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Week In Politics: Trump Sexual Assault Allegations

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A new Trump campaign ad declares it's us against the world. And this week that feels truer than ever. House Speaker Paul Ryan says he will no longer defend or campaign with the Republican presidential candidate. A growing number of women are accusing Donald Trump of sexual assault. The list includes Jessica Leeds, who says Trump touched her inappropriately on an airplane in the 1980s.

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JESSICA LEEDS: Mr. Trump started coming over to me and groping me, and then his hands started going up my skirt.

SHAPIRO: We speak with Jessica Leeds elsewhere in the program. As for Donald Trump, he says a global conspiracy is trying to stop him. Here's what he said at a rally today in North Carolina.

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DONALD TRUMP: As you have seen, right now, I am being viciously attacked with lies and smears. It's a phony deal. I have no idea who these women are - have no idea. I have no idea.

SHAPIRO: We're going to talk now about what this chaos in the campaign means for the election, politics and the future of the Republican Party. Joining us are David Brooks of The New York Times - hi there...

DAVID BROOKS: Hello.

SHAPIRO: ...And Alex Wagner of The Atlantic. Welcome.

ALEX WAGNER: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: I can't think of a time in history that a political party has been so divided over its own presidential candidate. David, what do you think are the long-term consequences of this for the GOP?

BROOKS: Well, you got a core of leaders, like Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who have been principal anti-Trumpians from the start. And now you've got a bunch of the establishment. A couple of them have said, well, he should step down, but he's not stepping down, so I'm going to vote for him, which is sort of a morally incoherent position.

And then you've got a lot who are in the Republican establishment who think, well, it's like Goldwater. Goldwater went down to a big defeat. And I - I'm going to play the good soldier. I'll be for the Republican nominee. And then he'll go away, and it'll all be fine next time.

The problem is he's not like Goldwater. He's like Joe McCarthy. And he's a morally reprobate figure. And the people who are embracing him or even semi-embracing him - the stain will last.

SHAPIRO: Well, Alex, do you think the stain will last? I mean, the website FiveThirtyEight asked the question, is this what it looks like when a party falls apart?

WAGNER: (Laughter) Well, look. I think the political expedience that you're seeing and that's at the root of this calculation is based on political reality. For a lot of these folks, they know what the midterm elections look like. They know what their base looks like. They cannot fully forsake Trump because they know the people that keep them in office are also Trump supporters.

And I think the question facing Republicans is a lot like the question that faced Democrats in the 1960s. Do you give up on this wing of your party? I think until the Republican Party decides to do that finally one way or the other, nothing is going to get done in Congress, and the party's national ambitions, as it pertains to the executive branch, will be very problemed (ph).

SHAPIRO: But, David, how could a party make a decision like that if it means basically writing off the base that supports Donald Trump?

BROOKS: Well, that's sort of the question. What is the future of the Republican Party? And I guess if I had to project that long-term, I do think it is going to be the party of the white working class. And I think on one poll, Trump was up among white, working-class men with high school degrees by 59 percentage points. That's not the wing of the party. That's the body of the party.

And so the question is, how does that party not become a 30 percent party? And that's the question facing Republican elected officials. They're going to have to cater to that base, which is anti-immigrant, anti-trade, much more isolationist. Or they're going to have to try to find some other radically different party with a radically different base. And it's a horrible picture for them.

SHAPIRO: Long before this week there were concerns about Trump alienating minorities and other groups that could go Democratic for generations to come. This week, revelations have shaken many women, including conservative women.

First lady Michelle Obama instilled some of these feelings yesterday in a very potent speech in New Hampshire. Let's listen to part of what she said.

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MICHELLE OBAMA: This was not just a lewd conversation. This wasn't just locker-room banter. This was a powerful individual speaking freely and openly about sexually predatory behavior and actually bragging about kissing and groping women, using language so obscene that many of us were worried about our children hearing it when we turn on the TV.

SHAPIRO: Of course she's referring to that "Access Hollywood" video from 2005. Alex, do you think this has the potential to shape the way women view the Republican Party beyond this election?

WAGNER: Absolutely, and I look at that not just in - through the lens of the first lady's comments. But also if you look at the polling and how women and men have broken in the presidential races thus far - I mean 2012 was a historic gender gap. I think 2016 is going to be off the charts given where we're at in terms of rhetoric but also what appear to be dueling realities.

Nate Silver, who we quoted earlier, had a map that showed if just women voted in the election, Hillary Clinton would win by a landslide. Trump would only win the reddest of the red states. And the inverse was true if only men voted. There is a huge chasm that has opened up.

And I thought the first lady very emotionally and very pointedly spoke to the hurt that a lot of women feel when these comments are made and the sort of deep emotional bruising that these comments have had and that a lot of women across the country internalize. I mean it was kind of a waking moment I think for a lot of women who heard those comments.

SHAPIRO: David, do you think that hurt, that chasm will extend even after Donald Trump leaves the political spotlight?

BROOKS: I sort of do. I think that it's - and that's especially among - potent among younger voters. The chasm between men and women is clear, but the chasm between people over 40 and under 40 is also clear. And this is especially true in evangelical circles. We've seen a lot of evangelical leaders, men in their 60s and 70s, sticking with Trump to an amazing degree.

But it's very hard, even if you go to Christian universities, to find Christian college students sticking with Trump or who - for whom Trump ever had any appeal. And so I think one of the things we're going to see post-election is a shake-up in the world of the Christian conservative world.

SHAPIRO: Let's talk about the Clinton campaign. WikiLeaks has released thousands of emails from campaign staffers, including John Podesta, her campaign chair. Alex, what do you take away from these revelations? And do you think they'll be damaging?

WAGNER: Well, I think there're two things. One is, the Clinton campaign is clearly trying to deflect some of the content of the emails by pointing out that these are from a questionable possible hack from the Russians. And I think there's - that's a legitimate claim.

At the same time, what is revealed in some of these emails is this sort of sense of career duplicity that a lot of folks have tagged Hillary Clinton with throughout her career. And I think that's problematic. And so far, it confirms what a lot of people have thought - that she has and her own set of rules that the Clinton Foundation operates in a sort of political cronyism that is not laudable for someone seeking the highest office in the land. And that is problematic.

But (laughter) given the explosion happening on just sort of the Trump side of the aisle, I think that that's provided an incredible smokescreen for the Clinton campaign to sort of avoid having to answer to some of the stuff that's been revealed in the leaks.

SHAPIRO: David, what stands out to you in these emails?

BROOKS: I've been a little surprised by how boring it is. I thought in the heat of these campaigns you'd get this - people slagging off at all these different groups, insulting each other. So-and-so is a so-and-so. But there's some criticism. There's some questionable comments about Catholics. And Bill de Blasio is sort of a pain in the rear. But it's...

WAGNER: (Laughter).

BROOKS: ...Reasonably mild, I would say. I do think the one thing that hits is that the Trump campaign is correct to say they do reveal her sort of at the center of the establishment with all that connected to financial people, connected to some duplicity. And that part is true (laughter), and so the leaks do reveal that.

SHAPIRO: I want to just briefly end by mentioning, Alex, you had an interesting piece in The Atlantic that got a lot of attention with the headline "Scare The Vote." Fearmongering, you called it. Do you think there will be real long-term impacts from it?

WAGNER: Look. I think you have a whole subset of the Republican Party that believes the system no longer works - not just the institutions, but the - Donald Trump is laying the foundation to say this vote is rigged. That's a problem when you want a representative democracy.

SHAPIRO: Alex Wagner of The Atlantic and David Brooks of The New York Times, thanks to you both.

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