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Brooks and Marcus on GOP backlash to Trump and Cruz, Clinton-Sanders practicality debate

January 22, 2016 at 6:40 PM EST
New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including a new divide opening up between American conservatives over the popularity and electability of Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz, plus former Gov. Sarah Palin’s Trump endorsement and a new campaign ad from Sen. Bernie Sanders.
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BY GEOFFREY GURAY

Ten days to go.

Yes, the Iowa caucuses are right around the corner. And while the candidates are sharpening their closing arguments, some political figures and thinkers are trying to make their voices heard before it’s too late.

Enter Sarah Palin, who threw her support behind Donald Trump earlier this week. And just last night, the conservative magazine National Review weighed in — with an unflinching takedown of Trump. For David Brooks, it’s another sign that the primary fight between Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz is exposing fault lines within the Republican party.

And on the Democratic side: could the charisma of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign messaging turn that primary race in his favor? Ruth Marcus says that, like Barack Obama in 2008, “Sanders has turned his campaign into quite a movement.”

It’s Friday, so no matter the weather, you’re just a click away from the always sharp political analysis of New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus.


Read the full transcript of this segment below:

HARI SREENIVASAN: And now to the analysis of Brooks and Marcus. Judy spoke with them earlier today.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And that is New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus. Mark Shields is away.

And welcome to you both.

So, as we just heard, a new front has opened up in this battle inside the Republican Party.

David, you have this iconic magazine of the conservative movement, “The National Review,” going after Donald Trump, saying he’s a menace to conservatism. He’s coming back. Where is this headed?

DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times: Well, the split is interesting.

It’s sort of between people who are more ideologically- or philosophically-minded and those who are more rogue- and chaos-minded. And so the rogue side is Sarah Palin going with Trump. The people who are more ideologically conservative, whether it’s “National Review” or the Wall Street Journal editorial page, are suspicious of Trump because he’s ideologically all over the place.

And so it’s sort of breaking down on that line, a little elite, populists, so the talk show folks are a little more — a lot more pro-Trump than the print folks. And so that’s the breakdown.

I happen to think that, in voters’ minds, that the last four years have made Republicans less conservative. The economic stress and the economic crisis have made them think, I want somebody on my side. And they are a little more willing to tolerate government than they were, say, 10 years ago. And so I think — and they’re willing to tolerate a little more chaos than they were 10 years ago.

So, I think, if it’s ideology vs. chaos, I think chaos probably wins.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Which is good news for Donald Trump, if that is the way it works.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see this?

RUTH MARCUS, The Washington Post: Well, I think breakdown might be the operative word.

And there is also this division really between various pieces of the Republican establishment. The conservative Republican establishment, as exemplified by “National Review,” is freaking out, I think, is the technical term, about the Trump menace, and that’s the word that “National Review” used, menace.

The Washington establishment and the party establishment is freaking out about Cruz, because they see, strangely, Trump as — some of them do — we heard from Bob Dole this week — Trump as more electable than Cruz. They do not want to have no shot at a third term in the White — they don’t want to have a third Democratic term in the White House.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, so, but where does it go?

David, you’re saying that Republicans are less tolerant or less warm to the idea of conservatism. They’re willing to tolerate some chaos. But does that mean — does that automatically mean that Trump prevails over these other establishment candidates?

DAVID BROOKS: Not automatically.

I’m still hoping the establishment will get off their rear ends and actually do something and act like an establishment and rally behind one candidate. But you have to say right now, given all the things that have happened this weekend — and, remember, a lot can still happen between now and the caucuses. The final week is like 70 percent of the campaign.

You could see massive swings. And so you’re looking for magic. Who has magic right now? And given all the things that have happened, I don’t think Bob Dole gives Trump a lot of magic, but Sarah Palin gives him a little. And to me…

JUDY WOODRUFF: You do think so?

DAVID BROOKS: … the vibe feels a little like, if there is any magic there, Trump has a little of that magic, and Cruz, even in the polls, is falling slightly.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see the Sarah Palin endorsement?

RUTH MARCUS: So, as a general matter, endorsements don’t matter very much.

But this one, from that low baseline, matters a little more than most. First of all, once again, Donald Trump managed to take attention away from everybody else, including Ted Cruz, who needs the attention more, put it on him, Donald Trump.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For several days.

