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Tamara Keith and Errin Haines on Trump and race, pandemic politics

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Errin Haines of The 19th join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including the implications of the racist video President Trump recently shared, the U.S. debate over wearing masks and what it says about politicization of the pandemic and how Trump’s coronavirus response could shape his support among voters.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's only Monday but it is already shaping up to be a busy week in politics.

    To help us dive into it all, Tamara Keith of NPR. She also co-hosts the "NPR Politics Podcast." And Errin Haines, she is the editor at large of The 19th. It's a nonprofit and nonpartisan newsroom reporting on the intersection of gender, politics and policy.

    Errin Haines, we welcome you.

    Amy Walter is away.

    Hello to you, Tam.

    So, I want to start by asking both of you about the language of race, as President Trump uses it. This has been, as we know, an ongoing issue since the election in 2016.

    But, just over the weekend, the president retweeted a video of a group of men, one of them yelling "White power."

    Let's look at what was in that retweet.

  • Man:

    Racist! Racist!

  • Man:

    Yes, you got it. White power! White power!

  • Man:

    There you go. White power. You hear that?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, the president did later delete the tweet.

    But, Tam, how is something like this received in this current atmosphere in this current atmosphere of much heightened awareness of racial justice?

  • Tamara Keith:

    The White House says that president did watch the video before tweeting it, but somehow didn't hear that very glaring "White power" phrase.

    And the fact, is this is nothing new for President Trump. It's only been a few days since we were talking about how he was using a racist term to describe the coronavirus. He, in his campaign speeches and tweets, has been emphasizing that the removal of Confederate sculptures and statues is the removal of our heritage, though our is not particularly inclusive.

    And the sense is that this is an attempt at a repeat of 2016, that President Trump is running a similar playbook, hoping for the same results. And it's clear that there's no dialing it back, for instance, with the kung-flu reference.

    It's almost become a call and response, and he's only had two campaign events in the last week.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, Errin Haines, this is a difficult political climate now, is it not?

  • Errin Haines:

    Well, this is certainly not the climate that the president was running in four years ago, although we certainly still are very much in a racially polarized environment headed into November.

    Listen, it's just as Tamara said. The president is drawing again from a racial playbook that he has been using since he first descended the escalator at Trump Tower five years ago to declare his candidacy for president, whether it was referring to Mexicans as rapists, whether it was referring to African and Caribbean countries as S-holes or cities like Baltimore as rat-infested, whether he was calling for law and order in cities like Chicago, or raising the specter of voter fraud in cities like Philadelphia.

    I mean, at this point, they're not even dog whistles. You saw in that video the elderly gentleman said "White power" not once, but twice. And so, while it would certainly be hard to miss, even if that was something that the president missed, deleting it was obviously something that should have happened, but, in reality, that never should have been posted in the first place.

    But I think it does send a message to certain supporters of his who either share his views or support him in spite of them. The question at this point is not who the president is — I think we know who he is after four years — but who the American electorate is going to be heading into November.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, it certainly got a lot of attention.

    Of course, the other thing getting a great deal of attention right now is COVID-19. We are seeing a surge, questions being raised about the leadership both at the national and the state level about what to do, about whether the leadership has been the kind that has made the American people do what they needed to do to stay safe and to stay healthy.

    And, Tam, we are seeing division over whether to wear masks, whether to stay socially distanced. How do you see this politicization, if you will, of the coronavirus as we get closer to the election?

  • Tamara Keith:


    And there is a real mixed message coming from the Trump administration. I guess that isn't a particularly new development. But you have the health secretary, Alex Azar, saying that this is a critical moment and that people need to wear masks if they're not socially distanced.

    The message from the president, according to the press secretary today, was a little bit different. It was that masks are optional, and that it's really a personal choice, and the people should listen to local health officials.

    But there just is a — there's this message that is mixed, and there's this challenge that is coming that — leading into this moment, it has been largely a blue state problem, a bluer state, bluer county problem.

    And that has been flipping. And the political implications for that for the president, where now states like Florida and Arizona are more dominant in the caseload, this could have political implications for him.

    It's not clear just yet what it will be. But one thing we know is that the city of Jacksonville, where the president is moving his convention acceptance speech, well, now they require masks to be worn.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Errin, how do you see this playing out? I know we're months away from Election Day. But this is on top of mind for many Americans right now, and will be, it looks like now, for a while to come.

  • Errin Haines:

    It absolutely is, Judy.

    And what we're looking at here headed into November are the dual pandemics of coronavirus and racism, which are absolutely political and on the minds of many of the voters that I have spoken to, both the ones who stood in line for hours to cast a ballot during this primary and wonder how they're going to be able to safely participate in this democracy headed into November, to black voters who are part of a community that is disproportionately being affected and killed by this deadly virus.

    And so having leaders — or looking for leaders who are going to respond to these dual pandemics, I think, is on the minds of a lot of voters, particularly voters of color, but also women, who are the majority of the electorate and who are being disproportionately affected, maybe not by death, but in almost every other aspect of the coronavirus crisis.

    And so what I'm hearing from women and from voters of color is that the pandemic is absolutely political and absolutely something that could be galvanizing and energizing them headed into the fall.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And just very quickly to you, Tam.

    The polls are showing that older voters, who are more vulnerable to the coronavirus, the president is seeing some slippage in his support among that group.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, and former Vice President Joe Biden is doing surprisingly well with older voters.

    I mean, you have to figure that the coronavirus is playing into this, certainly, even as, at the moment now, more young Americans are being affected by the new cases. It's not clear whether the statistics will stay that way.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    For sure. So much to follow, even more than we have time to get to today.

    But it's great to see both of you, Tamara Keith, Errin Haines, Politics Monday.

    Thank you both.

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