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Previewing Tonight's Presidential Debate; A Campaign Rich in Insults; Trump, Clinton Appealing to Different Constituencies. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired September 26, 2016 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:29] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thanks for sharing some time with us on this important day.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton square off tonight right here at Hofstra University. History tells us the first debate is usually the most important. At 43 days out, this race is extremely tight. One new national poll out today shows Trump up two points in a four-way race. In our CNN poll of polls, which averages out all of the most recent data, shows a three-point Clinton lead. You see it right there, essentially a dead heat, very close race, six weeks to Election Day.

Plus, more new evidence, the Trump momentum includes key battleground states. Look at this brand new CNN polling, dead heats in two states absolutely critical to Hillary Clinton. Pennsylvania, where she's up by one, and Colorado, where our new poll shows her down by one. She had led comfortably in both of those states for weeks. So the trend line is obvious, as is the pressure. As the candidates take a few final hours to prepare, guess what, the expectations game is in full swing.


SEN. TIM KAINE (D-VA), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know this about Hillary Clinton, when the lights are bright like they are now, she brings the a-plus game to the table. I'm sure he's going to be entertaining, but he can't get away with, like, doing the 15-second thing and then -- and then, you know, walking away, not taking questions, which is what he likes to do. Now, it's 90 minutes mano a mano.


KING: Mano a mano, Tim Kaine says. Somebody forgot to tell him he's supposed to lower his candidate's expectations. That's the way it goes. For Donald Trump call the challenge tonight professional. Voters question his policy knowledge and many believe he lacks the temperament to be commander in chief. So, will we see this Trump?


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Why did Hillary get rid of her middle name? Huh? Hillary? No, but why did she get rid of it? Hillary "rotten" Clinton. Rotten Clinton. Hillary "rotten" Clinton, right? Maybe that's why.


KING: Or will we see this Trump?


TRUMP: The arrogance of Washington, D.C., will soon come face to face with the righteous verdict of the American worker and voter.


KING: Now, for Secretary Clinton, the test is more personal. She needs a fresh look from voters who view her at calculating and untrustworthy and from those who want change in Washington and aren't sure a longtime insider can deliver that.


CLINTON: Even if you're totally opposed to Donald Trump, you may still have some questions about me. I get that. And I want to do my best to answer those questions.


KING: She gets a big chance tonight. Estimated more than 100 million people tuning in.

With us to share their reporting and their insights on this important day, Ed O'Keefe of "The Washington Post," CNN's Sara Murray, Mary Katharine Ham of "The Federalist," and CNN's Jeff Zeleny.

Let's just start with a wow. You saw the polling off the top. We've got a very competitive race. We can go back just six weeks and we'll get into the details in a bit. A lot of Democrats thought this race was over. As we wait tonight, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, face-to- face for the first time. Let's just start, Mary Katherine, I'll start with you, just a quick thought observation of what you're looking for?

MARY KATHERINE HAM, "THE FEDERALIST": Well, I -- the whole year has been unexpected. I think the most unexpected thing tonight would be to see Trump sort of with a grasp of policy and a totally boring debate. So maybe if we're expecting the unexpected, that's what to expect. But I think he needs to just sort of pass a basic level of acceptability throughout this thing.

KING: OK, Jeff?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: I think can Hillary Clinton make Donald Trump unacceptable, not risky? They were talking about risky. Some voters want a risk because they want -- they're hungry for change. Can she make him unacceptable? So far she's been unable to do that as those new polls show.

KING: All right, Ed?

ED O'KEEFE, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I'm looking for how many watch. The number to beat in this country, at least, 115.2 million watched Super Bowl 49 in February 2015 collectively. Can it be topped tonight across all the various networks to watch. And that will give us an indication, really, of how -- how really interested Americans still are in this race.

KING: All right, no question.


SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: I'm looking for facial expressions and body language. How irritated, exasperated, frustrated does Hillary Clinton get when she's asked about her e-mails.

