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Shields and Brooks on which convention was more successful, Clinton’s failure to emotionally connect

New York Times columnist David Brooks and syndicated columnist Mark Shields sit down with Judy Woodruff for a look at the conventions and agree the Democrats were more successful — even if Hillary Clinton failed to connect emotionally. “If we are in some Hobbesian state of nature, in which we want a strongman who has no compassion,” then Trump comes out ahead, says Brooks.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And with that, we turn to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    So, gentlemen, looking back on those highlights from both Cleveland and Philadelphia, what does it make you think, Mark?

  • Mark Shields:

    It makes me think that the Democrats — this was my 24th convention. And I think this was as good a Democratic Convention as I have seen since the 1976 convention, which nominated Jimmy Carter, which was — he left with a 30-point lead over President Ford.

    I just thought it was a spectacularly successful convention. I don’t think Hillary Clinton’s speech was spectacular, but I don’t think she’s a spectacular speaker. But I thought their messages worked. And certainly the national security and preempting both faith and country and patriotism from the Republicans, which had been the Republican symbols for so long, was effective.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes. Well, the Democrats had the better convention by a long way. It’s rare we see the gap so big, frankly.

    They controlled the debate. Donald Trump tried to set up this debate where it was going to be globalists vs. nationalists, and the Republicans were going to be the nationalists. But, if anything, the Democrats looked more patriotic and more nationalist at the end of these two.

    And so that was a big win. And I agree with Mark. The whole presentation was just powerful. It’s funny. Maybe it just because I’m tired, but the further away you get, the less you know about the convention, and it boils down to a core theme, to one thing.

    And so for the Republican Convention, I think of Trump’s speech and sort of the darkness, the fear of crime, the need for a strong arm really, and so that one core theme.

    And then, for the Democratic one, I really think of Trump erratic. I think that was the big message that came out. The positive agenda for Hillary was a little less vibrant.

    And of those two, I do think that the — right now, at least in my mind, the Democratic theme is eclipsing the Republican one. So, the Democrats won this volley, I think.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Mark, we’re hearing today that the numbers of people watching the conventions was a little bit higher for the Republican Convention.

    How much do these conventions set the stage for the rest of this campaign? I think it’s, what, 101 days between now and the Election Day.

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, if David and I are right, which is…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Ninety-nine percent of the time.

  • Mark Shields:

    … a very long shot, then Hillary Clinton should get a bounce out of this convention, I mean a bounce in the polls. I think it’s probably conceded that Donald Trump got about a three-point bounce out of his conventions. He’s closed the gap that much.

    And if she doesn’t, I mean, after what was a good convention — this is when you have the unfiltered message of your party and your candidate to the country, even a slice of the country, for four full days — then I think it’s some cause for alarm for the Democrats.

    But, you know, I think what we’re looking at next, Judy, is the debates. You know, barring something major, a mishap on one side or a tragedy or a scandal, I think, you know, we’re looking at the debates, because I think that’s the kind of race it’s going to be.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And they don’t start, David, until the end of September and then into October. So, do these conventions, do they define this race going forward?

  • David Brooks:

    I think to some degree.

    But now it’s my turn to rain on progressive overconfidence, because the two weakest speeches, major ones, for the Democrats were the two candidates, not that they were bad. They just weren’t up to the level of Biden’s, the Obamas, and Bloomberg’s even.

    And so you have got two candidates on the Democratic side who may be making sense, may agree or disagree. They’re just not as vibrant personalities as Donald Trump.

    And so, over the next month, until the debates, I expect Trump to do what he’s done very successfully, which is, whether you like him or not, he will be the dominant player here. He will be the one on offense. He will be the one serving volleys, and it may be some weird stuff about the Russians, but he will be controlling things a little more than he probably did over the last two weeks.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And is that now the way elections get decided, Mark?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, let me just dissent a little bit from David.

    I think Donald Trump is obviously the more colorful, the more flamboyant, the more dominant personality. But take the Russia issue. You open up the convention, and you have got a report that the Democratic Party has been hacked by the Russians, e-mails, the e-mails of the Democratic Party, which is a headline and words that you don’t want, if you’re Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

    And Donald Trump immediately takes the story and basically steps on the advantage he has and say, well, the Russians, who am I to tell Putin? You know, the Russians ought to come in and continue to hack our — and find out where the e-mails are.

    I mean, it was — it was wrong, it was irresponsible, and it was unhelpful to his candidacy. In a strange way — there are a couple thoughts of David that reminded me of this — an awful lot of people don’t ordinarily have day-to-day contact with police officers.

    In both Cleveland and Philadelphia, the police were enormously, enormously impressive, I mean, their temperament, to use a word that’s going to be central…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You don’t mean the police on the stage. You mean the police in the street.

  • Mark Shields:

    No, I mean the police in the streets.

    I mean, I really — the interaction with the police. They had to be tired. You know, they had a lot of jerks, including several in the press. And it was hot. It was hot. And they had long hours, and they were just so professional and so cool.

    But it strikes me that it’s the competing pronouns that the Democrats did effectively, I vs. we. It’s we the people. And Donald Trump says nobody knows it like me, I can do it.

    And I think that was a very effective construct in framing this race.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    Just to pick up on the cops, we don’t really — I hadn’t really thought about it, but we all agree they did such a good job by not being overaggressive.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • David Brooks:

    But for Donald Trump — just the political effects of that, Donald Trump’s argument is essentially it’s 1968, the cities are burning.

