GWEN IFILL: Sugar and salt, sparring and substance, the Republican choices for president all on stage, mostly at one time. What we learned from the clash in Cleveland, tonight on Washington Week.
DONALD TRUMP: (From video.) If I’m the nominee, I will pledge I will not run as an independent. I don’t, frankly, have time for total political correctness.
MS. IFILL: For the Republican frontrunner, the debate was all about him.
MR. TRUMP: (From video.) If it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t even be talking about illegal immigration, Chris.
MS. IFILL: The moderators and the other nine candidates attempted to prick that balloon, turning the first Republican debate to matters of privacy –
SENATOR RAND PAUL (R-KY): (From video.) I want to collect more records from terrorists, but less records from innocent Americans.
NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE (R): (From video.) You know, that’s a completely ridiculous answer – I want to collect more records from terrorists, but less records from other people – how are you supposed to know?
MS. IFILL: – to matters of foreign policy –
WISCONSIN GOVERNOR SCOTT WALKER (R): (From video.) Iran is not a place we should be doing business with.
MS. IFILL: – and even to the issue of transgender individuals in the military.
FORMER ARKANSAS GOVERNOR MIKE HUCKABEE (R): (From video.) The military is not a social experiment. The purpose of the military is to kill people and break things.
MS. IFILL: As each sought to break out of the pack –
FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR JEB BUSH (R): (From video.) I’m going to have to earn this. Maybe the barrier – the bar is even higher for me. That’s fine.
MS. IFILL: A debate driven by policy and personality. We sort through its impact one day later with Dan Balz, chief correspondent for The Washington Post; John Dickerson, host of CBS News’ Face the Nation; and Jeanne Cummings, political editor for The Wall Street Journal.
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. As you can see we’re back home in our regular studio around the round table. And it’s good to be back, just in time to tackle the fallout from last night’s first Republican debate. Here’s what happened since last night: Donald Trump called Fox moderator Megyn Kelly a bimbo. Chris Christie vowed that he will not be lectured by Rand Paul. We learned that a record-breaking 24 million people watched the debate on Fox. According to Politico, that’s more people than voted over the entire course of the 2012 primaries. Also Hillary Clinton took a selfie with Kim Kardashian. I don’t know what to say about that. I’m not making any of it up.
But first, a few of last night’s Trump-tastic highlights.
MEGYN KELLY: (From video.) You’ve called women you don’t like “fat pigs,” “dogs,” “slobs” and “disgusting animals.” (Laughter.) Your Twitter account has several –
MR. TRUMP: (From video.) Only Rosie O’Donnell. (Laughter, cheers, applause.)
MS. KELLY: (From video.) No, it wasn’t.
MR. TRUMP: (From video.) Our politicians are stupid. And the Mexican government is much smarter, much sharper, much more cunning. And they send the bad ones over because they don’t want to pay for them.
SEN. PAUL: (From video.) Newsflash, the Republican Party’s been fighting against a single payer system for a decade. So I think you’re on the wrong side of this if you’re still arguing for a single payer system.
MR. TRUMP: (From video.) I’m not – I’m not – I don’t think you heard me. You’re having a hard time tonight.
OHIO GOVERNOR JOHN KASICH (R): (From video.) Donald Trump’s hitting a nerve in this country. He is. He’s hitting a nerve. People are frustrated, they’re fed up. (Cheers, applause.) They don’t think the government is working for them. And for people that want to just tune him out, they’re making a mistake.
MS. IFILL: And Carly Fiorina, despite being consigned to a separate debate where frontrunner Trump was not even on the stage, took her shot too.
CARLY FIORINA: (From video.) Well, I don’t know. I didn’t get a phone call from Bill Clinton before I jumped in the race. Did any of you get a phone call from Bill Clinton? I didn’t. Maybe it’s because I hadn’t given money to the foundation or donated to his wife’s Senate campaign.
MS. IFILL: She’s heartbroken over that. So, do we have any evidence tonight that any of that hurt him, Dan?
DAN BALZ: We don’t have any evidence yet. We’ll await the next round of polls. But the last time a lot of people, including I suspect some of us around this table, thought he might take a tumble, which was right after he criticized Senator John McCain, he continued to rise in the polls. So, I mean, there’s a little bit of sense that he defies political gravity, or at least has up to now. I think the question is, to what extent did last night contain or slow the momentum, as opposed to knock him really far down?
