ANNOUNCER: This is the Washington Week Webcast Extra.
MS. IFILL: Hello, I’m Gwen Ifill. And welcome to the Washington Week Webcast Extra, where we pick up online where we left off on-air. I’m joined by Eamon Javers of CNBC, Molly Ball of The Atlantic, Manu Raju of CNN, and Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post.
Wednesday’s primetime GOP presidential debate was a three-hour marathon, so there’s lots more to discuss. We’ll get to that, but let’s begin with the first round of debates, the so-called undercard. It was just half – about half as long, 90 minutes, and only four candidates were on the stage. Did any of them break out of the pack, Karen?
MS. TUMULTY: Well, if it were possible, Lindsey Graham I think most people thought had a pretty good debate, if anyone saw it. It was – I mean, he came out and really kind of articulated his sort of point-man of the hawk pack position.
MS. IFILL: Let’s listen to what he had to say. He actually did talk about war.
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): (From video.) What I hope, Republican voters, libertarian, vegetarians, Democrats, you name it, will look for somebody to lead us in a new direction, domestically but particularly on the foreign policy front. President Obama is making a mess of the world. What I am trying to tell you here tonight, that Syria is hell on Earth and it’s not going to get fixed by insulting each other. I have been there 35 times, to Iraq and Afghanistan. I am ready to be commander in chief on day one.
MS. IFILL: Now, that was as sober as Lindsey Graham probably was in that debate. He was telling jokes. He was saying, when I’m president there’s going to be more drinking in the White House. He’s the kind of guy – you know from covering him on Capitol Hill – that lighthearted kind of person.
MR. RAJU: Yeah, and this is why he’s been so successful in politics. And you know, he’s run in South Carolina, and even though he’s – he has won three terms, even though he is moderate in a lot of key issues like immigration, things that are really despised by the Republican base. The reason why he’s been so successful is because during his campaign he has that very lighthearted, has self-deprecating jokes. People really enjoy that folksy sensibility that he has on the trail, and you saw that last – you saw that on Wednesday night. But in August or in the Cleveland debate, that was a much different story. He was very flat, and it really hurt him in the polls. I’m not sure if this will actually propel him into the first tier of candidates – it probably won’t – but at least it shows voters kind of why he’s been so successful politically.
MS. IFILL: Also on stage were Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, former Governor George Pataki of New York, and Rick Santorum, the former Senator from Pennsylvania, who actually won the Iowa Caucuses four years ago and now finds himself scratching to be heard. What is the chance that any of them were able to break out, like Carly Fiorina did last time, and get onto the main stage?
MS. TUMULTY: I just don’t see it. And I, quite frankly, am wondering if there’s even going to be an undercard debate the next time around.
MS. IFILL: You think because of the numbers?
MR. JAVERS: Well, the next debate happens to be on CNBC on October 28th, if I can get a plug in for the CNBC debate. (Laughter.) Hi, boss. (Laughter.)
MS. BALL: How many debates will there be?
MS. IFILL: So many you can tell us whether there will be an undercard.
MR. JAVERS: I’m not – I’m not at liberty to discuss any of the details of what we are planning, but it’s going to be fabulous, amazing. It’s going to be huge. (Laughter.) The ratings are going to be spectacular. Everybody’s should –
MS. BALL: Classy and elegant.
MR. JAVERS: Classy and elegant.
MS. IFILL: You’re taking your cue from CNN over here on how to sell a debate.
MR. JAVERS: That’s right.
MS. BALL: But there was this weird imbalance in the debate setup, right, where you had only four candidates in the happy-hour JV debate because Jim Gilmore was polling too low and they promoted Carly Fiorina to the big leagues. So for an hour and a half you had only four candidates, and it was kind of great. You got a real sense of all of their personalities and what they all stood for, a real contrast. And then this chaotic and incredibly long, you know, three hours for 11 candidates, where perpetually you’re thinking there’s somebody who’s just fallen off the map or fainted because I haven’t seen him in an hour.
MR. JAVERS: If you’re one of the – if you’re one of the candidates on the bubble, on the margins, would you rather be out in the wings of the 11-person debate or at the center of the four-person debate, where you get a lot more time?
