AMNA NAWAZ: Welcome to the Washington Week Extra. Robert Costa is off tonight. I’m Amna Nawaz.
Let’s continue the conversation from the broadcast, dig a little deeper into the Republican National Convention this week and what comes next in the race for the White House. Now, usually candidates hit the road after their conventions, meeting voters and campaigning all over the country, but because of the pandemic things might be a little different. So what comes next in the 2020 campaign?
Joining me tonight are three of the best political reporters to talk about it. Maggie Haberman is White House correspondent for The New York Times. Errin Haines is editor at large for The 19th. And Dan Balz is chief correspondent for The Washington Post.
Thanks to you all for being here. Maggie, I want to start with you and ask you about some of the things we’re likely to see in the weeks ahead. When you look at the way the Trump campaign has started to attack the Biden-Harris campaign, there’s been kind of a kitchen-sink approach: throw everything at them and see what sticks. Is there a coherent strategy to take down – to try to take down Biden and Harris in the weeks ahead?
MAGGIE HABERMAN: I think the coherent message, if there is one, is basically just that, you know, there will be a transformation of traditional American life under Biden and Harris. I think that the president has alternated between describing Joe Biden as wrong for signing the ’94 crime bill and then, you know, too weak on crime. I don’t actually expect that to change. I think this is just who the president is and how he campaigns. What I do thin you’re going to see is sort of a blanketing of news coverage by the president. He’s going to use whatever he can to try to fill the air, as he did in 2016, not with paid advertisements, but just talking about Biden, and I think it will be difficult for Biden – and it has been, I think, in the last few weeks – to break through some of that noise, and Biden does have a challenge in that regard. I think you’re going to see President Trump, you know, do sort of a normal campaign schedule as you would see in a non-pandemic cycle. I don’t think you’re going to see Joe Biden doing that, although you are going to see more of Joe Biden. But I don’t think that – while I think this race is likely closer than some of the public polling shows, the president is on defense in every state that he needs to win, and it shouldn’t be forgotten that that’s the position he’s starting from. I think you are going to see him get more aggressive. I think this is going to be one of the ugliest national campaigns we’ve ever seen, and I think a lot will ride on the debates.
MS. NAWAZ: Dan Balz, let me ask you about one of the ways we’ve seen Democrats try to break through that messaging, as Maggie just mentioned. We saw a number of Republican defections, if you will, during the Democratic National Convention, and among them was Senator – former Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona. When you look at a state like Arizona that both of them are fighting for – both sides are fighting for, does that have any kind of an impact on the state of play in that one state?
DAN BALZ: Well, it does have some potential impact. I mean, the endorsement from Senator Flake is an important endorsement for Joe Biden, you know. In much the same way that the Trump convention was trying to give people who, you know, may be wavering or disgusted with the president some permission to come back in and to give him a more serious look, I think what the – what the Biden campaign has done – and they did it at their convention, and they’ll continue to do it – is to say to Republicans who are quite disaffected from Trump but have never voted Democratic in their lives that this is a year to do that, that this is – that this is a – this is a person who as president would not necessarily pursue all the policies that you agree with but would bring back a tone to governing that they would feel more comfortable with. And I think that, you know, we’ll see what can happen in Arizona, but I think in general we’re seeing that. We’re seeing former staffers for George W. Bush, former staffers for Senator Mitt Romney saying that they are going to vote for Joe Biden this year, and I think that’s a – that’s an important element of the unity message if you will, from the Biden-Harris ticket.
MS. NAWAZ: Errin Haines, you’re joining us from Philadelphia, I believe. Let’s talk about Pennsylvania, then. We talk a lot about the big issues. We’ve heard from both sides now this is a battle for the soul of the nation in this upcoming election. When you talk to voters there, what is it that’s top of mind from them? What messages do they want to hear in the weeks ahead?
ERRIN HAINES: Well, I think that the voters that I’m talking to on both the Democratic and Republican side, both of them were kind of hungry for more of a plan for what either of the men who is seeking to become the next president of this country is going to do for the people who are, you know, dealing with the daily reality of a public-health and economic crisis in the pandemic. And you know, I think the other thing, too, is that, you know, Donald Trump and Joe Biden are both two people who have been in public life for decades, so – I can’t remember an election where you’ve had higher name ID for two general-election candidates, you know, 10 weeks until the election. This is not, you know, two people who are introducing themselves to the country. We know who Joe Biden is. We know who Donald Trump is. I think that a question in this election for voters is who America is and who we are as a country, which is really the question that we’ve been asking as a nation for most of this summer and that people may be answering at the ballot box. I am in Philadelphia, as you mentioned; in 2016, Philadelphia was one of the cities that the president raised as a place where the election may be rigged and kind of urged his supporters to watch out for, you know, election fraud, possibly, in cities like Philadelphia. I think that you’re going to hear the president – he’s already kind of raising the specter of voter fraud again and even, you know, kind of hinting that people’s votes may not matter anyway because of, you know, just how the mail-in balloting process is, despite, you know, a lack of evidence of any proof that that is not going to work. And so I think that that is going to be a theme that the president hammers. I think that people here are energized and galvanized to participate in this election, and are very much interested in how they can do that safely and how they can fully engage in this democracy in the midst of a pandemic.
