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Meet the Press - December 31, 2017

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NBC News - Meet the Press

“12.31.17”

(BEGIN TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday, looking back at 2017 and ahead to 2018. President Trump, did he keep his promises?

DONALD TRUMP:

I will be the greatest jobs president that God has ever created. The tax relief will be concentrated on the working and middle class. I will be president for all Americans.

CHUCK TODD:

We'll look at promises made, promises kept, and promises broken, plus, the 2018 political landscape. Democrats aimed to take back Congress.

CHUCK SCHUMER:

You could smell a wave coming. Our republican friends better look out.

CHUCK TODD:

But republicans hope to hang on to power.

SEN. CORY GARDNER

I-- I feel very optimistic about 2018.

CHUCK TODD:

Also, 2020, potential candidates are already visiting early primary and caucus states and dreaming of challenging the president.

FMR. VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN

I may very well. And I'm being as honest as I can.

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE:

Where do you stand? Are you likely to run?

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN:

This is not what I'm doing.

CHUCK TODD:

How many democrats will jump in? And will any republicans primary President Trump? And the ways the president has influenced culture, from the words we use to race.

DONALD TRUMP:

Very fine people on both sides.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome to New Year's Eve 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.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Good Sunday morning and a happy New Year's Eve to everyone. Almost from the moment he put his left hand on the Bible at his inauguration, President Trump signaled to the country that his presidency would be different, different in ways that would thrill millions and different in ways that would appall millions more. It began with a jarring comment about the state of the country.

(BEGIN TAPE)

DONALD TRUMP:

This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Within a day, Press Secretary Sean Spicer lectured White House reporters, arguing, implausibly, that more people witnessed Donald Trump's inauguration than President Obama's. And a day later, here on Meet the Press, the President's counselor, Kellyanne Conway, offered this explanation.

(BEGIN TAPE)

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

That inauguration weekend kicked off a year of friction between the White House and the press, between the president's supporters and his detractors, between liberals and conservatives, which has helped feed an uneasy sense that we, as a country, are more divided than we have been for decades, if not, longer.

Over the next hour, we're going to look back at the past year and ahead to the next. Our panel this New Year's Eve morning, Charlie Cook, editor and publisher of The Cook Political Report, NBC News White House correspondent, Kristen Welker, BBC anchor Katty Kay, whose show, Beyond 100 Days, will begin appearing on PBS starting Tuesday, and Rich Lowry, editor of The National Review. We're going to start things off by looking at some of the promises made by candidate Donald Trump and talk about whether he's been able to make good on them or not. Let's watch.

(BEGIN TAPE)

DONALD TRUMP:

Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslim entering the United States. $1 trillion in infrastructure investment. The tax relief will be concentrated on the working and middle class. I will be the greatest jobs president that God has ever created. Repealing and replacing Obamacare, a disaster.

Save Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, without cuts. Have to do it. I pledge, to every citizen of our land, that I will be president for all Americans. We will build a great, great wall. And Mexico, Mexico, Mexico, Mexico will pay for the wall.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

All right, guys. What's been the single most important promise he made and the single most important promise he's kept? Rich Lowry, I'm going to start with you. Because I think the wall is probably the single most important promise connected to him as candidate.

RICH LOWRY:

Yeah. That was a signature promise and was probably the most flagrantly unrealizable promise in all of American presidential politics, the idea that Mexico would pay for this wall.

CHUCK TODD:

Let alone build the wall. Yeah, but the other country paying for it.

RICH LOWRY:

But immigration is a success story for him. He doesn't have a wall. But by reestablishing a certain baseline of enforcement, it set an important message. And you have illegal border crossings down to, I think, the lowest level since 1971. I'm kind of surprised he doesn't boast about that more.

CHUCK TODD:

Katty, what's been the most important one that he's kept?

KATTY KAY:

The most important one, I think, that he's kept is that he would be the president for the people who voted for him. And he would carry on the culture wars in their favor, that he would carry on talking in ways that white, working-class voters, who felt that they had been neglected before, they feel they have somebody who is their president, that they don't have to be PC anymore, that they can say things that they might've wanted to say for years. And President Trump has emboldened them to do that.

CHUCK TODD:

What's the biggest one that he's missed, that he's whiffed on, in the first year?

KRISTEN WELKER:

I think a couple, Chuck. One, he said he was going to repeal and replace Obamacare. That didn't happen. He's tinkered with it around the edges. But where's the replacement? He also said he was going to prevent North Korea from advancing its nuclear program.

That hasn't happened. And that has proven to be one of the biggest foreign policy crises. And to pick up on what Katty is saying, I think that he has been a president for his base. But he has failed to be a president for all people. I think that, in many ways, the country's more divided. You

have the NFL. You have Charlottesville. And I think that's been a problem.

CHUCK TODD:

Charlie, I left you with the topic that is sort of interesting here, and that's the economy, in that it's been a great year. And that has not translated or, as John Rees (PH), my EP says, maybe it has. And he'd be at 25%, if it wasn't for the economy.

CHARLIE COOK:

You know, it's funny that so many polls show so many people dislike him, disapprove of him, maybe embarrassed by him, think he's a bull in a china closet on foreign policy, all these things. And yet, the economy's doing really well. And either, A, something he's done is right, or he's just really, really lucky.And I just kind of wonder whether the fact that maybe it's the absence of President Obama or just sort of the idea of a president that's less adversarial towards business, whether it sort of released some animal spirits in the economy. Or maybe he's just lucky.

