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Tamara Keith and Shawna Thomas on 2020 Democrats in Iowa, Trump’s conspiracy tweets

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Shawna Thomas of VICE News join Amna Nawaz to discuss the latest political news, including how 2020 Democrats fared at the Iowa State Fair, Joe Biden’s tendency to make gaffes and whether his competitors will take advantage of it and President Trump’s retweeting of a Jeffrey Epstein conspiracy theory involving the Clintons.

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  • Shawna Thomas:

    Good to be with you.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, no fried food, no butter sculptures, but a lot of politics to talk about.

  • Shawna Thomas:

    Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The Iowa state fair, Tam, is supposed to be an opportunity for the candidates to break away from the pack, take a chance to shine if they can or kind of continue in the middle and fight for air. Did anyone stand out to you over the last few days?

  • Tamara Keith:

    So, I was there. I was technically on vacation. I did eat fried foods but also — I can't turn off —

  • Shawna Thomas:

    You played political tourist.

  • Tamara Keith:

    I played political tourist. You can't turn it off. And so, what I saw is that candidates like Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren who are not at the very top in the polls drew very large crowds of very interested people who came early and stayed late and watched their speeches. In fact, for Warren, when she was speaking at the soap box, you actually couldn't walk past the entire grand passageway or whatever it's called. The big road in the middle of the fairgrounds was just completely congested with people who had stopped to watch her speak.

    And so, that — and that sort of reflects what you've seen in the polls, which is that Elizabeth Warren, you know, taking as many selfies as she has to take at every event, has begun to sort of notch things up in Iowa, I believe, in the latest Iowa poll. She's in seconds behind Joe Biden.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Shawna, every selfie matters at this stage but it's worth reminding people still over six months away before anyone in Iowa casts a vote. How much does this matter, this cycle?

  • Shawna Thomas:

    I mean, how much does the Iowa state fair matter in any cycle?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Ever, yes.

  • Shawna Thomas:

    The thing is, what our correspondent on Vice News was telling me and she was out there as well was there was so much media there that she was confused as to whether the candidates were actually able to speak to Iowans one on one.

    And so, yes, you have "The Des Moines Register" soapbox. We all enjoy seeing that. It's a good way to get for a candidate to get their stump speech out there. But also, the point of the Iowa state fair in visiting sort of historically has been to try to have those one-on-one interactions with Iowans.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Right.

  • Shawna Thomas:

    And the sort of like, and the thing is, you know, what one guy told us was like, all Iowans are here. It's not just a Democratic Party event. It's not some special interest event. You could run into anyone, but it's also kind of hard apparently to do with the amount of media that's there.

    But hopefully, some of them took advantage of having conversations with people who would not necessarily be able to see them or want them to see them like at a general Democratic event or something like that.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, they want to get as much as attention as they can.

  • Shawna Thomas:

    Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Not all attention is good attention, though. One of the story lines we've been talking about is how former Vice President Joe Biden has done so far in some of these events.

    I want to play for you, guys, just a couple of quick sound bytes. They're from two different events. One from Thursday, one from Saturday, but these are the kinds of comments from Mr. Biden that are getting attention right now. Take a listen.

  • Joe Biden:

    Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids, wealthy kids, black kids, Asian kids.

    (APPLAUSE)

  • Joe Biden:

    I watched what happened to those kids from Parkland came up to see me when I was vice president.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, you know, Tam, we're calling these as gaffes in this conversation, right? He misspeaks. He corrects himself. Sometimes he has to come back and correct himself a little later. Is it fair criticism of him right now?

  • Tamara Keith:

    It is Joe Biden. Joe Biden has called himself a gaffe machine. He — this is sort of a trademark.

    He does this. He's done this his entire political career. When he announced that he was going to run for president, that he was running for president, you knew that this was going to happen and it has continued to happen all along.

    One thing that's been sort of puzzling to me is why this weekend is the weekend that everyone started to talk about, well, will Joe Biden's gaffes matter? And I think that the way they could matter is if voters decide that it's an indicator of something larger, if it taps into a concern that voters have perhaps about his age or some other thing like that.

    But that Joe Biden would say the wrong words or stumble is not new.

  • Shawna Thomas:

    Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    What do you think, Shawna?

  • Shawna Thomas:

    But I think the thing is, when he said the wrong words and stumbled historically when we both covered him before, it's Uncle Joe. It's, like, OK, it's Joe Biden, he's great, look, whatever. Much like in some ways the awkward touching and that kind of thing.

    But when you are the frontrunner for — to be president and everyone thinks you may actually have a shot at getting the Democratic nomination, everyone is going to pay even more attention to every little stumble, and I do think that is going to get worse. Now, some of why this has been highlighted is Trump's team is the one who sort of pushed this narrative event. I am interested to see if like a lower tier presidential candidate goes along this narrative, like a one who's actually on the Democratic side, because, of course, President Trump is going to push this. He wants to beat Biden. He thinks Biden is the guy to beat.

    But does — do the Cory Bookers of the world or does someone else start trying to talk about Joe Biden's age and play these gaffes or anything like that, does it cause Democratic infighting? And I think that's something to be more worried more about at this stage with Biden.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You mentioned President Trump, but I want to ask you about something else. Over the weekend, he retweeted a post from a comedian linking the Clintons to the death of Jeffrey Epstein, the accused sex trafficker in jail this weekend. We're not showing it here because it is a conspiracy theory. It's baseless. It traces back years, just some far right conspiracy theories.

    Shawna, of all the things the president could have been tweeting about this weekend, why this?

  • Shawna Thomas:

    Because he — I mean, I can't get into the president's head and I can't pretend to be in the president's head, but he saw something, it attacked the Clintons, he is still attacking the Clintons, people still cheer "lock her up" at his events, at his campaign events. And, you know what? He pressed retweet.

    And this is just what he does. He has spread other conspiracy theories. We can go all the way back to Barack Obama's birth certificate.

    Now, yes, he could have been tweetings about other things like, hey, does the Bureau of Prisons have staffing problems? What is going on there? There are some real issues with Epstein and will his victims be able to be able to see justice, and that kind of thing. But, you know, this is what the president likes to do and now we're talking about it.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Tam, with 63 million Twitter followers, there's — you know, I have been in countries where conspiracy theories and misinformation campaigns are very active, it has an impact. Do you worry about that here? Is there concern?

  • Tamara Keith:

    We are also in a country where conspiracy theories have been very active especially in recent years, especially with social media, and President Trump has at times retweeted or otherwise trafficked in conspiracy theories. So, that he's doing this now is not really out of character. It's something that he does.

    And I think that we are in a time in this country where conspiracy theories, for whatever reason, are particularly sticky, and especially on the right but not entirely on the right, also very much on the left conspiracy theories have taken hold. And so, this is — this is sort of — this is where we are.

  • Shawna Thomas:

    And the question really — I mean, the larger question that comes out of this conspiracy thing is what do we do about social media? And are we going to hold social media companies accountable for the spread of things that are not true?

    And this is something that Congress has been talking about and they have been trying to tackle it, but they haven't done anything yet. I think this reiterates that that conversation is really important.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Another conversation to have at another time.

  • Shawna Thomas:

    There will be so many.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Shawna Thomas of VICE News, Tamara Keith of NPR, thanks to you both.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

  • Shawna Thomas:

    Thanks.

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