Aug. 18, 2019 - Larry Kudlow, Beto O'Rourke and Mark Sanford

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CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday ... economic jitters. After the Dow drops 800 points:

LESTER HOLT:

The dow average plummeting three percent.

DAVID MUIR:

The steep drop on Wall Street today.

NORAH O’DONNELL:

The record ten-year-old expansion may be nearing an end.

CHUCK TODD:

Questions raised about the fate of the economy, with a reportedly rattled President Trump counting on a strong one for 2020.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

But you have no choice but to vote for me because your 401(k)s, down the tubes, everything's going to be down the tubes.

CHUCK TODD:

My guest this morning, President Trump's chief economic advisor, Larry Kudlow. Plus, taking on President Trump. On the left, I'll talk to Democratic candidate Beto O'Rourke.

BETO O’ROURKE:

We must take the fight directly to the source of this problem and that is Donald Trump.

CHUCK TODD:

And on the right, former Republican Congressman Mark Sanford, who's considering a primary challenge focused on the growing national debt:

CRAIG MELVIN:

Are you leaning towards running?

MARK SANFORD:

I would say at this point, yes.

CHUCK TODD:

Also, our brand new NBC News Wall Street Journal poll on President Trump, his election prospects and on his ability to handle a crisis. Finally, power politics. The fight over Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib's request to visit her grandmother in the West Bank.

REP. RASHIDA TLAIB:

I'm still a granddaughter.

CHUCK TODD:

How President Trump is trying to turn support for Israel into an issue that unites Republicans and divides Democrats. Joining me for insight and analysis are Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan, Joshua Johnson, Host of 1A on NPR, NBC News Correspondent Carol Lee and White House Correspondent for PBS NewsHour Yamiche Alcindor. Welcome to Sunday. It's Meet the Press.

ANNOUNCER:

From NBC News in Washington, the longest running show in television history, this is Meet the Press with Chuck Todd.

CHUCK TODD: Good Sunday morning.Throughout his presidency, Donald Trump has had one powerful and faithful ally: the economy. More than anything else, he has counted on the economy to help overcome doubts about his style and carry him to re-election. But that ally may be deserting him. This week's stock market tumble -- 800 points on Wednesday -- was not entirely Mr. Trump's doing, and by Friday, some of that loss was recovered. But the drop can be tied to the uncertainty that has been caused by the trade war Mr. Trump has launched against China. The question for the president: Will his supporters, who have either embraced or simply accepted so much of his norm-breaking presidency, be as forgiving of all of those norm, breaking of norms, if the economy falters? Our new NBC News Wall Street Journal poll, taken before Wednesday's stock market tumble, has the president’s approval rating dipping a bit: 43 percent, 55 percent disapproving. That 43 percent of approval sits at the lower end of his very narrow trading range, rarely moving more than two or three points from one month to the next. But look at this: At the end of 2015, before the Trump presidency, Americans supported free trade by a relatively narrow 10 point margin, 51, 41. Now, with President Trump backing away from free trade, fighting China with tariffs, no end in sight. Americans’ support for free trade has quadrupled, it seems as if, by a margin of 64, 27 -- now a 40-point spread, from a 10-point spread to a 40-point spread. And while some of those changes are likely due to Democrats reflexively opposing anything this president does, some of it also reflects voter anxiety about the president's trade policies. All of which, The Washington Post reports, has left the president a bit rattled, as he tries to assure his supporters that the economy remains as strong as ever.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

You have no choice but to vote for me because your 401(k)s, down the tubes, everything's going to be down the tubes.

CHUCK TODD:

President Trump - trying to warn voters that if he loses, the stock market will plummet, after a week when it did on his watch.

LESTER HOLT:

The Dow average plummeting 3%

MORGAN BRENNAN:

A major sell-off here on Wall Street today.

ROBIN ROBERTS:

Growing recession fears

CHUCK TODD:

Mr. Trump has banked on a strong economy, making it a central argument for his re-election.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Perhaps the greatest economy we've had in the history of our country. If our opponent ever got into office, instead of being up 62 percent, instead of those 401(k)s of yours being up 60, 70, 80, 90 percent. Crash. Big crash.

CHUCK TODD:

And Congressional Republicans have persistently forgiven the president's political weaknesses, arguing that for voters in 2020, it’ll be the economy, stupid.

SEN. MITCH McCONNELL:

Great prosperity, 50-year low unemployment. That's what the election, I think, is going to be about.

CHUCK TODD:

But now, with the economy weakening, despite low unemployment, Mr. Trump, who says he isn't worried, is showing signs of alarm, relentlessly attacking the chair of the Federal Reserve.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

If we had a Fed that would lower rates, we'd be like a rocket ship. Jay Powell should be cutting rates. Jay Powell's made a big mistake

CHUCK TODD:

And announcing he will delay his latest tariff threat on China until mid-December. Voters have given Mr. Trump his highest marks on the economy, but he may have little room to grow. Among the 9 percent of voters who disapprove of Mr. Trump overall, but approve of his handling of the economy, 73 percent prefer a Democratic candidate for president. Just 5 percent say Trump should be re-elected. Anxious about a downturn, Mr. Trump, who has long campaigned on the politics of grievance, is dialing up the culture wars. On immigration:

KEN CUCCINELLI:

Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet

CHUCK TODD:

On race:

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Obviously, headed up by Elijah Cummings. They've run Baltimore into the ground.

