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Week In Politics: Outsider Presidential Candidates, Joe Biden On 'Colbert'

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Week In Politics: Outsider Presidential Candidates, Joe Biden On 'Colbert'

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Week In Politics: Outsider Presidential Candidates, Joe Biden On 'Colbert'

Week In Politics: Outsider Presidential Candidates, Joe Biden On 'Colbert'

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NPR's 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 appeal of outsider presidential candidates and Joe Biden's appearance on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And now for more politics, I'm joined by our regular Friday commentators, E.J. Dionne, of The Washington Post.

Hey there, E.J.

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

CORNISH: And David Brooks, of The New York Times.

Welcome back, David.

DAVID BROOKS: Thank you.

CORNISH: We're going to hear more reaction to the Iran vote elsewhere in the program, but I want to move away from Capitol Hill and talk about the campaign trail, mainly because voters don't look to Capitol Hill for presidents anymore. They're looking a lot more to outsiders, to the political establishment - something that you both have written about. And I want to talk to you about why you think that is. And David, to start, you talk about this idea that it's not about governing for voters but about self-expression.

BROOKS: Yeah, people used to nominate the candidates who had served the party for a long time, you know, the Hubert Humphreys or Bill Clintons or Ronald Reagans, George Bushs. And party service and service to the party was an essential element of getting the parties' votes. But now on the Republican side, half the Republican voters are supporting Donald Trump and Ben Carson, who are either against the party are totally outside the party. And a lot of Democrats are supporting Bernie Sanders, who's a different kind of candidate but who is sort of an independent. And so they're not honoring the party, they're honoring the individual, and that's a bad thing, I think.

Parties are very effective coalitions, sometimes illogical coalitions, but coalitions of people that create majorities. And you need majorities to get things passed. You need governing majorities. And only a party can do that. Individuals can't do that. Individuals can just make statements. And so what's happening in our more individualistic society is we're supporting individuals and not parties, and I think that's going to make the country even more ungovernable.

CORNISH: And E.J., for you this is not just about establishment handwringing, right, over Donald Trump and the like? What do you see as the issue here?

DIONNE: Well, this is clearly a phenomenon that's sweeping through, and - I think David agrees on this - sweeping through all of the Democratic countries. I think of it as it a Yeats moment. It's one of - you always quote Yeats's poem, "The Second Coming," the best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity.

And things fall apart. The center cannot hold. And I think what you're seeing is that in country after country, traditional, broadly-based parties and their politicians face scorn. And I think the collapse - the economic collapse in 2008 and the trouble everybody's having to get their footing again is that the heart of these problems - in good times, moderate-right parties can defend capitalism, moderate-left parties can spread around money and redistribute it, but when capitalists behave badly, the center-right has trouble defending the economic establishment and the moderate-left faces a harder left. You see it in Syriza, to some degree Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn, the - who's a left-wing frontrunner to lead the Labour Party in Britain. They all have strong grounds for attacking the system.

And lastly, in tough times, immigration becomes a much more powerful issue as it is both here and in Europe we spend a lot more time arguing about who us is and who them are. I think all those things are coming together in the democratic countries.

CORNISH: I want to talk about this more over the summer as these poll numbers (laughter) change, but there is one establishment figure who's getting a lot of buzz, and that's Vice President Joe Biden. And I want to talk about him 'cause last night he made an appearance on Stephen Colbert's "Late Show." He gave a lengthy and personal interview and he also talked about coping with the death of his son, Beau.

Now, at one point, he was asked about whether or not he might run for president and whether - about his emotional capacity to do so, and his answer came by way of this story about a trip to a Denver military base while he was shaking hands with servicemen and women and their families.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT")

JOE BIDEN: I was thanking them, and I really meant it. This 1 percent is fighting for 99 percent of the rest of us. And I was talking about them being the backbone and sinew of this country and all of this, and it was going great. And a guy in the back yells, Major Beau Biden, bronze star, sir. Served with him in Iraq. And all of a sudden, I lost it. How could you - that's not - I shouldn't be saying this.

CORNISH: I shouldn't be saying this. E.J., what did you think when you saw this?

DIONNE: It's one of Joe Biden's greatest lines. I mean, the - and, you know, just to go back to your earlier conversation, everyone says these days they long for authenticity even if people seem to fake it in some cases. I mean, with Joe Biden, I don't think people think he's faking it at all. And hearing him, I think there is a genuine struggle going on with him. I think a lot of him would like to run for president. He's done it twice. He clearly would like to be president. I think he thinks he's the right guy for this moment. But he is genuinely - and I've got to say, I'd be totally wrecked if I lost one of my kids. He is really still in a lot of pain, and I think what he said was true. I think he really wonders whether he can make a race for president feeling the pain he does about his son.

CORNISH: David...

BROOKS: Well, he's a beautiful man. To cover his campaign is to travel with his whole family and to be embraced by a family. He's very much a family man who quotes his mom and dad constantly.

That interview reminded me - or it occurred to me that I may have said something on this program that was completely wrong. I said a couple weeks ago that this is an anti-establishment year and a guy like Joe Biden was not going to appeal through the electorate. And he is an establishment guy, but he's different. In that interview, you saw that he's different. He's uncontrolled in his emotion. He's open in his emotion. He is authentic. And so maybe he has that mixture of complete authenticity, complete comfortableness in himself. He's not artificial. He's not canned, ever - and incapable of being that. And some governing experience. So maybe it is his year.

And the other thing that may have happened over the last eight years - the guy we knew in the Senate was, frankly, undisciplined. But over the eight years as vice president, he might be the only human being who has actually improved and helped by holding that office.

DIONNE: (Laughter).

BROOKS: And so he may have been disciplined by that and be authentic enough to appeal to people, so maybe this is his year. It's worth considering the Biden candidate. He might be a very viable thing.

CORNISH: In our short time left, I want to remember Andy Kohut, founder of the Pew Research Center, frequent guest on this program, and his passing.

And E.J., you've written about this. What do you see as his legacy?

DIONNE: I'm heart-sick 'cause I - Andy was one of the best people in Washington, and he was an extraordinary person 'cause at a time when the rule is here are the opinions on which I base my facts, Andy was relentlessly fact-driven. His contribution to the common good was going to be to produce real information that people could rely on. And I think every good pollster has to have what Andy has, and I don't think all of us have this. He was a small D - emphasis on small D - Democrat to his bones. He used to admonish people who claimed that opinions of the public work were foolish or irrational. And he thought the pollster's job was to understand why people arrived at their judgments. The other way in which he was Democratic is he treated everyone equally and knew he had something to learn from everyone. I will so miss him and I think our republic will too.

CORNISH: David, last word to you.

BROOKS: Yeah, he was passionate about his subject while being disciplined and self-effacing in the way he presented it, and so he was one of those people you could completely go to. Under his leadership, the Pew Research Center became the premier polling organization in the country, which, you know, E.J. and I cited in zillions of columns just 'cause the data and the analysis was so good.

He was especially good early on in identifying how important partisanship was getting and how important polarization was getting in this election. And he sort of led the pack in helping us understand what was going on in the country and how we were polarizing.

CORNISH: Thank you for your thoughts on Andrew Kohut. He died Tuesday in Baltimore. He was 73.

E.J. Dionne, of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution, thank you.

DIONNE: Thank you.

CORNISH: And David Brooks, of The New York Times, thanks so much for being here.

BROOKS: Thank you.

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