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Awaiting Historic Clinton-Trump Debate on CNN; Aides: Clinton To Decide "On The Fly" About Fact Checking Trump; Hillary Clinton Arriving At Debate Hall; Debate Commission Officials Addressing Audience; Debate Commission Chair Explains Format Of Debate. Aired 8- 9p ET

Aired September 26, 2016 - 20:00   ET


GOV. MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: You see it in the momentum that's even evident in polls now because he's talking about the issues the American people are most passionate about and that is the security of this nation, the safety of bringing law and order back to our streets, getting this economy moving for every American again and having a Supreme Court that will uphold our Constitution and ending illegal immigration.

[20:00:05] Those are the issues I expect you're going to hear a lot about tonight, and his willingness to focus on the issues the American people are most concerned about I think is why this campaign has got the momentum it's got today.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: You talked about little ol' me. I should point out, you have released your tax returns.


Governor, thanks so much for joining us.

PENCE: Thank you. Great to be with you.

BLITZER: Mike Pence, the vice presidential nominee.

Our coverage continues right now with this special edition of AC360.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We are about an hour away from seeing Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton side by side on this stage, an epic moment in American politics, 18 months in the making. We're live on the campus of Hofstra University outside New York City on this high stakes night for the candidates and for the country.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Anderson Cooper with special edition of AC360 on this debate night in America. Tonight, polls show the presidential race is a dead heat. And this first Clinton/Trump debate could possibly seal the election for one of them. It's a chance for the candidates to reach out to more voters at one time than at any point in the campaign so far. The debate is expected to break viewership records with perhaps 100

million Americans tuning in. It's likely to be the most significant political debate in this country since the first televised presidential debate between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy. That was exactly 56 years ago tonight.

Now, let's go to Wolf Blitzer. He's inside the debate hall.


BLITZER: Anderson, what a picture it will be when Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton step on the stage right behind us. This will be an endurance test, 90 minutes with no commercial breaks. Viewers will see Donald Trump at the lectern o the left. This is the first time he's ever debated against only one opponent. You'll see Hillary Clinton on the right of your screen. The moderator, NBC News anchor Lester Holt, he'll be seated in front of them. He'll ask the questions, try to keep the candidates to their times and try to make sure the audience follows the no applause rule, Jake Tapper, the first few moments of this debate could clearly set the tone for the debate.

What are you looking for?

TAPPER: I mean, what a night. First of all, these two have not met face to face during this election. I don't even know if they've been in the same room since Donald Trump married Melania Trump and invited the Clintons to his wedding. So, the body language is going to be something that all of us seeing, is it going to be friendly? Is it going to be gracious? Are they going to be nice to one another?

It has been a very, very vicious battle. They have said very, very tough things about one another.

Also, Wolf, keep in mind, those in this auditorium, unlike some of the previous debates we saw during the primaries and caucuses are going to be told not to make noise, not to applaud, not to cheer. It really is going to be a focus on just the two candidates.

BLITZER: It's going to be a major, major focus indeed.

Dana, the first impressions are important but what are you going to be looking for?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the fact that you just mentioned, it's going to be 90 minutes straight. In the past debates, there have been breaks, he's had time to catch his breath, obviously on this stage with lots of candidates, not just the one that they will be tonight. And so, he has no chance to step back.

The question is, will he be able to keep not just his energy but his focus for an hour and a half. And also, the question is whether or not he will suffer from not doing the traditional debate prep?

Hillary Clinton not only did mock debates with the stand-in for Donald Trump, she also did it at this hour or an hour from now to know how it feels doing it in the evening. So, she did it real time. And so, we're going to see whether or not that is going to matter that Donald Trump really just had discussions about policy and personality and so forth with his aides sitting around a table.

BLITZER: Yes, the debate hall, the excitement is building.

Anderson, over to you.

COOPER: Wolf, thanks very much. A lot to talk about.

Brianna Keilar is in the spin room.

Brianna, you're with Tony Schwartz, who, of course, co-wrote "The Art of the Deal" with Donald Trump. He's advised the Clinton campaign how to get under her skin. He's certainly no fan of Donald Trump -- Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Anderson. Tony Schwartz is certainly no fan of Donald Trump.

And you are advising really Hillary Clinton's advisers in this debate prep, right?

TONY SCHWARTZ, CO-AUTHOR, "TRUMP: THE ART OF THE DEAL": I have been doing that, yes.

KEILAR: And you're not paid. You told me you feel like this is your penance.

SCHWARTZ: This is my penance for having created what has -- a man has become a monster and I've spent 30 years feeling bad about it and now I feel like I've got to show there there's nobody behind the curtain. He's the wizard who isn't a wizard.

KEILAR: But you spent 18 months with him as you co-authored the art of the deal. There must have been something that you saw during that time of Donald Trump that was appealing.

SCHWARTZ: Honest to God and I kept a journal during that period, there was nothing I found appealing. I know that sounds extreme and crazy but this is a man who I really believe lack as conscience at the deepest level.

So, there wasn't anything. He was effective in certain ways, he's a dominant, aggressive personality and he pushes and he pushes and he pushes and he gets a lot of what he wants.

KEILAR: Did you ever see a situation that is -- I mean, obviously not as high stakes as this but I'm sure there were moments over the course of that year and a half that you saw a high-stakes moment.

SCHWARTZ: Well, what I saw was the way he did business. So as I've said many times before, he was a liar then, he's a liar now. So, he lied his way through many, many different situations. And he was able to get a lot doing it. The problem is, we don't want that man to be president of the United States. KEILAR: All right. Anderson, back to you. Obviously, some very

strong opinions from Tony Schwartz, who has been spending a considerable amount of time advising Hillary Clinton's advisers ahead of this debate.

COOPER: Yes. Brianna Keilar, thanks.

Let's go to CNN's Jim Acosta. He's also in the spin room with one of Donald Trump's most famous and most ardent supporters, legendary college basketball coach, Bobby Knight.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Anderson. It goes to how unconventional this campaign has been. Bobby Knight, the legendary Indiana Hoosier basketball coach who has also advised Donald Trump from time to time, and he gave him advice during the debate prep.

