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Shields and Brooks on Trump’s ‘birther’ lie, Clinton’s ‘deplorables’ effect

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including Donald Trump’s admittance -- after five years of sowing doubt -- that President Obama is a natural-born citizen, plus Hillary Clinton’s characterization of some Trump supporters as “deplorables” and the tightening national polls.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Next, to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Welcome back, gentlemen.

  • Mark Shields:

    Thank you, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We’re together in person. It’s good to see you.

    Mark, let’s start with the birther lie. It’s the only way to describe it. Donald Trump talked about this for years. Today, he did finally say that he believes the president, President Obama, was born in the United States.

    But then he turned around and said Hillary Clinton started all this. Where does this leave this story about the birther controversy?

  • Mark Shields:

    I’m not absolutely sure.

    But I think it’s important to establish right at the outset that he wasn’t only the loudest and the highest-profile and the most persistent and the most well-publicized birther, he, Donald Trump. He lied. He lied consistently and persistently.

    And, today, without explanation or excuse, he just changed his position and tried to absolutely falsely shift the blame onto Hillary Clinton. And this was an appeal to — he debased democracy. He debased the national debate. He appealed to that which is most ignoble or least noble in all of us

    And I think — I would like to put to rest right now one of the great theories of the Clinton, Bill Clinton, years. Bill Clinton was accused of being a skirt chaser, a draft dodger, trimming the truth. And we were told by all sorts of conservative religious leaders, politically conservative religious leaders, then, character, character was the dominant issue. That’s why you had to oppose Bill Clinton and support his impeachment.

    We have a man running right now for president right now who’s without character. He’s AWOL. He and character are mutually exclusive. And the silence, with rare and conspicuous and admirable exceptions, with Mr. Moore of the Southern Baptists and Mr. Mohler, is — is just deafening.

    We found out that character is not an issue. The Supreme Court turns out to be the defining issue.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David.

  • David Brooks:

    Well, I agree.

    What struck me was that, especially reading the comment, the statement from the Trump campaign, which we heard summarized by Trump himself earlier in the broadcast, you know, we’re always used to spin.

    Usually, there’s some tangential relationship to the truth, but a corroding relationship to the truth, frankly, as politics has gone on over the years.

    But now we’re in a reverse, Orwellian inversion of the truth with this. And so we have a team of staffers and then the candidate himself who have taken the normal spin and smashed all the rules.

    And so we are really in Orwell land. We are in “1984.” And it’s interesting that an authoritarian personality type comes in at the same time with a complete disrespect for even tangential relationship to the truth that words are unmoored.

    And so I do think this statement sort of shocked me with the purification of a lot of terrible trends that have been happening. And so what’s white is black, and what is up is down, what is down is up. And that really is something new in politics.

    And the fact that there is no penalty for it, apparently — he’s doing fantastic in the last two weeks in the polls — is just somehow where we have gotten.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, it does come, Mark, as the polls are tightening.

    And it’s to the benefit of Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton has slipped. Donald Trump is up. He’s ahead in some of the battleground states. What are we — I asked both of you last week what you think is going on. I mean, do you — is there some new evidence or explanation for what’s happening?

  • Mark Shields:

    I mean, I don’t know if this is a precise explanation, Judy, but certainly I think it’s a valid possibility that, as he has become — he doesn’t punch out the cleaning lady, he doesn’t abuse parking lot attendants on camera, therefore, he’s now presidential.

    The fact that he hasn’t tweeted without — with a couple of exceptions, that he is working off a Teleprompter, which he at one point wanted to outlaw and prohibit, and somehow is talking about — about policies, not talking policy. He is talking about the possibility of policy.

    You know, I — then he becomes somehow more acceptable to people, And I think particularly to Republicans. He was getting a high 70 percent of Republicans. Now several most — or recent polls have showed him getting in the high 80 percent of Republicans. And I think that accounts for his surge or lift.

  • David Brooks:

    Well, he’s running against a candidate who doesn’t know why she wants to be president, at least that she can express to anybody else.

    And so, as we have been saying for 18 months, this is a change year, what change is Hillary Clinton offering? And so, if you want change, you have only got one option. And so as he becomes only moderately terrible, he becomes acceptable, and I think grudgingly acceptable to most people, not enthusiastically acceptable, but grudgingly acceptable.

    And we’re now at a point he’s doing well in Ohio, he’s doing well around the country. He’s almost tied nationally. But I think we’re now at the point where one adequate debate performance by him and suddenly he almost becomes either even or even a slight front-runner.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Really?

  • David Brooks:

    And this is at a time, it should be remembered, when, according to the last Washington Post poll, 62 percent of Americans said he’s not qualified to be president. So both these things are happening at the same time.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Which raises some questions.

    But this has happened. And, by the way, we should mentioned again, it now is clear it’s just going to be Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, that these other candidate, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, will not be involved.

    But, Mark, it also comes as Hillary Clinton’s has had some problems, the basket of deplorables comment from a week ago. Some people have said that is going to be something the Trump people will hang around her neck for the rest of the campaign. Is that the kind of thing that just is damaging and it keeps on being damaging?

  • Mark Shields:

    Sure. Sure it is.

