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What Trump didn’t say in his response to Charlottesville

Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Susan Page of USA Today join John Yang to discuss the week’s news, including President Trump’s reluctant response to the deadly incident white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, plus a new campaign ad for the president and how his base of support is faring and more.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    But, first, we turn back to Charlottesville and the political response to the weekend violence.

    John Yang has that.

  • JOHN YANG:

    And we do have more on President Trump's reaction to the violence in Charlottesville and the race to fill Attorney General Sessions' Senate seat in Alabama.

    It's time for Politics Monday with Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Susan Page, Washington bureau chief of USA Today.

    Susan, Amy, thanks for joining us.

    As we were sitting down, we thought the president was done talking about Charlottesville. He just tweeted and said: "Made additional remarks on Charlottesville and realized once again that the fake news media will never be satisfied. Truly bad people."

    Susan, he's clearly frustrated to the reaction to even this new statement. What do you make of all of this?

  • SUSAN PAGE, USA Today:

    I think it's important the president made the statement he made this morning where he singled out white supremacists and the KKK and neo-Nazi groups for the violence in Charlottesville. That's an important point, as he's speaking for the nation at that point.

    But as my mom used to say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. He made that first impression on Saturday, when he seemed very reluctant to single out these groups for criticism and instead talked about violence from many sides.

    And this tweet now continues to reinforce the sense that he is at least reluctant to do that.

  • AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report:

    And this was his chance to really lance this boil. Right? It had been building up all weekend.

    It wasn't just frustration by folks on the left that he wasn't saying something. Within his own party, you had members of the Senate and leadership saying, you need to come out and say something. He makes a statement. But, once again, he turns to his ally, which is the media, his ally, his sparring partner.

    This is a president that is defined as much by his enemies as by his allies. And when the media comes and gives criticism — I think he was responding specifically to a CNN reporter who said to him, why did you not do this earlier?

    He responded back, because you're the fake news, and then there was a sort of back and forth between the two of them.

    So, I think it was in direct response to that. But, again, in the whole, it is the president at his most comfortable when he's sparring with the media, even at a time when the focus should be on what happened in Charlottesville.

  • JOHN YANG:

    This is not the — the people who organized this, this protest, or the rally in Charlottesville talked about the — named Donald Trump as part of the reason they were doing this.

    Susan, this isn't over. There are a lot of the Confederate statues around the country. Has he put this to rest at all, whether or not he is sort of encouraging or the people are taking encouragement from him?

  • SUSAN PAGE:

    Yes, a lot of them were wearing "Make America Great Again" hats. They talked about feeling emboldened by his candidacy and the fact that he won election to the White House as a new day in their efforts and in their — to their point of view.

    And there are more than 700 Confederate statues in 31 states, not just in the South, across this country. There are going to be protests. We saw protests today in Tennessee and elsewhere. There is likely to be the kind of confrontations that we saw so tragically in Charlottesville.

    How will the president respond next time? And also what will the president do in terms of policies of his administration? The fact is, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was out there much farther, leaning much more forward than the president was in talking about this as being an outrage that his Civil Rights Division would investigate.

    And the attorney general, unlike the president, called it an act of domestic terrorism.

  • JOHN YANG:

    The president — there is so much about this presidency that's unprecedented. He was the first one to declare for reelection on Inauguration Day. And this weekend, he put out a campaign ad for the 2020 election.

    Let's take a look at a little bit of it.

  • NARRATOR:

    Democrats obstructing, the media attacking our president, career politicians standing in the way of success, but President Trump's plan is working, one million jobs created, more Americans working than ever before. The president's enemies don't want him to succeed, but Americans are saying, let President Trump do his job.

  • JOHN YANG:

    Amy, every campaign tries to create a narrative. What are they trying to tell us here?

  • AMY WALTER:

    The same narrative we had throughout the 2016 campaign. Right? I'm the outsider. I'm going to come shake things up, make sure that the economy is going to get back in shape.

    Here's the thing. The economy is actually doing quite well. People feel good about the economy. The stock market is doing well. Unemployment is low. And yet the president's approval rating now in the latest Gallup poll is at its lowest ever it's ever been. He's down to 34 percent in their latest poll, somewhere around in the mid to upper 30s in other polls.

    So, a strong economy hasn't translated into support for this president. He needs to get the focus back on those things. The problem, of course, is that he takes himself off-message every day, whether it's the tweets, whether it's the controversies.

    And he's also, in this ad, this isn't about 2020. This is about trying to get his approval ratings up. They have been slipping with his partisan, with his supporters, Republicans. You have seen a little dip in support there. Independents, the bottom has dropped out among those voters.

    So trying to remind people, OK, remember, you voted for me because I was going to come here and shake things up and things are going to be better for you. Let's focus on that.

  • SUSAN PAGE:

    This is a real sign of weakness on the part of president that he feels the need to start airing 30-second ads six months into his first term.

    And the president has always had a solidify-the-base theory of life. He's never tried to reach out to the voters who didn't support him. But he has seen some erosion in his base. He got 46 percent of the vote. He's down to 34 percent in the Gallup poll.

    We have a panel of Trump voters we have gone back to four times this year, most recently just in the last few days. For the first time in this latest round of interviews, we found Trump voters saying, I still approve of him, but — I still approve of him, but I'm concerned about this. I still approve of him, but why did lose on health care?

    For the first time, we're seeing the beginning of concerns and caveats on the part of these solid Trump voters from before. And I think that's why they felt they needed to run that ad.

  • JOHN YANG:

    Tomorrow, we have got a special election in Alabama to fill the Senate seat that Jeff Sessions left.

    It's a crowded Republican primary. Both Mitch McConnell and President Trump have endorsed one of the candidates. And you would think that would be the end of it. But that candidate, Luther Strange, the senator who was appointed to fill the seat, is having trouble just staying in second place to making it into a runoff.

    What is going on here, Amy?

  • AMY WALTER:

    Yes.

    Well, this is a contest right now in Alabama between who can love Donald Trump the most and hate Mitch McConnell the most and hate leadership and the establishment the most?

    So, Luther Strange has that strange combination — no pun intended — of being supported by both the insider and the outsider, but even that's not enough. Trump's endorsement was pretty recent.

    What his opponents in this primary are doing is attacking Luther Strange and Republicans writ large, the Republicans in Washington being part of the swamp, right?

    Look, this isn't new, attacking the establishment inside a Republican primary. This has been going on since the Tea Party. What's different, of course, is that they now have a Republican president.

    And I think many Republicans thought that having a Republican president would kind of quell all of the factions within the Republican Party, they were no longer going to be fighting amongst themselves. Obviously hasn't done that.

  • SUSAN PAGE:

    Voters are clearly ready to continue to be disruptive.

  • AMY WALTER:

    Yes.

  • SUSAN PAGE:

    The idea that Roy Moore is clearly — we think he's probably going to win this primary, but maybe not. The hope is only to hold him below 50 percent so he doesn't get the nomination without a runoff.

    That is a sign that voters continue to be willing to say, we're not going to pay any attention to the advice of people in charge. We still want to shake things up.

  • JOHN YANG:

    Susan Page, Amy Walter, Politics Monday, thank you very much.

  • SUSAN PAGE:

    Thank you.

  • AMY WALTER:

    You're welcome.

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