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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on what’s different about 2020 fundraising

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Lisa Desjardins to discuss the latest political news, including recent poll and fundraising numbers for the remaining 2020 Democrats, whether former Rep. Joe Walsh can mount a serious primary threat to President Trump and what the economy and trade tensions mean for Trump’s favorability ratings.

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  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Also what can't come soon enough is Politics Monday.

    And reunited, we have in our studio back together again the great Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and, of course, Tamara Keith of NPR, also the "NPR Politics Podcast."

    Thank you both. Good to see you back together.

    Let's start with the dollar race, ladies.

    Tam, I'm going to ask you first. We talk about fundraising every single election. Is it any different this presidential cycle?

  • Tamara Keith:

    On the Democratic side, there has been a decoupling of donor and voter.

    And what by that is, traditionally, campaigns, they go out, they try to raise money, and when they raise money from someone, when someone writes them a check, sends them $1, sends them $50, they can mark them down not just as a supporter, but as a voter.

    And, this time, it's not monogamous. You have can — you have voters, Democrats giving money five candidates, 10 candidates. Every time there's, please give me $1, so that I can be on the stage and have my voice heard, people are like, oh, yes, sure I will give you $1.

    So then, when it comes time to actually sort of buckle down and get voters out, they aren't going to be able to just go to their donor file and say, well, I can assume that those people will be caucusing for me or voting for me in New Hampshire or South Carolina or caucusing in Nevada.

    Instead, they will have to figure out which of their donors are actually their voters.

  • Amy Walter:

    The other big difference when you look back, especially thinking about the Republican — they have had the most competitive primaries over the most recent era, right, 2012 and 2016.

    And the big thing in those campaigns were the super PACs. Remember, individual candidates were associated with super PACs, Jeb Bush probably the most famous. He personally didn't raise as much money, but his super PAC, because there are different rules for fundraising super PACs, you can give millions of dollars to a super PAC, had tons and tons of money.

    In 2012, super PACs were really influential in that race especially helping in the early states like Iowa for candidates like Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.

    Democrats, they have been moving away from taking money from super PACs. There are no super PACs involved in this primary election. All the Democratic candidates have said, don't build one for me. I don't want your money. They're staying away from corporate PAC money.

    They're staying away from a lot of the sort of traditional — I think in your piece, setup piece, you said sort of the old school fundraising of going and — going to these big high-dollar fundraisers.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    High-dollar.

  • Amy Walter:

    And they used to boast about that.

    And even Democratic candidates used to boast about they had bundlers, right, and they had people who would come.

    And, individually, Lisa would go and ask 20 of her friends to write $1,000 checks, and you would get lauded by the campaign for being that big fundraiser. They're not doing that now. The focus is really on small-dollar donors.

    And it means that the way — it's not just that the way that the money is being raised is different, but now if you think about these early states, who's going to have influence in these races, it's going to look a lot different than it has in recent years.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    One reason, of course, for all these small donor numbers going up is the Democrats are forcing the issue. You have to get 130,000 small donors in 20 states to make the next debate.

    So far, I think we have 10 qualified, but we still have 21 candidates, ladies. My question to you is, when we see this field really cut down? Is it going to be after this next debate? What do you think?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, I mean, in the last week, I think there have been three fewer candidates. So there is a winnowing as we get toward these fall debates.

    And there are a few candidates who think that they won't make it for the September debate, but they could make it for the October debate. And so they are hanging on for that. But I think that we will see a winnowing this fall, but it's still going to be a very big field, a historically large field.

  • Amy Walter:

    It is.

    It just gets harder and harder. We talked about fundraising.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right.

  • Amy Walter:

    It gets harder and harder to raise money if you're not publicly having a presence, whether it's on the debate stage or getting invited for interviews.

    So I think you will see a little more winnowing. And, look, I think what voters really want to see — I know I want to see this personally, just as an analyst — is to see the top candidates all on the same stage.

    Look, we have a field of 21 candidates, but there are really only three candidates who have consistently polled in the double digits, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Kamala Harris sometimes touches up there. Buttigieg gets in the low single digits, and that's about it.

    Nobody else — after these other two debates that we have already had, we haven't seen much movement, except really among the top three, four candidates. And so getting on stage in the debate, I know it may help candidates' ego, but it's not necessarily helping their poll standing.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Someone who would like any stage, I think, is Joe Walsh, who is a conservative former member of Congress, also radio talk show host, Republican, who announced.

    There you see it here, his announcement that he's running against Donald Trump as a Republican, and he's doing it in a couple interesting ways. He issued basically a mea culpa, saying, in the past, he believes his remarks may have been racist. He apologized for them. He said the president is not appropriate for our children to watch.

    He's going after the president on moral grounds. Is he a serious challenger? He's challenging the president for his conservative base.

  • Tamara Keith:

    So what my reporting has shown over time is that the president has consolidated the Republican Party, both if you look at polling in terms of support for the president.

    There is not a lot of weakness among Republicans. But in terms of the actual party apparatus, the Trump campaign and the Republican Party are one and the same. The Republican Party, the GOP, the RNC is not going to allow a robust and competitive primary, because the president of the United States is their candidate. And they have…

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    He's a Republican.

  • Tamara Keith:

    And he's a Republican.

    And they have worked very hard to lay the groundwork to box out any serious challenge to the president in the primary.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

    I mean, the first thing is, it's hard to know whether to take Joe Walsh's apology seriously. To say that he was a firebrand is putting it nicely, the things that he has said on Twitter, that he said during his campaign, that he has been known to tweet about, pretty out there, all right, and, in some cases, calling for violence.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    He's apologized for that, but…

  • Amy Walter:

    That's right.

    And one of his most famous, infamous was saying Obama is indeed a Muslim, you should believe this.

    So that's one piece that we have to deal with. The second piece is, who are these folks who are frustrated with Donald Trump, the Republican Party? We think of the never-Trumpers, right, these folks who were once — considered themselves Republicans. Either they're conservative or they're moderate. They don't find a place with Donald Trump.

    Remember where Joe Walsh is from. It's actually my home district, suburban Chicago, a district that traditionally voted for Mitt Romney, voted for a Republican for Congress for many years, this last year voted overwhelmingly for a Democrat, voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

    He's representative — even though he personally is not like that, where he's from his representative of a Republican base in the suburbs that once supported every Republican candidate. But in the era of Trump, they have moved away from him.

    But let's be clear. He in his past was not that kind of candidate. But his district that he used to represent was.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I want to end — I will end on you, Amy.

    And we have seen ups and downs on Wall Street in the last couple of weeks. That's an important metric, we know, for President Trump.

    My question to you, do you think this president is recession-proof, if we have a recession?

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, it's hard to believe that any president could withstand like a major economic crisis or recession.

    The question is whether or not just having a slowing down is enough. And I think that, for Trump, we have already seen the fact that his approval ratings on the economy have been separate from his overall approval ratings. The gap between those is pretty significant.

    People, for a long time, at least up until now, said they approve of the job he's doing on the economy, don't approve of the job that he's doing as president. So that gap is pretty big.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    All right, we will have to end it there.

    So good to see both of you. Tamara Keith, Amy Walter, thank you.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

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