KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
And Roy Moore's run for the Senate is the starting point for our Friday political discussion. This week we have E.J. Dionne from Boston. He's a columnist with The Washington Post and co-author of "One Nation After Trump." Hi there, E.J.
E J DIONNE, BYLINE: Great to be with you.
MCEVERS: And John Phillips is here with me at NPR West. He's a political commentator for CNN and a columnist for the Orange County Register. Welcome.
JOHN PHILLIPS: Good afternoon.
MCEVERS: So you know, Republicans in Alabama are basically saying, look; we don't want a Democrat to win in this race. E.J., does this mean that Republicans are willing to overlook anything to elect one of their own?
DIONNE: Well, I think we never expected to see the Republican Party divided over pedophilia, which is - which the anti-Trump Republican Evan McMullin noted today. This is astonishing. And I think Republicans are not only divided about what the news is. They're divided over how to deal with it because Republicans in Alabama clearly seem to think that Moore can still prevail, whereas an awful lot of Republicans in Washington see catastrophe here. And so they're going to have a problem either way. This should be a lot easier for Republicans than they seem to want to make it.
MCEVERS: Right. We're hearing from some Republicans, if these allegations are true, then Roy Moore should step down. We've got Mitt Romney saying something different. He tweeted, innocent until proven guilty is for criminal convictions, not for elections. I believe Leigh Corfman. That's one of the women who made these allegations against Roy Moore. Her account is too serious to ignore, Romney says. Moore is unfit for office and should step aside. John, who do you agree with, the Mitt Romneys or the wait-and-sees?
PHILLIPS: Well, first of all, any adult who has sex with someone who's underage to me is a pervert. And if this guy did this, he should resign. He should not run for office. He's not fit for office. I can't say with a hundred percent certainty that he did it. I can say from the research I've done and my one-man production of "12 Angry Men," it's not looking so good for the judge. So if I lived in Alabama, I would be happier if he were to step aside or a write-in candidate were to step in.
But traditionally is - what happens when something like this happens is people circle the wagons. I did a lot of research in grad school on congressional expulsion after Jim Traficant got tossed out, which is very rare. And I found that two things tend to be true. They'll kick you out of Congress if you sided with the South during the Civil War or if you weren't a reliable vote, you were a conservative Democrat or a liberal Republican, you were convicted of a crime and going to prison.
And I also think there is an element of the fact that the Republicans right now - Republican voters, people in the heartland just do not believe the mainstream media...
PHILLIPS: ...Under any circumstances. So the fact that the media is the one that came up with this - The Washington Post - to Republican voters, it's just their political enemies going after another one of their guys. And they kind of don't get too deep into the weeds.
MCEVERS: We are seeing, though, a...
DIONNE: Which is, by the way, pretty appalling because I think what Mitt Romney said was very important here, which is - he said, forget who reported it. Just read the accounts of these women, and they sure sound credible. And so the inclination to take whatever is reported by the mainstream media and assume that it's untrue is really very bad for our politics.
MCEVERS: Right. We saw one of the editors of Washington Post come forward and say, look; four women told the stories; 30 people were interviewed for this, many corroborations. I mean, what else do you need here?
PHILLIPS: Right. And I believe that these allegations are most likely true. That being said, this is the side effect of the mainstream media essentially picking a side during the last election. Let's not forget when Jorge Ramos came out and said that people covering this election have an obligation not to be fair, have an obligation not to treat both sides the same way, the way the late night hosts blatantly picked a side, the way the newspapers came down almost unanimously against Donald Trump. Republican voters remember that, and they carry a grudge.
MCEVERS: Not to say we all took Jorge Ramos' advice there, but...
PHILLIPS: That is true.
MCEVERS: Let's pivot here.
DIONNE: And conservatives have attacked the mainstream media for 30 years, but I don't want us to have a filibuster so we can't talk about these amazing election results on Tuesday.
MCEVERS: Well, first I want to talk about...
PHILLIPS: Oh, E.J.'s so sly.
MCEVERS: ...What's at stake for Republicans in Washington - right? - when it comes to Roy Moore. How critical is he? How much do they need him to pass critical agenda items like tax reform, E.J.?
DIONNE: Well, their one critical agenda item is this big tax cut for the super-rich. And you already have three or four Republicans threatening to go off the reservation. If they lose another seat, their situation becomes much, much worse. And so this seat is very, very important to them assuming they can figure out how to make this tax bill fit within the rules where they only need 51 votes. That's - or 50 votes, I guess - that's not even clear yet.
PHILLIPS: When margins are razor-thin, parties are willing to do all sorts of interesting things. Let's go back to a vote - and I think it was the 1980's - where they needed one additional vote to pass Reagan's tax cuts. And they took Pete Wilson, then a senator from California, out of the hospital. He was literally in his bathrobe, and they pushed him in a wheelchair into the U.S. Senate so he could vote for the tax package. When the margins are thin, parties do whatever it takes.
MCEVERS: OK, E.J., now let's talk about Virginia and the victories for Democrats up and down the ballot. But first I'm going to ask John. You know, Democrats are celebrating, right? But this is an off-off-year election.
MCEVERS: Are they overblowing it?
PHILLIPS: I think so. As Tip O'Neill once said, all politics is local. The state of Virginia is a blue state that's gone blue the last three presidential cycles. They had a very popular incumbent governor, Terry McAuliffe. They have screwy rules to where incumbent governors cannot run for re-election. They're barred by state law from doing that. So this was essentially the second term of the Terry McAuliffe administration. And let's not forget the industry that is now driving the economy of Northern Virginia. It's government workers. And government workers who are college-educated are predisposed to go against the Republican message as it's being presented today. It wasn't surprising to me.
MCEVERS: E.J., you wrote it's now clear that the backlash against President Donald Trump is the most consequential fact of American politics. How do we know that's for sure what was going on in Virginia and New Jersey and some of these other races on Tuesday?
DIONNE: Well, first of all, I want to say, if all local politics goes in one direction, local politics becomes national. And that's exactly what happened on Tuesday. All over the country, from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania to Connecticut, obviously New Jersey and Virginia, in Georgia, all - the races all went toward the Democrats. And in Virginia, it was very, very clear that if you approved of Donald Trump, you voted for Ed Gillespie. And if you disapproved of him, overwhelmingly those people voted for Ralph Northam. It was also very clear that the energy was on the side of the Democrats.
And these New Jersey and Virginia races have been quite predictive on many occasions. In 2009, the Republicans did very well, and they had a sweep in 2010. In 2005, the Democrats did very well, and they had a sweep the next year. So I think what you're seeing here - I think this is a message, by the way, for national Democrats, too. While they were all involved re-litigating 2016, the voters out there said, no, we have work to do, and they ignored this Washington fight and came out and sent a message.
MCEVERS: John, 10 seconds - do Democrats have a message now, or is it just organizing?
PHILLIPS: Well, on the subject of all politics is local, I would remind you the most popular governor in the country is Charlie Baker, a Republican in Massachusetts.
MCEVERS: Right. John Phillips, commentator for CNN and columnist for the...
DIONNE: That's true.
MCEVERS: ...Orange County Register. And E.J. Dionne getting in the last word from The Washington Post and Brookings Institution. Thanks to both of you.
DIONNE: Great to be with you.
PHILLIPS: Thank you so much.
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