GWEN IFILL: We are here in post-debate Milwaukee to take you inside the latest topsy-turvy political dramas, the big winners, and the surprising losers, tonight on this Washington Week election special.
Hillary Clinton, recovering from a big New Hampshire defeat, strikes back.
FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: (From video.) I am not a single-issue candidate, and I do not believe we live in a single-issue country.
MS. IFILL: And Bernie Sanders, poised to slay the giant, shows he won’t back down.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): (From video.) Secretary Clinton, you’re not in the White House yet.
MS. IFILL: And as the Democrats spar, the Republican field narrows, as the remaining candidates launch ahead.
DONALD TRUMP: (From video.) The last thing we need is another Bush, that I can tell you. That I can tell you. (Cheers, applause.)
SENATOR MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): (From video.) I did not do well on Saturday night. So listen to this: that will never happen again.
SENATOR TED CRUZ (R-TX): (From video.) The only way to beat Donald Trump is to highlight the simple truth of his record.
OHIO GOVERNOR JOHN KASICH (R): (From video.) The light overcame the darkness of negative campaigning. (Cheers, applause.)
MS. IFILL: On to Nevada, on to South Carolina, a fight for survival. We’ll get in-depth analysis from the reporters covering the 2016 race next.
ANNOUNCER: From Milwaukee, Wisconsin, this is a special election 2016 edition of Washington Week with Gwen Ifill. (Applause.) Once again, from the Helen Bader Concert Hall on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, moderator Gwen Ifill. (Applause.)
MS. IFILL: Hello, Milwaukee! We’re here on the very stage where Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders faced off just last night. I was sitting only a few feet away, and I felt the heat. (Laughter.)
MRS. CLINTON: (From video.) The kind of criticism that we’ve heard from Senator Sanders about our president I expect from Republicans; I do not expect from someone running for the Democratic nomination to succeed President Obama. (Cheers, applause.)
SEN. SANDERS: (From video.) That is – Madam Secretary, that is a low blow.
SEN. SANDERS: (From video.) But, you know what? Last I heard, we lived in a democratic society. Last I heard, a United States senator had the right to disagree with the president, including a president who has done such an extraordinary job. So I have voiced criticisms, you’re right. Maybe you haven’t.
MS. IFILL: While the candidates sparred over domestic policy, foreign policy and each other, so much was at stake this time, Dan.
DAN BALZ: Well, there was a lot at stake, particularly because we came out of a New Hampshire race in which Senator Sanders didn’t just beat Hillary Clinton, he trounced Hillary Clinton. I mean, everybody knew he had an advantage in that state, and the Clinton campaign had talked about the fact that New Hampshire’s – New Hampshire’s voters are neighborly toward neighboring-state senators or governors. But this margin was one of the biggest we’ve seen in the history of the primaries in New Hampshire. And so it was a real blow to her. It gave him a sense of momentum. And you could see what she was trying to do on the debate stage last night, which was to sort of push back, slow him down, undermine him, raise doubts about him.
MS. IFILL: Amy, who came to play?
AMY WALTER: Well, clearly they both did. And in fact, I was most taken by Bernie Sanders’ come-to-playness. Is that a term? I don’t know.
MS. IFILL: You just made it up. It’s good.
MS. WALTER: I just made it up. But his aggressiveness, to me, was something new, which was he knew that she was going to come and try to put him on his heels, again go after the fact that he doesn’t have specifics, that he’s a lot about pie-in-the-sky and not a lot about policy. And yet, he was able to get his own jabs in there, too. He clearly wasn’t going to let him – her put him on the defensive the entire time of this debate. And for the first time, I felt like this is a candidate who now actually wants to win this nomination. For so many of these early debates, it felt as if he wanted to get his message across, and that would be a success to him.
MS. IFILL: Michael, did it feel to you like if Bernie Sanders actually prepped for this debate, as opposed to previous debates – like he spent some time trying to look up his Middle East history, for instance? (Laughter.)
MICHAEL SCHERER: He did. I think more than her he reverted to his stump speech, especially early on. You would ask a question and he would just go straight into the stump speech.
MS. IFILL: Yeah.
MR. SCHERER: I think on the substance it was a –
MS. IFILL: It’s a hazard of the business.
