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Wake Up To Politics - Special Debate Preview

Sunday, October 9, 2016

0 Days until the Second Presidential Debate!

30 Days until Election Day 2016 + my 15th birthday (Nov. 8)I'm Gabe Fleisher for Wake Up To Politics, and reporting from WUTP world HQ in my bedroom - Good morning: THIS IS YOUR WAKE UP CALL!!!

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Meet Me in St. Louis: Special Debate Preview

The candidates for President are descending on Wake Up To Politics' turf today, ahead of the second presidential debate taking place at Washington University in St. Louis tonight. Here's your preview of the debate tonight, featuring interviews from the people who know the candidates and the campus best, to read before you tune in:

  • "This is the most anticipated start of any presidential debate in American history," ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl said Sunday afternoon at a pre-debate forum in St. Louis. Ironic, perhaps, considering many made the same assessment before the first debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton two weeks ago. What's changed since then - in fact, what's changed since Friday's newsletter?
  • A lot. The past 48 hours have been, perhaps, the craziest in American political history, resulting in tectonic shifts in the election - and raising the stakes for the second showdown between two historic candidates: the first female nominee of a major party, and the first with no political or military experience.
  • The latest saga of the 2016 election began on Friday afternoon, when new video of Republican nominee Donald Trump surfaced. The video, which was reported by The Washington Post and recorded in 2005 without Trump's knowledge, shows Trump and NBC's Billy Bush, then the host of "Access Hollywood," bantering about kissing and groping women without their consent.
  • In the video, which was recorded while his wife Melania was pregnant, Trump employs a number of profane terms to discuss female body parts and his sexual advances at women. "You know I'm automatically attracted to beautiful - I just start kissing them," Trump says. "It's like a magnet. Just kiss. I don't even wait." Trump continues: "And when you're a star, they let you do it," referring to women allowing him to "do anything," including grabbing their genitals.
  • In his immediate response to the video's release, Trump did apologize, while also justifying the comments as similar to comments many men (including his opponent's husband) often make. "This was locker-room banter, a private conversation that took place many years ago," the GOP nominee said in a statement. "Bill Clinton has said far worse to me on the golf course - not even close. I apologize if anyone was offended."
  • However, in the hours following the intial report, it became clear that these comments were in a different league than past inflammatory remarks Trump has made about women, Hispanics, and Muslims. Since Friday afternoon, 30 Republican governors and members of Congress have taken the unprecedented step of calling for their party's presidential nominee to drop out of the race. 10 additional Republican governors and lawmakers have taken back their endorsements of Trump, a rare move in of itself.
  • The Republicans who have taken back their support or called for Trump to withdraw span the ideological range of the Republican Party, from members of congressional leadership such as South Dakota Sen. John Thune to conservatives like Utah Sen. Mike Lee, and from lawmakers in tough re-election races such as Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk to lawmakers in no danger of losing their seats like Alabama Rep. Martha Roby.
  • A number of others in Trump's party, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, RNC chairman Reince Priebus, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, have harshly condemned the comments made by Trump, although they have not withdrawn their support for his candidacy. Even members of Trump's inner circle have condemned him: his wife Melania called his comments "unnaceptable and offensive," while his running mate Mike Pence said he "cannot defend them."
  • After this outpouring of opposition, Trump released a video of his own later Friday night. "Anyone who knows me knows these words don't reflect who I am," Trump said in the taped statement. Ending speculation that he may drop out of the race or the debate, he concluded: "We will discuss this more in the coming days. See you at the debate on Sunday."
  • And with that, the stakes for the second debate were upped dramatically. "This is something that I think is really front and center of the whole political conversation that's taking place...my guess is this is something that people are concerned about and likely to ask," Clinton senior adviser Jim Margolis told Wake Up To Politics in a phone interview Saturday night, calling the video release "a major event that has occurred."
  • Margolis, who heads Clinton's media strategy and serves as one of her debate coaches, spoke to Wake Up To Politics immediately after ending a debate prep session with Clinton and before he would board the plane to St. Louis with her. Clinton spent much of the last week behind closed doors, holding few rallies to instead prepare with her team. "This is something that she takes very seriously," Margolis said. "She believes that when you’re running for president, being prepared, being able to articulate in a clear way the things that you want to do and the programs and policies you’d like to put in place are pretty important."
  • As he did before his first showdown with Clinton, Donald Trump has largely ignored advice to prepare for the upcoming debate. While Trump has had a few sessions with his staff, the candidate has criticized Clinton for her high level of preparation, instead relying on his showman abilities to dominate on Sunday night and spending much of the week on the road campaigning.
