Guest Host: Michel Martin

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton speak at events last week.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton speak at events last week.

Most political scientists say presidential debates don’t matter as much as we think they do in terms of their ability to change the outcome of the race. But history is rife with face-offs that allegedly decided elections: The debate between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960. And Ronald Reagan’s famous ‘there you go again’ line in his clash with President Jimmy Carter in 1980. And one week from today, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will take the stage in what many are predicting will be the most-watched debate ever. Guest host Michel Martin and a panel of guests discuss the first presidential debate, the issues likely to be discussed and what it could mean for the dynamics of the race for the White House. And we’ll also hear from Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein on being left out of the upcoming debate.


  • Frank Sesno Director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at the George Washington University, host of Planet Forward.
  • Perry Bacon Senior political reporter, NBC News
  • Clarence Lusane Chair of the political science department, Howard University
  • Elizabeth Sherman Professor of government, American University; founder of the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts Boston
  • Gary Johnson Libertarian Party presidential nominee; former governor of New Mexico (1995 - 2003)


  • 10:06:54

    MS. MICHEL MARTINThank you for joining us. I'm Michel Martin of NPR sitting in for Diane Rehm. One week from today, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will square off in what some are saying could be the most watched presidential debate in history. National polls show a dead heat between Clinton and Trump, making the stakes even higher.

  • 10:07:12

    MS. MICHEL MARTINJoining me in the studio to preview the first presidential debate of the season, which issues will be discussed and how it might affect the rest of the race, Frank Sesno of the George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs, Perry Bacon of NBC News, Elizabeth Sherman of American University and Clarence Lusane of Howard University.

  • 10:07:30

    MS. MICHEL MARTINLater on in the program, we expect to hear from the Libertarian party's nominee for president, Gary Johnson. We also hope to hear from Green Party nominee, Jill Stein, and get their reaction to being left out of the debate next Monday. But we want to take a few minutes to talk about the news of the weekend. As you must know by now, there were improvised explosive devices found in New York. A bomb went off in New York.

  • 10:14:23

    MS. MICHEL MARTINAll right. Let's turn now to the subjects we're going to spend most of our hour discussing, which is the debates next week. How excited are we about all of this? I see some shaking heads yes, so very excited. Some people seeming a little, I don't know, resigned. I don't know, Perry, you don't seem as excited about this as I thought you would be, so.

  • 10:14:42

    MR. PERRY BACONI think they'll be interesting. I'm not sure -- I mean, what we found was that we had a whole series of debates during the Republican primary that didn't necessarily move the electorate that much. And to be honest with you, did not result in a lot of new knowledge about the candidates. So I'm a little nervous that Mr. Trump particularly is good at, like, using a lot of words and not saying a lot so that might be -- we might find that again in these debates is my suspicion.

  • 10:15:04

    MARTINWell, set the table for us. Remind us where the first debate will take place, who will be moderating and are there any interesting things about the details that you want to tell us about.

  • 10:15:14

    BACONSeptember 26th, so next Monday. It's at Hofstra University in New York. The first debate will be from 9:00 to 10:30 with no commercials, which will be great. If you remember, the primary debates were full of commercials so it will be a nice break. And then, Lester Holt of NBC will be the moderator. Other big factor, of course, is that Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, despite doing very, you know, doing better than third party candidates did in the past, the debates commission set up a threshold of 15 percent to be in the debate.

  • 10:15:44

    BACONSo neither Stein or Johnson are in these debates. One interesting detail I learned over the weekend is that, I guess, these -- this 50 percent threshold be reevaluated for the third and fourth debates. So if Johnson -- so if Trump and Hillary do so poorly that people want to vote for other people, then Johnson could -- Johnson and Stein could make the third and fourth debates.

  • 10:16:02

    MARTINAnd who gets to decide that? Does the commission have sole control over that?

  • 10:16:05

    BACONThe commission has control over that and they use a -- they average out five polls from some of the biggest news organizations in the country.

  • 10:16:11

    MARTINFrank, you said you were very excited about this. How important is this first debate and why are you so excited? Because you just think it's going to be interesting or you just...

  • 10:16:18

    MR. FRANK SESNOI'm -- it's going to be interesting. It's gigantically important and I was struck by something that the president said the other day. He was addressing a crowd and he said, you mind if I just vent for a second? He was -- he said, I'm no relieved that this whole birther thing is over. I mean, ISIL, North Korea, poverty, climate change, none of those things weigh on me like the validity of my birth certificate. What we will see at this debate -- and the stakes are raised and we are reminded of them today in the conversation you just had with Peter Bergen, is there are real issues, serious issues, complicated issues that have been glossed over, skimmed over by both the candidates and the media up until now.

  • 10:16:57

    MR. FRANK SESNOAnd it is my hope and totally my expectation that that's not going to happen at the debate and these candidates are going to be forced to, one, drill down, and two, confront one another. That is going to be huge. It could be the largest television event in American history.

  • 10:17:11

    MARTINElizabeth, very briefly, before we need to take a break, are you excited about it and how important is this to you?

  • 10:17:14

    MS. ELIZABETH SHERMANOh, you know, I think this debate is going to be absolutely huge, especially for Hillary because she made a decision a while ago that she was going to go negative. I think in this debate she's got to have a very clear message. She's got to show her positions on the issues. I don't think it's enough just to say that Donald Trump is unfit or, you know, temperamentally not capable of being president. She's got to show exactly what her plans are and go there.

