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Politics Chat: Trump Delivers 2 Divisive Speeches Over Independence Day Weekend

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

In two Independence Day speeches - one at Mount Rushmore on Friday, the other at the White House on Saturday - President Trump defied calls for social distancing, and he painted a picture of an ideologically divided America. The two events give us a look at how the president views an election that's now less than four months away. And joining us to talk about it is NPR's national political correspondent, Mara Liasson. Hey, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hey. I'm happy to be here. This is the first time we've talked with you as a host.

DETROW: Yeah, this will be fun. So what is the reelection message that you heard from these two speeches from President Trump?

LIASSON: The message I heard was that Donald Trump thinks this election is a full-fledged culture war. He talked about angry mobs trying to tear down the statues of our founders, a left-wing cultural revolution. They're taking over our classrooms, newsrooms, boardrooms, indoctrinating our kids, he said. They want to overthrow the American Revolution with a new left-wing revolution. He talked about far-left fascism. This was a harsh, dark, divisive speech, kind of reminded me of the American carnage speech he gave at his inauguration. But this is the fault line that he wants to draw in this election.

DETROW: Right. And in 2016, he and his advisers thought the culture war helped get him elected. But here we are four years later. This comes at a week where Washington's football team says it might change its name. The Cleveland Indians might change their name, as well. Does he have enough people on his side this time around?

LIASSON: That is the big question. And you could put NASCAR and the NFL as other institutions that are changing and going in a different direction. The message is clearly aimed at part of his hardcore base. But is that base big enough? It's been shrinking. He's been losing support among key constituencies, like seniors, even softening among white evangelicals. So the question is, does this message appeal to suburban women or seniors worried about COVID? And that remains to be seen.

DETROW: The president only made a vague mention of the coronavirus on Friday last night in front of another mostly unmasked crowd. He framed it as something the U.S. is on its way to defeating.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: But there and then we got hit by the virus that came from China. And we've made a lot of progress. Our strategy is moving along well.

DETROW: I mean, Mara, we know the numbers coming in from states each day tell a different story and that voters are very worried. Can the president keep ignoring this pandemic?

LIASSON: Well, that is another really important question because on the day that he was in South Dakota before a mask-less crowd with no social distancing - granted, the numbers in South Dakota are pretty low. But that was the same day that the U.S. recorded its largest single day of cases - 58,000. And we've had a kind of controlled experiment. There are a bunch of states - Texas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia - that took the president's lead and reopened and blocked Democratic mayors who wanted to be more restrictive. And now those are the places where COVID is really surging.

So the pandemic and the economy and the president's reelection are all wrapped up together. They're inseparable. People are not going to go back and spend money, go to restaurants if they don't feel safe. So the president needs the pandemic to get under control in order to get the economy opening so that he can run the kind of election campaign he wanted to. And it's just not happening.

DETROW: We are now closer to Election Day than we were to Super Tuesday, the day that Joe Biden took a clear lead in the Democratic primary. Where does this race stand at this point?

LIASSON: Well, right now, the president's trailing Biden in national polls and in the battleground. He is in a bigger hole than the last two incumbent presidents who went on to win elections. Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama were behind at some points but never by this much. This was also the week where a lot of Republicans started ringing the alarm bells, begging the president to focus on a policy vision, to lay off the personal grievances. But he clearly does not want to run that kind of campaign.

DETROW: And in the 30 seconds or so that we have left, what is it important for Joe Biden to do, given the fact that he's in this driver's seat right now?

LIASSON: Well, Joe Biden, I - Democrats say needs to move beyond the moment we're in, lay out a vision for the future, talk about how the economy will be repaired and rebooted and how to deal with all of the problems that the pandemic put in sharper relief, whether it's racial inequities or economic inequality. That's what Democrats are saying that Joe Biden needs to do.

DETROW: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, it is always good to talk to you.

LIASSON: Yep. Thanks a lot. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.