Return to Transcripts main page
AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA
Clinton, Trump's First Debate Tonight; How the Candidates Are Preparing for Tonight's Debate. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired September 26, 2016 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[11:00:07] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: This could change everything.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: One of the most anticipated political showdowns of all time.
DONALD TRUMP, (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hillary Clinton is a week and ineffective person.
HILLARY CLINTON, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.
BOLDUAN: Facing off for the first time.
TRUMP: Her judgment is horrible.
CLINTON: He is temperamentally unfit.
BERMAN: Who will stumble?
BOLDUAN: Who will shine?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: Hello, everyone. I'm John Berman.
BOLDUAN: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.
It is a beautiful day, not just the weather, because it is debate day in America once again. It's very real because this race is close. Very close. Pretty much tied, I guess we could say. Which means it can't get any closer. Which also means the stakes could not get any higher.
Tonight, less than 10 hours from now, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump face off for the first presidential debate.
BERMAN: 9:00 p.m. eastern time, 90 minutes, no breaks, no commercials, no mercy. It all happens right here at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, Long Island. Strong Island. Both candidates want the strong, decisive showing.
We are joined by CNN's Phil Mattingly and Sunlen Serfaty outside the debate hall. Sunlen, we'll start with you.
What are these candidates doing? We just got word from a Clinton adviser Hillary Clinton is doing practice this morning.
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. So fascinating to see these candidates in the last hours how they're preparing leading into the biggest night of their campaign. Hillary Clinton's prep today really mirrors what we have seen her do all weekend, engage in day-long sessions of debate prep, going until about 11:00 at night. So perhaps she's trying to mimic somewhat of the late hour of tonight's debate. We know she is going through these full run-downs of a mock debate. She has one of her long-time aides who is playing Trump, someone who is also described as being combative in nature, and her campaign is said to be looking for areas of potential one-line zingers she could prepare potentially to make the all-important memorable moments coming out of tonight.
Trump, on the other hand, was hunkered down yesterday and throughout parts of the weekend in Trump tower. He was joined by Chris Christie and Rudy Giuliani and he has looked at highlight reels of Clinton's past debate performances. And while he is looking at potential questions and running through answers with his team, the big question is, is he doing these sort of full-fledged mock debates that Clinton is doing. His team says that no one's standing in as Clinton, so it potentially appears he's not doing that. We should see, today, his team saying that he's ready, he's excited, and perhaps rising expectations just a bit. His campaign manager, who has been in on these sessions with him, says that he is a brilliant debater -- John and Kate?
BOLDUAN: All right.
Phil, what do we know about the structure's the debate? Give us the goods.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You think, 100 million people potentially watching, between seven to eight out -- seven or eight out of 10 voters say they will be watching. It's a huge event.
Here's how it's actually going to happen. There was a coin toss. Hillary Clinton won. On one level, she's won on something -- she will be giving the first question. There will be six segments, 15-minute each. Broken down like this, the direction of the future of the country, then economy, then national security. Two segments apiece for all issues. The first question is to Hillary Clinton. She gets two minutes to respond. Then Donald Trump gets two minutes to respond to that same question. Then they will have it out. It will go back and forth.
The key question here is kind of which position each takes on how this all plays out. Obviously there's going to be no shortage of attention paid to how Lester Holt, the moderator, pays attention to this. You have seen both campaigns trying to work the refs a little, trying to get into Lester Holt's head, into maybe how we all cover this as they try to set the stage for what's coming. But how you look at the structure, it is going to be just that,
structured, very carefully. We have the topics. We know who's going first. We even know where they are standing. When you are in the audience, Donald Trump will be on the left-hand side. Hillary Clinton will be on the right side, also because of a coin toss.
BERMAN: Phil Mattingly, Sunlen Serfaty, stand by.
So much more to discuss. Want to bring in the political panel, New York City councilman and Donald Trump supporter, Joseph Boreli; CNN political commentator and vice-chair of the Democratic New York State party and Hillary Clinton supporter, Christine Quinn; CNN political commentator and New York One news anchor, Errol Louis, he's coming, take my word for it.
