Guest Host: Susan Page

After two weeks of conventions, Hillary Clinton (L) and Donald Trump (R) are now their respective parties' nominees for the presidency.

After two weeks of conventions, Hillary Clinton (L) and Donald Trump (R) are now their respective parties' nominees for the presidency.

Now that the political conventions are over, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have begun their sprint to the November elections. With less than 100 days left, the candidates are polling nearly neck and neck. The most recent nationwide polls averaged by have Trump at 45.6 percent and Clinton at 44.7 percent. Campaigning in swing states began right after the conventions ended. Trump will likely need to win Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania to get the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House. Guest host Susan Page and a panel of guests discuss what to expect in the homestretch of the 2016 race for president.


  • Whit Ayres Republican strategist and pollster; president and founder, North Star Opinion Research
  • Mark Mellman Democratic pollster and strategist; president and CEO, The Mellman Group
  • Perry Bacon Senior political reporter, NBC News


  • 10:06:54

    MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. She'll be back tomorrow. With the conventions behind them, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are in battleground states trying to mobilize voters and promote their ideas. With me in the studio to talk about what to expect in the remaining weeks of the 2016 race for president, Perry Bacon with NBC News, Mark Mellman, a Democratic strategist and pollster, and Whit Ayres, a Republican strategist and pollster. Thanks so much for joining us.

  • 10:07:27

    MR. PERRY BACONThanks so much for having me.

  • 10:07:27

    MR. WHIT AYRESThank you.

  • 10:07:28

    MR. MARK MELLMANPleasure to be with you.

  • 10:07:28

    PAGEWe also welcome our listeners and we invite you to join our conversation. You can call our toll-free number. It's 1-800-433-8850. Send us an email to or find us on Facebook or Twitter. We want to talk about the conventions, what difference they made. Did the Democratic Convention give a bump for Hillary Clinton the way the Republican Convention gave a bump for Donald Trump about battleground states?

  • 10:07:57

    PAGEBut I want to start with this controversy that has gone through the weekend on the front pages of today's papers over a big speech that was given Thursday night at the Democratic Convention by Khizr Khan, a Muslim American father of a soldier, a US soldier slain in Iraq. Perry Bacon, what has made -- why is this the subject that we are continuing to talk about even today?

  • 10:08:26

    BACONMainly because Mr. Khan -- gave a great, sort of very moving speech at the DNC on Thursday. It was the one speech no one expected to hear. He wasn't a planned speaker. It was -- the way he and his wife spoke was very eloquent. He held up his copy of the Constitution so it was a very memorable moment from there. But then, Donald Trump, for whatever reason, decided to criticize him as well and suggest that he did not understand the country, did not understand the Constitution.

  • 10:08:53

    BACONAnd so I think Donald Trump has taken, like, what was a big moment at the DNC and turned it into a five-day story of Donald Trump attacks a family whose son died in Iraq. It's another sort of unforced error from Donald Trump.

  • 10:09:09

    PAGEYou know, I was in the hall and it was -- he spoke with such passion and eloquence that you could not stop listening to him. You know, that happens sometimes in a hall. The hall became very -- the hall, which had been kind of rowdy for other speeches, including for the speech Hillary Clinton would give a little while later, it was really quiet during this one, Mark.

  • 10:09:33

    MELLMANYeah. No, I think it was an extraordinarily moving event. I mean, here's somebody who was speaking very articulately and who lost a son in -- fighting for the United States. I think it was a very moving moment for everybody, but as Perry said, Donald Trump and his minions have kept up this controversy in a way that needn't have happened. I mean, you have one of Trump's henchmen out today saying that the father is actually an agent of the Muslim Brotherhood.

  • 10:10:03

    MELLMANYou have Corey Lewandowski, the former campaign manager for Trump, also today saying that the son, Captain Khan, died as a result of the president, was than President Bush. So all kinds of crazy things are being said and it gives legs to the story and life to the story. It's a gripping story and Donald Trump's giving it more traction.

  • 10:10:28

    PAGEYou know, whereas Donald Trump has said many provocative things over the past year and over and over on this show, I've predicted that they're going to have a big effect and over and over, he's been very resilient and it's turned out not to have much effect, whatever the controversy is then passes, doesn't seem to really hurt him. Is this just another one of those, do you think, or is this different?

  • 10:10:47

    AYRESIt seems different. It seems qualitatively different. That said, because of the partisan balance of the country, it's hard to say it's going to have a dramatic effect on the outcome. But it was one of the most moving speeches I've ever heard in a convention, Democrat or Republican. And then, Donald Trump turns around and taunts a Gold Star mother whose beloved son died in the service to our country, because she couldn't speak about him without breaking down. Really? Really? I mean, are there not depths to which this man will not sink?

  • 10:11:21

    PAGEWe heard even John McCain, the Arizona senator, in his own tough reelection battle, who has said he will vote for Donald Trump, just about a half an hour ago came out with an extraordinary statement about this, Mark.

  • 10:11:32

    MELLMANYeah, no question about it. He really disassociated himself from Trump on this and said that he doesn't represent -- Trump doesn't represent McCain or other Republicans. But Republicans have a -- other Republican office holders have a real dilemma here and the dilemma's a serious one. Donald Trump's going to continue to make these statements, statements like this that people want to disassociate themselves from. They do disassociate themselves, but they can't, at the same time, say, yes, I'm going to vote for him, but I think he's terrible.

  • 10:11:59

    MELLMANAnd what he's saying is terrible. There's just a basic hypocrisy there and so people like the Speaker, like Mitch McConnell, like Senator McCain are really going to have to make a decision at the end of the day, do they want to back Donald Trump or do they want to disassociate themselves? You can't have it both ways. They're trying to have it both ways.

