Week In Politics: Hillary Clinton Makes History NPR's Robert Siegel speaks with our regular political commentators, E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post and the Brookings Institution and David Brooks of The New York Times. They discuss the latest in the presidential race.

Week In Politics: Hillary Clinton Makes History

Week In Politics: Hillary Clinton Makes History

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NPR's Robert Siegel speaks with our regular political commentators, E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post and the Brookings Institution and David Brooks of The New York Times. They discuss the latest in the presidential race.


In the presidential race, it has been a landmark week. On Tuesday, Hillary Clinton won decisively in Democratic contests in California and three other states, and she celebrated her historic breakthrough.


HILLARY CLINTON: The first time in our nation's history that a woman will be a major party's nominee.


SIEGEL: The same night, Donald Trump, admonished by leading Republicans, was uncharacteristically scripted and faithful to his teleprompter.


DONALD TRUMP: We're only getting started, and it's going to be beautiful. Remember that.


SIEGEL: We're going to hear about both candidates from our Friday regulars, columnists David Brooks of The New York Times, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution. Good to see you both.

E J DIONNE: Great to be with you.

SIEGEL: This week, we saw the importance of political relationships. Let's start with Hillary Clinton and the man who gave her her biggest endorsement, President Obama.


BARACK OBAMA: Look, I know how hard this job can be. That's why I know Hillary will be so good at it. In fact, I don't think there's ever been someone so qualified to hold this office.

SIEGEL: And he says he cannot wait to get out there and campaign for Clinton.

E.J., how do you describe their relationship?

DIONNE: You know, I was thinking of how fierce competitors who confront each other and come to respect each other - Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, maybe someday Steph Curry and LeBron James - and I think there's something like that going on with Obama and Clinton. There's also the fact that the Clintons did two big favors for Barack Obama. She took the job of secretary of state, which was a unifying thing. The best defense of Barack Obama in 2012 was probably Bill Clinton's speech at the Democratic National Convention, and now they have a powerful shared interest because Obama's legacy will really only be secured if a Democrat - and that will be Hillary Clinton - is elected president. So I think he had his heart in this but he also had a lot of self-interest invested in making sure she wins.

SIEGEL: David, do you think it'll help her to be seen as being so close to Obama as opposed to being an agent of change?

DAVID BROOKS: Yeah. He's 20 points more popular than she is in some key states - some of the New England, New Hampshire-type states where he's popular and she's much less popular. She had a great week. You know, all the endorsements came in - Elizabeth Warren, Obama. You're seeing the gathering of the chieftains of the Democratic Party. And it was a great, inspiring week, but this is not a great year for chieftains. And so I'm not sure how much endorsements will help her, especially because I still do not think she has a purpose to her candidacy that general election voters know about. And so I'm mostly struck, frankly, by how weak she is in the polls given all that's happened. When you do the three-way polls, she's down, in some of them, 39, 40. Trump's in the middle. And then Gary Johnson's surging to 10.

SIEGEL: The Libertarian candidate.

BROOKS: Right. So you're beginning - so the two main candidates are so weak, you could have a third-party candidate. I really think it's plausible. I think Gary Johnson could get up and if he gets a role and actually runs a good campaign, he could get to 12 and, I mean, a significant candidacy.

DIONNE: I think there is a chance for a strong third-party showing just on the basis of the low approvals. But you already saw Hillary Clinton start climbing up this week. She's just coming out of the competition with Bernie Sanders. A Democrat I talked to said, look, at worse, this is the imperfect versus the insane is how the Democrat sees the fight between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. And in the last couple of weeks, Trump has fed into that Democratic narrative. And, you know, it's interesting, a year ago or six months ago, Barack Obama's endorsement might not have meant as much, but his popularity has steadily gone up. And he's very important, as Bernie Sanders will be, in turning out the younger voters she still needs 'cause I still think Obama has strong standing with younger Americans that she doesn't yet.

SIEGEL: Let's turn to a complex Republican relationship - one that you write about today, David - Donald Trump and his party's congressional leaders. The Speaker of the House Paul Ryan called Trump's comments about Judge Gonzalo Curiel textbook racist remarks. But then later, on ABC's "Good Morning America," he reaffirmed his support of the nominee.


PAUL RYAN: Here's the question I ask - do I believe that these principles and these policies that flow from those principles have a better chance of making the law with Donald Trump than Hillary Clinton? Absolutely, I do believe that.

SIEGEL: David, you wrote today, Paul Ryan and the Republicans can try to be loyal to Trump, but he won't be loyal to them.

BROOKS: Yeah, I think Ryan's position is completely untenable. It's untenable first in a working - and just pragmatically. I wrote today that being loyal or united with Donald Trump is like being united with a tornado. It just doesn't work. Trump is a sole diva. He betrays and belittles and degrades everybody who's tried to befriend him. So he doesn't do the cooperation thing, and so you can't be loyal to that. And then Ryan's position is just morally wrong. To be united with a person on policy grounds even though you think he's a racist is to invert the normal values of humanity. The normal values of humanity and of candidates is that culture and character come first, and that's fundamental and foundational, and candidates have to pass a basic threshold as a decent human being before you can even think about their policies. And you can't paper over a moral chasm because you agree with their tax reform plan.

SIEGEL: But can you imagine, is there a position for Paul Ryan? I'm speaker of the house, I'm chairman of the convention, I'm highest-elected Republican official. I don't support the party's nominee. Is that conceivable?

BROOKS: I think that's where he'll get to the point where he nominally supports the nominee but they run an entirely separate campaign because there's no cooperation and no reciprocity Donald Trump.

SIEGEL: E.J., what do you think about it?

DIONNE: I mean, endorsing Donald Trump means always having to say you're sorry. And this is going to happen over and over again in this campaign. You know, and one edition of the New York Daily News took those quotes and the front cover of the Daily News was, I'm With Racist. That's not a cover that that Paul Ryan is going to say, but Trump has Republicans in a box because if they can't seem to get rid of him as the nominee without splitting the party, he's got support from enough of the Republican base, probably 50 or 60 percent of the party, that if they oppose him they're going to face real problems turning out their own voters or winning their own voters in their own races. But if they don't back away from him, they may face other problems in the fall. This is a terrible, terrible problem for them, and I think that Ryan's difficulty in, you know, his anomalous combination of sentiments reflects this awful bind they're in.

BROOKS: Yeah. And I would just say it depends on what you think of this moment. If this is a temporary moment, Trump goes away, then maybe you can hug him and go on with the rest of your life. But if this is, like, the Civil Rights Act that's going to define politics for many more decades to come then you really have to separate yourself from...

SIEGEL: In the past, you've written about it as a McCarthy moment.

BROOKS: Yeah, I do think it's a Joe McCarthy moment or a Dietrich Bonhoeffer against Hitler moment - well, I don't want to compare him to Hitler. That's a little over the top. But Dietrich Bonhoeffer-type heroism is required.


SIEGEL: David Brooks and E.J. Dionne, thanks to both of you.

BROOKS: Thank you.

DIONNE: Thank you.

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