Meet the Press - August 25, 2019

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CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday: Trade War and the economy. Another escalation as China imposes retaliatory tariffs on the US, the President orders U.S. companies out of China and the DOW falls more than 600 points.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

We're having a little spat with China and we'll win it.

CHUCK TODD:

A world economy slowed by the trade war is the backdrop for the G-7 summit of world leaders in France. Plus: A head-spinning week of presidential pronouncements and reversals. On a tax cut:

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Payroll taxes. I've been thinking about payroll taxes for a long time. I'm not looking at a tax cut now. We don't need it.

CHUCK TODD:

On gun background checks:

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

We have to have meaningful background checks. We already have very serious background checks.

CHUCK TODD:

Even on buying Greenland:

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

It's not number-one on the burner. This is something that's been discussed for many years.

CHUCK TODD:

My guests this morning: Former Republican Governor Bill Weld, who is challenging President Trump and Trump critic turned ally, Club for Growth president David McIntosh. Also: Democratic dilemma. Is it enough to run against the president's character and competence or do voters want a nominee who will radically transform Washington?

PETE BUTTIGIEG:

I think the biggest risk we could take is to try to play it safe.

CHUCK TODD:

I'll talk to Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg of Indiana. And team of rivals. An unlikely group of former Trump allies turned critics prepare to take on the president - on the trail and on the air.

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI:

We're watching a full blown meltdown of the president of the United States

CHUCK TODD:

Joining me for insight and analysis are: Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson, Betsy Woodruff of The Daily Beast, New York Times columnist Bret Stephens and Kristin Soltis Anderson, columnist for The Washington Examiner. 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. For much of this week we wondered whether we should take what President Trump says seriously anymore. By the end of the week we were reminded that the words and actions of the most powerful man in the world have real-world consequences. In just the past few days the president was not interested in buying Greenland before he was so interested that he postponed a trip to Denmark when the Danes wouldn't sell. On tax cuts, Mr. Trump was against new ones, before he was for them... before he was against them again. And stay with me on expanded background checks on guns: The president who was traditionally against them, then was for them after El Paso and Dayton, against them reportedly after talking to the head of the N-R-A… then apparently for them again... but now maybe not. This is not a left or right issue... it's a fact or fiction issue. But there was no denying the implications of what the president was saying and doing on Friday. Both China and Mr. Trump escalated the trade war that Mr. Trump initiated. The president flirting a bit with authoritarianism with this tweet directed at America's business community: " Our great American companies are hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China ..." The result of the president's tweets: The DOW plunged more than 600 points as the president headed off to France for his G-7 meeting with world leaders who are already nervously eyeing a slowing world economy threatened further by that trade war. Donald Trump came into office promising to discard traditional alliances and practices... and for better or worse he's delivered on that promise. But now real questions are being raised about whether the United States can continue to be counted on to provide the leadership the world has come to expect from it since the end of the Second World War.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

We're getting a lot of money in tariffs. It's coming in by the billions.

CHUCK TODD:

As President Trump meets with U.S. allies anxious about a slowing global economy ... his own volatility is raising questions about his ability to manage the world's largest one. The president is ratcheting up his trade war with China ... threatening to raise taxes on Chinese goods ...

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Presidents and administrations allowed them to get away with taking hundreds of billions of dollars out every year

CHUCK TODD:

Claiming sweeping emergency powers to, quote "hereby order" U.S. companies to cut ties with China.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

In 1977 we had an act passed, a national emergency act. I have the absolute right to do that.

CHUCK TODD:

And attacking the Federal Reserve chair he appointed again, tweeting: "...My only question is, who is our bigger enemy, Jay Powell or Chairman Xi?"

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Do I want him to resign? Let me put it this way. If he did, I wouldn't stop him.

CHUCK TODD:

Some of Mr. Trump's own allies say the president is increasingly worried about a recession - and are concerned his own focus on the darkening picture could be self-fulfilling ... The president just can't seem to stop talking about it:

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:I think the word recession is a word that's inappropriate. We are far from a recession.The fake news, of which many of you are members, is trying to convince the public to have a recession. Let's have a recession. I mean, you people want a recession because you think maybe that's the way to get Trump out.

CHUCK TODD:

And the president's erratic style has been on full display. On Tuesday he floated a tax cut.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Payroll tax is something that we think about.

CHUCK TODD:

By Wednesday, he said it was not on the table:

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

I'm not looking at a tax cut now. We don't need it. We have a strong economy.

CHUCK TODD:

He is using Messianic language to describe himself.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Somebody had to do it. I am the chosen one. Somebody had to do it, so I'm taking on China.

CHUCK TODD:

Tweeting conspiracy theories. And zigzagging on basic policy -- this week reversing himself on guns.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

I think we can do meaningful, very meaningful background checks. We have a lot of background checks right now.

CHUCK TODD:

And even on buying Greenland. After claiming:

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

We may be going to Denmark -- not for this reason at all.

CHUCK TODD:

On Tuesday - he cancelled the trip, saying "based on the Danish Prime Minister's comments, that she would have no interest in discussing the purchase of Greenland." The business community is wary.

RICK HELFENBEIN :

This is just like another one way ticket on the Titanic.

CHUCK TODD:

And 2020 Democrats are already taking advantage, running on a return to stability:

JOE BIDEN:

We're witnessing a president of the United States who's become more and more unhinged. We know the words of a president matter. They can move markets.

