Full Episode: Hillary Clinton makes history as Democratic nominee and the general election strategy begins

Jul. 29, 2016 AT 9:19 p.m. EDT

Hillary Clinton declared a "moment of reckoning" for America when she became the first woman to accept the Democratic nomination for president, effectively kicking off the general election campaign. And the slickly-produced Democratic Convention speakers tried to undercut Republican nominee Donald Trump's credibility with voters. As the general election campaign officially kicks off, polls are tight in traditional battleground states and some unlikely places.

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Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

GWEN IFILL: We are back home after two weeks on the road, this week at the Democratic National Convention. And now, with two nominees in place, the general election is officially on, tonight on Washington Week .

FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: (From video.) And so, my friends, it is with humility, determination, and boundless confidence in America’s promise that I accept your nomination for president of the United States. (Cheers, applause.)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From video.) I can say with confidence, there has never been a man or a woman – not me, not Bill, nobody – more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as president of the United States of America. (Cheers, applause.)

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: (From video.) Hillary understands. Hillary gets it.

MS. IFILL: Hillary Clinton claims her place in history, using celebrity star power to dispatch her last remaining intraparty challenger.

SARAH SILVERMAN: (From video.) Can I just say to the Bernie or Bust people, you’re being ridiculous.

MS. IFILL: As the freshly minted ticket sets its sights on the general election, while Donald Trump tries to steal the limelight from the Democrats.

DONALD TRUMP: (From video.) Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.

MS. IFILL: Balloons, confetti, and celebration. Now, down to the nitty-gritty.

Covering The Week , Dan Balz, chief correspondent for The Washington Post ; Jeanne Cummings, political editor for The Wall Street Journal ; Karen Tumulty, national political reporter for The Washington Post ; and Reid Wilson, national correspondent for The Hill newspaper.

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. This week can be summed up in series of moments.

MRS. CLINTON: (From video.) I get it that some people just don’t know what to make of me.

MS. IFILL: Clinton claimed the nomination, knitted together a fractious party, and got others to testify on her behalf as a leader, a defender of rights, and as a mother.

CHELSEA CLINTON: (From video.) This November I’m voting for a woman who is my role model as a mother and as an advocate.

SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): (From video.) Hillary Clinton will make an outstanding president. And I am proud to stand with her.

MS. IFILL: At the same time, the Democrats worked to undercut Donald Trump, with disdain and mockery.

FORMER NEW YORK MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (D): (From video.) Truth be told, the richest thing about Donald Trump is his hypocrisy.

KHIZR KHAN: (From video.) Donald Trump, you are asking Americans to trust you with their future. Let me ask you, have you even read the United States Constitution? (Cheers, applause.) I will – I will gladly lend you my copy. (Cheers, applause.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From video.) America is already great. (Cheers, applause.) America is already strong. And I promise you, our strength, our greatness, does not depend on Donald Trump.

MS. IFILL: So let us dissect the week through those lenses tonight, beginning with Dan. How did this convention compare to other conventions you have covered?

DAN BALZ: It was the most slickly produced, and I mean that in a positive way, I mean a compliment. I've never seen a convention where the production values were as good as they are here, I mean, they were Hollywood quality or Super Bowl halftime quality. I thought that the campaign did a very effective job of kind of sequencing of the messages. Obviously the star power that they were able to put on the stage was quite impressive, and certainly in comparison to Cleveland. I think the question is, how much do conventions matter anymore? And we will find out in the next week or so, when we begin to see the aftermath in the polling. But they have to be, and they are, quite happy with what they were able to do this week.

MS. IFILL: Reid Wilson, you are our truth-teller tonight, because while the rest of us were on the floor or around the floor in Cleveland, you were watching this thing on TV. And that's what this whole thing is designed for.

