Road to the Oval Office Podcast: Second Presidential Debate Analysis

Mark AldermanBlake Rutherford and Howard Schweitzer of Cozen O'Connor Public Strategies and Jim Schultz of the Government Law and Regulatory Affairs practice analyzed the candidates' performance and impact on the remaining 29 critical days of the race.

If you missed our last episode, please tune in and read below. Also, see our Election Headquarters page and access earlier episodes on iTunes® or SoundCloud®.

Blake: Thank you very much and thanks to everyone who has joined us today. I'm Blake Rutherford and I am pleased to be with some of my colleagues today: Mark Alderman, Howard Schweitzer, and Jimmy Schultz. Guys, good to be with you on yet another interesting day in the life of this presidential race. Here we are. A week ago we were together and I really wasn't sure that this race could take anymore interesting turns, but in a very short time, we have seen some Titanic-level evolutions in this race. Before we get to last night's debate, which is worthy of four hours of conversation today, I want to talk about the things that led up to last night's debate, that influenced and impacted the strategies of both candidates, and then I want to talk about outcomes.

Let me start here because I am very curious and we've all been following this closely, and Mark, I want to start with you, I'm curious about what do you make of everything leading up to that debate? What is the impact of Trump's taxes? What is the impact of the Miss Universe fight? What is the impact of the tape? What is the impact of Trump's bizarre press conference before the debate? Any one of those events on their own has the potential to just really influence the race and yet we had all of that in a very short period of time. Finally, of course, Hillary Clinton's speech to Goldman Sachs that leaked, which shed some light on issues that were critical in the Democratic debate. Mark, I want to start there. A wild seventy-two, ninety-six hours in this presidential race. What do you make of it?

Mark: Well, Blake, it's good to be with you and Howard and Jim again. Let me just briefly try to be factual and just frame the discussion today. We are twenty-nine days out. Before all the events of the weekend, all of the polling had Hillary Clinton up outside the margin of error. Critically, voting is taking place everyday. Some of it in the critical swing states. Before any of what happened in what was a very discouraging weekend of American politics, she was ahead outside the margin of error with votes being taken off the table every single day. You have to ask, in thinking about the weekend and then the debate, what happened that is going to help Donald Trump catch up? I think nothing is the one-word answer to that, but that's the dynamics. She's ahead and then all this stuff happens. How's he going to catch up? That's the question we should talk about today.

Blake: We will certainly do that in light of the debate last night, because certainly I want to get everyone's take on did he help himself. He clearly needs to. Mark, I just want to follow-up on a point and then bring Howard and Jim into this discussion. When you talk about the polls, heading into the weekend, Hillary Clinton had a two-point lead in Florida. She had a twelve-point lead in Pennsylvania. She had a four-point lead in Ohio. She had a two-point lead in New Hampshire. She had an eleven-point lead in Michigan. Trump, at the same point in time, had a four-point lead in Iowa. He was tied in Nevada and Colorado. Clearly, he had a lot of work to do, Howard. This was before the tape, but this is also before the debate. In terms of what has happened and in the context of Mark's helpful framing, what do you make of it and did Trump, is he helping himself right now or is he still hurting himself?

Howard: Maybe he helped himself a little bit last night to stop the bleeding, but other than the video, I think much of what you mentioned, Blake, is noise at this point. There is limited attention being paid to the to-ing and fro-ing of the minutia of this thing. I would say even last night at the debate, a lot of it was just noise.

I guess the other point I'd make is this isn't just a presidential election. It's a congressional election. It's many Senate seats up for election. All sorts of down-ballot races. Believe me that the Republicans that have come out over the weekend condemning Trump and withdrawing their endorsement, et cetera, they're not thinking about the presidential election. They're thinking about their own races. They're thinking about the down-ballot races. They're thinking about the future of the party. At this point, this is much more about the down-ballot races, in my opinion, than it is about the top of the ticket.

Blake: We'll come back around to the impact this is having down-ballot. We've got some new data out this morning showing that Democrats now have their largest advantage that they've had all cycle in congressional preference. They're up seven, which is going to have a correlation to what happens out in the states, to your point.

