ROBERT COSTA: Welcome to the Washington Week Extra. I’m Robert Costa.
The Georgia Senate runoffs are just four days away. Republican Senator David Perdue is running against Democrat Jon Ossoff, while Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler is facing Democrat Reverend Raphael Warnock. Here are some of the candidates’ closing arguments.
RAPHAEL WARNOCK: (From video.) Whoever would have thought that when the dust cleared on November 3rd there’d be two runoff races, they’d both be in Georgia, and they’d define the balance of the Senate? It’s a new moment.
SENATOR KELLY LOEFFLER (R-GA): (From video.) The future of the country is on the line. That is why we are going to hold the line. Because, look, if we don’t vote, we won’t just lose, we will lose the country. And the eyes of the nation are on us, Georgia.
MR. COSTA: Joining me tonight to discuss these key races are three of the best reporters around – Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for the PBS NewsHour; Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for The New York Times; and Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for USA Today. Welcome, all.
The results in Georgia are going to be so key for the Senate majority. Yamiche, what are you watching in this final weekend?
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: What I’m watching is how Democrats sell the idea that this is a race that people need to turn out for, because turnout is, of course, going to be the name of the game. And we know that in the general election they were able to just squeak by and get that – and turn that state blue. In some ways, it will really, I think, rest on how can Democrats get that same coalition to come out and again vote in record numbers for Democratic candidates? In this case I think, of course, it’s incredibly important that you see some of the biggest names in Democratic politics flocking to Georgia. We’ve seen Barack Obama. We’ve seen, of course, President-elect Biden. We’ve seen Vice President-elect Harris. They’re all going to Georgia with the idea that they can convince people that this is an extension of the general election, and that can get them riled up.
I also think it’s going to be really interesting to watch how Republicans deal with the mixed messaging going on there because you have people like President Trump coming down to Georgia, saying, one, that the election was rigged in 2020, that you can’t trust the voting systems but also, by the way, you should trust these same voting systems and turnout in record numbers. I interviewed the secretary of state – the Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. And he told me he thought it was a bad idea for Republicans to be trying to attack the integrity of the election system because, he said, that’s going to hurt turnout. So I think that’s the thing that I’m watching, is the messaging from both parties. But in particular, how is turnout going to be based on that messaging?
MR. COSTA: Peter, Yamiche just brought up Brad Raffensperger, the secretary of state down in Georgia. He’s been divergent from the messaging, to say the least, from President Trump. Does that divide reflect the broader divide inside the GOP about how to handle this election and how to move forward in 2021?
PETER BAKER: Well, I think it does, of course. And not just Raffensperger, but the Governor Brian Kemp, who also has said this election was held fairly and freely and the results are in and has defied President Trump. Only to have the president of the United States, you know, heap insults on both of them and excoriate them, as if they are somehow disloyal Republicans for, you know, conducting the election as they saw, you know, as responsible officeholders. And I think that that, of course, leaves the Republicans deeply divided. The two Senators who are on the ballot – Senators Loeffler and Perdue – both called for Raffensperger’s resignation, for no other reason, it seemed like, that he didn’t deliver the victory to them, even though the votes, you know, were shy of the 50 percent margin that they needed.
And I think that, you know, Republicans are sort of, in Georgia, left to wonder, you know, what are we supposed to think of this? You know, we want to turnout and support Republican officeholders. We want to keep a Republican majority in the Senate, if only to check President-elect Biden and make sure he doesn’t go too far to the left. And on the other hand, we’re told that the system – as Yamiche just said – we’re told the system is – you know, is rigged, and corrupt, and can’t be trusted. It doesn’t take that much to depress turnout in a 50/50 race to throw it the other direction. Now, that doesn’t mean the Democrats are going to win, but if you’re Republicans what you’re worried about right now, as Yamiche said, is the mixed messaging.
MR. COSTA: Susan, when you look at this runoff race in Georgia, but also what happened in 2020 in the South, are we seeing a changing political map?
SUSAN PAGE: Well, clearly some elements of the map are changing. Georgia went Democratic in the presidential race for the first time since 1992. That’s significant. And if that continues, that could help reshuffle the way we look at electoral strategy in this country. But the Republicans still have some big advantages there. Every statewide elected official in Georgia is Republican. Historically, Republicans do better in special elections because their voters are more reliable, they’re more accustomed to getting out the vote in every election. So we shouldn’t underestimate the advantages that Republicans bring to this.
In a way the Republicans’ problems they’ve brought upon themselves, and most especially President Trump has brought problems for Republicans in Georgia – another sign that he is more focused on his own future, perhaps, than the Republican Party more broadly.
MR. COSTA: That’s such a key point. As President Trump leaves, and his final days in office are now numbered, what he leaves behind is perhaps much different, or maybe the same, than what people expected four years ago. Looking ahead, I do wonder, Yamiche, how will President Trump be remembered? And what is he leaving behind as president in terms of a legacy?
