Barbershop: Stormy Daniels Scandal, GOP Midterms Outlook

Mar 10, 2018
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Let's stick with this subject for a few more minutes in the Barbershop. That's where we invite interesting people to talk about what's on their minds. Joining us here in Washington, D.C., is Puneet Ahluwalia. He is active with the Republican Party in Northern Virginia, and he served on President Trump's Asian Pacific Advisory Committee. Puneet, thanks for coming in again.

PUNEET AHLUWALIA: Good to be back.

MARTIN: Also with us, Jennifer Rubin. She's a columnist with The Washington Post and writes the conservative Right Turn blog. Jennifer, thank you so much for coming by once again.

JENNIFER RUBIN: Nice to be here.

MARTIN: And, last but not least, Corey Ealons. He served in the Obama administration as director of specialty media. Welcome back to you, as well.

COREY EALONS: Good to be here, as always.

MARTIN: So we were just talking about that race in Pennsylvania's 18th congressional district, but let's set the table and bring in the Texas primaries earlier in the week, where Democrats managed to double their turnout in Texas compared to the 2014 primaries. Jennifer, I'm going to start with you on this 'cause you wrote earlier this week that it seems as though Democrats have the chance to pick up plenty of House seats and even make safe GOP Senate incumbents sweat. Now, normally the party that holds the White House loses seats in the midterm. But I take it you think this is even a different animal. Why is that?

RUBIN: Well, I think everything is sort of breaking the Democrats' way. They have a president in the White House, Republicans have a president in the White House, is very unpopular right now. You have some mass movements that are playing to the strengths of Democrats - women's, gun safety, the dreamers issue. And I think you have a sense among Democrats that they've gotten not only their people riled up, but that there are a lot of Republicans, independents, who are really having second, third and fourth thoughts about this president, and that they would like Congress, a Congress there to check this executive. So I think those factors, combined with a very good recruitment year for Democrats - they were able to field candidates in almost every race, which they don't always do, and raise a lot of money. They are going to do very well, and I think the question is how well will they do.

MARTIN: Corey, are you feeling the wind beneath your wings as a Democrat?

EALONS: I am always cautiously optimistic when it comes to these things.

MARTIN: But here's the thing. In some of these races, there are actually too many Democrats running. I mean, some of these races are very crowded, and some people are thinking that people, you know, the party's kind of cannibalizing itself. And other people are worried a little bit about, you know, I don't know if damaging is the right word, but, these kind of intense primary fights where people are trying to sort out their ideological differences.

EALONS: I think ultimately the primary process gives us a chance to find and identify the best candidate to win. And that's what it's all about ultimately. We're talking about Pennsylvania 20, we're talking about Texas. The Texas piece is interesting because the last time we saw this level of turnout from Democrats in Texas was back in 2002. It was right after 9/11. And that was about patriotism, right? That level of participation. Democrats ultimately went on to lose all the statewide races that year. The thing that's different this time around, though, is that you've seen exactly what Democrats have been betting on for the past 15 years, which is this tremendous growth in black and brown people being born in that state and now registering to vote. And as a result of that, that plus the turnout that we've seen in Texas this week is really what gives Democrats a lot of excitement about the fact that we will do well not just there, and the wave that everybody has been talking about could potentially be a tsunami.

MARTIN: What about you, Puneet? Are you sweating?

AHLUWALIA: We always work hard and make sure everybody get out to vote and we win every election possible. And I feel that we have, as Republicans, have a lot to show what President Trump has done in the last one year, especially the tax incentive which has put money in people's pocket. In the end, it's the economy. And people feel happy in that they can take care of the family.

MARTIN: Well, what about this argument here looking back again at the Pennsylvania race? There's an argument that Rick Saccone was basically, you know, he's saying that he's going to be Trump's wingman. And people are saying that's just the wrong strategy in the current environment. And you contrast that with a guy who's a former Marine, prosecutor, charismatic, you know, dynamic. And so people look at that and think running on Trump's coattails isn't going to cut it.

AHLUWALIA: Well, I think Rick has his own record. He served the state almost 10 years. He's got a great record of 18 years being in the United States Air Force. So he has his own record, also. But people have to also see the win which President Trump has brought in regards to what he's doing in terms of steel and aluminum, getting the tariffs, bringing in jobs back, manufacturing, the bonuses people are getting. So there's a lot of things which he's taking on from President Trump and trying to make sure that people - that Rick can take advantage of that.

MARTIN: But, Jennifer, I have to ask you about this because other people were saying that these tariffs - now, obviously, we've been talking about this for days now. And we've been presenting all different sides of this argument - so I just want to be clear - not just on this program but on others. But one of the reasons that a number of economists and a lot of Republicans are opposed to these tariffs is they say this this is a tax on consumers. This is going to raise consumer prices, and it's going to basically wipe out the benefits - any benefits that people got from tax reform. What's your take on that?

RUBIN: It's everything that Republicans used to be against. It's big government. It's government choosing winners and losers. It's a tax on consumers. And it is going to hurt growth. We have many more people employed in industries that use steel and aluminum than we do and people - in industries that actually produce the steel and aluminum. And I think what you saw was a very rare moment when Republicans in Congress actually stood up on their hind legs and stood up to the president.

