GWEN IFILL: We examine a strange week in politics, where voters remained almost as uncertain as the candidates themselves, tonight on Washington Week.
DONALD TRUMP: (From video.) Are you ready? (Cheers.) Are you ready? We will build a great wall along the southern border.
MS. IFILL: Heading onto the Labor Day launchpad, two candidates do battle over immigration and diplomacy.
FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: (From video.) You don’t build a coalition by insulting our friends or acting like a loose cannon.
MS. IFILL: And while Donald Trump plays to his base, stressing his strength and toughness –
MR. TRUMP: (From video.) A lot of the things I said are very strong, but we have to be strong. We have to say what’s happening.
MS. IFILL: – Hillary Clinton tries to pick off those he may be leaving behind.
MRS. CLINTON: (From video.) I suppose there are some of you who have never voted for a Democrat before. I will be a president for Democrats, Republicans, independents, for people who vote for me, for people who don’t, for all Americans.
MS. IFILL: With two months left before the election, less than one month before the first debate, the challenges have never been more clear.
Covering the week, Michael Duffy, executive editor of TIME Magazine; Doyle McManus, columnist for The Los Angeles Times; Beth Reinhard, political correspondent for The Wall Street Journal; and Philip Rucker, political correspondent for The Washington Post.
ANNOUNCER: Award-winning reporting and analysis. Covering history as it happens. From our nation’s capital, this is Washington Week with Gwen Ifill. Once again, from Washington, moderator Gwen Ifill.
MS. IFILL: Good evening. Donald Trump’s talent for dominating the headlines hit a new peak this week. After first delaying a major immigration speech, he then turned it into at least a two-day extravaganza, first, by traveling to Mexico to stand side-by-side with that country’s president, who once compared him to Hitler.
MR. TRUMP: (From video.) We all share a common interest in keeping our hemisphere safe, prosperous and free.
MS. IFILL: It sounded like Trump and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto had simply agreed to disagree – over trade, over drug cartels, and over building a wall to stem illegal immigration. But that impression fell apart hours later when Trump, campaigning in Phoenix, ramped up the volume again.
MR. TRUMP: (From video.) They’re great people, and great leaders, but they’re going to pay for the wall.
MS. IFILL: But, is paying for the wall the central issue when it comes to immigration policy. I say no. Beth, what do you say?
BETH REINHARD: (Laughs.) I would agree with you on that. I think people on both sides of the debate would agree that that’s not a plausible, realistic thing that’s going to happen. And so there are much more pressing questions, some of which Donald Trump addressed in his speech, such as how we’re going to handle the folks who are already here living illegally, how we’re going to process people in the future, and how we’re going to secure the border from new people coming in.
MS. IFILL: Deportation is not an unimportant thing to work out – exactly what happens to those 11 million people, how many of them are considered to have criminal records, and whether it’s even probably or affordable to do this.
DOYLE MCMANUS: And whether it’s practical to do when you’re talking about a number like 11 million. Now, Trump keeps trying to tiptoe around that. He wants to be all things to all people. So he said in the speech: Look, what we do with the 11 million people, that’s not the most important issue here. I’m sorry, Congress has debated that issue for about the last 10 years. That kind of is the most important issue. And what he ended up doing was trying in the fine print to soften what he had said, which is we’re not going to deport apparently all 11 million in the first week – which was never remotely practical. But the substance of the speech and the tone of the speech was very tough and talked about deporting what he said are 2 million criminal aliens. That’s a much higher figure than most people use. And then deporting about 4 ½ million people who have overstayed their visas. So that comes to about half of the 11 million.
MS. IFILL: It was a confusing week. I mean, at one point we heard Donald Trump – I listened carefully that Wednesday to both of these speeches, talking about how he’s OK with second and third generation immigrants, I guess, but he’s not OK with criminal aliens. And he went on and on, and then the next day said he was softening again. He talked tough, he talked soft. Where did he end up?
PHILIP RUCKER: You know, he ended up with a bit of muddle. He was down in Mexico and looked for a moment like a presidential statesman, a leader, someone we haven’t seen before. And then he went to Arizona and just used the toughest, harshest language he possibly could in describing the immigration problem. And he actually – he talked about illegal immigrants in this country as criminals, as murderers, as people that need to be taken out of the country and washed away. And that is not the rhetoric that’s going to win over Latino voters. But it’s also going to be a problem for him with a lot of white moderates who live in the suburbs and feel some compassion for immigrants.
MS. IFILL: Well, you just raised an interesting point. Was this even really about getting more Latino voters, or was it about getting those voters, the people who might give him a second look, if that even exists anymore?
MICHAEL DUFFY: It kind of depends on what part of the bipolar, schizophrenic 24-hour period you’re talking about. If you were talking about the part in Mexico City, then you could say, yeah, maybe he was trying to make an appeal to Hispanics and Latinos in the United States who wanted to see that he took that country seriously.
