Congress expert Norman Ornstein on what the debate over the debt limit says about dysfunction in Congress, and his ideas for how to fix it.
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump went head-to-head last night in their first debate as presidential candidates. They sparred on jobs, trade deals, policing practices and race, as well as tax returns and combating terrorism. The debate was contentious, with Trump repeatedly interrupting Clinton, and Clinton calling out for fact checkers more than once. Going into the debate, the candidates were virtually tied in the polls. Whether their performance on the stage tipped that balance is not yet clear. Diane and her guests talk about the first debate between the two major-party presidential candidates — and whether either candidate won over undecided voters.
- Susan Page Washington bureau chief, USA Today
- James Fallows National correspondent for The Atlantic magazine
- Jonah Goldberg Senior editor, National Review
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Last night, tens of millions of people watched the first debate between presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The Republican nominee offered his view of America as a deeply troubled nation that needs a businessman's approach to make it great again. Democrat Clinton stressed her long experience in politics and command of policy.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me to talk about the debate, what it could mean for the election ahead, James Fallows of The Atlantic. By phone from Long Island, New York, Susan Page of USA Today and from a studio in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Jonah Goldberg of National Review. I do invite you all to render your opinions. Give us a call at 800-433-8850.
MS. DIANE REHMSend us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Well, welcome to all of you.
MR. JAMES FALLOWSThank you, Diane.
MS. SUSAN PAGEHey, good morning.
MR. JONAH GOLDBERGHi, Diane.
REHMGood morning to all of you. Susan Page, give me your overall reactions and impressions of that debate last night.
PAGEYou know, Diane, I've been covering presidential debates since 1980. I've never seen anything like the debate that we saw last night. It was a slugfest. It was fierce. They really went after each other. And I think, at the end of the day, they both were who they were. Hillary Clinton was methodical and prepared and showed a deep knowledge of policy. Donald Trump hit some themes that have brought him this far, like complaining about the leadership in America and the direction of the country.
PAGEBut at the cost of, I think, seeming -- bringing back that provocative Trump from the primaries who denied any -- that he's made any mistakes, declined to apologize for anything or correct anything on the record, including some things that we know he said that are incorrect. So I think after 90 minutes, you got a clear picture of each of these candidates.
FALLOWSLet's start with the assumption that each of these candidates has some substantial block of people that are going to vote for him or her regardless. And the question is, how their performance last night made any difference to those who are still undecided. I think Hillary Clinton would judge her performance as being much more successful in that regard than Donald Trump's in this way.
FALLOWSThat what she wanted to do with this debate was to present herself as both authoritative and calm and confident with the air that we like to have in our presidents and also to provoke Donald Trump, if she could, towards little outburst or signs of both either temperamental or policy positions that were like his efforts in the primaries to sort of rally the Republican base as opposed to this supposed pivot he was going to do in the general election to have more women supporting him, more college educated whites, more people from minority groups.
FALLOWSAnd I think that overall, she sort of succeeded in what she was trying to do and he let himself be provoked. And so I think that probably Hillary Clinton feels better right now than Donald Trump does.
GOLDBERGYeah, I largely agree with James. I think the first half hour Trump was at his strongest, which is good news for him because I think a lot of viewers probably only watched the first half hour. But if you were scoring this on points as a debater, as a journalist, I think you have to give it as a technical win for Hillary Clinton certainly by the end. I thought Trump, by the end, was disorganized, rambling at times and came across as a little too rude.
GOLDBERGKind of reminded me of Theodore White watching Barry Goldwater's acceptance speech in 1964 and saying, my god, he's running as Barry Goldwater. There was a certain, like, oh, my gosh, he's actually going to stay Donald Trump feel to it. But given the craziness of this year, maybe that means Trump gets a five-point bump in the polls. I mean, it's really hard to score these things because all -- so many of our normal political instincts have been wrong this year.
REHMBut Jonah, what did Trump need to accomplish to really come out stronger, to really have it be said, he really stood strong?
GOLDBERGI think he should've done his homework. He should've have stayed on a message. If he stayed on a message, even though I disagree with the policy substance of it, of his protectionism and all that stuff, in the beginning, if he had stayed on that message throughout, as disciplined as he seemed he was in the first, say, 20 minutes, I think he could've come away saying I did what I wanted to do tonight.
GOLDBERGHe had -- but by the end, you know, his chief goal on this whole thing was to show that he had a temperament to reassure people, particularly white, college-educated suburban women. Hillary Clinton had an exact idea in her head about which constituencies she needed to reassure. Donald Trump went in thinking I'll just Donald Trump and so by the end, it just -- it became unraveled, I think, and he has this tendency for the last year of constantly trying to sell himself to an audience that has already bought the product, rather than reaching out of his comfort zone and trying to win over new viewers.
