Web Video: How the war within the GOP is energizing Democrats

Apr. 05, 2016 AT 11:01 a.m. EDT

Gwen Ifill sits down with Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR to discuss the latest in politics, including what to expect from Wisconsin’s primary, Gov. John Kasich’s refusal to quit, Sen. Bernie Sanders’s campaign mulling its mistakes and why the “thermonuclear war” within the Republican party is the best thing going for Hillary Clinton.

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

GWEN IFILL: And on the trail today, the Republican candidates jabbed at each other in the final hours before the polls open in Wisconsin.

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), Republican Presidential Candidate: When we get to the convention, they’re going to wonder, who can beat Hillary, which I consistently do and they do not. And that’s why they’re starting to trash me. They want to dirty me up, like they have dirtied themselves up.

DONALD TRUMP (R), Republican Presidential Candidate: He’s one and 30. He ought to get the hell out, honestly. He’s just like a stubborn guy. He’s stubborn. He doesn’t want to leave. They asked him the other day, are you going to leave? No, I’m not going to leave.

And let me tell you, he hurts me much more than he hurts Cruz. Cruz wants him out. Cruz is wrong.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), Republican Presidential Candidate: Our campaign still has a clear path to earning 1,237 delegates before the convention. That is our plan A. That’s what we’re focused on doing. Now, I recognize Donald wants to change the standard; he doesn’t want the standard to be who can earn a majority, because he can’t earn a majority.

GWEN IFILL: On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders touted his chances against his rival in the upcoming primaries, while Clinton focused her criticism on the Republican front-runner.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), Democratic Presidential Candidate: If we win in New York ate, between you and me, I don’t want to get Hillary Clinton more nervous than she already is.



SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: She’s already under a lot of pressure. So don’t tell her this.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: But I think, we win here, we win in New York state, we’re on our way to the White House.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), Democratic Presidential Candidate: There are people who don’t believe that the minimum wage should be raised. In fact, Donald Trump has said that wages are too high. A lot of members of his party agree. Right?

WOMAN: He’s fired.

HILLARY CLINTON: “He’s fired.” That’s funny.


GWEN IFILL: For more on what’s next on the path to the White House, we turn to Politics Monday.

That’s Tamara Keith of NPR joining us tonight from Milwaukee, and Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report.

OK, so, Amy, let’s start with this countdown to Wisconsin. What do you expect?

AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: The expectations now — and, of course, they have not always proved to be correct, but the expectations right now, Ted Cruz ahead in Wisconsin, will win Wisconsin.

And Bernie Sanders with a very narrow lead, he could still hold on to that, but it’s not going to be a blowout.

GWEN IFILL: Tam, you are in Wisconsin tonight. What’s it look like there?

TAMARA KEITH, NPR: Well, there is a little snow falling. And I have been to a couple of Bernie Sanders events in the last couple of days where they had a bigger venue than they ultimately needed.

There was an event at a big basketball arena last night. It holds 17,000 people. About 5,000 showed up. Tonight, he was supposed to be in another big basketball arena here in Milwaukee, and they moved the event to nearby convention center.

Now, part of that may also be that Donald Trump has a rally very nearby and they wanted to get a little bit more separation.

GWEN IFILL: It’s really hard to tell anymore from crowd sizes, because he has been getting — incredible crowd sizes rule the day.

TAMARA KEITH: Crowd sizes — the other thing to point out, Bernie Sanders gets 4,000 people, and that is considered disappointing. Hillary Clinton gets 2,300, and that is a really big rally for Hillary Clinton.

GWEN IFILL: So let’s talk about the Republicans for a moment. Donald Trump is goading John Kasich to quit. Why won’t he?

AMY WALTER: I think John Kasich really believes in what he said in that clip, which is: At the end of the day you have two very damaged candidates who are either trailing Hillary Clinton by a great deal, which is Donald Trump, or tied with Hillary Clinton and has very high negatives. I do not. And I will look like a much better candidate come July, and people will turn to me because they will see the other two can’t win.

The problem with that is two things. One, what Republican primary voters have said throughout this primary is, we may not all agree on the same candidate, but one thing that 60-plus percent of voters have said so far is, we don’t want somebody who is considered an establishment or an insider. Kasich fits into the establishment insider category.

And the other thing that they have been looking for is somebody who is going to shake up the system. John Kasich, not somebody who is going to shake up the system. So it’s very difficult for me to believe that, even if it gets very messy, which it’s going to be, much messier, by the time we get to the convention, Kasich still has a very difficult path ahead of him to be seen as the person who would be picked.

GWEN IFILL: And, Tam, Ted Cruz has turned almost exclusively to delegate-hunting.


