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Shields and Brooks on tea party lessons for Democrats, remaking GOP in Trump’s image

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including the grassroots fervor meeting Republican members of Congress in their home districts, the challenge of a clear message for Democrats, how President Trump has influenced American conservatism and the impact of a president targeting the media as “fake.”

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  • Judy Woodruff:

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

    So, gentlemen, Mark, let’s just talk about this right now.

    What do you see this energy or this emotion and anger, what does it mean coming at these Republican town halls?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, first of all, a shout-out for Congressman Lance for doing it, and for a thoughtful interview with Lisa, for having another town meeting, because several of his colleagues have tucked tail and run and ducked it.

    And so the energy, Judy, is real. There’s no doubt about it. But I think Ross Baker put the point well, the political philosopher and teacher, when he said, it isn’t as focused. It’s quite diffuse. There are those who want to impeach Donald Trump.

    Donald Trump, I hate to tell people who are concerned about it, is not going to be impeached. The American people believe in giving somebody a fair chance. He’s a new president. There have been troubles, there have been problems.

    And the stock market just set 10 days in a row of new records, whether because of him or in spite of him. So that’s — but the energy is real. And the question is, can it be focused, can it be disciplined, can it be sustained?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How do you answer all those questions?

  • David Brooks:

    First, I think Donald Trump is not going to be impeached this month. Let’s not close out possibilities.

    I would say a couple of things. I do think that what’s happening is great and that people are active and people are just involved in the democratic process.

    The Tea Party thing is only apt in some ways. The activism in the town halls, that looks superficially like it. But what the Tea Party did was, they went after the party, the Republican Party, as their vehicle. And parties is how you change history.

    So, it’s fine to be an activist, but you’re not — if you’re not putting up candidates, if you’re not getting political, if you’re not in your party, then you’re probably not going to have long-term change. You will probably dissipate.

    And then it’s tempting to remember that the Tea Party had a peak and then the Republican Party establishment sort of beat it back down. And so these things are won in a day.

    And then the final thing the Tea Party had was, they fed into the philosophy that Donald Trump now embodies. So they had a different view of how the world should be governed. And so they had a lot of things that we didn’t appreciate going for them as time went by.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, it did lead to something, Mark.

  • Mark Shields:

    Oh, it certainly did. It led to the Republican takeover in 2010.

    And Kevin McCarthy, who is now the House majority leader, was pretty open. He went out and recruited candidates who had emerged from that movement. And the Republicans in the House have paid a price for it ever since, because they cannot pass anything comprehensive or real because of the Freedom Caucus, which is the child, the product, the progeny of the Tea Party.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But to both of you just quickly, you’re hearing some Republicans, you’re hearing the White House saying, well, a lot of this is orchestrated, it’s been somebody sitting there sort of pulling the strings.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How genuine is this?

  • Mark Shields:

    It’s genuine.

    Judy, the argument of those who are being criticized at any time, the civil rights movement forward, the anti-war movement forward, is, it’s always outside agitators doing it.

    The Wall Street Journal had a pretty good piece yesterday that this is organic. It’s not organized. It’s real.

    These are — are there people nationally working on it? Sure. But people who are emerging are from those districts. When Tom Cotton hears a woman stand up in Arkansas and said three members of my family would be dead but for ACA, including me, and where do you get your insurance, Senator, they’re all going to be asked that. So, it’s genuine.

  • David Brooks:

    And there’s nothing wrong with being organized.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    Things that change history tend to be organized.

    And so I do think what the Tea Party also had was Obamacare and the unpopularity of that, at least at the time. And so whether there is something that is equally unpopular and equally galvanizing that is almost self-destructive from the administration, that’s another factor that we will wait and see.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we will wait and see about that.

    But, meantime, right now — and we talked about it a few minutes ago on the show, Mark — the Democrats are about to choose a new party chair. We were talking about the message of the party.

    Do you hear a clear message coming from the Democrats? Do you think it matters whether they come together around any message right now?

  • Mark Shields:

    Sure. It will, Judy.

    But, no, I don’t hear any clear, coherent message. I mean, when you’re a party out of power, it’s the time to be a national party chair. When the party holds the White House, all the political decisions are made in the White House. And being a party chair, you’re just an artifact.

    But, being a party chair, you really have a chance to make a difference. but what the Democrats have to do is recognize and accept the fact that they’re at their lowest point since 1928 in the United States House of Representatives and their lowest point since 1925 in states.

    So, they have got to start winning elections. That involves not some great idea, but it also involves recruiting candidates. And Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago, who has given obnoxiousness a new definition in his personal behavior, oftentimes in his dealings with the press, had a very good point.

    And that is, the Democrats have to do what he did when he was chairman of the Democratic House Campaign Committee, recruit veterans, recruit football players, recruit businesspeople. And I think that’s what the job of the new party chair has to be.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    I guess, to me, the fundamental thing — well, I guess I see a lot of people debating this in the wrong way. A lot of the debate is, should we go to the coasts, should we go to the center, should we go to the left, should we go to the right?

    But Trump is instructive here, actually. You figure out, what is the crucial issue facing the country right now? And for Trump, it was that the global economy and the international world order were failing regular people.

    And so he said, that’s the crucial issue. I’m going to take a clear stand on that issue.

    And he did. And it’s very internally consistent. And he won with it.

    For the Democrats, they’re trying to avoid having the Sanders-Clinton debate over and over again. But, to some degree, they’re sentenced to that debate. Clinton is much more embracing of the global economy and the international world order. Sanders and Warren are much less so.

    And they have got to figure out which side the party is on, if they’re going to have a clear message. I think this is probably one you probably can’t straddle.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, when you hear, as we heard earlier, when they say, well, opportunity for all, you’re saying it’s got to be more specific?