CHUCK TODD:

And now, on the politics of Israel. On Thursday, the day after the stock market dropped 800 points, he tweeted that it would "show great weakness if Israel allowed Muslim congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib to visit,” saying: "They hate Israel & all Jewish people"

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

The things that they've said -- Omar, Tlaib -- what they've said is disgraceful. So I can't imagine why Israel would let them in.

SEN. CORY BOOKER:

This is a President that is fueling such vicious divisiveness and treating sitting members of Congress in a way, I don't care what party you are, this is wrong.

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now is the president's chief economic advisor, the director of the National Economic Council, Larry Kudlow. Mr. Kudlow, welcome back to Meet the Press, sir.

LARRY KUDLOW:

Thank you, Chuck. Appreciate it.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me start with what you see from the White House. The private sector seems to be concerned about particularly the trade war with China, that there are some rough waters ahead, maybe a recession, that those odds have risen. What do you see?

LARRY KUDLOW:

Well, I'll tell you what. I sure don't see a recession. We had some blockbuster retail sales, consumer numbers towards the back end of last week. Really blockbuster numbers. And in fact, despite a lot of worries with the volatile stock market, most economists on Wall Street towards the end of the week had been marking up their forecasts for the third and fourth quarter. That echoes our view. You know, what we've got here -- consumers are working at higher wages. They are spending at a rapid pace. They're actually saving also while they're spending. That's an ideal situation. So I think actually the second half, the economy's going to be very good in 2019.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you --

LARRY KUDLOW:

No, I don't see a recession. And let me add just one theme, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Sure.

LARRY KUDLOW:

Just one theme. We're doing pretty darn well in my judgment. Let's not be afraid of optimism. Let's not be afraid of optimism. It's --

CHUCK TODD:

Fair enough.

LARRY KUDLOW:

-- a sign of our times. And I think there's a very optimistic economy going on out there.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. But do you acknowledge that, that one of the reasons business, businesses out there are not spending the money that I think you thought they were going to be spending on expansion, because of the concern about what's happening with China? Isn't that putting some guardrails or some small-G governors on this economic expansion?

LARRY KUDLOW:

Well, I want to get back to the China thing because there are some positive developments, believe it or not, on that front. But actually, in terms of business spending and business investment spending, which as you know, is a key part of the economy, look, a lot of the slowdown that we've seen in so-called capex, capital investment, is really temporary because oil prices dropped down. And so the big oil patch, fracking, and so forth was not as rapid in the last year. We're down what? $55, $60 a barrel? Which is a good number, I might add. And for consumers, gasoline prices are very low. But the oil, gas, fracking boom has leveled off a wee bit. On the other hand, we're seeing a nice pickup I think in durable goods and manufacturing. And we're also seeing now I think intellectual property, which is scored in GDP, you know, that thing's growing at about a 10, 12% annual rate. Let me come back. The consumer part of this thing, 10% on an annual rate last three months. We're going to get a blockbuster number in the third quarter. So, look, I don't deny that the energy sector has slowed a wee bit as prices have come back. On the other hand, money is flowing into the United States. We're the hottest, really the only game in town. And I think that's a very positive development --

CHUCK TODD:

Let me--

LARRY KUDLOW:

And we're seeing some pickup in manufacturing jobs and construction jobs --

CHUCK TODD:

Let me--

LARRY KUDLOW:

-- as well.

CHUCK TODD:

Let's --

LARRY KUDLOW:

And incidentally, Chuck, one last point.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay.

LARRY KUDLOW:

Low interest rates, low interest rates, which is across the spectrum, is a very good thing for housing, for construction, for automobile sales. So low interest rates, no inflation, virtually no inflation, Chuck Todd. So I actually think it's a pretty good story. And, again, let me echo my theme. Let's not be afraid of some optimism.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay. You say that. But, you know, you actually said that in 2007 right before the second-worst downturn in American history. This is what you wrote. "There's no recession coming." This is in December of '07. "The pessimistas were wrong. It's not going to happen. The Bush boom is alive and well. It's finishing up its sixth consecutive year with more to come." The more to come was a massive downturn. So I admire your optimism, but the data is pointing in another direction.

LARRY KUDLOW:

Well, I plead guilty to that late 2007 forecast. I plead guilty. By the way, every other forecaster, CBO --

CHUCK TODD:

You weren't alone --

LARRY KUDLOW:

-- OMB --

CHUCK TODD:

You weren't alone. That's right --

LARRY KUDLOW:

-- blue chip --

CHUCK TODD:

You weren't alone.

LARRY KUDLOW:

They're all there. However, just a wee bit of Kudlow defense now. By February and March on, CNBC in those days, I did go to the recession call. So I will plead that I did see it. I don't know that anybody saw that kind of crash. But, look, this is not then. This is not then. Our banks are well capitalized. Our financial system's in very good shape. And I must say the president is transforming and rebuilding this economy. He deserves enormous credit. A new policy of lower taxes, and regulation, and energy opening, and trade reform. You know, we didn't quite get to 3%. But, look, Chuck, the first two years of the Obama administration we were just a hair below 3%. We're moving in the same direction. And let's be honest here. We faced severe monetary tightening, seven rate hikes in 2017 and 2018. I don't think all that was necessary. It's a miracle we were able to continue as well as we're doing. And, again, bond rates are falling. 100-basis-point decline. That's good for mortgages. That's good for business. And I think the Federal Reserve is going to now be following through, lower interest rates at the low end, because the bond rates have fallen and that's the way that game usually works. And I think that's going to be a big help.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to turn to China. Right before you took the job with the president, you wrote the following. "Tariffs are really tax hikes. They have almost never worked as intended and have almost always delivered an unhappy ending." And I bring that quote back that you, and Arthur Laffer, and Stephen Moore wrote together. Again, March of '18. You took the job six weeks later. When you pulled back the tariffs earlier this week, delayed them ‘til December, isn't that an acknowledgement that you're convincing the president that tariffs are tax hikes?

