MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Now it's time for our Barbershop. That's where we bring together a bunch of interesting to talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. For this week's Barbershop, we decided to talk politics. So in the studio with me are Mona Charen, political analyst and syndicated columnist at National Review. She's also a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Institute. Mona, thank you for coming.
MONA CHAREN: My pleasure. Thanks for inviting me.
MARTIN: Also with us, our colleague Mara Liasson. She's NPR's national political correspondent. Hi Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi Michel.
MARTIN: And John Nichols writes about politics for The Nation. He's also associate editor of The Capital Times in Madison, Wisc. And he's joining us from Wisconsin Public Radio. John, good to have you with us as well.
JOHN NICHOLS: It's a pleasure to be with all of you.
MARTIN: So we wanted to look back on the big stories of the week in politics. So let's start with the Nevada Democratic Party convention. Supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders got angry over the results.
And they started protesting during and after the convention. And that included some chair throwing, which was kind of a shock, I think it's fair to say, to most people. Nobody was expecting that. So I just wanted to ask - what does this mean - what do you think this means? John, I'll start with you on this.
NICHOLS: I'll say a couple things about it. First off, you know, when you're in these sessions, you can often see a great deal of intensity and a great deal of passion. People do get angry. And these are some of the most engaged people in politics but not always the most experienced.
And so what you saw there was an expression of the great challenge with caucuses. And that is that you have that initial caucus night that everybody pays attention to. And then, as you move up the food chain - right? - you go to the county caucuses or the congressional district in some states, then the statewide events. People really do start to push and pull at one another.
It caused an immense amount of discussion over the week, people really, you know, starting to suggest that the Democratic Party was fraying and pulling apart and that things were going crazy. Then something interesting happened toward the end of the week, which is a New York Times poll came out, obviously taken during - New York Times-CBS poll - during some of this intensity. And it showed that 72 percent of the Sanders backers said they're likely to vote for Clinton. And they also, at The Times, noted that at this point in 2008, only 60 percent of Clinton backers said they were heading toward voting for Barack Obama.
MARTIN: So what does this mean for the convention?
NICHOLS: Well, what it turns out is the party is not so divided as, I think, a lot of the intense discussion coming out of Nevada reveals.
MARTIN: OK. Let's hear from Mona on this. Mona, what do think about that?
CHAREN: I think it's quite disturbing. Look, they'll knock on American politics - in some quarters in Europe, for example, over the last several decades has been oh, it's really dull. Everything takes place within the 40-yard lines. By contrast, I think that actually has been a terrific strength of the American two-party system - that we did resolve things peacefully, that people abided by the results. There was not this air of the potential menace of violence.
And this year, we've seen way too much of that. We've seen it, certainly, on the Republican side. We've seen it - that is, specifically from - and only from - but nevertheless, the putative nominee, from Donald Trump, where he has encouraged violence among his followers. And now you see it being given a wink and nod by Bernie Sanders. And it is a very, very worrying thing.
There is never an excuse for resorting to throwing chairs at people, no matter how frustrated you may be. And by the way, Bernie Sanders knew what the rules were when he entered this race. So the notion that he is somehow being double-crossed, I think, doesn't really ring true.
MARTIN: Do you think it's noteworthy, though, that a lot of this disorder happened at caucuses? And it seems like two sides of the coin. On the one hand, people will get very excited when people who have not previously participated get involved in the process.
CHAREN: Well, it's great to be excited when new people federal participate in the process. But what is that process? That process is peaceful democratic activism, voting and participation. It isn't violence, and it isn't the threat of violence.
And one of the things that may indeed have caused some Republicans to throw in the towel and say let's just nominate Trump is that he made explicit threats that if he were not the nominee that there would be violence in Cleveland.
MARTIN: So it's an appeal to thuggery...
MARTIN: ...In a way? Yeah. Mara Liasson, do you want to tie a bow on this, give us your thoughts on this?
LIASSON: I agree with John that if the president of 2008 happens again this year, they will be unified just like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton unified at the end of 2008. But the reason it happened in 2008 is that Hillary Clinton made a lot of dramatic gestures of unity. She endorsed him. She traveled to Unity, N.H., to appear with him.
And what a lot of Democrats are worried about is that Bernie Sanders won't do the same things after June 7 when it's clear that he will not be the nominee. So that's a big question mark. I also think that it wasn't just throwing chairs. It was the threats of violence in that recorded voicemail to the head of the state Democratic Party that was pretty scary.
And Sanders didn't apologize for any of it. He made a kind of pro forma condemnation of violence. But a lot of Democrats are worried. And they're worried that he's not willing to do the kind of fencemending that will have to happen after or at the convention, when I think he will be given his due. He will be given certain things in the platform. He'll be given a platform of his own to address the convention. And that's what has a lot of Democrats worried.
MARTIN: Let me just go on to the next topic because it also speaks to this whole question of tone. On Tuesday, the much-hyped sitdown with Fox News host Megyn Kelly and Donald Trump aired on Fox, of course. So this was Tuesday night. And here she is asking Trump about being bullied as a child. Here it is.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MEGYN KELLY: Most kids between the ages of 6 and 16 have been bullied at some point in their lives. Were you ever bullied?
