weeks ago, I think, first, Super Tuesday forced a decision on a lot of voters all at once. Second, you had an amazing political act of selflessness.

    Amy Klobuchar could have won Minnesota, and it would have been a nice feather in her bonnet. and she said, no, that would be selfish. And Pete Buttigieg did the same.

    And so you had a party establishment, frankly, doing the right thing. But more important was the rank-and-file voters who just — they looked at reality. And like a community — a community is more than just a bunch of individuals. A community, people have common values. They sense each other's movements.

    And I don't — really see the Democratic Party acting like a community, moving all in one moment.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What did it look like to you?

  • Mark Shields:

    Boy, that was good, David.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Mark Shields:

    African-American voters are the most strategic voters in the Democratic Party. They are not much given to empty gestures. And they want to retire Donald Trump more than any group in the electorate.

    And they saw, in Joe Biden, a means of doing that, and the instrument, and they saw in Bernie Sanders an obstacle to that. And they saved the Democratic Party.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In South Carolina, you mean.

  • Mark Shields:

    In South Carolina. They redeemed it.

    And I don't disagree with the points that David made. They're good. But I think Donald Trump is the key to this. Donald Trump inspired, organized, galvanized Democrats. The idea of beating him became more than just a concern or an interest. It's an overriding passion.

    You can see it. Late-deciding voters, as David was talking about, those polls changing, 40 percent of the people in North Carolina who decided late went to Joe Biden. Forty percent decided, they went overwhelmingly to Joe Biden.

    Same thing in Virginia, across the board. It was a very practical position. There's a difference between an ideologue and a pragmatist in politics. An ideologue believes what is right works. A pragmatist believe what works is right.

    And the Democrats were pragmatists in those elections.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    When we were here at this table a week ago at this table, Democratic voters were still struggling, David, with the right thing to do. They were almost paralyzed with indecision. Something changed.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    I think it was — well, partly, it was South Carolina, that he looked so strong, but, really, I think it was Super Tuesday. I think I had thought the Democrats had made a big mistake by putting all these states so early in the process.

    But, as it turned out, they just speeded up people's decision-making. And so the fact that you had 38 percent of the delegates selected by this point meant that they couldn't wait. And they had to make a decision.

    And what had been going on earlier for the previous month was, they were floating around. And so you had people — Warren was up for a little while. Buttigieg did well in Iowa. And they were just sort of trying people out. And then they said, OK, make a call.

    And so I'm thinking — I mean, the Bernie Sanders people hope that there's another twist in this story. I personally think that's unlikely, in part because we're going into some states where Biden's lead, like Florida, is massive, in part — even in Michigan, where he — Sanders won last time, he's not doing as well this time with working-class voters as he did last time.

    And so much Michigan — even Michigan becomes a harder state for him.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I want to get Michigan in just a second.

    But, Mark, in the meantime, we have had not just Buttigieg and Klobuchar drop out. Michael Bloomberg, who spent, as we have all said, a half-a-billion dollars in this race, dropped out, and then, as we know, Elizabeth Warren yesterday.

    How do you size up those decisions that they made?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, I mean, obviously, it's the toughest decision. It's a tough decision for anybody to run for president, knowing that virtually everybody who runs loses.

    But it's an even tougher decision to end a campaign. I mean, that's saying publicly, I have lost. I have been defeated.

    Michael Bloomberg made it almost in an analytical fashion, it seemed. There was no road forward. There was no avenue. He had a premise, which was the cratering and collapse of Joe Biden. And that stopped.

    And if that had continued, he would have been seemingly an alternative.

    The other problem with Bloomberg, quite frankly, was that he didn't match his campaign. His campaign was far more compelling and interesting than he was.

    And the second…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You mean his ads. You were saying his ads, right, right.

  • Mark Shields:

    His ads — than he was person. He was just a — he was a very uninspiring and uninspired candidate, when you did see him on that stage.

    The other mistake he made — and he didn't think it at the time — was on August 5, 2012, when he hosted his Upper East townhouse a fund-raiser for a Republican senator from Massachusetts named Scott Brown.

    Scott Brown was being run against by — opposed by Elizabeth Warren. There's an old saying in Massachusetts, don't get mad, get even. She got both. She got mad and she got even. She kneecapped him. He never recovered.

    That was — Elizabeth Warren is another case. But go ahead. Let David — but I would be happy to discuss.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes.

  • Mark Shields:

    I just think she's a mystery to me. I mean, she — I thought she was a phenomenal candidate. I really did. I mean, she had great energy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And she was leading last October.

  • Mark Shields:

    She was leading.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Mark Shields:

    She could have — she made a mistake. She was honest. She made a mistake, I think, by endorsing Medicare for all.

    But then she was honest about paying for it. And that — if you're Medicare for all, you got to be a purist, and you don't get into — like Bernie doesn't get into how it's paid for. Once she got into the weeds on that, she lost her purity and she also, I think, stumbled.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How do you see Elizabeth Warren?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, a few different candidates here.

    One, Biden, I want to mention one thing, that he's a legislator, so he's able to build coalitions. And that's what being president is. And with these other candidates, or even with Jim Clyburn, he was going to reach out and say, would you support me?