Jim, you bring a really unique vantage point to this because you're connected to the Trump campaign. You have an inside view that many, many people don't have. All sorts of speculation throughout the weekend. Howard noted prominent Republicans backing away from Trump. A question of whether Mike Pence would stay on the ticket. A question of whether Donald Trump would stay in the race. I think after last night's performance, we know two things to be absolutely true: one, Trump's not going anywhere; and Mike Pence isn't going anywhere. In your mind, has Trump, looking twenty-nine days ahead, is he in a position where he can make a race out of this race?

Jim: I think we saw a downward spiral from the first debate, the performance in the first debate, for whatever reason, whether it was a bad mic, or he argued with the moderators, that the moderator was biased, or he just didn't do all that great of a job. Whatever your perspective is on it, we saw that downward spiral beginning, and then you had all of the things piled on that you identified to that point where the tape becomes exposed and that's the bomb that we see in October.

I think America's reaction to it, and particular Republicans' reaction to it, including folks in southeastern Pennsylvania like Congressman Pat Meehan, who doesn't have all that tough of a race, doesn't need to disavow Trump, but he came out and said, "Look, this type of conduct is appalling. We need to focus on bringing our party back together and that Donald Trump should withdraw." He's probably one of the most respected Republican officials in Pennsylvania. Congressmen like Charlie Dent, who's been a never-Trumper the entire time, coming out strongly against Donald Trump's candidacy. You have Mike Pence, who was clearly tentative and critical of Donald Trump and really waiting to see, I think, what happened on Sunday before he came out publicly today and said, "Look, he was remorseful enough. I'm going to stick with him."

Up until last night, you saw, Donald Trump could have been in pieces on that debate floor last night, but he wasn't. He gathered himself. He struck the right tone. He performed very well under the circumstances. The sideshow that took place before the debate was just that and I think it was a big risk on his part in bringing those women into a press-conference setting. In the end, I think what could have taken up half the debate in talking about Donald Trump's comments and Bill Clinton's infidelities and Hillary Clinton defending Bill Clinton was only about twenty to twenty-five minutes of the debate. It could have been a much larger chunk.

Blake: Mark, I want to get your reaction to that because one of the things that I sensed in last night's debate and to Jim's point, there are really two Trumps. There's the first thirty minutes of Trump where he did exactly what the media had suggested that he would do, which is he went very negative, very personal, culminating with the declaration that if Trump were president, Hillary Clinton would be in jail and that he would appoint a special prosecutor to look into the emails. Then there was the hour that came after. You've been around this a long time, Mark. You've seen a lot of wild things in politics. Just handicap for me Trump's performance in the debate last night.

Mark: Again, Blake, I'm going to put it back in the context with which we began. The question is did he help himself? Did he close the several-point gap that had opened in the polls between him and Secretary Clinton as a result of the first debate and the tax issue and Miss Universe and all the rest? I remind you, before any polling has been done on the videotape on Friday. My answer is no. No. He did not pick up a single vote last night. He may not have lost a single vote last night. Plainly, he didn't lose any votes from his alt-right base, which I'm sure loved the prosecution of Secretary Clinton, beginning with Bill Clinton's behavior of fifteen years ago, or however many ago.

The question isn't did he stop the bleeding? The question is twenty-nine days to go, behind, voting taking place everyday, did Donald Trump last night move the needle in his favor with undecided voters, with voters who are today for Gary Johnson and tomorrow may move one way or the other? I don't think so. I think he did himself no harm. I think he did himself no good, but no harm isn't good enough. He needs to close this gap. I don't think that happened last night.

Blake: Yeah, I want to throw it back to you guys because I think to think about this in a bit of a different context, Trump absolutely had to stop the bleeding or this thing was over. I think the question now becomes, and I want to get your reaction to Mark's point, but the question becomes, number one, is he now looking, he's got one more debate, he's got twenty-nine days, is there a way for him to now help himself, Jim?

Jim: What he did last night was galvanize his base of support that was leaking. I think that he did that successfully. He not only said that he would put Hillary Clinton in jail, but he basically brought an indictment of her entire thirty years of experience and critiquing that and doing that very well, quite frankly, and in a tone that I think was quite appropriate for the venue. I also think that the problem going forward for Donald Trump is going to be, we've already seen Paul Ryan today say that he's on focusing on maintaining the congressional majorities in the Republican Party.

Howard: Newsflash.