PETE BUTTIGIEG:

I don't know what the President is thinking when he says you can just hereby order companies to do this or that, we need an economy that actually works for all of us

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now, from the G7 in France, is NBC News chief White House correspondent, Hallie Jackson. And Hallie, I know this White House, at times, and Republicans here, in Washington, at times, don't know exactly how to defend the president and some of what he says in any moment in time. I know that the White House has had a hard time finding somebody to provide us for this show, today. And it may be because of misinterpretations of what the president may mean at any given point in time. The president, this morning, was asked about having second thoughts about China. I want to play for what he said. And then I want you to explain what he really meant. Here it is.

[BEGIN TAPE]

REPORTER:

Are you having second thoughts on escalating the trade war with China?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Yeah, for sure. Why not?

REPORTER:

Second thoughts?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Might as well. Might as well.

REPORTER:

Do you have second thoughts about escalating the war with China?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I have second thoughts about everything.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

All right, that certainly sounded, after two follow-ups, that sounded like a president who, at least, was hearing the criticism he's been receiving from his fellow world leaders about this trade war. But apparently, he didn't mean what he said.

HALLIE JACKSON:

That's according, Chuck, to the White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham. That was big news, that soundbite you just played, for about six hours here, on the coast of France, in Biarritz, that the president, who rarely concedes regret on any topic, seemed to be signaling some kind of regret here. But the White House says, "Well, wait a second. Not so fast. That is being misinterpreted," the press secretary saying, "The president's regret was actually that he was not tougher on China, and that the tariffs weren't more stringent," so inverting the way that many people read that moment in the room. You asked me to explain what the president meant there, Chuck. I can't tell you. I can only look at what the president is saying and doing. The issue here, at the G7, is that he is saying and doing things that are contradictory. In this instance, for example, of these China tariffs and whether or not the president is having second thoughts, the White House seems to want it both ways in front of two different audiences. This is a president, Chuck, and you know this, who knows how to read the room. And he is in a room now, right? And he was, in that instance, with other leaders who are gently pushing back on the issue of trade. He gets that. And this is a president who, at least for this trip, does not want to be, it seems, the wrecking ball. That's different from what we've seen from other summits. But in this instance, the president wants to portray that everybody's going along to get along. We know that the French president had hoped for a no-drama summit. That seems to be where the president wants the perception to be. But at home, the press secretary and the White House seem to be sending a message that, "No, no. Don't worry. This is still a tough commander in chief. This is still the guy who's going to put those tough tariffs on China. Hey, base, we're still fighting for you." So within the span of about eight hours, you have these two different messages on just this one topic. What's notable to me here, Chuck, as we've seen these meetings unfold throughout the day, is the pushback that the president is getting. It is not tough pushback.

CHUCK TODD:

Very gentle, yeah.

HALLIE JACKSON:

The U.K. prime minister, Boris Johnson, and the president met this morning, very gentle. He even said, "I'm going to make a sheep-like noise here and tell you about my pushback." They know that they can't come out too strongly against the president. You also saw the same with Prime Minister Shinzō Abe of Japan, when President Trump downplayed those recent missile tests by North Korea. He said he wasn't happy about them, but also said they didn't violate any agreements. Shinzō Abe very quickly, in the next breath, came out and said, "Well, wait a second. No. Those missile tests do violate UN agreements. And we have a problem with it," Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, Hallie Jackson for us at the G7. Hallie, thanks very much. By the way, in the same Boris Johnson back and forth, the president was asked about the discussion of bringing Russia back into the G8. And apparently, the president said they had a bit of a disagreement on that, and let it go. Anyway, Hallie, thanks very much. Joining me now, former Governor Bill Weld who is mounting a longshot primary challenge to President Trump, and David McIntosh. He's the president of the Conservative Club for Growth, which spent money opposing candidate Trump in 2016 but now, apparently, plans to support him for reelection. I want to welcome both of you, Governor Weld, Former Congressman McIntosh. Congressman, I want to start with you, because this is what you said about not supporting candidate Trump, back in 2016. You said, "This year is different," this is when you guys were supporting Ted Cruz, "because there is a vast gulf between the two leading Republican candidates on matters of economic liberty. Their records make clear that Ted Cruz is a consistent conservative, who will fight to shrink the federal footprint, while Donald Trump would seek to remake government in his desired image." Some will read that quote, Congressman, and say, "You know what? You were pretty prescient." That is what Donald -- some will say, "That is exactly what Donald Trump has done."

CONGRESSMAN DAVID MCINTOSH:

And Chuck, we were supporting Ted Cruz then. And in the middle of the campaign, you mix it up. But what we base our current position on is the results. President Trump has governed as a free-market conservative, cutting taxes, trying to get rid of Obamacare, deregulating the oil and energy industry, deregulating the internet. And it's working. The economy is still at 2 and a half, three percent growth. That's a reversal from his predecessor. Unemployment, it’s the lowest rate ever, and you see more and more people entering the workplace and getting higher-paying jobs.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to follow up on something you said. You said, "He's governed as a free-market conservative." I'm just lifting this directly from your website. "The costs of protectionism are largely borne, not by some foreign country, but by American businesses, consumers, and taxpayers." This was based on your analysis, Club for Growth's analysis, of what, for instance, tariffs on the steel industry would do. How can you say he's governed as a free-market conservative, when he has been issuing tariffs left and right?

