GWEN IFILL: What it takes to run for president and what it takes to be president. Object lessons, tonight on Washington Week.
FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: (From video.) I’m a progressive who likes to get things done. I would not ask anyone to vote for me based on my last name. I’d ask them to listen to what I’m proposing.
MS. IFILL: Hillary Clinton showcasing her front-runner’s chops with a little help from her friends.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): (From video.) The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails.
MRS. CLINTON: (From video.) Thank you. Me too, me too. (Cheers, applause.)
FORMER RHODE ISLAND GOVERNOR LINCOLN CHAFEE (D): (From video.) You’re looking at a block of granite when it comes to the issues.
FORMER SENATOR JIM WEBB (D-VA): (From video.) I’ve been waiting for 10 minutes.
FORMER MARYLAND GOVERNOR MARTIN O’MALLEY (D): (From video.) What you heard tonight was a very, very different debate than from the sort of debate you heard from the two presidential Republican debates.
MS. IFILL: The debate almost but not quite overwhelming Joe Biden’s indecision.
VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: (From video.) You deserve a president who will never quit on you. (Cheers, applause.)
MS. IFILL: And nearly overwhelming the fractious Republican primary.
DONALD TRUMP: (From video.) This maniac that was standing on her right is giving everything away.
OHIO GOVERNOR JOHN KASICH (R): (From video.) The leading candidate for the Democrat nomination is bragging about the fact that Republicans don’t like her? That’s a disgrace.
MS. IFILL: But reality intrudes as the White House is forced to admit Afghanistan could become another Iraq.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From video.) As commander in chief, I will not allow Afghanistan to be used as safe haven for terrorists to attack our nation again.
MS. IFILL: The politics, the money, the reality, the hard choices.
Covering the week, Dan Balz, chief correspondent for The Washington Post; Beth Reinhard, national politics correspondent for The Wall Street Journal; Alexis Simendinger, White House correspondent for RealClearPolitics; and Chuck Todd, NBC News political director and moderator of Meet the Press.
ANNOUNCER: Award-winning reporting and analysis. Covering history as it happens. Live from our nation’s capital, this is Washington Week with Gwen Ifill. Once again, live from Washington, moderator Gwen Ifill.
MS. IFILL: Good evening. It’s good to be back.
Sometimes we all get a little caught up in politics, not that there’s anything wrong with that. We track polls obsessively. We keep track of every punch and counterpunch, pay more attention to tea leaves than demonstrated reality. Well, this week we have the opportunity to add a little policy to our politics sauce – from the Democrats’ debate on climate change, guns and inequality, to the president’s reversal in Afghanistan, to GOP discussion about health care and the national debt, to who’s really raising and spending all that campaign money. Listen to Bernie Sanders, for example, explaining democratic socialism at the debate.
SEN. SANDERS: (From video.) It is immoral and wrong that the top one-tenth of 1 percent in this country own almost 90 percent – almost – own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. I think we should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway, and learn from what they have accomplished for their working people.
MS. IFILL: Now there’s an argument you never hear in Democratic or Republican debates. In many ways, the choices seemed clearer than ever, Dan.
DAN BALZ: Yeah, they did. I mean, this was a very interesting debate for the exact reason you talk about, which is we’ve watched now two Republican debates. Those were dominated mostly by what Donald Trump had said about somebody and what they had said about him. This one was dominated, really, about policy. There were some differences. There was some disagreement. There were – there was a sharper exchange in this debate than I think most people anticipated, I think, because Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton had been fairly tentative in the run-up about really engaging one another. Once they got on that debate stage, both were ready to do it, and particularly Hillary Clinton. So you’ve got a lot of issues covered, issues that you don’t hear in a Republican debate. We’re dealing with two different worlds. So it was quite a – quite a window into the two parties, and particularly the Democrats.
MS. IFILL: You know, Chuck, we get caught up, and justifiably, in a lot of the explosions at these debates. But there was a discussion about climate change, about inequality, and about guns, for instance.
