Shields and Brooks on GOP debate standouts, Pope Francis goes to Washington

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the week’s news, including how the second Republican debate helped or hurt the candidates, why Donald Trump didn’t contradict bigoted remarks at a campaign rally and the significance of Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to the U.S.

Read the Full Transcript


    But, first, the second Republican debate is in the books, so what's next for the candidates? Is Donald Trump reopening the discussion about where President Obama was born? And Pope Francis is making a historic visit to U.S., with stops at the White House and Capitol Hill.

    To the analysis of Shields and Brooks, we go. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    All right, David, I want to start with you.

    This debate has happened now. Who has won, who has lost kind of happened last night. We have been talking about that for a while. But who capitalizes on this going forward? Who is actually able to use this to leverage more fund-raisers? Because that's going to become more important in the next couple of months.


    Well, first, I have been predicting for 37 straight weeks that Donald Trump will fade.



    And I could be wrong this time. But I'm confident. So I may be wrong, but I'm confidently wrong, that I think he's going to begin to fade, in part because I think he's gotten a little boring and also a little hapless.

    He can afford to look offensive. He can afford to look distasteful. He can't afford to be boring or incompetent, because his mastery is the whole basis of his campaign. So, I'm feeling a slide. So, we will see.

    As for the risers, it's no accident. It's no — not controversial. Carly Fiorina, if you're on stage with 11 people, one of the acts of genius you have to have is the ability to create a signature moment that can be broadcast and rebroadcast. She has that. She has both the creativity to create those moments with some nice phraseology and also the passion.

    And so she's clearly, I think, rising to the top tier. This is a party that does — I do not think, at the end of the day, they do not want crazy, so I don't think they want Trump. They also don't want Milquetoast. They don't want vanilla. And Jeb Bush, I'm afraid, is sort of stuck in pseudo-vanilla land.

    And so they're going to want — I think Fiorina is right up there and I think Marco Rubio would be the other one, bit of an outsider, a genius for taking complicated situations and explaining them in a way that is clear, without being oversimplified. And so I think you have those two, Fiorina and Rubio, who will get the biggest boosts.


    All right, besides those two, Mark, who takes this to the bank and makes a convincing case to people with deep pockets?


    Is the debate over? I'm not sure that CNN was going to give up that audience. It just — it kept going into extra innings.

    Hari, I don't disagree with David certainly about Carly Fiorina. She was the consensus breakthrough winner. She did several things. She did have the signature moment, as David mentioned, but she was also fact-specific. In other words, people argue the facts and question some of the facts, but running against Donald Trump, who is a substance-free candidate and would — avoids issues like a T-shirt, the reality is that it gave her a particular standing.

    The, also, advantage she had is, she took that insult of Trump's and turned it on him in an organic fashion. She didn't — in other words, she didn't come in, and this is — grew right out of the event itself, out of the debate, and it came to her, and she grabbed that moment where Trump had mentioned remembering Jeb Bush's comment on cutting women's health.

    And just as women — just as Mr. Trump remembers Jeb Bush's comment, women will remember what he said. So I think, in that sense, we're always looking for something shiny, fresh and new in the press. And voters are to some degree and this year. And I think she fills that niche.

    I think that John Kasich, the governor of Ohio, missed an opportunity. He dwelled on his 18 years in Congress, which is not a credential that people are looking in this outsider year. I thought Marco Rubio was incredibly competent. He spoke in complete sentences, complete paragraphs. His text was good.

    He's too senatorial. And that's the problem. If you look at his language and presentation, it comes across as too senatorial. Again, voters are not looking for a senator. And I just think Jeb Bush was — it wasn't working for him. It wasn't natural. His confrontation over his — the insult by Trump to his wife, he backed down. And I just didn't think he had a good — Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, had to reassure his donors afterwards. And it hadn't gone well.

    That was — the indication was that by — he attacked the press. He attacked CNN, criticized them.


    So, there was a recent moment where a voter asked Trump a question, and implicit in that question was the birthplace of President Obama. We're going to go ahead and play a clip of that and also a reaction from Hillary Clinton. And we will talk about some other reactions. Let's just go to the tape.

  • MAN:

    We have a problem in this country. It's called Muslims. We know our current president is one. You know he's not even an American.

  • DONALD TRUMP, Republican Presidential Candidate:

    We need this question. This is the first question.

  • MAN:

    But, anyway, we have training camps growing where they want to kill us.


    We're going to be looking at a lot of different things.

    And a lot of people are saying that, and a lot of people are saying that bad things are happening out there. We're going to be looking at that and plenty of other things.

  • HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, Democratic Presidential Candidate:

    I would, you know, call on him and call on all of the candidates to stop this descent into the kind of hateful, mean-spirited, divisive rhetoric that we have seen too much of in the last months.


    Now, Mark, the Hillary reaction is almost predictable. But other Republican candidates came out against this as well. MARK SHIELDS: That's right. Chris Christie on "The Today Show" this morning said — criticized it and said he would not have done it. Lindsey Graham was even more vocal on an Andrea Mitchell interview today.

    To me, this is — Barack Obama is a Christian who was born in Hawaii. Barack Obama is a Christian who was born in Hawaii. I mean, what we have is feeding paranoia. Right now, 43 percent of Republicans, according to CNN's latest poll, believe Barack Obama is a Muslim; 54 percent of Trump supporters in the same survey believe he is.

    Donald Trump has stirred this, he's sustained it, he's exploited it. This is a real character check, and it's a character defect, if you don't stand up and say this is unacceptable and it shall not stand.

