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AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA
Clinton, Trump Prep for 1st Debate Tonight; How Much Input Does GOP Have in Trump's Debate Prep?. Aired 11:30-12p ET
Aired September 26, 2016 - 11:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[11:30:58] RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience.
SEN. LLOYD BENTSEN, (D), FORMER VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think Senator Dole has richly earned his reputation as a hatchet man tonight.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Coincidentally, that's the code name for John Berman. Sorry.
Those are just a few of those memorable moments in debate history. Many, many more moments that helped shape and change the course of the election.
Just hours from now, here in Hofstra University, it's Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump who will be the ones making history.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Joining us now, CNN political commentators, John Phillips, the talk radio host for KNBC and a Donald Hillary Clinton supporter; Bakari Sellers, former South Carolina state representative and a Hillary Clinton supporter; also joining us, Edward Espinoza, executive director of Progress Texas and a Hillary Clinton supporter; and Lanhee Chen, CNN political commentator, former policy director for Mitt Romney.
Lanhee, four years ago, you were doing debate prep of your own.
LANHEE CHEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I was puking into a bucket.
BOLDUAN: Thank you for that. (CROSSTALK)
CHEN: I'm just going to be honest. Yeah.
BERMAN: Vivid imagery.
BERMAN: The biggest surprise tonight will be?
CHEN: Biggest surprise will be I think Donald Trump's ability to remain in character for 90 minutes. I think that's really going to be the key, because Donald Trump needs to be able to demonstrate temperament and judgment tonight. I think if they have been prepping him on anything, it's going to be how to go out there with that temperament so people think this guy could actually be commander-in- chief.
BOLDUAN: Bakari, if Hillary Clinton has one thing written on her hand today heading into tonight, what is she writing down?
BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Do not cough. That's probably the only way she loses the debate.
But outside of that, I think she has to be inspiring tonight. One of e things we are talking that will be watching tonight. All of the people who support Hillary Clinton we know she's the most prepared, we know she's the most knowledgeable, she has the most policy chops, but tonight, Hillary Clinton has to, you know, channel her inner Katy Perry and be really, really inspiring.
BERMAN: I saw that documentary. It was very, very good.
BERMAN: John Phillips, Donald Trump, what does he have written on his hand tonight? I'm not making a hand size joke.
JOHN PHILLIPS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Not much. Don't call anyone a fat pig.
BERMAN: Meaning? Explain.
PHILLIPS: Where he got in trouble the first time is when it became about his feuds with various people that aren't Hillary Clinton. If he can keep the focus on Hillary Clinton, because she's the one whose name will be on the ballot, and he can be the Donald Trump that was in Mexico, he can be the Donald Trump that's been campaigning over the last few weeks, he will do himself a favor. This race is so close now, if he's going to get that extra two points and go beyond where Hillary is right now, he's going to need some of these Republican women that voted for Mitt Romney to come back into the tent. He has the guys. He needs the girls. He needs to behave.
BOLDUAN: So when it comes to small hands, how low does it go? How low do you think it does go tonight? You think it goes small hands low and if so, who wins that?
EDWARD ESPINOZA, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, PROGRESS TEXAS: I think it's going to get ugly, to get ugly for about 40 more days until Election Day. But that will happen. The important thing is for both candidates is they have to demonstrate are they capable and are they prepared to do the job. You can't just do that by going negative. You have to demonstrate something that you are for, some sort of vision that people can identify with, and that's going to come from more than low blows. That will come from displaying what your vision is for America. Do you want to make America great again or are we Stronger Together. Those are the undertones that will come out.
BERMAN: So, Lanhee, you said four years ago you were vividly decorating a bucket in preparation for the debate.
CHEN: Whatever was around.
BERMAN: We just learned that Hillary Clinton is doing some practice this morning. We are less than 10 hours to go before the debate tonight. A Clinton adviser says she has more practice to do today. Is that something Mitt Romney would ever do? What do you make of that?
