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Week In Politics: The Debate, Undecided Voters, Military Veterans And More


And to talk about this and other political news of the week, we are joined by our regular political commentators, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution and David Brooks of The New York Times.

Hello to you both.

EJ DIONNE, BYLINE: Great to be with you.

DAVID BROOKS, BYLINE: Good to be here.

MCEVERS: Well, I don't know if you guys heard that, but we just heard someone calling a presidential candidate an old hag on our air. I know you've written about this, David. But, I mean, I think question is how do we recover from this election? You know, I feel like we're in a world where people are saying things that they normally would only say in anonymous comments - now they're saying to people's faces. David?

BROOKS: You know, I think moral communities are held together by etiquette, by manners, by a series of self-restraints and that if we don't pay attention to those, then we're - then politics becomes just a war of savagery of all against all. And one of the reasons conservatives are wrong when they say that they're going to swallow Trump - even though he's sort of obnoxious because they care about the Supreme Court - is that the moral etiquette of the country, the moral capital of the country is foundational. And if the country devolves into this cone of cruelty, then it doesn't matter who sits on the Supreme Court because we won't be a nation of laws and we won't be a nation with any cohesion.

MCEVERS: What do you think, E.J.?

DIONNE: Well, first of all, I think that this is a warning that if Hillary Clinton does win, we're going to face an awful lot of sexism when she's in power. I mean, the kinds of things that people feel sort of permission to say about her are extraordinary. And we're going to have to watch out for that.

I mean, my biggest hope is that if this ends and if Clinton wins as the polls suggest she will right now - she spends a lot of time in Trump country. I'd love to see her travel to eastern Tennessee, eastern Kentucky, West Virginia and say, look, there are a lot of people among the Trump supporters who'll never vote for me, never vote for a Democrat. But there are people out there hurting. There are people whom the economy isn't serving well, and I'm going to be your president, too. I hope there are really not just gestures, but actually policy efforts to say, I'm going to care about your problems no matter what you do in this election. And maybe she might even close on that theme.

MCEVERS: There were a lot - there was a lot of talk about President Obama doing that, building bridges, when he first came into office. I mean, I don't know, I feel like we're in a place eight years later where we must feel like it didn't work.

DIONNE: Well, I...

BROOKS: I would say we're...

DIONNE: Go ahead, David.

BROOKS: We're a bit in a worse place but in a bit of a better place. I wasn't super impressed with how Hillary Clinton did as secretary of state, but I think she was an outstanding senator. And one of the reasons she was an outstanding senator was because she was really good at working with John McCain, Lindsey Graham, John Barrasso for - Republican from Wyoming. And so she's shown some on-the-ground effectiveness about that.

Secondly, I'm actually kind of optimistic about how the country will react. I do not think - once if - assuming Trump loses, I do not think people will be hanging back with him. I think they will abandon him and sort of walk away and sort of say, you know, I was never really that guy after all.

DIONNE: I think there's a sense...

MCEVERS: Last night - oh, go ahead E.J.

DIONNE: Just real quick - I think there's a sense that the Trump constituency may divide something like in two. I think there's probably a quarter of the country that's going to reject Hillary Clinton, that's going to want to keep fighting. But I think there's another part of the Trump constituency that may be as tired of the divisions of this camp - in this campaign as everybody else in the electorate is. And I'm hoping maybe exhaustion leads us to better behavior.

MCEVERS: (Laughter) Last night, both Clinton and Trump attended the Al Smith Dinner in New York City. This is a tradition. Every four years, the candidates show up and try to kind of roast each other and are supposed to roast themselves a little bit. This year got a little awkward. Here's some tape from last night - first, Trump.


DONALD TRUMP: I called Hillary a nasty woman.


TRUMP: But this stuff is all relative. After listening to Hillary rattle on and on and on, I don't think so badly of Rosie O'Donnell anymore.


MCEVERS: And then, here was Hillary Clinton joking about her and Trump's health.


HILLARY CLINTON: Donald really is as healthy as a horse, you know, the one Vladimir Putin rides around on.


MCEVERS: I mean, these dinners are supposed to be a way to release some of the tension in the campaign, to show the candidates are human. But this one kind of seemed like another place for them to just repeat the insults. Is that how it seemed to you guys?

DIONNE: Well, I think...

BROOKS: Well, they're not exactly Paddington the Bear.

MCEVERS: (Laughter).

BROOKS: They're not warm and cuddly figures. And Trump really has a - let's say a limited emotional range. And so he does seem personally aggrieved. And he does have trouble masking his emotions. Usually, they are incredibly gracious. Four years ago, eight years ago, I remember they were at the height of the campaign. And people just show up as their best selves, and they sort of restore your (laughter) faith in humanity.


BROOKS: That didn't quite happen last night.


DIONNE: I agree with you, Kelly. It was a little sharper than usual. But I thought, on the whole, Clinton understood what it was to the extent that she did go after Trump, as she did it with jokes, whereas Trump after a few good jokes - you know, when he said, you know, everybody loves Michelle Obama's speeches. But Melania gives the same speech...

MCEVERS: (Laughter) Yeah.

DIONNE: ...And everybody rejects her. That was a good joke.


DIONNE: Or the pardon-me joke. But then he totally got out of the spirit of the evening. There was one moment when he said, here she is tonight pretending not to hate Catholics. And it had nothing to do with a joke. And this was a Catholic dinner. And I noticed at that moment that Cardinal Dolan whispered something in Hillary Clinton's ear that sure looked like reassurance to Hillary Clinton from the cardinal.

And so I think that this is a core problem in the Trump campaign. You wonder, are there people around there who even understand what some of these political events are about? At least Clinton, you know, got that. And, you know, a couple of funny moments when she said I took a break from my rigorous nap schedule...

MCEVERS: (Laughter) Yeah.

DIONNE: ...Or I'm usually paid a lot of money to speak at things like this, she did poke some real fun at herself. But then she got tough but still funny about Trump.

MCEVERS: One more thing real quick. Senator John McCain said this week in a radio interview, quote, "I promise you, we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up." He later walked that back a little and said he would judge any nominee on their record. But does that give us a hint of what to expect if Clinton does win, more gridlock in Congress and not just over the Supreme Court? David.

BROOKS: Possibly, of course - but, you know, I've been in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas this week, and they're sort of surrender among Republican ranks. I ran into one guy who said he was not going vote for either of them until Trump made these election comments, and now he thinks it's important for Clinton to lose - or Clinton to win big. And so there's sort of a chastened mood, even acceptance, before the election results.

DIONNE: I truly hope that's true. And I think if - you know, Clinton is threatening Trump in states like Arizona and North Carolina. Even though it's a real long shot, Texas, Utah may not go Republican. So there will be a basis to say this is at the very least, a round rejection of a certain kind of Republicanism. So you'd like to think that has an effect.

But what I worry about most is the path of least resistance and the most politically attractive path for Republicans may be to win over the Trump constituency by putting up a wall of resistance to Clinton and then looking forward to 2016, where the Senate seats fall in a very good way - I'm sorry, to 2018...


DIONNE: ...Where the Senate seats fall in a very good way for the Republicans - and say no way the Democrats can win four times in a row. And so there's going to be a lot of incentive to oppose her.

MCEVERS: That's E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution and David Brooks of The New York Times. Thanks to both of you.

BROOKS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR Staff