CHUCK TODD: No, and you’re right. And it was – and I’m still struck by the contrast between the Republicans and the Democrats because they’re talking about two different sets of issues. You know, the Republican debate, when they talk about issues, they spent a lot more time, for instance, on national security. We didn’t have as much about national security. You had more, I think, on domestic issues.
Look, they’re all speaking to their voters, the people that are going to show up to their polls. But I agree with that Dan said, I think the surprise was Hillary Clinton’s aggressiveness. Not that she was prepared, but that she never missed an opening to create a distinction between her and Bernie Sanders. And it wasn’t just Bernie Sanders she wanted to create a distinction with. Also there were times that I felt like she was trying to send a few messages to the guy not on that stage that could be, Vice President Biden.
MS. IFILL: Let’s take a listen to a little bit of Hillary Clinton’s pushback at the debate.
(Begin video segment.)
ANDERSON COOPER: Secretary Clinton, is Bernie Sanders tough enough on guns?
MRS. CLINTON: No, not at all. Senator Sanders did vote five times against the Brady Bill.
MR. COOPER: Secretary Clinton, do you want to respond?
MRS. CLINTON: No. (Applause.)
I have to say, I was very pleased when Governor O’Malley endorsed me for president in 2008, and I enjoyed his strong support in that campaign. (Cheers, applause.)
(End video segment.)
MS. IFILL: There we saw the value of preparation, Alexis.
ALEXIS SIMENDINGER: She was – and her team spent a lot of time making sure that she was prepared for the range of questions. Anderson Cooper also moved very rapidly and kept things going briskly, which I think helped to keep the energy level of that debate going. Some people thought it maybe surprised Bernie Sanders, Senator Sanders, a little bit. But in Secretary Clinton’s – the range of things, she was prepared on guns. She was prepared to talk about middle-class economic issues. She was certainly prepared to embrace President Obama, have – make sure that everybody knew that Governor O’Malley had embraced her at one point. She really did march through.
MS. IFILL: That’s an interesting point, because one of the things that we expected – I mean, we know she came – everybody’s supposed to come to these things with a plan. Her plan – the week – the week leading up to it, the storyline had been that she was distancing herself from the president, and in fact that didn’t – that didn’t happen, Beth.
BETH REINHARD: Right, and I think the timing of that is interesting considering that we have this sitting vice president about to make this decision. By embracing the president, I don’t know that she left Joe Biden a lot of room to fill that space. And also just by having such a strong performance I think it dampened a little bit of the clamor that we’ve been hearing for Joe Biden. The last few weeks it’s been a lot of negative publicity for Hillary Clinton, and then she got on that stage and was in complete command and more at ease than I’ve seen her this entire campaign.
MS. IFILL: What do we know – (chuckles) – about Joe Biden? Every time we think that we’ve figured out where this thing is going, it turns out his people stir the pot some more, Dan.
MR. BALZ: Well, the interesting thing that happened this week, as Beth said, in the immediate 24 hours after the debate there was a kind of a congealing of conventional wisdom that her performance almost totally closed the window on his opportunity to run. And what you saw in the subsequent 24 hours after that was an effort on the Biden – on the part of Biden world to basically say, wait a minute, not so fast, he’s not going to be railroaded out of this thing just because she had a good night. And they’ve pushed back in a variety of ways. Having said that, we do not know when he’s going to make a decision or what his decision is going to be. And we keep – you know, there’s a rumor every 15 hours that he’s about to make the decision.
MR. TODD: Fifteen hours?
MS. IFILL: Fifteen minutes.
MS. SIMENDINGER: Fifteen minutes.
MR. BALZ: Fifteen minutes. (Laughs, laughter.)
MS. IFILL: So what are you hearing?
MR. TODD: Well, he is in particular – look, the staff around him is saying, Mr. Vice President, if you want to do this, we need time to start a website, we need time to put together a campaign, because just simply to do things like raise money and prepare to go. And they were sort of pushing him a little bit over the last 24 hours, and at one meeting – from a source I talked to – he sort of snapped and said, stop it. Stop – I’m going to decide when I’m going to decide, in some form like that. He was a little bit annoyed by the pressure. And that’s why I think his longtime close friend, Ted Kaufman, who took his Senate seat in Delaware, put out this letter to supporters. This, from what I understand, was almost from Vice President Biden himself, trying to buy more time and to say, hey, I know everybody thinks that if – every day that I wait makes it harder. Well, guess what? It was going to be hard three weeks ago. It’s going to be hard three weeks from now. I’m going to wait to at least that last filing deadline that I can wait for.
