Week In Politics: Presidential Campaigns Gear Up For Iowa Caucuses As the presidential primary polls get tighter, attacks are getting sharper. NPR's Ari Shapiro speaks with David Brooks of The New York Times and E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post about the Democratic and Republican races.

Week In Politics: Presidential Campaigns Gear Up For Iowa Caucuses

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The race for the presidency is more intense than it has ever been. Polls are getting tighter, attacks are getting sharper. Iowa caucuses in just over a week. To discuss the state of play, David Brooks of The New York Times is with us, as is E J Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution.

Good to have you both here.

DAVID BROOKS: Great to be here.

SHAPIRO: Let's start with the attacks between the two leading Democrats, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. We have a clip from each of them on the campaign trail this week.


HILLARY CLINTON: Now, in theory, there's a lot to like about some of his ideas. But in theory isn't enough. A president has to deliver in reality.


BERNIE SANDERS: We have had enough of establishment politics, establishment economics. We need to move in a new and bold direction.


SHAPIRO: David, is this 2008 all over again, when Barack Obama came from behind to defeat Hillary Clinton?

BROOKS: It actually feels a little like that to me. You know, this is not a great year for pragmatism and for incrementalism, and Hillary has positioned herself as a pragmatic incrementalist. I agree with that philosophically, but this is a year where the electorate wants some sort of transformational, tectonic shift.

SHAPIRO: E J, do you think that's right, that Clinton is just not the candidate for the electorate this year, or is there something she did wrong that she could've done differently?

E J DIONNE: Well, see what I think is that there's an Obama paradox here which is, if you look at the polls in Iowa, 91 percent of Iowa Democrats - likely caucus voters - like Barack Obama. But there is also this frustration in the Democratic Party that Democrats, including Obama, have been on the defensive, and there is something liberating about the Bernie Sanders rhetoric and that you see this kind of catharsis in that remarkable ad that Bernie Sanders made where no words are spoken but the great Simon & Garfunkel song, "America," plays, and it does create a sense of a movement. In that sense, Bernie Sanders's campaign is akin to Obama's. But I think something else needs to be said, which is, from the beginning - and as David knows, I thought this last fall - I've always thought Bernie Sanders was well set up to win Iowa and New Hampshire because those are good electorates for him. And the question will be, does this carry forward? But Bernie has run a very good campaign that captures a certain mood inside the Democratic Party.

SHAPIRO: What is about the electorate in Iowa and New Hampshire that's particularly good for Sanders?

DIONNE: Well, it's primarily, overwhelmingly white, very liberal generally in the case of Iowa caucus goers. And New Hampshire, it's right next door to Vermont. Bernie is a well-known figure. So these are good states for him. That doesn't take away from the fact that he's run a really good campaign.

SHAPIRO: Let's turn to the Republicans now where the race in Iowa, at least, seems to be coming down to Ted Cruz versus Donald Trump. And we have a clip of each of them, starting with Trump.


DONALD TRUMP: See, they're not tough guys. They're phony tough guys. They're trying to get votes and after they get in, they're politicians - all talk, no action politicians. It's not going to work, not going to work.


TED CRUZ: We need to take power out of Washington and back to we the people. That is what this campaign is all about.


SHAPIRO: David, at this point, the establishment seems to be at war over which of these two men is the lesser of two evils.

BROOKS: It's sort of a war between ideology and chaos, (laughter), so...

SHAPIRO: Which is which?

BROOKS: (Laughter). If you're a philosophical conservative, if you work at National Review, if you work at The Wall Street Journal editorial page, you like - of the two, if you're forced to choose between the two - you like Cruz. He's more consistent ideologically, he's more consistent philosophically. If you're a rogue Republican like Sarah Palin, you like Donald Trump because he's rogue, and ideologically, he's all over the map.

SHAPIRO: Although, Terry Branstad, the governor of Iowa, who is considered an establishment Republican, disavowed Cruz this week.

BROOKS: Yeah, I think that was local politics. That was about ethanol. So I happen to think this is a year - and I think is an effect which the Republican establishment has not appreciated - that the last 10 years have made the Republican electorate less conservative, or, at least, less antigovernment. They're willing to have a government so long as it's not filled with liberal cultural values that's on the side of the little guy. And Donald Trump has tapped into that.

SHAPIRO: E J, the National Review wrote a really scathing editorial against Donald Trump, and the RNC, the Republican National Committee, actually pulled the National Review from a debate that they were supposed to be a part of because of this.

DIONNE: Well, I'm not surprised because they clearly chose, in a principal way, one could say, to take a stand in the presidential election so the idea would've been that they're supposed to be neutral. But I think what's fascinating here is that within the Republican Party, you've got splits within splits within splits. You've got the aggressive right end of the party divided between the ideologues - one could say Cruz's chaotic ideology - and on the other side, you know, the reality show conservatism that has a populist or faux populist element. So that's just the right end. You got the establishment split between people who say we'd even - we'd prefer Trump to Cruz, and others in the so-called establishment who say both of them would be a disaster. Lindsey Graham was very powerful on this this week. And they're just petrified that both of them would lose, and then you've got other kinds of Republicans floating around. The people who might save the Republican Party are independents. Watch New Hampshire. Forty-four percent, I believe, of New Hampshire voters are independent - somewhere around there. That's where John Kasich, for example, has an outside shot.

SHAPIRO: But, David, for months people have been saying within the Republican primary, there's the establishment lane and the outsider or evangelical or Tea Party or whatever you want to call it lane, and that just doesn't seem to be the case.

BROOKS: Yeah, the lanes are - as I say - shaken up by what's happened, you know. You could - there's been this tectonic shift especially among the white working-class. You know, suicide rates are up, wages are stagnant, they've suffered this awesome hit and their mood has shifted, their viewpoint has shifted and so they're much more unpredictable. A - angrier, but also less ideological.

DIONNE: Two conservative writers, Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam, wrote many years ago, or back in 2008, 2009, that the Republican Party had gotten white working-class votes for years and had done nothing for them. So in addition to all these other splits, you do have a class war in the party ironically led by a billionaire.

BROOKS: Yeah, who has no actual program, by the way.

DIONNE: Correct.

SHAPIRO: Just briefly - many people had dismissed the relevance of Sarah Palin in 2016. When she endorsed Donald Trump this week, it sounded like maybe she's not so irrelevant after all. What do you think, David?

BROOKS: Yeah, this final week, magic matters a lot. Charisma matters a lot - just the vibe around the campaign. And I still think Clinton's going to get the nomination, but there's a vibe around Sanders in part because of this ad and the same around Trump right now on the Republican side.

DIONNE: Molly Ball in The Atlantic wrote, I think brilliantly, that Sarah Palin's approach to politics paved the way for Donald Trump. And I don't know if she carries that many votes, but with the some of the evangelical voters that Cruz and Trump are fighting for, she might help a bit.

SHAPIRO: That's E J Dionne of The Washington Post - his new book is called, "Why The Right Went Wrong" - and David Brooks of The New York Times. Thanks to both of you for coming in on the eve of this massive blizzard.

DIONNE: Great to be with you.

BROOKS: We're all doomed.


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