Amy Walter and Annie Linskey on Trump’s legal troubles, New York and Florida primaries

Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report with Amy Walter and Annie Linskey of The Washington Post join Amna Nawaz to discuss the latest political news, including how New York and Florida primary elections are testing the direction of the Democratic Party and how voters are viewing the growing number of investigations into former President Trump.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, it has been two weeks since the FBI conducted a court-approved search of former President Donald Trump's home, and we are starting to get a sense for how that and other investigations around Mr. Trump are influencing Republican voters.

    And, tomorrow, New York and Florida hold primary elections that will test the direction of the Democratic Party.

    To analyze all of this, we turn now to Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report With Amy Walter and Annie Linskey of The Washington Post. And Tamara Keith is away.

    We're so glad to have both of you, though.

    We have some new NBC News poll numbers. I would love to get your take on those. Investigations into former President Trump, the majority of people asked, do say they want those to continue. But the party breakdown is interesting. Amy, take a look at this; 92 percent of Democrats say the investigations should continue…

  • Amy Walter, The Cook Political Report:

    Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    … 21 percent of Republicans, 61 percent of independents. Does that number surprise you?

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, I think going into the hearings on January 6, the feeling was that this wasn't going to change voters' opinions about the focus of the election, the salience of this issue in the upcoming midterm elections.

    But I think what has happened over the course of the last few weeks is the attention has been almost solely on President Trump and the role he played on January 6. There has been no defense on the part of Republicans to make this more complicated or maybe muddy the waters on this issue, because Republicans boycotted the January 6 Committee.

    And then you put on top of it, as you pointed out, Mar-a-Lago and the focus on the other legal challenges, shall we say, for the former president in places like Georgia and New York. And so, for the last few weeks, what voters have been hearing a lot about, whether they're actually paying attention or not, but in — the sort of ambient noise has been about Donald Trump, the election denial and the questions around whether or not what he did was illegal in a place like Georgia.

    And I think voters, they do care about it. What we're going to have to find out is whether it's more important to them than other issues that we know are on the table this election.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Right.

    And there's been some question, too, about whether these investigations could actually drive voter enthusiasm among Republicans, right?

  • Amy Walter:

    That's right.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But, Annie, I want to ask you about Democratic voter enthusiasm, because enthusiasm, as the poll shows, among Republicans remains high, about 68 percent.

    It's striking when you look at these numbers. And, again, this is a new NBC News poll. When you look at the growth among Democratic voters who say they have a high interest in the midterms, it's now at 66 percent. They have basically closed the gap with Republicans, up from 61 percent in May and 50 percent in March.

    What do you make of that?

  • Annie Linskey, The Washington Post:

    Yes, absolutely.

    I mean, when I have been talking to Democratic and even Republican strategists, they are acknowledging that they initially thought abortion and the Roe vs. Wade decision would be helpful for Democrats around the margins.

    I think what's happening and what Democrats and Republicans are both saying to me is they were wrong about that. And it seems like it's caused a bigger shift in voter enthusiasm among Democrats than they had initially thought.

    And it's kind of rare for strategists who admit that they're wrong, like, halfway through, before there's even been an election. But you're seeing it with increasing voter registration among women, and across the board, in a number of states.

    And so that's where — and the other piece is, abortion has been in the news in a way that a lot of people, I think, didn't anticipate. They did not realize that you would have these national stories about a 10-year-old becoming pregnant and her family feeling that she needed to cross state lines to get the care that was needed.

    And I think these stories have — there's been a drumbeat of them over the summer, to where there's been kind of a — it hasn't faded from the news, the way that many I think expected that it would.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Yes.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Amy?

  • Amy Walter:

    And I also think that many Republicans thought that the Mar-a-Lago search would increase Republican enthusiasm. Oh, you heard, oh, this is going to help the base.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Yes.

  • Amy Walter:

    Actually, it's been the opposite. When you look at the NBC poll, 29 percent of Democrats now say that is a top issue for them, this issue of a threat to democracy; 17 percent of Republicans feel similarly.

