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Tamara Keith and Kimberly Atkins on Trump’s Baltimore attacks, Detroit debates

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Kimberly Atkins of WBUR radio join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including another series of controversial tweets from President Trump, the different language he uses to refer to urban and rural geographies, a new health care proposal from Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and the second round of debates for 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now it's time for Politics Monday.

    Here to break down the political implications of the president's tweets over the weekend and preview the 2020 Democratic presidential debates to come, I'm joined by Tamara Keith of NPR. She co-hosts the "NPR Politics Podcast." And Kimberly Atkins of WBUR Radio.

    Hello to both of you. It is Politics Monday.

    So, before we talk about those other things, I want to ask both of you — and I'm going to start with you, Tamara — about Amna's report from Virginia.

    This couple, they are very devoted to each other, but they have got real political disagreement. How common is that? And how emblematic is it, do you think, of the larger political divide in the country?

  • Tamara Keith:

    I think it's more emblematic of the political divide than it is common at this point, because, as the report indicated, there are a lot of people who don't want their children to date someone from the other political party, for instance.

    There is there is amazing polarization right now. And sort of the bipartisan couples used to be more common than they are now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What do you find in your reporting, Kimberly?

  • Kimberly Atkins:

    Yes, it's the same.

    They're certainly a microcosm of the kinds of divides that we are seeing in this country in the way that people on different sides position themselves, with him saying, yes, the president, I don't like what — everything he tweets, but I think he's doing a good job, and the other side saying, no, I find what he says and does appalling.

    I can't imagine how difficult it must be within a relationship.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's curious, because you see something like that, and you wonder — I mean, you know there are some examples that have gotten some publicity. But it doesn't seem to be the norm. But it does say a lot about our country.

    So let's talk about the news, Tam, of the last few days. The president started tweeting furiously on — at a rapid pace on Saturday morning about Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings. We have been reporting on it on the program.

    Stepping back and looking at the president's criticisms of Baltimore, of the congressman, and then Al Sharpton today, does this help President Trump politically?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, there certainly is a strong pattern in the people he goes after and the way he goes after them, the people and places.

    Does this help the president? In 2016, he campaigned, came down the escalator, said some Mexicans are rapists. He had a fight with the Gold Star family who were also Muslim. He said a Mexican judge couldn't be fair.

    So President Trump in 2016 was doing and saying — and never — don't forget the birther thing — doing and saying many of the same things that he is doing now on similar themes. And his campaign defends it in the same way that they did then, which is, he will go to bat against anyone who goes to bat against him.

    Will it work? It did work in 2016. I talked to a number of people today. One Republican pollster said, it can certainly work again, depending on who the Democrats nominate. Basically heard the same thing from a Democratic consultant.

    And then also I talked to some political scientists, though, who've done some research that finds that independent voters and Democrats are going to be turned off and mobilize in sort of in opposition to the president, in much the way that he hopes that his base will be motivated.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How much of this is determined, Kimberly, though, by which states it comes down to? I mean, it helped him — apparently helped him in those states that made the difference that was — we talk about them over and over again, in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania.

  • Kimberly Atkins:

    It makes a big difference.

    I mean, we have — the Democrats are in Detroit getting ready for this debate. Michigan is a key city. And Michigan is one of those — Michigan is one of those states where the black vote was — didn't turn out in 2016 the way it had in the two previous presidential years.

    And there is a concern that this kind of talk will depress the black vote. And so it's incumbent on the Democrat, Democratic Party, to try to get out and motivate those voters to get out and vote. We don't know what will happen.

    But we have seen this president go to this not just during the campaign, but throughout his presidency. He likes this cultural divide. He likes this cultural division, the stoking of cultural division, particularly after he gets off of something tough, if he has a political loss.

    We just had Mueller testifying. And that was directly where he went. So it is a pattern.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It is interesting to — some folks have looked already at the way the president — President Trump, Tam, talks about cities, inner cities, and the way that he talks about people who live in rural areas.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Right.

    And the term infested, he saves for inner cities. And when — I went and looked through all of his tweets. And going back throughout his tweets, whenever he talks about someone being racist, he's in almost every case referring to a person of color being racist.

    He just — he does this. It is a pattern that he repeats again and again.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we don't know, of course, what's in his head, whether — to what extent this is deliberate, to what extent it's what he's just thinking at the moment.

    But it is — as Tam says, there seems to be a pattern.

  • Kimberly Atkins:

    There is absolutely a pattern that goes back decades. It goes back to the way he talked about the Central Park 5.

    It goes back throughout his life.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Literally decades.

  • Kimberly Atkins:

    Yes.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes.

  • Kimberly Atkins:

    Yes.

    So he — this is the way he has repeatedly spoken about people of color, especially people who challenge him. Elijah Cummings, of course, is the chairman of one of the committee's that is investigating the president and his administration.

    So we saw him go straight to that sort of attack. It seems to be a place where he retreats to. He seems very comfortable there. The problem that it creates, of course, is Republicans who refuse to call them out — to call him out on it.

    And they sort of have been twisting themselves into circles to try to really make other excuses, that it was about policy or something else, when it was clearly an attack on people of color in Congress.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In the little bit of time we have, I do want to turn to the Democrats.

    The 2020 candidates, Tam, they are going back to the debate stage this week. Ten of them will be there tomorrow night, Tuesday night, the other 10. And we have got a picture of the lineup, the 10 who will be there on Tuesday night and then the other 10 for Wednesday night.

    What should we be expecting?

  • Tamara Keith:

    So, Tuesday night, I think the most interesting thing will be whether Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren bring out their contrasts in some way, or whether they sort of ignore each other and talk about their policies.

    Pete Buttigieg and Beto O'Rourke are two candidates who need a moment. They had been polling really well. Pete Buttigieg has raised a lot of money. But he didn't have a standout moment in the first debate.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Kimberly — and we're hearing some more efforts on the part of these candidates to define themselves, to distance themselves in some instances from each other.

  • Kimberly Atkins:

    Yes, they're trying to set out their agenda. We saw Senator Kamala Harris, who will be on that second night, laying out her health care plan.

    We already saw surrogates from both sides of both Senator — well, from Senator — former Vice President Joe Biden's team. Sorry, there are lot of candidates on the stage.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Name all 24 of them right now, I insist.

  • Kimberly Atkins:

    Already fighting back and saying that — pulling it apart.

    So I think in the center of the stage, where you have Cory Booker and Kamala Harris flanking Vice President — former Vice President Joe Biden, is going to be where the real sparks will fly.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that's going to be interesting. And that is Wednesday night.

    But, Tam, again, I mean, as you said on Monday, this is the night — this is the last debate before the middle of September.

    So for — and where the rules get tougher, the threshold gets tougher.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, and not very many of these people who will be on stage have qualified for the September debate yet.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    For the September debate.

    So this may be the last chance some of them — it will be the last chance some of them have to make an impression.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes. Indeed.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We thank you both.

    Kimberly Atkins, thank you. Tamara Keith, thank you.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Politics Monday.

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