REID WILSON: It really is. And as a matter of fact, during the crescendo of Hillary Clinton's speech last night, a storm rolled through D.C. So I didn’t even get to see it live. I had to go back and watch it on my computer, my satellite froze. (Laughter.) But the messages that we really saw I thought were sort of half persuasion, half mobilization. President Obama tried to persuade voters – those few voters who might be open to switching parties or voting for a Democrat instead of a Republican, that this person, the opponent Donald Trump, was not ready for prime time, not ready for the office. I think we're going to hear that message a lot more.

Hillary Clinton's main goal was essentially to mobilize the Democratic base through her sort of acknowledgement of what Bernie Sanders was able to do during the primary. It was fascinating to see those two messages side-by-side.

MS. IFILL: Well, let’s talk about the messages that Hillary Clinton had to accomplish, or was aiming to accomplish at this convention. And one of them was – it struck me – was General John Allen, Karen, who had to shore up the notion that she can be a commander-in-chief.

KAREN TUMULTY: That's right. And, you know, Donald Trump had had a three-star general on his stage at his convention – a retired three-star. So Hillary Clinton rolls out a retired four-star. And he was absolutely devastating about Donald Trump’s fitness to be in this job. I mean, people this week – I mean Michael Bloomberg went so far as to suggest during his speech that Donald Trump is insane. So, I mean, it was both, you know, making the argument that she is as prepared as anyone ever has been, and also making the argument that Donald Trump is unfit.

MS. IFILL: And also biography. I felt like I had heard a lot of these stories before because I actually had to read the biographies that have been written about the Clintons. On the other hand, that was brand-new information, a lot of it, for a lot of those people, what came out of Bill Clinton's mouth, as well as out of her own, and her daughter's.

JEANNE CUMMINGS: Absolutely. They did much better at broadening her profile. That was a goal for they had in Cleveland for Donald Trump too, but it didn't work there. But it did work here. You know, he told the courtship. And Chelsea talked about, you know, the motherly love and the intimacy of their relationship. But I felt like the real message that was sent, delivered all of the nights was that, OK, she's not flashy, but she is a workhorse. She's going to kill it. And that came through and through and through. She will fight for you. She will fight for you. Over and over and over again. I kind of thought they’d use the convention to do more of the trust thing, because she's got that problem, but that wasn't what became their central theme. It was they were selling her as someone who's smart and competent and will just work her tail off to try to improve things.

MS. IFILL: But isn't that the trust thing? Isn’t that what you’re talking about? We have two former presidents vouching for her – one of them her husband, but still. Dan, which was more important, the baton-passing for Barack Obama or the let me tell you about why I met this girl, from Bill Clinton?

MR. BALZ: Well, both are complicated, Gwen. I mean, the baton-passing is –

MS. IFILL: No kidding. (Laughs.)

MR. BALZ: – is helpful in one way, certainly within the Democratic family, and to try to reenergize the Obama coalition. But what it also speaks to continuity in an environment in which we know that this is a change election, I mean, that there is a hunger for change. And so walking that fine line was very difficult. The president – you know, the president gave a very strong speech and a validating speech about her competency and all that, but she was trying to say I will continue what's been happening but I will make it better. And that was – that was difficult.

On the trust issue, I came way from this week more persuaded that they think there is not that much they can do about it. They will kind of work at it around the edges, but I think that their feeling is we've got to win this on something other than that. We've got to – we’ve got to disqualify Donald Trump and we’ve got to convince people that she can make change, he is a big risk.

MS. CUMMINGS: In fact and –

MS. IFILL: Go ahead.

MS. CUMMINGS: I mean, I felt the same way. The trust thing, they’re just going to have let people watch for a while, and maybe they’ll come around. They can’t kind of force that onto –

MS. IFILL: But they didn't hesitate to force the history-making nature of this. They had that interesting video – or whatever it was – where you see Hillary Clinton and literally the glass breaks. They were – they came back to that time and time again, even though a lot of people have gotten so used to seeing Hillary Clinton on the scene that maybe that didn't feel as history-making as it ought to have?

