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Does picking fights with GOP members help or hurt Trump?

Judy Woodruff sits down with Matt Schlapp of the American Conservative Union and Democratic consultant Hilary Rosen to discuss the increasingly public rift in the Republican Party, how high-profile GOP retirements may affect the political landscape, the revelation that the DNC and the Clinton campaign helped finance the notorious Trump dossier and the president’s controversial condolence call

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We return now to this week’s swirling political news with Matt Schlapp. He’s the chairman of the American Conservative Union and the former White House political director under President George W. Bush. And Hilary Rosen, she is a longtime Democratic consultant and managing director at the public relations firm SKDKnickerbocker.

    And we thank both of you for being here.

    Matt, to you first.

    This feud that has gone on now for several days between the president, Senator Corker, now Senator Flake, is this helping the president? What is it doing for him, for the Republican Party?

  • Matt Schlapp: 

    I don’t think it’s helping the president, although I do think there is a strong feeling within the Republican Party and the conservative base of the Republican Party that they really want their Republican leaders to fight back against the eight years of the Obama agenda.

    It’s one of the reasons they picked Donald Trump in the nominating process. But what you see with Corker and with Flake and with Susan Collins and some of these other members, they were never for Trump. Some of them were never-Trump. And after a year, that relationship has just not mended, and it’s not going to mend.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Hilary Rosen, how do you look at this?

  • Hilary Rosen:

    Well, I think that the fact that they’re both stepping down, I think, is actually a long-term victory for President Trump. My guess is, they’re going to be replaced by potentially — well, Arizona has a potential for a Democratic pickup — but, you know, in Tennessee, by a senator who is probably going to be more loyal to President Trump.

    His problem, though, is short-term, which is over the next, you know, year-and-a-half, do they hurt his ability to get things through the Senate? And I think they do. So, I think it was shortsighted to pick this fight as early as they did. And I think he’s going to suffer for it on Capitol Hill.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Matt, you can comment on that.

    I also want to ask you about what Congressman Charlie Dent said to me in that interview a few minutes ago, where, among other things, he said he thinks this has become too much about one man, rather than about the Republican Party. And he said there’s this loyalty test, and he thinks the president or Steve Bannon are trying to remake the GOP into the image of Donald Trump.

  • Matt Schlapp: 

    Presidents lead their parties. And I — when I was at the White House, one of the things I did is work with candidates like Charlie Dent. I consider Charles Dent a friend.

    Charlie Dent is a moderate, and the party is dominated by conservatives. Moderates and conservatives have to learn to work together. And we have historically. But there’s a new element of some of these more independent-minded people who also want to join our coalition.

    I’m all for it. And those people in the Republican Party who don’t want to expand the party, they’re making a huge mistake, because if you don’t get to 51 in America, if you don’t get a majority of the electoral votes in the presidential race, you don’t win. And I want to win races.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Hilary Rosen, looking at this from the other side of the political aisle, does it look like this is getting the Republican Party stronger or not?

  • Hilary Rosen:

    Well, I think that it’s getting more concentrated.

    And so I think, if you look in particular areas like a Tennessee, it becomes stronger, if you look at what happened in Alabama when the conservative candidate won the Republican primary.

    So I think it essentially creates more division and less incentive for more conservative Republicans to want to compromise and work with Democrats.

    I think — but it also puts places in play that may not have been in play, like Arizona. You know, I think we can pick up a Democratic seat in Arizona, because moderate Republicans and independents have sort of been driven away from — due to the kind of combativeness of Donald Trump.

  • Matt Schlapp: 

    Let me just quickly address this.

    Jeff Flake was at 18 percent amongst Republicans in Arizona. He had no shot of winning. Bob Corker wouldn’t get out of a Republican primary in Tennessee. Same for Susan Collins if she ran for governor of Maine.

    These people who are bellyaching are people that had political problems in their states and they were going to lose anyway, so that’s — that’s what is important here.

  • Hilary Rosen:

    But their independence is valued.

    But their independence is valued by the middle of the spectrum there, and that’s that’s where you’re fighting for election in those Senate races, I think.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I want to turn you both to these reports, Matt, in The Washington Post and other news organizations that the Hillary Clinton campaigns was among those Democrats who were funding this so-called dossier research into President Trump’s connections with Russia.

