Week In Politics: Weiner; GOP Presidential Field

Originally published on June 10, 2011 8:36 pm
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BLOCK: And Anthony Weiner's one of many politicians providing fodder today for our regular political commentators, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and David Brooks of The New York Times. Welcome back to you both.

Mr. E.J. DIONNE (The Washington Post): Good to be with you.

Mr. DAVID BROOKS (The New York Times): Good to be with you.

BLOCK: And first off, let's go back to Monday and take a listen to Congressman Weiner speaking when he finally came out and confessed interminably. Here he is.

Congressman ANTHONY WEINER (Democrat, New York): I regret not being honest about this. This was a big mistake to - I was embarrassed. I was humiliated. I'm still to this moment. I was trying to protect my wife. I was trying to protect myself from shame. It was a mistake and I really - and I really regret it.

BLOCK: David Brooks, somehow you have gone from Anthony Weiner's confession and connected that with your favorite philosopher, Edmund Burke of the 18th century. Explain.

Mr. BROOKS: Ultimately, everything goes back to Burke.

BLOCK: Pretty much.

Mr. BROOKS: I don't think he seems capable of embarrassment. Well, Burke was a legislator, I'll tie it in that way - Burke was a legislator, Weiner was not a legislator. He'd - got elected to Congress as a media star. He was not very good in Congress. He didn't really have friends. He didn't work on legislation. All he did was he went on TV and the radio. And so, I think his effectiveness as a media star is pretty much over and so his effectiveness in Congress is pretty much over.

BLOCK: You're already speaking about him in the past tense. E.J. Dionne, is his resignation, do you think, a foregone conclusion? Can he survive this if he survives re-districting?

Mr. DIONNE: Well, I'm not sure he can survive re-districting. And look, the voters in a district being loyal to you is understandable to me. I come from Massachusetts where we've reelected people from jail, so - and I don't think voters in a district ever likes it when Washington tells them, we've got to overturn your last election. But when he gets back here next week, there are just so many Democrats who want him gone.

They don't want to have to explain this. And many of them defended him when denied that he had done this 'cause they believed him. You shouldn't burn your colleagues like that. But the whole thing, when you think of the flow of news we've had, John Ensign and the John Edwards troubles, and now this. And we're treating presidential candidates, celebrities who aren't running as presidential candidates.

I've been starting to think that Britney Spears song "Keep on" - you know, that refrain, keep on dancing 'til the world ends, will provide the soundtrack for some future documentary on our national decline. So it's from Burke to Britney Spears making the same point.

BLOCK: We're slipping downhill really fast. Is this, David Brooks, a huge distraction for Democrats from issues they would rather be talking about, though?

Mr. BROOKS: Well, if they were accomplishing anything. One of the substantive things that's not happening is we're supposed to be negotiating a budget, a debt ceiling limit. And the negotiations run by Vice President Biden are going very slowly. And I'm not a market analyst, but I think the political risks are much higher than anybody on Wall Street anticipates. And there is a significant possibility that in the next three months, we will have pseudo government shutdown with tremendously negative market effects.

BLOCK: Let's move on for a bit and talk about the republican presidential hopefuls. This has been a lousy week for Newt Gingrich. His top advisors and staffers in the key early primary and caucus states quit yesterday en masse. E.J., what happened with the Newt Gingrich campaign and what will happen going forward, do you think?

Mr. DIONNE: What happened is what a lot of people expected to happen, which is Newt can be very interesting, but he does not have a whole lot of discipline. He believed that you could sell a campaign the way you sell books. You do a lot of social media, you go on radio. His campaign believed - and I think all these folks who quit are right - that you actually need to go out, organize voters, talk to people that way.

I also love the line from Dave Carney, one of the advisors who quit, to Dan Balz of The Post, he said, we were living a Cadillac campaign on a Bud Light budget. Newt was used to living large when he was doing all his other stuff, but I think it may have been the two weeks off in Greece that really was the ship that launched 16 resignations. I mean, it was just - I think the campaign folks said this ain't gonna work.

BLOCK: Something tone deaf about cruising in the Greek Isles. David Brooks, does Newt Gingrich stay in the race, do you think? He says he is.

Mr. BROOKS: Yeah, I don't think so. We've had sort of a tutorial lesson in narcissism this week on many fronts. For Gingrich, the words that come out of his mouth one moment have nothing to do with what's coming out for the next 10 minutes, so there's no constancy to the guy. I think I said on the show a couple of weeks ago the guy couldn't manage a 7-Eleven. I don't think he could manage an ATM machine.

