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Tamara Keith and Lisa Lerer on Soleimani killing, Iowa poll numbers

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Lisa Lerer of The New York Times join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including how the killing of a top Iranian general could affect U.S. policy in the Middle East, President Trump’s reelection strategy and 2020 Democrats, why Republicans are supporting Trump on Iran, the latest poll numbers from Iowa and why this primary campaign is “unprecedented.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that brings us to Politics Monday.

    Here to analyze all this is Tamara Keith of NPR and co-host of "The NPR Politics Podcast," and Lisa Lerer, a politics reporter for The New York Times.

    Hello to both of you. It is Politics Monday.

    But let's start with the story that, of course, is headlines everywhere still. It's still very much our lead, Tam, and that is the president's move to strike and kill a leading figure in Iran.

    From a political standpoint, what does this tell the American people about the president's foreign policy, his strategy? Because he's someone who was saying, we need to get out of endless wars, even get out of the Middle East, and yet this move to escalate.

    How is it being seen?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, and his position on Iran even has been to have every position on Iran.

    He's gone from saber-rattling language to saying that he wants a deal, Iran wants a deal, maybe we can talk.

    And then this happened. He has truly been all over the place about foreign entanglements, though one thing is consistent. I went back over years of his statements. And his general view is that, if America is going to be involved in foreign wars or other entanglements, that they should get paid for it, essentially, that America should get the oil, America should get the money.

    It's a view that he has toward Iraq policy and toward Syria and other countries. And that colors — it's a very transactional view of foreign policy, and it covers — it colors this as well, these decisions.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Does it have an effect on his standing politically, among voters, do you think?

  • Lisa Lerer:

    I think voters know where he is.

    They know that he's run both as someone who doesn't — wants to end foreign wars, but also wants to bomb the expletive of ISIS.

    In fact, I think that ability to move between those two messages is really a core part of his appeal. He can appeal to two very different elements of the Republican Party base. So I don't think this necessarily damages his standing.

    But, look, we don't know how this is all going to play out. There are a lot of uncertainties here. And what happens next and how the Iranians respond, how the Middle East is — if that gets — if that conflict gets reshaped, will matter immensely to his reelection chances.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And interesting.

    At this point, Tam, Republicans seem to be backing the president.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Right.

    They split with him on his move to let Turkey go into Syria and to have an initiative against the Kurds, who are longtime U.S. allies. But, when it comes to this, having a hard line against Iran is very much in line with Republican orthodoxy.

    A lot of President Trump's foreign policy is outside of Republican orthodoxy. And that's why he's gotten so much pushback on things like Russia and Syria. But, here, he's very much in line with the way Republicans have viewed Iran.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Lisa, let's talk about the 2020 Democrats. And we just heard some of that in Amna's report, where they're coming down on this.

    Is this likely to, in any way, shape — we are less than a month from the Iowa caucus, first votes — to have an effect on the race, to reshape this race somehow?

  • Lisa Lerer:

    Well, it's really hard to say, right, because there is just so much going on.

    Remember, before we were talking about Iran, we were talking about impeachment, and we are likely to come back to that this week. So, these things are moving so quickly. And it — you don't hear a ton of questions when you're out with these candidates about impeachment, about Iran.

    The questions remain largely what they have been for the past year or so, which is health care, college — cost of college, climate change, and electability, which is the main thing for a lot of Democratic voters.

    But I do think this could strengthen the hand of two men that have been leading the polls for a while, that have been rising in the limited data we have since the holidays, which is Joe Biden, who can run very strongly on his experience in foreign policy, and Senator Bernie Sanders, who's really staked out ground as the liberal messenger, sort of the anti-interventionist face of the party.

    So this could give a boost to either one of their campaigns.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And with distinct, distinct views on this.

  • Lisa Lerer:

    Right.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Right.

    And one other person who in that recent poll was up there at the top all sort of tied with the 23 percent, 25 percent, is Pete Buttigieg, who is an Afghanistan war veteran and has been trying to use this moment to boost himself and to argue for his electability.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What do you make of this Iowa poll that we were just reporting, that you now have three individuals — no longer Elizabeth Warren, interestingly.

  • Lisa Lerer:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    She's lost a little bit of ground there, Tam and Lisa.

    I mean, what do we make of this?

  • Lisa Lerer:

    I think the race remains unbelievably fluid.

    You have these three guys at the top. Elizabeth Warren, while she's fallen, is still in the mix. Amy Klobuchar, by some accounts, may be in the mix in Iowa.

    This is a race that, from that poll — and a lot can change in a month, of course — could go on for quite awhile. You could have different winners of that first four early voting states. We're a month out from Iowa. And, to me, it remains very unsettled.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Right.

    And then you have Michael Bloomberg, who's invested…

  • Lisa Lerer:

    Right.

  • Tamara Keith:

    … just massive amounts of money, looking past those early states.

    So if it's like a — if it isn't a clear decision coming out of those early states, then you head into Super Tuesday, when there's a huge number of people voting. And you have Michael Bloomberg, who's invested a lot of money.

    Now, whether you can actually skip those early states and not be overtaken by momentum is a very open question. But Republicans, the Trump campaign is looking at this and just sort of, like, hoping that it turns into this extended fight.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But the Bloomberg ads that he's running, which we're seeing everywhere, because he's spending millions of dollars, they're going after Donald Trump, many of them.

  • Lisa Lerer:

    Right.

    It's — in some ways, that's been helpful for the party, because it allows them get out there and really target Donald Trump at a time when they have a very sort of messy primary going on.

    What's unbelievable about what — Michael Bloomberg is that we have just never seen anyone spend this much money. If he continues on this pace, he will have spent, by Super Tuesday, the same amount that Barack Obama spent in his entire general election on ads.

    So we don't know. Traditionally, yes, entering the race late is a bad idea. But we just don't know how this is going to play out, because we haven't seen it before.

    And that's a lot of what we're seeing in this race. It's very unpredictable.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Unprecedented.

    And we should say, Super Tuesday, we all know when it is.

  • Lisa Lerer:

    Right. Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But it is early March. It's just two months from now.

    And what your point is, he's spending more than President Obama spent in the entire campaign year.

  • Lisa Lerer:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Just a quick note to make here that I want to point out for our viewers at the end.

    We did learn today that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a meeting today with the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, announced that he is not going to run for Senate in the state of Kansas, something that many Republicans had been urging him to do, Pat Roberts stepping back from the Senate.

    So, so much to watch. Thank you both, Lisa Lerer, Tamara Keith, Politics Monday.

    Thank you.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

  • Lisa Lerer:

    Thanks.

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