MS. IFILL: I remember – we all remember 1991, when Mario Cuomo was Hamlet on the Hudson. Now we have Hamlet on the Potomac. And that didn’t serve well in the long term for – the indecisiveness nature of it for his reputation.
But I want to ask you about this, Alexis, because I am very curious about whether this – on the one hand, the Democrats look awfully united, you know. The president is not going to get involved, he says, anymore in 2016. It’s the Republicans who look fractured for a change.
MS. SIMENDINGER: Well, it’s not that there aren’t distinctions and differences among the Democrats; there are. But as we have seen, there is nothing to compare with what’s happening in the Republican field – not just the presidential field, but we also have combined with that what’s happening on Capitol Hill. So the combination of the disarray among Republicans on Capitol Hill and what’s happening among the large field of Republican candidates. We saw the president today really, in the East Room at a news conference, trying to convey the main message that Democrats are trying to sell. This is the talking point: we are united, we know what we stand for, we have a vision, we all agree on the major tenets of our platform.
MS. IFILL: Ninety-five percent, I think he said.
MS. SIMENDINGER: Ninety-five percent. Clearly he thinks he has a yardstick on it. (Laughter.) And he was enumerating, and not surprisingly what he was enumerating are issues that he himself is very much embracing.
MS. IFILL: That said, there were five Democrats on the stage this week. Can anybody imagine there being five Democrats on the next Democratic debate stage? (Laughter.) Not all at once, everybody.
MR. BALZ: Unlikely.
MR. TODD: Yeah, I don’t know how – I don’t know how, especially the two in the wings but then particularly the former governor of Rhode Island –
MS. IFILL: Chafee and Webb and even O’Malley, who didn’t really rise and do something unexpected.
MS. REINHARD: He didn’t seem like himself. I mean, he’s usually such a performer, in a way, and he seemed ill at ease. And the other two guys, you almost kind of wondered what they were doing there and if they had wandered onstage.
MR. TODD: There was moments where you understood why Jim Webb was up there, right? He is – he’s in there on national security.
MS. IFILL: Except that you understood why he would have been there 2007, not necessarily –
MR. TODD: That’s right, but he was – obviously he had a national security point to make. He’s always wanted to – he always has been very critical of Secretary Clinton on the Libya decision, and so that seemed to be the point he wanted to make about the Middle East. The more – the interesting – and I was actually disappointed that the debate didn’t carry on to this – he was the one guy against the Iran deal onstage, and he said this and he used it as part of this, hey, this is maybe contributing to what’s going on right now in Syria. And I wanted to hear everybody else on the Iran deal at that time.
MS. IFILL: Well, as we’re – since we’re in foreign policy, let’s talk about another thing that happened this week, which makes a difference between what happens when you talk about what you might do as president and then what happens when you are actually president. President Obama campaigned on a pledge to end wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but when U.S. troops left Iraq things collapsed. Now he’s conceded he can’t do that in Afghanistan, and that the next U.S. president will inherit that war.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From video.) This modest but meaningful extension of our presence, while sticking to our current narrow missions, can make a real difference. It’s the right thing to do.
MS. IFILL: Proving it’s one thing to make a promise, it’s another thing to keep a promise, Alexis.
MS. SIMENDINGER: It was not unexpected, what the president had to announce this week in terms of keeping the troop level in Afghanistan at roughly around 10,000. There were all kinds of signals from the Pentagon, of course, that this was where the recommendations were going. But there is nothing more disappointing, even though the president said I’m not disappointed, than the idea that he is going to hand off not just Afghanistan, but the war he didn’t mention, the situation in Iraq, to his successor, whomever that may be. And the president is very much someone, when you listen to him, who feels the ticking of time. And on Afghanistan, he had hoped very much that the Afghanistan military and police would be on the same timetable that he had imagined neatly would click together at the end of his term, and that is not going to be the case.