Jim: Yeah. It will be interesting to see what the RNC does in terms of money and where they're going to put resources going forward. I suspect that we're going to see something akin to 1996 with Bob Dole, where they're going to focus on trying to win the Senate and maintain the House. I think that that's going to be, whether that impacts Donald Trump or not, I'm not sure because he doesn't, to date, hasn't relied on the television money that traditional politicians rely upon. Does it matter that the RNC is going to be focusing on bringing out all voters that are going to vote for their congressional representatives, not withstanding the fact that they might not be Donald Trump supporters? It's going to be a big question mark because we've never seen this kind of support for someone in American politics where the party has essentially gone south on him.

Howard: Can I?

Blake: Howard.

Howard: Look, I think if you look at last night as a debate and, Mark, maybe it actually it is high school-

Mark: Not even.

Howard: He won, but it's not. Look, she went into last night needing him to stay in the race.

Blake: Yeah, but let me stop that because first of all, it's sort of a bizarre narrative that Trump ever could get out of this race, that he could ever be replaced, that he could ever be put on the ballot. The reality is that was never a reality.

Howard: Chaos would reign.

Blake: It was never a reality.

Howard: I don't know. He may never have been considering quitting, but of course it's a possibility that a presidential candidate could get out of a race a month before the election. Frankly, she needs him to stay in the race because God knows what would happen, if she wound up some way, some how against another Republican in November, she's much more vulnerable than she is up against Trump. If you don't think the Clintons are crafty enough to go into that debate thinking they want to find a way to keep a wounded guy in the race, you're kidding yourselves.

Blake: You think she purposefully pulled back last night just to ensure that Trump looks better than he might have otherwise looked?

Howard: I think so.

Blake: That's interesting. It's interesting.

Howard: Also, she was in a little bit of a tough spot. She doesn't want to sit there and debate all the issues about Bill Clinton's past. She was much better off letting the video speak for itself, which is clearly why she didn't answer the first question by talking about the video. She wanted him to talk about that first.

I think the bottom line, Mark, to your point is if you were undecided going into last night, I think your decision today is to stay at home and sit on your couch. It's not to pull the lever for her. It's not to pull the lever for him. It's not to vote.

Mark: Right.

Howard: There was a lot of noise. I think it was noise. What that debate did last night more than anything else was turn people off.

Jim: Stop the bleeding for him and she did nothing to help herself.

Blake: Yeah, Mark, go ahead.

Mark: I was simply going to say this is going to be, thank God, one of the least consequential and most forgettable debates in presidential history. It was sad to watch. It was dark. The American people deserve better. There was nothing optimistic or aspirational about it. I think it came and went. I think that what preceded it is going to continue. I think there will be more. That was an October surprise on Friday. It wasn't the only October surprise we are going to see. Whether the future surprises are good for one or the other remains to be seen.

I think, as I've been trying to say, I think as Howard and Jim have said, this isn't a snapshot. It's a moving picture. The snapshot maybe he won, maybe he didn't. I don't think he did, by-the-way, even in a high school debate I don't think he won, but I don't think that matters because the picture continues to move. We're going to get polls out in the next couple of days, post Billy Bush video tape. I think maybe, maybe the bleeding has stopped, but we don't even know what bleeding happened from Friday to Sunday. The one certainty is that we're going to wake up on Thursday, Friday morning, and she is still going to be ahead by a couple of points. I ask, again, what's going to change that? That's the question for October.

Blake: We're starting to get some of that data in. NBC News just released the findings of a poll they took after the tape. Hillary's got an eleven-point lead nationally, which is significant.

Mark: Cut it in half. Let's say it's long by an order of two. Cut it in half. A five- or six-point lead is a fifty percent higher than President Obama beating Mitt Romney.

Blake: Right. This is where, Howard and Jim, I want to bring you back in because I want to narrow this a little bit because I want to put these numbers into context. We can debate all day long about where we really think Florida is, where we really think Ohio is. Let's come back to Pennsylvania, Jim, because you made note of some folks. We've got a very competitive Senate race. Hillary Clinton, let's say it's right. She's got an eleven-point lead nationally. She's twelve points in Pennsylvania. Very difficult for Republicans, no matter what you say or do, to compete in that kind of an environment.

Jim: I think our congressional delegation is safe on the Republican side, notwithstanding. I think this will never be a twelve-point spread in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. That would be the landslide of all landslides. I don't think we see the enthusiasm coming out of the city, coming out of the suburbs for Hillary Clinton. We're going to see a ton of enthusiasm for Donald Trump in the central and western part of the state. Some of that's going to balance out. I'm by no means saying that Donald Trump's going to win Pennsylvania, but I think he could keep it close, within three to four points. If it's three to four points at the end of the day, Pat Toomey remains senator. There might be even some upward, even if it's a larger spread than that, Pat Toomey still may pull it out.