MS. IFILL: Both of you were in Cleveland last night. John, I want to ask you about Donald Trump’s preparation. He said in advance, I’m not going to prep, I’m just going to be who I am. Actually, Ben Carson said the same thing too. And in both cases, I think that’s exactly what happened.
JOHN DICKERSON: Yeah, Donald Trump – I mean, you know, people weren’t even in their seats by the time he was behaving fully like Donald Trump. I mean, there was no easing into it. There was some thinking when I talked to people in other campaigns running up to it, they thought, you know, he might play against type. He might come out and be a choir boy and so that everybody who’d heard about how he was kind of a bully or how he was bombastic would think, oh look, he’s a fine gentleman at the stage. But I mean, from the get-go it was – it was a back and forth and always kind of – even when he wasn’t talking, he was a presence on the stage, and it was not a calm presence. It was a presence like something was about to break out. It was an extraordinary experience.
MS. IFILL: Well, Jeanne, I wonder if this hoping for the choir boy wasn’t wishful thinking on the parts of candidates who couldn’t figure out how to prepare for him. We saw John Kasich choose to say, well, you know, he’s a reasonable guy, we should – or, at least, his people are reasonable, and we should listen to them. We saw a lot of people, and Jeb Bush, back away from the hot spot.
JEANNE CUMMINGS: Well, I think we were hearing that from professional political strategists. We interviewed the wrong people. (Laughter.) He doesn’t talk to them. We talk to them. He doesn’t listen to them.
MS. IFILL: Or to us.
MS. CUMMINGS: We were told that in prep for this he did a lot of reading. And so I had my reporter check, we’re talking policy reading or, you know, debate – how to debate reading? What was it? Policy reading. Well, judging from the debate it wasn’t, it was some other book, because he didn’t bother with any really serious deep dive on policy.
In terms of what impact it will have, clearly Dan’s right, nothing immediate. But I have a reporter down at the RedState Gathering, which is a group of conservatives that are meeting in Atlanta today. And what – these are ground troops, the little activists, the very people he’s talking about. These are not powerful people in Washington or insiders. And they were furious about the exchange over the third party run, that he would threaten to divide the party and help Hillary in. He may have gone a step too far with that.
MS. IFILL: In which he was the only one to raise his hand and say: I wouldn’t necessarily support –
MS. CUMMINGS: Wouldn’t pledge to support –
MS. IFILL: Wouldn’t pledge to support the nominee. So who does that turn off and who does that – I mean, there were a lot of people watching this debate last night who kind of liked the fact that he sounded like he was independent here.
MR. BALZ: Sure, a lot of people do. And that’s been part of his attractiveness – and just the style with which he speaks. I mean, he’s just blunt and plainspoken and just things come out of his mouth and people say, yeah, right on, I agree with that. But Jeanne’s right. I heard the same thing in the aftermath of the debate, of some of the people who had come to Cleveland for this. If you look at his poll numbers, in one sense they’re quite impressive. I mean, he’s got a fifth to a quarter of the vote in the national polls in a field of 17 candidates. I mean, that’s pretty darn good.
On the other hand, that’s three quarters of the party that’s not with him at this point. And this is a party that badly wants to win the White House, that has some very attractive candidates who might be quite capable of giving Hillary Clinton, or whoever the Democratic nominee is, a very tough fight. And here’s a man who, A, is not saying he’s prepared to support the nominee unless he’s the nominee, and will not rule out a third party run which Republicans believe in their soul would kill their chances of winning the general election.
MR. DICKERSON: The challenge for Donald Trump has always been, can he go the distance? Can he participate in a general election? And can people imagine him and see him there? In addition to the numbers Dan was talking about, his high numbers, he also has a very high number, which is the number of people who will not vote for him – Republicans – will not vote for him all. He’s at the top of that list. That’s not a good list to be in. And he also doesn’t do very well against the Democrats in head-to-head polls. So in a general election context, a lot of Republicans and Democrats and independents don’t think he would win.
