What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Clamoring for attention, presidential candidates get provocative

Read the Full Transcript

  • GWEN IFILL:

    But, first, the 2016 presidential contenders are on the attack, each jockeying to get the chance to secure a place on the stage for the first Republican debate in Cleveland in 10 days. The polls are getting tighter and their rhetoric is getting hotter, just in time for Politics Monday.

    That's with Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR.

    Let's start with Mike Huckabee, shall we? Mike Huckabee said — and we can take a look at what he had to say — that "The president's foreign policy is the most feckless in American history. It is so naive that he would trust the Iranians. By doing so, he will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven."

    Obviously, that was a Holocaust reference. And before I ask you to weigh in on that, let's hear what the president had to say in response when he was asked about it while traveling in Africa.

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

    When you get rhetoric like this, maybe it gets attention, and maybe this is just an effort to push Mr. Trump out of the headlines. But it's not the kind of leadership that is needed for America right now.

    And I don't think that's what anybody, Democratic, Republican or independent, is looking for out of their political leaders.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    It should be said, Amy, that no one asked the president about Donald Trump, but he managed to bring it up. Democrats are kind of happy about that.

  • AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report:

    What a surprise.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    What is this politics of provocation we're talking about now that we're seeing?

  • AMY WALTER:

    I think the president is correct that it does have a lot to do with the fact that Donald Trump is now sucking up all the oxygen.

    And, in fact, he is sucking up that place that so many of these other candidates thought they would be sitting in right now, which is the anti-establishment, angry-at-the-system candidate. There are plenty of people in that position or vying for that position, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee. They're not getting the attention. Donald Trump is, and they are, as such, increasingly putting their rhetoric up and putting their antics up in order to try to dethrone him.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    So, there's Donald Trump. There's Lindsey Graham responding by beating up his cell phone or doing something. And there's Governor Perry who said that maybe after — in the wake of a shooting in Lafayette, Louisiana, that maybe moviegoers should bring guns. Everybody seems to be trying to top each other.

  • TAMARA KEITH, NPR:

    It's all about the debate.

    There's a debate coming up. They all want a place on that debate stage. Only the top 10 in national polls earn a place on that first debate stage. And how do you raise your profile? How do you get in the top 10? Well, some of them are running ads. Some of them are taking chain saws to the tax code or golf clubs to their cell phones.

    They're trying to get attention. They're jumping up and down and saying, hi. Perhaps if you get a call from a pollster, you will support me, so that I can get on that debate stage, and it's national polls, not the state polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, where more maybe people are paying attention.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Well, we're going to talk about those polls in a minute, but first I want to talk a little bit about what's getting lost in some of this attack and counterattack, which is policy.

  • AMY WALTER:

    Hmm.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    What do we know — hmm. What do we know about Donald Trump and what he actually believes, Amy?

  • AMY WALTER:

    I don't know what he actually believes in. I don't know if he actually believes in anything.

    And, honestly, he's been all over the map, if you look at statements that he's made in his political career, I guess, if we could call it that, where he has flirted with running for president before. Remember, he flirted with running as an independent. He's talked about being a Democrat. He's been a Republican.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    He's been pro-life, pro-choice,

  • AMY WALTER:

    He's been pro-life, pro-choice. He's said Hillary Clinton is a very good person, he likes her very much. Now he's saying she's terrible, she would be a terrible president. He's talked about a surtax on very, very wealthy people. Now he's talking about how terrible the tax code is.

    He has really been all over the map. Look, the reality is, there is no there there when it comes to Donald Trump. What he's been brilliant at is exploiting the anger that's been there and the frustration that's been there on Republican voters. The Tea Party tapped into it. Tea Party candidates tapped into it.

    But, as I said, there's only this much vote there. Donald Trump is getting all of it. Nobody else is able to peel some of it away.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Including Hillary Clinton, who in the last week has given major speeches on the economy and on climate change. Is it breaking through?

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    Not really. I think that Donald Trump is monopolizing the headlines. And I think, also, it's summer and people aren't necessarily ready for a lot of policy.

    But what I think the Clinton campaign is doing here is, the way you get coverage, traditionally, is you have a horse race, and then people cover the horse race. Well, she doesn't truly have a horse race right now. And so she is filling the horse race void by doing these policy rollouts.

    But there hasn't been a ton of detail in any of them and there hasn't been a lot of meat yet. She keeps saying, well, that will come later in the summer.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    But there has been more of a horse race lately, at least the horse race to the debate stage, than we have seen before.

    So, let's look at the latest NBC News/Marist poll in New Hampshire and in Iowa. In New Hampshire, Donald Trump, for everything you say, is leading. He's at 21 percent, followed by George W. — I'm sorry — Jeb Bush at 14 percent, Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, at 12, and John Kasich at 7 percent, rounding out the top four.

    That's kind of a big turnaround.

  • AMY WALTER:

    Yes, absolutely. Nobody would have said three months ago that Donald Trump would be topping the polls.

    But if you said to me, will there be an anti-establishment Tea Party candidate up in the top three in New Hampshire? Of course. Right now, that happens to be Donald Trump. The person I think who is benefiting the most, by the way, is Jeb Bush, because if you notice in this poll and if we see the Iowa poll, he's in the top three in all of these. Again, it's consolidating an anti-Bush vote, anti-establishment vote to one person.

    It's everybody else that is desperate now for attention, including the one person who doesn't show up in there very much, and that's Marco Rubio.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Let's talk about the Democrats, because even though Hillary Clinton is still well ahead in these polls, Bernie Sanders is kind of creeping up. She is at 47 percent in New Hampshire. Bernie Sanders is following at 34 percent. But that's up 13 points since February.

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    I think what has happened is that Bernie Sanders has truly consolidated the anti-Hillary vote.

    Martin O'Malley is scrapping, scraping and trying to get a little bit of it. Lincoln Chafee would love a little bit of it. Jim Webb would love a little bit of it. But really Bernie Sanders came in and he just — he became the alternative to Hillary. He's the thing that's there for all of those people who just — who say things like, I don't want another Clinton or another Bush.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Let's go to Iowa briefly, where the numbers are actually not so different, except, in this case, in Iowa, Donald Trump is coming in second. We have Scott Walker, the Midwestern governor, up top. Why is that different?

  • AMY WALTER:

    Again, I think you're still seeing the same three things here, where you have Bush somewhere here as the establishment candidate.

    You have Donald Trump, who, by the way, if you look at his overall approval ratings in that poll, I think he has actually peaked. His approval — disapproval ratings among Republicans are in the high 40s, and in New Hampshire in the mid to high 50s.

    So I don't know if he can get much higher than where he is. The question is, if there are still 15 people, serious candidates in the race as we go into those primaries, will 21 percent be enough to actually win one of these?

  • GWEN IFILL:

    And Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are one and two in Iowa as well.

    But I want to talk about the favorable/unfavorables, because when you talk about Donald Trump leading, he's still incredibly unpopular as well in the public at large.

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    Yes, that is a problem that he has. He has huge name I.D. and people have strong opinions about them and many of them are not big fans.

    Or many of the people say that they don't expect that he would ultimately go on to be the Republican nominee, which is not a great sign for the staying power of his candidacy. Now, I will also just say, this time in 2011, Michele Bachmann was riding high.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    President Bachmann, yes.

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    Yes. And Herman Cain was then riding high. There was like an escalator to a cliff. And that could well be happening this time, sort of the alternative to the establishment candidate.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    I will remind you of that after we get to the debates and Donald Trump is still there.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • AMY WALTER:

    That's right.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Tamara Keith, Amy Walter, thank you both very much.

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    Thank you.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest