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Republican Strategist David Winston Discusses Trump's Strategy Amid The Shutdown


Late this afternoon, fragile signs of progress toward ending the partial government shutdown. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have been talking this afternoon. President Trump has said if they can come to an agreement to reopen the government, he might support it. Nevertheless, it's been 34 days of government workers going without pay, 34 days of a shutdown President Trump once said he was prepared to own politically.

Deal or no deal, how could the shutdown affect the president going forward? Well, to answer that question, I'm joined by David Winston. He's a Republican strategist. He worked for former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Welcome to the program.

DAVID WINSTON: Good evening. Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: So far, it appears the president's approval ratings have not fared well. Multiple polls show he's being blamed by a majority of people. Can you parse those numbers for us?

WINSTON: I'll try. There are two pieces. One, his job approval is about where it's been for a long time, which, granted, it has not been very good, but it's not like it's moved a lot. Having said that, the blame - because to some degree, he said that in terms of when he initially had that conversation with both Schumer and Speaker Pelosi that he, you know, he would take the blame. Well, it's been assigned to him. So having said that, that's in place.

But the real challenge here moving forward is - and the public is not happy about this shutdown. The real challenge here is the - what's the resolution? What's the solution? And what the electorate is looking at is who is going to solve that. And that's why today's initial movement is at least going to be seen as somewhat of at least an attempt to move that forward.

CORNISH: Now, why do you think that's the case? When we think back to some of the other offers and ideas that have come to the forefront, you saw people in the president's base, especially some activist commentators, who complained that he was caving - right? - or complained about his move to compromise.

WINSTON: Well, I - look. I mean, I think, clearly, he believes - and this is where you've got sort of the conflict of two perceived mandates, right? President Trump believes he got a mandate in 2016, and the wall was a part of that. And he feels that he's responsible for delivering on that. Speaker Pelosi has the inverse response to that in terms of what happened in 2018, her sense of that, given the sense - given the focus on the caravan and immigration is that she has the opposite view.

And so it's sort of you have the sort of irresistible force versus the immovable object sort of at play here. And really where the country is at is just, you know, solve this. Get the government back open. Let's actually work through immigration, but let's move things forward. Which is, again, why what I think you see Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer doing is at least if we're having votes, there is a discussion occurring.

CORNISH: But if you have a president who's very much thinking about his base, what have you learned in the numbers about where they are in terms of the wall? I mean, so far, what we've been seeing are numbers that say they want the wall and they're willing to let him fight for it.

WINSTON: Oh, absolutely.

CORNISH: So that doesn't give him much room, right?

WINSTON: No, it doesn't give him much room. I mean, absolutely, when you take a look at the Republican base, they want a wall. And, by the way, I would say in terms of Speaker Pelosi, her base absolutely doesn't want a wall. But this gets to the sort of dynamic of the electorate that sometimes people forget it's independents who decide who has a majority coalition.

CORNISH: Are there enough of them left?

WINSTON: Oh, yeah. No, no. They decided the last election. Bear with me. When Republicans won the majority back in 2010 - and this is according to exit polls - we won independents by 19. In this election, we lost them by 12. They decided who holds the majority. As they are, they're sort of the political center. And so the challenge here when you actually ask independents who do they think should be solving this problem, 51 percent say both. Right? And so the challenge of both parties is, how are they going to address the independents' concern because that's how you have a majority coalition.

CORNISH: A few seconds left. What do you think this means for future White House priorities?

WINSTON: I sort of - one at a time, I guess, is sort of my response to that. Let's get through this. I mean, I would suggest that one of the challenges here is, look, there have been some economic progress made, but you've got to build on it because there are too many people still perceiving themselves and are concerned about living paycheck to paycheck. And how do we help them break out of that cycle?

CORNISH: David Winston, Republican strategist, president of The Winston Group. Thank you for speaking with us.

WINSTON: Glad to be on. Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.