And so that was - that was always going to be a problem. I never really took him that seriously. But the level of political celebrity - we now have these people who are sort of famous for being famous and they're not sort of game show guests anymore, now they're running for president and he is one of them.

Mr. DIONNE: I think it's James Carville's line that when you're a celebrity, that's what you do for a living. But that's not what a politician or somebody elected to run our country is doing for a living.

BLOCK: Let's talk about the presumed republican frontrunner for a bit. Mitt Romney announced he will skip straw polls in Florida, Michigan and most significantly, the Iowa straw poll in August. E.J., this is not sitting well with Iowans. Does it hurt Mitt Romney overall, do you think, or is it a smart move?

Mr. DIONNE: Well, I kind of think that the thing Mitt Romney would love is for Michele Bachmann to win the Iowa caucuses, because that would set him up as the establishment guy who can stop Michele Bachmann. A lot of Republicans don't want to do that.

I also think he is very well aware that Christian conservatives constitute a very substantial proportion of the caucus goers - that's one of the reasons Mike Huckabee beat him the last time. And they're very uncomfortable with the fact that Mitt Romney is a Mormon. He'll never say that. I don't think it's a good thing that there is prejudice against Mormons, but I think that's a fact that he's aware of.

BLOCK: Interesting to think about Jon Huntsman, too, the former Utah governor and ambassador to China who has decided to compete in the Iowa caucuses for this reason, he said: I don't believe in subsidies that prop up corn, soybeans and ethanol. Now, this is a candidate who has it officially entered the race.

David Brooks, he's also skipping next Monday's Republican candidates' debate in New Hampshire. What's up with Jon Huntsman?

Mr. BROOKS: Yeah, he's abstenious(ph).

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BROOKS: I don't think he's running because he's not going to Iowa because too principled for Iowa. He, like Mitt Romney, doesn't have much of a shot there. And I think they're both right. As E.J. says, the idea for both of these two candidates is the Republican establishment gets completely panicked by a Bachmann or Kane victory in Iowa, which is entirely plausible - it could even go one, two. And then they...

Mr. DIONNE: That's Harlan Kane, for those not following things closely.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: (unintelligible) pizza.

Mr. BROOKS: Yes. And then they sweep over to the establishment and they're desperately searching for somebody who seems safe.

The one thing to be said about Huntsman is a lot of people are now saying, oh, he's too moderate to be the candidate. It's important to remember that Rush Limbaugh is not the Republican primary voter. Rush Limbaugh campaigned against John McCain for two years; McCain still won the Republican primary in South Carolina and Florida.

Rush Limbaugh and the radio talk jocks are now campaigning against Mitt Romney for saying global warming may be real; campaigning against Jon Huntsman. They do not deliver votes.

BLOCK: The Republican debate Monday night, I'm curious to hear from you both what you're going to be listening for from the Republican candidates. E.J., first.

Mr. DIONNE: Well, I think we're going to sort of be curious about how they position themselves vis-a-vis Paul Ryan's budget. I mean, Tim Pawlenty came out with an economic speech where he almost made Paul Ryan looked like a socialist, which is a remarkable thing to say. I mean, it struck me as a very irresponsible, unrealistic view of how small you can cut government, how much you can cut taxes.

But I think that is where they, Republicans feel that their base is in terms of both taxes and the size of government. And I think there'll be an almost competition pushing them in that direction in this debate.

BLOCK: David Brooks.

Mr. BROOKS: I want to know if they understand their base. Their base is the white working-class. These people have seen their wages stagnate, their jobs decline, their social order fall apart. Do any of them have an actual agenda that plays to the white working-class, as opposed to cutting corporate tax rates?

Huckabee, last time, actually did have an agenda, did have a feel for this population. So far, Pawlenty, who should have a feel - that's his background -gave this speech which was really sort of a Wall Street Journal editorial page speech, not so much a white working-class speech. So I'd like to see if any of them actually understand the people who are actually going to vote for them.

Mr. DIONNE: I like David's point trade unionist conservative point about the working-class - and he's right about that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BROOKS: Oh-oh. Oh-oh.

BLOCK: Okay. We'll have to leave it there. Have a great weekend, guys.

Mr. DIONNE: Take care.

Mr. BROOKS: Thank you.

BLOCK: David Brooks of The New York Times and EJ Dionne of The Washington Post. E.J., this one is for you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.