David Brooks: "Thug" Trump Understands Iran, North Korea Better Than People Who Have Higher SAT Scores

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PBS NEWSHOUR: New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus join Amna Nawaz to analyze the week’s news, including President Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal, reactions from voters in Elkhart, Indiana, where President Trump held a campaign rally on Thursday, the contentious confirmation hearing of CIA director nominee Gina Haspel and more.

Brooks said coming from a world like the real estate business where you work with and cultivate a lot of thugs helped Trump, who he called "thuggish," deal with North Korea, China, and Iran. The columnist said the president understood being "tough" with a thug produced results in North Korea and even acknowledged that the U.S. is in a "better situation" with the rogue nation than we were otherwise.

Brooks said being "tougher" on trade with the Chinese has led to the "right policy." Additionally, Brooks said former President Obama's argument for the Iran nuclear deal, that the country would become moderate and a more familiar member of the world, "turned out to be clearly false."





"They are the most genocidal nation on the face of the earth. They export violence, terror around the earth. And so Trump standing up to them at least has some legitimacy," Brooks said of Iran.

"It’s possible that he understands people like that better than people who have higher SAT scores," Brooks said, giving Trump a backhanded compliment.

Brooks, who is big on "norms," realized that people are willing to give them up if it means, 'I can get a better economy, a better society.'

"I was struck by a survey which must have been old, but I hadn’t seen it until this week, which was that in the last election 65 percent or so of Americans thought he was unfit to be president, and of those 20 percent voted for him anyway," The New York Times writer said.

"So people are making this calculation, if I can get a better economy, a better society, am I willing to tolerate a lot of norm violation?" Brooks concluded.

"I personally wouldn’t make that choice, but a lot of people do make that choice, and I sort of get it," he said.

On the political front, Brooks said, "the odds that the Republicans keep the Senate look better than they did before."

"He will do pretty well with those Senate races," Brooks said of Trump.

Brooks, acting as an advisor to the Democrats, said the party should go for the House and run an anti-Trump campaign.

"If I were the Democrats, I would say, if we win the Senate, that would be nice," he said. "That would be a big wave. But we should go for the House and make Donald Trump the issue. A lot of people oppose Donald Trump. And just run an anti-Trump campaign."

"The president’s approval is the number one issue in the fall. And just go after him, after him, after him. You may not get the Senate in these red states, but you will do pretty well in the House. And that to me would be the target of opportunity," Brooks also said.

Brooks said Haspel seems to be a "great person" to run the CIA at a time when "we don't have a lot of great" running government agencies. He acknowledged he agrees with John McCain "on almost everything," including torture, but Haspel, who promised not to torture, is worth it.

"We don’t have a lot of great people running agencies around the government right now," he said. "She seems to be a great person. And we’re not going to torture. So I don’t really need an academic debate, when this real issue is in front of us."

"I certainly admire and agree with Senator McCain on almost everything, including this issue, but I think it’s worth it to get a good person that won’t torture," Brooks said.

"It’s an academic, unknowable question about what produced that information," he said about the results of torture. "Basically, I think she just didn’t want to trash her own agency."

Transcript, via PBS NewsHour:

AMNA NAWAZ, HOST: And now to the analysis of Brooks and Marcus. That’s New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus.

Thanks so much for being here.

Let’s jump in.

Earlier this week, one of the biggest stories, David, obviously, the president making good on his promise to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal. That’s despite the protest of a lot of U.S. allies.

Politically, was that a smart move?

DAVID BROOKS, NEW YORK TIMES: I think so.

One of the things you notice with the president is that he comes from a background where basically, in the real estate business, he worked with a lot of thugs and he cultivated a lot of thugs, and he was a little thuggish himself.

But, in my view, that helps him, for all his drawbacks, understand thugs. And so North Korea, he understood that being tough with a thug produces some results. And we’re in a better situation with North Korea than we were otherwise.

He’s been much tougher on the Chinese in trade. And a lot of people thinks he’s adopted the right policy, because sometimes you have got to just stand up to people. And Iran, I have very mixed views about whether Trump did the right thing.

But President Obama, the argument he made for it, which is that Iran would moderate and become a more familiar member of the company of nations. That has turned out to be clearly false.

They are the most genocidal nation on the face of the earth. They export violence, terror around the earth. And so Trump standing up to them at least has some legitimacy. It’s possible that he understands people like that better than people who have higher SAT scores...

NAWAZ: How do you square the message the president has been delivering on these kind of campaign rallies with what we’re hearing from voters like these on the ground?

BROOKS: If unemployment in Elkhart has gone down from 22, kind of astounding, and downtowns all around the country and town around the country are reviving.

It’s also true that many people object to his views on race, his views on immigration, and his basic manners.

I was struck by a survey which must have been old, but I hadn’t seen it until this week, which was that in the last election 65 percent or so of Americans thought he was unfit to be president, and of those 20 percent voted for him anyway.

And so I think we saw that in the middle gentleman in the blue blazer, that really offended by him, but some of the results are the results. And so people are making this calculation, if I can get a better economy, a better society, am I willing to tolerate a lot of norm violation?

And I personally wouldn’t make that choice, but a lot of people do make that choice, and I sort of get it...

NAWAZ: So, David, he’s clearly — he’s putting himself on the front lines. He’s trying to fend off some of those congressional and state house losses that often come in midterms, for the Republicans in this case.

Can he do it? Will he make an impact on the ground?

BROOKS: I think so.

I mean a lot of those states, North Dakota, and I think what happened this week in the primaries is Republicans got pretty much their best possible candidates. The party didn’t go crazy in West Virginia. They nominated a good guy in Indiana, Braun, in Ohio.

And so the odds that the Republicans keep the Senate look better than they did before. And so he will do pretty well with those Senate races.

If I were the Democrats, I would say, if we win the Senate, that would be nice. That would be a big wave. But we should go for the House and make Donald Trump the issue. A lot of people oppose Donald Trump. And just run an anti-Trump campaign.

The president’s approval is the number one issue in the fall. And just go after him, after him, after him. You may not get the Senate in these red states, but you will do pretty well in the House. And that to me would be the target of opportunity.

[ON GINA HASPEL]

BROOKS: One of the things we know about her is, she’s, as many people said, possibly the most experienced person ever put up for this job.

Extremely well-admired by people across Democrat and Republican lines.

She made it clear the CIA will not be doing enhanced interrogation, or torture. So, to me, the argument about what she said about what happened in 2003, when ‘N Sync was at its peak, that’s an academic debate. That’s a debate we can have.

And I would agree with Ruth on the merits of torture. But we don’t have a lot of great people running agencies around the government right now. She seems to be a great person. And we’re not going to torture. So I don’t really need an academic debate, when this real issue is in front of us.

And so I certainly admire and agree with Senator McCain on almost everything, including this issue, but I think it’s worth it to get a good person that won’t torture.

NAWAZ: Is this about qualifications over judgment, then? Is that the argument?

BROOKS: Well, listen, if you went through the transcripts of those questions, they were asking her very simple-minded questions. And she was saying, we can’t tell whether it worked. We know we got information out of these Al-Qaida. It’s an academic, unknowable question about what produced that information.

Basically, I think she just didn’t want to trash her own agency.

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