The ‘remarkable’ dynamic confronting the GOP

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HARI SREENIVASAN: That brings us to our Politics Monday duo, Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR, joining us tonight from Detroit.

So, Amy, let’s start with this evaporation of support from some Republican leadership. Does it matter?

AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: Oh, it absolutely matters.

If you think back to the 2012 election, Mitt Romney, of course, lost the campaign. He lost while getting 93 percent of the Republican vote. Getting less than 90 percent is a big problem in a country that is as polarized as this.

And so even if it’s only 5 or 10 percent of voters, not necessarily who even just go out and vote for Hillary Clinton, but the bigger concern, I think, for Republicans down ballot is that traditional Republican voters stay home. They find themselves so disgusted by this race, they can’t support Donald Trump, they don’t like Hillary Clinton, and so they sit on their hands, they don’t turn out.

That is a bigger problem, I think, for down-ballot races than almost anything else.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Tamara, what does it mean when the man, Paul Ryan, two heartbeats away from the president, the leader of the House, says that he’s not necessarily unendorsing Donald Trump, but he’s not backing him, he’s not going to spend more effort?

TAMARA KEITH, NPR: He’s in absolutely a tough position.

And he’s been in a tough position, and really the Trump candidacy has put a ton of Republicans in very tough positions. From the Democratic perspective, the Clinton campaign today responding to Paul Ryan, basically said, Paul Ryan, you enabled Donald Trump for months throughout the summer and before that.

And they are intent on not letting congressional Republicans, including those ones who are unendorsing, get away with trying to distance themselves from Donald Trump.

And I think we’re very close to this point in a campaign where potentially you are going to have congressional candidates, Republican congressional candidates running, saying, let’s assume Hillary Clinton is going to be president, reelect me or elect me so that we can have a Republican Senate and a Republican House to serve as a counterbalance to the person they assume will be the president of the United States.

And that is a pretty remarkable moment.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And that happened during the Clinton…

AMY WALTER: During the ’96…

HARI SREENIVASAN: Right.

AMY WALTER: Right, during the ’96 campaign, there was concerted effort by the House and Senate campaign committees to basically concede the presidential race and say, vote for Republican candidate X to make sure that Clinton, then Bill Clinton, doesn’t get a blank check.

And this has been happening throughout the campaign, Hari. We have seen the Republican Party divided, come back together, divide, come back together. And we are now only 30 days from the election, and so the question is, does it come back together like it always does, or are we going to see it continue to be divided, dispirited and essentially you are going to have this big enthusiasm gap between those who are going to go out and support Hillary Clinton and those who are going to split the Republicans?

HARI SREENIVASAN: Tamara, late in the afternoon, we had the RNC come out and say: We are still behind our candidate.

Is this sort of continued cause to believe about this rift inside the Republican Party, almost a civil war, intentions on who is supporting who to be a true Republican?

TAMARA KEITH: Well, and there had been rumors over the weekend that Reince Priebus was trying to tamp down that the RNC was cutting bait and was going to pull its support from Donald Trump, financial support or campaign support.

And with this, Priebus is essentially saying, no, we’re in it for our candidate.

Priebus is in another tough position. You have a large portion of the Republican base. Yes, there are people who are Republicans who say that they can’t vote for Donald Trump, but there are a lot of people who voted for Donald Trump in the primaries who are passionate about his candidacy and do not want establishment Republicans or Beltway Republicans to tell them that they can’t have their candidate.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Amy, so, where do voters fall on this divide inside the Republican Party?

AMY WALTER: Yes.

So, we have had some polling come out in the wake of the videotape that came out over the weekend. And the question was asked — The Wall Street Journal poll asked voters who are supporting Donald Trump, do you think that this is enough for the Republican Party to distance themselves, to ask him to step down, maybe to repudiate him?

Sixty-seven percent of Republicans said, don’t do anything, right, Donald Trump is in the right, the party has no right to basically do any of those things. Sixty-seven percent is a big number. As Tam pointed out, that is not a group of voters you want to alienate.

At the same time, that means that there is another pretty sizable group of Republicans right now, or at least people who would support Donald Trump, who say, I don’t know that I can continue to have him at the top of ticket.

And that is a very, very difficult spot to be, especially if you are a candidate running for Congress in one of these districts like Tom Davis did, suburban, where you have a lot of voters who are independent, maybe are Republican by nature, but feeling very alienated by the party at this point.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Tamara, first I guess your impressions on the debate.

TAMARA KEITH: Yes, so it was a tough debate. It was rough. It was hard to watch. It was — I got messages from lots of people saying, oh, my gosh, I have a pit in my stomach watching this.

In the end, you know, Donald Trump went nuclear. He really did. He brought out the big thing that he said he had been threatening to bring out for a long time. And I don’t know that it materially changed the state of the race. It certainly excites his base, but it’s not clear that it was any sort of a knockout blow against Hillary Clinton.

She, you know, today, at her rally said, how about that debate, and got the biggest applause of the day again. So, for people who support her, she did a fine job, and they were happy with it.

And in terms of broadening the ways, Donald Trump appealed to his base, but I don’t know that he appealed to people who were looking, trying to figure out what to do in this election.

AMY WALTER: Yes. There is a lot of talk about, is the floor going to drop out on Donald Trump? Donald Trump has never had a floor problem.

The people who are with him are always going to be with him. Let’s say that is 35, 40 percent of the electorate. His problem is a ceiling problem. And he has never been able to expand it very high, in part because he keeps going back and talking to the people who make up his floor, instead of trying to go to the people who can expand his ceiling.

And that scorched earth campaign that he ran yesterday at the debate to me suggests that that’s the kind of thing we’re going to see for the next 30 days, which means there is no reaching out, there is no broadening, there’s no pivoting. This is all about, can I get those people who love me, who come to my rallies to continue to support me at the same rate?

That’s, though, not a winning coalition. It’s a coalition, though, that he likes to spend time with.

HARI SREENIVASAN: It’s also one of the first times that we have had a candidate essentially threaten to throw the other one in jail if he wins.

AMY WALTER: Yes, I mean, we have never seen anything quite like that.

And his campaign will say, well, it wasn’t actually — he quipped about it. But the fact of the matter is, he said, I’m going to — first of all, I’m going to have this — the Justice Department appoint a special prosecutor to investigate somebody who lost a campaign.

And then, as an aside, he said, well, if I were president, you would be in jail.

That is not something that anybody has ever seen before. And I think, again, to the voters who are looking to see could they picture Donald Trump as president, where their number one concern, at least that I hear from a lot of these especially women voters, worried about his temperament, that is the sorts of thing that keeps them — you know, keeps pushing them away.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Tamara, did Hillary Clinton reach out to any larger audiences last night?

TAMARA KEITH: There was a little of that. And the campaign is continuing that today.

Certainly, she delivered her stronger together message, which is, of course, the theme of her campaign. But that is a message that is intended to reach people who aren’t just deep blue Democrats. And, today, her campaign is out with four ads that will be running in swing states that feature Republicans talking about why they’re voting for her and not Donald for Trump.

And she’s really presenting this as a choice of saying, voters know who Donald Trump is, but the way we vote will be — will say who we are, is the message that she’s delivering. That is a message that’s aimed at Republicans and independents, and certainly not just die-hard Democrats.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Tamara Keith, Amy Walter, thanks so much.

AMY WALTER: You’re welcome, Hari.

TAMARA KEITH: You’re welcome.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And our analysis and fact-checking continues on our Web site, where you can find the top five debate takeaways from our politics team.

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