GWEN IFILL: The week’s political merry-go-round, Donald Trump and the Republican Party, Hillary Clinton and her emails, tonight on Washington Week.
DONALD TRUMP: (From video.) I'm a Republican. I'm a conservative. I'm running. I’m in first place.
MS. IFILL: Forget about health care, highway funding, even immigration reform. This summertime campaign is all about Donald Trump.
MR. TRUMP: (From video.) He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured, OK?
MS. IFILL: As he dominates every headline and forces every other candidate to push back or be pushed.
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): (From video.) I think Donald Trump is a political car wreck. And people slow down and look at the wreck, but they eventually move on.
MR. TRUMP: (From video.) I've seen your senator, what a stiff. What a stiff. Lindsey Graham.
MS. IFILL: While established senators, governors and repeat candidates search for a way to break through.
OHIO GOVERNOR JOHN KASICH (R): (From video.) We are going to take the lessons of the heartland and straighten out Washington, D.C. and fix our country. (Cheers, applause.)
FORMER SENATOR RICK SANTORUM (R-PA): (From video.) Keep going back to Iowa and keep hustling and campaigning.
FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR JEB BUSH (R): (From video.) If we embrace this language of divisiveness and ugliness, we'll never win. We'll never win.
MS. IFILL: And Democrats look on in glee.
FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: (From video.) Yes. Donald Trump, finally a candidate whose hair gets more attention than mine.
MS. IFILL: We examine why it was never this way with these two guys.
Covering the Week, Dan Balz, chief correspondent for The Washington Post; Michael Duffy, executive editor of TIME magazine; and Jonathan Martin, national political correspondent for The New York Times.
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. Even in the best of years, it's tough to break through in the summer before an election. Often the leading candidate doesn't last until fall. Even more often, the flavor of the month explodes for a brief time before he or she runs out of money or support. Think Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Howard Dean. So hard to gauge exactly what's happening this year, why it feels a little different from campaigns past or whether any of it matters in the long run.
Say you're Ohio Governor John Kasich, who comes to the race with heartland credentials and Washington experience.
GOV. KASICH: (From video.) I have the experience and the testing, the testing which shapes you and prepares you for the most important job in the world. And I believe I know how to work and help restore this great United States. And I have to tell you, it's a daunting challenge.
MS. IFILL: Or, say you're Rick Perry, the governor – the former governor of Texas, or Lindsey Graham, the current South Carolina senator. Both walked right into Donald Trump's crosshairs this week.
FORMER TEXAS GOVERNOR RICK PERRY (R): (From video.) He offers a barking carnival act that can best be described as Trumpism, a toxic mix of demagoguery and mean-spiritedness and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party to perdition if pursued.
SEN. GRAHAM: (From video.) I'm really, frankly, tired of this. The world is falling apart. My party is trying to re-emerge as a viable national voice. I think we're on the verge of a good comeback here. And every time I turn around I'm being asked about Donald Trump saying one dumb thing after another. And I'm tired of it.
MS. IFILL: Trouble is, Trump's not tired. He's thriving. Yesterday, he went to Laredo, Texas, ostensibly to talk about immigration, but mostly to talk about his favorite subject – himself.
MR. TRUMP: (From video.) Look, I'm a Republican. I'm a conservative. I'm running. I'm in first place – by a lot it seems, according to all the polls. I want to run as a Republican.
MS. IFILL: We’ve covered a lot of campaigns at this table. And this one seems different, or does it, Dan?
DAN BALZ: Well, it is different. I mean, you got 16 candidates running on the Republican side, for one. You’ve got Donald Trump, who – we've had a lot of interesting candidates, if I can use that word, in the past, but none quite like Donald Trump and the way he's handling himself this summer. And we're in a new media environment in which somebody who talks the way Donald Trump does gets an enormous amount of attention and instantaneous attention. And if you're any of the other candidates who are running, even including almost Hillary Clinton, it is hard to get a word in edgewise or get any time on the air.