CHEN: No, usually, our practice was to keep Governor Romney down on debate day because that was his personal preference. We felt we had all the preparation we needed by the night before. And by the way, when we were preparing Senator Rubio, we had the same rhythm as well. Try to keep them down on debate day so they can focus and get relaxed --
[11:35:20] BERMAN: Maybe Rubio should have had one or two more --
CHEN: You know, whatever you know, you will have known by now.
CHEN: It's hard to imagine really getting much accomplished on the day of the debate. I'm surprised the Clinton team is doing a mock debate today. That's a lot of movement for debate day.
BERMAN: We're not sure it's a mock debate. The way it's been characterized is practice. BOLDUAN: Not necessarily a full mock.
CHEN: So she's on the treadmill and lifting weights?
BOLDUAN: That's what I do when I want to warm up.
Does Donald Trump, John, need to win this debate to win the election?
PHILLIPS: I don't know if he needs to win the debate but they have created such a low bar for him. If you look at the characterization of the Clinton campaign and their supporters have put out, they essentially -- it's not Hillary herself, but their supporters have called him a Nazi, a fascist, compared him to members of the KKK. If he goes out there and looks like a reasonable tempered human being, I think he will win this debate.
BERMAN: It's interesting, what John Phillips just said, Bakari, because the Clinton team is making sure that the media grades this fairly, judges them equally here, and John Phillips is also making the interesting case that the Clinton team has actually set the low bar for Donald Trump, millions of dollars in some ways in advertisements, and their saying that he's unacceptable, doesn't pass the minimal bar.
SELLERS: The irony about the millions of dollars they spent is that they only used Donald Trump's own words. What we have here is a soft bigotry of low expectation. Donald Trump has a very, very low bar tonight. The question is, can he reach that low bar. Hillary Clinton has to show she's qualified to be president of the United States and she also has to show that he's not qualified to be president of the United States. That's the goal for both of them going in.
But look, Donald Trump embodies the sexism, bigotry, everything that Hillary Clinton has fought her entire life to beat back. So tonight is that time and that moment where she's going to have to show up. And because he embodies that, she's' going to have to knock that out tonight. She needs to win and win handily, because women in this country, every day, they go to work, not only do they have to do the job just as well, they have to do it better. That's the same standard, unfortunately, for Hillary Clinton.
PHILLIPS: Well, the knock on him is he doesn't have the temperament to be president. The knock on her is that she has the honesty to be president. I have a feeling when "Politifact" takes a look we will have lots of pantsuits on fires.
ESPINOZA: How is that a knock on her and not on Donald Trump? Trust is not something he outpaces her on. She comes out, and comes out swinging. He's used to playing offense, not defense. If she can hold him one-on-one and not let him demonstrate -- dictate the tone of this debate the way he's done through all those other debates, where he's essentially the alpha male in the debates, if she can keep that from happening early on, it's going to put him playing defense, something he's not comfortable doing. I think it will be even more unpredictable --
(CROSSTALK) BERMAN: Less than 10 hours to go.
BOLDUAN: I want to watch this debate really now.
BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, Donald Trump and his party there, they aren't always on the same page when it comes to some of the issues. So how much input does the GOP have in preparing Trump for tonight's showdown? We have someone who might know. We will talk to the chief strategist of the Republican National Committee.
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[11:43:12] DONALD TRUMP, (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: First of all, this guy's a choke artist and this guy's a liar.
TRUMP: And you're the basket case.
This little guy lied so much about my record.
TRUMP: Don't worry about it, Little Marco.
TRUMP: -- biggest liar. We don't need a weak person being president of the United States. OK?
TRUMP: That's what we would get if it were Jeb.
You are really getting beaten badly. I know you're embarrassed, I know you're embarrassed, but keep fighting. Keep swinging, men. Swing for the fences.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: That was then, this is now. Tonight, the general election, the first debate, 9:00 p.m., 90 minutes that could change your life. Assuming your name is Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.
BOLDUAN: Here with us, a man not named either of those things, Sean Spicer, chief strategist and communications director for the Republican National Committee.
Sean, great to see you. Thanks for being here.
SEAN SPICER, CHIEF STRATEGIST & COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Thanks for having me.
