PLAYBOY: If Bachmann had become the Republican nominee, would you have switched sides?
BROOKS: I don’t know if I’d have switched sides. We’re not supposed to endorse candidates, but it’s inconceivable that I would ever vote for Bachmann. Or Palin or Gingrich or Cain. I’m not going to vote for Ron Paul either. Of the seven or eight candidates who were vying for the nomination, it’s inconceivable I’d ever vote for most of them. That doesn’t mean I’d switch camps. I’m in a camp of moderate Republicans who probably all feel the same way about most of these candidates.
PLAYBOY: If you represent the true middle of the political spectrum, which you claim is unrepresented in the election, how about you? Have you ever been tempted to leave journalism and become a candidate?
BROOKS: I was born in Toronto, so I could never be president. But anyway, no. On one book tour, I did 14 interviews and three speeches in one day, which is like being a candidate. I don’t like people that much. Obama isn’t quite like this, but Clinton and McCain—they never want to be alone, and they’re perfectly happy. They feed off people. I’ve seen it a zillion times while covering them. That’s how they get sustenance. It’s not food and water they need, it’s attention. Obama’s a little more like me. He doesn’t need people.
PLAYBOY: From the perspective of someone who spent time with them both, how else are Clinton and Obama different?
BROOKS: I don’t have anything new to say about Clinton. He’s the most seductive and impressive personality. I ask people who were in both the Obama and the Clinton administrations who is smarter, and they have trouble saying. Clinton had the essential boomer problem, narcissism, and the lack of a big commitment to a big idea that he was going to accomplish. Clinton had the most political skills, though. I always look at candidates as pitchers in spring training: You look at who has the best skills, and that would be Clinton. Obama’s pretty good, though.
PLAYBOY: Has Obama changed since he’s been president?
BROOKS: He’s still basically smart and charming, an impressive guy who can talk about policy on whatever you ask him. The changes have come from learning the limitations of the office. I don’t think he appreciated how little power a president has. The other change is his rising aggravation with Washington. He’s thinking, I’m trying to be serious here, but I’m surrounded by jokers and assholes. I think there’s a rising level of bile about that. I think it makes him less effective and less pleasant to be around.
PLAYBOY: Has he ever called you because he was angry about a column?
PLAYBOY: What’s it like to be yelled at by the president?
BROOKS: It’s not pleasant but not unpleasant. He’ll say, “Let’s put aside the six things that were morally offensive about what you wrote, and let’s get to the issue.” So he’ll shove aside the things that bugged him, and then he’ll want to have a serious civil discussion about the substance.
PLAYBOY: Which columns did he call you about?
BROOKS: The last time was a column in which I unfavorably compared his management style with Rahm Emanuel’s management style in Chicago. That one set him off.