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Shields and Gerson on Trump’s immigration politics, Carter’s cancer news

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including the response to Donald Trump’s immigration policy and his effect on Republican race, whether Hillary Clinton can defuse the attention paid to the investigation into her handling of email, plus bad health news from former President Jimmy Carter.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Donald Trump is holding on to his lead in the GOP presidential field. How are the other candidates adjusting? The Clinton e-mail saga shows no signs of letting up. And former President Jimmy Carter and his very public battle with cancer.

    That brings us to the analysis of Shields and Gerson. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson. David Brooks is away.

    Welcome to you both.

  • MICHAEL GERSON:

    Thank you.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Thank you.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So let's talk about Donald Trump. As we said, he's holding up in the polls.

    Mark, now that we're a couple of months into this, do we know more about who Donald Trump is as a candidate, about what he really believes? Do we understand better what's going on here?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I'm not sure, Judy, to be very frank about it, how much we know about him.

    We know what he's publicly emphasizing. I mean, there's a strong sort of Howard Beale cast to his — Howard Beale being the anchor in "Network," the movie, played by Peter Finch, who coined the phrase "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore" — there is a lot of that to him.

    And he is to an electorate, particularly a Republican electorate, but electorate in general, that by a 2-1 country think the country is headed in the wrong direction, thinks their children's future is not going to be as bright as their own, and many in the base who are concerned about the changes in the country, and its racial composition and its social mores, the acceptance of same-sex marriage.

    There is a dissatisfaction, an anger, an unexpressed anger. And I think Donald Trump has — is addressing that. And he does it in a flamboyant, sort of unbossed, unbought way that is beholden to nobody, seemingly, no interest groups, except his own interests.

    So I'm not sure. There is a lot of sense — the perception is there, but I'm not sure there's a core.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Do you feel, Michael, we have got a better handle on what he's trying to say?

  • MICHAEL GERSON:

    Well, what we have seen is his first policy initiative. He set out an immigration policy. It was thin, six pages. It was not very detailed, but it included changes to the protections of the 14th Amendment on birthright citizenship and mass deportations.

    So this is a person, Trump, who, three years ago, which is not very long ago, criticized Mitt Romney's self-deportation plan as maniacal and mean-spirited. And now we're going to from self-deportation to forced mass deportation.

    This is crossing a lot of lines in the Republican Party. I think it's quite serious and I think it could damage the Republican Party for decades to come to be associated with this approach.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Does he explain how he's made that turn?

  • MICHAEL GERSON:

    I don't think he — there's no explanation.

    Whenever he's caught in changes, he just doubles down. And his support seems to stay, you know, the same. But he is, in a moment where there is a lot of partisan anger, there's a lot of candidates, 18 or so Republican candidates, so he's in a field where he can stand out.

    And — but — and he probably has a ceiling of support. I don't think he's going to get the Republican nomination, but he's at 20 percent in the polls and driving the debate on immigration in very dangerous ways.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, Mark, he's taking some — I mean, he's making these statements that get a lot of attention.

    As Michael said, he came out this week with his position on immigration. What effect does is that having on these other candidates in the Republican side, the other 16 of them?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    When the central issue in the campaign is set by the front-runner, then — and that is perceived as contributing to that front-runner being the front-runner, whether it's anti-busing with George Wallace, whether it was opposition to the Iraq War with Barack Obama in 2008, there's a natural gravitational pull on the rest to say, I have got to close the gap between them, a little me-too-ism, a certain aping of the front-runner.

    I think we have seen that this week, certainly, conspicuously in the case of Scott Walker, who sort of — the governor of Wisconsin, who seems to be shadowing Trump's philosophical movement.

    At the same time, Judy, let's be very blunt about this. There's a mean-spiritedness in the electorate he's appealing to. I mean, when the CNN poll asks, which of all the candidates do you agree with on immigration, by a 4-1 margin, Republican primary voters say Donald Trump.

    Donald Trump, whatever else he is, his — his position is anti-immigrant overall. It is devastating — Michael is absolutely right — it is devastating to the Republican Party in the long run, because Asian voters, the fastest growing minority in the country, who supported George H.W. Bush when he lost badly in '92, voted even more Democratic than Latinos…

  • MICHAEL GERSON:

    Forty-seven percent of Asians voted against…

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But hurting them in the long run, but in the short run, it's helping him with the primary, with the Republican primary voters, right?

  • MICHAEL GERSON:

    Well, there are members, I completely agree, who want to be pale versions of Trump, which I think is hurting them and hurting the party.

    Walker has been everywhere on all sides of the birthright citizenship issue and really shown, I think, that he's not playing in the big leagues, he's not prepared, he's not thoughtful in these areas.

    But you do have Rubio and Bush, who, eventually, one of them, I believe, will emerge as the anti-Trump, make a very strong argument on the other side, and as candidates, as other…

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    On this birthright question, on immigration.

  • MICHAEL GERSON:

    On immigration as a whole and his whole approach to politics.

    And it's going to be very important. I mean, what Trump is appealing to has more of a feel of European right-wing politics, OK, UKIP or the National Front, highly nationalistic, resentment of foreigners, we have been betrayed by our leaders.

    There is some deep and disturbing things that are being appealed to here. And that's the role of leadership. There's always populist trends. Good leaders take those trends and direct them in ways that serve the public good. Bad leaders feed those trends to serve themselves, and that's exactly what Trump is doing.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Do you get a…

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I'd just point out, Judy, 25 percent in a 17-candidate field is very impressive. Twenty-five percent in a three-way race, you're a loser.

