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How American voters view Trump’s handling of racial unrest and COVID-19

President Trump is campaigning for reelection as the U.S. faces a challenging moment. To analyze how his rhetoric on race and his response to coronavirus are resonating across the country, Yamiche Alcindor talks to Chris Buskirk of the website and journal American Greatness and Cynthia Tucker, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and journalist-in-residence at the University of South Alabama.

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  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    With President Trump's inflammatory rhetoric driving away some moderates, November is shaping up to be a final test of his strategy.

    For a closer look at how the president's rhetoric and his response to coronavirus is resonating across the country, I'm joined by Chris Buskirk. He is the editor of the conservative journal and Web site American Greatness. He joins us from Phoenix. And Cynthia Tucker, she is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and the journalist in residence at the University of South Alabama.

    Thank you so much to both of you for being here.

    Cynthia, I'm going to start with you.

    In the last few weeks, we have heard the president talk about a number of things, including Confederate monuments and the protests.

    What are your biggest takeaways? And how do you think this is resonating with voters across the country and, of course, in Alabama, where you are?

  • Cynthia Tucker:

    Well, Trump is still heavily favored to win in Alabama and across the Deep South. He is very popular in the Deep South.

    I have to tell you, though, that I am still disappointed in his campaign and a little surprised by it. He is running his second campaign the same way that he ran his first, as the heir to George Wallace.

    And here in Alabama, as a native of Alabama, the rhetoric is unfortunately familiar. All of Wallace's rage and resentment and racism are clear in the president's rhetoric.

    And while that appeals to his base, a minority of whites who are racially resentful, it does nothing to expand to a winning coalition for November.

    So, it is odd to me that the president is running in defense of Confederate monuments.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Chris, I want to put something up on the screen for you, because Cynthia is saying that the president is essentially running on white resentment.

    If you look at what the president tweeted just this week, it said: "New York City mayor is going to paint a big, expensive yellow Black Lives Matter sign on Fifth Avenue, designating this luxurious avenue. Maybe our great police won't let this symbol of hate be affixed to New York's greatest street."

    What do you make of the president describing the words "Black Lives Matter" as a symbol of hate?

  • Chris Buskirk:

    Yes, I saw that tweet, and here is the way I understand it, and here is what I think the president is trying to basically separate the idea that black — that there is a sanctity behind black lives, in other words, that all black — all black life is sacred.

    And he is trying to separate that from the organization or the corporation called Black Lives Matter. He is doing that for a reason, because the organization has these ideas — and you can see them on their Web site. They say, we want to disrupt the nuclear family, et cetera.

    And so what he is trying to do, I think, is separate the moral sentiment that people should support from the corporation, and then do a second thing, which is to — is to draw a contrast between the police and between that organization.

    And by doing that, I think that he is hoping to run a campaign that is sort of like a law and order campaign, which I know is sometimes a charged sentiment or a charged phrase. But when you think about the states that President Trump needs to win, sort of in the Upper Midwest and even here in Arizona, states that he has absolutely got to carry, most people think about, I just don't want the targets to burn.

    They think, I want to go back to my life. We have had lockdowns and coronavirus and protests. And they're saying , how do we get back to normalcy? And I think President Trump is trying to run on getting back to some type of a normal life.

  • Cynthia Tucker:

    Well, if he is trying to make a distinction between the organized group Black Lives Matter and some other view of black lives, it is not at all clear in a tweet that says Black Lives Matter is a hate group.

    You know, just two years ago, most Americans were opposed to Black Lives Matter. It wasn't that broadly popular. Now that so many Americans saw the awful, the wretched murder of George Floyd and many, many other videos of police violence, Black Lives Matter is popular. And most Americans support police reform.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    And, Cynthia, people are not just responding to President Trump's issues and his response to the protests. They are also responding to his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

    How are you seeing concerns play out in Alabama?

  • Cynthia Tucker:

    Well, again, President Trump remains broadly popular here, but people are very concerned about the coronavirus.

    Alabama is one of those states where the case numbers are rising. I — when I go to the grocery store, when I go out, I see many, many people wearing masks. When I return to my classes at the University of South Alabama in August, the school is going to require students to wear masks.

    Will that annoy some students? Absolutely. There will be students who won't want to wear the mask. They have taken their cues from the president, who has insisted that people wear masks because they don't like him, they wear masks because they want to show that they are opposed to him.

    That is nonsense.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    And President Trump has resisted wearing a mask in public, Chris.

    You went to a rally in Phoenix, and you yourself didn't wear a mask. How concerned are you about the politicization of mask wearing?

  • Chris Buskirk:

    You know, probably — I guess I would have answered that question differently a week ago. I was a little worried about it, but less now, and mostly for practical reasons, because what (AUDIO GAP) and I am in Arizona.

    And everybody, I think, knows the story of the rising caseload, you know, positive tests here in Arizona. And Arizonans were, I think, I don't know, sort of split on this issue.

    But what I have seen is people sort of coming around to wearing masks. Even people who I know just personally who were very much against it even a week or two ago have said, look, if this is what it takes to get back to living our lives and being able to go out to restaurants or go to work or to get schools open, I may not agree with it 100 percent, but, fine, I am going to do it, because it's — whether or not I believe in it, it is just the right thing to do as a practical matter.

    And so I feel like that that issue, which was almost becoming like a tribal signifier for people, I feel like that that is — I feel like that tide is receding right now.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Lots to talk about.

    Thank you so much, Cynthia Tucker and Chris Buskirk.

  • Cynthia Tucker:

    Thank you.

  • Chris Buskirk:

    Thank you.

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