GWEN IFILL: Now looking ahead to the debate, we begin by hearing from both campaigns.
A short time ago, I spoke with Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook and asked what his claims — about his claims that Hillary Clinton is being held to a double standard in advance to tonight’s showdown.
ROBBY MOOK, Clinton Campaign Manager: Well, Gwen, we just want both candidates to be graded according to the same criteria.
First of all, both of these candidates need to demonstrate a command of the issues. That’s something Hillary Clinton has done. We just haven’t seen that yet from Donald Trump. We need to hear about some real plans. Again, Donald Trump has not — still hasn’t rolled out, for example, a plan on ISIS.
His tax plan has changed multiple times, has been ridiculed basically every time it’s come out. And, lastly, Donald Trump has got to tell the truth. You cannot get a passing grade after telling I would argue even a single lie in this debate, let alone the string of lies that he usually tells.
So, we just want people to grade as if the next president of the United States is on that stage and we’re judging them. There is no curve when you get into the Oval Office. There shouldn’t be a curve at this debate.
GWEN IFILL: So, you make the case that the bar has been set too low for Donald Trump.
And yet major news outlets this weekend wrote basically long stories saying that he’s a liar. So, how can you make that argument?
ROBBY MOOK: Well, we’re asking for people to judge the performance in the debate tonight. If Donald Trump doesn’t tell one of his normal lies, that’s great.
But once we get through that bar, which I would argue is very low, we need to hear a real, true command of the issues. Can he actually speak for 90 seconds — that’s the length of the answers — in a substantive way about policies? And does he actually have concrete ideas?
He has a tendency, we saw at the Commander-in-Chief Forum a few weeks ago, to ramble on and repeat himself, repeat things that may or may not be true. That’s simply not enough. We’re picking our next president. It’s time to get serious. And voters expect him to meet a very high bar to become our next president.
GWEN IFILL: I don’t expect you to tell me all of your debate prep secrets. But I am curious about how much of the time in preparing Secretary Clinton for this debate you spent talking or thinking about how to get inside Donald Trump’s head.
ROBBY MOOK: Well, look, Gwen, as you’re pointing out, one of the things that’s very troubling to voters about Donald Trump is his erratic behavior, his lack of good temperament to serve as commander in chief.
This is not the kind of personality you want controlling our nuclear codes or commanding our men or women in uniform. So, we don’t know how Donald Trump will act at this debate. I would argue that is a threshold reason he’s not qualified to be president.
But Hillary Clinton is steady, experienced. She has been on that debate stage before one on one. I’m sure she will be prepared for whatever comes her way.
GWEN IFILL: Secretary Clinton is also on that stage tonight. Which audiences is she aiming to, is she hoping to speak to, aside from criticizing Donald Trump?
ROBBY MOOK: Well, Gwen, I’m really glad you asked that question, because we think that this debate is a really important opportunity for Secretary Clinton and for this campaign.
A lot of voters are going to be checking into this debate for the very first time. Every time Secretary Clinton has had the opportunity to talk about her proactive plans and ideas about how to make people’s lives better, she’s done better on the campaign.
There are undecided voters still. There are people who are supportive, but maybe not quite as motivated to go vote yet. We see this as an opportunity to speak to all of those voters. And that’s the most important thing she can do, make the case about this lifelong mission she’s had to fight for kids and families and how she’s going to make a difference in people’s lives as president.
GWEN IFILL: How worried are you about this latest round of tightening polls?
ROBBY MOOK: You know, Gwen, there are a lot of polls out there. Particularly public polls go up and down.
The thing is, people use a lot of different methodologies. So, we are just staying focused on running like we’re 20 points behind. If there is a voter who isn’t registered yet or may not have all the information about how to vote, we are going to go and work hard to make sure that they turn out whether we’re ahead or behind in the polls.
So, we’re executing the same strategy no matter what. And we’re going to look past the polls and go right to the voters.
GWEN IFILL: So, this is the first of three one-on-one debates between the presidential debates. How important is the first one? Or are we going to be having this conversation again, saying the next one is the most important?
ROBBY MOOK: Well, I think all of them are an important opportunity. There are some slightly different formats.
But, look, this is the first one. Of course, voters are probably going to be tuning in to this one more than any other. And, again, we think this is such a valuable opportunity for Secretary Clinton to make her proactive case for what she’s going to do to help everyday people, why people should be excited about turning out to vote for her.
So, we’re going to take advantage of it.
GWEN IFILL: Well, we will all be on the edge of our seats watching it, probably not as closely as you.
