Politics In The News: Election Campaigns Kick Into High Gear On Labor Day
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Labor Day is traditionally the day the presidential campaign ramps up in earnest. This year, of course, the campaign has been in full swing for months, feels like years. This week, Donald Trump kept himself in the headlines with a sudden and unexpected trip to Mexico to meet with that country's president. And on Saturday, he visited an African-American church in Detroit, part of his recent effort to woo black voters away from the Democrats.
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DONALD TRUMP: I am here today to listen to your message. And I hope my presence here will also help your voice to reach new audiences in our country. And many of these audiences desperately need your spirit and your thought.
MONTAGNE: For her part, Hillary Clinton has increasingly come under fire for not making enough headlines. Yesterday, her vice presidential pick, Tim Kaine, was forced to defend her on ABC's "This Week" program when asked why she hasn't held a press conference in over nine months.
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TIM KAINE: We're about to switch into a phase of the campaign where we will be on planes, and the press will be on the planes with us, which is something that Donald Trump does not allow. We are not banning press outlets from covering public events.
And so look, all the time, as Hillary's out on the trail, she's talking to the press, hundreds of interviews. I'm doing the same. The Labor-Day-to-Election-Day stretch, it's going to ramp up even more.
MONTAGNE: And joining us now, as she does most Mondays, is NPR commentator and columnist Cokie Roberts. Also with us is Republican strategist John Feehery.
Welcome to both of you.
COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi. How are you, Renee, John?
JOHN FEEHERY: Good morning.
MONTAGNE: Let's start with you, John. Trump's visit to the Great Faith Ministries in Detroit - he struck, as we can really hear, a more humbled note there than he has in the past in referring to African-Americans. Think this and his trip to Mexico last week could help him, either with constituents who consider him hostile, or to other constituents - you know, others who are worried about how he's talking to those folks?
FEEHERY: Listen, Donald Trump is running a real campaign. He's taking chances. Going to Mexico is a huge chance. Going to this black church was a huge chance. Hillary Clinton's playing prevent defense. We're starting the football season. She's trying not to lose.
So, you know, you look at the latest polls. Trump is tied in a couple polls and up in a couple of others, which is actually shocking for a lot of people. You know, Trump is running a real campaign, and Clinton is not.
ROBERTS: What we're all sort of curious about is how long he's able to do that. I mean, he takes to Twitter, even after he's done something like the appearance at the African-American church, and goes after his opponents, as he did yesterday with Senator Jeff Flake from Arizona, who has been very critical of Trump.
And what is going to be very, very interesting to see, Renee, is how this whole sort of milder, gentler Trump plays out as we go forward because keep in mind, he has hired two people who are - really have made a cottage industry - or more a mansion industry - out of attacking Hillary Clinton in David Bossie and Stephen Bannon, his campaign manager and, now, deputy campaign manager. And these are people who have really made a career out of going after Clinton. And I think that he is going to - likely to take their advice and go after her big time in the debates. The first one is September 26. And this could be a really rough season ahead.
FEEHERY: I would say to that, Cokie, that I think you're right. But he is not making news on attacking Clinton. Clinton's got her - seems to have her own problems - all this email stuff, the fact that she hasn't done a press conference. She's getting hammered, not by Trump, but by the media. And Trump is making news outside of Hillary, which I think is - you know, people didn't expect this.
MONTAGNE: And, Cokie, what about that? On Friday, the FBI released its report on controversial private email server Clinton had while she was secretary of state, which showed how it was pressuring her. I mean, is this something that could keep hurting her?
ROBERTS: Absolutely. This is just going to be drip, drip, drip, drip, drip up until Election Day. And if people have not already calculated it, there will be more people who turn away from her because of it. And that's why - that's why the election's getting closer. It's not that Trump is gaining. It's that Clinton is losing. And so in some states, you're seeing it getting very narrow.
MONTAGNE: Well, some of this is - we just mentioned about Hillary Clinton in effect laying low. I mean, she talks to donors. She's very...
ROBERTS: She raised a lot of money...
MONTAGNE: Spending a lot of money with them...
ROBERTS: Huge amount of money...
MONTAGNE: ...And answering their questions. But, I mean, how much - you know, average people, she doesn't hold a press conference. Does that - is that going to continue to hurt her?
FEEHERY: I would...
ROBERTS: No, I don't think that's - I mean, average people don't care about press conferences. We care about press conferences. But she is - and she is talking to local media wherever she goes, which is a smart strategy because it tends to be an easier set of questions, frankly.
FEEHERY: I would say that the drip, drip is hurting her because it hurts her credibility. And she's not making any news on anything that she wants to make news on, other than attacking Donald Trump. She's not defining herself as a positive figure, which is fascinating because she's the one with a long resume.
She's the one with a huge policy briefing book. She's the one that has all this experience in actually doing things. And she's not making any news. And I think it's because she's very cautious. Trump is not cautious. There's not - no caution about him...
ROBERTS: (Laughter) No caution.
FEEHERY: He's saying anything that comes to his head. He's an authentic candidate. And it's really, I think, catching fire with a lot of voters. Not so much so that he's that popular, but he is kind of dominating the discussion.
MONTAGNE: Well, just one last thing, talk about two candidates who are extremely unpopular. Why aren't the third-party candidates - Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party and Jill Stein of the Green Party - why are they not gaining more traction?
ROBERTS: They are with some groups, particularly young people. In an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, they got 29 - together, 29 percent of the young voters, with Hillary Clinton only getting 37 percent. So Bernie Sanders is on the campaign trail, today, to talk to those young voters. Independents have also been interested in third-party candidates. Those numbers are somewhat high.
And yesterday, the Richmond Times Dispatch, which has only endorsed Republicans since 1980, came out for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian, and said he should be in those debates. So I think that the third-party candidates are beginning to get a little bit of traction but not enough, so far, to get to the debate.
FEEHERY: It's a fascinating question. I think the reason is - is that Johnson hasn't really defined himself that well.
MONTAGNE: All right. Well, thanks, both of you. That is Republican strategist John Feehery, a columnist for The Hill, and NPR commentator and columnist Cokie Roberts. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.