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Week In Politics: Wisconsin Primary, Abortion Politics


Let's keep talking politics now with our Friday commentators. E. J. Dionne of The Washington Post, welcome back.

E.J. DIONNE, BYLINE: Good to be with you.

CORNISH: And columnist David Brooks of The New York Times - welcome to the studio, David.


CORNISH: E.J., you've written this week about this fault line in the election of the class divide. And you actually wrote that the rise of Sanders and Trump, in a way, are revealing, quote, "the discontent of Americans who been left out in our return to prosperity".

DIONNE: Right, and you saw that especially in the Michigan primary. I think, so far, that was the most dramatic case of that. And you have a very odd circumstance in the country, which is, on the one hand, President Obama has a 53 percent approval rating, which is quite high. That's the highest it's been in three years. We had a very good jobs report again today. And yet, there were a lot of people being left behind, two groups in particular - working-class white men - white people in general, and white men in particular - and a lot of inner-city folks who've been very hurt by the deindustrialization that's gone on. They've been divided from each other in politics, but their interests are in common. Trump is speaking to white working-class voters, although he doesn't talk about many specifics. Bernie is trying to bring those two groups together, but African-Americans have, so far, been quite loyal to Hillary Clinton. And if she pulls out a victory in New York, which is now critical since they've - the Clinton folks have pretty much given up on Wisconsin, ceding it to Sanders - they're going to be an important part of that.

CORNISH: I want to talk about that for a second. Yeah, Sanders has been very confident. Before I get to you, David, I want to play this clip of Sanders on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert" last night. Colbert asks Sanders why he believes the party's superdelegates should switch from supporting Clinton if he wins additional states.


BERNIE SANDERS: We have won six out of the last seven caucuses, most of them by landslide victories.


SANDERS: And I think that superdelegates should listen to the will of their people. If you get 60, 70, 80 percent of the vote in a state, you know what? I think superdelegates should vote for us.


CORNISH: David, there's been so much focus on delegates going into the Republican convention, but what about Democrats? Has Sanders sort of made a case, right, to the party, right - all of these sort of party higher-ups - that he should be given a second look?

BROOKS: Well, first, Democrats have superdelegates. And those delegates were designed - the system was designed to favor somebody like Hillary Clinton, and I expect they'll stay there. Clinton has weakness as a candidate, as we heard just even in the clips just in the last 10 minutes. She's sort of a paint-by-numbers Democrat. There's no creativity, no imagination, no new message there. She's a major political figure with negative approval ratings. That doesn't happen very often. If Donald Trump wasn't around, this would be the big story of the campaign. Nonetheless, Sanders really hasn't moved outside his people. He's got a clear demographic. He touches them very deeply, but he hasn't been able to expand outside. And unless he can pull off a win in New York and California, which I still think is very unlikely, Hillary Clinton looks to be set.

DIONNE: I think wine ice cream is definitely a new idea from that earlier clip.

CORNISH: Yeah, I mean, I'm sold on that. The bar is low, though. I want to turn to the Republican side and abortion politics. It started with Donald Trump on the Chris Matthews show saying - answering the question about whether abortion is outlawed - whether women who get them should face punishment. Trump backtracked from that statement as outcry came from all corners. Here's Marjorie Dannenfelser. She leads the Susan B. Anthony List, which is an antiabortion group, and she spoke on Morning Edition earlier this week.


MARJORIE DANNENFELSER: I think he hasn't thought very deeply about this because he's missed something very important. The aims of the pro-life movement are focused on the woman and the child and to take them together as a goal, as an end. To preserve both is what it's been from the beginning.

CORNISH: This is a case where you have certainly women, but lots of people, really, having a backlash to this comment this week with Trump. David what did you make of the reaction?

BROOKS: Legitimate - listen, he hasn't thought very deeply, and he's cruel to those who are weak, and so both of those factors came up. To me, the big issue this week for Trump is something different. There's something beginning to shift. We've been saying that for eight months. And this week - I think what's new about this week is this was the period when he should be cruising to the nomination. He should be calming down, reassuring everybody that he can actually be a responsible politician. There were large sections of the Republican Party that were ready to capitulate to him, but he can't help being himself. He can't help being phenomenally ignorant about the issues. He can't help being hyper-aggressive in every chance he gets. And I think there might be some sense of being rattled, even among his supporters. I still am not persuaded it's enough to really shift the momentum of the race, but that possibility's at least open this week.

CORNISH: E.J., for you?

DIONNE: I think this is the beginning of the end of Donald Trump, what we've seen this week. I think that...

CORNISH: Though people have been saying that, I feel, like, every month...

DIONNE: I know, and I think...

CORNISH: ...For the last eight months.

DIONNE: You know, I think people always make the wrong mistake, as Yogi Berra said. And this time, what they said all along about Trump being unprepared and that his shtick having a limited shelf life is going to turn out to be true. You know, it's - Ms. Dannenfelser, at the end of that interview, said that only God really knows what Donald Trump thinks about abortion. And I think only God knows what Donald Trump thinks about a lot of things, or - and I'm not even sure Donald Trump always knows what Trump thinks about a lot of things. This abortion case was really fascinating because the pro-choice side has argued, as a polemical point, but it's a fair question, if abortion is to be treated as murder, what is the rationale for not punishing women? Of course, pro-lifers don't want to go there, as Ms. Dannenfelser said in that interview. And so Trump either seems to produce parodies of conservative positions or he takes positions that are completely unfamiliar to him and follows them to conclusions that conservatives don't want to reach.

CORNISH: Meanwhile, these comments have already appeared in a super PAC ad for Hillary Clinton.

DIONNE: Yes, exactly. What's clear is there's a lot of stuff he hasn't thought through.

CORNISH: Now, I want to look forward, you guys. We just heard about New York. We have Wisconsin coming up, people talking about that being a state that's a problem for Trump. We talked about Sanders. What are you guys going to be looking for in these next couple of races? David?

BROOKS: Well, just to see if there's momentum against Trump. Obviously there's been a collapse of momentum in Wisconsin, and that collapse is significant, as we'll see. If he loses by more than 10 points there, then you'd have to think maybe there is something in the air. But then you've got to look at the polls, especially in New York and California, and he's looking reasonably strong in those places. Clinton is not looking so strong. Even on her own alleged state, New York, Sanders has begun to climb there. And so it's matters of degrees, but I still think Clinton and Trump is what we're looking at.

DIONNE: Yeah, I'm - I think that Trump may be on his way out. And California was actually a state that Ted Cruz was very strong in a couple of months ago. There is a strong ideological conservative core. In New York, it's going to be really fascinating. In the clip, we heard Bill Clinton talk about Syracuse and Rochester and Buffalo. Hillary Clinton built her strength as a New York politician in upstate New York, and those are the parts of the state where Bernie Sanders, I think, would expect to do very well. And so it's - I think upstate is going to be a real test in that campaign, and we're going to hear a lot of stories out of Buffalo, Syracuse and Rochester and Big Flats, N.Y., too, my favorite name of any town.

CORNISH: Oh, really? OK, they'll be happy for the plug. E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post, thank you so much.

DIONNE: Thank you.

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

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