MR. SCHERER: It is a hazard. (Chuckles.) On the substance, it was a competition over who can claim the mantle of continuing Obama’s legacy. Stylistically, I think it was really interesting in their different temperaments. They were both almost equally attacking each other, but the way they were doing it was very different. Hillary Clinton was very level, very even, was sort of dropping facts that she’d memorized on him. And from some of the clips we just showed, Bernie Sanders was sort of responding with sarcasm and condescension. And I think it really will be interesting to see how that plays out going forward. He is someone who’s always been on the outside, hurling rocks in. And he, as he becomes more and more a credible candidate to win the nomination and become the president, he’s going to have to figure out whether he needs to shift that style. I don’t know whether the American public will respond to that in their presidential – the Democratic presidential candidate or not, but it’s definitely a departure from what we’re used to.
MS. IFILL: I was thinking, Jeff, that it was very interesting to watch the kind of change. Leading up to the debate, a lot of reporting was she’s coming in, she’s going to attack him on gun control, she’s going – in fact, the Clinton campaign had telegraphed that they were coming in with their – with their fists up. But it wasn’t quite the way it played out.
JEFF ZELENY: It wasn’t, and I think that’s because the week before, in New Hampshire, that clearly didn’t serve her very well. I mean, she was boiling pretty hot in the New Hampshire debate. Both of them were. And what they’re concerned about now is – or one of the many things that they’re concerned about, her likability, her trust, her other things. So I think that she came in with a smarter approach this time. But I think she was able to conduct as much business here on this stage. I mean, if you think about all the information she was able to impart, I think it was actually more successful.
But I was struck by how intently focused she was on President Obama. I mean, this was – it’s like, you know, hello, South Carolina, please listen, I hope you’re paying attention. And boy, that has changed since the – sort of the end of last summer, early on. She did not intend to sort of begin this nominating fight hugging the president so intently. That could – some Democrats believe that that could be an issue in the general election, but she has to get there first. And that is now an open question.
MS. IFILL: But isn’t part of the idea of embracing the president that there is still an Obama coalition out there to be had – that how the way he was able to win South Carolina, the way he was able to win Nevada, the way he was able to push her away after she won – surprisingly won New Hampshire means that she could duplicate that? But I’m not sure, does it work?
MR. BALZ: Well, I think that the issue for her is that the Obama coalition was –
MS. IFILL: She won Iowa, he won New Hampshire. I got them backwards. Go ahead.
MR. BALZ: Right.
MS. IFILL: Go ahead, yeah. In 2008.
MR. BALZ: The Obama coalition that was so successful in 2008 and 2012 was a combination of energized young voters and energized minority voters. And right now, Bernie Sanders has the energized young voters. So as she looks at how she wins this nomination, she has to have strong support in the African-American community and in the Latino community. And I think the embrace of President Obama – and interestingly enough, at the end of that debate, she inserted that. It wasn’t as though you had – you had invited her to make that argument.
MS. IFILL: She wanted me to ask it. She did, yeah.
MR. BALZ: She wanted that – she wanted that issue out on the table, and we know why.
MR. SCHERER: I think there’s something else about just the Democratic Party DNA here. Democrats like troublemakers. They don’t like going with the establishment person who lost last time. And Hillary’s trying to upset that. And so she has to make the case that she can claim some of that energy, and she’s doing it with a sort of complicated two-step argument here. She’s saying President Obama is the change we still want; I am that change, Bernie Sanders is something different. Whereas Bernie is saying, I’m basically the exciting, fun guy like you had in 2008. So they’re both making claims there. But if she just runs as, you know, the person who is going to be passed the crown, there’s I think a real reticence among Democrats. It’s just not in their nature to go with that kind of candidate.
MS. WALTER: And that’s what’s interesting, too, about this, because I came into this primary thinking that Bernie Sanders was going to fill the role as so many of these insurgent rock-throwers, which – and where Obama started off, which was doing very well among white liberal voters, highly educated. That was the coalition that Obama had at the very beginning, and then of course expanded it to younger people and minorities. But where Bernie Sanders is actually picking up the most support is among sort of downscale blue-collar voters that were with Hillary Clinton in 2008. So he’s not just the idealistic liberal savior, he’s now cutting into the more traditional Democratic coalition.
The one thing she does have going for her, though, is still, as these guys pointed out, minority voters, as well as traditional Democrats – the people that identify themselves as Democrats, the people that can show up in closed primaries. Independents can’t vote in a lot of these states.
