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Week In Politics: Democratic Debate, GOP Outcry Over Delegates

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This was the rare week without a presidential primary, but we didn't lack for campaigning. Last night on CNN, the Democrats debated in Brooklyn - land of my birth - and they lived up to the polite restraint for which the borough is renowned.

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BERNIE SANDERS: I am sure a lot of people are very surprised to learn that you supported raising the minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour.

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HILLARY CLINTON: You know, wait a minute, wait a minute, wait, wait...

SANDERS: (Unintelligible) That's just not accurate.

CLINTON: I have stood on the debate stage with Senator Sanders. Let's do it.

WOLF BLITZER: If you're both screaming at each other, the viewers won't be able to hear either of you.

SIEGEL: That was Wolf Blitzer trying to keep order. On the Republican side this week, Donald Trump cried foul over the delegate selection.

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DONALD TRUMP: When I look at it and I see all these victories that I have, all these victories that he's got and then you look at the establishment, and I want to tell you, it's a corrupt deal going on in this country and it's not good.

SIEGEL: To which Ted Cruz said in a CNN town hall.

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TED CRUZ: The rules are simple. The way you get elected is that you win a majority of the delegates in elections. What Donald is unhappy about is that in the last three weeks, we've beaten Donald in all 11 elections.

SIEGEL: As for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, we hear from him elsewhere in today's program. He claims he is still amassing delegates. All that should be fodder enough for our Friday political commentators, David Brooks of The New York Times and E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution. Good to see you both.

DAVID BROOKS: Good to see you.

E.J. DIONNE: Good to be with you.

SIEGEL: Let's start with the Republicans, David. Donald Trump claims that he's being robbed of delegates. And he wrote an op-ed piece for The Wall Street Journal today in which he thinks rules that he says favor party insiders to economic policies that he say benefit the rich. Is he winning this argument?

BROOKS: I don't think Donald Trump wins arguments. He sort of bludgeons the earlobes. But I think he is not. In the first place, as Catherine Rampell of The Washington Post - E.J.'s colleague - pointed out, he was perfectly happy to manipulate amoral bankruptcy laws when he was in business. And now he's faced with another set of laws that Ted Cruz is just better at manipulating. In the second place, these rules that you get elected by delegates are completely legitimate. A party makes a decision the way any other organization - whether it's NPR, The New York Times or anything - organizations make decisions through internal structures. And they have structures built in place to keep them coherent, to force compromise, to keep crazy demagogues off the head of the party. And they make it through delegates. And it's a perfectly legitimate structure in the same way any Republican structure is a legitimate structure, so him to complain that somehow it's antidemocratic is just ahistorical.

SIEGEL: E.J., is Trump just being outdone on the ground again and not paying enough attention to delegate selection?

DIONNE: I think all of the above. I mean, you know, parts of that Wall Street Journal editorial made you wonder why he didn't join Bernie at the Vatican today and - to talk about capitalism and injustice. And by the way, Sanders really did quite a good job in the Vatican blending Catholic social thought with his own themes. But Ted Cruz has from the very beginning had the most focused, the most organized campaign. He's a guy who learned the most from Barack Obama, which is fascinating given what he thinks of President Obama in terms of using metrics, using organizations, knowing how the rules work. So, yes, if you view this purely as an exercise in, well, gee, shouldn't the guy with the most votes win? Trump's got a perfectly good argument there. But the rules have been there all along. Cruz knew how to use them and Trump didn't spend the time.

SIEGEL: This week, the speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, ruled himself out as a presidential candidate. David, do you think that story's over and done with?

BROOKS: Yeah, I really do. He's got two strong reasons not to run. The first is he's speaker of the House. He's trying to hold the House together. And he's trying to preserve an independent voice for House Republicans in case Donald Trump gets the nomination and the whole party is in the face of a wipeout. He wants people to think of the House Republicans as somehow different. So he's working really hard to do that. And it's very complicated for him to do that if there are all these rumors swirling around that he's also running for president. Second, he knows if he got the nomination he would have - he would be tainted in the eyes of all these Trump and Cruz people. And so those are two good reasons not to run.

SIEGEL: Do you agree, E.J.?

DIONNE: Yes. I think he knows that this is not a good year for what you might call the neo-Reaganite themes that he has put forward. I mean, the votes for Donald Trump are a real rejection in many ways of his kind of Republicanism. And I'm not thinking just of the sunny personality. I am thinking of the old tax cuts for the rich, budget cuts, cuts in entitlements. Trump suggests there's a big Republican constituency, particularly in the working class of the party, who are fed up with that. And so I think Ryan is shrewd here. He wants to save his House majority, which could be in jeopardy if either Trump or Cruz got the nomination. And he knows that his side has a lot of rebuilding to do if they're ever going to win the argument again, which I have doubts about.

SIEGEL: Let's turn to the Democrats now. Last night, that debate in Brooklyn was not exactly a friendly colloquy between mutually respectful, longtime colleagues. What did you make of it? David, what did you hear in it?

BROOKS: New York happened. You know, there's something about Democratic primaries where, when they go to New York, they take a turn. For Republicans, it tends to be South Carolina when they get nasty, but Democrats wait till New York. And so it happened again. It was more or less the same points we've heard over and over again, but an intensification of the anger and the acrimony of them. I will say, I think, you know, there were a lot of different variations you could pull out of that debate, but I think the big story is Bernie Sanders is winning the argument - whether he's going to win the election, probably not. But you look at who's moving and Hillary moving on Israel, moving on the $15 minimum wage. She's getting pulled in his direction. He controls the groundwork. And she's going go into the fall, you know, with an advantage because of who she's facing, but without much attractive vision, a positive reason to run.

SIEGEL: You're assuming she's the nominee when you speak of the fall?

BROOKS: I'm assuming that, yes.

SIEGEL: E.J., you think that you buy that analysis of the Democratic contest?

DIONNE: Not entirely. I mean, I think Bernie Sanders has clearly changed the national conversation. I think he's even had some ripple effects inside the Republican Party. I think that - first of all, I thought it was a great debate. I get so tired of carefully stage-managed debates where people can't mix it up. They really mixed it up, and it was on a lot of substantive questions. There was a lot of yelling. John Dingell, a Clinton supporter, won the tweeting wars when - he's 89 years old. He tweeted, old guy who yells a lot sick of listening to old guy who yells a lot.

SIEGEL: (Laughter).

DIONNE: But I think Sanders did score some points on Clinton on her speaking fees yet again and a little bit on the minimum wage. She really scored with him on guns. And he had a moment when he was laughing when the subject was guns. I think that hurt him. And she took a rather uncompromisingly pro-Israel stance. You could say Bernie was rather gutsy in challenging that. On the other hand, looking at the New York primary on Tuesday, I suspect her arguments play better in New York.

SIEGEL: I'm just curious, David - do you think in the fall that the speeches to Goldman Sachs will be an issue?

BROOKS: No. I mean, you know, these are minor league compared to everything Donald Trump has done. And, you know, speaking to Goldman Sachs is not exactly the Watergate scandal. It's a thing, but it's not a big thing.

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

DIONNE: Good to be with you.

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

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