Voters Say They'd Prefer New Faces To A 2020 Biden-Trump Rematch : The NPR Politics Podcast Former president Donald Trump, 76, has now filed to run for president again in 2024. President Biden, 79, also appears likely to run for reelection. In conversations across the country, many voters told NPR that they'll support one of the men in a general election — but would prefer to see their party nominate a different candidate.

This episode: White House correspondent Asma Khalid, White House correspondent Tamara Keith, national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

This episode was produced by Elena Moore and Casey Morell. It was edited by Eric McDaniel. Our executive producer is Muthoni Muturi. Fact-checking by Juma Sei.

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Voters Say They'd Prefer New Faces To A 2020 Biden-Trump Rematch

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GRAHAM: Hey, y'all. It's Graham (ph)...

CHARLOTTE: ...And Charlotte (ph).

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Aw (ph).

GRAHAM: We are in the central branch of the Seattle Public Library.

CHARLOTTE: Shh.

ASMA KHALID, HOST:

Oh (laughter).

GRAHAM: Oh, sorry. This is the last branch in our father-daughter project, where we visit all 26 branches of the Seattle Public Library.

KHALID: Oh, my gosh. I love that.

KEITH: Oh, wow.

GRAHAM: This podcast was recorded at...

KHALID: 1:09 p.m. Eastern time on Wednesday, November 16.

GRAHAM: Things may have changed by the time you hear this, but we'll still be visiting our local libraries, looking for great books.

GRAHAM AND CHARLOTTE: Enjoy the show. Shh.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

KHALID: Aw (ph).

KEITH: So sweet - I feel like Charlotte must be an only child because by the time you have a second child, you're just like, oh, my God, just make it through the day.

KHALID: Make it to the local library only (laughter). Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Asma Khalid. I cover the White House.

KEITH: I'm Tamara Keith. I also cover the White House.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: And I'm Mara Liasson, national political correspondent.

KHALID: And today on the show, we're going to talk about Donald Trump's presidential rerun. The former president announced last night in this sort of meandering speech from his compound at Mar-a-Lago that he is running for president again.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: I am, tonight, announcing my candidacy for president of the United States.

(CHEERING)

KHALID: So there you have it. Mara, thoughts about his decision to run for president again?

LIASSON: Well, a lot of Republicans didn't want him to announce it when he did. They wanted him to at least wait till after the Georgia runoff because they feel that even though he does energize his own base voters, he also energizes the opposition. And in this midterm, he energized the opposition more. But Donald Trump reportedly felt that to delay the announcement after he had hyped it and previewed it so often would be a sign of weakness. He also believes that it's financially and legally a safe place for him to be.

It might be harder for various prosecutors to go after him if he's a presidential candidate. But what also struck me is the fact that there were very, very few Republican-elected officials at Mar-a-Lago with him. So a lot of Republican voters and fans, but the Republican establishment was missing.

KEITH: Though he has already been endorsed by Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, at the very least.

LIASSON: Yes, that's true. That's true.

KEITH: I would say that the speech itself was pretty low energy. We'd call it Teleprompter Trump or, you know, Rose Garden Trump or - I don't know which version of Trump you want to call it.

KHALID: But it wasn't him coming down the escalator.

KEITH: Here's the thing. He did not shock anyone with any word he said. He didn't say anything particularly new, anything particularly shocking. And CNN cut away. Fox News cut away.

KHALID: I saw that. That was interesting.

KEITH: It was just a person running for president again.

LIASSON: Not just a person running for president - but yes, Fox News and all the Murdoch properties have decided that they're finished with Trump, and they're boosting DeSantis. There's no doubt that there's been a big sea change in the Republican universe since now Trump has lost three elections - 2018, '20 and now 2022. They're not turning on him because they think that he is bad for democracy or they disagree with his positions. They're turning on him because they think he is a loser and an anchor on the party.

KEITH: Well, and Ron DeSantis - he is the governor of Florida - he just won reelection in a significant way. And he's the Republican on the tip of everybody's tongues. Like, he's the one everybody talks about when they talk about an alternative to Trump. And there are at least some polls out there - and there are some polls that are sort of being pushed around by wise Republicans trying to, you know, say that Trump is done. There are polls out there that show that DeSantis is leading in some key states among potential primary voters, like in Iowa or New Hampshire.

