David Brooks: Trump Supporters Are "Tuned Out"; His "Chaos" "Doesn't Rise To The Level Of Consciousness"

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PBS NEWSHOUR: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s firing amid a wave of rumors about a wider Cabinet shakeup, Pennsylvania’s stunning election upset and Sen. Jeff Flake’s comments about 2020.

Brooks, who identifies as a conservative, lamented that Trump is "anti-system" and won't work through what he said is the "vast apparatus" in the White House.

"Trump is getting Trumpier, and the administration is getting Trumpier," Brooks said. "in the beginning, he was sort of on the learning curve of the presidency, but he’s got it mastered, and so he doesn’t need all these people who are telling him no all the time."





"It's a process of him feeling comfortable with himself," Brooks stated. "And it’s also a process of him being anti-system. White Houses work through the system. You have got this vast apparatus. And normally it all works in some form, with deputy meetings, deputy-to-deputy meetings, and then principal meetings and all that."

Brooks said people who work for Trump doesn't seem to know "what's going to happen" and they are "constantly being undermined by the president himself."

The New York Times self-described conservative columnist said everyone who has gone into the Trump White House "looks smaller coming out."

"The problem is, the staff never knows what’s going to happen. And it’s just hard to do your job, A, if you don’t know what’s going to happen, B, if you’re constantly being undermined by the president himself," Brooks said.

"Everyone who has gone in there, whether it’s Tillerson, looks smaller coming out," Brooks declared. "H.R. McMaster is being dangled and dangled and dangled. H.R. McMaster had a really sterling reputation going in. He was compelled to not be totally honest early in the administration about what the president told a bunch of Russian diplomats who came. That hurt his reputation."

The scribe said he has spent much time with Trump supporters in the last week and tried to rationalize why Trump "still" has a 90% approval rating among Republicans. Brooks determined that these people "have tuned in out" in regards to hirings and firings. He found that they support the administration and "like the big things about it" such as the tax bill.

Unable to process how one could support Trump, Brooks said he consistently asks "them" a line of "what about" questions.

"They have tuned it out," he said of the Trump supporter. "They support the administration. They like the big things about it, the tax bill, the deregulation, that kind of thing. And I always ask them, what about this, what about this, the things we frankly talk about a lot every week."

"It just sort of drifts by them unnoticed," Brooks observed. "And so if you want to know why he’s still got 90 percent approval roughly among Republicans, I think that’s the answer. A lot of things that would cause most people to shake their heads.

He said what Trump does just doesn't "rise to the level of consciousness" of a Trump supporter.

Brooks is confident that the advantage of Democrats is now "universal" despite the economic conditions under Trump.

"Obviously, the tides are all in the Democrats’ favor," Brooks definitively said. "There was a Democratic advantage, but it wasn’t universal. In the last four or five months, it’s just universal. The Democrats just have this big advantage built in. And that looks pretty baked in, for the reasons Mark said, even despite the great economy."

He said the only way Democrats can blow this advantage is if they "indulge the inner passions" and "look like Berkeley" to voters in the upcoming midterm election.

"But, to me, the most important thing is, what is the Democratic Party going to look like this year? The only way they can blow it is if they look like Berkeley, California. And if they indulge the inner passions, they could blow this," Brooks said.

Commenting on the recent Pennsylvania special election that resulted in a Democratic win in a very Republican district, Brooks concluded people "want to go against the Trump character style" due to "exhaustion." He said voters want people who put character first. The victorious Democratic candidate Conor Lamb not responding to Trump's campaign rally is "a sign of good character," he added, something he believes is going to be in demand this cycle.

"I think that people always vote against the president — the style of the president they just had," Brooks said. "And I think, because of the exhaustion that Mark referred to earlier, a lot of people want to go against the Trump character style. And they want to go to people who put character first before policy. Conor Lamb, former Marine, comes from a good Catholic school, talks about his faith, a long, distinguished political family, he just seems like a good guy."

"When Trump came in and violated all the norms of normal campaigning in his own district, Conor Lamb didn’t answer," he said. "And so that’s a sign of good character. I think that’s going to be in special demand this year."

Transcript, via PBS:

JUDY WOODRUFF, ANCHOR: As we just mentioned, David, there have been top people, the secretary of state, the chief economic adviser to the president. We could name many others. There is speculation that a number of Cabinet secretaries may go. We’re showing a picture of just a few of the names out there.

McMaster, the president’s national security adviser may be fired by the president.

How do we process all this going on in this administration right now?

DAVID BROOKS, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, Trump is getting Trumpier, and the administration is getting Trumpier.