    What’s the consequence of this?

  • Matt Schlapp: 

    Well, it sure muddies the water for people who believe that the special counsel investigation and this whole concept of Russian collusion is a Trump problem.

    We now learn that one of the — one of Trump’s — one of the people running against Trump in the Republican primary started this process, somehow tipped off Hillary Clinton and the Democrats that they had worked on this dossier, $9 million funneled through this project, and went to Vladimir Putin’s — some of his cronies.

    So, literally, you have Democratic money going to Vladimir Putin’s cronies to try to harm Donald Trump. It seems like, after all of this, the collusion that we know about it, if The Washington Post and The New York Times and The Hill are right, is collusion with the Hillary campaign, which is just ironic. And that’s why investigations go to interesting places.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Hilary?

  • Hilary Rosen:

    Well, let’s be clear.

    Donald Trump and his administration are under investigation because he fired the FBI director who was investigating countless meetings between his campaign officials and Russians, and that that his top lieutenants didn’t disclose multiple amounts of those meetings in their forms. So that’s why that investigation is going on.

    I think this dossier only muddies the water from a rhetorical standpoint, not from the investigation standpoint. It’s mere opposition research that a candidate did during the campaign.

  • Matt Schlapp: 

    No.

  • Hilary Rosen:

    There’s no suggestion of any kind of government involvement. It was actually a British…

  • Matt Schlapp: 

    No.

  • Hilary Rosen:

    Ex-British spy who ended up doing the majority of this work. It had nothing to do with Russia.

  • Matt Schlapp: 

    I think it’s interesting.

  • Hilary Rosen:

    I don’t think that we’re going to see anything happen here with respect to that. I think Mueller has what he will have.

  • Matt Schlapp: 

    Look, I can be quick here.

    Hilary didn’t refute anything I said. The money that actually went through this process to Vladimir Putin’s cronies, and Jim Comey, as the FBI director, picked up this dossier process, and did it under the auspices of the FBI as well.

    This is crummy. This stinks, and this looks bad for the Democrats.

  • Hilary Rosen:

    Not too worried about it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We started talking about one kind of feud. Now we’re talking — now I want to ask you about this other feud the president has had, Matt, for the last — more than a week with a Gold Star family.

    The president was asked about all this today as he got on a plane to go to Texas. Let’s just quickly hear what he had to say.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I was really nice to her. I respect her. I respect her family. I certainly respect La David, who, by the way, I called La David right from the beginning. Just so you understand, they put a chart in front, La David, says La David Johnson.

    So I called right from the beginning. There’s no hesitation, one of the great memories of all time. There was no hesitation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The president talks about this. Should he just drop it?

  • Matt Schlapp: 

    Yes. Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Or is it helpful to keep talking about it?

  • Matt Schlapp: 

    He should drop it.

    I think — I was with President Bush during the years when he had to have some of these meetings and conversations. It’s gut-wrenching for a president. And I think it should be private. And I think that the congresswoman made a big mistake down in Florida who tried to politicize this.

    And I think the president makes a mistake if he continues to engage this woman, who clearly is grieving. It must be a terrible loss. I haven’t experienced something like this. And I think we need to give her, her privacy. I think we ought to leave it alone.

    And I think he should keep making the calls. Most of the calls will go well. Most of the people will appreciate the calls, even if they’re raw emotionally. But I don’t think we be should be talking about it in a public sense.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Hilary, what do we learn from this?

  • Hilary Rosen:

    Well, we learn that the president and his chief of staff shouldn’t go on TV and call a grieving widow and her friend, even if that friend is a congresswoman, liars.

    And he picked this fight. He’s kept it going. It’s an extraordinarily painful for a lot of — not just that family, but for a lot of families who have suffered loss. And they still have given no reasonable explanation for what even happened to these soldiers in Niger.

    And I think that, if the president really cared about this situation, the way he tried to express today, he would focus more on getting answers for those families than protecting his name, when he clearly picked this fight to start.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we know there is an investigation under way at the Pentagon, and we’re all waiting to see where that goes.

    Hilary Rosen, Matt Schlapp, thank you both.

  • Matt Schlapp: 

    Thanks, Judy.

  • Hilary Rosen:

    Thanks, Judy.

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