That’s a problem. That’s the ceiling on top of him. And this debate where candidates, because it’s a little bit more formal, are seen a little bit more like a president – you know, can they inhabit the office? And this debate we may look back on and say this is where that ceiling – we always knew it was there, but this is where we sort of saw him bump against it.
MS. IFILL: Except we thought we would have seen the ceiling by now. Let’s talk about one piece of this, which is the woman piece. Obviously the Republicans are persuaded they will be running against Hillary Clinton. Whether that’s true of not, this is the predicate for part of what Carly Fiorina’s argument is, I can go at her in ways that you guys can’t. But also, in going after Megyn Kelly last night and basically saying I was joking about the things he has had to say about women, I wonder if he’s losing anybody he was going to get anyway?
MS. CUMMINGS: Well, I think the polls show he had female support. And that may be eroded because of his reaction today, and not necessarily because of what he said about Rosie O’Donnell, as offensive as that might be, but going after Megyn Kelly, because, you know, she’s a very popular Republican-leaning journalist. And they respect her. She’s a good journalist. And so they’re – you know, he’s targeting one of their –
MS. IFILL: But don’t those same women also say I don’t believe in political correctness? Isn’t that one of those sweet spots that really appeal to a lot of Republican voters?
MR. DICKERSON: Well, his answer, I don’t believe in political correctness, was the answer to the question about his mean things he’d said about women. And I think that’s the two sides of Donald Trump. There were those who saw that and heard, right, I agree with his view on political correctness. There are others who thought, any man who uses those words about a woman, that’s not my kind of –
MS. CUMMINGS: This is why we need Carly on the stage. Carly Fiorina would have responded to that. And so it would have –
MS. IFILL: And the other candidates did not.
MR. BALZ: I think whatever people may feel about political correctness, they also have views on what is rude or boorish or over the line just in the way you treat another human being. And I think it was, in that part of it, that he very much could have hurt himself.
MS. IFILL: You make an interesting point, the distinction between personal attack – which he is incredibly deft at; you take a little dig at Rand Paul standing next to him last night – but also how blunt he can be on issues like immigration, say, or issues like his business record. When he’s asked about these things, which aren’t about people but are about him and his policy stances, he seems to be just as blunt and probably just as effective.
MS. CUMMINGS: Well, they love that too. I mean, he also – I think what people who are drawn to him – we interviewed a bunch of people at an Iowa event, why are you here? And they said what he just says what we want to say. And so that’s barking and shouting at Washington and calling them stupid. They sometimes sit on their couches and say that. You know, Donald Trump now is saying it for them in a forum in which the people have to hear it. And the same is true, I think, on the policy – build the wall. It’s a simple solution. He doesn’t fuzz it up with and then, you know, we’ll negotiate this and we’ll negotiate that and we’ll change the visa numbers to this. To them it’s a very clear message.
MS. IFILL: But it takes Carly Fiorina in another debate – just to go back to her for a moment – to talk about his change of position on amnesty, healthcare and abortion. The moderators, to their credit, tried to get him to do that. But the other candidates did not. They leaned away from that.
MR. DICKERSON: Well, but Carly Fiorina had it teed up for her. The other ones –
MS. IFILL: Well, except for Rand Paul.
MR. DICKERSON: Rand Paul tried at that opening moment when Donald Trump said he wouldn’t say –
MS. IFILL: Single payer.
MR. DICKERSON: – he wouldn’t prohibit – well, he did on the single payer –
MS. IFILL: On single payer too.
MR. DICKERSON: – but also – at the very beginning, on the very – the opening gun, Rand Paul went after him. It got kind of muddled in the back and forth, but –
MS. IFILL: Jeb Bush didn’t. John Kasich didn’t.
MR. DICKERSON: No, no. The Jeb Bush theory was I’m going to stand next to him and be the adult in the room, that I will be – the contrast will be obvious to anyone watching. The 24 million was a whole new audience. And I think that one of the things that happened to Jeb Bush was that he got kind of – he faded away in the moment. He did have his opportunity when he was asked about why he had made the remarks he had about Donald Trump and the tone of the party. He did get a little animated and he said, I don’t like that tone because I want to win. And I think Republicans will only win if we have the right tone.
MS. IFILL: That was something he’s said before, so he was familiar with it.
MR. DICKERSON: Sure.