CONGRESSMAN DAVID MCINTOSH:

And the trade is a difficult issue. You're right.

CHUCK TODD:

Your board's struggling with this?

CONGRESSMAN DAVID MCINTOSH:

The tariffs are a tax on the American people. They're a problem. I think you've got to step back. And in fact, what's going on at the G7, this has explained -- same thing. It's the art of the deal. And what we like about President Trump's vision on trade is his goal of zero-zero tariffs. We support that strongly. And I kind of have come to recognize, these tariffs are his way of forcing the Chinese to come to the table. They're costly. And we want them to go away. But he's using them to get to that ultimate goal of zero-zero tariffs.

CHUCK TODD:

Governor Weld, you've been thought of as a very moderate Republican. But where you align with the Republican Party, over the last couple of decades, always was on fiscal issues. You just heard Congressman McIntosh make a case that the president is a free -- governing like a free-market conservative. Is he governing like a free-market conservative in your mind?

GOVERNOR BILL WELD:

No, he's not a small-government guy at all. We're spending more on interest on the deficit now than we are on national defense. Interest on the debt is the fourth-largest item in the federal budget. They're spending money in Washington like drunken sailors, $1 trillion a year. Mr. Trump's last budget, admittedly, a multi-year budget, but it added $9 trillion to the deficit. Three days ago, it went up another $800 billion. That's almost another trillion. You can't keep doing that indefinitely. Every household in the United States, every governor in the United States, as Mr. McIntosh knows, has to balance the budget by constitution or by necessity. And my motto, when I was in office, is, "There's no such thing as government money. There's only taxpayers' money." Well, they've forgotten that in Washington, led by the president. And they think it's their money. And it's not.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, Governor, though, this -- let me play devil's advocate about the debt. There have been folks, like yourself and others, who have been talking about that, if this debt keeps increasing, it's going to be a drag on the economy. It hasn't been a drag on the economy yet. Why?

GOVERNOR BILL WELD:

Well, it's going to be a drag, not just on the economy, but on our national security. Because we're effectively relying on other countries to buy our treasury bills to, you know, get us out of this terrible deficit position we're in or to forestall the United States going into bankruptcy. And that's economics 101. And so it's just very much against the economic interest of the American people to keep going in this direction. And everybody who thinks about it knows it. Furthermore, you know, the president attacks, as you were pointing out earlier, on every single issue. In my view, it no longer matters what the president says. Because that may be his first thought of the moment or his first ramble or his first raving. But you can be assured, there will be a second thought, a third thought, and a fourth thought, all of which are going to be different from the first thought.

CHUCK TODD:

Congressman McIntosh, I remember, during the Obama years, a lot of conservatives criticized the Obama administration, because, "Hey, you know, all these big ideas you're talking about, it's creating instability in the business community." How is what the president doing not -- I mean, it's clear, the reason for the slowdown is the business community is suddenly nervous, because they don't know how this trade war's going to turn out. Isn't this creating instability?

CONGRESSMAN DAVID MCINTOSH:

As I mentioned earlier, the key to understanding this is reading Donald Trump's book, The Art of the Deal, where yes, things are going to change. You get the "I want to be your friend. I want to work with you" Donald Trump, when he's trying to push towards a deal. When the deal breaks apart, you get the Donald Trump, "I'm going to impose tariffs."

CHUCK TODD:

What deal has he gotten, though? Where has this worked? I mean, this Art of the Deal thing gets thrown out there a lot. Where has this actually worked? He doesn't have an infrastructure deal. He didn't get new healthcare. He doesn't have a new deal with China. It hasn't worked yet.

CONGRESSMAN DAVID MCINTOSH:

It worked on replacing NAFTA. And that was successful --

CHUCK TODD:

It’s a --

CONGRESSMAN DAVID MCINTOSH:

And the only thing blocking that is Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats in the House.

CHUCK TODD:

What did NAFTA -- it's literally, NAFTA 2.0. it didn't really change that much.

CONGRESSMAN DAVID MCINTOSH:

It's a better deal for the U.S., in the President's eyes. And it's an example of how the art of the deal worked. I think the key thing, for Donald Trump, is to show that he's got a vision for the second term and to continue with another round of tax cuts. He's deciding which way he wants to go on that. We're going to urge one that is for small businesses, to give the passthroughs the same tax break the corporate guys got.

CHUCK TODD:

Governor Weld, you're obviously challenging the president in the primary. You don't think he deserves re-nomination. If you don't get the nomination, does he deserve reelection?

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GOVERNOR BILL WELD:

Absolutely not. Let me just say, I think President Trump does have a vision for the second term. And it's what Steve Bannon, his political Robespierre, says. He says, "If President Trump is reelected, you're going to see four years of unadulterated, unrequited payback. Mr. Trump is going to pay back all his enemies." Payback for what? It's just -- it’s another example of his extreme malignant narcissism. He's only happy when other people are losing. It's not enough for him to win. He makes sure his vendors get paid five and ten cents on the dollar, while he and his rich banker friends walk off with hundreds of millions of dollars. That's his reputation in New York and New Jersey, as one of the most-dishonest businessmen in the area.

CHUCK TODD:

Governor, you were the first Republican to jump in. A bunch of other Republicans are thinking about it. Any of these other Republicans would convince you to get out and support them?

