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What the candidates need to do in their last debate

It’s the third and final time the presidential nominees will face-off in a debate. Judy Woodruff speaks with Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook and Donald Trump supporter Dr. Ben Carson, then syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Judy Woodruff and Hari Sreenivasan to offer their predictions.

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    And we turn now to preview tonight's debate with representatives from both campaigns.

    We start with Donald Trump supporter Dr. Ben Carson. I spoke with him a short time ago, and began by asking what Donald Trump needs to do tonight in face of declining polls, including in key battleground states.

  • DR. BEN CARSON, Donald Trump Supporter:

    I hope he's going to spend a lot of time talking about the issues that really concern the American people, the economy, jobs, education, immigration, our standing in the world and how we relate to the various problems that are going on in the world.

    And then I hope he will probably also highlight some of the things that have come out, you know, in recent weeks about Hillary Clinton that many in the news have not bothered to report on.


    Are you referring to the WikiLeaks stories?




    So, what specifically?


    Well, I don't think there's been a lot of emphasis on, you know, the fact that she and her staff have kind of savaged, you know, Bernie Sanders, have talked about Catholics and evangelicals in a way perhaps not becoming to the leadership of this country, where we're supposed to have freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of expression.


    Well, we're told that Donald Trump is inviting several guests to the debate tonight, including the mother of a State Department contractor who died at Benghazi, Libya, and also a woman who for the first time is going public accusing former President Bill Clinton of sexually assaulting her in Arkansas in 1980.

    Is this where you think the focus should be tonight?


    I would love to see that kind of stuff put off to the side.

    That's why we have a legal system, so that those kind of things could be redressed. And it goes for both sides. So, I would much prefer to see a talk on the issues, because the issues are gigantic, and the solutions are incredibly divergent. And yet I doubt that the average person on the street could tell you the difference between the two, because we just haven't heard the discussion.

    We just hear about all these other things.


    Well, did you urge Donald Trump not to invite these individuals? We know he's also invited the family members of individuals who were killed by undocumented immigrants. He's invited the half-brother of President Obama, who is supporting Donald Trump.


    I didn't have anything to do with who's invited and who's not invited.

    But we certainly have talked about the issues. And I think that's really what the American people deserve to hear about, you know, particularly when we're talking about the future. We're talking about our children and our grandchildren. We need to be talking about their financial foundation, and we need to be talking about safety for them.

    And we need to be talking about ways that we can decrease the tension in our society, because a house divided against itself cannot stand.


    Well, we know one of the things Donald Trump has been talking about repeatedly on the campaign trail lately is that this election, he says, will be rigged. He's talking about rampant voter fraud. Do you expect that to happen?


    Well, I do know of many instances where things have not been good, and not just recently, but this is going back for quite a period of time.

    And it's always baffled me why we don't try to fix it. You know, for instance, when it comes to the ballots, it's such an easy thing to just photograph a ballot as a person comes in, so that you have a backup system, so that if something comes out, and it's variant to what you thought it should be, you have a way of checking it.

    These are easy things to remedy if we really want to do it. For some reason, we don't want to do it.


    Well, one of the reasons I'm asking is because his campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, said this morning in an interview on CNN that she doesn't think that there is going to be widespread voter fraud. So, which is right?


    Well, it really doesn't matter what anybody thinks. What does matter is that we decide that we're going to fix it.

    We can send a man to the moon, but we can't verify something as simple as an election? Of course we could do it, if we had the will to do it. So that, to me, makes a lot more sense than any of the arguments on one side or the other side. Just fix it.


    Dr. Carson, we heard Donald Trump say in a speech just in the last few days that if he doesn't win this election, that the United States loses its independence. He talked about dire circumstances if he doesn't win.

    Is that how you see what's at stake here?


    Well, I have heard both sides, you know, make that claim.

    And, you know, certainly they're entitled to their opinion. I'm hopeful that the American people are wise enough to guide us through the difficult times that lay ahead for us. We're going to have difficult times either way because of the amount of debt that we have incurred, because of the radical Islamic terrorists who want to destroy us.

