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All In With Chris Hayes, Transcript 9/26/2016

Guests: Omarosa Manigault, Robby Mook, Charlie Pierce, Donna Brazile, John LaValle, Sam Seder, McKay Coppins

Show: ALL IN with CHRIS HAYES Date: September 26, 2016 Guest: Omarosa Manigault, Robby Mook, Charlie Pierce, Donna Brazile, John LaValle, Sam Seder, McKay Coppins

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: All right. Good evening from Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. I am Chris Hayes. And we are now just three hours from the most highly anticipated political showdown in decades.

(APPLAUSE)

.the first of three presidential debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. It`s the first reality-star nominee versus the first woman to top a major party ticket.

You are looking at video from moments ago, Donald Trump arriving at the debate site in Long Island. It`s hard to imagine how the stakes could be any higher, at last (ph), new polls out today, show the candidates effectively nearly tied neck-and-neck.

Clinton now leads by just 1.6 percent in the Real Clear Politics, polling average well within the margin error from most polls. The data suggests more voters are still up for grabs, going into the first debate than previous election years.

According to new polls, between 10 and 18 percent of likely voters are currently undecided or supporting a third-party candidate compared to a range of three to nine percent in that same category four years ago, right before President Obama debated Mitt Romney, these (ph) more people depending on tonight to help make up their minds, making this potentially the most consequential debate in recent memory. I`m joined now by Omarosa Manigault, director of African-American Outreach for the Trump campaign, former contestant on "The Apprentice."

So I want to start with the -- with this -- the birther thing because it`s -- it`s something that the campaign obviously addressed in that -- in that event. Donald trump has sort of -- gave three sentence about it, left it there.

And it seems like there`s a lot of unanswered questions about when he became convinced that the president was, in fact, born here, despite years of saying that there wasn`t enough evidence. Will he explain tonight when he came around to the, I think, obviously correct conclusion, the president is American and therefore, not disqualified from office?

OMAROSA MANIGAULT, DIRECTOR, TRUMP CAMPAIGN`S AFRICAN-AMERICAN OUTREACH: You know, I find that to be a very interesting place for you to start, when there are so many issues that Americans are faced, including the economy, jobs, education.

HAYES: Right.

MANIGAULT: And you want to start with the birther. The good thing is that.

HAYES: Yes.

MANIGAULT: .he`s put that to bed and he`s ready to move on. Tonight, he`s ready to go head-to-head and toe-to-toe with Hillary Clinton and very confident that he will lay out a clear vision for this nation.

(CROSSTALK)

HAYES: Yes, he had to put that to bed, though, because he spent -- he spent five years -- he spent five years talking about the president not being an American. He tweeted that he thought that it was possible that the -- there had been a plane crash intentionally designed to kill a state official in Hawaii to cover up the documentation.

Those are very serious charges. He made his name politically.

MANIGAULT: But don`t you think it`s a really big move for Donald Trump to say he now acknowledges that -- that the president has been born here. And I think it`s important to move on from that and focus on issues that Americans are most interested in. And believe me, the birther issue is not the top issue.

(CROSSTALK)

HAYES: A lot of people are interested in (ph) -- sure.

MANIGAULT: We have young black men being killed in this country.

HAYES: Yes.

MANIGAULT: We have people rioting in the streets of Charlotte, and you want to start with birther? Shame on you. Americans want to talk about real issues.

So let`s talk real issues. And tonight is the biggest stage to talk about those big issues.

(CROSSTALK) Respectfully -- respectfully.

MANIGAULT: Respectfully, there are issues when you -- I go to my hometown in Youngstown, Ohio, they`re not.

(CROSSTALK)

HAYES: Respectfully, this is someone -- yes?

MANIGAULT: .they`re not talking about birther issues. They want to know how they`re going to fill their prescriptions and fill their gas tanks.

(CROSSTALK)

HAYES: So the (ph) -- so what is the -- OK.

(CROSSTALK)

MANIGAULT: They don`t want to talk about.

HAYES: Right.

MANIGAULT: .some conspiracy theories that you all are floating around. They want to talk about how they`re going to feed their family, where they`re going to send their children for school, whether they`re going to be safe, whether there`s going to be a job for them when they show up at work.

(CROSSTALK)

HAYES: The conspiracy theory -- the conspiracy theory -- the conspiracy theory.

MANIGAULT: If (ph) you want to start with birther, let`s talk about the fact that tonight is a big issue for Donald Trump. And he is ready.

