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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on 2020 enthusiasm vs. electability

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Amna Nawaz to discuss the week in politics, including which Democrats are eligible to participate in debates so far, enthusiasm vs. electability for Joe Biden and other candidates and whom President Trump has been attacking lately.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    And that brings us to Politics Monday.

    I'm with our regular duo, Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and host of "Politics With Amy Walter" on WNYC Radio, and Tamara Keith from NPR. She co-hosts the "NPR Politics" podcast.

    Welcome to you both.

    So, there's a couple of ways that you can make the debate stage right now if you're a Democratic candidate, right? Let's take a look at who has made it so far, 19 candidates so far.

    You will see in the middle there, that's the group that's qualified both meeting the donor and the poll threshold, the group on the left just meeting the poll threshold.

    Amy, when you look at this group, what's standing out to you about who's made it and who hasn't?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, pretty much everybody is in that mix, which is what the DNC did want to do.

    Remember, part of the reason for this new threshold, which is very low, needing just 1 percent in the polls or a number of donors, 65,000 individual donors, part of the reason they wanted to do this was as a reaction to the criticism the DNC got in 2016, when there was criticism that they didn't hold enough debates, that they were on weekend nights, that they didn't start until late in the process, and by the time that they really started getting going, Hillary Clinton had already built up a pretty big lead.

    This year, they said, nope, we're going to be more small-D democratic about it.

    What I think what we're all looking to see, though, is whether or not this is actually going to thin the field by the time the first set of debates is in June. Then there's another one in July. By the end of the summer, will that 25 or however many candidates we will have by the end — by now, be thinned out significantly because of these debate performances?

    If you think back to 2012 and 2016, it was the candidates who had really bad performances. Many of them were considered in the top tier. 2012, it was Rick Perry, the governor of Texas with the famous remembering…

  • Tamara Keith:

    Oops.

  • Amy Walter:

    Oops — the three things.

    And then you had Tim Pawlenty also in 2012 considered a top candidate in the race, drops out soon after those, and Scott Walker in 2016. So, theoretically, that's what you may see when all is said and done, but it's very big and messy.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    It's very big, Tam.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And you have been watching some of these candidates in action. Are you seeing them kind of road-test what we are going to see in those debates?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Some of them are definitely doing and saying things, talking about President Trump in a way that seems to be trying to signal to voters in these early states, hey, look at me, I would be good on a debate stage.

    And, in fact, in talking to voters, a lot of them are thinking about who would be the best one to debate President Trump? Who do I want to see on stage with President Trump? And then they are really — a lot of the voters I'm talking to — looking forward to these debates to see how these candidates are in that format.

    And that, I think, will probably play into their thoughts about electability.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That's something they're considering.

    Amy, I want to point to something you wrote last week on that question. There is this gap between electability and potentially enthusiasm among Democratic voters of who would bring them out.

    You wrote about this last week. You said: "New polling by Pew Research suggests that former Vice President Joe Biden, the candidate many see as the most electable, also fits the description of the type of nominee that many voters in the Democratic base say they are least enthusiastic about supporting in November of 2020."

    Why is that?

  • Amy Walter:

    What is that? Right.

    There's something of a catch-22 for Democrats right now. Tam pointed to it, that Democratic voters, when you talk to them, over and over say, I want to pick the candidate who is going to look up best against Donald Trump, who's the most electable candidate, even if they're not the most exciting candidate or groundbreaking candidate.

    But, on the other hand, the worry about the least risky choice is that it actually is pretty risky for Democrats in November because younger voters, voters of color, a lot of whom stayed home in 2016, were not enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton, may stay home again in 2020.

    What Pew found, the group of voters that is the least enthusiastic about a white male candidate, younger women. They are also, perhaps not surprisingly, the most excited about having a female candidate.

    But a white male candidate is the candidate that not only garners the least enthusiasm from Democratic voters, but also the highest percent of less-than-enthusiastic responses.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, Tam, you were just in Iowa, right, talking to voters. You saw a couple of candidates in action, Senator Gillibrand, Senator Klobuchar.

    What are people there telling you and what are the candidates saying in terms of messaging about this electability vs. enthusiasm gap?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes, so the voters that I talked to — I was at a Gillibrand event and several of them, they were all shopping. At this point, no one was there saying, I am committed to vote for the candidate they were seeing or any of the four other candidates they had already seen.

    They're sort of overwhelmed by the size of the field and overwhelmed by the options. A couple of female voters I talked to said, well if Biden's the pick, then I will vote for Biden, but they didn't seem excited about it.

    And, really, they are — when you ask them about electability, though, or — they say, I'm out for the most electable candidate. Then you ask them what that means. They don't really know.

  • Amy Walter:

    They will know it when they see it.

  • Tamara Keith:

    They will know it when they see it.

    And one point about electability, a lot of voters talk about, well, we need somebody who can really get those voters in the Upper Midwest, get those states that Hillary Clinton lost.

    And I feel like a lot of voters I'm talking to, the image they have in their mind is sort of a white working-class guy. But white working-class guys are probably not why Hillary Clinton lost in those key states. The turnout was depressed among African-American and other voters in the cities, in Detroit and Milwaukee and Philadelphia.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Let's talk about who they are going to be running against.

    We have heard, obviously, a few of them kind of punching up at the president as well. And we should look at how — The New York Times actually did an analysis of who the president has been insulting and attacking in tweets and in statements and so on.

    Right now, leading that pack in terms of that analysis is Joe Biden. What does that say to you?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, he knows how to read the polls is what it says.

    He sees Joe Biden is out front and he says, well, then I have got to come and take him down, right? And so, the most recent, of course, sort of was tweeting from Japan. I think he tweeted from Japan this quote from Kim Jong-un and the government in North Korea saying that they see Joe Biden as being a low-I.Q. kind of person.

    And the president said, I agree with that, which there was a time when we had this rule about politics not crossing the ocean, right, that all politics stays — goes away when you go overseas.

    I think we broached that a long time ago. But now we're to a place too where the president's desire to always be punching, always be on the offense, even when it comes to agreeing with a murderous dictator's very dim view of a former vice president, is something we have never seen before.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    It is unprecedented, it is worth noting.

    It is also worth noting the president has also punched at Bill de Blasio in tweets, right?

  • Tamara Keith:

    He is taking all kind of shots. He mentioned Beto O'Rourke recently again.

    This is — he is thinking — President Trump is thinking a lot about 2020, and he is filtering almost everything through that political prism.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And so should we see more of this now? I know Amy mentioned…

    (CROSSTALK)

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Tamara Keith:

    Of course we're going to see more of this.

    This is part of the show. And you know what? Those insults worked for him last time. People kept talking about the insults, which meant they were talking about him. They were not talking about policy, necessarily. They weren't talking about what the candidates stood for, what Hillary Clinton stood for in that case, or the 16 people on stage with him before that on the Republican side.

    And so President Trump knows what he thought worked last time. He's going to do it again.

  • Amy Walter:

    That's right, though, this time, he is the sitting president of the United States. So that is a very different perch from which to do the name-calling.

    And it's part of the reason, I think, that he is struggling with his approval rating in the low to mid-40s, because people see that he is not acting presidential.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Still several months to go before the first votes are even cast.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, good to see you both.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Good to see you.

  • Amy Walter:

    Thank you.

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