"Shields and Brooks on Trump and foreign campaign help, Democratic debates" PBS NewsHour 6/14/2019
SUMMARY: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s political news, including President Trump’s comments about willingness to accept foreign opposition research, the status of election security legislation, candidate lineups for the upcoming Democratic Presidential debates and the politics of Democratic socialism.
Judy Woodruff (NewsHour): Back in the U.S., the stages are set for the first Democratic primary debates, and President Trump weighs in on accepting information from foreign governments about political opponents, which brings us to the analysis of Shields and Brooks.
That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.
Hello to both of you.
So let's start with the story that has pretty much dominated the week, David, and that is President Trump saying in that interview with ABC that if he were offered information from a foreign government about a political opponent, he wouldn't have any trouble taking it, and he — why would he report it to the FBI? Now, he's walked it back a little.
David Brooks, New York Times: Yes.
Judy Woodruff: But how serious is this?
David Brooks: Well, it's a great moment in moral philosophy when you're asked if you're going to cheat, and you say, of course, everyone cheats.
I salute him for not pretending to be better than he really is. He's pretty candid about it.
But I do think that's a bit of his mind-set, that the rules — everybody breaks the rules. And maybe he conducted his business life that way, and he certainly wants to do that. It's just his natural reaction is, of course. Everybody breaks the rules.
What's disturbing to me is not so much him. We sort of know him already — is how many Republicans are now walking themselves up to the position, well, we're in a death match, and so we need a leader like that.
And I think, in order to justify their support for President Trump, they have talked themselves — or many people have — into the position that this is a life-or-death struggle, the left is out to destroy us, and so breaking the rules is what you got to do.
And so that, to me, is almost a scarier prospect than the heart and soul of Donald Trump.
Judy Woodruff: So, some of them, some Republicans have said that he made a mistake.
David Brooks: Yes.
Judy Woodruff: But you're right.
David Brooks: Mitt Romney and others.
But some of the others, the people who are supporting him, it's the ends justify the means argument.
Judy Woodruff: Mark?
Mark Shields, syndicated columnist: Yes, I agree with David.
It just — it strikes me that the President remains unchanged in a changing world. Being President has not changed him in the least. Even Warren Harding, not a particularly thoughtful or self-reflective man, said, the White House is an alchemist. It finds what your strengths are, in his case, finds what your weaknesses are.
Donald Trump said in an interview with George Stephanopoulos: I have heard a lot of things in my life. I have never gone to the FBI.
I mean, he was talking as a New York real estate guy. He's never made the transition to, I'm thinking, is it good for the United States of America, is it good for the working families, is it good for world peace or whatever, that a President is supposed to think through that prism.
It comes right down to, is it good for me? And, to David's point, hey, hey, get a little advantage over my opponent, yes, you better believe I will do it. What am I, a sissy, a snitch that's going to go to the FBI?
And it's a — it really is sort of a sad moral judgment.
The other thing I would just point out is ABC — it was ABC's story. And ABC today broke the — they revealed the Trump state polls at this point. And I don't know if you saw that, but he is now trailing Joe Biden by 16 points in Pennsylvania, by 10 points in Wisconsin, by seven points in Florida.
So, I mean, we're looking at the cusp right now, given those kind of numbers, of a campaign that literally would do anything.
Judy Woodruff: Which the President, when he was asked about those polls the other day, said that that's not correct.
Mark Shields: That's right.
Judy Woodruff: That his polls show that he's ahead in every state.
Mark Shields: And these are his polls that they revealed today.
Judy Woodruff: But, David, to your point about Republicans being on board, I mean, the fact is, you have mainly Republicans holding up efforts in the Congress right now to tighten election security.
So, this is — this is having some consequences here.
David Brooks: Yes. And this is Mitch McConnell.
And, frankly, I don't — the federal government has already authorized $380 million for the states. One of the bills would give them another billion. And so I don't really know what — the right spending level for this.
But you would think, given what we have been through and the seriousness of what we have been through, that you would want to err on the side of preventing the corruption of our electoral system, which has happened, which we know is going to happen again, from multiple sources, maybe, the Russians doing something different than they did last time.
And so you think you would — if we're going to spend whatever hundreds and hundreds of billions on defense, on our military defense, a billion on — to defend our electoral system doesn't seem to me an outrageous expense.
And so it seems like something they should be doing. And you get the impression Mitch McConnell doesn't want to do anything that will annoy Donald Trump.
Mark Shields: Yes, Mitch McConnell has been constant on this. He's no Johnny-come-lately.
He was the one voice, you will recall, in the leadership in 2016, when the leadership of the Congress unanimously agreed with the Obama administration to go public on the revelation that Russia was already deeply involved in the systematic undermining of our electoral process, he resisted it, and, as a consequence, stopped it.
He is now stopping the reforms. I mean, even Roy Blunt, the chairman of the Rules Committee, has been quite candid about this. I mean, the fact is that, in a secular democracy, the closest thing to a public sacrament is a national election.
And when you're starting to tamper with that and trifle with that — I mean, we went through it in 2016.
Judy Woodruff: In '16.
Mark Shields: We saw what happened when there was strife and disunity nurtured on the Democratic side between Sanders and Clinton campaigns by those e-mails. A party chair was forced out.
And Donald Trump himself 140 times mentioned WikiLeaks approvingly during the campaign.
Judy Woodruff: Right.
Mark Shields: I mean, so, there was a play. And the Mueller report — committee — investigation confirmed it.
Judy Woodruff: But, at this point, not — nothing is really moving that would change — that would protect…
Mark Shields: No, thanks to Mitch.
Judy Woodruff: … that would protect what we have — gone on.
Mark, you mentioned the polls. The Democrats, it probably brought a little spring to their step. But we know these polls are temporary.
Today, David, the Democratic National Committee announced that they have got their first debates coming up next week. And they're divided into two nights because there are so many candidates. The Democrats — the party said, OK, the most we're going to allow on the stage on any one night is 10. So they have got 10 one night and 10 the next.
Today, they drew names. And we can show you the lineup now. On the first night, June the 26, there are going to be these 10. And I'm not going to name every single one of them.
Mark Shields: Yes.
Judy Woodruff: But I can tell you that this is — Elizabeth Warren is included here, Beto O'Rourke, and then the others, Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar and a number of others.
The second night, you have, frankly, several of the front-runners, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, and others.