(CROSSTALK)

HAYES: .the conspiracy theory originated with the man -- the conspiracy theory originated with a man who`s currently running for office. It`s a conspiracy theory that led (ph) the sitting president of the United States.

(CROSSTALK)

MANIGAULT: It originated -- are you sure that it originated with.

HAYES: He was the most -- he was the most.

MANIGAULT: .oh, come on, you`re a journalist. You know where this started.

HAYES: You don`t think he was the most prominent -- he was not the most prominent endorser of that?

MANIGAULT: Do you know where this started? Are you kidding me?

HAYES: It was not Hillary Clinton.

(CROSSTALK)

MANIGAULT: You know that didn`t start with Donald Trump.

HAYES: But let me -- let me do this (ph).

MANIGAULT: I mean, Blumenthal acknowledged that -- Blumenthal acknowledged that it might have started with a staffer in the Clinton campaign.

(CROSSTALK)

MANIGAULT: .can he claim to us -- if he was able (ph) -- Omarosa -- Omarosa -- Omarosa, if he was able -- if he was able to be persuaded of this obvious fact to people, it goes to the judgment of men who will be the most powerful person in the world who ought to make judgments.

(CROSSTALK)

MANIGAULT: Well, judgment is a woman that doesn`t know what`s a classified e-mail or not.

HAYES: .about what`s not so true and what are (ph) not true.

MANIGAULT: If she doesn`t know what a qualified e-mail is, does she qualify to be the president of the United States?

(CROSSTALK)

HAYES: So my question is, could he explain that he was (ph) how he came about to believe that the president is actually born in the United States?

MANIGAULT: You`re dismissing qualification (ph).

HAYES: Could he -- could he mention (ph) that to us tonight.

(CROSSTALK)

MANIGAULT: You just mentioned qualification. Is a woman that puts a server with national security details in the basement of her home.

HAYES: Right.

MANIGAULT: .qualified to be president? You`re talking about qualification? Come on. Let`s have a serious discussion about the debate tonight.

Let`s talk about real issues, where Americans are hurting.

HAYES: Right.

MANIGAULT: Let`s not continue talking about things that you think will chop (ph) down my -- my candidate because he is focused on the debate tonight, where Americans want to hear who`s fighting for them.

HAYES: Right.

MANIGAULT: .who`s going to be a voice for them, who`s going to put America first. And that`s going to be Donald J. Trump. And the birther issue is not on the table, because that`s not what Americans want to talk about.

So if you want to have a real conversation, I`m here all night long, boo.

Well, you (ph) -- obviously -- I understand. I understand. Obviously, you`ve made a tactical choice that you don`t think it benefits you to talk about the issue that -- that -- that sort of shut (ph) him off to political problem (ph).

MANIGAULT: It benefits me to talk about what Americans want to hear. Do you really think that people in Ohio care about that issue?

Let`s talk about the fact that jobs are being shipped out because of TPP.

(CROSSTALK)

HAYES: And I -- I -- I understand that. I understand that. But there are opening questions about he came to a very obvious conclusion the president was born in the United States.

MANIGAULT: Well, let`s talk about real issues.

HAYES: All right, Omarosa Manigault, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

MANIGAULT: I`m challenging you to be a journalist tonight.

HAYES: All right. Thank you. Joining me now, Clinton campaign manager, Robby Mook. You, guys.

(APPLAUSE)

.you, guys have a lot of work to do among white men without a college degree. Right now, we`re seeing spreads that are twice what Mitt Romney won them by.

When you talk about the economic circumstances that that cohort finds themselves in, how can Hillary Clinton be a credible -- what is the case she can make that she`s going to tangibly materially improve their lives, particularly if they feel like eight years of Barack Obama has not helped?

ROBBY MOOK, CLINTON CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Yes, well, Chris, this is a really important question because we don`t always have enough opportunity to talk about the economy on this campaign. The two candidates present very different points of view.

You know, Hillary Clinton has spent her entire life fighting for kids and family. She`s rolled out the biggest investment in jobs since World War II, investment in training since high-tech manufacturing, rebuilding our infrastructure.

These are real jobs. And they`re good-paying jobs. Donald Trump has rolled out very few policy details whatsoever. What he has rolled out is a tax plan that would cut taxes for people like him.

He would get a $4 billion tax cut in (ph) his own family.

HAYES: Sure.

MOOK: .by rolling back the estate tax. And he would actually raise taxes on the middle class.

HAYES: But here -- here strikes me as an issue, right? So if you say, well, we have this plan, and he has that plan, right, there is a certain segment of population that says, these plans won`t matter, like none of this is going to matter to me.

