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How GOP 2016 contenders are vying for the evangelical vote

Gwen Ifill talks to Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report and NPR’s Tamara Keith about the Republican feud for 2016 primary position and the evangelical vote, as well as the battle shaping up between President Obama and Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren over the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    It's family feud time for both Republicans and Democrats, as presidential candidates look for ways to stand out in a crowded field, and liberals go to war with the White House over trade.

    It's also Politics Monday, so Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR are here to sort it all out for us.

    Let's start with the Republican feud. Remember "Spy vs. Spy" in "Mad" magazine? This is GOP vs. GOP. OK, so we heard Rick Santorum at a meeting this weekend, another one of the Republican cattle calls.

    And this is — let's just listen from — first to what he had to say.

    FORMER SEN. RICK SANTORUM, (R) Pennsylvania: The Republican Party nominated people who have checked one of three boxes. Number one, you were a vice president. We have nominated former vice presidents. Number two, you were the son of a former president.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • RICK SANTORUM:

    And, number three, you came in second the last time and ran again.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Of course, he came in second when, and is running — and is possibly running again?

    Rick Santorum hasn't announced he's running for president, but he clearly sees part of his path is to take down the others.

  • AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report:

    Right. And so really he's saying is, it's between Jeb Bush and Rick Santorum.

    I'm glad we cleared that all up. We're done. We don't need to talk anymore about Republicans. I'm sort of defining the Republican field right now. It's like the dating game, all right, where you have Republican primary voters are in no mood to settle down. In fact, they're happy, I think, with this big field of potential candidates.

    And they want to date and meet people. They're not ready to get married yet. So, each one of the candidates then goes to these cattle calls — I'm going to be at one in Iowa this weekend — and tries to make the best case to these — hope — to their suitors. But I don't think we are going to end up any time soon with an obvious candidate or two candidates, in the way that Rick Santorum would like to present it.

    I think this field is going to stay as crowded as it is for some time. And it's going to be the debates and it's going to be the actual contests that winnow it down.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Tamara?

  • TAMARA KEITH, NPR:

    They're all trying to stand out in a very, very crowded field. And they're doing that. All of the governors are saying, well, you don't want another senator, do you?

    And all the senators are saying, well, don't — you don't want a governor. You want somebody with foreign policy experience. They're all trying to differentiate themselves. In reality, each one is going to get a little pop when they announce. And then they all sort of, like, tumble back into the field.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    And then you see them doing things like competing for subsets of the Republican vote, in this case especially the evangelical vote, because there is just not one candidate who can corner that market.

    This weekend, we saw Jeb Bush at Liberty University, the Christian school in Virginia, giving a commencement speech. And we saw Scott Walker, who also hasn't announced he's running, but people think he is, the governor of Wisconsin, in Israel wearing a yarmulke and appealing in that way.

  • AMY WALTER:

    That's right.

    So, the thing is, you don't win the nomination, the Republican nomination if you are not in line with the evangelicals socially and culturally. If you're too far outside of that realm, you're not going to win. At the same time, if you're too closely aligned, you get pigeonholed as an evangelical candidate, you are probably not going to win either.

    This is the place where Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee were stuck in the last two elections. They got pigeonholed as, well, they can appeal to this one subset, but they don't really appeal broadly. When I talk to those campaigns now, they're spending all this time saying, why don't people take us seriously on other issues? We're talking about so many other issues.

    So it's finding that balancing point of, you don't want to turn — you can't be too far to the left, but you also can't turn off the moderate voters.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    But, Tamara, is it possible to split that too finely so that nobody gets anything?

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    There are so many of them competing for that tiny…

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Right.

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    The evangelical share of the Republican Party isn't really that big.

    They have an outsized role, in particular in Iowa, which happens to be the first-in-the-nation caucus. And so there's a lot of tailoring to that group. But, I mean, if we're looking at Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee — Jeb Bush went to Liberty University. Ted Cruz announced at Liberty University. Bobby Jindal is working that angle too.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    If you're at Liberty University, when they go home for the summer, they're going to not…

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    Where are they going to do their events?

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Where are they going to go?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Let's go to the Democratic family feud on the other side.

    And it's all about this Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which they're waiting to see if Congress will allow the president to have the fast track to approve. And in this case, it's the president at war against his own people.

    Let's listen to what he had to say, in particular in an interview this weekend with Yahoo! News in which he talked about Elizabeth Warren, the senator from Massachusetts, who has been kind of leading the fight against it.

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

    Elizabeth is a politician like everybody else. And she has got a voice that she wants to get out there. And I understand that.

    And, on most issues, she and I deeply agree. On this one, though, her arguments don't stand the test of fact and scrutiny.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Fact and scrutiny.

    Her response, of course, in an interview today The Washington Post, with a blog in The Washington Post, was to say that: "The president has committed only to letting the public see this deal after Congress votes to authorize fast track. At that point, it will be impossible for us to amend the agreement or to block any part of it without tanking the whole TPP. The TPP is basically done."

    So the two of them are taking these little shots across the bow to each other over a pretty big issue.

  • AMY WALTER:

    It is.

    And the good thing and the bad news for Democrats at this point in history is they're the most ideologically unified that we have seen them in years. That's great if you're the president presiding over a unified party, except when you want to go against party orthodoxy, in this case a trade deal.

    And labor unions are going to be very upset with you, liberals very upset with you. At the same time, he doesn't have many moderates left in his party. They have all been wiped out in the last two wave midterm elections. So, this is — as I said, it's good when you are all on the same page and you can pass legislation that everybody agrees on.

    But when you're the president and you try to go against the tide, this is what's going to happen.

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    Yes.

    And the president is lobbying hard. He has to win over his own party on this. And Elizabeth Warren, I think, has the advantage of speaking for most of the people in her party on this particular issue.

    And I will just say that she's also going to be on "Morning Edition" tomorrow talking with Steve Inskeep. She phoned in, which is to say full-court press from Elizabeth Warren. She's not backing down on the president.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    We will be listening, Tamara. Nice plug.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • GWEN IFILL:

    I want to ask you, though, where's Hillary Clinton in this? Because she has been kind of mysteriously quiet in a pretty big intraparty fight.

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    She was asked about trade like two or three weeks ago in New Hampshire. She didn't directly even answer the question.

    She sort of indirectly answered the question. And she's been silent on it ever since, in part because she doesn't get to ask — she doesn't take a lot of questions from the media, or, well, like pretty much any.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    And it's a lose-lose proposition for her to even step into that voluntarily.

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    No way. No, I wouldn't volunteer for that.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    OK. Tamara Keith of NPR, we will be listening. And Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report, we will be reading.

  • AMY WALTER:

    Thank you.

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    Thank you.

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