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Why the electability equation isn’t yet on voters’ minds

Are the summer surges enjoyed by Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders a sign of real political momentum, or just a passing fancy for voters? Judy Woodruff talks with Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR about Trump’s official stance on immigration and whether talk of Hillary Clinton’s emails is drowning out her campaign.

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    Well, as candidates walk the midway in Iowa — and we just watched it — we know they also are making some national moves.

    Among them, Donald Trump released his first national policy paper yesterday, on immigration.

    It sounds like a perfect time for Politics Monday.

    Joining us this week are Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and reporter Tamara Keith of NPR.

    So, go, Gwen.

  • AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report:

    Yes. So fun.


    She was there talking to Bernie Sanders in the middle of the crowd.

    But what do you make, Amy, of this notion? We're talking about a summer political romance, that it's going to fade by the time fall and especially winter rolls around and people actually go to vote for Sanders and Trump? But how do we know these two men don't have staying power?


    There is something to that. We don't know that.

    But we can look back at history, and you see summer is for dating, and winter is for mating, Okay, if we want to think of it in those ways…




    … which, is if you look at where we were at this point in 2011, or even a little bit later in the season, you still had a large percentage of voters who, not only were they undecided, but they were saying that, you know, electability isn't the most important issue for me. The issues are — how the candidates stand on the issues is the most important or their personality is most important.

    As you got closer and closer to the election, you saw electability becoming a more important factor. And I — so we know, in past races, that's going to be true. I think the stronger that Hillary Clinton looks or the stronger that the possibility of Republicans not winning the White House, the more electability becomes important to voters as they start to go to the polls.


    So, Tamara, if you ask Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump, they are going to say they do have electability. So how do we know they're wrong?


    We don't necessarily know that we're wrong — they are wrong.

    You know, it's that summer loving. You don't know in the midst of it whether it is the real deal or whether it's just a summer fling. But, you know, as Amy has said, ask President Michele Bachmann. Really, with Iowa, typically, it's all about timing your peak. A lot of candidates have timed their peak just right, people like John Kerry or Rick Santorum, who were just sort of plodding along, and then they just hit it right at the right moment.


    And the electability question is not so much about, are they going to win the Republican nomination? But Donald Trump's disapproval ratings among regular voters is off the charts.

    So the idea of him being the standard-bearer for the party is going to be a consideration as we go through the process.


    Well, one thing he is doing clearly to get himself taken more seriously is, he started to release a policy paper. He put one out over the weekend, yesterday on "Meet the Press," on immigration. And let's look at what the basic elements of it are. He would force Mexicans to pay for a wall, a big — he says a huge wall at the border. There would be no more automatic birthright citizenship. There's a big controversy about that, because there is language to that in the Constitution. And, finally, he would step up the deportation of all undocumented residents, adults and children.

    So, Tamara, you know, what is this — this is a pretty — this is the most conservative position, we think, for all the Republicans, 17 Republicans running. What does it mean? Is this — is it smart for him politically, and what does it mean for the other candidates he's running against?


    He's also saying that he would seize remittances.

    So, these are the payments that people here in this country send back to their families in Mexico. That would be hugely unpopular with a lot of people who actually vote here in this country. So it is a very conservative policy. But it is also bringing along other candidates. Scott Walker has said, well, I didn't read what Trump put out, but it seems like we're in line with each other.

    Rick Santorum is going to come out with a policy later this week. Ben Carson is now going on a tour of the border later this week. So Donald Trump, by releasing this position paper, is in some ways guiding the conversation, at least for that portion of the Republican field.


    Moving them to the right, good for the party? I mean, what…


    Well, I think the dividing line has been there now for a while with Republicans. And that's what makes this fight so fascinating right now, the primary fight, that is, because you do have two very distinct camps here in the Republican Party, one that says, we need to broaden our base, we need to make sure we don't alienate Latinos, fastest growing group of voters, another side saying, we need to stick very strongly on immigration reform, we can't cede any ground.

    Donald Trump now is in the 'we're not going to cede any ground' category, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, John Kasich over in the don't cede any ground — I mean — sorry — into the more compromised position. That is going to be more popular in general election, not as popular in a primary election.

    The issue for Donald Trump, of course, is all those things that you just said, Judy. None of those are going to happen. They are not plausible. They're not possible. It will not — it cannot happen. But that doesn't matter. Politically speaking, it cannot happen. But, for Republican primary voters, those are issues that resonate.


    All right.

    Speaking of issues and whether they resonate, Hillary Clinton, today, it was disclosed in a filing, a court filing by the State Department that they have now identified as many as 300 of Hillary Clinton's e-mails that were in question, part of this whole server controversy that could, could — not do, but could contain classified information.

    Now, this weekend, Tamara, Hillary Clinton was joking at one point, talking about having a new Snapchat account and saying you know, it's great, because those messages disappear right away.

    Is it smart for her to be joking about this? Is this something that we think could hurt her or not?


    This is absolutely something that is nagging on her campaign.

    You know, every week, she releases new policy proposals, and every week, there is a new story about the e-mails that in many ways overshadows it. If you were just like a casual observer, not really paying attention, not reading editorial — board editorials, you would think that Hillary Clinton's entire campaign was about her e-mail server and the problems with the e-mail server.

    And you wouldn't know about her education policy proposal. You wouldn't know about this town hall that she had about drug addiction and how she thinks that's going to be a big issue in her campaign. You just wouldn't know because it is constantly getting drowned out by the e-mails.


    And you have Joe Biden now serious — reliably reported seriously thinking about running.


    Well, and this is — another issue here is that, while Hillary Clinton is being nagged by this issue — and there is no doubt that this is going to be an issue in the general election — it's not at this point hurting her among primary voters.

    Her support among Democrats is as rock-solid today as it was last month, as it was two months ago. There is not a natural opening right now for Joe Biden. And that is going to have to be a very big concern for him.


    So, separating what's real, what is a real worry and what isn't. But he is…


    But there is a real worry. I think the real worry for the Democrats is, this isn't just a scandal that is sort of a nagging thing, that there is an actual, real, honest-to-goodness — whether it's a smoking gun, or investigation, legal problem that could make her unelectable in the fall. And there is not a second choice right now for Democrats.


    And it's not wrapping up any time soon.


    There is no wrapping up.


    And the e-mails will keep coming out for the next many, many months, never mind any sort of controversy that blows up around them.


    Politics Monday.

    Tamara Keith, Amy Walter, great to have you both. Thank you.


    Thanks, Judy.



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