CHUCK TODD:

Let's debate this. Luck, or has he done something?

KATTY KAY:

Let's go to 50,000 feet. Because you can see that there is a disconnect between political dysfunction around the world, not just here in the United States, but certainly in Europe, too. And there are national security issues that are looming, crisis in ways that we have not seen for a very long time.And yet, every single investor will tell you, "This is a great time economically." And at what point does that disconnect come back to haunt us, or doesn't it? Can we carry on operating where stock markets keep rising, unemployment keeps falling, growth is ticking up, wages are ticking up, and still have this political insecurity that's not just American political insecurity, but is global political insecurity?

CHUCK TODD:

You know, Rich, I remember you'd hear the frustration in the last two years of Obama, like, "Everything's there. It's poised to take off." But it wouldn't. Trump's election, and then to quote Charlie, whatever the animal spirit is, boom, it finally is here.

CHARLIE COOK:

So it's luck in that he inherited an economy that was in pretty good shape. It's not like Obama inheriting an economy that's cratering after a financial crisis. But it's more than luck in that policy matters. And the expectation of the market and the business community is that at least you'd see no new regulations, no new taxes, not any additional burdens on the economy. And we've seen even better than that from the business perspective. Because you've seen a major deregulation rollback and now a tax bill that is a generational change on the corporate side and will, all things being equal, be pro-growth.

KRISTEN WELKER:

And I think the White House would argue, the fact that they have cut so many regulations is really what has spurred this economy. Look at the way that President Trump dealt with healthcare versus taxes. He got right in on all of the details. He went out and sold the tax package. He ran as the jobs president. And I think that you have investors who feel good about that. The market, obviously, reflecting it. And we're starting to see that in his policies.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Let's pivot a little bit to foreign policy. A year in, do we know what a Trump doctrine is, Katty?

KATTY KAY:

In some ways, it's a continuity of what we've had in the past. He has not reneged on Article V of NATO, which was a key campaign speculation. NAFTA is still in place for the moment. We still have American troops in Afghanistan. We still have them in Iraq. We still have them in Syria.

So in some ways, things are the same. What's different is that, in the foreign policy, the big security strategy review that the president gave at the end of the year, no mention of climate change as a national security threat, and no mention of American human rights and values. To me, the single biggest change with this president is that we are not seeing America leading the world through principle. America hasn't always gotten it right. But it has always relied on some sense of principle and higher moral standing. What we have now is a transactional American foreign policy.

CHUCK TODD:

Rich, you're nodding a lot there.

RICH LOWRY:

I think, on the basic structure, it's a center-right realism. And you see what the actual policy is, even on North Korea, where rhetorically, he's been very aggressive, it's a status-quo policy. Very cautious in the Middle East, more cautious both than George W. Bush and than Obama, who did a big surge in Afghanistan early in his administration. But I agree, there needs to be more of an emphasis on ideals. This is a reaction against the crusade that George W. Bush fought for our ideals. But they are an important tool against our adversaries and in favor of our interests.

CHUCK TODD:

I don't sense coherence. Like, he does seem, "I'm going to get tough on China." And then he goes to China, "Isn't Xi great? He and I are pals." And you're going, "What?"

KRISTEN WELKER:

Well, and you see that disconnect with his rhetoric around North Korea, as well. He talked about fire and fury. And that made a lot of people very nervous that he was on the brink of taking some type of action. And he didn't. I think we won't really know what the Trump doctrine is, until we see how North Korea plays out. Will he take some type of limited military action? I mean, based on my conversations with senior officials, his military options are very few and very far between. So it doesn't look like that's likely. I do think, though, Chuck, we're seeing a retreat from multinationalism. He did pull out of TPP. He pulled out of Paris. And I think that is the beginning, at least, of a shift.

CHUCK TODD:

Of a legacy there.

CHARLIE COOK:

You know, the national security policy report that Katty referred to that was released just before Christmas, when I read it, it actually did provide some coherence to what, through the past year, has looked like complete random ricocheting around. And I couldn't tell whether, is this thing actually more coherent than I thought? Or is there just a heck of a speechwriter onboard? I tend to think the latter.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you this. I feel like the issue we don't cover enough in foreign policy is, how close are we to war, a hot war, whether we're involved or not, but a hot war that involves Iran and, say, Saudi Arabia? It feels like it is a tinderbox between those two.

KATTY KAY:

So somebody described it to me like this. We have, in Yemen, Iranian proxies fighting Saudi regulars. We have, in Syria, Saudi proxies fighting Iranian regulars. We are one step away. And with the Yemeni Houthi rebels firing missiles at Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, that's a hot area of the world.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. And there is one foreign policy issue that seems to congeal with our domestic politics, and it's Russia. Here's the best of Russia from this year.

(BEGIN TAPE)

DONALD TRUMP:

I have nothing to do with Russia, folks, okay?

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE:

Why would there be any contacts between the campaign?

DONALD TRUMP, JR.:

I can't think of bigger lies.

DONALD TRUMP:

Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia.

SEAN SPICER:

There is no connection. You have got Russia. If the president puts Russian salad dressing on his salad tonight, somehow, that's a Russian connection.

ERIC TRUMP:

We have no dealings in Russia. We have no projects in Russia. We have nothing to do with Russia.