The other element of it was, you know, reporters were asking, what were the lessons learned? Did you – was he learning from Iraq? In other words, don’t pull out because we’re so concerned about the Taliban, the remnants of al-Qaida or ISIS/ISIL, whatever you want to call it. And the president didn’t want to – he didn’t want to indicate that that’s what was on his mind, but he was very much saying, look –
MS. IFILL: He didn’t have to say it.
MS. SIMENDINGER: He didn’t have to say it. Everyone knew that this was on his mind, very much.
MR. TODD: Yeah, but he didn’t want to have to admit it.
MS. SIMENDINGER: He did not want to have to admit it.
MS. IFILL: He didn’t want to have to admit it because then people throw you – like I do – throw their words in their face. But, Dan, if you’re running for president – and the one interesting – one of the interesting things about the debate the other night is Bernie Sanders is certainly Hillary Clinton’s main challenger, and that’s when he – he kind of lost his North Star when they moved to foreign policy. What awaits the next president?
MR. BALZ: Well, I mean, Bernie Sanders’, you know, stock in trade is the domestic side of things – anti-billionaires, income inequality. I mean, that’s really what drives him, and frankly, drives his supporters. He is to the left of Hillary Clinton, obviously, on foreign policy, but it’s not an area where he’s particularly comfortable. And I think one of the challenges for Bernie Sanders in that debate was to say to people who have doubts about not just whether he can win the nomination, but whether he could win the general election and serve as commander in chief, that he has kind of the foreign policy chops to be able to do that. And I think that it’s a difficult thing for him to do. He’s not – you know, he’s not used to making that case about himself.
MS. IFILL: On the Republican side, the argument about foreign policy, where Jeb Bush today – or was it yesterday? – pushing back about the whole idea that his father kept – his brother kept us safe as president. And that puts him in an interesting position.
MS. REINHARD: That’s really the area where I think he struggles the most. You know, on one hand he embraces his family, gets very defensive if there’s ever any criticism. I was just with him in Iowa when someone mumbled something under their breath about his brother, and he got very agitated. But on the other hand, he – this entire campaign he’s been trying to say I’m Jeb, you know, as his slogan is. But you know, we constantly see this push and pull. And at the debate that was one of his better moments, when he stood up for his brother and said he kept us safe. And you know, I think you almost felt that kind of swell of post-9/11 pride that, at that time, the country felt.
MS. IFILL: Chuck?
MR. TODD: You know, what was I thought fascinating about the Afghanistan announcement is a lot of the Republican candidates rushed to say something. Most of them actually supported the decision in a backhanded compliment –
MS. IFILL: But it could have gone farther.
MR. TODD: Right, exactly. Crickets on the Democratic side.
MS. IFILL: That’s true.
MR. TODD: It was – they did – there was no voluntary releases from Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, all this stuff. And it just tells you – and I think it goes back to what we were talking about at the beginning – the Republican primary electorate is a little more animated on national security. They’re expecting their – they’re having a real debate about this. The Democrats and the Democratic primary voters, they’ve made a decision: we’re going to talk about income inequality, we’re going to talk about domestic issues. Because Hillary Clinton didn’t say a word, Bernie Sanders didn’t say a word, you know.
MR. BALZ: Part of that is just a difference in perception as to the residence of those – the value of those issues. The Republicans clearly believe that foreign policy is one of the president’s main vulnerabilities and that it will spill over on whoever is the nominee. And I remember being up in Brooklyn talking to the Clinton team several months ago and asked them about this notion, and I mean, one of them literally broke out laughing and said, you know, if they think this is going to be a national security election, big surprise.
MR. TODD: Yeah, good luck.
MR. BALZ: You know, we’re going to talk about domestic issues, and that’s what it’s going to be about.
