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Week In Politics: Iowa Caucus, New Hampshire Primary


This week began with the first presidential race in the nation, the Iowa caucuses, and some surprises. On the Republican side, the frontrunner, Donald Trump, coming in second to winner Ted Cruz. The Democratic race proved just how hard it is for Democrats to choose between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. All this is raising questions ahead of Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, and for more, we turn to our Friday regulars, David Brooks, of The New York Times, here in studio.

Hey there, David.


CORNISH: ...And E.J. Dionne, of The Washington Post, speaking to us from NHPR in Concord, N.H., and with a cold. Right there, E.J.?

E.J. DIONNE: Indeed, but it's good to be here in Concord and with you.

CORNISH: Well, I want to start with the Democrats and last night's debate on MSNBC because we saw Hillary Clinton, I think, really go on the offensive against Bernie Sanders and his claim of being the progressive in the race. She called him the self-proclaimed gatekeeper of the term at one point and went on to argue that his definition would leave out a lot of big-name Democrats. Here she is, courtesy of MSNBC.


HILLARY CLINTON: President Obama's not progressive because he took donations from Wall Street. Vice President Biden is not progressive because he supported Keystone. Sen. Shaheen is not progressive because she supports the trade pact. Even the late great Sen. Paul Wellstone would not fit this definition because he voted for DOMA. You know, we have differences, and, honestly, I think we should be talking about what we want to do for the country.

CORNISH: Now, later in the debate, Sanders did say that he thought President Obama was a progressive even though he disagreed with the president on a number of issues.

E.J., let's talk about the fight over this term. I mean, why does it carry so much significance with Democratic voters right now, especially after eight years of Democratic leadership?

DIONNE: Well, I think many Democrats feel very happy about a bunch of things that the president did achieve but also, A - wish more had been achieved. But, B - the party has changed, particularly since the Great Depression. The amount of time that Bernie Sanders spends talking about Wall Street and - is an example of that. And he's trying to turn Clinton into a moderate. And there's something very odd about a fight over terminology. He says she's a moderate. She says she's progressive. Actually, she's a moderate progressive, and I thought it was very interesting when she said, where does the term come from? It comes from the word progress. She argued that it was more likely - her ideas were more likely to go forward than Bernie's, and it was the classic form of the debate they've been having all through this campaign.

BROOKS: There was a piece in The Atlantic saying it was a debate between a hedgehog and the fox. Hedgehog knows one thing - and that's Bernie Sanders, he knows to attack Wall Street - and the fox knows many things, and it's true, Hillary Clinton goes off in many different directions at once. I'd say also it's a debate between process and policy. With Sanders, the first thing you think of is a bunch of policies - of free college, the National Health Service and all that sort of thing. With Hillary, her main argument has been process - I can get stuff done. I just think that's a less compelling thing. And...

CORNISH: Getting stuff done used to be a good thing, David Brooks.


BROOKS: No, I just think as a campaign argument...


BROOKS: ...Saying, I'm pragmatic, I can get stuff done is not as rhetorically compelling. And second, it does leave out the possibility - and this would be a doubt in voters' minds - does she actually have vision? And if you go back to her secretary of state position, she was very good at process and she logged a lot of miles. It's not quite clear what her vision was as secretary of state. So I think that is a genuine weakness that she has to adjust with some substantive vision to counter his.

CORNISH: I want to pluck out something the two of you both mentioned - Wall Street - because that was another sharp moment in the debate. Hillary Clinton pressed on whether she'd consider releasing the transcripts of her paid speeches. Bernie Sanders and others have been criticizing her paid appearances to, like, universities and trade associations and Goldman Sachs. And she just sort of said she'd look into it or dodge it.

I mean, E.J., could this become a problem or play into this existing criticism?

DIONNE: Well, I do think that if she has texts of those speeches, she ought to release them because I can't imagine that she's said anything that would come back to bite her at this moment. She has never had a fully effective answer on this but she was far more aggressive in defending herself than she had been before, and it was striking that she basically said to Sanders, stop criticizing me by innuendo. You are implying something here - essentially, that her vote is for sale - and my vote was not for sale. If you want to make this charge, go out and make it.

In terms of process, you really have here two theories of change. Hillary's got tons of policy out there, but Bernie is talking a lot about the need to fix a broken campaign money system and to start mobilizing people. I think a lot of Democrats agree with Clinton on gradual change but agree with Bernie on the need to fix a broken system.

BROOKS: I'd be stunned if she released those speeches 'cause if you watch most speakers before industry groups, they kiss up to the groups. And she probably said some nice things about her audiences. I think a couple things are true. One, it is true that Obama took a lot of money from Wall Street. She took a lot of money from Wall Street. You can still take that money and still pass, you know, anti-Wall Street legislation. Second, if you do think capital markets are the epicenter of evil in the world, which apparently a lot of Democrats do believe, then it's no doubt clear that they could get Hillary Clinton on the phone faster than get Bernie Sanders on the phone. She is closer to Wall Street than Bernie Sanders. That's - whether she gave speeches or not just by her nature, by who she represented when she was a senator, by her relative moderation on these subjects, she would be closer to Wall Street if that's your criteria for voting.

CORNISH: I want to turn briefly in our last minute-and-a-half or so to Republicans and the New Hampshire primary. Predictions - who are you guys looking for to either break out of the pack or maybe step up? David?

BROOKS: Well, you're seeing Kasich - I mean you're seeing Rubio establish some distance between himself and the other mainstream, from the Bush's, the Christie's and the Kasich's. And so you've seen that in the polls already, assuming the polls are correct. And so it's looking more like a three-man race, and it's looking more like if you're a Bush or a Kasich and a Christie and you do not top Rubio, you probably have to get out after New Hampshire.

CORNISH: Last minute to you, E.J.

DIONNE: I think that the one question is, does Donald Trump lose again? I don't think that's inconceivable. He got snowed-in in New York. He can't seem to bring himself to stay at a Courtyard Marriott on the campaign trail so he canceled his only event here in Londonderry today. And I'm just wondering if the same thing may start happening to him in New Hampshire as happened in Iowa. I don't think it's going to happen, but it does seem like a possibility.

CORNISH: And we'll be watching that with you. David Brooks, of The New York Times, thanks so much.

BROOKS: Thank you.

CORNISH: And E.J. Dionne, of The Washington Post and best-selling author of the book, "Why The Right Went Wrong," thank you.

DIONNE: Thank you Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.