STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Weekends during the Trump administration have developed a pattern. President Trump often spends time at one of his golf courses or resorts. He often spends time posting aggrieved messages on Twitter. And quite often, his administration makes news on one divisive issue after another. This past weekend, the White House unveiled sweeping demands for an immigration deal with Democrats. Vice President Pence walked out of a pro football game. And the president tweeted it was his idea. Also, the president denounced a senator of his own party, who responded that the White House has become an "adult daycare center." That's a quote.
Jonah Goldberg is a senior editor at The National Review, here to try to make sense of all this. Hi, Jonah.
JONAH GOLDBERG: (Laughter) Hey, Steve. How's it going?
INSKEEP: Can you make sense of all this?
GOLDBERG: Some of it.
GOLDBERG: Some of it. Some of it. Pieces.
INSKEEP: That was a trick question, a trick question. Let's start with the Republican senator, Bob Corker of Tennessee, retiring chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, widely respected, works in a bipartisan way, has also tried to work with the president, vital to the president on issue after issue. Why go after him?
GOLDBERG: For the same reason Trump goes after anybody. He's a counterpuncher. He doesn't like to be disrespected. He's easy to provoke, which is sort of proving part of Bob Corker's point, which is that Donald Trump's behavior on Twitter and elsewhere is endangering to the country and is ill-advised. I do think trying to find a long-term strategic vision to the Twitter account is a bit like trying to find a long-term strategic vision to a runaway monkey from a cocaine study. It's just not...
GOLDBERG: It's not a fruitful enterprise because he makes these decisions on his Twitter account in a glandular, sort of instantaneous, gut way. And then the White House has to clean up the mess, which, again, is sort of what Corker's point was.
INSKEEP: He's trolling in effect. He's acting tactically. He's trolling people in different...
GOLDBERG: He's - again, the tactically part is the part I don't really think is always...
INSKEEP: Oh, you don't even think there's a tactic.
GOLDBERG: I think it's just lashing out most of the time.
INSKEEP: Well, Senator Corker gave an interview to The New York Times. They've gone back and forth a little bit here. Senator Corker did make the adult daycare center remark. Then he gave a longer interview to The New York Times. And he said that some of the president's behavior is putting us on the path to World War III. He didn't think there was any real logic to the president's confrontation with North Korea. And then he said something else, speaking of Republicans in Congress. Quote, "the vast majority of our caucus understands what we're dealing with here." If he's right - that most Republicans in Congress agree with Senator Corker that the president is behaving in dangerous ways - how come more of them don't say that or vote like that?
GOLDBERG: Well, that's the $800,000 question. I think it is true. If you go talk to people on Capitol Hill, there are absolutely some true believers out there. But there are a lot of people who recognize that Donald Trump is a mixed bag, that he sort of won a hostile takeover of the Republican Party. And at the same time, a lot of his agenda is a Republican agenda. I mean, certainly, his judicial appointments from - I'm a conservative - have been great so far from my perspective. The problem is that it's very difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff on an ongoing basis in part because of this problem of no long-term strategic vision or discipline on the part of the Trump administration to actually get an agenda across.
INSKEEP: Is there a strategic vision on the part of the Republican Party for dealing with this president, who, according to Senator Corker, they think is deeply troublesome?
GOLDBERG: No. I think it's very revealing that the guy who's retiring is the guy who is saying this. I think the added dynamic to all of this is that the sort of Bannonistas (ph), even though Steve Bannon the former adviser is no longer in the White House - they have this vision of sort of creating a new party out of the ashes of the Republican Party that is anti-establishment. And so every time the legislative process fails for the administration, they see this as proof that the establishment has stabbed Donald Trump in the back. And we saw with a special election in Alabama for Senate, the most compelling message out there for a big chunk of the populist rank and file is simply an anti-Mitch McConnell, anti-establishment message. So these failures actually help that wing of Trump's coalition make their case even more strong.
INSKEEP: And in a low-turnout primary, the establishment candidate on the Republican side for Senate was beaten by Roy Moore...
INSKEEP: ...Someone the establishment would rather not have, it seems. So you mentioned the legislative process and potential legislative failures. Here's the president now in the middle of legislative dealing with Democrats over immigration. He met with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi some weeks ago. They walked out of there thinking they had a deal to extend protections for DREAMers, young people who were brought to the United States as children who do not have legal status but now have a temporary legal status.
They thought they had a deal. The president was criticized for making a deal, then said there was no deal. And now the White House has come out with a very long list of demands - funding for his wall, more immigration officers, a complete change in who gets into the country. That's what the president wants. Is it realistic in the next few months, which is the timeframe we're talking about here, to rework the entire immigration system in this way?
GOLDBERG: An ideal way? No. I mean, I've always thought that it was - in the beginning, I thought it was foolish for President Trump to make that deal with Chuck and Nancy about just giving - just handing away the DACA part when there were some useful things that he could have gotten in exchange - E-Verify, that kind of stuff - not necessarily the wall but, you know, enhanced border security and whatnot. At the end of the day, I don't know that this means much either because it could either be an opening negotiating position. Or it could just simply be the kind of thing that - once he gets back in a room with them, he will change his mind again because he has changed his mind on the DACA stuff quite a bit already, which, again, gets us back to that runaway monkey.
INSKEEP: One thing that he's been consistent on is being critical of the NFL. Vice President Pence over the weekend went to an Indianapolis Colts game, traveled thousands of miles to get there, appeared to be planning to walk out from the beginning. The press pool was told he might walk out early. And then he did walk out when a couple of players from the San Francisco 49ers took a knee during the national anthem. And the president said, hey, this was my idea. Why keep pounding on this?
GOLDBERG: (Laughter) Well, I think the president didn't like the idea of somebody else glomming in on his thing. I think Mike Pence did this as a - this is one of the problems that we get from this dysfunction. When you can't get actual substantive legislation, whether it's legislation that Trump wants or that conservatives want, Republicans want or Americans want - when you just can't make any progress, all that you have left is this sort of identity politics symbolism, stick your thumb in the other side's eye kind of politics. And it's been working to hold the base together for Donald Trump to a great degree. In part - and I think the left helps him with this because they freak out when Trump does these kind of things.
INSKEEP: Jonah, always a pleasure talking with you. Thanks very much.
GOLDBERG: It's great to be here.
INSKEEP: That's Jonah Goldberg of The National Review and also of the Los Angeles Times. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.