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Week In Politics: Closing Arguments Before Election Day

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

By this time next week, we will hopefully know which party is going to control the House and Senate for the next two years. Candidates and their surrogates are making closing arguments all over the country. Here is what President Trump had to say last night in Missouri.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This election is a choice between Republican results and radical resistance. It's a choice between greatness and gridlock. It's a choice between jobs and mobs. And it's a choice between an economy that is going strong and the Democrats, who are going crazy.

(CHEERING)

SHAPIRO: And at an event yesterday for the Democratic candidate for Georgia governor, Oprah Winfrey made an appearance, where she was careful to point out that she's actually a registered independent.

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OPRAH WINFREY: All the noise - you just can't get away from it. You turn on the TV. It's so much noise and crazy talk - all the vitriol in the ads. You know what? They are designed to confuse and confound you with fear.

SHAPIRO: OK, for our final week in politics before we get election results, we are joined by Kristen Soltis Anderson and Michelle Goldberg. Kristen is a pollster and columnist for the Washington Examiner, author of "The Selfie Vote." Hello there.

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON: Hello.

SHAPIRO: And Michelle is a columnist for The New York Times and host of the podcast The Argument. Good to have you back.

MICHELLE GOLDBERG: Hi. Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: OK, before we dig in deep, I'd like you each to just give me a big-picture snapshot of what you think this midterm election has looked like in just a couple words - Kristen.

ANDERSON: I think this election is not behaving like a normal wave election yet because the question of who's going to bring change to Washington is unresolved. I think voters on the Republican side would argue that Donald Trump is not done bringing change to Washington and that if Democrats take control of the House, that will prevent him from continuing on that agenda.

SHAPIRO: Michelle, what does this look like to you big-picture?

GOLDBERG: Well, I think looming over a lot of these races and a lot of this Democratic enthusiasm is just sheer revulsion at this president that is lurching towards authoritarianism. And that has mobilized a huge numbers of people and particularly huge numbers of women. But what's interesting is that even though it is the catastrophe of the 2016 election that maybe spurred them to get involved in the first place, on the ground, people aren't talking about Trump. They're really talking about health care and sort of grassroots pocketbook issues.

SHAPIRO: Revulsion and catastrophe are two very, very strong words.

GOLDBERG: Not strong enough.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) How do you each assess the Republican closing argument? Michelle, what do you make of the Republican argument going into these final days?

GOLDBERG: Well, you know, there's been a lot of debate, again, since the catastrophe of the 2016 election about whether it was racism or economic anxiety. And they think we can see what Trump believes was responsible for his victory. You know, so his closing argument is basically marauding brown people are going to come and kill you. You know, it's based on lies. It's based on shameless demagoguery and the demonization of really vulnerable people. And we'll see if it works.

SHAPIRO: Kristen, is that how you see the Republican argument?

ANDERSON: So interestingly, you know, the clip you played of Oprah where she talks about how politics just feels like so much noise and so much vitriol now - it's interesting to watch Donald Trump, who himself has very much so dabbled in the world of overheated rhetoric, trying to use that argument in Republicans' favor - again, this idea that, look; you may not like the way things are going in politics now, but if you give us divided government in Washington, just imagine how much more acrimonious it's going to become.

SHAPIRO: Do Democrats have a closing argument, or are they just saying, make us the counterpoint to Trump? I mean, are they arguing for something affirmative, Kristen?

ANDERSON: It strikes me that health care is the biggest message that you're seeing in all of their ads, and it's because I think Democrats are playing the Trump question carefully. They're trying actually not to make Donald Trump the center of their messaging. In places where Democrats are running the most savvy campaigns, I think it's in these suburban areas where they're not running a full-frontal assault on Trump. They're saying, send me to Washington; I want to work with him. What - whether or not they succeed I think will depend on whether voters believe that a Democratic majority in Washington would try to work with Trump.

SHAPIRO: Michelle, I know you've been looking at female voters specifically in a lot of your reporting. What are you seeing?

GOLDBERG: Well, I think that the reason that they don't need to make an appeal based on Trump is because the people who hate and fear Trump and what he's doing to this country will crawl over glass to vote. You know, you don't need to convince most people in this country that Trump is a terrible president. And so what they want to do is inspire people, give them something to vote for, give them something to feel hopeful about and optimistic about. And you see that in races all over from Beto in Texas to Stacey Abrams, who's running for governor in Georgia; Andrew Gillum, who's running for governor in Florida. There are people who make you feel really good about politics and the possibilities of what civic engagement can accomplish.

SHAPIRO: Just in our last couple minutes, it's impossible to ignore the violence of the last couple weeks from the synagogue shooting to the pipe bombs. Kristen, how do you think that's shaping these midterms?

ANDERSON: It's too soon to see what this will do to the polls, but certainly - let's think back to the Charlottesville incident back over a year ago. That was a moment of kind of a low point in the president's polling. And so to the extent that this is received by the American people in the same way that the Charlottesville moment was seen as the president not responding to acts of violence appropriately, I can see it harming his numbers. However, we are so close to Election Day. It's unclear to me that it's going to change a lot of voters' minds.

SHAPIRO: Michelle, what do you think?

GOLDBERG: Yeah, I mean, I think that it will just harden people in where they already were. I mean, a lot of people are terrified about what Trump is doing. They believe that he's fostered a climate of hate and incitement. But those people were probably going to vote for Democrats anyway.

What I do think it does is give lie to the incredibly bad faith attack that you've heard from Trump and other Republicans on, quote, unquote, "Democratic mobs," which is usually, you know, large groups of incensed suburban women, you know, who - you know, who are not violent at all. And it - I think it reveals the fact that we've seen so much more violent from the right. It's possible that the hypocrisy of what they've been doing will be too great for even some of the Republican candidates to shoulder.

SHAPIRO: I'm going to give you each one sentence to look into your crystal ball and tell us what the results are that you predict - Kristen.

ANDERSON: Oh, I'm not going to give a strong prediction.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

ANDERSON: I think Democrats are likely to take the House. But the Senate is too much of a tossup.

SHAPIRO: Michelle?

GOLDBERG: You know, I feel optimistic. But I - you know, I'm traumatized and will not believe that anything good can happen until it's already done.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Michelle Goldberg of The New York Times, thanks very much. And Kristen Soltis Anderson of the Washington Examiner, good to have you back.

ANDERSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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