KING: Right.

MURRAY: And for Donald Trump, you know, the Republican primary debates were very much a spectacle. He did a lot of flailing. He made a lot of facial sort of expressions that are not necessarily appealing to female voters.

KING: Right.

MURRAY: And does he tone that down one on one against a female opponent?

KING: All right, the two candidates tonight have very different missions. For Hillary Clinton, we know she grasps the policy detail. She needs to be warmer to the American people, more likeable, and she wants to, as you note, disqualify Trump. You mention -- this expectations game gets a little bit silly, but people think Donald Trump, he's never been in politics, he's never held office, never worked in Washington, he's a reality TV performer. So the bar, some people think it's lower for him. I think they're applying for the same job. They should be graded equally. But that puts me out in the minority.

[12:05:12] One of the big questions is, how do they prepare for this. We know that she's been studying and, Jeff, you can take us inside that in a minute. And we get mixed reviews of what Donald Trump -- listen here, the Republican House speaker, Paul Ryan, who went through this as Mitt Romney's vice presidential pick four years ago, who's not in the room with Donald Trump, and Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, who is, they're competing advice.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), HOUSE SPEAKER: Over prepare. Look, Hillary Clinton's been doing this most of her life. She is the consummate pro. This is new for Donald, so I think he should, obviously, over prepare for it.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: Depends on how much confidence you have in yourself. And that's what we want. We want a president who has confidence in himself or herself. If you've got to over prepare, you have to over prepare. I mean -- but if you have confidence in yourself, I mean, you go with what got you there.


KING: I make it a policy to almost never believe what they tell us about what happens in the private debate prep --

O'KEEFE: Exactly.

KING: Because they say, oh, he's not paying attention or she's over studying, or they're watching the videos. What do we know about Trump? I mean we -- obviously it's style is not to over prepare, but is he doing more than they're letting on? They say he's just sitting around shooting the breeze and talking policy.

MURRAY: His style is not to over prepare and, look, they know that he's not going to suddenly emerge from debate prep with the same depth of knowledge about the way government works, the way the world works as Hillary Clinton, who was a former secretary of state and who was a senator. But he certainly is preparing. Look, he's talking to Rudy Giuliani. He's talking to Chris Christie. He's talking to multiple generals. All to sort of flesh out his world and to prepare but also to prepare for going one-on-one against a female opponent. So I think there certainly is a little bit of expectations lowering by just saying, oh, well, Donald Trump just talked to people on the plane, or he just campaigns, and that's his debate prep. The reality is, they're being very tight-lipped about this because they don't want you to know exactly how much he's doing.

KING: All right, one thing I've picked up from some Trump people is they're a little worried that he's now more and more confident because he's reading all these polls. And when Donald Trump gets confident, that's when Donald Trump tends to ignore the advice and go off script.

Jeff, as Hillary Clinton prepares, one of the things she wants to do is draw out the Donald Trump we did see sometimes in the Republican primary debates. The Donald Trump who mocks and insults his rivals. That's her effort to say, he doesn't have the temperament to be president. How does she draw out this guy?


TRUMP: First of all, this guy's a choke artist and this guy's a liar.

I'm relaxed. You're a basket case.

This little guy has lied so much about my record.


TRUMP: Don't worry about it, little Marco.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Out of principle, and I'll -- and I'll tell you --

TRUMP: You are the single, biggest liar.

We don't need a weak person being president of the United States, OK?

CRUZ: There is a better --

TRUMP: Because that's what we get if it were Jeb (ph).

You're really getting beaten badly. I know you're embarrassed. I know you're embarrassed. But keep fighting. Keep swing, men (ph). Swing for the fences.


KING: Now, that's what she wants, right? But what if she tries line one and tries line two and doesn't get it?

