Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Jon Meacham on the evolution of Abraham Lincoln's moral principles and political leadership -- and what the era of Lincoln can teach us about the state of our democracy today.
Analysis of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s second presidential debate in St. Louis: how the candidates perform in the debate’s town hall setting and what it means for the final weeks of the campaign.
- Ron Elving Senior Washington editor, NPR News
- Karen Tumulty National political reporter, The Washington Post
- Norman Ornstein Resident scholar, American Enterprise Institute; co-author of "It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism"
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Last night's presidential debate had a run-up like no other. Leaked video of Donald Trump's talking about women in demeaning and vulgar terms followed by dozens of prominent Republicans withdrawing their support. So here to review what we saw and what it all could mean, Ron Elving, senior Washington editor at NPR News, Karen Tumulty, national political reporter for The Washington Post and Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
MS. DIANE REHMI'm sure many of you watched the debate as well, if we can call it a debate. Give us your impressions, 800-433-8850. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, I'm glad you all are here and ready to go this morning.
MR. RON ELVINGGreat to be with you, Diane.
MS. KAREN TUMULTYGood to be here.
MR. NORMAN ORNSTEINReady to go.
REHMKaren, you're colleague, Dan Balz, in The Washington Post, referred to last night's debate as the spectacle in St. Louis. What was your general reaction?
TUMULTYWell, I thought it was such an incredible spectacle in St. Louis. It was extraordinary because the town hall debate, which is something that has been part of the system since 1992, is supposed to be an opportunity for average Americans to put their everyday concerns to the candidates. And, you know, instead, what we saw was a debate that was really dominated by Donald Trump coming out and from the outset sort of -- where everyone expected him to be a little bit chastened by the events of the weekend with the videotape where he was caught saying very, very crude things about women and talking about what, in most contexts, would be considered sexual assault, instead of coming out sort of chastened by that, he came out almost more in an alpha male mode than we've seen him in the past.
REHMNow, we have tiny clip here. Anderson Cooper's speaking first.
MR. ANDERSON COOPERSo for the record, you're saying you never did that.
MR. DONALD TRUMPI said things that, frankly, you hear these things are said. And I was embarrassed by it, but I have tremendous respect for women.
COOPERHave you ever done those things?
TRUMPAnd women have respect for me. And I will tell you, no, I have not.
REHMNo, I have not what?
ELVINGDonald Trump tried to make a distinction during the debate between words and actions and this has been a theme of his surrogates as well, Rudy Giuliani, in an extraordinary performance, went to all five Sunday morning talk shows in lieu of the people who had been booked, to be the sole spokesperson for the Trump campaign and made the case that all that Donald Trump was guilty of was some terribly embarrassing locker room talk on a bus.
ELVINGAnd that none of the things that he was talking about were things that he had actually done, although for those who have watched the tape, listened to the tape, clearly he was describing things that he had done or least he was bragging about things that he wanted Billy Bush, his collocutor there, his interlocutor, the co-host of, at that time, "Access Hollywood," things that he had done, including an assault or what sounds very much like an assault in his description, on Billy Bush's co-host of that show, Nancy O'Dell.
ELVINGThese were not put forward as speculations by Donald Trump, a 59-year-old man at the time. They were put forward as his conquests, if you will, or near conquests or frustrated conquests and so forth and then he went on in great detail about other things he had done with other women. It is up to each individual person to listen to that, to consider his record, to consider the other things that have said about him, to consider his marital record and to say to themselves, do I believe he's just speculating about total fantasies or do I think he's talking about the way he behaves.
REHMNow, Norm, let's back up a little bit because after those comments were released, Donald Trump was supposed to appear at a rally in Wisconsin. It was then determined that his running mate, Governor Pence, would, instead, appear and then Pence withdrew. What was all that about?
ORNSTEINThere was serious hemorrhaging going on in the Republican party and a backlash and they didn't quite know how to handle it. But Pence didn't want to be the one out in the front lines, presumably defending Donald Trump. Paul Ryan, who had invited Trump to begin with, withdrew that invitation. But what was striking, Diane, is that the rally was held and we had Scott Walker, the Republican governor of Wisconsin, Reince Priebus from Wisconsin, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, the speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, and a crowd, a rowdy crowd of Trump supporters.