    There are a lot of problems that aren't going to go away regardless of who's elected that we are going to have to deal with.


    Dr. Ben Carson, joining us from Las Vegas at the debate site, we thank you.


    Wonderful to be with you. Thank you, Judy.


    And now we turn to Robby Mook. He's the campaign manager for Hillary Clinton.

    And welcome to the program.

    Again, Robby Mook, first of all, we know Hillary Clinton is doing well in the polls, so what does she need to do tonight? Can she just sort of rest on her laurels and sit back and not take any chances?

  • ROBBY MOOK, Clinton Campaign Manager:

    Well, not at all, Judy.

    First of all, our campaign doesn't take anything for granted. We run like we're 20 points behind no matter what. But, more importantly, this debate is a terrific opportunity for Hillary to speak directly to the American people in an unfiltered way about the real plans that she has to make a difference in their lives.

    This election is supposed to be about the American people, supposed to be about their future. And the candidates are supposed to be on that stage proving that they can actually make a difference and actually improve people's lives.

    And so that's what we hope that this debate is about. Hillary's come prepared to the last two debates. She's going to come prepared to this debate to have a substantive discussion of those issues.


    We know, Robby Mook, that Donald Trump has invited a number of individuals to be his guests tonight, including a woman who is coming forward the first time to charge that Bill Clinton sexually assaulted her in 1980.

    He's invited the mother of the man, the State Department contractor who died at Benghazi. How will she handle this if it comes up in the debate?


    Well, first of all, Judy, as I said, Hillary's come to these debates consistently prepared to talk about the issues. Donald Trump has not.

    We saw him pull a media stunt before the last debate. He's clearly trying to use the tickets he's given to invite special guests to pull more stunts. And we're just not going to get into that and Hillary's not going to get into that. I think the American people deserve to hear substantive answers to real questions about real policies, real solutions, and what these people are really going to do if they get the job as president.

    So, she's not going to get thrown off her game. And Donald Trump gets to run the campaign that he wants to run. That's his right. Hillary is going to focus on what matters to voters.


    Well, in connection with that, the Trump campaign has been talking a lot, Donald Trump himself has been bringing up this — the FBI report that came out in the last few days that shows that there was a conversation between the State Department and the FBI about whether to lower the classification of one of Secretary Clinton's e-mails in exchange for providing more FBI — giving FBI employees the chance to hold more jobs overseas, a potential quid pro quo.

    If that comes up, is she going to have an answer to that?


    Well, I think she is going to have an answer about what her policies would be as president on this issue.

    I think, first and foremost, this is an interagency dispute or interagency conversation that was going on. The State Department has denied there was any sort of quid pro quo. So has the FBI. So has the White House. They have said this is just not true.

    And, again, it's very commonplace for agencies to have disagreements over classifications. That's what was happening here. And I'm going to leave it to those departments to talk about that.

    And, obviously, as president, Hillary would have a role in determining how things are classified. And if she's asked about that, she will be ready to answer that question.


    Something else that's come up in the last day or so, Robby Mook, are these videotapes prepared by James O'Keefe. Our reporter Lisa Desjardins just did a report a few minutes ago on the program about them.

    We know some individuals have been fired from their jobs as a result. Essentially, it had to do with working to rig elections, rig voter turnout, and also arrange to disrupt Donald Trump's rallies.

    How is your camp — how do you see this evidence that clearly something was either done or was at least talked about during this campaign cycle?


    Well, the person in question is a long discredited conservative activist who claims to be a journalist.

    Look, what's really disappointing here, Judy, is that Donald Trump is losing this race, and he is trying to blame everyone else except himself for his loss. And so he's setting up a situation in which he can claim that the election was rigged and that people didn't actually vote against him.

    The fact is, the longer this election goes on, the more that people hear from Donald Trump, the more of the racism, the bigotry, the disrespect towards women, the more they learn about his past, the way he's treated women, the more that people are leaving him.