    I agree with Michael that both Rubio and Jeb Bush, each is waiting for the other to go first in attacking Trump, because they want to be the remainder man against Donald Trump, because they don't think Donald Trump in the final analysis is a majority candidate.

    What they risk is, what Trump is doing and saying becomes so odious and offensive that it almost will be seen as a moral surrender on your part, ultimately, in the general election that you didn't stand up to him. And I think that's a real risk that anybody runs by not confronting him at this point.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, I want to turn us to the other party, to Hillary Clinton, Michael. The e-mail controversy, there was more evidence this week that there are real investigations going on, questions about whether these e-mails, either they were marked — if they weren't marked confidential to begin with, they should have been marked confidential.

    The question, she's taking this on, she had a news conference, she's talking to reporters about it. Do you think — do you see any sign that she's getting ahead of this issue? Is she overwhelmed by it? What do you see?

  • MICHAEL GERSON:

    No, these events are undermining her main argument, that this is somehow a political attack. Now you have the federal judge questioning her conduct this week. You have the FBI. You have the inspector general of the intelligence community.

    This is not a partisan deal. This is going to be determined by real investigations. So I think that's — and you can see the trouble she's in from the defenses she's made. There's now been three of them. The first one is, there were no classified documents. She said that, right?

    Then she said, there was nothing classified at the time. That turned out to be untrue. And now she said she didn't send marked documents, OK? When you take — you find — when you get top-secret clearance and you commit to protecting this material, that's not the standard. You're responsible for negligence. You're responsible for mishandling of material.

    It's not just the standard she said. And so she's lost control of events. She tried to control things so close by saying, I want to control my own information, I want to be able to destroy it. She controlled it in such a way that it attracted attention and is now beyond her control.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    How do you see it?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Judy, The New York Times broke the story six months ago about her private server. And, quite bluntly, we have gone from a time when the investigation appeared to be motivated by the Republicans on the Hill, with the Benghazi story and all the rest of it.

    Now we have a federal judge appointed by Bill Clinton who's directed the FBI, and this is going to be around for months, and it's no longer just a partisan witch-hunt. It's an official investigation, with all the implications that that involves. It's going to be — it's going to color and influence her campaign from here on in.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    How do you think she's handling it?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I don't think — I think that, at the outset — you just should have turned, I guess, everything over right at the outset and say that I have nothing to hide, including my e-mails about Chelsea's wedding. I mean, I don't know what else — you know, or how pleased or displeased I am with the gender of my grandchild when it's announced.

    But, you know, quite bluntly, it's a — there's no upside on this for her politically.

  • MICHAEL GERSON:

    And she's had a really terrible launch to her candidacy. There's been a series of questions, a series of things that she's been defensive on.

    And there are now Democrats thinking in the back of their mind, do we need a plan B? I think that's very real. This has gone from a very small chance of implosion to maybe a larger chance, where Democrats are saying that Sanders can't carry the ball into the election, and there may need to be someone else.

    There is no one obvious, to be honest. But I think those questions have now been raised in a serious way.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    There was a report today, Mark, that — and Michael — that Vice President Biden is asking some technical questions about mounting a campaign, but we will see. I mean, I think he's indicated he will make a decision.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Joe Biden, like every other presidential candidate, still dreams about being elected president. I mean, it doesn't go away. It is a lifelong affliction or inspiration.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, we saw this week someone who was president decades ago, former President Jimmy Carter, I think, very gracefully handled the bad news, the bad medical health news he got in terms of a diagnosis of cancer, melanoma that has spread to his brain.

    Mark, this is somebody who's been — he's been out of the White House for 35, 40 years. And yet — I mean, what do you make of this? It was quite a remarkable performance, that news conference yesterday.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    It was, in fact, Judy.

    We're in an era — I think Michael would agree — totally, aggressively secular, where church membership is in decline. And yet, in the last couple of months, we have seen two examples of the value, the social value, as well as the individual value, of religious faith.

    We saw it at the AME Church, the families, survivors of those victims forgiving the killer who was racially motivated. And we see it in Jimmy Carter, who has devoted his post-presidency to improving the cause of those less fortunate, but showed such grace and courage and humor and faith in the face of this just daunting and dooming news.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    As somebody who covered the Carter White House a long time ago, Michael, I was struck by the humor — as Mark says, the humor.

    He said he'd gotten calls from former President — both Presidents Bush and President Obama and Secretary — he said, "Of course, I hadn't heard from them in a long time."

  • MICHAEL GERSON:

    Right, yes.

    Well, we often get examples of how to live, live healthy, how to live successfully. There's a lot of emphasis on this. But we don't really get examples of how we approach death. This is a really good example.

    Now, he — it's not imminent in his case. He's seeking treatment. He wants to live longer and may well live longer. But there is a calmness, there is a grace, and there is a courage about what he said that's an example of how you deal with the end.

    And he also dealt with it with gratitude, talking about how grateful he was for his life. That's a real model for all of us.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    It is. And we saw that the medicine he's getting is something that's only been available for the last year or so.

    We certainly wish him well.

    Mark Shields, Michael Gerson, great to see you both. Thank you.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Thank you.

  • MICHAEL GERSON:

    Good to see you.

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