BOLDUAN: Thank you.
SPICER: What a great day here at Hofstra. Beautiful weather. A little excitement in the air.
BOLDUAN: You always give a weather report.
BERMAN: Good job.
BOLDUAN: Donald Trump is your guy. How great of a debater is he?
SPICER: I think he will do a great job. I really do. I think it's in contrast, we are excited about him being able to take the stage tonight and I think that's interesting because you hear all the folks on the Trump team talking about how excited they are tonight and you hear Robby Mook and Jen Palmieri and others out there whining, talking about how if the media doesn't grade him on a curve. I think that Donald Trump's going to come out and be the agent of change. I think he's excited for it. He's ready for it. That's a sharp contrast to the Clinton campaign. They are on defense with a candidate who has debated something like 38 times. She was in the United States Senate for two terms. I would think with that kind of resume and experience, they would be out there talking about how she's going to really dominate tonight and, instead, on defense whining about how the press will grade him.
BERMAN: So, Sean Spicer, the communications chief for the Republican National Committee, says this is Donald Trump's debate to lose essentially.
SPICER: No. I don't think --
BERMAN: He's the more expert communicator.
[11:45:08] SPICER: No, no, no. I'm not saying that. But I think, look, he understands what's at stake. I think he's ready for this. But I think it's interesting that someone who has never been on the presidential debate stage in a one-on-one setting the way she has -- she's been in politics her whole life. She was in the United States Senate twice. She comes into this frankly with a lot more time on the debate stage. She was a college debate champion. She is someone who I would, if I had that as a candidate, I would be saying our candidate is ready. That's frankly the nut of their argument for her to be elected, which is she has this experience. When it comes to debate night, they are very defensive about her ability to perform tonight.
BOLDUAN: Kellyanne Conway was pretty defensive, saying that everyone has been unfair against him.
But regardless, I have another question. Jeff Sessions, close adviser to Donald Trump, he said about tonight, he said, "Nobody expects him" -- Donald Trump -- "to know all the details of every policy in this government." It's September 26th. The election, you know when the election is. When is he going to learn the policy?
SPICER: There's a difference. I guess what Senator Sessions was referring to is that I think that if you expect someone to walk in and name every foreign leader and the budget for all of the cabinet positions, et cetera, and the nuances of every treaty name, that's one thing. You are not hiring --
BOLDUAN: No one is asking Hillary Clinton to know every foreign leader. No one is asking that.
SPICER: No, but I think the Clinton folks are trying to make that narrative out there about, as I mentioned, how much experience and how much time in government you want. If you are looking for someone who has been around Washington a long time and understands the establishment and the status quo, I think you should vote for Hillary Clinton.
BERMAN: Let me ask you about the moderator. A lot has been made about how much he should or should not fact check, particularly from Trump supporters, who say that it should not be the job of the moderator to check or correct facts. What's wrong with the truth?
SPICER: No, no, it's not a question of -- it's not just the Trump campaign. You have heard other members of the media, people at the commission on presidential debates saying the job of the moderator is to moderate the debate, not to be the fact checker.
SPICER: Hold on.
BERMAN: So if Hillary Clinton, for instance, says something that is not true --
SPICER: It is up to Donald Trump to say, Secretary Clinton, that's not true, here's what -- this is a debate among two candidates, not among a moderator and a candidate. We saw, respectfully, that CNN's own Candy Crowley got in the middle last time and, frankly, was wrong. It's not the job of the moderator to get involved in the debate. It's two candidates talking about their vision. And if there's a mistake or a lie or something that needs to be fact checked, then it's incumbent on the other candidate to say that's not true. It's them who are debating, not the moderator. Frankly, activist journalist is not what America is looking for right now.
BOLDUAN: Activist journalism is not fact checking.
SPICER: No, no, you folks can fact check to your heart's content on CNN.com, CNN on air. It is not the job of the moderator to call balls and strikes. Again, this isn't the position of the Trump campaign. I think other journalists, the CPD and others have said the same thing. This isn't about Trump versus Clinton. It's the Clinton campaign that's out there saying we want the moderator to do our job.