RUTH MARCUS: For several days, and also Sarah Palin.

Also, to the extent that endorsements matter, they matter because they’re validators of something that voters may still have a question about. With Donald Trump — and this is the argument Ted Cruz has been making — the question is, is he a real conservative, can you really trust him to be a conservative, not the guy with New York values?

With Sarah Palin, who may not be convincing to Republicans inside the Beltway, she can speak pretty convincingly to voters in Iowa who, remember, were for Rick Santorum four years ago.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But she also — David, there are some voters who say they absolutely don’t trust her and don’t care what she thinks.

DAVID BROOKS: And this is why we shouldn’t hand Trump the nomination. There is a ceiling there. There is a real ceiling there, especially as we get into the more diverse states.

And so I think, once you get an establishment candidate, a moderate candidate, what we now call moderate, Trump is still very — extremely vulnerable as we get there. If you look at — if you try to break down the party into lanes, which may not be valid anymore, but there’s still 40, 50 percent who are either moderate, have some mixture of conservative and liberal positions, who are just party regulars, not particularly ideological.

And those people, that’s why Romney has won. That’s why McCain has won. That’s why Dole has won nominations. That’s why W. ran with compassionate conservatism. They’re still there. They haven’t disappeared. The party is radicalized, clearly, but Trump and Cruz are both still vulnerable if there’s a single alternative.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well…

(CROSSTALK)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Go ahead.

RUTH MARCUS: David said “once you get,” and I think that’s the operative term, because how in this time with super PACs and so many candidates still running in that — for that moderate establishment, maybe not moderate, but certainly establishment mantle, how does that sort itself out?

That’s going to be difficult to do. There is some — a degree of — that can’t be denied of anti-Trump animus even with the Republican Party. I have heard it. I was with a bunch of voters at a Ted Cruz event in New Hampshire earlier this week, and I was surprised at the number of them who were not shopping between Cruz and Trump. Trump was totally off their list.

DAVID BROOKS: One of the other thing is the ads they’re running against each other.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And I was going to ask you about it.

DAVID BROOKS: And so I think the Trump ads, they — I mean, personally, I find them extremely noxious. They’re extremely anti-immigrant. And they attack Cruz on two grounds, first, that he’s insufficiently anti-immigrant, and, second, that he’s kind of squirrelly and there are some images of him talking to FOX News looking a little squirrelly, and that he’s opportunistic.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Squirrelly, meaning?

DAVID BROOKS: That he flip-flops, which he sort of did on the immigration issue. He took about a week when the immigration reform was passing to try to find the right position for himself.

And so that’s the inauthenticity and opportunism, where he’s weak. Cruz is hitting back with an ad charging Trump with being a ruthless businessman. I don’t think that is an effective attack line. Donald Trump, people sort of like that. And so, if you just look at the two, the way they’re ramping up their campaigns right now, again, Trump has a little advantage in the ad wars, I would say.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we haven’t talked much about ads in this campaign, Ruth.

So, in the last hours before people vote, are these going to make any difference?

RUTH MARCUS: Well, there have not been really kind of breakout ads that have galvanized attention in this campaign more than in previous ones.

But there was an interesting one that was just released last night from the Bernie Sanders campaign, with which had this very morning in America, if you don’t mind my using that phrase…

JUDY WOODRUFF: From Ronald Reagan.

RUTH MARCUS: … with regard to Bernie Sanders, tone to it. It had zero message. From the guy who has a very crisp and explicit message, it’s just Simon and Garfunkel America song with pictures of Bernie Sanders and rapturous voters.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Could something like that work? Because we’re seeing a much tougher race, not as tough as what the Republicans are engaging in, but we’re seeing a much tougher race now between Clinton and Sanders.

RUTH MARCUS: I watched it a few times. I have to say, it made me smile. And it made me also kind of have flashbacks to Barack Obama 2008.

And I think Hillary Clinton may be having some flashbacks now as well, because, as with Barack Obama, Sanders has turned his campaign into quite a movement. You see it with the voters in New Hampshire. And you see it with the polls in New Hampshire.

