Week In Politics: Republican National Convention

Audie Cornish speaks with regular political commentators, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution, and David Brooks of The New York Times. They discuss the presidential campaign, Todd Akin and the upcoming Republican National Convention in Tampa.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And for more on the politics of the week, we turn to our commentators, columnist E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution. Hi, E.J.

E.J. DIONNE: How are you?

CORNISH: And David Brooks of the New York Times. Hi there.

DAVID BROOKS: Hello.

CORNISH: So before we get to the politics of the convention, I want to pick apart some of the controversies of the week, beginning with one brewing today, Mitt Romney making this comment before voters at a rally in the suburbs of Detroit.

MITT ROMNEY: Now, I love being home in this place where Ann and I were raised, where both of us were born. Ann was born in Henry Ford Hospital. I was born at Harper Hospital. No one's ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know that this is place that we were born and raised.

CORNISH: Now, immediately, the response by Democrats and liberals is that Romney's wading into the whole birther territory. The Obama campaign released a statement saying Governor Romney's decision to directly enlist himself in the birther movement should give pause to any rational voter across America. Romney campaign saying basically, calm down, it's only a joke. David, I see you laughing. Does that mean you think it's funny?

BROOKS: Enlist in the birth movement, no. I mean, he told a joke. Maybe it was in bad taste. It's sort of the junior high phase of the campaign. Earlier in the week, the Priorities U.S.A., the Obama sort of affiliated superPAC, called Romney a murderer and Stephanie Cutter, Obama spokesman, called him a felon. So they get in the phase where they say, oh, we're going to rattle their cage and we seem to have entered that junior high phase and we can expect it to get worse.

CORNISH: E.J.?

DIONNE: I guess I can't write it off that easily. I mean, Mitt Romney has steadily moved to the right of where he used to be on almost every issue and you thought he could at least hold the line on not making jokes about birtherism because, yeah, maybe he thought it was funny but I don't think it was particularly funny. And I just don't think it - it just reinforces the sense that Romney will do what he has to do to win.

CORNISH: But the Romney campaign has said they very much believe that Barack Obama was born in the U.S. and can be president. It's not as though they're wandering back into that argument. They're making light of it.

DIONNE: Right. But if so, why did he say that? Maybe it's just - I think what it goes to also is there's always been an awkwardness, which I think even some - many of Romney's supporters have talked about. If you're going to make a joke, make a good joke or don't make a joke at all.

CORNISH: That's tough for the campaign trail, I'll say, going by the last couple of months. Let's get to something that's just been obviously brewing all week, the controversy over Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin. Akin triggered calls across the board to drop out of the race after he told an interviewer that conception is rare in cases of what he called legitimate rape because women's bodies are often able to prevent pregnancies. Yet another news story in which I am talking about men talking about reproduction.

I don't know what's going on this year. Congressman Akin held a press conference this afternoon. He reaffirmed his decision to stay in the race. Now, how has this saga affected the Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan team? David?

BROOKS: Yeah, I think zero. I think there's zero evidence it had any effect on the presidential race. If you look at the polls, Romney's had a reasonably good week. He's up in a lot of the swing states. He's like slightly behind Obama, but slightly up. Most people, you know, they live in areas with Republicans. They know Republicans, some of them say stupid things, others don't. I think they're perfectly able to divorce the two.

DIONNE: I think it was a very bad thing for Mitt Romney. I think they're more worried about hurricane Todd than hurricane Isaac. And it just took over the week before the convention. It was the dominant political news story. It raised some issues about what Paul Ryan had co-sponsored in Congress, including a redefinition of rape. And it called more attention to the Republican platform than would have been paid without this. So I think it was more consequential.

But does it decide the election? No. But it's not what Mitt Romney wanted all of us talking about here or anywhere else in the week before the Republican Convention.

CORNISH: That was my question. I mean, this summer, I thought they were going to spend their time hammering Barack Obama about the economy and sort of unpacking the failures there. Instead, there have been all kinds of detours, from the criticized foreign trip to Ryan's entitlement programs to the abortion comments. Now we're talking birthers. I mean, is this what they really want to be talking about going into the convention?

BROOKS: Yeah, no. But what's striking, as I say, is when you look at the polls in the swing states and the general races, first of all, there's been very little movement at all. There's very little movement in the electorate at all. But what movement that there's been in the last week has been slightly toward Romney. And I'm very struck by, as we go into the conventions, what kind of bounce he gets because usually a candidate gets a bounce of about five percentage points.

Clinton set the record by getting like 12 or 18 out of his first convention. That was huge. Some people like John Kerry get little. But if Romney can get a five-point bounce, I'd be very surprised because I think the electorate is so locked in, there are so few undecideds.

CORNISH: Well, also, there are so few days that are going to be carried and not very many hours of the convention. I mean, how much of a bounce can you get?

DIONNE: Right, I think it's going to be very hard to get a bounce, a big bounce out of this convention partly because people aren't watching them as much as they used to be. Even when it carried on many channels, people are so polarized that they tend much more to watch their own party's convention than the other party's convention.

And, by the way, they have a lot more options now. They can watch a game rather than the party convention. And I think Romney really has a lot hanging here because he hasn't used the primaries or the early part of the campaign to introduce himself. He's done a lot of negative against all his opponents, both in the primary and against Obama. This is still his best chance to reintroduce himself, and it's a harder venue than it used to be.

CORNISH: We just have a few seconds left. The one issue you want to hear about next week at the convention, the lightning round.

BROOKS: The emotional core of Mitt Romney.

DIONNE: I do want to know who he is because I don't think we know, after all of the transformations over the last 20 years.

CORNISH: All right, well, thanks to you both.

DIONNE: Thank you.

BROOKS: Thank you.

CORNISH: E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution, and David Brooks of The New York Times.

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