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

Those conversations never happened.

DONALD TRUMP:

There is no collusion between me and my campaign and the Russians.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS:

We've been going on this Russia-Trump hoax for the better part of a year now with no evidence of anything.

DONALD TRUMP:

There is absolutely no collusion. That has been proven.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Rich Lowry, he's not getting the benefit of the doubt on all this, it seems to me, for one big reason. He seems to want nothing more than to cozy up to Vladimir Putin. If he were willing to be tough on Putin, the rest of the Republican Party wants to be, he might get more benefit of the doubt.

RICH LOWRY:

Right, or just say, "The meddling in our election was an outrage. And I'll never stand for it. And it's not going to happen again on my watch." And he won't say that. It's a bit of a mystery. My theory, which I can't prove, is just he considers the Russian story a personal affront. Because he thinks it undermines his victory. So it's kind of a psychological reaction rather than speaking to some deeper conspiracy he's trying to hide.

KRISTEN WELKER:

I think that's right. And one of the things that is so striking, if you look at his tweets, he's lashed out at just about everyone on Twitter, including the leader of China, who he says he needs to work with on North Korea. And yet, he's never had sharp words like that for Russia.He's never convened, for example, a meeting of his national security team to just address that issue. And I think that's what people are hungry for. And remember, he begrudgingly accepted more sanctions that Congress imposed. And it sort of boxed him in.

KATTY KAY:

But it's not just that he wants to cozy up to Putin or hasn't been aggressive enough about Putin. It's that people around him, time and again, seem to forget meetings that they have with Russians. Why the secrecy? Why have these meetings then have to reveal them later? Why say things that, perhaps, weren't actually true at the time? And it's happening too often, it seems, for this to look like just coincidence.

CHUCK TODD:

Final word, Charlie?

CHARLIE COOK:

You know, nobody wants to think that they won illegitimately. You want to believe, "I won on my merits." But I think Rich is right. Why can't he just say, "You know, they were meddling. I don't think it had an impact on the outcome of the election. But we need to make sure this never happens again"? That's pretty painless. What's wrong with that?

CHUCK TODD:

You're doing something Donald Trump's never done before, be humble. All right, guys. When we come back, we're going to look ahead to the year that starts tomorrow. It's an even-numbered year. And you know what that means, elections. Are we looking at a democratic wave? Or can republicans somehow maintain their hold on Congress and, of course, that means on all of the power that comes with it?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. If there's one thing you can generally count on in American politics, it's that the party that loses the presidential election one year gains seats in the following midterm elections. 2018 looks to be no exception. President Trump's record-low approval ratings to close the year have given democrats real hope that they can actually win the 24 seats they need to take back the House. And the party’s unexpected upset win in Alabama this month means democrats would only need to net two seats to achieve their longer-shot goal of taking back the Senate.

(BEGIN TAPE)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:

In 2005, you could smell a wave coming. The results last night smell exactly the same way. Our Republican friends better look out.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:

We think we'll produce results, results that we will certainly be able to talk to the American people about in the fall of 2018 and in 2020, as well.

INTERVIEWER:

Can you win back the House next year?

REP. NANCY PELOSI:

The door is certainly open for us.

HUGH HEWITT:

He's suggesting a wave election is coming your way, that your majority is at risk. What do you make of that?

REP. PAUL RYAN:

Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, is what I say about that stuff.

TOM PEREZ:

I think we're going to win the Senate and the House.

SEN. CORY GARDNER:

I feel very optimistic about 2018.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Well, we're going to do the blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. The panel is back with us. And let's talk about the blah, blah, blah, blah, blah in November of 2018. Welcome. Got to love Speaker Ryan.

CHARLIE COOK:

This is my life's work, and he's making fun of it.

CHUCK TODD:

He blah-blah-blahed over the best part! Anyway, let's quickly, let’s do it by the numbers here. The Senate makeup, after Doug Jones will be there, is essentially 51-49. Yes, there are two Independents who caucus with the Democrats. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. The House is 239 to 193. Charlie Cook, this is what you do for a living. You saw the 11-point advantage in the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll for Democrats, 50 to 39. It suggests a wave is building. The question is, just how big? And will it crest at the right time, in the right moment for the Democrats?

CHARLIE COOK:

This is what waves look like, when you're standing on a beach looking out. And we've seen this before.

CHUCK TODD:

You see it from afar. Wow, look at that?

CHARLIE COOK:

Yeah, you know, you can't tell precisely how tall it is. But you can tell it's a big one. You know, could things change, you know, if we had a couple more quarters, three more quarters, of good economic growth? Could it dissipate? I guess it could. But I don't think it will. And so we're looking at the Senate. It's now plausible that Democrats could take the Senate back. I think it's not likely. But it's plausible. In the House, if you had to bet today, I think you'd bet the House would turn.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, one of the reasons why, Rich, it doesn't look like this is going to shift, we look at some of the demographic breakdowns on the generic ballot. Among millennials, it's nearly a 50-point advantage for democrats. Among women, 20 points. Independents, 12 points. Even seniors, which essentially has become a base vote now for the Republicans, it's the Democrats that are up four. And among all white voters, they're only down two. That's why it doesn't look like a couple of good economic quarters change things.

