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Shields and Brooks on Wisconsin’s sagging support for front-runners

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including flagging polls for front-runners Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in Wisconsin, the outlook for other primary contests ahead, plus more provocative comments from Trump and a quarrel between Clinton and Sanders over campaign donations.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff

    : And now for more on the run-up to next Tuesday’s primary showdown in Wisconsin, and the rest of this week’s news, we turn to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    So, as we just heard in that report from John Yang, some really, I guess, disturbing repercussions from the change in their voter I.D. law.

    And you can comment on that, but I also want to ask you about the fact that the polls, David, are showing both front-runners, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, running behind. What would it mean if they were to lose in Wisconsin?

  • David Brooks, New York Times Columnist:, there’s still the basic trust issue. The party still is a chunk to her left. To me, the big story this week is whether something Donald Trump, something has shifted. Now, of course we have been saying this for eight months:

    Well, they’re front-runners with amazing differences or disadvantages.

    Usually, at this stage, if you have won as much as Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have won, then everyone is rallying around you, you’re relaxed, you’re happy, you’re cruising. That’s not happening this time, and mostly because they have significant weaknesses.

    For Hillary Clinton Finally, he’s done it this time.

    But I do think — and I still am a little dubious about the people who think that something has shifted. But there’s a more plausible argument that air’s beginning to come out of the balloon for him.

    And I think that’s because, given what all that he’s won and given what everybody, including his wife apparently, is telling him, be more presidential, he can’t control himself. He can’t control himself temperamentally with the aggressive attacks on everybody. He can’t control his own ignorance, which causes the abortion statements.

    And so he is a perpetual destabilizer just at the moment when, frankly, a lot in the party were ready to submit to him. And he just can’t behave in even a modicum of presidentiality. And that could be leading to at this moment some second thoughts and some genuine weakness. We will know less now than we would know in New York and eventually in California.

  • Judy Woodruff

    : Which is a few weeks away.

    But, Mark, could this be a different moment in the Democratic — I mean, in Republican primary for Donald Trump?

  • Mark Shields, Syndicated Columnist:

    Sure, it could, Judy.

    I think, if Bernie Sanders wins Wisconsin, it’s fair to say it will have amounted to a vote against the Democratic Party establishment. If Donald Trump loses Wisconsin, it will be a vote for the party establishment, because the party establishment has just united ranks behind whom? Behind Ted Cruz, whom they can’t stand, whom they don’t like.

    But he has one compelling virtue. He’s the only person who can beat Donald Trump. He’s the only alternative. So, if, in fact, the result achieves — arrives as you described it, Donald Trump losing, it will have been a rejection of Donald Trump.

    There’s no issue that’s driving the Cruz campaign. There’s no — it isn’t like Ted Cruz had a cathartic experience and became this compellingly personable and gregarious candidate and likable. It will be a vote against Donald Trump.

    I would pick up on one point especially that David made. Donald Trump is criminally uncurious. I think…

  • Judy Woodruff

    : Uncurious.

  • Mark Shields

    : Uncurious.

    I mean, whether it’s saying that the — after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, when the United States and the coalition drove Saddam Hussein’s troops out of Kuwait, that Kuwait didn’t contribute a nickel. Kuwait contributed $16 billion. Maybe they should have contributed more.

    But he’s just — it’s not knowing the nuclear triad was air, sea and land. I mean, just — he’s uncurious. And I think it is a direct consequence of great wealth. Having spent my life, early part of my life raising money politically in campaigns, I found myself in the company of very rich people, whose opinions were given apple-polishing approval by the flatterers and sycophants in their court, who went unchallenged in absolutely factually erroneous statements by including me, who was just looking for money from them for my candidates.

    And I really think this is it. No one told Donald Trump. Donald Trump never thought about the abortion issue. This is an issue that is such…

  • Judy Woodruff

    : This is the interview he did this week on MSNBC with Chris Matthews.

  • Mark Shields

    : With Chris Matthews. Chris Matthews, to his credit, did a determined job of interrogation.