ORNSTEINAnd none of those three individuals, prominent figures to say the least in the party, used the word Trump. And we had a crowd that was riled up. And what's clear out of all of this is Trump has his base. And going into this debate, his first goal was to both secure and gain even more enthusiasm from that base, which meant that he would put the rest of the Republican party in the same uncomfortable position that Ryan, Priebus and Walker were in at that rally. We saw it as well in Nevada when Joe Heck, who's the Republican candidate to fill the Senate seat being vacated by Harry Reid, was heckled when he said that Trump ought to withdraw.
ORNSTEINAnd I think you'd have to say, for all of the crudity and the seeminess of this debate, it reminded me of the "Jerry Springer: The Opera," which I saw in London some years ago, that Trump managed to accomplish that goal and it puts his party in an extraordinarily difficult vice.
REHMI gather that when Republicans -- leading Republicans heard those words coming out of Trump's mouth, now we have a list that -- of Republicans who have said they no longer support Donald Trump.
ELVINGThere was a handful of Republican senators who had distanced themselves from Trump in the beginning, Lindsey Graham, for example, Ben Sass from Nebraska, and that list grew by -- well, it tripled almost overnight, Friday and Saturday, as more and more senators either denounced him outright, said they couldn't endorse him, couldn't vote for him, wouldn't, of course, vote for Hillary Clinton, but couldn't vote for Donald Trump or, in some case, actually went so far as to say he should really get off the ticket. And that became the theme on Saturday.
ELVINGWill he just get off the ticket, will he step down voluntarily? And if he doesn't, is there some way the Republican National Committee could replace him?
TUMULTYAnd what they're all very worried about is that fact is we still four weeks to go before this election with Trump's declaration last night that he had never actually acted on the kinds of things that he talked about in video, it is almost an invitation for women who might've had those experiences to come forward. The fact is the Republican party has no idea what these next four weeks are going to bring and increasingly, it's looking in the polls as though Donald Trump is having a smaller and smaller chance of actually winning.
TUMULTYSo all of this really complicates the party's job of sort of trying to regroup and pull itself back together after the election.
REHMAt the same time, Norm, you've just said that what Trump accomplished last night was to strengthen his support among this base. But are you saying that he did nothing to broaden that base?
ORNSTEINThat's exactly what I'm saying, Diane. He had -- his first goal was to stop the hemorrhaging because there was hemorrhaging going on. And to do that, he had two ways to go. One was to follow the advice of Priebus, Ryan, et al, and give the abject apology and basically say I did terrible things. I said terrible things. To those people not just whom I've offended, but who I've assaulted, I have to say I'm so, so sorry.
ORNSTEINAnd ashamed of what I've done. He could've taken that route. He took the defiant route. And the defiant route was, for him, probably, in the short run the best way to go. It was get that base throughout the entire debate. Say the things that get them excited. The Republican party doesn't want to lose that base, but now they're placed in a position because in this debate, he did nothing to gain any additional voters beyond it.
REHMKaren, you mentioned, just as we were going on the air, an incident that could have happened. Explain.
TUMULTYWell, what happened, as Norm was saying, he was defiant, Donald Trump was, and his rationale was that what I said was just words and what Bill Clinton did was actions. The fact that he was ready to push that argument to extremes became clear shortly before the debate when he had a news conference, a very brief one, with four women who have longstanding claims that they were mistreated by one or both Clintons. What the plan was, the campaign's plans was, were to seat these four women in the family box at the debate, which meant that they would've walked on stage when Bill Clinton walked on stage.
TUMULTYThe plan was for all of them to attempt to shake his hand and you would have this sort of reality TV spectacle of seeing whether Bill Clinton would shake their hands in return. Frank Fahrenkopf, the former Republican chairman who is the head of the debate commission, threatened that if that happened, the women would be removed by security.
REHMAnd that is just one of the many incidents occurring last night at the second presidential debate. We'll talk more after we take a short break.
