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Week In Politics: Presidential Primaries, Canadian Prime Minister Visits U.S.


Well, here to talk about the week in politics are our Friday regulars, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution, and David Brooks of The New York Times.

Good to have you both back in the studio.

E.J. DIONNE: Good to be here, thanks.

SHAPIRO: Let's stick with Trump for a moment. He has begun to talk about transforming into a more presidential character. We just heard Ben Carson talk about two Donald Trumps.

David, if Trump secures the nomination, do you think he can actually pivot in a way that would make general election voters forget the kind of primary that this has been?



BROOKS: You know, if you look at his popularity, the people who disapprove of Donald Trump, it's been a clear majority, it's way over 50 percent. It's been solidly over 50 percent for a long time. There are just a lot of people who are not Donald Trump people. And, there are a lot of Republicans who are not. I've had so many conversations in the past week - could you see yourself supporting him? And so many, so many, just say no. And even among evangelical voters - I've been talking to a bunch, and over 60, you find some who say, yes, we've got to stop Hillary. Under 40, it's very hard to find an evangelical voter who would support Donald Trump. And so I think there's a huge just veto block sitting out there.

SHAPIRO: But, E.J., it's eight months until November. That does seem like a lot of time for somebody to re-establish themselves as a more centrist candidate - if that's what Trump intends to do after he - if he secures the nomination.

DIONNE: Well, with Donald Trump, the notion that he might say something different tomorrow than he does today, you can expect that he might say something different in two minutes than he did two minutes before. And clearly he has some positions on trade that appeal to working-class Democrats - refusing to cut Social Security and Medicare, his opposition to the Iraq war after first apparently opposing it in an interview he says doesn't really count. So yeah, he has cards to play, but he has created such an impression here, and you saw the difficulty he has in switching his personality in the clip we just heard where he says he wants the crowd to be gentle, he doesn't want any problems so then he really eggs them on. Again, I think if Trump loses the general election - if he gets the nomination, which I still don't think is guaranteed, it's the women of America who are going to prevent him from becoming president. There was a really stunning Washington Post-ABC poll. Trump was winning by five points among men. He was losing by 21 points among women. Women tend to reject extreme candidates, and I think Trump will - there will be all kinds of reasons why American women of a lot of different kinds of politics will vote against him.

SHAPIRO: Well, let's talk about the Democrats for a minute. On Tuesday night, as expected, Hillary Clinton won Mississippi by a wide margin, and, as almost nobody expected, Bernie Sanders won Michigan. It seems to me there are two different stories you can tell coming out of Tuesday night. One is a mathematics story. Hillary extended her lead among - with delegates over Bernie Sanders. And the other is the narrative - that Bernie Sanders win in Michigan says something that the Clinton campaign should be worried about. David, which narrative do you buy? Which one is more important?

BROOKS: I buy all narratives. No, I think the - I do think they're both true. She's still - if you just look at the math, she's still likely to be the nominee, but her weakness is also evident. I talked a few minutes ago about Donald Trump's unpopularity ratings. She has very high unpopularity ratings too. And so if Donald Trump was not around, her weakness as a candidate would be the big story of the week or the big story the campaign. I thought it was a nice pivot this week where she admitted not to being the politician her husband is or that Barack Obama was. I thought that might be a better strategy - show some vulnerability and some reality, frankly, and maybe that's the way to tell her story a little better.

SHAPIRO: OK so E.J., if there is a real weakness to the Clinton campaign that Michigan's results show, how do you describe specifically what that weakness is and what she could do about it?

DIONNE: First of all, I want to say both your narratives are a hundred percent right, which is why this race is so hard to talk about. Because even if - as Bernie wins some primaries, we're still looking at her as the nominee. I think there are a couple of things. One of the things you saw in Michigan, particularly around the trade issue - but that also was a stand-in for other questions - is, in parts of the country that have been really hammered economically, there is enormous discontent, and a lot of those places tend to be key states in the Democratic coalition, places like Pennsylvania, Ohio as a swing state, Michigan as a solid state, Wisconsin, where this is going to be a problem for her. I also think she's better off making a direct argument than a gimmicky argument. Rather than say Bernie Sanders voted against the auto bailout, she might've said the same thing quite differently that would've worked better, which is to say, look, I was willing to vote for a bill that was not entirely satisfactory because I cared about getting people back to work or keeping them from getting laid off. Bernie Sanders took a different position, he's purer than I am, I'm willing to do the stuff necessary to get things done.

I think that is who she is and it would've taken an attack which they could kind of push back on. It wouldn't have given them as much room to push back. So I think she needs to find ways of being more direct about who she is.

BROOKS: She's an interesting candidate in that she's really good when pressed but really bad on the attack. And so she does hone her message. We saw that in '08, and I think we're seeing it this year that she can hone her message. But when she starts swinging, it swings wildly with a little too much vehemence, a little too much wildness and not always persuasive.

DIONNE: And, as somebody told me today, when can't do something well, you probably shouldn't do it. And I agree with David, she's really not that good on attack.

SHAPIRO: Well, let's end with - bromance is such an overused word, but I'm not sure what other word we can use to describe President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the White House this week. There was a state dinner, there was a lot of sort of gazes captured on camera with a lot of (laughter) interpretation. And, you know, it makes me wonder, E.J., is there any liberal politician in the United States who has the kind of excitement and charisma and dynamism that people are using - describing Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister?

DIONNE: Well, it's amazing because they used to talk about Trudeau-mania for his dad, and how many kids absolutely reproduce what their fathers managed to achieve? But he has created real Trudeau-mania both in Canada...

SHAPIRO: He's, like, in celebrity tabloids.

DIONNE: It's extraordinary. I think on the one hand, it's impossible to reproduce Justin Trudeau because his dad was genuinely one of the most historically important figures in Canada. Though - but I've been racking my brain all day to think of who that might be someday, and the person I came up who's Joe Kennedy in Massachusetts, the young congressperson who is genuinely charismatic who has a certain amount of humility. If there is going to be a Trudeau-like figure someday, he might be it. But that's a while down the road.


BROOKS: I agree completely about Kennedy, he's a very, very impressive man. So that could be - the Democratic bench is not that deep so he might be the beam of the future. But how much of this is just the fact that Justin Trudeau's really good-looking? (Laughter). And so we do glamorize that a little...

SHAPIRO: But it also, as you point out, does say something about the depth of the Democratic bench as compared to the Republican bench, which is a real point. But as Republicans have taken over state legislatures, governorships, et cetera, you know, they are in a better position when you look at the younger generation...

DIONNE: Completely right, but Trudeau also was very principled in this campaign, and people actually like the fact that he seemed to say what he means. That's another lesson for everybody.

SHAPIRO: E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution, and David Brooks of the New York Times, great to have you here, as always.

BROOKS: Good to be here.

DIONNE: Good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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