GWEN IFILL: As the summer winds down, the presidential campaign is only gathering steam, as candidates and voters sort through the pluses and the minuses of immigration reform, questions about the Clinton Foundation, appeals to African-American voters, and a dramatically altered general election map.
It’s Politics Monday, so we turn to Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Stuart Rothenberg of The Washington Post.
Welcome to you back. Happy Monday.
AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: Thank you.
STUART ROTHENBERG, The Washington Post: Thank you.
GWEN IFILL: Let’s start 3,000 feet up and talk about the map. One of the things that’s different in this election, among all the things that are different in this election, is that the map feels different than it has in the past.
The states that Republicans think are slam dunks aren’t necessarily slam dunks. Same for the Democrats?
AMY WALTER: Well, the bad news for Republicans is that the states that look less likely to be in their traditional lane are the states that Republicans traditionally hold on to, or at least in the most recent elections have.
If you look at the states, just look at the polling right now, there isn’t one state that Hillary Clinton is trailing in that Barack Obama didn’t win or that Mitt Romney won. So, she’s winning in all the states that Barack Obama carried. And she’s also doing better than Obama in some of those states that he didn’t carry, specifically in 2012, like North Carolina.
But now we’re talking about Arizona, we’re talking about Missouri, we’re talking about Georgia. Even South Carolina has become more competitive. These are states that I think are still a reach for Hillary Clinton, but the fact that they’re even on the map makes it different.
And this is the big irony, right? It was that Donald Trump was going to come in and shake up the map. He was the one that was going to make all these changes. There is not one state that Barack Obama carried that he’s doing well.
GWEN IFILL: The map has been shaken, but not to his advantage.
STUART ROTHENBERG: Yes, I don’t think the map has changed that dramatically.
GWEN IFILL: Really?
STUART ROTHENBERG: Yes.
I still use the 2012 Obama-Romney race as the baseline. And I think Amy is exactly right that there are a couple of Republican states that now look to be flirting with Hillary Clinton. There are a couple of Democratic states that Donald Trump is making a run at, particularly Nevada and Iowa.
But, otherwise, the rest of the map looks consistent. Obviously, there are two swing states that look to be off the table, at least for the moment. That would be Colorado and Virginia, where former Secretary Clinton is doing quite well.
GWEN IFILL: OK, so let’s talk about what the candidates have been talking about and how that fits into this discussion about the map, which is, let’s talk about Donald Trump.
He is going to give a speech on Wednesday, he has said — he said this before — on immigration. And in the last two weeks, it seems as if he has shifted. Has he shifted on immigration? Softened, I think is the word he used.
AMY WALTER: I guess that’s the question that we’re all wondering, is, what is happening?
GWEN IFILL: We don’t know.
AMY WALTER: I’m of many minds on this issue.
The first says, there is nothing new or different about a candidate after a primary softening and moving to the center.
GWEN IFILL: Right.
AMY WALTER: Right. There is nothing new about that. But, usually, a candidate does that in like May or June or maybe at their convention, which he obviously didn’t do.
The other thing is, if you’re going to move on a centerpiece of your campaign, you should probably have an actual message on that, know what that policy is. Neither he nor his campaign seems to understand what that is.
The final thing is, making a change on the policy, I don’t think, is the real issue. It’s the temperament that’s the issue. The wall is a bigger issue because of the temperament.
GWEN IFILL: How many minds are you of?
STUART ROTHENBERG: Amy said that she is of many minds on this issue.
Well, Donald Trump is of many minds on what his position is on this issue.
STUART ROTHENBERG: There has been buzz in the last 24 hours that Trump is going to come out on Wednesday and talk about securing the border first, and then addressing people who are here without papers.
I think he has softened — he has tried to soften his message a little bit by talking more about a humane treatment.
GWEN IFILL: He has used that word more than once, yes.
STUART ROTHENBERG: Yes.