MS. TUMULTY: That's exactly true, because Hillary Clinton is such a familiar figure to all of us. We've known her for a quarter –


MS. TUMULTY: We, the United States of America and the world. And also, that this path of hers has been so long, and so winding, and so many ups, and so many downs. I think they had to do that to remind people that something truly significant is happening. As, I mean, I wrote in the story this week, sometimes, you know, the mileposts as history don't look as big in the windshield as they do in the rearview mirror, and that was how this felt. It's been coming for so long that they did have to remind people that, yes, that something very significant has happened here.

MS. IFILL: This is a big deal. On the other hand, the other thing they had to do, Reid, was mollify the left wing of the party. We have seen them doing that over time, over time, to the fact that the Bernie Bros – or whatever we want to call them – the Bernie Sanders diehards were still, as of last night, chanting on the floor.

MR. WILSON: And we saw the clip earlier of Sarah Silverman, who is sort of the unsung MVP of this – of this convention. I mean, let’s not forget that Monday started off really ugly. It could have – things could have spiraled out of control with Bernie Sanders supporters trying to force rule changes, and yelling in very disruptive ways. Even Tuesday and Wednesday they shouted over John Allen some, they shouted over Leon Panetta some. But the steady message sort of interspersed throughout the Clinton validators was about Bernie Sanders supporters coming together to support Hillary Clinton or, more aptly for them, to oppose Donald Trump, and sort of the importance of keeping Donald Trump out of the – out of the White House. So they leave with boos, with not a completely unified convention. Even last night during Clinton's acceptance speech it felt like she rushed a couple of lines because maybe the hecklers –

MS. IFILL: They decided they weren't stopping for hecklers last night, or any night.

MR. WILSON: They weren’t going to stop for hecklers, which also kind of meant they didn't stop for some of the applause she could have got.

MS. TUMULTY: But whatever their problems on this score, they are were nowhere near the magnitude of what we saw in the Republican convention, which is – you know, Bernie Sanders did not stand on the stage and tell the convention, "vote your conscience.” (Laughter.)

MS. CUMMINGS: Well, and on that – on that note, we should probably tell the viewers how they pulled that, off because that was remarkable on Monday night, because it was slipping off the rails. And so Bernie's camp warned the Clinton camp. And each had their whip operations that are on the floor instructing their delegates what to – how to react and what to do, especially when you are voting on the rules and platform committees and this and that. They joined forces so that they could – they could each keep an eye on one another and had the same mission. And so Bernie's whips were going in, up to his own delegates, and trying to talk them through their frustration and try to reason with them. And Bernie Sanders sent out a personal note to all of them urging them, on his behalf, to not disrupt and to show some courtesy. So it was – it was an amazing thing. And that –

MR. BALZ: But he had to – he had to send out a text last night.

MS. IFILL: And it still wasn’t –

MR. BALZ: I mean, he did an email –

MS. CUMMINGS: Yeah, but last night that was so minor. It was so minor –

MS. IFILL: Except that his people showed up wearing these glow-in-the-dark shirts and said they were going to walk out – (laughs) – and they kind of didn’t.

MS. CUMMINGS: Yeah, but they were clapping. But they didn’t. And they were clapping.

MS. IFILL: Let me ask you about another thing that – lest it be overlooked – that happened Monday, that felt like it was throwing things off the rails for a while, and that was the high-profile resignation of the Democratic Party chair. That was something the Clinton campaign couldn't have planned for.

MR. BALZ: Well, this was a problem long in the making. I mean, there's been dissatisfaction with Debbie Wasserman Schultz as the party chair for a long time. And what happened was when the emails were hacked into were leaked, it brought it all to a head and here was no way they could avoid dealing with it. But this was a problem that should have been dealt with before, but nobody wanted to take it on because they thought we have bigger things to worry about, we’ve got a – you know, we’ve got a campaign to run and win. We can deal with it – and the Clinton camp felt they could deal with it if and when she becomes president. And it turned out to wreck the first 36 hours of the convention week.

MS. IFILL: I have to say that at the Republican convention she was everywhere trying to be the anti-spokesperson. And she probably was on television more on Cleveland than she was from Philadelphia, where she didn't leave town, but she kind of kept her profile really low.