GOLDBERGI mean, he does a lot of interviews on Sean Hannidy's show. That audience has already bought in to Donald Trump and yet, he thinks that that is the way to do this is just keep doubling down on the strategy he's had since the primaries.
REHMSusan, did it look as though he had not done his homework?
PAGEYou know, we were skeptical that he wasn't doing preparation for this debate, but I think the debate last night indicated that he hadn't, in fact, done much preparation for this debate, hadn't done the things that candidates usually do, like have mock debates and have somebody actually portray the role of your opponent. We know that Hillary Clinton did that over some extended period of time. He -- we didn't hear anything new from him.
PAGEOn some of the things that we knew were going to come up, like questions from Lester Holt, the moderator, about his history of the birther charge against President Obama, he just gave his old response. Questions about his taxes, he gave a very familiar response to that, that he wasn't going to release them and he couldn't do it -- he wasn't going to release them because they're being audited.
PAGEBut by the way, if she released her deleted emails, he'd release his taxes. So in that way, I thought he kind of was willing to wing it. And that has been part of his appeal so far, but perhaps not something that's reassuring when you're looking at a president. You know, that said, though, we are in a situation now where this race is tied in the nationwide polls and it is tied in some of the battleground state polls that Democrats were counting on to block a Trump path to an electoral college majority.
PAGESo it makes -- I think it should make us a little humble about being too confident about the consequences with the electorate from this first debate.
FALLOWSSure. We don't know how this debate will affect what's going to happen in the next six weeks, but I think there are two very interesting historical parallels that show us what we're not talking about this morning, what Donald Trump did not do. One was in 1980 when the incumbent president, Jimmy Carter, for whom I had worked, was debating Ronald Reagan in their only debate one week before the election. And the concern about Ronald Reagan was even though he'd been a governor of the largest state for two terms, he was an actor.
FALLOWSWas he serious enough for the job? And the end of that debate, people weren't having that discussion anymore because Ronald Reagan, in that time, had conveyed the impression of being calm and controlled and, indeed, calmer than Carter. The other was the 2000 debate between Al Gore, the incumbent vice president, and George W. Bush and the concern about George W. Bush was essentially was he up to the job, did he master the details, was he, you know, bright enough to be president.
FALLOWSAfter that debate, he seemed more in command, more at ease than Al Gore did who was sort of histrionically sighing. So those were two debates where the at the end of it, a person who had been sort of unvalued as a possible president, the next morning, people were saying, well, we look at him in a different way. I don't think anybody is looking at Donald Trump in a more presidential way right now on the basis of those last 90 minutes.
REHMDo we know how many undecided voters there are, James Fallows?
FALLOWSThere are enough of them to matter. That -- I mean, it does seem that if Donald Trump, in most polls, seems to have bumped into a ceiling at something around 40 percent of the electorate. It seems to be -- and not really taking a significant lead over Hillary Clinton in any of the polls, although coming very close. There are enough of them in enough of the swing states and in demographics where you don't know if they're going to get out to vote or change their mind, enough of them that it matters.
FALLOWSAnd I think, as both Jonah and Susan were saying, he's been making his argument to the people who are already on the team. So we'll see whether he's able to broaden that argument. Again, if I were a woman voter, as I obviously am not, I don't know that there's a lot in Donald Trump's either comportment relative to Hillary Clinton or his argument that would make me think, yeah, I'm more comfortable with him as my president.
REHMJonah, do you think Donald Trump changed any minds? Do you think Hillary Clinton changed any minds or brought in any of those undecideds?
GOLDBERGI think at the margins, Hillary Clinton might have. You know, we got to remember that we're in a very strange political year where not only are there enough undecideds to matter, also a very large number of voters are basically voting against the other candidate. Most -- I mean, a large number of Republicans are voting for Trump because they're against Hillary and a large number of Hillary's voters are voting for Hillary because she's not Trump.
GOLDBERGAnd that means that there's not a lot of room for error here. You have to reassure people that they're okay with their vote. Because I think not only is there a lot of undecideds, there are just a lot of soft supporters on both sides. And so I think Hillary Clinton came across as someone who did her homework. She came across sort of stolid and solid. I don't think she was particularly inspiring, but I never think she's particularly inspiring.
GOLDBERGI do think that she came across as someone who did her homework and takes this stuff seriously. I'm not sure that someone watching Donald Trump had the same impression.