REHMWelcome back. Here in the studio, Ron Elving of NPR, Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post, Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute. Here's an email from Kale, who says, I was a town hall participant at the debate last night and honestly felt more like a prop for the candidates' personal attacks than a participant, Karen.
TUMULTYExactly, and this particular format is one, again, in which, ever since it's been tried, the Debate Commission has found in dozens and dozens of focus groups that people love the format where average Americans can put their concerns in front of the candidates and that this format is particularly important, the Annenberg Center found, at the University of Pennsylvania, to young people, that they can really relate to this idea that people like them are standing up and getting to ask questions of the candidate.
TUMULTYNothing -- almost nothing like that happened last night. In fact when the moderators attempted to go to a man who had a very good question about the Affordable Care Act, Donald Trump said wait, you haven't pressed her on her emails.
ORNSTEINAnd it's -- I think the format didn't work very well last night. The crowd basically were props. But also having two very strong-willed, strong-minded moderators, who had their own issues that they wanted to pursue, some of them very, very important issues, meant that you were going to have a more disjointed and unconnected debate. And of course the reality that Trump was extremely aggressive in wanting to answer and then respond and then respond again took it away from some of these questions.
ORNSTEINNow they curated the questions coming from the audience, and that, I think, you know, it's a difficult task to be a moderator.
ORNSTEINBut how could you, in St. Louis, Missouri, for example, not ask a question about Black Lives Matter and the black relationship with police, the place where it all started? So, you know, some of the questions were good questions, but there are real gaps there.
REHMHere's an email from Scott, who says I find it hard to believe the level of discourse that we heard last night. Does this really rise to the level of a presidential conversation, never mind a debate? Quite frankly, it's embarrassing to think people around the world are listening to this. Are we ever going to get back to the issues at hand?
ELVINGYou know, the motivation for the Russian hacking of the American election, which the government now has officially accused the Russians of doing, may not be so much to favor one candidate over the other, that can be debated, but it is clearly to dishonor and besmirch the American process, to say you Americans are all so high and mighty about your wonderful democracy, and you put us down in Putin world, but over here we don't have a process that's anywhere near as debased as what you have, and that was part of what they were trying to do with the hacking.
ELVINGThat's being accomplished, unfortunately, much more effectively by the candidates.
REHMSo were there any real issues that were discussed, debated?
ORNSTEINYeah, there were a couple of issues that were discussed. You know, I'm not sure how much depth we got. We actually did have some give and take on the Affordable Care Act. And we had it on Aleppo and Syria, to a degree. Martha Raddatz really pushed Donald Trump. It was -- there was not a lot of substance there, however. And I think, you know, getting back to the initial point, the low point of this debate among a number of them, to me beyond any question, was Donald Trump basically saying that if he's elected he's going to imprison his opponent.
ORNSTEINAnd if you're Vladimir Putin, either watching the debate or having excerpts played for you, you're going to dance a jig when you hear that because that just reinforces everything Ron suggested.
MS. HILLARY CLINTONYou know, it is -- it's just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.
TRUMPBecause you'd be in jail.
REHMWell, you know...
REHMBreathtaking. I mean, you have to wonder what people are thinking as they listen to this, as they watch this and wonder what kind of emotional, physical upheaval the United States is going through in this election process.
ELVINGWe have to hope that this is a cathartic process, that this election is going to cleanse us a little bit of some of these emotions. It of course could have the opposite effect. Most of our elections in the past have had the generous -- generously interpreted effect of bringing the democracy together so that in the end, no matter how contentious it had been, generally speaking the two opponents salute each other, and one or the other concedes, and we move on, and there is an orderly transfer of power.
REHMBut they wouldn't even shake hands last night.
ELVINGNot before the debate.
ELVINGIt was somewhat of a hopeful sign that after Carl Becker, one of the members of the audience, asked a positive question at the end, can you tell us something you admire about the other person, and both of these candidates did well on that question, she saying she admired his children, him saying that he thought she was a fighter, and she would never quit, and both of those seemed convincing, and it was kind of a nice ending, and then they did walk together and shake hands. He gave her a little elbow squeeze, and that was a moment like what we expect from people at the very highest level of our politics, and that has been our history.