MS. IFILL: And he looked presidential there for an hour.
MR. DUFFY: And that’s a weakness for him. Republicans need 35 to 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in order to win. He is polling about 23-24 percent in most places. Some places it’s as low as 15 percent, like Florida. So he needs to work on that.
On the other hand, when he hauls off and goes to Phoenix and starts throwing red meat – and he gives a speech that not just lays out his immigration policy in greater detail, and some confusion, but also lays down a kind of much more cultural appeal that is about a nation that has been victimized by this, that we’ve been victimized by our generosity. When he had that remarkable quote – I’m just going to read it because I don’t want to mess it up – “We’re like the big bully that keeps getting beat up. Did you ever see that? The big bully that keeps getting beat up.” He’s kind of stoking a feeling among his white – mostly white – base, that we have been victimized – we are victims of bad policies and illegal immigrants. And that’s a very different kind of appeal to a really different – a much different audience than white suburban.
MS. REINHARD: You know, just in looking at what was new in the speech – because Donald Trump has been giving immigration speeches for – ever since he’s been in the race. He’s talked about immigration probably at every rally. So one of the things that I was struck by, that Michael started to get at, was his description of how we would choose who could come in the country. And he had talked in the past about these ideological tests and used this term “extreme vetting.” But he went farther this week in talking about people who are likely to flourish, choosing people on merit, people who are likely to assimilate.
MR. DUFFY: Thrive here.
MS. IFILL: People who love the country and can prove it somehow.
MS. REINHARD: Right. And these – you know, if you looked at the social media, the response from white nationalists, this is all language that they, you know, appreciate, and that for others sounds very scary.
MR. MCMANUS: And he also said that he wants to limit – not just limit – but reduce the level of legal immigration. He said we’ve been taking in too many legal immigrants and – as Beth said – and they’ve been the wrong people. They’ve been low-skill people.
MS. IFILL: And that hasn’t been a subject of debate up until now.
MR. MCMANUS: It hasn’t. It’s been a theme in Trump that most of us hadn’t noticed. And one of his problems is there was such a buildup for this speech, that if there was any chance that people would think Trump was softening or pivoting, I think the impression that came out of the muddle was he hasn’t really softened or pivoted at all. He’s the same old Trump. And the message to immigrant communities has a lot of Republican strategists terrified. Not just Latinos, but also Asian-Americans, because he’s saying, you know that legal immigration program that brought your children in, your parents in, your brothers and sisters in? That was a bad idea. Those are low-quality people. That’s not a great pitch.
MS. IFILL: You know, it should be noted that after a moment of shock, Hillary Clinton’s forces did not seem at all unhappy to be talking about Trump and presidential leadership, rather than talking about her emails.
VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: (From video.) I don’t believe the guy’s a bad guy, I just think he is thoroughly, totally, completely, uninformed. He has no idea what the hell he’s talking about.
SENATOR TIMOTHY KAINE (D-VA): (From video.) To keep America safe, it’s no time for amateurs. It’s no time for first-timers or people who need training wheels on.
MS. IFILL: So, did Trump help or did he hurt Clinton in the end?
MR. RUCKER: You know, he probably helped her. He gave her a reason to continue to promote this stronger together theme, where she’s talking about this is actually an exceptional nation, America’s brought together all sorts of people from different cultures, and that’s what I represent. And my –
MS. IFILL: I have to say, during her American Legion speech, which got overlooked in all of the huzzah over the trip to Mexico, she did use that term, American exceptionalism, which I remember Mark Rubio making a big deal of.
MS. REINHARD: Marco Rubio had a trademark next to that. (Laughter.)
MS. IFILL: Yeah, exactly. And Democrats always resisted this as some sort of a jingoistic term. But she has embraced it full on.
MR. RUCKER: She’s using – she’s using Trump as this divisive figure to really appropriate the language and the imagery of the Republican Party from the last decade, really. Their whole theme against Barack Obama as president has been American exceptionalism. And here, we have Hillary Clinton running on that banner.
MS. REINHARD: And reminiscent of what we saw at the Democratic convention, where you saw some of the top speakers talking about how strong America was, and their patriotism, and talking about national security in ways that usually Democrats don’t do, and Republicans do. Once again, we’re seeing Hillary Clinton co-opting some of language that Republicans have used successfully.
MS. IFILL: And conveniently, Michael, it comes at a moment when the FBI, after being pressured to do this, is releasing a lot of the documents or the notes having to do with their interview with her over her emails. And it turns out that it’s a little bit more than we saw than met the naked eye.