BERMAN: -- Maeve Reston --
CNN senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, is here.
BOLDUAN: I love that you shamed Errol.
BERMAN: He will be here.
BOLDUAN: No mercy.
BERMAN: I want to talk about the format of this debate. We have six segments, 15 minutes each, no commercials. That's one thing. Two minutes for each answer. That's another thing. What does that mean for this candidate?
[11:05:16] MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, with Donald Trump, the advantage that he has throughout all the primary debates is he could fade into the background a little bit as the other guys were talking and for him to hold forth against Hillary Clinton on foreign policy issues that he really hasn't dealt with throughout his career for 90 minutes will be really tough.
It's also so fascinating how they each have been preparing. She's been doing much more of the traditional debate style cramming and formulating answers, mock debates. He's really gathered advisers like Chris Christie and Rudy Giuliani around him to kind of formulate answers. We will see how that works when you get out there and are going for 90 minutes straight.
BOLDUAN: Structure is one element but also we heard the crowd is asked to stay silent. You can't really control it as we have seen in the primary, maybe, but they are being asked to stay silent. And it's a smaller crowd. Does the structure and that element, does that inherently benefit one of the candidates?
What are you hearing, Jeff?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: It makes it more serious because the fuel in a lot of Republican primary debates was that crowd.
ZELENY: With the exception of the Reagan Library debate, which was a more RNC-type of donor crowd. That really got people going and that Benefited Donald Trump. A quieter hall will be like the Flint debate that CNN had with the Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, largely very quiet. But I remember walking up to Donald Trump after that first debate at the Reagan Library, which was more than three hours long, he was exhausted. He was complaining --
BOLDUAN: He complained about it.
ZELENY: I think the stamina is something to watch. That's why Hillary Clinton has been practicing at night at the exact time of this debate, standing for 90 minutes here. But look, he has been known to give a campaign rally speech that goes 90 minutes long. He can certainly do it. One thing they have been doing on the Clinton side is preparing for two Donald Trumps. Increasingly, they believe that one Donald Trump will show up, the more sort of on message, more presidential Donald Trump. That could be a challenge for her.
BERMAN: Let's talk about that a little more, that more subdued Donald Trump, the Kellyanne Conway Donald Trump. Literally, the Clinton campaign has concerns about that, because senior Clinton campaign staffers have been out talking about it, talking about the fact that Donald Trump, they say, needs to be judged in the same frame as Hillary Clinton.
Listen to Robby Mook, the campaign manager, on the "Today" show this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBBY MOOK, CAMPAIGN MANAGER, HILLARY CLINTON PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: What we don't want to have is some sort of double standard where Donald Trump can get the most improved award but Hillary Clinton, you know, is getting judged on the fine points of policy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: Christine Quinn, Hillary Clinton supporter, what does that mean?
CHRISTINE QUINN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think there's a lot of latitude and gimmes that Donald Trump has gotten in the debates and every time he reads a teleprompter we all applaud when all he's doing is reading. The fact that he's not calling people horrible names, that he's not saying sexist or racist things somehow gets him a blue ribbon. That's not what you need to prove or show when running for president of the United States. I just don't want reporters tonight, when they're watching it, then writing it, to be, you know what, he didn't curse, he didn't call her whatever, and therefore, he did OK. I actually think tonight with the quieter, smaller crowd and the seriousness of what's happening, I really think the debate tonight is Donald Trump's to lose. That is not an atmosphere he thrives in. He thrives in a Barnum-and-Bailey way. I think tonight we will see he doesn't know the facts. We have seen snippets of that on the campaign but he keeps going on and all this blah, blah, blah. He will not be able to get away with that and pivot to just make America great again over and over.
BERMAN: Let the record show Christine Quinn raised the bar and lowered it at the same time. Set a high expectation and lower expectations.
QUINN: Be very hard for him to limbo through.
BOLDUAN: It requires a leap and kind of a twist. It's quite difficult.
QUINN: He says he's the healthiest ever. We'll see.
