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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Some people are still here and sticking around for a while, among them columnist David Brooks of The New York Times.

Welcome back, David.

Mr. DAVID BROOKS (Columnist, The New York Times): Good to be here.

SIEGEL: And even though E.J. Dionne is down under at this moment, his colleague Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post is here in town.

Ms. RUTH MARCUS (Columnist, The Washington Post): Thanks for having me.

SIEGEL: Good to see you again.

First, David Brooks. Rove, Hastert, Pryce - is the political future's market looking bearish for Republicans?

Mr. BROOKS: All this loss of talent could put their fantastic winning streak at risk. No, it is part of the decline. Partly, it's no fun being in the minority. It's no fun being in a White House that has run its course. So, there's a lot of reasons people are going. And what strikes me, looking back at Hastert, he is not the problem with the Republican Party, but he didn't do anything to stop the problem.

And the Republican Congress was in slow, ideological, moral decline for three or four years. They could have done lobbying reform. They could have done spending reform. They were strangely immobilized during much of his speakership. And it's sort of a mystery. And I think the answer is they were living in a cocoon, as Karl Rove, at the end of his time, was living in a cocoon and didn't realize what was happening to the party.

SIEGEL: His speakership was the longest of any Republican ever.

Ms. MARCUS: It was the longest, but that might have been, actually, for the very reason that David identifies was that he didn't actually really seize the speakership. He didn't use the speakership either to sort of drive a particular agenda forward or to be - to serve as what is, at least true in the ideal, to be the speaker of the whole House. Instead, he sort of laid back and let the majority leader, Tom DeLay, pretty much run the show. And in a way that I think was run in the end to the demerit of the Republicans.

SIEGEL: I'd like to hear both of your thoughts about Karl Rove leaving the White House. As, David, you said this is not an exciting time to be in the White House, but assessing the role of this man who has achieved legendary dimensions, at least for his critics he has, how significant was the role of Karl Rove in this administration?

Mr. BROOKS: Yeah. He is not this Rasputin of the White House. A lot of people who've talk about him have never actually interviewed the guy. Don't actually know what he's like. He's a relentlessly cheerful figure. He's incredibly well educated, a rarity in Washington. If you want to have a debate about Henry Clay, he's your man. As for his public role, the polarizing effect he had on American politics is indisputable and will be the chief demerit of his political life. On the other hand, technically, in getting Republicans to win, he was a master and he did it by getting neighbors to talk to neighbors. And that is how you win voters. And that was important.

SIEGEL: You mean getting Ohioans to talk to Ohioans.

Mr. BROOKS: Right. Not sending in supporters from New Jersey.

SIEGEL: And not people coming - and supporters coming in from New Jersey.

Mr. BROOKS: Not sending professionals.

Ms. MARCUS: Precisely.

Mr. BROOKS: And then finally, just on substance. I actually think he had quite a lot of the right ideas. He tried to make the Republicans a reform party -immigration reform, prescription drug reform, Social Security reform. And he was thwarted in many ways. But if they had followed his advice a little better, I think the party would be in better shape.

Ms. MARCUS: And I think that one of the biggest regrets that Karl Rove has to have as he leaves is one of the things that David mentions, which is immigration reform. If you look at his vision for the party and the party's future in winning a bigger slice of the largest growing share of the electorate and - which was a positive vision and I think the correct vision, one of the things on which Karl Rove and I can agree, and where he sees his party going now. That has to be a huge, huge regret on his part.

On the other hand, there's been a lot of talk this week about where Karl Rove failed - failed in building a permanent Republican majority. The presidency that he helped engineer for two terms is not, at least right now, does not look like it's going to viewed as a successful presidency. But I was struck as I listen to him talk over the last few days at how much he has - the architect has actually teed up a foundation, at least for the fall.

The Democratic Congress is going to find itself in a very tough spot, partly, of Karl Rove's devising, I suspect, in terms of looking like they are: A, weak on national security, they're going to have this tough FISA thing, and B, looking like they're big tax and spenders. The president's talking about vetoing a lot of spending bills. And that is - you can see the mark of Rove, as it were, in that.

