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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on Trump’s reelection strategy

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including 2020 campaign strategy for President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden in battleground states and what Trump’s holiday weekend Twitter tirade says about his response to the coronavirus pandemic.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    With the general election just a little more than five months away, we examine how President Trump and Vice President Biden are faring in some of the key battleground states and more with Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and host of public radio's "Politics With Amy Walter" and Tamara Keith of NPR. She co-hosts the "NPR Politics Podcast."

    Hello to both of you on this Memorial Day.

    And it is just a little more than five months until Election Day, so never too soon to start talking about the general election.

    We have been looking at the polls. We know it's early.

    And, Amy, I want to start with you, because in, I guess, a handful of the key battleground states that are going to be really hard fought, we are seeing Joe Biden ahead in all — in a number of states that Donald Trump ended up winning. Pennsylvania, Joe Biden is up 7. Michigan, he's up 6, Arizona up 4, Wisconsin up 3, Florida up 3.

    Now, I know several of those are within what we call the margin of error, Amy, but is this a headache for Donald Trump at this point? And, if so, I mean, how much of a headache?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, Judy, from the very beginning of this reelection campaign for the president, we knew that there was going to be — the major question was, what is President Trump's ceiling?

    If you look at the polling throughout his presidency, you can see that he has a pretty low ceiling. He has very rarely gotten above 45 percent job approval rating, which suggests that it's going to be hard for him to get above the level he got in the last election, which was 46 percent was his popular vote total.

    The Democrats are hoping that that actually is his ceiling, and that Democrats will win, Joe Biden will win because he is going to win over those candidates (sic) who didn't vote for Donald Trump, but also didn't vote for Hillary Clinton.

    You think about a place like Wisconsin. It was 22,000 votes. It was a very narrow margin that Donald Trump won that state. The number of people who voted for Jill Stein in Wisconsin was 30,000. Another 100,000 voted for Gary Johnson. So, just getting some of those people back, the theory goes, there goes Wisconsin.

    The president's team suggests, though, that his ceiling is not as static as the polls look because they're going to increase the pool of voters. They're not just going to win back or win over voters from 2016; they're going to get more people to actually vote who didn't show up in 2016.

    And in places like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania and Michigan, those kinds of people who don't turn out and vote traditionally, who didn't vote in 2016, look a lot like the president's supporters. They are overwhelmingly white. Overwhelmingly, they do not have a college degree.

    There are more of those types of voters in a place like Wisconsin than voters of color or white voters with a college degree. So, Judy, that is really the battle right here, which is, if you look just at who can get to 50 percent, Democrats argue that the president can't hit that number.

    But the president's team argues, there are going to be a whole bunch of people who show up on Election Day that you are not counting on. I still would rather be in Joe Biden's position right now than the president. He is — the president is definitely playing defense a lot more than an incumbent president should be.

    But that is what we are going to be watching as we go through this campaign.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Tam, is the White House — is what we see the president saying and doing and what the White House and campaign are doing, does it seem designed to add those voters that Amy is talking about?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, the voters that Amy is talking about are not going and finding women in the suburbs who were maybe turned off by Trump and they're going to vote for him.

    What the Trump campaign is looking for are people who are just like the people who voted for him in 2016, but who didn't show up. And so they are doing things that are designed to reach those people.

    They have this new app, where they are trying to get people to share with their friends, and they have gamified it. And inside of that app, President Trump is sort of a perfect version of himself. And Joe Biden in that app and in other ways that the campaign communicates is no good, terrible and a puppet of China.

    So, in terms of what they're doing to reach people, they're absolutely, as one Democratic consultant put it, trying to keep them outraged, so they stay engaged.

    Then, on the other side of the ledger, they are going after Vice President — former Vice President Biden. They have been running ads in swing states, going after him on China, as weak on China.

    And, also, they have really been outstanding him in social media ads as well, including jumping on his remarks on "The Breakfast Club" that offended some people, many people, jumping on those, and already running Facebook ads promoting it, a T-shirt based on those remarks, and also putting videos out there showing people upset about what Biden said.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Where he appeared to take the black vote for granted, and then later took it back and said he had made a mistake, didn't mean to say that.

    But, Amy, the president also is kind of venting over the weekend. I'm asking about who the voters is he's appealing to, because he's tweeting about Joe Scarborough, the MSNBC television journalist, who — there's nothing to this. It's completely uncorroborated. The president refers to somebody who died on his staff.

    The president very critical of Nancy Pelosi, and suggested she has a drinking problem. Went after Stacey Abrams and her weight, the Georgia governor — I mean — I'm sorry — the Georgia — former Georgia legislator.

    Are these the kinds of things that do keep his base riled up and do bring in those other voters that he needs?

  • Amy Walter:

    You know, there was a slogan on the Trump campaign in 2016, which is still the case today, which is to sort of let Trump be Trump. He is who he is.

    And I think voters have sort of priced that into their opinions of this president. But what he is doing that is really dangerous is, he is putting out, as you said, these uncorroborated stories and conspiracies, which he has done for his entire career. But now he is doing it as president of the United States.

    And once they get out there, and then they get picked up by traditional media outlets or people who are seen as more credible, it's hard for regular Americans to decide, well, which of these things is true and what's not?

    And so the more he stirs the pot, the more he makes it difficult for people to pick out what is truth from fiction, what is a conspiracy vs. something that actually really happened, the easier it is for him to make the case, as Tam pointed out, about how the system is rigged against him or how Joe Biden is really the bad one in this case.

    And, again, I think so much of this is trying to take it away from being a referendum on his handling of this pandemic, his handling of the job as president, and to put the onus onto everybody else, and specifically onto Joe Biden, make it a referendum on things that you don't like about Joe Biden, instead of a referendum on the person who is actually sitting in the White House.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Which is the question, Tam.

    I mean, this is a year, if ever a president was going to be judged on his leadership in crisis, this has to be it. And yet this is what the president is making noise about.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, we're coming up on a really grim milestone of 100,000 deaths from the coronavirus.

    President Trump doesn't want to talk about that. He did have flags lowered to half-staff over the weekend to honor those victims and their families. But he doesn't want to talk about that. He wants to move on. He wants to say, all right, this is in the rearview mirror. Let's talk about America is open for business.

    He's talking about the transition to greatness now. He has moved on. It's not clear that the rest of the country has moved on, as the death toll continues to rise. But, certainly, these tweets are — they don't set records, actually, in terms of the numbers in his — he was not off the charts in that way over the weekend.

    But he's clearly just throwing spaghetti against the wall.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    They — these subjects seem to be things that are far from what's at the center of most voters' mind and attention right now.

    On this Memorial Day, we want to thank both of you so much. Very good, as always, to have you with us.

    Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, we thank you.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

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