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Week In Politics: Republican National Convention


To talk more about the end of the convention and what is ahead, let's turn now to 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.

DAVID BROOKS: Great to be here.

E J DIONNE: Great to be with you.

MCEVERS: All right, so in Scott's story there, we heard - we definitely heard the off-script Donald Trump as opposed to the on-script Donald Trump that we heard in Cleveland last night for about an hour and 15 minutes. Let's listen to a bit of that first. This is from the beginning of his speech, just after Trump makes his first reference to law and order.


DONALD TRUMP: Our convention occurs at a moment of crisis for our nation. The attacks on our police and the terrorism of our cities threaten our very way of life. Any politician who does not grasp this danger is not fit to lead our country.


MCEVERS: A very dark characterization of what the country is like. David, you called Trump in your column The Dark Knight. Were you surprised that his speech went into this direction?

BROOKS: I was. I was waiting for Heath Ledger to pop out. I was. You know, my supposition all year has been that America's central problem is economic anxiety and social anxiety, and that the premise for Donald Trump's campaign is that he's supposedly an excellent businessman and he can do business and do economics. So I thought economics would be central to the speech, but it was not. It was crime and it was terrorism.

And I personally think he's over-reading this moment, this moment of Nice, Dallas and Baton Rouge. And maybe if there's a crime wave or terrorism attacks through the fall, this will look smart. But I - now looking to the Democratic convention, they've got - just got this gigantic opportunity to focus relentlessly on economic and social anxiety, and Trump will look like he's dealing with secondary or tertiary issues.

MCEVERS: And, E.J., I'm curious about, you know, fact-checking this. I mean, is crime as bad as Trump was portraying it in his speech last night?

DIONNE: No, it's not. In fact, the - Trump not only wants to scare the daylights out of us, but he actually has to make the case that things are worse than they actually are. And I think what's really striking about last night is that he intends to run as a hard man, as an authoritarian nationalist. And he - the anger and the darkness goes way beyond where even the constituencies he's trying to reach, I think, want him to be.

You can be a critic of immigration policy without getting to the level of racism or a flat ban on Muslims, which he semi - sort of tried to back away from. Certainly there are voters who are critical of free trade. But I think he opened an enormous opportunity for Democrats and scared, you know, some important constituencies, particularly college-educated voter - white voters in general and college-educated women in particular.

And then there is what I can only call his kind of arrogant wackiness to go out there today and feel it was in his interest not only to attack Ted Cruz, but to repeat this attack that somehow Ted Cruz's dad was connected to Lee Harvey Oswald. This is exactly the kind of thing that's going to allow Democrats to paint him as utterly unprepared by temperament to be president of the United States.

MCEVERS: David, you also wrote today that the convention was the most, quote, "shambolically (ph) mis-run convention in memory." But I guess I have to ask, you know, does Donald Trump care? I mean, we heard him talk about ratings in Scott's piece. I mean, wasn't it more important to him that people were watching and, you know, in fact talking about it even though there were these - you know, a plagiarism scandal and this sort of less than enthusiastic situation with Ted Cruz?

BROOKS: Yeah. And there was the - the speakers were in the wrong order, people were leaving for two of - the first two nights, people were leaving at 10:30. It was just very poorly organized, poorly run. They couldn't control the message at all. But, you know, it may not matter. To me, it's an open question whether his darkness is good politically or not. It could be the country is in such a sour mood that no dark is too dark. I mean, maybe he's reading the country better than we are. So I leave my mind open to that. I do think picking the fight with Cruz again is - the weirdness of this moment - we're in a general election campaign. He's still fighting the primary campaign.


BROOKS: And it's odd to me. I happen to think Ted Cruz is going to emerge as possibly the big winner of all this. I start with the premise that Donald Trump is not a normal candidate. He will probably lose and lose big, and Cruz will suddenly be the leader of the Republican Party.

MCEVERS: Looking forward, of course, to the Democrats, Hillary Clinton is expected to announce her pick for vice president very soon. Who do you think it's going to be, E.J.?

DIONNE: I don't think anybody knows for sure right now. I think the - all of the signals point to Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, Tom Vilsack, the agriculture secretary. Former Governor Ryan was on the list. There's talk of Cory Booker. I think after this convention it's very possible that Clinton will be encouraged to take someone who is moderate, who's not necessarily exciting, but who is solid.

And Tim Kaine is certainly solid - because again, the - if you will, the sort of wildness of Donald Trump, the unpredictability of Donald Trump will - and not to mention some of his views expressed at that convention will persuade a lot of voters in the middle. And from my experience here and talking around, even some Republicans - to say - as one of them said, you know, the election of Hillary will make me sad. The election of Trump will make me scared. And I think part - Clinton will see her job as making her ticket the least scary possible. And Kaine certainly is a safe choice in that respect.

MCEVERS: Kaine, of course, a former governor of Virginia, current senator from Virginia. I guess it raises the question, David, you know, does a vice presidential pick really guarantee a state? We know Virginia is an important state in the upcoming election.

BROOKS: The history shows it doesn't.


BROOKS: But if they win Virginia they really have a huge advantage. I'm shuddering at the thought of a Kaine-Pence vice presidential debate. The aura of niceness will be soporific. And it'll be like a - like, after the shock of Clinton-Trump...

DIONNE: Actually, it'd be very exciting, David, 'cause it'll be so different from everything else.

MCEVERS: Right, exactly.

BROOKS: Like leaving a cage-fighting match....

MCEVERS: ...I think that's what everybody's going for - right? - is just the calm. No surprises.

BROOKS: Yeah, "The Waltons" breaks out.

MCEVERS: (Laughter).

BROOKS: And so - yeah, but I do think Kaine would be a good choice. He's a good guy. He's a smart guy. He's very plausible as somebody who could play a senior role in an administration. And as liberals - some liberals are a little hesitant about it because he's pretty much pro-free trade, but everyone seems to get over that when they get on a national ticket.

MCEVERS: Also, of course...

DIONNE: ...And he also speaks Spanish. And turning out Latinos, who are now going for Clinton by margins of, like, 81 to 12 according to a recent poll - turning out Latinos is going to be very important in this election.

MCEVERS: Well, I mean, you have to ask, is speaking Spanish - I mean, is that enough to sort of get that - to, you know, get that vote out?

DIONNE: Well, it's not enough, but it's something. It's - it is helpful. And I think the striking thing about this convention is that if there were any Latinos, any people of color thinking of voting for Donald Trump, I don't think he won very many of them over. In fact, I think he scared many of them the way he scared some other people who were watching this week.

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

BROOKS: Good to be with you.

DIONNE: Great to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.