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Politics & Government

Week In Politics: Bill Clinton, Trump On Trade

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Joining us now to talk about this and the rest of the week in politics are our weekly commentators, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and The Brookings Institution and David Brooks of The New York Times. Welcome to both of you.

E J DIONNE: Good to be with you.

DAVID BROOKS: Good to be here.

MCEVERS: So as we heard, Attorney General Lynch joking there at the Aspen Ideas Festival that she wished she knew where the lock on the plane door was. And it's got me wondering, you know, is that maybe what the Clinton campaign might be thinking right now about Bill Clinton?

You know, up until now, Hillary Clinton has run a very controlled campaign. And here is her husband now dominating the last few cycles on the cable news, a la Donald Trump. Is it - is Bill Clinton a liability to this campaign at this point, E.J.?

DIONNE: Well, actually, I think, on the whole, what's striking is that Bill Clinton has been far more disciplined and under control this time than he was in 2008. What happened here was unusual, but nonetheless explosive. You know, my own view is Lynch really is a professional, and I'd be very surprised if there was any hanky-panky of a legal sort between her and Bill Clinton in that conversation.

But it obviously raises suspicions. It opens a political attack. And I think, characteristically, Trump took it five steps too far. Trump, instead of just enjoying a news cycle that clearly benefited him for once, went way beyond the facts and therefore opened up the usual questions about Trump. Nonetheless, I'm sure everyone at Clinton headquarters wishes those planes had been somewhere else - one of them had, anyway.

MCEVERS: David?

BROOKS: Yeah. I think, on the whole, Clinton is a - Bill Clinton is a huge advantage for her campaign. He gives her the gravitas. He gives her the record. He gives the record of loyalty with a lot of different populations. So on the whole, he's a pretty good campaigner. This was an astonishingly stupid decision, of course. And I think Lynch responded reasonably well with sort of a full mea culpa.

But it has to be said that the attorney general is inherently a conflicted position. It's a Democratic political appointee who's - who's investigating or overseeing the investigation of the Democratic presidential candidate. There's no way that's not going to be political, at least in people's unconscious minds.

DIONNE: And that's why the only good thing for her out of this is publicly announcing she's not going to make this decision. She's going to leave it to legal staff. It creates at least a little bit of insulation, but it is an inherent problem in the way our system works.

MCEVERS: I mean, let's talk about the emails, too, though. Are we at a turning point where these emails are going to start to affect Hillary Clinton more than they have?

DIONNE: You know, we've gone through the emails so many times and there have been so many occasions. I think, to have a material effect on the campaign, something really big will have to happen - an indictment, which every lawyer I talk to says is not going to happen - we'll see - or something said that hasn't been said yet.

It was striking that when that Benghazi report came out this week, they really did break no new ground against her - the Republicans in Congress. So I think it'll take something big to push it back in there. But this helped the Trump side a little bit to get a negative news story out there.

MCEVERS: Another problem for Hillary Clinton this week was Donald Trump's speeches on trade, basically saying the country's economic problems are the fault of globalization, that globalization helps elites and hurts average people.

David, you wrote about this in a recent column, and you said Trump has done something, quote, "politically smart and substantively revolutionary." What did you mean by that?

BROOKS: Yeah, he can't win if we have the same debate. Whether it's - we've traditionally had a debate between big government and smaller government. And that's been the debate we've had, and Republicans and Democrats have had that debate for many decades. And if Trump runs on that - just a conventional Republican campaign - he'll get, like, 43 percent of the vote. So he's got to smash it all up and make it a contest between establishment openness toward trade, toward immigration versus populist closeness on trade and immigration to build a populist left-right coalition. That's his only hope of winning.

And so I think he's smart. He's trying it. I think, ultimately, he's going to fail because Donald Trump has said so many things about immigrants and about women that he's just not going to win over populist leftists who might sympathize with them on trade. He will not succeed, but I think some future candidate will succeed with this message, and it'll upend our politics.

MCEVERS: What do you think, E.J.? Does this complicate things for Hillary Clinton, especially in states like Pennsylvania and Ohio, where, you know, our own analysis has shown that Trump could win?

DIONNE: I think the four words we're going to be using most between now and Election Day are Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin because if Trump is to blow up the map that has elected Democrats now for quite a while, he is going to have to carry most of those states. And so far, he's not there yet.

Trade is an issue that can certainly help him in those states. What struck me is, after that speech, an awful lot of labor and sort of, if you will, lefties, who broadly are critical of free trade, came out right away and said, wait a minute. Trump is saying this stuff on trade, but nothing else he says about wages, about unions, about worker rights squares with the message he's trying to get across.

So I think you saw the core Democratic constituencies staying loyal to Clinton. And even Bernie Sanders, who has not endorsed her yet, sort of pushed back on Trump and said, of course he agreed more with - he was closer to Clinton than to Trump. But it's an opening for him. It does shake up our politics.

MCEVERS: Right because in these four states, it's not just about those core Democratic voters, right, David? I mean, it's also about people who might be on the fence.

BROOKS: Yeah. This is so big. I mean, it's about globalization. It's about the incredible movement of people we've had over the last 30 years. And you see it in society after society. The debate is between those who are confident and want a dynamic economy because they think they'll profit from it and those who are pretty fearful and want a protective one because, frankly, they've been losing. And so Trump is tapping into something real, I think.

DIONNE: He is tapping into something real. Take Ohio - Youngstown has been really hammered by deindustrialization. Columbus is thriving. You have these contrasts all over the country.

MCEVERS: As Trump was making these speeches this week about trade, it was, once again, a look at kind of the two Trumps, right? There was teleprompter Trump in this speech about trade in Pittsburgh - very on-script. And then, in St. Clairsville, Ohio, here's what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: The Trans-Pacific Partnership is another disaster done and pushed by special interests who want to rape our country - just a continuing rape of our country. That's what it is, too. It's a harsh word. It's a rape of our country.

MCEVERS: I mean, David, can he keep this up, these - these two different versions of Trump?

BROOKS: I think we'll all pay attention the latter version, the over-the-top version. That's who he really is. That's who - how he's been talking. And frankly, a lot of people in America apparently like that. I do think we should remind ourselves that he is really doing badly in the polls. He's doing terribly financially. He's running a pseudo-campaign. And so, you know, he is tapping into something real. But it's still - things are looking completely abysmal for him, as Republicans can tell you.

DIONNE: Yeah, no, that's right. And what's really striking in the polls is that, usually when you win the party's nomination, your share of your own party goes up. Looking at a lot of these polls, his share of the Republican vote has been going down. And the very fact that we're talking about teleprompter Trump versus the real Trump itself suggests a problem. The really good candidates, we don't notice too much if they're using a teleprompter or not.

MCEVERS: Let's talk quickly about Bernie Sanders. In a conversation with NPR's Rachel Martin yesterday, which will air this Sunday, Vice President Joe Biden said he had talked to Bernie Sanders. Sanders will endorse Hillary Clinton. But then, last night, Sanders was asked about that on MSNBC and says he's - said he's not there at this moment. What do you make of this, E.J.? I mean, does it matter when this endorsement might come?

DIONNE: I've come to the conclusion it's better for Bernie Sanders to be sooner rather than later. If you look at Elizabeth Warren, the other voice on the left of the party, she was out there campaigning hard for Clinton. I think, in terms of influencing the party in a progressive direction, she's got a place there. Bernie wants that place, too.

MCEVERS: That's E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and The Brookings Institution and David Brooks of The New York Times. Thanks to both of you.

DIONNE: Good to be with you.

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