"Shields and Brooks on Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation in question" PBS NewsHour 9/28/2018
SUMMARY: Fallout from sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh threw American politics into upheaval this week. Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the testimonies of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Kavanaugh, how partisanship is recasting our politics and a moral reckoning around sexual abuse.
JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour): From the stock market floor on Wall Street to barbershops on Main Street, the nation tuned in to watch a series of riveting moments unfold in United States Senate this week.
Thankfully, we have the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.
We're so glad to see both of you tonight.
Yes. What are we going to talk about?
Mark, yes, there was the Kavanaugh hearing yesterday, the extension of the hearing, but — and the news today that the Republicans in the Senate have agreed to go along with an FBI investigation before a vote, a week. I have just been told that the Senate has formally gone into session to consider the vote. We're still talking about a week from now.
But what do you make of this turnaround by Republicans in the Senate and the President?
MARK SHIELDS, syndicated columnist: I first want to say a word about — about Jeff Flake.
Jeff Flake is a senator from Arizona. When Tim Kaine was nominated for President by the Democrats in 2016, he immediately tweeted the statement, trying to count the ways I hate Tim Kaine, coming up with a blank. Good man good and a good friend.
MARK SHIELDS: And that's — that's Jeff Flake. I mean, he has friendships.
And one of the friendships he has is Chris Coons, the Democrat from Delaware. And these are two people who aren't constantly running for President. They are — they are senators. They treat each other as human beings. They treat other senators as human beings.
And Jeff Flake — Jeff Flake did the Senate a favor. He did the Supreme Court a favor. He did the entire country a favor, not the least of which his own justice, Judge Kavanaugh, he did a favor to. And he did his party a favor.
If this nomination, Judy, had been railroaded through, strong-armed through, outmuscled, and all the rest of it, it would have left an aftertaste, it would have left bitterness, more business than there already is.
And, most of all, 27 years after Anita Hill testified, there is still a cloud of controversy and doubt over Justice Clarence Thomas. And, to me, this week is that important. It was that logical and almost inevitable to have it done, and have done the right thing.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But, David, I mean, it is a turnaround.
This morning, it looked as if Republicans were moving through the Kavanaugh nomination regardless, no FBI investigation.
DAVID BROOKS, New York Times: Yes, but we were entering a period of semi-political hysteria and confrontation over that.
I was hearing e-mails with friends wondering if this would turn to violence, if this would lead to such a sense of civic breakdown and national anger, that it would spill over into something completely ugly.
And that was a very plausible conversation. And maybe it still will be. But we had a very believable and compelling witness in Dr. Ford, I thought also a compelling witness in Kavanaugh, a man who clearly believes in what he's saying.
And, as a result, because — and there was no evidence corroborating one side of the other, basically. And so we had a country breaking down purely on tribal lines. Who you believed was 100 percent determined by which party you supported.
And there was no intellectual integrity. People were making an avalanche of bad arguments to support their side. Passions were going up, as people egged each other on. And so maybe this will allow us all to step back.
And, frankly, there are a lot of questions I would like to see answered. I sat there trying to think, who do I believe? And I really don't know. And so to have Judge interviewed, to have Leland Keyser, Ford's friend, interviewed…
JUDY WOODRUFF: The woman, then girlfriend of hers.
DAVID BROOKS: Who was allegedly at the party.
Maybe they will be some more information. Maybe we can find the house where it happened, and that can provoke some more facts.
And so, to me, just to prick the bubble of hysteria that was sweeping around this whole thing was a very important thing.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, what about yesterday? Did you find one more credible than the other? What did you make of her testimony and his?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, it's the first time we had met her.
And all we knew was what we had heard about her, read about her. I thought compelling is an understatement. She was — she was believable. She was — what she wasn't, I think, was almost as impressive as what she was. She wasn't brittle. She wasn't vengeful.
So there was nothing mean-spirited. There was an openness about her, a naturalness. She wasn't affected. She was totally believable. And I thought she — she came across as an appealing human being.
And I would say, after that, after her appearance, the Republicans were despondent. And I think Brett Kavanaugh, probably shrewdly, changed his testimony, I mean, that he realized he had to go back and win — re-win the Republicans, beginning with 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, where they had openly expressed doubts about his appearance, I think the wisdom of his appearance, on FOX News.
This became the first, I think, Supreme Court nominee to discuss his loss of virginity. I don't think Earl Warren did that. Maybe — I could check.
MARK SHIELDS: But, you know, in a rather bizarre interview.
And so he tried — riled up the base. He went to the…
JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean by being angry and combative.
MARK SHIELDS: By being angry. And Democrats gave him a legitimate case.
I mean, when Cory Booker said, anybody who supports Brett Kavanaugh is complicit with evil, I mean, that just changes our politics. I mean, not that David's wrong, or made a mistake, or made a larger conclusion, you're evil, that you're somehow morally unacceptable, that just changes the entire equation and makes future coalitions or compromise all but impossible.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But, David, I mean, you're saying this whole thing yesterday was — was moving in a partisan direction, that no matter what they were saying, you're saying, I mean, that neither story was — she gave, as both of you have said, a credible — I mean, a credible, compelling performance.
But you're saying it's still hewed to the party lines.
DAVID BROOKS: Well, I just looked at my Twitter feed. I looked at all the commentary. I looked at the political reactions.
And it was 100 percent correlated. If you supported Bill Clinton during the whole impeachment thing, then you were against Kavanaugh. If you opposed Clinton, you were for Kavanaugh. It was 100 percent party line.
I don't think I saw a single deviation from what you would predict from party affiliation. And so we used to have people who could step back and look at the evidence. And to me, I tried. You get wrapped up in this — in the emotion. And you begin to want to fight.