    This is an issue on which America has been divided for 43 years, I mean, really nationally divided. America is pro-choice and anti-abortion. And he had no idea of the division of the debates or anything of the sort. And I think this is the consequence.

  • Judy Woodruff

    : Do you think that explains…

  • David Brooks

    : I would like to defend the intellectual curiosity of the top 1 percent.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks

    : No, I think it’s beyond — it’s unique to himself.

    Most of us, when we appear on television or even go to a job interview, you want to do some background preparation so you won’t make a total fool of yourself, but he feels no compunction. And his knowledge base is minuscule. We have seen it in every single interview. It’s just minuscule.

    But there is a consistency to Donald Trump. He can always be counted on to be cruel to those who are weak. And a woman in that situation is weak. And no moral alarm bells went off when he said that, which they would to a normal human being.

    And so — but, so far, that bullying manner has been accepted by his voters because they think, well, he’s a bully on our behalf. Whether they will continue to think that, again, I think probably, but there are some smart people I know who are beginning to feel a change in the atmosphere.

  • Judy Woodruff

    : What about that? What about that point, Mark? Could this be the turning point? His demise has been predicted repeatedly.

  • Mark Shields

    : Sure.

  • Judy Woodruff

    : Could this time be different?

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Mark Shields

    : Yes, could it be? It will be a game-changer, Judy, in this sense. It will remove one of the essential building blocks of his stump speech, which is, he spends the first third citing and reciting his wonderful poll numbers.

    How’s he going to do that? He loves to talk about himself as the all-time winner and his components as losers. But how’s he going to handle being a loser? I think, in that sense, it’s really going to be very revealing of how he handles it.

    And, no, he’s just shown any lack of graciousness or magnanimity. There he is, he’s still attacking Mitt Romney, I mean, sort of abusing people. And, no, it’s just — it’s just…

  • Judy Woodruff

    : But he still has more delegates than anybody else.

  • Mark Shields

    : Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff

    : He has won more votes than any other Republican candidate.

  • David Brooks

    : And so there is a strong likelihood he will be severely damaged and the nominee.

  • Mark Shields

    : Yes.

  • David Brooks

    : And so it’s like…

  • Mark Shields

    : New York becomes…

  • David Brooks

    : … a bit of the nightmare scenario.

    But whether this will hurt him is a question of why people are voting for him. And they’re voting for him because nothing’s changed in Washington and no compromises are being done. There are some sympathetic reasons why people are voting for him. And I have struggled this whole time to understand how much — Trump voters, I want to blame them for this. And in some sense, I don’t blame them at all.

    In some sense, a lot of people are disaffected. They have had severe losses in their lives, whether it’s jobs, or their kids are adrift. In some senses, they’re just sick of Washington, nothing happening. And we have had a front-row seat to that for 10 or 15 years. And so they just want a change agent.

    And so some of those are symptomatic — or sympathetic. The issue of how he treats the weak or people he perceives as weak, how he takes economic insecurity and translates it into bigotry and misogyny, that’s not to be sympathized with at all. And to some extent, his supporters have to answer for that.

  • Mark Shields

    : Yes.

    I do — I don’t disagree with that question. I don’t — I always resist blaming the customer. When our party wins, the voters are insightful, patriotic, thoughtful, and caring. When we lose, they’re stupid and loutish and probably racist to boot. Maybe it’s just they’re rejecting us or choosing otherwise.

    I do think, Judy, that, in Donald Trump’s favor, we’re moving into an area of the country where Ted Cruz has limited, if next to no appeal. Ted Cruz doesn’t have a natural constituency in New Jersey.

  • Judy Woodruff

    : In New York.

  • Mark Shields

    : Or New York or Connecticut or Rhode Island or Pennsylvania — maybe Pennsylvania more.

    But, I mean, I just think that, if Trump can come back — but can he show — I mean, his own people, his own family, apparently, is telling him he has to be more presidential. It isn’t more presidential.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff

    : He talks about that when he’s interviewed. He says, my wife and my daughter are telling me to be more presidential. But he says, I need to fight back.

  • Mark Shields

    : Yes.

  • David Brooks

    : Yes.

