What we still don’t know about Trump and Clinton, and whether it matters to voters

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JUDY WOODRUFF: We return now to the race for the White House.

It’s November 1, and voters who haven’t already made a firm decision about what they’re going to do, or even if they’re going to show up at the polls, may be looking around for new information.

Meanwhile, new reports have raised questions about Donald Trump’s ties to Russia and his business dealings. And, of course, Hillary Clinton’s e-mail controversy continues to unfold, which raises the question: What is known and what isn’t about both candidates? And even if we learn more now, will it make a difference?

We’re joined by Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for USA Today. And Karen Tumulty, she’s national political correspondent for The Washington Post.

And welcome back to both of you. We’re glad to see you as the clock is ticking toward this election.

Susan, this is an unconventional race. It’s been that way from the beginning. As we get close to Election Day, how much is known and not known about these two candidates? How different are they in that regard?

SUSAN PAGE, USA Today: Well, let’s talk about Donald Trump. I think a lot of Americans feel like they know him pretty well because he’s been a reality TV star. They have seen him. They have seen stories about him and his three wives and his children.

But he’s opaque in many of the ways in which we have usually expected presidential candidates to be transparent. One is on his medical history. He would be the oldest president ever elected in our history. We have not seen the traditional medical releases that we have seen from other presidential contenders in modern times.

And on his finances, he’s the first major party nominee in 40 years not to release his tax returns. So there are things about charitable contributions or the degree to which he is in debt to Russian interests that we don’t know about.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Karen, there are big questions still out there, and we’re not likely to know the answers to all of these by next Tuesday.

KAREN TUMULTY, The Washington Post: No, we’re not, but there have been news developments that have sort of spoken to the fact that we don’t have this information or that people have doubts about this information.

Just today, The New York Times, getting another leak of some partial tax documents, did a big story where they did a deep dive into the tax law and did a story about how hard Donald Trump was pushing some of the tax breaks that were available, to the point where his own financial and legal advisers were warning him he was risking audits, using parts of the tax law that were later changed. Things that he did on his taxes would be illegal now.

All of that I think, though, is going to be read by Democrats, by Clinton supporters as just reinforcing what they already thought they knew about, you know, his supposed malfeasance, and among his own supporters just further proof that he’s a financial genius.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, and, Susan, a story like that comes out, but it does remind us we don’t have the tax story. This took a lot of digging just to come up with a little bit of information from the 1990s.

SUSAN PAGE: And about a very complicated equity-for-debt swap — don’t ask me to describe it any more than that — that Trump used.

It’s almost, though, we haven’t flip side with Hillary Clinton, because, with her, we know a lot about her. She’s been in the public eye for decades. We know a lot about her finances. She’s been pretty public, reasonably open about her health.

But her own people argue that you don’t know — we don’t know that much about her, that her personality that they describe as warm, as engaging is not something that I think a lot of voters have had a glimpse of. So, it’s like we — we can ask, what we do know and what we don’t know? It’s like there’s a reverse when you look at the two of them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And that’s right, Karen. We may know a lot about her, but — we have her tax returns, for example, but there is still the private Hillary Clinton.

KAREN TUMULTY: And what has happened this week, this week was a week where the Clinton campaign had planned to make a big, aggressive, positive case for her and for her vision.

And, instead, what they have found themselves involved in is yet another revival of the e-mail controversy, this one not involving Hillary Clinton herself directly, involving her aide Huma Abedin and the fact that some more of her e-mails were found in the most unfortunate place, which is her husband’s laptop, while he’s under investigation for sexting a minor.

But what that does, we don’t know what’s in those e-mails, but what it does is stir up doubts, stir up reservations that people had already had about Hillary Clinton and also, Republicans are telling us, you know, reminding us this is what the next four to eight years are going to look like if she’s elected.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, meanwhile, Susan, the FBI, we noticed today, just surprisingly, out of the blue released documents about their investigation back in 19 — in 2000, when Bill Clinton was leaving office about pardoning Marc Rich, who was this controversial financier.

Just — it’s as if everywhere you turn, there’s a little bit of this and a little bit of that.

SUSAN PAGE: And there are long-term consequences to the very messy end we see to this campaign.

The FBI, for instance, posting these documents, they say they were responding to a Freedom of Information Act request, and maybe that’s correct. But it feeds the impression that the FBI is becoming a very political institution as we get to the end of this election, that they have talked — the FBI director, James Comey, last Friday talked about the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mails in a way that is damaging for her, has really curtailed some of the momentum that we thought she had if we had been talking a week ago about this campaign, but not talking in the same public way about the investigations into Donald Trump and possible ties to Russian interests.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Karen, when you add it all up, when you look at these stories — and we haven’t even talked about the stories in the last few days about Donald Trump, connections to Russia, his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort.

At this stage in a campaign, historically, how much are voters susceptible to either changing their mind, deciding not to vote? What is the information?

KAREN TUMULTY: Well, first of all, at this point, over 20 million voters have already voted. So, their votes are in the bank.

But of that small population of people who have not yet made up their minds between these two candidates or whether they are even going to vote at all, history would suggest that these people are particularly susceptible to swinging with news developments, swinging with, you know, what’s hitting them hour by hour.

SUSAN PAGE: You know, the Trump supporters are pretty enthusiastic about him. And so even if you get the stories that we got today about Donald Trump, I think they’re unlikely to be discouraged.

Hillary Clinton supporters, she has some very enthusiastic supporters, but she has some supporters that are not as enthusiastic about her. And that would include African-Americans, who are not as warm to her as they were Barack Obama, and also millennial voters, voters under 35, who historically have not been very reliable voters, but were an important part of the Obama coalition.

I think the risk for Hillary Clinton isn’t that they will decide to vote for Donald Trump. It’s that they will decide not to vote at all.

KAREN TUMULTY: And just as important, down the ballot, too. A week ago, it really looked like the Democrats were in very good shape to take back the Senate. Now some of those races are sort of getting closer, back in play, in part because the Republicans are making the argument, we need a Republican Congress there as a check on Hillary Clinton, not just on her agenda, but on her administration’s behavior.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, it’s as if whether these news stories change anything or not, they can either raise or suppress people’s interest in this election and turning out.

SUSAN PAGE: That’s right.

And say these developments have kept Hillary Clinton from having the positive close that she thought she could have. That could also have long-term consequences in whether people feel like she has a mandate for issues that she talked about at the end, when people were finally going to the polls.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Which is something we’re already starting to talk about, whoever wins this election, what happens afterwards? How much of a mandate do they have? How much support do they have in the country?

Karen Tumulty with The Washington Post, Susan Page with USA Today, thank you so much.

SUSAN PAGE: Thank you.

KAREN TUMULTY: Thank you, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In our election coverage online, we visit the suburbs, long a Republican stronghold, but now trending Democratic, and we explore what this transformation means for American politics. That’s at PBS.org/NewsHour.

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