BOLDUAN: Joseph Boreli, this is how John Berman was talking about the Kellyanne Conway Donald Trump. This is how his campaign manager is framing tonight's debate. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KELLYANNE CONWAY, CAMPAIGN MANAGER, DONALD TRUMP PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: If Mr. Trump has any disadvantage going into tomorrow night's debate it's that he's not really treated fairly. That's pretty obvious, if you read many of the print reports and if you turn on the same station any point in the day, the coverage varies from incomplete, meaning it's all about him, and it's negative against him, to overtly biased.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Basically, we are hearing from Kellyanne Conway that Donald Trump is the one at a disadvantage because he's the one that has not been treated fairly. He's the one that has everything against him. It sounds like everyone thinks the same thing going into the debate. How can both campaigns be viewing this through the same prism? I find it impossible.
[11:10:09] JOSEPH BORELI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Despite what Kellyanne is saying, the campaign is very confident going into tonight. I disagree with what Christine is saying, I think the Clinton campaign is on the back foot because of the latest round of polling. When Hillary Clinton gets lost in the weeds of policy, she's not addressing her fundamental biggest negative, which is her likability. I think when Donald Trump speaks in broader terms about his three key messages, jobs, the economy and security --
(CROSSTALK) BOLDUAN: When it comes to Trump and getting into policy, is that just stating policy equates getting into the weeds? Where does weeds begin?
QUINN: The weeds are the solutions. That's where the problems and the solutions lie.
BORELI: You're saying 90-second answers might be a problem for Donald Trump. They might be a liability for Hillary Clinton. We can all assume she knows the king of Jordan's brother's name or something but can she answer questions on how she made the right or wrong call --
BORELI: -- when it gets to things like Benghazi and like Libya and Syria.
BERMAN: So you're saying Donald Trump is the favorite tonight? To be clear, Councilman, you are saying Donald Trump is the favorite?
BORELI: I think Donald Trump is the favorite.
QUINN: Because he doesn't have much to say.
BORELI: You already have the Clinton campaign going after Lester Holt because they saw the performance she gave during the commander-in- chief forum. And the response was to go after the moderator.
QUINN: Lester Holt is --
BORELI: All weekend, you heard Robby Mook and the campaign priming the pump.
QUINN: I don't think that's accurate.
QUINN: No. The campaign has raised how people -- how Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will be judged. Will he be judged on a curve? No one has attacked Lester Holt, who is a highly credible reporter. That's not what t campaign has said.
BORELI: They're trying to define his role --
QUINN: No, no.
BORELI: -- as the moderator.
QUINN: The moderator does not do the judging. That's for the rest of the media and the country to do. Let's be clear. What you said was that Donald doesn't have a lot of substance so 90 seconds --
BORELI: That's not what I said. What I said --
QUINN: 90 seconds will be easy for him.
BERMAN: Hang on, guys. Hang on.
BERMAN: We have another special quest. Errol Louis is sitting down right now.
BOLDUAN: He's here. He blew in.
BERMAN: He arrived on the set. He has his earpiece in. He has his microphone.
BOLDUAN: He just likes to make an entrance.
BERMAN: Thanks very much.
BOLDUAN: Thanks very much, Errol.
BERMAN: Errol, the Trump campaign would have us believe they are not doing mock debates, they are not studying, perhaps, as much as Hillary Clinton is for this debate. Is there any reason that we should believe that at this point?
ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think you should. The top advisers to Donald Trump have said he's not -- he doesn't get coached, he's not coachable. He doesn't want it, doesn't need it, he doesn't use it. I would also say I talked with advisers who helped Ronald Reagan in 1984. Remember, he had that heck of a zinger line that he said I'm not going to take advantage of my opponent's youth and inexperience. It was a killer line. It was a killer debate. He won the debate, won the election, 49 states. But the reality is he had gone out and his prep for that debate was to go to a rally and get pumped up and sort of feel the energy from his supporters. Donald Trump seems to be cut from the same cloth. I wouldn't be at all surprised if his version of prep is going before a crowd after crowd getting his confidence together, getting his arguments together, maybe kicking around a couple of facts here and there with some of his top advisers but I wouldn't be at all surprised, nor should any of us, that he's just a different kind of person. His way to relax, his way to get pumped up, his way to do his own prep doesn't involve cracking the books the way most of us would do.
