Episode: Shields and Brooks on campaign finance and what we learned in the Democratic debate

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Shields and Brooks on campaign finance and what we learned in the Democratic debate

HARI SREENIVASAN: The Democratic candidates for president faced off in their first debate this week, and new fund-raising numbers give a closer look at which contenders are winning the money game.

For all that and more, we turn to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

So, you watched the debate, obviously. How was the tone different from this? It seems that perhaps FOX News set the tone in a much more aggressive and sharp way for the questioners in this round. Is that what we’re going to see throughout the cycle?

MARK SHIELDS: I think that Democrats, generally speaking, felt better about their debates than probably Republicans did about theirs.

There is no question that Donald Trump brought big numbers and brought a certain level of suspense, and you kind of hold your breath at what’s going to happen to it. But Martin O’Malley and — the former governor of Maryland, in one of his rare good moments on Tuesday night, pointed out that the Democrats had gone through an entire debate discussing issues with no personal attacks. Nobody had been accused of being ugly or a loser, and there had been no racial stereotyping or negatives.

So I think, in that sense, there was an entirely — difference in tone.

DAVID BROOKS: There was a difference in tone, a difference in subject matter. I think the Democrats actually have the advantage of subject matter, because they actually did talk about middle-class concerns, whereas Republicans are talking about weird stuff.

But the other factor is, the Republicans are actually arguing and fighting with each other. And what I saw up there was Hillary Clinton performing extremely well, and four other guys lying down and let her, letting her have the nomination. It’s like Bernie Sanders held up the white flag of surrender when he refused to really go after her on the character and moral issue, which is his only way in.

And the other three, I don’t know why they were there. O’Malley was the one who surprised me the most. I thought he would come in and see the Fiorina model and come out with some sort of aggressiveness. He had a little toward the end, but in the beginning, it was just passive.

HARI SREENIVASAN: How do you think Sanders did?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I thought Hillary Clinton had the best night of her campaign.

I thought that she was in command, she was comfortable, she was spontaneous. She came back from the break and was a little late getting to the stage, having obviously visited the ladies room, and kind of tossed a — gave the lie to the stereotype of the joyless feminist by pointing out it takes women a little bit longer to go to the lavatory.

And I just thought there was — it bordered on the authentic. I thought she did very well. David is right. Campaigns are about differences. And when you’re behind somebody, you better draw the differences with them, whether it’s in style, or substance, or record, or character. And the others didn’t do that.

I thought Bernie had a — Bernie Sanders had a better night than David thinks he did, and I think it was reflected in the dial polls, which viewers watch it and their emotions and reactions are gauged. It’s a very legitimate way of measuring people’s reaction. People use it on speeches, presidential acceptance speeches and so forth. He did well on that. He did well on the focus groups.

I don’t think he expanded in any way. I think he went deeper with his constituency. I don’t think he expanded his message or made his case better. But I think, all in all, he probably improved his own status, but I think she had a good night. I would just say this one thing about her.

This is the time for her to say, why have I had one good night and have had six bad months? And I think that’s the time for an examination of conscience almost, to sit down and say, who has given me good advice over these six months, what did I do wrong, why did it take me five months to admit that the e-mails were my mistake, and I’m wrong about it?

And I just — I think — because right now, I think that — this is the moment for her to figure that out, I mean, not to be just confused and put off by the euphoria of this one great evening.

DAVID BROOKS: She’s a good debater, though. She always has been. She did very well against Barack Obama, you will remember…


DAVID BROOKS: … who’s a much more formidable debater than anybody who was up there, because it suits her, the preparation, the depth of knowledge, the aggressiveness. All that suits her.

But I just think Sanders missed the opportunity with — that e-mail moment was the crucial moment.


DAVID BROOKS: He doesn’t have to go after her on e-mails. Democrats don’t want to talk about e-mails. But he has to go after her on the only piece of leverage he has. I don’t think he is going to win because he’s further to her left. He has to win because somehow she’s seen not quite — we’re not quite sure if she’s trustworthy, electable.

And he passed that opportunity, and I’m not sure it — can ever get that back.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, let’s talk a little bit about campaign money. The third quarter fund-raising numbers are just out. We’re going to put those on screen here.

On the Democratic side, you can see Clinton with a total of $29.9 million, and all the way down to Chafee with no million. And then on the Republican side, there is a pretty good range, too. Ben Carson is doing quite well at $20.8 million and Rubio at $6 million. Obviously, Trump has some of his own funds along with some other donor money, so it doesn’t necessarily show up on this. I think he’s maybe in eighth place.

What does this say about the campaigns? At this point, should there be war chests that are bigger to keep the lights on?

