David Brooks: Trump "An Anti-Mentor," "He Takes Everybody Around Him And He Makes Them Worse"

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PBS NEWSHOUR: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the week’s news, including Republicans’ failure to pass a health care reform bill, President Trump expressing his anger at Jeff Sessions to The New York Times, the abrupt resignation of former White Press Secretary Sean Spicer and a cancer diagnosis for Sen. John McCain.

Citing Rex Tillerson, Jeff Sessions and Sean Spicer, Brooks called Trump the "anti-mentor.

"So he’s like an anti-mentor," Brooks said. "He takes everybody around him and he makes them worse. And so that’s what Spicer had to face. And he will have to live with that and live with the reputational damage that he’s incurred."

Brooks criticized Trump's involvement in the White House policy making process.

"Everybody in the Senate has problems with the president," Brooks said of Trump. "But if you begin to have, oh, he’s just the crazy uncle, like an attitude of contempt, then relationships between the Republicans on the Hill and the White House really do begin to change."

"It’s not some guy, oh, he has some political magic. It’s some guy who really just is annoying and gets in the way," Brooks said of Trump's impact on people.

Transcript, via PBS NewsHour:

DAVID BROOKS, NEW YORK TIMES: I think, from what I hear, they’re leaning on Mike Lee, the senator who has been a no vote who is the decisive no vote, to change his mind, to buy him out with something and offer him something. And then they figure, once they get him on board, there are probably another Republican 15 senators who would like to vote no, but they don’t want to be the one person who kills it.

And so the feeling, if you can get Mike Lee, you can get some of the others. And they might pass it. I wouldn’t say it’s likely, but I think — I just think it’s too early to say it’s dead now.

The second thing to say is, Mitch McConnell has two parts of his job. The one is to create a process where reasonable legislation gets promoted. And the second is to whip for that legislation.

I think he did an abysmal job on one job and a pretty good job on job two. As Mark said, you have got a plan with 16 percent approval. Nobody in the Senate likes it, including the Republicans. They all hate having to vote for it. And he still got 48 votes. That’s kind of impressive.

But the underlying problem is, you have a chance to change, to reform health care. There are a lot of conservative ideas to reform health care. And it would solve some problems. You could pick some things that a lot of people would like. You could have catastrophic coverage for the 20-odd million people that are still uninsured after Obamacare.

You could do a lot of — offer a lot of things to a lot of people and do it in a conservative way. But that’s not what this Republican Party does. They just say, we want to cut Medicaid.

And they’re unwilling to talk about anything positive, though there are some things in the bill. It’s just, what can we take away from you? And what can we take away from the poor and the needy and the children?

And it’s a publicity and a substantive disaster area that they’re just trying to live with...

DAVID BROOKS: I thought something important happened with the Republican views with the president.

They were having all these meetings in the White House. And, apparently, they’d have these substantive meetings with Mike Pence or with somebody else, with staff. And they would talk through things. They would try to make some progress.

And then the president would dip in and do something, say something extremely stupid, extremely ill-informed. And then they would all groan and live through it and wish he would leave. And then he would go.

And so that could be a change in psychology. Everybody in the Senate has problems with the president. But if you begin to have, oh, he’s just the crazy uncle, like an attitude of contempt, then relationships between the Republicans on the Hill and the White House really do begin to change.

It’s not some guy, oh, he has some political magic. It’s some guy who really just is annoying and gets in the way.

HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR: Let’s talk about the interview that he gave to, some people would call it the paper of record, and the President Trump calls it the failing New York Times.

In this conversation, which is worth reading in its entirety, it’s just fascinating, he lashes out at lots of his supporters. He undermines his own attorney general. He goes after almost a broadside to Robert Mueller. He talks about blackmail and Comey.

What did you glean out of that?

DAVID BROOKS: First, our subscription levels have been way up since the Trump era. And one of our journalists tweeted out, we even fail at failing. That’s how bad we are.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: And there are a couple things to say about the interview.

One, I was shocked by the lack of just articulateness. We all hate it when we read a transcript of ourselves. It’s always embarrassing, but not that embarrassing. These really are random — they’re not even thoughts. They’re just little word patterns, one following another, about Napoleon, about this and that. It’s a disturbing level of incoherent thinking.

Second, it is — you know, people who work for the White House work for the guy 16, 20 hours a day, And Jeff Sessions in the administration among them, and to dump over everybody.

And then what is interesting to me psychologically, usually, when someone is corrupt or — they are clever. They try to dissemble. They mask their corruption with some attempt to be dishonest.

Donald Trump, give him credit, he’s completely transparent. He basically said in that interview, my corruption can be found in my tax returns. If you look into my tax returns, I will fire you.

He transmits everything that he’s thinking out in public in an incredibly transparent way. So we’re looking at a fact where Bob Mueller will probably go to the tax returns. Donald Trump will probably fire Bob Mueller. And then we will be in some sort of constitutional crisis. And it’s all telegraphed right there out in the open...

HARI SREENIVASAN: Does it give you a glimpse into the state of Twitter?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Well, that’s the exact point I was going to make.

Yes, I can’t think of anybody whose reputation has been enhanced by going into the Trump administration. Rex Tillerson was a serious businessman, well-respected. Jeff Sessions was a serious senator, pretty conservative, quite serious. Sean Spicer was a normal communications guy in Congress — or in Washington.

So he’s like an anti-mentor. He takes everybody around him and he makes them worse. And so that’s what Spicer had to face. And he will have to live with that and live with the reputational damage that he’s incurred.

Scaramucci is a very interesting case. He’s a guy from Long Island. Trump is from Queens. They made it big financially in the big city. They have some sort of parallel careers. Scaramucci is a very friendly guy. Everybody is sort of like a fun game to him.

And I thought his performance today was quite good, actually. And so it could be that he will flourish in this White House. He’s very smart. He’s not to be intellectually underestimated. It could be he’s chief of staff before long. And we will see.

But he’s someone who has a much more deft personal manner, as well — while being kind of a wild guy, than anybody else in there right now.

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