ZELENY: Right. Well, they're been preparing for both Donald Trumps, that one and the more serious teleprompter one. They think they're going to get the second one. I think there's every reason to believe they will. He already has his base behind him now. During all those moments, he was trying to convince people that he, you know, could stand up to those people. He's done with that. So the person he's trying to get is the voter in the -- the suburbs of Philadelphia who voted for Mitt Romney, whose still not totally sure about him.

So I think that they are going to try to get under his skin, no question about it. But they're looking for moments. Presidential debates are 90 minutes long but they're based on moments. That's why she has a stand-in, (INAUDIBLE), her longtime, really confidant and aide, and, you know, sharp-tonged New Yorker who's like Donald Trump and he is coaching her for those moments. She's been preparing at the exact hour of the debate, from 9:00 until 10:30, standing on her feet the whole time. He's been putting her through her paces. So she's going to try and dry it out. I'm not so sure she'll be successful.

KING: That's one fact that cannot be challenged, Philip (ph) is like Donald Trump. That one -- that fact cannot be challenged.

Go ahead, Ed.

O'KEEFE: Well, to Jeff's point about who exactly we're going to see them speaking to tonight, I thought it was striking in our poll yesterday that found 17 percent of people said it might have some kind of an impact, but 6 percent of respondents, or roughly if we have a universe of 100 million, maybe 6 million viewers could actually be swayed by tonight's results. And if they live in the suburbs of Philly or Denver or, you know, northern Virginia --

KING: Cleveland, right.

O'KEEFE: Cleveland and Columbus, that, right there, could potentially decide the race. I would also just caution, all this talk of over preparing and getting into the details, I think Giuliani is right, the more you over prepare, the more you over think. You can go ask Jeb Bush, among others --

KING: Right.

O'KEEFE: How exactly that goes. He's never been one-on-one. He's never debated a woman. But you can ask people who have stood on the stage and over prepared how it goes.

KING: Right.

O'KEEFE: And they're enjoying private life.

KING: Debates are different than the -- than writing a test, sitting in class and taking a test. I'll be -- sometimes the best student might score the most debate points, but the best optics win debates.

You had a point you wanted to make?

HAM: I was going to say, about Hillary Clinton, she is a studier. She's Tracy Flick (ph) and he's not. He's a guy who goes with his gut. There's a risk for both of them here. She draws him out and has him insulting her, he'll be pretty comfortable and he'll go places she won't go, which can get under her skin.

[12:10:07] KING: Right.

HAM: It also doesn't work with him -- with these -- these middle of the road voters, like, who say the numbers might be like the Super Bowl, but this is not a game. We need you to keep under control. There's a risk for both of them in trying to draw the other one out, I think.

KING: And they both have very different target audiences we'll get to in a minute.

I want somebody to help me translate this one. Newt Gingrich tweeted this out this morning. I love this. Well, there's a lot of pre-game. A lot of it's silly, you know, what guest are you going to put in the front row to distract the other one? Or who should win? Or who's to scoring points. But this is my favorite from the former house speaker, former presidential candidate Newt Gingrich. He says, "Clinton is a fox who knows many things you can fact check. Trump is a hedgehog who knows one very big thing, we need change."

MURRAY: I didn't know hedgehogs knew so much about change, but this is why I personally really wanted Newt Gingrich to be selected for VP --

HAM: Right.

MURRAY: Because I really pictured like a VP tour of zoos across America.


MURRAY: Look, Newt loves zoos and Newt loves animals. That's all I got for you.

ZELENY: I think one thing, though. She has done so many debates. We've all covered them and watched them all. It's nearly 40. I think it's 38 or 39. She's won most all of them. She's certainly won most all of them she was in, in 2008 with Barack Obama. And so I think her practice and her respect will do her well in that respect.

KING: But she hasn't debate a Republican since, what, Mcglasio (ph) in the Senate?

ZELENY: She hasn't. It's been a long time.

HAM: Or a hedgehog.

MURRAY: Or a hedgehog.