And it’s not that he has — he can afford to run that ad, because it’s not as if he lacks a message. Voters know clearly what his message is.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But he also went after her, David, in that debate on Sunday night on several things, including the speaking fees she collected from Wall Street, from the big financial firms. Is that something that gains traction for him?

DAVID BROOKS: Among his voters who think Wall Street is the epicenter of evil, I think it is.

They also had an interesting debate about health care reform. And that was her making an incremental argument, we have got to make our changes gradually, and him making a radical argument. And so it was interesting. That was a substantive, real argument about how you change any system.

And, again, I’m going to go back to the magic — or maybe a better word is charisma. Some campaigns have charisma at certain moments, and some campaigns are flat in certain moments. Right now, in part, like that ad, Sanders has a little more charisma to her — his campaign, Clinton a little lacking in charisma. And that’s sort of important, because people just gravitate in final days.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Even though he’s talking — essentially, the argument is whether you just wipe away to what we have done and you go to a single-payer health care system, which most Americans say they don’t want, right, or…

RUTH MARCUS: Well, it really is this argument about practicality.

And one of the things that’s interesting is there is actually a parallel argument going on in the Republican and Democratic campaigns. So, Hillary Clinton says, I’m the pragmatist, I’m a progressive, but I’m a pragmatic one. I know how to get results. What he’s saying, maybe it’s a great idea in theory, but he will never be able to put it in practice.

Oddly enough, Donald Trump is making that same argument against Ted Cruz. He is saying, Ted Cruz, it can’t — well, first of all, he’s a little squirrelly and maybe he’s not really a conservative, and look at this squirrelly answer on immigration, but, also, Ted Cruz can’t get anything done in Washington because he doesn’t know how to get along with anybody, and he’s too extreme.

And so there is that sort of practicality argument that is emerging on both sides.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It is interesting, because you see Bill Clinton out there, David, making some of these same arguments.

And, Ruth, you saw him on the trail this week.

RUTH MARCUS: I was with him. I was having a little flashback down memory lane. Bill Clinton talked about stopping off at the Dunkin’ Donuts.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Does he have the same — does he bring the same weight, gravitas to this campaign that he did in the past, do you think?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. He’s still good. He’s still a master at arguing, master at making the case.

And there’s a lot of residual good will toward him. What’s striking to me is how, even he ran as a — and really governed as a moderate, he still has personal good will.

The other thing that’s going on is — and I think this is also helping Sanders in New Hampshire — and, again, I wouldn’t bet on him to win the nomination — but helping him, Sanders, a little residual resentment among Democratic primary voters about Obama, and his being more centrist than they would like, especially in the first, say, six years.

And so they’re a little more suspicious of moderation and are more willing to take a flyer on a guy who may not be that pragmatic.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you see that?

RUTH MARCUS: I actually felt a lot of Obama love still there in New Hampshire among the voters that I talked to.

But I think Bill Clinton, especially among Democratic primary voters and especially in New Hampshire, which was a state that has showered both Clintons with love and success — well, you know, he didn’t win the New Hampshire primary, but he came in second — is a valuable tool.

I think the really important question for us all to be thinking about going forward is, what if? What if what once seemed unimaginable happens, Bernie Sanders wins both Iowa and New Hampshire?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right. Right.

RUTH MARCUS: The Clinton campaign argument is the demographic fire wall of minority voters in South Carolina and beyond. The Sanders campaign argument is the kind of magic that David’s been talking about and whether people will be — whether that demographic firewall is as strong as the Clinton campaign thinks it is.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Less than 30 seconds. I was going to ask you about foreign policy, the Iran story, prisoner swap. We won’t have time for that, but it is striking that, just a month ago, we were talking about ISIS, the terrorist threat, and that seems to be off the page.

DAVID BROOKS: It will be back. You never escape it. And I think the Middle East is more destabilized now than in our lifetimes. It will be back when some incident happens.

RUTH MARCUS: It will be back. And it’s still very much a front-and-center part of the discourse in the Republican primary election.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Voters are bringing it up.

RUTH MARCUS: Voters are bringing it up and candidates are bringing it up.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ruth Marcus, David Brooks, thank you both. And good luck in the storm this weekend.

RUTH MARCUS: Thank you.

DAVID BROOKS: Thank you.

RUTH MARCUS: Same to you.

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