ELVINGBut we have also seen much, much darker strains in this election, and we have to wonder if it will be cathartic or if it will be disruptive beyond election day.
TUMULTYYeah, another moment that really struck me was when a Muslim woman in the audience got up and asked a question about Islamophobia, and Donald Trump's answer was to begin by denouncing Islamophobia and then to say we're living in a time when it's necessary, basically was the bottom line. It was a pretty extraordinary exchange and especially in a town hall, speaking face to face with a voter.
REHMAnd then a very surprising moment when Trump said he disagrees with his own running mate on Syria. And then you've got a quick turnaround today.
ORNSTEINYou know, what was most striking about that to me was not just that he disagreed with his running mate, but he said he hadn't spoken to him. So we had a vice presidential debate last week, and Trump has not spoken to his chosen running mate since that time. So there's a disconnect here, obviously, and there were a lot of rumors going into this debate that Mike Pence was thinking of withdrawing from the ticket, and he's tried to quash that at the moment, but it's obviously another sign of dysfunction.
ORNSTEINI want to make one other point, Diane, not something that happened in the debate, if we're talking about catharsis, but repeatedly throughout the course of the campaign, Trump has said that the only way he could lose is if the election were rigged and if it were stolen from him. And last week he was up, I believe in New Hampshire, and said they're bringing all these people in over the border to vote.
ORNSTEINSo if you go back to 2000 and that, you know, terribly difficult time we had, Al Gore afterward said, you know, I don't like the results, but that's the way the system works, and let's get behind our president. If we had a presidential candidate who loses and says the only reason I lost is because the election was rigged against me, that's not going to make for much of a catharsis.
ELVINGYou know, he was up in New Hampshire. Do you think there's a chance he was talking about Canadians coming over the border?
ORNSTEINIt could've been. Maybe it's those French Canadians.
REHMAll right, let's open the phones, 800-433-8850. First to Jim in South Bend, Indiana. Hi there, you're on the air.
JIMHello, and thank you for taking my call.
JIMWhat -- what my question concerns is during this whole campaign and during both debates, the only two things that either the conservatives or Donald Trump can come up with that says Hillary Clinton is mistrustful or crooked is Benghazi and emails. Now to me Benghazi, they really don't have strong evidence against her, but the emails they do, and she was careless, and she admitted it.
JIMIf Donald Trump was on the attack last night, he didn't come up with anything else, and I thought it was a good time for him to really get into stuff, but he didn't, and now I'm wondering maybe there isn't that much, and this is nothing more than just a -- this whole thing about being mistrustful is kind of a farce.
TUMULTYWell, he also made the very explosive allegation that she was somehow complicit and enabling in her husband's -- in her husband's extramarital affairs. And, you know, I think he was actually -- I think he was actually throwing at her from all sorts of directions.
ELVINGThere's also the issue of some of the things that she said to these investment banks, where she gave speeches for large fees, and WikiLeaks, of course, has put out some hacked emails from Clinton's campaign manager's computer, and they contain some conversations between her staffers about what she might have said. And we don't actually have the transcripts, she has refused to put those out or put out copies of her speeches, and so have the banks, and so WikiLeaks has gotten these conversations about it and found snippets of things, including saying, for example, that sometimes a policymaker needs to have a public position on an issue and a private position on an issue so that one could negotiate in private and reach some sort of agreement with people so that you have a public position and a private position.
ELVINGAnd that sounds a lot like what people imagine to be the two-faced, Washingtonian insider who tells you one thing in public and then is doing something else on the side, and that does reinforce one of the narratives against her.
ORNSTEINBut, you know, what's interesting is that was raised in the debate, of course, and what Clinton said is I was talking about Abraham Lincoln and the movie that Steven Spielberg did. And we have a fuller release of what was in that transcript, and that's precisely what she was doing. So what we do know is WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, in league with the Russians almost certainly are going to release more things, and there we get to the question, is there anything more, or will we also get things that are doctored to make it look it's something worse?
TUMULTYThat by the way may have been Trump's best moment of the night, where he comes back with a very quick comeback, saying, you know, Abraham Lincoln was not a liar.
REHMLet's go to Sue in Raleigh, North Carolina. You're on the air.