MS. IFILL: Well, let’s dip a bit into the night’s other flashpoints. Here’s what Marco Rubio came to say.
SENATOR MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): (From video.) It’s important to be qualified, but if this election is a resume competition then Hillary Clinton’s going to be the next president, because she’s been in office and in government longer than anybody else running here tonight. Here’s what this election better be about, this election better be about the future not the past.
MS. IFILL: And here’s what Governor Bush came to say.
MR. BUSH: (From video.) I want to win. I want one of these people here, or the ones at 5:00, to be the next president of the United States. (Cheers, applause.) We’re not going to win by doing what Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton do each and every day – dividing the country, saying – creating a grievance kind of environment. We’re going to win when we unite people with a hopeful optimistic message.
MS. IFILL: So who accomplished what he came to do Chuck – Dave – what’s your name? Dan. (Laughter.) It just went away.
MR. BALZ: Whoever. I think – I think Marco Rubio did. He has a very distinctive message, which we saw just right there. He is the future of the party, that he would present a contrast with Hillary Clinton unlike almost anybody else in the field, and that he understands the world in which we’re in. That she doesn’t and that some of his rivals – namely, without saying it, Jeb Bush – are from a different generation, that he’s the future generation. I think he helped himself.
I think Governor Kasich, who was the last in on this debate, he was the 10th person invited to this based on the polling that they used to determine that qualifiers, he presented himself as the compassionate conservative. And I think that he is not well-known to people, despite being the governor of a very big state. And I think he probably helped himself.
MS. IFILL: Who do you think helped themselves, or came what they came to do – did what they came to do?
MS. CUMMINGS: Well, I mean, from – by that standard, I think Jeb Bush achieved his goal, which was not to lose any standing – maybe not go up, but not go down. But I agree, I think Rubio and Kasich did the most good for their campaigns. The one that surprised me was Walker, because I thought Walker would end up in the same category as Rubio. But I thought he avoided every single question he was asked. He gave short remarks that were scripted out of his speeches.
So what I thought was impressive about Rubio’s performance the most is that he got thrown a couple of curves. And so right there, on the spot, national audience, hot lights, adapt. And he did, and he did it gracefully. He showed some – he showed some of the talent that we always have heard about. And so I think that’s another reason Rubio did well and one reason that I thought Walker kind of faded a little bit amongst the crowd.
MR. DICKERSON: I thought – Chris Christie is one other name. He had three different back-and-forths – one which we’ve seen, on the question of surveillance and the use of surveillance to track terrorists. He was forceful, but not excessively bullying in that back and forth. I think he and Senator Paul got what they both needed. Senator Paul’s crowd loved what he heard –
MS. IFILL: Senator Paul got his libertarian voice back.
MR. DICKERSON: Yeah, libertarian, although that – although that group is probably with him and not going to leave. But I think for Christie, who has faded from his great heights in 2012, he got to make an impassioned plea about national security. Then he went toe-to-toe with Mike Huckabee on entitlements, with some real detailed showing that all those policy speeches that Christie has given have paid off because he’s been paying attention. And then he also did it on national security, talking about the number of Ohio-class ships – submarines he wanted, and the number of troops that he wanted to deploy. I thought Christie came – given, you know, how far he has dropped, that he probably did well for himself as well.
MS. IFILL: Governor Huckabee has become the new evangelical straight-talker. He’s kind of got a little bit of Donald Trump and a little bit of, you know, grits and gravy which, of course, he’s done before, but he seemed to be trying to recapture that last night. Did he do it?
MR. BALZ: I thought that the latter part of the debate was good for him. I think that he has been uneven up to now. He’s had some trouble as – I think, getting his campaign-legs back. He was a very effective candidate in 2008, but he’s been out of it for a while. And I think it’s been showing, that he’s had to take some time. But he was very strong. He knows who his target audience is. It’s the same target audience that Ted Cruz – (coughs) – excuse me – and some of the others have, but that evangelical, social conservative. But he was – he was very strong and very forceful, and I think registered with at least that part of the party.