MS. IFILL: You know, one of – she had a little cleanup that she had to do with women voters after the New Hampshire results, which surprisingly showed that more women voted for Bernie than voted for her. She clearly had some to make up. That’s why I asked Senator Sanders the question about whether he was prepared to thwart history, because I wondered whether he would then say, well – I don’t know what he would say; I was curious. And he didn’t exactly get to that.
MR. ZELENY: He didn’t. He said he would be a historic figure as well, but he didn’t say why or how.
MS. IFILL: He didn’t say how.
MR. ZELENY: He didn’t say he would be the first Jewish president, but he did say he would be an outsider who, you know, sort of an improbable rise here.
But I think your point on women voters is so important. Talk about the Obama coalition. I mean, I was struck by so many New Hampshire voters I ran into who said I supported her in 2008 from the beginning, I started doing it this time, but in the summer or so I decided that, you know, maybe Bernie Sanders can win. And that’s what the Sanders campaign is really hoping for, and that’s what they were hoping that the audience last night – there are some people out there who may have some lingering doubts about her. Will they give him a second look?
So I think, you know, the – people are viewing him in a different light now, and she’s going to be trying to shine more scrutiny on him, of course. And that’s what we don’t know, if he’ll be able to stand up to that. We know she can. She’s been through everything and back. We don’t know if he’ll be able to yet.
MS. IFILL: And she’s the first to tell you that.
MR. ZELENY: Right, exactly. (Laughter.)
MS. IFILL: You know, one of the things I found interesting, when Judy and I and our team were trying to develop questions on foreign policy, part of the challenge was not putting him in a positon where he was automatically going to look bad, because that’s one of her goals, which is to make him look inexperienced. So we worked really hard to try to give him an opportunity to do that, and we were rewarded with a trip through Middle Eastern history, I believe. (Laughter.) There was some debate prep that went on that with. But did he win, or did he balance out – what he’s been saying is it’s not about experience, it’s about judgment. Did he manage to balance that out last night?
MS. WALTER: I think what I was struck by was Hillary Clinton has an advantage, as you say, on this issue, and she should be able to parlay that into success.
MS. IFILL: As he said last night, she was four years the secretary of state, of course, right.
MS. WALTER: That’s right. But when you listen to her – that was –
MS. IFILL: That was my Bernie, by the way. (Laughs.) Very bad.
MS. WALTER: That was pretty good. (Laughter.) When you listen to her go through the answer to your question, what I find is it’s – it misses sort of a central message, or there’s really like no there there – that she gets really caught up in sort of the weeds of it, that she can talk to you about names and policies, and we know she is smarter than anybody else on this. But she can’t ever deliver what is it about me and my foreign policy, what is the central core of it. And that’s what I think helps Bernie Sanders a little bit, in that it’s not as direct contrast.
MR. BALZ: But that’s the basic thing we’re seeing play out. He has a very simple, straightforward message, and it resonates. It resonates with a lot of people, even if they are supporting her. What she has to do is chip away at that. And we saw it last night, she will chip away at experience. If you look at the exit polls from the first two states, anybody who thinks experience or electability are the real important issues is going overwhelmingly for her, and anybody who thinks trustworthiness, honesty, and in a sense compassion for the little guy is going overwhelmingly for him. And that’s the fight that’s going to play out in the future.
MS. IFILL: Well, let’s talk about the future. We have Nevada coming up. We have South Carolina coming up. You guys are probably all at different times on your way to both of those locations. What is it that we saw last night which presages what to expect on the ground, Jeff?
MR. ZELENY: Well, I think in Nevada – I mean, first and foremost, this electorate is considerably more diverse. Some 20 percent of the electorate in Nevada, the Democratic electorate, is going to be Hispanic. Some 55 percent in 2008 of the South Carolina electorate was African-American. So it’s a different electorate. But the Sanders campaign believes that they have a decent shot at the Nevada at least, and they have flown in a ton of people.
The thing fueling all of this, and the reason that Sanders should be taken seriously, is the money he’s raised. It has blown all expectations from Brooklyn at the Clinton headquarters. Even the Sanders people are stunned by it. I mean, he said he was, and he means it. So they are raising so much money, and that means that they can put a lot of boots on the ground. They have 150 organizers, I’m told, in Nevada, which is a lot of people – more than Obama had in ’08. So they think they could maybe win in Nevada. South Carolina I think is still a little bit more difficult, but we don’t really know the sense of things there. There is no recent polling. The only polling is pre-Iowa. So, you know, things might change there.