  • 10:12:15

    PAGEWell, we heard both Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell come out with statements, which Mr. Khan has asked them to do. Didn't really repudiate Trump by name, Perry, but they did distinguish their views from his on the subject.

  • 10:12:29

    BACONI think Mark's right. It's tough to say I disagree with Donald Trump's statements, but I'm going to vote for him. But Paul Ryan is doing -- been doing it all year and I think he'll continue to do so. There's this fine line where they're walking, you can see this with a lot of the Senate candidates, know that a lot of their voters -- a lot of Republican Senate candidates know that their voters backed Donald Trump in the primaries. They're trying to be cautious of not over-attacking him in some ways.

  • 10:12:49

    PAGESo -- go ahead.

  • 10:12:51

    AYRESBut Susan, I mean, Speaker Ryan, Leader McConnell condemned his Muslim ban as soon as Trump said it. They reiterated their strong disagreement with what he did regarding the Khans. Going back and asking them yet one more time to condemn Donald Trump feels more like hectoring than clarification. They've made very clear, as have all the leaders of the Republican party, how strongly they disagree with Donald Trump on these issues.

  • 10:13:21

    PAGEWell, you represent -- well, not represent, but you work for Republican candidates, including Marco Rubio, in this presidential election. You're still working for Marco Rubio's superPAC. How hard is it for a Republican candidate -- is this a dilemma for Republican candidates?

  • 10:13:36

    AYRESWell, it puts them in a bind, because of just what Perry said. Their reelection depends upon getting both Trump supporters and people who are not going to support Trump. But we're seeing, at this point, a record level of split ticket voting in the polling unlike anything we've seen since the 1980s when conservatives Democrats voted for Ronald Reagan at the top of the ticket and then Democrats down the ticket. So at the moment, anyway, we're seeing a whole lot of Republicans that are not going to vote for Trump at the top of the ticket, but they're still supporting Democrat -- Republican incumbent senators and congressman down ballot.

  • 10:14:17

    PAGEIs that how it looks to you, Mark?

  • 10:14:19

    MELLMANYeah. There is that split ticket voting, but I want to come back to what Whit said just said a second ago. How much can you disagree with someone and still say you're gonna vote for him and still imply that other people should vote for them? I mean, at a certain point, if you disagree with somebody enough, if you're serious enough about that disagreement, you have to say, I'm not going to vote for that person, because I disagree with them. The leadership in the Republican party and, indeed, Republican senators, people running for Senate, running for governor are not making those statements.

  • 10:14:48

    PAGEWell, just as a political matter, not as a moral or character matter, if you were advising a Republican candidate for the governor or Senate and they needed to appeal both to Trump voters and to Republicans uncomfortable with Trump, should they -- what's the safe political path for them to take?

  • 10:15:03

    AYRESWell, there is no safe political path. I mean, that's a problem. But that's when leadership is called for, when there's no safe political path.

  • 10:15:09


  • 10:15:11

    BACONIt's a great question, 'cause I don't know that -- I mean, I think -- what did Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire said, I support, but don't endorse Donald Trump or something to that effect. That was an overly careful answer, but it's a hard question to figure out the answer to. I'm not -- like Mark said, I'm not totally sure, like, if you're Rob Portman in Ohio, the governor of Ohio, John Kasich, ran against Trump, has been very unsupportive of Trump, I think you can probably say -- Rob Portman could probably say I'm not voting for Trump, but I want to make sure -- I'm not voting for Hillary Clinton either.

  • 10:15:39

    BACONI want to block Hillary Clinton from being the president. And there's probably a way for him to say -- Rob Portman to say I'm running for Senate to make sure that we have a check on Hillary Clinton and so on without saying, I endorse Donald Trump. That's what I would advise somebody to think about doing.

  • 10:15:52

    AYRESThere's something else going on here, Susan. Normally, we have a Republican Convention and a Democratic Convention. We had a Democratic Convention. We didn't have a Republican Convention. We had a Trump convention. When the two living former Republican presidents won't show up, when the two most recent Republican presidential nominees won't show up, when the popular home state Republican governor won't show up, when most other Republican candidates won't show up, it's not a Republican Convention. It's a Trump convention.

  • 10:16:23

    AYRESEven the president said, this didn't sound very Republican or very conservative. So what we've got in this election is a Democratic brand, a Republican brand and a Trump brand. And we've got three different brands going on here, but don't confuse the Trump brand with the Republican brand, because they are two fundamentally different things.

  • 10:16:45

    PAGEDo Republicans have that privilege to say that the person they nominated for president doesn't represent their party?

  • 10:16:51

    AYRESIt is the reality of the politics right now, Susan, where the Republican brand is not the same thing as the Trump brand and that's why we're seeing the split ticket voting we were just talking about, because voters are making a distinction between the two.

  • 10:17:06

    PAGESo 99 days to go. Mark Mellman, where do we stand if we look at surveys? How close does this contest look like it's going to be?

  • 10:17:14

    MELLMANWell, right now, it looks like it's going to be pretty close, but the advantage is back to Hillary Clinton. The surveys that have done since the Democratic Convention average out to about a four-point lead for Secretary Clinton. It was a little higher than that going into both conventions, a little higher lead for her. The surveys right after the convention always a little bit dicey, but my sense is we're at least at that four or five point range going forward and it could get bigger.

  • 10:17:39

    AYRESSusan, that's been the stability in this race so far is a mid-single digit lead for Clinton throughout most of the time. Every now and then, Trump will come up and tie for a day or two or three like he did in the Republican or the Trump convention.

  • 10:17:55

    PAGEWe're gonna take a short break. When we come back, we'll talk about the debates, whether we're likely to have them and what the key states are going to turn out to be and we'll take your calls. Our phone lines are open, 1-800-433-8850. Stay with us.

