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Week In Politics: Trump's Position On Iran And 2020 Democratic Candidates


This was the week some Democrats running for president vocally criticized their apparent frontrunner. It's the week that the current president launched his reelection campaign. And of course, this is the week that Iran shot down a U.S. drone, and President Trump almost retaliated with force. We're going to talk about all of this in our regular Friday Week in Politics segment. Here with me in the studio is Susan Glasser, who writes the "Letter From Washington" column for The New Yorker and David Brooks of The New York Times. Good to have you both with us.

DAVID BROOKS: Good to be here.


SHAPIRO: Let's start with Iran and the White House response to the U.S. drone being shot out of the sky. The back-and-forth of the last 12 hours seems to reflect a larger pattern we've seen with this president over the last few years, where on the one hand, he says he wants to get the U.S. out of wars in the Middle East, and on the other hand, he says, don't test me. Here are two clips of him speaking during the presidential campaign.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We will stop racing to topple foreign - and you understand this - foreign regimes that we know nothing about.

Our friends and enemies must know that if I draw a line in the sand, I will enforce that line in the sand, believe me.

SHAPIRO: And at the same time, he has surrounded himself with hawkish advisers like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, national security adviser John Bolton. So Susan, which do you think will win out - the position that we need to get out of the Middle East or the position that you don't cross this line in the sand?

GLASSER: (Laughter) Well, so far, Donald Trump is trying to have it both ways, I think; you pointed that out. Look - this isn't a significant test for him. And in many ways, we've been struck by the fact that it's the third year of his presidency; there hasn't been this big international crisis in many ways. You could argue that this is now a crisis with Iran of the administration's own making because the president is the one who pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal. And in some ways, it was only a matter of time before we got to this place with the Iranians.

But I do think that Trump's instincts have been fairly clear, and that, in fact, the Iranians were testing him. They took his measure. They, I think, have a theory of the case that Trump does not want war with them. Trump has been sending many signals to them that he actually wants to come to the table. He wants negotiations, a la North Korea. And the question is, can he override his own advisers to get there?

SHAPIRO: David, do you agree?

BROOKS: Yeah. My colleague Peter Baker of The New York Times said that Trump talks really tough, but he doesn't actually do anything, and that has been the pattern around the - a lot of the country, a lot of the danger areas he's been dealing with. The problem is that Iran is the aggressor here, and that Iran's activities in the region - which involve bombing Saudi airports, bombing Saudi pipelines - have been expanding. And so those were not touched by the nuclear deal; those have always been a side issue that Iran has been involved in.

So we can expect Iran to keep testing Trump until he probably somehow has to do something, and then we hope...

SHAPIRO: So do you think this does lead to war, ultimately?

BROOKS: Well, I don't know if it leads to war. It leads to - there's a lot of dances in the Middle East, where one side does one thing and the other side does another, and sometimes you keep it in control and sometimes you don't. So it's perilous, but there are a lot of options short of war.

SHAPIRO: Susan, do you think that is more likely, or is it more likely that there will be a North Korea-type scenario, where eventually the two sides do sit down and talk to each other?

GLASSER: Well, look - again, I think even in the middle of this crisis, which began, by the way, not just this week, but even previously with Iranian attacks on non-U.S. tankers in the Gulf, what you've seen throughout that is a pattern of the U.S.; at the same time, there's this very aggressive, hawkish language also passing messages to the Iranians through the Swiss, through the Omanis, that seem to be directly from President Trump, saying we want to talk, we want to negotiate.

Remember, we're already getting quite close to the 2020 presidential cycle, and the Iranians, as with many other international actors, have very little incentive to make a permanent arrangement one way or the other with President Trump and very much incentive to run out the clock wherever they can.

BROOKS: That, by the way, is the scary thing to me because we seem to have set an implicit redline, which is, if you kill an American, we will do something to really escalate it.

GLASSER: I think it's an explicit redline, actually.

SHAPIRO: Yeah, Trump has said that very clearly.


GLASSER: And Secretary Pompeo flew to Baghdad recently and actually said that out loud. He said, you know, that is what we are looking at here. If there's one American harmed, we'll do something.

