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Week In Politics: Trump Sticks To His Guns, Carson Heads Out On A Trip


In politics this week, President Obama hosted the French president at the White House, members of Congress threatened to shut down the government over a possible climate deal and Donald Trump did another cannonball dive in the swimming pool of presidential politics. Here to discuss all that is David Brooks of The New York Times, joining us this week from Philadelphia. Hi, David.


SHAPIRO: And also, Amy Sullivan of Yahoo News is here in the studio. Hi, Amy.


SHAPIRO: Let's start with Trump. We have a clip here from a rally on Tuesday where he mocks a reporter named Serge Kovaleski, who has a degenerative joint condition. Trump is using an article that Kovaleski wrote 14 years ago to back up the false claim that thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrated after 9/11. Let's listen.


DONALD TRUMP: Written by a nice reporter. Now, the poor guy - you've got to see this guy. Oh, I don't know what I said. Ah, I don't remember. He's going, like, I don't remember. Maybe that's what I said.

SHAPIRO: So not the first time Donald Trump has mocked a reporter - also not the first time he's made a claim that isn't supported by the facts. But, David, this seems like a new level on both counts.

BROOKS: Is it? Well, he hits new levels. He started a new level, and he keeps hitting them. I think for me the big question - is Trump for real? You know, he's been on top of the polls for about four months doing antics like this, and nothing seems to hurt him. So is he for real? And I still think the answer is no. When you look at Iowa, New Hampshire in years past, when the voters made up their mind, they made up their mind in the last couple weeks. Eighty percent of the voters made up their mind in the last couple weeks. So it's important to remember that if - when you look at the polls, of course they'll give you an answer if you're asking who did they vote for. But those votes - at least 80 percent of them - are still undecided. And it just boggles my mind that when they actually do decide on something real they're going to go for Trump. So I'm sticking with the camp that all this is just a pregame mirage.

SHAPIRO: Well, Amy, do you think this is wishful thinking on David's part? I mean, people thought Trump would fade after the Paris attacks. They thought Trump would fade at the end of the summer. People kept thinking Trump would fade, and he hasn't faded.

SULLIVAN: He hasn't faded, and I think the Republican Party very much hopes that he will. They're hoping that this is just kind of a flash in the pan. And yet, he keeps sticking around. And as far as we can tell from polling, his outrageous statements, which keep topping each other one after the other after the other, are not pushing away his core supporters. Now, whether he has anything more than what seems to be a ceiling of about 20 percent is still up for grabs. And we will know as the field starts to narrow or continues to narrow even more - farewell, Bobby Jindal - where Donald Trump has some room to grow or whether you'll see other candidates coming in.

SHAPIRO: Speaking of other candidates, Ben Carson made an interesting move this week. He left yesterday evening for Jordan to visit with Syrian refugees. And, of course, this happens as Carson takes a lot of questions about how much he knows about foreign policy. David, do you think this trip to refugee camp in Jordan will help?

BROOKS: Yeah, we'll see if he can find Jordan. You know, I think...

SHAPIRO: That sounds like a no to me.

BROOKS: I think he's - he, unlike, Trump - Trump has had some downswings, and then he's come back, which demonstrates some resilient. Carson, his numbers have not shown that resilience. When he starts sliding, so far the slides have continued. And his level of lack of knowledge on some of these foreign-policy issues can't be cured by a single trip to a refugee camp.

SHAPIRO: But it is an interesting move when most of the Republican Party is talking about closing the doors to refugees, Amy, for a Republican presidential candidate go to a refugee camp in Jordan.

SULLIVAN: Yeah, well, and especially someone who is comparing refugees to rabid dogs just last week. You know, Ben Carson - I don't think anybody knows what he's doing, including Ben Carson. But it's true that he is, as time goes on, starting to look more and more like what we saw a lot of in 2012 on the Republican side, where Michelle Bachmann would be at the top of this polls, and then she'd drop and Rick Perry would do the same thing and then she'd drop - he'd drop. Herman Cain was, at one point, the Republican frontrunner.

SHAPIRO: I remember somebody memorably describing it as the Angry Birds candidacy, where one after another, they were go up and then plummet down. Well, before the family turned their attention to turkey pardons and pumpkin pies, President Obama hosted the French leader, Francois Hollande, at the White House this week. Let's listen to a bit of that.


BARACK OBAMA: We're here today to declare that the United States and France stand united in total solidarity to deliver justice to these terrorists and those who sent them and to defend our nations.

SHAPIRO: This week, Hollande also visited Moscow to try to get Russian President Vladimir Putin to focus on defeating ISIS. But also this week, Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet near the Syrian border. So, Amy, when it comes to Syria, the fight against ISIS, would you say things are moving in a better or worse direction after this week's events?

SULLIVAN: I would say it's still a complete mess and continues to get a little more complicated. You know, you've got Turkey going after Kurdish fighters who are fighting ISIS. You've got the Russians bombing moderate Syrians who the U.S. would like them to stop bombing. Apparently what has come out of the meeting between Hollande and Putin is Putin requested a map of the people he shouldn't be bombing and said, well, you know, once you can get that to us, sure, we'll stop bombing the people we think we shouldn't be. You know, this continues to be just kind of a morass. And it was hard to know what to make of the meeting between Hollande and Obama because there's not much that the U.S. is willing to do right now - or can do - more than offer verbal support. Joe Biden said at one point, like, we haven't just been doing most of it; we've been doing it all. We've been doing 95 percent of the airstrikes in Syria.

SHAPIRO: David, what would you say? There's a lot of activity, but what direction is this actually moving?

BROOKS: Listen, this thing is only going to be resolved - ISIS is only going to be weakened if the Sunnis on the ground - the normal Sunnis - take arms against it as they did against al-Qaeda in Iraq, you know, five or six years old. And that's only going to happen if Assad is taken out. As long as Assad is basically committing genocide against the Sunnis, the Sunnis are going to stick with ISIS. And so the idea that we can have some alliance with Putin, who's Assad's main backer, is a chimera (ph). And so we can have an alliance with France, and hopefully we can have an alliance with the Turkmen and some of the people on the ground, but we can't have an alliance with Putin because his interests are diametrically opposed to ours. I thought what happened with the Turks and the Russians was the big story here. It showed that, in a vacuum, all the people with old, historical claims - and, of course, Turkey has historical claims on Syria - are leaping in and trying to fill the void. And so it seems to me that the fount of strategic clarity here is thinking, of course we've got to get rid of ISIS. But we can't get rid of ISIS unless Assad is gone. And so there has to be this very complicated two-track policy which simply cannot involve Putin because he's against that policy.

SHAPIRO: Last item I want to ask you about just briefly - with a climate conference starting in Paris next week, 200 countries meeting, Republicans in Congress threatening to shut down the government over money to poor countries for climate change. David, is shutting down the government becoming a standard political tool these days?

BROOKS: Threatening it seems to be, over everything from Planned Parenthood to climate change but if you look at polls of Russian - I mean (laughter) Russian - Republican voters, they hate the idea of shutting down the government, so they may oppose some of the climate measures. But the idea of shutting down the government, destabilizing the U.S. is very unpopular, even among Republicans.

SHAPIRO: That's David Brooks of The New York Times and also Amy Sullivan of Yahoo News. Thanks to both of you.

BROOKS: Thank you.

SULLIVAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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