MR. DUFFY: Yeah. She interviewed with the FBI on July 2nd as part of that investigation into the email servers that she kept both at home in New York and in D.C. There were two pieces to it. One is – were an agent’s notes about that interview. And then there was the larger report that FBI Director Comey used to base his now-memorable press conference, in which he basically said she was reckless and kind of sloppy, but there was no criminal intent. We learned lots of little things. You know, she had a lot of devices over her time as secretary of state, nearly a dozen – eight at least. That’s interesting.
MS. IFILL: Especially for someone who says she leaned toward simplicity by keeping one.
MR. DUFFY: And didn’t particularly love technology in the first place. Perhaps just lost them a lot. I think that –
MS. IFILL: That’s my problem.
MR. DUFFY: (Laughs.) The thing – the thing that’s interesting about the emails now is that there is just a steady, constant – keeping up is very hard. There were 14,000 new emails two weeks ago. There were 30 new emails about Benghazi out of that tranche. This week none of them yet is in any way – had been shown to be damaging. But the constant need to keep up and the discovery of new things is just a reminder, I think, for a lot of people, that the Clintons have always – had always had trouble cooperating from the very beginning with these investigations. And that gives them a slightly shifty quality.
MS. IFILL: Doyle, you had a conversation this week with David Plouffe in one of your columns in which – and he wasn’t talking about Hillary Clinton in this case, more about the Trump mania – but he was saying that they’re losing the forest for the trees, or some version of that. Is this another example of that? Is that what we are basically doing throughout this whole process?
MR. MCMANUS: In a sense, it is. And a lot of the rest of this campaign is going to be about what are we talking about this week? Are we talking about the scary things Donald Trump is saying? Or are we talking about the latest drip, drip, drip of Clinton emails or Clinton Foundation stuff? But if you go back to what David Plouffe, President Obama’s old campaign manager, was saying about the forest and the trees – the strange thing about this campaign is that all of this noise, all of this drama, all of this amazing stuff has been going on, and the numbers change hardly at all. It’s tightened up a little bit over the last week. That may be because of the emails and the Clinton Foundation stuff the week before. We may see a little bit of a difference next week. But so far, we’re pretty much looking at the same kind of numbers.
MS. IFILL: Except, the numbers where Hillary Clinton is raising money seem to be extraordinary numbers. Am I not right? She’s got $68 million on hand, but she also raised a lot in August.
MR. RUCKER: A hundred forty-three million dollars for her campaign and for the Democratic Party. And it just is – means that we’re going to have a fall where she’s going to continue to outpace Donald Trump in television ads. She has been all over TV in these swing states with really very strong, tough, you might say vicious, ads about Donald Trump. And he is not responding at her levels. And it could damage him.
MR. DUFFY: That’s one of the places where the week kind of came together, at least for me, because, you know, here is Trump on that extraordinary day where he’s in two different cities giving two different speeches, aimed at at least two different audiences, and all of it’s coming for free. And every day he has a day like that. The cameras are on him and the coverage is on him, and he doesn’t have to spend money on advertising. And then there’s Hillary Clinton, who couldn’t buy a headline like that to save her soul, but she’s spending most of her time in this period, late in August, raising tremendous amounts of money. As Phil said, one fundraiser, I think, in Long Island, raised more than $20 million – one single fundraiser.
MS. IFILL: Was that when she was dancing with Paul McCartney, or was it – (laughter) –
MR. DUFFY: Well, I hope so. (Laughter.) And so – because she’ll need that money to keep up, and even that may not be enough. So it’s just an interesting –
MS. IFILL: Well, and the counter to that, though, is that something like the Clinton Foundation, which until a short time ago was considered to be a good post-presidential, philanthropic, save the world idea, has now been tarnished. And that’s the free coverage she’s getting. So – go ahead.
MR. DUFFY: Well, I was going to say, the Clinton Foundation thing has almost now surpassed the emails a little bit, because some of the emails that have come out have revealed the Foundation to be – at least to have had a pay-to-play wing or arm, where clearly donors to the Foundation were able to at least apply for, and in some cases – a few cases that we know of – get access to the secretary of state. No other quid pro quo that we know of, but it’s one of the reasons – I think we all know this – that there are lots of people close to the Clintons who really believe that the Foundation should be shut down – not changed, not reformed, but ended. Because when it – if she is elected, it’s not – these problems aren’t going to go away. So I just – you hear that, and it hasn’t happened yet.
MS. IFILL: You hear that. And there’s a significant pushback, that there’s a lot of good that the Foundation is doing that would also be shut down along with that.
MR. DUFFY: Yes. Bill Clinton is leading that charge, with the pushback part.
MS. IFILL: Yes. He’s good at leading charges. You know, one last thing before we get to the next point I want to make is, you know, we found out this week a little bit who’s the force behind all these campaigns. I mean, the Trump folks hired David Bossie, who has been a Clinton hunter going way back. John Podesta is a Clinton booster going way back, on the Clinton side. Bannon – what’s his first name?