GOVERNOR BILL WELD:

Not me to get out, but I'm thrilled about Joe Walsh and Mark Sanford getting in. I think that's terrific. And it's going to be a more-robust conversation. Who knows? The networks might even cover Republican primary debates. They can ill afford to say they cover only Democrats. But I'm looking forward to both those fellows getting in. And I hope more, as well. It can only contribute to more-robust dialogue. And that'll be good for the country. We need to assemble rational people. You know, sure, a crazed president makes the stock market go down. But that doesn't mean we have to like it.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Well, Governor Weld, Congressman McIntosh, I think we showed that we can have a -- disagreements without sounding disagreeable with each other. I thank you both for sharing your views this morning.

GOVERNOR BILL WELD:

Thank you, Chuck. Thanks.

CONGRESSMAN DAVID MCINTOSH:

Thank you, Chuck. Good to be with you.

CHUCK TODD:

Later this hour, Mayor Pete Buttigieg joins me live. And when we come back, the economy has been the President's strongest selling point for reelection. Could his signature issue become a liability? The panel is next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. The panel is here. Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson; Kristin Soltis Anderson, columnist for the Washington Examiner; Betsy Woodruff, political reporter for The Daily Beast; and New York Times columnist Bret Stephens. Welcome to you all. I think the best way to set up this conversation is I want to read for you Andrew Sullivan's take and Erick Erickson's take on the president this week. They both agree on one thing, that the president had erratic behavior. And that's as far as they get. Here is Andrew Sullivan. "If you can begin even to engage this bizarre, dangerous, deranged, and ignorant stream of consciousness, and try to discern some kind of logic or pattern, your brain will break." Here's Erick Erickson. "I’d rather a president whose behavior makes other people feel comfortable being braying jackasses than a Democrat who wants to take away my healthcare while giving healthcare to illegal aliens. "The President may be nuts in his behavior, but I’ll take his crazy over the insanity the Democrats would unleash on the United States." Bret Stephens, I feel like it's an interesting -- in the Erickson rationale, I thought I heard a little bit of that rationale, a bit, in Mr. McIntosh.

BRET STEPHENS:

It's extraordinarily Manichean. I mean, let's see who the Democrats wind up nominating. The real issue, for Republicans, is simply to call out the fact that the president does not stand, in any way, for the traditional, conservative economic principles that have defined the party for the better part of the last 70 years. They don’t even stand -- never mind the economic principles, broader principles of character. I mean, what we saw, over the last few days, is a president who is either mentally unwell or morally unfit, maybe both. I don't know. But it's important to simply call these things as we see them. You have behavior that is unprecedented in any kind of presidential history in the United States or, frankly, elsewhere. So when I hear guys like Erick saying, "Wow, you know, at the end of the day, this is a choice," you know, I'd actually rather have a candidate, on the Democratic side, who at least doesn't scare me every single, ever single morning.

CHUCK TODD:

I feel like this is the entire debate of the 2020 campaign, just right there.

BETSY WOODRUFF:

That's right. And part of what's going on in the background, as the president's comments about, particularly, China trade unfolded over the last week, is that the way the United States government thinks about our relationship with China has changed dramatically. Right now, I can tell you that White House officials think it's less and less likely the U.S. will actually reach a trade deal with China and, rather, is going to lurch from a truce to truce, postponing tariffs, postponing punitive action.

CHUCK TODD:

But it'll always hang over there?

BETSY WOODRUFF:

It'll always hang over their head. That's because of the background in the White House and the intelligence community. They see China, first and foremost, as a national security concern, rather than as an economic concern.

KRISTIN SOLTIS ANDERSON:

And that’s where voters come down on the question, as well. Pew Research Center has been studying American views on China for the last decade and a half. We are at record high levels of Americans saying that they have an unfavorable view of China. And most of that's actually driven not by economic concerns. In the poll, most people say they're okay with China being economically strong. It's those national security concerns that are chief. And this is why, I think, the president is able, even in the midst of what feels like complete chaos, in terms of the trade issue, to have a little bit of latitude there, where his economic job approval remains about eight to ten points higher than his overall job approval.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

But it's going down. And it should be. Look at the real-world results of Donald Trump's erratic behavior, whether through mental deficiency or moral deficiency or some combination thereof. You know, look at your 401(k) today, you know? Go online right now and look at it and see what happened to it on Friday.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah, I chose not to.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Yeah, I'm not going there, either. But you know, it's extraordinary. And when I hear people, like the congressman, talk about, you know, the art of the deal, you know, Donald Trump didn't write a word of that book, including the title. It was written by Tony Schwartz, with whom I went to school. He wrote the whole thing. One wonders if Donald Trump has read it. But what has it gotten the United States? It has made no agreements. It has gotten us nowhere. And so this idea that there's this sort of master player of four-dimensional chess, who's you know, the president, it's not true.

CHUCK TODD:

I will say this. The only thing I will say to people, if there's one thing you've got to understand about Donald Trump, it's that he doesn't believe anything's on the level. And I do think that that is something. He doesn't believe anything's on the level, whether it's the press, whether it's the government. He’s always believed -- he doesn't believe anything is on the level, including a conversation he will have with somebody who's an ally, Bret.

KRISTIN SOLTIS ANDERSON:

Well, it, it--

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

KRISTIN SOLTIS ANDERSON:

Well, I was going to say, and this is a big piece of his economic messaging at the moment, which is he's got to juggle both touting what he believes is a very strong economy, trying to keep those economic job approval numbers high, while sort of laying the groundwork for, if this begins to fall apart, to be able to say, "It's the Fed's fault. It's China's fault. It's Congress' fault for not passing my new NAFTA."

