Cory Booker: "Anybody" Would Be Better Than Trump; "Don't Sacrifice Progress For Purity"


Sunday on NBC's " Meet The Press," 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker discussed his campaign, healthcare and shi thoughts on the other Democrats on the 2020 stage.

"Anybody on the stage, anybody that I was with the other night would be a better president than the one we have," Booker said. "We can put the ideal out there but walk and chew gum at the same time. In other words, not sacrifice progress for purity."

CHUCK TODD: And joining me now is Democratic presidential candidate Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey. Senator Booker, welcome back to Meet the Press.

SENATOR CORY BOOKER: It's really good to be here.

CHUCK TODD: Before I get into some of the specifics of this campaign, I want to quote something from Maureen Dowd's column this morning in the New York Times. She writes about sort of the larger issue of watching the debate. Headline says, "Are Democrats doomed?" And she writes this: "It's a paradox wrapped in an oxymoron about a moron. Trump's faux authenticity somehow makes the Democratic candidates seem more packaged, more stuck in politician speak."

You and I were discussing this before. This debate process isn’t -- it's very rigid. Lots of people on stage and all of that. Are you concerned -- she seems concerned about the picture that the country is seeing right now of the Democratic Party. Are you?

SENATOR CORY BOOKER: No, not at all. Look, I've actually had some friends of mine in the press send me headlines from this time in a presidential election in '07 and -- you know, and you just see how there’s going to be sort of a scrimmage right now going on within our team. It may not be the message -- not the message, but it may not be the exact spirit that's going to be on that stage because you're seeing a natural competition of ideas. So I'm not worried. We have to go through this. It's part of the process. It's a good thing. You're seeing some of the best political talent in our country. And I have a lot of confidence. In fact, I'm making the case that we are going to choose somebody that's going to be able to unite the disparate voices of our, of our party and really bring a united front to this president.

CHUCK TODD: It does seem as you're trying to somehow bridge a divide that appears to some of us between, say, Warren and Sanders and Vice President Biden of saying, "Be incrementally aspirational," I guess, meaning like, "Look, it's baby steps." The goal is Medicare for All, as you say, but you're not saying you're going to get there tomorrow. It seems as if that message is hard to wedge in here. People either say, "Hey, no. Give me an electable guy," or, "Give me the transformation."

SENATOR CORY BOOKER: Yeah, look. I, I can't stand these people that say these bright lanes. For me, I think, I feel it when I talk to really good people on that stage that I know, that there is a unifying message here that, look, we are a nation with a savagely broken health care system. This is the party. Not the guy that's trying to take it away that's in the White House right now. We've seen since Obama -- Affordable Care Act number uninsured in this country go down significantly. We're the party that's trying to say, "Everybody should have health insurance." We're going to fight to get there. We can put the ideal out there but walk and chew gum at the same time. In other words, not sacrifice progress for purity.

CHUCK TODD: I want to put up the poll numbers for this. Because among Democrats on Medicare for All, among Democrats, they would prefer building on Obamacare, 55%. Replace it with Medicare for All, 40%. I imagine many Democrats say that because they remember the political trauma of what it took. It's not as if, like, Obamacare was easy to implement, easy to get passed. Do you think you have to take that into account, how hard it would be to actually get Medicare for All implemented before you propose it?

SENATOR CORY BOOKER: You know, when I walk around and actually have conversations with people, this is where you're right, Maureen's right about the political sloganeering. I think most people have multiple views of what Medicare for All is even in the first place. Americans are very frustrated with our health care system. Prescription drugs are ridiculously too high, especially relative to other nations as close as Canada. We have a system that seems bureaucratic. People have to fight with their insurance companies. And so I think folks just want this broken, expensive system that, by the way, incentivizes all the wrong behavior: Don't go to a doctor. Ration your drugs. We need to fix this system, and I think that we are the party that's putting forth a vision to do just that.

CHUCK TODD: Right. But do you worry that you're scaring -- that either you're doing one of two things: overpromising something that can't be delivered or -- and at the time also scaring independents who are fiscally frightened by it?

SENATOR CORY BOOKER: I'm not worried. 2018 was an election that turned in many ways on health insurance. And we knew the stark contrast. One party that’s trying to make it better, that's going to bring progress. And another party that is trying to kill it, is trying to take it away, is trying to cut your benefits or end your Obamacare and your protections for preexisting conditions.

CHUCK TODD: You've spent a lot of time on stage with Vice President Biden. Are you concerned about his ability to get the ball over the, over the goal line, as you said?

SENATOR CORY BOOKER: Well, number one, anybody on the stage, anybody that I was with the other night would be a better president than the one we have.

CHUCK TODD: Is everybody ready? Is everybody physically up to it on that stage?

SENATOR CORY BOOKER: Look, I think that, again, if I thought somebody else could do the job better than me, I would not be running. And I know this for a fact. This is not just about one office. This is about getting rid of Mitch McConnell as the majority leader. This is about statehouses and governors' houses. At the top of America's ticket in our party we need someone who can energize, that can ignite, that can capture the moral imagination of this country. I believe I'm the best person to do that and unify people.

CHUCK TODD: But you're not alone. I want to put up some headlines from all the debates. After every debate you've gotten some really good reviews. First debate, "Booker reminded Democrats that he's a gifted communicator." Second debate, "He did well on Wednesday night." Third debate, "Probably his best performance so far." Hasn't translated into the polls. The three frontrunners are the three frontrunners, and it seems like there's a bigger gap now between those three and the rest of you. What's your diagnosis of why you haven't caught on yet?

SENATOR CORY BOOKER: Well, we have where it matters. And you know -- you're sophisticated enough to know the politics. The polls have never been predictive this far out. In fact, if you're polling ahead right now, you should worry because we've never in my lifetime and yours had somebody who was polling ahead this far out that went on to the presidency. The people that usually win are younger, dynamic candidates that are considered long shots. Carter, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama. But here's something that's even more interesting to note. On the ground in those states where you're going to have 300,000, 400,000 people in Iowa deciding in caucus rooms, we have more endorsements from state legislators and mayors than all the top-five polling candidates combined. In other words, the people on the ground in Iowa who are seeing what's happened, who are going to be in those caucus rooms are choosing my campaign. We have a better organization, according to the Des Moines Register, than just about every other candidate. We're going to win this the same way I beat a machine in Newark, New Jersey: through organizing, through building a team that's going to win.

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