MS. IFILL: Yeah. He’s a Breitbart guy going way back. Tells you a lot.
MR. RUCKER: Look at who is helping Donald Trump prepare for the debates. You’ve got Steve Bannon, David Bossie, Laura Ingraham the conservative talk radio commentator, Roger Ailes the ousted chief of Fox News. I mean, this is actually what Hillary Clinton might call the vast right-wing conspiracy feeding Donald Trump with lines and attacks. And it just tells us we’re going to have a really vicious fall, I think.
MR. MCMANUS: Although, Donald Trump says he’s not really preparing for the debates. He doesn’t need to. He knows how to do it.
MR. RUCKER: Well, but they are. (Laughs.)
MR. MCMANUS: Of course they are. But what’s striking about all of those names is it confirms once again what we’ve been able to see about Trump’s basic strategy, which is not broadening his coalition into the center and into groups that have been skeptical about him. It’s deepening his appeal with the core Trump voters he started with. Corey Lewandowski, his old campaign manager, who’s apparently still back on, maybe inadvertently said that. He said that immigration speech was about the white male vote.
MS. IFILL: Well, let’s talk about those voters, because as we head into the final couple of months of what already seems like a never-ending campaign, where do things stand? A new USA Today/Suffolk University national poll out yesterday shows a couple of interesting things. When it comes to the horserace, Clinton remains well ahead, leading Trump among likely voters by 7 points – 48 to 41. But even more interesting, 80 percent of Trump supporters and 62 percent of Clinton supporters say they would be scared if the other candidate wins. What does that tell us about the mood of the country, about where we are, about how all of this forest and trees is affecting voters?
MS. REINHARD: I mean, this campaign really has that fear climate to it. I mean, if you look at Trump’s speech on immigration, it’s all about fear. Hillary Clinton’s warnings to us – if you elect Trump, if you’ve seen that commercial, sort of the opposite of the 3:00 a.m. call in the middle of the night. You know, do you want this guy who, you know, shoots from the hip and, you know, uses profanity, with his finger on the button? I mean, this is all about playing to people’s fears, both national security-type fears about their safety, and also economic fears. And what’s also interesting about Trump’s immigration speech, is when he was talking to blacks and Hispanics, he talked about them in terms of pitting them against illegal immigrants. Those are the people taking your jobs, that’s why you should vote for me.
MS. IFILL: And when he talks to blacks and his Hispanics, it’s about being – or anybody – it’s about aggrievedness. It’s about suffering. It’s about being – about being victims and, you know, why not vote for me, that sort of thing. But I do wonder whether that – I don’t think I’ve ever seen any – I always see people say they vote, you know, for the other guy against someone rather than for them. But, boy, this year.
MR. DUFFY: I think part of it is that both campaigns are not – I want to – we have to be clear. Both campaigns are pitching fear too. I mean, you know, Hillary Clinton is in full this is what will happen to the country if he takes over.
MS. IFILL: That’s what those ads are.
MR. DUFFY: That’s right. And so – and, you know, every election is about fear of some kind, the change you fear or the change you want. I mean, there’s – but we are at a kind of low water mark, it seems to me, in memory, of how fear is the dominant emotion of the season.
MS. IFILL: And yet, at the end, both of them want to look presidential. That’s what we saw at the American Legion. That’s what we see the president – the president – the Republican nominee going to a black church this week in Detroit, except it turns out that he’s figuring that all out with a script.
MR. RUCKER: That’s right. The New York Times had a great scoop the other day where Trump’s aides have prepared a script of a Q&A session that he would have with the pastor at this church.
The imperative for Trump is so clear. He has dismal support with black voters. But more importantly, a lot of white voters think he’s racist. That’s a term that keeps coming up in focus groups –
MS. IFILL: It’s actually one of my favorite questions that they’re going to pose to him, at which point he gets to say, why, no. (Laughter.)
MR. RUCKER: Yeah. He’s got to prove he’s not. That’s the problem.
MS. IFILL: Yeah, I guess that’s the tough part.
OK, well, thanks everybody. That was a speed read of an amazing week, but I appreciate it all. We have to leave you a few minutes early to give you the chance to support your local stations, which in turn support us. But be sure to join us for a special broadcast next week. We’re headed to Colorado Springs, Colorado – way outside the Beltway – to get a taste of what voters are saying about this raucous political year. You’ll find that on air, and online, along with the return of my weekly blog, Gwen’s Take. That’s at PBS.org/WashingtonWeek. Keep up with daily developments with me and Judy Woodruff every night on the PBS NewsHour. And we’ll see you from Colorado next week on Washington Week. Good night.