Things will be gridlocked in -- in Congress. I think the whole system is so broken and so corrupt.

MOOK: Yes.

HAYES: It`s not going to trickle down to me. It seems to me that she has to make a persuasive case that this stuff will tangibly affect folks.

MOOK: I think this is the key point that we actually want to get across in this debate. First of all, these candidates need to present real plans to voters.

Hillary Clinton has done that. Donald Trump refuses to explain the policy details, right? He -- he says he has a plan to defeat ISIS, but it`s a secret.

HAYES: But what if they don`t care about -- what if people don`t care about the details?

MOOK: Well, but the other -- the other piece you brought up is very important. These candidates need to demonstrate they can work across the aisle to get things done.

And let`s think about this. Hillary Clinton, when she was first lady, brought Democrats and Republicans together in a Republican Congress controlled by Newt Gingrich, and passed the children`s health insurance program that covers eight million kids today.

That`s the kind of bipartisan accomplishment we don`t see a lot nowadays. Donald Trump, we`re going to see more of what we just saw here, more -- more angry rhetoric, more division.

That`s not what we need in our politics right now. We need someone who can work with both parties to get things done.

HAYES: OK, but what if people say, I`m angry, like yes, I`m angry because my house was foreclosed. I -- I went through the worst financial crisis in seven years.

And you can say, well, look at these topline economic stats and look at my plans, but things are still very bad where I am.

MOOK: No, absolutely. Look, people are angry and they`re angry for a reason. This economy is not working for everyone. There`s a lot more wealth getting generated.

But it`s not being shared across the board. That is the whole theme of this campaign. That is the whole mission of Hillary Clinton`s life, that we are stronger together.

We need to prosper together. She has a plan to create jobs, make the biggest investment since World War II in job creation. Donald Trump has -- has proposed more tax breaks for the wealthy.

That is going to be great for him. That`s not great for everyone else.

HAYES: Do you anticipate -- and we talked -- I talked briefly about, well, about the -- the birther issue. There are two issues. There is the foundation, the Clinton Foundation, there are e-mails, obviously.

These have dominated coverage of Hillary Clinton. I think that`s sort of empirically been the case, a lot of the background Donald Trump has dominated the coverage of Donald Trump.

How much do you strategically want to steer this towards essentially an exchange on these kinds of issue?

MOOK: Well, look, Hillary Clinton has always done best in this race, when she has an opportunity to talk, like you were saying, about the specific plans she has and the things she wants to do to make a real difference in people`s lives -- creating jobs, affording child care, paid family leave, you know, the real nuts and bolts -- things that make a difference. And Donald Trump just refuses, you know, to -- to -- to talk about any of those things.

So that -- that is the contrast that we want to.

(CROSSTALK)

HAYES: But his line is, I`ll -- we`ll figure it out. I`ll negotiate it.

MOOK: Yes, well, that look, what you see is what you get. Donald Trump is a great television entertainer. He has not -- he has not presented real plans.

And he`s not shown the ability again to bring people together and get things done in our political process. It`s a real problem.

HAYES: What if people say, no one can bring anyone together in this political process?

MOOK: I don`t think that`s true. And again, you look at Hillary Clinton`s time as secretary of state, this is the person who -- who ended a hot war in the Gaza Strip. She negotiated the nuclear deal in Iran.

She had passed a lot of this -- the biggest reduction in nuclear arms in modern history, through a Republican Senate.

HAYES: Right.

MOOK: She knows how to get these things done.

HAYES: All right, Robby Mook, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

MOOK: Thanks so much. Take care.

(APPLAUSE)

HAYES: We`ve got some amazing guests tonight and a lot more to cover ahead of the first presidential debate. We`ll look at just how we got to this point.

The intentional lowering of the bar for Donald Trump`s performance, and how Hillary Clinton compares to President Obama going into his debates -- all that and more ahead, stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Two days ago, he said, he would take his pants off and moon everybody and that`s fine. Nobody reports that. He gets up and says that and then he tells me, oh, my language was a little bit rough.

RUBIO: You`re the only person on this stage that`s ever been fined for hiring people to work on your projects illegally. You hired some workers from Poland.

TRUMP: No, I`m the only one on the stage that`s hired people. You haven`t hired anybody.

(APPLAUSE)

RUBIO: No.

TRUMP: Mexico just took Carrier Corporation, maker of air conditioners. They just took Ford. They`re building a two-and-a-half-billion-dollar plant.

They just took Nabisco out of Chicago. And I always say, I`m not having Oreos anymore, which is true, by the way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: Two days ago, Trump said -- sorry about that -- Donald Trump, of course, heads into this debate without any experience going one-on-one in a campaign. Hillary Clinton has a lot of experience.