LARRY KUDLOW:

Well, let me say a couple things on that tricky business. We, our group, was referring to the steel tariffs. But, look, I think China is a very special situation. And I think President Trump is working hard to defend the American economy against unfair trading practices, and unlawful trading practices, and intellectual property theft, and forced transfer of technology, and so forth.

China is a very special case. And we have to defend American interests, whether it's farming, or manufacturing, or automobiles, or technology. You know this story. You've been covering it. So regarding tariffs, I will say this. What President Trump has taught me and others, and I think there's a consensus growing, a bipartisan consensus growing, the China story has to be changed and reformed. We cannot let China, we cannot let China pursue these unfair and unreciprocal trading practices.

CHUCK TODD:

Larry Kudlow, the president's chief economic advisor. Much appreciate you coming on and sharing your views, sir. Thanks very much.

LARRY KUDLOW:

Don't be afraid of optimism, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, Larry. In the wake of the mass shootings in Dayton and his hometown of El Paso, my next guest, former Congressman Beto O'Rourke, has decided to retool his campaign a bit. He says he wants to more forcefully on taking on President Trump - which will take him to places outside of Iowa and New Hampshire. And Beto O'Rourke joins me now live from Little Rock, Arkansas. Congressman O’Rourke, Welcome back to Meet the Press.

BETO O'ROURKE:

Thanks for having me on.

CHUCK TODD:

Let our news meet your inbox. The news and stories that matters, delivered weekday mornings.

Before I get to your campaign, I want to, I want to ask you a China question. You're elected president. You know that there's many Democrats, many, many in this country want to see a different -- a tougher stance against China than has been taken in previous administrations. But a lot of people don't think this tactic is working. How would you both get tough on China without impacting the world economy?

BETO O'ROURKE:

You're right. This,this current trade war that the president has entered our country into is not working. It is hammering the hell out of farmers across this country, who do not want bailouts or payoffs. They just want to be able to make a profit in what they're growing and be able to have those markets again that they worked a lifetime to create. The American consumer understands that these tariffs are a tax on them, one of the greatest tax increases on the middle class in the history of this country. And so yes, we need to hold China accountable. But when have we ever gone into a war, a military war or a trade war, without allies or friends and partners? Let's make sure that we bring our friends in the European Union, Canada, and Mexico, and others, and bring a united front against China, to make sure that they respect the rules of the road, that they respect our economy, our farmers, and our workers. That's the best possible way to come to a conclusion that benefits our economy and ensures that we have a stable, global economy, going forward. Because I'm afraid that this president is driving the global economy and our economy into recession.

CHUCK TODD:

In hindsight, was it a mistake to back out of TPP? I mean that -- what you just described was the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It was, basically, uniting Asian-Pacific countries, not named China, into one trade pact.

BETO O'ROURKE:

I think TPP was a great concept. I think the particulars weren't there yet. For example, we did not have sufficient standards for labor, including in Mexico, where workers are paid $40 or $50 a week, putting the American worker at a competitive disadvantage. If we don't have a high labor standards with those countries that we're trading and enforce those labor standards, if we don't have high environmental standards, if we don't have high standards for human rights, then we really do not have fair trade around the world. In my administration, we'll make sure that those standards are high, that they're enforced, and that we have markets to which we can export what we grow and what we make in the United States.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me move to your reboot. Let me be blunt. You don't retool a campaign or reboot, you don't say it that way, if you think things were going swimmingly. You've acknowledged that you feel as if you hadn't been, you hadn’t been talking about the issue that you think you should be talking about more, and that's President Trump. Explain what you weren't doing before that you think you'll be doing better now.

BETO O'ROURKE:

You know, from the outset of this campaign, even before this campaign, I talked about how dangerous President Trump's open racism is, the Mexicans as rapists and criminals, the Muslims, who should be banned from this country, how it doesn't just offend us, but it changes us, the rise in hate crimes, every single one of the last three years, the mosque in Victoria, Texas, burned to the ground the day after he signs his executive order attempting to ban Muslim travel. But it wasn't until someone, inspired by Donald Trump, drove more than 600 miles, to my hometown, and killed 22 people in my community with a weapon of war, an AK-47, that he had no business owning, that no American should own, unless they are on a battlefield, engaged with the enemy. It wasn't until that moment that I truly understood how critical this moment is and the real consequence and cost of Donald Trump. And I saw it again yesterday, in Mississippi, in Canton, in a community where nearly 700 people working in chicken processing plants, one of the toughest jobs in America, were raided, detained, taken from their kids, humiliated, hogtied, for the crime of being in this country, doing a job that no one else will do. There is a concerted, organized attack against immigrants, against people of color, against those who do not look like or pray like or love like the majority in this country. And this moment will define us one way or another. And if we do not wake up to it, I am convinced that we'll lose America, this country, in our sleep. And we cannot allow that to happen.