Tony Schwartz who co-wrote "The Art of Deal" with Donald Trump was just talking to our Brianna Keilar. He described Donald Trump as a monster. Is that the man that you know?

BOBBY KNIGHT, FORMER BASKETBALL COACH: There's no way I would even pick that name to even be close to what I think of Donald Trump.

I think Donald Trump is an extremely sharp man, very smart, a tough- minded man. I was a history and government major so I've studied this every election since I've been out of college. Look at this person or that person and I've always enjoyed that.

And when as I look at Donald Trump, I say here's the guy that can deal with problems. You know, he's not -- he's a national figure but he's an international figure. They know him all over the world. He has acquaintances here, there and everywhere.

And Donald Trump is going to provide us with a great military. He's going to have a much better relationship to all of our military people than anybody's had before --

ACOSTA: Let me ask you this. You were involved in the debate preparation. So, what did you tell Donald Trump? You were just telling me a few moments ago before going on camera he needs to watch his step a little bit.

KNIGHT: I think he just needs to be in a conversational voice and if there's something he doesn't like, just say, hey, you know, that's your prerogative, I just think a little bit differently. And what I've seen from him is that that part of his background, the problem solving part is to me the most important tool in this election.

Now, there are two things that would bother me from the other side. One was Benghazi. It will never happen in a Donald Trump administration. The second is accepting money from foreign countries and using it for your own self. That's two things never going to happen in that administration. ACOSTA: All right. Coach Knight, thanks for your time very much.

I understand we'll see some live pictures of Donald Trump arriving. Anderson, I'll throw it back to you.

COOPER: All right. Jim, thanks very much.

Let's talk to our panel.

David Axelrod, I mean, you've seen a lot of debates. Have you ever seen anything this? What in particular should viewers at home watch for? Because you earlier said it's not the opening statements, because that's something that just sort of get off their shirts. It's really what happens after that.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I think these things are measured in moments, exchanges and moments that are memorable. But the thing that interests me having been involved in this in a couple of election campaigns, preparing candidates for these debates, this is an incredibly pressureful exercise.

And the reason that you prep is that because there are so many different variables that could come up and you want to kind of anticipate as many as you can. If Donald Trump truly hasn't prepped in the traditional way for this, it would be an extraordinary achievement to perform well under this kind of pressure.

COOPER: I always think of debates as someone who's moderated some during the primary season, it's a future game of three-dimensional game of chess that you're planning for. I mean, you're planning for an infinite number of moves and countermoves and you do have to -- it helps to practice it.

AXELROD: There's no question about it, because given the pressure of the moment to have to make those calculations right then and there is a very difficult thing to do. In my experience, the candidates who are prepared do better than the candidates who aren't properly prepared.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: But if you're Donald Trump, you trust your gut and you've always been a gut player and you've never been on this stage before --

COOPER: And it's gotten him very, very far in the primaries.


BORGER: -- and it's gotten him very far, the difference this evening as we've talked about it earlier is the audience because he always gets his energy off the audience. Some people would say he makes mistakes when he gets his energy off the audience, but he's going to have a quiet audience tonight.

[20:10:05] COOPER: So, they say. That's what the Presidential Debate Commission wants. Who know what will actually happen? BORGER: Right, but -- and anything can happen, but previous

presidential debates have had quiet audiences. Now, this is a year unlike any other, but it's going to be different for him.

COOPER: Michael?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Governor Pence said in a CNN interview moments ago that his advice is, be yourself, which seemingly makes sense. But I don't know what that means to Donald Trump. Just a month ago, there was a particular day where he was seemingly presidential when he went to Mexico City and stood alongside the Mexican president and I took a look at him and I thought, he looks like an individual with some stature.

And that very same night, came back to the United States, went to Phoenix, did a rally and it was the fire brand Trump. Which one shows up in 55 minutes, that's what I want to see.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, and whoever shows up, can he sustain it for 90 minutes? I mean, that's the thing. No commercial breaks, no bathroom breaks, no phone call to a friend. You've got to stand there and you've got to talk in depth about these issues.

It's hard to imagine that even if he's Mexico Trump, can he sustain that throughout the debate?

COOPER: But, David, I mean, Donald Trump, you know, was himself early on, and a lot of audiences certainly loved it. It worked during the primary debates. What has now gotten the polls really close seems to be the new management he's under which is a much more --

AXELROD: Right, being tied to the teleprompter, not ad libbing as much, not saying as many provocative things. The fact is he's got the people who respond to that. He needs to win people over who have profound questions as to whether he has the temperament and the experience to be president of the United States and the mastery of material. That's what he needs to show in this debate if he's going to make progress.

COOPER: We're about 40, some-odd 48 minutes or so away from the start of this incredible debate.

Up next, as we close in on the debate, we're getting new information about where Bill Clinton will be or won't be tonight. We'll have that for you ahead.


[20:15:57] BLITZER: We're closing in on one of the biggest nights in the history of American politics, the first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, only minutes away. The pressure on both candidates is enormous right now with the race in a dead heat.

We're live here on the campus of Hofstra University on this debate night in America. Let's check in with CNN's Jeff Zeleny. He has new information on

where Bill Clinton will be tonight.

What are you learning, Jeff?

JEFF ZLENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, for all the intricate planning that has gone into the Clinton operations debate night, there is still one question that is hanging over many in the campaign, that is where will Bill Clinton be tonight?

Now, he has never been in the audience for one of these major presidential debates that his wife has had on stage. He's never been sitting in the audience. I am told by two advisers that he will be behind stage. He will be one of the last people to talk to her before she goes out on stage for this 90-minute debate without breaks.

I'm told that he's not likely to be seated in the audience. He wants to watch this in real-time without cameras watching him. He gets emotional watching things, sort of like a sporting match I'm told, so he's not likely to be in the audience. But he has not completely ruled it out. They're holding a seat for him in case he changes his mind. He could call an audible at the last minute.

