Clip: Biden’s and Trump’s electoral weaknesses and strengths

Mar. 01, 2024 AT 8:45 p.m. EST

Both President Biden and former President Trump won their respective primaries on Tuesday, but the results revealed vulnerabilities in their 2024 bids for the White House. The panel looks at Biden’s and Trump’s electoral weaknesses and strengths heading into November.

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

Jeffrey Goldberg: The Supreme Court obviously this week cut Donald Trump a pretty good break by taking on the immunity case and they're going to hear it in April and probably not rule until June. This is a legacy of McConnell.

What does it mean for the many different criminal charges, many different criminal cases that Donald Trump could be facing before the election?

Adam Harris, Staff Writer, The Atlantic: Yes. Well, there's still -- of course, there are the multiple cases that are working their way through. But, effectively, what the court has done here is just delay this process as long as it practically could.

And for the former president, you know, like you said, it's a gift. People have consistently told pollsters that they would be more willing to vote for the former president if it was just an indictment rather than a full-on conviction.

And so by delaying this process, there is the real chance that none of these cases are decided by the time we get to November. And if he's on the ballot and he's not a convicted former president, but rather just an indicted former president, you know --

Jeffrey Goldberg: I think that used to be called the soft bigotry of low expectations or something. I know there's something related.

But, Ed, go to -- stay on this point just for a second. How do you assess the chances that, I mean, obviously, President Trump is trying to avoid being a convicted felon in November, right? Significant chance now that he managed to avoid that?

Ed O'Keefe: Well, yes, but he will spend so many weeks or months potentially in courtrooms over the next several months. And we've never seen that. And we don't know what that starts to do to erode or improve his public perception. He's got this New York hush money case starting at the end of this month. There is still the classified documents case, which based on the special counsel's request could start as soon as July. So, maybe right after the Supreme Court decision, they go down to Florida to start that one. There is the January 6th one, which is probably the biggest and now the one that's most delayed.

And what I don't understand is how logistically, physically, financially can he go week to week from a courtroom to a battleground state and back in the same night and keep that up and somehow maintain momentum, raise money and maintain control of the Republican Party while dealing with the emotional and mental and financial costs of being in that courtroom every day, dealing with whatever judges and prosecutors are throwing at him.

Jeffrey Goldberg: But isn't the theory that he will be able to come out of the courtroom every day at 5:00 and capture the national media attention for a full hour and just sit there and use the courthouse steps as the campaign platform and get plenty of attention through that?

Leigh Ann Caldwell: Well, that has been his strategy so far, and that has worked. But we're also in a Republican primary, and it's worked. And that's helped to embolden his base. This has played into those politics. How it works in a general election when people start to tune in to the presidential, that's still unclear.

And especially as these cases start, and he actually has to maybe be in the courtroom much more often, it could become more logistically complicated. And you mentioned the finances, like he is spending a lot of money on lawyer bills right now, and a lot of that money is coming from his campaign.

We'll see if donors still want to contribute to a campaign that is paying for his legal fees. And how can he do both at the same time run what's going to necessarily be a billion-dollar campaign while he's also fighting all these charges in court?

Jeffrey Goldberg: Ordinarily, we get to say, let's look to history to see how this might play out, but there is no history. This is wholly new.

I want to talk for a minute about, and we're going to talk about the weakness and strength of each of these men as we head into the general election, but I want to start by playing a clip of Joe Biden yesterday at the border, and you're watching him there. He's that nice gentleman in the hat.

And a lot of people are talking about this and other images of Biden to talk about a pretty serious age problem and frailty problem.

I also, however, want to play a clip of Donald Trump at the border here. So, just listen to this statement by Trump.

Donald Trump (R), Former U.S. President, 2024 Presidential Candidate: Nobody explained to me how allowing millions of people from places unknown, from countries unknown, who don't speak languages. We have languages coming into our country. We have nobody that even speaks those languages. They're truly foreign languages. Nobody speaks them.

Jeffrey Goldberg: Truly foreign languages, unlike, say, Spanish, I guess. Maybe that's what he meant. No, I mean, that was very interesting to me. That one really struck me for some reason.

So, Republicans look at Joe Biden and say he's frail. If Donald Trump walked the way Biden walked, I'm sure many Democrats would say, look, that man is pretty old and he shouldn't be president. But I also believe very deeply that if Joe Biden said the things that Donald Trump says, one example just there, the Republicans would say he's full-on dementia or does not have his mental faculties anymore.

And this is becoming, once again, kind of acute challenge for our profession. And I wonder, Adam, maybe you could pick this up a little bit. I wonder how you think about this. It's like you have a man with some physical frailties who is obviously very old, can't hide that. But you also have a candidate, Donald Trump, who says things that no one has ever said in the context of a presidential election in the modern era, certainly.

