Shields and Brooks on Las Vegas debate, Trump’s pardons

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JUDY WOODRUFF: And that brings us to the analysis
of Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times
columnist David Brooks. Hello to you both. So, as we heard from Amna, activity revving
up in Nevada. The caucuses are tomorrow, David. Where does this race stand right now, this
Democratic race? We are two days out, plus a little from the debate of Wednesday night,
and about to face the third contest. What do you see? DAVID BROOKS: Well, Bernie Sanders had an
awesome week. He’s — the polls have him up 13 in Nevada, which is very impressive for
a multicandidate race. And then, in the debate, it’s not that he
did anything different. He does what he does. But almost every other candidate, in my view,
took a step backwards. Klobuchar and Mayor Pete had their little feud, which I think
diminished each of them. Bloomberg had his nuclear meltdown. And Warren, who performed very well in the
debate, performed very well on behalf of Bernie Sanders, because she basically adopts the
exact same narrative that’s already his, and then attacks everybody else on the basis of
that narrative. But I don’t think she’s helping himself (sic).
I think she’s acting as an extremely effective surrogate for Bernie Sanders. So, I just think
his grip on the path to the nomination is much tighter than it was. JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Bernie Sanders in the strongest
position right now? MARK SHIELDS: I hate to agree with David. (LAUGHTER) MARK SHIELDS: But his assessment overall is
very good. Michael Bloomberg wasn’t the Michael Bloomberg
we have been told about on television, we have been seeing on television, who was Barack
Obama’s best friend, and always being praised by Barack Obama, and had saved New York City,
and brought health care to hundreds of thousands, and was the one guy who could go toe to toe
with Donald Trump, and Donald Trump was spooked about it. He couldn’t go toe to toe with Elizabeth Warren.
I mean, she absolutely dominated him. She dominated the stage. I’m not sure she won
the crowd, but she certainly was the dominant figure in that debate. Bernie Sanders, the front-runner, that you
think people would go after, really escaped almost unscathed. And it was just — it was
truly amazing. I think it was a damaging experience for Bloomberg.
Whether it was devastating will be determined in the next debate. I think the next debate
really becomes important for him. He was counseled that these questions were going to come up.
They knew from day one. And whether it was peevishness, arrogance,
dismissiveness, whatever, condescension, he just refused to come up with an answer that
was plausible and convincing and believable. DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Partly, it’s practice. He doesn’t even do media interviews particularly
well, and so — and he’s been guarded from this. And all the other candidates have been
playing this game for a year now. JUDY WOODRUFF: This was their ninth to debate. DAVID BROOKS: Yes. And when you’re up on a debate stage, you’re
not thinking. You’re repeating something you said 50 times before. And so he didn’t have
any practice. He didn’t have any of that. What strikes me also about the party — first,
Sanders tells a very clear narrative, corporations screwing us. That’s just a very clear narrative.
Everybody gets it. It resonates with a lot of people. I don’t think anybody else on that stage has
narrative that’s quite that clear. And so the power — like, Trump had a very clear
narrative. Those cultural elites, they are ruining life for us. And having that very
compelling, clear narrative is a great advantage. The second thing that struck me is Democrats
growing up in where the party is now have the mental equipment to go after a billionaire.
It’s like baked into the belief system of the party. They do not have the mental equipment
and categories to go after a socialist. And what struck me is that they don’t really
quite know how to take down Sanders. And so they let him go. MARK SHIELDS: Yes. And it absolutely eludes
me. For the first time, Judy, the Affordable Care
Act, according to the Kaiser Foundation Poll, is now at 55 percent approval. JUDY WOODRUFF: Approval. MARK SHIELDS: Approval. This is — so — and Donald Trump — under
Donald Trump, for the first time in 10 years, fewer Americans have health care than had
it the year before. And that was true the year before that. So, under Donald Trump, Americans have lost
health care. The Affordable Care Act has guaranteed it, and it’s popular. And here the Democrats
are talking about just willy-nilly just getting rid of it. It makes absolutely no sense. JUDY WOODRUFF: To go to Medicare for all. MARK SHIELDS: The Republicans are on the total
defensive on this issue. It’s an issue that works for Democrats. It’s an issue that voters
deeply care about. And, you know, there they are. As far as the point about Bernie Sanders,
he is — the default mode of Bernie Sanders is angry. He’s the angriest front-runner I
have ever seen. He’s the unhappy warrior. And I don’t know how long that’s going the
wear. It wouldn’t wear long in the carpool. I don’t know how long it is going to wear
on the campaign trail. DAVID BROOKS: It’s worked for Trump. (CROSSTALK) JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s bought him this far. MARK SHIELDS: It has brought him this far. But it’s a never retreat, never concede strategy.
And the Bernie bros who abuse anybody on Twitter or anyplace else who dares to criticize the
Sanders campaign in any form, you know, maybe they’re Russian bots. That was one of the
more bizarre lines of the evening. JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, speaking of Bernie Sanders
and the Russians, today, David, late today, we learned that — first a news report and
then Sanders confirmed it — that his campaign has been — he’s been briefed by intelligence
officials about the Russians trying to help his campaign. So, now we know it’s not just President Trump.
It’s one of the Democrats. DAVID BROOKS: Yes. It happens to be a fact that the two campaigns
the Russian are trying to help are the two campaigns that are — might end up with the
nominations. I remain a little skeptical of how effective
the Russians are at getting people to — persuading people to change their mind on a certain candidate.
There is no magic formula for that. We try here every week, and it doesn’t work. (LAUGHTER) DAVID BROOKS: And so — and so I’m not sure
the Russians are really effectively changing a lot of votes. I really wish the intelligence agencies would
tell us explicitly what they’re doing. Like, they say they’re undermining institutions,
undermining trust, spreading conspiracy theories. I’d love to be able to know, as a consumer
of social media and all the rest, what do I look out for? What do I do? How can I tell?