  • 10:20:02

    PAGEWelcome back, I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. We're talking about the 2016 election 99 days to go. With us in the studio, Perry Bacon, senior political reporter with NBC News, Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster and strategist, he is president and CEO of The Mellman Group. His -- the clients he's worked for in the past in presidential elections include Bill Clinton and John Kerry. And Whit Ayres a Republican strategist and pollster, he is president and founder of North Star Opinion Research. He worked for Marco Rubio this year. He's also the author of a book, it's called "2016 and beyond: How Republicans Can Elect a President in a New America."

  • 10:20:41

    PAGEWe're going to take your calls and questions. I want to take an email from Jim in McLean, Virginia, who says, how many people watched Hillary Clinton's convention speech versus Donald Trump's speech? Who knows the answer to that, Whit?

  • 10:20:54

    AYRESThey were very close. About two million more watched Donald Trump's speech than watched Hillary Clinton's speech and by about the same margin the average viewership across the four nights of the conventions favored the Democrats.

  • 10:21:08

    PAGEA little higher for the Democrats overall, but more for Trump. Do these -- these conventions were really different. How much do they matter, Perry?

  • 10:21:16

    BACONThe traditional view is there's three important events during every -- every general election. There's the VP selection, the conventions and then the debates. And so -- but the conventions often produce these sort of temporary bounces for each candidate that then go back to where the sort of fundamentals were. And so I think we'll end up -- Hillary's now got a bit of a bump, she's up by seven in I think a CBS poll. I think that she'll probably come back to three or four.

  • 10:21:41

    BACONAlso 30 million people watched these speeches, that's a big number. About 120 million people voted for either Obama or Romney in 2012. So most people, even though this is a big event, a big speech, but most people who vote in the election will not have watched either one of these speeches.

  • 10:21:56

    PAGEWhy do these conventions matter, Mark? Do you think they're very important?

  • 10:21:59

    MELLMANWell, they can be very important, they're not always. In fact they're not even usually very important, but it is an opportunity for the candidate and the party to speak in an unfiltered way to the public. Everything else comes through edits in newsrooms or in a debate context, where the other candidate is up there with them. This is a chance to really get all the attention on you as the candidate and in an unfiltered way speak to the American public. It's an opportunity that doesn't come in any other context except the State of the Union for a president.

  • 10:22:27

    PAGEYou know one -- go ahead, Perry.

  • 10:22:29

    BACONI do think these two conventions were very illustrative. I mean, the Trump convention proved what Whit just said, which is that the -- the Republican Party was not very unified. You saw that in the convention more than anything else, where you had a lot of -- the Bushes didn't come, a lot of the big governors did not come. And then for the Democratic Convention, you saw how big of a role Michelle and the president played in the convention, which told me Hillary really is running as the heir to the -- heir to the Obamas in a lot of ways, and I think that was very distinctive, and you saw that in the convention.

  • 10:22:57

    PAGESo that was a very positive thing for Hillary Clinton in the convention hall, to have the embrace of Michelle Obama, Joe Biden and then President Obama himself. Is there a risk there, though, Whit, for Democrats? We've got an electorate that is really eager for change. Is there any risk in associating herself so closely with the Obama legacy?

  • 10:23:17

    AYRESThis is an election with two huge, opposing forces at work, Susan. On the one hand is the force you just mentioned. Two thirds of the people in the country think we're off on the wrong track. They want a change. That obviously helps Donald Trump, because Hillary Clinton has been such a part of the system for so many years.

  • 10:23:38

    AYRESOn the other hand, you have inexorable march of demographic change, where there are fewer and fewer white voters, more and more non-white voters where the Democrats do very well, and that obviously helps Hillary Clinton. It was fascinating listening to Bill Clinton on Tuesday night talk about his wife as a change agent, because he was trying to push back very directly against that charge that Trump means change, and Hillary means status quo. We'll see how successful he was.

  • 10:24:08

    PAGEHow can you not make Hillary Clinton -- how can Hillary Clinton be a change agent when she's been on the scene for such a long time, in such a key role, for the last several Democratic administrations?

  • 10:24:19

    MELLMANWell, and she's made change in each of those -- in each of those efforts, significant change, and that's really the point that President Clinton made about her is whether it was as first lady in Arkansas or as first lady of the United States or secretary of state, she's made some important changes, and she's got policies today which reflect those kinds of changes she wants to make in the country.

  • 10:24:38

    MELLMANBut I want to go back to something that Whit said, which I think is important. It's not just the demographic change. The reality is if you look at white voters in two groups, those with a college education, those without a college education, Democrats in the past have lost white voters with a college education. This time, Hillary Clinton is winning those voters, white voters with a college education. White voters without a college education, very different picture, Donald Trump is getting bigger margins with those than Republicans have in the past.

  • 10:25:06

    BACONI actually think the last thing I saw was that I do think Democrats want to suggest Hillary is a change agent. She mentioned I'd be the first female president. But in general the convention was about the status quo is better than the radical version of Donald Trump. I actually think they tried to, particularly Mayor Bloomberg's speech, President Obama's quoted Ronald Reagan a couple times in his speech, I did think the Democratic convention suggest essentially the status quo is not great, the president himself had mentioned some things that were not going well, but the status quo is better than Donald Trump, who is too big of a risk I think is the -- was the sort of broader message of the Democratic convention.

  • 10:25:41

    MELLMANAnd you have voters, a lot of voters, who say Donald Trump will make change but the wrong kind of change, and that is a serious problem. And look, the -- among those people who say the country's on the wrong track, some of those people think it's on the wrong track, because Donald Trump is on the rise. Some of them think it's on the wrong track, because we have gun violence Republicans refuse to address. So there's a whole lot of reasons that people are saying it's on the wrong track. That doesn't mean they want the kind of change that Donald Trump is proposing.