RICH LOWRY:

Well, that's the best thing Republicans could have going for them is robust growth to take some of the edge off of this. But my fear is that this isn't a conditions-based reaction. It's not an agenda-based reaction so much. It is a profound personal reaction to Trump himself. And there is no way to change that.

KRISTEN WELKER:

The White House says the opposite. They say that candidates are knocking down their doors to get an endorsement from President Trump, and that he's very eager to get out on the campaign trail.

CHUCK TODD:

By the way, there probably are some candidates knocking on their doors for an endorsement. They just are not, their door is not being answered when they knock on Mitch McConnell's.

KRISTEN WELKER:

Well, that's exactly right. And they look at Ed Gillespie and say, he tried to walk a very fine line. And it backfired. So the White House is saying, "You should, essentially, embrace Trump." But we saw that that doesn't always work. Obviously, Roy Moore, a deeply flawed candidate in his own right. But he did run based on a Trump playbook. I spoke with a democratic strategist who said, "We're looking at a tidal wave." And I said, "Wait a minute. Don't you run the risk of overplaying your hand, if you go into 2018 with that type of thinking?" And I think that's the real concern. The economy is a big unknown. That could, I think, shift the outlook.

CHARLIE COOK:

You know what's interesting is that you look, historically. And there's this very clear pattern, I mean, all but three midterm elections since the end of the Civil War. But it’s, we're now seeing a more explosiveness. I mean, over the last six midterm elections, either the House or the Senate or both have flipped in four out of the last six.

CHUCK TODD:

And that actually, that hadn't happened in 100 years.

CHARLIE COOK:

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know, I mean, if ever. And so it’s, it’s, it’s people are voting. It's not more parliamentary. But it's more by party. And we're seeing big, big, explosive results. And that's got to be scary for the republicans.

CHUCK TODD:

Katty, the challenge for the Democrats, though, on the Senate side, at least, is the red-state Democrats. And you could argue, how they handle red-state America in order to win the majority is going to say everything. Let me put up the Senate map here. These are just Democratic seats that are in states, in 2018, up where President Trump carried that state. And you can see Montana, the not surprise, but your Floridas, your Ohios, your Wisconsin and Michigans in there. Here's how a few of the red-state democrats I've talked to, and we've talked to the last year, have been walking the line of Trump. Take a listen.

(BEGIN TAPE)

SEN. HEIDI HEITKAMP:

One thing that we don't have, and you see that borne out in public polling and when I'm out and about, is, "So what do you guys stand for? What are you about?" The overarching discussion for the Democratic Party isn't there.

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL:

My job is to fight for Missourians. And so I get up every day. My feet hit the ground trying to figure out how I can get stuff done for them, not how I can criticize the president.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN:

Here's the thing, Chuck, that really bothers me more than anything. Because I am up for reelection in 2018, I guess people think, in Washington, that I'm going to vote differently, or I'll be differently, or I'll have to kowtow, if you will, to what they think may be popular. I don't think impeachment is something we should be talking about.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Katty, you know, what was interesting this year is I think we all expected at least some of these red-state Democrats to somehow forge a partnership with Trump. And none of them did. I think some of them wanted to. I don't know. Joe Manchin blames Mitch McConnell, not President Trump, which I think is convenient. But what say you?

KATTY KAY:

You know, we came out of Alabama with democrats saying, "Look, we can win in true red states. We've just done it in Alabama." And people, exactly those people you chose, North Dakota, Missouri, West Virginia, they took some heart from that. But they have very different populations. They do not have 30% African American makeup in those states. They know that. So they have to be more careful about how they run. They can't expect to run up against a Roy Moore again. That's just not going to happen. And you know, Claire McCaskill has told me many times, "I have, Donald Trump is above water in my state. He has approval ratings that are parallel to mine. He won my state. I cannot totally isolate myself from him." But she's not going to go there and actually sign up with him. Sherrod Brown is interesting. He has. And he's not up, but he is a Democrat who has decided that he's going to try and work with the president.

CHUCK TODD:

I'm curious, Charlie.

KATTY KAY:

That means some can.

CHUCK TODD:

If impeachment becomes part of the conversation in the fall, I assume it's these red-state Senate Democrats that are the most nervous about that.

CHARLIE COOK:

I think you're right. And the thing is, this is so implausible.

CHUCK TODD:

And yet…

CHARLIE COOK:

I mean, if every single, if Democrats won every single Senate race next year, every single one of them, they would still need ten Republicans to vote for impeachment. And that's not going to happen. And so just shut up. They're not helping themselves. They really aren't.

KATTY KAY:

And these Democrats hate that conversation. They hate the Tom Steyer ads. They really don't want those ads up on TV.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, I want to pivot, because I hinted at it before. I'm going to pivot to sort of the Republican side of things. The reason why Democrats have a longer shot at winning the Senate is, look at this Senate map. This is a rosy scenario of Senate targets for Democrats. And I throw in a Texas and a Nebraska on there, Texas for demographic reasons. But I throw in a Nebraska on there, because of what Steve Bannon has promised, Rich Lowry, which is to primary some establishment Republicans, like a Deb Fischer, in Nebraska. Here's our little Bannon-versus-the-GOP compilation. And we'll talk about it on the other side.

(BEGIN TAPE)

STEVE BANNON:

And right now, it's a season of war against a GOP establishment.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS:

I think what Steve Bannon is trying to do is completely inappropriate.

STEVE BANNON:

Because they think you're a pack of morons.

