ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Joining us now to talk about Trump’s speech to those conservative activists along with other news from the week in politics are our Friday regulars, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and The Brookings Institution and David Brooks of The New York Times. Good to have you both here.
DAVID BROOKS, BYLINE: Good to be here.
E J DIONNE, BYLINE: Good to be included here.
SHAPIRO: Let’s pick up where Tam left off. Not long ago, conservative activists at CPAC were lukewarm at best on Trump. His counselor Kellyanne Conway joked earlier this week that CPAC today would become T-PAC – T for Trump. So, David, have the conservative movement and the Trump movement at this point become one of the same?
BROOKS: Yes. It’s kind of amazing. It’s like 100 years ago, watching 15 Bolsheviks take over Russia. CPAC used to stand, as we heard, for Rand Paul, which was a belief in free markets, a belief in free trade, somewhat the movement of – free movement of people across borders. And now it’s the opposite of all those things.
Now, at – today at CPAC, they booed a free trade. They cheered the closing down of borders – make America only – and they’re waving Russian flags. The weirdest one, which is not CPAC, but Republican Party, Republicans – like, 10 percent used to have a positive view of Vladimir Putin, and now like 30 percent have a positive view. And so this has gone from being a conservative, free market philosophical position to being an ethno-nationalist identity group.
SHAPIRO: Help us understand this, E.J. Did people who held those positions, say, in favor of free trade, against Russia – are they just out of the tent now? Did they change their mind? What’s going on?
DIONNE: Well, first of all, I think the CPAC meeting has always been a kind of weather vane. Some years it’s been more Reaganite. Some years it’s been more libertarian. By the way, Mike Pence did a nice old-time religion Reaganite speech there. This week, he seemed like he was in a different administration almost. I think what’s going on here is two-thirds opportunism, which is cozying up to the people in power.
SHAPIRO: Dance with the one that brung you?
DIONNE: Right. He won, and they want power. But I think one-third is the hope that Trump delivers on big tax cuts and deregulation. Steve Bannon spoke of the deconstruction of the administrative state, which is an ominous thought for some of us, but it’s exactly what many of those people want.
SHAPIRO: I want to talk about a different item in the news which came from a former Republican leader, retired House Speaker John Boehner. He said something surprising about Obamacare yesterday at a health care conference. Let’s listen to this.
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JOHN BOEHNER: I shouldn’t have called it repeal and replace because that’s not what’s going to happen. They’re basically going to fix the flaws and put a more conservative box around it.
SHAPIRO: E.J., it’s hard to imagine Boehner saying this when he was in office. Is he just saying what other Republican lawmakers are privately thinking to themselves?
DIONNE: John Boehner could have saved the country a whole lot of trouble if he had said that when he was speaker because he was really talking about – and other Republicans have talked about the fact that they never had a replacement plan. And I was talking to one Democratic senator who made an interesting point. And he didn’t mean this in a partisan way. He said, you know, Democrats because they had to pass Obamacare, ended up having to educate themselves on health care issues.
The Republicans, because they decided not to play at all, have really not engaged that much in health care issues with a few exceptions. And now they find themselves in a situation where they don’t really want to spend the money that Obamacare spends. And it takes a lot of money to insure the uninsured.
But they also know that they can get hammered – and you’re seeing it in the town meetings – if they throw a lot of people off health insurance. So John Boehner, I think, spoke the truth. Although, I still think there are a lot of Republicans who are going to try to repeal this thing.
SHAPIRO: So, David, where does this leave Republicans who have promised their base for years now to repeal and replace if their former leader John Boehner is saying it’s never going to happen?
BROOKS: Well, on one level, Boehner is completely correct. If the talk is wipe the slate clean and start over, that was never going to happen. And that is not going to happen. Boehner is absolutely right about that. If they’re not going have a plan, well, that’s not true either. They do have a plan that’s been moving forward on Capitol Hill with some dispatch. They’re congregating around a few key principles. So it’s pretty expensive – $100 billion over 10 years to fund some of the high-risk individuals. They’re cohering around a plan.
What’s interesting to me is it’s an old conservative free market plan, which is a built around tax credits and people – individuals buying their own health insurance. It’s not the Donald Trump mantra. It’s a plan that will shift risk and shift choice down to the individual and the family level. And whether actual Trump voters want that additional risk – that additional choice – that’s not clear to me.
DIONNE: But it’s – if I could say, it’s not much of a plan if your goal is to keep insuring 20 or 30 million – over the long run – people that was envisioned by Obamacare. And they – you know, there’s talk that they’re going to give the same subsidies to wealthier people and poor people. They’re going to do it by age. Well, that’s not going to help poorer Americans or low-income working people buy health insurance, so they’re still going to run into a problem with these ideas.
SHAPIRO: So if Ryan describes this as repeal, replace and Boehner, his predecessor, describes it as fix the flaws and put a more conservative box around it, which is closer to the truth?
BROOKS: Both, both. I guess Boehner is a little closer – depends how aggressive the Republican plan is. But I do think – to me, the big question is – they’re taking away benefits. There’s no question about that. And they’re taking away benefits from a lot of Republican voters who got them from ACA now. Do the people – do those voters in Michigan and Pennsylvania – do they just want to repeal it or at the end of the day, will they say, actually, we’d like to keep what we have?
DIONNE: And Lisa Murkowski from – the senator from Alaska is a straw in the wind here because she doesn’t want to repeal the Medicaid part of it. And that she and people like representatives from West Virginia – there are a lot of Obamacare beneficiaries in those states.
SHAPIRO: I want to briefly talk about the Democratic leadership elections happening this weekend, which generally don’t get much attention. But at this point, the Democratic Party does not have a clear leader. There’s a lot of energy surrounding town halls. As you wrote this week, E.J., that energy does not necessarily seem to translate to enthusiasm for the Democratic Party. How will this election reflect on the future of the party, E.J.?
DIONNE: Well, there’s been a lot of discussion in their debates about what the party needs to do with this energy. And first of all, I think it’s great that energy is coming up from civil society. This is not a partisan thing. It’s not, by the way, a particularly left-wing thing. A lot of the opponents of Trump are quite moderate people who oppose the very radicalism of the Trump agenda.
What you are beginning to see at the grassroots are local Democratic parties starting to be inundated with people from this movement who are taking the next step into politics. And whoever becomes chair of the party is going to have to try not to quash the independents of this moment. But, as the tea party did – to its credit, they understood elections matter, parties matter. And they’ve got to attract these people into electoral politics.
SHAPIRO: David, what tea leaves will you be reading out of this leadership election about the future of the Democratic Party?
BROOKS: Well, I have never seen a party leader who really shifted a party. To me, the crucial issue is will the Democrats learn from Donald Trump. If Trump taught us anything, it’s don’t get too cute about strategizing but have a key answer to the central problem of our day. Is global capitalism in the postwar international order a good thing or a bad thing? Trump decided it was a bad thing. He ran a very coherent campaign against it, and he won. Democrats have to have an answer to that basic question.
SHAPIRO: David Brooks, E.J. Dionne, thanks to both of you.
BROOKS: Thank you.
DIONNE: Good to be with you.
(SOUNDBITE OF ROY HARGROVE SONG, “I’M NOT SO SURE”) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.