MS. IFILL: Well, Alexis, if the president’s plan is to keep 5,500 troops – U.S. troops in Afghanistan at a time when he had previously promised they’d all be gone, we now have 9,800 troops there. So it’s reducing the withdrawal date, not really – or delaying the withdrawal date. What is – what in practicality are those 5,500 troops supposed to do in Afghanistan? What are they supposed to stop? Are they supposed to actually be engaged in battle?
MS. SIMENDINGER: It’s an excellent question because one of the elements that the administration was trying to emphasize strongly is that in no way does this change the president’s posture, that we are not – the United States is not in a combat mission in Afghanistan – not now and not with the retention, really, of these troops. What the U.S. forces are supposed to be there – Special Ops and intelligence – is to fan out at the bases around Afghanistan, to continue to be advising and training and assisting in every way the fledgling government, the Ghani government – Ashraf Ghani.
MS. IFILL: Which makes a big difference who –
MS. SIMENDINGER: Which makes a big difference because the administration is emphasizing the government of Afghanistan wants the United States there, asked for this assistance, and that we are going to be with them. And the emphasis is President Obama’s hands were tied with Iraq because the government at the time in Iraq did not want the U.S. there.
MS. IFILL: Let’s pull this all back around to the hard nuts and bolts of politics, in this case the money. We saw new FEC filings this week, and Republicans raised more money than Democrats over the summer. But of course, there were more of them – 15 to five.
Hillary Clinton, she raised $29 ½ million and has $33 million on hand. Bernie Sanders, he raised $26 million and has $27 million in the bank.
Among the Republicans, Ben Carson raised 20.8 million (dollars) and has $11.3 million left. Jeb Bush raised 13.4 million (dollars) and has $10 million in the bank. And Donald Trump, he raised $3.9 million and has $255,000 on hand.
Short version: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, just the two of them, have almost as much money in the bank as all 15 Republicans combined. His has come largely in small donations – 650,000 of them – meaning he can return to the well again and again. And just as important as how much these candidates raise was how they raise them and how they spent.
MS. REINHARD: Exactly. And we saw on the Republican side some pretty ferocious spending, which as we now know led to the demise of Scott Walker and to a lesser extent to Rick Perry. Scott Walker, we’ve now learned, was significantly in debt. Some have faster burn rates, as we say, than others. Ben Carson, for example, was so successful raising money, but he also spent I think two-thirds of the money he, you know, had raised. So every three dollars coming in, two dollars are going out. Jeb Bush is spending a lot of money. He’s built up a big team, a big staff around the country. And –
MS. IFILL: What happened to the self-funded Trump campaign? (Laughter.)
MS. REINHARD: Right, what did happen to that? Four million just kind of showed up on Donald Trump’s doorstep and he spent almost all of it. He, as you said, has very little money of it left.
MS. SIMENDINGER (?): On hats.
MS. REINHARD: On hats and on airfare – which, by the way, goes to Trump.
MS. IFILL: Oh, because it’s his plane, of course.
MS. REINHARD: It’s his plane. So –
MR. TODD: So he’s making a profit. (Laughter.)
MS. IFILL: It’s possible. Is it?
MR. TODD: Hey, he’s a good businessman.
MS. SIMENDINGER: It’ll be a business tax deduction, right?
MR. BALZ: He’s losing less than it might look like.
MR. TODD: You know, we’re leaving out – what’s interesting here, I think, is the difference between – you point out correctly about how the Democrats are just collectively outraising the Republicans. The Republicans have all decided to go to the super PAC route, to use this outside money.
MS. IFILL: Exactly.
MR. TODD: And the Democrats have decided, you know, they’ll try some super PACs – it’s not like Hillary Clinton isn’t going to have them – but they’re concentrating on what we call hard money, money that you can use so that you can buy cheaper TV advertising and all this stuff. And I have to say, you watch this and you’re – and you’re seeing – I think the Democrats, as Obama proved four years ago, are making a more strategic decision. And the Republicans now – I think the Bush campaign is wondering, did we make a mistake overemphasizing raising money for that super PAC?
MS. IFILL: Well, in part because the Bush campaign, which is relying on that super PAC money – which we’re not going to know what those numbers are until later – but he’s – he is spending at a faster clip and he’s raising less money.