He’s decided that he’s — in the beginning, he was sort of on the learning curve of the presidency, but he’s got it mastered, and so he doesn’t need all these people who are telling him no all the time.

And it’s a process of him feeling comfortable with himself. And it’s also a process of him being anti-system. White Houses work through the system. You have got this vast apparatus. And normally it all works in some form, with deputy meetings, deputy-to-deputy meetings, and then principal meetings and all that.

Trump sort of resists all that. All the process is sort of within here, or maybe lower, I don’t know.

And so he’s decided, I’m happy here, and I’m going to get rid of the people who are making me feel uncomfortable...

WOODRUFF: But, David, the president himself says he believes in being disruptive, he believes in sort of rearranging things, being — creating a little chaos, in so many words.

BROOKS: Well, that’s true. He’s accurate about that.

The problem is, the staff never knows what’s going to happen. And it’s just hard to do your job, A, if you don’t know what’s going to happen, B, if you’re constantly being undermined by the president himself.

Everyone who has gone in there, whether it’s Tillerson, looks smaller coming out. H.R. McMaster is being dangled and dangled and dangled. H.R. McMaster had a really sterling reputation going in. He was compelled to not be totally honest early in the administration about what the president told a bunch of Russian diplomats who came. That hurt his reputation.

And then it’s a process of constantly having to suck up to the president. Gary Cohn, the economic adviser, let some comments known that he was unhappy with the way the president responded to Charlottesville. And so he fell out of favor, out of quite — comments that suggested some integrity on Mr. Cohn’s part.

And so you have always got to please the prince. And you have always got to play in a princely manner.

And what worries me is, they never had really access to the Republican A-level staff, but they had the B-level. And now we’re going down to C and D. Larry Kudlow, a new economic appointee, very nice guy, I agree with him on a lot of things.

But Philip Tetlock, who is a scholar who studies decision-making, several years ago identified Kudlow as one of the worst decision-makers, because he’s always driven by ideology. John Bolton is talked about coming in to the national security adviser. That’s a job where you want somebody neutral to let the process work its way.

John Bolton, who is a FOX News analyst, is anything but ®MDNM¯neutral on anything. And so what you just see is worse personnel, more chaos...

BROOKS: I will say one other thing about just having been around a lot of Trump supporters in the last week.

They have tuned it out. They support the administration. They like the big things about it, the tax bill, the deregulation, that kind of thing. And I always ask them, what about this, what about this, the things we frankly talk about a lot every week.

And it just sort of drifts by them unnoticed. And so if you want to know why he’s still got 90 percent approval roughly among Republicans, I think that’s the answer. A lot of things that would cause most people to shake their heads, they just — it just doesn’t rise to the level of consciousness and it just gets tuned out...

BROOKS: Obviously, the tides are all in the Democrats’ favor. If you looked at the — I saw a scatter graph of the races, including state legislature races, in the first eight months of the administration, and it was sort of all over the place.

There was a Democratic advantage, but it wasn’t universal. In the last four or five months, it’s just universal. The Democrats just have this big advantage built in. And that looks pretty baked in, for the reasons Mark said, even despite the great economy.

But, to me, the most important thing is, what is the Democratic Party going to look like this year? The only way they can blow it is if they look like Berkeley, California. And if they indulge the inner passions, they could blow this.

But in Pennsylvania with Conor Lamb, they didn’t blow it, and they didn’t blow it on two fronts. The most obvious is having somebody who is a political moderate. Conor Lamb was against the assault weapons ban. He said he won’t vote for Speaker Pelosi. He did a whole series of policy things toward the center.

To me, that was less important than the character thing. I think that people always vote against the president — the style of the president they just had. And I think, because of the exhaustion that Mark referred to earlier, a lot of people want to go against the Trump character style.

And they want to go to people who put character first before policy. Conor Lamb, former Marine, comes from a good Catholic school, talks about his faith, a long, distinguished political family, he just seems like a good guy.

And when Trump came in and violated all the norms of normal campaigning in his own district, Conor Lamb didn’t answer. And so that’s a sign of good character. I think that’s going to be in special demand this year...

WOODRUFF: So, whether it’s Jeff Flake or somebody else, serious challenge maybe to Donald Trump in 2020?

BROOKS: That’s true, but a lot of people behind the scenes are making contingency plans, post-Mueller, post-2018.

They’re saying, we can’t wait until 2019 to begin planning, in case we need somebody else. So, they’re opening up, how do we get on the ballot, how do we build a donor infrastructure?

And they are not going to do something if there’s no Trump meltdown, but they are suspecting there may be, and so they are beginning to plan for it.

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