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How will gay marriage play as a GOP campaign issue for 2016?

Gwen Ifill talks to Tamara Keith of NPR and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report about Republicans’ reactions to the debate on gay marriage, whether questions about foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation has become a liability for Hillary Clinton, and whether Jeb Bush’s last name is a problem for his presidential campaign.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    Republican presidential candidates campaigning in Iowa this weekend were also drawn into the gay marriage debate, while the leading Democrat coped with problems of her own.

    It's Politics Monday, and we turn now to Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR.

    It was at the Faith and Freedom Summit in Iowa that we saw this, this weekend. Let's — I call, by the way, tonight's edition the betwixt and between edition. You will see why.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Everybody caught between a rock and a hard place.

    Let's listen first to what some of the members — the candidates for president had to say this weekend in Iowa about this issue.

    SEN. MARCO RUBIO, (R) Florida: In this whole debate about the definition of marriage, I remind everyone that marriage as an institution that existed before even government itself, that the institution of marriage as one man and one woman existed before our laws existed.

    GOV. BOBBY JINDAL, (R) Louisiana: I believe in traditional marriage between a man and a woman. And unlike President Obama and Secretary Clinton, the governor of Louisiana's views, my views, they're not evolving with the times.

    GOV. SCOTT WALKER, (R) Wisconsin: Marriage is a decision that should be defined by our state governments, not at the federal level. And in Wisconsin and other places across the country, marriage is defined between one man and one woman, and states should be the ones that make that decision.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    This is an unavoidable debate this year, isn't it, Tamara?

  • TAMARA KEITH, NPR:

    Absolutely.

    And, of course, the Supreme Court, as we just saw, is taking this up tomorrow. So, and there will be a decision that will then also be debated. These candidates have been asked whether they would go to a gay wedding. They were at this evangelical conference. And so, of course, they had to talk about gay marriage.

    And they are, as you say, betwixt and between. The general election electorate, something like 59 percent of Americans now support gay marriage, but among Republican primary voters, it's something more like 29 percent. And so they're trying to figure out how to appeal to those people who could get them out of the primary and into the general, while also not completely potentially alienating everyone who is voting later.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Case in point, Amy, Ted Cruz, who took a picture, went to an event with a gay hotel owner, a very famous guy, Ian — his name is escaping me — in New York. Anyway, he got immediate criticism from the gay community for even having hosted Ted Cruz.

  • AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report:

    And he, this hotel owner, ended up going on to Facebook and apologizing, saying now, once I found out, boy, I didn't know what this guy's positions were, which is kind of amazing.

    If you bring a presidential candidate to your home, you might want to know what their positions are on issues that are important to you.

    And so that becomes really the question here, which is the balancing act that Republican candidates are taking now in a primary vs. what they are going to talk about in a general election. But I think most of them — there are a couple of exceptions — are trying to deemphasize this issue.

    They were at a Faith and Freedom Conference. This was evangelicals. They're going to talk about marriage being between a man and woman. But I think, once you get to the general election, this is not an issue that they are going to talk about.

    The bigger issue, too, this is a party, we have talked a lot about diversity. Right? They know that they need to branch out from just winning over white voters. They have got to get minority. They also have to get younger voters. And this is a generational issue. Even among Republicans who are younger, this is an issue that they support.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Betwixt and between. Here is my theme again.

    Let's talk about Hillary Clinton, who, of course, this weekend or in the last several days has come under a lot of criticism for the way the Clinton Foundation has handled or has accepted money. And after saying last week, all of last week, this is kind of a plot by a right-wing author to bring me down, the foundation came out with a statement this weekend.

    Actually, they called it a commitment to honesty, transparency, and accountability. And they said: "So, yes, we made mistakes, but we are acting quickly to remedy them and have taken steps to ensure they don't happen in the future."

    What does that mean, Tamara?

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    It's all over.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Oh, well, fine.

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    Well, I'm surprised that they didn't say, mistakes were made. They actually said, we made mistakes.

    I think that the challenge here for Hillary Clinton is that in some ways she would love to talk about the good works that the foundation has done or she would love to just sit in coffee shops and talk to real Americans or hand-selected real Americans.

    But, instead, they're having to answer for accounting issues with the foundation or questions about whether the Clintons enriched themselves through their foundation. And that really feeds that narrative that — the narrative that they aren't of the people.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Everyday Americans know, huh?

  • AMY WALTER:

    The everyday American slogan.

    And what people — what voters are even more frustrated about, about Washington, it's dysfunctional. But they believe that people in Washington who are here as elected officials are using that position to get themselves wealthy, and that they're wealthy and out of touch and in a bubble.

    These stories do not help Hillary Clinton change that perception. So there's the perception that, yes, there were donors giving money to get access, but more important than…

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Not proven.

  • AMY WALTER:

    Not proven.

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    Not proven.

  • AMY WALTER:

    This is all just appearance, but the appearance that you have a charity that's doing good works, but at the same time the donors to that charity are paying you and your husband to speak, hundreds of thousands of dollars to speak to their groups. That becomes…

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Still hovers in the air.

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    That's right.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    OK. Let's get away from betwixt and between and go to rock and a hard place. That would be Jeb Bush. This is good. I have got all of these lined up.

    Jeb Bush, whose brother the former President George W. came out this weekend in a private, not for very long, meeting with some donors and basically was candid and basically saying, I'm a lodestone around my brother's neck.

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    And, yes, the Bush name…

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Pretty much.

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    Yes, pretty much.

    Perhaps stating the obvious, the Bush name is a problem for Jeb Bush, but Jeb Bush knows this and most people know this, that Americans are concerned about the dynasty thing. You go out, you talk to random people on the street and they say no more dynasties, no more Clintons, no more Bushes.

    And Jeb Bush is trying to figure out how to answer that. And his brother pointed out the problem.

  • AMY WALTER:

    And said, I won't campaign with him, just to make sure that…

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Which maybe he didn't want to do anyhow.

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    No.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    But the other thing about Jeb Bush is he was supposed to be the big elephant in the room, so to speak.

  • AMY WALTER:

    That's right. He was going to scare everybody out of this race.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    But it didn't happen.

  • AMY WALTER:

    And, notably, today, there was another story out where he is talking about the fact that the super PACs that he's raising money for right now will have more money than has ever been raised in 100 days by any presidential candidate in the history of whenever.

    And yet you're hearing more candidates still announcing that they are going to get in. Look, the fact that Barack Obama beat Hillary Clinton is giving a lot of Republicans that same sense that they can overcome what looked like a very difficult front-runner.

    And now that every other person, it seems, wants to put a super PAC together, every millionaire is going to be putting a super PAC together to help their favorite candidate, the idea that you can't raise enough money to compete individually, that is no longer such a barrier.

    And when your name is Bush and you're still only at 15 percent in the polls, you don't look as scary.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    I have officially run out of metaphors for being stuck in the middle of something, but it was valiant, I thought.

  • AMY WALTER:

    But that was quite impressive.

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    Yes.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Tamara Keith of NPR, Amy Walter of Cook Political Report, thank you both very much.

  • TAMARA KEITH:

    You're welcome.

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