Blake: It's interesting because if you again consider where this race is trending and where the polls are, and even if you were to knock off the margins in Pennsylvania, she's still up eight. It's a tighter race in Alaska between Clinton and Trump than it is in Pennsylvania, which is just in and of itself remarkable.

Howard, I want to come back to you and what we saw last night from Hillary Clinton's perspective, because we've talked a lot about Trump. If we look at the data, CNN did a flash poll. She won the debate handily, by twenty-three points: fifty-seven to thirty-four. YouGov did a flash poll, a little bit closer. Hillary Clinton by five: forty-seven to forty-two. It was the most talked about debate in the history of Facebook. Seventy-six of all conversations, likes, shares on Facebook, though, were about Donald Trump. You have said many, many times in our calls, the thing about Trump is when he opens his mouth, people want to hear what he has to say. We talk a lot about him, but I do want to come back to Hillary and that dynamic. What do you think she did well during the debate?

Howard: I thought she did one thing exceptionally well, which is a particular policy point. If you step away, if we all step out of the mud for a second and dust ourselves off, this is still a general election where Hillary Clinton is trying to bring independent voters over to her side. I said last week on our call about Bill Clinton's comments on Obamacare that those may have been intentional and I think actually were, his comments about Obamacare being the craziest thing in the world. They still want to pull people that maybe don't like Obamacare, that being one of the most divisive policies we've seen over the last eight years of the Obama Administration over to their side.

What did she do last night? She said at one point that they will fix Obamacare. That's huge. That is huge to me. Yes, maybe it was lost in all the noise and clutter of the debate, but I thought that was one of the most significant points. It telegraphs to people who are sitting out there on the fence, who don't know what to do, "Hey, we get that there are problems. Come over to our side. We'll fix them."

Mark: Blake, I think-

Blake: Yeah, hold on one second, Mark, I'm going to let Jim chime in and then I'll get to you.

Jim: It's a brilliant move on her part. Do people believe it or not is the question, right? Bill Clinton saying one thing, she's saying another. She says something in her Wall Street interview that they she can take two different positions, publicly and privately. All that feeds into the narrative. I don't think that helps her in the trustworthiness category. It isn't going to get people who are otherwise independents to come over to her side. I think it's a smart move. I just don't think she can pull it off.

Howard: This isn't a trust election. Nobody trusts either one of these people. Nobody trusts Washington.

Jim: Saying it will make them come out.

Blake: That's what I was going to say. Mark, I want to bring you back into this on that point.

Mark: Yes. Well, I think unsurprisingly that a call among lawyers is focusing a lot on words and what was said. I think that maybe the most significant dimension of last night's debate was visceral. It was the image of each of them on that stage. I think for the second straight debate, Hillary Clinton looked presidential, as we say. Hillary Clinton had stamina. Hillary Clinton was articulate. Hillary Clinton was composed. Hillary Clinton was informed. I think she presented herself apart from the particular words in a very stable and very reassuring manner.

Donald Trump, I don't think did. I think in the first debate, when you turned the sound down and just watched the visual, it wasn't reassuring. Last night, the way he stalked her, literally, on the stage, the way he loomed over her as she was speaking, I think presented a very negative image, a very visceral image that I think is, again, not in any manner going to bring around any of those voters he needs to close the gap.

Blake: You know, one of the things that we have seen, and I'm curious, both Jim and Howard, whether you think this will continue and it touched on it of the beginning of the call are the number of prominent who are disavowing themselves of Trump. Some who are running for reelection, which John McCain being a very prominent, notable example, but many who are not. Everyone from Mitt Romney to Bill Kristol to lots of folks that cover that, what you would describe as the intellectual elite. I don't mean that disparagingly. Just the guys who are thought leaders in that party.

At the end of the day, we always wonder how much endorsements matter. National Review does a negative endorsement of Trump, doesn't pick a candidate. Traditionally conservative-leaning editorial pages of newspapers are not necessarily all endorsing Hillary, but they're certainly not endorsing Trump. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which is no fan of the Clintons whatsoever, first published, "Neither of these candidates is for us," then today publishes a follow-up editorial that says Trump needs to get out. There is a real there-there at least among a segment of the Republican Party that has, up until now, and I think we can always talk about how much has changed, and I want to get to that, Jim, because again, you know this good and well, but do you sense that we're going to see more of that today, tomorrow, the next day? Are we going to see more prominent defections, do you think?