But for now, Bill Clinton will be backstage advising his wife, and not at the front of the House -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We're also getting information right now from inside the Trump campaign. I want to quickly go to Sara Murray.

What are you learning, Sara?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Well, Wolf, not everyone in and close to the Trump campaign is convinced that Donald Trump is fully prepared to debate Hillary Clinton tonight. Some are saying they flat out don't believe he's ready. Others are saying they're holding their breath.

Now, this is not a candidate who is doing a deep dive into briefing books, and their main concerns are tone, but also the substance here. In the GOP primary, Donald Trump would write down five to six bullet points on a blank sheet of paper and he felt like that works for him. So, between that and between the tightening that we're seeing the polls, some folks close to the campaign are worried that he might be getting a little too over-confident and it's causing some of his allies to tell him he could use a dose of humility as he heads on that debate stage -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Sara.

The debate getting ready to start, what, 41 minutes or so from now. How much does this first debate really matter?

John King is over at the magic wall.

John, give us some perspective. JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, if you go back in

history, some first debates matter, some don't. Sometimes the presidential debates don't do much to change the race. But political scientists generally agree that the first debate in most campaigns is the most important.

A little bit of history. Let's go back in time, 1976, Carter versus Ford. President Ford was unpopular because of the hangover from Watergate, pardon of Richard Nixon.

Look at this, he ended the first debate down 11 points. In that first debate, though, the incumbent president, Mr. Ford, actually turned in a pretty solid performance and he closed the gap in that race. Unfortunately, for President Ford, he made a major gaffe in the second debate about Soviet influence in Eastern Europe. That first debate put him back in play.

I remember this debate well, 1992 the reform party candidate Ross Perot, the country was starting to come back. President George H.W. Bush desperately needed this debate to change this, 33 percent of the polls. But people were looking for something different in that area, we'll see what happens this year.

Ross Perot was at 10 percent coming in. Bill Clinton went on to win the presidency but George H.W. Bush never quite recovered there. We all remember this back in 2000, the year of the recount. But Al Gore came in as the sitting vice president leading in the race. This first debate, this was the eye rolls and the sighs, the split roll we'll be watching tonight with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on stage.

Al Gore came in with the lead, George W. Bush took the lead after that debate, never relinquished it. It was a very close race, of course, came down in the Supreme Court. But that was a big change in the 2000 race.

And in 2012, remember, President Obama was a favored. He came in with a big healthy lead, the Gallup poll, a Pew Research Survey, excuse me, but remember four years ago that first debate?

[20:20:01] This guy really didn't seem like he wanted to be there. He didn't show up, he was disinterested. Governor Romney was pretty animated.

After that debate, Governor Romney got a bounce. It made the race very competitive. For short time, conservatives thought they were going to win. We know though, Anderson, what happened in the end, President Obama actually went on to a convincing victory.

But his disappointing performance in that first debate did shake things up. So, a little bit of history in the past as we look forward to a big one tonight.

COOPER: Yes, no doubt about that. We are closing in on debate time, some 39 minutes away. Let's talk to some of our panelists.

Jeffrey Lord, I mean, is, you know, Brianna was talking about some concern among some of Trump's supporters that perhaps he's overconfident or hasn't prepped enough. Is there a danger in that do you think?

JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know what this sounds to me like? Two words -- Roger Ailes. The famous story that he came in on that second debate after Ronald Reagan did everything all the advisers anted. He prepped and prepped and did all the detail work, and he got up there and he was having a hard time getting out.

It was Roger Ailes who came in. They brought him in and he said, Mr. President, stop with this, stick with your themes, don't do details. That is the flip side of what we're hearing here when they say he's not prepared in the traditional policy way. What I think they're saying is somebody is saying to him, stick to the kind of things that you know and bring the debate all back to that.

COOPER: And there, of course, Mark Cuban in the audience.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But the difference is Reagan actually knew the policy. He was having a hard time getting it out. The hard part is there is this grading on a curve. I think it's very, very dangerous.

Putin is not going to grade the president on the curve when she's -- in the White House, when she's in the White House. ISIS is not going to grade on a curve.

And part of the problem is we have the most qualified person ever running against the least qualified and prepared man ever. So, you're going to have them right there on the stage together and I think it's very important that we don't lower the standard. We need to make sure -- he can't get credit for being the most improved bigot. He can't be -- the most improved hate-monger, the best self-moderating hate- monger.

He's got to answer questions. This is the most difficult period for America internally and externally. He's got to meet a high bar, not a low bar.

MCENANY: But look, let's look at the last few weeks, right? Donald Trump has given policy speech after policy speech on child care, on taxes. He went down to Mexico. He met with the president there.

JONES: He read them very well.

MCENANY: While Hillary Clinton was calling half of his supporter deplorable and getting into negatives, and off the campaign trail for a lot of that time.

You know, I think thee debates, they're not about the battle of the 15-point plans. We've heard Donald Trump's 15-point plan. We've heard Hillary Clinton's policy speeches.

This is a battle for the heart of the American people and the person who can reach through that screen and connect with that person sitting at home wins. That's what we saw from George W. Bush, who by most accounts did not win on policy battle but he won the hearts of the American people.


PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: This is part of the asymmetry I think that Van is talking about, is that, well, we're going to grade on a curve. The notion that Trump somehow has a policy chop is absurd. I mean, he doesn't at all.

And yet, Hillary I think too much relies on that policy. But I really worry, not with voters, but with the media. That we do grade on the curve, that we do stay out of criticism and not substance.

But fear not, Van, because voters don't even really think this is show biz or even a debate, they think it's a job interview and they have one question. What are you going to do for me? Not how are you going to entertain me or how are you going to offend my neighbor who I never liked anyway? You know, it's what are you going to do for me? I think that's the problem.