MARK SHIELDS: The first story is Bernie Sanders. I mean, Bernie Sanders has been the surprise. He has proved that there is an outsider constituency that has captured a large share, a chunk of the Democratic imagination.

Bernie Sanders is not leading some anti-war movement. He’s getting these huge crowds. He’s getting a lot of money. He has more money on hand right now, I believe, cash on hand, than the three top Republicans do. I mean, to see Democrats as more fiscally responsible, which they have been with their campaign contributions, than the Republicans is something to see.

But I just think the Sanders thing is remarkable in terms of — it is reflective of the mood in the country that Washington, Wall Street are in bed together, that Wall Street is playing the tune and Washington is dancing to it, and the 1 percent and the inequality in the country, the shrinking middle class.

I think that is a real, real story. And the other story is that we were talking about before is that how many of these Republican candidates — and Democrats, I think, too, there’s a temptation — you get lured by the big money of PACs, which you cannot then spend in your own campaign to open your own headquarters in Manchester or Nashua or Des Moines. And I think that’s become a problem.


The PAC contributions have gotten more concentrated in a very small number of groups. But the contributions to the campaigns have gotten more democratized. So, all the outsiders are doing pretty well, like the Carsons, the Sanders, the Fiorinas. And they’re doing it with the small donations. Carson, he has got direct mail because he’s probably got an older group.

But the others are online. It’s super cheap to raise that kind of money. And so it’s sort of democratizing. A lot of people are getting involved. And that’s good. The second thing — and the headline to me is Ted Cruz.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, it is.

DAVID BROOKS: Ted Cruz is doing very, very well.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, he is. Yes.

DAVID BROOKS: And so, as Donald Trump fades, which I still assume he will, Cruz is the natural receptacle. And he’s got a lot of money.

MARK SHIELDS: And small contributions.

DAVID BROOKS: And small contributions. And so you begin to see a possibility where it gets down to a Bush-Rubio vs. a Cruz. That’s a plausible way this thing narrows down, I think. And so, suddenly, he looks like a bigger figure than he would if you just looked at the polls.

MARK SHIELDS: You can’t talk at the money, Hari, without talking about the concentration of big money in this campaign.

And The New York Times did a story last Sunday of 158 families in the United States that have given over half the money in this campaign.


MARK SHIELDS: Citizens United, thank you, Justice Roberts, Justice Alito, Justice Scalia and Thomas and Kennedy. I mean, this is truly oligarchy.

And people who worry about big money having too large a voice, this has given them a megaphone. And the golden rule operates, where who he has the gold rules. And it is truly terrifying for those who care about democracy.

HARI SREENIVASAN: I want to get to this last topic as well, the withdrawal from Afghanistan. It’s been something that the president campaigned on. It was a promise to get us out of these wars.

And this week, is this a scenario where his decision is a clash of kind of political instinct and will vs. military reality on ground?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I think so.

I think it’s a politically tough call. Obviously, he made the promise. He would like to get us out, but troops on the ground matter. The number of troops, U.S. troops on the ground, can stabilize a country. I think we learned that in Iraq. When we withdrew the troops, we left a vacuum that ISIS and others were happy to fill.

And I think that, while the administration denies it, that basic principle, he found applying to Afghanistan, and that it we had left, the Taliban would have taken over more cities, more areas. The government may have collapsed.

And so he went against his own wishes and his political promises, so he wouldn’t leave a mess. And so, you know, I sort of salute him for going — for looking at reality, looking at context and saying, I have got to do this for the good of Afghanistan, for the good of America.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Is this just kicking it down for his successor?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, but at least there is a greater likelihood he will not leave a complete disaster for his successor.

MARK SHIELDS: I disagree with David about Iraq. I think it became impossible to leave any American troops there, and certainly dealing with the Iraqi government and their unwillingness.

This has been Barack Obama’s war. In 2008, he said Afghanistan was the right war. And I do think that the 5,500 that will be there in 2017, you’re not talking about a significant number to make a profound difference. I mean, it could make a profound difference in their lives. They’re there.

I mean, Afghanistan right now is not capable of defending itself. And I just think that it’s really not an answer. The reality is that it’s unavoidable. We talk about this aversion in both parties to send American troops into harm’s way. And the idea of training proxies is sort of a salve for the consciences of the Congress and the president. And it has never worked anywhere. It has never worked. I mean, if anybody can show me where it’s worked, I would like — I will stand corrected.

DAVID BROOKS: The American Revolution.




David Brooks, Mark Shields, we will have to leave it there. Thanks so much.

The post Shields and Brooks on campaign finance and what we learned in the Democratic debate appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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