KING: Or a hedgehog. She's asked if she --

ZELENY: Never as far as we know.

KING: Yes, fact checkers won't challenge that one either.

Does it matter -- does it matter -- we know both of them want, you know, they want to be warmer, you want to be fuzzy, you want to be more likable, you want people to think it's the old, you know, Reagan rules, such, you have a drink with your president (ph), have lunch with your president, we sit down and have a beer to drink, but they both also know that they are the most unfavorably viewed candidates in American history. The NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll last week, this was my favorite piece of data last week. The NBC/"wall Street Journal" pollsters asked, if you have positive or negative view of Canada, 75 percent of Americans have a positive view of Canada, 38 percent have a positive view of Mexico, 37 percent of Hillary Clinton, 28 percent of Donald Trump. That must be a typo. That can't you true, that bottom line, 19 percent have a positive view of the news media.

O'KEEFE: That's high for us.

KING: Yes, that's high for us. But, you know, hey, hey, we beat Vladimir Putin.

MURRAY: I was just like, we're better than Putin.

KING: We're three times Vladimir Putin, Sara.

MURRAY: We did better than Putin.

KING: I was going to say, that's good talking point there. But when you walk onstage knowing that your reputation, your image is kind of in the tank, you're not going to change it in a debate. Does that matter? Does it -- do then do you think, OK, this can get nasty because they already think we're here, or do you have to try extra hard?


HAM: Well --

ZELENY: No, go ahead. HAM: I was going to say, that's part of the risk inherent in this is

that so much of their images are baked in that I'm not sure how you get out of that and whether you want to because once you start acting like not yourself, you don't come across as real. Neither of them does that much of to begin with to some extent. But you don't come off as real and you sort of lose your -- your edge, the things you are good at.

KING: Right.

O'KEEFE: Right.

HAM: So I think they both running a risk there.

ZELENY: You don't necessarily want to reinforce the thing that people just don't like about you, though. So I think the tone of Hillary Clinton's voice tonight will be something interesting to watch. People talk a lot about that. In her rallies recently, she's been lowering it. And I do not think that she will come across as sharp as some of those Republican rivals are. Her negatives are high. She doesn't want to make them be higher.

KING: Don't sigh, don't look at your watch, remember you're in a split-screen at all times.

ZELENY: Right.

KING: We're going to take a quick break, but don't miss a moment of the first presidential debate. You can watch it tonight, right here, 9:00 p.m. on CNN. And we're going to have live coverage, of course, throughout the day here from Hofstra University.

Up next, inside the debate preparations and what each candidate sees as their best -- best lines of attack.


[12:18:01] KING: Welcome back. We're live at Hofstra University. The big debate is tonight. And from a distance, this has been a campaign rich in insults. He calls her "crooked Hillary." She says he's "dangerous and erratic." Each calls the other "unfit" for the highest office in the land. Well, tonight, they will be face-to-face. And for Secretary Clinton, the task is urgent. Trump's momentum in the battleground state is real. And if he looks and acts like a president tonight, months and millions spent on casting him as a risky loose cannon could be wasted. So a big part of Clinton's strategy is try to draw out this Trump.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists.

That could be a Mexican plane up there. They're getting ready to attack.

I have had horrible rulings. I've been treated very unfairly by this judge. Now, this judge is of Mexican heritage.

We're going to have businesses that used to be in New Hampshire that are now in Mexico come back to New Hampshire and you can tell them to go (EXPLETIVE DELETED) themselves.


KING: One of the interesting things, as we watch this play out, is they both come in looking at very different constituencies they're trying to appeal to. Trump wants to help in the sound bite I think he made the point earlier, in the suburbs. White, college-educated voters. Hillary Clinton has a problem right now with the Obama coalition, millennials, Latinos, African-Americans. Not that she wouldn't get their votes, the millennials are bleeding away, and we'll get to that later, to the third party candidate, but not that she wouldn't get the votes of Latinos and most African-Americans, but will they vote is the question?

