"Shields and Brooks on Flake's Trump diatribe, confronting powerful men on sexual harassment" PBS NewsHour 10/27/2017
SUMMARY: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week's news, including Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake's denunciation of the Trump presidency and his decision to not seek re-election, the impact President Trump has on Republican politics, and whether #MeToo is a turning point for men and sexual harassment.
Judy Woodruff (NewsHour): The rift in the Republican Party widened this week, as outgoing Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona called on his party to stand up to President Trump, and House Republicans aired their disagreements over a plan to overhaul the tax code.
That brings us to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.
And, gentlemen, welcome to both of you.
So, we have spent much of this week examining, talking about that stunning speech, David, that Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona gave on the Senate floor this week, where he essentially took on the President and challenged his colleagues.
Let's first just listen to a short excerpt of that.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz): We must never regard as normal the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals. We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country, the personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms and institution, the flagrant disregard for truth and decency, the reckless provocations most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons, reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the fortunes of the people that we have been elected to serve.
Judy Woodruff: That was Jeff Flake on the Senate floor.
David, what change — what effect has that speech had?
David Brooks, New York Times: Well, it sounded like a call to arms at the moment, but it's pretty clear it was Appomattox in reality.
What Flake made clear is that you can't survive a Republican primary if you don't sound like Donald Trump. And whether with Flake leaving, Corker leaving, McCain sort of in the end — toward the end of his career, the Republicans who want have a political viability have to be Trumpian.
And so what you have is most of the Republicans saying, I may not like this guy privately, I may worry about this guy, but this is my guy, I am going to support him.
And so this was really the week, I thought, something atmospheric shifted and Donald Trump, and Steve Bannon really took control of the Republican Party.
Judy Woodruff: Mark?
Mark Shields, syndicated columnist: Yes, I think David is absolutely right, Judy, that the Republican Party is the wholly owned subsidiary of Donald Trump at this point.
And the polls show it that Republican voters rate Donald Trump off the boards in high marks and actually give negative marks to Republicans in Congress. So, the choice has been made, it would seem.
And I thought that when Jeff Flake said the fragrant disregard for truth and decency, and then Bob Corker, senator from Tennessee's indictment as well, they aren't philosophical difference. I mean, Bob Corker obviously talked about the danger of World War III and Donald Trump's not coherent leadership, but they're an indictment of character.
And that's — but for the other Republicans to remain silent on that, if that's the question, if character is the question, then they just say, oh, we just want to worry about our own reelection.
Judy Woodruff: Well, let me ask you about that, David, because Jeff Flake went on to say to his fellow Republicans, our children are watching, and he asked — he said, what are we going to do about that? What are we going to do when the next generation asks us, how did we respond at this time, in other words, saying they are complicit.
David Brooks: You know, I had some conversations with some Republican senators who support Donald Trump, by and large, and I guess their argument is, well, you know, I really believe in this tax cut, he's for that, we can get some economic policy passed.
When his administration calls my office to say who they want to be deputy secretary and this and that, and I give them a name, they hire the person, so I have been able to have some influence on the administration in that way.
And I grant, for some conservatives, Trump offers something, and maybe the administration is hiring a lot of their former staffers in a way they think is good and influential.
But I guess I would say, your priorities are messed up, that if you are supporting Donald Trump because he will get you a tax bill you like, you're putting money above morals. And the character and the morals of the country and the social fabric of the country are more important than whether the tax rate is 39.6 or 35.4.
And so — and I would ask them to think about that. I guess when I do make that point, a lot of the things I find outrageous about Donald Trump's behavior, they seem kind of distant and they treat those things as unimportant. They put sort of a vast distance between them and some of the daily fights and dishonesties that I think characterize a lot of this President's behavior.
Judy Woodruff: So, Mark, are we talking about values here? What does it come down to?
Mark Shields: Well, I certainly think that's the way that Jeff Flake framed it.
It is a question of character. It's destiny. And I think the fact is, Judy, David mentioned tax cuts, and that's it. That's the last stage out of Dodge for the Republicans. They have failed at every turn in this Congress and in the Trump administration. They have nothing to show.
They talk about Justice Gorsuch. Fine. But they really have nothing to show, no accomplishments with total Republican dominance of both the Congress and the Presidency. So, this is it. And this is the one thing that ties them together. You know, it's shameless. A party that talks so movingly about balancing the budget and not putting the burden on our children and grandchildren, and adding $1.5 trillion, they voted to this week — the President pushed to do it — and to the new debt over the next 10 years.
And, you know — but this is it. This is their last chance to say, we did something in this election.
And the key, the problem that Republicans are facing and a real confrontation is, the FOX News poll showed that Republicans, if you could vote for — had to vote for Congress today, would you vote for a Democrat or Republican? And by 50 to 35, people say they would vote for a Democrat.