MS. REINHARD: He is, but as Chuck said, the super PAC hangs out there. It was $103 million, more than anyone had ever collected, in the first six months of this year. And they are selling that as his life raft – don’t worry: yes, we’re spending money; yes, our poll numbers have gone down; but we have this, you know, big bouncy that they’re already starting to spend on television. Now, the numbers haven’t really moved. They have been on the air now a month in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, and his poll numbers are still not where they need to be.
MS. IFILL: Well, let’s talk about poll numbers, because Ben Carson, if you look at poll numbers and you look at these numbers, he’s raising a lot of money and he’s getting a lot of attention. Was there anything in these numbers that we saw that explains that?
MR. BALZ: I don’t think so. I did an analysis today looking at what has happened to the polls in Iowa, New Hampshire and nationally from the beginning of July to where we are today, and kind of looked at that in comparison to the money. And you can’t – you can’t say one way or the other. I mean, Beth talks about the absence of any sign of movement for Jeb Bush in his numbers as a result of the money that his super PAC is spending. They see some glimmers of hope and they are reluctant to say when they think that they’ll actually see real movement. But you know, Donald Trump was number one in July, he’s number one now. He’s grown. Jeb Bush has declined over this period, even though he’s had more financing than others. And so there’s not a clear pattern.
MS. IFILL: And has Hillary Clinton really declined over that period, or is she pretty much – I mean, we talk about her ups and her downs, but someone asked me today, well, how does she bounce back after the debate. And I said, well, she hadn’t bounced that low, really.
MR. TODD: It’s funny you say that. I agree, I think she plateaued. You know, if you look – and we had a post-debate online poll that showed that she’s held steady. I think she bottomed. I think she hit bottom. I think she did in New Hampshire. I think it was clear in New Hampshire and Iowa she was showing some real issues. But she’s about where she should be in the Democratic primary. I think in some ways her number was too big, you know, just because she was the only known name, Bernie Sanders was unknown at the time.
MR. BALZ: And particularly if you – particularly if you include the vice president in those polls, because when we’ve –when we’ve looked at that, when we’ve done it with the vice president and without, much of his support goes right to her, so.
MS. SIMENDINGER: But Senator Sanders’ achievement in fundraising is noteworthy. That is a noteworthy accomplishment. In small-dollar donations.
MS. REINHARD: To think that Bernie Sanders would raise more money than Jeb Bush, that Ben Carson would raise more money than Jeb Bush by a lot.
MS. IFILL: Well, and from people who can keep writing checks to be spent – and people who can keep writing checks to be spent now, not later on in the general.
MR. TODD: When you talked about Ben Carson, Ben Carson’s the same way. All of his donations are small-dollar, too.
MS. REINHARD: Yeah, got a lot of small – all small-dollars.
MR. TODD: And granted, they’re doing it in a more expensive way than Sanders is. But Sanders and Carson, they’re the grassroots.
MS. REINHARD: Yes, they have figured it out.
MS. IFILL: Is it true, though, that Trump is part of the reason why Jeb Bush’s fundraising has gone a little flat?
MS. REINHARD: Is who part of the –
MS. IFILL: Trump’s presence in the race.
MS. REINHARD: Well, I think that what’s vanished for Jeb Bush is the inevitability factor, if he had it. I think he did a little bit. For a while he was at the top and there was a feeling that he was the next guy in line, and the Republican Party usually nominates the next guy in line. And then all of a sudden everything got sort of turned on its head over the summer with Trump and Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina, and Jeb is now looking like a mere mortal.
MS. IFILL: And now it’s the fall and we are going to wait and see what happens in the next round of this.
Thank you, everybody. As usual, it went too fast, but there’s – and there’s a lot more to talk about, but not enough time to do it. That’s why we have the Washington Week Webcast Extra, for all the overflow, where we’ll update the race for the job that no one seems to want, speaker of the House. That will be up later tonight at PBS.org/WashingtonWeek. You can keep up with daily developments at home and around the world every night with Judy Woodruff and me on the PBS NewsHour, and we’ll see you here right around the table next week on Washington Week. Good night.