But of course, the big question on everybody`s minds is what that experience amounts to when you are dealing with Donald Trump. Joining me now, MSNBC political analyst, Michael Steele, former RNC Chairman, and Charlie Pierce, writer-at-large for Esquire.

Well, I think the -- the big question -- the -- the two things here, right, are this question of where is the terrain of the debate?

MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

HAYES: Is it on substance? Is it on -- is it on the sort of personal records of each of these candidates? And then the other thing to me is just what, you know, this -- just (ph) sort of what Trump shows up.

My anticipation is that we are going to see a relatively gracious version of Donald Trump.

STEELE: I think you will. I think that that`s been sort of the drilldown from the very beginning of the process. Prepping for this debate was to get his mind retrained not to be reactionary, but to sort of hold his powder (ph) and stand back and just kind of listen to some of the incoming.

HAYES: Although, you saw Omarosa`s response to the birther question.

STEELE: Yes.

HAYES: .which, again, they said 30 seconds about and they said, we have declared this issue done.

STEELE: Right.

HAYES: You cannot talk about it. But it`s not done.

STEELE: It`s not, right.

HAYES: You have to explain how someone who spent five years saying a ludicrous thing.

STEELE: But.

HAYES: .came around to not believe it.

STEELE: But their -- but their definition of done is going to be, I think, exhibited tonight, how he addresses -- because you know it`s going to come up, how he addresses that. I think he`s (ph).

HAYES: You think that it will come up and he`ll have to address it?

STEELE: I think -- I think he will. I mean, it only stands to reason. You put it back in the -- the national debate a week and a half ago. So, yes, it`s probably going to come (ph).

CHARLIE PIERCE, WRITER-AT-LARGE, ESQUIRE: I think the interesting thing is, does he take it one step further up the great mountain of manure (ph) by accusing her of having started it, which was the second half.

HAYES: Right, right.

PIERCE: .of his -- of his walk-back was.

HAYES: Right.

PIERCE: .I finished it, but she started it, which will be interesting to see how Lester Holt handles (ph) that.

HAYES: Well, yes (ph).

STEELE: The question in that point is what do people believe.

PIERCE: Yes, right.

STEELE: As (ph) I think more people probably believe that she started it, then it.

PIERCE: You`re exactly right.

(CROSSTALK)

HAYES: Well, this -- this, to me, is a really -- the thing is, what do you do with all the gas lighting, right? What do you do with the.

(LAUGHTER)

.what do you do with the -- you know, if -- when Donald Trump gets up there and he says, the joke I`ve been using is I actually will be the first woman president.

PIERCE: Right. And -- and Hillary Clinton call Mexicans rapists and she`s calling to ban Muslims. I mean, what -- like there -- there is this sort of rhetorical thing that he does that -- that Jeb Bush moment.

PIERCE: Yes.

STEELE: Yes.

HAYES: Jeb Bush said he would moon everyone. Of course, he never said that. You know what I mean (ph)?

PIERCE: Right, right.

HAYES: What -- when confronted with these sort of obviously ridiculous projections, which is kind of a rhetorical go-to event (ph).

PIERCE: Yes, I think one of the thing -- one of the great failures of all of us, and I include myself in the media.

HAYES: Mostly.

PIERCE: .has not -- mostly media -- has been not treating Donald Trump as so (ph) generous as -- as -- as much as he is. There has nobody been like him.

HAYES: Righ.t

PIERCE: .in my lifetime in politics. And it`s a little bit late now, I think, to decide that -- that he`s outside the pail. We expanded the pail.

HAYES: Well, that`s true. And I also think -- yes, go ahead.

STEELE: I also will say (ph), a big part of that is the fact that I think in the very beginning of this, there were -- was a preconceived design of this -- of this narrative, how it should be. It should have been Hillary and Jeb.

And it was all the discussion about, you know, legacy and family and all of that.

HAYES: Right, yes, yes, yes, yes.

STEELE: And he just very quietly worked his way through. People forget, when Donald Trump started.

PIERCE: Not quietly.

STEELE: .well, but in this sense -- in this sense, when he started this, he was at one percent.

HAYES: Right, yes.

STEELE: .in national polling.

HAYES: Right, right.

STEELE: So he -- he caught that wave that allowed him to go. So when you have "Huffington Post" say, well, we`re just going to dismiss him and not take him seriously.

HAYES: Right.

STEELE: .that was part of that paradigm (ph).