SEN. RON JOHNSON:

I hope he pays attention that you need good candidates to win the Senate races.

STEVE BANNON:

Mitch McConnell, and this permanent political class, is the most corrupt and incompetent group of individuals in this country.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:

What he's a specialist in is nominating people who lose.

DONALD TRUMP:

I like Mr. Bannon. He's a friend of mine. But Mr. Bannon came on very late. You know that.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Look, Steve Bannon, right now, is the face of that sort of antiestablishment crowd. But before there was a Steve Bannon, there was still an antiestablishment crowd. That cost them, and I'm going to put up here, at least five Senate seats. You can now blame, I guess, Bannon for the sixth, right? The three in 2010 that everybody likes to talk about; Colorado, Delaware, Nevada; two from 2012; Indiana and Missouri; and, of course, Roy Moore. Bannon, is he going to cost them another Senate seat? Another state I could've put up there is a Mississippi, for instance.

RICH LOWRY:

Yeah. Well, I would hope Alabama was a blow to Steve Bannon's theory that you can just run any loathsome cook for the Senate and somehow win a general election. But you're right. This is not a new phenomenon. It began before Steve Bannon. And it's in part, because Republicans kind of against type, you know, they're not the blue-blazers, tie types anymore. They are the antiestablishment party, which involves, very oftentimes, not just rejecting the establishment's judgment about candidates, but rejecting conventional norms around a candidate.

CHUCK TODD:

This is important. Look, McConnell and Ryan are no more in touch with the base of the party than Trump is with the establishment.

KRISTEN WELKER:

That's right. And who did President Trump speak to after the Roy Moore loss? He spoke to Steve Bannon that week. And so he still sees him as a touchstone to his base. And to your point, does Bannon take a look at that race and say, "Hey, it was the candidate"? No. He says, "We just need to work harder. We're now emboldened. We're now energized. We know what we need to do in the next race." I think, though, the challenge is that he obviously divides resources and messaging and continues to have this internal war.

CHARLIE COOK:

Go back to 2008, when Barack Obama won. This so radicalized. I mean, the conservative Republicans despised him so much that it effectively radicalized a large element of the Republican Party. I think it led to the Tea Party movement. It ultimately led to the election of Donald Trump. But it led to this nomination or this attraction of these exotic candidates that are just more exotic than can win general elections. And I think Republicans are paying a price. And if I were the Democrats, I would worry about the loathing that they have for President Trump, whether it radicalizes an element of the Democratic Party, and we start seeing that happen in coming years.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, that is actually a nice segue. Because the next conversation we're going to have has to do with the list of candidates running for president. Is it easier to make the list of candidates not running? That's going to be the real debate we have. Anyway, once we're done with 2018, it is 2020 vision time. And whose vision is only focused on 2020? We're going to look ahead to the many, many, many, many, many Democrats who may decide to run for president and a handful of Republicans, as well.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. From the moment a candidate is declared the winner of a presidential election, people in my business begin to ask, "Who is going to run in four years?" This year is no different. And with President Trump's approval rating stuck in the 30s and low 40s, many Democrats and, perhaps, a handful of Republicans are viewing a run as a real possibility.

One sign that someone is considering a run at this stage, they write a book. It's seen as a sign that the author is serious about becoming a candidate. So far, we have seen books from Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, former Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Senator Corey Booker of New Jersey. Those are the Democrats.

Now, you have Governor John Kasich of Ohio, Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, and Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, all of whom are Republicans. The panel is back. Okay, another way you get yourself on the list to run for president, say you're not going to run. Take a look.

(BEGIN TAPE)

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE:

Where's your mind about that right now? Are you 50/50, 80/20? Where do you stand? Are you likely to run?

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN:

No. This is not what I'm doing.

MAYOR ERIC GARCETTI:

Other people will make lists. I'm not running for president.

MARTIN O’MALLEY:

Sure, I just might.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE:

That is not on my radar screen. That's a long way off.

GOV. JOHN KASICH:

I don't know what I'm going to do tomorrow.

FMR. VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN:

If, in a year from now, if we're ready, and no one has moved in that I think can do it, then I may very well.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Obviously, the most significant person in that list to say, "Yes, I'm thinking about it," is the former vice president. Because I think he decided to say, "Hey, I'm sending a message to national donors. I want in."

KATTY KAY:

Yeah, the most honest of all of those answers, right, was probably Joe Biden. The concern for Democrats has to be that the two white guys most likely to run who you would have to give a reasonable shot at giving the nomination to; Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders; they're going to be 78 and 79 on inauguration day of 2021. That's a problem for the Democrats. And you could go through the whole list of them. And there are problems with all of the candidates. But two, you know, old white guys, is that where the party needs to be positioning itself?

CHUCK TODD:

Kristen, before you chime in, we put this together. Here's all the traveling in the early states. That's another way to let us know you're thinking about running for president. You show up in Iowa. Well, you have Sanders, Mark Zuckerberg. I'll talk about that in a minute.

Martin O'Malley, Amy Klobuchar, Ben Sasse, Tom Cotton have all made Iowa trips this year. In New Hampshire, you have Kasich, Biden, Sanders, and O'Malley. And in South Carolina, you've had Biden, Zuckerberg and O'Malley there. So common denominators, Biden, it's book tour-ish, but Biden and Sanders among the busier ones.

