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Candidates Prepare For Debate Round 2


Well, if you haven't noticed already, it's been quite a week in the presidential campaign. And tonight, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton meet for their second debate. It's a so-called town hall. NPR's Sarah McCammon covers the Trump campaign, and NPR's Tamara Keith covers the Clinton campaign. They are at Washington University in St. Louis, where the candidates will appear tonight. Hi to you both. Thanks for joining us.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Glad to be with you.


MARTIN: So, Sarah, let's start with you. And, you know, it's so hard to ask what we're actually expecting in this race anymore. But what do you believe we will see from Donald Trump tonight?

MCCAMMON: That's true. It's hard to make any predictions at this point. But Trump has made it pretty clear that he does plan to go after Hillary Clinton and her husband's own history of sexual abuse allegations. So while we did hear Trump apologize over the weekend for his words that were revealed in that recording, he quickly turned the conversation to Bill Clinton. And if you look at his Twitter feed the last day or so, he's been pretty aggressive promising to stay in the race, signaling he's ready for a fight tonight. And Trump isn't just going to talk about Bill Clinton, but also we expect to talk about how Hillary Clinton handled those situations.

MARTIN: And, Tam, how has Hillary Clinton prepared to deal with all of this?

KEITH: Well, Hillary Clinton has, of course, been preparing because that is what Hillary Clinton does. She got to St. Louis today to do some extra preparations. Campaign officials say that we shouldn't expect her to go too hard on Trump video, that that video speaks for itself and that she and her campaign see this debate as an opportunity to talk about her views on the economy and on national security to an audience that will include some number of people who in the last 48 hours decided they simply can't vote for Donald Trump. And she sees this as a time to try to convince them that they could maybe vote for her.

We can also expect her to get questions about excerpts of her Wall Street speeches that were posted on WikiLeaks in the last few days. As for the possibility that Trump will go after her for the indiscretions of Bill Clinton and how she treated the women involved, Clinton is prepared, they say. But they also say that Trump goes there at his own risk.

MCCAMMON: And that, Tam...

MARTIN: Yeah, Sarah, what about that?

MCCAMMON: ...Is a pretty big risk. I mean - I mean, you know, Trump has a needle to thread there because the Republican, you know, strategists and pollsters I talked to have warned Trump against talking too much about Bill Clinton's past. They say that that line of attack is really unpopular with female voters, including many Republican female voters. And he shouldn't look like he's blaming Hillary Clinton for the actions of her husband.

MARTIN: Well, Sarah, stay with us for just a second on that - on that point. I mean, the past 48 hours have seen some pretty remarkable turns of events for the Trump campaign. You've seen people jumping ship. I mean, previous people - people who have endorsed him previously withdrawing their endorsement. Talk about the last 48 hours, and what is the state of his candidacy and his relationship with the Republican Party?

MCCAMMON: It is a remarkable thing to see this close to a general election happening to a major party nominee. So scores of Republicans have denounced Trump's words, and we're talking about leading Republicans. His own running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, the chairman of the Republican National Committee Reince Priebus have all issued strong statements denouncing Trump's words. Others - and they number in the dozens of leading Republicans - we're talking governors, members of Congress, senators - have called for Trump to actually step aside and let Pence step up as the nominee, again, something unprecedented at this point in the campaign.

Trump, though, has made it clear that's not what he's going to do. He is really setting up a showdown with many members of his own party. So this morning, he tweeted what really appeared to be a reference to these Republicans who've called for him to step down, calling them self-righteous hypocrites and suggesting that they're hurting their re-election chances because of his popularity. And, you know, Reince Priebus was actually pulled off a Sunday morning show this morning because the campaign wanted someone from the campaign speaking. That role has been filled by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, big supporter of Trump, top surrogate for Trump, who's been on the road with him a lot. He's stepped in and really kind of struggled to defend him on CNN.


RUDY GIULIANI: I am not justifying it. I believe it's wrong. I know he believes it's wrong. I believe that this is not the man that we're talking about today.

MCCAMMON: And he then launched into an attack of Bill Clinton's past and Hillary Clinton's response to it, as we expect Trump to do tonight. We should also note that Giuliani and Priebus flew to the debate on Trump's plane today. If only we could have heard what that conversation was like.

MARTIN: Have you had a chance, Sarah, to talk to other Republicans who are also sticking with Donald Trump?

MCCAMMON: Yeah. It sounds like a lot of them are really watching to see what happens over the next couple of days, especially tonight. North Carolina Senator Richard Burr, who's in a tough race to hold on to his seat, has said he will watch Trump's level of contrition in the coming days. And even Pence, who, you know, is still with the campaign has been relatively quiet, saying he can't defend Trump's words and saying that he prays for him and looks forward to the opportunity he has to show what is in his heart when he goes before the nation tonight at the debate. So tonight will be important for Trump to show that he's sorry for what he said, not just sorry he got caught.

MARTIN: Now, one person who has not been quiet is President Obama. He weighed in a little while ago at a campaign event in Chicago. Let's play a little bit of that.


BARACK OBAMA: You know, one of the most disturbing things about this election is just the unbelievable rhetoric coming at the top of the Republican ticket. I don't need to repeat it. There are children in the room.

MARTIN: Tam, what do you make of that?

KEITH: Yeah, so I think that this is part of a broader effort from Democrats to say that - that the video that came out is - maybe it's the tipping point, but they don't want to let Senate Republicans and other candidates run from Donald Trump. They want Donald Trump to own - for them to have to own Donald Trump because they stood by him while he said other things and - that were very controversial and problematic. And so they are going to try to really tie Senate candidates now to Donald Trump.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Tamara Keith and Sarah McCammon. They are both at the site of tonight's debate at Washington University in St. Louis. Thanks to you both.

KEITH: You're welcome.

MCCAMMON: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
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