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Amy Walter and Susan Page on Democrats’ midterm messaging, Bill Clinton on #MeToo

Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report and Susan Page of USA Today join William Brangham to discuss Tuesday’s primary in Iowa and the larger stakes for Democrats, plus how former President Bill Clinton answered a question about the Monica Lewinsky affair from the lens of the #MeToo movement.

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  • William Brangham:

    In addition to Iowa, seven other states are holding primaries tomorrow.

    To look ahead at these races, I'm joined now Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Susan Page of USA Today.

    Welcome to you both.

  • Amy Walter:

    Thank you.

  • William Brangham:

    Amy, first with you.

    We saw in this piece in Iowa several different Democrats trying on different shades of blue, a little more liberal, a little more conservative.

    Has the Democratic Party cohered around a unified message? Or is it just state by state, race by race?

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, I think a midterm election is not about the party having an identity. That is really about — that's the presidential election, and where literally the party is exemplified by who their nominee is.

    In midterm elections, each race has its own kind of candidate who represents, is supposed to represent that specific district. I think what we're seeing are a couple things in the primaries that we have gone through thus far. And, remember, we're only about a third of the way through.

  • William Brangham:

    Right.

  • Amy Walter:

    June really does start us into most of our — the primaries through the rest of the summer.

    But we have seen one really big issue for Democrats. It's not really ideological. It's about gender. And it's about women. And my colleague David Wasserman looked — crunched the numbers in these first few primary states.

    And what he found for Democratic women candidates, when we have a primary between a Democratic woman and at least one other man in a Democratic primary, not an incumbent, women were winning 69 percent of the time.

    There were fewer Republican women running, and they're winning at a much lower rate, at about 20 percent. So it's less about ideology than it is about gender.

  • William Brangham:

    So, Susan, what do you see as the most sort of unifying ideas for to the Dems?

  • Susan Page:

    Well, the most unifying idea for the Dems is opposition to President Trump. That is an issue on which every Democrat running agrees, although Democrats in some districts, as in this rural Iowa district, are not necessarily talking about that, because they need to appeal to some people who voted for President Trump last time around, but either aren't happy with him or have some other concerns when it comes to trade or health care, that makes them possible for a Democrat to appeal to.

    But Trump is the unifying factor on both sides. Republicans are unified behind Trump in his favor. Democrats are unified in his opposition.

  • Amy Walter:

    And that unification against Trump also I think helps Democrats, in that the party isn't really divided.

    I know we saw in this Iowa case that there is an ideology spectrum, but when it really comes down to it, Democrats' number one concern — I hear this from voters and I hear it from candidates — is simply to beat the Republican in November to come to Washington to be that check on President Trump.

  • William Brangham:

    And in some ways, I guess, the president can — as far as Democrats are concerned, you can sort of make an assumption that the voters on our side, on the blue side, they're going to have opposition to the president. You don't necessarily have to beat that drum over and over.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

  • William Brangham:

    But let's talk a little bit about the GOP, because it seems that, even though there seemed to be initially a sense that some candidates would try to distance themselves from the president, as time has gone on, what the president's message is becomes the GOP's message.

    I mean, you see this in so many ways. Do you think that there — are candidates across the country for the GOP running with the president?

  • Susan Page:

    Yes, they're running with the president. And the president has made it that by having a great economy, by having a 3.8 percent unemployment rate released last Friday, by having at least the prospect of some progress toward solving or at least beginning to address the situation with North Korea and its nuclear program.

    Those are things that have made Republican candidates more comfortable signing on to the presidency. And even though if you want to make a Republican quiet, ask him about things like, does the president have the power to pardon himself?

  • William Brangham:

    Right.

  • Susan Page:

    On that, Republicans are less enthusiastic about speaking up.

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, and then when you look at the ads that Republicans are running, they're attaching themselves to the president not just on the economy, but on a lot of these issues that really resonate in Republican primaries, but probably don't with independent and Democratic voters, which is immigration.

    Whether they're talking about building the wall or doing more to stop illegal immigration, they are — they're really close to the president's language. There's a lot of the talk about MS-13, things like this. That to me is really interesting, because I'm curious to how many of these candidates are going to talk about that once we get to November.

  • William Brangham:

    Right.

  • Amy Walter:

    Vs. Democrats who, right now, they're — almost all of them, they are talking about health care. They're talking about health care a lot more than they're talking about Trump. I assume that that message is going to continue to go through the general election.