KRISTEN WELKER:

Absolutely. And I think that shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. I mean, Biden walked up to the line of running during the last election cycle. The one person who wasn't on that list is Kirsten Gillibrand. She hasn't been doing a whole lot of traveling.

But she has been, I think, putting a marker down for herself around the issue of sexual harassment. It's one that she has obviously championed in the past. But she's really, I think, been out front on that issue, taking the lead in terms of calling for Al Franken to resign, angering a lot of folks in her own party by saying that former president Bill Clinton should've resigned. And I think it's clear that she's eying a potential run very seriously.

CHUCK TODD:

Charlie, in that vein, is it Gillibrand? Has she had the breakout '17 to sort of carve out space? Who else has had some breakout, where it looks like they're doing more than just saying, "I want to be in. I'm carving out space"?

CHARLIE COOK:

Well, with Gillibrand, I would put an asterisk. People that are up for reelection in 2018 have to be a little bit more discrete. But I'd say Kamala Harris in California, that she's poised to do that. The way I sort of look at it is, I mean, I've got a list of, like, 25 people here.

And the thing is, some of these, I think, are laughable. But you know what? Three years ago today, Donald Trump was. And Bernie Sanders was, too. So I'm a lot more humble than I used to be. But the way I'm kind of looking at it is there will be at least one woman. There will be at least one African American.

CHUCK TODD:

And when you say, "one woman," there'll be multiple women that run. But you mean one that is in the final couple.

CHARLIE COOK:

The final four. I'm talking about the final four. There will be a woman. There will be an African American. There will be one white guy. And then there's an at-large. And some of these, like a Kamala Harris, could be two of those categories. But look for categories. Because there are powerful constituencies within the party that I think will gravitate behind individual ones.

RICH LOWRY:

I think it's just a bigger point. We can all do this on paper. But the lesson from the last two people who've been elected president, Donald Trump and Barack Obama, is that personalities matter so much. Both in their own way, completely dominated the media, figures of fascination that supporters couldn't get enough of. And another lesson that we should all remember, crowd size really does matter.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, actually, Rich, you made a great segue. My 13-year-old, literally, said to me, "Hey, Dad. You know that Dwayne Johnson's thinking about running for president." And I said, "So why do you say that?" And she goes, "Well, he said so on Ellen." And I went, "He did?" Here's the evidence.

(BEGIN TAPE)

ELLEN DEGENERES:

Would you run? I mean, seriously, would you run?

DWAYNE JOHNSON:

I'm seriously considering it, yes.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Look, I've actually been following him for the last six months on Instagram and his social media. This guy is very good at his own public relations, very good. Hears about a sick kid who's a fan. The Rock's there with tickets for something or flies him there. Look, as Rich said, somebody in this space is going to break out. Is it Cuban? Is it The Rock? You know, who knows?

KATTY KAY:

Is it Zuckerberg?

CHUCK TODD:

Somebody's messing around here.

KATTY KAY:

Well, look. If we are now living in an era where, to run for president of the United States, you need to be a celebrity, and you need to have a television following and an Instagram following, and you need to be able to reach people through charisma and through your background, through having been on their television screens for years and years and years, which was Donald Trump's way of doing it, then somebody like The Rock has a chance. Donald Trump may have been an exception. I don't know.

RICH LOWRY:

Like, three years ago, he was on the set playing The Rock.

CHARLIE COOK:

There are presidents rolling in their graves right now.

KRISTEN WELKER:

And as they should.

CHUCK TODD:

Here's what I don't get, though, Kristen, is that, actually, I think, when the other party does something, and you try to do what that party does lite, it always fails.

KRISTEN WELKER:

It backfires.

CHUCK TODD:

When you actually try to do the exact opposite, who is the least charismatic, boring, lowest-crowd guy or gal out there? Because I have a theory that that's the person we'll turn to next.

KRISTEN WELKER:

Well, I think that whoever can give President Trump a real run for his money has to be his counterpoint. There's no doubt about that. What does that look like? Does that mean that the person is unifying, though? Is that sort of the aspect that people are looking for? I think one thing, in addition to all of the charismatic, all of those things that you laid out, I think that the person needs to come off as being authentic, even if they're a little boring.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, I would just say that Ralph Northam, Doug Jones, Jon Ossoff, I could go down the list here. The good Democratic candidates this year were boring guys.

CHARLIE COOK:

Were non-offensive. But to your point, our friend Mark Shields has a theory that, let's say you're in a subway car. And it stops between stations. The lights go out, panic, chaos. And then a reassuring voice, a firm, reassuring voice, comes on to make you feel calm, things are under control. And will people be looking for someone that would be reassuring, calm, a good bedside manner, that sort of thing?

CHUCK TODD:

The Rock played tooth fairy.

RICH LOWRY:

Boring never works in presidential politics. Now, you can be the opposite, like, George W. Bush, emphasis on toughness. You have Barack Obama, emphasis on thoughtfulness, right? But he was not boring.

CHARLIE COOK:

But we hadn't had a Donald Trump before, either. So--

KATTY KAY:

Has he changed the game?

CHUCK TODD:

All right, let me close with this. I think we all think Trump will get a primary challenge just for the sport of it. The question is, who could be the most effective primary challenger to a Trump? Rich, I start with you. This is what National Review may be covering a lot of.