We are now in the process of trying to see what exemptions and what exceptions can be worked out. But I think this was not a good moment, economically speaking, for the president or for the Republican Party or for the country. And the real question is whether whatever good has been accomplished by a strong economy coming into the Trump administration - tax cut, other growth - whether that's going to be undone to some degree if we wind up in a really full-scale trade war.

MARTIN: Well, we'll find out in time for the November midterms. We're actually going to find out.

AHLUWALIA: I see American jobs. That's what I look at, bottom line, is that...

MARTIN: But whose jobs?

AHLUWALIA: American jobs.

MARTIN: But doing what? I mean, we've been talking to people - well, anyway. You know what? It's going to sort itself out. We're going to keep talking about it because - you know what? - I have one other story I wanted to talk to you about. It's been all over the news, and it was not about the weather.


UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST #1: The two people who the president of the United States seems to fear the most are Vladimir Putin and Stormy Daniels.

UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST #2: Another twist in the Stormy Daniels saga.

UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST #3: It's time to take Stormy Daniels seriously.

MARTIN: So they are talking about the actress who goes by Stormy Daniels. Her real name is Stephanie Clifford. She claims to have had an affair with President Trump. She says she was paid six figures to be quiet about it. She was in the news again because she's suing the president to try to avoid this nondisclosure agreement that she signed.

And there was also this information that the president's lawyer says he actually paid this fee himself. I've yet to hear a lawyer say that he's ever done this for anyone ever. Maybe a fruit basket at Christmas to say thank you for your business, but a six-figure payment? Never heard of that. But beyond that, I just want to know, what's the what here? And, Jennifer, you seem to think this is a big deal. You said this could be a calamity. Why?

RUBIN: I think the question is how many Stormys are out there, and do they all have nondisclosure agreements? This in a very classic national security sense it's an opportunity for blackmail. If there are people out there who know bad things about the president and have had to have been shushed, do those people then have leverage over him? Now, Stormy Daniels probably doesn't want anything from the federal government. She probably wants her moment of fame, and she's certainly getting that.

But who else has such information? Do the Russians have sensitive information? Are there other individuals in the country who have such information? And frankly, the American people elected a big black box because we really don't know what's out there and what's in there. And just as a side note - it shows you how bad things are when this is a side note - if, in fact, Michael Cohen made that payment really by himself, that's an illegal campaign donation. And if Trump actually made it, it was an unreported campaign donation. So there's a little bit of campaign funniness that's going on there that's going to have to be looked at.

MARTIN: Corey, what about you? Is there any there there as far as you're concerned?

EALONS: There's absolutely some there there. And Jennifer is exactly right. This is a very serious issue. The one thing we learned this week for sure though is that Stormy Daniels has better lawyers than Donald Trump. And that's really amazing when you think about that.

MARTIN: And why do you say that?

EALONS: I say that because the president is now in the perilous position of potentially having to testify and give a deposition on this issue because of the case that's being brought by her lawyers. This is not something that they had to do. They are perfectly at their disposal to say, you know what? Go ahead and talk. It's totally fine. But because of Trump's demeanor, they're going to fight this all the way. And that's a real challenge.

A couple of other really quick points here. The thing that's chasing Trump in this particular situation is the same thing that's chasing him in the Mueller situation, which is the old questio - what did he know and when did he know it? And that comes down to, did he know the payment was made by Michael Cohen? Did he sign off on that? That same question is going to continue to dog him on this. And then the final point, we know that Trump likes to scream to the rafters about how there is no collusion, no collusion. He has been mysteriously and conspicuously quiet on this issue. It's the rare case in which he is actually taking his counsel's advice.

MARTIN: As I just said because I'm thinking for the people who dislike the president for all the reasons they dislike the president, I can't see that this would change their opinion. I think the real question is for people who have supported him. And so, Puneet, I'm going to give you the last word on this as the Trump supporter here.

AHLUWALIA: It's another witch hunt on President Trump.

MARTIN: Witch hunt by whom?

AHLUWALIA: By the left and the media. And the focus here should be...

MARTIN: She's not in the media, last I checked. I don't - I haven't seen her at any journalistic meetings.

AHLUWALIA: But again, but still, the focus here is to be keeping the country safe, creating jobs and basically making sure of that.

MARTIN: Do you think this is true or not true? I guess do you care is the question.

AHLUWALIA: Again, at the same time, I do care about my country. At the same time, I do care about the values and the moral values which are important. And President Trump has done what he promised on the campaign trail, and that's what we should focus on rather than getting - and look at what she wants. You think somebody is a billionaire and she will settle for $130,000? That's kind of unimaginable to think about. And somebody will do this deal, and she'll take the deal. So it's again another...

MARTIN: But the president's lawyer's is acknowledging that he did pay the money. The question is, does that matter?

AHLUWALIA: Again, as you said earlier, there will be facts steadily coming out. The story will take its own thing. But at the same time, it's another juicy tidbit for a lot of people to eat up on. In the meantime, let's focus on important issues which cure the American people. That's what I look at.

MARTIN: That's Puneet Ahluwalia. He is a lobbyist. He works with the Republican Party in Northern Virginia. Corey Ealons, a former communications staffer staffer with the Obama administration, now with VOX Global. And Jennifer Rubin, she writes the conservative Right Turn blog for The Washington Post. Thank you all so much for being here with us.

EALONS: Thank you.

RUBIN: Thank you.

AHLUWALIA: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.