Web Video: Why is there no GOP establishment frontrunner?

Oct. 27, 2015 AT 11 a.m. EDT

As Donald Trump ramp ups rhetoric against Ben Carson, Jeb Bush seems to be scaling down his campaign. Meanwhile, the Democratic field is down to three candidates. Gwen Ifill speaks to Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR about the current campaign landscape and Joe Biden’s decision not to run.

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Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

GWEN IFILL: So what better time for Politics Monday with Tamara Keith of NPR and Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report?

Let’s start by talking about Donald Trump and Ben Carson, who, it appears, are now about to go after each other because — and let’s take a look at the poll numbers, which explains why — all of a sudden, they’re tied — or I should say Ben Carson is surging in Iowa. The latest Des Moines Register poll has him at 28 percent, Donald Trump at 19 percent.

And in New Hampshire, the latest CBS poll has him at — has Donald Trump at 38 percent and Carson at 12 percent.

Donald Trump, Amy, when he’s asked about these polls — he likes to talk about polls.

AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: He loves talking about the polls.

GWEN IFILL: He now thinks that the polls, especially the one in Iowa, where he’s trailing, might be wrong.

AMY WALTER: Well, of course, because how could he possibly not be in first place?

Well, I think we are now at sort of the new stage here in this campaign, where we know we still have a very strong group of Republican primary voters looking for an outsider. They liked Trump earlier this summer. As we have moved on into the fall, you can already start to feel that he may have, reality show lingo here, jumped the shark a little bit. Here’s starting to wear a little bit thin.

GWEN IFILL: I have heard this before, Amy.

AMY WALTER: I know. Hey, listen, here’s what I will say to you.


AMY WALTER: This isn’t indicative of everything, but sitting in — both looking at data from Iowa, listening to some Republican voters in a focus group last week, they still like Donald Trump.

Let’s be very clear. He still has a very important place in this primary field. But what you can start to hear from voters, from Republican primary voters, is, I don’t know about the temperament. I don’t know if I trust him in that job, hence the rise of Ben Carson, who is the exact opposite in temperament.

GWEN IFILL: Let’s talk about Ben Carson’s temperament. Very calm. He will admit to you he is a very calm person, which, of course, is what Donald Trump was talking about. But he said some very strong things this weekend.

He said that abortion is like slavery. He has been very definitive in his conservative views. Do people like him? I mean, what explains, I guess, the surge in Iowa?

TAMARA KEITH, NPR: I think that a lot of people who you talk to about why they like Ben Carson actually like that he’s quiet, that he’s not this bomb thrower, though the interesting thing is that a lot of the things he says, some of the analogies he makes to Nazism and some other things are pretty inflammatory, but he says it very quietly. Sort of a doctor voice,

GWEN IFILL: A lot of people agree with his analogies.

TAMARA KEITH: Yes. And there have been some numbers out there showing that people agree with what he’s saying.

AMY WALTER: Republican primary voters.

TAMARA KEITH: Yes, Republicans.


TAMARA KEITH: And we’re talking about Republican primary voters. We’re also talking in Iowa about a state that is heavily evangelical in the primary. And he is appealing to that sort of very — he’s a very religious person.

GWEN IFILL: Let’s talk about Jeb Bush, because the last time Donald Trump accused someone of being low-energy, it kind of worked. And Donald Trump and Jeb Bush have seen the altitude going out of his balloon ever since.

Is he pulling back or he is just reorganizing himself?

AMY WALTER: It is remarkable, I think, in this race, not so much that there is an outsider energy fueling these two candidates, Carson and Trump.

What I think is the most remarkable thing on the Republican side is the vacuum on the so-called establishment side, that no candidate — we thought it was going to be Jeb Bush. He hasn’t lived up to expectations, and no one else has been able to sort of get in that lane as the front-runner on the establishment side to match up against the front-runner on the non-establishment side.

So, Jeb Bush, apparently, they spent the weekend in Houston with big donors trying to assure them that everything is fine, we got this all under control.

But it’s really clear that the problem for Jeb Bush is, one, he hasn’t been a particularly strong candidate, and, number two, he has a message that is not the right message for this moment. He is an establishment candidate who is talking about his record and his accomplishments as governor, when Republican primary voters want an outsider and somebody who is going to shake up the system.

