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Amy Walter and Susan Page on Helsinki summit poll numbers, Trump factor in midterm races

Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report and Susan Page of USA Today join Judy Woodruff to discuss how President Trump’s controversial meeting in Helsinki with Vladimir Putin is playing out in the polls, how the president is affecting midterm campaigns around the country, and why Sen. Bernie Sanders and Democratic House candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez were campaigning in Kansas.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we have reported, President Trump's meeting with Vladimir Putin sparked a storm of controversy in Washington.

    New poll numbers now give us a sense of reaction across the country, a perfect time for politics Monday with Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Susan Page of USA Today.

    Hello to both of you. It's Politics Monday.

    So, yes, there's been, I guess that you could at least say it's been a storm of criticism of controversy. But the president doubles down.

    We do have some new polls asking people about this.

    And let's show the audience some numbers. Among Democrats, the approval rating for the president is what you might expect, only 9 percent. Among independents, 36 percent approval over the president and how he handled the Russia meeting. Among Republicans, it's sky-high, 88 percent.

    Amy, what does this tell us about the voters right now?

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

    And this is his overall job approval rating. So, what it tells us is kind of what we have seen, well, pretty much for the entirety of this president's presidency, is that the overall approval rating of this president really doesn't move that much.

    It blips up and down here and there, but especially in 2018, it's remained pretty steady, somewhere between — averaging between 39 and 43 percent. So, big things happen. Not big things happen. The numbers sort of stay the same.

    But that number that you pointed out, that Republicans united behind the president, this is the thing that people spend so much time looking at, right? When are Republicans going to abandon this president?

    They aren't going to abandon this president. This question has been asked since he was candidate Trump, since the 2016 election and afterwards. They continue to support the president, I think even more so when the focus, the media focus is on things that they — the media — that they feel like the media is ganging up on the president, they spend too much time criticizing him.

    But that independent number is very important. A 36 percent approval rating among independents is really low, and, more important, among independents, their vote in Congress, Democrats had a 20-point lead. That's the number I think that's also going to be really important to pay attention to, besides just the Republican support for the president.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How do you look at this, Susan?

  • Susan Page:

    So, there's — it's just a picture of the electorate, right?

    There is nothing that Donald Trump could do that's going to get him support among Democrats. Nine percent approval rating?

  • Amy Walter:

    Right. Right.

  • Susan Page:

    And there is — it seems like there's virtually nothing he can do to cost him support of the Republicans.

    And what that does, it gives him an incredible political muscle when it comes to dealing with Republicans in Congress. One reason that Republicans in Congress are generally unwilling to challenge him, even when they disagree with what he's doing, is that they look at that number and say, if I challenge him, I will lose a primary.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, this all comes — and it's a nice segue, because, over the weekend, I happened to moderate a debate, a Senate debate, in Virginia between the incumbent Democrat, Tim Kaine, the Republican challenger, Corey Stewart, who, by the way, ran the Trump campaign in Virginia for a while in 2016.

    But it was interesting how much Donald Trump, President Trump's name came up.

    And I'm just going to play just a little bit from the debate, first with Corey Stewart.

  • Corey Stewart:

    He voted against all these things, not just because he's a left-wing radical liberal, but because he opposes everything that President Trump does. He's an automatic no, whether it's good for Virginia or bad for Virginia.

  • Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.:

    He is a President Trump acolyte, and he takes the President Trump line in calling for the termination of the investigation. That would be a disaster.

    And if there's anything that demonstrates the difference between us, it's Corey Stewart standing up here and saying that President Trump is standing up to the Russians.

    President Trump is caving to the Russians.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Amy, it wasn't only about President Trump. But, as you could tell, that was a theme we kept hearing over and over again.

  • Amy Walter:

    And it's a theme you're going to hear in every single race in the country.

    The president just looms large over everything. Whether or not candidates mention him or not, he is the issue in this election more than anything else, how you feel about this president. And it's going to — it's going to look different in different places.

    In Virginia, a state Hillary Clinton carried and that Ralph Northam, the gubernatorial candidate, carried by nine points, it's not good to be attached to the president. In, I don't know, North Dakota or some of the — West Virginia, these red states that Democrats are running in, it's better to be aligned with the president.

    And you will probably see the president, as he's doing now, going out and campaigning for a lot of these red state Democrats. I doubt he's going to come in to Virginia.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    To Virginia.

    So, is it a state-by-state thing too?

  • Susan Page:

    Well, it is.

    And we can't stop talking about Donald Trump every week. We shouldn't expect — candidates shouldn't expect to be able to not talk about Donald Trump too.

    There's only one case in which I think it might not just cut red and blue. And that would be in places to get affected in some way, especially with some — with some damage from Donald Trump policy.

    So, if you go to a red state that has a lot of soybean farmers getting hurt by tariffs, that means that that might be a case where being an acolyte of Donald Trump doesn't help you the way you would expect in a Republican area.

  • Amy Walter:

    That's right. And that's where the Democrat is going to run ads. I don't — I'm not just reflexively against the president. I will stand with him when he's good for my state, but when his policies hurt my state, I'm a check and balance.

    And that's the important thing to remember too about this — these polls. Support for the president or opposition to the president doesn't translate in the actual polling, who shows up to vote. And right now, Democrats continue to have what's called an enthusiasm advantage.

    They say they are more likely to turn out and vote. And we have seen that in these special elections as well. It's just it's only July. Is it still July?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It is.

  • Amy Walter:

    It's still July, but still have a way to go.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But soybeans, as matter of fact, did come up. Soybean farmers and how they're hurt by the president's trade policy did come up in this debate.

    But while — you're bringing up red states, Susan. In fact, a state very well, Kansas, attracted two surprisingly liberal progressive Democrats this weekend.

    Bernie Sanders was joined by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is the New York City winning congressional nominee. She's still got to win the election in November. She won the primary.

    But they brought a pretty progressive message to a red state. What does that tell us? And all the while, mainstream Democrats are raising flags, saying, wait a minute, this is not a message we can win with in November.

  • Susan Page:

    So they got 4,000 people. And for two very liberal Democrats in Wichita, Kansas, my hometown, that is a big — that is a big turnout.

    And you look at that, that's a red state. That's a — that's a red congressional district, the Fourth Congressional District. It's one that Mike Pompeo won last time by 32 percentage points, not a contest.

    But in the special election to replace Mike Pompeo, the Republican won by only six points. And that indicates that, with the right kind of candidate, it's possible Democrats might be able to contest that congressional district, but only can do so by getting some Republicans to vote for them.

    So if you go in there with the most liberal agenda, Medicare for all, free college tuition for everybody, impeach President Trump, that is a Democrat who is not likely to prevail in that district.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mainstream Democrats worried, though, about — about this progressive…

  • Amy Walter:

    In some cases. Let's see who wins these primaries. So they came in and campaigned for people who haven't gotten through a primary yet.

    But I think where this really is going to matter is in 2019 and 2020, more so than 2018. Democrats now are really coalescing behind every candidate that they have, whether they are more liberal or more conservative.

    When it comes down to choosing who Democrats want to be as their standard-bearer for president, who their nominee is, I think this is where those fault lines between the more progressive, the more moderate are going to be really important.

    But if Democrats do take back Congress, it's because they win in districts that either narrowly went for Trump or narrowly went against Trump, not in places that are overwhelmingly Democratic.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Worrying too early, maybe. Maybe.

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, I think it's going to be — it will be a factor in 2020, for sure.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Amy Walter, Susan Page, Politics Monday, thank you.

  • Susan Page:

    Thank you.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

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