This Week In Politics: One Upstage After Another

It's been a busy week for all kind of politics. Mitt Romney announced he's running for the Republican presidential nomination, but Sarah Palin got the headlines by taking a family vacation, with news cameras in tow. Democrats got a few headlines too, between John Edwards' indictment and Congressman Anthony Weiner's wayward photo tweets. Host Scott Simon and NPR political editor Ken Rudin talk about this week's stories.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Awfully lively national political scene in the past week: a scandal, an indictment, sniping, finger-pointing - maybe that's politics as usual. Mitt Romney announced he's running for the Republican presidential nomination, but Sarah Palin got the headlines just by taking a family vacation, with news cameras in tow. Democrats got a few headlines too - not happy ones - between John Edwards's indictment and Congressman Anthony Weiner's wayward photo tweets.

NPR political editor Ken Rudin joins us in the studio. Thanks so much for being with us.

KEN RUDIN: Morning, Scott.

SIMON: And let's please start with John Edwards; indicted on Friday by a federal grand jury. And remind us, these are charges that stem from an alleged attempt to cover up an extramarital affair and a child that was conceived.

RUDIN: I don't think it's even an alleged cover-up. I think both sides agree, even the Edwards defense team, says, yes, it was a cover-up but it was to keep it from his wife Elizabeth. He didn't want to go through the embarrassment of embarrassing his family, while the government says what he did was he broke federal finance laws, campaign finance laws, by taking campaign funds for his presidential campaign and diverting it to, you know, have Rielle Hunter, his mistress, and the child in seclusion, pay for their lodging, things like that. And that does violate federal campaign finance laws.

SIMON: And that's why a lot of people were surprised there wasn't a plea deal.

RUDIN: Well, it surprises me too because the worst that could have happened, in my understanding, that if he had a plea deal, is that he would have perhaps lost his law license. Why extend this to a public trial? That's beyond a lot of people's understanding.

SIMON: Now, of course, we have to talk about New York Congressman Anthony Weiner; been on the front page of the New York Post and other newspapers...

RUDIN: Everywhere, right.

SIMON: ...across everywhere, and in late-night monologues night after night, all of this beginning with an inappropriate photo sent from his Twitter account. The congressman has been trying to defend himself this week.

RUDIN: Well, and not so successfully it seemed. First, he said that the Twitter account was hacked, and so he hired an attorney. He didn't go to the FBI, he didn't go to the Capitol police; he hired an attorney. Then he said, well, you know, first of all, I did not send this lewd picture to this college student in Seattle but I can't say with certitude that they're pictures of me. Which, I mean, how anybody doesn't know whether the picture is of him or not, especially from the waist down in your underpants, I mean, you think you'd know that.

NBC's Luke Russert tried to get that answer from him in an interview this week.

(Soundbite of TV broadcast)

Representative ANTHONY WEINER (Democrat, New York): I'm an easy name to make fun of and I think that that's what happened.

Mr. LUKE RUSSERT (TV Host): That's not a picture of you?

Mr. WEINER: You know, I can't say with certitude. My system was hacked. Pictures can be manipulated. Pictures can be dropped in and inserted. One of the reasons that I've asked the firm that includes an Internet security arm is to take a look at what the heck happened here, was to make sure it doesn't happen again.

RUDIN: Anthony Weiner is somebody who is so savvy, so media savvy, that he'll, you know, he'll go on all these talk shows and lambast the Republican Party, he'll attack the conservatives. And the fact that he seemed to have an inability to coherently defend himself raises more and more questions.

SIMON: Mitt Romney announced he's running for president this week. A lot of attention was still taken up by Sarah Palin. In fact, what happened in New Hampshire?

RUDIN: His announced his candidacy. Of course, there wasn't a surprise that he was running. We all knew he would run and he wanted to announce in New Hampshire, which is crucial to his campaign. And yet the day after he announced, that announcement story was on page three of the Manchester Union Leader; page one was Sarah Palin's bus tour, you know, the famous one-nation bus tour that she's taking up the east coast.

So, Mitt Romney was upstaged even on the day he announced his candidacy. Very unusual.

SIMON: We've devoted so much attention to the difficulty there's been in getting a Republican frontrunner. Have the new job numbers and a dispiriting economy made that nomination seem potentially more politically attractive?

RUDIN: Well, yes, perhaps. I mean, the May numbers show that the unemployment rate went from 9 percent to 9.1 percent, that the government only created 54,000 new jobs, which is far fewer than anybody expected. But, of course, that number could change in June. It can go up in June. The thing is, the Republican Party is a party used to having frontrunners. We knew in 2008 John McCain was a frontrunner. In 2000, it was George W. Bush, Bob Dole, previous campaign cycle. So, they're not used to having an unformed field.

And of course, there are a lot of polls that show that Republican voters are not satisfied with this field. But having said that, the Democrats were saying the same thing in 1991. George H.W. Bush, after the Persian Gulf War, 91 percent approval ratings. The Democrats were saying maybe we should just skip this race and wait until '96. Cuomo wouldn't run, Al Gore wouldn't run, Dick Gephardt wouldn't run. The only people we were left with were people like Paul Tsongas, Jerry Brown and some governor of Arkansas named Bill Clinton.

So, in other words, the Republicans are looking like they're floundering, they don't know where they're going to go. President Obama's numbers are good, but the economy is still the whole name of the game. In 1980, Ronald Reagan was seen by many as a right-winger and too conservative to win. But once the economy takes over, it's basically an anybody-but-the-president.

SIMON: OK. NPR's Ken Rudin. Thanks so much.

RUDIN: Thanks, Scott.

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