Shields and Brooks on midterm results and GOP ‘lockstep loyalty’ to Trump

Shields and Brooks on midterm results and GOP ‘lockstep loyalty’ to Trump


AMNA NAWAZ: It’s been a dramatic week in politics. Thankfully, we have the analysis of Shields
and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and
New York Times columnist David Brooks. Welcome to you both. Happy Friday. MARK SHIELDS: Amna. AMNA NAWAZ: You may remember there was an
election earlier this week. (LAUGHTER) AMNA NAWAZ: Look, yesterday, Lisa Desjardins
and our political team did a wonderful breakdown looking at the new Congress. She called it a generational change, a lot
of turnover, and demographic change, too. So, David, let’s start with you. Looking forward, how do you see this new Congress
being able to actually legislate? DAVID BROOKS: Well, occasionally, you get
a Congress or you get a class that defines a generation. So, in 1974, they were the Watergate Babies. Ninety-four, you had Newt Gingrich. The Watergate Babies pushed Congress to the
left. The Gingrich people pushed it to the right. In this, we may have a class, we may call
them the Trump babies, if they can remain coherent. And I would say it’s a reasonably hopeful
class for two reasons. One, it’s much more diverse and looks like
the way America actually looks. Secondly, it’s reasonably moderate. One of the things that we have seen over the
last few days is, people have done an analysis of which kind of Democrats won. And in general, the progressive, the ones
endorsed by the more progressive groups, didn’t do well. Those endorsed by the centrist new Democratic
groups did very well. And so I happen to think the Democratic Party
is moving to the left, but a lot of Democratic voters are not moving to the left. And they tended to put some pretty big victories
for moderates. And that may hearken to something. AMNA NAWAZ: I’m picking up some optimism there. MARK SHIELDS: Yes. AMNA NAWAZ: Mark, do you share that? MARK SHIELDS: I mean, that’s refreshing, optimism. (LAUGHTER) MARK SHIELDS: No, I think it — I think it
was a — it was a significant election. What I was most alarmed by was the president’s
announcement that it was a great victory for Republicans. (LAUGHTER) MARK SHIELDS: The Republicans lost more seats
than they did under Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush, both of whom accepted the fact that
the party had suffered a shellacking. And I was particularly struck by the president’s
reaction at the post-press conference. Gene McCarthy, the late senator from Minnesota,
once described a mean political opponent as being the type of person who, after the battle
is over, come down from the hills and shoot the wounded. And that’s exactly what Donald Trump did the
next day. He went after, named and shamed Republicans
who had lost. The lone black Republican woman in the Congress,
Mia Love, he went after personally and said, Mia showed me no love, because — in that
sense, I had just never seen anything like it. The election was about Donald Trump; 65 percent
of the voters said it was about him. And his dominance of American politics to
me was complete, in the sense that states, you could almost trace the — track the Republican
vote for Senate or major office with Donald Trump’s favorable job rating in that state,
I mean, Ohio, for example. And I think — I think the victory — David
and I disagree on this. I think it was enormous personal victory and
political victory for Nancy Pelosi. I really do. She was the one who passed health care in
2009, almost single-handedly. And the party paid for it in 2010. And, ironically, in 2018, it was the issue
that rode that the Democrats rode back. And I thought she showed iron discipline by
keeping the party on that issue. And I think it’s — I think it’s significant. Thirty-three or 34 women elected to the House
for the first time who are Democrats. AMNA NAWAZ: Right. So, both of you have noted that the — demographically,
there were huge shifts with this new Congress. MARK SHIELDS: Absolutely. AMNA NAWAZ: But they were largely in one party
and not the other. That is — that’s a fair assessment. David, what do you make of that, looking forward
at our biggest and strongest two parties? One path is clearly moving towards more representation
of the general public, and one not so much. DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Well, a couple things. First, Donald Trump seems to have walled them
in — walled himself in with 45 percent of the electorate. And so he’s built some pretty strong barriers. It’s hard to see people leaving and coming
in. Second, it should be said that, for all there
was a blue wave or a huge surge in turnout for the Democrats, there was also a huge surge
in turnout for the Republicans. And to me, that is basically the white working-class
saying, we’re still hurting. Some of it may have to with Kavanaugh hearings
and things like that. But life in rural areas is still marked by
huge numbers of men outside the labor force. You have got jobs that are part-time in the
big economy. You have still got a lot of economic strain. And those people just came out because they’re
still hurting. Now, can this party get outside that 45 percent? I don’t think so. I think Trump has really walled themselves
in, and the party is a Trump party. And George Bush and John McCain and every
other Republican spent so much capital trying to win over Hispanics, trying to represent
the new American, Asian Americans, all the groups. And in a stroke, I think Donald Trump has
ended maybe two or three decades of efforts in that direction. AMNA NAWAZ: Does that walling then make it
harder for these folks who are being sent to Washington to actually do their jobs? DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I think so. I mean, Donald Trump ran on immigration. And for a lot of people, that was — that
threat, the threat of both a demographically altered country, but also a threat to their
jobs and a threat to what they feel is their safety, opinions them that issue. And that’s why I still this agree with Mark
on health care, even though the Democrats — I still think, if you look around the world,
what’s the issue that’s dominant in country after country? It’s national identity. Who are we as a nation? And that’s a fundamental issue. Trump has one answer. I think the Democrats are still going to have
to come up with a different answer, which emphasizes diversity. AMNA NAWAZ: So I want to ask you about this,
Mark. Democrats won. They won control of the House. They also won the power to launch investigations
into this president, subpoena powers, et cetera. The president has already promised a warlike
posture if the Democrats start to investigate his personal and financial dealings. How does this play out? MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean, the president
