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Week In Politics: On Primaries, Jobs Numbers, Iran

Mar 9, 2012
Originally published on March 11, 2012 8:12 am
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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

If Tuesday was super, what does that make Friday? Well, a super day to catch up with our regular political commentators, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and David Brooks of the New York Times. Welcome back to you both.

DAVID BROOKS: Good to be with you.

E.J. DIONNE: Good to be here.

BLOCK: I want to ask you first about the message from the Mitt Romney this week. They were briefing reporters after Super Tuesday on what they see as his inexorable march to the nomination. It would take an act of God, they say, for Santorum or Gingrich to be the nominee. And as much as calling on both of them to drop out, we also have Rick Santorum saying Gingrich should drop out so that there would be one conservative alternative to Romney. David, any chance of any of this happening? What do you think?

BROOKS: Not soon. They're sort of right. He's going to probably win the nomination in the most painful way possible. I feel like I should buy him some stoic philosophers on how to suffer with dignity. He's going to have to walk through a valley of humiliation for a few more months.

BLOCK: A lot of cheese grits along the way.

BROOKS: March - at least one grit. March is going to be pretty bad. As he says, it's not his best region, a lot of Southern votes, so there's going to be more humiliation. But he'll probably do it. One thing to think about, though, Shawn Trenda(ph), one of the people who's been watching - counting delegates - did a calculation that he could end all the primaries, even the big ones at the end, and still not have enough delegates to capture the nomination.

He'd be, according to this calculation, about 75 short. And then the party would just sort of have to heave him over the top, which would only confirm the storyline that he's the nominee, but not the strongest possible one.

BLOCK: You know, E.J., I was looking at the calendar for four years ago, Mitt Romney was out two days after Super Tuesday, which came a lot earlier. It was February. Mike Huckabee was out by March 4th. Mistake for the Republican to have stretched out the calendar, do you think, in the way they have?

DIONNE: So far, you have to say it is. I should begin by saying, good afternoon, ya'll, which is about as authentic for me as it is for Mitt Romney. I think that, you know, give him his due. He did win Ohio. He's won the two big states he had to win, back to back, Michigan and Ohio. But when you look forward down the road, assuming Romney pulls this out - and my one caveat about his inevitability is that there are winner-take-all primaries later.

If Santorum ever got in a one-on-one with him and got hot, he could actually start picking up delegates. But Romney has a huge class problem. You know, he's got a problem with Southerners and conservatives and evangelical Christians, but those will probably solve themselves because they don't want to vote for Obama. But this class problem, he wouldn't be winning these primaries unless he got a lot of support from people earning over 100,000 a year.

He's doing really well among people earning over 200,000 a year. He cannot afford to sort of be this dependent on upscale voters if he's going to beat Obama.

BLOCK: Well, Democrats have been looking at what's going on in the primary, looking also at the economic numbers and seeing good news for President Obama's reelection prospects. Premature optimism, David, or no?

BROOKS: Yeah, I think Romney is right now undervalued and Obama's a little overvalued. Romney does have a class problem. Ron Browstein of the National Journal calls it the wine track versus the beer track. Romney wins the wine track voter, loses the beer track voter. Well, guess what, so does Barack Obama. If it's two guys from Harvard Law School running against each other, they're both going to have problems with the working class.

Second, when you get to the general election, all his weaknesses will look a little stronger. He's not as conservative as the Republican Party – well, guess what, that's gonna be good. And then, the final thing to be said is when you get to the general election, it'll be a pretty conventional big government versus small government argument, which we've been having for decades. And Republicans do reasonably well when that argument gets started.

BLOCK: E.J.?

DIONNE: Well, it's too optimistic to say Obama has won this election because, you know, a lot of things can happen in Iran, the economy might take - the recovery might be less robust. So I'm one of those who says don't count Obama in.

But when you look at today's jobs report, I think it was quite significant because this is the third month in a row of 200,000 or more jobs. They had to revise the old numbers upward, which is usually a sign you're in a real recovery. Manufacturing jobs grew, which is good in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, for Obama. So, yes, it's premature to say, to declare this over. But I think today's economic report is a very good sign for Obama.

BLOCK: You mentioned Iran, E.J., and I want to turn to foreign policy. President Obama hosted the Israeli prime minister, Netanyahu, at the White House on Monday, and on Tuesday held a news conference and called out Republicans on what he called their bluster and big talk about Iran.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Now, what's said on the campaign trail, you know, those folks don't have a lot of responsibilities. They're not commander-in-chief.

BLOCK: This is not a game, was his message. David Brooks, what do you think about the president's language and his attempt to thread the needle on U.S. policy toward Iran?

BROOKS: Yeah, on this one I have to give him credit. I think he has threaded the needle. He's been quite tough. He's been restraining the Israelis while being tough and showing Iran is not just an Israeli problem, it's an American problem. It's a whole Middle East problem.

But I've been speaking to people in the administration, and the question they're not asking is not will there be a war with Iran but what will happen if the Israelis attack against our will? How do we react? Suppose the Iranians then retaliate against Israel, the Gulf States, maybe Saudi Arabia, gas immediately goes up to $8 a gallon. And then what do we do?

Do we then say let's just try to tamp it down or do we say we're in the middle of this fight, we might as well try to get out the Iranian regime? That's the practical question they face. And it's a possibility for this summer and so that's a tremendously tough issue.

BLOCK: E.J., what are you hearing?

DIONNE: Their goal and their hope is that none of this happens until after the election. They really hope that this doesn't come to a head before then.

BLOCK: Or that none of this happens at all presumably.

DIONNE: Presumably, yes. But if there's going to be a crisis, they don't want it after the election. I think those are the indications that the president gave to Bibi Netanyahu because the consequences are so unpredictable, both economically and in foreign policy.

BLOCK: And do you think that message - that the Republicans are talking tough, but what are they really think we should do here, do you think that carries weight with the voters?

DIONNE: I think it carries weight because Americans are sick of war. And so they'd rather have a president who will go to war reluctantly rather than eagerly.

BLOCK: OK, we'll see you next week. Thanks to you both.

DIONNE: Thank you.

BROOKS: Thank you.

BLOCK: E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution, and David Brooks of The New York Times. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.