GWEN IFILL: So, obviously, there are other Republicans who see an opportunity here, among them, say, Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio.

TAMARA KEITH : Yes. And Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are going for sort of different people.

But in the betting markets, Marco Rubio is on the rise. Marco Rubio in these markets of people who sort of look at the odds in a sort of outsider way, his stock has risen. He is now higher than Jeb Bush. And he has been building an organization, the same thing very much true with Ted Cruz, who has an organization. He has people text in.

And he even has an app. He is very serious about building an organization. And as things start to settle out and — his plan is, as things settle out and Donald Trump loses some of that…

GWEN IFILL: Those same people.

TAMARA KEITH: … those people will go to Ted Cruz.

GWEN IFILL: To Ted Cruz.

Let’s talk about the Democrats, a big weekend. Do you remember, in 2007, Barack Obama went to the Jefferson Jackson Day Dinner in Des Moines, broke out, and next thing you know he had overwhelmed Hillary Clinton and won Iowa?

Did anybody break out this weekend?


AMY WALTER: No. No, this was not…

TAMARA KEITH: This is not 2007.

AMY WALTER: This was not 2007.

There wasn’t a breakout. But, listen, there was a change. And you saw in Bernie Sanders that night on Saturday night in Des Moines a more pointed criticism of Hillary Clinton than we have seen before. Now, he didn’t use her name.

GWEN IFILL: Which you’re not allowed to, I think, at this dinner.

AMY WALTER: That’s probably true.

AMY WALTER: So, it was still a — it was subtle.

But what he was saying, what his message is, not only I am the candidate that is talking about income inequality and making that the centerpiece of my campaign, but I was there first on issues that are important to progressives, and I have been there when it’s not convenient, Iraq, Defense of Marriage Act and on trade.

GWEN IFILL: And Hillary Clinton responded, following him, by throwing her arms around Barack Obama and saying, I’m the Democrat’s Democrat.

TAMARA KEITH: Absolutely.

She — and she had people there with thunder sticks, and she — she learned her lesson from 2007, which was Barack Obama basically out-organized her and put on a better show, and she wasn’t going to go into that without putting on quite a show.

There was a sea of blue glow sticks for Hillary Clinton. She did make one remark that was like a little dig at Bernie Sanders, where she said, you know, people say I’m shouting too much on guns, which is actually an issue that’s sort of the toughest issue for Bernie. Well, you know, people often think women are shouting. It was sort of a…

GWEN IFILL: Lots of gender references.

TAMARA KEITH: Yes, there was a lot. She is — Hillary Clinton is definitely running as a woman in a way that she didn’t last time around.

GWEN IFILL: Let’s talk about Joe Biden.

We watched him last night on “60 Minutes.” He gave another one of those emotional interviews. But he also said some pretty interesting things about why he chose not to run, in particular his assessment of and Jill — Dr. Jill Biden’s assessment of Hillary Clinton.


And, look, I think what he said, quite simply, “I didn’t think I could win,” although the biggest thing I took out from this interview was, this was much more of an emotional than a logical decision. This wasn’t about campaign finance, as much as it was about a grieving father. And, look…

GWEN IFILL: He talked about his granddaughter saying, “Pop, don’t go away.”

AMY WALTER: Right, tearing up while — you had to tear up when you listened to him talk about that.

And it was really clear that, no matter — if he wanted to do this, and it’s that he was running against a calendar that wasn’t going to help him, new filing deadlines were coming, fund-raising was going to be very difficult. And, fundamentally, in order to beat Hillary Clinton, he was going to have to take the case to Hillary Clinton. She wasn’t just going to collapse.

And when you hear people around Joe Biden, they talk about him, they say he was never going to be that candidate who was going to directly at her.

GWEN IFILL: What struck you the most?

TAMARA KEITH: Oh, that moment that you talked about, too. It was just — it was so emotional.

And, also, I think that he was watching the reports, that he was paying attention to what we were saying about whether he was going to run or not.

TAMARA KEITH: He was annoyed by it. And he thought, they’re all getting it wrong, because, apparently, he hadn’t made up his mind.

GWEN IFILL: And so he decided to get it right. It was a very effective and interesting way to do it.


Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, thank you all.

GWEN IFILL: Go have some meat.


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