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Week In Politics: Winners And Losers From Iowa And The Impeachment Finale


We'll talk more about the Democrats in a moment. But first, I want to talk about another Trump firing. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the Ukraine expert at the National Security Council who became a star witness during the House impeachment hearings, has been escorted out of the White House. I want to talk about this with David Brooks of The New York Times.

Welcome to the studio, David.

DAVID BROOKS: Good to be here.

CORNISH: And E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post, whose new book is called "Code Red" - thank you.

E J DIONNE: Bless you - good to be with you.

CORNISH: So just to backtrack a little bit, we, obviously, had the Senate impeachment trial this week, where President Trump was acquitted. And here is some of the emotional sort of audio we heard on the Senate floor, where Mitt Romney was the only Republican to cast a single vote in favor of impeachment. Here's what he had to say before he did that.


MITT ROMNEY: My faith is at the heart of who I am. I take an oath before God as enormously consequential. I knew from the outset that being tasked with judging the president, the leader of my own party, would be the most difficult decision I have ever faced.

CORNISH: We left that long pause in there because that was the moment where it looked like the senator actually had to collect himself and got emotional. Later on, you had President Trump, after his acquittal, at the National Prayer Breakfast giving what would be one of several rally-like comments. And here's what he had to say.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I don't like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong, nor do I like people who say, I pray for you, when they know that that's not so.

CORNISH: So I want to talk two things - one, just a reaction to the Senate impeachment vote and, two, the idea of retribution. I want to start with you, David. What did you hear this week that you found to be a key moment, either between Trump and Romney or elsewhere?

BROOKS: Well, the moral contrast couldn't be greater. Mitt Romney really does declare loyalty to a higher authority, both the divine authority and the authority of truth. And I thought he was a rare picture of courage this week. And Donald Trump - there's never a moment of class. You know, he won this thing. He got acquitted. He got what he wanted, and he trashed the National Prayer Breakfast.

The previous speaker, Arthur Brooks, told - gave a speech about loving your neighbor. And he went on and trashed that principle directly afterwards. And then firing Vindman, it's just cruelty and viciousness at all steps along the way. And so the moral calculus of this week, on this issue, is pretty clear.


DIONNE: Just to go to Col. Vindman, he is someone who put his country over himself, and that was totally antithetical to Donald Trump, who wanted Trump over everything. At that moment - I was so glad you played that moment of silence because Romney's silence - that period - was as eloquent as any 5,000 words Donald Trump has said in his presidency. And I particularly admired that Romney speech not only because I, obviously, agreed with it, but it was such a contrast to how religion is so often misused in our politics for narrow purposes. Romney said that faith calls you to do - calls on you to do hard things some time.

And I think what Trump showed this week is that he could have accepted acquittal. It was such a great opportunity. He could have tried even a smidgen of graciousness and then talk a lot about the economy. Instead, he had to be vindictive and self-involved and incapable of changing his behavior. And so I think this week, which could have been a net plus, was actually a net minus for Trump.

CORNISH: Then let's talk about the Democratic side, right? Nancy Pelosi had resisted impeachment for years. Now people are talking about this scenario playing out that she had kind of implied or warned about. And you have a Democratic race, which, so far, people aren't even sure who the frontrunner is after the big-deal kind of Iowa caucus. David, who's the front-runner? And what are you seeing looking at that side of the ledger?

BROOKS: Bernie Sanders is the frontrunner right now. But I disagree with E.J. I think this was a terrible week for Democrats. In part, impeachment has helped Republicans. There's no question in my mind. When this started, Trump's approval was about 39 according to Gallup. Now it's at 49. You can quibble with numbers, but that's a gigantic difference. The Republican Party is now more popular than at any time since '25. There are more Americans who now identify Republicans than Democrats. There's something about the American people who don't impeachment.

And then the result of Iowa make it much more likely that we're going to have a very long, drawn-out battle with Mike Bloomberg leaping in and that there'll be no transcendent Democrat who can unify the faction. So this is a moment for Democrats and for those of us who want to get Trump out of office to be a little worried.


DIONNE: I think the Democrats are in for a long fight. I am somewhat skeptical of that Gallup number. I had a political scientist look at it. This just seems to be an outlier from past Gallup polls. Two other polls showed Trump right where he usually is, more recent ones, at 42 and 44. So we'll wait and see for a week before we can reach that conclusion. I think the Democrats have a fight ahead of them. And I think my favorite line of the week about Pete Buttigieg and how he won was from a friend who said, if this were the old-fashioned days of advertising, Pete Buttigieg versus Joe Biden, the slogan would be all the moderation at half the age.

And I think that what was really striking about what Pete Buttigieg did in Iowa is that Iowans voted on Joe Biden's issue, which is, who can beat Trump? Problem for Biden is he only got about a quarter of that vote, and Pete Buttigieg picked up another quarter. Now, you have to ask if Amy Klobuchar, who seemed on the rise and seemed to share a constituency with Buttigieg, had had time instead of being stuck in the impeachment hearing - this might have been very different.

But what I agree with David on is I think this will be a very long fight. Bernie is the frontrunner, but I think he still has to prove that while he has a very strong base, he needs to expand his support. And that didn't happen as many expected it would in Iowa.

CORNISH: We'll have to leave it there, but I'm sure we'll have much, much news to discuss next week. Thank you guys for being here. David Brooks of The New York Times, have a good weekend.

BROOKS: Thank you. You, too.

CORNISH: E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post. His new book out this week - congratulations - is "Code Red."

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

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