  • 10:26:03

    AYRESBut the fundamental reality, Susan, is that it's a tough case to make when you've been in public life as long as Hillary Clinton has, that she is the agent of change. And that's the biggest challenge her campaign has for the next three months.

  • 10:26:18

    PAGEAnd Republicans, or at least Trump analysts, Trump strategists, hope it looks like 1980, where Democrats portrayed Ronald Reagan as too risky a choice, and at the end, when he did well in that one and only debate that they had, Americans were willing to take kind of a leap of faith, even though some of them believed he was kind of risky.

  • 10:26:39

    AYRESI'm sorry, I find that comparison offensive. Ronald Reagan was an incredibly successful governor of our largest and most heterogeneous state, who had written and thought deeply about public policy and America's role in the world for 20 years before that. The comparison is offensive.

  • 10:26:58

    PAGEWell, the comparison is one, though, that is made by Trump strategists saying that is the way this election could go, that you need to -- that Trump needs to meet a standard of being acceptable, even if people find him risky in some ways, if Hillary Clinton looks unacceptable. It's like a race for who is more unacceptable. That was the message, I thought, of both campaigns was let's make this a referendum on the other candidate, not on me.

  • 10:27:27

    BACONAnd I do think, the Reagan example, I agree, is not perfect, the analogy is not great, but I do think the debates are a big moment for Donald Trump to prove the whole Democratic convention, the whole campaign has been about Donald Trump cannot sit in the chair, he doesn't know what he's talking about, he doesn't have enough experience, enough credentials, and if he is -- comes off in the debates as qualified as Hillary Clinton. I'm not predicting that will happen, but if he somehow comes off the debates as being really prepared, if he kind of backs off from some of his most radical remarks, I don't expect that to happen, either, but there is a case to be made that the debates are a place where he can change his image.

  • 10:27:59

    BACONThat's the most high-profile chance he has left since he wasted the convention and the VP selection, I would argue, that the debates are the last chance. He'll have a big audience, at least, to change the dynamics here.

  • 10:28:10

    PAGEAnd the big opening for Hillary Clinton to show that he's not qualified, that he doesn't have the temperament, that he doesn't have the knowledge.

  • 10:28:15

    BACONI think she's already shown that in some ways but...

  • 10:28:18

    MELLMANAnd he shows it. I mean, look, he does a very good job every day, and the reality is that there's less than 40 percent of the people in this country that think that Donald Trump is qualified to be president. So there are people right now who are expressing support for him who say I don't think he's qualified to be president, but I'm going to vote for him, like some of these Republicans that Whit was talking about.

  • 10:28:37

    MELLMANBut the reality is that people don't think he's qualified, and they don't -- they don't think he's Ronald Reagan. And look, whatever you want to say about Ronald Reagan, you did not have generals and admirals coming out and saying we can't abide Ronald Reagan in office. You didn't have the level of the kind of derisive remarks coming from Ronald Reagan that you have from Trump. It's -- while the Trump people make the case, they're fooling themselves.

  • 10:29:00

    PAGESo Mark, tell me, we've got the military establishment in many ways coming out against Donald Trump. You have Republicans, senior -- the nation's most senior Republicans refusing to go to his convention, and yet this race continues to be close. Are Democrats surprised by that?

  • 10:29:18

    MELLMANI think Democrats are surprised by that. They shouldn't be, but they are. Look, the reality is it's very hard to get a third party term. It's only happened once since World War II. Hillary Clinton is running for a third party term. So that's difficult. We have an economy that's getting a lot better than it was, but it's not great, and the trajectory is not as good as it was, say, in 1984, when Ronald Reagan ran for re-election. So the reality is it's -- on the fundamentals, the underlying fundamentals, it's a very -- ought to be a very close race, slight advantage for the Republicans. The fact that in fact that Hillary Clinton is leading is testimony both to her appeal as a candidate on the one hand and, most importantly, to Donald Trump's -- his inability to appeal to people.

  • 10:30:05

    BACONLet me make one point, and Mark has got on his iPad right now, look at the battleground states actually, and if you -- the election is close in the national polls, but if you look at the state-by-states, Hillary is pretty much winning every -- or tied in every battleground state. You go through the Ohios, the Iowas, the Nevadas, the Virginias, there's a potential for her to win the kind of electoral margin Obama did in 2012, even though the national polls are close.

  • 10:30:31

    BACONSo it's a close race, but it's -- I'm not totally sure we're going to look back and say the race was that close. Was 2012 close? I guess. But it was not like it was -- you know, Obama won a pretty strong victory. If Hillary wins three or four by three or four points nationally, that could lead to a pretty big electoral margin, and that's very much on the table. I think that right now -- I think Mike Pence is going to Arizona this week. That is not a good sign that they're worried about a state like Arizona they should be winning.

  • 10:30:58

    MELLMANIt could be an electoral college blowout.

  • 10:31:00


  • 10:31:01

    AYRESMitt Romney got 206 electoral votes, you need 270. So the real question here is what states can Trump win that Romney lost.

  • 10:31:08

    PAGEAnd what states are those?

  • 10:31:09

    AYRESI don't know. They are claiming that they can win Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan with a huge turnout of blue-collar white voters. It is conceivable in Ohio. It is a heavier lift in Pennsylvania and a big lift in Michigan. But that's a better bet for them, I think, than more heterogeneous states like Florida with its large Hispanic population, Colorado, North Carolina is increasingly competitive. And indeed as Perry said, Arizona could actually be in play because of its large Hispanic population and how much they detest Donald Trump.

  • 10:31:51

    MELLMANYeah, and look, the reality is for the last number of presidential elections, we've had these same -- many of these same states on the table like Nevada and North Carolina and Virginia, New Mexico, Colorado. Many of those states are going to be off the table this time around. That is to say places like Colorado, Nevada, Virginia, may well just be in the Hillary column, before it's all -- before long. And that means that Donald Trump has to undo something very significant.