    If a Republican cannot criticize Donald Trump on this — on these grounds of not rejecting and rebutting something so outrageous and indefensible as — in this question, then they just ought to withdraw from public life.




    Yes, I sort of agree.

    You would hope that everybody in this day and age has sort of a bigotry response, that when somebody says something clearly bigoted, like Muslims are a problem in this country, that you have a response, and the response is one of visceral disgust, and you would hope we would hear something said about African-Americans, Latinos, black — women, whatever group it is — and he somehow didn't have that response.

    And, in contrast to John McCain, four years ago — four years ago, had a similar question, and he did have that response: Oh, that's a man of honor.

    And one of the things that's interesting to me about Trump is 99 percent of businesspeople are people of business, but also people of honor. And so they don't check their values or their principles at the door when they do their business deals.

    So, when you hear Trump talk about his business, oh, I bought that politician, I bought that politician, I contributed to them, I contributed to them, the only thing that matters is the outcome, is the bottom line, the revenue thing. And that carries over into the way he talks about politics.

    He evaluates politicians, he evaluates policies and he evaluates events by the polling data. And if you have got no qualitative, no moral calculus going on in your head and you're all just looking at the numbers, well, then you get this sort of moral obtuseness and no reaction to what was clearly a bigoted statement.



    Now to someone who has a clearly moral compass paying a visit to the United States, the pope, really, in several ways, I think reintroducing the world to the idea that this position has transformative power in it.

    And that doesn't necessarily sit well with everyone. I was doing a Periscope earlier, kind of behind-the-scenes look, and someone says, how do you feel about the pope rewriting the Ten Commandments, right? There are many people around the world who think perhaps this progressiveness is too much.


    Well, the pope, Pope Francis, is coming to Washington. He's never been to Washington, never been to the United States before. We know we're the center of the universe. Somehow, it has escaped him in his entire life.

    But several things. One is, he's the antithesis to big-money politics. I mean, this is somebody who spends his time with — he listens to the voiceless. He remembers the forgotten. He sees the overlooked, whether it's the immigrant, or the refugee, as we saw, or the day worker, or the sick, the handicapped, or the lonely.

    I mean, he really does — he does embody — I fear he's going to make both parties — I know he's going to make both parties very uncomfortable, because his message is not trimmed for politics. He's going to make the Republicans quite uncomfortable on the question of poverty and the obligation that we have to act collectively. He's very pro-politics. He believes in politics.

    He's very strong on the environment and on climate change, contrary to many Republicans, including Marco Rubio. But, at the same time, he speaks fondly and well and consistently about protecting the unborn and those in the late stages of life who face death. He is — really, it's going to be remarkable to watch Joe Biden and John Boehner, both Catholics, the vice president and the speaker, sitting behind him, and applauding different passengers and kind of pretending they didn't hear others.

    So — but I hope it doesn't become political, because this truly is a remarkable spiritual moment in a very secular city.




    Yes, I just want to underline that last comment. I hope we don't overpoliticize this visit.

    The first thing we're going to see is our countrymen, thousands, millions of them moved by faith, their eyes looking to heaven, their heart warmed by God's love. And we're going to see that in public. And we're going to see that in tens of millions of people. And that will be a moment of seeing faith in a way we rarely see it in this country in public.

    And, secondly, we will see the example of the man. The message is the person. It's the way he conducts himself. His love for the poor is not out of any self-congratulatory. He — whether you're Jewish, Muslim, atheist, whatever, he is the embodiment of the Christian virtues that I think we all admire, the — seeing the meekest, seeing the poorest, seeing the lowest, and lifting them up, and seeing the brokenness in people, and then lifting them up with joy.

    And so, to me, it will be a theater of spiritual — a spiritual theater more than a political theater. And I suspect tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people's lives will be changed, in the way that politics can never change them, from within. Their lives will be transformed because they will be at this visit. And they will be moved by something they had never felt or only have felt weakly before.

    And to me, that's just a seismic event, whatever happens to our political culture.


    David, so what about — how does that translate when that spiritual theater is finished? Does that translate into any sort of policy action or rethinking something that might be in the works in Congress that's stalled?


    Well, I hope it transforms hearts. And I hope it transforms hearts in the ways Mark just suggested.

    The pope is not going to visit the homeless or the prisoners once in his visit. He's doing it six, seven, eight times in the visit. So, the constant focus will be there on those who are hurting the most. And I think that enlivened attention will carry over into people's eyes, both in their private lives and their private giving, but also in their public lives.

    Mark has said this many times over the years. We have a political culture focused on the middle class. We have lost some of the contact with the poor, some of the contact with the needy, and not only — and not from high to low, and, frankly, some of the compassionate conservatism and some of progressivism has been from high to low, but treating the poor as those closest to God and worthy of respect maybe even more than everybody else.

    And that's an attention that has been absent from our political culture or in short supply, and maybe it will be in slightly bigger supply.


    I think David said it very, very well, just that wherever he goes, he brings the cameras with him, and an incredible number of cameras, as we know.

    But as soon as he finishes Congress — and it's the hottest ticket in the history of Capitol Hill. I mean, people are fighting to get in. Former members and senators can't even get into the gallery to hear him. They have set up a JumboTron outside.

    He's going to have lunch with the poorest of the poor in the Center City in Washington sponsored by Catholic Charities. I mean, these are the addicted. These are people with alcohol problems, with psychological problems, the homeless. And he doesn't allow us to look away. He forces us to examine those who are living on the outskirts of hope.


    All right.

    Mark Shields, David Brooks, thanks so much for joining us.


    Thank you.

Listen to this Segment