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This Week In Politics: Trump To Try To Recover From Missteps


The presidential candidates promise to make a departure this week, talking issues instead of character. They're both planning economic speeches. Now, in recent days, Hillary Clinton has argued that Donald Trump is temperamentally unfit to serve as president. Trump fired back over the weekend.


DONALD TRUMP: So unstable, Hillary - she lacks the judgment, temperament and moral character - moral character - to lead this country.

INSKEEP: Over the weekend, a longtime CIA official endorsed Clinton, citing Trump character flaws such as, quote, "overreaction to perceived slights." Trump later called Clinton unhinged. Trump did try to end some of the feuds that have driven him down in polling. And we're going to talk about this and much more with Cokie Roberts, who joins us most Mondays.

Hi, Cokie.


INSKEEP: Also with Republican strategist John Feehery, a columnist for The Hill.

Welcome to you, sir.

JOHN FEEHERY: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Cokie, let's start with you. Trump did endorse Paul Ryan, endorsed John McCain, ending a couple of feuds there. Is he changing at all?

ROBERTS: Well - and he is going to make this economic speech today in Detroit. Is this a new Donald Trump? I don't think so. I think the Republicans have basically given up on that. That's part of what happened last week in his very bad, miserable, horrible week - was that he convinced a lot of Republicans that there is no pivot and that he will be the same Donald Trump.

I think that the endorsement of John McCain and Paul Ryan and Kelly Ayotte, the senator from New Hampshire - I hate to say this because I love the radio so - but you really had to see it (laughter) because he was reading from a card. It was hardly something that was full-throated.

INSKEEP: He's, like, looking down at the...

ROBERTS: Right, right.

INSKEEP: ...Lectern as he goes. John Feehery, what's it been like, the past week, to be a Republican who is trying to support the nominee?

FEEHERY: It's been very difficult. I think that if Donald Trump could just stop being so stupid it would be helpful to the whole slate of candidates. I think him endorsing, no matter how painful it was for him - because he is, really, an outsider - and for him to endorse insiders is hard for him temperamentally.

But he also has to understand that he's part of a team. And when he brings down the whole team, the team's going to turn on him. And that's why you have some of this talk of a lot of these Never Trump people saying, we have to replace the nominee, which is not going to happen. But, you know, there's this wishful thinking for a lot of Republicans inside the beltway. If we could just get rid of this guy, we can, you know, be in a better shape.

INSKEEP: I thought, when - there was a Washington Post interview that a lot of people noticed in which he pointedly did not endorse Paul Ryan. And there's a detail that I wonder if it points to something that's important in this man's character because he sort of didn't endorse Paul Ryan, then he came back to the subject later and he said - I want to give you an exact quote, "I'm not quite there yet," mirroring language that Paul Ryan had used about him. And it was clearly somebody who couldn't let that go. He couldn't let that go.

ROBERTS: That gets to what you were saying earlier about Mike Morell, the CIA director, saying, you know, that he can't let go attacks on him. But what John just said is very significant because what Republicans are now dealing with is not so much the question of a new nominee because that is sort of fantasy land, but the question of, do they cut bait? And do they then start waging separate campaigns for the House and Senate?

Now, I personally think it's early for that. Usually, that doesn't happen until late September, October when a nominee is down in the polls. But, you know, Donald Trump really did drop in the polls this past week and among significant groups. I mean, we keep talking about how well he is doing with non-college-educated white men, but the reverse of that is that Hillary Clinton is doing very well - very well - with college-educated white women, who normally do not vote Democratic. And in fact, she's even tying among white women overall. And they have not voted Democratic in a presidential election in 40 years, except in 1996 when they elected Bill Clinton.

FEEHERY: Yeah (unintelligible) jump in here. I think Cokie's exactly right that it's early for this. I remember in 1992, when Ed Rollins suggested that House Republicans should start distancing themselves from George H.W. Bush and then in 1996, when Republicans decided they were going to throw Bob Dole under the bus and run their separate campaign as a blank check on Bill Clinton. It's early to do this. We don't necessarily have to panic yet, although we're getting close to panic time.

INSKEEP: I was going to say, we had Steven Law on the program on Friday. He runs this super PAC that's trying to support people in the Senate - Republicans trying to stay in the Senate, which is something I know you're all about, John Feehery. And he said, in the last week, we've begun to see signs that in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire - some key states - there are senators who are hurting because of Donald Trump,

FEEHERY: Yeah. If we have a complete meltdown on this - on the presidential ticket, it's going to be bad for Republicans. It's going to be bad for Kelly Ayotte. If you look at the polls, she's down 10. Trump's down 15. If he could get down 5 or down 3, Kelly Ayotte's going to win that race. We cannot have a complete meltdown on the presidential ticket. Otherwise, we're in big trouble.

INSKEEP: I want to explain those numbers....

ROBERTS: But there is time.

INSKEEP: Go, Cokie.

ROBERTS: But there is time. I mean, this is still early. And there are presidential debates to still - to happen. And they can make a big difference. Events in the course of the next couple of months can make a big difference. And Hillary Clinton can make some big mistakes, which we saw her do again last week in her inability to deal with that email question. I mean, it's somewhat mind-boggling that she hasn't gotten some pat answer down to that question now.

INSKEEP: Let me ask about Hillary Clinton here because the journalist Ron Brownstein had an interesting article over the weekend noting that when you focus on millennial voters, younger voters who are huge in this election - people who you presume are going to be with the Democrat, going to be with Hillary Clinton - it's a more diverse generation - they haven't exactly embraced Hillary Clinton. They don't exactly trust this person, he says.

FEEHERY: Well, she doesn't have any message that really appeals to millennial voters. And I think that that's going to be a real problem for her in turn up because millennial voters helped push Barack Obama over the limit. They were essential to his coalition. But Cokie's right, the big problem for Republicans is college-educated voters. And if they get crushed by college-educated white voters, they're going to lose this election. I think Brownstein's also written extensively about that. And white women is - if you don't break even or do better with white women, Donald Trump is dead.

INSKEEP: Cokie, you get the last word.

ROBERTS: The other thing - well, I think that there's something here beyond politics, though. And that's something else Republicans are grappling with. And the conservative columnists, like David Brooks at The New York Times, who is on our sister program All Things Considered, is saying, if you're not against him, you're with him. And "when this period," I'm quoting here, "and your name are mentioned, decades hence, your grandkids will look away in shame." And that is really strong stuff. And it's getting some Republicans' attention. And they're really grappling with how to handle it.

INSKEEP: Commentator and columnist Cokie Roberts, always a pleasure to hear from you. Thanks very much.

ROBERTS: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Also this morning, Republican analyst and strategist John Feehery. Thanks to you.

FEEHERY: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: He writes for The Hill. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.