If all we do is look at Trump's temper, he will be -- he will be -- it's not let Trump be Trump, it's let Trump be sedated. He'll be properly sedated and he'll go 90 minutes without saying anything terribly racist. He needs to not merely be reasonable, he needs to be credible about the problems that voters are facing, and I think that's a bar he can't possibly reach.

AXELROD: Earlier, Kayleigh, you mentioned this change versus the status quo.

One of the things that was interesting earlier this week, "The Wall Street Journal/NBC poll came out and they asked this question in July and they asked it in September, big change versus steady leadership. In the summer, it was 56/41 for big change and it was even in this poll. There was some suggestion as you get closer to the election, people focus more o the actual job of president and that's why how Donald Trump performs in this debate is going to be important.

Yes, you have to connect with people and that's a task for Hillary Clinton but he also has to prove he's up to the job.

COOPER: And yet the polls have been tightening. I mean, doesn't that argue against the idea that --

AXELROD: I think they've been tightening in part because he's been a more disciplined candidate, Anderson. And so, but tonight is the final exam.


JONES: When you say he's more disciplined, what that means is he reads the teleprompter better. I mean, like, at a certain point, I think we've got to stop giving him credit for standing up there and reading -- I got a kid that can read the teleprompter. It doesn't make him ready to be president.

BORGER: Are you sure about that? AXELROD: You're totally right, Van, but the question was why have the polls tightened? And I think that's one of the reasons why --

[20:25:00] SMERCONISH: There's a tendency for us to talk about this race as if it's five weeks out. It's a dead heat. Here we are tonight, it's a big night, it's the first debate.

I look at it slightly different, which is to say seven states are voting. So, for many people, this is it. They're going to go cast ballots based on what they see this evening. And by the time that second or third debate takes place, they've already cast their ballot in stone. And maybe what they see in the first 30 minutes this evening.

AXELROD: Or sooner.

BORGER: I have to ask this question, isn't it also tonight about why you believe what you believe? I mean, you are seeing these two people, we know they differ on lots of things, we understand that. We've been through this campaign for the last 18 months and most of the American public understands that they differ.

But why? I mean, this debate will kind of mind that hopefully about where each of these candidates come from and what informs their world views. Because people are making character judgments here they vote for president.

COOPER: We've been talking a lot about what Donald Trump needs to do. What does Secretary Clinton need to do, Paul?

BEGALA: That's Hillary's biggest challenge. She has according to people who counted this up, 112,000 words of policy posted on her web site, Trump has 3,000, OK?

COOPER: Don't pretend you're not the person who counted all those.


BEGALA: But that's not how you win. You don't just say, OK, it's 112,000 to 3,000, Hillary wins.

What people want to know is exactly what Gloria said. Why are you doing this? What motivates you? Because she not comfortable showing her heart and I think because she's a woman and I think because she's a Clinton, people default to this it must be about power or glory or money or ego or fame. She needs to open up her heart a little bit, very difficult to do when you're standing next to the --


COOPER: You've been involved with the Clintons for a long time and I think you would speak to candidate Clintons before debates, you actually, I think it was last night on our program, suggested she should write down two names on a piece of paper.

BEGALA: Yes, Dorothy and Charlotte. This is the arc of her family. Her mother Dorothy had a Dickensian childhood. She was abandoned, neglected, abused and yet lived -- Hillary has now lived the American dream so that her granddaughter is perhaps the most privileged child in the world. And how did that journey happen?

AXELROD: You know what, Paul?

BEGALA: The one time Hillary showed real emotion in public was in the New Hampshire primary when somebody asked her how she keeps going and she talked about how great this country is and she started to break down and cry.

She needs to say, I want every child who's living like my mother did, to be able to live my grandmother --


AXELROD: See, I sort of disagree. I would write down if I were her other names. Not her family but other people's families, people she's met along the way and talk about how what she wants to do in the country will impact on their lives. I think --

COOPER: That's what you said last night, you just didn't finish the sentence.


BORGER: Do you remember that --

COOPER: To have what they have.

BEGALA: Can I break the third wall here? Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are going to be just fine. They're going to be fine. They're both going to be rich, healthy with really impressive families. They're going to be fine.

It's the viewers at home who have to decide --

MCENANY: That is the risk that --

LORD: What they're going to be asking here, what Donald Trump should be asking is a version of Ronald Reagan's questioning, are you better off now than you were four or eight years ago? Are you better off now than you would be four or eight years from the present?

JONES: That's a great question. We have 3.5 million people climb out of poverty this year, this year under this president. So, if you want to --


LORD: And include food stamps and all of that.

MCENANY: Here's the problem with that. I had a Clinton supporter say to me, hold up "The Wall Street Journal" and say, look, wages have gone up, they're not pre-2007 levels, if only we could get this news out, that would be a good thing and voters would come to us. But that's not what it's about.

How do voters feel? That CBS battleground polls I cited last week, 60 percent believe the economy is rigged against them. That is astonishing. That is what compelled, what brought Bernie Sanders to the forefront, it is what undergirds Donald Trump being here tonight.

COOPER: Van, you can respond to that and we've got to go.

JONES: I agree with you that in fact people do need to feel like change is coming. And I think that Hillary Clinton because there's been this whole fight about personalities, she hasn't talked about her plans to actually make improvements as she should tonight.

COOPER: I'm told we actually have more time to --

BEGALA: Feelings matter but facts matter, too. Donald Trump comes into the campaign doing better in the polls but look at the following headlines and "New York Times" has a week of whoppers from Donald Trump. They counted 31 untruths in a six-day span, "Politico" counted 87 lies in just five days. He averages a falsehood every three minutes and 15 seconds.

"The L.A. Times", "PolitiFact" did the same thing. So, it's not -- if people feel something like, for example, Mexicans are flooding over our border and taking our jobs, it's the duty of our leaders to say Mexicans are leaving, we've lost a million Mexicans, Mr. Trump's wall will slow down their departure.


BORGER: Don't you expect Hillary Clinton would do that?

BEGALA: Well, I expect Hillary lives in the fact-based world.