MS. NAWAZ: Dan Balz, as Errin mentioned, that daily reality for so many people, we can’t really overstate the importance of that, the fact that this election is unfolding during a pandemic. And at the same time, President Trump is still in charge, trying to respond to that pandemic. We’ve heard that they’re hanging a lot of hope on things getting better, the promise that the virus will – the numbers will start to go down, the promise of a vaccine soon. Schools are reopening, flu season is ahead, a lot could get worse as the health experts have warned, so is that a risky strategy to hang everything on things getting better in the weeks ahead?
MR. BALZ: Well, it is a risky strategy, and in fact as – you know, watching the convention, for the most part Trump and the other Republican speakers wanted to suggest that for the most part the pandemic is in the rearview mirror, that we’re on the – we’re on the upward swing and we’re going to have a vaccine sooner than anybody could imagine, and that all is going to be well and the schools will be fine. But it goes against the experience of people’s daily lives. I mean, you know, in all ways people are looking at this pandemic as the overriding issue in their life right now. Everybody is affected by it in one way or another. And we’re going into now the school season – elementary, secondary schools, colleges and universities. We’re going to have quite an experiment over the next month as to how safe it is to bring people – young people together and see what happens. So these events are out of control – out of the control of Donald Trump. He is not the commander of these events; he is – he is watching them and trying to deal with them as he can. But one of the things we know about the Biden campaign – and we see it in all ways – is that they believe that the pandemic right now is the overriding issue on people’s minds and that President Trump is the overriding, you know, focus of the way people are thinking both about the pandemic and about the election, and they are going to keep their focus on that. It’s one of the reasons that Joe Biden has not traveled much. It’s one of the reasons that when he goes out he has tried to, you know, model what they call good behavior rather than some of the things we’ve seen with Trump rallies where there are no masks. So that’s the – that’s the strategy of the Biden campaign, and for the president he can hope that it, you know, gets better quickly but he doesn’t have much control over that.
MS. NAWAZ: Maggie, that brings me to you because we had some reporting late tonight about the effect of that travel, about the decisions that the president and vice president have made to continue to get back out on the road and meet with people, the effect that’s having on their own Secret Service, that many members of the Secret Service have in fact themselves become – come in contact with people who were infected and have had to then seclude themselves and isolate. And I wonder if – from the folks you talk to if any of that – as it is hitting closer and closer to the inner circle of the president, if any of that is impacting or influencing how they’re thinking about their strategy moving forward.
MS. HABERMAN: No, not at all, frankly. I mean, they’ve continued to act as if it is not a problem, even when some of their own people get sick. They have tried to keep it quiet when their own people have gotten sick; that has been easier said than done most of the time. There are people in the White House who share the president’s attitude that this is overblown and that people are overreacting. There are also a number of staffers in the White House who are really afraid – and they will say it privately – of getting sick themselves, and so there is this push-pull of people who work for the president who support him but who also don’t necessarily believe what he is saying about this virus and what he is telling the American public. The president and his team are going to continue on with this. There are members of the – of the vice president’s staff who, you know, have for a while questioned some of the extents of the shutdowns.
I think that – I want to go to one other issue that we don’t know about that the president doesn’t have control over directly, although he could have more control, certainly, than Joe Biden in terms of how this election goes, and that’s going to be who votes. We just don’t know. We do not know who is going to be turning out in the middle of a pandemic as the president is showing sort of something of a cavalier attitude that has alarmed a number of people. So you know, the president’s going to continue to go on, as he did in New Hampshire tonight, with no mask, with, you know, half the crowd not wearing masks, some of his own senior advisors not wearing masks, and we will see how people respond to that in the coming weeks.
MS. NAWAZ: Errin Haines, I want to give you the last word here. Maggie just mentioned we don’t know who’s going to turn out. We’ve already seen a lot of doubts seeded in the mail-in ballot process, and again, this is all unfolding during a pandemic. From the folks you talk to there, from the places you’ve reported, how are people viewing how safely they can vote?
MS. HAINES: Well, I think – I think a lot of people are people who previously had not been open to the idea of mail-in balloting, particularly Black voters, you know, in communities where there was, you know, historic disenfranchisement, the kind of people who like to see their ballot kind of go into the ballot box, right, those people are also open now to that as the safer way to do that. You saw that on full display during the Democratic National Convention. You had, you know, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and pretty much every surrogate urging people to text the campaign, to make a vote plan, to figure out how they were going to vote safely. Early voting is going to be underway within a month, you know, in some states in this country, and that is also something that people are being urged to do so that they aren’t in the long lines that are almost inevitably going to be created by a lack of poll workers. Most of those people are usually older, which means fewer precincts, which means, you know, that potentially people could be waiting in long lines. But again, because so many people, especially Black and brown voters, see this election as existential, they are literally willing to put their health at risk to cast their ballots so many of them are telling me, including some of the older Black Americans who, frankly, lived through, you know, the kind of voter suppression that was life-threatening – people, you know, who were inspired by the likes of Congressman John Lewis, whose spirit also looms large over this election. And so all of that is on the minds of voters, you know, especially Democratic voters that I talk to, headed into November.
MS. NAWAZ: Well, these have been conventions like no other and it will be an election like no other as well, that is for sure. And that is it for this edition of the Washington Week Extra. Thank you very much to Maggie Haberman, Errin Haines, and Dan Balz for their time.
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I’m Amna Nawaz. Thank you for joining us and we’ll see you next time.