MS. IFILL: Let's talk about ripple effects. Jonathan, we have seen – we saw – I mean, as I mentioned, Rick Perry and Lindsey Graham tried to get – you know, if you can't beat ‘em, join ‘em, get into the fight. But does it have a ripple effect beyond those people who are still in single digits and trying to get on that debate stage?
JONATHAN MARTIN: Yeah, I think it does, because we don't know when the conversation is going to shift and when we're actually going to have more of a full debate between the entire field. It's obviously not going to be before the first debate on August 6th in Cleveland, because Trump’s going to be there. So that puts you forward to September. Is he going to be there for that debate? And then you're into the fall.
And so if he's still on these, you know, debate stages well into the fall, Gwen, when do we have a broader conversation that is more sophisticated than how do you respond to what Donald Trump just said about X, Y or Z?
MS. IFILL: Well, how much – who does it hurt and who does it help? For instance, Lindsey Graham may have been hurt theoretically, but in fact we weren't talking about Lindsey Graham a week ago, so maybe it helps.
MICHAEL DUFFY: Who Trump helps, you mean. This is what’s so interesting when you have a 14 or 15 person race. And it only takes a few, a few comments to raise your game a few points. And don’t forget, we're in a situation where, you know, how many points you have depends on how much more exposure you get in the debates.
And it obviously did not help Kasich, he got lost this week. Perry got lifted a little because it gave him a chance to have a speech, but I'm not sure people thought too much of the speech. Jeb Bush might look better because he's a bit more centrist. And Lindsey Graham, who people don't really pay that much attention to unless someone’s talking about John McCain, got a little more attention because of that. But then a guy like Ted Cruz, who is also trying to make some headway this week, got completely lost.
So it kind of depends on where you stand and what opportunities you have. It's a funny thing, though, all through this week we saw over and over again that an outrageous statement is not disqualifying in a tight – in a 14-person race. And, in fact, is qualifying. And that's really what's dispiriting for people in the Republican Party.
MR. MARTIN: It does work both ways, though, because think about some of the comments that candidates have made in recent weeks. Scott Walker was asked about sexuality, said he didn't know if it was a choice. Jeb Bush says in New Hampshire last week, about Black Lives Matter, he's called it a slogan. Those are the kind of comments, if they happen in a more typical media political environment, we would be talking about that for days afterwards. We move on so quickly the next day – the next hour even, because more Trump.
MS. IFILL: And in fact, one of the – you mentioned Jeb Bush. One of the people who tried – one of the things he tried to do was have it a couple of different ways. And he had something to say about Donald Trump as well. Let's listen.
MR. BUSH: (From video.) We have to separate him from the people that have legitimate concerns about the country. And I think if you do that, then his, you know, campaign and active – you know, creating an active kind of group of people, very concerned that maybe more active, is a good thing.
MS. IFILL: Another way, of course, is humor. We saw – we saw Ted Cruz go to the floor of the Senate today and call Mitch McConnell a liar, not very funny, but we also saw – we saw Chris Christie go – put out a video this week in which he criticized the president on the Iran deal, said he wouldn’t buy a used car from this guy – much more typical. But then, some of them went on YouTube and tried to find another way to respond. Let's look.
So this is what it’s come to, Rand Paul burning the tax code and showing you all the different ways you can destroy it, including setting it on fire. That's Rand Paul's way of coming through, OK. And we see him looking very chipper there. (Laughter.) And then there's Lindsey Graham.
This happened after Donald Trump decided to publicize his personal cellphone number. Lindsey Graham did this very clever video for IJReview in which he shows you all the ways you can destroy a cellphone after Donald Trump has told the world what has – what your phone number is. This is what it's come to now, Dan, which is, if you really want to break through, you play by his rules.
