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Politics & Government

Week In Politics: Cruz-Kasich Strategy, Trump Foreign Policy

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And the week in politics began with big wins for party front-runners in the presidential primaries, but it wasn't enough to send their rivals packing. For Democrats, Bernie Sanders vowed to continue on. On the Republican side, even before Tuesday's primaries, John Kasich and Ted Cruz brokered a sort of non-compete agreement to improve their odds of winning delegates going forward. Then Wednesday, Cruz went so far as to name a running mate and welcomed today the endorsement of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. It felt like a turning point in this primary contest so we're going to talk about why with our Friday regulars, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution.

Hey there, E.J.

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

CORNISH: And David Brooks of The New York Times, who's joining us this week from member station WESA in Pittsburgh.

Hey there, David.

DAVID BROOKS, BYLINE: Good to be with you.

CORNISH: So as we mentioned, Donald Trump ran the table, winning all five of the states in the primaries on Tuesday - Delaware, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Maryland. And then the next day, Ted Cruz announced Carly Fiorina as his running mate. And we're going to play a bit of tape here from that announcement where Cruz told the crowd that Fiorina often sings lullabies to his two young daughters when she's on the campaign trail with the candidate. Here she is confirming that story.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CARLY FIORINA: (Singing) I know two girls that I just adore.

(LAUGHTER)

FIORINA: (Singing) I'm so happy I can see them more.

(LAUGHTER)

FIORINA: (Singing) 'Cause we travel on the bus all day. We get to play. We get to play...

CORNISH: All right, gentlemen, it goes on (laughter) for a little while longer. What do you make of this move, which I've seen online criticized as stunt, desperation?

David, I'll let you have the first word.

BROOKS: Will our long national nightmare never end, along with that song? No, I agree, I think it's the desperate flailing of the nearly departed. His campaign is really on life support and so he did something, it seems to me, to get to capture a news day - the - one media day's attention rather than have the defeat. And to name a vice president, assuming he actually ever won, on the basis of just to capture one news day seems to me an act of almost decadence.

CORNISH: But we know these candidates are trying to walk into what they hope will be a contested Republican Convention, right, when it comes to John Kasich and Ted Cruz.

E.J., what is this message, right, that he would walking into July with?

DIONNE: Well, first of all, I didn't think her voice was that bad.

CORNISH: (Laughter).

DIONNE: And I think in terms of the breaking up the news cycle, he had to do something 'cause the news was so bad from the assail of primaries. I almost felt sorry for Ted Cruz this week, which I don't usually feel. First you had the defeats. Then you had John Boehner calling him Lucifer in the flesh. My favorite headline of the week is in The Hill newspaper today, "Satanists Balk At Cruz Comparison." So that's been a tough week. But the Pence endorsement, however lukewarm, comes on top of word that I hear that, at least before Monday, Indiana was close. I think it all depends on Indiana. If Cruz somehow can pull that out then this really does go on up to California. If Trump wins then it's over.

On the Democratic side, you're seeing the first signs of Bernie Sanders signal that he understands that Hillary Clinton's going to get the majority. He wants things out of the platform. That's normal. And so I think that that the Democratic race is closer to being closed at least a little bit amicably than the Republican race is.

CORNISH: Let's talk a little bit more about Bernie Sanders because while he did pick up Rhode Island, again, Hillary Clinton did well on Tuesday. And Sanders has actually talked about laying off staff as a result. He was speaking at Purdue University on Wednesday, where he had this to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BERNIE SANDERS: We are in this campaign to win, but if we do not win, we intend to win every delegate that we can so that when we go to Philadelphia in July, we're going to have the votes to put together the strongest progressive agenda that any political party has ever seen.

(APPLAUSE)

CORNISH: E.J., back to you for a second. Many would argue that Sanders has already strongly influenced the agenda of this party.

DIONNE: Right. I think that Clinton has sounded more progressive than the old Clinton of the 1990s, although I think some of that change had already happened. But he pushed it along, and I think there are many ways in which Bernie Sanders will be able to claim a - sort of policy victories, moral victories and having shifted the whole national conversation to the left of where it was.

CORNISH: I want to bring up something with both of you, which is whether there's long-term damage being done to these parties because the Pew Research Center this week talked about the parties losing ground in the eyes of the public.

David, Republicans losing a lot worse, and with their own supporters.

BROOKS: Yeah. To the Democrats, I don't think there's much damage being done. Twenty-five percent of Sanders' supporters say they wouldn't support Hillary Clinton, but that's a passing mood. Eight years ago, 25 percent of Hillary Clinton supporters said they wouldn't support Barack Obama, they'd rather vote for the Republican. But by November, they all came around, and I suspect that's going to happen this time. I think the Democrats are in decent shape.

The Republicans are in cataclysmic shape. You know, they are so far underwater they can't even see the surface. And so what's odd is just the general passivity about it. Donald Trump has, you know, 67 percent disapproval rating. The Republican Party is getting close to that. As the two become more identified, it's just going to be a problem for them this year.

DIONNE: I'm with David. I am surprised at how quickly resistance to Trump and the Republican Party seems to be crumbling. That might change after Indiana. But these Pew numbers really are yet another wake-up call for the Republicans. Thirty-three percent favorable for Republicans. Forty-five percent for Democrats. That's a 12-point Democratic advantage.

Among women - and this is not even mentioning the words Donald Trump - among women, there is a 17-point gap in this Pew survey. And so it really does look like this long primary, which looked like it was energizing Republicans - which it may well have done - is not helping the party at all in public opinion. And that's why I still think there are Republicans out there who are going to try to resist Trump till the bitter end.

CORNISH: David, it sounds like you're going to be one of them?

BROOKS: Yes, but even I've - morally - or, not morally capitulated, but emotionally capitulated. What's so stunning is how few elected Republicans are - plenty of writers and people like me are opposing him, but in public, very few elected officials are doing so because they would have to believe in themselves.

CORNISH: We'll have to leave it there. David Brooks of The New York Times, thanks so much.

BROOKS: Thank you.

CORNISH: And E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post.

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