Jim: I do. I think you're going to see more and more of it. Paul Ryan essential gave license to Congress to do just that, to the Republican delegation in Congress to do that today and will be emerging as the leader of this party. Donald Trump was never the leader of the Republican Party. Whether Donald Trump wins or loses, who carries the mantle of the Republican Party? It remains in question. Is it the conservative wing? Is it the Ted Cruz and Lee side of the party? Is it the Romney/Ryan side of the party? I think Ryan emerges as the leader of this party without question, no matter what happens on election day, and is giving license to his delegation to do what they need to do to maintain a strong majority.

Blake: Howard, what are the implications of that? If twenty-nine days from now this goes the way that we see the data certainly indicating to us, and this is ultimately a pretty easy electoral victory for Hillary Clinton, Paul Ryan becomes the leader the GOP, what are the ramifications of that on the Hill, inside the Beltway, where you work and play? What's that dynamic look like?

Howard: Well, two things, Blake. First, Paul Ryan has never been interested in getting Donald Trump elected President of the United States. I mean, never. He and every other congressional Republican have been focused on preserving their majority in the House and the Senate. That's it. It is much better for the Republicans in Congress to have four years of Hillary Clinton than four years of Donald Trump. While some may have pretended for their own electoral purposes to be "endorsing" him, it was never about that. If they could have held the election three months ago and had Hillary Clinton win, they would have been happy?

Paul Ryan is going to have a very difficult job to do on January 21, 2017. Assuming that the Republicans maintain their majority in the House, which is highly likely, but not completely out of the realm of possibilities that they lose it, he's going to have a smaller majority and a majority that's more difficult to govern and it's going to make things very difficult for him personally.

On the flip side, if you have a Hillary Clinton presidency, a Chuck Schumer Majority Leader in the United States Senate, and Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House, on that level those are three people that can get stuff done. Those are three people who have worked across the aisle. Sure, they're all self-promoters. Every politician is a self-promoter. Sure, they're going to be asserting their own policy priorities and they're in different positions of strength based on where they sit, but this town is going to be open for business under that scenario.

Blake: Which is a bit of a different feel, right?

Howard: Very different.

Blake: Mark, I want to come back because Jim and Howard have talked about this from the House side. I do want to talk about it from a Senate side. One, get your thoughts. You said before, and I suspect will continue to agree with yourself, the Senate goes the way of the presidency, which is to say, the party that wins the presidency is going to win the Senate. I wanted to get your thoughts about that and preview what you think a Senate led by Chuck Schumer, in the context of Paul Ryan on the other side in the House, begins to look like.

Mark: I think I agree with myself, Blake, but I'm not sure. This is such a confusing year that I'm not even sure that I agree with myself anymore. I did believe that whomever won the White House would carry the Senate. I think if you just broke it down state by state where Trump or Clinton would need to win to take the White House, you would find the handful of seats that will determine Senate majority would follow the top of the ticket.

Something happened this weekend that may change that, candidly, which is there's only twenty-nine days, but there's still twenty-nine days left. As more Republicans bail on the top of the ticket, as more Republicans walk away from Donald Trump as Pat Meehan did, as Pat Toomey, Jim, I expect will before this is over, I think that some of those embattled Republicans in states like New Hampshire and Pennsylvania are possibly helping their chances and are possibly going to be the beneficiaries of ticket splitting. You could see the Senate go either way if more and more Republicans do that.

Howard: It's math.

Mark: I would handicap the Senate, right now, as close to a coin toss.

Jim: Pennsylvania's a ticket-splitting state. We see it all the time, especially in the mid-term elections, and I think you're going to see it heavily in this election where folks voting for Hillary Clinton are going to be voting down-ticket for Pat Toomey and Pat Meehan and the rest of the congressional delegation there.

Blake: Something we're maybe looking at in Nevada, too, and in New Hampshire as well, perhaps North Carolina even, where you've got these states where the trend is in Hillary's favor, but there is that dynamic that you two guys have talked about. Howard?