Adam Harris: Yes, I mean, the way that I look at it is this is a difference of sort of kind rather than degree, right? Yes, they are both older men. You know, the special counsel reports that, you know, Biden is an elderly man with a poor memory, right? People have talked about the fact that he has to bring note cards into his meetings to remember different things.

But what the former president does and says from the beginning of his campaigning, right, you've talked about the ways that it's unprecedented. He is saying things that are fundamentally outside of the bounds of normal conversation. And if a Democrat was making those sorts of errors, that sort of betray their age, that betray their sensibilities, people would rightly be turned off.

But it's sort of -- for him, it's sort of baked into who he is as a candidate. He's the person who's --

Jeffrey Goldberg: So, that's normalization but we refer to --

Adam Harris: It's normalization.

Jeffrey Goldberg: Yes.

Adam Harris: And it's the thing that journalists have to work to combat.

Jeffrey Goldberg: And you cover -- you were just down there. I mean, how do you how do you think about the difference between the two of them?

Ed O'Keefe: Look, the special counsel said what he said, but his doctor this week said he's perfectly healthy old man who still has arthritis issues, which give him that awkward stiff walk. In my brief interactions with him and just being around the place on a regular basis, look, he's on top of things.

Is he great at stagecraft? Is his team great at stagecraft? No. They could be doing much more to push back against the perception that he's this old man by showing us a reminder in the country that he works out every morning or you know bring us into the room a little more often and the way he thinks. And they just, for whatever reason, don't want to do that or don't want to do it yet.

And why that is? You know, I don't know. They seem to think that they can win this thing differently and don't have to worry about that kind of stuff but it's adding up. And you talk to members of his party and they're concerned about it.

The other thing that was telling yesterday was you saw Donald Trump with the governor of Texas standing in front of Humvees and Texas National Guard in uniforms. You saw the current president with Customs and Border Protection officials in their green uniforms and their ATVs and their smaller boats that go through the Rio Grande, the contrast in sort of militarization versus handling the situation, the substantive briefing that the president got from agency officials, versus the -- here's what we're doing to fight the -- the contrast there, at least on the policy and the stylistic level, was quite stark.

And you had both border towns there and saying y’all have come too late, you're over blowing this, and y’all need to do this a lot differently and if anything you should be visiting Arizona, where now border crossings have increased.

Jeffrey Goldberg: That’s interesting. Leigh Ann?

Leigh Ann Caldwell: Well, you mentioned stagecraft and how the president's team doesn't seem to care about it and is not very good at it. They put President Biden in situations that make him look older. And you know who is very good at stagecraft? The man who starred on a reality T.V. show for years. And his entire brand is stagecraft and marketing. And he is excellent at it. And he's only -- he's three, four years younger than President Biden.

Jeffrey Goldberg: Are you saying that words don't matter? You heard what he said about foreign languages that no one speaks coming into this country. Did the words not matter?

Leigh Ann Caldwell:  They absolutely matter. But I agree with Adam that this is what has made Donald Trump who he is and why he is so popular. So, we as journalists report those words, but, ultimately, it's up to the American people to decide, and the American people did decide in 2016 that that's what they liked. He called Mexicans rapists on his first day running for office. And so, Donald Trump still has a following. We'll see how big it is in November.

Jeffrey Goldberg: Right.

Nancy Youssef: You know, Jeffrey, something that stood out to me is the journal had a piece earlier this week about world leaders and how they're all getting older. And what was interesting is that so many of them, Xi, Putin, who have been around for more than a decade, and it does seem to be this sort of trend we're seeing around the world of older leaders staying, and part of that is the shift in the world towards autocracy, but also that you're starting to see names repeat themselves over and over again in the electorate, not just in the U.S., but around the world.

Jeffrey Goldberg: Right, it seems like Erdogan has been president of Turkey since the 19th century. Yes, no, it's true.

Ed O'Keefe: And we have popes and kings with cancer who end up in the hospital every few weeks with all sorts of things, and we're getting used to that?

Jeffrey Goldberg: Right, right. Nancy, let me stay with you and go to this question of strengths and weaknesses. Michigan was an interesting place where I think we saw strengths and weaknesses on both of these candidates. Can you, in a sort of a telescoped way, talk about what you learned from Michigan?

Nancy Youssef: Sure. So, I have a place for Michigan because I live there and so it's always really interesting to me.

Jeffrey Goldberg: Thank you for acknowledging your bias.

Nancy Youssef: And to me, Michigan is a true purple state.

And what I was really struck by is that, in both cases, you saw people not enthusiastic about either candidate, 100,000 uncommitted votes for Joe Biden picking up 80 percent and 30 percent going for Haley, even though Trump is sort of the presumptive nominee. And I just thought it was the most illuminating window into how some parts of the electorate in a key state are frustrated with the choices before them.

Now, how that manifests itself on Election Day is yet to be seen. But it was really a demonstrative display that we're not excited about either one of these candidates, and I thought that was an important thing.

