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Week In Politics: Ryan Endorses Trump, Clinton's Foreign Policy Speech

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Now to talk about other things that happened in the news this week, we are joined by our regular political commentators E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution and David Brooks of The New York Times. Hello to both of you.

DAVID BROOKS: Hello.

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

MCEVERS: Let's start with this foreign policy speech that Hillary Clinton gave yesterday where she really went on the attack against Donald Trump and called his foreign policy incoherent. Let's take a listen.

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HILLARY CLINTON: Imagine him deciding whether to send your spouses or children into battle. Imagine if he had not just his Twitter account at his disposal when he's angry, but America's entire arsenal. Do we want him making those calls, someone thin-skinned and quick to anger who lashes out at the smallest criticism? Do we want his finger anywhere near the button?

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: No.

MCEVERS: And then last night, Trump responded at a rally in California.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: Crooked Hillary said, oh, Donald Trump, his finger on the button. I'm the one that didn't want to go into Iraq, folks. And she's the one that stupidly raised her hand to go into Iraq and destabilize the entire Middle East - OK? - 'cause that's what she did.

MCEVERS: Although, we should say there is evidence Trump actually supported the war before it started. He did publicly oppose the war within about a year of the invasion. But E.J. and David, it seems like this is a new kind of criticism for Clinton. We got a lot of commentators now saying, game on. E.J. did this election just get more interesting?

DIONNE: Totally. I think she defined the choice facing voters in this election as she had never had before. She did the most devastating thing you can do with Donald Trump. She quoted him over and over again. I particularly liked the line - he says he has foreign policy experience because he ran the Miss Universe Pageant in Russia.

MCEVERS: Right.

DIONNE: And she was mocking in a light way over and over again. She seemed far more at ease with this. She seemed very comfortable with this critique in a way. I don't think she ever has in going after Bernie Sanders 'cause there's a potential high cost there.

MCEVERS: Right.

DIONNE: And Trump's response was - if I may use the phrase - very weak. The man who usually produces a torrent of tweets had one about Clinton reading badly from the teleprompter.

MCEVERS: Right.

DIONNE: And nobody - no surrogates are out there to defend against this maybe because a lot of it was indefensible.

MCEVERS: I mean, David, this wasn't a surprise that she took this turn, but what did you think about her tone? I mean, how do you think she did in attacking Trump?

BROOKS: Yeah. I actually thought it was very compelling, and it was even unnerving for those of us who follow this closely to watch this speech. It was a compelling message. And I agree with E.J. She's been, you know - it's hard for being a bad candidate. And against Bernie Sanders, she has been a pretty bad candidate, but in part because she's holding back against him.

MCEVERS: Right.

BROOKS: And - but now we see a different Hillary where she's going out full bore, and so I thought it was her best and most compelling speech of the campaign. And it was especially a good general election campaign speech because it was not an ideological speech. Trump has no philosophy to attack. It was the temperament which is his weakest point. So, you know, it could be - that kind of speech could lead to just a gigantic victory because I do think the general rule of general elections is that voters go for the candidate who seems most orderly. They just are terrified of the downside of somebody who is not.

MCEVERS: She did talk about her own ideology. I mean, beyond the politics of this speech, she did talk about foreign policy. And it seemed to show that she would remove foreign policy a bit to the right if she's elected. Is that - was that your takeaway as well, E.J.?

DIONNE: Well, not exactly. I mean, I agree with the premise of your question that if you put a spectrum out there with George W. Bush on the interventionist side and Barack Obama on the other end, less interventionist, Hillary Clinton is somewhere in the middle. She's a little more interventionist than Obama.

MCEVERS: Right.

DIONNE: But I thought a lot of this language was not really about intervention. It was much more about how you view American power, how you view America in the world. And she did talk - quote a famous Lincoln line about the United States being the last best hope of Earth. But there, I think she was, again, making a contrast with Trump who is in a sense out of the mainstream of both political parties.

I do think there's a lot there that conservatives could identify with, particularly her attack on Trump for his - what she said is I will leave it to psychiatrists to explain his affection for tyrants. And I think that's a line that will take aback a lot of conservatives who know that what Trump says about Putin and other dictators in the world is really deeply disturbing given our tradition.

MCEVERS: David, what did you think about her foreign policy in terms of her ideology?

BROOKS: Yeah, again, the axis here is not left-right. It's active-inactive. And she was formed in the post-war era where an active American foreign policy both by people like John F. Kennedy and Democrats and Republicans created a pretty stable world order and a pretty good atmosphere for global prosperity. And her instinct is to be active, and so that's been her entire career. And so I'm sure she'll continue that.

MCEVERS: Some other news this week, of course, made by House Speaker Paul Ryan. It took him a while, but he did finally endorse Donald Trump for president. He wrote an op-ed in his hometown newspaper. Let's hear a little bit of what he told The Associated Press about his decision.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PAUL RYAN: My goal is to make sure that we're unified so that we're at full strength in the fall so that we can actually win the election. This, to me, is about saving the country and preventing a third progressive liberal term which is what the Clinton presidency would do.

MCEVERS: So it kind of seems like this is less about supporting Trump than it is about opposing Clinton. Is that right, David?

BROOKS: Yeah, he can't squeeze out of it. I think it's a sad day for the speaker. He's effectively supporting Trump, and now every time Trump says something, he's going to have to put out a statement either condemning it or distancing himself from it. And, you know, he clearly signaled what he really thinks of Donald Trump. And now, unfortunately, he'll have to go tell his kids in years to come...

MCEVERS: (Unintelligible).

BROOKS: ...That he stood by Trump.

MCEVERS: Well, do people have a short memory though, E.J.?

DIONNE: I think they will not have a short memory of this campaign. This campaign is going to be etched in our memories, in our history for a long time. And I do think he will regret what he did here. You know, the line generally is, well, he did this because he wants to save the House, you know - save Republican control of the House.

But the fact is the way he has done this and the way Mitch McConnell has also embraced Trump means that Democrats are going to be able to hang Trump around every Republican candidate for the House. And in districts they already control, that won't make much difference. But in a lot of swing districts, the total identification with Trump is going to be a real problem for them.

And finally enough, a lot of what Clinton said in her speech not everything defending Obama - President Obama - but a lot of what she said is stuff Paul Ryan, I think, wishes he could have said or at least I think he should wish he could've said given his own history.

MCEVERS: Those are our regular political commentators, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution and David Brooks of The New York Times. Thanks to both of you.

BROOKS: Thank you.

DIONNE: Great to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.