But I think you got to step back. This is about the truth. And one of my rules is truth before justice. You got to — if we don't know what the truth is, we can't fight for justice. You can never put justice before truth. You always have to figure out what actually happened.
And a lot of people were not doing that. And you look at these two people, and I found them both very compelling. Now, she — my interpretation, psychological, from the TV screen, is that she suffered a trauma, and she's been dealing with it for a long time. And so something probably happened.
When I looked at Kavanaugh, frankly, I thought he's in the middle of the trauma. He is a week in. You can imagine what it would feel like. I think he feels completely innocent, that the Democrats have staged a partisan hit on him, and his whole reputation has been destroyed after 35 years of adulthood.
I'm sure that's a tough thing. And so when he drinks water and sobs — choke sobs, I sort of get that. But who to think is true, I don't think any of us have any concrete evidence to make a dispositive judgment on that. I'm hoping it will come in the next week. I don't know.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, what about Kavanaugh's decision to take his anger and basically take it right back to Democrats, to challenge Amy Klobuchar: How much do you drink?
MARK SHIELDS: That was a mistake. There's no question about it. He apologized for it. It was dumb. It was rude to do that.
And the Republicans made a mistake coming with Kavanaugh. They introduced Brett Kavanaugh, who is a widely respected judge, a widely respected public figure, they introduced him as a Norman Rockwell good boy. He studied hard. He helped the poor. He was an athlete. He was, you know, just kind of an admirable citizen.
George W. Bush, when he ran for President in 2000, had a far more checkered personal background than Brett Kavanaugh of personal embarrassments, drinking and misbehavior. And they made a very wise decision. They said, when I was young and foolish, I was young and foolish, and it became the answer.
And so, when Kavanaugh then was confronted with questions about his misbehavior, they kind of scurried back, and he got defensive. There's no doubt about it.
And — but, I mean, I think he achieved what he felt he had to achieve. He stayed alive. I think they were ready to cut him loose after her testimony. I mean, the President reportedly said, according to two of my sources, after her — why didn't anybody tell me she was that good?
And what — he gave the highest salute he can give afterwards. Brett Kavanaugh showed the nation why I picked him.
It always does come back to Donald. But that was…
JUDY WOODRUFF: But — and, David, what about the reaction of women?
I mean, there have been, what — I just read there were 88 more people arrested at the Capitol today. Women were calling in yesterday to hot lines talking about their own experiences that they hadn't been comfortable talking about before.
This has intersected with the #MeToo movement. And people keep talking about the comparisons to Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill 27 years ago, but we're in a different time now, aren't we?
DAVID BROOKS: Right.
Well, frankly, this week, I have been thinking about millions of women over 20 centuries who — we have a world history, world literature going back 20 centuries, and, presumably, sexual abuse has been a part of human civilization for all that time. And how many stories have come out?
And so, to me, it's a big, finally, unveiling of stories that have been hidden for 4,000 years. They come out in little bits of literature, but not really.
And so, to me, that's one of the historic good things of this horrible moment, that at least the stories, these sorts of stories are coming out. And it's part of the unveiling that we have to go through, just as racial stories have to come out. And so, to me, that is the one good thing that's coming out of this week.
MARK SHIELDS: I think that, politically, to be venal about it and bring it down to politics, Donald Trump did carry women who had not gone to college by 27 points, 61 to 34. That's how you could say he got elected. They were 17 percent of the electorate in 2016. He lost college-educated women to Hillary Clinton.
Right now, Republicans generically are running 5 to 6 percent behind among non-college women, and 22 percent behind among college women.
So, yes, I mean, Trump set the table for the Republicans to be in trouble on this issue. And I…
DAVID BROOKS: Yes.
MARK SHIELDS: Go ahead. I'm sorry.
DAVID BROOKS: Well, I would just say, I think the Republican intensity is up. The early polling indications is that Republican — Democratic intensity has been up.
MARK SHIELDS: Yes.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Has been up.
DAVID BROOKS: Republicans' is coming up.
I happened to be in Texas, Minnesota, and Appalachia and Southeastern Ohio this week, and so saw it in the context of that. And what struck me is, when we're in Washington, we think it's right-left. But in — with the conversations I had this week, maybe 150, a lot of people, it was in, out.
They just wanted to recoil. And it wasn't like, oh, the Republicans are good, the Democrats are bad. It's, Washington is a swamp.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So it's not just Kavanaugh. You mean Washington.
DAVID BROOKS: The conversation is, the general tenor was, what a mess that is. Aren't you so glad you're out of there?
And so, to me, the big winners of the week politically are Trump, because he hates — he wants to blow up the system, and some future Democratic version of Trump, who will also want to blow up the system.
MARK SHIELDS: Boy, I disagree completely.
I think this is a referendum in 2018 on Donald Trump, as it is on every sitting President, especially in his first term. It's a corrective election. There's no question that voters do want a check, not — they don't want Donald Trump with a blank check.
And I think that's what we're going to see in 2018. I think we're headed to it. Republicans I have talked to report basically nothing but bad news from races.
DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I don't disagree with that.
But I just think there's a recoil from Washington. Washington is some hostile thing that we can't affect and can affect us. Let's just get away from that whole Washington thing.
MARK SHIELDS: I do — I think that part of that — not to get on a Trump diatribe, but there's a sense of exhaustion, that Donald Trump — I think voters are really — somebody who just says, look, I'm going to bring tranquility to the country. We're going to get along. We're going to move ahead. We're going to bring justice.
I think it's a winning message. I mean, the idea that everything has to be chaotic, that everything has to be a crisis is what — seems the watchword of this administration.