MR. BALZ: You do have to play by his rules to some extent, but they’re the rules that everybody is playing by in this day and age. And particularly if you're down at the bottom of the heap, you're trying to do anything to boost those numbers a little bit in order to try to get into the first or second debate. So there's an incentive on the part of people to be outrageous.
MS. IFILL: Remind us, Jonathan, about what it takes to get into the debate. Why is that so critical at this stage? Sixteen people, obviously, but only 10 people on the stage.
MR. MARTIN: Only 10 there. It’s based on national polling. So for all of your effort in Iowa or New Hampshire, it doesn't matter if you don't have the kind of name ID to register in these national polls. It matters because these primary debates get so many eyeballs among political insiders and junkies who vote in primaries that that’s where the action is. And you're going to have basically one a month for the next few months starting in August.
And what happens on that stage, Gwen, will drive so much of the campaign in the days and weeks after. We saw it happen in the last campaign. The debates were so consequential. And I think in an era now of sort of saturation media where everybody is on their phone or on TV, that those drive the campaign now, even more than the usual town hall and sort of diner stops in Iowa and New Hampshire.
MS. IFILL: Did the John McCain moment take this beyond what the – say the Mexican illegals, rapists comment that Donald Trump made before? It seemed like that was what emboldened a lot of Republicans to finally denounce –
MR. DUFFY: Right, because he actually hit on one of the great heroes of the party, great heroes of the nation.
MS. IFILL: The nominee not long ago.
MR. DUFFY: Exactly. But again, is outrageous – is being outrageous disqualifying or qualifying? One of the complicated things about Trump for the Republican Party now is that he may be bringing voters into the party who haven't been participating. You know, some of them are old tea party types, but some of them may be folks who are disaffected and not really interested in politics. So along comes Trump, he’s a businessman. He’s outside of this in theory – even though he's kind of an entertainer – and he has the potential to broaden the party a little bit. And I was just going to say, and that’s a risk for the party to – they can't really alienate him and push him out too quickly, even though they want him to go away.
MR. BALZ: But it’s not clear that –
MS. IFILL: Well, Dan, it was your poll that told us about Trump’s strength this week, right?
MR. BALZ: Right. We had a poll that came out at the beginning of the week. And it was taken over the weekend, so it went over the point where he hit McCain. He was at 24 percent in that poll, which is the strongest anybody’s been in any of our polls this year. And he had a lead of almost – it was twice ahead of anybody behind him, which was the biggest margin that anybody’s had. There was some slight indication on the last night of polling that the McCain issue might be hurting him, but you can't bear that out on the basis of one night. And we've seen in the days since – I mean, it seems like a month ago that that event happened because there's been so much intervening.
MR. MARTIN: To Michael's point, though, I think what was so striking in that Washington Post poll wasn't so much the fact that Trump has this lead now, but it is who is supporting Trump. It was largely high school educated whites. And I think that tells us something about the kind of coalition politics that we're seeing in this country where there is a disaffected group of people who are upset, not just about immigration, but about a changing America. And they see somebody out there who is flamboyantly, but voicing those concerns that speak to them. And so to me, Trump is a vessel for a kind of a deep dissatisfaction that is taking place now on the right in American politics.
MS. IFILL: What does that do for the folks like Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, who got his message stepped on last week, and John Kasich, who got his message stepped on – the governor of Ohio, very pivotal state – who kind of got his message stepped on this week? What is the compelling message they have that can break through this?
MR. DUFFY: Well, being a heartland Midwestern, twice or three times elected governor by huge margins, in Kasich's case in the last election, is just table stakes. It doesn't really get you to the top and may not even get you noticed. Even Walker, who has cred among small-government types for what he's done against unions there, who has the support of Koch brothers in large ways, and who can speak to social conservatives because his father was a preacher, is doing well in the polls, there's no question, but he isn't playing the kind of – this sort of game. And he's not the unscripted – he's not a naturally – he doesn't do well when he's unscripted. He does very well when he's scripted. Hard to break through.