  • Donald Trump's national and Missouri campaigns did not respond to requests for comment, but CBS News reporter Sopan Deb told Wake Up To Politics via email about Trump's preparation. Deb is the CBS "embed" on the Trump campaign, and estimates that he has attended 90 percent of all Trump events since the businessman launched his campaign in June 2015. Deb described covering the Trump campaign as "a life of incredible exhaustion and constant excitement," identifying Friday as "one of the most surreal days of the campaign."
  • Deb reported spending "about nine hours standing outside, getting rained on, and just being on my feet" as he waited outside Trump Tower for campaign figures (and the candidate himself) to emerge. "Honestly, the most important part of being an embed, I think, is just knowing what is going on," Deb said, an especially challenging task on Friday. "Everything moves so fast," he continued.
  • In attempting to guess at Trump's strategy for the upcoming debate, the reporter said that he does expect Trump to go after Bill Clinton, but noted that "predicting Trump is like playing whack-a-mole." Defending criticism that he is a sexual assaulter, Trump has pointed out the former president's past transgressions - retweeting Clinton rape accuser Juanita Broaddrick, who said that: "Hillary calls Trump's remarks 'horrific' while she lives with and protects a 'Rapist'. Her actions are horrific," and, in another tweet, asked: "How many times must it be said? Actions speak louder than words. DT said bad things!HRC threatened me after BC raped me."
  • Neither Margolis nor Deb went into detail as to what they expected Trump would do. "We'll see how all that plays out, we'll see what Donald Trump decides he's actually gonna try to communicate," Margolis said. "I think people have a lot of questions about him already. Certainly the last couple of days have increased, I think, the concerns that many people already have."
  • But it is impossible to know what will happen when the debate goes live: "Trump prides himself on being unpredictable...It'll be very interesting to see," Deb told Wake Up To Politics.
  • The events of Sunday night's debate are also changed by the format. While the first debate consisted entirely of questions from NBC's Lester Holt, the moderator, with segments focused on specific topics, the second showdown is in a town meeting format. While moderators Anderson Cooper of CNN and Martha Raddatz of ABC will pose some of the questions, half of the questions will come directly from undecided voters.
  • "I think there's some great things about a town hall format," Margolis said in the interview. "First, when regular people ask you questions, they are often different than what media, the commentators, or reporters ask. In some respects, I think often you get more revealing answers because the questions are maybe a little different than what media personalities sometimes ask."
  • The prospect of answering questions from average citizens, rather than journalists he can lambast, may be less exciting to the Trump campaign. Deb referred to Trump having "trouble keeping to a time limit and answering questions directly" in a "dry run" town hall earlier this week, even when the questions were pre-approved by his campaign. "Town halls are less freewheeling than rallies are - and it might be outside of Trump's comfort zone."
  • However, the second debate has more flexible time limits than the first, which Margolis alluded to. "The preparation process [for the second debate] is very different," to apply the "very different feel" between the two debates. The first debate's segments lasted for an "extended period time" and dealt with a single set of issues. "Here, we’re going through a lot of questions. We will probably have somewhere between 10 and 15 questions that get asked over the course of the evening," Margolis estimated. "They will come from individuals in the audience, they will come from people that have been submitting questions via the Internet, and from the moderators themselves. But the period of time that is devoted to any one question is pretty short, so you go through a lot more, not quite in the same depth, but you get to hear from a lot of different people with the ideas and concerns they have."
  • "The ability to talk to people, hear them and be able to respond them, I think is really important and it just is a fundamentally different feel  than an anchor from a network, asking you a question," Margolis explained.
  • While Trump arrives on the debate stage amid an uncertain period of his campaign, as his poll numbers are slipping and his surrogates are abandoning him, debating may also be a strength for him. Sopan Deb likened Trump's rallies to concerts, and said that the candidate is "incredibly aware of cameras and showmanship." The debate is, of course, much different from a rally - but it may still explain his tendency not to prepare for the events, when he performs easily in front of a camera, a talent that comes less naturally to Clinton.
  • But is Trump helped or hurt the more he says? Jim Margolis, from his perch as Clinton's top adman, seemed confident that the Democrat's strategy of highlighting Trump's own comments is effective. "One of the things that I think has been important is really to allow voters and viewers to hear Donald Trump for himself, unfiltered," Margolis said, referring to the Clinton campaign's ads.
  • The strategy of quoting Trump back to him was essentially utilized by Clinton's running mate Tim Kaine in his vice presidential debate with Mike Pence last week. Many, however, believed that Kaine was too eager to attack Trump, allowing Pence to score a victory on stage.