BRET STEPHENS:

By the way, this is a, this is a classic autocratic strategy. When your economy goes south, you blame speculators. You blame the media.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

BRET STEPHENS:

You blame someone else. But listen. You know, one of the problems I have with a lot of the sort of conservative apologetics for Trump is they always say, "You have to separate the signal from the noise." And the reality of the Trump presidency is the noise is the signal. And, and, and it's dangerous. We are blundering our way into a contest with the Chinese that's not about national security. It's a contest of face between two leaders who see themselves as, essentially, you know, supreme leaders, and from which neither of them is easily going to back down. We ended up in a war, in World War II, in part, because we were trying to impose an economic embargo on Japan. These things have a precedent. And they're worrisome. We should be worried about China. But trying to wage a trade war with it, with no outcome in sight, is going to have consequences.

BETSY WOODRUFF:

These questions of signal, noise, and art of the deal, are going to be front of mind at the G7. And this is something that White House officials are really desperate for. Keep an eye out for some sort of announcement or conversation about a bilateral trade deal with the U.K. The White House would love to say that they're going to be sort of throwing some sort of assistance to Boris Johnson as he's negotiating to leave the European Union toward the end of October. As far as this question of national security and how that affects the United States' trade relationship with China, it's an existential issue for the U.S.-China relationship, arguably the most-important relationship in the world. And for White House officials right now, they see this as incredibly urgent. They believe that China is in danger of overreaching in Hong Kong. They're worried about concerns of overreach in Taiwan. The Navy spends a huge percentage of its budget on activity in the South China Sea. And for Trump and his aides to navigate that is increasingly complex.

CHUCK TODD:

For what it's worth, this is a week that we saw, and while it's sort of a motley crew of, of sort of Trump opponents on the right, they're starting to percolate. Let me-- We had one in Bill Weld. Here's a few others that may challenge him in a primary.

[BEGIN TAPE]

MARK SANFORD:

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?"

JOE WALSH:

Here's the deal. This guy isn't fit for office. Every time he opens his mouth, he tells a lie.

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI:

We're watching a full-blown meltdown of the president of the United States. He has been melting down like a nuclear reactor.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Now, Joe Walsh was one of the three people in there. By the way, he's actually officially announced. This is a guy who, at one time, tweeted, if Trump didn't win, "Grab a musket." You know, when you see the people that have turned on this president, you start to wonder, is it going to have an impact?

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Actually, of the three, the more significant, in terms of public opinion, might be Scaramucci, actually. Because people know him and know “The Mooch.”

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

And, and he's come out in, you know, sort of, New Yorker fashion, gone all in on the sort of “Trump is crazy” line. You know, this, this, it's very interesting, at this G7, how the pushback from other leaders is coming. It's very gentle. It's very, sort of, measured. But, but it's definitely there.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah, but it is weak, is it not?

EUGENE ROBINSON:

It's weak. But it's, it’s, it’s "Let's just get through this." It’s, you know, it is the G6 plus one at this point. And that bilateral deal with the U.K., if they announce something, that is going nowhere in the House of Representatives, according to Nancy Pelosi, unless the Ireland issue is settled.

BETSY WOODRUFF:

That's definitely true.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

And it won't be settled with a no-deal Brexit.

BETSY WOODRUFF:

Any announcement that might come on the U.K. would be almost entirely symbolic. But for the White House, even a symbolic win is something they're desperate for right now.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, they think they're doing Johnson a favor, I think, in his EU negotiations. Whether that's true or not, I think, is unclear. When we come back, Democrats are debating how to take on President Trump. Will running against the president on character and competence be enough? Or will Democratic voters expect to be inspired by some big, transformative ideas, not just, as Jill Biden said so bluntly this week, "to swallow a little bit"? Mayor Pete Buttigieg is next.

CHUCK TODD:Welcome back. Democratic presidential candidates face their own dilemma. Do they argue that whatever differences voters have with them, President Trump needs to go because he's unfit for office, essentially the Biden message? Or is restoration and preservation of the Obama legacy simply not enough? Should the right response to the election of Trump be to campaign on new and bolder ideas. Mayor Pete Buttigieg joins me now from Freedom, New Hampshire. Mayor Buttigieg, good to see you again. And let me just dive right into that question but ask it this way: this was a week where the president certainly had some erratic moments. As you know, many voters have that safe harbor mentality, especially during weeks like this. This strikes me as particularly challenging for any candidate not named Joe Biden, any candidate that wasn't a former vice president. How do you talk to those voters?

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:Well, I guess what I would say is this: the president is certainly a problem, a big one. But he's not the only problem. Ask yourself how a guy like this ever got within cheating distance of the Oval Office in the first place. I would argue that doesn't happen unless the country's already in a kind of crisis. And we see it in the fact that for pretty much as long as I've been alive, even when the economy has been growing, and quickly, most Americans haven't been getting ahead. One of many reasons why in places like the industrial Midwest, where I live, back to normal is not going to be a good enough message because normal was not good enough. Of course there are huge problems with this president, especially now. We're not even debating whether the President is telling the truth or making sense. We're just debating whether it matters when he doesn't. And it does matter, as you can see by the way he has created turmoil in global markets with his words. But even so, getting rid of the President is not enough. We need to replace this presidency with something better that actually works for Americans or somebody even more unstable could gain power and emerge in our politics in the future.