    I can recall, as you do, David does, in 2008, when — at a fund-raiser, when the front-runner said people in small Pennsylvania towns who had lost hope and lost jobs cling to their guns and religion. And his opponent said Americans deserve a leader who will stand up for them, not a leader who looks down on them.

    That was Barack Obama who said that, Hillary Clinton who took advantage of it, won the Pennsylvania primary. These things happen at fund-raisers, Judy. Mitt Romney, Palm Beach, stand up and says, 47 percent of Americans, I can’t tell them to take responsibility for their own live. They expect a job. They expect a paycheck. They expect health care. They expect food.

    Telling people what they want to hear, that’s what Hillary Clinton was doing last Friday night, telling a New York liberal crowd that, you know, the people on the other side were xenophobic, they were racist, they were homophobic, Islamophobic, you name it.

    And it — I will tell you, what bothered me the most — and Donald Trump took advantage of it, and understandably — she had done the same thing in 2008, when she took advantage of it — what bothered me the most was irredeemable.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Mark Shields:

    You don’t — America is built on redemption. People came here because things weren’t working out.

    My generation, the old, oldest fart generation, OK, 13 percent of us were in favor of same-sex marriage 15 years ago, now 41 percent. On civil rights, America changed has dramatically and profoundly. We believe in redemption, not just because you’re a liberal, because you’re an American.

    And that — when you write off people and blame the customer, that is really bad.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, David, Barack Obama stayed in a race, overcame that, was elected president.

    Is this more damaging for Hillary Clinton than — clearly that was damaging, too, but…

  • David Brooks:

    Right, that was damaging, too.

    There’s two elements here. One is snobbery. And as Mark says, it’s just us rich people talking to each other about those poor people. And that never works.

    And then there’s the sociology element. They both — it’s bad sociology. They should leave the sociology to us amateurs.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    But, third, the irredeemable is what leapt out at me.

    And the person who was at the Emanuel Baptist — AME Church in Charleston, they believe the guy who shot and killed their close friends was redeemable, but she thinks millions of Americans aren’t?>

    And that speaks and I think it plays, because there is a brittleness there. And I don’t know if there is a brittleness within. I sort of doubt it. I think she’s probably a very good person within. But there has been a brittleness to her public persona that has been ungenerous and ungracious. And it plays a little to that and why people just don’t want to latch on.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, and, David, your comment a minute ago about Hillary Clinton, and both of you have been saying this in one way or another for a number of months, hasn’t given a rationale, a reason to vote for her for president.

    Mark, do you still feel you’re not hearing that from Hillary Clinton?

  • Mark Shields:

    Judy, I mean, by a 10-to-1 margin in swing states, battleground states, they have outspent Donald Trump on television.

    And their message has been relentless. It’s been in his own words. It’s been true, things he’s said. They have run up all the negatives they can run up Donald Trump. They have told people this is a man who’s a bully, he’s mean-spirited, he’s narrow-minded, he’s all of these things, he’s not to be trusted, not to be believed, and here’s the evidence of it.

    And yet, among 18-to-34-year-olds, a key element in Barack Obama’s winning, his coalition, she’s at 27 percent favorable, 56 percent favorable. It isn’t just a matter of policy. She has adopted Bernie Sanders’ positions on student loans and so forth.

    There’s got to be something there. There has got to be a connection as to what she wants to do, how she’s going to be a better — and it’s going to be a better America and why it makes a difference.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes. And it’s too late for her to be likable. She’s not going to win that.

    But she can at least say, OK, you don’t like him, you don’t like me, but here’s my change. Here’s my change. And just four things, here’s my change. And I’m going to burn down the house on this. But somehow that clarity of message has not been there.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And there were some economic numbers, census report, David, that came out this week that said the poverty rate has improved in this country. Middle — people who are earning middle incomes, their salaries have gone up.

    And yet, you know, you still see, as we saw in John Yang’s report from Ohio, many Americans aren’t feeling that.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes. The numbers were fantastic.

    The poorer you are, the better your increase, basically. And the decline in the poverty rate, decline in inequality, the numbers were just fantastic. And I think two things are going on here.

    One, it’s not touching everywhere. Obviously, if you’re in a coal or an industrial area, you’re still not feeling it. Second, the incomes are still, on average, lower than they were in 1999 in real terms. But, third, we are over-reporting the negativism in this country, that we are — every — if it’s not bad, then we don’t talk about it, because somehow that’s a betrayal…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It’s more newsworthy. Yes.

  • David Brooks:

    And the negativity is exaggerated, compared to what you actually see in the diversity of the country.

  • Mark Shields:

    That’s a good point.

    Judy, cheers to John Yang on that wonderful piece on Trumbull County, Ohio, where, 15 years ago, one out of four jobs have been lost in the past 15 years. And he explained just exactly what has gone to the Rust Belt of America.

    But let’s just say good news. This is good news. The rising tide lifts all yachts. It’s row boats and dinghies. And poverty is down, and income up, the highest, Judy, in 49 years. Something — maybe the president deserves a little credit. Maybe policies are working and America, it isn’t midnight. It could be dawn.

    Mr. Trump, cheer up. Eventually, the news will get worse.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mea culpa, the news business focuses on the negative. It makes better stories.

    Thank you both, Mark Shields, David Brooks. See you next week.

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