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Week In Politics: Trump Takes Swipe At Fellow Republicans


Now to discuss the week in politics, we have two analysts here in our studios at NPR West in Culver City, Calif. Leon Krauze is an author and Univision anchor. Welcome to the program.

LEON KRAUZE: Good to be with you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: And John Phillips is a political commentator for CNN, the Orange County Register and KABC in Los Angeles. Thanks for being with us.

JOHN PHILLIPS: Welcome to California.

SHAPIRO: So President Trump has always been eager to attack his enemies, but this week was pretty extraordinary. He went to Phoenix for a campaign event and attacked senators from his own party, including Arizona's two senators, Jeff Flake and John McCain, who is fighting cancer. Let's listen to the section of the speech where he was talking about the failure of the health care repeal vote.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: One vote away - I will not mention any names - very presidential, isn't it, very president. And nobody wants me to talk about your other senator, who's weak on borders, weak on crime. So I won't talk about him.

SHAPIRO: He has also been attacking Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and just this morning Tennessee Senator Bob Corker. These are all members of his own party who he will need to help pass his agenda. John Phillips, could you imagine any political adviser telling him this is a good tactic, that this will be useful?

PHILLIPS: (Laughter) Oh, we live in a country where the Kardashians are on the front page, the front cover of The Hollywood Reporter. We have a pretty high tolerance for drama.

SHAPIRO: But they don't have to pass legislation.

PHILLIPS: (Laughter) Well, this is why I love the speeches.

KRAUZE: Thank God.

PHILLIPS: And I love the Twitter feed because it's just this never-ending festivous airing of the grievances. And look. This falls in line with what Trump ran on as a candidate. He ran as a disruptor. He ran as a guy who was going to go in and do business in a very different, way something that we're not used to, drain the swamp, so to speak. And he took on all the sacred cows. I mean there were a bunch of issues where there's an elite consensus in both parties, whether it be immigration, trade, foreign wars. He's taking on all of those subjects.

And you know what? I think that he has the right to be angry at Mitch McConnell and the Senate leadership because that vote did fail by one vote. And look. McCain's going to do what McCain's going to do, but they should have been able to put pressure on Lisa Murkowski to flip her vote. She's a machine politician from a very red state. They didn't do it. McConnell is a skilled parliamentarian. And you're seeing that frustration spill out in places like Arizona and Twitter.

SHAPIRO: But even if the grievances are legitimate, Leon, how does he get anything passed if he's making enemies with the people who will have to pass it?

KRAUZE: Well, just like you, I don't understand how this public showdown between the president and his party benefits either one. But the fact is that Trump is now a fearsome opponent to have. I was looking at some recent polling on Jeff Flake, Dean Heller and even McConnell. And...

SHAPIRO: Heller is the Nevada congressman.

KRAUZE: Exactly, and who's also controversial vis-a-vis Trump. And the fact is that in that recent polling, all three men have been hurt by Trump, Trump's attacks with Trump voters, who are now overwhelmingly disapproving of all three in this recent polling that I am referring to. My question now is, what is the Republican Party to do? I mean should it acquiesce to Trump's every demand just because the president is behaving this way? The polling is dramatic.

SHAPIRO: I mean, John, do you think these kinds of threats will actually get senators to do things that they might otherwise be reluctant to do?

PHILLIPS: I would hope so. I mean last week was a pretty rough week for the president. And The Cook Political Report, which tracks all of the U.S. Senate races in the country, moved five different races last week. Four of them moved in the direction of Republicans. All four of those Republicans happened to represent states that Donald Trump won.

Donald Trump is still very popular among his base, and the issues that he ran on, particularly the issue of the border wall, is something that his voters demand. I mean if there's anything that he absolutely has to do to keep his people in line, it's the border wall. And that's why I think tying it to the debt ceiling is a smart political move for him.

He's going to force a lot of these Democrats who are running in very marginal states, in red states, states that he won, people like Claire McCaskill, people like Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Manchin, to be forced to vote against the wall, something their constituents would be very angry about.

SHAPIRO: Tying the government funding to the border wall is one thing even though during the campaign he repeatedly promised that Mexico would pay for the wall. Threatening to shut down the government is something that I've never heard from a president. Leon, what do you make of this strategy?

KRAUZE: Well, I think it's a slippery slope when it comes to American democracy, to be honest with you. I was talking to a Trump voter from California - Hispanic, by the way - Trump voter from California. And I asked him, what do you think, John, about this? I profiled him for The New Yorker during the campaign. And I asked him, what do you think about Trump's tactics? And he said, I love them. It's about time that these liberals, these Republicans in name only - and he was referring to Mitch McConnell, of all people, and...

SHAPIRO: A Republican in name only, Mitch McConnell.

KRAUZE: Exactly, you know? Leave Washington, and real conservatives and real Republicans come in. So they are giving the president the power to basically veto the existence of these senators who were democratically elected. That for me is a slippery slope. Coming from Latin America, believe me. That begins to sound like Latino-American populism. It's dangerous.

SHAPIRO: So this is the argument that if people wanted a bull in the china shop, then they will celebrate when china gets broken.

PHILLIPS: (Laughter) That's right.

SHAPIRO: That is to say dishware, not the country.

PHILLIPS: (Laughter) People didn't vote for Donald Trump because they want more gold fixtures in the White House. People voted for Donald Trump because they want the wall. This is his George H.W. Bush read-my-lips moment. If he doesn't follow through with that, if he doesn't come through with it - and I think he can fudge on who pays for it because there are creative ways of finding ways to say, look; Mexico is paying for part of it if you tax remittances or do something along those lines. But he's got to build the wall. There's got to be something physical, some structure put up on the border. Otherwise, he's toast.

SHAPIRO: You've both talked a fair amount about poll numbers, re-election prospects. And the speech that Trump delivered in Phoenix was not delivered in his capacity as president but as a candidate for re-election. And I wonder if this perpetual campaign - which is a phrase we've used before, but it's never been literal quite the way it has with this president who filed for re-election the day he was inaugurated or shortly thereafter - if that changes the way we look at governing the country, John?

PHILLIPS: Well, he has no allies in Washington, D.C. We can tell what his relationship is like with Republican-elected members of the Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. The media hates his guts. A lot of people who are lobbyists, who are staffers who've worked on - in Washington, D.C., really, truly don't like him.

The bond that he has is with the American people. And when you see him campaigning, you see him at rallies like what you saw in Phoenix, there's an electricity in the room that you don't see when he's speaking in front of Congress before a joint session. That energizes him. That energizes his voters and supporters.

SHAPIRO: Leon, final thought - how do you think this perpetual campaign changes things?

KRAUZE: Well, I would again be careful with the phrase American people when one thinks of populism. With regards to the wall, 56 percent of people oppose the wall. Trump voters, in a Washington Post-ABC poll - 76 percent of them favor it, but only 56 percent of them strongly support it. So in my opinion, Trump is threatening to shut down the government in order to satisfy half his base while going against the will of 60 percent of American adults. Those are big numbers in my opinion.

SHAPIRO: Leon Krauze of Univision, thanks very much for coming into the studio.

KRAUZE: Thank you both.

SHAPIRO: And John Phillips of CNN, the Orange County Register and KABC, great to have you here.

PHILLIPS: Thank you for having me.