CHUCK TODD:Well, as you know, the counter argument is going to be, "Whoa, whoa, whoa. Trump was a big risk. Trump was somebody we'd never tried before." You're asking voters to take a big risk in that sense too. It is -- I understand exactly the message you're trying to send there, but that is the other side of that message, which is, "Wait a minute. He was new and different. You're new and different."

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:Yeah, there's some very different versions of what new and different means.

CHUCK TODD:Fair enough.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:My presidency will be about making sure Americans can actually get ahead, that when we have a rising tide it actually lifts all boats, in addition to restoring American credibility around the world. We need to explain what we're going to do to make your life better. And the less we're talking about him, the more we're talking about you. Good news is, this is winning turf for Democrats. Remember the American people, broadly speaking, agree with us on wages, agree with us on healthcare, agree with us for sure on gun safety. When it comes to the things that are actually going to decide whether your kid is safe at school, whether your income is going up, whether your healthcare is secure, whether there's a good outlook in your everyday life, that's a winning message for us. And we need to explain what we're going to do on that. Out with the old, compelling though it is, is not a complete message.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to talk about some national security issues. Because I think as Politico pointed out earlier this week, Democrats aren't going to just be able to unwind the Trump foreign policy, if you're going to try to put it back. I mean, look at -- if you're in favor of a two-state solution with the Israelis and the Palestinians that feels like that's taken 10 or 15 steps back, no matter who the next president is. Ditto with China or other countries not sure, okay, they can cut a deal with this president but given what happened with the last president how can I trust this deal? How much harder is it going to be for the next president to do any sort of trade pact or multi-country pact? And how do you reassure these countries of that if you're president?

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:My focus as president will be restoring U.S. credibility by pulling together in the name of values that are American values, that our country at its best has upheld and advanced but are also universal shared values. That means standing with the people of Hong Kong when they're insisting on Democracy. It means leading on climate diplomacy. Remember, part of the U.S. isolation on display this week is that at the G7 you have world leaders coming together, among other things, talking about what they're going to do on climate. And you've got an American president who doesn't even believe it's a problem. The U.S. could be restoring our credibility by leading the world in facing some of the biggest challenges we have, from issues like climate to stability in the global economy, to advancing human rights and democracy, to things like dealing with terrorist threats, be they from Islamist extremism or from the rising tide of white nationalist violence that is a problem not only here in the United States but around the world.

CHUCK TODD:Let's dive straight into China. You're president, you're going to inherit, perhaps, a bunch of tariffs that are -- have been slapped on China. Is your initial instinct to just remove all the tariffs and then try to start anew with China? And would you use the issue of Hong Kong as part of the negotiations in any trade pact?

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:Certainly the people of Hong Kong need to know that we stand with them. And China needs to know that if they're going to perpetrate a repeat of Tiananmen, they will be isolated from the Democratic world. That being said, we can find areas of cooperation, from climate to security to trade. It just has to be something that actually works for Americans. Now obviously the current strategy, I'm not even sure you can call it a strategy, let's say the current pattern of poking China in the eye with tariffs and seeing what will happen, isn't working. It is crushing American soybean farmers, other farmers, and American consumers. You know, we are already estimated to be paying 500 to $1,000 more, Americans, this year because of this trade war. And I don't know where we're supposed to get that kind of money. The president says he's going to delay some of it till Christmas, but what are we supposed to do after Christmas? My focus, in terms of a China strategy, will be identifying areas of mutual advantage and holding them accountable for the problems that we've seen created by things like currency manipulation. Just realize that they're not going to change their fundamental economic model because we poked them with a few tariffs. That's why the ultimate way to stay ahead of China is to invest in our domestic competitiveness. Now unfortunately, we're doing the reverse, under-investing in everything from education to infrastructure here at home.

CHUCK TODD:President Obama thought one of the ways to confront China was to create an Asian-Pacific trade pact. I know TPP became this sort of red herring, if you will, or litmus test among Democratic primary voters. Let me ask you a question of it this way: I know where you stand on TPP, but putting together a non-China Asian-Pacific alliance, is that the best way to confront China?

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:It's certainly part of how we can set global economic cooperation on terms that make sense for us, instead of allowing them to be dictated by China. The problem with TPP had to do with the fact that basic standards that we have on corporate governance and environmental and labor expectations weren't being met. Yes, we can do it. But again, the fundamental way to stay ahead of China is to invest in our own competitiveness. If they're investing billions more in artificial intelligence according to a national strategy than we are, then there is a very strong likelihood that they will be running circles around us by the time I have kids who are old enough to vote. I don't want to see artificial intelligence in the world being led by China, knowing that their vision is about using technology for the perfection of dictatorship, very different from how these things will work in American hands. We've got to invest in the future and do it in a way that is as systematic or more as the Chinese. I don't think anybody believes that this administration's approach on anything right now is systematic.

CHUCK TODD:Let me make the final question about the state, state of your campaign. You took off like a rocket ship. Obviously like, you know, these things ebb and flow and I know that. What do you say to your supporters who are saying, “okay, when are you going to take off like a rocket ship again?” How much patience should they have? A lot of people are starting to ask, “okay, is this a campaign to prepare to run for president another time?

