The future of President Donald Trump’s White House, Congress, Republican and Democratic parties, and the media was discussed Tuesday night in Fresno by Robert Costa, a national political reporter for The Washington Post and moderator of PBS’s “Washington Week.”
Costa also talked about Trump’s stance on immigration with reporters ahead of his talk at the Save Mart Center, which was part of a lecture series featuring guests invited by Fresno State President Joseph Castro.
Trump’s emphasis on immigration is “the pulsing heart of his political rise” and has been at the “fore of his agenda,” Costa said. That focus – including, most recently, on a migrant caravan from Central America trying to enter the U.S. – has motivated Trump’s conservative base, Costa said, but it also challenges his presidency.
“Does he really want to shut down the government over his border wall request? The president has said he wants $5 billion for his border wall. ... Is he willing to cut a deal on his border wall? The Democrats have offered nearly $2 billion.”
Costa first spoke as a President’s Lecture Series guest speaker last year. He described Fresno as a place “I just instinctively love” because of its warm, friendly people. Castro said Costa’s 2017 lecture was insightful and his Tuesday talk promised to be “equally as appealing to our diverse audience.”
Trump and a new Congress
Costa talked about how Trump might interact with the newly elected Congress.
“The investigations of President Trump hover over everything, and they could poison the well. If President Trump lashes out about the Mueller investigation, and he doesn’t want to work with Congressional Democrats because they are investigating him, we may see divided government and divided result. We may not see a government that really cuts a deal on any front.”
If both parties work together, Costa said, they could find common ground on issues such as infrastructure and tackling the prescription drug crisis. “History tells us that divided government is the best time for deals to be made.”
Costa’s daily reporting at The Washington Post includes coverage of Congress and the White House. Costa has regularly interviewed Trump since 2013. He’s also a political analyst for NBC News and MSNBC.
Costa said the 2020 presidential election will be an “epic fight” and a “real test” for the future of the Republican and Democratic parties.
He questioned whether the Republican Party would continue to be “the party of Trump, or will they return to being the party of Reagan?”
“For many years they were the party of Reagan – low taxes, hawkish on foreign policy, wanting to address fiscal issues. Under President Trump, they’ve become a party dominated by personality, a party that’s protectionist on trade, a party that is still Republican on economic issues, but not really driven by those issues in the same way they used to be.”
Costa said there’s also a lot of unknowns regarding the direction of the Democratic Party, which could choose a more “moderate, business-friendly” presidential candidate, or a “very progressive” one.
Costa’s evening talk was a discussion with Jim Boren, former executive editor of The Fresno Bee and director of the university’s Institute for Media and Public Trust. Costa applauded Boren’s work and his five decades at The Bee.
“This county is built upon trust in its institutions, and those institutions include the press,” Costa said. “And to have people appreciate institutions like the press, they need to be taught about the press, they need to be reading and engaged, so to have an institute here committed to have people be informed is critical – and that’s a nonpartisan point of view.
“If you believe in this country, if you believe in democracy, then you should believe in people being informed and knowing about the press, not as some kind of political thing, but as something that’s there to inform.”
The lecture was co-sponsored by the Institute for Media and Public Trust, The Fresno Bee, Valley PBS and KSEE 24.
Costa said “there is an institutional erosion of trust” in the media and attacks come from both Republicans and Democrats, with labels such as “fake news” and “corporate media.”
He encouraged reporters to focus on their work.
“I think our own value comes from the work we do. My editor at the Washington Post, Marty Baron, has a great phrase he often tells us in the newsroom, ‘We’re at work, we’re not at war.’ I think that’s so important to remember.”
In response to a question about a recent statement from Trump proposing the possibility of government-run media, Costa said, “So often people in power are going around the press, rather than having to answer tough questions.”
“Whether it’s a state-run TV network or not, if politicians are becoming too isolated and too controlling of their own message, then people aren’t getting the right information. And that means people of both parties should be having to answer tough questions, day in, and day out.”