I think they haven’t — they have been too vague about what actually is happening and
what countermeasures we, as individuals, can take. JUDY WOODRUFF: Yes, they talk about taking
disinformation and repeating it and repeating it through social media. So that’s one of the things. MARK SHIELDS: One of the things we could do
as a people is just pass what the House has passed, which is simply that any campaign
that is approached by a foreign power, foreign source to help it, to be involved in any way,
has to report it. There’s a responsibility. That’s died in the Republican Senate. That’s
been killed by Mitch McConnell. But, no, I really — I really think that,
Judy, it’s unthinkable, if you really just take the sense of, the president of the United
States is told that a foreign country is interfering and trying to change the most — the sacrament
of democracy, which is our public voting, the secret ballot, and they are trying to
tamper with it and tamper with the results. And what is his reaction? Fury at the foreign
power? Anger? Let’s get them? No. Who divulged this? An admiral, a decorated
admiral, who took this, as a public servant, and an honored his constitutional and statutory
responsibility to inform the Congress of the United States. I mean, that’s just unthinkable, what’s going
on. JUDY WOODRUFF: You’re contrasting the president’s
reaction to this to Bernie Sanders, who announced today and rejected… MARK SHIELDS: Yes. Bernie Sanders, to his credit, I mean, having
honeymooned in Moscow in 1988… (LAUGHTER) MARK SHIELDS: I mean, you got to explain that
someday, Bernie — the trip to Nicaragua in ’85. But, I mean, he’s — he came and said, no
way. I mean, you stay out, Putin. And if I’m president, I will make absolutely sure. I
don’t want your help and you shouldn’t be involved or whatever. That was a strong statement, the kind you
would expect from any political leader in this country of either party, and that the
president United States refuses to give. DAVID BROOKS: Yes, and then appoint somebody
as head of the — or acting head of the national intelligence — or intelligence service, someone
with no experience, who is politicizing that relationship even more. So… MARK SHIELDS: Yes. JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, the other thing — many
things to ask you about, but one thing I do want to touch on is, this was the week the
president’s longtime friend Roger Stone was sentenced to prison by a federal judge here
in Washington, more than three years. Remains to be seen whether the president’s
going to pardon his sentence. But what the president did do this week was pardon or commute
the sentences of 11 individuals who seem to all have some connection, David, with the
Trump White House. What do we make of this? I mean, this is — the
president’s within his power, his rights to do this, but what do you make of it? DAVID BROOKS: Yes. I mean, the naked politicization of this is
— again is the — Trump is, as some have predicted, really is unleashed by impeachment.
His behavior has really shifted in the last month in all sorts of ways, much more attack
on the institutions of our society. I happen to — the only person I know — and
I don’t know him at all well — is Michael Milken among those who’ve been pardoned. And
I thought the pardon was legitimate in that case. This is a guy who had his Wall Street
problems in the ’80s, prosecuted by Rudy Giuliani. But as far as I can see, the Milken Institute
is out in California. He’s really dedicated last 20 or 30 years to serving the public,
running a think tank, trying to spread ideas. And so in the case of somebody like that,
who really spends decades in public service after whatever he did years ago, a pardon
doesn’t seem like the worst thing in the world. JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see this? MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think we owe a certain
tribute to Joni Ernst and to Rob Portman and Susan Collins, who told us that the president
would be chastened and changed by that simmering experience of going through the impeachment. He is. He’s unbridled. He’s unfettered. He
has only around him enablers now. There is nobody to hold him back. There’s no Kelly
or Mattis or anybody else there to say, no, Mr. President, argue another point of view. And what they have in common, I guess, white-collar
crime, fraud, tax deception, and ability to give money to Republican causes. I mean, it’s
— there is almost a self-identification with many of these cases, because the president
has not gone uncharged on some of these actions or similar actions. And so it’s — I really think that it’s not
a question of — I don’t know Michael Milken. But he certainly did change American finance
while he was there. JUDY WOODRUFF: The junk — they called him
the junk bond king. DAVID BROOKS: It should be said, I mean, just
to get back to Roger Stone, we’re all made in the image of God, but it’s hard to think
of somebody whose public career has shown fewer redeeming qualities. And the president has surrounded himself with
reasonably shady characters. And Roger Stone is almost epically shady. JUDY WOODRUFF: And this is the third individual
who was considered close to the president who — sent off to prison, at a time when
— there’s a lot of focus on what the president can do. Again, he has the power to commute sentences,
to pardon people. And we remember, at the end of the Bill Clinton administration, there
was a flurry of pardons. (CROSSTALK) MARK SHIELDS: Usually, it’s on the way out,
Judy. JUDY WOODRUFF: Right. MARK SHIELDS: There’s just one thing about
the Democrats that I just want to — that kind of fits in here. And that is, the Democrats, I think, after
that debate, are in danger of fragmenting and fracturing themselves. And I think there’s
a page in American history, the Revolutionary War. The revolutionists sought the active
alliance with Charles XVI of — the king of France — Louis XVI and Charles III in Spain,
monarchies, to help them. I mean, but one — they had a single objective,
and that was to defeat the king of England, to get independence. JUDY WOODRUFF: The monarch. MARK SHIELDS: The monarch. The Democrats better say — they better come
together in a hell of a hurry, because their sole purpose in 2020 is to defeat the monarch,
to defeat Donald Trump. And I just — I think the danger of fracturing
is severe. JUDY WOODRUFF: We hear you. MARK SHIELDS: OK. JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark Shields, David Brooks,
thank you. MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.

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