Politics In The News
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Roy Moore shows no sign of dropping out of the Senate race in Alabama, and President Donald Trump says there's no reason that he should. The president was asked last week if he believes the women who have accused Moore of sexual misconduct, and here's how the president responded.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He totally denies it. He says it didn't happen. And, you know, you have to listen to him, also. You're talking about - he said 40 years ago, this did not happen.
MARTIN: President Trump there defending Moore. He also went on offense against Moore's Democratic opponent, Doug Jones, and the president has been tweeting about this over the weekend. Jonah Goldberg is in the studio with me this morning. He is a senior editor at the National Review.
JONAH GOLDBERG: Hey, Rachel, great to be here.
MARTIN: Happy post-Thanksgiving. So President Trump could've just let this race go, right? The official line from the White House had been, look, these allegations are troubling - and if true, then really troubling - but it's an issue for Alabama voters to decide. Then the president made it something different. He's not backing away from this. He's actually leaning into it. What does he get from this?
GOLDBERG: Well, he - you're right, he has not officially said he's endorsing Roy Moore. He has just basically talked around in every conceivable way to make it sound like he's endorsing Roy Moore because he is endorsing him.
MARTIN: He's all but endorsing Roy Moore.
GOLDBERG: Right, right, he just hasn't said those magic words. I think part of it is, they really want that Senate seat. They feel like they need that Senate seat for some early votes coming up. I think long term, Roy Moore is an unbelievable poison pill for the Republican Party and a terrible idea for the Republican Party, even if he gives you a vote on the Senate - on the tax bill.
GOLDBERG: That said, it also seems in the last few days that he has now figured out that he wants to analogize it to the "Access Hollywood" tape and...
MARTIN: The president.
GOLDBERG: The president does. And...
MARTIN: ...Which he's now claiming - or has at least said privately - that these things may have been manufactured.
GOLDBERG: Yeah, you know, that's the weirdest thing about, you know, the - ever since they touched the orb, everything has been going differently. And the whole thing that the president of United States says that a credible video - I mean, audio or video of him confessing to incriminating thing - self-incriminating acts was adulterated or fabricated - in normal times, that would be a very large story, it seems to me. And instead, it's just now written off as sort of the normalized world of...
MARTIN: Just a parenthetical.
GOLDBERG: This is what Donald Trump - how Donald Trump talks.
MARTIN: But the point is, he is trying to draw this connection. He sees himself in Roy Moore in some way as a man who is victimized by unfair allegations.
GOLDBERG: That's right. In Trump world, that "Access Hollywood" minute - moment was sort of central to figure out who your friends and who your enemies were. It taught the lesson of sort of sticking to your base. And Donald Trump has decided that Roy Moore is now an avatar for a certain chunk of his base, and he doesn't want to get crosswise with them. He's also decided that he made a huge mistake listening to Mitch McConnell and backing Luther Strange during the primaries - the incumbent senator - and he just doesn't want to get burned again.
And the problem is, well, I disagree with it - that would be an understandable position of just saying, OK, I'm not going to get in the middle of this, I'm going to leave it to the Alabama voters. But he can't leave well enough alone, so instead, he's trying to tilt the scales and make it sound like he's actually endorsing a guy who's been credibly accused of assaulting teenagers.
MARTIN: Who the leadership of his own party, I mean, abhors, at this point - the Mitch McConnell types, the establishment-Republican types, want Moore to go away because they see it as, as you said, a kind of poison pill. And in the midst of all this, they're trying to move forward with the legislative agenda - tax reform - I mean, the big tax overhaul bill. The president's going to Capitol Hill today, having lunch with senators.
MARTIN: Is this thing going to happen?
GOLDBERG: It's - I still give it a better than 50-50 shot. I'm generally in favor of big chunks of the tax reform, but I think it needs work. The - part of the problem is is that the traditional role of selling this to senator is - of wheeling, dealing and giving, you know, perks and presents to senators to get them on board is normally the job played by the president. It's not the job envisioned by the Constitution, but that's the way it's worked out over history.
MARTIN: And is he not doing it this time?
GOLDBERG: And he's not doing it.
MARTIN: So it's like health care. He's just taking a back seat.
GOLDBERG: Right. So Mitch McConnell is playing that role, and the problem is is that the Senate majority leader's goody bag is much shallower than the president's goody bag. And so Mitch McConnell's in a tough position to - there are basically six people who need to be - who are holding out their support on the Republican side, and he needs - what? - three of them to get back on board.
MARTIN: All right, I can't let you go because there's something I heard that I have to ask you about. I heard that you were being considered as Time magazine's man of the year. I mean, it's not for sure. It's just maybe, but I thought you might want to know that.
GOLDBERG: Well, you know, as a defender of the Koch brothers in this - in these strange times...
MARTIN: (Laughter) We should explain before we go on. The Koch brothers - conservative businessmen, obviously politically active - they made a huge cash payment to help Meredith Corp. buy Time Inc., which owns Time magazine.
GOLDBERG: Right. They've invested - their equity fund has invested some margin of money, and people are freaking out over this. I've never quite understood the anti-Koch-brothers freakout. I mean, fine to disagree with them, but if the left had spent less time demonizing the Koch brothers, maybe you would get someone less Trump-y and more Koch brothers-y (ph). And they're very libertarian on a lot of the issues that a lot of people on the left care more about.
MARTIN: And we should just note Koch Industries is an occasional funder of NPR programming. Jonah Goldberg from National Review - thanks, Jonah.
GOLDBERG: Great to be here, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.