KHALID: But what's notable, Tam, about what you're describing is a two-person contest, where, say, it was just Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis. What could happen is a whole bunch of Republicans who've been wanting to run on the sidelines decide to toss their names in, say, like the former vice president, Mike Pence, who seems to be on quite the book tour lately. I'm thinking of former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott. I mean, there's so many people in the Republican potential field who could decide to run. And if they do, I'm thinking, could this be another 2016 election, where Donald Trump rises to the top because it's such a crowded field?

LIASSON: Well, yeah. And that's why some Republicans thought that he should have waited till the field filled up and then get in. The question we're going to get the answer to is, how strong is Donald Trump's hold on the base of the party versus how strong is the ability of the donor class and the Republican establishment to clear the field so it'll only be a two-person race between Trump and DeSantis? Can they stop all these other people from getting in?

A crowded field, as Asma said, is the only way that Trump can win the nomination. It's the way he won the nomination in 2016. But back then, there was a failure of imagination among the Republican establishment. They thought if they took two aspirin and lay down, when they got up, Donald Trump would be gone. They didn't imagine that he could win. Now they know he can, and they're trying to figure out the best way to stop him without turning off all of his voters because they need those voters to win. There was - a lot of those voters are new voters that Donald Trump brought into the party.

KHALID: And to your point, Mara, I was speaking yesterday with Republican pollster Whit Ayres, and he said that, you know, about, say, 10% of the Republican electorate is what he would describe as Never Trumpers, meaning they do not want to see the former president run again. But 40% or so, he would say, are folks he describes as being maybe Trumpers, which I think is an interesting, sizable chunk of the Republican electorate. That means that if it comes down to it and it's Donald Trump is the Republican nominee, they will certainly back him. But they could potentially be persuaded to go with another candidate. But that leaves a sizable percentage of the Republican base, though, that is still with the former president.

KEITH: Yes.

LIASSON: Yeah, absolutely. And we don't know what Donald Trump will do if he doesn't get the nomination. Would he start a third party, which would be certainly a way to kneecap the Republican Party? And we don't know what will be the price that other candidates have to pay to encourage him to move aside.

KHALID: We've been talking about what Trump's reemergence as a presidential candidate means, both for the donor class of the Republican Party, but also what it means for Republican voters. And I know, Tam, you've been doing a substantial amount of reporting, just trying to get a sense of what voters actually think about this.

KEITH: Yeah. And all of this was before the midterms, before the election results were known. But these people I interviewed were all people who voted in the midterms and were coming out of early voting locations. And, you know, I was asking about congressional races and whatever. And then I would say, so what do you think of Donald Trump? So do you think he should run again? And I was surprised at how lukewarm these very rock-ribbed, MAGA Republicans were about Trump himself. Take Tony Vance Quake (ph).

TONY VANCE QUAKE: He was a non-politician.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Yup.

QUAKE: And we needed non-politicians.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Yup.

QUAKE: He's just far too polarizing, I think, to - if we can get someone like DeSantis or something out of Florida to run, I think he would make a big difference.

KEITH: And what was interesting - that was his wife uh-huh-ing (ph), and not me...

KHALID: And where were you at, which state?

KEITH: We were in North Carolina.

KHALID: So not that close to Florida that, you know, people know about DeSantis.

KEITH: Right. Oh, no. People know about DeSantis all over the country. And unprompted, just like Tony Vance Quake, people would just bring up DeSantis. And this was before his big win. He has really captured the media. He has captured attention of Republican voters by being the anti-woke governor of Florida.

Another set of voters I talked to, Ted and Judy White (ph) - at first I asked them, well, do you want Trump to run? And Judy was like, yeah, sure, and there are a lot of other options. So it was like, OK, so would you vote for Trump in a primary? And they were like, yeah - unclear.

TED WHITE: I don't know if I'd vote for him in a primary or not, depending on who's running.

JUDY WHITE: Yeah, it just depends.

KEITH: So there are a lot of voters that I talked to who have concerns one way or another with Trump. I mean, like, honestly, in 2016, there were a lot of them too. But in the end, these voters all said, if he's the nominee, if I'm choosing between Donald Trump and a Democrat, I'm choosing Donald Trump.

