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Brooks and Dionne on Trump’s anti-immigrant talk, Confederate flag retirement

New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including whether presidential candidate Donald Trump is hurting the Republican party, the historic removal of the Confederate flag from South Carolina’s state house and whether Sen. Bernie Sanders’ momentum poses a viable challenge to Hillary Clinton.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And to the analysis of Brooks and Dionne. That’s New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne. Mark Shields is away.

    Welcome to you both.

  • E.J. DIONNE:

    Good to be with you.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, let’s pick up this conversation about immigration. We have just heard this rational — David, this rational discussion about immigration.

    But what Donald Trump has been saying and doubling down on has really started a firestorm. What does that do to the national — our nation’s ability to get its hands around this issue?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Well, it might be — what Trump said is the dictionary definition of xenophobia, nativism.

    He had a factually inaccurate statement that generalized about a whole group of people, inaccurately, in a slurring manner. We have got a parking lot right out here at the NewsHour where we brought a bunch of immigrants. And when you pull up, they’re not trying to rape you. They’re not trying to sell drugs. They’re trying to paint your backyard — or back porch.

    And that’s statistically what the immigrant population is. They’re here to work. And it’s what most people’s common experience of immigrants, undocumented or not. And so that’s the reality. As Marc said, the useful thing about what’s happened is that we have seen this fissure in the Republican Party, where Jeb Bush came out very strongly against Trump, saying he takes it personally, Rubio again very strongly.

    It has brought them out. It has brought their ire out, a little passion in rebutting Trump. Ted Cruz, a little more disgraceful, more or less saying he raises good issues and things like that. So we have begun to see a split. The party now has to confront this. And I think most of the leading candidates have, to my mind, come out on the right side.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So it’s been helpful in understanding where the Republicans stand on this issue, E.J.?

  • E.J. DIONNE:

    Well, I think if you ask most Republicans, Republican consultants, they would love to say to Donald Trump, you’re fired, and have him walk away, because this has been terrible for the Republican Party’s image.

    I mean, David is right about Bush and Rubio to some degree pushing back, but they were very slow to push back. And a lot of Republicans have been very cautious in dealing with Trump. And I think Latino voters, but immigrant voters of all kinds are going to remember that caution.

    And I think what Trump did this summer is going to last. Usually, it’s 16 months until the election, a lot of things will happen, but the nature of his words, using the word rapists, are so powerful, that I…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And murder.

  • E.J. DIONNE:

    And murder — that I don’t think there is any political eraser that’s going to get rid of them completely.

    This is the last thing Republicans needed right now.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    I should say, he was only a Republican since last week. He’s in a sui generis position of being a political freak.

  • E.J. DIONNE:

    No, I think it is going to be…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    You mean Trump. You’re talking about Trump.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Yes.

  • E.J. DIONNE:

    If Trump ever gets serious, I think the attacks on him for where he was on any number of issues, including now he thinks Hillary Clinton is the worst secretary of state in history — he used to say he loved Hillary Clinton, thought she would be a much stronger candidate than President Obama.

    Now, that’s a sin in the Republican Party, to have said something nice about Hillary Clinton.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But, David, you don’t think the delay, the fact that it took some of the other candidates some time to come forward with their statement, makes a difference?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    No. It was a matter of days or even hours. They had to formulate things.

    What matters is that whether the Republican Party rediscovers where George W. Bush was on immigration, where John McCain was on immigration, where a lot of — where Bob Dole — where a lot of previous nominees have been.

    And the party has wandered into an anti-immigration or an anti-immigration reform direction as a result of the rise of the talk radio part of the party. But that part of the party is waning, frankly, and I think it will be very possible for Jeb Bush or Rubio, whoever the nominee is, to be where McCain was and to be where George W. Bush was.

    Those are not ancient history of the Republican Party. The party will rediscover that moment.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So you’re saying that maybe he’s doing a favor to some of these other Republicans?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Well, it’s hard to give him credit for doing a favor, but the people who did the favor were Bush and Rubio and the party members who did the right thing.

  • E.J. DIONNE:

    I think, if they come out strong, he will have done them a perverse kind of favor.

    And I think the reason this is so harmful to Republicans is not just Latinos. Mitt Romney was beaten by Barack Obama among Asian-Americans voted by 3-1 in the last election. Asian-Americans voted 55 percent for the first President Bush.

    And a lot of that reaction among Asian-Americans is to this xenophobia and a sense of prejudice. They have got to beat that back if they are going to have a chance…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    It should be said, in the last midterms, they did reasonably well among Asian-Americans. So they’re working that and they’re conscious of it.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But you don’t see the — you see the Republican Party coming through this, that this is not going to have a lasting — do lasting damage?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    I have this naive assumption that people are not complete idiots.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    It just want to — just in terms of the issue, I think the merits are on the side of the sort of comprehensive immigration reform George W. Bush championed.

    But just in terms of political survival, if you just say they’re venal and they just want to win elections, it’s not — this is not rocket science here.

  • E.J. DIONNE:

    But I think the catch is that a very substantial part of the Republican coalition and an even a larger part of the Tea Party coalition is very anti-immigrant or very anti-immigration reform.

    So, I don’t think it’s as easy as you’re saying for Republicans to do this, even if it is — and I agree with you on this — in their long-term interest.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, a related issue, and that is the flag, the Confederate Flag.

    It came down today in South Carolina. There was a big celebration. But, meanwhile, yesterday, David, at the Capitol, there was this sudden partisan flare-up over the flag. Why does this issue keep coming up right now?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Well, I guess, in my view, the reason the flag should come down is just a matter of civic politeness. I have said this before on this program. If a large percentage of your fellow citizens disapprove of something, fine, just be civically polite and accept their offense and say, no, I’m going to respect you.