REHMJonah Goldberg is senior editor for National Review. We'll take a short break here. When we come back, we're going to open the phones. I'd like to hear what you thought of last night's debate. Give me your ideas, your thoughts, your comments, 800-433-8850 or send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
REHMAnd welcome back. And of course what are we talking about today other than last night's debate between the two major presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Our guests today, James Fallows who's here in the studio with me. He's national correspondent for The Atlantic magazine, who has spent the last year flying around the country talking to people in small towns. Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for USA Today. She too has been moving around the country talking with people. And I'm sure Jonah Goldberg, you have as well. Jonah is senior editor of National Review.
REHMJames Fallows, you talked about some sleeper problems that Donald Trump has.
FALLOWSYes. It's often the case in these debates that something that matters is not the scripted moment, but just offhand, impromptu comments. And I thought there was a series of them by Donald Trump that might come back to haunt him, we might see soon in Democratic advertisements. Essentially there were these little impromptu revelations of his view towards business. The first one was when, I think, Lester Holt asked him about buying up all these mortgages during the financial crash of eight years ago that ruined so many millions of Americans' lives. Oh, well, that's called good business.
FALLOWSThen about whether or not he paid any taxes, well, that's called smart. And then Hillary Clinton was saying, again, maybe you didn't pay any taxes. Well, the money would just get wasted. And then there was the question of whether all the 3500 suits against him by contractors he hadn't paid, and he said, well, maybe they didn't do a job that was up to my standards, I didn't like their work.
FALLOWSI think through those there's this sort of Montgomery Burns from "The Simpsons," Ebenezer Scrooge, Scrooge McDuck type of image of somebody who just is on a different economic plain from the rest of us. And, yeah, I'm not paying my taxes, and, yeah, maybe that is good business, but not from our president.
REHMJonah Goldberg, how do you feel about those comments?
GOLDBERGI think that's generally right. I do think that he gets a much freer pass on not paying any federal income taxes than I would've thought a year ago. He basically admitted it twice last night, if you listened closely, where she asserted it and then he said, well, even if you -- you know, even if I had paid taxes, it would've been squandered, and something like that. I think that though the real reason that he doesn't want to release his tax returns isn't just how much federal taxes he pays, it's also all the chicanery with his foundation and his charitable giving and the claims that he's been so great to the vets. There's a lot of stuff in there that they don't want out. I don't think we'll ever his tax returns unless there...
REHMYou don't? You really don't?
GOLDBERGNo. No. Not unless they're leaked by someone who wants to go to jail from the IRS. I don't think he'll ever release them. And I think that it's a shame. I mean, I think there's a reason why it's a tradition among, you know, presidential candidates that they do this. I also think -- I think the night turned last night. You could tell that all of a sudden things were going to go better for Hillary when she took a shot about 20, 30 minutes in about how his business career started. And she mentioned a loan from his dad. And Trump immediately took the bait.
GOLDBERGAnd you could imagine that Hillary's strategists and advisors back in the war room said, all right, let's execute, you know, bait Trump plan alpha one, because they knew from that moment forward that he was -- you could push him off of his message and make him take the bait of wherever she wanted to take the debate to go. And I think we saw that for the rest of the night. And I think that is going to be strategy for the next two debates as well.
REHMSusan Page, here's a tweet from McHale, who says, "Why is gender bias not discussed? Hillary Clinton would not even be a nominee with five children from three husbands and six bankruptcies."
PAGEYou know, McHale, that's a good question. I thought it was interesting that for an historic debate, the first debate between presidential candidates in American history that included a woman as a candidate played not much of a role. You know, she didn't really talk to -- she didn't really talk about it, and he didn't really talk about it. There were ways though in which I think Hillary Clinton pushed gender buttons. And we know that her big advantage is among women voters. She trails among male voters, she leads among female voters. And that came in her very opening remarks when she referred to the -- it was a second birthday of her granddaughter. She talked about standing up for equal pay for women, for paid family leave.
PAGESo there was a bit of that, but it didn't play much of a role. And it's been interesting that although in that way this is a historic election, it hasn't played a big role. One thing I think she was determined not to do was to look weak, to look like she couldn't handle the back and forth. So she was quite aggressive I thought in responding, in counterpunching, in challenging Donald Trump, and in getting him a little bit off his stride particularly as the evening went on.
PAGEOne last thing, he's criticized her for not having stamina, which I think in some ways might be kind of a veiled sort of sexism, that a woman doesn't have the stamina to be president. But by the end of the evening, she looked still pretty fresh and strong. And I thought he looked kind of tired by the last half hour of the debate, as though his energy had kind of waned.
FALLOWSSo I agree with Susan that there was only a few explicit references to gender in the debate, including at the end with her jab about Miss Universe who he then called Miss Housekeeping or whatever. But I thought that actually everything about the debate was gender conditioned.