SUEHello, I'd like to bring up a question about the way Donald Trump has talked about women. He excuses that as saying it is locker room talk. Now my question is, has that become an acceptable norm, or is there an -- is there an ethic that should challenge that kind of language among men where they gather anywhere, in the locker room or the campus or the man cave or anywhere?
REHMI think that's a really good question.
ELVINGThe Associated Press had a story overnight saying that a number of professional athletes have objected to this characterization of their locker room lives or conversations. Donald Trump was attempting to say, oh, this was just, you know, boys talking about their sexual fantasies and making the distinction between that and perhaps, when talking about adolescent boys, fantasies are what they are, and what he was describing...
REHMBut these were two grown men.
ELVINGYes, and what he was describing was, well, as I've said earlier, one has to come to one's own conclusion as to whether these were totally fantastic things that he was imagining in his own mind or whether he was describing his behavior and then put that up against all the testimony that has come forward.
ORNSTEINYou know, I did a Twitter conversation with a bunch of people with our top 10 locker room moments, and they included things like do you have Advil, is that spot on my back getting any bigger. And it got to the degenerate point of, Abe, did you hear the one about the Jew, the Frenchman and the Italian who walked into the bar. That's about it for locker banter for most of us.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Karen, you wanted to add.
TUMULTYCan I bring up something here, though, that I personally have found sort of grating in all of this which is the number of male politicians who have stepped forward and said I am offended about this because I have a wife, and I have a daughter, as though somehow if you hadn't reproduced a woman of your own genetic code that this wouldn't be offensive to you. So again, I just -- I don't think that these men should be putting the burden on their wives and daughters to enforce their moral code.
REHMHere's from Twitter, someone says, I can't blame Trump for being aggressive since Anderson Cooper tried to label him as committing sexual assault, Norm.
ORNSTEINYou know, the moderators were aggressive, especially coming right out of the box on the tap and then getting aggressive with Secretary Clinton about the emails and other issues, and you have to decide as a candidate how you're going to respond. And I think there was little doubt from the get go how Trump was going to deal with that question, whether it had been done in a gentle fashion or in a very aggressive fashion. He had his defense down, and that defense was never going to include an apology, and I don't think it would have been much different if Cooper had handled it in a different fashion.
REHMDo you think Donald Trump would ever have responded any differently than he did? He simple said locker room talk, I never did any of this, he's saying, and yet on that tape he is clearly saying this is how you do it.
TUMULTYI think that it's been interesting, too, that so many people, including his wife, have issued these statements, talking about his great remorse for this, how this is not who he is.
REHMHow he should be forgiven.
TUMULTYAnd that was not the Donald Trump we saw last night.
ELVINGYou know, Mike Pence has identified and described and illustrated a whole different way of approaching this whole campaign, and it's not -- it's not hard to imagine why Donald Trump is finding that rather off-putting, because it puts Donald Trump in a very bad light. Mike Pence talked about contrition, he talked about what his running mate, Donald Trump, ought to do, and Donald Trump of course did none of those things and exhibited a certain amount of impatience with Mike Pence suggesting contrition.
ELVINGContrition is not what Donald Trump does. There was a word in his apology on Saturday night, Friday night rather, when he was first reacting to these videotape. There was a worry of sorry in there, but it was very brief, very fleeting, very resentful, and then he immediately went on the attack and started talking about Bill Clinton.
ORNSTEINYou know, there's something so interesting about this, and at Karen's point, Donald Trump throughout the course of this campaign have done things that have alienated large numbers of people, and Republican lawmakers and candidates have been asked over and over again about what they think about it. Many of them along the way, Senator Kelly Ayotte for example, said, well, I'm not going to endorse him, but I'm going to support him.
ORNSTEINThey've tried to get some distance, and whether it's the birther business or what he said about Mexican rapists or what he said about women in the past, and with this one it was, now this is the final straw. Why? Because he's offended my wife and my children. And now the ones who are still with him are going to have to decide what the final straw is if more things emerge.
REHMAll right, and we'll hear more about what you thought of last night's debate when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd before we go back to the phones with our panel, Ron Elving, Karen Tumulty and Norman Ornstein, how do you all think the moderators did, Martha Raddatz and CNN's Anderson Cooper?