  • 10:17:41

    MARTINWe need to take a short break, but when we come back, we'll have more conversation about this upcoming first presidential debate and we do expect to hear from the two candidates who will not be on that stage. We want to hear what they have to say. We hope you'll stay with us. This is "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 10:20:02

    MARTINWelcome back. I'm Michel Martin, the host of the weekend edition of All Things Considered on NPR, sitting in for Diane Rehm. We're back with our conversation about the first presidential debate. It's coming up next Monday, a week from today. Clarence Lusane of Howard University, we didn't hear from you. How critical are these debates to the dynamics of a presidential race? Do they really affect voters?

  • 10:20:23

    MR. CLARENCE LUSANEWell, in the past there's been a lot of research that shows that debates don't necessarily move the needle because often by the time you get to the debates, the situation is baked in. This debate, though, I think will be central not because it will necessarily move voters in one direction into another direction but whether it really enthuses the bases of these candidates. And so the challenge for Hillary, as well as for Donald Trump, is that -- are they going to come out of this debate with their base saying, yeah, we really do need to get out and get our person in there.

  • 10:20:54

    MR. CLARENCE LUSANEAnd so in that sense I think it's very exciting, and also for the first time, this is really Donald Trump's initial debate. It really wasn't a debate during the Republican primaries.

  • 10:21:05

    MARTINWhy do you say?

  • 10:21:07

    LUSANEBecause it was often very much posturing, you had nine, 10 people on stage, there was not a lot of back and forth, and there was very little room for substantive rebuttal on the part of the other person. In this particular structure, both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will have opportunities and have some substantial time to go back and forth and really kind of dig into where the candidates on -- in their positions on a range of issues.

  • 10:21:32

    MARTINFrank Sesno?

  • 10:21:32

    SESNOAnd Michel, if I can drill down on that just a bit, a term I use too much, so I'll stop, but the Presidential Debates Commission designed this to do just that, to try to create 15-minute blocks where the moderator, Lester Holt, can take an issue, whether it's the deficit or poverty or whatever, ISIS or whatever it's going to be, and hover on that issue, and they're -- they don't have instructions to the moderator, but their guidance to the moderator and to the country is they want these candidates to engage one another. That's the other big difference from the primary debates, where there was a cast of 1,000 characters out there, or so it seemed, and there were dueling news...

  • 10:22:05

    MARTINBut they still engaged each other quite a bit. I think people will recall that there were some exchanges, which perhaps were not as edifying as we might like but had their own news value in terms of exploring the different personalities at play, let's put it that way.

  • 10:22:17

    SESNOSure, they were exchanges, but they were neither edifying, nor were they focused, nor were they sustained because there were so many candidates up there. Just that by itself detracted from the exchange.

  • 10:22:27

    MARTINI'd like to ask which of these candidates has the greater challenge, particularly as we have seen the polls close. I mean, on the one hand we have to say, you know, people say, well, Hillary Clinton has to reintroduce herself to the public, and for people who have already hardened their perceptions of her, people -- she needs to persuade them to give her a fresh look. A lot of people say that Donald Trump has to establish that he has the credentials to be president because you see that the current -- a lot of the news in recent weeks has been people -- people from his own political party saying -- I'm thinking particularly here of the CIA director, former CIA director Robert Gates, saying he does not -- he is not qualified.

  • 10:23:01

    MARTINAnd in fact that's one of the Hillary Clinton advertisements is members of his own party saying he's not qualified. So I'd like to ask each of you, which of these candidates do you think has the greater challenge? Elizabeth, do you want to start?

  • 10:23:11

    SHERMANOh, I think that Hillary Clinton definitely has the biggest challenge. I mean obviously she has so many negatives about the emails and about the server and about her high negatives, and I think to the extent that she can, she's going to try and turn that around and show herself to be likeable, to have a personality that can, you know, relate to people and actually convince them that she's going to be not just a great president but that she'll be a wonderful commander in chief. I mean obviously the first...

  • 10:23:41

    MARTINI'm told Donald Trump has some negatives, too. I could have that wrong, but I'm told he has a few, I don't know.

  • 10:23:46

    SESNOOne or two.

  • 10:23:46

    SHERMANWell, he does have some negatives, but the thing about Donald Trump is that I think what you see is what you get. And everybody knows what his message is, everybody knows what -- you know, like it or not, everybody knows -- you know, he's very, very clear on the issues, and we know about his personality. And as you said before with this issue of homegrown terrorism, you know, people might be looking for a strongman, a Hercules to come in and clean out the stables.

  • 10:24:12

    MARTINOther thoughts on this, who has the greater challenge, Clarence Lusane?

  • 10:24:16

    LUSANEYeah, I think they both have challenges that -- just they're different challenges. Hillary's challenge is getting her base out. You know, what the polls are showing is that people are willing to vote for her, they're just not enthused, and what she's going to need, because this is going to be a turnout election, it's going to base who's going to get their people out on election day, particularly in the swing states. So Hillary really has that challenge.

  • 10:24:35

    LUSANEDonald Trump has a challenge to prove that he's presidential. I don't think he can do that, but, you know, I think that's part of what he is going to be wrestling with, and what we've seen over the last month or two, as he's been back and forth with his sort of soft Donald Trump, crazy Donald Trump.

  • 10:24:51

    MARTINIs that -- is that a challenge to prove that he's presidential? Has that -- has that been a criterion for people?