DONALD TRUMP: No, I wasn't. But I have seen bullying. And bullying doesn't have to just as a child. I mean, I know people are bullied when they're 55 years old.
KELLY: It can happen when you're 45.
TRUMP: It's - you know, it happens, right? But you've got to get over it. Fight back, do whatever you have to do. I've been saying during this whole campaign that I'm a counterpuncher. You understand that. I'm responding.
Now, I then respond at times - maybe 10, I don't know - I mean, I respond pretty strongly. But in just about all cases, I've been responding to what they did to me.
MARTIN: Mona, your thoughts.
CHAREN: I have to tell you, I did not watch this interview until you asked me to and until you said you wanted to discuss it because I regard it as part of the soap operafication of politics. And we're all supposed to care about the personal relationship of these two individuals. Was there a single matter of public policy that came up during this debate? If there was, it was glancing.
This really is a soap opera. And now we're supposed to make our judgments about whether Donald Trump was kidding or whether they get along. I don't care if they get along. That's utterly irrelevant to me as a voter. And...
MARTIN: Well, I do want to mention though, Mona, you were one of the essayists in the National Review - National Review had a special very attention-getting issue earlier this year...
MARTIN: ...Where I think it was 24 essayists pieces about why Donald Trump is unfit for - so you are not a Trump fan.
MARTIN: Was there any value to this at all?
CHAREN: You know, we learned that in certain settings he can drop the sort of bullying braggadocio, although I did think it was amusing during that exchange about bullying. He said no, but I've seen bullying. And of course, the viewer's inclined to think right, you've been the bullier rather than...
MARTIN: Well, to me, that would've been the logical follow-up.
MARTIN: Do you consider yourself a bully?
MARTIN: I don't understand why that question wasn't asked. I don't know, but...
CHAREN: Well, except the whole premise of this interview was that the two of them have now - they have a concordat. So that seemed to me to be the subtext of this whole thing. But it doesn't teach us anything.
MARTIN: Mara, what about you? Did we learn anything?
LIASSON: I don't how much I have to add to this. A couple disclosures - I appear on Fox. I'm a panelist. I do think that Megyn Kelly has been a fair and hard-hitting journalist. The questions she asked Donald Trump in that first debate was - made probably more news than anything else he's been asked.
So I think that her role in the debates and as a news anchor has been effective and prominent. I thought this was a soft, soft focus, softball, you know, not news-making interview. I thought it didn't really add much to the presidential election.
MARTIN: John, what do you think?
NICHOLS: I think it adds a little value. I think there were some decent questions in it. It was not what I had hoped for. I think that Megyn Kelly has emerged as somebody who has an image now of being willing to challenge conservative and Republican leaders on issues and on some style of questions, of course, which is a part of politics. And I wish she had brought more of that to this interview.
NICHOLS: And I do think that the interview would have been strengthened if you'd had some of those follow-up questions and a little more edge to it.
MARTIN: OK, Mona, you had...
CHAREN: I also have been a fan of Megyn Kelly. I think she's very bright and asks good questions and has done for quite some time. What I found dismaying about this interview is that it comes at a moment when you see leading figures in the Republican Party abandoning principle and bowing to Trump. When you see the normalization of Trump - and Sanders, I will add, by the way. I think Sanders is also a demagogue. And...
MARTIN: Well, it's interesting that there are some Bernie Sanders voters who say that they will support Trump.
CHAREN: I know. It's very - there is no...
MARTIN: That to me is one of the interesting storylines...
MARTIN: ...Is there overlap between the Bernie Sanders supporters and Trump supporters?
CHAREN: Right. But about Megyn Kelly specifically - and again, I think she's very good in many respects - but she chose this moment when she apparently has been under, from what I hear, a lot of pressure. She had to get off Twitter because the enraged followers of Trump made her life so miserable on Twitter.
And then she does this soft interview with Trump just at this moment when you would hope that some people - and some have - but you would hope that she also would remain firm and say no, I'm a journalist. My first obligation is to ask the tough questions. He has to handle that. It's not up to me to go make up with him, go to Trump Tower. I just found the whole thing a little humiliating to watch.
MARTIN: Also, missing Barbara Walters right now. OK, well, that's all the time we have for today. So thanks for taking that on. That's John Nichols with The Nation, Mona Charen with National Review and NPR's own Mara Liasson. Thank you all so much for joining us today.
CHAREN: Thank you.
LIASSON: Thank you.
NICHOLS: A pleasure.
[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Portions of this audio refer to an incident at the Nevada Democratic Party state convention and incorrectly cite "chair throwing." While the "chair throwing" at the convention in mid-May was widely reported at the time by NPR News and other news media, a subsequent review by NPR of video of the skirmish found no evidence of a chair being thrown, though one was brandished by a man. For more, please see this column by NPR's Ombudsman: http://www.npr.org/sections/ombudsman/2016/05/18/478579787/fact-checking-nprs-reports-on-vegas-violence]
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