HAYES: But -- but this is -- this is where we go to sort of when talking about the thresholds here, to me, you`ve got to step back. Talked to Michael Beschloss last night, right?

STEELE: Yes.

HAYES: We never had someone with less public sector experience, you know, public service. We had Dwight Eisenhower (ph), you know, general.

STEELE: From the military, right.

HAYES: But this is totally uncharted, right -- a person who has never cast a vote in his life as the legislator.

STEELE: Correct.

HAYES: Never signed off on a budget as an executive, never been a city -- not all of it. The entire nuts and bolts of governing is totally foreign to him.

And to me, the big question tonight is on him, for the threshold is that he has command of the bases.

PIERCE: Well, I saw -- I mean, I saw a -- a chart was put up by another cable network -- not this one --where they put up the -- the respective drawbacks for the candidates.

HAYES: Right.

PIERCE: And first on --on Hillary Clinton`s list was, in the weeds on too many policy positions.

HAYES: Right, right.

PIERCE: And first on Donald Trump`s list was the truth. Now, somewhere between.

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: In the weeds in (ph).

PIERCE: .between those two things being the big drawback.

HAYES: Right, right.

PIERCE: .democracy dies.

HAYES: OK, but -- but.

STEELE: Yes, but -- but here is the thing, though. This is -- that`s an interesting point that you raised, because at the end of the day, all of that legacy that you bring in as a former fill in the blank.

PIERCE: Right.

STEELE: .the people are clearly saying, they don`t want that now.

HAYES: Yes, although, on the other side, right, he`s, you know, this is a competitive race, OK? And so -- but he also has a threshold he has to get over.

There is -- there is some bulk of people that he says, yes, give me the nuclear codes. Yes, give me the power to end human life on the planet, which is what we are talking about when we elect the president of the United States.

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: Can -- can I tell you something, people -- you say that and they just go, wah-wah-wah (ph), because they don`t believe that. They don`t believe that`s part of the scenario.

They don`t believe, A, that he will do that, B, that that`s -- that`s.

(CROSSTALK)

HAYES: I -- I think that`s true. I -- I -- I think what I`m talking about are that one percent of voters that are thinking about, right?

STEELE: Yes.

HAYES: I mean, that`s the point, is that there are some.

STEELE: But (ph) then there`s the 99 percent who aren`t.

HAYES: Right. Well, and to me, to -- to my point, that -- that Clinton, when you look at this polling, right, what`s happened, Clinton has sort of bounced up and down. He`s been at sort of 42, 44 as a ceiling.

STEELE: Right.

HAYES: She seems to have a higher ceiling, right?

STEELE: Yes, 51, 52, right.

HAYES: That`s right. So the question for her is like saying like, a reminder, here is my vision, like here is what I would do as president, which I think gets lost very easily in the maelstrom (ph) of the Trump campaign.

STEELE: Well, that will work for her, Chris, as long as she doesn`t sound nerdy about it, as long as she doesn`t like a prosecutorial lawyer that`s kind.

PIERCE: Right.

STEELE: .I`m going to prosecute the victims (ph) of the past.

(CROSSTALK)

HAYES: No, I think there`s a vision. Yes, you -- you have to lay out a vision.

STEELE: But she also has.

HAYES: .of what a Clinton presidency would be.

STEELE: .but also has to recognize that there`s still pain in the country, too.

PIERCE: Yes, right.

HAYES: Well, I don`t think.

(CROSSTALK)

PIERCE: And that -- I think that`s her hardest thing to pull off.

STEELE: Yes.

HAYES: Really? I don`t -- I am.

STEELE: She has never impressed me as not being empathetic.

STEELE: That -- that I agree with. That`s right.

(CROSSTALK)

PIERCE: She -- she -- she impresses me as not being able to express it very well.

HAYES: Right.

PIERCE: .unlike her husband.

HAYES: Right.

STEELE: Right.

PIERCE: .who would bleed on actual (ph).

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: Through (ph) the pain, right (ph).

PIERCE: .who would bleed on cue. He`s the most amazingly empathetic politician I`ve ever seen.

HAYES: Right, right.

PIERCE: I don`t think she suffers by comparison because I think that`s unfair to her.

HAYES: Right.

PIERCE: But she does have a problem express -- I mean, in small groups.

HAYES: Right.

PIERCE: .when you see her with people.

HAYES: That`s right.

PIERCE: .it`s -- it`s right there in front of you. You don`t have to worry about it. On a debate stage, who knows?

HAYES: Yes.

PIERCE: I think that -- one more thing, and I think the smartest thing that Jeb Bush ever said during the debates was that Donald Trump is the chaos candidate.