RESTON: We have been covering this campaign for a year and a half. What would demonstrate that it's at this moment that he's suddenly going to be delving deep into the nuance of policy and actually come out and talk about that? He hasn't done that in his speeches and hasn't felt that that has been important to his supporters. I just don't necessarily see us --
BERMAN: That's a low bar. You are setting a very low bar.
BOLDUAN: You are all about the bars today.
ZELENY: He is preparing, I'm told, more than they are letting on, in a different way, no doubt about it. But he knows prime time very, very, very well. He knows he cannot stumble on serious things. He has been reading up and watching Hillary Clinton as well. They have been watching each other.
But interesting about the fact -- just really quick -- she's trying to decide, the Clinton campaign is trying to decide how much she should fact check him. That's the temptation that she may have trying to correct him on everything. That will not be a successful debate for her because she will come across as sort of that second grade school teacher you didn't like so much.
BERMAN: All right.
BERMAN: Guys, stand by. So much more to discuss this hour.
BOLDUAN: It's Super Bowl. It's the Wrestlemania. It's like the most beautiful convergence of those two things together. Tonight is the night both facing the biggest test of their careers, the commander-in- chief test. Which one will pass?
[11:14:58] BERMAN: And why are facts so controversial? Why some are arguing that tonight's moderator, one of the most prominent broadcasters in America, shouldn't concern himself with the truth. That's coming up.
BERMAN: Anything good on TV tonight?
BOLDUAN: I don't know.
BERMAN: That might be the most unasked question on earth today. Tonight, at 9:00 p.m. eastern, the most anticipated presidential debate generation, maybe multiple generations. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump face off for the first time, as many as 100 million people could watch.
BOLDUAN: Joining us to discuss how the candidates are preparing, what each needs to do to win the night, senior adviser to the Trump campaign, former Congressman from Georgia, Jack Kingston is here; and Clinton campaign surrogate and former assistant secretary of the Navy, retired brigadier general, John Douglas.
Thank you both so much for joining us.
BOLDUAN: Let us talk about the commander-in-chief test.
Congressman, what does Donald Trump need to do tonight to pass that test?
[11:19:55] JACK KINGSTON, (R), SENIOR ADVISOR, DONALD TRUMP PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN & FORMER GEORGIA CONGRESSMAN: I think he just needs to be steady. He needs to give solutions and he needs to just articulate his vision. I think he's going to be able to do that. I think you can have a lot of pregame skirmish in and back and forth which is normal and to be expected but tonight is a defining moment in the campaign. This officially ends all the primaries, all the, maybe the academic voting has already started, from this point on everybody is going to refer to tonight, something about it in the debate.
BERMAN: Congressman, you say solutions and vision. Does that include specifics as in specifics for how he plans to defeat ISIS?
KINGSTON: I think so. 90 minutes, as you know, is a long time. I think if the moderators step back and let the two candidates engage as much as possible, I think it's a fair question to ask either candidate what are your solutions for the inner city, what are your solutions for the economy, what are your solutions for ISIS. He has said strategically he doesn't want to tell the enemy specifics on what his ideas are, what his plans are, but I think in broad brush terms, I think he will do that.
BOLDUAN: That would be a change. That would be new. As you mentioned, to this point we have not heard specifics. That is something he has bragged about and also something he faces most of his criticism about. That will be a change if we see that tonight.
General, what's Hillary Clinton's commander-in-chief test tonight?
BRIG. GEN. JOHN DOUGLAS, CLINTON CAMPAIGN SURROGATE & FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF THE NAVY: I think she's already passed the test. We have seen her in The Situation Room before. We have seen her make some of these top level decisions. She's been very close adviser to two presidents and you know, I was on the National Security Council staff for almost five years. I spent a lot of time with presidents in that situation room. It's a different atmosphere there. Everything you say, everything you do has enormous implications globally. I think she's passed the test.
BERMAN: So, General, if she has passed the test, as you say, why does she trail Donald Trump in so many polls on the question of who is better to handle terrorism?
