Week In Politics: Economy, GOP Primary Race

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. They discuss the economy and the GOP primary race.

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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, welcome back to you both.

E.J. DIONNE: Good to be here.

DAVID BROOKS: Thank you.

BLOCK: E.J., let's start with the jobs numbers that we just heard about, a drop to 8.6 percent in unemployment. A solid indicator for President Obama or is it more a case of, you know, been down so long it looks like up to me?

DIONNE: Maybe a little of both, but it's just so good after months and months and months of sitting here on some Fridays and talking about awful jobs reports to have one that is pretty good. You know, Floyd Norris writing in the New York Times this afternoon made a point that the unemployment rate is falling among workers with lower levels of education. That's good news. The number of long term unemployed workers is starting to fall. That's really good news, too. That's the part of the country that most needs relief.

But as your piece pointed out, there are a lot of discouraged workers, which adds to - sort of gave an artificial look of improvement. Still, this is a whole lot better than anything we've been talking about for a while.

BLOCK: And David, when we think about these numbers, we've been talking a lot about the economy and, obviously, the presidential campaign to come. The Obama campaign has been talking a lot about the demographics that it feels it can stitch together successfully in 2012. How do you see this playing into that campaign?

BROOKS: Well, I think they've more or less quite rightly given up on the white working class. Ohio, Pennsylvania, those are going to be tough. They have to try to get the suburban voters. And I'm still a little down on this job market, this job report. Losing 315,000 people from the labor force, people don't vote on the headline number. They vote on their lived experience. And if the 55-year-old guy next door is not even looking for work, that's bad.

And so I still think it's kind of negative. I think the good news today is I did a lot of reporting on what's happening in Europe and I thought a European collapse would really sink the Obama presidency and all incumbents. And today, there's pretty good news on that. I think there's more confidence than before that they're heading towards some sort of settlement in Europe. There's less likely to be a euro crash and so the good news is from Europe. I think the job report's a little negative.

BLOCK: Let's move on, if we can, and talk about the ever-surprising Republican presidential campaign with the ascendancy we've been talking about for a few weeks now of Newt Gingrich. Does this have staying power, David Brooks? Where is Newt Gingrich headed and how long will he be a player?

BROOKS: Yeah, of all the flaky non-Romneys, he's the best. He's the most impressive. Romney is really weak among these high school educated voters and he's showing a little brittleness. He gave an interview this week to Bret Baier of Fox News where he was really unattractive. He used one sentence that drove me up a wall. Baier accused him of begin a flip-flopper, which is not exactly novel, and Romney said, well, we should be a little bit better more informed about my policies. Using the royal we.

BLOCK: We, we.

BROOKS: Like, we should be eating our broccoli, Bret. And he was condescending. And if he doesn't do any medium and he finally does one and comes off kind of unattractive, that's a problem. And Gingrich, I still think he'll implode. He's still Newt Gingrich. One moment doesn't lead to the next with Gingrich. It's one thing after another, but he's strong. Romney, moreover, weaker than he's looked in months.

BLOCK: It wasn't so long, E.J., that the Gingrich campaign was written off. His campaign staff had, as we said, imploded and disappeared, taken the high road.

DIONNE: Well, we're going to have a weird campaign if we have one candidate who uses the royal we and Newt Gingrich who always refers - seems to always refer to himself in the third person, as Newt Gingrich, and often as a world historical figure. This is a very weird campaign. I think conservatives desperately wanted Rick Perry to be the guy and then Rick Perry imploded and everything has followed from that implosion. And now, of course, we have Herman Cain supporters lose, I think, or what looks like Herman Cain supporters, who'll be loose.

And I think the significance of that is that they will probably, for the time being, go to Gingrich. Can Gingrich be disciplined between now and January 3rd, the date of the Iowa Caucus? That is the question in the Republican primary.

BLOCK: You mentioned Herman Cain and then again, a candidacy that it just seems to be stranger by the minute. David Brooks, what do you make of the week with Herman Cain?

BROOKS: You're a guy who's had several sexual assault or charges made against you, you run for president...

BLOCK: Harassment.

BROOKS: ...harassment. And you think it's not going to come out? It's a level of self-deception that is bizarre. You should have some self awareness of what's going to come out if you run for president and he apparently didn't think this through or thought he was running for talk radio host. But you know, I think we've seen him crater, if you look at the polls, dropping quite fast.

BLOCK: In a very public sort of self-examination of when he's going to be making this announcement and whether he will or will not stay in the race, E.J.?

DIONNE: Well, I think he's got a fascinating new approach to scandal management, which is I deny that's true. There's no truth to it. Now, what are those charges again? I mean, you had one day where he was saying, no, this is wrong. And his lawyer was saying, well, these charges shouldn't be part of the public discourse; they're personal and they were consensual. So it was a consensual non-affair? I mean, it's remarkable.

I guess I was never one who took this candidacy seriously for having long-term staying power. But I think Cain is obviously himself fascinated by all the attention he's gotten and he just can't stand getting out of the limelight, even though that's what he's going to do. Although, as always, he'll probably end up on Fox News or somewhere with a wide following.

BLOCK: A moment also to bring up the name Jon Huntsman, which we haven't talked about for a little while and, in particular, a song, I've been looking forward to listening to this with you guys all day.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HUNTSMAN'S BACK")

MARY ANNE, ABBY, AND LIDDY HUNTSMAN: (Rapping) Hey, hey, Mitt, what do you got to say?

MITT ROMNEY: I believe that abortion should be safe and legal.

M., A., & L. HUNTSMAN: Tell us, Newt, what's your game?

NEWT GINGRICH: Mickey Mouse games.

M., A., & L. HUNTSMAN: Rick Perry, what's your stance?

GOVERNOR RICK PERRY: I stepped in it, man.

M., A., & L. HUNTSMAN: Dr. Paul and Michele...

BLOCK: Okay, so those are three of Jon Huntsman's daughters with a song apparently not authorized by the campaign, who are saying that they've gone rogue. It's their version of the Justin Timberlake song "Sexy Back." They're calling it "Huntsman's Back."

David Brooks, wishful thinking on their part? What do you think?

BROOKS: Yeah, I'm a 19th century guy. Unless you're as cool as Justin Timberlake, don't do Justin Timberlake.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BROOKS: It's why the Mormon Tabernacle Choir does not do Kanye West.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BROOKS: And so, I like dignity in daughters.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BROOKS: And so, I never like these moments.

BLOCK: Hmm, E.J.?

DIONNE: I, first of all, this is the first time we've given something close to a minute to Jon Huntsman, so good for the daughters.

BLOCK: They'd probably we rather be talking about something else.

DIONNE: And the second, the Republican base is going to react exactly as that 19th century figure David Brooks just did.

BLOCK: Not bringing in the younger demographics, you don't think.

BROOKS: No.

BLOCK: All right, thanks. You both have a great weekend.

BROOKS: Thank you.

DIONNE: You, too.

BLOCK: E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and David Brooks of The New York Times.

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