  • 10:32:18

    MELLMANHe has to take a state like Pennsylvania that has not gone Republican since 1992 and turn it into a Republican state. That's a really hard thing to do, and the latest polls have him behind by eight / nine points in Pennsylvania. So he faces a very difficult road in the electoral college.

  • 10:32:36

    PAGEYou know, it's true, he has one path to the -- like no room for error for Donald Trump, whereas Hillary Clinton has a lot of options, including some states that have traditionally gone Republican. And yet it's interesting that today she is campaigning in Nebraska, a safely Republican state, in the hopes of getting, Perry, a single electoral vote. Tell us about that.

  • 10:32:55

    BACONI don't totally understand this, but yes, there is one electoral vote. You know, most states give their whole electoral map, their whole tally of electoral votes to the statewide winner. Nebraska has this odd system. I do think there are two factors here more broadly that I think are interesting. One is that the -- I know Mark is going to probably reject this a little bit, but the idea -- the Brexit, the Brexit vote was surprising.

  • 10:33:18

    BACONI mean, I do wonder, I mean, the polling was not perfect there, and that is one factor is there such an anti-elite, anti-system sentiment in the country that change -- that suggests the polling is off or something or that changes the dynamic in some way where maybe a Trump could win, say, like Pennsylvania, that is not doing well economically.

  • 10:33:36

    BACONAnd then the second factor is there are all these Democratic groups that are working really hard to register Latino voters, and I do wonder on the counterside if there's going to be a bigger, more enthusiastic, anti-Trump Latino vote that changes maybe a Florida, makes it even harder for Republicans to win.

  • 10:33:52

    PAGEI'm Susan Page, and you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Let's take some calls. We're going to go to Long Island, New York, and talk to Bruce. Bruce, thanks so much for calling us.

  • 10:34:04

    BRUCEThank you for taking my call.

  • 10:34:06

    PAGEYou bet. Go ahead.

  • 10:34:06

    BRUCEI'd just like to say what the panel keeps dismissing, and I think what a lot of people keep dismissing, in Washington especially, you know, the establishment seems to constantly dismiss the fact that the people chose Donald Trump. He didn't put himself as the Republican nominee. And the fact that they don't show up to the convention and are not verbally supporting him I think just speaks loudly for a broader part of the people. It is a people's election, and in my opinion the people have spoken, and for them not to support him and get behind him I think just says a lot about their character, as well as the fact of, you know, their power in their office.

  • 10:34:43

    PAGESo Bruce, tell me, are you a Trump supporter yourself?

  • 10:34:47

    BRUCEYes, I am.

  • 10:34:47

    PAGEAnd tell us why.

  • 10:34:49

    BRUCEWell, it's just basically a couple reasons. I myself, I own a small business here in Long Island, and you constantly just see people in office and how these empty promises, not to say what Trump is saying is going to actually go full effect, but the thought of somebody getting up there and constantly, you know, just having a voice of what a lot of people, especially that I deal with on a regular basis, constantly say in everyday conversation. It kind of seems like he is voicing that, you know, on a national stage for us.

  • 10:35:21

    BRUCEAnd as far as my opinion, I'd like to see -- at least if he can get half of the stuff done that he says would be great in my opinion.

  • 10:35:27

    PAGEAll right, Bruce, thanks so much for your call. You know, this is what we hear at Trump rallies, including from some voters who I don't think traditionally either vote Republican or in some cases vote, Perry.

  • 10:35:37

    BACONThere is a real gap here, where in Washington and in the convention and among elite Republicans, there's a big divide about am I for Trump or am I against him. But when you look at the data, about 80 to 90 percent of Republican voters are going to vote for Trump. So it's not as if he's getting 30 or 40 or 50 percent. He's getting the vast majority. The vast majority of people who voted for Mitt Romney are going to vote for Donald Trump, even though Mitt Romney himself apparently will not be voting for Donald Trump.

  • 10:36:05

    BACONSo I think that does tell you something, and you do hear in the caller, again, this idea -- he didn't use the term political correctness, but I think he was getting at that, and that's the thing I hear at Trump rallies constantly is Donald Trump is saying the kinds of things we wish we could say.

  • 10:36:18

    AYRESAnd what you heard from him is the same kind of thing you hear in focus groups about Donald Trump supporters, this frustration with economic anxiety, with cultural change, just a sense that people are going backwards economically, and it's a cry for help, a cry to get this economy going.

  • 10:36:41

    MELLMANYou also have to understand that I think the dynamics on the Republican side, and this caller sort of suggested it, the reality is in the primaries, 60 percent of Republicans said that -- Republican primary voters, said their Republican leaders had betrayed them. That's a very strong word, betrayed them, because as far as they're concerned, they gave control of the Senate and the House to the Republican Party, and what -- you know what? They didn't undo Obamacare, they didn't end the deficit, they didn't do all the things they thought they were going to do, so they felt betrayed by these folks.

  • 10:37:08

    MELLMANAnd every time Donald Trump said something crazy, every time he does say something crazy, people go after him, and he hasn't backed down. He doubles down, and that shows people he's not going to be pushed around.

  • 10:37:16

    PAGEWe're going to take another short break, and when we come back, we'll continue our conversation, and we'll take your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Or send us an email to Stay with us.

  • 10:40:01

    PAGEWelcome back, I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. We have a trio of political pros with us this hour, Whit Ayres, a Republican strategist and pollster, Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster and strategist, and Perry Bacon, senior political reporter with NBC News. We're taking your calls and questions. Our phone lines, 1-800-433-8850.

  • 10:40:22

    PAGEHere's an email from Sara. Sara writes, I'd love for you to talk about the trap the first woman nominee faces, that she needs to be a strong, cool, decisive leader, more traditionally seen as masculine traits, but at the same time the public also expects her to be warm, engaging, nurturing and approachable, more feminine traits. That is not expected for male candidates. Is that fair, Mark?

