Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on the battle over GOP messaging

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report with Amy Walter join Lisa Desjardins to discuss the latest political news, including how Republican midterm campaigns are ramping up their rhetoric to appeal to the base amid a fight over the party's vision.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Even on this holiday, it is still primary election eve in several states, and midterm election politics never stop. Republican campaigns are ramping up their rhetoric to appeal to base voters.

    Our Lisa Desjardins breaks down the battle over GOP messaging.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This is a familiar fight. What should the Republican Party values be in November to regain control of Congress? And that's playing out at campaign rallies and ads and across social media in some new ways.

    To discuss the political stakes of the moment, I am joined now by Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR.

    Thank you both.

    Let's start with this moment. And let's start specifically with two things that happened over this weekend. I want to play two pieces of sound. And I need to warn our viewers that both of these pieces of sound deal with threats, potentially threats of violence.

    First, we're going to hear Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger, one of just two Republicans on the January 6 Committee, talk about new threats to his family. Then we're going to hear from Senate — Republican Senate candidate in Missouri Eric Greitens with a new ad directed at what he calls Republicans in name only, or RINOs.

    Let's listen.

  • Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL):

    This threat that came in, it was mailed to my house. We got it a couple of days ago. And it threatens to execute me, as well as my wife and 5-month-old child.

    There's violence in the future, I'm going to tell you. And until we get a grip on telling people the truth, we can't expect any differently.

  • Fmr. Gov. Eric Greitens (R-MO):

    Join the MAGA crew. Get a RINO hunting permit. There's no bagging limit, no tagging limit. And it doesn't expire until we save our country.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And, again, we edited those two clips together. But, obviously, we saw a thread there in both of those.

    And, Amy, my question to you is, is this another dangerous inflection point in our political rhetoric? Is this more the same? What is this?

  • Amy Walter, The Cook Political Report:

    No, it certainly feels like we have hit an inflection point. And we're hearing this week on the January 6 commission about threats made to election officials.

    And, of course, we have been hearing, in the weeks and months after the 2020 election, stories from election officials, even not high-level officials, but folks who are at the most basic county level offices who are nonpartisan, who found themselves in — targeted by many of these same sorts of threats of violence.

    The one thing I will say about Missouri, which is the final clip that you showed there, this is somebody who, really, the fact that he's running at all is quite remarkable. He was forced to resign from office in 2018 as governor after he was accused by a woman who was having an affair with of being aggressive and assaulting her.

    Most recently, his ex-wife — they're in divorce proceedings right now — accusing him of abusing her and their son. So, this is somebody with a history already of being accused of violence who decides, I'm going to run for the Senate, and then keeps playing this violent rhetoric, and then is leaning into this violent rhetoric.

    The unfortunate thing about our politics right now, though, is that this sort of stuff, going over the top and extreme, outrageous, it buys you clicks, it raises you money, it gets you attention. And until voters say, that's not OK, this isn't — this isn't what we do, then those outrages are still going to continue to reap benefits.

    They see more of a reward than a risk in doing this.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And he's a contender in the August primary.

  • Tamara Keith, National Public Radio:

    Right.

  • Amy Walter:

    Absolutely. He's leading in the polling right now.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Right. He is leading in the polling right now.

    We should say that Facebook has taken that ad down. Twitter is putting a warning on it. And yet it is blowing up on social media. It is all over the airwaves because it is so outrageous. And if you're talking about his outrageous ad where he's talking about going RINO hunting, you're not talking about the credible allegations against him, which — and you put him in a position of both fighting against disloyal Republicans and fighting against the media, who are now out here criticizing him.

    So it works pretty well for someone in a crowded primary field who is trying to consolidate the primary.

    The language around Adam Kinzinger and that threat against him, the use of the term execution, this is a theme that comes up a lot. There is a glorification of violence and, in particular, sort of a hunger for executions in the mythology of the QAnon cult or whatever you want to call it.

    And you see this language coming up again and again and again. And there's almost a mainstreaming of totally extreme ideas and language. And those two clips today sort of bridge that in a way.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    We had to discuss, as a group, do we want to play that full ad or not?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Right.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And we ended up deciding, a lot of times, we don't want to give oxygen to that kind of thing. But we — neither do we want to sanitize it. That is a real ad that is out that's happening right now.

    Also happening over the weekend, the Texas Republican Party met at their convention. I want to show some of the things that they voted. They agreed to, in one resolution, a resolution that rejected the certified results of 2020, in those words, and also referred to President Biden as the acting president, not legitimate.

    We also know, at the same time, it took a court order to force certification of results in New Mexico.

    You all — we have talked so much about the power of Trump, why there isn't more courage standing up against him from Republicans who we know do oppose him. Perhaps a naive question, what is it going to take, these kinds of things, rejecting elections, when is it going to compel some Republicans to be more public about this problem that's not just a political problem?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, and, at the same convention, they went after Senator John Cornyn, who right now is working on a bipartisan bill on guns, and Dan Crenshaw, who is a congressman widely regarded as a rising star within the Republican ranks.

    Those two are more likely to have a future in Congress and in setting policy in Congress than the folks who are sitting at the convention this weekend in Texas. The parties themselves have become so hollowed out. I mean, this is part of the challenge we're having overall, not just in Texas, but in the states and nationally.

    The parties have become so hollowed out that a credible candidate can take that party over or you can have people who aren't particularly credible, who don't have the interests of the party in mind to come in and take that party over.

    So they have become almost less relevant than ever, even though they get a lot of attention.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes. And, in theory, a state party is there to protect and promote the incumbents and to serve the better interests of the party and its establishment.

    But state parties — and I should say, in both parties, state parties have become sort of the outpost of the extreme, where they're censuring their members who have done relatively normal mainstream things, where they pass these resolutions that are completely untethered from what sort of the mainstream of the party would consider to be…

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Or their voters, mainstream voters.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Or their voters, yes, out of line with their voters.

    They're way far from the center of gravity of their party. That said, there are a lot of people whose views are reflected in those resolutions.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    One person who advocated for civil talk from everyone, of course, was the great Mark Shields.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    He sat in these very seats we're in right now. We're all very heartbroken at his loss.

    Amy, I wanted to ask you to talk about your memories. You have known him a long time.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, I have done a number of conventions and election nights.

    Everybody who watched him on the show knows how smart he was, and how incredibly gracious he was.

    To me, the mark of a really good human, which is what he was, is somebody who treats people who aren't as big or important or famous as they are with respect and reverence. And if you walked into this building and watched how he treated every single person on the staff, from desk assistants to interns, you would know what a really good person this was.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    He enjoyed conversation with every single person. He kind of could bring out the best in everyone.

  • Amy Walter:

    Absolutely. He was a good reporter too.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    He was a good reporter, that's right, at his heart.

  • Amy Walter:

    But beyond it being a good thing to do to be kind to people…

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    He saw the good in politics and the good in people.

  • Amy Walter:

    … you learn a lot by talking to all kinds of people. That's where you learn.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, you know we at "NewsHour" here do not pick favorites in politics or in sports teams.

    But I did have to, as my own tribute to the great Mark Shields, put on our mutual favorite baseball hat for the Boston Red Sox.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Amy Walter:

    Absolutely. Absolutely.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Amy Walter and Tamara Keith, thank you both.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And thank you, Lisa, for that. We love that Boston Red Sox cap.

    And a reminder, we will have full live coverage of the January 6 hearings tomorrow, where the focus is expected to be on the pressure former President Trump put on state election officials to change election results. That starts at 1:00 p.m. Eastern here on PBS.

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