FALLOWSYes, I have an article in the current Atlantic, sort of setting up the way that the two camps were previewing. And I talked to a lot of gender scholars, Deborah Tannen, Robin Lakoff of Berkeley, Jane Goodall who's comparing Donald Trump to the great apes in this performance. And they were all talking about the impossibility of the task a woman candidate has in the situation, if she's too differential, she is weak. If she's too strong, she is shrill or harsh or whatever. And I thought that Hillary Clinton recaptured what she did in the Benghazi hearings of being calmly assertive. Again, it's an impossible situation for a prominent woman candidate, but I thought she handled it.
REHMThere was another element, she called him Donald, he called her Secretary Clinton. I thought that was an interesting show of her feeling of, look folks, this is who I am.
FALLOWSI thought so too. And I thought also it was one of a whole array of little probes of things that she knew he couldn't really resist. For example, making fun of him for not really being rich, making fun of him for not really being smart or taken seriously by other people, making fun of him for his beauty contest life. These are things which her researchers showed him, he just couldn't resist being taunted on those things and didn't.
REHMAll right. So, Jonah, let's talk about Donald Trump's tax policy. I thought it was interesting that Lester Holt really pressed him, not only on release of his taxes, but tax policy.
GOLDBERGYeah, I think that, you know, look, Donald Trump's position -- I say this as a conservative who actually agrees with some of the things that are in Donald Trump's tax policy, I just have very little confidence that any of these things will survive day one of a Trump presidency. And I think that basically the way he has cobbled together his tax plan, I mean, I'm very much in agreement with him about things like repatriating money from overseas and lowering the corporate tax rate. I think that makes a lot of sense. But he has the -- his approach to tax policy where he brought on people like Larry Kudlow and Steve Moore, people I've known for a long time, was basically an exercise in box checking.
GOLDBERGThe same way with this new position being prolife and his position about guns. I think though he came into this and said, okay, there are, in fact, a couple of these shibboleths or holy of holies in the Republican ranks, and one of them is on tax cutting. And you can sort of see that when he talks about this. He's good at sort of reciting his talking points, but once you get -- once Holt got him passed the superficial stuff, he just went back to his talking points or sort of frump-ferred and wandered off.
FALLOWSAnd this is one of the -- I agree with that. And this is one of the differences between a general election debate and the primary debates in which Donald Trump did well, because in primaries with a giant crowded field, you just have to have a couple of zingers ready, and that's all. You don't have to go in. But in a general election debate, as we saw, you have to be ready to go two minutes on a topic. And it was as if Trump was sort of reaching into his repertoire of stump speech things, you know, to fill it out, and I think that it was a difficulty for him trying to have the details of any policy.
REHMSusan, is the perception by many that Trump is a bully, is that a positive among his own supporters?
PAGEYou know, I think it -- the fact that he -- I don't think his followers would describe him as a bully, but they would describe him as somebody who says what he things and isn't confined by political correctness. And so I think for his core supporters, which would be a lot of them white, working class men, that may well be a positive. But he needs, at this point if he's going to win the presidency, to do better with different kinds of voters, and particularly with women and women with a college education.
PAGEAnd in that way I think his temperament and the sense that he's got a lot of swagger, he's not often -- he's often not very respectful to Hillary Clinton and others cause him -- I was thinking, in particular, about his comments about Miss Universe -- her comments at the end about he's made fun of her for her way -- he double-downed on that this morning in an interview saying that, well, she did gain a lot of weight, it was a problem. I can tell you the way to appeal to women is not to make fun of their weight.
PAGEIf any of you guys were curious about that, Jonah and James, not the right approach to take.
GOLDBERGWait, I'm writing this down right now.
REHMYeah, you bet. James.
FALLOWSI won't go into the whole lore of the suggested answer to any man when asked the question, honey, does this make me look fat?
FALLOWSAnd Trump might say, well, yeah, I think it might.
REHMYeah. All right. Let's open the phones. Let's go first to Lee in Raleigh, N.C. You're on the air.
LEEGood morning, Diane.
LEEThanks for taking my call.
LEEDiane, it occurred to me this morning for the very first time that much of the way that the media is forced to cut -- and, for example, last night in the debate, to fit in the timeslot, presents Donald Trump as being very precise in his comments, very precise in his recommendations, and with none of the rambling and the nonsense that seems to go on with much of his statements. And I just thought I would throw out that comment and see what your people had to say about it.
FALLOWSSo I haven't seen the TV coverage of the debates, you know, in the last 12 hours or so. But, number one, a whole lot of people were watching that thing. You know, 100 million people, 80 million people, however it was. Number two, I think there will be a comparable number of cuts, both from Hillary being precise in zingers she gives and of Donald Trump saying something that's just not true. You know, for example, denying that he ever said that --ever said that climate change was a hoax caused by the Chinese, which he certainly did say, and stop and frisking. So I recognize the potential in what you're saying, but there were a lot of people who actually saw this for themselves.