  • 10:24:57

    LUSANEYes, certainly I think so.

  • 10:24:58

    MARTINI mean, it's a standard for the people who -- who are authorities in their field, people like, you know, like...

  • 10:25:06

    LUSANEParticularly suburban women who as the critical constituency for Donald Trump to win, they do not like his temperament, increasingly the educated college women do not like where he's at on issues. So he really does have a challenge around a key constituency that he needs in order to win.

  • 10:25:24

    MARTINFrank Sesno?

  • 10:25:26

    SESNOThey both have enormous challenges and enormous expectations that they need to deal with. For Donald Trump, he's sort of playing a little bit here the role of Ronald Reagan in 1980. People may not remember this, especially amid all the hagiography about Ronald Reagan, but he was viewed with great derision, actually, as a candidate until 1980 in that debate. And he came in, and he wasn't drooling, and he didn't seem a threat, and he said there you go again to Jimmy Carter, and suddenly there was a kind of a congealing of his support, and he won profoundly.

  • 10:25:57

    SESNODonald Trump has been trying over the last several weeks to tone down his rhetoric, to speak from a teleprompter and to somehow send signals that he is presidential. He will be doing that, or one would expect that he is doing that, in the debate. One will be looking very closely, and Hillary Clinton will be pushing him, I'm sure, to see if he goes to the Donald Trump that has been the unpredictable and untested Donald Trump.

  • 10:26:16

    SESNOShe has to just -- you know, she has to engage her audience. She has to get them out and excited.

  • 10:26:22

    MARTINPerry, do you want to add on something on this?

  • 10:26:24

    BACONI will say in a very simple way it's harder for Donald Trump only because Hillary Clinton has been first lady, senator, secretary of state. In terms of just this is a discussion for 90 minutes about government policy, just in and of itself, is going to be challenging. Donald Trump has the challenge of having just not that much experience in government policy. I think their -- Hillary is going to know the answers to more questions initially than Donald Trump, which is very simple because of the experience level.

  • 10:26:47

    MARTINBut I am interested, Elizabeth Sherman, maybe you want to address this, how gender dynamics will play a role in this.

  • 10:26:53


  • 10:26:55

    MARTINBecause on the one hand, you recall that in the 2008 election, you know, Joe Biden, then vice presidential candidate Joe Biden was cautioned not to be too mean to the vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, because it would be perceived to be a turnoff, and clearly she did not feel such inhibition. On the other hand, when Hillary Clinton does assert herself, she is perceived as too aggressive. You constantly hear people say oh, she's shrill, she's shrill.

  • 10:27:19

    MARTINAnd I just wanted to ask how -- how you think the gender dynamics will play here.

  • 10:27:23

    SHERMANWell, you know, I think the gender dynamics are so tough because we're dealing not just with, you know, the recent past, I mean, we're dealing with millennia of cultural stereotypes about men and women in politics. And of course to have someone who is seriously a candidate for president is bringing up all kinds of issues about what is the proper role of women in society. So people are going to be wondering about that, and, you know, there's some negativity regarding her gender.

  • 10:27:50

    SHERMANIs she stepping out of the woman's role? On his side, I think we have seen that he can't be too aggressive. That certainly didn't work with Carly Fiorina. He was able to, you know, take a personal attack against all his other -- all his other male opponents, like, you know, Little Marco and, you know, Lyin' Ted or whatever he was saying. But when he went after Carly Fiorina and started saying do you want to be looking at her face for the next four years, I mean, people recoiled at that. They thought, well, this is an unbelievable personal attack.

  • 10:28:25

    SHERMANYou know, he's really gone the low road. And I think she's going to have to go the high road, and if he goes after tooth and claw, I think that's going to hurt him.

  • 10:28:35

    MARTINDoes anybody -- go ahead, Frank, do you want to add to that?

  • 10:28:37

    SESNOI do because I think -- I found this quote that I just think is so amazing, and it's from Jane Goodall, the great anthropologist, and she's quoted in Jim Fallows' piece.

  • 10:28:46

    MARTINInteresting choice of expertise to call upon for a debate question, okay.

  • 10:28:50

    SESNORight, right, and so Fallows talks to her, and she says, in many ways the performance of Donald Trump reminds me of male chimpanzees in their dominance rituals. In order to impress rivals, males seeking to rise in the dominance hierarchy perform spectacular displays, stamping, slapping the ground, dragging branches, throwing rocks. The more vigorous and imaginative display, the faster the individual is likely to rise in the hierarchy and the longer he's likely to maintain that position.

  • 10:29:13

    SESNOThat's her explanation, largely, of what happened through the Republican primary process. What happens if he does that with the nation watching and a woman standing next to him? How do women react to that? How do men react to that? Is that actually going to be what's unfolding?

  • 10:29:28

    MARTINI think because it's important to remember that the Republican primary electorate is different from the general election.

  • 10:29:34

    SESNOWell, the whole -- and the process is different, and expectations are different.

  • 10:29:37

    MARTINClarence Lusane?

  • 10:29:38

    LUSANEYeah, just on this -- this exact last point, so there's also an issue around expectations, and one of the things that's different, and as Perry points out with Hillary Clinton's vast experience, there's an assumption that she can get tougher questions, she can get more in-depth kind of questions. Right now all Donald Trump has to do is not fall on his face on the stage, and they're already spinning as he's presidential, he's been successful, he survived.

