Recent controversy 'underlines bigger problem for Joe Biden': Matthew Dowd

The "This Week" Powerhouse Roundtable debates the latest in the 2020 race, tensions with Iran, and Vice President Joe Biden's recent comments.
11:48 | 06/23/19

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Transcript for Recent controversy 'underlines bigger problem for Joe Biden': Matthew Dowd
Okay, the roundtable is here. ABC news political analyst Matthew dowd, NPR white house reporter aisha roscoe, ABC news contributor Sarah Fagan and democratic strategist arshad hassan. Welcome to all of you. Matthew, I'm going to start with you as I often do. Vice president Joe Biden's comments, you just heard senator booker talk about that, although he didn't reveal a whole lot about that conversation. Is Joe Biden out of touch with the democratic party? Will this hurt him? I think this specific thing is just a moment that I don't think will do any lasting damage to him. I think this underlines a bigger problem for Joe Biden which is Joe Biden started serving office before 8 track came and went and he's in a place he's trapped in time. I think he has to figure out that the words, the actions, the policies of the 1970s or early 1980s don't apply to the 21st century democratic party. I think that's one of his main pressure points for the debates that we'll talk about is how does he demonstrate that he fits where the democratic party is and where America is today as opposed to where it was when he first got elected in the '70s. That seems a natural question to you, arshad. How does he do this and do you think those comments linger? Here's the thing, he's invoking segregationists from 40 years ago. Think about the youngest voting block that's young voters, people under 35. Who are still trying to figure out what an 8 track tape is. This is a problem. If he can't relate to the largest growing block, he needs to do better. I think it's important to note that Democrats these days expect our candidates to be able to speak competently on issues of race. Aisha, they've only been campaigning for a few months, everybody in this race, in the democratic race, but the 2020 candidates pretty much offering harsher criticism of one another, Cory booker, kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders all knocked Biden's comments. Is it something that you think is going to happen more and more, or was this just a moment they had to respond to that and they'll lay back a little bit? What you've seen is that Biden has been able to keep this lead and as long as he's in the front like this, he's going to have this target on his back and the problem for him is that this time he kind of shot his own self in the foot so you can't do that. You can't kind of, like, have the weakness showing and then you're going to have people kind of jump on that. We should say we don't know what impact this is going to have, particularly on black voters, until we see more polling. We just won't know and even though you have people like John Lewis, congressman John Lewis, saying that they didn't think this was a problem, the black vote is not monolithic and we will have to see how this is going to play out with younger black voters who may want something a bit different. We have seen on the campaign trail over the last couple of years before it really kicked in that some African-American voters, Democrats, are saying they felt they were taken for granted by the democratic party. Absolutely. Some voters will want something more bold and even though -- obviously Biden is going to be talking a lot about former president Obama and trying to tie himself as closely to him as possible, there is going to be a question, okay, yes, he was with Obama but, okay, what happens going forward and is this the person that we really want to bring forward the policies that are going to help the black community when it comes to education, when it comes to the economy and really making a difference. You still see even with low black unemployment that this administration talks about a lot, it is still double white unemployment and that is real in people's lives and in their circumstances. Sarah, how are you seeing this? How do these candidates balance going after their opponents and still supporting the party? I think some important context is to remember that at this point in the 2016 cycle Donald Trump was at 1% so it is very, very early. What we see playing out in this party right now appears to be sort of a struggle between their heart and their head. Their heart is with Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and their head is with, you know, Joe Biden and perhaps Pete buttigieg. So this debate coming up will be really interesting to see if Elizabeth Warren, given her preferred status on that first night, is one of the sole front-runners on the stage, can break out and start to narrow the gap with Bernie Sanders. Because I think ultimately what we're going to see at the end is one very Progressive candidate and one more centrist Democrat like Joe Biden. Matthew, on Elizabeth Warren, she's the highest profile candidate on that Wednesday night debate. Is it good for her that she doesn't have to share the stage with Biden or Bernie Sanders? I think she got a really good draw. And plus coupled with the draw that she has where she can stand on her own and not fight with Bernie Sanders which I don't understand why Bernie Sanders hasn't figured out that Biden isn't his complication for winning the nomination. Biden is not his complication for winning the nomination. Elizabeth Warren is his complication for winning the nomination. But because she's also been on a rise in the last month, Elizabeth Warren has been the fastest rising candidate over the last four or five weeks primarily all due to a substantive policy rollout that she's had from the beginning of this thing. I think she's got a huge benefit from being this big, stand-alone character on Wednesday night. And then there are the others. How