ORNSTEINAnderson Cooper. You know, let me start by saying I can't imagine a tougher role.
ORNSTEINYou know, you've got to do this for 90 minutes. You are balancing and juggling the audience questions, trying to keep things on track, trying to make sure there's some fairness. You know, Trump repeatedly said he was being ganged up on. It was three to one. It turns out the time was almost exactly the same for the two candidates. Martha did hone in on and try and get some depth on the question about Aleppo and Syria, which is a really important question.
ORNSTEINBut I wish they'd done it differently. I wish the focus had been much more on questions from the audience and then you moderate a little bit the responses to those questions from the audience instead of making it more -- or at least as much about your own approach.
ELVINGMartha Raddatz had previously been the moderator for two Vice Presidential debates and done an absolutely exemplary job in both cases. Winning praise from both sides and more importantly, winning praise from the people who wanted to get information from those debates. The Paul Ryan verses Joe Biden debate and also one of the Cheney debates when he was running for Vice President. She, she just does an awfully good job of sticking to the question. And one of the things that politicians really hate in a debate is when they're asked a question.
ELVINGThey spend a couple minutes evading it, and the moderator says, sir, the question was.
ELVINGAnd she does that quite forcefully.
REHMAnd the question for me was how come she did not get to do that debate by herself last night?
TUMULTYTown hall debates have almost always, at least in my recollection, had two moderators, because often, you need to be juggling the questions of the other. Am I right about this guys?
ELVINGYou know, I like the wing person concept, you know? I mean, if you've got somebody there with you on your side, and the moderator's job is so lonely. That's one of the things that makes it difficult. And when the crowd gets a little unruly. If you have somebody there with you, helping you assert the role of the moderator, and also balancing you and, you know, being just a different person. It's great. It really is. It makes it much easier to play the role.
TUMULTYYeah. And I think the exception would have been Candy Crowley did the town hall last time, I think. And she, she was criticized afterward for the way she had fact checked some of the answers. So I think that's another, another issue. These are just much more complicated.
REHMGosh. We're asked to fact check and then there are complaints when moderators do exactly that. And Marie in Miami, Florida. You're on the air.
MARIEHi guys. Thanks for taking my call.
MARIEI just wanted to say that I felt that the moderators did do a fairly good job of getting the answers that were -- of the questions that were asked. However, I was disappointed as someone watching the debate, as so much time was spent on the drama surrounding the debate. And I know that character is very important and we all know a person's character. But the first good chunk of the debate was just spent, like in a reality TV show, it almost felt. And my husband and I sat and watched the debate unfold. And it was just kind of drama.
MARIEAnd my question is can our moderators in the future kind of raise the bar so that we are talking more about policy or is it necessary to really dive into the drama of this debate?
REHMHow much time was spent on Trump's comments on video?
ORNSTEINWell, we led off with that -- after that first question, which was really a sort of a gimme about kind of tone down the attacks and turn to substance. But about, I think, 10 or 12 minutes, probably, on that. Throw in the emails and other things that were not directly related to the issues that are of importance to voters and you probably had close to a third of the debate. Which is too much. There are a lot of issues of substance in the first debates that we've had where we've had nothing at all.
ORNSTEINWe've had nothing on climate change and the environment. We had no questions last night on immigration. I'd mentioned earlier the Black Lives Matter movement and these tremendous controversies over the police relations with minority communities. You can't do everything, but when we turn to the reality TV stuff, and that's what's in the news, and that's what's dominating, and obviously now, with the explosion of the tape, it's hard not to do those things.
ORNSTEINBut the town hall debate is supposed to be the one where voters are able to get to their concerns and I think most of the concerns that those voters sitting in the room had were about things that are of direct importance to their daily lives. And it's really hard to do debates that turn in that direction.
REHMTo Cynthia in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You're on the air.
CYNTHIAThanks, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
CYNTHIATwo brief comments. The first is when Donald Trump was bringing Bill Clinton's behavior into this situation and into the comments, I really just wanted to hear from Hillary, I am not my husband. And I was a person -- a wife racked with grief and sadness about a personal matter and it was handled very publicly. But just disarm him. It's not -- it's not her behavior that's on attack there.
