Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on the next GOP debate and how Trump is avoiding attacks

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report with Amy Walter join Amna Nawaz to discuss the latest political news, including how Trump is avoiding attacks from other Republican candidates by skipping the debates and President Biden's battle for funding for Ukraine.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    And our Politics Monday team is here for a check-in on the 2024 campaign. That is Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report With Amy Walter and Tamara Keith of NPR.

    Good to see you both.

  • Amy Walter, The Cook Political Report:

    Hello.

  • Tamara Keith, National Public Radio:

    Thank you.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Let's pick up where Lisa left off there.

    The candidates are going to be debating on Wednesday night. This one's hosted by NewsNation at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

    This debate does have the most strict requirements so far. Doug Burgum, the North Dakota governor, failed to make the — to qualify for the stage. So he ended his presidential bid. And this is what he said in part as he ended it. He's slamming the RNC's debate criteria.

  • He says:

    "These arbitrary criteria ensure advantages for candidates from major media markets on the coasts versus America's heartland. None of their debate criteria relate to the qualifications related to actually doing the job of the president."

    Amy, how are you looking at this next, fourth debate?

  • Amy Walter, The Cook Political Report:

    Well, I think the most important thing about these debates has been the fact that Donald Trump hasn't been there.

    And that's — forget about what the RNC rules are. That has probably been the reason why the field has winnowed as quickly as it has, because there's been no opportunity for these candidates to really directly challenge the front-runner.

    That said, it looks like we're going to have, as Lisa pointed out, those three who were in that piece, and maybe Chris Christie as well. This is going to be the big challenge for Nikki Haley. She is with all the momentum right now. If you are Ron DeSantis desperately holding onto that second place, granted, a distant second place from Donald Trump, you need to get back into that position.

    And we know that Vivek Ramaswamy and Nikki Haley have had something of a dislike-versus-dislike kind of relationship. They have been going after each other pretty consistently. So she's definitely the woman in the middle at this debate. And she will be tested in a way, I think, that we haven't seen before.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Likely facing a lot of fire there.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Tam, how are you looking at it? What do you expect to see?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes.

    So, as Amy said, this is really the undercard debate. This is a debate that comes after several other debates that are all about, who can be the leader in the position of distant second?

    And, at NPR, we have been working on stories where we compare the policy positions of the candidates. And the candidates who've been in the debates, we have a pretty good idea of where they stand how they would govern, what they want to do.

    With Trump, he hasn't been pressed because he hasn't been in the debates. And so there's a lack of specificity on his positions that you don't see with these other candidates, because they truly have been pressed.

    Of course, that also explains why he wouldn't want to be at these debates. Why would he appear at a debate with a bunch of people who are not even, like, close to nipping at his heels…

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Yes.

  • Tamara Keith:

    … and where he could be forced to actually say what his position is on abortion or how he would replace Obamacare or answer to some of Ron DeSantis' charges that he's basically campaigning on things that he campaigned on in 2016 and never did.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, Tam, we are seeing from President Trump this relatively new line of attack now. He is now sort of flipping the script, his own attacks, people saying he is a threat to democracy, and he is now saying President Biden is a threat to democracy.

    What's the Biden administration saying about that?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, so President Biden at the core of his campaign is this charge that Trump is a threat to democracy.

    And it's not an academic charge. In the president's campaign launch video, reelection video, there is footage of the January 6 insurrection, where the former president's refusal to admit the results of a free and fair election led to, and his words, led to lots of people storming the U.S. Capitol, waving Trump flags, and bludgeoning police with flagpoles.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And he continues to repeat that lie.

  • Tamara Keith:

    And he continues to repeat that lie.

    So what the Biden campaign says is — yes, of course, there is a receptive audience among Trump loyalists, among the people who support Trump and are going to vote for Trump. I mean, there's a strong strain of January 6 denialism among those voters.

    So this is a message that works well with those voters. But the Biden campaign feels that Biden's message that Trump is a threat to democracy, that that message stands up, that all you have to do is look at video of January 6 and that is there.