    The fact of the matter that he's struggling to win the state of Utah right now really says all that we need to know. This election is not going to be rigged. Republican secretaries of state are the ones running this election, by and large. Republican secretaries of state are the ones coming out saying, this is not rigged, asking Donald Trump to stop speaking this way.

    The fact of the matter is also that we're seeing higher voter turnout than we saw in the 2012 cycle, particularly when we look at vote by mail in states like Florida, North Carolina. We think this is going to be the biggest election in our history. We think more people are going to vote than ever before. We just heard that the voter rolls passed 200 million people in this country. That would be historic, if that's the case.

    I think Donald Trump should worry more about trying to win people's votes and let the voters go to the polls and make their voice heard in this historic, high-turnout election.


    Finally, we are hearing from Trump supporters that they expect him to bring up again something he did raise in the first debate.

    And that is, Hillary Clinton has been in the public arena for 30 years, and yet, his words, taxes are up, terrorism has spread, jobs have vanished, and so on. What is her answer to that question?


    You know, I hope that Hillary gets a chance to talk about her record and her history on that debate stage, because I don't — I would put her record of accomplishment up against anyone's, and in particular Donald Trump.

    Hillary Clinton has spent three decades fighting for kids and families ever since she left law school and went to work for the Children's Defense Fund. She fought to get health insurance for every American. When she lost that fight, she kept working with Republicans and Democrats until she got the Children's Health Insurance Program, which covers eight million children in this country. She negotiated a historic reduction in nuclear weapons with Russia.

    If we look at Donald Trump's record, this is a man who was sued repeatedly for racial housing discrimination. He has a record of not paying his contractors, not paying low-wage workers.

    And then we just saw over the last two weeks women speaking out that they were demeaned and disrespected. If Donald Trump wants to have a conversation about the history of these candidates and who's been fighting for working people, who's been fighting for the rights of women, we welcome that discussion. Hillary Clinton is going to win that hands down.


    Well, we will find out in about two-and-a-half-hours.

    Robby Mook, who is the campaign manager for Hillary Clinton, thank you, Robby.


    Thanks, Judy.


    And for more on tonight's debate, we are joined by our debate night team, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, David Brooks, columnist for The New York Times, and Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report.

    And we will show you when we say your name.



    Looking better already.



    All of you are looking really good.

    So, Mark, given this atmosphere, what do you expect tonight?


    It amazes me.

    I mean, just to review the bidding, Donald Trump won 41 contests. He won every big state, save that of John Kasich's and Ted Cruz's home states. I mean, he was — outpolled nearest rival by 2-1, as the anti-establishment candidate, the candidate of change, the candidate of the forgotten Americans, the overlooked Americans, taking on the established wisdom of the conservative hegemony in this country.

    And he has dropped it. He dropped it all. And he's just been in the weeds and just on terrible stuff. There's been nothing — he's allowed himself to become the issue in the campaign, instead of making change and his opponent, who says he's been in the arena for 30 years.

    So, I don't know what to expect, in answer to your question. To me, it's pretty — Ben Carson said it well. The election is about the voters. And, if anything, the Trump campaign has not made it about the voters over the last two weeks.


    David, is there an undecided voter left that these folks are going to go out and make this case? This is their — this is one of the largest stages that they have all season, all year long. Right?


    Yes. If there are any undecided, they're not bright enough to find the remote control, so they are not going to watch the debate, because they can't find it.

    No, there may be some. And, actually, the one thing, as Trump has made himself the subject of this campaign, unlike the primary season, the polls have moved. And so that means, whether they're decided or undecided, there are people who are willing to be driven away by him.

    And that's because they think, I will vote for the guy because he's a change agent, but I think he's kind of a jerk. But as the jerk factor rises, those votes do shift.

    I'm sort of more concerned this debate less about the two candidates than just about the whole country. The campaign has been so degrading, and so many people around the country are just in such poor spirits. It's as if we suffered a revaluation or a re-norming of what's acceptable.