Jeffrey Goldberg: Is this Arab-American, Muslim American, non-committal posture, is that going to be a true disadvantage for Biden going forward?

Nancy Youssef: Well, look, it's a key state. And in 2020, he won it by a bigger margin. But Hillary Clinton lost it by a very small margin. And what we don't know is, when I talk to Arab-Americans in my community, there's a real frustration about Gaza. And the debate is, do I not show up at all? Do I show up for Trump as a protest vote? Or do I have to sort of base that decision on Election Day? And I think, given how narrow the gap is in terms of where the state could go, I think every vote counts.

It seems to me that non-committed, undecided, frustrated voters are becoming their own electoral bloc that have to be concerned more and more as we get closer to Election Day.

Ed O'Keefe: And we were there this week and we were there in late November, December when this really started to first expose itself. And I think what was notable is, certainly, in the last few days there were a lot of people signaling I'm voting this way uncommitted now in the hope that it drives the president to change his ways.

And I understand there's a binary choice between him and Trump who instituted the Muslim ban who says all those terrible things about migrants. I am willing to give him a few more months to correct it. And look what happened just today. He announces humanitarian drops, there's going to be a port built, he's pushing his will harder than ever because he now sees he's got real political pressure.

The other refreshing thing about this week, here we had a conversation early in the primaries about foreign policy driven by people in an early primary state in the Midwest. This is exactly what Michigan wanted by going early. It's exactly what the Democratic National Committee invited by changing the calendar the way they did. This is the change in timing that forced a change in the debate that's now possibly changing policy over at the White House.

Jeffrey Goldberg: Adam, why don't you -- tell us what you think Biden's biggest advantage is going into the general? And we're going very early, obviously. It's not even Super Tuesday yet but we sort of know what's going to happen. And maybe, Leigh Ann, you could talk about what you think Trump's biggest advantages are going into the general.

Adam Harris: Yes, I think Biden's biggest advantage is that he's not Trump, right? I think Nikki Haley actually does have a pretty good point where she says, I'm staying in this race because if you look across it, he's only won about 40 -- or he's lost about 40 percent of these primary votes in primary states. If you're not winning that in your own Republican primary, it's going to be difficult for you to make it to November and actually animate some of those folks who were supporting me, who know that I'm going to lose in this primary.

Jeffrey Goldberg: So, Trump's ceiling is very low.

Adam Harris:  So, Trump's ceiling is lower.

I think that Biden has the opportunity. Think about black voters, right? If you ask black voters consistently in focus groups and polls, they will say, well, I'm a little bit less, I'm a little bit more lukewarm on the president at the moment, I'm a little bit more ambivalent. But if you ask them, what do you think of President Trump? Oftentimes, unprovoked, they will say he's a racist. And this -- it comes out in focus group after focus group.

So, it's not that black voters are going to immediately turn and say that, oh, over, going to go over to Biden or to Trump. It's saying that, well, if we get to November, the president has aligned a little bit closer to our policy priorities. If I start to see things on the shelves that are a little bit less expensive, I see that sort of practical effect on my life, then I will go back to the president. But I think that's one of his biggest advantages.

Jeffrey Goldberg: Right. Trump?

Leigh Ann Caldwell: So, advantages or disadvantages?

Jeffrey Goldberg: Advantages. Well, you can do both but you got to do it in two minutes.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: The advantage is that he obviously has a very core base that will support him no matter what. And that is good to motivate voters to come out on Election Day. So, that is going to benefit him.

His advantages are immigration. We saw, you know, that's why he and the president were --

Jeffrey Goldberg: He has bigger trucks.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: Yes.

Jeffrey Goldberg: He stands in front of bigger trucks.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: I think there's polling out this week that shows that for the first time that immigration is the top issue that voters care about right now. And so that is an advantage for Donald Trump.

Obviously, he has disadvantages of, like we said, he's going to be in the courtroom a lot during this campaign and perhaps he's going to be indicted for Election Day.

But I was talking to a Republican yesterday who said that we had -- said they have never been in a situation where the two leading candidates have such high unfavorables, that they don't know how that is -- no one knows how that is going to play out. There is nothing historically that they could point to. And so, it's going to be a really fascinating, unique election.

Jeffrey Goldberg: Let me close with you in a few seconds that we have left and go right to this point. We've never seen this high and negative situation. Is this a couch election? Is the enemy of both these candidates apathy?

Ed O'Keefe: Yes, it is, absolutely.

Jeffrey Goldberg: Or disgust, even.

Ed O'Keefe: Apathy or disgust, concern, fear, anger, absolutely.

I would say real quick, the president has raised gobsmacks sums of money. The former president is struggling to do it. The president has his party and its operation behind him. There are civil wars breaking out in battleground states among Republicans over who's in charge. That very well may matter in the closing weeks if we're that close and you need to turn out everyone you can find.

Jeffrey Goldberg: Right.

Ed O'Keefe: I think it's important to remember that could be a real problem, especially for Trump.

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