    Just still not — my first point, this is why Cruz has no support in the Northeast or in California. That’s why I think Kasich should stay in the race. There is a lot of people saying you ought to clear the deck so we can get a one-on-one race, Cruz and Trump. That’s our only chance to stop him.

    But in the Northeast, Cruz has no chance of stopping Donald Trump. So, Kasich has some chance to at least drain away some delegates from Trump and prevent him. But, again, looking at the math, unless there is a gigantic change of atmosphere, I think still it’s likely wounded, wounded, wounded, and the numbers on his general election just get worse and worse and worse, but looking like the nominee.

  • Judy Woodruff

    : So, we have to talk about the Democrats, Mark.

    Hillary Clinton showed one of those rare flashes of anger yesterday. She was stopped by a protester after a speech who asked her about the charge by the Bernie Sanders camp that she is taking a lot of money from the fossil fuel industry, and she said they’re lying about it.

  • Mark Shields

    : Totally, totally bogus charge against Secretary Clinton.

    Open Secrets, that records all contributions and the source thereof and the occupations of the donors, reported 15/100 of 1 percent of Clinton’s campaign funds and PAC funds as well have come from the fossil fuel industry, Bernie Sanders, 4/100 of 1 percent have come from people in the field. So it’s a totally unfair charge.

    You can raise questions too close to lobbyists or whatever else. And that was — it was a legitimate, legitimate reaction on her part. I think it has to be said, in Bernie’s favor, if in fact he does win Wisconsin, that will have been six out of seven of the contests he’s won.

  • Judy Woodruff

    : Right. He’s just won three caucuses.

  • Mark Shields

    : He did. He’s won everything since Arizona.

  • Judy Woodruff

    : By the way, he stood by today again when asked about the fossil fuel contribution. He said, we’re telling the truth. It’s right.

  • Mark Shields

    : No, it’s inaccurate and unfair. It really is.

    And I’m surprised that the Sanders campaign, it’s — because they haven’t done this in the past.

  • Judy Woodruff

    : But, David, on paper, Hillary Clinton is still the front-runner, but Bernie Sanders raised, what, $45 million in the last month, in March?

  • David Brooks

    : Yes. That’s right.

  • Judy Woodruff

    : He continues to build delegates. He may win Wisconsin. What does this…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Mark Shields

    : Competitive in New York.

  • Judy Woodruff

    : What is this headed for?

  • David Brooks

    : It’s headed for New York. She had a huge lead in New York a couple of weeks ago, which has now dwindled. It’s still in the double digits, so it’s a significant lead. But she loses the state where she was a senator, that would be — that, I think, would change everyone’s eyes.

    Up until that point, I don’t think it does. Sanders, we know he has a strong constituency. It’s going to show up at caucuses. Wisconsin has a strong progressive tradition going back 100 years. It’s his kind of place. And so I don’t think winning Wisconsin necessarily turns him into a more credible candidate.

  • Mark Shields

    : I disagree.

    He was 50 points behind in Wisconsin a year ago to Secretary Clinton. I mean, this is a victory. Everybody’s on the ballot in Wisconsin. There is no Democratic ballot, Republican ballot. You can go in and vote for Ted Cruz, or vote for Bernie Sanders, whoever. It’s a significant, significant victory. And New York…

  • Judy Woodruff

    : If he wins, yes.

  • Mark Shields

    : If he does win. If he does win. Make no mistake about it.

  • Judy Woodruff

    : So, 30 seconds, Hillary Clinton keeps at it and just keeps on letting him get under her skin? What happens between them?

  • David Brooks

    : What is her message? What is her message?

    What does she — she’s a paint-by-numbers Democratic candidate with the same policy planks as every other Democratic candidate. She’s shown no creativity, no way to fill the void to counter what he offers.

  • Mark Shields

    : Why do you want to be president of the United States, other than it’s something on your resume and I’m prepared for it, and this is it? What is the vision?

    Bernie Sanders, to his credit, is the one candidate in the race with a message. And it’s a message that’s energized an awful lot of people.

  • Judy Woodruff

    : To be continued.

    Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you. Have a great weekend.

  • David Brooks

    : Thank you.

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