MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
And now for some Friday debate quarterbacking. I'm joined by our regular political commentators, E J Dionne of The Washington Post.
Hey, E J.
E J DIONNE, BYLINE: Good to be with you.
BLOCK: And David Brooks of The New York Times.
David, welcome back.
DAVID BROOKS, BYLINE: Good to be here.
BLOCK: There was, at times last night, such rabid response - rapid response but also rabid response that I wasn't sure if I was listening to the crowd in the Quicken Loans Arena or in the Roman Colosseum. But I want to get beyond the red meat and ask you first, E J, what surprised you the most in what you heard last night?
DIONNE: Well, I wasn't shocked, but I thought that we saw a very important moment with John Kasich. Compassionate conservatism is back, and I have to confess that is the kind of conservatism I like. I don't know if what John Kasich did, including his strong defense of Medicaid - I suspect many Fox viewers heard their very first defense of how Medicaid keeps people out of emergency rooms and helps the working poor. His very open and empathetic answer about gay marriage - I thought he made a mark. And we'll just see what the Republican primary electorate makes of that.
I thought Trump came as Trump, and that shouldn't shock us, though many people expected somebody different to show up. I broadly agree with the conventional wisdom that Rubio was good, although he looked a little practiced. I thought Bush - I thought a little bit more of Bush' performance than the conventional wisdom. And I also thought a little more of Chris Christie's performance than the conventional wisdom. But it should also be said that in this debate, there really was not a whole lot of substance on issues that are going to matter a lot to swing voters, like how would these candidates really improve the economy? And I think that has something to do with the nature of the debate that's happening in the Republican Party right now.
BLOCK: Let's bring David Brooks in here. David, any message that you heard appealing to those swing voters that E J was talking about?
BROOKS: First of all, I thought it was a great debate (laughter). I thought it was one of the best debates I've ever seen. And there wasn't a lot of substance, but they all agree, except for Trump. So...
BLOCK: Great debate purely on entertainment value or beyond that?
BROOKS: Hey, I'll take it. I'll take it.
BLOCK: You'll take it. OK.
BLOCK: You've been covering politics for a long time.
BROOKS: (Laughter) Right, and so you're trying to establish personalities, rivalries, alliances. The melodrama of life was there. Trump was there, you know, the dark Beelzebub of our unconscious, expressing all the things that's wrong with our society, you know, inviting people to weddings and paying them to come, buying politicians, being pretty bad about how you talk about women.
But he's - he doesn't have to - he's not a politician. He's not running for office. He's running for something. And the people who are anti-political will like him. And I think he'll have helped himself. To me, I guess I agree the three big winners were Fiorina, Kasich and Rubio. And a Rubio-Kasich ticket, one on top of the other, makes a lot of sense, frankly. You got Florida and Ohio. You're sitting pretty.
BLOCK: Let me pick up on something you just said, David. You talked about buying politicians, and Donald Trump got really big cheers last night when he said we don't have time for political correctness, we don't have time for tone. He was asked, also, to explain why he gave money to Democratic candidates, including Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi. Let's listen to what he said.
(SOUNDBITE OF DEBATE)
DONALD TRUMP: I give to everybody. When they call, I give, and you know what? When I need something from them two years later, three years later, I call them, they are there for me.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: So what'd you get?
TRUMP: And that's a broken system.
BLOCK: So, E J, he's saying the system's broken but hey, I'm using it. It was a similar argument I think he was making defending his companies' bankruptcies. The hypocrisy there?
DIONNE: Well, there were actually a couple of moments where I found myself - God forgive me - agreeing with Donald Trump. I liked his defense of single-payer healthcare. And this really was a rather devastating critique of the political money system we have. Although I also loved somebody on Twitter last night who said that if all he got for his contribution from Hillary Clinton is the fact that she attended his wedding, he way overpaid.
BLOCK: (Laughter) David, what do you think?
BROOKS: He's got a weird ideology. Most politicians - life is left-right. For him, it's winners and losers. The core message is the people on the top of society are losers. The people who are real winners are not on the top. They're not getting the respect. They're people like himself, and if you elect a winner like him, well, all our problems will go away. And I don't think he registers left-right or any political philosophy. He has the firm conviction which I - he'll go to his grave believing that if Donald Trump is elected to do anything, he will be the master of the situation.
BLOCK: I want to ask you both about the nuclear deal with Iran, because last night, very influential Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer came out against the deal. He's faulting the inspections program. He says that under this agreement, if Iran wants a nuclear weapon, all it has to do is, in his words exercise patience. E J, how big a blow is Chuck Schumer's no to President Obama's efforts to line up a real firewall of Democrats in Congress?
DIONNE: I actually don't think it's (unintelligible) that damaging. I am not at all surprised that Senator Schumer came out where he did. I think the issue with him is how strongly will he lobby other Democrats. The fact is, he said in his own statement that he's - expects his colleagues to vote their consciences. I think that was a clear signal that he's not going to lobby hard. And Kirsten Gillibrand, the other Senator from New York and his very close ally, came out in favor of the deal. If you ask me, right now, I think President Obama will hold enough Democrats to sustain his veto of a bill to disprove the - of a measure to disprove the treaty, and it'll go into effect.
BLOCK: And Chuck Schumer, of course, a prominent Jewish voice in the Senate. David, you write in The New York Times today that there have been three big strategic U.S. defeats in the past several decades - Vietnam, Iraq and now Iran. And you're alluding to what you call a cataclysmic conflict to come.
BROOKS: Yeah, well...
BLOCK: Why don't you walk us through that?
BROOKS: You know, I think the - this is - this deal was - we've surrendered all the goals that our policymakers said they want to achieve, we have not achieved, whether it's dismantling the program, preventing Iran from being a nuclear power, preventing them from getting ballistic missiles, you know, taking down some of these facilities, none of that's been achieved. And so I regard this agreement as a partial surrender. We've gotten them to delay their nuclear program, but we've not gotten them to end it.
And so I think as Iran gets richer, as they're about to do, they'll fund more terrorism. As they incrementally cheat, they'll get bolder, and as the nuclear breakout becomes more likely, they'll be more aggressive. And so I think when you partially surrender to tyranny, you end up with something bad down the road.
I still sort of think it will pass. There's one logic in the Schumer thing that he wouldn't have come out against it if it didn't think the president had the votes, and that's a possibility. And the alternative to not passing these things are truly horrific. I get that. But I just think it's a bad deal, and I think the American people by one poll, by 2 to 1, are coming to that same conclusion. And I must say, the president's speech this week was so defensive and one of his lesser speeches of his whole term, that it made me think that he's in a bit of a nervous panic about.
BLOCK: You heard a real tone of defensiveness in that speech?
BROOKS: Yeah, he said it was an easy call. It's not an easy call. I mean, he was so high-handed. I felt he didn't persuade anybody. He might - if anybody was wavering, it was more insulting than persuading.
BLOCK: OK, we're going to have to leave it there. E J Dionne of The Washington Post.
DIONNE: I want to dissent from all of that, just on the record, but we'll get back to it.
BLOCK: (Laughter) Noted - there will be time for that in another week. E J Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution. David Brooks at The New York Times. Thanks to you both.
DIONNE: Thank you.
BROOKS: Thank you.
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