MS. IFILL: Let's talk about the Democrats for a moment. Even though we could talk about Trump the whole half-hour, let's try not to.
Hillary Clinton today we are hearing her email woes just don't go away. It turns out the Justice Department has had turned over to it some questions about whether the emails that she sent from the State Department to her private server were classified – not a criminal investigation, but certainly an investigation, which shows that that cloud never goes away, Dan.
MR. BALZ: No, it doesn't go away. We don't know enough about exactly what this entails to know how serious it is. But we know that with every step on this email path, it creates a problem for her. And the problem is not simply what are the specifics of this email issue, but it's the larger question of trust and honesty and does she play by different rules – all of the things that were – you know, came up during the discussion of the Clinton Foundation, the amount of money that she got for speaking, just lots of different things.
And so this is one more aspect of that. It could be very serious. We don’t know. It might not be. The campaign has said that this is not aimed at her or there's no evidence this is aimed at her, that she handled things properly. But we just don't know yet.
MS. IFILL: But as long as it doesn't go away, Jonathan, how much does it worry the campaign that this trust issue which Dan talked about continues to reverberate in different ways?
MR. MARTIN: It certainly concerns them, and I think this is why. You know, the Republicans for decades have tried to attack the Clintons, especially Hillary Clinton, as a liberal – the sort of L word, out of touch. Given what's happened in the country’s politics and demography, that's a harder charge to make in 2016. They don't get the same political pop from calling her a liberal.
What they want to go after her on is character and ethics. And so this is a gift for the Republicans in a lot of ways because that's what they're so focused on nowadays. They've kind of given up on calling people liberals over and over again because increasingly, that's not effective. But what they do see as possibly working is reinforcing the questions about trustworthiness. And I think this is a gift in that sense.
MS. IFILL: And if you're Bernie Sanders, what you're trying to do is hew to a very specific message. Let's listen to a little bit of what he had to say this week.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): (From video.) If you work 40 hours a week you have a right not to be living in poverty. (Cheers, applause.) Today, we send a very loud and clear message to the United States Congress, to the President of the United States, and to corporate America. And that is, all of our workers from coast to coast need at least 15 bucks an hour. (Cheers, applause.)
MS. IFILL: People really worried about Bernie Sanders, or is this just that moment?
MR. DUFFY: Well, I think if you're Hillary Clinton you have to keep your eye on Bernie Sanders because he’s going to do well in all of the early primary states. He’s polling extremely well in them. He is looking at this race almost exclusively through an economic prism. He isn't easily thrown off by other issues. And that's, I think an effective one, although this week he took some criticism for not speaking more directly to African-Americans about criminal justice and relationships with cops and he had to – for the first time had to kind of move quickly and fix some things.
MR. MARTIN: And watching Hillary Clinton aggressively this week in South Carolina talk about Black Lives Matter and talk about how this is not just class – there are racial, you know, inequities in this country – that speaks directly to Bernie, because Bernie's politics are rooted in sort of class struggle and the idea that politics can be changed by sort of working class banding together that's bigger than gender or ethnicity. And Hillary is taking that head on. And that's about Bernie.
MR. BALZ: Well, and I had a conversation with Tad Devine, who’s one of Sanders' advisers, a couple of weeks ago. And one of the points he made was, look, we want to do – you know, we have to do extremely well in Iowa and New Hampshire to stay in this. But he said, I know that the country and the Democratic Party is not Iowa and New Hampshire alone, and that there are constituencies that we need to put Sanders in front of. And so consciously they recognize weakness, that he has no connection or tie to the African-American community, the Hispanic community. He’s been going around this summer to try to introduce himself at some of the gatherings, but nonetheless it is a problem for him if he's able to do as well in Iowa and New Hampshire as they hope.
MR. DUFFY: But the fact that he is pulling these kinds of numbers anywhere suggests that she has a long way to go.