    But as they see it, this isn't actually new from Trump.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Yes.

  • Tamara Keith:

    He has claimed that the prosecutions of him are antidemocratic.

    (Crosstalk)

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, I mean, clearly, he's trying to neutralize liability here. And we see it going on in Congress as well.

    We have Congress directly going after Hunter Biden, suggesting that they are going to use Hunter Biden's business relationship with his family as a cause for potentially impeaching the president of the United States and basically taking the message to voters that, look, everybody's corrupt, right? He does some bad things. This candidate does some bad things. They're all the same.

    The one thing, though, I would say, if you're the Donald Trump campaign, the one message that works best for the Donald Trump campaign is on the economy. He has a double-digit lead right now over Biden on the economy.

    I think that, yes, I understand why he's doing this, why he wants to put Biden on the defensive, but, really, the most effective campaign he can run is one that focuses almost entirely on the economy. That requires a level of discipline that Donald Trump does not currently show or has never currently showed.

    (Crosstalk)

  • Amna Nawaz:

    We have yet to see.

  • Amy Walter:

    Or never seen, yes.

  • Tamara Keith:

    He has this longstanding pattern of, I know you are, but what am I?

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

  • Tamara Keith:

    And he did that during the Republican primary in 2016. He does it all the time.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    We have seen this before.

  • Tamara Keith:

    So we have seen this before.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

    (Crosstalk)

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Meanwhile…

  • Tamara Keith:

    And it has the effect of muddying the water.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    I do want to talk about what's happened on Capitol Hill this week, too because the talks on Capitol Hill that could have helped to advance some of that funding President Biden has been requesting for aid in Ukraine and Israel and Taiwan, those talks have now broken down.

    They were over border policy, Amy, which Republicans have insisted be part of this foreign aid bill. We saw the OMB director, Shalanda Young, send a pretty strong letter to congressional leaders. This is what she had to say: "Cutting off the flow of U.S. weapons and equipment will kneecap Ukraine on the battlefield, not only putting at risk the gains Ukraine has made, but increasing the likelihood of Russian military victories."

    Amy, is there any realistic path forward on this aid bill right now?

  • Amy Walter:

    I mean, they're — I have talked to some folks who think that there might be a way that some of this aid gets through, though it may not be through this vehicle, but through a different vehicle.

    But, really, where Republicans, so many Republicans, especially in the House, sit is not much different from where a lot of Americans sit right now on their views of the importance of sending money overseas or the role of America in the world.

    And the Marist poll, sponsored in part by the "NewsHour<" bears this out, 50 percent of Americans saying it's crucial for the United States to be a global leader in the world versus 47 percent who say we should focus much more on domestic problems than we should about what's going on overseas.

    And this isn't just Republicans, though Republicans feel this overwhelmingly. Independents are also much more on the we should be focused more on home than overseas. So the challenge that the White House has isn't just with members of Congress on this funding. It's also with the public that has become increasingly skeptical that the money that we're spending there is worth it and that we should be looking more at home.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, the White House says they won't leave Ukraine in a lurch. Will they be forced to?

  • Tamara Keith:

    They don't want to.

    And their negotiating position — they can't say, oh, yes, we can throw the Ukraine money overboard and just go with the Israel money, because then the Ukraine money will be thrown overboard. And so they are continuing to push for all of these funds that they have asked for to be linked together. These types of things are linked until they're not.

    And the Biden White House is in a really tough spot. President Biden has gone around the world pledging that the U.S. will be there as long as it needs to be there. Allies, you can count on us. I speak for the United States. America is back. I'm the president kind of a message.

    That message becomes more difficult when he can't get Congress to pass the funding that Ukraine needs, that the White House says Ukraine needs, that other allies are counting on the U.S. to deliver. So that is a real challenge for the White House.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The clock is ticking on Capitol Hill. We will be following it all.

    Tamara Keith, Amy Walter, always good to see you both. Thank you so much.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

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