But after that, it’s off to the races. I mean, March is an incredibly intense first three weeks or so.
MS. WALTER: And it’s notable, too, that the Clinton campaign has been downplaying Nevada a lot and saying, well, you know, maybe it’s not as diverse as some people expect it to be. It might be a little less so. And so you can see them really shifting the focus to South Carolina.
MS. IFILL: But they are not playing down South Carolina. They are playing up every single endorsement – both sides – of any African-American who happens to wander through the screen. (Laughter.)
MR. SCHERER: And on stage last night, when you were asking about criminal justice reform, the kept saying I agree completely with everything you say; I just mean it more. (Laughter.)
MS. IFILL: Exactly. And it wasn’t clear that I was actually talking about race at that point. I was just talking – they would pivot to it.
MR. SCHERER: They were – they were embracing each other.
I think, you know, one of the things we’re going to find out in the next few weeks is you had the whole Madeleine Albright thing in New Hampshire, when she said if you’re a woman you have to vote for the woman. Clearly was rejected because I think there’s just a sense, especially among younger women, younger feminists, that that kind of old-school identity politics does not – should not decide how they go. Hillary backed off of that yesterday. And that economic issues, especially in New Hampshire, especially with the young, are more important. So, you know, Bernie’s offering them free college and higher minimum wage, and they’re going with that.
I think the interesting thing will be to see in Nevada and South Carolina whether the African-American and Hispanic community does something similar. Historical patterns would say there’s a long tie to the Clinton family, there’s allegiance there, there’s support. But it may be that just the way people think about these things has been changing over the last eight years.
MS. IFILL: Well, the – one of the interesting things we saw develop in the wake of actual voters voting, as opposed to just polls – we’re so excited to have voters voting – one of the interesting things is we’ve seen the Republican Party move farther and farther to the right, Democrat Party become far more liberal than even we thought them to be. And the victors of that so far on the Republican side are Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. Let’s listen to what they had to say this week.
MR. TRUMP: (From video.) We’re going to take care of the economy. We’re going to take care of jobs. We’re going to take care of all of the things that I said – our border, everything, health care. It’s going to be so great.
SEN. CRUZ: (From video.) The great thing about Iowa and New Hampshire is it’s narrowed the field and it’s given South Carolina a clear choice.
MS. IFILL: Now, here’s the interesting thing. We have seen Trump on one side and Sanders on one side appeal to a lot of the same voters, in some ways.
MR. BALZ: Well, they’re appealing to the same concerns and the same frustration. I’m not sure there is that much overlap. You can find voters who will say, well, I’m – you know, I like what Bernie Sanders has to say, but I’m really for Trump. But there are a lot of Trump voters who also say Bernie Sanders is a socialist and I would never vote for him. But that sense of grievance is what they’ve both tapped into, and so effectively. And again, I mean, if you think of Donald Trump’s message, it couldn’t be more straightforward. He says it over and over again. He said it on the night of the election in New Hampshire – he comes out and he says we are going to make America great again, you know, end of message. And that is something that his people have grabbed onto and has put him in a very strong position in that Republican race.
MS. WALTER: In fact, the thing that is almost more surprising to me than the rise and durability of Donald Trump has been the vacuum on the anti-Trump side. I mean, when you think about it, he’s doing very well. He obviously won in New Hampshire. He’s ahead in South Carolina. The expectation is he’s going to win in South Carolina. But he’s winning, you know, with 30 percent, maybe he gets 25 percent, 32 percent. So there’s still a big chunk of Republican primary voters who are voting for somebody else.
MS. IFILL: Who are voting for somebody else.
MS. WALTER: But they can’t figure out who that somebody else they really want it to be. And so this vote continues to get split up and split up. And that is the concern of Republicans who are not Trump supporters, is that by the time they figure it out it’s going to be too late.
MS. IFILL: Let’s talk about the somebody elses, Michael. Who would you say is the somebody else to watch as we go forward?
MR. SCHERER: Well, right now you have in South Carolina, a number of the other states, at least the polls we have – and I don’t expect they’ll change much after New Hampshire – something like 50, 60 percent of the vote divided between Trump and Cruz. And so you have one lane there of the sort of anti-establishment, angry at Washington, sort of burn it down, change it all vote, which is enormous in the Republican Party right now. How that sorts out, who wins, you know, one and two in South Carolina, I think, is a question. I mean, but then you have the other 40 percent now divided between all these other people who are running much more traditional races in much more traditional lanes and all saying – you had Marco Rubio saying this week not only am I not getting out, but maybe we should have a contested convention – like maybe it would be OK if we take this all the way to the convention.
