ROBERT COSTA: Hello. I’m Robert Costa. And this is the Washington Week Extra, where we pick up online where we left off on the broadcast.
Echoes of the Cold War were in the air after President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia has developed what he called an invincible missile system. During his annual address, Putin showed video showcasing the new weapons that he claims have unlimited range and are able to evade missile-defense systems. In fact, one video graphic appeared to show missiles falling on Florida. Putin, of course, is standing for reelection as president in less than three weeks, so this was an opportunity for him to present himself as a strong leader. Michael, the president in our country, President Trump, has yet to respond.
MICHAEL CROWLEY: Right, and it will be interesting to see how he does so. You know, Robert, when Trump took office and I was talking to a lot of people about this idea that he might befriend Putin, some foreign policy experts I spoke to were skeptical that that could happen. They actually said one concern is that if they aren’t able to befriend each other, maybe because the Congress and other forces in Washington don’t want Trump to cut a deal with Putin, you could see this go badly wrong, and you could see two kind of guys with big egos who like to be tough guys clash up against each other. And I wonder if we might be starting to approach that stage. You know, the Trump administration has approved for the first time the sale of U.S. lethal weapons to Ukraine, which is something that infuriates the Kremlin. Actually, Barack Obama refused to do that because he was very concerned it would escalate the conflict in Ukraine. Generally speaking, apart from Trump’s rhetoric, U.S. foreign policy has been pretty tough when it comes to strengthening NATO. Putin is not happy with the U.S. right now, and he is increasingly getting bellicose and belligerent. So I see this somewhat in that context. And, you know, Trump in particular is very interested in the sort of nuclear competition with Russia and seems to get very fired up on that particular point – does America have the best nuclear weapons, are we the strongest. So Putin is really pressing his button here, and I will – I will be fascinated to see how he – how Trump responds.
MR. COSTA: A new Cold War?
MR. CROWLEY: Look, I think it’s an entirely reasonable thing to say. I think we’ve probably been in one for a couple of years. Obviously, there are major differences, but on some level it is a very dangerous showdown that does – you know, the one point that critics of that line offer is it’s not an ideological competition the way it was during the Cold War, but I think it may be one between sort of Western democratic values and a kind of authoritarian, kleptocratic vision of governance that Putin is promoting into Europe. And, yeah, it’s in some ways a battle of ideas and a battle that’s unfolding maybe not on every continent, but certainly in Europe, in the Middle East to some degree, and even in our own country as we’ve seen from the Russian election meddling.
MR. COSTA: We certainly have. Turning to the midterms, the first primary of this 2018 cycle will be next Tuesday in Texas, where early voting is giving some Democrats hope of turning that reliably red state into a blue state. Karen, you reported today that in early voting Democratic turnout in the largest counties in Texas has surged to nearly double what it was four years ago, while Republicans are up less than 20 percent. What’s energized Democrats? Is it DACA and the DREAMers issue and immigration, or the #MeToo movement?
KAREN TUMULTY: Well, first of all, you have to remember Texas has not elected a Democrat statewide since 1994, so if the Democrats are making gains in Texas, we’re probably not going to see it in these big statewide races. But there’s a lot going on in that state. Of the 36 congressional seats, eight of them are open. Donald Trump, believe it or not, is no more popular overall in Texas than he is in the rest of the country; his approval rating there is also in the 30s. And so we are seeing mobilization efforts that are really making the Republicans nervous. The governor, Greg Abbott, sent out a fundraising email saying that these numbers should shake conservatives to their core, and we see the president of the United States tweeting out endorsements for down-ballot races – the land commissioner, the agriculture commissioner, the comptroller. The Republicans do see something going on in Texas that is making them very nervous not just about Texas, but about what’s going on in the rest of the country.
NANCY CORDES: And we learned this week that Beto O’Rourke, who is the Democratic congressman challenging Ted Cruz in that Senate race, I think outraised him three to one, is that right, this week, and so something is definitely going on there. The wall that the president has championed is pretty controversial in Texas and, you know, as we’ve seen in other states like Virginia, the Democratic base is fired up. Now, Democrats have set their hopes on Texas many times before only to have those hopes dashed but, you know, they certainly believe that this fall is going to be a test of the enthusiasm and the passion of their base.
MS. TUMULTY: Yeah, they might pick off a seat here and there. You know, the idea of Texas going blue is probably, again, still a big reach.
MS. CORDES: Sure.
MR. COSTA: And you think about how maybe the gun control issue plays there. We often talk about gun control in the midterms as an issue for suburban voters, but in Texas it could help, could hurt.