DOUGLAS: You know our country is polarized today. Some analysts will tell you that both sides of the aisle are going to get a certain percentage of the vote no matter what. So often when we talk across party lines, even though we are friends -- the Congressman and I are mutual friends -- sometimes we find that the other side just isn't listening. He knows what that's like from his time in the Congress. I was senior staffer for a great Georgia Senator, Senator Sam Nunn. We spent an enormous amount of time working with people like Strom Thurmond from South Carolina and John Warner from Virginia. In those days, we used to say partisanship stops at the water's edge. I think we have lost a lot of that. I think that's one of the reasons why our country is so polarized.
BOLDUAN: Congressman, what is the one question you want Lester Holt to ask Hillary Clinton tonight?
KINGSTON: I would like her to just come clean once and for all on the e-mails. Why --
BOLDUAN: You think that's the most important question?
KINGSTON: I think it's a very important question. The FBI has called her reckless. I don't want a commander-in-chief --
BERMAN: Careless. I think it was careless.
KINGSTON: Careless and reckless. I don't want a commander-in-chief who is loose with classified information. The general and I have had classified hearings over our time, and I can tell you, you don't mess with classified information and then go out and say the other person's not qualified to be president, because I would like to know, how do those things square away? I think it's a legitimate question.
BERMAN: General, let us put that same question to you. What's the one question you want asked of Donald Trump tonight?
DOUGLAS: I think he needs to go into some more detail about why he doesn't release his taxes. I'm refinancing one of my houses now, and I'm just a common citizen, old soldier, and I have to release years of taxes to prove that I have the income to support the new mortgage on my house. He wants to be president of the United States. We know in his private life he's declared bankruptcy a number of times.
BERMAN: His businesses have declared bankruptcy.
DOUGLAS: Right. There's a lot of questions serious analysts are asking about his connections with Russian monetary interests and so on. You know, how you going to be president of the United States if a big chunk of your personal fortune depends on the situation in Russia? So these are things that the American public needs to see. Both sides of the aisle have done this in the past. His running mate's releasing his taxes. Tim Kaine's releasing his. I think it's time for Donald Trump to do it, too.
BOLDUAN: Congressman, real quick, Donald Trump tweeted that he may, perhaps, bring Gennifer Flowers to the debate. We all obviously know who Gennifer Flowers is, but since we are talking about the commander- in-chief test, even though the campaign says that is now not happening, is that very commander-in-chief-like, throwing that out there?
KINGSTON: I think that's what throws Hillary Clinton off. This is a woman who has been running for president since --
BERMAN: This is something Donald Trump did, Congressman. She isn't asking about Donald Trump.
BERMAN: Donald Trump tweeted it. Is it presidential to tweet that Gennifer Flowers --
KINGSTON: It's just as presidential if you say, I'm going to bring Mark Cuban, one of your most vociferous critics. This is what scares Hillary Clinton. She knows Donald Trump, if you hit him, he will hit back, unlike Mitt Romney, who will let somebody like Candy Crowley command the debate, change the whole debate for him, you won't be able to get away with that with Donald Trump.
[11:25:14] BOLDUAN: So you are comfortable with that? So you're comfortable with Donald Trump --
BOLDUAN: -- bringing up the woman that the candidate's husband had an affair with?
KINGSTON: What he's saying is, you want to play this silly game, then we will play this silly game. I think she was not expecting that. I think the politically correct behavior would be to cower and say, oh, dear me. What he was saying is you want to play these games, I can play the game. But the reality is we do want to talk about the economy. We want to talk about jobs, about national security, and I what's going to happen.
BERMAN: Congressman, General, thanks for being with us.
BOLDUAN: Mark Cuban does seem to be coming. Still not clear if Gennifer Flowers is coming.
BOLDUAN: Will he make good on his threat? BERMAN: What's the one thing Hillary Clinton has to avoid tonight on that debate stage? And what could Donald Trump say that would cost him the election? That's coming up.
BOLDUAN: Plus, the expectations game, the favorite game we play on debate day. The Republican National Committee has said Clinton has a significant advantage over Donald Trump. Ahead, the RNC chief strategist joins us right here with less than 10 hours now to game day. Don't leave your TV.