O'KEEFE: Right.

KING: And, Ed, this has been a big issue in the campaign. She says, look at this guy. You don't want him as your president. She doesn't call him racist, but she essentially says he race baits. Others have -- others around her call him a bigot. How does -- does that Trump come out or is he too well coached?

O'KEEFE: We'll see. But it would certainly be helpful to the Democrats if it did and I think they're hoping it does because right now so many of their races, not only at the presidential level but at the down ballot level could use a little bit of that motivation, frankly, among Hispanics or others who are concerned about his tone and temperament. Nevada's a great example of that. These new numbers in Colorado are going to cause great panic and concern. If you don't have Hispanics turning out to vote for Democratic candidates in Clinton in Colorado, it's over out there as well. And Florida, too. Central Florida, especially. If you can somehow gin them up with something he says tonight, it would be a big help to them.

[12:20:07] KING: And we assume she's going --

O'KEEFE: Which is probably why he won't do it.

KING: OK. And if he doesn't go there, Sara, we assume that she's -- she knows everything. She has studied everything he's said in this campaign. H's read the -- she's going to know those lines.

MURRAY: Well, yes, they're very --

KING: Defend that, Mr. Trump. Why did you say it then? Why won't you say it now? Is that --

MURRAY: Well, right. I mean they're very aware of the fact that not everyone has been followed this as closely for the last year and a half as we all have. And, you know, we saw this with Mitt Romney onstage with President Obama in 2012. He came out in the first debate, sort of rushed to the middle, disavowed, you know, previous things he stood for, took new positions. And that's something that the Clinton campaign is preparing for that Donald Trump may not be the same Donald Trump we've seen for the last year and a half.

KING: Right.

MURRAY: And so it's really incumbent upon her to remind people of what he said before, what he's done before, the things that made him seem unacceptable previously, but maybe you haven't heard in the last couple of months. But, you know, that's a tip -- that's a tough thing to do if he's not bring it up himself and if the moderator doesn't bring it up.

KING: And if Trump does keep his cool and he's performing well, his main goal here is to say, I'm the outsider, I will change Washington. She's a Washington insider. She cannot. He does the crooked on the trail, Jeff. The question for me is, we know Bernie Sanders said I don't care about the damn e-mails. Donald Trump does.

ZELENY: He sure does.

KING: Donald Trump does. We've had new FBI documents released. Now, here's how she talked about this during the campaign. The question is, tonight, does she need a better answer?


HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I'm going to give the same answer I've been giving for many months. It wasn't the best choice. I made a mistake. It was not prohibited. It was not in any way disallowed. And as I've said, and as now has come out, my predecessors did the same thing, and many other people in the government. But here's the cut to the chase facts. I did not send or receive any e- mails marked classified at the time.


KING: That's not exactly a cut to the chase fact.


KING: There were a few e-mails that were marked classified at the time.

ZELENY: I mean a lot has happened since that answer back in March.

KING: Right.

ZELENY: And this is not an old story. This is, in fact, a very much new story as, you know, this FBI investigations has gone on. Her advisors tell me --

KING: And releasing documents the Friday before the first debate, the FBI -- the Obama FBI --

ZELENY: I mean (INAUDIBLE). We used to call those document dumps back in the newspaper business. But, look, I think -- O'KEEFE: We still do. Work until noon (ph).

KING: The moderators working the refs, that's --

ZELENY: No doubt. I think that her advisers have suggested that they've been concentrating on that answer perhaps more than anything else, because it is the most obvious thing that will come up, right? And since then she has going on to have slightly better answers in their view. I think you'll hear more contrition tonight. I think you will not hear as much blaming, oh, Colin Powell did this, because, you know, there's a new line of attack on that as well. I think she will double down more on apologizing, but then try and pivot to transparency.