REHMWhat do you think, Jonah?
GOLDBERGI think that's basically right. I do think that, you know, Donald Trump went in with one mandate, which was -- or not one mandate, but one of his mandates was not to say anything that could go crazy viral, you know, with some ten second YouTube clip or Twitter, you know, video. And he didn't have any of those. I mean, there are things that people who actually know the substance can say, ah, see, he got it wrong here or there. But there was no single gaff moment for either of them, which is why I think in a lot of ways it's a punt down to the next debate.
REHMSusan, here's what sort of bothered me as both a listener and a viewer. Donald Trump was sniffing the whole time, audibly sniffing. And I didn't know whether he had a cold. I didn't know whether his nose was running. I didn't know what was going on. What did you see?
PAGEWell, Donald Trump did something I've never seen a candidate do before after one of these debates. He came into the debate filing center after the debate and talked to reporters. And reporters actually asked him about whether he had a cold and what was the sniffling, and he blamed it on a bad mic. He said, they gave me a bad mic, and do you think that was an accident? So...
REHMA bad mic. Excuse me. I can (makes noise) go that way and you will hear me. It's not a good mic or a bad mic.
PAGEHe was definitely -- and you know what's more...
GOLDBERGWell, he also says today that there were no sniffles.
PAGE...he was -- he was -- there were several points when she was talking when he snorted. And we know that was deliberate. It was a deliberate way to needle her or to disagree with her. And that reminds me a little of Al Gore in 2000, in the debate that's become known as the bridge of size because of the amount of time he spent talking into the microphone.
REHMYeah, exactly. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." You want to weigh in on this?
FALLOWSYes, I have a meta-point about the sniffling, which is that preparing for debate is hard. And Hillary Clinton showed it was hard through all the preparation. Trump sort of breezed into it. And this was just one minor production detail he hadn't thought about of how you sort of get yourself in nasal shape for debate. By extension, being president is really hard, and it requires knowing a whole lot of things. And, again, he's treating it as something he's just going to breeze into as Mr. Casual. So sniffles in that way mattered.
REHMAll right. Let's...
GOLDBERGWe should also say, just very quickly...
GOLDBERG...at a fairness to the Trump campaign, Donald Trump insists that there were no sniffles, that he did not sniffle.
GOLDBERGYou all are imagining it, it did not happen. He has said so, so...
GOLDBERG...there you go.
GOLDBERGI'm just putting it out there.
REHMOkay. Okay. But that you see goes back to our last caller, who says, why aren't they showing a sniffle?
FALLOWSSo let's stipulate for the 48 -- the 38, 40 percent of people who are with Trump, this is not going to change their minds, but...
REHMOf course not.
FALLOWS...if Trump decides to make this a fight, I didn't sniffle, then there's going to be three more days of people showing the 100 times he did sniffle. So I think this is -- he's inviting a fact check on this one.
REHMIt was really...
REHMSniffle Gate. There you go.
GOLDBERGYou heard it here first.
REHMLet's go to Tom in Shaker Heights, Ohio. You're on the air.
TOMHey, it's a pleasure to talk to such a great group.
TOMYou know, this wasn't what I was -- I wanted to bring up, but I'll bring it up first. As a psychiatrist what I saw last night with the sniffling and the runny nose and the wiping his lip, what I saw was much like a boxer getting punched in the nose. There was a couple times early in the debate where Hillary attacked him, and all of a sudden the sniffling, the drinking the water, the kind of contortion of the face, it looked like a guy that had -- like a boxer that had been hit and got him rocked a bit. And that -- after about the first 20 minutes I saw that the rest of the debate.
TOMWhat I wanted to call about was this, certainly as you can tell I'm a Democrat that's going to vote for Hillary Clinton, but what I was interested last night was I could not tell if I was watching the debate and listening to it, whether Hillary was debating against Donald Trump or -- because the Republican Party was never mentioned. And at some level the Republican Party got off easy last night. You never heard George Bush's name brought up. I could not figure that out. At some level, what I believe, is that Trump is kind of a Trojan Horse Republican.
REHMAll right. Go ahead.
FALLOWSSo I think there's a strategic choice there which people in the Clinton campaign are making, she can either try to separate Donald Trump from the, quote, "legitimate," unquote, tradition of the Republican Party, and isolate him that way, and appeal to Republicans, or she can try to group him as the logical flower of what the Republican Party has become. And so clearly she's decided on the former, that she'd like that it's...
