Shields, Brooks on Encouraging Jobs Numbers, Roughing Up Romney, N.H. Campaigns

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks discuss the week's top political news, including Friday's encouraging jobs report, Mitt Romney's win in Iowa, the "deteriorating emotional tenor" of the Republican race and Michele Bachmann's campaign suspension.

Read the Full Transcript


    And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields, who is in New Hampshire, and New York Times columnist David Brooks, here with me in Washington.

    Mark, I'm going to turn to you because are you there. Listening to those Iowa voters we just heard that little excerpt from, listening to Gwen's interview with the voters, how much is the economy at issue for the voters among these Republican contenders?


    Well, the economy remains here quite special.

    With — the anomaly of 2012 is that both early states, Iowa and New Hampshire, have an employment rate considerably lower than that of the nation. But there's — still the same sense of anxiety and concern are present with voters. And I think it's the big thing that Mitt Romney has going for him, quite frankly, is that sense that he is capable or competent of handling the economy.


    David, how are the candidates playing on that issue? I mean, we hear a lot of different conversation, but I don't think we have heard that much about the economy from them.


    Yeah. Well, they talk about it a lot. It's the long-term decline, I think, more than the cyclical thing at this point.

    You know, the jobs numbers were pretty good today. And they may continue to be good for a couple — one hopes for a couple more months. But I'm not sure that is really going to change the emotional tenor of this election, because when you — at least in Iowa — and I haven't been in New Hampshire for a couple of months — it was a question of the long term, how is my family, how are my kids are going to do, the structural problems, the wave stagnation, the inequality, the sense that we lost some of our economic value, some of our sense of industry and sort of responsible values.

    So those are core sort of economic values issues. And I doubt some good numbers even for a couple of months is going to really change that basic structure of the electorate.


    And did I want to ask you about the job numbers.

    Mark, is one or another of the candidates playing into this issue more than another, taking advantage of it better than another?


    Well, I think Romney is — that has been his talking point.

    On the question of the numbers themselves, Judy, I don't question David's analysis of the long-term implications. But good news is really intoxicating. Americans are starved for good news. And this is good news. And it's encouraging. Granted, it would need this pace for seven consecutive years to get back to where we were in 2008 and the number of jobs.

    But Bob Teeter, who was — the late Bob Teeter, who was George Herbert Walker Bush's pollster and campaign manager in 1992, when President Bush lost reelection to Bill Clinton, in large part because of the economy, told me then — and everything else I have learned since has confirmed it — that it takes a full quarter of good news, three months, before people start to perceive a change in their economic outlook.

    And, in other words, the economy was improving enough in 1992, but voters didn't feel it that way. If it's going to be good news, this is the time for the Obama campaign for it to begin, is in early 2012, and to continue through the election. Otherwise, the economy is going to be a real political liability for the White House.


    David, what about — let's talk about the fallout from Iowa. How much of one is there? How much are New Hampshire voters paying attention? We heard Gwen talk to that group of voters about it. But how much does it matter that Romney came in first by eight votes, Santorum right behind?


    Well, Friday has been a very good day for Mitt Romney. The poll in New Hampshire, where he has the big lead, is not surprising. The poll in South Carolina is a little more impressive. He's up I think to about 38. That puts him above the 25 percent, his mythical ceiling.


    Which is a surprise.


    I think that is a surprise. Santorum does better, but he's still far behind.

    And then — so this has been a good day. How the weekend is going to be, that is going to be — we have this debate Saturday night, Sunday morning. These two debates, I think, are going to be extremely nasty. I think Newt Gingrich is now an unexploded missile going off in all directions.

    You've got a number of candidates really with a strong incentive to collaborate to take down Romney. How can he survive this? How is the deteriorating emotional tenor going to change this race? To the extent that it changes it, I think it will further help Romney. I think people will see all the nastiness. We heard this from the voters with Gwen earlier.

    They see the nastiness. They just want to go for the responsible guy who is not fighting. And so I think if he can rise above all this and survive this weekend, these two debates, I think he will be sitting pretty.


    Mark, do you agree it doesn't pay off for these other candidates to go after Romney and really try to rough him up?


    Well, it's not a question of roughing him up. They have to draw differences and distinctions, Judy. For many of them, it's their last chance. Certainly, Newt Gingrich sees it slipping away.

    His numbers nationally are slipping. His numbers in South Carolina have hemorrhaged. Jon Huntsman has put everything on this. They've just got to – they've got to come out of this with the narrative being a different narrative than Romney is on his way to a coronation by New Hampshire voters.

    But I think the real story coming out of Iowa was Rick Santorum's victory speech. I mean, that statement that he made has touched more people that I have talked to since I have been here than any other statement of this campaign, when he spoke, movingly, about his Italian immigrant grandfather being a coal miner his entire life and how, when he died and he looked at his corpse in the funeral parlor, and he was struck by his hands, the size of his hands, and that those hands dug freedom for me.

    He established a real contrast between himself and Mitt Romney, that he was the proud product of working-class blue-collar, not of privilege or power or prominence.

    And David's talked often about that constituency being an important Republican constituency, an important American constituency. And I think he established an emotional connection with them that nobody else has in this campaign.


    But, David, does he have time to capitalize on that with the New Hampshire primary?


    Not in New Hampshire. He's got a ton more money, a million dollars more than that, maybe up to two million. But he doesn't have time to buy any ads in New Hampshire to really broadcast that.

