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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on 2020 campaign strategy, Trump at CPAC

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report sit down with William Brangham to discuss the week in politics, including why early 2020 Democratic presidential candidates are appealing to voters of color, what’s next for investigations into the president, President Trump’s remarks at CPAC and how climate change is a “very polarizing issue.”

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  • William Brangham:

    And that brings us to Politics Monday with Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and the host of "Politics With Amy Walter" on WYNC Radio, and Tamara Keith of NPR. She co-costs the "NPR Politics Podcast."

    Welcome. Politics Monday. Nice to see you guys.

  • Amy Walter:

    Hello.

  • William Brangham:

    So, as Lisa is reporting, this 2020 field of Democrats keeps getting bigger. Every time I look down, there's somebody new popping into the race.

    As we saw in Selma in Lisa's report and then in many other locales, Amy, the Democrats seem to be trying to cultivate voters of color.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

  • William Brangham:

    How are they making that message and that appeal?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, to understand that — the importance of voters of color, it's both they make up a significant constituency in the primaries.

    In the early primary states, once you get out of New Hampshire and Iowa, which obviously are not particularly diverse…

  • William Brangham:

    Famously white.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

    Then you get into places like South Carolina, where the electorate in 2016 was over 60 percent people of color. Super Tuesday, March 3, not long after South Carolina, you have states like Alabama, and Georgia, and Texas, and California, again, very significant communities of color in those states.

    So, for that first few weeks of the 2020 primary, voters of color are going to be very important. The other thing to remember is, in the last two primaries, one candidate pretty much monopolized the votes of that constituency. Barack Obama won over 80, 90 percent of African-American voters. And then, in 2016, it was Hillary Clinton who did well, but I thought — who didn't just well, but won those voters overwhelmingly.

    This will be a very different time, because you have so many candidates. There's no clear front-runner. It, at this point, seems unlikely that we're going to get down to South Carolina with just two people. We will have multiple candidates — or even by March 3.

  • William Brangham:

    Right.

  • Amy Walter:

    The big difference I noticed with Bernie Sanders, though, in terms of reaching out to African-American voters wasn't just what he talked about, but the fact that he had speaking for him beforehand Shaun King, who's a civil rights activist, younger African-American, been with Bernie Sanders since the beginning of the campaign.

    His message to voters is, look, Bernie's been with us for a long time. You just don't know his story. The reason you don't know his story isn't because he's new to this. It's because he didn't like talking about it. He doesn't like talking about himself. And so, when all these folks come a courting you, just remember who's been there from the very beginning all through the '60s until now.

  • William Brangham:

    Because, Tam, this was something that Bernie really struggled with last time around.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Oh, absolutely.

    Bernie Sanders basically tied in Iowa, won New Hampshire by a lot, and, in theory, could have just barreled his way forward. But Hillary Clinton had a wall in South Carolina and also in Nevada. And it was because the electorate was more diverse in those states. And Bernie Sanders really struggled to reach those voters.

    How do you know that Sanders is taking his run much more seriously this time than last time? How do you know that he considers himself a front-runner? Because he is out of the gate trying to fix what he couldn't fix last time.

    Last time, he did have some of the younger Black Lives Matter activists. He had some of sort of younger voters of color, but he couldn't win over older voters of color. He just couldn't do it. And he's trying now, with this very deliberate effort out of the gate, to run this campaign differently and say that he prioritizes those issues, that he doesn't see just fixing income inequality as fixing larger problems for people of color.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

  • William Brangham:

    This past week, we saw what really felt like week one of the Democrats taking over the House. And this was trotting out Michael Cohen for getting illegal hush money payments, allegedly illegal hush money payments, and dealings with Russia, on the front page of local papers all over the country.

    And now we saw Jerrold Nadler today putting out this very long list of people that he wants to talk to and documents he wants to see. This is what was always promised, right?

  • Amy Walter:

    That's right. This is — nobody should be surprised. We knew this was coming when Democrats took control of Congress.

    It was very clear that this was their priority, was to be a check on the president. Now, they didn't say in their campaign ads, we're going to bring up 80 people in front of the Judiciary Committee.

    The real question that then comes next is, well, is this just a prelude to the ultimate outcome, which is an impeachment proceeding?

    The leadership…

  • William Brangham:

    Because that's a word that the leadership doesn't like to say.

  • Amy Walter:

    They don't want to talk about it. Democrats aren't talking about it.

    The president likes talking about it. Republicans like talking about it, right? See, this has just been preordained from the very beginning. We're never going to get a free, you know, chance. They're not going to look at us with anything other than malice and preordained suspicion.

    The other thing is — what I think will be interesting is, Michael Cohen was a very obviously flashy first witness, but he was also very complicit and wanted to help the Democrats. A whole bunch of the people that are coming in front of these next committees…

  • William Brangham:

    They are going to be dragged kicking and screaming.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes. They're not exactly — they can't — they're not going to be interested in helping make the case for Democrats.

  • William Brangham:

    As we saw in Lisa's report — and I'm sure you were covering this — that speech that the president gave at CPAC this weekend, striking two-hour performance that he gave, he does, as Lisa highlighted — seems to relish the idea of running against the Democrats, picking on their issues and really diving into this.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, yes, because he likes a fight. And now he has an opponent — or he has 12 to 14, depending on how you count. And he's happy to have them.

    And add Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Green New Deal. Add all of that to his arsenal. He does the Donald Trump show. The Donald Trump show is a campaign-style speech where he goes after everybody and takes no prisoners.

    And the people in the crowd at CPAC and people in the crowd at his rallies, they come for the show. And talking about tax policy, that's not what they come for. They come for the insult comedy. And now there's more of it.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, and that he's hoping that the Democrats are able to make a case for him that couldn't be made by him himself, right, which is, you may not like me, but you like fill in the blank person even less, because they're going to go so much further.

    Look, we had an election in 2018 that was a referendum on this president. And Republicans did really badly. The referendum came back and it said, we want to have some checks on this president. The Democrats won the popular vote by almost nine points.

    If it's a referendum election, the president is not going to win. If it is a choice election, then the president has an opportunity to win.

  • William Brangham:

    Lastly, Tam, very quickly, we saw with one candidate, Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington, come out and say, I'm going to run a campaign based solely on climate change.

    How salient do you think that's going to be in this campaign?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, it's an interesting idea.

    So, among Democrats, climate change is an issue that they care about. We have a "PBS NewsHour"/Marist poll where it's the number two issue — or it was back in — on the eve of the of the midterms, number two issue behind health care for Democrats, big issue.

    But then, if you look at other polling, you look at Pew, you look at some of these surveys, it is the most polarizing issue. Democrats think it's a big deal. Republicans don't want to talk about it. So it might be maybe helpful in a primary, but, in a general election, it is a very polarizing issue.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

  • William Brangham:

    Amy, Tam, thank you both very much.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

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