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:It is not. I am in it to win and you do not do something like run for president, at least I don’t, unless you are aiming to go all the way. We have exceeded every expectation from the beginning of this campaign when we started with literally four people in a room in South Bend in January and a mailing list smaller than most congressional campaigns. Where we are now is that we have arrived in the top tier of candidates but this is where you really see how much this is a distance run and knowing that so much is decided in literally in the last few days of the caucus and primary campaigns. We've got to make sure the stretch from now until then, that key six months or so, where the unglamorous work is happening of organizers on the ground building the relationships that are going to build up this campaign. That's our focus, even as there are these day-to-day ups and downs.

CHUCK TODD:Are you -- there's been a lot of hand-wringing over the DNC's handling of the debate process and what it takes to meet, not meet it. How do you feel about how the DNC has handled this?

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:You know, it’s mission impossible to set up a debate structure that everybody can agree on and be happy with. What I know is that each debate represents an opportunity for our campaign to present our vision and for me to explain why my presidency would be different -- why my approach on health care makes more sense, why what I will do with the U.S. in the world as president is the right way forward. And we are going to focus on our plan, work the plan, and accept the rules as they come to us.

CHUCK TODD:Mayor Pete Buttigieg, coming to us from Freedom, New Hampshire. I have to say I had not -- I thought I had known every single town in New Hampshire. I think this is the first time we've had a dateline from Freedom, New Hampshire. Anyway, Mayor Pete Buttigieg stay safe.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:It's really nice out here.

CHUCK TODD:Yeah. Stay safe on the trail. And thanks for coming on and sharing your views.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:When we come back, President Trump keeps saying the economy is in great shape. His advisors aren't so sure. Well, why the pessimists could be right this time. That's next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Data Download time. President Trump has been cheerleading the economy at reelection rallies and press availabilities, but new numbers suggest that beneath the public optimism the economy is not as strong as Mr. Trump suggests. More importantly, it may not be as strong as it ever had been touted. This week, we learned that job creation numbers reported by the Labor Department were off. Like, way off. By about 20%. 2 million jobs were created between April 2018 and March 2019. That's 500,000 fewer jobs than the estimates originally showed. In fact, those estimates were also off when it comes our gross domestic product, GDP.

Figures originally showed that the economy grew at 3% in 2018. But it turns out it was much more tepid, 2.5%. That's still decent, but it's not the 3% cheerleading that President Trump had promised. The estimate for 2019, 2.3. And the forecast for 2020 is only 2.1%. And despite the cheerleading from the president, Americans aren't feeling all that optimistic. Consumer sentiment, which is about how people feel about the economy, dropped six percentage points from July to August, the lowest it's been, by the way, since January. And it mirrors a trend we've been seeing in other important indicators in the last six months. One number that might be particularly concerning for this White House: manufacturing declined in August. Why is this important? It's the first time that production has shown a contraction in almost a decade. Plus, thousands of jobs have been lost in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania since February. Three pretty important states. So when it comes to the economy, perception is almost as important as the reality. If consumers think the economy is headed for trouble, they're less likely to spend money, which could lead to actual trouble for the economy. And economic trouble would be bad news for all Americans and President Trump's reelection argument in 2020 as well. When we come back, three more Democrats dropped out of the presidential race this week, and it's still the largest field in history. Now, a handful of Republicans are eyeing long-shot bids. They may make the field even bigger again. End Game is next.

CHUCK TODD:

Back now with End Game. The Democratic debate over electability. I'm going to pit Jill Biden here versus the Democratic field. Here's Jill Biden on the case for supporting her husband.

[BEGIN TAPE]

JILL BIDEN:

Your candidate might be better on, I don't know, health care than Joe is. But you've got to look at who's going to win this election. And maybe you have to swallow a little bit and say, "Okay, I sort of personally like so-and-so better," but your bottom line has to be that we have to beat Trump.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Well, it's a tough message to combat, but here's how his fellow primary opponents are trying.

[BEGIN TAPE]

SENATOR ELIZABETH WARREN:

They don't need someone to say, "Let's just turn back the clock." They don't need someone to say, "It's all just too hard." They need a leader who is not afraid.

SENATOR CORY BOOKER:

The next leader of our party can't be someone that is a safe bet.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

I think the biggest risk we could take is to try to play it safe.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Gene?

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Well, okay. So you listen to all those candidates, and they would all tell you, "It's early. It's still early." You know, you know, by the standards of our elections, it's not actually that early. But this time it is because Joe Biden is the clear frontrunner and people have questions about him. He hasn't really made the sale with enough of the party I think. Everybody's comfortable with Joe Biden, but they have questions, you know, about his ability going forward. He still sort of leads on the electability question. Very important to Democrats. But I think there's a sense that he could falter. And then someone else would have to rise. And we don't know who that is at this point.

BRET STEPHENS:

Well, but Jill Biden can be right and still be wrong about her husband. That is to say the central question for Democrats is nominating someone who is electable, who isn't going to scare off those voters who a Democrat desperately needs.

CHUCK TODD:

Is that you essentially? Those basically Republicans who don't like Trump?

BRET STEPHENS:

No, look. I think it's a lot of voters who have voted for Bill Clinton, voted for George W. Bush, voted for Barack Obama. I think it's actually a fairly wide sway of the people. People like Mayor Pete and Elizabeth Warren, and so on are saying, you know, "We have to be a change agent," because really this is a primary fight against Joe Biden and sort of the incumbent frontrunner. But the Democrat who's going to win is going to have to communicate to the American people a sense of sanity, balance, that they're not there to change the system but to reform the system. That's going to be the winning ticket. It just won't necessarily be Vice President Biden.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

But that Democrat's also going to have to excite the Democratic base.