TUMULTYI think that is -- that is something she could have answered had Monica Lewinsky been in the audience, but these are allegations of, in some cases, sexual assault against her husband. And Hillary Clinton herself has said publicly that people who make these allegations should be believed. So she is in a difficult spot here and had she done that, that, I'm certain would have been Donald Trump's response.
REHMAll right. To Mark in Whitsett, North Carolina. You're on the air.
MARKYeah, I think this is sort of a biased discussion, to be frank with you. Hillary Clinton last night, and the emails are important. Because emails were subpoenaed by Congress and then 33,000 of them were destroyed. And she constantly, last night, several times, I think three, denied that she had done that. Well, it's obviously false. And it is an issue because it has to do with our national security.
ELVINGThe emails controversy is probably never going to be resolved because everyone insists on their own facts. In this particular case, the Clinton campaign has always insisted that nothing was destroyed after any subpoena was received or at least no subpoena that was recognizable to them as such. And this is something that is going to be with us. If she is elected President, I suspect that the House will continue warfare on this front. And it will adjudicated into the future. If she's not elected President, presumably, well, Donald Trump told us last night that she would be looking at a special prosecutor as a private citizen.
ELVINGAnd he would direct his Attorney General to be sure that she got prosecuted. And he said she would be in jail, so people can also think about the implications of that for our political system going forward.
REHMTo Elijah in Fort Worth, Texas. You're on the air.
ELIJAHGood morning. Thank you for having me on.
ELIJAHMy question is Donald Trump's statements regarding nuclear Russia and how the US has fallen behind to me suggests that we should increase our nuclear arsenal. What are ya'll's opinion on this?
ORNSTEINA lot of what he said about the nuclear arsenal is not correct. Basically, Trump said that they have modernized totally and we have done nothing, and that's simply not a reality. At the same time, the nature of warfare in the modern era, we have an enormous number of nuclear weapons. We have modern ways of delivering those weapons. But it's an asymmetric warfare. And the greater vulnerability that we have is in the way that we deal with conventional forces and the way we deal with things like cyber terrorism.
ORNSTEINSubjects that would be nice to bring up. The other thing that was so striking about Trump's comments, more generally, including about Russia, were in effect praising Putin, Assad and Iran for going after ISIS while undercutting his own Vice President, Presidential nominee. But a lot of this discussion is either fact free or involves things that are simply not true. And in a debate of 90 minutes, you're not going to be able to get much beyond what we had.
ELVINGBack in the primaries, you may recall, there was a mention, at one of the debates, of the nuclear triad. And it was rather apparent that that was a concept that was new to Donald Trump or at least that he hadn't thought about it in a very long time. To go from that level of information to suggesting that somehow we have done nothing to modernize our nuclear arsenal whereas the Russians with all of their problems for financing their--not only nuclear program, but their entire military have somehow gone leaps and bounds beyond us is simply breathtaking.
REHMNow, Donald Trump was pushed on his Muslim ban. And he said now, he says he would do extreme vetting. What does that mean, Karen?
TUMULTYHe has not really explained, I think, what that means. I think it is another way of saying a Muslim ban. Basically, there -- the current procedures are pretty, in terms of bringing in refugees, are pretty -- there's a pretty high bar there. And the fact is that most people who come into this country illegally are overstaying visas. And that is not an issue that he has really dealt with directly.
ELVINGThat's absolutely the case. And of course, if we look at the reality of immigration, we don't have a flood of people coming in over the southern border. That has slowed to a trickle, and it has always been the case that wall or no, the largest number of people who are in the country and who stay here, who are undocumented, are just as Karen said. They're people who come in on a tourist visa and then never leave. So, the idea that there's some simple way of dealing with immigration is pretty ridiculous.
ELVINGBut, you know, even the question of extreme vetting didn't get to the second level, which is the idea that you're going to interview people and ask them if they believe in Sharia Law or go through a whole set of religious tests. You know, Hillary Clinton had to answer the question about the significant expansion of the number of Syrian refugees coming in and how we would deal with all of that. But the idea of a religious test is itself, to use the word that Ron said, breathtaking.