REHMJames Fallows, he's national correspondent for The Atlantic magazine. Short break here. When we come back, more of your questions, your comments, your emails, your tweets. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd welcome back. Here's a subject we haven't touched on yet. An email from Jerry, who says of the analysis I heard after the debate ended, none of the pundits mentioned Trump's warning about the politicization of the Fed by Janet Yellen. He indicated the stock market is in a bubble because of artificially low prime rate interest rates. Once Obama is out of office, he said, the rates go up, and the market will respond by crashing. How likely is this, James Fallows?
FALLOWSSo who knows what the financial future holds, but I think Trump's denigration of the Fed and its independent -- and it's quality is of a piece of his general sort of diminishing of institutions, you know, everything's rigged, everything's crooked, et cetera. And of course the Fed through history has had some political component to it, but I think Janet Yellen would rightly take this as a real offense. And also, it made it surprising that Trump ended his comments by saying that if Hillary Clinton won, of course he'd support her, which is the only sort of pro-procedural thing we've ever heard from him.
PAGEYou know, if I could just weigh in here.
PAGEI think the Fed -- people at the Fed have indicated they are likely to raise interest rates in December. We thought that might happen as early as this month, and it didn't because of some uncertainty in the markets. But the Fed -- we know the Fed wants to raise interest rates, so they have that tool available for lowering them the next time we have a financial trouble where that could be helpful.
PAGEThe only problem for Donald Trump is the greater threat to stability in the stock market seems to be the prospect of his election. The market is much more comfortable with Hillary Clinton as a kind of status quo candidate. They understand what she stands for, what she'll do. And the -- the better that Donald Trump does, like this latest spate of polls that shows him in a very competitive situation nationwide and in battleground states, has unnerved some elements of the stock market.
REHMHow do you think that went over, Jonah Goldberg, with people around the country? Do you think it was directed to a certain group of people or reached the population at large?
GOLDBERGHis Federal Reserve comments?
GOLDBERGI think for a lot of people it just sort of sailed on by. But it does tap into something real that I think has been a source of a lot of the things that have been driving Donald Trump's campaign, and there are some legitimate issues there. I mean, regardless of the substance, I mean, I think that the Fed has been too soft with money, or too easy with money and all that, there is this sense that the system is rigged.
GOLDBERGAnd Donald Trump didn't invent that argument. He didn't -- he basically glommed onto it and discovered it. It's been the argument from a lot of people, from Bernie Sanders to Ted Cruz, you know, on both sides of the political aisle. There is this sense that the system has been arranged to reward elites, people who have the inside track. On the right we call it crony capitalism. On the left, it's the one percent argument. And I think that even though you could take out your red pens on some of the stuff he said about -- specifically about the Fed, that larger argument that the system is set up from Washington to help the insiders resonates with a lot of people, and it resonates with a lot of people on both sides of the aisle, and I think that's something we should pay attention to.
REHMAll right, to Felicia in Ogallala, Nebraska. You're on the air.
FELICIAThank you, good morning.
FELICIAI wanted to draw attention to Donald's claim, of course throughout this whole process, that he's a good negotiator. But in order to be a good negotiator, you need to be persuasive. I thought there was nothing about his performance last night that should make anyone think he can sit down with world leaders and negotiate significant deals. There's no persuasive in his, in his book.
FALLOWSI've actually talked with people as part of preparation of my current article who had done real estate deals with him in Asia and in other places. They say he actually is good at reading a room. It's the same kind of skill that George W. Bush was said to have of having 10 people around him, knowing what they're going to respond to. So there's a certain kind of negotiation where you can say the art of the deal has paid off for him.
FALLOWSWhen it comes to international relations, the sorts of people you would deal with, and Xi Jinping in China and all the European leaders and Putin in Russia, it's hard to think they're going to -- I mean, the knowledge that he does not come with of how they view the world, what the levers are to pull with them, makes it hard to imagine how he would be able to deal successfully with them.
REHMJonah, how did he respond when Hillary Clinton pointed out that he had talked so positively about Vladimir Putin?
GOLDBERGHe did what he always does, which is deflect any criticism of Putin, claim that we don't know who hacked the DNC and all these other places where the FBI and security officials are pretty sure they know who did it. And this gets to -- you know, this gets to the larger argument about Donald Trump and his view of the world. As a -- as a small government conservative, right, as a guy who actually believes a lot of the stuff that I thought a lot of my fellow conservatives believed until Donald Trump came along, Donald Trump doesn't talk about small government.