  • William Brangham:

    Lastly, this is probably something the Democrats would rather never in a million years to be talking about, but it's Bill Clinton. He's on a book tour right now trying to sell this new thriller that he has written with James Patterson.

    He was asked today on MSNBC about, in light of the MeToo movement, does he rethink his behavior?

    Let's take a look at what he had to say.

  • Question:

    Look back looking back on what happened, through the lens of MeToo now, do you think differently or feel more responsibility?

  • Bill Clinton:

    No, I felt terrible then, and I came to grips with it.

  • Question:

    Did you ever apologize for it?

  • Bill Clinton:

    Yes. And nobody believes that I got out of that for free. I left the White House $16 million in debt.

    But you typically have ignored gaping facts in describing this. And I bet you don't even know them. This was litigated 20 years ago. Two-thirds of the American people sided with me. They were not insensitive to that.

  • William Brangham:

    Susan, what do you made of that?

  • Susan Page:

    Well, he's had 20 years to think about his answer on Monica Lewinsky. And it is perplexing to me how a politician with as many skills as Bill Clinton has doesn't have a short and effective response to this perfectly appropriate and obvious question to ask, which would be something along the lines of, I'm very sorry for what I did. I apologize. Let's move on.

    That would be more effective than the convoluted kind of response that he gave to Craig Melvin on NBC this morning. And it is a kind of thing that makes Democrats feel that Bill Clinton is not an asset that they can use in many elections.

    You would think a former president, served two terms might be somebody you would see out on the campaign trail. You really don't.

  • William Brangham:

    It's interesting, Amy, that he seemed to be indicating — and this is something we have actually heard from President Trump as well — that voters looked at this, they knew what they were getting, and they still sided with me.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right. So, then I won, right? It was really…

  • William Brangham:

    And that that's the only measure.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right, that the MeToo movement is really about me, right, when really what it should be about is what the — how women have been dealt with by society, how men have treated women.

    And in this very specific case, here, he had the opportunity — and I think Susan said it perfectly — he had the opportunity to really address just one on one, do a little bit of introspection, a little bit of soul-searching to say, gosh, you know, now looking at it, not just 20 years in the past, but through the lens of the MeToo movement, seeing all that has occurred this year, I really understand it in a different way.

    And his inability to do that really speaks to everything that Susan said about not only why it's difficult for Democrats to want to put him on the campaign trail, but the challenge for taking this movement and bringing it into — you know, for it to become a bigger and more lasting moment, because it still needs to penetrate in a way that everybody gets it at the same level.

  • William Brangham:

    Right.

  • Amy Walter:

    It's not there yet.

  • William Brangham:

    Right.

    I mean, interestingly, he's citing again these public opinion polls. And I think, on some level, he was right that a majority of the country looked at the impeachment that was brought against him as a partisan effort. But he seems completely unwilling to grapple with the underlying behavior that got him into trouble the first place.

  • Susan Page:

    Well, it's certainly true that his impeachment was a partisan act by Republicans. And Republicans paid for that, by the way, in the 1998 midterm elections.

    But there's been a cultural shift just in the past year, just very recently, that looks at questions of power between and in some of these — in some of these situations, and has caused a change for a lot of Americans.

    I think a lot of Americans look at this and are more likely to believe women in these cases and are more likely to say men in power cannot abuse their power in cases that involve sexual harassment or sexual misconduct. And there was no acknowledgment of that in this exchange.

  • Amy Walter:

    Democrats have made a tremendous shift, right? You have Democrats coming out and saying, the president should have resigned, right?

  • William Brangham:

    Right.

  • Amy Walter:

    Knowing what we know now.

    So you have the Democratic establishment — in fact, this is something else that's sort of fascinating. The Clinton era wasn't that long ago, but watching where the party has moved both on policy — think about his seminal policy achievements, whether it was welfare reform, the crime bill, NAFTA — those are being pushed aside by Democrats, saying that he was too moderate.

    And now on this issue, where a lot of Democrats didn't defend him personally, but certainly defended the fact that that impeachment wasn't reasonable, now are also saying he should take a look and we as a party should take a look at how Monica Lewinsky the person was treated.

  • William Brangham:

    Amy Walter, Susan Page, thank you both very much.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

  • Susan Page:

    Thank you.

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