BERMAN: Sean Spicer, doing your job. Thank you for being with us. Appreciate it.
SPICER: You bet.
BOLDUAN: Great to see you, Sean.
SPICER: Thank you.
BOLDUAN: Thanks, Sean.
BERMAN: The polls, they are tighter than ever. Tight as a tick, they say.
BOLDUAN: I was waiting to hear what you were going to pick.
BERMAN: Tight as a tick. That's ahead of tonight's showdown on Long Island. So what will tonight's debate, what will that do to the race? Here's a hint, I think everything.
[11:52:38] BOLDUAN: We are live at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. Hello, everyone. Hours away from the most anticipated night of the 2016 race so far.
BERMAN: 9:00 p.m. debate time.
Joining us now to discuss what we can expect, executive director of CNN Politics, Mark Preston; and CNN senior political analyst, Ron Brownstein.
Ron, you are the duke of demographics.
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Yes.
(CROSSTALK) BERMAN: I want to know which audience, what is the audience that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are speaking to tonight, and is it the same audience?
BROWNSTEIN: I don't think it is. A great question. A lot of convergence in the national -- really.
BOLDUAN: Yes. I think I heard that.
BROWNSTEIN: A lot of convergence in the national polls. Donald Trump, among non-college whites. Hillary Clinton up, less than President Obama, largely Millennial spillover, and the two even, or Clinton slightly ahead among college whites. That frames the challenge tonight. For Clinton, clearly she has to improve Millennial numbers. 75 percent of Millennials unfavorable to Donald Trump. She's poll at 45 percent or less. Some polls have her in the 30 percent in Maine and Virginia. She's got to reach them. And for Trump, the biggest single challenge is he's underperforming among college whites. 60 percent say he is not qualified to be president. And roughly the same number say he's bigoted against women and minorities. Those are the voters above all he needs to reassure tonight.
BOLDUAN: Mark, we learned snippets of what's going on today, little snippets about what's going on with the candidates. We heard from an adviser that Hillary Clinton is doing some prep this morning and Sara Murray found out Donald Trump is also doing some debate prep this morning. The man who doesn't debate prep is doing debate prep this morning. However many hours -- I don't do math -- left before the debate, 9:00 p.m. eastern. What is the choreography for the rest of the day?
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: Great question.
PRESTON: We don't know how Donald Trump is doing his debate prep. I mean, look, we don't think he's doing the same thing, standing on a podium 90 minutes. There's one thing to go over policy proposals and to have to understand it, which Donald Trump absolutely had to do, but there's also the endurance test and conditions yourself to stand under hot lights, get drilled by somebody acting as Hillary Clinton, being asked the hard questions, and quite frankly, standing for 90 minutes, no breaks.
BROWNSTEIN: And we all remember, there were debates where Donald Trump receded for long periods of time and --
BROWNSTEIN: -- allowed other candidates to be in the forefront. You don't have that option. You're front and center the whole time.
BERMAN: He's asking questions about her stamina. People forget, in some of the debates, towards the end, he --
BERMAN: Ron, 30 seconds left now. You've covered a few presidential debates in the past. What's it like in the room?
[11:55:20] BROWNSTEIN: Electric. You realize the stakes. What people often remember about the debates are the moments of personal revelation more than policy confrontation. Often, when candidates reveal something about who they are that you haven't seen before, that's what people take away. Doesn't have to be spontaneous. It can be scripted. Like Reagan's, "There you go again," that geniality, or Michael Dukakis' bloodless remark on Kitty Dukakis, it's often a personal revelation that is the most lasting moments.
BERMAN: A window.
BROWNSTEIN: A window to the soul, debates are.
BERMAN: Ron Brownstein, Mark Preston, thank you so much.
BOLDUAN: Just like your eyes, John.
BERMAN: The eyes.
BOLDUAN: Great to see everybody.
9:00 short -- silence -- nine short hours left is all the candidates have to perfect every one-liner, every eye roll, every sigh, every look at their watch, every head shake, every nod. You count it. What are the candidates doing during this crunch time? That's coming up.