SHAPIRO: All right. Well, Susan, you mentioned 2020. So let's look ahead to next week, when we will see 20 Democratic presidential candidate on stage, in two shifts, debating for the first time. President Trump is sure to be a target, and former Vice President Joe Biden may be as well. This week, he gave his opponents some ammunition with remarks about working with segregationist senators. David, what are you looking for in these debates?

BROOKS: Yeah, I had one candidate tell me he didn't know how to prepare because there are so many. So he - there's so many people on the stage, and they're going to be so physically close together. so he didn't know what to do. And so I think they're - each of them are going to get only six to eight minutes, so the idea is just to say something that gets you some attention.

SHAPIRO: Airtime.

BROOKS: And I'd be surprised if they went after Biden, but I've been wrong about that in the past. They've been quicker to go after him than they have, than I thought they would be.

SHAPIRO: Susan, what do you think?

GLASSER: Well, first of all, there's two nights of this spectacle. So the first night, you know, it'll be Elizabeth Warren who will be, you know, sort of the leading candidate of the first batch of candidates. And then Biden will be literally in the center of the stage, as well as metaphorically, on the second night. So there'll be potentially very different dynamics, I think, to the two debates. Certainly, it'll be a source of future trivia questions - can you name all 20 candidates...


GLASSER: ...Who took place in the first Democratic debates of the 2020 election? You know, again, I think there is a great incentive to go after Biden. I think you saw that with Cory Booker, who got more airtime this week for his campaign than he has probably in any other week of his campaign so far for the presidency.

SHAPIRO: Kamala Harris went after him as well, yeah.

GLASSER: Yeah, absolutely. And you know, once they - and once the other candidates - there are so many of them - saw that Booker was getting airtime, then you saw the others piling on.

SHAPIRO: I want to ask you about one aspect of that divide, which is the generational gap that continues to be an issue for the Democratic Party. I spoke yesterday with Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons. Here's part of what he said about the younger, more liberal wing of the party.


JAMAL SIMMONS: Those atypical Democrats who don't always vote, they show up when they're inspired. So I just think Vice President Biden is going to have to speak to that part of the party, while he's also making his case to the establishment.

SHAPIRO: Do you think this is something that the Democratic Party can overcome, a divide that can be bridged - David?

BROOKS: I think it actually will be tricky. It's funny; when you look at the polling, there's no divide over race, there's no divide over income or education level, but there's a massive age divide. And people just grew up in different generations, and we see it even over the Biden comments on the, quote, "segregationists," that a lot of older Democrats think, well, you know, if your chairman of your committee is a segregationist, you got to work with the chairman of your committee. A lot of younger Democrats think, no way, don't do that.

SHAPIRO: What do you think, Susan? Will this persist?

GLASSER: Well, look - that's right. I mean, in fact, you even saw John Lewis, the civil rights icon, coming out today and, essentially, you know, making a very strong defense, in a way, of bite. He must be very grateful for that. John Lewis saying, well, listen - you know, I had to deal with segregationists when I was - and even Klan members - in the civil rights movement.

You know, that seems shocking, I think, to a modern ear. I had people tweeting at me like, I don't even know who these senators are; why should I care about this? You know, right now American politics, it's not just race. It's gender; it's a whole bunch of issues where there is this enormous gap. It turns out that people like us, David, are closer to our grandparents.


BROOKS: Thank you for that.

SHAPIRO: All right. We have one minute left to talk about the president's launch of his reelection campaign this week.


TRUMP: We did it once, and now we will do it again, and this time we're going to finish the job.

SHAPIRO: That was a rally in Orlando for thousands of people. Susan, did you hear anything new there?

GLASSER: I heard a reprise of the president's American carnage inaugural speech. It was a very dark message. It was very much aimed at his core supporters, not at expanding the map in any way.

SHAPIRO: And the last word, David?

BROOKS: Yeah, I think Hillary Clinton should be really worried because he's really going after her in this election.


SHAPIRO: OK. Last word there from David Brooks of The New York Times and Susan Glasser of The New Yorker. Have a great weekend. Thanks for coming in.

BROOKS: You, too.

GLASSER: Thank you.