HAYES: Yes.

PIERCE: He create.

STEELE: True (ph) Proof of that (ph).

PIERCE: .he creates.

HAYES: Right.

PIERCE: .the atmosphere within which he can -- he can thrive and nobody else can.

HAYES: And so steadiness I think is sort of key for her. Michael Steele, Charlie Pierce, thank you, gentlemen, both.

STEELE: Absolutely.

HAYES: Don`t go anywhere. James Carville joins me next to talk about the debate that promises to be unlike any other just after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: So we can go back and forth like this.

(APPLAUSE)

.but the fact is, most people watching tonight want to know what we`ve done and what we will do. That`s why I am laying out a specific agenda that will make progress, get more jobs, with rising incomes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: Hillary Clinton will probably try to keep tonight -- tonight`s debate substantive. She will face an opponent and a dynamic like no other.

Joining me now, democratic strategist and MSNBC political analyst, James Carville.

How do you think about which -- which sort of part of Hillary Clinton you`re most looking forward to seeing tonight?

JAMES CARVILLE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, what I`m looking forward to, and I`m hoping that she comes out very strong, I think the first 15 minutes of these things are like a military battle. If they can be -- they`re pretty determined to (ph).

So I think that`s important. And I think she has to -- to couch or she`ll do a lot -- you`ll see a lot of one, two, three -- I want to do this. I want to do that. I want to do this and that.

But she`s got to couch it in -- in a way that she wants to get to work of building a better future in (ph) the country. I hope we`re all giving a (ph) prospective as compared to his arguments which tend to be more -- more retrospective.

So I`m -- I`m looking for that. I`m -- I think she`ll do well. I think she`s well-prepared. And I`m -- I`m hoping for a real good start tonight. That`s what I`m actually looking for.

HAYES: You know, there`s -- there`s sort of two schools of thought about - - about her approach to -- to him. And -- and one of them is.

CARVILLE: Yes.

HAYES: .you know, she -- she probably has it within her power to successfully bait him. She should try to bait him. He obviously has a hard time apologizing or for letting slights go.

And there`s another school of thought that says, look, this is her opportunity to make a case affirmatively about what she would do as president. Which of those two schools are you in?

CARVILLE: Decidedly, in the second school. I -- I don`t really think people are looking for her to -- to bait him. I`ve been (ph) -- and I think at this point in the campaign, if I were to be critical of the campaign, I`m very reluctant to do it, but I don`t think people know enough about what she wants to do for the country.

And I -- and I think deep down inside, she understands that. And I think tonight is a chance to rectify that. And at the end of the 90 minutes tonight, if -- if -- if we walk away and we have an idea of the kind of country she wants to lead and where she wants to take the country, I think that`s going to be a big success for her.

And she has an advantage, I think, that she knows something. She`s not worried about getting a question that she -- she`s going to freeze on. But he has to be concerned about it.

And he`s going to do his game. He`s going to -- he`s going to do what he has to do. I`m just looking for her to just hit the things that she has to do.

But I am decidedly in the second camp. I -- I want people to know at the end of this 90 minutes where she wants to take the country and how she views the country.

And I`m -- I`m -- I`m very hopeful that that`s what we get tonight.

HAYES: So -- so on the other side, right, we`ve -- we saw the shift in the Trump campaign, where they -- there was this sort of more traditional candidate that was rolled out -- teleprompter speeches, kind of thematic policy days. OK, today, we`re doing education.

Tomorrow, we`re doing something on national security, et cetera. We haven`t seen him in a -- in an environment without the teleprompter, where he essentially has to sell that message.

I wonder if you think that he will even try? Will try to basically do policy tonight? Or will he be the kind of broad-strokes believe-me -- believe-me candidate we`ve seen so far?

CARVILLE: Right (ph), I don`t think he`s going to do policy like boom, boom, boom. But he`ll -- he`ll return to some of the things that he talked about. He`ll -- I think he`ll paint the country in -- in a very negative position.

But remember, there were four news organizations, when he -- he`s done his so-called pivot that -- that said he lied, I don`t know how many hundred, you know, how many times in a -- in a one-week period. So you know, and I think what she needs to do if he does any of that tonight is say, you know, Donald, I -- that`s not true.

I disagree with it, and then let the fact-checkers do their job. Let -- let us come on or other news organizations in today (ph) said (ph), well, we had this moment here where she said that and actually, these are the facts.

I hope she doesn`t get into like a protracted argument on -- you were for the war, you wanted to get to war, you said this, you said that. Just get in and get out.