MR. MARTIN: And Iowa and New Hampshire are kind of tailored for him, you know, given the fact that you’ve got a fairly dovish and populist, you know, Democratic Party in both of those states that is overwhelmingly white, it seems really well, you know, laid out for Bernie Sanders.
MS. IFILL: Well, there's nothing more fun, frankly, in all of this than watching this from a distance. And one of the things that has been interesting to watch is what happened – what's happening with former presidents.
In TIME magazine this week, Michael calls what we have been seeing here a populist prairie fire, one that seems eons distant from the husband and the brother of two of 2016's leading candidates. Perhaps that’s because George W. Bush and Bill Clinton have been there, done that. As President Bush said, I can’t tell you who is going to win, but I can tell you what’s going to happen. Really? What does he know that we don’t know, Michael?
MR. DUFFY: Yeah, I think he mostly knows that he doesn’t have live through this again. They both know that and they’re both enjoying that immensely, even though they’re living vicariously through their brothers and this – brother and their wives.
Clinton said something really interesting in this interview that I think kind of explains both his broader political philosophy, the Clintons and the race. He says, voters hate divisive environments, but they sometimes reward them. And that was a great –
MS. IFILL: What does that mean, reward?
MR. DUFFY: I think it means – it means don’t be afraid – if you’re a politician, don’t be afraid of division and strife. You know, kind of run toward it; it might actually help you in the end. Which, of course, is a great explanation for, in some ways, his presidency, politically, and may also pertain to his wife.
The interesting thing is that both of these men decided to appear at this moment, when both parties are having a kind of anti-establishment, anti-dynastic revolt on their extremes. And I think to some extent – they did it for a lot of reasons, but this was a reminder that both of them were able to provide that, hey, at least someone’s been here before and knows the landscape.
MS. IFILL: One thing I find most amusing about this – one of the things – is that every single candidate on the Republican side would love to be running against Hillary. They would prefer not to talk about each other. They change the subject to her almost all the time. Let’s listen. Be patient with me while we go back to Donald Trump for a moment – (laughter) – and listen to what he had to say about Hillary this week.
MR. TRUMP: (From video.) The best way to win is for me to get the nomination and run probably against Hillary. Hillary is the worst – look, easily, she’s the worst secretary of State in the history of our country. She is going to be beaten, and I’m the one to beat her.
MS. IFILL: Now, when you sit down and talk to these guys, are they like dying to talk about these candidates? Or are they trying to restrain themselves?
MR. DUFFY: They’re pretending to be not – they’re pretending to be not very interested. They’re pretending to – they put on their – I already said they’re putting on their cloaks of invisibility, but they’re following it minute by minute, tweet by tweet. I think they both want to be asked advice. Clinton said to us, you know, sometimes she’s nice enough to ask me for advice. (Laughter.) Yeah, it’s great.
You know, George W. Bush pushed Jeb hard last summer to get into this race. He gave him all kinds of reasons. And one of them was, you know, what’s the difference between being – you know, being Obama – you know, Bush, Clinton, Obama, you know, all the same dynasties all in a row. It doesn’t really matter. You can get in. There’s no downside. So that was a fantastic plot twist. So I think they – I think they both know that this is an unbelievably unlikely moment that they would both be formers and both have relatives in this race.
MS. IFILL: Is there any evidence that these candidates are listening to their husband/brother/sibling in this, or that they have to – or in Hillary Clinton’s case and in Jeb Bush’s case – let’s start with Jeb. Is he really trying to distance himself still very much from his brother, or has he realized that’s just something he’s going to carry around with him?
MR. BALZ: I think he knows two things. One is that it is impossible to run away from the name Bush, and that that will be with him throughout, and that there’s –
MS. IFILL: Even if it’s not in your campaign logo.
MR. BALZ: Even if it’s not in your campaign logo.