  • 10:30:02

    LUSANEAnd so there's going to be, I think at least from the audience part, at least from some of us, looking at all also how the questions are generated and delivered and responded to by the moderator and by each other candidates.

  • 10:30:19

    MARTINI want to talk a little bit more about that as the hour goes on, the challenge of the moderator at a time like this. Could we all just agree that no matter what he does, somebody's going to be mad?

  • 10:30:28

    SESNOOh yeah, many somebodies.

  • 10:30:30


  • 10:30:32

    MARTINSomeone is going to be angry. So I'm going to be really interested, particularly those of you who have had that experience yourselves of having to formulate those kinds of questions to sit in that seat, how you would be preparing at a time like this, how you would handle a situation like this, which is -- which is really truly extraordinary. Perry, do you want to add anything about this in terms of the challenge for either side? Does anybody want to defend the notion that actually Donald Trump has a harder job because he both has to sort of address his tone, which has not been very appreciated by key demographics so far, particularly women, and also demonstrate that he is competent without alienating the people who like him just the way he is?

  • 10:31:11

    BACONHe did pretty well in those debate we had in the Republican nomination process, and I assume -- he seems like he's thinking about this already. I assume his decision to address the birther issue finally and to say he believes Obama was born in the United States was a way to avoid that being a focus of the debate. I do think that was already a primo move. He's aware that he has these obvious vulnerabilities, and I think he addressed one on Friday.

  • 10:31:37

    SESNOWe love talking about this stuff, if I may, but I think the real test for Trump, and this is where it's much harder for him, is when we get down to the issues. All right, so if Lester Holt triggers a conversation about climate change, what is he going to say? How is he going to respond to the science of climate change and where investments should be or shouldn't be, what renewable energy should be invested in, what we should do with fossil fuels, do we go back to coal.

  • 10:31:57

    SESNOI mean, this is where we're going to see, I hope, a lot of the focus into and out of these debates.

  • 10:32:02

    MARTINLet me just pause briefly to say that I'm Michel Martin, and you are listening to the Diane Rehm Show. And if you would like to join us, you can call, 1-800-433-8850. You can send an email to You can find us on Facebook. You can send us a tweet. And we're hoping to be joined now by somebody who will not be on the debate stage next week and would like to be. Joining us from Los Angeles, California, is Gary Johnson. He's the Libertarian Party's nominee for president. He is the former governor of New Mexico. He served from 1995 to 2003. He's a two-time candidate for president. He ran for president before on the Libertarian line. Welcome to the Diane Rehm Show, Governor Johnson.

  • 10:32:47

    MR. GARY JOHNSONMichel, great to be with you. You know, I just wanted to point out it really is a surprise to me, Perot was actually polling less than I am right now when he was -- when he was granted admission into the first presidential debate that he did.

  • 10:33:03

    MARTINYes, I understand that this has been a point that you have been pressing throughout the weekend. So I understand that you got the word on Friday that you wouldn't be allowed to participate in next Monday's first presidential debate. The members of the commission have said that there has to be some threshold. What do you think the threshold should be?

  • 10:33:18

    JOHNSONWell, I think it's -- I think that it should be that you're on the ballot in all 50 states, the notion that you could actually garner 270 electoral votes. That would also include the Green Party. But Presidential Debate Commission, Republicans, Democrats, with no intention whatsoever of seeing anyone other than a Democrat or a Republican onstage. So threshold, gee, Ross Perot at one point was actually leading the presidential race when it came to the polls until all the debacle happened that he dropped -- I never could follow....

  • 10:33:54

    MARTINI understand, Governor, you've made this point throughout the weekend, so I'd like to see if we can address some other issues. You knew that the threshold was 15 percent a year ago, the commission made that point a year ago, before you even started your campaign. Presumably you were thinking about it, you are an experienced candidate, you've run before. Couldn't we argue this was a failure of organization on your part?

  • 10:34:12

    JOHNSONNo, what you could argue is that not in one single national poll has my name appeared on the top line, Johnson, Trump, Clinton. I maintain that if Mickey Mouse were the third name in any presidential poll on the top line that Mickey would be polling at 30 percent, Mickey's a known commodity, but Mickey's not on the ballot in all 50 states.

  • 10:34:36

    MARTINYou think the voters are really that shallow, it's all about ballot position?

  • 10:34:40

    JOHNSONWell, by ballot position, 100 percent of the media reports the top line. I was just listening to you all talk. I mean, it's a two-person race. For the United States, it's a two-person race. So no problem with the 15 percent, but how about a fairness that, gee, if you're on the ballot in all 50 states, if you could actually be elected president, how about just being reported on the top line?

  • 10:35:03

    MARTINOkay, Governor, before...

  • 10:35:04

    JOHNSONSomething that hasn't happened.

  • 10:35:04

    MARTINBefore we let you go, you're not going to have a chance to make your opening statement next week, and I do not want to invite you to filibuster, but I do want to give you the opportunity to say what would be your introduction to the American people, for the people who haven't had a chance to hear your message from you directly. Just give me a couple of lines, if you would.

  • 10:35:21

    JOHNSONWell that I do think myself and Bill Weld do represent the majority of Americans, the majority of Americans being small government, less taxes, less money out of your pocket, meaning you can spend it on your life, that we should -- that we always come down on the side of choice, personal freedom and liberty. All of us should be able to make personal choices in our own lives as long as those choices don't put other people in harm's way.