    In both these issues, there is a large culture war element. What Donald Trump was exploiting was the fact that people like us and people like my newspaper would come down hard on him for saying those things about immigrants. The same with the Confederate Flag. If you can get the East Coast and West Coast establishment and the mainstream media against you, you win points in certain circles.

    And so you want to pick those fights. And so the Confederate Flag has become one of those thumb-in-the-eye issues that people use in order to pick a culture war fight. And it helps you in the Sarah Palin wings. And so I think it’s almost become abstracted. It’s part of the media game that some people play to get attention, to pick fights and to win supports against those who don’t like the mainstream institutions.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Does it continue to be a political issue?

  • E.J. DIONNE:

    I think it’s slowly going away.

    The problem with it is, this isn’t simply a culture war issue. People have legitimate disagreements about abortion, for example, and we’re probably going to be arguing about that for a long time. The Confederate Flag really does stand for a regime that endorsed slavery.

    The Confederate Flag didn’t go back up in the South until the 1950s and early one 1960s, very consciously as a symbol of white supremacy and opposition to the civil rights. African-Americans know that.

    And so this isn’t just about cultural politics. This is about racial politics that we have been fighting in our country from the very, very beginning. I think that what you saw in South Carolina was a wonderful human reaction, even on the parts of people who had been for the flag before, saying not only was the death of nine people a horror, but the spirit of forgiveness from their families really moved an entire state, and that’s a big deal.

    But before we pat ourselves on the back too much, we should remember it took nine deaths of good people to bring that flag down. That’s not very heartening.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Yes. But, still, it’s a good day.

  • E.J. DIONNE:

    I agree with that.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    While we’re upset about the little kerfuffle in Washington, bringing the flag down in South Carolina was a symbol — it’s bizarre to say — but there was a symbol of hostility to the civil rights movement.

    And so that era of hostility to the civil rights movement, even in 2015, it is over with the bringing down of the flag. We will have all these other issues to talk about. But it’s still a remarkable day that it come down to widespread cheers. And so it’s a day…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • E.J. DIONNE:

    No, I don’t want to take away from the good day. I really agree with you on that.

    But we should — the Southern strategy as part of the Republican strategy going back to when the civil rights bill passed, and Lyndon Johnson said we, meaning Democrats, have lost the South for a generation, I mean, it’s all connected to that.

    So, yes, I celebrate. But, again, it still bothers, it sobers me that it took what it took to get this done.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    I want to ask you about one other thing, and that is the Democratic presidential contest.

    I interviewed Jimmy Carter, former President Jimmy Carter, on this program last night. And among other things, he complimented, David, Bernie Sanders. He said he’s been bolder than Hillary Clinton when it comes to income inequality and other liberal issues.

    How do you see that? We have been talking about this for several weeks now, about how Sanders is drawing bigger crowds. How do you see this dynamic playing out, Bernie Sanders playing to the left of the party and what it’s doing to the Clinton campaign?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Well, it is and always has been a university crowd left in this country, a progressive element at our many fine universities. And he’s playing to that element.

    But that element is not big. It’s not even big within the Democratic Party. He doesn’t get the working class. He doesn’t get the suburban voter. He doesn’t, by and large, get African-American and Latino voters. So there is a huge ceiling on what he can do.

    And for Hillary Clinton to be fearing him strikes me as wrongheaded. She’s still the overwhelming favorite, no matter how big of crowds he can get in university towns. Second, she has to be aware that she lives in a country where people are quite suspicious of government, more suspicious of government than they are business.

    And, in my view, on substantive grounds aside, just political grounds, if she goes over and seems like a very conventional big government liberal, it is going to be much easier for any Republican to run against her, because this is not a country that is sanguine about government power.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But you’re saying that is maybe where she’s headed. Is that what you see?

  • E.J. DIONNE:

    Well, first of all, Bernie, I have been saying, is like “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” except he’s a socialist from Vermont with a Brooklyn accent.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • E.J. DIONNE:

    But there is a kind of authenticity. The guy gets up there and you know he’s saying exactly what he thinks. He’s always said these things. I think that appeals to lots of people.

    And one area I would disagree with David on is that I think he will get working-class votes. There’s a lot of — and he has gotten working-class in Vermont and he will get a lot of union locals, even as national locals — endorse Hillary Clinton.

    I think there is a ceiling. I agree with that. I don’t think he is going to win the nomination, but he could — it’s not inconceivable to me that he could win both in Iowa and New Hampshire. Hillary Clinton got only less than a third of the vote in Iowa the last time she ran.

    And he’s very close to New Hampshire. So, I think those races could be tight. I think, as it goes forward, I think Clinton will still win the nomination. And on the government point…

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Even if she were to lose in Iowa and New Hampshire?

  • E.J. DIONNE:

    Yes. I think she would still win the nomination.

    And it’s unlikely she will lose both. I’m just saying that is a possibility we shouldn’t write off. In terms of the government thing, she is going to give a speech on Monday that is a very progressive speech about what government can do for people.

    I think the public’s view is ambivalent. And Stan Greenberg has it right. The voters would like the government to do a lot of stuff. They don’t trust it very much. She has got to solve that riddle.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Quick last word.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    If she — she’s going to have an early childhood piece in that piece Monday. If she sticks to that, fine. That’s getting people into the marketplace, so they can have an opportunity to compete. If she begins to seem to be meddling in the marketplace and capitalism, I do think people will recoil.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    We will all be listening. We have been listening to you both.

    David Brooks, E.J. Dionne, thank you.

  • E.J. DIONNE:

    Thank you so much.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Thanks.

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