[20:31:00] COOPER: But is there a danger -- I mean, this may sound like a stupid question because obviously facts are incredibly important, we have a policy is incredibly important, but is there a danger of getting boil -- too much into the weeds?

SMERCONISH: Yes, we know she knows the facts. She wins on the wonk basis. Instead I would counsel her differently and I would say search for a moment where you could insert a little bit of levity. Don't be afraid to smile. And we talked about how the lack of audience participation if they honor the rules will benefit her because he typically feeds on the crowd. I think there's a different analysis which is to say she has difficulty modulating her voice, and if that room stays silent tonight, she won't feel the need to raise the pitch. And I think that would be a certainly at.


LORD: All of you policy wonks are so smart, why are we in so much trouble? I mean that's the argument about the political class basically, the best and the brightest.

AXELROD: On your point about asking people are they better off than they were eight years ago, I walked into the White House eight years ago so it's not recollection of this and then we had just had the worst quarter since r 1930, economy shrinking 8.9 percent, 800,000 people lost their jobs in January of 2000 -- I mean ...


COOPER: Right actually -- I mean the world today is better than it's ever been. I mean life for human beings on every metric is better than it's ever been. I'm not just talking about the United States. I'm talking it globally.

JONES: The great strength that Trump has is that the status quo is not perfect and, frankly, a lot of people are anxious. Even though they're doing OK, are afraid that maybe their kids won't be doing well. So his great strength is to say, listen, if you are don't like the protests, if you don't like the things you see on television, I can make it better. But her great strength is she can actually make a credible claim that he would make it worse. And if you want chaos, he's the chaos bringer. If you want riots ...

LORD: Change agent. Change agent.

JONES: Yeah, and so -- and so ...


JONES: But let me say, her big problem and you are correct on this, her big problem is she's been so busy trying to explain that he could make things worse that she has not been clear about how she can make things better. But her plans, if you look at them, actually would make things better according that every expert and his plan would cost us 3 million jobs.

So that's where ...

BORGER: And this is where the enthusiasm problem comes in for her and that's also something she has to kind of deal with this evening, because as she explains what she would do for you, why she believes what she believes, she has to get people, voters, more enthusiastic about voting for her. Because on every metric we've looked at Donald Trump supporters are way more enthusiastic about him than Hillary Clinton supporters are about her and if this election is more about mobilization, it point than it is about anything else and are about persuasion then she has to get those people to walk away from this debate and feel good about Hillary Clinton.


AXELROD: That's what and he told the thing is so important.

HENDERSON: And one of the things in talking to some Democrats, there was a good feeling about Hillary Clinton that after the 11-hour Benghazi hearings, they felt like she did very well, they felt she was very competent. And that's the kind of feeling I think they need to go away with tonight. They need to have some you go, girl moments, she's got to give them something to rally also remind them why they liked her in the first place.

AXELROD: And there was a great feeling about her after the Democratic convention and that's the thing ...

BORGER: Right.

AXELROD: ... that I would look at, because she did a great job there and they did a great job of presenting both a positive vision and making the case and balancing in the appropriate way and giving people a sense of positive feeling about where she wants to lead. There were a lot of clues in that convention about how she should conduct herself in this debate.

BORGER: She got an eight-point bounce out of it.

BEGALA: To tell you, what I hope but don't know, is in the last 48 hours, she's talked to David's old boss. The president of the United States of America has a bead on Donald Trump better than anybody in politics or culture and he uses ridicule go back to Michael's point, levity and humor and ridicule ...


COOPER: I just want to check in now with our Jeff Zeleny standing by. Jeff?

ZELENY: Well Anderson, Hillary Clinton has spent really weeks and months going through Donald Trump's record, deciding what she will or won't fact check. But we're learning some new parts of her strategy tonight. Took a couple of advisers say she will decide this on the fly, what feels right at the moment. But she has a list of places she will and she won't.

One example of a place she will fact check is on birtherism. Donald Trump talked about that a couple weeks ago, but hasn't since, she does intend to bring that up and fact check him on that because that's good politically for her. An example of something she likely will not fact check is, you know, something about the Iraq War perhaps or something about his business record because he knows that so well. But birtherism is one thing, Anderson, she intends to fact check fully.

COOPER: All right, Jeff Zeleny. Jeff, thanks very much. David Axelrod, I mean clearly that is an issue which among Democrats and probably Independents for Hillary Clinton does very well.

[20:35:00] AXELROD: Yes. And I think it works on a number of different levels. It speaks to this level of intolerance and divisiveness that bothers some of this college educated white voters but it's motivational for minority voters who need they need to get out for Hillary Clinton in this election. I just want to make one other point which is on this issue of preparation, we heard Sara report that Donald Trump's aide said he's not one to jump into briefing books.

He's kind of running for a job that requires that ...


AXELROD: ... and he has to show some level of mastery here to lay peoples concern.

JONES: Can I say something about that as well. I think there's a sense that it doesn't matter, he'll have advisers to tell him stuff. In that building your advisers all tell you different stuff. Your advisers don't always agree.

LORD: Which is why you have to have good judgment.

JONES: Which is why you have to actually know something before you get in there and that's part of the problem that we have with this guy is that -- is nobody has confidence or should have confidence yet that he does have that level of actual preparation. This is homework matters. And I tell you what, as a man, let me say this. To see a woman like Hillary Clinton be prepared, do her work, actually put in the hard preparation and have that to be a negative, or is to be almost like oh well ...


JONES: Of course let me just finish this. It is very, very difficult to become a master of a single policy area. She is the Michael Jordan of policy in multiple, multiple areas and we almost treat it like it's a bad thing.

COOPER: There is former President Clinton arriving ...

JONES: Speaking of another policy expert.

COOPER: We'll being seeing Secretary Clinton any moment getting out of the vehicle. We've already seen I think we saw Donald Trump arrive a short time ago. I think ...


COOPER: ... earlier in the day. There is Secretary Clinton at Hofstra University.