And, you know, one fascinating thing watching TV here in Wisconsin is that Ted Cruz is running an attack ad against John Kasich. So, Kasich is right that they are going after him. Ted Cruz is saying, well, maybe we could still get to the magic number, but more likely he just wants to prevent Donald Trump from getting that number.

GWEN IFILL: And one thing layered over all of this, of course, Amy, is that Donald Trump — and we’re getting — we’re seeing more and more evidence of this every day — is massively unpopular in the fall.

AMY WALTER: Is massively unpopular, and it doesn’t seem to matter right now with Republican primary voters.


AMY WALTER: And, in fact, Gwen, I have been talking about this for some time about his liabilities, and yet what Republicans, a lot of primary voters are saying, they do still believe that is he electable and it’s important for them to send a message.

Look, a lot of Republicans said, you know what, in the last two elections, you guys in the media and the establishment said you have to support John McCain and Mitt Romney because they are the winnable candidates. Yes, they may be too moderate, yes, they may be too establishment for you, but these are the only people that can win. And then they both went on to lose.

And so a lot of Republican primary voters say, who are you to say who is electable? You have been wrong every other time. I think that this is the more electable candidate. And dissuading them from that point of view is going to be very difficult.

GWEN IFILL: Tam, let’s turn back to the Democrats for a moment.

There was a remarkable story this morning in The New York Times which read a lot like the kinds of stories you read after a campaign is over in which the Bernie Sanders folks were openly on the record mulling over all the mistakes they have made so far, if we had gone after her harder in Iowa, if only we had done this in New Hampshire.

Does that change — is that an admission of some kind?

TAMARA KEITH: It was sort of a premortem postmortem.

And Bernie Sanders is saying and his campaign staff, not in that article, but in other venues, are saying, absolutely, we still believe we have a path.

I think that some of the campaign staff have said for a long time that they wish that he had gone after her, that he hadn’t let her off the hook on the e-mails, that he had started talking about the speeches at Goldman Sachs and other companies sooner.

But Bernie Sanders didn’t in part because Bernie Sanders believes that his brand is his integrity. His brand is not doing the personal attacks in that way. And in recent days, he has — he has been going less hard on Hillary Clinton, though today he did mention Wall Street fund-raisers.

But he has — in some ways, it almost seems like his heart has never quite been in the attack mode.

GWEN IFILL: But I should say he is outraising her by a lot, fund-raising.

TAMARA KEITH: Forty-four million dollars, he raised in March alone, mostly from small-dollar contributions, people giving again and again.

Hillary Clinton’s numbers are just out today, and it was $29.5 million in the same month. So, Bernie Sanders is outspending her significantly, which means he’s not going anywhere. The premortem postmortem was a little bit early. Bernie Sanders can stay in this campaign, can keep running ads, outspending her on television ads, all the way to the California primary on June 6.

GWEN IFILL: And scuff her up a bit.

AMY WALTER: Well, maybe.

But I still think, when you look at her numbers, she is still popular among Democrats. She and Bernie Sanders are equally popular. In fact, they both have approval ratings among Democrats in the 70s. Democratic primary voters, even in Wisconsin, the latest poll that we saw out of Wisconsin, who are voting for Bernie Sanders also believe that Hillary Clinton is ultimately going to be the nominee.

At the end of the day, the best thing going for Hillary Clinton right now is Donald Trump. And Donald Trump is doing more to motivate the kinds of voters that Hillary Clinton needs to turn out in November than anything she could do on her own.

There is a skirmish going on right now on the Democratic side between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders on some issues and over this fight about delegates. But on the Republican side, there is an actual, like, thermonuclear war.

GWEN IFILL: But why is she leapfrogging to New York? She seems to be spending more time campaigning there than in Wisconsin, and that is next week.

AMY WALTER: That’s next week. And she wants to be able to point an exclamation point on her delegate lead.

She is still in the catbird seat. She’s still on track for the nomination based on the delegate count. The only way for Sanders to catch up is to win Wisconsin by a huge percentage, and then to defeat her in New York. Again, he would have to beat her by a big percentage.

If she wins New York by a big margin, the delegate numbers just simply aren’t going to add up for Bernie Sanders. But, at the end of the day, as I said, I don’t think this is a fight that is problematic for the ultimate Democratic nominee. It’s the fight that is going on, on the Republican side that is helping energize Democrats.

The fact that this fight has not been bloody and messy, like it has been on the Republican side, is a good thing for Democrats. And, quite frankly, for Hillary Clinton to hone in on the message that Bernie Sanders has raised about income inequality, stagnant middle class, is going to be important for her to have throughout the fall.

GWEN IFILL: Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report, and Tamara Keith of NPR out there in Milwaukee in the snow, thank you both very much.


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