This is a tough one for her, though, because, A, it's sort of baked in, but it is one of the central reasons people have questions about her. But I think they've spent considerable time, I'm told, on this answer in particular. So I'd be surprised if we see a similar response.

KING: Another fascinating pre-dynamic debate is, you know, everyone tries to work the refs, work the moderators.

ZELENY: Right.

KING: From the Trump campaign they're saying it's not Lester Holt. Lester Holt of NBC is the moderators. Sorry we haven't mentioned that yet. A good man. He's -- they say it's not his job. If Donald Trump says something that's factually not true, it's not his job to say, hey, that's not true. Let the candidates' debate each other. They say the moderator shouldn't be a fact checker. We do know from this campaign, Trump has at times broken the Pinocchio machine. The fact- checking organizations have had a hard time with Donald Trump because sometimes, listen here, he has a relatively causal relationship with the truth.


TRUMP: Hillary Clinton, and her campaign of 2008, started the birther controversy. I finished it.

I was against going into the war in Iraq.

I want to thank the African-American community, because I don't know if you've been watching, but the poll numbers are going like a rocket ship.

Over the weekend, there were Islamic terrorist attacks in Minnesota, New York City, and in New Jersey. These attacks were made possible because of our extremely open immigration system.


KING: I mean, every one of the statements in that, Mary Katherine, would break the fact checking machine, and yet this has been a trademark of the Trump campaign. What happens tonight? What happens tonight if either one of them says something that is just -- if he says again, I was against the Iraq War from the beginning.

HAM: Right.

KING: He was not. There is no evidence that he was opposed to the Iraq War from the beginning.

HAM: Well, I think, with both of these candidates, they have a troubled relationship with the truth, as we saw from that answer from Hillary Clinton. There's not a great answer on that because there's not a great answer on that without lying about it. So I think the moderator really gets into a quagmire if he starts trying to check every single thing.

KING: Yes.

HAM: So we should leave it up to them for the most part. Hillary Clinton, I think, will have marshaled those facts and be able to fact check Donald Trump. But I do wonder if Donald Trump knows the intimate details of the e-mail situation and can throw them back at her because that would be more effective than the personal attacks, but I wonder if he'll default to the personal attacks.

MURRAY: Well, I certainly think they have been digging in to the details on e-mails. I mean this is part of the reason that he has Rudy Giuliani in there with -- in the room with him day in and day out. Nobody's wants to prosecute this case against Hillary Clinton quite like Rudy Giuliani does.

[12:25:12] KING: Right. He is deep in the weeds on this. And so I'm -- I would bet money that there are a couple of specific points on that. But, look, it's -- it's hard for the moderator. You don't want to be the one who's debating the candidate.

KING: Right.

MURRAY: But it's also perfectly easy to have previous comments from a candidate in front of you. We've seen previous debate moderators do this in a way where it's not a fight, where you can just go back to them and say, well, look, this is what you said in 2002 and this is what you said in 2004. So can you explain why you're saying this now?

KING: Right.

MURRAY: There's a way to do it.

O'KEEFE: And to Mary Katherine's point, you know, remember when we had a 17-candidate field, each of them would always say nearly every day, I cannot wait until I'm the one on stage debating her.

KING: Right.

MURRAY: Right.

O'KEEFE: If he lets any opportunity slip by, it will upset Republicans, especially some of those perhaps who aren't yet ready to vote for him. But if he can prosecute her there onstage, you know, back her into a corner essentially and have her squabble and give an answer like she did back in March, you know, that -- that, right there, probably does more than anything to motivate his base and possibly win over some skeptics.

KING: And he's never debated one-on-one. He refused to do that at the end of the Republican primary campaign.

ZELENY: Right.

KING: He's never debate a woman. That will be interesting to watch as well.

A lot more to cover. Everybody sit tight. Like athletes before the big game, candidates, guess what, they use video to study their opponents. From the low energy to those damn e-mails, the primary reason to -- primary season debate lessons, next.