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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on public response to Trump’s race rhetoric

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including President Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric on race and American history, what polls say about how effective he is on these issues and why he’s not talking more about the coronavirus pandemic.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Trump continues to draw attention with his statements about race and racial division.

    This morning on Twitter, he called on NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace to apologize for the investigation into a noose found in his garage stall. In the same tweet, the president said that incident, as well as NASCAR's decision to ban Confederate Flags from its races, have led to the sports' lowest ratings ever.

    In fact, NASCAR ratings are up.

    At Mount Rushmore on Friday, he also accused Democrats of not telling the truth about American history.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Our children are taught in school to hate their own country, and to believe that the men and women who built it were not heroes, but that were villains. The radical view of American history is a web of lies.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Here to analyze all this and more, our Politics Monday duo.

    That's Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and the host of public radio's "Politics With Amy Walter." And Tamara Keith of NPR, she also co-hosts the "NPR Politics Podcast."

    Hello to both of you.

    We seem to be having this conversation this subject week after week.

    Amy, to you first.

    And we should note that Bubba Wallace responded today by saying, hate will always prevail — be prevailed over by love, that love will win out, in effect. And NASCAR backed him up.

    But here we are talking about this again. Is there evidence that this kind of an approach in a presidential race is effective?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, Judy, in 2016, this is what the president focused in on, a lot on racial animus and culture wars. And it worked. It was effective in many places, in large part because, well, he was running against eight years of a Democratic-controlled White House.

    That's not the case this year. And he was running against Hillary Clinton, who had a lot of her own — her baggage from being in the political — under the political microscope for all of these years, being a part of a lot of different controversies in her own right.

    Joe Biden, it's very difficult to make him into some left-wing mob leader.

    And, finally, we weren't, in 2016, in the middle of a pandemic and an economic recession. So he wants to make — the president wants to make this a 2016 campaign redux, but the elements aren't there.

    And to your point about whether it's working, it's actually working against him. Judy, if you look at the polling from, say, May, where the president was down, but somewhere between four and six points, now he's down by nine points. Really, since the beginning of June, you have seen the gap open up between Joe Biden and Donald Trump.

    And you can argue that a big part of that is because of the president's intense focus on these sorts of issues.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we should say, Tam, that the president today also went after the Washington professional football team, the Cleveland professional baseball team, said that, if they change their names, it's — quote — "politically weak."

    Does the White House think, in some way, that this is a strategy that's going to be successful?

  • Tamara Keith:

    It is certainly the strategy that they're going with.

    And the president has tweeted this, and his campaign has talked about this, the idea that somehow there is a silent majority that isn't showing up in the polls that is going to magically show up and vote him back into office.

    I was talking to a couple of pollsters today, and they say that, simply, he is running a race in a different time than the one that exists right now, as Amy mentioned. And, in some ways, it's almost like he is running as a challenger, not as an incumbent.

    He is running, saying, there is a dangerous mob of people that are going to take your lifestyle away, that's going to change America.

    Those people are also part of America, and he's been president for three-and-a-half years. These pollsters I talk to sort of question the wisdom of that message. But, certainly, this is what the Trump campaign is going with. You ask them about their second-term agenda, as I did today, and the answer was, he did a lot in his first term, and he's going to protect people from the dangerous left-wing mob and Marxists, as — that's not an exact quote, but Marxists was definitely in there.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Amy, dig a little deeper, if you would, into what you're seeing in the polls, and not just on this kind of language, but also the president's handling of the COVID, the pandemic.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

    To Tam's point, I have been talking to a lot of folks out there, too, who do wonder why the president is leaning into issues like the stuff he was tweeting about today, whether it's NASCAR or the Washington football team, when he has very little trust on that issue.

    His overall approval rating is somewhere in the 40s, but on trust to handle race relations, it's somewhere in the 30s. So, he's literally leaning into his — an issue that he's seen as the least credible on. Right?

    Every candidate should lean into the issue where they're seen as having the most credibility. And for the president, it's still the economy, even as the economy is struggling. He still gets positive remarks, not as great as they were, say, four or five months ago, but better marks than on any other issue.

    But it is — it really is about him. This is — I don't think this is about a strategy, as much as a comfort zone for this president. He needs to have something to push off against, and, on culture, this is where he loves to go.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Tam, on the…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, go ahead, Tam.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes.

    So, I was talking to an adviser to the president and his campaign, an economic adviser, and I was asking, why does it seem like the president is completely invisible on coronavirus? Like, he is purposefully avoiding talking about it?

    And this adviser said, well, because he's purposefully avoiding talking about it. But coming out and acknowledging 130,000 deaths or acknowledging that there is a resurgence in the virus, that's not a great campaign message.

    And what this adviser said is, as Amy pointed out, the area of strength, the one really still sort of strong part of the president's polling is on the economy, on being able to do something about the economy, which is why he's pushed so hard to reopen, which is why he's having an event tomorrow about reopening schools and tweeted in all caps that schools must reopen.

    He wants to be able to tell a story about a great economic revival, a comeback. It's not clear that the virus has that in mind.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Amy, when the president says 99 percent of the COVID cases are not serious, in effect, don't worry about it, it's only 1 percent of the cases that are worth our concern, I mean, I think the American people know that's not the case, don't they?

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

    And their concern goes beyond just that sort of rhetoric. It's concern that relates exactly to what Tam was talking about, about how to open the economy. You can't open the economy if people are worried about getting sick.

    And so this still all comes back down to, what are the ways in which the country can get a handle on bringing the number of cases down? And, obviously, we're seeing right now that that is a losing argument, or at least we're not winning the war on this virus right now.

    There's a lot of debate about schools being opened, day cares being opened. And so they all relate to the one thing and, as Tam said, the president is not talking about it, which is the coronavirus.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So many tough questions.

    Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, thank you both. Politics Monday.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

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