    So it has energized somebody, but it's energized the other party, not Republicans.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Yes. That threats to democracy number, I thought was really interesting.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right. That's right.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But, meanwhile, we should say we're continuing to track the primary races leading up to those — the general election in November.

    We have had a lot of focus about the Republican races, what that means for the direction of the party, but, tomorrow, New York and Florida, a couple of big primary races there that have a lot to say about the direction of the Democratic Party, I think.

    Amy, what is at stake here as you look at it? What are you watching specifically?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, we were talking about this earlier, but I'm more interested, actually, in a special election that's happening tomorrow than even the primaries.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    OK.

  • Amy Walter:

    And you're right. There's a lot of focus on the primaries, because, in New York, you have a number of well-known longtime Democratic incumbents. Some are facing off against each other in redistricted districts.

    But the district that we're paying a lot of attention to is in the Hudson Valley. This is a very evenly divided district. Biden won it by just two points in the last election. This is a place where we're going to get our first sort of road test on the messaging, especially on abortion, Democrats leaning into the issue of abortion, Republicans, not surprisingly, leading into the economy and inflation.

    And, again, it's a special election. It's in August. So we have to always be careful to put those caveats out there. But it certainly can give us a sense for what voters, how that — how those issues are playing with voters in the kind of swing districts that Republicans absolutely need to win if they're going to have a big night in November.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    What about you, Annie? What are you watching?

  • Annie Linskey:

    Yes.

    I think, when you look at the primaries in particular — and these are — this is the rare week where there are sort of big Democratic primaries. For the last few weeks, it has always been sort of focused on the Republican side.

    But with the Democratic primaries, you there are some big, like tension points. And one is with Sean Patrick Maloney. He is the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the top Democrat who is in charge of getting other Democrats elected. And he is facing a tough challenge from the left.

    And these are — these — his people say he feels comfortable. The conventional wisdom is that he should be fine. But it's August, and it's very hard to poll in these kinds of races, and you don't really know what the shape of the electorate is going to be. And so I think that is where you could have the biggest headline is, if — of course, if he loses, it would be an earthquake for Democrats.

    But even if it comes close, it's going to be a real test of that progressive wing of the party and how much strength they have. And so far this year, their strength has been mixed. But this is going to give you either sort of a capstone of, oh, wow, they have this unexpected strength, and you're going to have a new progressive star coming out in New York.

    And we know how that looks. It's a lot of enthusiasm that can be ginned up from the base. Or it's kind of an establishment strikes back narrative. So it will be one of the two.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And, meanwhile, it is August.

    And I do have to ask you. We haven't seen much of President Biden or Vice President Harris out on the trail. They are coming off a couple of big wins, right, legislatively? Does it surprise you we haven't seen more of them?

  • Amy Walter:

    They may go out to sell the big wins that they have had, but you're not going to see a whole lot of Democrats inviting them to come and campaign with them.

    The other thing in that NBC poll that puts a little bit of cold water on enthusiasm among Democrats is the fact that President Biden's job approval rating is still very low, especially by historical standards, only at 42 percent job approval rating, his handling of the economy deeply underwater.

    So he's still not exactly popular. I think what has happened is, these past few weeks, the focus has been on the former president, not on the current present. That has actually — and abortion, which I agree with. And that has actually helped Democrats more than the success that Biden and Democrats in Congress have had.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    We have a few seconds left.

  • Annie Linskey:

    Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You think we will see more of them on the trail?

  • Annie Linskey:

    Well, in some places.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Annie Linskey:

    The Washington Post just sent — did a piece where we polled 60 campaigns, 60 Democratic campaigns, to say, look, do you want Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to come?

    And most of them did not respond to us. So — and the ones that did, there was a lot of hesitation, let me say.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Silence, as they say, sometimes speaks volumes.

  • Annie Linskey:

    Yes.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Annie Linskey, Amy Walter, thank you so much.

  • Annie Linskey:

    Thank you.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

Listen to this Segment