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How 'Fire And Fury' Could Change The Politics Of The Trump Administration


Right now, joining me for our Friday politics talk are columnist E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution and David Brooks of The New York Times. Hi, both of you. Good to see you.


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

SIEGEL: We'll get to some personal matters in a moment. But first, to follow up on what we've heard from Tam - a public split between Donald Trump and Steve Bannon. There also are reports of a Russia investigation that's turning up more problems for people close to Donald Trump, if not Trump himself. David, even by the standards of weeks in the time of President Donald Trump, does this one stand out as an especially newsworthy one?

BROOKS: Yeah. First of all, E.J. and I have agreed to precede our comments with an agreement that working with you in the past 18 years has been one of the great privileges of our career and that you're not only a good host, intelligent and curious, but you've exemplified what good citizenship should be like.

DIONNE: And David and I completely agree on this.


DIONNE: You said once that you speak...

SIEGEL: We don't like it when you agree this much.

BROOKS: (Laughter).

DIONNE: I know. Well, that's...

SIEGEL: Yeah, yeah.

DIONNE: Well, we'll get to disagreement.

SIEGEL: All right.

DIONNE: But you've said - you said once that you speak to listeners as people you feel close to and whose intelligence you respect, and that's why you have hundreds of thousands of intelligent friends around the country, all your listeners there who love and respect - Robert, you have never been so right about anything. You are a wise man and a mensch, and we will miss you.

SIEGEL: Well, I - thank you. I'm very proud to count you both as colleagues and as friends as well. And now onto Donald Trump.


SIEGEL: David...

BROOKS: So from the sublime to the ridiculous.



BROOKS: You know, I first have worries about this whole episode. Michael Wolff does not operate by the standards that prevail at The New York Times, The Washington Post, at NPR. And I worry that we're lowering our standards because we find it salacious and gossipy. I think this book has some things that are probably accurate - probably the quotes - a lot of things that are probably fictional. And we're - our state in the American public opinion is so precarious. I worry about us becoming even more delegitimized by simply baying to this guy.

I think the quotes are probably right, and the split between Trump and Bannon is certainly right. And to me, that's the most significant thing to come out of this. And I have to say I have the minority view on this. Everyone thinks Bannon is finished.


BROOKS: But Bannonism, populism has real roots in this country. Trumpism, a billionaire narcissist, has no roots. So I do not think - I think in the long run, Bannonism or something like it will outlast Trumpism.


DIONNE: I want to make you happy by beginning by disagreeing with David.

SIEGEL: (Laughter).

DIONNE: I disagree with him on what Michael Wolff did here. Yes, his methods are different. The real test is, is the picture he has painted of Trump's White House accurate or not? And almost anyone I have heard from mainstream journalism who has been covering the White House says broadly speaking, this is the chaos that is going on in there; this is the Donald Trump that they have often heard about off the record and the flaws he has brought out. And so I think, you know, there are - yes, David and I have different journalistic histories and methods. But he has sort of ended denial I think about the Trump presidency that I think is useful.

I do agree that populism of a Bannon sort is still out there, but even that I think has been undercut by Trump because what he's done is - he has - I think he's let down a lot of those white, working-class voters we have talked about so much. His tax cut is not popular. He's done very few things for them. It is, by the way, one of the reasons why Steve Bannon was against this tax cut. He understood the damage...


DIONNE: ...It would do to this base.

SIEGEL: I mean, David, you've said all along that what you now speak of as Bannonism - it has some contours to it. It is a set of ideas. It's not just running on the fumes of Reaganism from...

BROOKS: Yeah. And I've said before that Donald Trump is the wrong answer to the right question. And what Bannon, the populist - who - whether it was Pat Buchanan, Bannon, whoever is the future iteration - disbelief in the post-war world order with America, you know, actively engaged around the world - the disbelief in globalization, a sense that the elites are corrupt and detached from regular people - all those things are real sentiments, and Donald Trump does not answer to them. And we are guaranteed in part because of the tax bill that there'll be even more alienation of the working class in the next election, which will show up one way or another.

SIEGEL: E.J., let me ask you about the Democrats. There's lots of talk these days about polls and other measures of enthusiasm, how many people are signing up to run for office that suggest there's a Democratic wave election coming up in November. Is this kind of talk - is it realistic? Are Democrats getting overconfident about the gains they're going to make in Congress? It's the same country that went to the polls in 2016, same districts.

DIONNE: I think after the 2016 election, Democrats will never get overconfident about anything. The question is, is any of this stuff rooted in reality? And I think we've seen two sets of realities or two realities already - one, the elections in November in Virginia and in New Jersey but all over the country where Democrats boasted these enormous gains. And then, yes, it was a peculiar circumstance, but we saw Alabama. What I think gives us reason to think a wave is coming - and it's still a long way away...


DIONNE: ...Is that Democrats seem enthusiastic to vote against Trump. They seem mobilized. This is like the electorates of 2006, 2010 and 2014, an electorate that seems eager to rebuke the...


DIONNE: ...President who's in office.

SIEGEL: But David, I mean, it's hard to imagine other really red states like Alabama suddenly electing Democrats in 2018 because of Donald Trump.

BROOKS: But, you know, the Democrats have this huge party advantage ID. My imagination isn't big enough to figure out how the Democrats are going to mess this up.


BROOKS: But somehow I'm sure they will. You know, I think the bigger trend is the collapse of both parties. I do think we've seen this around Europe and around the world that major parties are in disarray, the Republicans in clear collapse. The Democrats will probably have a good year. But the underlying splits I do think are real, and the leftward drift and the collapse of the center - that's a real fact of the Democratic Party.

SIEGEL: You know, it's surprising because thinking back on all the years that I've been hosting the program leading up to tonight, my last show today, 30 years ago, the political parties in America really weren't coherent. There were these odd patchworks of, you know, rock-ribbed Midwestern Republicans and Northeastern liberal Republicans and progressives from the Pacific Northwest. The Democrats had past segregationists and still segregationist mixed up with Northern liberals. The parties make more sense now. I mean, they're more coherent. It's just the politics that comes of their attempting to work together makes less sense.

BROOKS: But think about how bad a period - 30 years ago, the Soviet Union was beginning its collapse. The wall was about to fall.


BROOKS: We thought we were in the advance of civil liberal democracy. It's pretty much been downhill (laughter) ever since. And so that to me is the major trend - the collapse of what we thought was an advance of liberal democracy, a move to the center, and we're all going to have free democracies. That's not happening, and a lot of people are upset - legitimately upset about it.

DIONNE: Small-D democrats have a lot of work to do around the world. But I am so struck with what you said, Robert, because I think it was in 1950 or '51 the American Political Science Association put out a paper, "Toward A More Responsible Party System" (ph) that said we needed a more ideologically...

SIEGEL: Right, right.

DIONNE: ...Philosophically coherent set of parties. And look what we got out of it. And so I actually think that a lot of political scientists are rethinking this, and we're asking the question, would we do a little better with parties that were slightly more diverse than they are now? They are diverse but in rather peculiar ways and in ways that aren't yet functional for us.

SIEGEL: It is almost 18 years since we imposed this marriage on the two of you. I've been the moderator very often, and I just wanted to thank the two of you for so many thought-provoking conversations about politics over the years. E.J. Dionne and David Brooks, thanks.

BROOKS: And a great honor - thank you, Robert.

DIONNE: One of the greatest joys of my journalistic life. Bless you, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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