Amy Walter and Domenico Montanaro on voters’ impeachment views, GOP backlash to Syria move

JUDY WOODRUFF: That town hall was just a few
days ago, and all signs point to the House impeachment inquiry looming large over this
coming week as well. But that’s not the only major political event
in the cards. Amna Nawaz takes a look. AMNA NAWAZ: That’s right, Judy. It’s not just
the impeachment inquiry. Capitol Hill is also focused on the president’s
actions toward Turkey and Syria. And the 2020 Democrats have a primary debate tomorrow night. That’s plenty for our weekly Politics Monday
roundup. I’m joined by Amy Walter of The Cook Political
Report and host of public radio’s “Politics With Amy Walter,” and Domenico Montanaro.
He’s senior political editor at NPR. Welcome to you both. Shall we jump right into the polls? AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: Why
not? Let’s do it. AMNA NAWAZ: Take a look at this graphic. These
are five polls over the last week, the latest just out today in the lower right-hand corner
from Quinnipiac. We can now say a majority of Americans in
all five of these polls show support for the impeachment process. Amy, when you look at those numbers, all of
those represent an increase, the numbers ranging from 51 percent to 58 percent now. Why are
we seeing those now? AMY WALTER: I think they — it’s really important
to understand the difference between supporting an impeachment inquiry and supporting impeachment
itself, which is still there are a couple of polls that show it just over 50 percent
support, but it’s really hovering around 48, 47 percent. Why is that important? Because there are people
out there who say, I support an inquiry, but I don’t necessarily support, at this point,
the idea of Trump being impeached by the House. So I think that’s a really important thing
to appreciate. What we have also seen in the polls is, not surprisingly, people have taken
to their corners. But you have seen the president’s approval ratings in just his overall approval
ratings not budge pretty much at all. So, even as support for an impeachment inquiry
has risen, the president’s overall — how people feel about him overall has not budged. DOMENICO MONTANARO, Political Editor, NPR:
Look, and also, when you look at our NPR/”PBS NewsHour”/Marist poll, 58 percent of people
said that they would like to see the president’s fate decided at the ballot box, rather than
through the impeachment process. I think that that tells you that, even though
we also saw a big swing among independents saying that they support this impeachment
inquiry, I think that really tells you how cautious Americans are, and that while Democrats
over the last couple of weeks have won over those independents, and that independents
see that maybe that phone call was unacceptable — they said in our poll — two-thirds of
people said that what President Trump did in asking for a favor in investigating a political
rival was unacceptable. But that they’re cautious about how they want
Democrats to have this process play out. And Democrats have to walk a very fine line, sticking
to unimpeachable facts, so to speak. AMNA NAWAZ: So, that swing towards the increase
there fueled by the independents. Could it go the other way, swing back down? DOMENICO MONTANARO: Absolutely. It could. I mean, but I think there’s a little bit of
a ceiling for independents. I mean, having them at 50, 55 percent is about as good as
Democrats can do. But it’s important, because Democrats — independents have tracked with
Democrats on almost every issue since President Trump took office. And why that’s really important is because
Republicans need to win a greater share of independents to win presidential elections.
Remember, Mitt Romney won a majority of independents in 2012 and still lost the election to President
Obama. Amy, your analysis — your latest analysis
actually titled the fall was supposed to be about 2020 Democrats. It’s now all about impeachment.
Is that just taking up all the oxygen in the room now? AMY WALTER: Well, and I think, if this were
normal time, which I realize I don’t know when that last time was, but we would have
been talking about the fact that there’s a presidential — Democratic presidential debate
coming up, that we would be actually — we probably would have been talking about it
the week previous. It is now barely registering. And it’s very
difficult for a bunch of these folks to sort of break through. I think this has been good
news overall, though, for Elizabeth Warren, who has seen her start rise, seen her poll
numbers rise. She now gets to sort of freeze the race in
place. And I think that all of the attention that today would be focused on her specifically,
media scrutiny, scrutiny of her opponents, is now being lost in the focus on the impeachment
inquiry. AMNA NAWAZ: And I do want to get both your
takes on the debate in just a second. But one other question I wanted to ask you
related to the president and specifically his relationship to key members of his party
is something else we have seen happen last week now seems to be defining much of this
week. And that is many Republicans now speaking
out very critically about the president’s decision to pull back troops from the U.S.
