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Politics In The News: Deadly Shootings

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This past week's violence inevitably was a test for the presidential candidates. It was also a test for members of Congress and for the man who is president now. We're going to talk about all of that. Hillary Clinton gave a speech and interviews on Friday. Donald Trump released a video. He condemned the attack on Dallas police officers and also spoke of two civilians killed by police.

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DONALD TRUMP: Too many Americans are living in terrible poverty and violence. Racial divisions have gotten worse, not better.

INSKEEP: So let's have a discussion. Here joining us is NPR commentator and columnist Cokie Roberts. She's joining us from our member station KPCC in California. Hi, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: And Jonah Goldberg, senior editor at the National Review. He's in our studios. Hi, Jonah.

JONAH GOLDBERG: Great to be here, as always.

INSKEEP: So were you guys reassured by either presidential candidate on Friday?

ROBERTS: I don't think this is a time when anybody can be easily reassured. Certainly, they issued sober statements that were not anything to upset anyone. But I - it's a time when a lot of reflection needs to take place. What everyone has greeted me with in the last day is what an awful, awful week. And I think that there's a lot of - a lot more that has to happen to make people feel comfortable about where we are in the country right now.

INSKEEP: Jonah.

GOLDBERG: Yeah, it's always hard when the cloud is this dark to look for silver linings to it. But I think one of the things - one of the benefits, if that's the - not an inappropriate word - of these horrible shootings in Minnesota and in Louisiana, combined with this horrible event in Dallas, is that it forces a little humility on every side of this sort of culture war. Everyone wants their narrative to be the only narrative that is true. And it turns out that there's a lot of truth to the Black Lives Matter argument. And there's a lot of truth to the argument that you hear from, say, the police chief of Dallas that they don't feel supported, that they have tough jobs. And I think that has managed to suppress a lot of the partisan point scoring that we normally would expect after something this horrible. And I think that is probably a good thing for everybody.

ROBERTS: You know, having Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, being mentioned by the great mentioner as a vice presidential candidate, saying that most whites, quote, "don't understand being black in America" is something he's actually been saying for a long time. But saying it at this moment, this publicly, really got a lot of attention from people saying wait, this is not a partisan situation.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about a place that has been very, very partisan recently - the House of Representatives. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan gave an emotional statement on Friday. Actually, I thought the most affecting part of that statement was the moment at the beginning where he seemed to have difficulty getting started and figuring out what to say. Paul Ryan called for unity but also acknowledged passionate differences, which I took to mean passionate differences on gun control. Do the two sides agree on much?

GOLDBERG: I don't think they agree on much. I think that there is a - there's one vision that says gun rights are just a different right and lesser right than other rights in the bill of the rights - Bill of Rights if they - if it's a right at all. Hillary Clinton will not commit to whether it's a constitutional right. And on the conservative side, they take it seriously as a full member of the Bill of Rights. And I think that that is a fundamental conflict of visions that is not going to get reconciled. It wasn't reconciled after Newtown, and it's not going to get reconciled after this. It's going to be an ongoing fight. But at least, again, both sides are acknowledging that there is a point of view on the other side of the equation.

INSKEEP: Cokie.

ROBERTS: But I agree with Jonah. I don't think it's going to go anywhere. But I also think that Paul Ryan was talking about racial divisions, not just divisions on gun control. And you certainly see that in the polling right now for the presidential candidates, where minority groups are for Hillary Clinton and whites are for Donald Trump. There really is a divide that is separating us that many people thought we were getting past.

INSKEEP: OK, so let's talk about these presidential candidates. Donald Trump is running a little bit short of time to choose a vice presidential candidate. Which choice makes sense?

GOLDBERG: Well, there's a lot of scuttlebutt these days that Mike Pence, governor of Indiana, is the front-runner in contention. I don't know if that's true.

I think the one that probably makes the most sense in terms of sort of doubling down on Trumpism (ph) is probably Newt Gingrich. He's probably the best-equipped person to explain (laughter) Trumpism, which even Donald Trump has a difficult time doing. It would certainly be the most entertaining because you could definitely see Donald Trump coming out and saying, you know, we're going to abolish the question mark this week. And Newt Gingrich would come out and give a brilliant answer, an explanation for it. And then Donald Trump would say did I say question mark? I meant semicolons. And then all of a sudden, you have poor Newt Gingrich stuck there trying to own this bag of rhetorical mess...

INSKEEP: How are we going to ask questions about this if he abolishes the question mark?

ROBERTS: Newt Gingrich has - he has a couple of problems. One is he's 73 years old, and Donald Trump is 70. So that's an old ticket. But secondly, his negatives are almost as high as Donald Trump's, and so finding somebody that people don't know and might look at freshly makes a certain amount of sense.

Trump has been reported to be saying that I like the generals. And Michael Flynn, the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency - his name has been suddenly coming to the top of the list. Now, he has a book coming out tomorrow, so it's in his interest.

But Flynn yesterday on ABC said that he was pro-choice and pro-gay marriage. And so I think that would be a hard swallow for the Republicans. And it gets this vice presidential pick - really gets to the question of is this the Republican Party or is this the Trump party? And I think that's the question we're going to see answered by the vice presidential pick, or at least somewhat - and certainly in the convention opening a week from today.

INSKEEP: Are these actually two candidates about which people have such strong and long-held beliefs that a vice presidential choice would matter even less than it normally would for either of them?

GOLDBERG: Oh, I think that's right. I mean, both of them have their bright, shiny brands. And any VP pick is going to have to be sort of a tactical thing because they're going to be in the shadow of that bright brand.

INSKEEP: Cokie, I'll give you the last word here.

ROBERTS: I think that there is the first do no harm question, though. And there are some cautionary tales here on the Republican side for Donald Trump. When Dan Quayle was picked right at the beginning of the Republican convention in '88, Republican members of Congress grumbled their way through that convention unhappy about that pick. And, of course, the Sarah Palin pick in 2008 dominated that convention and really burst the convention bubble. And that could be a problem for a candidate. You need that bounce coming out of a convention to go on to the fall campaign.

INSKEEP: Well, we'll see what happens in the days ahead. Cokie Roberts, thanks very much.

ROBERTS: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Glad you're with us once again. And Jonah Goldberg of National Review, thanks for getting up early this morning. Appreciate it.

GOLDBERG: Always great to be here.

INSKEEP: And we will continue following the vice presidential picks and other things as the Republican Convention in Cleveland approaches. It begins one week from today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.