  • 10:35:47

    JOHNSONWe're also skeptical when it comes to our military intervention. We're skeptical that when we involve ourselves in regime change that it results in a less safe world, not a more safe world, and I'm talking now about Iraq and Syria and Libya. And then we're the free markets guys. Free market is devoid of government interference. Government interference is pay to play. Government interference is crony capitalism. How's that?

  • 10:36:13

    MARTINAll right, Governor, thank you so much. Frank Sesno, our colleague, the director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University, has a brief question for you before we let you go.

  • 10:36:23

    JOHNSONSure, sure.

  • 10:36:24

    MARTINAnd I do want to mention that we had hoped to have the Green Party nominee, Dr. Jill Stein, join us, as well. Her flight is delayed. I just wanted to let people know this is not a lack of fairness on our part. It's simply that we have not been able to reach her because of the travel plans for the day.

  • 10:36:35

    JOHNSONLack of fairness, I like that.

  • 10:36:38

    MARTINBut Frank Sesno, what do you -- what's your question for Governor Johnson? Governor Johnson, this is your time.

  • 10:36:40

    SESNOGovernor, I'm delighted to ask you a question, I would do this. If you were up on the stage with those two other individuals, what would you say directly to them as to -- and to the American people in particular, that would prompt people to defect from them and go to you?

  • 10:36:55

    JOHNSONWell, the pitch is that does anybody believe that the polarization that currently exists is going to get any better given that Trump or Clinton getting elected? I don't think anybody believes that Democrats and Republicans are going to come together. I think they're out to kill one another. So how about a third scenario, electing a couple of former Republican governors, Michel, if you want me off the air, just let me know.

  • 10:37:22

    MARTINOkay, we're going to let you know. That's what that music is all about. That's the former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson. He's a presidential candidate on the Libertarian ticket. Governor, we really appreciate your joining us. Thank you so much. We hope you'll stay with us. This is "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 10:40:01

    MARTINWelcome back, I'm Michel Martin, host of the Weekend Edition of "All Things Considered" on NPR sitting in for Diane Rehm. And I'm back with our guest. We're talking about this first Presidential debate of this year with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. We just heard from the former Governor of New Mexico, the former Republican Governor of New Mexico, Gary Johnson, the Libertarian nominee. He will not be invited to join the debate stage. We'd also hoped to hear from Green Party nominee Dr. Jill Stein, but she is delayed.

  • 10:40:26

    MARTINHer travel plans have made that not possible. But we're going to continue our conversation with Frank Sesno. He's the Director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at the George Washington University. He's also the host of Planet Forward. Perry Bacon is the Senior Political Reporter at NBC News. Elizabeth Sherman is Professor Government at American University, founder of the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

  • 10:40:50

    MARTINShe's written extensively on women in politics. And Clarence Lusane is Chair of the Political Science Department at Howard University. And we are glad to have all of you with us as well. Let's talk about the challenge for Lester Holt, who is the moderator of the first debate. What do we, what do we hope that he will do?

  • 10:41:11

    LUSANEWell, hopefully he will keep the candidates on point. One of the things that we witness in these debates, and it was certainly the case in the Republican debates, is that a question would be asked and then the candidates would pretty much talk about whatever they wanted. And so, it's going to be critical that there's a strong moderator that says no, let's kind of get back to where we really want the question kind of to focus on. So, that's going to be one of the issues.

  • 10:41:34

    LUSANEOne of the debate -- one of the issues that came up, of course, recently, was when the last meeting between -- when Bill -- when, I'm sorry, when Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both won the MSNBC sort of, kind of, half debate.

  • 10:41:52

    SHERMANCommander in Chiefs Forum was to address issues of national security.

  • 10:41:53

    LUSANECommander in Chief Forum. Right. And there was criticism that, you know, that both of the candidates, but particularly Donald Trump, was there -- able to get away with what were just obvious lies. And so, one of the things that will be looked at in this debate is will the moderator intervene and say that, you know, that's just factually not true. And you need to address that.

  • 10:42:16

    MARTINYou know, it's interesting that I have two emails on that very point. I have an email from Pat in Michigan who writes, the greatest challenge is to Lester Holt. The folks on the panel are speaking as if these will be standard debates. Not going to happen. It's going to be Donald Trump as usual, not answering questions and going off on his own. Hillary Clinton will be challenged to stay on message and not respond to Donald Trump's antics. And we have another email from Nancy.

  • 10:42:37

    MARTINWho says my greatest fear is that the moderator will allow Trump to get away with not answering questions. He repeatedly fabricates and generalizes and cannot be allowed to do so next Monday. How do we get the message to the moderator that he needs to be prepared? I think he probably knows that.

  • 10:42:51

    BACONI think he's aware to be prepared.

  • 10:42:52

    MARTINThat part, I think he's aware, Perry. I think he's -- Frank Sesno, you have been in that chair. You've had, you've been a participant in forums like this.

  • 10:43:01

    SESNONot presidential debates, but yes.

  • 10:43:02

    MARTINNot presidential debates.

  • 10:43:04

    SESNOLots of, yes.

  • 10:43:04

    MARTINDo you see it as your job to fact check in real time? I mean, how do you see the job?

  • 10:43:10

    SESNOAbsolutely not. Absolutely...

  • 10:43:12

    MARTINYou did not see that as your job.