REHMTo Robbie in Dallas, Texas. Hi, you're on the air.
ROBBIEHi Diane Rehm. I am Robbie.
ROBBIEAnd good morning and thanks for everyone taking my call.
ROBBIEI'm a big fan of your show from last many years.
ROBBIEAnd I just want to say thanks to Ryan and he's filling you when you are on leave. Thanks, Ryan. And my question is, Diane, and I was listening to the debate and I did listen many debates in past 11 years, nationally and locally. And not any single politician mentioned to the opposing politician saying that you'll be in jail if you're convicted. And I felt so bad when Mr. Trump mentioned to that Mrs. Clinton. And this is not a thing that I've come across and lately have seen.
ROBBIEBut I've listened to the same comments in other countries. They say that the other politician, opposing politician, that you've convicted, you'll be in jail.
ELVINGThis is a feature of American democracy that has been admired over many generations around the world, that we can be at peace with each other after the election. That we have a peaceful transfer of power, a phrase which really just brings tears to the eyes of people in many parts of the world. For us to start suggesting that that would change, I think that that would be disturbing to many people around the world.
REHMSo for all of you, how do you see last night's debate? Let me remind you you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. To what extent does it -- does what happened last night move any needle in any direction?
ELVINGI think it moves the needle that Norm referred to earlier, which is the degree of support that comes back to Donald Trump from his base. And it clearly seems to have contributed to that, to hardening his base, to making the people who were still with him still with him. Really with him, and ready to say, all right, Mike Pence, if you need to take a walk, you take a walk, rather than saying as many people have been saying on Saturday, maybe it's time for Donald Trump to step down and let Mike Pence be the nominee, which would not by any means automatic, by the way.
TUMULTYI think it also probably revved up Hillary Clinton's base as well. But it may have increased one potential disturbing possibility which is that the people in this country who are not extreme partisans, who are not part of either candidate's base, may have gotten even more disgusted, both with this election and with the candidates. And so, there's a real possibility they may not even show up.
ELVINGThere's a lot of dysfunction out there, but I think the bottom line here is we went into this debate with Clinton having the lead. Four, five points, we're not sure exactly what. Did this change anything? If anything, it solidified her lead and probably increased it a little bit. And the hope that Republicans have had, that they could at least win back educated white voters, especially white women, maybe begin to peel off some of the minority voters, I think went down the drain.
ELVINGTo watch Donald Trump following Clinton around, some people called it stalking, to hear some of the comments that he made, including the business about her husband, whatever it may be, which in the past, has rebounded against Republicans, those attacks. What I'm hearing is that Republican strategists who are following House and Senate races for their party around the country, they've written off the Presidential campaign. And now, it's not just the hemorrhaging of Donald Trump support going into the debate last night.
ELVINGIt's that hemorrhaging of support that they see at those lower levels that most concerns them.
REHMSo interesting to hear Robbie's comments and to think about what impression this particular election and these debates are making around the world.
ELVINGWe are not the shining city of the hill anymore. We can be again, of course. And we should not allow the, the sad state of this particular campaign to become the sad state of our republic.
REHMBut that's what worries me. Is there any echo effect? Does one level of non-debate provide a tradition to carry on in that very vein?
ELVINGYou know, if Hillary Clinton wins, one of her tasks, immediately, is going to be to reach out to those voters that Karen was talking about. And I think a lot of those reflected in the people in the town hall who don't want it to be like this. And see what she can do to build some of those bridges. It's clear that for a good portion of the Trump base, that's not going to work. But what we see with Barack Obama's approval now up at 58 percent suggests that there may be a supermajority of people who are yearning to find a way to bring us back to where we had been. And that is the only heartening thing we can say right now.
REHMAnd we'll have to leave it at that. Norman Ornstein, Resident Scholar of the American Enterprise Institute. And co-author of "It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With a New Politics of Extremism." Karen Tumulty, National Political Reporter for the Washington Post. And Ron Elving, Senior Washington Editor for NPR News. As always, I thank you. I hope you get some rest.
TUMULTYThanks a lot.
REHMAnd thanks all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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