Be like a good boxer. Throw -- throw your left and get out and then come back again.

HAYES: So in the experiences you`ve had with debates, one of the things that happen sometimes in a debate, there`s -- there are moments that happen while you`re watching them. And then those moments take on this kind of life of their own in the kind of post-debate -- debate over who won.

CARVILLE: Right, right.

HAYES: Are there -- are there -- have you experienced that firsthand? How do you think about the process by which people come to these conclusions about what were the monumental moments or not?

CARVILLE: Well, you know, you`re watching a debate. I remember in -- in - - in 1984, in -- in the Mondale-Reagan, when he -- he said I`m not going to use your -- your relative youth against you, you kind of knew it was a good line. But it -- it sort of took on sudden legendary focus.

You know, you see these things from time to time. And what`s going to be interesting to see, as it -- you know, as the debates go on, what are the - - what are the Trump people going to be saying is the big moment they want to seize on. What is the Clinton camp going to be saying the big moment they want to seize on?

It will be interesting for -- for those of us watching to -- to sort of follow that. And also, I think what you`re going to find is the initial talking points when the -- the people come out, you`re -- you`re going to see that they`ve taken the debate that each side wants.

I think this is very kind of critical for viewers to understand. And the other thing to remember, too, Chris, is they`re both -- they`re both nervous. I mean, there`s some hundred million people getting ready to watch.

I don`t care who you are. This is a big event. You`re -- you`re -- you`re nervous. Your -- your heart`s beating fast. You know, you want to do well.

This -- you know, this is -- this is not a minor thing. And it can be interesting to see if anybody has little preliminary jitters coming out, you know.

HAYES: Yes.

CARVILLE: .how they`re initially. And that`s going to be something to -- that I think our viewers are going to look for. And you don`t know. Of course (ph), she`s nervous.

And of course, he`s nervous, too. Anybody would be.

HAYES: I`ve -- I`ve been thinking about that all day, how nervous everybody involved in this must be.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: I think (ph), all right (ph).

HAYES: James Carville.

CARVILLE: .I mean, Lester Holt`s nervous, too.

HAYES: Yes, I`m not -- I`m sure he is.

CARVILLE: Thank you, Chris.

HAYES: Throws all around (ph).

CARVILLE: Everybody is.

HAYES: James Carville, thank you very much.

CARVILLE: Thank you so much.

HAYES: We`ve got a lot of great guests. Still to come tonight, including interim DNC Chair Donna Brazile, who joins me next. Stick around. We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KAINE: The thing about 90 minutes is, well, you can`t hide. Donald Trump likes to say, you know, I`m going to build this wall.

But then I`m not taking any questions about it. OK, well, you`ve got 90 minutes and there`s just a moderator and two of you on stage. You can run, but you can`t hide.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: Donald Trump`s survived 12 official Republican primary debates before going on to lock up the GOP nomination. But tonight`s debate will be unlike anything he`s ever experienced -- for the first time, Trump one- on-one against a single opponent, debating for 90 minutes with no commercial breaks.

Here with me now, Donna Brazile, interim chair of the DNC.

It`s great to see you in person.

DONNA BRAZILE, INTERIM CHAIR, DNC: Always great to see you.

HAYES: I want to ask you about a -- a bit of reporting from -- from Rosie Gray`s -- Gray of BuzzFeed about a sort of strategic decision made by the - - the Clinton campaign. They were sort of dealing, do you call Donald Trump the --the epitome of the Republican party?

Or is he different than the rest of the Republican Party? And there`s a real strategic way (ph) to say, no, this guy is different. If you like Paul Ryan, you can still join us.

Do you think that has hurt the Democratic Party down-ballot chances?

BRAZILE: Look, I think the democratic down-ballot candidates who, in my -- my estimation, they`re an amazing group of people -- I`ve been to several ballot-ground (ph) states. Looking at ways that we can win two seats in the Mexico, two seats in Pennsylvania, 11 seats in Colorado -- these down- ballot candidates are running on the democratic message -- our values, our inclusion.

We`re a big-tent party. And there`s no question that we`re going to help all our down-ballot candidates. And let me tell you what Secretary Clinton is going to do tonight.

She`s going to talk about the future. Donald Trump is stuck in the past. We know that his -- his vision is a pessimistic vision. She`s going to talk about solutions that this country can propose for very, very important issues, from education to climate change.

So I`m not concerned about -- about that issue, because I -- I know that democratic down-ballot, whether you`re running for the United States Senate.

HAYES: Right.

BRAZILE: .House or state legislative races across this country, we`re going to emphasize democratic values.