  • 10:43:12, no.

  • 10:43:13

    MARTINWhat did you see as your job?

  • 10:43:13

    SESNOWell, look, the job of the moderator has to be, especially in this debate, but in really, it should be in any presidential debate, it -- you need to know the facts so you know when someone goes off the reservation. But then your job is if the candidate, the other candidate doesn't pick it up, you steer it back to that other candidate. The most important thing that's going to happen at this debate is for the American public, for the world to see these two candidates going head to head.

  • 10:43:35

    SESNOOnce the moderator starts getting involved, then the moderator becomes part of the news, becomes part of the event. That's not what the Debate Commission wants, that's not what a moderator should want. The moderator -- Lester has to identify great questions that are specific. He has to identify the follow ups. He has to play chess with himself. Where are the candidates likely to go? What are the four follow up questions likely to be that I need to draw them out? And then he needs to listen like crazy when he's up there to be sure that they are really engaging one another.

  • 10:44:09

    MARTINPerry, do you find that there is a disconnect between what the audience says that they want and what the news people -- I'm speaking more broadly about how -- how the media has approached this campaign overall. And we could spend an entire hour or two or three just on that. I recognize that, but, but do you feel that there is a disconnect between the way that journalists are approaching these jobs and what the audience says they want?

  • 10:44:32

    BACONI think there is. I mean, just what Frank said, I've heard a lot of people I've talked to say the moderator's job is to fact check, is to make sure, particularly liberals feel like Trump gets away with things, and they want to see a moderator fact check. A lot of the journal -- I know Chris Wallace, who's hosting the third debate said this, my role is not fact check. He sort of said what Frank said. The candidates should fact check each other. So, I do think there's a big disconnect here.

  • 10:44:58

    BACONAnd it's accentuated by the fact that Trump, if you watched him in the Republican debates, if you tried to pin him down on how the Muslim ban really worked, how his deportation plan really worked, does he still have that plan? Trump is, you know, like he's now saying Hillary started the birther idea. It is really hard to pin down Trump and get him to concede details and get him to talk in -- like, Frank says, he's, I disagree with Frank a little bit. He's been saying he thinks these debates will give us a lot of, a lot more detail about the candidates' policy plans.

  • 10:45:30

    BACONI suspect that won't happen, because Donald Trump is very good at not revealing such questions. And even in sustained interrogations, often does not do that. And so, the moderator's challenge to draw Donald Trump out, but if a candidate does not want to be drawn out, you're not going to -- I don't think Donald Trump is going to explain his Muslim plan -- Muslim ban plan in great detail because he doesn't want to.

  • 10:45:51

    SESNOI'm not predicting that he will do that.

  • 10:45:52

    BACONOkay, sorry.

  • 10:45:52

    SESNOI'm predicting that the focus will be on him -- as to whether he does that.

  • 10:45:56

    BACONHe does it. That's true.

  • 10:45:56

    SESNOAnd the challenge for Hillary Clinton, as well as the moderator, is to challenge him to do that. And then the public will decide. By the way, I am not suggesting that the moderator should be agnostic and out of it in terms of fact checking. You have as much knowledge in your head as you can. The trick is to take -- if you hear something from either candidate that's off the rails, and turn it back to the other candidate for response.

  • 10:46:18

    MARTINWhat would be wrong with the moderator fact checking, because you...

  • 10:46:21

    SESNOBecause you can't fact check everything, because you can't fact check in real time, necessarily. Because if somebody says we have 233 destroyers and it's 234, how do you -- you know, where do you check, fact check? What is the threshold? The job is to know enough -- you have to be very informed and then use that with -- between the two of them.

  • 10:46:38

    MARTINIt's interesting that Donald Trump has called for there to be no debate moderator and he actually boycotted a primary debate. I think everybody remembers this whose been following this, because he was unhappy with the inclusion of Fox News host Megyn Kelly as a moderator. Elizabeth.

  • 10:46:53

    SHERMANYou know, I think that Lester Holt is just going to have to play it straight. Because Donald Trump has already cast doubt on the media. He's already said that they're biased against him and, you know, that's a very easy card to play, because most people don't trust the media.

  • 10:47:11

    MARTINWhat does it mean to play it straight in this context?

  • 10:47:13

    SHERMANI think that he's not going to be able to fact check anything that Donald Trump says, because as we saw with Candy Crowley when she fact checked something that Mitt Romney said, you know, she was heavily criticized for favoring Obama. Even though what she said was absolutely accurate. I mean, she told Mitt Romney that, you know, some of the things he was saying were actually not true. And that really gave him an opportunity to say the media is biased against the Republican candidate.

  • 10:47:42

    MARTINClarence Lusane.

  • 10:47:43

    LUSANEYeah, I think Frank is right. You can't fact check, but what's going to be critical is how the questions are structured. And within framing and structuring the questions, that's the opportunity to box it in so that the facts are laid out. Now, then the candidate may want to then oppose that, but that's the way you get in the framing of the question so that you make sure that the candidate can't wiggle -- you limit the wiggle room for the candidate.

  • 10:48:11

    MARTINLet's, let's go to some callers now, because I think a lot of people would like to participate in this conversation. They don't necessarily have opinions about the way the debate should be structured, but they do have feelings about what they would like to see or what they would like to hear. So, let's go to Hammish in Sycamore, Illinois. Hammish, are you with us?

  • 10:48:26

    HAMMISHYes, I am. Thank you.