  • 10:40:43

    MELLMANYeah, look, there are different -- some different expectations from female candidates and a higher bar in some ways, more difficult for them to prove their qualifications oftentimes. But look, the good news for Hillary Clinton is, as everyone has said, she is the most qualified person to ever run for president, and I think that is something that helps her deal with that side of the equation so she can focus a little bit more on the personal and engaging side, though as she said, she's a policy wonk, she cares about the policy.

  • 10:41:15

    PAGEYou know, Perry, it was interesting, in her speech she said some people don't get me, I understand that. She also seemed, I think to try to project in a different way than she does sometimes on the stump. Do you think she's trying to work on this double bind that Sara sees for women candidates?

  • 10:41:30

    BACONI mean, I think there's this criticism of how -- her speaking style, and it did seem to me she's trying to work on that and prove that. I do think you hear the comment that she's yelling at times and that -- and that running -- when she was running against Bernie Sanders, I thought that a weird critique because Bernie Sanders is known particularly to shout his speeches. I did want to add, though that we're looking at a point where the leaders of Germany, Britain and the United States could be all female in -- in November. That's a -- that would be an unusual moment and the first time that's happened before.

  • 10:42:01

    BACONAnd she's referring to that more in her speeches now. She talked -- I mean, in this campaign compared to '08, she made a big point of that on Thursday night and in fact the talk about this is a big breakthrough for the country, that we have not had a female nominee before. So I do -- I don't know how that'll affect how voters see her, because you're not seeing a lot of evidence so far that women necessarily see this is -- there's not a lot of polling evidence that women -- mostly we're seeing so far that women Republicans don't like her, but women Democrats do like her. We're not seeing a lot of -- the historical role of her candidacy has not been as helpful, I would say, as Obama's was in 2008 for him. But I don't know if that'll change as we get closer, and more people realize this would be such a big breakthrough for the country.

  • 10:42:37

    PAGEOf course a majority of the American electorate is female. So is being female an asset for Hillary Clinton, or is it a problem because of bias or because of this double standard that women sometimes face?

  • 10:42:51

    AYRESI think of all the factors that are going to determine people's votes this year, that's way down on the list. It's fascinating talking to millennial women about the gender factor in this election. They've grown up in a very different world for women in professional life. It's just not that big a deal for them, the fact that she's a woman. They're going to make their judgments based on other factors.

  • 10:43:10

    PAGEOne of the most interesting things in the polling is the problem Hillary Clinton has with younger voters, and it's not that younger voters are attracted to Trump, they're not all, a lot of them went for Sanders. Where are millennial voters, do you think, at this point, Mark?

  • 10:43:24

    MELLMANWell actually, she's doing better among younger voters at this point than Barack Obama was at this point. So I think the reality is she had trouble in the primary with younger voters, because Bernie Sanders just had much more appeal with them for a variety of reasons. But in a general election against Trump, she's going to do quite well among younger voters.

  • 10:43:44

    PAGEDo you agree with that, Whit?

  • 10:43:45

    AYRESI think given the fact that younger voters are much more likely to be non-white than older voters, and they were attracted to Bernie, but it's hard to imagine them going for Trump at this point.

  • 10:44:00

    PAGEYou know, it's interesting, in the hall over all four days, Perry, there was a lot of heckling by a handful -- a couple dozen, maybe 10 dozen Sanders delegates of Hillary Clinton -- including of Hillary Clinton and of others. Do we think -- do you think that Sanders supporters are going to line up behind Hillary Clinton?

  • 10:44:18

    BACONI mean, the data suggests they already are. I mean, we're seeing -- I think the polling is showing something like 80 percent of people who supported Sanders are with Clinton now, and I assume that number will go up as he campaigns for her, because he really, until last Monday, really hadn't. So I think that -- I think that is probably not a huge problem for her at this point.

  • 10:44:35

    PAGEHere's an email from Jan in Winter Springs, Florida, to this point. She writes, I am a Sanders supporter. I'm concerned that Clinton's agenda is not a strong enough emotional appeal to counter Trump's I am your voice. He is appealing to voters who seem to be overlooking everything else about him. Can Clinton connect with voters who feel they have been forgotten by both parties with a rational appeal?

  • 10:44:57

    PAGEI mean, Mark, is it possible that Sanders voters do find Trump appealing?

  • 10:45:01

    MELLMANNo, almost none of them find Trump appealing. But -- I that's just, I think, a simple fact. But the caller does -- or the writer does make an important point, which is Trump does have an emotional appeal. He does what -- he creates identity for people. It's we versus them. Now the them happens to be Muslims and Mexicans and all kinds of things, and the we is white men, but the reality is that is an identity formation that he's helping to create.

  • 10:45:32

    MELLMANHillary Clinton isn't doing that. He's explaining to people why they're in their -- Trump's explaining to people why they're in the circumstances they're in. That's an emotional connection, it's a leadership connection. Hillary Clinton's coming with an agenda to solve their problems. It's not as emotionally appealing, it's not as emotionally strong, but what's also emotionally strong are the negative vibes, tremendous negative vibes that Trump puts out.

  • 10:45:54

    PAGEWhy did -- why doesn't she -- why doesn't she do that?

  • 10:45:57

    MELLMANWell, I think she said it at the convention. She sweats the details. She's concerned about the policy. That's her focus, that's her interest, and that's what she does.

  • 10:46:04

    PAGELet's go to the phones and talk to Lisa. (PH) Lisa's calling us from Lansing, Michigan, one of those swing states. Lisa, hi, you're on the air.

  • 10:46:11

    LISAHi, thank you for taking my call.

  • 10:46:13

    PAGEYou bet.