MR. WILSON: It has not been a week for – or a good couple of weeks for party chairmen on either side, either Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who lost her job, or Reince Priebus, who had to deal with a lot of the Trump and Cruz – you alluded to Ted Cruz saying “vote your conscience” on the stage. That is not something that has happened at a recent – at any recent convention.

MS. IFILL: No. Let's talk a little about the anti-Trump message that emerged in the last couple of days. We know that in Cleveland the one thing everyone could agree about was that Hillary Clinton was the anti, and they were going to go after her. But they couldn’t agree – and they finally began to agree, last night, all the speakers, people in the audience, that Trump was the real danger. We mentioned Michael Bloomberg and how remarkable that was. Was it about – did they take him down by a series of issues in addition to mocking him mercilessly?

MS. TUMULTY: I think it was mostly going – well, I mean, they would talk about his business history. And, you know, a number of people making the point that he hadn’t looked out either for people who had invested in his various ventures or, you know, the workers. But I think that it was 75 percent going after him just basically on his temperament – President Obama saying, you know, we are – we are not a country that is looking for a ruler, as he stands in Philadelphia.

MS. IFILL: Except for the clip we showed of the Muslim man who had lost his son fighting for the country, who took the Constitution out of his pocket and suggested that Donald Trump should go to Arlington National Cemetery himself. That was an incredibly effective –

MR. BALZ: In many ways, the single most dramatic moment of the convention. There are often unexpected moments at conventions, people you don’t – you’ve never heard of who leave an impression. I can recall only one other example, quite different, which was in 2012, when the couple with the son who had cancer who Mitt Romney had come and befriended, a very poignant tale that told you something about Romney. But this had so much more power because of the way he so rebuked Donald Trump so directly and so forcefully.

MS. TUMULTY: The line that stuck with me was the he has never sacrificed anything or anyone.

MS. IFILL: And also the night of the Mothers of the Movement, the mothers of the young black men who have been killed in various situations. At both conventions we saw that, people who have lost children somehow gripping and holding us by the throat.

MS. CUMMINGS: Yes. It is – I mean, it’s a testament to the times that we’re in with the sort of random violence and shootings that are occurring. And of course, we had police officers represented on both stages as well. And it was amazing how many, especially at this convention, non-political people performed quite well. The woman who got snookered by Trump University, she was very good when it was her night. So they were – the human real testimonials were good.

But I have to say that one of the moments that really stunned me, go back to Flynn. With all of those retired military –

MS. IFILL: Not Flynn, Allen – John Allen.

MS. CUMMINGS: I’m sorry, Allen. All of those retired military personnel up there on the stage. I was racking my brain, trying to think how long it must be that we have seen that kind of firepower at a Democratic – you’ve got to go back to probably Kennedy.

MS. IFILL: Yeah. Well, let’s talk a little bit, 30,000 feet. So, do we begin this general election in a demographic war, in a battleground-state war, in a mockery war? What do we have going forward?

MR. WILSON: We begin in a very turbulent moment. I was talking to Ann Selzer, who’s one of the best pollsters in the country, a couple of days ago, and she said, look, all the polling is suspect right now, from the best to the most questionable, because everything is so up in the air. A survey came out of Missouri that shows the two candidates tied. You know, Missouri hasn’t been a swing state since 2000. Pennsylvania, which hasn’t gone Republican since 1988, is – it looks like it’s Donald Trump’s ground zero. So Democratic states, Republican states, we have more swing states as we go into this – into the beginning of the general election than I think we have in several decades.

On the other hand, there is a chance that we could have a blowout within a month or two. Consider what’s going to happen in August – the Olympics are going to come up, we’re all going to be watching TV. The Donald Trump campaign is – does not have a lot of money, has not run an advertisement in several months. And the largest pro-Clinton super PAC is about to start dropping $2 (million) or $3 million a week in critical markets around the country. We could be close to a blowout.