    And I hope — at the same time our standards are being degraded by this campaign, some people are reacting the other way and saying it's time to reestablish some sense of decency. And I'm just hoping the debate doesn't degrade us any further, not as much of who helps, who goes up a point or two in the polls.


    Given all that, Amy, what does Hillary Clinton need to do tonight?


    Well, I completely concur with what David said. And I think that's exactly where she needs to go.

    The very first debate, her goal was to sort of get underneath Trump's skin, make the focus about him. And he played the part brilliantly. Right? He took the bait. He went into these rabbit holes. He completely exploded, then, of course, the next day, continued to unravel with the tweets against the Miss Universe.

    The second debate was really — for her was just holding strong in the face of a very aggressive Donald Trump, in the face of the press conference that came before him featuring the women who had made allegations against her husband.

    This is the chance she has to close this campaign with a positive message and a positive vision for the country, to give people a reason to vote for her, not just to vote against Donald Trump. And she's going to come under fire. There is no doubt that Donald Trump is going to once again make an aggressive push to put her on the defensive.

    She's going to have to answer that. But I think, to close the deal here, she needs to make people feel comfortable with her as president and comfortable with how she's going to bring this country back from what has been an incredibly divisive campaign.


    Mark Shields, is there any incentive that either of these candidates have to take the high road? Because it seems that, with social media, with these sort of on-stage moments, they're rewarded for going lower and lower.


    Yes, I think there is.

    And I think it is because the proximity closest to Election Day. If I were Hillary Clinton tonight, I would say, if in fact I do lose, I hope that I will have the grace and decency and the sense of patriotism that the man said eight years ago when he lost, and he said, I had the honor — this is a quote — of calling Senator Barack Obama to congratulate him on being elected the next president of the country we both love. I wish tonight Godspeed to the man who was my former opponent and will be my president.

    That sounds — it sounds almost biblical, Shakespearian in its eloquence. That was John McCain in 2008. I think, if Hillary Clinton is capable of doing that tonight, I mean, of sort of taking it, reminding us of what we have done and what we have been able to do, after really heated, heated campaigns.

    I agree with David and Amy. It would be great to have better politics. When we get a report like Lisa's, that's evocative of 1972 and dirty tricks. That's what it is. It's trying to — if in fact it's valid, it's to provoke a reaction and to start a political strife-fest.


    It should be said Hillary taking the high road, there are two problems with that.

    One is, to her, the high road has always been just a laundry list of programs. There hasn't actually been a vision or even something personal and emotional. It hasn't been that high. It's been prosaic.

    The second thing is — and we're reminded of that in Lisa's report — is that we have taken Barack Obama's non-scandal administration for granted. And that has never been the nature of Hillary Clinton's campaign or life, at least for the past 30 years.

    There's always been a wave of scandal, and sometimes involving her, but often involving people around her. And for some reason — and, again, we don't know the complete substance of these allegations, but that kind of behavior is the low-rent sort of behavior that sometimes, you know, wouldn't be strange — well, it's even an insult to Dick Morris, who she brought back into the White House.

    But that has been…


    She brought him twice.



    And so that's just been part of her group. And so that's — the moral injury in this campaign is not all on one side.


    And, Amy, that's something that she's gotten accustomed to having to talk about, isn't it?


    Well, and that's exactly what Republicans want Donald Trump to focus on tonight.

    Look, if you're a Republican not involved with the Donald Trump campaign, you are just hoping that what Donald Trump does is put the focus back on her, put her on the defensive, remind people about the years of scandal, what it would feel like to have another Clinton in the White House, remind them of the '90s and the current scandals with Hillary Clinton and the e-mail server, and to help stop the down-ballot drop.

    The greatest fear that Republicans have right now is that Donald Trump, as his numbers have fallen, they're terrified they too are going to lose seats down-ballot.


    Well, we're going to reassemble all of you at 9:00 Eastern.

    And so we will be back right here with Mark, David and Amy for our special live coverage of this final debate. Again, that starts at 9:00 Eastern.

    Plus, we will be providing debate analysis and fact-checking on our Web site. That's PBS.org/NewsHour.

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