CHUCK TODD:

I feel like this is a conundrum that faces many of you running for president, which is, on one hand, you see the president, in some ways, as an existential threat to the American story, our culture. So does it seems silly, at times, to be debating whether or not there should be a public option, when you feel as if the president is a bigger threat on other issues? Is that what's made this campaign sometimes seem, seem tonally off for the entire, for the entire field, at times?

BETO O'ROURKE:

No. Because I'll tell you, if we don't deliver on universal, guaranteed, high-quality healthcare, on a minimum wage that's a living wage, on paid family leave, on those issues that restore dignity to the lives of our fellow Americans, then we have not only failed them, we have provided fertile ground for the kind of demagogue that Donald Trump is, who will channel that anger and frustration at our government's dysfunction, in our ability to get something done, against immigrants, as he's done, warning of invasions and infestations and animals and predators, having somebody, at one of his rallies, say, "We should shoot them." And the crowd roars their assent. And Donald Trump smiles because he doesn't want you to focus on the fact that you're working two or three jobs right now just to make ends meet, or that you live in the wealthiest country on the face of the planet, but you can't afford to take care of your diabetes. Yes, Democrats have to address those issues and deliver on those issues. But we also have to call out the existential threat, to use the word that you just employed, that Donald Trump represents right now. Not only are we going to lose more lives, I'm confident that we will lose this country and our democracy, the longer he stays in office. So that is the urgency behind what I'm talking about.

CHUCK TODD:

Talk to your supporters, though, for a minute, here. As much as I get the, I get the fact that you might feel a bit boxed in just campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire, when, when the questions and issues are the same, that's still where you get your delegates, right? That's still how you get the nomination. Iowans sometimes punish people that don't campaign in the state enough. How are you going to win this nomination, going about it in a national campaign like this?

BETO O'ROURKE:

I love campaigning in Iowa. I'm so grateful for the people I’ve met, the volunteers on our team, who are knocking on doors right now. And I will be back in Iowa. But the people of Iowa, the people of this country, want me to show up and be there for everyone, not count anybody off, because their state is last in the nomination selection process. That's why I was in Mississippi yesterday. That's why I'm in Arkansas today. That's why I'm going to Oklahoma later this evening. If everyone counts, we can't just say that. We have to demonstrate that. And I don't think, at a time that this campaign, this selection for who will be the nominee, has become nationalized, that that will be lost on the people of Iowa. They care just as much as I do, or the people of Arkansas, about making sure that everyone is heard, everyone has a seat at the table. Coming from El Paso, Texas, a community that was rarely, if ever, visited, I know what that feels like to be left behind. But I also know what it feels like when someone finally shows up. And I'm going to be that candidate that shows up for everyone in America.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, Beto O'Rourke, the former Congressman that represents El Paso, Texas. Thanks for coming on and sharing your views. Be safe on the campaign trail.

BETO O'ROURKE:

Thanks, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

When we come back, two big stories, the economy and 2020. And what the drama over Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib may tell us about where our political parties' relationship with Israel is headed.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Panel is here. Joshua Johnson, host of 1A on NPR; Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan; NBC News correspondent Carol Lee; and White House correspondent for the PBS NewsHour, Yamiche Alcindor. Let me kick things off with another question that we asked in our new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll: how the president has handled the aftermath of the shootings in El Paso and Dayton. And I want to put some comparisons. Bill Clinton in Oklahoma City, George W. Bush in Katrina. Here they are. After Oklahoma City, this was the entire country. 84% approved. Democrats, Republicans, independents. That's not just among Democrats. It was 84% approved of his handling post-bombing. 7% disapprove. Here's Katrina. Everybody's memory of it is pretty negative. Believe it or not, that's 48-48. So not great but not as bad as probably you remember. Look at this though. After El Paso and Dayton, the president's handling here, 52%. You know, Yamiche, it's been the same number when we've measured it after Pittsburgh and after this. A majority of the country does not like the way he handles these moments. And it does call into sort of all of his leadership into question when these moments happen.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

Well, one of the really through lines of the presidency of President Trump is that people wonder what impact has he had on really making these things happen, not how he will handle it. So the question is not, "Will President Trump say the right things?" It's whether or not what you said impacted this person wanting to go into Walmart and specifically target Latino shoppers and kill them. So I think this president also, in a lot of people's minds lacks, moral credibility. That's even among supporters. When I talk to white evangelicals in the South, they say, "We like him. He's good for the economy." But then I say, "Well, would you want your child to be like him? Do you think he's a role model?" They always sit back, and look at me, and say, "I don't really want to answer that question." I think that's what those numbers show. It shows that even if you like President Trump, you realize that his brashness and his rhetoric is problematic.

CHUCK TODD:

You brought up the, "yeah, but," which is the economy. The, "yeah, but," in the economy, Carol. We saw the, "yeah, but," this week and we saw -- I think we have an idea of what the president's going to do if the economy goes south. And I'm going to get to that in a few minutes. But this -- Larry Kudlow did not seem as reassuring that it was smooth sailing ahead.