JONES: If you're a young woman watching this woman walk in here right now and you think to yourself the way you get ahead is that you work hard, you do your homework and then to see her actually almost put down for being and mocked for being well prepared, and then to be put out -- she's like the valedictorian running against the crazy frat boy.


LORD: I just -- I have got to say this. And you know where I'm going to go with this is Ronald Reagan, and the difference between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter. Jimmy Carter was everything you say, absolutely everything you say. He gloried literally in reading the Air Force budget line by line by line.

He tried to brief Ronald Reagan on the staff when he was president- elect and Reagan took no notes and Carter thought disaster lies ahead. It was said that Ronald Reagan all through his first term. I mean they wrote books about this sort of this today. And today everybody revers Ronald Reagan. This is not a workable argument for her.


BORGER: Can we go back to Ronald Reagan?

BEGALA: But you're setting the bar too high for your man. Just a little advice. When you say Reagan is the standard, I mean then and then this little fusion (ph) walks out, it does not going to be Reaganism thing, maybe he will be but ...


KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think you said the bar too high for your candidate as well. One of the things we haven't talk about it is Bloomberg laid out, you know, what concerns voters most about each of this candidates. There was not one metric by which more than 50 percent were concerned about something from Donald Trump, more that one concern ...


MCENANY: ... with 57 percent concerned about Hillary Clinton's e-mail scandal.

COOPER: Let's listening to what's happening in the hall.

JANET BROWN, COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL DEBATES EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: We are very pleased that you all are here. One year ago Hofstra was asked if they would agree to serve as the 2016 backup site and 68 days ago, they were activated. When you look around this campus and you think about all the work that has been done in the last 10 weeks while starting a new academic year, it is absolutely phenomenal.

This is the result of a fabulous team effort. The work on the debates themselves started two years ago and it has involved an extraordinary amount of teamwork between a lot of large organizations. There are many individuals who deserve particular thanks and we're going to start this program by introducing the co-chairs of the commission to thank some of those people. I'd like to introduce Frank Fahrenkopf and Michael McCurry

FRANK FAHRENKOPF, CO-CHAIRMAN COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. We want to join also in welcoming you here tonight. And this is a special night for Hofstra University. They do a tremendous job and they're actually setting a record tonight. This is the third consecutive cycle where they have hosted a presidential debate and they do a marvelous, marvelous job and we're very, very thankful for them.

Commission of Presidential Debates was form in 1987 when Paul Kirk, who is then the chairman Democratic National Committee, I was chairman of the Republican National Committee. And tonight is also a special night for us with regard to the commission. This is the 20th presidential debate we have done starting in 1988 in general election. And we're so proud that all of you could be here tonight.

[20:40:15] But we would not be possible to do what we do without the marvelous people who serve on our board and some of them are here tonight. And I want to introduce them and have them to stand up and take a quick wave. First of all I don't know where they're seated. John Griffin, the managing partner of Ellen & Company, who's done a marvelous job working with the social media platform people.

And I see her Congressman Jane Harmon, former Congressman Harmon of California who now runs the Woodrow Wilson Institute of Scholars. And a great friend of mine. I've got a couple of grand kids at Notre Dame, it's with Father John Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame. Go Irish but it's not been a good start, Father John. And Dorothy "Dot" Stanley (ph), the former chairman of the League of Women Voters. Dot?

But let say something quickly about the format tonight, we may change this in a format 4 years ago. This is very different than it was used to be prior to then. The 90 minutes has been broken into six 15- minute segments of time. Lester Holt will start each of those six segments by asking a question to one of the candidates. That candidate will have two minutes to answer. The other candidate will have two minutes to respond and answer and then for the next 10, 11 or 12 minutes depending on how things go, we want the candidates to actually debate, to talk to each other, to challenge each other on the issues. The moderator is also there to make sure that they drill down on the issues and we get some answers rather than the old two-minute thing that we used to see in the old debate.

Only Lester Holt knows the questions that will be asked. The commission does not know, we have no control over it and of course the candidates do.

Now, the last thing I have to do tonight is to be the public scold. And what I mean by that is by all estimations, there are could be as many as 100 million people watching around the world in the United States what happens on this stage tonight. And this debate is for them, for them to observe these candidates, to listen to them, to consider what their position is on the issues and to see them in this atmosphere that we have here. It is not -- this debate is not for us, the lucky ones who get to sit in this audience and be part of history really. And this is a very historic debate tonight.

So this is not like the primary debates. There's no clapping, there's no cheering, there's no booing, there's no sound. You, please, be quiet. Let's not interfere with what those 100 million people are doing and trying to exercise their view of democracy by listening to what these candidates say. You'll get a chance to applaud in a few minutes when the two candidates come out and meet right where I am and when it's over you get a chance to applaud.

So please, please follow that it's very, very important to us, it's important to the candidates and we don't want to have anything disrupting what's happening. And like I say, we've done 20 of these and only on one or two occasions have we had a problem. So we're putting our trust in you and I think Lester is going to talk to you about this also.

As I said Paul Kirk and I started this way back in 1987 and there's much of you know when Teddy Kennedy died, Paul was name by the governor of Massachusetts to fill Teddy's seat until a special election was held and he had to step down as being my co-chairman. We were very, very lucky to have this gentleman standing to my right, he's usually on my left but that's another story. And Mike McCurry, who did such a tremendous job as spokesman to the White House for President William Jefferson Clinton. Mike.


Our partnership is really a valuable one and we really do work well together, but the Commission on Presidential Debates itself is totally nonpartisan. It's a nonprofit organization. We don't get funding from the government, from political parties or from any public entities. So we, therefore, rely on a number of corporations and individuals and foundations that have been really generous in allowing us to put this debates on and I'd like to list the names of our 2016 national sponsors. The Anheuser-Busch Companies, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, the Kovler Fund, Krohl and Mooring, AARP and the National Governors Association. Would you please join me in thanking them for the work that they've done.