MS. IFILL: And we’ll talk some more about the undercard, the debate that happened beforehand with seven other candidates on our webcast right after this program because I want to move to the Democrats, because they’re still out there somewhere, five of them running for president. And we see this week that Hillary Clinton is buying a lot of ad time in New Hampshire, for instance. What is she doing while all of this is going on, while all of us are paying attention to the debates?
MR. DICKERSON: Well, she did two things this week. She did ads trying to reintroduce herself again, in a way; I mean, you know, gain control over her own biography because, of course, the story that’s being told about what kind of person she is is largely being told through this trouble she’s had with the private email server system she set up. So she wants to retell the story of her life.
But I thought, in terms of the campaign cut and thrust, when she jumped on some remarks that Jeb Bush made over the controversy over the Planned Parenthood videos – Jeb Bush was trying to talk about defunding Planned Parenthood and he said, well, I don’t see why we need this money for women’s health issues. And he said he misspoke; he meant to be talking about Planned Parenthood. But in the interim, between when he fixed his remarks and when he initially said them, Hillary Clinton jumped in there, took on Jeb Bush, and told Democrats who’ve been nervous about her in this quick-moving attack, hey, look, this is what I will do in a general election; I will be able to attack quickly on these issues that are important to you, women voters. And so that was a moment for her to try to grab the campaign conversation.
MS. IFILL: We have other Democrats waiting for the spotlight to inevitably turn to them. Governor O’Malley of Maryland said this week there aren’t enough debates scheduled for Democrats; there were six debates announced. We also saw some buzz about Joe Biden, the vice president, and I wonder if anybody thinks there’s anything to that.
MR. BALZ: There’s something to the buzz. (Laughter.)
MS. IFILL: We have to make the distinction.
MR. BALZ: There’s been a lot to the buzz, and I think that the issue is very tough for him. He’s wanted to be president for as long as everybody around this table has covered him. It’s hard to say no to that if you have had that aspiration. And he’s hearing from some people he ought to do it. There are Democrats who see Hillary Clinton as more vulnerable-appearing today than she might have been months ago, and so there’s some of that.
I think it’s a very hard choice for him. I think that a lot of people who are kind of generally in his orbit doubt that it will happen. But nobody knows for sure.
MS. IFILL: I said – I hinted that we were going to talk about the undercard in the webcast, but I also want to just ask Jeanne one question. I’m going to put you on the spot.
MS. CUMMINGS: OK.
MS. IFILL: When you think of those seven folks, who is likely or in position to rise into the next top 10 for the next round of debates in October?
MS. CUMMINGS: Right, I think – I think –
MS. IFILL: September?
MR. DICKERSON: September.
MS. IFILL: September.
MS. CUMMINGS: It’s September.
I think Carly Fiorina did very well for herself. She was polished, practiced. She had messages she knew she wanted to deliver. And unlike all the other guys on the stage, she attacked people. And to get from the happy hour debate to the primetime debate, you got to take somebody out. And so – they’re not going to leave, you know, on their own.
MS. IFILL: (Inaudible) – return.
MS. CUMMINGS: Right. So she went after Trump and she went after Jeb, and nobody else will go after Trump. She did. I think she did some good for herself.
MR. DICKERSON: After happy hour there are lots of people swinging. (Laughter.)
The thing about Carly Fiorina, though, is for her to rise into the top 10, which is the criteria I think for the CNN debate as well, the one in September, somebody’s got to fall out. And it was a pretty strong showing, even though –
MS. CUMMINGS: That’s right, yeah. She’s got to take somebody out.
MR. DICKERSON: Yeah, but I – but I think they also have to fall out, and I don’t think they did in the debate.
MS. IFILL: Well, there’s Cruz and Carson, who we barely mentioned, but who spent all their time saying hello, this is who we are. So perhaps just the fact that they were reduced to biography again might be a sign of weakness. We will see what happens next. It’ll be fun to figure it out.
Thank you guys for coming to play. I know some of you have been operating on very little sleep since last night, so I appreciate it.
It is good to be back home. For more analysis of last night’s debate and what happens next, check out our Washington Week Webcast Extra. It’s at PBS.org/WashingtonWeek, where you’ll also find the best of what all our panelists are writing on policy and politics. We call it News You Need to Know. Keep up with developments with me and Judy Woodruff over at the PBS NewsHour. And we’ll see you here next week on Washington Week. Good night.