MS. TUMULTY: It does seem like the Democrats are preparing for hand-to-hand combat in the states, but that the Trump campaign, there is no evidence that they have much of a state strategy, much of an organization. And the other thing that’s really striking is the role reversal of the two parties. We’ve for decades thought of the Republicans as, you know, the optimistic party, but it was Barack Obama who was quoting Ronald Reagan and the shining city on the hill, and it’s the Republicans now who are essentially saying, you know, we’re a minute to midnight in this country.

MR. BALZ: I want to raise one counter to some of this. And that is I think part of the uncertainty about this election, you talk about the advertising. I don’t know what the exact figure is that the Clinton folks have run over the last couple of months, aimed at Donald Trump, but it’s tens and tens of millions of dollars. Hasn’t moved the needle much at all. External events are having a profound effect on everything, including the campaign.

There’s another aspect of this, which is that Donald Trump has a cross-cutting appeal in terms of demographics. And one of the things we’re seeing and one of the most important things we’re seeing is the difference in education levels and how that is playing out for the two candidates: white working-class for Donald Trump, white college-educated more for – or less for Trump than they have been for Republicans in the past.

MS. CUMMINGS: And when it comes to tactics, we do – also there we have to be careful in how we analyze his campaign because he’s doing something we have not seen in decades, and that is –

MS. IFILL: We’ve learned to put the caveat on everything in this campaign.

MS. CUMMINGS: Yeah. So, you know, when you look at his campaign – does it have a structure, does it have an operation? No, but that’s because they gave it to the RNC. So the question isn’t whether they – the campaign has one. They have no intentions of building one. The question is, has the Republican National Committee built the infrastructure in the states that Donald Trump needs to win them. That’s the question.

MS. IFILL: Which states? Which states?

MS. CUMMINGS: Well, they – I think that Donald Jr. at a – at a lunch that Wall Street Journal had back in Cleveland slipped up, because he named the states. And he threw in New York, New Jersey and, you know, some –

MS. IFILL: Connecticut.

MS. CUMMINGS: Yeah, Connecticut, right. And so we –

MS. IFILL: And then, somewhere across town, you could hear the Clinton people going, ha, ha, ha, ha, spend your money in California and Connecticut.

MS. CUMMINGS: Yeah. So, but –

MS. TUMULTY: Although Paul Manafort also says Connecticut.

MS. IFILL: Yeah.

MS. CUMMINGS: Well, I know, they say this, but then when we follow it up – do you really think you can win this? And he said, yeah, yeah, we’re going there; we’re going to make them spend some time there. That’s not winning.

MS. IFILL: That’s not winning. That’s getting the other guy to spend money.

MS. CUMMINGS: That’s not winning. That’s trying to drain their resources. And Robby Mook is unlikely to fall for that tactic.

MR. WILSON: That’s similar to Dick Cheney making last-minute visits to New Jersey in – I think it was New Jersey in 2000 and Hawaii in 2004. Maybe it was reversed, but –

MS. IFILL: So you’re saying we all have to basically sit at the edge of our chairs and wait for all the lessons we’ve learned in previous elections to rewrite themselves this year?

MR. WILSON: As boring as this sounds, the traditional swing states that decide this election will be the same swing states that decided the 2012 election.

MS. CUMMINGS: Oh, I think there could be – I think there will be some new players. I’m dying to see what happens in Utah.

MS. IFILL: Actually, Utah could be very interesting because of the Mormon –

MS. CUMMINGS: Because it would be so fractured, yeah.

MS. IFILL: Anti-Trump Mormon sentiment.

Oh, so much more to talk about. And we will talk about it all, trust me, just not right now. (Laughter.) Thank you, everybody.

As this amazing election year continues, be sure to keep up with additional content on Washington Week Online, where you will find among other things our webcast – more from the folks around this table that we couldn’t get to on the air. That’s at PBS.org/WashingtonWeek later tonight and all weekend long, where you can also find everything else our panelists are writing in News You Need To Know. And we’ll see you next week on Washington Week. Good night.


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