CAROL LEE:

No, he kept saying, "We need optimism. Everyone should be optimistic. There's not going to be any recession," but didn't really have a lot of concrete answers for how that's going to be avoided. And we know that the president is worried about this. We know the president's advisors think that his reelection hinges on how the economy is performing and it needs to be a strong economy for him to win reelection. His polls consistently show that his handling of the economy is approved of far more than whether his general approval or on any other issue. And you've also seen, whether it's Republicans or people who sort of the hold-your-nose-and-vote-for-Trump crowd, they've stuck with him through some of the rhetoric, some of the things he's done that they don't like because they say, "Oh, you know, he does that, but look at --"

CHUCK TODD:

"Yeah, but."

CAROL LEE:

-- "the economy." And what happens to those folks? You know, do they stick with him? Do they turn on him? And it's real risky for him.

PEGGY NOONAN:

It is. I think in a merely political sense if the economy turns down, the 2020 presidential election becomes, will become, even more brutal, more ugly, more about other primal --

CHUCK TODD:

No, I want to get to that after this because I think that's exactly what we saw a little bit this week.

PEGGY NOONAN:

I noticed what Carol said. Three times Larry Kudlow said, "Let's not be afraid of optimism." He kept slamming away at that. He wanted that to be your takeaway. That makes me nervous. That sounds like a thing we've decided we're putting out there. It sounds like, "Prosperity is just around the corner." It sounds like one of those hollow things that they want out there on a headline. Boy, it's just looking a little unsteady I think economically. Perhaps people are having less confidence than they've had in the past two years.

JOSHUA JOHNSON:

And to the point of confidence, one thing that Mr. Kudlow did not mention, which was a big economic indicator that apparently everyone but the administration has been worried about, is something called the inverted yield curve --

CHUCK TODD:

Are you really -- you're going to drop the yield curve on us --

CAROL LEE:

Oh you are bringing that up.

CHUCK TODD:

Look at you. Look at you. I'm still trying to figure out--

JOSHUA JOHNSON:

Watch me.

CHUCK TODD:

-- if Americans know the yield sign.

JOSHUA JOHNSON:

Well, yeah. You're driving around D.C., that's a very good question. The inverted yield curve basically says that, and I wrote this down, that the interest rates on short-term bonds are higher than interest rates on long-term bonds. Basically it means that investors are worried about their near-term prosperity and they just kind of want to put their money in a gopher hole where they know it's going to be safe when they come back to it years later. That is not always a sign that a recession is coming. Many recessions have been preceded by an inverted yield curve. So it's not a guarantee. But there are signs that volatility is up and down, and the inverted yield curve is moving, and that passive investing is getting more popular than active investing, that people are like, "Let me just put my money in an index fund because I know it's going to get a return back." I don't think or I wonder whether the indicators that Mr. Kudlow mentioned are going to move the needle, especially for the voters who are more transactional with President Trump, who are able to do the, "yeah, but." I interviewed a guy in Michigan and asked him, you know, "How has President Trump been for your economic prosperity?" He's got a manufacturing business, a roofing business. Says it’s been booming like crazy. And he says, "It's been great for my business." And then I asked him, "Would you do business with Donald Trump?" And he said, "I'd get half the money first."

CHUCK TODD:

You know we talked about, Peggy, sort of, I think, alluded to this, Yamiche. The morning after the 800-point drop, the president decides to weigh in on what Israel should do with the two congresswomen -- Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. We can decide whether it's a coincidence or not, but that is the timeline there. Alluding to what Peggy said, if the economy goes south, we know where he's going to go. Culture war, culture war, culture war.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

We know where he's going to go if the economy does well.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, that's a good point --

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

He's going to go culture war, culture war, culture war. And the reason why he does that is because the people that I talk to all over this country -- if you can say that you support the president despite the fact that women have said that he sexually assaulted them, despite the fact that he sent racist tweets, despite the fact that he has separated thousands of immigrant families from their children. If you can support president, say, "The economy's the reason I'm doing all this," there's usually also some culture war stuff that's speaking to you. I was just in Dayton, Ohio, where people said, "Yeah, I love the way that the president's talking about the economy. But you know what? I've also been telling my neighbors, 'If you don't like this country? You should leave.' And I've been saying that for years. And now here's the president telling me that that's okay." I think that underlying the people that say the economy is what's driving them to support this president, they also are in some ways excited by the rhetoric. That doesn't mean that everybody is. But for a lot of people, there's a Venn diagram where they like both.

CHUCK TODD:

You sort of reinforce I think what Peggy's saying, is that it's going to get nastier when there isn't the rationale of the economy in front of it. You can put up a façade going, "Yeah, I don't know if I like that stuff." But if the façade's gone, then you have to say what you really believe.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

Yeah.

PEGGY NOONAN:

You know, I think part of the economic problem here is the people who make big economic decisions are feeling insecure. And part of the reason they're feeling insecure is that in the White House the president has no sense that he should operate as an old, wise, steady hand. He's out there tweeting, and expressing, and tariffing, and this and that. And it's all jangling what's already a jangly atmosphere, you know?

CHUCK TODD:

Instability gets people to retreat. That is something why -- the consumer confidence that Larry Kudlow has might not last. Anyway, when we come back, the former Republican governor and congressman who is likely to make a primary run against president. Mark Sanford joins me next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. When a president has an approval rating in his own party of 86 percent, as President Trump does in our latest NBC News - Wall Street Journal poll, it doesn't suggest that a primary challenge offers much prospect for victory.That hasn't stopped former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld, who is already running against Mr. Trump and it may soon not stop Mark Sanford. The former South Carolina governor, who himself was ousted from Congress in a primary challenge last year, says he's edging closer to taking on the president, driven by concern about the growing debt and the president's character. And Mark Sanford joins me now. Governor, welcome back to Meet the Press.