  • Margolis emphasized Clinton's plans to also refer to her own record and not just degrade Trump's. "We’ve allowed him to speak for himself, and I think that’s been pretty effective..I’ll also say that we believe it’s important for people to get reasons to vote for Secretary Clinton and a great deal of our advertising has been about her and the positive story of what she brings to both the campaign and, we hope, ultimately to the Presidency," the strategist said. "Really throughout the campaign, we’ve always had a track of advertising which communicates that positive story, and I think that will continue through the rest of the election period."
  • Asked if he believed the negative or positive strategy was more effective, Margolis said that it was "a combination." The consultant explained that "it’s very important to give people a sense of the kind of President Secretary Clinton would be, what her story has been, her motivations, why she is running to be President," but the campaign has also attempted to "show both dimensions, as you lay out for voters the very clear choice we think they have."
  • Ultimately, both the Clinton aide and the Trump reporter interviewed for this piece made clear the importance of Sunday night. Trump "has a lot riding on this debate," Deb said. Having covered for Trump for a year and a half, Deb explained that it is his job to be aware of "all things Trump does or says." In all his time of doing that, the CBS journalist said, Trump "hasn't apologized all campaign cycle for anything, so it is notable that he felt this [controversy, it] was important for him to do so," underlining Trump's knowledge of how high the stakes of this debate are.
  • One of the few people in the room when Clinton prepares for these sparring matches, Margolis also spoke of the scale of the upcoming debate, alluding to the "very large audience" of the first debate and this one. "This is one of those rare opportunities in a campaign to really speak for an extended period of time to a lot of people without interruption, without a filter, without having to go through the news media, but rather being able to speak directly to the American people, so it’s a great opportunity," Margolis said. "The whole [preparation] process and the dance is to get ready to be able to do it well."
  • But the stakes are not high for just the candidates. All eyes are also on Washington University, as the college prepares to play host for the coming media circus. The institution has been preparing for this debate perhaps longer than either campaign, as Washington University associate vice chancellor Steve Givens told Wake Up To Politics in a phone interview.
  • Givens has been involved in every debate hosted by Washington University (this is their fifth presidential or vice presidential debate, more than any other venue in the country), and chairs the college's presidential debate steering committee. As head of that committee, Givens explained that he oversees "a group of about 50 people from all over the university, which has been meeting for sixth months now."
  • "Every member has a different responsible: it might be working with Secret Service on credentialing everyone who gets in, or recruiting student volunteers, or Internet or phone service," he said. "My job is to make sure everybody is during their job and make sure everybody is doing what needs to be done and following what’s in the guidelines of the contract with the Commission on Presidential Debate."
  • Givens also alluded to the excitement on campus, which has led to 3,000 students registering to vote in the last month and 250 students working as volunteers for the debate. Hosting a debate is a huge undertaking, "a lot of it very logistical and infrastructure," he said. Besides the debate itself, a workstation for about 800 of the roughly 3,000 members of the media on campus has to be set up.
  • And, of course, there's a long list of details that have no room for error. "We have what's called triple redundancy power, to make sure the power doesn't fail. Since that would throw everything off, we have three sources of electricity to makes sure nothing goes wrong." Even the air conditioning has to be set to perfection, and Givens said that it had to be lowered 60 degrees due to the hot lights.
  • After Donald Trump's microphone had difficulties inside the debate hall at Hofstra University last month, Givens said that the Commission on Presidential Debates and Washington University were "working very hard" to ensure "that everything is fair, everything is equal." He stressed, "We work very hard to be a neutral space."
  • Why does Wash. U get so many debates? " I think part of it is perhaps geography. Part of it is being here, right in the Midwest, in the heart of America. I think that’s probably one important aspect. I think we’ve just been able to prove ourselves over and over again that the university is prepared to make it very successful...Over the last couple days, as everyone's arrived, we’ve heard how pleased everyone is with our preparation and our hospitality…We’ve given them technically, logistically, and physically everything they need to have a fair and successful debate here."

Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are already in St. Louis, as are members of the national media. Wake Up To Politics is, of course, here in St. Louis as well - here in world HQ down the street from Wash. U, but not on campusdue to an age restriction set by the Secret Service). However, follow along on Twitter (@WakeUp2Politics), for photos and reports from what can be seen outside of the secure perimeter, and for live-tweeting of the debate. Of course, Wake Up To Politics encourages everyone to tune in at 9pm Eastern Time/8pm Central Time, and then read tomorrow's recap.

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