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Amid outrage at family separations, Trump supporters dig in

As thousands of children were separated from their parents at the Mexican border, President Trump and his supporters doubled down, advancing his Republican approval rating to the highest in history. Many in his base came together to either deny the situation or sympathize with the claim that Trump is under attack. NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield joins Hari Sreenivasan.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    This week, the images of children forcibly separated from their parents at the border totally dominated the political landscape and forced the president to change course something we have not seen often. NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield joins us now from Santa Barbara. Jeff, messaging or consistency issue here?

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    You know, it looks on the surface as though this administration is kind of lurching from one position to another. There is no policy, there is one [but] we can't change it, [now] we're changing it. But I would argue that there is underneath this, a very strong consistent message literally from the time, the day, he announced he was running for president, now three years ago. To the inaugural address, to the travel ban, to his tweets and speeches this week and that is, them, the foreigners, are hurting us Americans. They're sending bad people into the country, they're committing crimes, they're infesting us. That's his word. They're conjuring up trade deals that leave our workers out of work. And what's interesting is apparently the president has a side of this message politically is potent enough to make it a key issue in his midterm fight to keep Republicans in control, not the economy which is looking pretty good. But this issue. And when you look at the way he frames it, just even today, say you know, when they come into our country, we don't need courts, we don't need judges, just kick him out. He's doubling down on the on the idea that his people will turn out and vote out of a very strong belief that the president is right in saying that we are being, I will not use the word he might use, that we are being traduced, that we are being mistreated by people from other lands.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    How much of this is the emotional power of the imagery that we've been seeing over the past week?

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    I don't think there's any question that when you see children and parents being forcibly separated that's talked about a picture being worth a thousand words — that pictures worth probably 10,000 words. I do notice that the Trump supporters are trying to make the argument, at least some of their more militant media friends, that it's fake, it's a big lie. The pictures are photo shopped and it's why I think that TIME magazine picture of that crying young girl who it turns out was not separated from her family is going to be a very powerful argument on the part of Trump's supporters to say, don't believe those pictures that are making you upset about all those kids. It's really not real. I think, it was Ann Coulter who said those kids are child actors. So you can see how desperate almost the Trump people are to say don't buy into these pictures because they know that these pictures have the capacity, I think, to change minds and to motivate voters.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    You know, besides the imagery it seems that Trump supporters are actually cohesing around the fact that their leader is under attack in a way that could affect this notion of any blue wave or something happening in the midterms. They seem more determined now to go support their president because they feel he's being unfairly targeted?

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    The president's approval ratings among Republicans are now touching 90 percent. The only Republican president who came close to that was George W. Bush in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. And I think you're quite right, it's a theme that you and I have talked about often that the president has succeeded in convincing his supporters, if you hear something bad about me, it's a lie, double down on your support.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    What about the people who are carrying out the administration's policies? Earlier this weekend there was the incident where Sarah Huckabee Sanders the press secretary used the press secretary account on Twitter to talk about how she was asked to leave a specific restaurant in Lexington, Virginia.

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    You know, this is one that the measures I think just how emotional our politics is. I've heard people say well, look Sarah Sanders or the housing secretary are enunciating outrageous policies, they have no right to a peaceful meal at a restaurant or for that matter a peaceful night at home, we'll go follow them home and picket them. The problem with that is who gets to decide what policies are so outrageous that they deprive you of the normal, you know after work habits. In other words, suppose a pro-life group says this person is espousing a view on abortion which is leading to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent, unborn children, that person has no right to a peaceful night at home either. When you start assigning to yourself the power to rule positions out of bounds to that extent, you're headed down I think, a very dangerous road. But I'm sure you know a lot of people out there are going to say I'm sorry, Sarah Sanders lies and she's from promulgating the idea that separating kids from their parents what right does she have to a peaceful night at home. The question is as lawyers like to say what's the slippery slope you're heading down on?

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right. Jeff Greenfield, joining us from Santa Barbara. Thanks so much.

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    OK.

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