    And if something really bad had happened in one of those two cities, that would have underlined that theme.

  • Mark Shields:

    That’s right.

  • David Brooks:

    And nothing bad happened.

    And so — but that doesn’t mean we’re not — it’s settled. Events are in the saddle here. If ISIS really begins a sort of continual series of weird, random attacks around the world, then that does underline the theme.

    And that goes back to something I have been saying for the last couple of weeks, is, we’re not quite sure what ball game we’re playing here. If we’re playing the normal political rules, where you want to have people loving each other, compassionate, working together, being generous toward each other, being well-informed about the issues, well, if those are the rules, then the Democrats are doing really well.

    But if we’re in some sort of Hobbesian state of nature, where you just want a strong man who has no compassion, who you just want a toughness, well, then that — by those rules, Donald Trump is going to do a little better. So, we will figure out what game we’re playing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Which is what the Democrats were trying to say for three or four days — for four days, Mark, which, is, we don’t need this. We’re a strong people. We’re a good people and we don’t need some bully telling us what to do.

  • Mark Shields:

    No, exactly. And the president did that, I thought. President Obama did.

    In a strange way, Hillary Clinton was helped and victimized by Mr. and Mrs. Obama. I think Michelle Obama gave a speech…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Victimized? Really?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, politically, because they were just — you were talking about — I mean, Michelle Obama was probably better than Barack Obama, if you think about it.

    Her speech is a masterful, masterful speech. And she delivered it in a persuasively conversational tone. You can’t say this is a political attack or a political document. It was just — so, in a strange way, she’s getting compared to — instead of to Donald Trump, she’s being compared to Joe Biden, who gave this emotional valedictory about America and his life, and both Obamas, who were dominant.

    Tim Kaine reminds me of — Peter Hart, the pollster, has a question when he asks about presidential or vice presidential candidates, what kind of a neighbor would they be? And several Democrats — George W. Bush was always seen to be a good friendly neighbor who would pick up the newspapers if you were out of town or check your mail.

    Tim Kaine is a good neighbor. He’s kind of the dependable, you know, friendly, helpful. And, you know, he would be over there. He would give you a hand if there were a problem at the house.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But does that help Hillary Clinton?

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Mark Shields:

    It does, because it gives Hillary Clinton — what they didn’t address at this convention is Hillary Clinton’s problems of her personality and her secrecy.

    They tried through testimony. She just can’t open up herself. She can’t make fun of herself. She can’t be self-deprecating, or at least, if she can, she wasn’t, made the decision not to be. And so Tim Kaine kind of gives the warmer, human face of the Democrats.

  • David Brooks:

    But if she’s elected, this will be an issue and this will be a problem for her.

    It’s important for presidents to emotionally connect, with the country in times of crisis, but also with people in Washington. If you can’t emotionally connect — and Obama is not the greatest, but he can at least do it — then people won’t be with you when the times are hard.

    There will just always be a distance between you and the people around you. Now, she can clearly emotionally connect with her intimates within the zone of trust. It’s just the wall outside the zone of trust is so impermeable. And so I do think — I was really struck, like every pundit, from Mark and I on down…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, on down, for sure.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You guys are right up there.

  • David Brooks:

    Everyone is saying, show some vulnerability, emote, emote, emote.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • David Brooks:

    And they must have said that internally. And she’s still — she’s such a private person. She just didn’t do it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But it almost sounds like you’re both saying — I don’t want to use the word doomed, but that the cake is baked, and she’s not going to be able to relate and open up.

    I mean, but Donald Trump is relating…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Mark Shields:

    This was a great opportunity to open up. It was on her terms. It was nonadversarial. It was in her control. And she chose not to.

    I do disagree just with David on her vs. Obama inside in dealing. I think she would be far superior to President Obama, who is basically remote, aloof and not involved with — he doesn’t deal with members of Congress. And he plays golf every time with three staff members.

    He never, ever thinks of including a John Boehner or anybody else, which is very easy to do. But he obviously views golf as his time, and that alone.

    But she showed, while in the Senate, that ability to connect and reach across and to forge alliances. I think she will be better. But I think the problem with connecting emotionally with the people remains at large is — in a wholesale way.

  • David Brooks:

    I stand corrected. That seems true to me, what he just said.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But then you’re getting back — and we just have a minute or so — but you’re getting to the point that somebody who is good at governing may not be great at campaigning.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

  • Mark Shields:

    And the inverse, too. There are people who are great campaigners who aren’t…

  • David Brooks:

    Right. And we can certainly point to examples of that.

    I think Mitch Daniels, the former governor of Indiana was a case of that, who was an outstanding administrator.

  • Mark Shields:

    That’s right.

  • David Brooks:

    He was not a bad governor. He could be playful, but — or communicator.

    I’m just saying it will — I think will be — every candidate comes into the White House, assuming if she wins, or if she does win, with strengths and weaknesses. This will be a weakness, because this was such an easy moment to show some heart.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, it was just a thrill to spend the last two weeks with — for Gwen and me to spend the last two weeks.

  • Mark Shields:

    Oh, Judy.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Mark Shields:

    You couldn’t pass a polygraph test right now.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We just want you to go and get some sleep this weekend, like the rest of us want.

    Thank you very much.

  • Mark Shields:

    Thank you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we will see you next Friday.

  • Mark Shields:

    Thanks very much.

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