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Why GOP candidates are taking different stances on national security

Our political analysts are back start the week with a 2016 campaign debrief. NPR’s White House correspondent Tamara Keith and USA Today’s Washington bureau chief Susan Page join Judy Woodruff to discuss Republican candidates in Iowa over the weekend, Hillary Clinton’s stance on voting rights and the threat that is Bernie Sanders.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The candidates for president are now crisscrossing the country by plane, truck and, as we saw this weekend, motorcycle.

    So, no better time to catch up with the fast-moving campaign and large emerging issues than Politics Monday, and our guests, Susan Page of USA Today and Tamara Keith of NPR.

    Welcome to you both.

  • TAMARA KEITH, NPR:

    Great to be here.

  • SUSAN PAGE, USA Today:

    Thank you.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, it was a busy weekend in Iowa, Tamara. We had Republicans gathering at Joni Ernst’s, what did she call it, Roast and Ride?

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    Roast and Ride, hogs and Harleys.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    A few of them were on their cycles, including I guess Governor Scott Walker and maybe Rick Perry was as well, Governor Perry, former Governor Perry. They are starting to talk more about national security.

    Are they differentiating themselves anymore on this, though?

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    I think that there are two people who are very well-differentiated.

    You have Lindsey Graham on one side, who says he would send 10,000 troops in, and you have Rand Paul on the other side, who takes more of an isolationist tack. You could say that Lindsey Graham, the senator from South Carolina, got into the race to bring this conversation, to really force that conversation and to offset what Rand Paul is talking about.

    And then you have sort of the mushy middle, where there are lots of people, lots of candidates — there are lots of candidates — and they are mostly saying Barack Obama is wrong, and we should get ISIS. But they’re not being quite as specific about what they’d do, because, it turns out, this is a tough one.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Susan, talk about it. Why are they doing it?

  • SUSAN PAGE:

    I think that we are seeing the first serious split on national security issues in the Republican Party since the Vietnam War.

    We have — before, we have had candidates like Ron Paul who would talk about withdrawing from the world, having a much more reserved attitude toward the world. But Ron Paul was never a credible nominee for president.

    Rand Paul is a credible nominee for president. And so we’re seeing that tradition in the Republican Party of having a strong on national defense, kind of a hawkish approach and assertiveness for the United States around the world being questioned by at least one major candidate this time around.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Are they doing so early because they don’t have anything else to talk about or because they really think they can help themselves with the Republican electorate?

  • SUSAN PAGE:

    Well, I think we’re in a situation where the world is in some turmoil. And Americans are aware of that. And this is not an opening just against Barack Obama — certainly it is that — but against his former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, who will have to explain and defend or distance herself from some of the things that have happened in the world during the Obama administration.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Now, Tamara, we should also point out that Scott Walker, governor of Wisconsin, is out there talking social issues in particular. He made some headlines when he said if the Supreme Court rules, which it is supposed to do this month, on same-sex marriage, and if it says that states cannot ban same-sex marriage, then he would support a constitutional amendment.

    Is this something — he is trying to — what is he saying to conservative voters, to Republican voters overall?

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    There is an audience here. That audience is social conservatives in Iowa.

    Scott Walker needs to win Iowa. Iowa is everything for Scott Walker, because then it would give him a ticket out and momentum. And social conservatives, evangelicals in Iowa have picked other people in the past. And those people running right now. And so he’s working to win those people.

    And he’s talked out something that, among social conservatives, it is a popular opinion. And they would support a constitutional amendment. But, if you look more broadly, there’s a new Pew poll out. The vast majority, 57 percent of Americans now support gay marriage, and 72 percent believe that it is inevitable that it will be legally recognized eventually. That includes Republicans who think it’s inevitable.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Big shift on this issue, Susan. What do you see Scott Walker…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • SUSAN PAGE:

    I see Scott Walker definitely following an Iowa strategy. Here are the last two winners of the Iowa caucuses on the Republican side were the most socially conservative candidates in the race, but what a risk if and when you get to a general election.

    In that same Pew poll, six in 10 Republicans under 35 support recognizing same-sex marriage. So, in a way, you really risk being out of step with a big trend that you see in American politics affecting not only Democrats and independents, but also Republicans, especially younger Republicans.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Walking such a fine line.

    Move over to the Democrats. Susan, I’m going to stay with you. Hillary Clinton, she’s got a few days before she launches her official campaign, having a big event this weekend in New York. But she’s already talking. We heard her talking in the last few days about voting rights. What kind of a strategy is that?

  • SUSAN PAGE:

    I think two-pronged.

    One is, talking about voting rights really energizes African-American voters, who feel like their voting rights are in peril. And we know that Hillary Clinton needs to do really well among African-American voters if she’s going to replicate the coalition that Barack Obama put together so successfully.

    Secondly, if you pass these voter I.D. law and affect voting even on the margins, in some big states, that could make a difference. What if we had an election like we had in 2000 and had a state like we had Florida that time? Even if voter I.D. laws affected only a very few voters, it could swing things.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    This is a tactic — I mean, they think they can’t lose on this.

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    Well, they don’t want to lose on this.

    And what did she say? Who could be against democracy or something along those lines, so she’s definitely doing this. And it’s all about the Obama coalition and not just about getting them to vote for her, but getting lots of voters to vote for her.

    She needs to do things that will energize the voters that Barack Obama energized. And there is this big outstanding question. Are they Barack Obama voters or are they Democratic voters?

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Right, which raises an interesting question, Susan, about what does she need to do this weekend when she announces?

    Meantime, Bernie Sanders is out there on the campaign trail, we hear, drawing surprisingly large crowds. But in terms of Secretary Clinton, what is it that she needs to say at this point about the rationale for her candidacy?

  • SUSAN PAGE:

    I think she needs to articulate one, a rationale that says this is my vision, this is where I want to lead the country, this is why I want to be president.

    We haven’t really heard that kind of message from her so far. Of course, it’s early, we recognize. The election is a long way away. But somebody like Bernie sanders, now, 73-year-old Democratic socialist Bernie Sanders from Vermont I think not really going to wrest the nomination away from Hillary Clinton.

    But he has exposed some weaknesses on her part, both in the connection he has made with audiences and also on the very specific and very liberal agenda he’s outlined.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    What are you seeing?

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    Yes. I think that what her campaign is saying that this speech will be the launching point for her to have a more detailed conversation about some of these very policies that Bernie Sanders has been talking about.

    So she will start getting into the details. This is also important for her to get people excited. Small chats in coffee shops with pre-selected guests don’t necessarily get people out and excited and needing to, wanting to volunteer, and she needs people to volunteer for this campaign.

    It’s going to be an organizing-based campaign, and she needs organizers, people who are going to be excited about her.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And this is one way to do that.

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    And this rally is about creating some excitement.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And, meantime, Bernie Sanders as a counterpoint makes it even more interesting.

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    Mm-hmm.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Tamara Keith, Susan Page, we thank you both.

  • SUSAN PAGE:

    Thank you.

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    You’re welcome.

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