SIEGEL: So you think his influence will live on beyond his presence in the White House?

Ms. MARCUS: He's not going to quietly fade away.

SIEGEL: I'd like to hear what both of you make of the various people who would like to occupy the White House after George Bush. David, anything happening out there on either - in either parties primary - pre-primary campaigning that strikes you as noteworthy?

Mr. BROOKS: Well, I've been - I spent this week in Iowa at Pocahontas, Iowa and Manly, Iowa. I'm a manly man. I try to go to Manly, Iowa.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BROOKS: One of the things that struck me was: A, in the polls they reflect some stability - Clinton, Obama, Edwards - but when you actually talk to voters, there's much more parking. People are supporting someone for now, but they're very flexible to moving. I ran into a number of people who really think Joe Biden knows the most about foreign affairs. They don't support him because they don't he could win. But if they thought he could win, they would swing over to him. And it's important to remember, four years ago, John Kerry was dead in the water. And so I came away thinking there's a lot more volatility.

The other thing you get is listening to the crowds - what they're asking about. Democratic crowds in almost every forum I went to, somebody asked about immigration. And they asked from an anti-immigration point of view and it strikes the power of that issue. And the final (unintelligible) of the question that was never asked at any forum I was at - at these Democratic forums - was on the war on terror - on terrorism. And Democrats are not holding their candidates to the fire and what they're going to do about al-Qaida.

SIEGEL: Ruth Marcus, thoughts about the primary season?

Ms. MARCUS: Well, I think one of the things that we're starting to see in this primary season is the part that makes it fun for folks like David and I, which is a little bit more engagement and a little bit more, kind of, hard-knuckle politics between the candidates.

SIEGEL: And they're messing it up a little bit right now.

Ms. MARCUS: And I think that's because even though while these voters may be temporarily parked, they are - the race is kind of sorting itself out, especially on the Democratic side. Senator Clinton has a pretty substantial lead nationally and in certain key states, and on the Republican side you're seeing, at least until Fred Thompson gets into the race, a sort of narrowing to some extent of that field. And so you're seeing some elbows getting thrown and that's fun.

On the Republican side, it was not surprisingly on the subject of immigration because their voters, like many Democratic voters, are riled up about it. And you saw the spectacle of two - a governor, Governor Romney and a mayor, Mayor Giuliani who would've been very, very pro-immigration and understanding of the importance of immigration in American society, really trying to...

SIEGEL: You mean back to their old jobs, you're saying.

Ms. MARCUS: In their old jobs, really trying to outdo each other on who is going to spend most of his presidency kind of sitting by the border with binoculars and a big shotgun...

SIEGEL: Yeah.

Ms. MARCUS: ...to defend ourselves. And on the Republicans - on the Democratic side, you saw a little bit more elbows thrown, particularly by Senator Obama in talking about who is going to do the best job of getting the country together.

SIEGEL: David, you want to say?

Mr. BROOKS: Well, I was just going to agree with Ruth about - I do think the big story this year, so far, is Hillary Clinton. It was not automatic she would be this good a candidate. I saw her on the AFL-CIO forum recently, she gives a substance to her speech. She has the best campaign ad. It's about the invisibility of the American people. And it's the best ad I've seen in years.

SIEGEL: I just want to ask both of you very quickly, are there potential political consequences of what we're seeing on the markets this week, of the problems with credit and the subprime housing, the ripples from that? David?

Mr. BROOKS: I don't think so. As I said, there were no questions about that in Iowa. I think people don't understand it. I don't understand it.

Ms. MARCUS: I think people are edgy. I think they - if they don't have irrational exuberance, they have semi-rational anxiety. And I think that the president has never been able to really get the benefit, or his party, of the good economy that he's had. And I think that sort of underscores the desire for change.

SIEGEL: Well, Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post and David Brooks of the New York Times. Thanks to both of you and enjoy the rest of your August.

Mr. BROOKS: Thank you.

Ms. MARCUS: Thanks.

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