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Week In Politics: New York Primary, Harriet Tubman On $20 Bill

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

As we just heard, Donald Trump's new campaign adviser is looking to reassure the Republican Party establishment that Trump can be a unifying figure. Joining us to talk about this and other things are our weekly political commentators, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and David Brooks of The New York Times. Welcome to both of you.

DAVID BROOKS: Good to be here.

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

MCEVERS: One of the interesting things that the Trump adviser, Paul Manafort, said in a meeting with RNC committee members was the part Donald Trump has been playing is evolving. The negatives are going to come down. The image is going to change. The part he's been playing - what do you make of that E.J.?

DIONNE: You know, it seems like it's all part of a show called "Celebrity Candidate." I mean, it was a remarkable thing to say. And it raises the question, will Trump go from being inauthentically authentic to being authentically inauthentic? I mean, who is the real Trump?

And I think this could have, actually, some political fallout in the primaries that remain because a lot of conservatives are saying, we don't know who the real Donald Trump is. Ted Cruz says all the time the real Donald Trump is a guy who gave all this money to Democrats. You can be sure that this Manafort comment is going to be used by conservatives who oppose him. But it also raises a lot of questions about, you know, who is Trump, and what does he really want?

MCEVERS: But isn't it just sort of a convenient thing to say, David? You know, oh, that's not the real me. This real me is this.

BROOKS: Yeah, well, it's - he's gone from trying to be a wild man, bigoted TV show host to an opportunist. I'm not sure it's a moral step upward. I don't think it's going to work. He doesn't have the ability. He's going to start giving speeches in order to appear presidential. But in order to appear presidential, you actually have some - have to have some core base of knowledge, some core set of convictions. And if you follow the Donald Trump going back to the 1980s, he's always been the guy we've seen on the debate stage, somebody who swings wildly, hasn't had too many people tell him he's wrong and who has a different set of manners and standards of what public discourse should be.

DIONNE: And...

MCEVERS: There was a - go ahead, E.J.

DIONNE: Oh, I was just going to say, there is, you know, also this question of whether Trump has the discipline to be a new Trump. This week, I wrote about whether new Trump is New Coke, which was not a product that worked very well. He started very briefly even to refer to his hated opponent, Ted Cruz, as Sen. Cruz. And after a few hours, he was back to calling him lying Ted. So I wonder, what game - will he play different games at different moments?

MCEVERS: Let's talk about the Democrats now. I mean, Bernie Sanders, of course, suffered a big loss in the New York primary this week. His campaign has said that, even if he doesn't get a majority of pledged delegates, they'd still go after superdelegates. Now, Sanders is saying, if he doesn't win a pledged majority, it will be very difficult for him to win. I mean, E.J., does he have a real path forward here? I mean, how well does he need to do in next week's primaries?

DIONNE: Well, he has a path forward, but it almost certainly doesn't involve winning the Democratic nomination. And you saw the real ambivalence that, I suspect, affects Sanders himself this week when you had Jeff Weaver and Tad Devine - his two top aides - sending conflicting signals early on in the week after New York about what he was going to do. I think his way forward will probably be to be somewhat less attacking of Hillary Clinton and more the original of this campaign, which was to put a lot of issues on the table and to push the Democratic Party in a progressive direction.

Ironically, I think that Bernie Sanders will do better at the polls because, when you looked at the results in New York, all the money he spent, the attacks he made actually didn't seem to help him close the gap with Hillary Clinton at all. So giving up on the nomination, if you will, might improve his chances of getting votes.

MCEVERS: David, what do you think? I mean, should Bernie Sanders change his tone?

BROOKS: At least. I think the emotional tone is turning on Sanders. I mean, he's had a great run. He's had sort of this miraculous rise. He's had a big effect on the Democratic Party and on American politics. But the odds of him winning is now, like, vanishingly small. And if you're a Democrat, he's thinking, well, Hillary Clinton has to spend tens of millions of dollars in places like New York state and California - places she really doesn't need to be spending money for the fall campaign.

So is he helping or is he hurting? And the clear indication is he is hurting her. Her unfavorabilities are up. Her - she's barely winning in - at least against Sanders - in national polls. She's been brought low. And I think the emotional tone for Democrats who have begun to pivot forward is that Sanders did a great job, but it's time for him to at least step back severely and just coast.

MCEVERS: I mean, are people in the party saying this to him - you know, it's time to tone it down?

DIONNE: I suspect some people in the party are saying this to him. The one group of people who can't really say it to him are the Clinton people. I mean, this is very tricky for Hillary Clinton because...

MCEVERS: Yeah.

DIONNE: ...She really needs turnout from the Sanders constituency, particularly the younger voters, who truly seem to love Bernie Sanders and not like her very much. And so she cannot look like she's pressuring him out of the race. But I think there are a lot of quiet conversations going on with Sanders saying, take a different tack from here to the end.

MCEVERS: And then, it seems like Harriet Tubman has entered the presidential race this year. Donald Trump called this week's decision to put her face on the $20 bill political correctness. A number of Trump supporters say they oppose it. I mean, is this racism, as people claim, or is this just an aversion to change, or is it both? David?

BROOKS: Well, you know, first of all, I think the decision is a magnificent one. In the first case, we get to keep Alexander Hamilton, who was, A, one of the founders of our political economy - B, we don't have any Latino hip-hop artist on the currency, so it's good to have one of those. And second, that - she is a heroic figure. I mean, she risked life and limb for - to free slaves. And so, you know, I think she completely deserves to be there. A case could be made, if you were a populist, for Andrew Jackson, and I think that case is being made. But it's not a good case, given the way he treated the Native Americans.

MCEVERS: E.J., quickly.

DIONNE: And on slavery. You saw a reaction to this from the right that was kind of predictable. I think it was probably a mistake on their part. I think it's a great move all around.

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

DIONNE: Thank you.

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