Week In Politics: Gingrich, Debt Panel

Melissa Block speaks with our regular political commentators, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution and David Brooks of The New York Times.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And now to our regular Friday political commentators, E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post and David Brooks of The New York Times. Hello, both.

DAVID BROOKS: Hello.

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

BLOCK: The scrutiny of Newt Gingrich's financial involvement with the health care companies that Julie was talking about follows revelations that he was also paid big bucks, at least $1.6 million, by Freddie Mac, the federally sponsored mortgage giant, after he left Congress. David, how do you see this affecting his campaign?

BROOKS: Yeah. He said he was paid by Freddie Mac for being a historian.

BLOCK: First (unintelligible).

BROOKS: If he would have been an anthropologist it would have been three million. What's interesting about him is that this has always been an oddity of Gingrich. He has a lot of good ideas. He's a fountain of ideas, some of them good, some of them bad. But whatever comes out of his mouth at one moment is completely disconnected with what comes out of it the next moment. And so there's wild discontinuities in what he believes and what he says. And here we have the anti-Washington candidate who was, in fact, an extremely typical, in fact, one of the most egregious Washington lobbyists that it's possible to imagine.

And the interesting thing about the polls is, and we've seen this before in the Republican race, the knife goes in that's going to really take apart take apart their campaign - we saw it with Herman Cain, but it takes about a week for the polls to reflect that. And so I think that Gingrich's rise is sort of on the borrowed time phase. He's about to fall.

BLOCK: E.J., Newt Gingrich told an audience yesterday in Florida that he did no lobbying of any kind, no influence peddling of any kind. He was offering strategic advice. Do you think voters see it that way?

DIONNE: Well, I was struck in the Washington Post story where if you gave a certain amount of money to his Center For Health Transformation, you were promised, quote, "direct Newt interaction." I wonder what other kinds of people would sell direct interaction like that. I mean, it looks like a classic Washington thing and I think - I don't agree with David. I agree with pretty much what he said, except that I don't see him falling that quickly because they're running out of alternatives to Romney.

But Newt has been so ferocious, so over the top in assailing ethics of opponents over the years that it's going to be harder for him to come out and say, well, you'll have to understand what I do because - why I did this and there's nothing wrong here. Because when other people said that, Newt was right on top of them, so I think that's what's going to hurt him. And you've already seen some of those old Newt clips attacking other people on television and the radio.

BLOCK: Alternatives to Romney you mentioned and, David, you mentioned the sort of flames of attention that different candidates have gotten suddenly. First, Michele Bachmann, then Rick Perry, Herman Cain, now Newt Gingrich. What does that say to you about Republican voters and in particular about the frontrunner Mitt Romney?

BROOKS: Yeah, well, one thing it says about the campaign, it's a very campaign. Dan Bowls(ph) of the Washington Post has made this point. The amount of money these people are raising is miniscule. Together as candidates they're raising about a quarter of what the Republican candidates raised at this point four years ago. And the amount of campaigning they're doing is down, the amount of time they actually spend in Iowa and New Hampshire going to town hall meetings. So it's much less like a normal campaign, much more like a TV reality show, a series of debates.

And so these Cain/Gingrich candidates do well in that. And then, there's the problem of Romney, which is the problem the Tea Party hasn't warmed up to him. And I think that's just the core of it. They see him as a Massachusetts guy who's been all over the place. The strength that, I think, he'll probably confront in the general are the weaknesses here. But I think he'll survive it. I think he's almost inevitable.

BLOCK: E.J.?

DIONNE: You know, I am still struck by how flat Romney is in the polls. That's just a real clear politics average today. Romney is still only at 22 percent after all of these other candidates collapsing and running into all kinds of trouble. And if you take Gingrich, Cain, Perry and Bachmann and add them all up, you know, they've got 54 percent. So it's better than two to one, the conservative non-Romneys keep getting support and that's been pretty steady, 45, 55 percent for the others.

So that vote sloshes around, but those people are still looking for someone other than Romney. And I'm waiting, still waiting, for the bounce for Mitt Romney.

BLOCK: Who could it be? Let's move on and talk about the congressional supercommittee. Their deadline is next Wednesday to reach a deal to cut $1.2 trillion from the deficit. It doesn't seem like they're - it doesn't seem they're anywhere close to being able to reach that deal. David, consequences if they don't? What do you see happening with the markets, the credit rating?

BROOKS: I guess - I think the markets have already factored in they won't reach a deal. It's pretty much conventional wisdom now. I think the markets will panic if they don't sequester, if they don't actually do these automatic cuts. Then, that'll be a sign of total fiscal irresponsibility. The political thing I don't think the country has factored it in, so I think there will be pain to be paid by all the incumbents of all sides, including Barack Obama, who's sort of stayed out of it, but we saw him hurt by the debt ceiling fight.

But if they don't come up with anything, I think we'll begin to look a lot more like Europe, more like what's happening in Spain, Italy, France and Greece. And I think there will be a further psychological blow. And this is at a moment when Congress is at 9 percent approval rating. As Colorado Senator Michael Bennet put it, Congress is less popular than Paris Hilton. More Americans think America should turn communist than like Congress.

BLOCK: Well, in this deal or no deal scenario, E.J., there are some saying, look, no deal would be better than what might emerge from the supercommittee. Paul Krugman predicting today in the - New York Times, excuse me, the supercommittee will fail and that's good.

DIONNE: Yes. I believe that no deal is far better than a bad deal, which I define and Krugman would define as a deal with no real revenue in it or very little revenue in it. I asked Jim Horney, at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, to figure out would happen if Congress did absolutely nothing between now and January 1st, 2013. And that's the way you get $7.1 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade, because the Bush tax cuts expire, other tax cuts expire, the sequester would go through if they don't act. So I don't think this is a catastrophe and I hope the markets don't react like that. This is not Greece.

I think what's going on here is Republicans want to save most of the Bush tax cuts, particularly for the wealthy, because they expire. And I think people saying - especially on the Democratic and liberal side, saying don't make a deal now. The pressure on behalf of more revenue gets greater and greater, as people who are looking at the prospect of all those tax cuts going away.

BLOCK: And last thought, briefly, as we head toward Thanksgiving, politically what are you thankful for, David Brooks?

BROOKS: Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, what a race.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: E.J. Dionne.

DIONNE: (unintelligible)

BLOCK: What are we thankful for? What are you thankful for as we head toward Thanksgiving?

DIONNE: Oh, I'm thankful for being here every week with you guys.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: And we're glad to have you here. E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution, David Brooks of The New York Times.

BROOKS: Thank you.

DIONNE: Thank you.

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