Week In Politics: U.N. Condemns Israeli Settlements, Trump On Nuclear Weapons
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
And we're going to stick with President-elect Trump's comments on nuclear weapons for our regular Week in Politics chat. E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution is here in the studio. Hi, E.J.
E J DIONNE, BYLINE: Good to be with you.
SHAPIRO: And so is David Brooks of The New York Times. Hey, David.
DAVID BROOKS, BYLINE: Hi, how are you?
SHAPIRO: I'm fine. So head-scratching, imminent annihilation - what do you make of these statements about nuclear weapons from President-elect Trump, E.J.?
DIONNE: I hope in a couple years someone doesn't have an occasion to write a bestseller called tweeting to Armageddon. I mean, this is a crazy way to do nuclear policy. And not only that, you have a trumpet operation there where you've got Trump tweeting this, then his office, his press office, sort of says, no, no, no, he really meant exactly the opposite of what he said...
SHAPIRO: That was Kellyanne Conway last night with Rachel Maddow, yeah.
DIONNE: Right. And then he makes policy with a call to Mika Brzezinski on "Morning Joe" saying no, he really meant this. And I don't know what he is up to. I'm not sure he knows what he is up to. And it's just no way to deal with some of the most dangerous weapons that have ever existed.
SHAPIRO: David Brooks, I could imagine Trump saying being unpredictable is a good thing. Our adversaries don't know where we're going to go next.
BROOKS: Yeah, that's the crazy man theory. It's a risky one. It may pay off. I'm just struck by - it's an - we're in a new world of even punditry because usually when we analyze the president-elect, even a candidate or a president, there's a process. When they say something, there's been a process, there's been words, there have been arguments, there have been memos. And there's some contact with reality. These are more like emotional effusions. And so we're going to learn how much - how to - how much to take this literally. And I think the effect - if it is unliteral (ph), if there's this huge gap between whatever he says and any reality or any thought, then the effect is likely to be A, sort of powerlessness because it never will actually touch the ground, but also greater erraticness (ph). And it could go in both directions simultaneously.
SHAPIRO: There is this pattern, E.J., as you point out, where Donald Trump will often say or tweet something surprising, his advisers will say you're misinterpreting him, and then Trump will come back and say, no, don't listen to my team. The only quote that matters is a quote from me. Newt Gingrich experienced this this week. He told Morning Edition that Donald Trump doesn't say drain the swamp anymore. Then Trump tweeted, someone incorrectly stated that the phrase drain the swamp was no longer being used by me. Actually, we will always be trying to DTS. And then Gingrich posted a video. Let's listen to a clip of it.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
NEWT GINGRICH: I want to report that I made a big boo-boo. I talked this morning with President-elect Donald Trump, and he reminded me he likes draining the swamp. I blew that one. Draining the swamp is in. President-elect Trump wants to do it, and you're going to get to be part of it.
SHAPIRO: A big boo-boo. David, how will these mixed messages actually work in the process of running a huge federal bureaucracy?
BROOKS: I should point out we're sitting in the swamp. We're right here. We're getting - about to be drained.
SHAPIRO: The alligators.
BROOKS: But again, this is about words. This - Trump cares a lot about words and the words that go out. And so there's this realm of reality which is just marketing and words, and then there's the realm of reality of actually governing. And even though some of us are afraid that he'll be a very authoritarian leader and do a lot of very strong things, I can easily paint a scenario where he's a very feckless leader and he sits in the cloud of words and the agencies of government who are career staff, they just go along their merry way and nothing actually settles into their world, the world of actual reality.
DIONNE: Maybe we'll...
SHAPIRO: E.J. - I mean, we haven't actually seen Trump governing yet, right? So this is still speculation.
DIONNE: Well, it's - but you thought that Trump might make a transition to something different, and he clearly has. And we could, David, end up with the worst of both worlds, a feckless authoritarian, which would not be very good for us. There is something appalling about how Trump loyalists have to grovel when their leader reproaches them. That Gingrich line was just sort of - it went right through you given how strong Gingrich's views are. But Gingrich's statement was actually a classic case of the Mike Kinsley rule that a gaffe is when someone tells the truth.
Far from draining the swamp, it looks like he's going to expand the swamp. You know, we heard not only is he not going to follow traditional conflict-of-interest rules, not only is he not releasing his tax returns, the Senate Republicans said they're not going to ask for Rex Tillerson's tax returns. The Democrats are saying they want them. And so there really is - words mean whatever Donald Trump wants them to mean. And it's hard to see how any of these actions is going to drain any swamp.
BROOKS: One nice thing - I have to say one nice thing about Trump, which is that he is a New Yorker, which means he's willing to tolerate dissent. And he's willing to smack people down in public, even giving Kellyanne Conway the job - communications job, which she got this week after the public dissing of Mitt Romney in the...
SHAPIRO: Oh, for the secretary of state?
SHAPIRO: Wait, but is he tolerating dissent...
DIONNE: Although she won...
SHAPIRO: ...When he contradicts Kellyanne Conway, contradicts Newt Gingrich? Newt Gingrich makes his public statements...
BROOKS: But then he still hired her. I think he's used to arguing with people in public and not holding it. So he's not cutting them off, which I ascribe to one virtue of being a New Yorker.
SHAPIRO: I chuckle over my fellow New Yorker, Robert Siegel, in the adjacent chair.
DIONNE: You just named one thing I can like about Donald Trump. I like New Yorkers, too (laughter).
SHAPIRO: OK, let's switch gears for a moment to talk about the attack in Berlin this week. The man suspected in the attack has been killed by police in Italy. He was originally from Tunisia, had been seeking asylum in Germany. Apparently, he had pledged to support ISIS. What do you see as the domestic political implications of this, David?
BROOKS: Well, the - I don't think we're going have a registry of Muslims. I do think there's going to be a lot more personal hostility. I think the biggest effect on America will be the decline of the European project. And whatever happens in the coming French elections, whatever happens in German elections, the fact that we took for granted that Europe was a unifying and stable place mostly given to liberal democratic values. I think that is going away. And we're going to have to grapple with an ugliness of that, a return to history.
SHAPIRO: E.J., you don't think this provides momentum for a Trump administration push for if not a Muslim registry then something related to that?
DIONNE: Yeah, no, I am very worried that that's the way he is going to try to use it, whether it's a Muslim registry or some of the other things he's talked about. And he made that very clear, if I may quote another Trump tweet today. There were terror attacks in Turkey, Switzerland and Germany, and it is only getting worse. The civilized world must change its thinking. And so Trump clearly is of a mind to use these attacks. But I think Trump's tweet also relates to what David said. What's also at least scary to me is that Trump and his - some of his people seem to side not with the people who partook of the old democratic consensus in Europe, people like Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany, but the opposition in Western Europe. And that suggests the U.S. is fundamentally changing sides in a big fight in the world. I hope that's wrong, but that's the indication we're getting now.
SHAPIRO: Would be nice if Donald Trump might hold a press conference so we could ask him about it.
DIONNE: You are right about that.
SHAPIRO: E.J. Dionne and David Brooks, thanks as always.
BROOKS AND DIONNE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.