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Politics chat: Trump and Biden hit the campaign trail

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Never in the history of the U.S. has a former president been indicted, let alone one running for reelection. But that's where we're at with former President Donald Trump. And he is campaigning, with a rally announced in Pickens, S.C., on July 1. President Biden also kicked off his campaign with a rally in Philadelphia yesterday where he thanked unions for their strong and early endorsement. And he got a little choked up.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Excuse me for being a little emotional. I'm more honored by your endorsement than you can imagine. Coming this early, it's going to make a gigantic difference in this campaign.

RASCOE: We're joined now by NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Ayesha.

RASCOE: OK, so President Biden touted his pro-union bona fides before a very receptive crowd. And we have been hearing that unions have been gaining strength in the U.S. Can they make a difference for President Biden?

LIASSON: The Biden campaign certainly thinks they can. You know, a big part of Biden's campaign is aimed at convincing non-college-educated voters, particularly white blue collar voters, in this case union workers, to give him another chance, because these are the voters the Democrats have been hemorrhaging in recent elections. And non-college voters are still the biggest chunk of the electorate. Democrats can't make up for losing them just by doing better with college-educated voters.

So the president, in his State of the Union address, laid out what he called a blue collar blueprint for America, clearly aimed at these voters. He's going to be reminding them about all the jobs that his policies have created that don't need a college degree - jobs from the CHIPS Act or the infrastructure bill. So he thinks it's key.

RASCOE: And, you know, he'll also be reminding, you know, the public about the state of the country when he came into office. There was high unemployment, schools shut down and busted supply chains. I mean, all of those things have done a 180 since then. But, you know, voters can have a very short memory. Like, will they be thinking about that next year?

LIASSON: Well, we don't know. And also the question, are you better off now than you were four years ago? - maybe that doesn't matter as much as it did in previous elections. If the economy is still growing strong next year, wages are going up, inflation coming down, they might. But as the country has gotten much more polarized, we've divided into rival teams, the economy and presidential approval ratings are not as connected as they used to be. If you're a Republican and a Democrat's in the White House, you think the economy is terrible, and vice versa if you're a Democrat with a Republican in the White House.

RASCOE: Former President Donald Trump's indictment by a Florida grand jury was obviously the big news this past week. What do we know about how it's being received by his base of Republican voters?

LIASSON: Well, we know that it hasn't really shaken their support for him. We have a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist national poll that shows that Trump's GOP base is still steadfast. Eighty-three percent of Republicans think Trump should stay in the race. That's compared to 56% of Americans overall who think Trump should drop out of the race. And that split is also seen when you ask people, did Trump do something illegal? Fifty percent of Americans say he did. Fifty percent of Republicans, and that's up from 45% in March, say he did nothing wrong.

So if the question is, do these indictments help or hurt Donald Trump politically? - our poll suggests the answer is yes. It helps him in the primary with Republican voters and could hurt him in the general with independent voters who still matter.

RASCOE: And what about his opponents? Like, are they capitalizing on this, in the about 30 seconds we have left?

LIASSON: Well, they're trying to, but they're having a hard time figuring out how to go after Trump without alienating his supporters. Every time he's indicted, they rush to attack the indictment, in effect supporting him. It's very hard for them to argue that he can't win a general election or that he he is a loser, as Ron DeSantis suggests, when he's doing so well in the polls against Biden and when his supporters think he didn't lose the last election.

RASCOE: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thank you so much, Mara.

LIASSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.