Howard: Yeah. I mean, you have six toss-up seats in the Senate, essentially. Forty-seven safe seats on each side and six toss-ups. Mark, as you've said in our prior calls, Trump is pretty much stuck at about forty percent in the polls.

Mark: Yeah, which is incredibly enough, he will have this week, also. That's an astonishing fact, but he'll still be at forty percent after all of the above.

Howard: Exactly. This is math. The Republican congressional candidates have to significantly outrun Trump in order to win. That's all that this comes down to. The further Hillary Clinton pulls away, the less likely that becomes. Let's say Hillary wins and they split the six toss-up seats three each. Well, the Democrats the Senate. I really think that if she wins, the Democrats are in control.

Blake: In the Senate. Again, it sets up to each of your points. Your really interesting and perhaps, particularly for the first time in awhile, maybe and workable dynamic in Washington where if you have a good understanding and working relationship with the Speaker on the House side and can do the same with the Majority Leader, the White House is going to try and get some things done. I wonder what that might look like. Certainly, infrastructure is something we talk about a lot.

Jim: It's going to be tax reform and infrastructure playing off one another.

Blake: Mark?

Mark: I'm sorry, what did Jim just say?

Jim: I said it's going to be tax reform and infrastructure playing off of one another.

Mark: One other thing. You will see immigration reform. I believe if Hillary Clinton is the president, Chuck Schumer is the Majority Leader, and Paul Ryan is the Speaker of the House, you will finally see immigration reform. I don't know if it is the bill that the president and the Senate sent over to the House where Ryan couldn't move it; wanted to, but couldn't move it. It may be a different path. I think infrastructure, tax reform, and immigration are the first hundred days.

Howard: I disagree on the immigration point. I think if we've learned anything from Obama's presidency, it's not to put all your eggs in one basket at the outset of your presidency. She is not going to make the Obamacare mistake that he made in terms of mortgaging his entire presidency to get Obamacare done. She is not going to bring that divisive an issue out of the gate to the American people. She's just not.

Mark: I totally disagree with that. I'm happy to have one of our dinner bets on it. I believe it is not as divisive an issue on November 9 as it is on November 7. Republicans need it.

Howard: It's the premise of his entire campaign.

Mark: It's been rejected, Howard.

Howard: Not by forty percent of the people.

Mark: Those are forty percent of the people aren't going to stop it in the House led by Paul Ryan where he knows that his future ... I'm channeling you now. He never wanted Trump. This is all about his future. He knows that he needs to deliver immigration reform if he wants to be elected president in 2020 or 2024. I'll be you one of our dinners that that's the first hundred days.

Blake: We'll see, right, Jim? Jim, you've got a sense of what the Speaker's starting to think about. He's got to manage his way through these twenty-nine days, but then it's agenda setting. We know where Paul Ryan is going to be the day after election day. We know he's going to be Speaker of the House and in control. None of you I've heard on any call seem to think, even despite these numbers, that the House is in jeopardy and Paul Ryan would find himself somehow as the Minority Leader after election day. He's the Speaker of the House. He's going to set his own agenda and figure out what the politics of that look like.

I think Mark raises an interesting point because I think he's foreshadowing what this election has told us about the GOP. Jim, this is really where I want to go because we are, twenty-nine days from now, going to have some dynamic of a Republican Party. Maybe Paul Ryan steps up to lead it, but boy, it's going to be fractured and it's fractured around some really divisive stuff. I'd be interested to get your thoughts about what do Republicans do the day after election day to get beyond what Donald Trump has done to the Republican Party?

Jim: I don't think she comes in with a mandate. Obama came in with a mandate. Tremendous politic strength. Regardless of what the outcome of election day is, her win is going to be somewhat dismissed because the voters picked the lesser of two evils. That puts Paul Ryan in a pretty politically-strong spot in terms of being able to work with her to mold this agenda going forward and get some wins for the Republican Party on tax reform, which is near and dear to his heart, and very important to him and the delegation. I do believe that there's going to be some give and take on infrastructure and tax reform. Whether they take on the hot button issue of immigration, I don't know that that's a first hundred days' issue, but it's certainly going to be looming out there, and there's going to be calls from folks that have to go back to their constituencies that are bothered by the way that the immigration system works now and have to be answerable to them. It's going to be looming out there for some time.

Blake: We also have to fill a Supreme Court vacancy.

Jim: Great point.

