Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on Trumpism, Biden approval rating, Rittenhouse verdict

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 the future of the Republican party, the acquittal in the Kyle Rittenhouse murder trial, and President Joe Biden’s latest approval numbers.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Last week started with a major bipartisan victory and ended with inflamed political divisions on issues like race and gun control.

    Amna Nawaz brings us analysis on what to expect this week.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That's right, Judy. Major advancements for the Biden agenda on COVID and the economy were almost eclipsed by a controversial verdict in Wisconsin on Friday.

    Where does that put the president and his White House going into this holiday week?

    With me to discuss is Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report With Amy Walter and Tamara Keith of NPR.

    Welcome to you both. Nice to see you.

  • Amy Walter, The Cook Political Report:

    Thank you.

  • Tamara Keith, National Public Radio:

    Thank you.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Let's just start where we left off there.

    Tam, I will begin with you.

    The interview with Governor Christie there, a lot of prescriptions about the way forward for the Republican Party. What did you make of what he had to say?

  • Tamara Keith:

    In essence, he's tying himself in a bunch of knots, trying to figure out, like so many Republicans are, how to navigate a Republican Party where Donald Trump is still a dominant force.

    And he's trying to speak truth to Trumpism. At the same time, he can't reject Trump because he can't be a never-Trumper, because then he'd lose all credibility with the people that he claims he's trying to persuade. It's a quandary that many Republicans who could see themselves running for president in 2024 find themselves in.

  • Amy Walter:

    That's exactly right.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Amy, it's a quandary. It's a balancing act. How do you see it?

  • Amy Walter:

    It's an enigma.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Amy Walter:

    It's so many things we can wrap that into.

  • Tamara Keith:

    It's maybe a turduckem?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Amy Walter:

    Very appropriate for this time of year.

    But, in essence, Tam — what Tam is saying is totally correct, which is trying to find Trumpism without Trump is what he also seems to be saying, which is you can keep the policies that everybody loved. Just let's leave the conspiracy theories and the tweeting and all of the behavior stuff that people didn't like, leave that on the cutting room floor, except that that part of who Trump this is what made Trumpism appealing to a lot of voters.

    And so that's also the challenge for Republicans because it's not just about policy. It's not just, well, we like taxes and judges and things like that, so as long as I do, and also have Trump's maybe endorsement or have a little bit of what made Trump special, I can succeed.

    But nobody else can fill that lane. And so what we're going to be thinking about for the next few years is not just what a Republican is doing about Trump, but, also, what are Democrats thinking as they lead up to 2024, because a lot of the consternation that's going on in that party right now is also driven by, uh-oh, what happens if we once again are facing up against Donald Trump?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And we will see some of this play out, I'm sure, in advance of the midterms as well.

    Let's move on to the president, though, President Biden and where we are right now at this moment, because it's an interesting week, going into the Thanksgiving holiday here, huge gains for the Biden administration on the vaccination front. I think that's fair to say, when you take a look at where the numbers are right now, at least one dose among all those eligible; 70 percent among all Americans eligible have at least one vaccination dose, and just among children aged 5 to 11, who only recently became eligible, already 10 percent have at least one dose.

    Big legislative wins too, right, fair to say. The bipartisan infrastructure bill has passed. Build Back Better is moving forward. An yet take a look at the president's approval rating right now. In the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll, 44 percent approved, 49 percent disapprove. We should point out this came out after infrastructure passed, but before Build Back Better past the House, and we will see the way forward in the Senate now.

    But, Amy, why is that number where it is right now?

  • Amy Walter:

    It really comes down to voters feeling, Americans feeling as if things have not gotten normal.

    They were given a little bit of a look into normalcy — we all were — in the spring and early summer. The mask mandates were lifted. COVID vaccines were going out in an efficient way. Economic pessimism — economic optimism was rising. And then that all kind of got — the rug kind of got pulled out from under us.

    It's really interesting. I was listening to a focus group of voters the other night. And the moderator asked the group, well, what makes you hopeful? And one man said, there are just too many unknowns right now for me to be feel hopeful.

    And so what he's citing is the worries about COVID, about vaccinating his young children, the rise in costs for his grocery cart and filling up his gas tank, and just this overall sense that things are not kind of back in a track that he'd like to see, including the disunity that we continue to see in this country and the anger and the vitriol that's playing out online, but we're also seeing it behaviorally in all different aspects of our lives.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Tam, how do you see that number? Uncertainty, is that what's behind it?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Certainly, the pandemic just not being over.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

  • Tamara Keith:

    The numbers of cases on the rise again.

    The White House just today and CDC director and Dr. Fauci were trying to encourage people to have a good Thanksgiving. It's not — 2021 is not 2020. But the level of uncertainty is pretty high. And back in this time last year, everyone was looking at these vaccines coming thinking, well, maybe the vaccines will be the end.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

  • Tamara Keith:

    And then the vaccines, it turns out, weren't the end.

    And the Biden White House is sort of having difficulty messaging what the future looks like, in part because it's really hard to predict what the future is going to look like. And so they haven't built — and not everything is about messaging, but a lot of people just want answers, and there aren't answers.

  • Amy Walter:

    There really aren't answers.

    And, as I said, we had a look at to what normal was going to look like.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amy Walter:

    And that's almost harder to recover from than just slogging through and saying, OK, eventually, we will get to the end.

    We had this glimpse, and then it was taken back. And I think that is the bigger sort of overlying thing. And you can't discount the inflation piece, which is a really, really big piece of all of this.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Before we go, I just want to get you both to quickly weigh in on the fact that we had a presidential reaction to a court verdict last week.

    Of course, a lot of people were watching. This was Kyle Rittenhouse on trial for the murder of two people in Wisconsin last year, not guilty on all counts. And we had reactions both from the current president and former.

    President Biden issued this statement, saying: "The verdict in Kenosha will leave many Americans feeling angry and concerned, myself included."

    Former President Trump issued a statement, saying: "Congratulations to Kyle Rittenhouse. If that's not self-defense, nothing is."

    Tam, what does this say about where we are right now politically?

  • Tamara Keith:

    The reactions to that verdict — and he was determined to be not guilty on the basis of self-defense.

    The reactions to that verdict really point to just how divided the country is, that Democrats look at this verdict and say, oh, no, conservatives could all be running around with guns unchecked. And conservatives look at this and say, liberals set a narrative that wasn't reality and persecuted this kid without — without justice.

    And so it is — it's just another piece of evidence, among many, that we are pretty broken right now.

  • Amy Walter:

    And I think, too, the question about the stability of our institutions and the lack of faith in institutions.

    And so, if you're on the right, what you say is, police, the justice system, it's not working because — some of the things Tam pointed out, because liberal prosecutors, or defund the police rhetoric. I have to go protect myself now and my family. So I have a gun. I can go out and do these things.

    Liberals are saying, well, the system — yes, the justice system is broken. It's been broken for a long time. If you are somebody in this country who isn't white, it has never worked for you.

    And so we have two — in two separate ways American saying, the current system is broken. But the answer to it, of course, is very, very far away because the priorities are so very different.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Sort of projecting your own political views onto the trial.

  • Amy Walter:

    Exactly.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And, of course, other high-profile trial in Georgia, closing arguments today in the death of Ahmaud Arbery.We will talk about that more another time, I hope.

    Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, always good to have you here.

  • Amy Walter:

    Thank you. You're welcome.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

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