has to be sure that his troops are behind him. I’m not as sure that Republican senators like
Cory Gardner in Colorado, who’s up in 2020, or Susan Collins in Maine, who’s up in 2020,
are going to be enthusiastic about just joining a lockstep support of the president and his
positions. Just to pick up on David’s point ,I do think
immigration is a major issue. I think it’s been cavalierly dismissed by
the elites, especially on the Democratic side. And it’s a legitimate issue and a real issue. And I think the Democrats have to come up
with a response to it. But it wasn’t up to the Democrats to set the
agenda in this election. I mean, this was a midterm election. It’s a referendum on the president. And I do — I do think that the Democrats
come out of this stronger, although they’re going to face the fragmentation, the polarization
of a primary, a contested primary, and which will try and pull the party to the left. There’s no question about it. AMNA NAWAZ: I want to move on now to the other
big story this week. That was the forced resignation of the attorney
general, Jeff Sessions, and the appointment of his replacement, a man who has been openly
hostile to the special counsel’s investigation. That is Matthew Whitaker. David, Senator Collins, who Mark just mentioned,
proposed today legislation that would protect Robert Mueller. How do you see that moving forward? Will Republicans move to do that? DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I was really struck by
how aggressive she was, and even signals from new senators like Mitt Romney, you can see
sort of taking her side on these sorts of things. I wonder if there will be a loosening in the
lockstep loyalty to Trump now, whether some people will look around the — especially
if they’re not in solid red states, look around, I have got to establish some distance, and
there may be a weakening in the loyalty there. So, I sort of expect that to happen. But Donald Trump does what he wants. And he’s wanted to get rid of Sessions for
the longest time. And he went against members of his own administration,
members of his own party, and say, I’m just going to do what I want, and I’m going to
pick one — somebody’s going to protect my flank. And what strikes me about Trump and his attitude
toward the attorney general is that all power is personal for Trump. MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. DAVID BROOKS: That it’s about, you have got
to be loyal to me. It’s not about the institution of the Justice
Department or the institution of the federal government. It’s about me. And so I think he just doesn’t even see the
possibility that somebody like Jeff Sessions could be serving a different loyalty than
personal loyalty to Donald Trump. AMNA NAWAZ: But what does that mean, then,
for something like the Mueller investigation, for the integrity of these institutions? MARK SHIELDS: Well, it means, first of all,
I think, Amna, that Matt Whitaker’s days are numbered at the Justice Department. When Donald Trump said today as he — that
he wasn’t sure he’d ever met him, after praising him as a great guy just the last month in
an interview, it’s — he is distancing himself. I mean, loyalty is strictly a one-way street
with Donald Trump. I mean, Jeff Sessions was the first and only
senator for a long time who endorsed Donald Trump’s candidacy, and yet he disparaged him
in conversation with many people as being dumb and a dumb Southerner and even worse. And the one blessing of this is that Jeff
Sessions, like Sean Spicer and Reince Priebus, now will be spared that abuse, that daily
ridicule that came from the president. I just — I mean, to me, it’s beyond comprehension
that you would treat people like this and expect that something — David’s point about
the Justice Department being a personal attorney who works for you I think is absolutely on
spot. I mean, he — this is his approach. It has always been his approach to the Justice
Department. He wants an attorney general who is his attorney
general, not the attorney general of the United States. AMNA NAWAZ: David, very quickly, I want to
touch on what was a very contentious press conference between the president and members
of the press corps earlier. It ended in one of the members of the White
House press corps having his credentials revoked. I have covered a lot of countries where that
happens regularly. It’s happening here now increasingly. How do you view that? DAVID BROOKS: Well, he — I thought the revoking
of Acosta’s press credentials was silly. I thought that whole episode was sort of a
distraction and silly. But what’s not a distraction and silly is
picking out three African-American reporters and insulting their questions. That’s — that’s who Donald Trump is. I don’t think that requires further explanation. But it’s all, again, not respecting the institutions. The press has a role. Our job is to ask questions. Sometimes, the questions are unpleasant. And his — the president’s job as a public
servant is to answer the questions. And going off on the press the way he’s done,
in a much more, frankly, bullying posture, is him simply to say, it’s me against these
people. And we all know what he means by these people. And so it’s an ugly moment. AMNA NAWAZ: Well, those three reporters you
mentioned, I just want to name. It was April Ryan, Abby Phillip, and our own
Yamiche Alcindor, who were singled out for particular division and insult from the president. What do you make of that? MARK SHIELDS: Particularly Yamiche, because
I watched it — I mean, it is true of his treatment of April Ryan as well and then Abby
Phillip today. But Yamiche asked an absolutely legitimate
question about nationalism and the encouragement of sympathy that his position, as a stated
nationalist, gave to white nationalism. And we already are aware of support, echoes
of support for him from these groups and individuals. And so he immediately attacked her for a racist
question. I mean, this is the oldest gambit in the world. He does it over and again — again. It’s a bullying tactic. It’s a mean-spirited tactic. And it’s — it — to me, it shows the pressure
that he is feeling from this defeat that he suffered on Tuesday. I thought we got a little peek into how he
treats those around him in the White House by the way he treated those in the press. The Jim Acosta thing is unforgivable. It is — to use a doctored tape from Infowars
to somehow make the case that he had mistreated this White House intern, which he didn’t do,
and — I don’t know. I just wish Sam Donaldson and Helen Thomas
had had a shot at this guy, I mean, to ask tough questions. AMNA NAWAZ: Mark Shields, David Brooks, good
to talk to you, as always. MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.

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