Robby Mook, Secretary Clinton’s campaign manager, thank you so much for joining us.
ROBBY MOOK: Thank you very much, Gwen.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And we turn now to Jack Kingston. He’s a former Republican congressman from Georgia, now a senior adviser to Donald Trump’s campaign.
Jack Kingston, welcome.
There has been a lot of commentary, as we were just hearing, to the effect that there’s a lower bar of expectations tonight for Donald Trump than there is for Hillary Clinton. Do you think that’s right?
Rep. JACK KINGSTON (R-Ga.): No, I think this is the Clinton people spinning it.
She’s a very accomplished debater, as we should all admit. She’s been running for president since 2007. Before that, she was a U.S. senator, had plenty of debates. And before that, she was coaching her husband as a presidential and a gubernatorial candidate.
Of course she’s a very accomplished debater. She’s very disciplined, very scripted. We know that. Donald Trump, totally different style of politics. He is a guy who’s wide open. He’s an element of change. He’s non-Washington, and he has solutions which the American people support.
He’s a TV personality, if you will, who knows how to connect with the everyday family. And so you’re going to see two different styles, but when I think — when it comes to substance, Hillary Clinton is going to be on the defense.
She wants to continue Barack Obama’s economic policies, which are slow growth, high unemployment, and she thinks that the national security picture is great, and she’s going to be on the defensive to say why those are great policies and we need another three — a third term.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let’s talk about what Donald Trump needs to do.
We just heard Robby Mook say he needs to give substantive answers, be concrete in describing what he would do as president. He also said he needs to tell the truth. Is he going to do that tonight?
JACK KINGSTON: You know, when I hear Robby Mook or anybody from the Clinton campaign talk about telling the truth, here’s a woman who said she was, what, bombed in Kosovo, or shot. Here’s a woman who claims she was named after Sir Edmund Hillary. This is a woman who said she had one e-mail server, when she had 13.
This is a woman who said she turned over all her e-mails. And they’re going to lecture Donald Trump about truth? It’s a little bit ridiculous. We want to talk about economy. We want to talk about jobs. We want to talk about the fact that there are 94 million people who are underemployed or unemployed under the Clinton-Obama economy.
We want to talk about the fact that household income has fallen from $57,000 to $53,000 over the last 15 years. We want to talk about the fact that there is 43 million people on food stamps. That is not an A-plus, robust economy.
That’s not what people in America want. They want change. And that’s why Donald Trump is the exciting candidate. That’s why so many people are tuned in to him.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Politico — just picking up on that, Politico has done a survey of — actually, a detailed examination of what Mr. Trump said over the course of several days in a number of speeches and interviews.
They looked at about four hours, almost five hours of remarks. And they said, in that time, they found an untruth every three-and-a-quarter minutes. This is from Politico.
JACK KINGSTON: Well, yes, but keep in mind, what they do is they select the statements that they want to select.
If I were to say 20 things and they decided we’re going to focus on five for me and five from Hillary, then they’re going to pick the ones that are going to field against Donald Trump.
But you know what? I think you have raised a good point. And I think that’s one thing that we’re going to have tonight, is each candidate will have the opportunity to call the other candidate out and say, no, that’s not actually accurate. February 16, 2015, you said such and such.
And I think that’s what a good, old-fashioned debate is about. That’s why tonight is exciting, and 100,000 — or 100 million people are watching it.
You know, just kind of a footnote that I heard earlier today, maybe the most famous political debate in history, the Lincoln-Douglas debate, there was not a moderator. It was just candidate vs. candidate. I think we are going to see enough of that tonight, though, to reveal which one has a better plan.
JUDY WOODRUFF: There’s also been speculation, Jack Kingston, about which Donald Trump will show up. We know he’s been calmer on the campaign trail recently than he was early in this election cycle. What do you think we’re going to see?
JACK KINGSTON: You know, I think, under the team of Kellyanne Fitzpatrick (sic), that you’re going to see just a lot more steadiness, a lot more presidential-type behavior.
He’s doing very, very well with his base. He has unified the Republican Party. So now he needs to show that he is presidential. And, as you know, as a very successful businessman, he has built empires. He’s made a lot of people a lot of money. He’s run lots of successful corporations.
And I think we’re going to see that part of him tonight. And I think it’s very important, as he talks about national security, his vision, as he talks about the economy, his vision, as he talks about his style, his administration, again, his vision.
And I think this is going to be a great opportunity for him to showcase that.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Jack Kingston, we’re all going to be watching along with you.
Thank you very much.
JACK KINGSTON: Thanks a lot.
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