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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on Trump attacking Obama, and Obama speaking out

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including the escalating rhetorical war between President Trump and former President Obama, former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign strategy and polarization and conspiracy theories related to the coronavirus pandemic.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Trump has intensified his attacks on former President Obama in recent weeks on issues ranging from pandemic preparedness to the FBI's investigation of Michael Flynn.

    On Saturday, President Obama appeared to respond during his online address to this year's high school graduates.

  • Former President Barack Obama:

    Doing what feels good, what's convenient, what's easy, that's how little kids think.

    Unfortunately, a lot of so-called grownups, including some with fancy titles and important jobs, still think that way, which is why things are so screwed up.

    All those adults that you used to think were in charge and knew what they were doing, turns out they don't have all the answers. A lot of them aren't even asking the right questions.

    So, if the world's going to get better, it's going to be up to you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Here to look at what is going on between the two presidents and more are 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.

    So, here we have the two presidents.

    But I want to preface this, Amy, by saying, today, Attorney General William Barr stated — and we aired this earlier in the program — that he does not expect there to be criminal prosecution of either former President Obama or former Vice President Joe Biden, presumably over the Russia investigation.

    And yet that is what — one of the main things President Trump has been going after President Obama, Vice President Biden over.

    Any idea why right now President Obama appeared to pick this moment to respond?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, it is interesting, Judy, you're right, that President Obama using the one time we have seen him on this platform, as you said, for graduates, to make a not-so-veiled swipe at President Trump.

    But it was also, I thought, interesting this weekend we saw a story in The Washington Post that said the Biden campaign is working very hard to basically turn the other cheek. They don't want to fall into the trap that so many other politicians since the rise of Donald Trump's candidacy in 2015 have fallen into, which is, they try to engage him in these Twitter battles, and they almost always lose.

    And at the same time, you have a lot of Democrats. We saw this in the primary, Judy, so many Democratic voters who are desperate to see their candidates go after Donald Trump in the way that Donald Trump goes after their candidates, goes after President Obama, goes after Joe Biden.

    Joe Biden doesn't want to do this. He knows that his brand essentially is empathy, compassion, sort of turning the other cheek, doing the right thing. That doesn't mean that other candidates — I mean, other politicians can't do it for him.

    And so, in this case, President Obama can be that person, can play that bad cop. I think you are going to see that a lot from whoever the vice presidential candidate of Joe Biden will be, the person who can take the attack directly to the president. But it's not coming from Joe Biden, the person who says he wants to restore decency to the White House.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, pick up on that, Tam. How smart is it for Joe Biden to be staying away from a fight, if you will?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, it is the path that they are taking now.

    Certainly, covering Hillary Clinton's campaign, they fell into the trap a lot of fighting that fight with Donald Trump. And it didn't work. The people didn't know what she stood for, because there were so many, you know, snarky tweets back at the Trump campaign, or thinking that Donald Trump doing the Trump thing, you know, being brash and upsetting people, that that was hurting him.

    And they wanted to focus attention on it. And it didn't actually help her. So, the Biden campaign is trying to avoid some of those traps.

    You know, President Trump is, in some ways — I mean, he has never stopped going after Barack Obama. His political career really got going with birtherism. And now you have — from birtherism to Obamagate, it is just continuing. It's of a piece.

    And so you have the president of the United States attacking the former president. You have the former president sort of in a thinly veiled way — I mean, in some ways, President Obama, former President Obama, could have said a lot of things that, no matter what he said, would have been taken as a swipe against President Trump.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    For sure. And it is, I mean, just as we said a minute ago, interesting that the attorney general himself is now saying he doesn't expect there to be criminal prosecution of President Obama, former Vice President Biden.

    But we will see whether that slows down the President Trump's use of the term Obamagate.

    In addition to all of this, we saw the president — I'm sorry — President Trump's sons ramping up their criticism this weekend. Eric Trump, the president's son, essentially saying that he thinks Democrats are behind the move to prevent opening up the country, that they are all behind the efforts to keep people to stay at home because they want to prevent President Trump from campaigning.

    He said he thinks, the day after the election, Democrats are going to admit that this whole stay-at-home business and the coronavirus was just really about nothing and everything is fine.

  • Amy Walter:

    So, what is that saying, Judy? When you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

    That has been the Trump campaign and the Trump presidency, everyone in Trump orbit's way of thinking constantly. It is a campaign of constant grievance. There is always somebody or something that is out to take out the president, undermine him, undermine people who support him or wear his gear.

    And so this is sort of what they know. and it's what they will continue to do.

    But I think it also speaks to what we have been seeing in polling now for the last couple of months is the real divide that is opening up between Democrats and Republicans on how serious they think the coronavirus is.

    And Pew has been tracking since March. Back in March, there was a 26-point gap between Democrats and Republicans on, how serious do you think this is as a health crisis? It's now up to almost 40 points, that gap.

    When they ask people how well they think certain groups are doing tackling coronavirus, Republicans put the news media at 25 percent. They put Donald Trump at 77 percent. So, again, it fits right into that mind-set of many Republicans.

    But, for the president, as we have seen from the very beginning, his ability to generate enthusiasm from his base, that is not a problem. To get more voters, including those who are ambivalent about him, to vote for him in 2020, that's a bigger problem.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And this device, Tam, of saying, the — this is all part of the Democrats' plan, conspiracy, to keep the president from getting out and campaigning, that they are cynically using this coronavirus as an excuse?

  • Tamara Keith:

    It is a wild claim.

    But, hey, guess what? There have been a lot of wild claims that have come from the president's sons on social media and in, you know, broadcast media as well. The president's sons are often willing to say things that the president doesn't say quite as overtly. He will tiptoe up to it.

    And, you know, for the Trump campaign sort of having conspiracies swirl out there works for them. They are creating an ecosystem for the president's supporters, through an app, through social media channels. They're creating an ecosystem of information.

    There are no alternatives to the information that is coming from Trump and his surrogates. And, you know, Amy says that it doesn't expand the base. Clearly, the Trump campaign's theory of the case here is, they aren't really trying to expand the base. They are trying to just find people who were already part of the base that didn't vote last time.

  • Amy Walter:

    That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And all in the middle of a pandemic that is a deadly pandemic that has now killed, as we said, more than 90,000 Americans.

    Tamara Keith, Amy Walter, we thank you both.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

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