[20:40:03] Now, in addition to putting on these debates, we have this time around incorporated a lot of social media aspects into some of what you will see in the coming debates and certainly some of what you see here tonight. And that's involved a lot of partnerships that we've developed with technology companies, social media companies and others so you will see listed in your program. I encourage you to take look at that and see some of the ways in which we bring the educational aspect of these debates to a much wider audience through the work that we do with these partners.

And next thing I would say is and some many might wonder what does the Commissioner on Presidential Debates do when it's not a presidential campaign election year? We are very proud of the work that we do internationally. One of the things that we have done is to lend expertise to other countries that are interested in sponsoring their own debates. They learn from our staff, learn from people we send abroad to help them with their function. You'll see more information about that also listed there in your program.

And then finally I would join with everyone who has complimented our friends here at Hofstra. We could not have done this in the record time that it took Hofstra to pull this together without some incomparable leadership from the president of that institution. It's my pleasure to introduce President Steven Rabinowitz.

BLITZER: The debate is now is just minutes away. We're going to take a one-minute break. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: We're just minutes away from the biggest moment yet in the 2016 presidential campaign. And Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, they're getting ready to walk on stage for their first debate and getting ready to make history. The first woman to head a major party presidential ticket here in United States facing off against an unconventional candidate who defied the odds and won his party's nomination with no political experience.

Jake, the stakes are enormous right now.

TAPPER: They're enormous. And though room wasn't built in a day, each candidate has or her own considerable challenges. For Hillary Clinton, one of the biggest issues that voters said they have with her is whether or not she's trustworthy, whether or not she's honest. She really needs to try convince people that her motivations are pure, she's not just out for power, she wants to improve people's lives.

Usually Democrats poll better when it comes to cares about people like me, in recent polls that's been a little too close. For Trump's part, he remains to convincing American people that he has the qualifications, the ideas, the knowledge and the temperament. This is a change election in many ways and in a lot of ways Hillary Clinton does represent the status quo. The concerns that so many people have about whether or not Donald Trump has the temperament for the job, he needs to start really assuaging those concerns.

BLITZER: And they're about to introduce the spouses, Dana. This is going to be in a moment I think the 1,100 people who have gathered here in this debate hall, they're going to be pretty excited.

BASH: Oh absolutely. And not only are we going to see Mrs. Trump, who is as her husband is very new to politics, but somebody who is incredibly seasoned at this, Bill Clinton. And I think it's also fascinating that he doesn't like to be in the room. He likes to behind the scenes in the green room for a number of reasons I'm told.

First of all of this, I think it's where she prefers him to be so she doesn't catch his eye and try to think is he trying to send me a signal of some sort, but from his perspective it because he's so invested in this, he doesn't want to be seen on camera doing anything that, you know, he shouldn't be doing in terms of his reaction to what -- how things are going.

BLITZER: And we saw him walking in to see is going to be Bill Clinton and Melania Trump. Those are the two spouses of these two presidential candidates.

[20:49:55] TAPPER: Yeah, I mean and we talk about how Hillary Clinton is the first female to head a major party presidential ticket. In addition to the unprecedented nature of Donald Trump, we also have the fact that a first spouse would be a former president something that we have never seen in this country before.

BLITZER: But then after that we're going to be hearing from Lester Holt, the NBC News anchor who's the moderator of this debate. The pressure is enormous on him.

BASH: Enormous on him. And, you know, he obviously has been, as the debate commission co-chair said, keeping his own counsel. But the one thing I thought was really fascinating and it's important for our viewers to remember is that when they start, they're each going to speak for two minutes, but then there will be a time when Lester Holt is going to pull back. It's in the rules, and the two of them are going to actually debate, they're going to go at it. They're going 10 minutes to go, you know, sort of head to head in whatever way they want, on whatever issue they want. And so that, I think, is going to be so telling as to how they interact with one another, what topic they choose to use, and the kind of tone and tenor they take with one another.

BLITZER: And I'm curious to see if this crowd here will remain silent. You heard the warning, no applause. Maybe when they're all introduced in the beginning, at the very end. But I'm curious of the 1,100 people here, a lot of partisans, are going to heed that advice.

TAPPER: That's right. I think the debate hall here at Hofstra University is full. But you heard the co-chairs of the presidential commission, the Commission on Presidential Debates, really admonish them, keep it quiet, this is not a primary debate, this is not contest debate. Have respect for the two idividuals on the stage.

BLITZER: Anderson, we're only moments away from the start of this debate.

COOPER: That's right, 8 minutes, 30 seconds or so. Let's get some final thoughts from our panelists. To David, in terms of a cheat sheet for viewers at home. What are you going to be watching for, what do you encourage them to?

AXELROD: Well, I think we've set up -- everybody's set up the parameters, how does Trump do in terms of this sort of basic mastery and temperament test. And does Hillary Clinton connect. Those are going to be, you know, connect in a very human way and give people a sense of her motivations. Those are going to be the things that I'm going to be looking for. And then, you know, there's the non-linear things, the reaction shots, the how someone reacts when unexpectedly ...

COOPER: The moments.

AXELROD: Those moments that we talked about before, yeah.

BORGER: You know, it's a magnifying glass for them, when you have that split screen. And we're on a large panel here, not everybody's looking at every time we yawn or roll our eyes or whatever. And I think that this is something that's difficult for someone to master, if you really haven't been constantly under that kind of scrutiny before. Donald Trump was on, you know, a panel of 16 or 17 other candidates. Hillary Clinton has been the there before. She knows how to do this. And it will be interesting to see Donald Trump perform.

HENDERSON: And how they see the electorate and how they're trying to reach out to particular segments of the electorate. College-educated white women, for instance, for Donald Trump. He's struggling with those votes, and Bernie Sanders supporters. I mean, a lot of those supporters are parked in those third party slots, with Gary Johnson and Jill Stein. Are they going to reach out to those folks, because that is, what I think, is what is really limiting Hillary Clinton's ability at this point to pull away.

COOPER: Michael?