do they break out? We've been talking about that a lot this morning. Is it just knowing the message or being a Cory booker there and never straying from your message at all? There's two dozen candidates so you have to break out. I've moderated one of those. It's very difficult to keep track of who's on stage. In the beginning you really need to establish who you are, what kind of candidate you are, character you are, person you are. Some of these candidates have had a great shot at doing that. Those who haven't by now, I think now we're moving on to what do you stand for. If you don't establish who you are, you're not going to be able to stand out at all. I think we're going to start seeing the winnowing of the field I hope earlier rather than later. Who has the most concerns in not establishing who they are, what they want, in getting that message through? I think someone like a Cory booker who has really in a sense a national profile, maybe not the name recognition of other people but he just hasn't gotten there yet. Then you have the people who haven't broken through at all like senator Amy klobuchar and Gillibrand, these people. They are going to have to try to do something to stand out or at least not to hurt themselves in these debates. I think that might be the biggest thing, is to not do something that would put yourself out of the running in these debates. You have to go -- you have to be in the top four or five candidates by the time all these debates are done before you get into Iowa because otherwise you're not going to have a chance. To me this is like the world cup group stage which is you have to perform well enough in a series of these to get to the knockout round. Amy klobuchar, kamala Harris, all the ones that were underperforming where Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden are have to figure out a way to get into that top four or five so they're surviving until voting. Donald Trump kicked off his campaign this week. You were there at that rally. An incredibly enthusiastic crowd which I'm sure you felt while you were there, and yet, that speech might as well have been in 2016, 2015. Will that work? It's worked for him so far. He gave -- he spoke for a long time. It was incredibly passionate and the crowd never stopped cheering. Having been at a lot of Republican events, most of them more traditional in my life, it was like a convention in that room. I was really struck by that. But I think -- You said it worked for him before. There's no wall. I mean, there are promises that have not been kept, so does he get off the hook, oh, maybe next time I'll do that? Look, he says the wall is being built and his supporters agree with that. They believe that he is taking administrative action to build the wall now. Certainly congress has taken no action. That may not be technically true but his supporters stand behind him and believe he's the only one trying to take action on an issue that they care about. What struck me was the numbers around that rally. Again, these candidates in Iowa and South Carolina are getting 200 and 400 people at their events which is typical at this even as a bush operative we would get, 400, 500 and that was really good. He had 100,000 people express interest, 20% are Democrats. People assume that this election is going to be about some fringe part of the Republican base. The base is completely different and it includes a lot of different -- Let me hear from arshad on this one. I want to push back on that, oh, this has worked for him so far. He hasn't breached anywhere above 42, 43% approval rating. The reason why there's 24 candidates in the race is because the Democrats believe they have a real shot. Donald Trump hasn't been able to break past his base and you can't get elected on the crowd size alone. He has about 45% approval rating which is far lower than he will need on election day but if a third party candidate emerges which is quite possible, 45% will get Donald Trump re-elected. Aisha, I want to go to you on this. We've got a Donald Trump who's changing his mind a lot on immigration, enforcing the deportation starting tomorrow, pushback by Nancy Pelosi. As one of our people here said, he has said I will enforce tariffs, then no. Iran will suffer greatly, then the raid called off. I will close the border, I will not. I will conduct raids, I will not. Is that a negotiating tactic? How do people view this? This is definitely a part of his strategy, is this kind of high risk, high reward but also maybe not followed through sometimes. He does these big threats, I'm going to shut down the border, you will be obliterated, Iran will be no more. The issue is -- and sometimes he does follow through like with China, he threatened big tariffs and he went through on those tariffs. But when you do these big threats, I am going to impose these huge tariffs on Mexico which will then affect the U.S. As well, sometimes like Mexico they will kind of roll over, come and play ball but then sometimes you're dealing with Iran and they may not want to play ball. Matthew, I want to give you the last word on Iran and the seriousness of that. I know he decided not to go forward. As he said he clearly doesn't like -- I give him credit for that actually. You give him credit for that but then what? I think that's the problem and I think we're in such a level of distrust on both sides of these, valid distrust for Iran because of the things they've done and the terror operations they've conducted in the world but they have valid distrust of ours. People should not forget that we helped overthrow their government in the 1950s. We helped provide nuclear capability and we shot down one of their airliners in the 1980s. So there's valid distrust. The concern I have is how do you rebuild that before you launch anything militarily. Something everybody's thinking about. Thanks to all of you.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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