LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Washington woke up reeling yet again from a presidential tweet. Last night, President Donald Trump announced on Twitter that he'd cancelled a secret meeting at Camp David with the Taliban and the Afghan government. The reason, the president said, was the Taliban's claim of responsibility for a bomb in Kabul that killed an American soldier. It was, to say the least, a startling announcement.
Our own Mara Liasson is here with us this morning. She's NPR's national political correspondent. Hi, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Lulu.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Once again, a tweet sends heads spinning. What's going on?
LIASSON: Well, that's what everybody is trying to figure out - is the president tweeted, unbeknownst to almost everyone, he had invited the Taliban for secret talks at Camp David the week of 9/11, which is quite astounding. Foreign policy experts were appalled at this. Some called it insane.
And there were a lot of questions. He said the reason he called this off - and by the way, he also called off the entire peace negotiations that had been going on for quite a long time in Afghanistan and elsewhere - he said it's because the Taliban took responsibility for this recent bombing. But they've been bombing and killing people all throughout the negotiations that the president himself had authorized.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mara, I know I ask this question of you a lot, but I'm going to ask it again, which is, what could this mean?
LIASSON: (Laughter) What could this mean? Well, you know, some people are very happy about this. The Afghan government thought they were being sold out in these talks. They're glad that they're being canceled. Certainly, hard-liners in the administration, like John Bolton, will be happy that these are over.
But the big question is, what does the president want to do? What's the strategy here? His critics say he doesn't have a strategy. Does this mean that he's now going to stay in Afghanistan? He has said many, many times he wants to pull out. That was one of his main campaign promises. Does he want to ramp up the fight against the Taliman (ph)? Would he pull out of Afghanistan without a peace deal? Nobody knows the answers to these questions.
We're waiting to hear from Secretary of State Pompeo, who will be talking to several news organizations today on the Sunday shows. But the big question this raises again is, is Trump the great negotiator that he says he is? Critics say that now, who would trust the U.S. in any negotiations? - because Donald Trump can't stick to a deal or maybe even make one.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Let's switch gears and look to something that is coming up this week, which is the looming Democratic debate on Thursday. Let's talk about this. Is it any different than what we've seen before? What's at stake?
LIASSON: It's very different. As predicted many times on this program, the Democratic field has shrunk, and it's shrinking to a normal-sized field. And Thursday is going to be the first time that we will see the top three Democratic candidates standing next to each other onstage. That's Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
And the big question is, who will go after Joe Biden this time? He usually gets pummeled by someone in every debate. Does Warren, who has been moving up in the polls - soon, many Democrats predict, to surpass Sanders - does she go after Biden? She will be standing next to him.
Then the other question is, do Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders go after each other? They're fighting for the same progressive lane in the Democratic Party. So this is going to be a very important debate because I think it shows, finally, what the real field is for the Democrats.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You mentioned Warren and Bernie are fighting it out for progressives. Who's Biden, though, duking it out with for the center - anyone?
LIASSON: That is a really good question. Surprisingly, despite the large number of centrist candidates in the race, no one has emerged to challenge him. They're all - the other centrist candidates are polling in the low single digits. So he has had his lane pretty much all to himself. And what I wonder about is, on Thursday, does that mean we're going to get a very clear ideological contrast between Warren and Bernie Sanders on one side and Biden on the other?
The other thing I'm watching for is whether the Democratic candidates continue taking positions that might be popular with parts of the Democratic base but are very unpopular with the general electorate, particularly in the battleground states. And by that, I mean mandatory "Medicare for All," the end of private health insurance for 160 million people, decriminalizing illegal border crossings, taxpayer-funded health insurance for undocumented immigrants. Progressive Democrats will say we can make the case for all of these positions, but polling shows they're all losers with the general electorate. And I want to see if the Democrats will continue in that direction or leave themselves some room to scuttle back to the center.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: We shall indeed see. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thank you so much.
LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.