On the other hand, I think he learned the lesson when he mishandled the question about the Iraq war that there are going to be times when you simply flat out have to disagree with a relative, namely his brother. And I think he’s more prepared to do that now intellectually. We’ll see whether instinctively he can bring himself to do that, because we saw in that Iraq episode that it just took him a while to get to that point.
MS. IFILL: And Jonathan, have we seen any evidence yet that Hillary Clinton is trying to find a way to stiff-arm her husband a little bit on a couple of issues? Or is he going to have to just wait a long time for her to ask for advice?
MR. MARTIN: Well, what’s striking is that he has sort of distanced himself from his own positions, which has kind of made it easier for her. I mean, he went to the NAACP and said about his own crime bill that the long prison sentences there were a mistake. So he’s making it easier for her to sort of adapt to the Democratic Party circa 2015 versus 1992 because he’s kind of walking some of this stuff back. I mean, next thing we know he’s going to be talking about, well, NAFTA was not totally a good thing. That hasn’t happened yet, but –
MS. IFILL: (Laughs.) We’re waiting for it.
So when you talk to these two former presidents, who seem to be friends now, actually –
MR. DUFFY: Yeah, they do.
MS. IFILL: – even though they were not always, what do you get – come away with? Do you come away with this sense that they just have more in common then – like, you wrote your book.
MR. DUFFY: Yeah, they’ve done projects together there. They occasionally do speaking gigs together. They obviously share the scars of having done this difficult job together, and now they have this wild family predicament together. But they do. They kind of know each other’s shticks and they make fun of each other, and that was kind of amusing. We asked them at the end, you know, so is this a family business? And is that a good thing? You know, because it sure looks like it to us. And of course they both said no.
MR. MARTIN: Of course. Never!
MS. IFILL: Of course.
MR. DUFFY: But then went on to say – but then went on to say in their answers, basically, yes it is a family business, and they –
MS. IFILL: But they rephrased it. They said it was a “family affair.”
MR. DUFFY: Well, yes, that’s right. Or a calling
And Clinton had a good answer. He said, look, you know, if you grow up and you watch your parents, no matter what your parents do, and you like it and it’s interesting to you, you’re naturally going to be interested in it. And don’t forget, his wife is in it. His daughter is moving toward that life. In the Bush family there’s a father and a grandfather and a son. It’s just part of the way they operate now.
MR. MARTIN: At a moment of sort of maximum anti-establishment fervor on the left and right, is it a good thing for Hillary, and Jeb especially, to have Bill Clinton and George W. Bush on the cover of TIME Magazine, chummy chummy, we’re all part of the same club. We’re all for Team America. One’s center-left, one’s center-right.
MS. IFILL: Isn’t that the problem?
MR. DUFFY: But basically we’re on the same side.
MR. MARTIN: I have no doubt that people on both political extremes do not love this as a moment. But I think that very – I’m guessing both campaigns knew both about it – both knew about it. And there was probably others. Misery loves company. (Laughs.)
MR. BALZ: But there was another good thing in your very good piece which spoke to this, and that is –
MS. IFILL: We only have a few seconds. Go ahead.
MR. BALZ: The idea that we’ll go through a lot of funny and weird things, but in the end the voters pick who they think is really the strongest person to lead the party.
MR. DUFFY: That’s experience talking.
MS. IFILL: That’s experience talking. So sometimes – maybe they’ll winnow that out, or maybe we’ll just play a little bit. Still summer, it’s good.
Once again, thank you all for hanging out with us in our temporary studio. We’ll be home soon, I promise.
Stick around online for the Washington Week Webcast Extra, where among other things we’ll talk more about what Hillary told Bill about running for office, the first of the three times he asked her to marry him. I didn’t know this. And the hint is things change.
Keep up with everything else our panelists are reporting and writing. That’s at PBS.org\WashingtonWeek. Judy Woodruff and I bring you the news every weeknight on the PBS NewsHour. And then we’ll see you right here again next week on Washington Week. Good night.