  • 10:46:14

    LISAMy comment was, in effect, when I heard the panel mention Michigan being one of those states in play and potentially a winner for Trump, we have had, the last several years, our governor, who is a businessman and not a politician, and many of the problems that are going on within our state have been discussed on "The Diane Rehm Show," the situation in Detroit with the public schools, the Flint water situation. We've had money removed from our teachers' paychecks several years ago, and it's been deemed that, based on the Michigan Constitution, that that was not to be, it was illegal, if you will.

  • 10:46:56

    LISAHowever, the governor's office keeps fighting it. So there are a lot of people in this state, obviously myself included, that would really take pause at putting another person with no political experience in an office such as the president.

  • 10:47:13

    PAGELisa, interesting point, thanks so much for your call.

  • 10:47:18

    MELLMANI was going to say, you know, Trump's people say that he can win Michigan. There is no way on God's green Earth he's going to win Michigan.

  • 10:47:23

    PAGEWell, there are some Democrats in Michigan, Debbie Dingell says Democrats ought to be -- the congresswoman from Michigan says the Democrats ought to be concerned about holding Michigan.

  • 10:47:32

    MELLMANDemocrats ought to be concerned and interested, and at the end of the day Democrats are going to win it, because they're concerned and interested, but Democrats are going to win Michigan.

  • 10:47:40

    PAGEDo you think also -- would you say that flatly, Whit?

  • 10:47:42

    AYRESI think it's an uphill climb for Trump to take Michigan, as well as Wisconsin, in a presidential year. Those are states where Republicans can do pretty well in midterm elections, that is off years, but presidential years are more problematic.

  • 10:47:56

    PAGEYeah, interesting, Lisa also made the point about candidates who have run -- who brag about their lack of political experience, because they come from the business world or elsewhere. Does that still work? Is that an advantage, Perry, do you think for Donald Trump, his lack of political experience?

  • 10:48:14

    BACONI don't think so because we have not elected a president without any -- without any government experience since I guess Eisenhower. He -- you know, he obviously had government experience, just not -- military experience. I don't think it's an advantage, but I do think the electorate is very frustrated. I mean, she listed -- I mean, one thing I think is important is Hillary is running a campaign of the government can fix all these problems, and let me tell you how, and here's a list of policies.

  • 10:48:38

    BACONAnd I do think there's skepticism among the public that that's really possible, that the policy she's describing -- I think the Trump idea is we're going to blow it all up, and I'm going to come in, and I'm the one-man sort of savoir. And I do think that appeals to people in a way who feel like the system is not -- Hillary is part of the system, and the system has not worked for them.

  • 10:48:56

    PAGELet's go to another swing state, North Carolina. Mario is calling us from Raleigh. Hi Mario.

  • 10:49:00

    MARIOHey, Susan, thanks. I think you're doing a great job, and I love the program. I also think you do a nice job of having a balanced, objective panel. So I really appreciate that.

  • 10:49:10

    PAGEOh, thanks very much.

  • 10:49:12

    MARIOYou got it. A couple of weeks ago I heard a report that Trump had approached Kasich about being his possible running mate, and in the report it said that he would be the most powerful VP in history, in charge of both the domestic and foreign policy. I haven't heard anybody really bring that up after that or make a big deal out of that. I wonder if Trump really wants to govern, and I wonder why the press isn't pressing that more.

  • 10:49:47

    PAGESo Mario, thanks for your call. That was a Politico story that quoted sources close to John Kasich, who said Donald Trump -- I went back to read this because I thought it was so extraordinary. The story said that sources close to Kasich said that Donald Trump, Jr., called Kasich and said he would be in charge of domestic and foreign policy and that Kasich had said what would be in charge of, and Donald Trump, Jr., said he'd be in charge of making America great again.

  • 10:50:09

    PAGENow I've got to say Donald Trump, Jr., denied this flatly and said what am I, a meathead that I would make such an offer. So I think one reason that story hasn't gotten much currency is that you've got...

  • 10:50:20

    MELLMANAnonymous -- right.

  • 10:50:20

    PAGEAnonymous source saying one thing, and you've got an on-record source saying it didn't happen. Perry, what's your perspective?

  • 10:50:27

    BACONThat's my perspective, too, is it's like a hard -- I know people followed it up, I followed it up, but it was not a story you could easily prove, because, like I said, it was anonymous sources saying that -- John Kasich didn't quite confirm it himself, he was asked about it, too. And we don't know what -- you know, Trump has never governed before, so in some ways we don't know what his governing style would be, and it sort of requires a lot of speculation to know.

  • 10:50:49

    BACONIt's also hard to imagine even Donald Trump, as unusual as he is, it's hard to imagine he would not want to run the situation room if he were president.

  • 10:50:56

    PAGEThere is the common-sense-o-meter, which says that no president would offer to give domestic and foreign policy to his running mate.

  • 10:51:04

    MELLMANBut there is something CEOish about it in the sense that he's saying, you know, I'm going to set the -- I assume what he's saying is I'm going to set the goals, I'm going to keep people in line, I'm going to, as he says, hire the best people, and I'm going to make sure they do their job. And, you know, look, Donald Trump's not in charge of construction in his company, and he's not in charge of sales, either. He's got people to do that.

  • 10:51:25

    PAGEI'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Well, let's talk about the running mates. How important will they be? Whit, two respected political figures chosen for each ticket, Governor Pence from Indiana by Donald Trump, Senator Kaine chosen by Hillary Clinton. How much difference do they make?

  • 10:51:49

    AYRESI think both vice presidential nominees are solid and capable and competent people who could step into the Oval Office if need be. And I think they will have very, very, very little effect on the outcome. With such vivid and searing personalities as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, 99 percent of the people will make their decision based on the top of the ticket.

  • 10:52:14

    PAGEIs that always the case, or is that more so the case this year, do you think?