KHALID: Well, let's take a quick break, and we'll have more to discuss about what this all means for President Biden and whether he will run for reelection in 2024. More in a moment.

And we're back. And, Tam, I want to start off here with just getting a quick sense of what response President Biden had to the idea of Donald Trump running again. I ask this in part because he's often spoken about the very reason he ran for president in 2020 was because of Donald Trump.

KEITH: So he was on a tour of a mangrove forest in Indonesia as part of the G-20, and a reporter came up and asked him, what did you think of Trump announcing that he's really running? And Biden apparently smirked and then said, not really, according to the pool report.

KHALID: You know, despite that very quick retort there from President Biden, there is this question now of whether Donald Trump's reemergence, reentrance actually encourages Joe Biden to kind of quickly necessitate his decision around running for reelection himself. You know, he said last week that it is his intention to run again. He has also said he is a great respecter of fate and plans to discuss this prospect with his family over the holidays.

But that all being said, he turns 80 this month. He will be the oldest person running for president in American history. And polls have shown that a lot of voters do not want him to run for reelection. They have reservations about his age. And, in fact, even some polls leading up to the midterm showed a majority of Democrats were concerned about this. You know, I want to know, Mara, do you think that President Trump's decision to announce will in some ways change the dynamics of what President Biden is thinking?

LIASSON: No, I don't think it changes the timetable, certainly not. But there's no doubt that he said, if Trump runs, I will. Trump is now running. He's going to have to make his decision before it's clear whether Trump will be the nominee or not. But I will say this, that the midterm election results strengthen Joe Biden's position inside the party. I don't think he will be primaried. Generally, primarying an incumbent president is a good way to lose the general election. But I think that there is no one who's going to take on Joe Biden. Now, if he decides not to run, there's a whole bunch of Democrats who will run.

KHALID: So how does age factor into all of this, though, Tam? I mean, you've been speaking with voters. I'm sure you've gotten a sense of some of the very reservations we are seeing come across in the polls, in the surveys.

KEITH: Very, very clearly - and I think age is the thing that really worries them the most. You know, there are some who would say, oh, I wish he was more progressive. But largely what you hear is voters who just wish he wasn't 80 years old - I mean, 80 on Saturday. Take Cathy Aprescotto (ph), who I interviewed outside of a polling location. I asked her the question I've been asking everybody, which is, do you think he should run?

CATHY APRESCOTTO: I don't know about that. I think that if we had somebody a little younger, it might be a little bit better. But if he is our choice, I will support him. I mean, he represents what we want in this country.

KHALID: Did you hear similar sentiments from other people you spoke with?

KEITH: Every person I spoke with.

KHALID: Every Democrat you interviewed?

KEITH: Yes. What I found is that a lot of the Democrats I interviewed would strongly defend him and say that he hasn't gotten a fair shake, that the media is too tough on him, that, you know, he's getting blamed for things that aren't his fault. Like Jim Miller (ph), who I interviewed, said, you know, he doesn't control gas prices. Why do they keep blaming him for gas prices? He just doesn't think Biden has gotten a fair shake and then...

So do you think he should run again?

JIM MILLER: Oh, I would like to see another candidate run. I don't know who that would be. You know, if they can't put forth a better candidate, then, yes.

KEITH: I mean, like, the pauses - the long, long pauses.

KHALID: I was struck there, Tam, though, by him saying, I don't know who else it would be.

LIASSON: The Democratic Party has a particular problem in that they don't have a strong bench ready to go for a number of reasons. Their leadership is all so old. You know, there are often people next in line, but it's not obvious who's next in line to Joe Biden. And what's interesting is that a lot of Democrats don't think it's Kamala Harris.

KEITH: If Joe Biden's running, and he keeps saying he is, then just like with all those Republicans who have concerns with Trump - but they would absolutely vote for him - the Democrats I talked to, as you heard, said, but if he's the guy, he's my guy.

KHALID: All right. Well, let's leave it there for today. I'm Asma Khalid. I cover the White House.

KEITH: And I'm Tamara Keith. I also cover the White House.

LIASSON: I'm Mara Liasson, national political correspondent.

KHALID: And thank you all, as always, for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

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