MARK SANFORD:

Pleasure.

CHUCK TODD:

Why should we take this idea seriously from you?

MARK SANFORD:

Because, A, the conversation you were just having on the economy, I think, very much ties into this. B, I think we've lost our roots, as Republicans and there needs to be a conversation about what it means to be a Republican. And a lot of folks that you talked to in the polls, the same people that say 86% approve, you look at the numbers in, for instance, the latest poll in New Hampshire. Roughly half of those folks said, "He needs to be challenged," because we need to have that conversation within the Republican Party.

CHUCK TODD:

What is that conversation, his character and the debt? What is it? What conversation do you need to have?

MARK SANFORD:

Well, it's more than just the debt. Going back to what's happening in the economy at large, in this country and the world, you know, what do we believe, in terms of trade? There's been a radical departure from what Republicans have traditionally believed on that front. What do we believe on the growth of government, spending, and deficits? Radical departure on that front. And the topsy-turvy that I think has frozen up, you know, a fair bit of business investment these days, is to -- what day are we going to get, this day or that day, in the White House? And you know, business, to make investment, needs stability.

CHUCK TODD:

You probably aren't the best vehicle for this. But you're doing it. Is there a better candidate out there?

MARK SANFORD:

I'm sure there is. I'm sure there are a bunch of them. But you know, this conversation began the day after my primary loss, last June. A friend called and said, "God just cleared your calendar for a reason. I know what it is. You need to primary the president." I'm like, "Are you completely out of your mind?"

CHUCK TODD:

That was, literally, the first, that was the first response after losing --

MARK SANFORD:

That was the first conversation.

CHUCK TODD:

-- because of Trump? Trump basically cost you the reelection.

MARK SANFORD:

But I said, you know, "That's preposterous. That's crazy." But long story short, there's been a drumbeat, over the last year, of people who I admire, who are not crazy, who are very thoughtful, saying, "We need to have this conversation."

CHUCK TODD:

All right, I bring you up. Here's what some of your former staffers and allies have said. Matt Moore, the former South Carolina party chairman, he says, "It's almost impossible to primary a sitting president successfully." Your former spokesperson said, "It just doesn't seem to be the most serious-minded way to get back into the conversation." But he calls it, "Definitely the splashiest." Is this a vanity project?

MARK SANFORD:

Absolutely not. I mean, the idea of going out and possibly being a human pinata is hardly a vanity project.

CHUCK TODD:

Because you are. The president's going to go after every one of your personal foibles. You know that.

MARK SANFORD:

And so I'd say, no. But it is a project on behalf of my four sons. Because the route that we're going right now not only has implications, in terms of the Republican Party, going forward, but real implications, in terms of every young person's ability to sustain the American dream. If you look at the debt and deficit numbers right now, we are in troubling waters that have not only implications, in terms of the economy here and now and what's going to happen next, but frankly, their ability to build wealth over time.

CHUCK TODD:

Why do you stay in the Republican Party?

MARK SANFORD:

Because I'm a Republican. I mean, you know, a lot of people said, "Well, if you're going to run, run as an independent." And I'm like, "No. I'm a Republican." The Republican Party has a great lineage of historically doing some great things right. But it's gone off the tracks of late. We have a cult of personality right now that is at odds with the people who've worked for years and years in the vineyard, trying to make a difference in advancing the conservative cause.

CHUCK TODD:

It's unlikely you would succeed in actually winning the nomination. I mean, the process is already being, some people would call it rigged, but he's in charge of the party. So they're scrapping caucuses. There might not even be a primary allowed in your state.

MARK SANFORD:

You see what's happening in Nevada, with South Carolina. Yeah, I get it.

CHUCK TODD:

You're not going to be allowed to even compete for delegates. So what does success look like for your candidacy?

MARK SANFORD:

You can compete for ideas, though. I mean, if we begin a national conversation on, where in the world are we going with unprecedented levels of debt, unprecedented levels of deficit going forward, unprecedented levels of spending? Where are we going, as a Republican Party, in terms of what comes next? If we were to have a conversation on trade and what it means, you know, whether it's important in Charleston or whether it's in New Hampshire or a whole host of other places across this country, I think it's a needed debate. And I think, you know, the more, the merrier. I'm glad Bill Weld's is in, another goes in -- I'm sure there are much better candidates out there than I am. But we've got to have this conversation, as a nation and as Republicans.

CHUCK TODD:

It sounds like you believe the president hasn't earned reelection yet.

MARK SANFORD:

No.

CHUCK TODD:

Does he deserve reelection?

MARK SANFORD:

I would say, no. Because I would argue that he's taking us in the wrong direction. Just take one indicator. If you look at the business investment numbers over the last couple of months, they've been cratering. That's reality. And in part, the reason they're cratering is nobody knows what's going to come next, in terms of trade. And nobody knows what's going to come next out of the White House, in terms of policy. That is not the kind of environment where businesses invest. And so I think that there are any number of different things where you'd say, "No. We need a course correction." And we need to have a conversation about that course correction.

CHUCK TODD:

If you're unsuccessful, are you going to still support him for president?

MARK SANFORD:

Yeah, I'm a Republican.