MS. IFILL: Well, I don’t know. If you’re Chris Christie, you’re on the wings and you got 32 minutes where you didn’t get to speak.
MR. JAVERS: That’s what I mean. I mean, if you’re – if you’re on the big stage, it’s you’re on the big stage, but you don’t get any time and people kind of ignore you. Whereas if you’re on the small stage –
MR. RAJU: Or if you –
MS. TUMULTY: Oh, they will all take the big stage.
MR. JAVERS: They want the big stage.
MR. RAJU: Yeah, they all – and if – you know, if you’re one of the people in the four-person undercard debate, and then you don’t perform very well, then you look even worse.
MS. IFILL: Then you look even worse.
MR. JAVERS: Right, right, right. Then you’re outside the hall protesting at the next debate.
MR. RAJU: That’s right. (Laughs.)
MS. BALL: Live tweeting it, like Jim Gilmore.
MR. JAVERS: Live tweeting. Live tweeting from your couch.
MS. IFILL: Hillary Clinton was asked about what she thought about what – how these debates went and how it would help Democrats, especially when it comes to the economy. Let’s hear a little bit of what she said.
MRS. CLINTON: (From video.) I think if you look at the last 35 years – actually, if you go back further – I think it’s pretty indisputable that having a Democrat in the White House is good for our economy, better for our economy than the alternative.
MS. IFILL: Now, that’s something which her opponents would agree with, including Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland, who would desperately love for there to be more debates, but seems to be losing that battle.
MS. TUMULTY: That’s right. And he’s – but he’s waging that battle right now with the chairman of the party. And that allows Hillary Clinton to say, oh, I’d love to have more debates, go talk – talk about it with Debbie Wasserman Schultz. (Laughs.)
MS. IFILL: Do you see that happening?
MS. BALL: I don’t have any inside information on this, but it definitely looks like the Democratic Party has set the debate calendar in the way that they feel is most favorable to the party’s chances in the general election. They have very little motivation to change it, especially when Martin O’Malley is at 5 percent in the polls. Maybe if he had a real constituency and there were actual, you know, legions of O’Malley supporters protesting the party. But O’Malley hasn’t gotten any traction yet. This looks like just another –
MS. IFILL: But Bernie, who does have – Bernie Sanders, who does have legions of supporters, is not joining O’Malley in this quest, as far as I can tell.
MR. RAJU: Yeah, but I’m sure he would be happy for more national airtime as well, and showing that contrast with Hillary Clinton. I do think that the Democratic Party will have to reconsider if this race continues to stay close, if Bernie starts winning some of these states, and this is going to be, you know, a long campaign, and maybe if Biden gets in. They’ll have to consider adding debates on later in the calendar. The pressure will only mount if this race continues to stay tight.
MS. BALL: Well, and the case that –
MR. JAVERS: You wonder if the – you wonder if the Bernie Sanders surge is sort of like early buyer’s remorse among Democrats, who sort of – the party arranged to have what’s more or less a coronation of Hillary Clinton, and now there seem to be a lot of Democrats who don’t want to do that – as much as the party establishment, all the professional Democrats here in Washington, did want to do that.
MS. BALL: Well, the case that O’Malley is making to the party is that it’s better for the party to – overall, to have some attention to their candidates. So when 24 million are watching the Republicans debate on TV, that’s airtime that the Democratic Party is not getting to put their views across, to put their candidates across.
MS. IFILL: That’s true.
MS. BALL: I think it’s really an open question whether Hillary Clinton would benefit from this kind of a setting, from more exposure like this to maybe take the edge off some of her unfavorable numbers. I think there’s a case to be made that people might get tired of the email questions if they heard them over and over again in debates instead of this fractured thing where every time she answers one it blows up. And so there is a case to be made that it would be good for the frontrunner, for the party as a whole, to have more debates. I’m not sure if that’s a persuasive one.
MS. IFILL: Well, the next big debate is October 13th, and it’s the Democrats. And we’ll see whether this holds up or not.
Thank you, everybody, for – and thank you all for watching. While you’re online, check out Washington Week’s new election initiative, 16 for 2016, where you get the – where you, the voter, get to share your thoughts about the 2016 presidential election. Find out more at PBS.org/WashingtonWeek. And we’ll see you next time on the Washington Week Webcast Extra.