  • 10:52:17

    AYRESIt is usually the case, but it particularly the case this year, given the top of the ticket.

  • 10:52:23

    BACONSo some research, political science research, to suggest that VPs increase your numbers by about two percent in their home state. So if you think about it that way, Hillary I think made a pretty good pick in that if the election is close, Virginia is a swing state. If she -- if Tim Kaine brings two points, and the election's really close, that is actually a pretty useful pick.

  • 10:52:42

    BACONBut I think more importantly, these two picks both did something useful, which is they will do no harm to the ticket, is what I suspect. Yes, often the VP does not add anything. I would argue Sarah Palin took away a lot in 2008 and made herself an issue and made John McCain's judgment look bad, and I don't think either one of these picks are going to embarrass the nominee, and I think that's important.

  • 10:53:04

    PAGESo we do expect to have -- we hope to have a vice presidential debate, people have a chance to see them, and presidential debates. We're supposed to have three of them. The Commission on Presidential Debates has proposed three with dates and locations, but some question about whether we'll actually see three. Tell us what's happening on that front, Mark.

  • 10:53:20

    MELLMANWell, the Commission on Presidential Debates, which runs these things, set them up I believe a year ago, in October of 2014, 2015, I'm sorry, and they're scheduled for a particular night. Donald Trump's now saying he doesn't like the fact that they're up against a football game. I guess there are 1,000 football games that are played, and so it's hard to find a night that doesn't have a World Series, a football game, something.

  • 10:53:43

    PAGEYou think it's just an excuse to try to not debate?

  • 10:53:47

    MELLMANWell he -- he hasn't said that yet. You can certainly imagine him trying to get out of the debates on the one hand. On the other hand, he seems to think he's a pretty high-quality debater. He talks about how he beat all these other guys to a pulp, these 17 other Republican candidates on the debate stage. So I don't think in his own mind he cannot participate in a debate, because it would be an admission that he's not really good enough. And I don't think he can do that psychologically.

  • 10:54:08

    PAGEDo you -- but what, do you think it's smart for Donald Trump to try to either not do debates or maybe just do one debate instead of three?

  • 10:54:14

    AYRESI think you've got to debate. I think if you don't debate, it's a statement to the American people that you can't defend your positions or your vision for the country. So I think you've got to debate if you want to be president.

  • 10:54:25

    PAGEDid he do a pretty good job, fare pretty well in that whole series of Republican debates during the primaries, in your view?

  • 10:54:29

    AYRESIn many of them he just sort of disappeared and let other people do the debating. He survived enough to get about 40 to 45 percent of the Republican primary vote, and so in that sense you've got to say it didn't hurt him.

  • 10:54:43

    PAGEIt's hard to disappear, though, in a debate where you've got two people instead of 17 people onstage, Perry.

  • 10:54:48

    BACONI mean, the core difference will be in the primaries, the debates were often about the Muslim ban or his proposal on immigration to deport people. And the Republican candidates, knowing the electorate, the Republican electorate favored these ideas, but they -- Trump's ideas were setting the agenda, and Trump's ideas are fairly popular, and Marco Rubio didn't really agree with the Muslim ban but couldn't really get out of saying -- couldn't really forcefully say he opposed it, either.

  • 10:55:13

    BACONThese debates are now a different stage, where Hillary Clinton I'm sure will very forcefully oppose most of Donald Trump's ideas. The difference is that the issue matrix is so different, the electorate is so different, Hillary can be confident in debating Trump's idea, where I would argue Ted Cruz, Rubio, Kasich, Kasich probably was, but Rubio and Ted Cruz really were not confident debating Trump's ideas, so they were trying to attack him in the side in some ways, rather than frontally attack him.

  • 10:55:36

    PAGEHere's an email from Steve, who writes, how concerned should we be that the debates will turn into reality TV and not disciplined enough to get solid answers from Trump on issues. It seems like every time Trump is asked to be specific on an issue or how he stands, his response turns into bashing of others. Risk, is that a risk, do you think, Mark?

  • 10:55:52

    MELLMANWell look, Trump is very talented, in some ways, in doing these debates. He does control the agenda. He makes an outrageous statement or what most people perceive to be an outrageous statement, he offers a crazy policy like the Muslim ban, and it does dominate the discussion, it dominates the debate, it dominates the coverage afterwards. So he is very good at alluding -- very talented at eluding the tough questions, but in doing so he actually controls the dialogue.

  • 10:56:21

    PAGEWhat do you think, Whit? I mean, that would be a recipe for maybe success in the debates. And one thing Donald Trump says is if they have a debate, the ratings are going to be really high. I bet that's true.

  • 10:56:34

    AYRESI bet it's true, as well. As Dan Balz, a very fine political reporter for the Washington Post, said, Trump uses disruption as a strategic force. And I think that's the key to the way he dominates the agenda, as Mark said. He uses something that he says that no one else would say and then all of a sudden the debate is about him.

  • 10:56:57

    PAGEPerry, we'll give you the last word.

  • 10:56:57

    BACONLet's not pretend here, debates are reality TV. They're not really a forum -- if you want to know what Hillary stands on an issue, you could go to her website or listen to her speeches. Debates are reality TV, and I would argue they're going to be challenging for her, because they're not really about substance or knowledge, they're about sort of acting like you are tough and strong and so on. So it's going to be a challenge for her because Trump is good at acting in some ways, and she did not run a TV show for years.

  • 10:57:21

    PAGEPerry Bacon from NBC and Mark Mellman and Whit Ayres. Thanks so much for joining us this hour on the Diane Rehm Show.

  • 10:57:28

    AYRESThank you.

  • 10:57:29

    MELLMANThank you.

  • 10:57:29

    BACONThank you.

  • 10:57:29

    PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. She'll be back tomorrow. Thanks for listening.

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