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Week In Politics: Donald Trump Becomes Likely GOP Nominee

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

It has been, to put it mildly, an eventful week in politics. Political reporters who were dreaming of an open, contested Republican convention were shaken awake by Donald Trump's triumph in Indiana. And for Hillary Clinton supporters eager to put the primary season behind them, Bernie Sanders' surprising victory in the same state guaranteed that the Democratic contest will continue. All interesting grist for our Friday political commentators, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution and David Brooks of The New York Times. 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. Two contrasting figures this week - first, Trump triumphant in West Virginia...

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DONALD TRUMP: They all said, you don't have to come because, you know, the contest is over, and you're the nominee of the Republican Party. Congratulations.

SIEGEL: ...And Paul Ryan reluctant on CNN.

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PAUL RYAN: I hope to support our nominee. I hope to support his candidacy fully. I'm just not there right now.

SIEGEL: E.J., is this a historic juncture for the GOP? And is if so, where's the party headed?

DIONNE: Well, I think it's a hugely historic moment. And I think the party had it coming, I guess. I wrote a book called "Why The Right Went Wrong." And, you know, in this case, you look at this - Republican leadership played on and promoted resentment and anger. And those have now consumed the party and pushed the leadership aside. They got votes from white, working-class voters and kept talking about tax cuts for the rich, delivered nothing to the less well-off, and they've used Trump as their revenge. They used dog-whistle politics around issues of race and immigration and are shocked that someone who used a bullhorn on those issues won.

And so now they've got to pick up the pieces. And the party is really divided among those who, really, are quite willing to see Trump lose. Some, I think, will support him openly. Some will support a third-party candidate because they feel that Trump could do so much damage to the party and the country. Others will support him. And in the middle are people like Ryan, who know they will pay a price if they oppose him. But he's also trying to protect many of his House member who know that Trump will hurt them.

SIEGEL: David, where do you see those choices that face the Republicans, especially the third-party idea?

BROOKS: That ain't happening.

SIEGEL: Not going to happen?

BROOKS: No. You know, you've got to have some belief in something. The Republican Party doesn't have a belief in anything. I think, you know, there are a lot of big stories here. One is the intellectual and moral exhaustion of the party. They basically lived off the Reaganite fumes for a couple decades, and those fumes no longer serve people. And frankly, the government no longer serves people.

If you look at the Trump - the people who voted for Trump, 75 percent say that life has gotten worse for people like them over the past 50 years. And that's partly a problem with the Republican Party. It's partly a problem of the government. Those people have suffered grievous economic losses. They've suffered divorce. They've suffered family breakdown. They've got drug problems in their neighborhoods. And so it's partly a national problem. So basically, what's going to happen for the Republican Party, I think, is, you know, it's darkest now before the complete cataclysm later.

(LAUGHTER)

DIONNE: So like an old John McCain - and things are dark before they go completely black.

SIEGEL: We'll talk about the dawn sometime next year, yeah.

BROOKS: But then, eventually, there'll be a period of intellectual ferment, one presumes, and there'll be some kind of rebound. But it won't look anything like it looks right now.

SIEGEL: Paul Ryan and house Republican leaders are going to meet with Trump next week. First, David, do you expect some motion there? Do you think Paul Ryan's going to embrace Trump ideas or Trump's going to move over to Paul Ryan?

BROOKS: Maybe glacial surface motion, but Trump is a guy, who, like he just said this week in what he wants to do as president, he wants to renegotiate the U.S. debt. That's insane. And so a guy who's spewing insanity on a daily basis is not going to be able to have full reconciliation with Paul Ryan.

DIONNE: You know, Republicans are so divided they're not even agreeing on the reasons they oppose Trump because there are some Republicans who are primarily against Trump because he is utterly unrealistic and unserious about policy. They don't like what he says about Muslims, about women, about immigration.

And there are others who primarily don't like him because they secretly - they think he's a secret liberal. They don't see him as a real conservative. And on many issues, he's not, like free trade. There are some who have overlapping categories. I think Paul Ryan has a bit of both in that category. But it's going to be very hard for this party going forward with these kinds of splits, even about what your attitude should be toward Trump.

SIEGEL: Let's turn to the Democrats for a moment. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both campaigned in West Virginia. She had a highly publicized encounter with an out-of-work coal miner over her having said that, with more clean energy - and this is a quote - "we're going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business." How, she was asked, could she say that and now say she's going to be the coal miners' friend, to which she said this.

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HILLARY CLINTON: I don't mind anybody being upset or angry. That's a perfect right for people to feel that way. I do feel a little bit sad and sorry that I gave folks the reason or the excuse to be so upset with me because that is not what I intended at all.

SIEGEL: David, you wrote about Clinton in Appalachia today. What do you make of this?

BROOKS: Well, she's not putting coal out of business. Natural gas and oil is putting coal out of business. Coal is going out of business. But so it's not really her fault, and I salute her for going there, especially after making that comment. I think - and she gave a speech sort of feeling the pain of the people there. But it was, to me, policy unimaginative.

And so she gave the sort of speech that Hubert Humphrey might have given or Ed Muskie, and it was filled with ideas which are fine - you know, job retraining programs and community colleges. But it's not commensurate with the problem. And I think this has been a problem with her campaign. We need some bigger, bolder ideas. She could have done a big mental health, drug addiction initiative. She could have done a big mobility initiative to give us concrete ideas to help people move out of there, which is what happens to happen - a big rebuilding initiative. But the ideas for the sensible candidates are small, while the ideas for the Donald Trump candidates are gigantic.

SIEGEL: What do you think about that, E.J., that Hillary Clinton is being too, perhaps, realistic and too cautious about what she can achieve?

DIONNE: You know, I disagree with David on the content of that speech. I also think Donald Trump doesn't have big ideas. He doesn't have any real ideas at all. He has assertions. His promise, very strikingly, is I'm going to give you all your jobs back. That's just not possible. The coal industry, as David said, in Appalachia is in trouble for reasons that have nothing to do with even government regulation. The market has changed.

And I thought Clinton did two things here. One is she presented some plausible ideas to help these communities. And she also made clear that if you are a progressive, you've got to relate and identify with white, working-class people who were hurting. There is this vogue on part of the progressive side that a new coalition of the educated and African-Americans and Latinos will carry the election. That's not enough. Progressives cannot forget about the white working-class.

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

DIONNE: Good to be with you.

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