  • David Brooks:

    You have got to have — Franklin Roosevelt had a pretty clear line. Ronald Reagan had a pretty clear line, people who rescue parties.

    And it doesn’t have to be the same line that we have had for the last 40 years, because that clearly isn’t working on any level. But you have got to have a pretty clear line on this crucial issue.

    Basically, global capitalism, basically to support it, or is it to be opposed? Is international order to be supported, or is it to be opposed? Republicans have taken a very clear line. Democrats can have a different version of the line, or they can just say, no, we are the party of international peace and activism, and we’re the party that’s going to have a civilized capitalism.

  • Mark Shields:

    Two points.

    First of all, that’s way above the job description and job definition of a party chair. That is. That will be fought out in the primaries in 1920 — in 2020.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Mark Shields:

    Before that, in 2018 as well.

    But Franklin Roosevelt also ran on a balanced budget in 1932, and the greatest president, certainly, of the 20th century. And, you know, so the idea that you lay out a predicate right now, Donald Trump has recreated the Republican Party in his image.

    We saw that at the CPAC convention, Judy. That was a total surrender of the Reagan era. Ronald Reagan is gone.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Wow.

  • Mark Shields:

    He is nothing but a distant memory.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Gone?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, seeing that party today, I mean, he stood up and he said, you finally have a president, you finally have a president. I am the future.

    And what did he get? Hosannas and huzzahs and genuflection. It was a total takeover of the conservative movement. Like, that’s what the conservative movement has become, is basically an annex of the Trump campaign.

  • David Brooks:

    I wish I could disagree.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you think the two are now one, that it’s the Trump and the conservative …

  • David Brooks:

    I don’t know if it will be forever, but, for this moment, yes, for sure.

    Steve Bannon went to the CPAC this week and he said that there was a very important historical turning point, getting rid of the TPP. And the Republican Party has stood for that for as long as I have been alive.

    And then Trump today, he — you know, buy American, buy American, anti-free trade, and got big cheers. They’re waving Russian flags, probably partly as a joke. But, still, the party has become an ethnic nationalist party.

    And I don’t think it’s just because they, oh, that we agree with Trump on some things and not on others. I do think, over the last 10 years, a lot of Republicans have decided it’s not working, what the party believed in, free trade, global capitalism, open borders.

    They looked at basically the failed wars and they said, oh, this, us being the policeman of the world, that is not working.

    And so something really serious has shifted in the minds of Republicans and certainly others.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But aren’t there still Republicans who say, CPAC doesn’t represent me, that I’m not part of the conservative movement, I’m a Republican, but I’m not there?

  • Mark Shields:

    Sure. Absolutely.

    I mean, this is a group, don’t forget, that gave its presidential straw ballot to Ron Paul, Ron Paul, and Rand Paul and Rand Paul. So, they have abandoned what — their libertarian values and instincts to embrace Trump.

    Judy, gone is any mention of American exceptionalism. I happen to believe that twice, three times in the 20th century, the United States saved Western democracy, both World War — both World Wars and the Cold War.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, you’re hearing about America first.

    MARK SHIELDS: But America’s exceptionalism, American leadership, the American model, the American values are not — they’re something that end at the border. They’re something that are just for us. And American responsibility is — there is no mention of it.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    We had the clip earlier in the program of Trump saying: I’m not president of the globe. I’m president of the United States.

    Reagan would have never said that. Eisenhower would have never said that, because he would have said, yes, I’m president of the United States, but it’s in our interests to be securing a world order.

  • Mark Shields:

    A citizen of the world.

  • David Brooks:

    And that is — the two are so intricately linked. But Trump sees an opposition between the two. It’s a very different mind-set.

    The other thing that has changed — and this is more detailed to CPAC than the general Republican Party — is they have always been an outsider, Ann Coulter, sort of protest style, a little ruder than most Republicans. And this goes back all the way to Reagan.

    Lee Atwater, Reagan’s strategist, had no patience for CPAC, because he thought they were sort of wild and immature, basically. And so that’s always been a strain. So, it’s interesting how identity politics and Ann Coulter-style tactics have now blossomed. But they were always there in CPAC.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    OK, just about a minute, a minute-and-a-half left.

    I want to quickly ask you. We are careful about how we talk about President Trump and the news media, because we think you can quickly get into a situation, Mark, where you are looking at yourself and being a little too self-referential, any of us in the news media.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But what I want to ask both of you, quickly, is, is this something that the press — that’s going to begin to define the press, the president’s constant, daily saying fake news, the press is dishonest, the press makes things up?

  • Mark Shields:, after the Bay of Pigs, said to Turner Catledge of The New York Times:

    Well, Judy, he’s moved from the enemy being Barack Obama, now gone, fading is Hillary Clinton, and there is no question he’s chosen the enemy.

    I thought what Steve Bannon said yesterday was probably more chilling or more threatening than anything the president says, I mean, because he said, it’s a constant day. We have to defeat the press.

    And President Kennedy I wish you had written more, I wish you had investigated more, because it might have saved the country of the cataclysm of the Bay of Pigs.

    And, you know, that’s the job of a free press is to hold the lamp up, to investigate, to hold accountable. And denying access, as Sean Spicer did today, is the first step toward a dictatorship.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    It’s both strategic, to get people’s minds off other things, and to pick an internal enemy. It’s part of his psychodynamics to always care about his press coverage intensely. He’s more interested in that than anything else.

    Will it to stick? Of course, I tend to think not, the fake media. But I’m sure little Marco didn’t think it would stick. I’m sure crooked Hillary didn’t think it would stick. These labels do have a certain power to them. And so we will see how it plays out.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We will see.

    David Brooks, Mark Shields, thank you both.

  • Mark Shields:

    Thank you, Judy.

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