GOLDBERGNeither of them talked about the Constitution last night. Neither of them -- you know, I don't think the word liberty or freedom came up. The concept of limited government didn't come up. Donald Trump's lodestars are strength and winning, which are morally empty phrases, right. I mean, you can be strong and do bad things, and you can win and do bad things, and I think that's basically his way of seeing the world. And it applies to his approach to these deals.
GOLDBERGThe idea that "The Art of the Deal" provides any guidance, you know, a book that he didn't write, provides any guidance to how you deal with foreign countries, the idea that you can bring a real -- the terms and the logic of a real estate deal to an international treaty is really just a misapplication. You know, it's a bad metaphor, and I don't think he understands it, and I don't think a lot of other people understand it, but it is -- it makes intuitive sense to an enormous number of people, and it is really an amazing indictment of how badly Washington has, you know, disappointed so many Americans that this argument seems compelling to a lot of people.
REHMAnd on a totally different subject, here's a tweet from Karen. (PH) Please ask the panel to comment on Trump's response to the question about race relations and how minority groups may react to it. Susan?
PAGEYou know, that was, I thought, an extremely interesting exchange because he has made a point, and he said again last night that he's reached out to African-Americans, he said he's doing well with African-Americans, the polls don't show that that's the case, he's down in low single digits in African-American support, and then his extended exchange back and forth on his -- on his words about the birther conspiracy theory about Barack Obama over a period of years.
PAGEHe didn't apologize. He said there was no need for him to do any racial healing because he had questioned the legitimacy of the first African-American president, and I thought that did Hillary Clinton an enormous amount of good with a key voter bloc. We know that she has the support of the overwhelming majority of African-Americans, but she needs to get them energized and enthusiastic about her campaign, and it seems to me that had the prospect of doing that.
REHMWhat about Lester Holt? I thought he did a great job.
FALLOWSI thought he did a great job, comma, with complications. I thought he did well. He finessed the fact-checking issue that had been so disputed over the previous week because a couple of times he came back, mainly to Donald Trump because that's where the factual problems were, saying what about this, the evidence shows otherwise. I give him a lot of credit for that.
FALLOWSIn the first half of the debate, he made a strategic choice, right or wrong, not to get involved when Donald Trump was constantly interrupting Hillary Clinton and talking over her. And so I thought -- you know, some people might have said that was good because he was just letting them go. I though it -- he could have exerted more control and say look, you know, we're not interrupting the other, it's Secretary Clinton's turn, you'll have your turn, Mr. Trump.
REHMSusan, you were there.
PAGEI was, and I think that -- I think Lester Holt did a great job in very difficult circumstances. I think it is -- because he said beforehand, we don't want the debate to be about the moderator, but we want the moderator to keep the debate on track, which is a hard thing to do with Donald Trump. He -- Lester Holt did some fact-checking. He also did, on some questions, he went back to him two or three times.
PAGEYou know, I think Jonah mentioned Trump's statement at the end, that he would endorse the winner, even if it's not him. Well Lester Holt had to go back at him, I think, three times before he made that point, before he was willing to actually address the question. And one thing I'll be watching for in the future debates is what the other moderators that follow will learn from this first experience, how they may handle things a little differently because of some of the challenges that we saw Lester Holt facing last night.
REHMJonah, what did you think?
GOLDBERGI thought he did -- I thought he did a good job. I'm sure he feels today like Julie Andrews dancing in the mountains, in the Alps, he's so relieved to have this thing over. I do think he's getting some criticism, whether it's fair or not, because he challenged Trump a lot more than he challenged Hillary Clinton, and that is -- that is the read that a lot of Trump supporters this morning are falling back on.
GOLDBERGBut, you know, the general rule with these sorts of debates, if you find yourself screaming about the moderator and blaming the moderator, Corey Lewandowski was blaming the moderator, you know, blaming Lester Holt last night, that's a sign that you know you didn't do too well. Go ahead, I'm sorry.
REHMLet's go to Bruce in Dallas, Texas. You're on the air.
BRUCEHi there, gang. While not the thrust of my call, I will say that Trump is right, the system is rigged, which is why billionaires pay zero in federal income taxes. But what I really called about was this sniffling thing. It wasn't sniffling. I don’t understand the big to-do. The very first teleprompter speech he did that was, you know, much ballyhooed, he was talking about international affairs. And the whole speech he was doing the same thing, in other words make a statement, breathe through his nose, not through his mouth, not just talking swiftly, but breathing through his nose in just as loud a way. It was very strange then, it's strange now, but to give you a sense of what I mean very quickly, when I tell people to take it easy, I say hey, breathe through your nose. And I think that's exactly what his advisors have told him to do, slow down, breathe through your nose and think about what's coming out of your mouth next.