Blake: Which, as we know, as we know, will have political ramifications whether she sticks with the Merrick Garland nomination or goes in another direction. Mark, I want to bring you back in.

Mark: Well, Blake, you are presuming, which I think is likely but not certain, that that vacancy isn't filled with the lame duck.

Blake: Oh, well, that's an excellent point, Mark. As soon as I finished, I thought to myself, "Well, there's a caveat there." I'd love to get all of your thoughts about that because we haven't really talked about the Supreme Court in awhile. This vacancy, which people thought might be a political issue, doesn't even come up. It doesn't come up in the debates. It's not on top of voters' minds.

Jim: It's not a galvanizing issue.

Blake: It's not a galvanizing issue. A 4-4 court has proven to be functional in this time. Mark, what do you think? Do you think there's a chance that the Republicans move on Garland before the end of the lame duck?

Mark: I think there's a chance. I think it's probably not happening. I'd handicap it at a one-in-three chance, but that's still a real chance that Mitch McConnell decides, "This guy's better than what we're going to get and let's just start clean with the new administration and let's give them a vote." I think if McConnell gives him a vote, he'll be confirmed.

Blake: It's interesting. That's one of the many things to think about. Before we end our time today, I don't want to spoil the ending here. We do have twenty-nine days and another presidential debate to come. I'd love to get - and Howard, I'll start with you - I'd love to just get your thoughts. What happens next? Whether it's in the next twenty-four hours or twenty-four days, what happens next?

Howard: There's clearly a certain measure of just general unpredictability about this election and that would be the understatement of the century. I won't even try to predict what might happen in the short-term or in the next twenty-nine days from a bombshell perspective. In terms of what Hillary is going to do, she's going to continue to run the play she's been running, which is to say he's unfit to be president, to show that he's unfit to be president, to try to appeal to general election voters by pivoting on things like Obamacare. He's going to continue to try to tar and feather her around the emails and the Goldman speeches. They're going to essentially run the play that they tried to run last night. The third debate will come and go and people will cast their ballots. Meanwhile, the congressional races are going to be just dog fights and that may not capture the front-page headlines because Clinton and Trump are-

Blake: Pretty good at that.

Howard: Clinton and Trump. Yeah, but that's where all the action is.

Blake: Jim, what happens next?

Jim: Hillary Clinton said it last night. She said this thing's, I'm paraphrasing, "has been so mean and nasty because the stakes are so high." I think it's going to continue to be more mean and more nasty from both sides. I think the candidate herself, I think Howard's right, is going to try and pivot. We're going to see some nasty things coming out from the Clinton camp, more bombs that are going to be dropped on Donald Trump. The same thing. Death by a thousand cuts from the Trump camp and WikiLeaks. I think you'll see that more and more regardless of what happens on election day. If Hillary Clinton is the president after election day, she is going to be battered without a doubt. I think it puts Paul Ryan and the Republicans in a pretty good spot going into January.

Blake: Mark, what happens next?

Mark: Donald Trump is going to have another bad week. We're going to see the polls that reflect the videotape and they're going to be bad. His numbers are getting worse, not better. I think that by the end of the week, the race is going to settle in with her comfortably outside the margin of error. Then we're going to wait for something else surprising, unpredictable to happen. Whatever it is, it will be bad. That's one thing that we can all agree on. There's nothing good that's coming between now and November 8. By November 8, forty percent of the American people who are going to vote will already have voted. I'm counting down these days. We all need this thing to be done.

Blake: Well, it sounds like from your perspective it is going to be a noisy and muddy fight to the finish here between these candidates. It's certainly not the last time we'll be together talking about it. We've got a presidential debate coming up on the 19th. Our next call will be on the 20th.

Then we're going to do something fun. For everybody who is in Philadelphia listening live today, we're going to do a live show. It's going to be like a Prairie Home Companion, except it's going to be this. We're going to do it from Philadelphia. We'll have more about that in the next week or so. To the extent you're in town, you can come watch us live and hear our predictions, which will be all kinds of fun.

Guys, look, it's been a never-ending political season it seems, but we are less than a month away. That may be merciful and good for all of us, but it's not going to be without interest and intrigue. I look forward to the next debate. I look forward to the next call. As always, great to be with you all. Jim, thanks for joining us today. Certainly thanks to everyone who's listened in. We really appreciate it. Comments and questions are always welcome. Presidential analysis at and we look forward to our next call, so thank you.


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