MS. IFILL: Those of us who have been covering politics for a while, contested convention, ah! (Laughter.) All the time.
MR. SCHERER: What Amy said is right, that that lane – I mean, there’s still something like 30 or 40 percent of Republicans who say they don’t want Donald Trump as president, right? But they can’t do anything if they’re dividing their vote between three people at 12 percent.
MR. ZELENY: I think that the – I mean, it’s pretty considerable or pretty remarkable if you think how the field has already shrunk just in a couple weeks. So I think we are seeing – we know what’s coming. We don’t know who exactly is going to fall by the wayside after South Carolina, but I suspect someone will.
But the calendar on the Republican side, always important to keep in mind that it’s different than the Democratic side because it becomes winner-take-all on March 15th. And John Kasich, if he happens to hang on and does strong, he has a pocket of Midwestern states that could be very good for him – Ohio, Illinois, Indiana. So I think that he is someone who is fresher to the national scene. Jeb Bush has, you know, maybe one more trick up his sleeve, he hopes. But they have tried everything. John Kasich is still a newer product, I think. So I have my eye on him to see if he will emerge as the other person. I don’t know that he will, but he’s – I think may have more of a shot.
MR. BALZ: He certainly had a great week in New Hampshire. I think the challenge for him is to get to the state of Michigan on March 8th. We’ve got in between that South Carolina, Nevada, a slew of states on March 1st. He’s planted his flag in Michigan as the next place where he feels he must win, but that’s a lot of losses to absorb in the meantime. So the question is whether he can hang on, or whether Marco Rubio can rehabilitate himself after that terrible debate last week, or whether Jeb Bush actually has life at this point.
MS. IFILL: Was anybody as surprised as I was that Chris Christie, you know, gave a big punch to Marco Rubio and the only person who fell was Chris Christie?
MS. WALTER: (Laughs.) Right. (Laughter.)
MR. SCHERER: Wouldn’t it be funny if Chris Christie’s legacy is electing Donald Trump as the nominee? I mean, you had a path coming out of New Hampshire where, if Rubio had done very well – had come in second there – you know, Bush and Kasich would have either been on their way out or out of the race at this point. He would have had a real hold of that – of that establishment vote. And now we don’t even know where he stands.
MS. WALTER: And that’s the person I’m watching, actually, is Ted Cruz, because this is the same, when we get to the narrowing. If he loses in South Carolina – again, a state that is pitch perfect for him; heavily Evangelical, this is a state that looks similar to Iowa, where he won – and he comes in second to Trump, what does that say about his durability going forward? Because he has said from the very beginning where I do well is in the early part of the calendar; I’m going to go from South Carolina to these March 1st states, which are Southern, Evangelical. But if he no longer looks like the front-runner in that category, that’s going to be difficult for him.
MS. IFILL: I do love how people are changing their interpretation of the calendar from contest to contest, depending on where they end up. Finally, do we think this is a heart versus – if this is a heart versus head election so far, which is winning?
MR. ZELENY: Well, I think the heart is winning so far, I mean, at least in the early states, but important to remember that only Iowa and New Hampshire have voted. But I think that – I mean, on Bernie Sanders and – I mean, certainly the heart is winning. You find people who they like Hillary Clinton just fine, some Democrats here. I mean, she actually has pretty high favorables, very high favorable among Democrats. This is something, I think, to keep in mind. But they like the idea of him, you know. And I think the heart at this point seems bigger.
MS. IFILL: Final thought.
MS. WALTER: Yes. (Laughs.) I think that both Hillary Clinton and the non-Trump Republicans are hoping that as we get into this process the head becomes much more important, as you start to envision these people standing up as president of the United States. And that is what traditionally happens, that electability becomes more important than ideology.
MS. IFILL: Except, of course, nothing traditional has happened this year, and that keeps us all fully employed. Thank you all very much. (Laughter.)
Thank you to our hosts here at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and to our public television partners at Milwaukee Public Television. We’ll turn to our audience here for their questions and our answers on the Washington Week Extra Wisconsin Edition. You can find that later tonight and all week long online and on many PBS stations. Check your local listings. And we’ll see you again back in our regular digs next week on Washington Week. Good night.