BETSY WOODRUFF:

And there--

EUGENE ROBINSON:

They're going to have to bring the Democratic base out.

BETSY WOODRUFF:

And there are two schools of thought within the Democratic Party about this, right? One is, "Trump is an emergency, and we can't take any risks, and we need to go safe." And that's the Jill Biden argument. The other, that Democrats will make privately although perhaps not publicly, is that the Democratic Party could nominate an Edible Arrangement and it would beat Donald Trump. That's the kind of thing you hear--

CHUCK TODD:

There are a lot more people--

BETSY WOODRUFF:

--if you talk to Democratic strategists.

CHUCK TODD:

There are a lot more people on the Democratic side that quietly do believe this. This has especially really turned this week.

BETSY WOODRUFF:

And this is part of the difference between the Elizabeth Warren/Bernie Sanders message and the Joe Biden message. Biden is arguing that Trump is the problem. Sanders, Warren, some of the other progressive candidates are arguing that Trump is a symptom of a larger problem.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, in your party, Kristin, four years ago, there was this debate about, "Oh, you've got to find somebody that can beat Hillary Clinton." And there were quietly a bunch of Republican strategists who said, "No, it doesn't matter. Anybody's going to be able to beat her." And it turned out anybody did.

KRISTIN SOLTIS ANDERSON:

Well, and I think the real question here is: For Democrats trying to choose someone to contrast Trump, do you pick someone that fights Trump sort of on the same type of terms Trump likes to fight on? Somebody who's going to be bold, someone who's going to be a fighter? Or do you try to nominate someone who answers the question, "What do Americans want who want to stop thinking about the president every day?" You know, and so do you as the Democratic Party-- you know, we've talked about, "Can they nominate," as you put it, "an Edible Arrangement and he would beat Donald Trump?" I wonder could Democrats nominate somebody who in any other year would not excite the progressive base but because they're running against Donald Trump and it is a binary choice that progressive base turns out anyways--

EUGENE ROBINSON:

It could be. But, you know, if Donald Trump is not vulnerable, then why are 20-plus Democrats and three Republicans running against him?

CHUCK TODD:

All right. But I've got to play this Joe Biden ad. He's using polling. I've never seen a frontrunner do this before. He's using polling to make his case. Watch.

[BEGIN TAPE]

VOICEOVER:

We know in our bones this election is different. The stakes are higher, the threat more serious. We have to beat Donald Trump. And all the polls agree Joe Biden is the strongest Democrat to do the job.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Bret, I keep bringing this up again, I just -- You normally don't talk about polls. The only poll that matters is the one on Election Day.

BRET STEPHENS:

It's a weird argument because the moment Biden goes south in any poll, the entire case--

CHUCK TODD:

By the way--

BRET STEPHENS:

-- for Biden evaporates --

CHUCK TODD:

Which is inevitable. It just happens. Sometimes it's even an outlier poll, but it's inevitable.

BRET STEPHENS:

Yeah, it's a poor strategy by him. He shouldn't be talking about his polling. He should be talking about his experience, his reliability, his decency, the fact that he's met every world leader, the fact that he's known on the world stage. An ad like this I think this is poison for him--

KRISTIN SOLTIS ANDERSON:

The other thing to keep in mind-- and you've seen these ballot test matchups. That actually the Trump versus Bernie Sanders and Trump versus Elizabeth Warren matchups don't actually look that much different in the numbers. We've got a long way to go till next November, but it's way too soon I think for anybody to really claim --

CHUCK TODD:

The Edible --

KRISTIN SOLTIS ANDERSON:

-- "I'm truly the only one that--"

CHUCK TODD:

I think the Edible Arrangement Trump only gets 38% or 39% against as well right now. His number is the same against whatever Democrat you put up there. It's the Democratic number that changes--

EUGENE ROBINSON:

It's the Democrat number that changes.

BETSY WOODRUFF:

And Democrats are going to be able to argue, "Look, there's going to be an influx of fundraising support." As Kristin said, the Democratic base, they believe, will be energized no matter what just by the fact that Trump's in the White House. And that number of random Democrat versus Trump they're going to say is strong enough for them that the Biden case not be --

CHUCK TODD:

Quick. Gene, does a week like this make it that much harder for Pete Buttigieg? You know, meaning a week like where Trump's erraticism becomes the, "Oh my god," the risk averse --

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Oh, you mean because Buttigieg is --

CHUCK TODD:

Is too new.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

-- the mayor of a --

CHUCK TODD:

Yes, yes.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

-- small town?

CHUCK TODD:

Is that-- yeah.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Maybe. I don't know. You know, I mean, he certainly comes across as very different from Donald Trump. And I actually think he's been on the scene as a candidate long enough now that--

CHUCK TODD:

That it's starting to --

EUGENE ROBINSON:

-- people have gotten used to him. It's interesting. So.

BRET STEPHENS:

He's not that much younger than Emmanuel Macron was when he became president of France.

CHUCK TODD:

That's an excellent point. Which is-- I think he's our first millennial world leader.

BRET STEPHENS:

That's right.

CHUCK TODD:

Anyway, thank you, guys. What a great roundtable for this week. That's all we have for today. Thank you for watching. I do appreciate that. We'll be back next week. Because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.