MS. ALCINDOR: Well, what President Trump leaves behind as part of his legacy is really – I think in some ways the answer to that question is a political – is a political lens. If you’re looking at this from a Democratic point of view, you’re seeing a president who you think tested and almost broke American democracy in questioning the integrity of an election, of trying to get a foreign adversary – or, a foreign country, rather, Ukraine, to dig up dirt on a political opponent, in Joe Biden. And he was, of course, impeached for that. You also leave behind a president who misled the American public in the middle of a pandemic, often comparing the coronavirus to the flu.
And of course, if you’re a Republican, you see this a little bit differently in that if you’re a supporter of President Trump you’re seeing someone who was elected, who shocked the political consciousness on both sides of the aisle by being able to be elected in 2016, someone who came with his own agenda, who kept a lot of his promises to try to upend immigration, who was someone who also did away with many trade deals, who walked away from some international agreements and the Paris Climate Accord. He’s someone who really kept his promise to Republicans.
I will say, zooming all the way out and connecting this to Georgia, he was also a president who really trafficked in fear. On both sides of the aisle, I think people would agree that the president scared Americans – either scared them into believing that they should support him because he was making the case that socialism was at hand and the Democrats were going to take away the rights of Americans all over, or you were a Democrat who saw the president using fear as a way to really get at the soul of the country – really doing away with some of the traditions and the things that make America America.
So I think when we look at fear and we look at how that played in the presidency, we can also see that at play in Georgia, when you see both candidates – or, all the candidates there, and some of the big names in politics coming there, in some ways scaring voters into supporting their side.
MR. COSTA: Peter, you’ve just published a book with Susan Glasser, your wife, about former Secretary of State James Baker. And 30 years after he was the key player in Washington you’ve now come out with this monumental biography of him. And history does change perhaps decades on. In 30 years, not to predict too much, but how do you think history could change their view of President Trump?
MR. BAKER: Well, that’s a good question. And he’s hard to say. I think that 30 years ago on – one thing you learn from doing the book on Baker is that, you know, 30 years ago looks different today because of the lens of what we’re seeing today, right? You know, we obviously thought that the ’80s and the ’90s were a pretty polarized time. We thought it was pretty partisan. We thought it was pretty divided among us. And by comparison, today it looks like, you know, almost a period of bipartisan, you know, cooperation in many ways.
Baker, of course, personified that. He ran very, very tough, knife-fighting kind of elections. But when it was over, he sat down with the other party – in his case, the Democrats – and worked out deals to advance the country’s interests. You just don’t see that happening today. And the question is whether or not President-elect Biden will be able to replicate some of that in a very different, more toxic environment. Now, 30 years from now when we look back at Trump will we remember him as a – as the singular force that we see him as today? Will we remember him as the kind of dominant moment – you know, figure of his era? Or will we look at him as an aberration – sort of a – you know, a one-off. You know, a one-term president who didn’t actually win the popular vote either time he ran, and therefore didn’t really set the country in a new direction on a permanent basis or not.
It’s a very big question. I think right now he represents this age. The question is whether or not this age continues in a bigger way after he’s gone, or whether we return or shift to a different kind of Washington that leaves him behind.
MR. COSTA: And, Susan, how do you see the president’s legacy? I was paging through your book, The Matriarch, over the holiday. And it was just a reminder to me for how many years this was a party, the GOP, of Jim Baker, of George H.W. Bush, of Barbara Bush, and Ronald Reagan. Does it go back to that ever, or is history and politics all about change?
MS. PAGE: Well, it’s all about the future. I don’t think we go back in the other direction. But I do think the question with President Trump isn’t what adjective we’ll use with him. We’ll use the adjective “disruptive.” Some people think the disruption was warranted and a good thing. Some people think the disruption was negative, and damaging, and a bad thing. And the question is, has he set – has he set kind of a turning point in who we look for in presidents? Will we have another president without political experience, communicates on Twitter directly with his followers, is willing to upend things in his own party as well as in the other party, takes positions that are demonstrably untrue and repeats them?
That has worked, in a way, for President Trump in getting him to the highest office in the land. Is it a template that candidates are going to follow in the future? Or will this be seen as a disruption that maybe changed some things about the way our government works, but basically we head back more into the mainstream? Not back 30 years to the days of Jim Baker, but to a – more of a sense of a normal government ruled by people who want to make deals, want to make things happen, and speak in more traditional ways to the electorate?
MR. COSTA: And I would just add briefly, the first time I ever spoke to President Trump about 2016 – he was then Mr. Trump – was 2013. And in an interview that summer he talked about trade and how the Republicans were wrong on trade. They should stop being a free trade party, be a protectionist party. And it seemed like he was out in left field way back then in 2013. My prediction is, if the Republican Party continues in this protectionist, nationalist direction that may be a big part of his legacy. He changed a party fundamentally. But if it goes back to being free traders, Bush free traders and all of that, it may be fleeting, like Peter alluded to, as a possibility.
We’ll leave it there. That’s it for this edition of the Washington Week Extra. Many thanks to Yamiche, Peter, and Susan for their thoughtful insights this Friday and every Friday. You can listen wherever you get your podcasts or watch on our Washington Week website. While you’re there, sign up for the Washington Week newsletter. You’ll get an advance look at our show each week.
I’m Robert Costa. Thanks for joining us. And hope to see you again soon.