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Politics & Government

Politics In The News: What Are The Biggest Takeaways So Far?


Labor Day is the holiday that marks the official end of summer, the beginning of school and also, you could say, the fall political season. To remind us of what we've learned about the presidential nominating battle in both parties and also what to expect next, we're joined by NPR's national political correspondent, Mara Liasson. Good morning.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: What has been the biggest takeaway from the summer?

LIASSON: The biggest takeaway from the summer is that it's bad to be a conventional candidate. It's bad to be an establishment candidate. On the Democratic side, you see Hillary Clinton sinking in the polls. The outsider in the Democratic race, even though he is a senator, is Democratic socialist Bernie Sanders of Vermont. And in the latest NBC-Marist poll, Sanders leads Clinton by 9 points in New Hampshire and by 11 points if you take away Joe Biden from that poll. So the Clinton campaign is undergoing a reset of sorts. Mrs. Clinton gave a rare interview with a national news network, NBC, on Friday, and her campaign has indicated there will be more of those interviews to come. It's a sign that she understands she needs to be more open and contrite about the email story, which has been hurting her. She told Andrea Mitchell she didn't apologize for using a private server for her emails, but she did say she was sorry that this has been so confusing to people and has raised so many questions. You know, in the latest Washington Post poll, 53 percent of Americans said that Clinton was not honest and trustworthy. And this has Democrats worried - not so much about her getting the nomination, but about her vulnerabilities in a general election.

MONTAGNE: And on the Republican side, Mara, a man that apparently a fair number of people trust, Donald Trump. It's been the Trump show.

LIASSON: It's been the Trump show. He's at the top of the polls. He's still climbing. In the NBC-Marist poll, he's winning New Hampshire by 16 points. He leads by 7 points in Iowa. No matter who Trump insults, no matter what questions he can't answer on foreign policy, doesn't seem to hurt him. Nothing seems to dent his support in the Republican primary electorate. The normal rules don't seem to apply to him. And now Trump has signed the pledge not to run as a third-party candidate if he doesn't get the nomination and to support the eventual nominee. And all the other candidates in the Republican field have agreed to support him if he's the nominee.

MONTAGNE: Well, what about them, the other Republicans? How are they reacting?

LIASSON: Well, this last week was the week that Jeb Bush, who's been sinking in the polls - he's at 8 percent in New Hampshire - decided to take Trump on directly. Trump has been insulting Bush regularly as a low-energy candidate, so Bush ran some ads highlighting Trump's past liberal positions on choice, saying nice things about Hillary Clinton. But it's unclear if that kind of critique will work against Trump.

Most of the other candidates are happy to hold Jeb Bush's coat while he attacks Trump, except for one. Ted Cruz has had nothing but nice things to say about Donald Trump. He seems to be positioning himself as the candidate that Trump supporters could turn to if they ever reconsidered their support for Donald Trump. And not only has Cruz refrained from criticizing Trump, he's invited him to join him, Cruz, at a rally at the Capitol on Wednesday against the Iran nuclear deal.

MONTAGNE: That vote, of course, is coming soon on the Iran deal. What do you think this rally will do?

LIASSON: I don't know if it'll make a lot of difference. The president has already found more than the 34 votes in the Senate he needs to uphold a veto if the resolution against the deal passes both houses of Congress. Now the White House is looking for 41 Democrats to maintain a filibuster so that the disapproval bill never gets to his desk at all. Over the weekend, the president got two more endorsements - Colin Powell, former Republican secretary of state, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, congresswoman from Florida, but also an important Jewish Democrat and the chairman of the DNC. Both of them endorsed the deal.

MONTAGNE: Mara, thanks very much.

LIASSON: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.