— U.S. troops, rather, from the Syrian border. Domenico, for all the many times Republicans
have struggled to defend the president, it’s unequivocal now the criticism. Why now? DOMENICO MONTANARO: Well, look, I think that,
as we know, the Republican Party is made up of a three-legged stool. It’s national security
chief among them, economics and culture being the other two. And the Republican Party, if it’s nothing
else, the brand is macho. So if you’re going to say, let’s pull out of a country, that
kind of goes against their instincts of how they want to be in foreign policy, and not
to mention it’s a bipartisan issue. I mean, almost nobody on Capitol Hill thinks
the way the president handled this was a good thing. And if you look at the polling, the
biggest vulnerability for President Trump is in his handling of foreign policy. Nothing rates lower for him than that. AMNA NAWAZ: Amy, you look at some of the people
who are criticizing him, though, very vocally, some of his staunchest defenders. You have Lindsey Graham out there saying it
could be the biggest mistake of his presidency. You have Liz Cheney saying it was catastrophic
to do this. What does that do for him and his support? AMY WALTER: I don’t think it does much of
anything. I mean, these are very well known hawks within
the party. Even if President Trump were not the leader of the party, they would probably
be to the right of whoever the president would be on some of these foreign policies. And I think what Domenico said is really important
about the three-legged stool and the fact that Republicans knew this president coming
in was unorthodox on a number of issues that have been traditionally Republican issues,
free trade and national security, specifically the role that America plays in the world. And Republicans have been able to criticize
him on those issues, in part, because you have seen some criticism about the tariffs
and the trade war from Republicans, in part because there are still a lot of Republicans
who believe those things. It’s when Republicans criticize the president
personally, when it looks like it’s about his behavior, that they get the backlash.
When it’s about policy, I think there is within the Republican electorate a sort of like acceptance
for, OK, you can criticize the policy. Don’t criticize him personally. AMNA NAWAZ: And backlash, you mean, from voters. AMY WALTER: From voters, from Republican voters. AMNA NAWAZ: Yes. DOMENICO MONTANARO: One place I think you’re
seeing some cracks among a key group of Trump supporters are evangelicals, for example. They really feel like Kurdish Christians and
Christians in general in that part of the world are persecuted. And, remember, white
evangelicals in the U.S. have for at least 30 years felt like they don’t like the direction
that the country is headed in liberal, mainstream culture, and feel like that they can sympathize
and have a bit of a kinship with Christians in that part of the world. AMNA NAWAZ: Very quickly before we go, less
than a minute. I hate to do this to you. But tomorrow is another Democratic primary
debate. AMY WALTER: Yes. AMNA NAWAZ: Twelve candidates on the stage
this time, the most any one stage so far this cycle. Domenico, what’s one thing you’re looking
for tomorrow night? DOMENICO MONTANARO: I mean, look are the other
candidates going to criticize Joe Biden and Hunter Biden for his ties? I mean, clearly, the Bidens feel like this
is a problem, because Biden had to put out an ethics program, and Hunter Biden had to
step down from a board in China. AMY WALTER: I’m watching Elizabeth Warren
and whether her opponent — now that she’s the front-runner, or at least the co-front-runner,
the focus on her. And I’m also going to spend a lot of time
looking at Pete Buttigieg. I think he, more than almost anybody else in this race, is
making a very clear distinction between his brand of progressivism and specifically against
the other candidates, making critical remarks about other candidates’ positions on things
like guns and health care. AMNA NAWAZ: Two key things, among many others… AMY WALTER: Yes. AMNA NAWAZ: … we will be watching. Domenico Montanaro, Amy Walter, thanks for
being here. AMY WALTER: Thank you. DOMENICO MONTANARO: Thank you.

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