REHMI'm not sure they would say to him breathe through your nose so everybody can hear it like (sniff)
REHMNo, you're right, but nonetheless in that initial speech, you guys I'm sure all saw it, he did the same thing. It was just as audible. It's unfortunate that it's audible, but it's a side issue that it's audible. I think that's a deliberate breathing, trying to take it slow, steady, easy and keep track of where he's really going.
FALLOWSPoint one, I heard it differently. Point two, if that was deliberate, it was a mistake, and I think they will retune it for the next debate.
REHMAll right, we've got a whole group of folks wanting to comment on that breathing. Michael in Charlotte, North Carolina, you're on the air.
MICHAELHey, good morning, how are you doing?
MICHAELYeah, a few -- a few observations. First, just to tie to what the folks -- gentleman from Dallas just said, I'd noticed it for six months, and it's -- I'm a little shocked that the media all of a sudden is talking about it. I think it's an uncomfortable, a nervous twitch of some sort. I think that he doesn't believe what he's saying. I think it's -- it shows his lack of confidence in even what he's talking about, quite frankly, and if anybody is paying any attention, the man has been doing it for six months.
MICHAELYou can go back and listen to any of the tapes at his rallies, and it's -- I've noticed it. It is -- I think it sounds, I think it sounds terrible.
MICHAELAnd another -- another observation I just want to make about Hillary, God, I love her, and I really want her to win this election. I just think she missed some key opportunities to jab back at him a little bit. I think when he commented her on her 30 years of service, I think it was a key moment for her to tie -- she should have resorted back to how she started her career.
REHMAll right, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." She should have paid more attention there?
FALLOWSI guess, but if you think of the incredibly high stakes of a live debate before 80, 100 million people with so much riding on it, I think that for both of them you have to give them passes for opportunities they might have missed. And I think she -- yes, I was writing down, you know, from my position, just taking notes from the debate, oh, here's an attack line she could've used, but I think that she, as is usually the case with her debates, she didn't really put a foot wrong, and if she can, you know, warm up for these attack lines in the next debates.
REHMSusan, Secretary Clinton accused Trump of having a long record of engaging in racist behavior. How do you think he responded?
PAGEYou know, that was interesting how carefully she put that because she talked not only about his advocacy of the birther conspiracy, the discredited birther argument against President Obama, and then also about his early experience in real estate in New York, where he was sued by the Department of Justice for refusing to rent to African-Americans.
PAGEAnd then -- but she did not call him racist. She said he engaged in racist behavior. And I'm sure that was a very deliberate turn of phrase. He just denied it. He said there was no admission of wrongdoing in settling the DOJ's suit. That is correct, there wasn't an admission of wrongdoing, but they did change their practices at that point and began to rent, at least in some cases, to African-Americans. And he just doubled-down on the birther thing.
FALLOWSAlso just because I think it's the funniest self-defense of the entire 15 months, if you can get, you know, sort of gallows humor, he -- asked about his record on civil rights by George Stephanopoulos a year and a half ago and then again last night, he falls back on saying that clearly he has this amazing record on civil rights because he built the Mar-a-Lago Club, and he lets really rich Jews, blacks and Muslims be members there.
FALLOWSAnd I just love this argument that by complying with state and federal nondiscrimination law, this proves that he has a heart of gold on racial issues. And I'm amazed that no one has pushed back harder on that because it is such a bizarre defense.
GOLDBERGThere's the combination of that again and his frequent refrain of we settled the case with no admission of wrongdoing.
REHMExactly, I kept hearing that.
GOLDBERGNot exactly what you want to hear from FDR or Ronald Reagan or somebody like that. This is the defense.
REHMSo do you think last night overall affected Americans who are thinking about voting one way or another, James?
FALLOWSWe won't know for a while, but my assertion would be that Hillary Clinton did more to attract the kinds of people she needs to attract than Donald Trump did to reach beyond his established base.
GOLDBERGI think that's basically right. I think he -- I think Hillary Clinton probably reassured some waverers, maybe brought back a couple people at the margins, while Donald Trump probably, you know, did not add anything to his coalition last night.
PAGEYou know, I would say that if it was any year but this year, this was a clear win for Hillary Clinton and the beginning of the end for Donald Trump because of his failure to offer specific policy positions and to his repeating of things we know aren't true and now are the subject of endless fact checks. But the only thing I would say is that his has not been a predictable year, that, you know, Donald Trump did not create this unhappy electorate. This unhappy electorate opened the door to a phenomenal and unexpected Donald Trump candidacy, and that just makes me a little shy about being too certain about what the impact of this debate will be.
REHMI'm glad you ended that way, Susan. Susan Page is Washington bureau chief for USA Today. James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic magazine, Jonah Goldberg, senior editor of the National Review. Thank you all so much. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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