MS. CORDES: Sure, and young voters are also a wild card. You know, part of the argument that these Parkland students are making in Florida is as soon as we’re old enough to vote we’re really going to change things. Well, you know, young voters have never voted in the same numbers as older voters. So the question is, between now and Election Day in November, do younger voters really get engaged? If you see a spike in young voters turning out in the midterms – which is, you know, really that’s – it’s one thing if it’s a general election; it’s a midterm election where young people vote in even smaller numbers usually. So if they can turn that around, then they could have an impact.
MR. COSTA: Hallie, I think back to 2016. You covered Senator Ted Cruz, who’s facing this challenge – likely challenge.
HALLIE JACKSON: Yeah.
MR. COSTA: Congressman O’Rourke expected to win the primary in Texas this month. How is Cruz facing this possible blue wave, or whatever it ends up being?
MS. JACKSON: Well, I think back to visiting Texas it must have been a year and a half, couple years ago now. Starting to talk about, hey – this was before the reelection campaign was, like, really underway. And there was like a little dismissive talk of, you know, we’re not overly concerned, right? This is a reliably red place. You know, you’d think that Senator Cruz would be in good shape. I do think, though, that given the fundraising I think that they have a reason to be thinking a little bit more about getting him out, talking more about his positions and what he wants to do, doing more Texas state media, for example. We’ll see if he does any more national media, something that – he doesn’t do a ton of hallway interviews, I don’t think. He’s –
MS. CORDES: No. He’s kept a pretty low profile lately and has been sort of trying to change his image as, you know, a stubborn outlier even among his own party. In fact, he has been really insistent as of late that it wasn’t really his fault that the government shut down back in 2013. That’s all revisionist history. You know, there were a lot of other reasons for that. So he’s definitely been trying to come back into the fold in the Republican Party, because he knows he’s going to need all the GOP support he can get.
MR. COSTA: I still remember that moment of him at the convention in 2016, breaking with then-nominee Trump, and there was all the drama on that Cleveland convention floor. How things have changed.
A familiar member of President Trump’s 2016 campaign team from that campaign will be back in 2020 as his campaign manager. It’s early, but Brad Parscale, who was the campaign’s digital director during the 2016 election cycle, and closely worked with Facebook, Twitter, and Google to hone one of the campaign’s social media efforts throughout the campaign, he’s now the campaign manager for 2020. In some ways, though, this is a controversial choice because of his connections to Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics firm that has become a major focus of both Robert Mueller’s special counsel probe and the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into election meddling.
Why now, with Parscale?
MS. JACKSON: Given that it’s so early and we’re all still just recovering from the 2016 campaign? (Laughter.)
MR. COSTA: Is it a friend – a Jared Kushner friend getting the job?
MS. JACKSON: So here’s a couple of points to make about Brad Parscale. And I think you’re right, the Cambridge Analytica thing is interesting, particularly given that when that news came out the Trump campaign worked to distance itself very quickly from them and in a way that simply was not credible, because they did work together on the 2016 campaign. That’s just factually accurate. Brad Parscale is team Jared. He is very close with Jared Kushner and with Ivanka Trump. This is an installation of somebody who is on the family side, who’s got that sort of Trump loyalty with the kids, into the political side here. Parscale, worth noting, had had really no prior political experience before joining the 2016 campaign. Worked on the digital side. So this is a big undertaking for him. I think you’ll see some involvement in the midterms.
But the other piece of this is when you talk about Trump loyalty, Parscale was also one of the true believers. There was a time period closer to the election when people you would speak with privately would cast a little bit of doubt that Donald Trump could actually win this thing. And Parscale, I think, was not always among those folks. He was somebody who really believed in the Trump cause. Very loyal to the family. And I think that is a big part of why this all came into play.
MR. COSTA: How much exposure does Cambridge Analytica have, just based on your perspective as an editor and reporter, on this Russia probe?
MR. CROWLEY: So I have to say that I would not – I don’t expect that to be a key part of this story. I can’t imagine that the Trump campaign would have colluded with the Russians to place a little bit of social media advertising in some swing states for dollar figures that would have to be dwarfed by the overall size of campaign spending. I mean, as a fraction of the whole it would just – unless the Russians are pumping in vast amounts of money that we don’t know about yet, the idea that there was – I’m not saying that I would rule out collusion generally speaking.
But on this particular aspect of the story, I’m just very skeptical that you would throw in with the Russians and essentially take treasonous acts to micro-target some social media advertising, some internet advertising. It’s just – the risk-benefit to me make so little sense that, just purely speculatively, I am not holding my breath for that to be a major shoe to drop.
MR. COSTA: Thanks, everybody. And while you’re online, read my blog post about America’s pastor, the Reverend Billy Graham. He died last week at the age of 99 and was laid to rest on Friday. You can read how this iconic Evangelical minister who preached to millions around the world became a confidant to every president since Harry S. Truman.
I’m Robert Costa. See you next time.