  • 10:48:28

    MARTINWhat are your thoughts about this?

  • 10:48:29

    HAMMISHHammish, yeah.

  • 10:48:30

    MARTINThanks for joining us.

  • 10:48:31

    HAMMISHThank you for taking my call. Personally, I feel we're paying too much attention to the polls and not enough attention to the candidates themselves. And we're letting the polls decide for us what we're going to -- what we should -- who we should vote for. As far as the debates are concerned, if a person, regardless of the party, has enough votes, or signatures to get on a ballot, then that person should be entitled to any news coverage and all news coverage and all debates. Because if they -- even if they only have two percent, by the end of the debate, they could have 15, 20 percent.

  • 10:49:18

    MARTINOkay, Hammish, thanks so much for joining us. Let's go to Margarita whose in Tampa, Florida. Margarita, how are you? Thank you so much for joining us.

  • 10:49:27

    MARGARITAGood. Thank you. Thank you for taking my call.

  • 10:49:30

    MARTINWhat's on your mind? What do you think? First of all, can I ask you, are you looking forward to the debates? Are you going to watch?

  • 10:49:34

    MARGARITAYes, we are going to watch.

  • 10:49:37


  • 10:49:37

    MARGARITAWe are looking forward to it and my just -- my concern, my disbelief is how we're trying to teach our kids, I have a nine-year-old daughter, and we're raising them not to be bullies and not to treat people with disrespect and to be kind. And here we are with a Presidential candidate that does the total opposite on national TV for the whole world to see. And that just, like, it just hits, you know, close to home for me, because I have a daughter and I want to teach her that that's not right. She shouldn't take someone that treats her that way. That's not the proper way to be.

  • 10:50:08

    MARTINCan I, can I ask you this, Margarita?

  • 10:50:10

    MARGARITAAnd people are voting for him -- I'm sorry?

  • 10:50:11

    MARTINI was going to ask you, will you let your daughter watch the debates?

  • 10:50:14

    MARGARITAYes, and she -- we listen to NPR all the time. So she's, like, we always listen to a lot of the shows that you have about the debates, so she's up -- you know, she's formed her own opinion and we do listen to it. And she'll, every now and again, she'll like speak out and say different things. But just to have that, and how he's so disrespectful. And I think a lot of people are voting, or support him because oh, he's saying some things, but really, can we really walk around and talk to people that way? You really can't.

  • 10:50:43

    MARGARITAI mean, logically, you can't, because we have to be conscious of one another and respectful. And you can't have a President that goes off on tangents and just disrespects everyone with no regard for anything.

  • 10:50:53

    MARTINOkay, Margarita, before I let you go and I know you have to go soon, but it sounds to me that you've already made up your mind, that you are a Clinton supporter. Fair assumption?

  • 10:51:02

    MARGARITAFair assumption, and I understand that all politicians, you know, they lie, they want your support. But there is just some ethics involved into it too. Like your beliefs, your morals.

  • 10:51:13

    MARTINOkay, I just was asking since you've already made up your mind, what is it that you're going to be looking for in the debates?

  • 10:51:18

    MARGARITAI'm going to be looking for them to -- what you guys are saying, to fact check, to point him out on the things that he's saying, because a lot of supporters, they just listen to it. But a lot of the things that he's saying are lies. And they don't check on what he's saying and what he's, you know, so I just want it to be more where they're drilling him for real answers, because he really hasn't given any real answers.

  • 10:51:37

    MARTINAll right. That's Margarita. She's calling us from Tampa, Florida. Margarita, thanks so much for joining us. I just need to take a brief pause to say that I'm Michel Martin and you are listening to the Diane Rehm Show. And we're back. Perry Bacon, you wanted to say something.

  • 10:51:51

    BACONWhat the caller just said was worrisome to me and I think we're getting a lot of the -- you asked her what does she want to see from the debate and she -- her answer was, I want to hear the moderator call out Donald Trump for his lies. That, I think, is what I'm hearing a lot right now is that the moderator can't succeed if the goal is for the moderator to attack the other candidate really sharply. And I'm worried that we're in this environment now to where, you know, 90 percent of people have already decided who they're voting for.

  • 10:52:17

    BACONAnd they're not really -- they're looking for more confirmation and they're also looking to see the moderator take it to the other guy. And I'm a little bit -- particularly, I think the left is doing a smart thing. The right has always been very the media is biased. But now, I think an important thing has happened these last few weeks where the left has said, we're going to push the media too and try to make it -- and they're going to push the media to be more critical of Trump. I think it's smart, but I think it makes Lester Holt's job, or any moderator's job, almost impossible.

  • 10:52:45

    BACONAnd you're doomed to fail before you start because people are looking for you to play a role you're not, you're not interested in playing.

  • 10:52:51

    SESNOWhat I hear Perry, what you're saying, and I hear it with a lot of voters on both sides, is I want these candidates held to account. I hear the people who are anti-Clinton say that as well as I hear the people who are anti-Trump. And so the issue is whether it's the moderator in direct questions saying no, that's not true. Or the moderator taking something that's been out there and controversial or debated and turning it to the two candidates for them to engage. That onstage accountability, wherever it comes from, I think is what the caller was saying and what many other people are saying. Some want the moderator to do it. It just has to happen.

  • 10:53:25

    BACONHave two candidates ever been held in more account? I mean, the coverage of these people has been extremely negative.