CHUCK TODD:

So you realize, you just said, you don't think he deserves reelection. He's taking us in the wrong direction. But you're still going to be able to vote for him over Joe Biden?

MARK SANFORD:

Yeah, everything is relative in politics. And so you know, with all due respect to Warren, the policies that she laid out will exacerbate the problem on spending and the debt and the deficit.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you feel the same way about a Joe Biden, though, who may be taking a more, a more-moderate approach?

MARK SANFORD:

I've not seen him not embrace a lot of what she's talking about. The progressive wing of the Democratic Party is leading the charge right now. You can see it in the polls of late. And so I'm not seeing a great differentiation there. But I may be missing it.

CHUCK TODD:

What is -- what would keep you from doing this? Because you haven’t -- you're not saying, "I'm definitely doing this." Labor Day is around the corner. What would stop you?

MARK SANFORD:

My four sons. If they're decidedly against it, I won't.

CHUCK TODD:

And at this point?

MARK SANFORD:

They're mixed. You know, some of them are for it, and some of them are against it. Because it is daunting. And it goes back to what we just mentioned a moment ago, dredging up a lot of things that they don’t want to deal with, and I don't want to deal with.

CHUCK TODD:

Is - if this doesn't work out, are you done with elective office?

MARK SANFORD:

I think so, yeah. It's time to go out and go back to the business world I used to be a part of.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, Mark Sanford, former -- when are we going to find this out, this answer out? This week?

MARK SANFORD:

By Labor Day. I mean, it's creeping up fast.

CHUCK TODD:

A couple more weeks.

MARK SANFORD:

Yeah, yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay. Mark Sanford, good to see you.

MARK SANFORD:

As well.

CHUCK TODD:

And if you get out there, stay safe on the trail.

MARK SANFORD:

Yes, sir.

CHUCK TODD:

When we come back, speed dating the Democratic candidates, what birth order, colleges, and home states may tell us about who could make it to the White House or stay there. That's next.

ANNOUNCER:

Meet the Press Data Download, brought to you by Pfizer.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back, Data Download time. Let's face it, keeping track of 20 plus Democratic presidential candidates can feel a bit overwhelming. And watching the debates and campaign appearances is a lot like speed dating: time is short and you need to get to know people fast. Not to worry, Data Download is here to help. The first question you might ask is: Where are you from? Well, they were born in 11 different states, the District of Columbia, one U.S. territory and one foreign country (India, for Michael Bennet). None of the candidates were born in Virginia - in a state that has actually given birth to 8 U.S. presidents, the most of any state -- but Tim Ryan was born in Ohio, that’s the birthplace of 7 past presidents. 5 were born in New York -- the same amount of current 2020 Democratic candidates born in the Empire state this cycle. And for those of you who believe birth order is destiny, middle children Tulsi Gabbard and Kirsten Gillibrand might have a leg-up. All that experience striving for parental attention led more than half of the 44 men who became president to the glare of the presidential spotlight -- including middle child President Trump. The 2020 Democratic field stands out for the number of first-born (7 of them) and last-born children - 10 of them. There's only one only-child in the bunch - Pete Buttigieg, and if he beats President Trump he'd be the first ever only child to inhabit the White House. There have been many with only half-brothers and half-sisters, but never one who was his parents' true one-and-only kid. Next, where did you go to school? 7 graduated from the Ivy's... (traditionally the breeding grounds of future presidents) 8 from other private universities and colleges...4 from state schools. And Marianne Williamson stands alone as the only one without a bachelor's degree. Which puts her in good company by the way. 12 presidents - including George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, did not graduate from college. But since Harry Truman, all of our presidents have. Of course, the American dream says it doesn't matter where you were born or who your family was, anyone can become President of the United States. But if you look at the numbers, it all sounds most promising for Kirsten Gillibrand - she’s a middle-child, Ivy League Grad from New York. That said, those same stats apply to another name that's guaranteed to be on the ballot next November: Donald John Trump. When we come back, End Game: Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren: Can either of them win the nomination if the other is in the race?

CHUCK TODD:

Back now with Endgame. A little bit on the presidential race. Beto O'Rourke, the reboot. thoughts?

CAROL LEE:

We've kind of seen this before, with other candidates. It reminds me of Rudy Giuliani, in 2008, was doing his Florida-or-Bust kind of gimmick thing to try to work around a system that wasn't working for him. This sounds very similar. It also could work for him in the sense that it puts him in front of audiences, and he gets a following. But it's not necessar-- it’s not the path to the nomination.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

The thesis that he said, though, the idea that there's a concerted attack against immigrants and people of color in this country, that's what a lot of Democratic voters want to hear. And frankly, that's what they -- Democrats are going to be able to say, regardless of what President Trump is doing. Even if the economy's going well, they can make that argument. So I almost hear him saying that. The issue, of course, is that all the other Democratic candidates are going to be doing that. And the fact that you have to do a reboot, and it's kind of like the second or third reboot of Beto, makes -- gives me pause, if anything else.

JOSHUA JOHNSON:

But I should say, he didn't answer your question. He told you what he's going to do. But you asked him what he's going to do better. And he did not answer that. He said that Democrats are going to be focusing on delivering on healthcare, living wage, paid family leave, or we have provided fertile ground for a demagogue like Trump. He talked about making sure our allies respect the rules of the road for trade. No American should own an AK-47, unless they're on a battlefield. That's a soundbite that could come back to him, if he gets the nomination, for gun owners. But he didn't answer your question about how he will improve his campaign, especially because he's so far down in the polls. I do think he's building this kind of ideological base. I mean, I hate to be crass. But after the shooting in El Paso, he got a lot of television time, where a lot of people could kind of get his passion and his empathy and his intensity about changing the culture in America. That might augur well for him. But in terms of the nuts and bolts of the campaign, he didn't answer your question.