And six months ago, a year ago, it was — he never seemed to be concerned with how people are being treated. Just get them the hell out. So, I think that’s a difference.
GWEN IFILL: Let’s talk about Hillary Clinton’s sore spot, the thing that never seems to go away, which are questions about her truthfulness, her honesty, her e-mails.
And in this poll from Monmouth University that came out today, voters were asked, do you think Hillary Clinton gave special treatment to big donors of the Clinton Foundation when she was secretary of state, or did she do nothing out of the ordinary in the way she treated them?
And a whole lot of people say she gave special treatment. But in that same poll, she’s leading pretty well nationally. So?
AMY WALTER: That’s the theme of this campaign, right?
GWEN IFILL: Yes.
AMY WALTER: Stu and I have talked to and listened to many voters saying, this is the lesser of two evils campaign. People are not excited about their choice. They’re just picking the candidate that they think is the least bad.
And perceptions of Hillary Clinton are pretty well settled. They don’t think she’s trustworthy. They’re not happy about this, but when they look at their other choice right now, they feel even less secure.
GWEN IFILL: These choices don’t happen in a vacuum.
STUART ROTHENBERG: No.
And, look, they’re not going to feel that she’s trustworthy between now and then.
AMY WALTER: Yes.
STUART ROTHENBERG: And that’s a problem.
But, as you point out, in the Monmouth poll, she was ahead by seven points. So, this is a case of, I have to choose which candidate I hate least, at least with the voters.
GWEN IFILL: Does that mean that she’s safe in just assuming that she doesn’t need to worry about questions like that?
STUART ROTHENBERG: Well, any candidate ought to worry all the time, and campaign managers do.
Look, I think that most of the negatives for both candidates, frankly, are already baked in the cake. Having said that, if you’re Hillary Clinton’s campaign, you don’t want the topic of the day to be her problems either with the foundation or with e-mails. You want to be discussing different kinds of things.
So, I think, unless something really new comes out and changes the narrative, that we probably have the race that we have now for a while.
AMY WALTER: I completely agree.
GWEN IFILL: I was on vacation last week watching with great interest, arm’s length, as Donald Trump came out repeatedly and made a real pitch to African-American voters.
You talk about, these are the things that usually happen in the spring. And Hillary Clinton pushed back as well.
I got the distinct impression they weren’t talking to African American…
GWEN IFILL: Stu is laughing at me — African-American voters.
Amy, what was your impression?
AMY WALTER: Yes.
My impression was, the challenge right now for the Trump campaign — sorry — is to consolidate Republican voters. I mean, part of the reason he’s behind seven, eight points in some of these polls is not because he’s losing — yes, he’s losing independents, but because he’s losing Republicans.
Talking to these suburban swing voters who have distanced themselves from Trump, trying to bring them back by saying, he’s really not as bigoted as he may come across. Really, he’s softer, he’s more humane.
GWEN IFILL: And, in fact, it’s Hillary Clinton who is bigoted.
AMY WALTER: It’s Hillary Clinton who has the problem.
STUART ROTHENBERG: Boy, that is a really tough message to deliver.
Hillary Clinton, with her record, her support in the minority community, particularly the African-American community, the way they view her, calling her a bigot, I don’t think they’re going to accept that.
And, look, the Republicans do have an opportunity here to make the case to Latinos, to African-Americans, to all minorities about the Republican agenda and free market and all that.
GWEN IFILL: OK.
STUART ROTHENBERG: But Donald Trump is not the guy to make that argument.
GWEN IFILL: All right, Stu, we will see.
Stu Rothenberg of The Rothenberg Political Report, Washington Post, Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report, thank you both very much.
AMY WALTER: You’re welcome.
STUART ROTHENBERG: Thank you.
GWEN IFILL: Where do you fit in the political spectrum compared to other voters this election? Developed with Pew Research Center, we have updated our Political Party Quiz. Take it now on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour.
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