The GOP presidential candidates are looking for changes to the primary race debates, but can the campaigns agree on tweaks? Gwen Ifill sits down with Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR to discuss what’s at stake for different camps, why Jeb Bush is trying to reboot his campaign, plus Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders’ first TV ad.
But, first, Republican campaigns are making debate demands. Jeb Bush goes for a reboot. And Bernie Sanders joins the ad wars. It's Politics Monday.
As always, I'm joined by Tamara Keith of NPR and Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report.
Let's start with the debate over debates. Why talk about the issues when you can talk about the debates?
The latest thing that has happened is the candidates' representatives met and they tried to come up with a common deal that they were going to present to the networks and say, this is the way these debates ought to go, no lightning rounds, no show of hands, that sort of thing, except that Donald Trump threw a little spanner in the works, Amy.
AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report:
Yes, what a surprise.
Donald Trump, I don't know if you knew he wrote this book called "The Art of the Deal," says, I'm going to negotiate my own deal. I'm not going to sign on a letter with 15 other candidates.
And this gets to the heart of it, right, which is, debates, doesn't matter, this year, last year, last cycle, 100 years ago, debates are very different for very different candidates. If you're a front-running candidate, as Donald Trump is, as Ben Carson is, you don't like debates, because it puts the target right on you, it puts the focus on you, there is a lot of pressure on you.
If you are a candidate who is struggling to get name I.D., if you're trying to break through, you love debates, because it may be the only opportunity you get in front of the public. This is why John Kasich's campaign says, we're not signing onto this. Carly Fiorina campaigns said, we're not signing onto this. Chris Christie's campaign said, we're fine with the way debates are.
So, there we go.
So, what we had in this week was a debate over not — the debates, but also over the moderators, which is not — also not a brand-new thing. This has been — putting aside for a moment whether CNBC did the job they could have done, the moderators are often the targets.
TAMARA KEITH, NPR:
There is a history of going after the liberal media elites or going after the moderator or complaining about the questions or how much time you're getting right in the middle of the debate and after the debate.
I think what we should talk about though is that this letter that that maybe is falling apart, this effort for campaigns to negotiate directly with the networks is actually trying to take it back to the way it was in 2012 and 2008, when the networks would go to the candidates and say, we would like to have a debate, let's talk.
What happened this time is, the Republican Party, the RNC was trying to protect the candidates from the mess that was the debates in 2012. They were trying to create a system that would protect the candidates. And now the candidates are saying, this protection you offered, we don't know if we like it either.
It should be said that a lot of the things in this letter look a lot like the kind of guarantees that you get in the general election debates, whether there are reverse shots, whether — this is not all brand-new. This question is whether these guys can all agree.
In the general election debates, there are just two camps that have to agree.
I want to ask a little bit about Jeb Bush. It's generally agreed, even he says he didn't do as well as he could have in this debate.
Let's listen to what he had to say today on his new reboot. He went to Tampa, Florida.
JEB BUSH, Republican Presidential Candidate:
Take off the suit coat, ditch the glasses, get rid of the purple striped tie.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
I like the tie. I like this tie. It only costs 20 bucks.
Some advice is more strategic. Nail that zinger, be angrier, hide your inner wonk.
I can't be something I'm not.
The campaign trail is littered with candidates disguised as television critics, politicians echoing poll-tested pabulum, but leadership is something far different.
I especially liked the lady with the Jeb sticker on her forehead.
That would be hard to get off.
Well, there was a lot of — well, that was enthusiastic and there was a lot of enthusiasm in that room. And that is what he was going for, I take it.
Well, and he had enthusiasm in the room.
Enthusiasm on the Internet, not so much. You saw there this Jeb can fix it. It became a hashtag. They wanted it to be a hashtag. I don't know that what the campaign wanted is what they got, which is people on the Internet sort of making fun of Jeb Bush all day. This is his relaunch and people are there on Twitter saying, #JebBushcanfixit with all kinds of goofy Photoshops.
Jeb Bush told our buddy Chuck Todd at NBC over the weekend that he's a grinder, which is not quite the same thing as being a joyful candidate.
Well, that is very true.
And the problem for Jeb Bush is not his glasses or his tie or his suit jacket. It's his last name, which he can't do anything about, and it's his message, which just isn't with the time that we're in.
Look, this has been a problem from the very beginning. Voters have said we don't like — Republican voters — we don't like the idea of a Bush name. They don't like the legacy thing. They think he's part of this dynasty. So, he's already working on that.
Then his message — he says that his message is, I'm a fixer, I'm a doer, I have experience. If you look at the most recent poll that came out from Pew Research, they asked Republican primary voters, do you want somebody who's been experienced or do you want somebody who is new and fresh and has new ideas?
The experienced, proven candidate, only 29 percent of Republicans wanted that; 65 percent of Republicans said they wanted somebody new and different. So he's selling something that right now voters aren't saying that they want.
Let's turn to the Democrats for a moment, because we have seen Bernie Sanders hired a pollster.
This is their outsider. Hired a pollster and has also put out his first biographical ad in which he tells you a little about his background. And he uses the TIME magazine cover in which he says, socialists — call himself a socialist.
And he's trying to tell people what, Tamara?
First, he is trying to tell people that he's something of an unconventional candidate.
That's what I get from this ad. The tone is very different from sort of gauzy bio ads where you get to know the candidate. There is sort of at hyper-speed. This is all you need to know about 40 years of Bernie Sanders.
You notice the long, lingering shot on Martin Luther King. He's definitely sending a signal there. He was all in with the civil rights movement. He wants people to know that. And then at the end of the ad, there are these sweeping images of him surrounded by these massive crowds and there's the energy that he's been generating all over the country, and also a tag line that says something like an honest leader, which, although he isn't explicitly making a contrast, certainly, Hillary Clinton has had some issues in the polls with honesty and trustworthy issues.
Is he making an appeal for Hillary Clinton's voters, or is he trying to do what they always say they are going to do, which is energize a brand-new class of voter?
No, he needs to introduce himself to people that don't know him very well. This was definitely about going for those voters that are very unaware of who Bernie Sanders is, and specifically voters who are African-American, voters who are Latino.
If you noticed, the introduction, he remarks on the fact that his parent, his father was an immigrant to this country, the fact that they're trying to make him a three-dimensional character. He is a granddad, he's a father, he's more than just the caricature we saw on "Saturday Night Live" who likes to pound on the podium. There's much more there.
He knows he needs to broaden his appear beyond just a white liberal base. This was trying to get beyond that in the Democratic primary.
It's almost like he takes Hillary Clinton's one grandchild and multiplies it by…
By seven, and makes the point that if you like that about her, you will like all of this about me, too.
Is she reacting in any way that we know or is she just staying low?
She's staying low, I think.
However, there's a new Web ad where — or not Web ad, but Web video on Facebook where she's talking about her granddaughter, Charlotte, who learned how to say grandma.
I get the feeling we're going to be hearing a lot about Charlotte as the campaign goes on.
It won't be the last time.
Tamara Keith, Amy Walter, thank you both very much.
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