  • 10:53:29

    SESNOAnd two candidates have never been more unpopular either.

  • 10:53:32

    BACONRight. So the notion that they haven't been held to account seems to be -- I mean, there's been a lot -- reams of data and stories about their foundations -- Trump's, Hillary's. The -- Trump's plans not adding up. Hillary's being untruthful. I mean, the notion that voters feel like these candidates are not being held into account, I have never seen two candidates before unpopular. That's why they're unpopular.

  • 10:53:52

    MARTINClarence Lusane.

  • 10:53:52

    LUSANEThe fundamental difference though in the debate that's coming up is that this will be the first time that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will confront each other. You know, a lot of this, of course, comes from the Matt Lauer interview, where people felt there was just a blatant falsehood by Trump and it gets a pass.

  • 10:54:07

    SESNOThe Iraq War issue, particularly.

  • 10:54:08

    LUSANEWhether Lester Holt addresses it or not, Hillary Clinton will. So there will be back and forth that we have not seen, I think, up until now.

  • 10:54:14

    MARTINYou know, we have an email from Frank, who asks if it would be possible to have the disputed facts shown at the bottom of the screen in real time. And he says, I'm sure that the technology is there much the way that audience response is measured in some programs. You know, there are programs that do that. There are interesting cable programs where they do do that.

  • 10:54:33

    SESNOI've talked to senior television executives about this and asked them directly whether they will do it. And there's a real problem, because fact checking in real time, fact checking, you actually do fact check. And you have an editor looking at the fact check. And so, by the time you could put the fact check up, the discussion is on to something else, and that becomes a distraction. It happens online though, and Perry, are you guys doing it online? Are you -- how are you going to be doing fact check?

  • 10:54:55

    BACONWe usually do a fact check online during the debate itself. Or we usually have a blog and we're writing stuff and that will include -- also, in the era of Twitter, like, whatever you think about the, you know, (unintelligible) some, you know...

  • 10:55:06

    SESNO(unintelligible) social media.

  • 10:55:07

    BACONBut people -- people immediately knew there was a lot of tension with the Iraq comment Trump made as soon as it was made. It wasn't like he -- it was hidden to anybody, you know.

  • 10:55:15

    MARTINWe only have time for one more -- we only have a couple of minutes left in this program. It's been an interesting conversation. Obviously, we could, we could really talk all day about so many aspects of this conversation, including the media performance so far in so many respects. Just, I have one more, if we have time, I'd like to get Kennedy in here from Richmond, Virginia. Kennedy, are you with us?

  • 10:55:32

    KENNEDYHi, yes.

  • 10:55:32

    MARTINHi, okay. What are your thoughts about the debate? Are you going to watch?

  • 10:55:35

    KENNEDYI am going to watch. I think it's very important that, in the debate, that Hillary remains poised and on point. When she debated with Bernie Sanders, when she was ready to go and seemed very studied up and had all her facts ready to go, she just seemed more presidential than he did. And I think that if she underestimates Donald Trump, then that could lead to an issue.

  • 10:55:58

    MARTINOkay, before we let you go, Kennedy, is it fair to say that you're supporting Hillary Clinton? Would that be a fair assumption?

  • 10:56:04

    KENNEDYThat would be a fair assumption, yes.

  • 10:56:05

    MARTINOkay, so why are you going to watch? What is it that you're going to be looking for? To cheer her on or are you having a debate watching party? Or, what...

  • 10:56:12

    KENNEDYTo cheer her on, mostly, and to just to see how she handles this kind of candidate. Because I don't think she's ever really dealt with this kind of an opponent before.

  • 10:56:21

    MARTINAll right. Well thank you so much for joining us. Maybe we have time for Lynn in Houston Texas, if you could be really quick, Lynn. We can get you in here. Lynn, what are your thoughts? Are you going to watch the debates and what are you looking for?

  • 10:56:31

    LYNNI'm gonna, I'm gonna watch the debates, but I want people to be very -- to understand something. I knew a gentleman who worked for the Clintons in the White House. And I'm not going to use his name. The way that Hillary Clinton treats people behind closed doors is deplorable. So, I'm going to address the caller that talked about Donald Trump earlier. Don't be fooled, people. Don't be fooled.

  • 10:56:55

    MARTINOkay. Fair to say you're supporting Trump? Fair to say you're supporting Trump?

  • 10:56:58

    LYNNI'm not a big supporter of Trump. I'm not a big supporter of Hillary Clinton. But don't be fooled. Don't think that Hillary Clinton is a sweet person. Because people, she is not.

  • 10:57:06

    MARTINOkay, I got you. Are you watching the debates? Are you going to watch?

  • 10:57:10

    LYNNI am.

  • 10:57:10

    MARTINAll right. Well, we will watch with you. Lynn, thank you so much for joining us. Thanks to all of our callers. And thanks to all of you for joining us. We really only just scratched the surface, but we're going to be watching next week. We'll tweet each other. We'll tweet each other. Frank Sesno is Director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at the George Washington University. Perry Bacon, Senior Political Reporter at NBC. Elizabeth Sherman, Professor of Government at American University. Founder for the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts.

  • 10:57:35

    LUSANEBefore, Clarence Lusane, Chairman of the Political Science Department at Howard University. Thank you all so much for joining us and also thanks to Gary Johnson for joining us. The Libertarian candidate.

  • 10:57:43

    SESNOThank you.

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