RICH LOWRY:

Yeah. It's really hard to see how this would work, unless Trump totally craters. Otherwise, you'll get some sort of symbolic challenge from someone like John Kasich, who could get 25%, 30% in places. But if you ran against him at this juncture, he wouldn't even win Ohio.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah. You don't buy it. What about a Ben Sasse? What about a Mitt Romney?

KATTY KAY:

So Ben Sasse or Mitt Romney would be the two names that would come up. Mitt Romney probably has the better chance. Because he's done it before. He knows the access to the money. And he's got more name recognition than Ben Sasse. But it's a tough call.

CHUCK TODD:

It is. Somebody's going to do it just for the coverage.

KRISTEN WELKER:

I think Jeff Flake could be interesting. Don't overlook Jeff Flake.

CHARLIE COOK:

If President Trump runs, he will be the nominee. The only question is, if he doesn't, then it's Pence versus the field.

CHUCK TODD:

A free-for-all. All right, when we come back, oh, how the political world has changed in just one year.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHUCK TODD:

We are back. Data download time. What kind of year has 2017 been? Well, if you look at our new NBC News Wall Street Journal poll for the end of the year, the answers are mixed. Ahead of President Trump's inauguration in January, 37% of Americans felt the country was going in the right direction. 52% felt it was on the right track.

There was actually an improvement at that time from the months before the 2016 election. But in our year-end poll, 29% now say, "Right direction," that's an eight-point drop from January, while 63% say, "Wrong track." That's up 11 points. And no surprise, how you view the year depends a lot on who you are. Republicans thought it was a pretty good year. For example, 79% say 2017 was either the best year for the United States, above average, or average. Only 20% thought it was the worst year or below average.

Independents were pretty evenly split, while hardly any democrat thought it was a good year. The vast majority, 81%, saw 2017 as either the worst year for the country or below average. Men and women also viewed the year differently. A majority of men thought 2017 was good for the country, while a majority of women thought it was bad.

And we saw similar breakdowns across racial demographics. Only a slim majority of white Americans, 52%, thought this year was either the best, above average, or average, while majorities of both Hispanics and African Americans thought it was the worst year or below average.

And finally, what did Americans view as the most significant events of 2017? Events like the mass shooting in Las Vegas and natural disasters, like hurricanes and wildfires, were on folks' minds the most. Third on the list was President Trump's inauguration, followed by terrorist attacks, the tax plan in Congress, sexual harassment revelations, and of course, the Me Too movement. When we come back, words that came into being and new words that gained new meaning in 2017. President Trump's impact on American culture is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. We're going to look at some of the cultural changes that took place in the country this year that, I think, for some people, were inspired, at least in part, by Donald Trump's presidency. Guys, I think the biggest one in sports has to do with his involvement in the NFL, which has been sort of with race. Let's take a look at what sort of instigated this.

(BEGIN TAPE)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, "Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He's fired"? Fired!

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

You had some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people on both sides.

Now, are we going to take down his statue? So you know what? It's fine. You're changing history. You're changing culture.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Was Sheriff Joe convicted for doing his job? I'll make a prediction. I think he's going to be just fine, okay?

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

You know what's interesting, Kristen, especially that first one, many times, when he dabbles into sort of culture wars, it's at a moment of political weakness for him. Where he did the NFL riff is when he was embarrassed to be endorsing Luther Strange at a time when he knew that candidate was about to get thumped by Roy Moore in that runoff that weekend before. And literally, the story wasn't about him supporting Luther Strange. It was about him and the NFL.

KRISTEN WELKER:

That's right. It's a great way to energize his base, to rally his supporters around him. It was very similar during Charlottesville, when he made those remarks, which, by the way, enraged some people within his own administration. But I think you're starting to see a backlash at the polls.

You saw that with how energized African American voters were to come out in Alabama. And that's what's concerning a lot of republicans, when they look at 2018. Look, I think the White House knows that they have a problem when it comes to diversity.

They know they have to bring more diversity, particularly to their senior staff. We just reported on Omarosa leaving, for example. She was the only African American senior staffer that he had in the West Wing. And so I think that's going to possibly be a focus in the new year.

RICH LOWRY:

I would've guessed, at the beginning of the year, you would have an unorthodox president stoking these kind of controversies with an unorthodox agenda. Instead, you've had an entirely orthodox Republican agenda that doesn't necessarily have anything for the signature kind of Trump voter. But you still have this unorthodox president. And stoking these controversies, that's what his voters are getting.

CHUCK TODD:

But there's been a weird backlash, not from voters, per se, some with voters, Charlie, but corporate America has been the one. And the NFL is part of this. Like, they have struggled with how to handle this. They don't know how to handle it. Especially NFL, I think, has really struggled with it.

CHARLIE COOK:

Yeah. I think they're torn. I mean, they sort of don't approve of the behavior. But I was meeting with a CEO recently who said, the tax bill did probably save about $350 million. So they're torn. I mean, there are some good things, you know, less regulation, laxer enforcement. There are things they like. But they don't like the tone and where this is going. They're really torn.

KATTY KAY:

And corporations have to watch out for customers, shareholders, brand, and all of that. And when the president says something, which is why we've had so many of these advisory councils disbanded, those corporate leaders don't feel that they can be aligned with those positions, with some of the things he says.

RICH LOWRY:

I think the other factor here, some of it is strategic, as you suggest with the NFL controversy. But a lot of it, he just enjoys stirring the pot. He enjoys everyone freaking out. And the remote control goes. And he watches it on his 90-inch TV screen and enjoys every minute of it.