    And Bernie Sanders never made those calls or didn't have the set of relationships that Joe Biden has. So that's important in a president.

    On Bloomberg, I started this thinking, you can't buy your way in — votes in a presidential election. There's too much free media. Good ads don't do it. And I think there's a lot of political science evidence to this, that advertising, especially in a high-profile campaign, just doesn't work.

    And Biden — I mean, Bloomberg didn't help himself in the debate, but I don't think ads are enough to get you votes.

    And then finally, on Warren, I think the demographics are clear. She didn't have a huge gender gap. She had a huge education gap. And the people who support her were college-educated people who saw this very smart person with a lot of plans who taught at Harvard Law School.

    And she never — she wasn't — she grew up in Arkansas — or in Oklahoma. And that side of her didn't get out. Genuinely, when you meet her, she does seem like a very smart Harvard law professor. And a lot of people just didn't relate.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, talking about — just quickly pivoting, Mark, to the challenges now that Biden and Sanders face, Michigan coming up next Tuesday. David just raised it.

    What are the challenges that Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden have right now?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, Joe Biden's, first of all, is, Judy — and it's a challenge for anybody that is running for president — and that is to sit down and tell the American people in two minutes, without mentioning your opponents' name, without mentioning Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump, why I should be president of the United States.

    Joe Biden has told us that he's not Donald Trump, and that he's not Bernie Sanders. But I'm not sure that anybody really has an understanding about what a Biden presidency would be, other than not Donald Trump.

    And we saw the limits of a not Donald Trump campaign in 2016. So I think that's the first thing. There has to be — whether it's the lift of a driving dream, or two things that he wants to get down in his first four years and how he's doing it, I think that's necessary.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Let me interrupt you.

    Has Joe Biden done that?

  • David Brooks:

    I agree with Mark. He's got to say to the Trump people, the people who support Trump and the people who support Sanders, do it for a reason. Something's not working for them. But I have got an answer for you.

    He's basically got to say that with a set of specific policies.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Sanders.

  • Mark Shields:

    And Bernie's problem, I think, is a constitutional problem, personally. Bernie doesn't look for allies. He doesn't look to enlarge.

    He looks — have to pass a litmus test. I mean, it's the Bernie bros. I mean, if you're not 110 percent on board — and I just think that's — he's not a coalition-builder. He's a lone eagle. He's a lone wolf.

    That's his strength, and it's also his greatest liability.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That's your point about is not reaching — reaching…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • David Brooks:

    Right.

    And I do think this race really only turns if Biden really looks frail in a debate, really gets crushed in a debate. I think that's the — if it's going to change, it will be because of that, oh, he's too old for it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We will see. Again, Michigan coming up next week. Bernie won that pretty big last time, 2016.

    We will see.

  • Mark Shields:

    Bernie's doing less well in every state this year than he did four years ago.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Than he did four years ago.

    So we will see on Tuesday. And then there's the week after that and weeks after that.

    Finally, and very quickly, coronavirus, it is spreading around the world. It's spreading around the country. Every few hours, we hear about another city or another state, David, where it's hit.

    How is this president, this administration leading in terms of instilling confidence in the American people?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, we saw — we had the report on The Atlantic story that had so few people getting testing. That seems appalling to me.

    The most important thing is to give out honest information that does not seem political. And this happens to be an area of government where we have very qualified people. Debbie Birx, who has been with — an Obama appointee, Anthony Fauci. Francis Collins, the head of NIH, was another Obama — just put those people out front.

    Get Mike Pence and especially Donald Trump off the air, because it just seems hyperpolitical.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And…

  • Mark Shields:

    It's a time, Judy, when you want the president, the leaders, to be measured, to be thoughtful, to be reassuring, fact-based, and informative.

    And whatever Donald Trump's strengths are, it's not based on fact-based. It's not based on thoughtful and measured. I'm you saw it in his initial inclination, it's a hoax, it's the press' fault, it's the Democrats, to politicize it, and somehow it's a threat to Dow Jones, which is a threat to reelection.

    I mean, we never get into the public health matter. And I just think he would be better off withdrawing and letting others speak for the country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I mean, he's raised questions, David, about what the mortality rate actually is today, about how many kits are available. He was criticizing Governor Inslee.

  • David Brooks:

    He attacked Inslee.

    Yes, I mean, it's just — it's out of control. It's like an unwell person.

    But — and this is the moment where you really need the confidence that people have the health of the country, and not their own political health.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But there's no — they're not going away, Mark.

    I mean, they're — the president and the vice president are going to continue to be on TV every day.

  • Mark Shields:

    No.

    But, Judy, you're on TV, but you're on TV — you're on TV discussing this, I mean, or do you do differ? I mean, the problem with Donald Trump is he can't differ, I mean, to a Francis Collins or to a Tony Fauci or to people who actually know, because they're not carrying his message.

    I mean, I just really think he hurts himself by doing it. And it's almost the Kellyanne Conway, counterintuitive, counterfactual, or what was that phrase?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Alternative facts.

  • Mark Shields:

    Alternative facts.

    I mean, that's what we're dealing with now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.

  • David Brooks:

    Thank you.

  • Mark Shields:

    Thank you.

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