SMERCONISH: Themes have carried him thus far. Jeffrey was right to say that was Roger Ailes' advice to Reagan in '84 before the Mondale debate. But the rules have changed. And as we've discussed extensively here these 15-minute pods, I want to see the final 30 minutes. I want to know what does he still have in this tank to speak with specificity on the issues. If he can do that, it will be a good night for Donald Trump. Otherwise, it will be a better night for Hillary.

COOPER: Jeffrey?

LORD: He's got television skills and I think that's going to play a real role in this. She does not. She's just a political figure. I think that could play a role in this. And, you know, I expect him to do very well with it.

MCENANY: I'm looking for that connection moment. I think sometimes we underestimate Donald Trump. We recall when Ted Cruz had the New York values line of attack, and Donald Trump flattened that when he talked about 9/11 and his experience and how New Yorkers rose to the occasion. I think we're going to see that Donald Trump come out tonight very strong.


JONES: I hope Hillary Clinton uses the Republican's words when she challenges him. In other words, you got 50 Republican security experts who are against Trump. Even Cruz would not say that he thinks Trump is fit for office. Rather than her attacking, just quote the Republicans who are still so uncomfortable with this man's leadership. I think that's important.


BEGALA: There's an enormous battlefield that I think Donald Trump has left open for Hillary, and that is the future. When your slogan is "Make America Great Again," that's inherently backward looking. Yes she's going to see for 25 years, but I think tonight she can say, here are my ideas for the future.

COOPER: Former President Clinton being introduced as well as Melania Trump, Donald Trump's wife. Family members also coming out, there's Ivanka, her husband, Jared Kushner.

[20:55:03] And I should point out also, not the first time they have met, Bill Clinton attended the wedding of Melania Trump to Donald Trump along with Secretary Clinton, as well family members, it is something candidates like often to see their family members sitting in the front row. It wasn't clear whether Bill Clinton was going to be. He often likes to be backstage, watching on television. BEGALA: I can tell you, he doesn't want to be sitting out there. He's proud of his wife. But this ...

COOPER: Let's listen.

BROWN: ... NBC Nightly News. You can welcome him now.

LESTER HOLT, 2016 PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE MODERATOR: Thank you, Janet. Thank you. Good evening. Nice to see every seat is filled. There was some question whether we would have enough interest for tonight, but I guess we've taken care of that.

Mrs. Trump, President Clinton, good to see you. Good to see everyone that thud you heard backstage was the sound of my knees buckling when Frank mentioned a potential audience of 100 million. But it's just tonight, and in a moment, it will just be the three of us, and hopefully just the two of them. That's what it's all about.

As you can imagine, this is not an easy job. So I'm going to ask your help tonight. You heard the admonition, if you can please refrain from clapping and booing or reacting in any audible way that would make my job a lot easier and I know the American public would appreciate it, because we really want to hear what they have to say tonight and I'm happy to be the one facilitating that conversation.

So what's going to follow are some awkward moments of silence. I'm going to take my seat here in my office for the evening and I'll give you a one-minute warning when we're about to come up on the air. And then no fancy lights or musical opens. We just go to it. So thank you for being here. I hope you enjoy the debate.

BLITZER: All right. They're getting ready, Jake. The stakes could not be higher. What are these two candidates need to do?

TAPPER: Well, for Donald Trump, he needs to show himself as somebody who can be trusted with the presidency. We've talked about this all night, that many, many voters have concerns about his temperament, and he needs to show the American people that he can be restrained, he can be in control, he can behave the way they expect an American president to behave.

Hillary Clinton has spent a lot of her campaign trying to delegitimize Donald Trump, disqualify him. I think you'll see her continue to do that tonight, and that will probably be her primary task, as well.

BLITZER: And, you know, they're going to be on camera. This is 90 minutes without commercial interruption. But they'll be in a split screen, so when Donald Trump is speaking, we'll see the reaction of Hillary Clinton and vice versa.

BASH: That's right. And when it comes to Donald Trump, so much of what he expressed in the primary debates was without words. It was with his facial expressions, lots of facial expressions, to make a point, to maybe vamp, to mock his opponents, to do all kinds of things and send various signals. Is that person going to come? Is he -- has he been practicing his poker face or practicing to minimize that when he needs to? Unclear. And same goes for her. She's obviously much more experienced at the one-on-one debate, much more experienced on being on camera all the time. I mean, she has been for a while. But sometimes, you can see when she's irritated. So, the question is whether or not she wants that to come out.

BLITZER: And we're just a couple minutes away from the start of this debate. Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: Incredibly exciting. I mean no doubt, tense moments for the candidates. I think it's going to be starting in about three or four minutes. You know, David, every candidate has a different kind of way they prepare for it. And particularly in these final moments, how much of this is about opening statements? I mean, how much do they prepare those opening statements?

AXELROD: Well, I think both campaigns, if they're preparing correctly, know what they want to do when they get out there. They know what the first, the first plays are, what the language is. It's very important to start quickly, make a big impact in the first 15 minutes, because a lot of folks are writing stories on this campaign are going to begin composing their impressions of a campaign almost immediately ...

COOPER: That was ...

AXELROD: ... the Twitter is going to be ...

COOPER: The reason that John F. Kennedy did against Richard Nixon very effectively. He basically kind of defined early on, and Nixon basically just responded.

AXELROD: True. But it's more than that now because of the lightning speed at which these things get judged. You know, back in 2012, we know within 10, 15 minutes that we had lost the debate to Mitt Romney because the media reaction and the punditry were pounding us on Twitter and we knew what the spin was going to be off of this debate.

COOPER: Even during the debate, within the first ...

AXELROD: Oh, my goodness, yes, yeah. It was -- we were glum in our room, 15 minutes in. So, you know, the beginning is very, very important.

BORGER: I think they're each going to try and make a large impression right away. And whether it's Hillary Clinton challenging him on something like birtherism right away or whether it's Donald Trump challenging her on her e-mails, as Kayleigh was talking about, right away, they're going to play to their base and then they're going to try to broaden it out, I would think.

[21:00:08] But, I think you -- you've got to do it immediately in this day and age.