Frank Luntz Slams Hyper-Partisanship: "We Are Not Productive Anymore In Politics"


PBS NewsHour host Hari Sreenivasan sat down Sunday with Republican strategist Frank Luntz to discuss how extremism on both sides of the political aisle is preventing lawmakers from reaching solutions.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Tomorrow, the White House will release its proposed 2020 budget. And according to senior administration officials, it will include a request for $.8.6 billion for new funding to build more sections of a wall along the U.S. Mexico border. This is in addition to more than $ 6.5 billion President Trump has already ordered, redirected from federal agencies for border security. Even before the details about spending for a border wall emerged, Democrats called the president's budget a "nonstarter."

For perspective on the battle between the White House and Congress and the 2020 presidential campaign, we turn to Republican strategist Frank Luntz. Where are voters on the wall right now?

FRANK LUNTZ: It's interesting that that phrase "nonstarter." That's part of the problem. That's not part of the solution. The goal, in this, the mission in all this is to find things that every American can support and find that common ground between us and no one is seeking it anymore. The president continues to call it a wall, 40 percent of Americans support it, which means a majority don't but a majority do support a barrier. The public does not want to support Donald Trump's position but they want border security. And if you combine a barrier and human intelligence and technology, you're up in the mid 70s.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Of people who would support it?

FRANK LUNTZ: Of people who would support it because to them that's genuine border security, it's not politics. They're not looking for a Trump budget. They're not looking for Democratic budget. They are looking for these people in Washington to get along and get something done. And that's not the focal point. And if I may, because I believe strongly in this. There have been attacks on these Democratic women that are out of control. They have every right to say what they say about Israel, they have every right to say, to criticize a PAC, they've got every right to talk about the system of government being broken and to challenge those who want to silence them. Whether or not we agree or disagree. Since when do we demonize and destroy and dehumanize members of Congress simply because we disagree with them? I don't care what they say, they've got the right to say it.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Now you talk to all sorts of people across the country. What does it mean to be a Republican today?

FRANK LUNTZ: If you are a Republican today, you are a strong supporter of Donald Trump. He has a greater degree of support within his party than any Republican president has ever had since they started polling.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Is this the same party that pre Trump…

FRANK LUNTZ: This is a party that used to care about the federal debt and the debts much bigger now than it was. This is a party that believed in open free trade and now it's a party that has come to support tariffs. And yet if I can be candid with you, even my own position has changed on an issue like that. I do see the threat from China, I do believe that the policies of Republicans and Democrats as the public does, have failed and the public is actually saying and agreeing with Trump that unless we hold China accountable, unless we get tough which may include tariffs then we're going to lose and lose and lose and lose again and again year after year.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Just this week there was a Mother Jones article that was looking into whether or not one of Trump supporters, the woman who originally set up the massage parlors that Robert Kraft, the owner of the Patriots and a supporter of the president got caught at. She not only had selfies with the president but she had a business where she was selling access to the White House, the president, his family. Is something like that likely to resonate with voters? Because it seems that his supporters say, forget it.

FRANK LUNTZ: They look at all of this. They look at and they see the same things about the Democrats and the double standard. It's all a double standard. What we should be doing is talking about getting something done. The reason why Congress has such a low approval rating, it's their own fault. We are not productive anymore in politics. And it requires business leadership to set up, it requires education leaders to step up and say enough is enough. We're not Republican or Democrat, we're American.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The incentive structure for members of Congress or leadership in this country seems to be stacked in the absolute opposite direction meaning that it is not about bridging, building bridges across the aisle because if you do you are going to be primaried from your own party.

FRANK LUNTZ: We are not rewarding honesty and integrity. We are not rewarding people who get things done, we're rewarding people who choose sides. But it also, with all due respect and not here, But it happens in the media as well. The New York Times publishes the most extreme positions on both sides. What do we get from CNN, MSNBC and Fox? The most extreme positions. They put them out there and then they pillory them and the public thinks that everyone is nuts right now. They think we're all nuts. And we have a responsibility in times like this to put all that aside, be honest, be truthful and try to unify.

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