    The question is whether he can do in South Carolina, where he will have a two-week gap there, and whether he can build on the message. He knows what he needs to do. He needs to tie values to the economy. It's not enough to talk about abortion and gay marriage. He certainly doesn't want to be talking about that.


    But that is what he keeps being quoted…


    That's what keeps getting dragged in front of him, and that's why he has had a bad few days.

    But he needs — he knows he needs to show that our economic problems are in part a values problem, that we have to talk about the dignity of work. We have to talk about risk-taking. We have to talk about building healthy families that will create human capital.

    He knows he needs to do all that. He has no staff to really do all that. So, if you've got teams of speechwriters and researchers who can unwheel programs, then it's a little easier than if you don't have any of that, which he really does not have. He's got to go back to his own career and his own book and his own writing to try to pull that out.

    We will see if he can do that. But it is a question of avoiding all these distractions, hot-button issues, and coming up with an economic message.


    And, Mark, on Santorum, do you see that he has an opportunity to capitalize on what…


    Yes. I think he's moving here, Judy.

    I think the numbers are slow catching up with him. In the last two nights of the Gallup national poll, he's been polling at 21 percent, which is a septupling of his numbers before — at the end of the year. There is no question he is moving.

    I agree that the event yesterday in Concord where he got into discussion of same-sex marriage and his opposition to it, and became quite testy, wasn't helpful. But in a strange way, today, where he was picketed and, you know, almost harangued by protesters, probably in a strange way helps him.

    In the same way that Jon Huntsman's endorsement by The Boston Globe — The Boston Globe's endorsement of a Republican in a conservative primary is not necessarily helpful. I mean, it doesn't resolve Jon Huntsman's problem. It's a little bit like The Washington Times, a conservative newspaper, picking — or The Union Leader here picking a Democrat in a primary. If anything, it probably consciously leads to ignoring it.

    But I think that he doesn't have the kind of populist message that Mike Huckabee had or Pat Buchanan had before him or even an economic message that — the same way. But he does — he has established a connection. And it's a vulnerability that Romney has.

    Romney does not have that emotional connection.


    What about Huntsman and the opening, or not, for him?


    Yes, I'm not sure there is that opening. He's been there a long time. He's still only polling 7 or 8.

    I think if you are a Main Street Republican, you go to Mitt Romney at this point. Now, maybe he has that opening. I don't think he really ever figured out how to run the race. Was he going to run as the moderate who is going to stand for clear moderation, or some sort of other kind of conservative? I don't think he ever really resolved that issue.

    Santorum has one other advantage, which seems sort of moderate, actually, which is most of the candidates, and especially Romney, are talking like my old colleagues at The Wall Street Journal editorial pages, a very free market party.

    A large part of the Republican electorate is not like that. They believe in the entitlement programs. They believed in compassionate conservatism. Their lives are filled with insecurity. And they want government sometimes to give them a little more security. We saw that with Huckabee. We saw that earlier with Gary Bauer.

    Santorum represents a lot of that. So if he can build on that, while still being friendly to capitalism, that is a distinction.


    Let's talk quickly about the man who came in a close third, Ron Paul, in Iowa. He is the one who, David, supposedly has the most enthusiastic, most passionate supporters. What can he do with that?


    Yeah, the question is whether he can expand beyond that.

    At least when I was in New Hampshire last — and certainly it was true four years ago — he leads the league in street signs, in lawn signs. He does have a passionate following. It's a much bigger following. It's younger. It's a little angrier following.

    And so I still think he has trouble getting beyond — from beyond New Hampshire to anything else. I could be wrong, but I still don't — there has just never been a huge libertarian bloc. And when you think about the candidates, think about the campaigns a little, mostly think about the blocs in the electorate.

    There is a social conservative bloc. There's a Main Street Republican bloc. There's a libertarian bloc, but it has just never been that big. And nobody is growing it.


    Mark, how do you read Ron Paul?


    I think Ron Paul is a phenomenon. I mean, you look at the results from Iowa. Half the people under the age of 30 voted for Ron Paul, who went there. The first time caucus-goers, they were Ron Paul. The independents were Ron Paul.

    I mean, he's the one that expanded the Republican turnout in Iowa. Now — and then he blew it by going home to Texas, instead of coming here. This is a far more compatible state for him in terms of libertarianism, and sort of an anti-government and hands-off and leave me alone, than Iowa is — or was.

    And, you know, I don't know. Here is the 76-year-old candidate with the youngest following in the entire election. But he did go home to Texas. And he just returned to the state today. So I don't know how he's doing. But he is running, he has been running a solid second.


    All right, quick, 30 seconds. I want you both — to ask you what do you have to say about Rick Perry, who we are told is going to go on a 17-day bus tour of South Carolina, and Michele Bachmann, David, who is gone, who has dropped out?


    Yes. She had the good graces to drop out. I think Rick Perry really should have. The polls today were really bad for him.

    I mean, it's just — it's embarrassing at the end of a race if you have got no audience, nobody showing up. Sometimes, you got to know when the fat lady is singing.


    Last word, Mark.


    Bob Strauss, the great Democratic Party chairman, says the toughest thing is not running for office; the toughest thing is pulling out of a race that you have lost before it's over.

    And he said, that's the toughest thing to do. And it's what Rick Perry has to do, because it's going to be a — it's going to hurt, but it's going to hurt longer the longer he stays in.


    Well, we're glad you are staying in, both of us.

    Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.