SUMMARY: President-elect Donald Trump made headlines this week for his reference to a possible arms race and his involvement in U.S. foreign policy prior to taking office. Judy Woodruff speaks with syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks about whether Mr. Trump's strategy is to keep people “off balance,” as well as potential conflicts of interest within his Cabinet.
JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour): And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.
So let's start out talking about two major foreign policy waves, I guess you could say, that Donald Trump is making today, David. He directly intervened with the White House as they were deciding how to handle this U.N. resolution on Israel. There is now an open rift with President Obama. This is different, isn't it, from the way we see a transition normally work?
DAVID BROOKS, New York Times: Certainly, the country can't have two Presidents at once, so the tradition has been to hang back if you're the president-elect and wait for your time in office. Trump is not a hang-back kind of guy.
And he has shifted — President Obama has shifted American policy in a much more critical way in Israel with the settlements than the previous Presidents. But we're about to get a head-snapping shift the other way. President-elect Trump's Ambassador to Israel is further to the right than almost anyone in Israel, further to the right than Bibi Netanyahu on the settlements, and almost opposes the two-state solution, does in fact.
So, we are about to see a tremendous shift in American policy toward the Middle East.
JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see this, Mark? Are there consequences of this or is this going to be something we look back on and say, well, that's what happened?
MARK SHIELDS, syndicated columnist: No, I mean, I think Donald Trump is sui generis. I mean, he is acting by president or tradition. He's not acting as Donald Trump has throughout his entire public career of, what, a year and a half, and that is to be impulsive, be spontaneous, keep his opponents or adversaries off balance. That's his approach. He is not into nuance, that is not his strength.
And the President (Obama) said this week, he's (Trump) entitled to his own policies and but just hope that it's deliberate and thoughtful. And this strikes me as anything but.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, in addition to Israel, what we were sitting here talking about nuclear policy because Donald Trump tweeted, as far as we can tell, out of the blue yesterday, David, that the United States needs to beef up its nuclear arsenal. He did an interview with Mika Brzezinski of NBC this morning and I’m just reading the quote here. He said, “Let it be an arms race, we will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”
So, what does this say?
DAVID BROOKS: Yes, one of the things I think about with Donald Trump is what are his words actually attached to? With a normal President like President Obama, he says a word, and that’s because there has been some thought that he’s done and there had been policy papers and there’s been aides and there’s been advisors and then there is a connection to an actual set of policies. And so, the words like have roots into actual stuff.
With Trump, I’m not sure the words have roots. They are emanations of his psyche, but has he thought it through? Is there an argument, is there a policy implication?
Even in this nuclear thing, he says we should be stronger and expand. What does that mean? So, what is concrete in what he’s saying?
And I think as we interpret him and frankly as the world learns to interpret Donald Trump, are these just words that are enigmatic things floating on air or are they actually shifts in policy and will they change moment by moment, day by day without any underlying connection to the actual stuff of governance? I don’t know.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, we’re talking about nuclear arms policy. This is something that in the past, it was something that people spent time thinking about before statements were made. You know, you said a minute ago, you think he’s keeping everybody off balance. Is this a deliberate strategy?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think that’s part of it. The points David make I think really deserve reflection and consideration. I think Donald Trump, we have to understand, has not had experiences like any other President we’ve ever had. He’s never been accountable to anybody, save Donald Trump.
I mean, he has no investors. He has — he has debtors, but he doesn’t have a board of directors. He doesn’t have a corporate structure he’s had to answer to. So he’s been able to kind of wing it at every stage.
I just don’t think he understands — the point David was making is when a President makes a statement, Judy, it is studied around the world, the nuance and was there an emphasis here, and what was in the last statement that’s missing — perhaps overly done, maybe overly analyzed. But because the President’s words are pretentious, they really carry with them enormous significance and are usually reflective of great consideration and even arguments within, that one side is wanted, one particular paragraph or sentence, while the other said, no, that shouldn’t be in there.
So, I just think that Trump — he has not made the transition, it seems to me, from candidate to even President in waiting. He has been a sore winner. He continues to in his rallies to berate Hillary Clinton. That sense of gracious, generosity or larger vision has eluded him so far.