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Week In Politics: Brussels Terror Attacks, Trump V. Cruz


We've heard about military strategy. Now, we want to talk politics, and we're do so with our Friday commentators, columnist David Brooks of The New York Times - hey there, David.

DAVID BROOKS: How are you?

CORNISH: And E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post. Welcome to the studio, E.J.

E.J. DIONNE: Thank you. Good to be here.

CORNISH: OK, so let's talk reactions on the campaign trail. We had Donald Trump on the GOP side saying that NATO is obsolete and that he wouldn't rule out nuclear retaliation against ISIS, Ted Cruz suggesting to start patrolling neighborhoods in the U.S. where Muslims live, Bernie Sanders condemning that last idea and Hillary Clinton giving a full-blown foreign policy speech at Stanford University.


HILLARY CLINTON: We need to rely on what actually works, not bluster that alienates our partners and doesn't make us any safer.

CORNISH: David, this is her third foreign policy speech, actually. Get the sense that she considers this a strength? Should she?

BROOKS: Yeah, I think her speech was quite good. I thought Kasich and Sanders were fine. The story to me is Cruz. I have been so repulsed by Donald Trump I've forgotten how ugly Ted Cruz can be. And his approach of policing Islamic neighborhoods is about as stupid as it's possible to be.

Terrorism is not produced by Islam. It's produced by feelings of alienation, a feeling that you're being discriminated against, the target of ethnic cleansing or ethnic profiling. And Ted Cruz's line is the exact thing that causes terrorism. And its' - the only saving grace is it's impossible to believe that he actually believes what he says. He's just willing to say anything to sound like Donald Trump and win the office.

CORNISH: E.J., you've talked about Hilary Clinton trying to draw distinctions should be the nominee, and this seemed like one of those moments. Anything else you heard this week?

DIONNE: Well, you know, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump later in the week got into this crazy discussion about wives. And maybe they were trying to distract the attention from their earlier positions that week because, as David said, they did make a lot of sense. And Clinton did her classic Clinton thing, which is, I am tough, steady, a realist, and she give a detailed speech.

And on a week where there's terrorism, you kind of assume that the Republican Party, the party of tough guys, would somehow gain the upper hand, whereas this is one week where, I think, by being contained and clear as against some of these blustery statements, she actually really advanced herself in a way you hadn't seen her advance herself as much before.

CORNISH: And you previewed something that we're going to get into, even though you both disagreed about whether we should even talk about this next topic when I checked in with you. And listeners, here's why - Donald Trump and Ted Cruz sniping at each other over each other's wives. First, a super PAC that showed an image of Trump's wife, Melania, in a spread in GQ Magazine. Trump and his supporters going after the looks of Heidi Cruz - I am not making this up. Here is some of Cruz's response.


TED CRUZ: It's not easy to tick me off. I don't get angry often, but you mess with my wife, you mess with my kids, that'll do it every time. Donald, you're a sniveling coward, and leave Heidi the hell alone.

CORNISH: And as we speak, this conversation has actually devolved into rumor-mongering around National Enquirer stories. The only question I have on my paper - in all caps and bold - is, what is this? Why is this happening? Who wants to jump in?

DIONNE: Well, you know, what was remarkable about Cruz's statement is he calls Trump a sniveling coward. And then, when he was asked, well, would you support him if he wins the Republican nomination, he wouldn't say. He didn't want to back off his pledge, so I guess he will vote for a sniveling coward if they win the nomination.

What this speaks to, though, for Trump is this enormous problem he has among women. This is only going to make it worse, the way in which he portrayed Ted Cruz's wife getting into this discussion. Hillary Clinton, according to one poll, is beating Trump by 21 points among women. It's not going to get better with this kind of week.


BROOKS: Yeah, he has a 75 unfavorable rating among women. And this is a sign why standard Republicans just can't support this guy. If he was a sniveling coward, that would be up from where he actually is. I mean, he is completely repugnant on the subject of women and has been his entire life.

There are now a series of stories out on things he's said going back decades - calling up talk radio shows to brag about his sexual exploits and his extramarital affairs, consistently throughout his life talking about women as pieces of meat, as arm candy and nothing else. And this - what's happened this week is only the direct continuation of what he's been like his whole life. He is not a normal candidate. He just can't be supported because of the ways he violates things that are more important than politics right now.

CORNISH: Not a lot of time left here, but, David, I do want to bring up - you're already talking about the post-Trump party, and somehow with optimism, which surprises me, given what you've just said.

BROOKS: Yeah, I'm seeking optimism, despite all the evidence.


DIONNE: Faith.

BROOKS: And the argument is that the Republican Party was, for many years, the Reagan party. And for some years in the 1980s, that was fine. But the ideology became increasingly obsolete. And what Trump has done is he's destroyed the remnants of it.

And after Trump loses, which I trust he will, then there'll be time for rebirth and a revolutionary phase where you have multiple interpretations about what the Republican Party can be, but it won't be going back to the obsolete Reagan ideology. It will have to be something new because Donald Trump has exposed it for being a shell of what it formally was. His only virtue is that he's destroyed a dying husk, but something creative and something new and maybe something exciting will come in its stead.

CORNISH: E.J., you've been writing a lot about how conservatives need to change to avoid crisis, but what do you make of what David's saying? And how does this affect Democrats?

DIONNE: Well, I just wrote a book basically arguing that conservatives, if they wanted to avoid a crisis like this, needed to change and needed to find a more moderate approach that they've lost over all these years. I'd like to think David is right that this crisis will lead them back to not only a more moderate conservatism, but a conservatism more relevant to 2016 and not 1980 or 1964, where they keep looking backward.

But they're really going to have to come to terms with the fact that they really did help create Donald Trump, that Donald - you know, Mitt Romney, until he begin his leading opponent, praised him for his business genius. They said nothing about Trump when he was a birther challenging President Obama's birth certificate. And so, given what they had been saying, Trump comes along and says, I'm the real thing. And a lot of Republicans in the primaries say, yeah, we might as well vote for the real thing.

CORNISH: David, you should answer that. You could have said something all this time. Why not - why now?

BROOKS: No, listen, there's something truth to what E.J.'s saying. The Republican Party has done stuff on immigration. They've turned more ethnic-nationalist. But the answer is also in what Trump offers - one, a much more honest way of talking that's outside of the consultant culture. Second, understanding, as the Democrats do, that we're segmenting as a society along income and social class grounds and that you've got to have a separate agenda to deal with this problem.

DIONNE: And I hope that that's what happens in our politics because if we don't take the one good thing out of our Trump candidacy - calling our attention to all the people who are hurting in the country - then it might be a total loss.

CORNISH: All right. Well, we'll leave it there on - is this an optimistic note? I can't even tell anymore (laughter).

BROOKS: It's close as we come.

CORNISH: E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post, thank you.

DIONNE: Thank you.

CORNISH: And David Brooks of The New York Times, thanks for coming in.

BROOKS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.