CHUCK TODD:

I'll say this. He seemed more comfortable in his skin this time. His -- whatever this is, it’s-- so, whether it works, I don't know. But he seemed more comfortable.

PEGGY NOONAN:

Well, he did. He's looking like he enjoys it. You know, he shows up, and he says things. And then he shows up somewhere else and says things. Maybe it's good for him to be sort of staying home in Texas. Thank you for your laughter, Carol. He's staying home in Texas. He's not in Iowa and New Hampshire. So I guess that’s -- he's saying, "I'm a Texas guy." It underscores that. It's fine. I mean, there's something a little compelling about him and something a little kind of inane and vapid. I'm sorry. It's a combination of things that he's got going on. So let him do his thing. Maybe in the future, that'll work for someone.

CHUCK TODD:

Let's go to the top tier. This is a really interesting split among Biden, Sanders, and Warren. And this is just among your positive ratings among Democratic voters. We split them up under 50, over 50. Among folks under 50, it's Bernie Sanders who has the highest positive rating, followed by Elizabeth Warren. Joe Biden at just 43%. Now, look at voters over 50, among Democratic primary voters. Joe Biden suddenly gets to 70%. Sanders drops to 54%. Warren, by the way, consistent at 61% there. Yamiche, I know you’ve spent a lot of time covering Sanders the last time. This time, that split isn't surprising. Him falling behind Warren is.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

It is surprising. And I've been talking to some people from both the Bernie Sanders campaign and Elizabeth Warren campaign. Bernie Sanders' camp is making the argument that his goal and his focus is still on Joe Biden, that when you poll people, both internally, that they're seeing in their campaign, but also publicly, people say, "My second choice, if I don't want Bernie, is Joe Biden."

CHUCK TODD:

They see Biden as in their way more than Warren.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

They see Biden in their ways way more than Warren. But the Warren camp says, "At the end of the day, we understand that there's an ideological connection there." And you can hear it in their voices, that they're at least eyeing the Bernie Sanders voters. But they're also eyeing everyone else's voters. Because they understand that they're going to need to really eat up other voters to be able to be successful. I will go back to what Beto O'Rourke said, which is that, "If President Trump wins, we're going to lose the country." Elizabeth Warren's camp would say, "The country has been this way, there are structural issues that have been at play in this country that are the reason why we see institutional racism, why we see immigrants being able to be vilified." So I think that's going to be an interesting point to make, that she's saying, "I want broad, sweeping changes. But I want to understand the cultural things that have happened," where Bernie Sanders is about broad, sweeping changes and about eyeing Joe Biden.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, it's pretty clear that, Carol, Elizabeth Warren won the summer. Now, the question is, how does she get the nomination?

CAROL LEE:

Yeah. And she's consistently performed better. She gets better with every cam -- every time she's out there on the campaign trail. She seems far more comfortable campaigning and in her own skin than some of the other candidates. And when you line her up against a Biden and a Sanders, she just -- she stands out. And you can see why she would appeal to both people older than 50 and younger than 50. Because she's progressive, and she's energetic, and she's a new face, and she's also talking about Medicare for all. And so she's kind of got something for everyone, a little bit, right now. But what's interesting about that, Biden's campaign also cites that polling that shows that Bernie Sanders -- that Biden is second choice for Bernie Sanders voters. And they see that Sanders is the place where they can grab votes from. And they don't really have an answer, as much, for her.

PEGGY NOONAN:

I see it as Elizabeth Warren versus Bernie to become the person, the leading person, of the left, against Joe Biden. I think Elizabeth Warren has kind of owned the summer. Day by day, she just kind of made an impression. I also think that she’s-- she and Kamala and others have done something interesting that, maybe, hasn't been noted, which is, in a funny way, they've taken the women's issue, the woman’s issue off the table very quietly, by how they dress and present themselves. There's no more talk, as there was in 2016, of glass ceilings and all this stuff. A reporter emailed me two weeks ago and said that. And I thought, "Wow, that's so interesting." Anyway, I think that works, in part, for Elizabeth.

JOSHUA JOHNSON:

Though I do think, in fairness, if the senator were here, she would say, "We're asking the wrong questions."

CHUCK TODD:

Yes, she would. No matter what the question would be, she would say it that way.

JOSHUA JOHNSON:

Well, but she made a good point, in terms of the Detroit debates, in saying, like, "You're always trying to pit us against one another. We need to be talking policy. We need to be talking the direction of the party." So maybe, they can pick off some of those more centrist Democrats, who don't believe the party should be pulling as far left, and thin that herd. And then either one of them could, maybe, go after Joe Biden, saying, "He's not facing in the direction the Democratic Party needs to face."

CHUCK TODD:

All right, I will pause the conversation there. Thank you very much. And before we go, quick programming note. Tomorrow, my colleague, Lester Holt, will be reporting from Iran for a special edition of the NBC Nightly News. He'll have a rare, inside look at the country and will talk exclusively with top officials, including Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. That's all we have for today. Thank you for watching. We'll be back next week. Because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.