CHUCK TODD:

As he said to me once, "It's the Trump show. And it's been sold out for years."

CHARLIE COOK:

I think that's the part of the job he wanted. It was sort of head of state and to be the pot-stirrer. And all this other stuff, "Gosh, do I have to do this, too?"

CHUCK TODD:

All right. I think 2017, the Time’s person of the year were the whistleblowers on women. You just informed us, feminism is the word of the year. I would say it's an understatement to say, culturally, and I think many people think that women are speaking out more, because of the election of Donald Trump. But here's sort of a highlight of the year.

(BEGIN TAPE)

NEWS ANCHOR:

Hollywood titan, Harvey Weinstein, fired from his own company.

NEWS ANCHOR:

Kevin Spacey,

NEWS ANCHOR:

Louis C.K.

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE:

Matt Lauer.

SPEAKER PAUL RYAN:

Look, sexual harassment has no place in any workplace, let alone I the United States Congress.

REP. JACKIE SPEIER:

We are in the midst of a cultural revolution.

REP. NANCY PELOSI:

Was it one accusation? Is it two? I think John Conyers is an icon in our country. However, Congressman Conyers should resign.

ARNOLD REED:

He is not going to be pressured, by Nancy Pelosi or anyone else, to step down.

SEN. AL FRANKEN:

In the coming weeks, I will be resigning as a member of the United States Senate.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS:

The president has first-hand knowledge on what he did and didn't do. He can speak directly to those. And he has. And he's addressed them. And I don't have anything further to add.

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO

I think everyone should be held accountable, starting from the president of the United States.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Quite the moment, Katty, that this has been. And politics, I think, is struggling with it more than every other sector.

KATTY KAY:

And it's happened really, really fast. This has been the last two, three months of the year. We've had this snowballing effect, where sexual harassment doesn't seem to be tolerated. There is concern among some women that there will be a backlash against this movement, because it's happening so fast, that it's a revolution that's going to eat its own.

But look, everybody agrees. If we can make safer workplaces, and if we can bring men with us onboard on that project, so that they don't feel victimized, they don't feel they're the objects of revenge, then we will all be better off. Politically, you're seeing this reflected in the number of women running for office at stratospheric levels.

CHUCK TODD:

Rich, you were incredibly prescient. I think it was the week before the Franken allegations that led to resignation. You said, "Hey, there's going to be some that wonder, 'Is that resignation-worthy? Do you throw him out?'"? But ultimately, that's what happens in moments of revolution. There is some not-sure movements. But there's a larger movement happening here.

RICH LOWRY:

It was a bizarre resignation speech that Al Franken gave. Because he professes innocence. If he's innocent, he owes it to himself and to his voters, who gave him that Senate seat, to stay and fight. So it doesn't surprise me that there's been some back and forth about this. But that New York Times story, initial New York Times story, and Harvey Weinstein, is the single most influential piece of journalism I can remember. It instantly changed this country.

CHUCK TODD:

It's funny. Bill O'Reilly didn't change it. It was Harvey Weinstein. It was sort of like, for some reason, I don't know why, the Fox firings, which were sort of the canaries in the coal mine.

CHARLIE COOK:

I guess you're right. It's sort of, what requires the death penalty? And the standard has gotten very, very, very, very slim on what ends a career. But you know, I think this is going to provide a lot of opportunities for women, for younger men who behave themselves. I mean, this is a society-changing event, set of circumstances.

CHUCK TODD:

November 2018, Kristen, I think, when we are looking at the new faces of the new Congress, I have a feeling we're going to see what the House bank scandal did in 1992. It wiped out people on both sides of the aisle. This moment on women and sexual assault may wipe out 50 members, left and right.

KRISTEN WELKER:

I think that's right. And I think they're bracing for that possibility. A lot of people on both sides of the aisle think this is going to be the year of the woman, when it comes to 2018. But look, I think that Democrats have tried to seize the moral high ground on this. And I stress that word, tried to. Because it is very complicated.

And I think the White House knows they've got some work to do. A lot of the president's accusers came forward. They said, "We didn't feel like our voices were heard during the campaign. We feel like they're being heard now." The White House, by the way, infuriated by this. They say, "The voters have had their say. This is enough."

CHUCK TODD:

All right. I'm going to close here with some words, our new words that Merriam-Webster included. Troll, and they did it as a verb, dog whistle, which we were surprised hadn't been in there before, and alt-right. Charlie, what does that say about America?

CHARLIE COOK:

Wow. You know, I'm 64 years old. And I’m sitting there...the whole world is changing. And I'm just sort of astonished by it all.

RICH LOWRY:

You have to start trolling people, Charlie. It's really a lot of fun.

CHARLIE COOK:

That's not my style.

CHUCK TODD:

When Charlie starts trolling Stu Rothenberg, we will know the world is changed. Anyway, you guys were great.

KRISTEN WELKER:

Thanks, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

That's all we have for today. As always, thank you to our viewers for being such a big part of our broadcast each week. We take every critique you have seriously. So please, continue to send them in. And on behalf of all of us here at NBC News, I want to wish everyone a safe, happy, healthy, and politically less-stressful year. We'll be back next week. Because all next week, if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

* * *END OF TRANSCRIPT* * *

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