HAYES: Well, that -- well, that connects to me the one of the sort of challenges that -- that you, guys.

BRAZILE: Right.

HAYES: .have faced in this campaign. Back in 2012, right, Democrats up and down could run against the Ryan budget.

BRAZILE: Right.

HAYES: Here is the Ryan budget. It`s written in stand.

BRAZILE: Right.

HAYES: It would do this to Medicare. And whether it`s Barack at the top of you`re in a contested House race, you can say, this is what they stand for. And we`re against it.

In this case, you`ve got this so (ph) generous maelstrom at the top, which is Donald Trump, right?

BRAZILE: Right.

HAYES: Maybe he`s the same as trade -- on trade as others are not. It -- it seems to me a harder challenge to connect to sort of unified democratic message in this environment.

BRAZILE: I don`t think so, Chris, because if you look at what Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders were able to do with the platform.

HAYES: Yes.

BRAZILE: .we have the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party. So we`re going to lift those issues up, everything from raising the wages to dealing with climate change, income inequality.

(CROSSTALK)

HAYES: Are we going to see a lot of that (ph) you think?

BRAZILE: I think so. I think -- I think you`re going to hear the socks (ph). It`s not just the soundbite that (ph) Mr. Trump -- you`re going to hear a candidate that has a vision for the future.

And she`s going to talk about how she intends to help the American people and not just respond to what I think Donald Trump`s frivolous comments from time to time.

HAYES: There`s -- there`s a lot of expectation-setting that goes into this.

BRAZILE: Yes, I know.

HAYES: Do you -- how do you think -- you know, we gloss very quickly over the fact that this is the first woman who will ever be occupying this position.

BRAZILE: I haven`t lost that. And I think millions of women across this country -- this is a huge moment. I mean, think about where we are as a country today.

The fact that it has taken 240 (ph) years, some 96 years after the passage of suffrage, we finally have a female nominee. This is a milestone, something that we should celebrate as women.

You know, I was at the -- the opening, the dedication of the African- American Museum the other day. And there was this row where Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, and Susan B. Anthony.

That is the road to freedom. That is the journey that we have all shared as Americans.

HAYES: How do you -- how do you -- do you think gender dynamics in this kind of environment, and go -- when you go back and you look at Donald Trump`s performances in those debates, I think it`s fair to say that -- that Carly Fiorina was able to get him in ways that -- that other candidates weren`t. Do you view that as a -- a sort of crucial subtext in the debate tonight?

BRAZILE: I thought Carly Fiorina did a great thing when she said this is the fate of women. This is what we look like.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m going to have to cut back on my filibuster that I had.

BRAZILE: I just want to say this. If (inaudible) tonight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Plays dead (ph) -- all of your speech (ph).

BRAZILE: .she`s going to find that the American people will not, you know --

HAYES: Do you -- do you think he will do that?

BRAZILE: Who knows? Donald Trump has like 13 things in his arsenal. We don`t know where.

HAYES: Right.

BRAZILE: .I mean, there`s no teleprompter.

HAYES: Right.

BRAZILE: So we don`t know which Donald Trump will show up -- the Donald Trump that has demeaned so many American citizens in this country or the Donald Trump that has tried to be a more measured presidential candidate. We just don`t know.

What we do know is Hillary Clinton has a plan for the future. And she knows how to give Americans a -- a raise in their wage and how to deal with climate change.

She knows the issues. And she has solutions.

HAYES: It`s interesting to me what you are hitting because I feel like that that is a preview what they`ll be hitting. So thank you very much, Donna Brazile.

BRAZILE: Thank you.

HAYES: All right, I`m joined now by John LaValle, Trump`s surrogate and regional vice chair of the New York State GOP.

JOHN LAVALLE, REGIONAL VICE CHAIR, NEW YORK STATE GOP: Hi.

HAYES: On this issue of substance, I mean, are we going to see, for instance -- Donna just mentioned climate change, right? You`ve got the hottest year on record was last year.

And then that was supplanted by this year, and the hottest August on record. He`s on record saying that he thinks that climate change is a hoax by the Chinese.

Are we going to see an exchange on climate change? Will you see Donald Trump say what he thinks about climate tonight?

LAVALLE: That`s up to the moderator. I don`t know what the questions are, nor does Donald Trump, nor does Hillary Clinton.

HAYES: Right. But if it`s something that he wanted to emphasize, he could bring it up, right? I`m not.

LAVALLE: I`m pretty sure that`s not what he`s going to be empathizing. He`s going to be talking about putting Americans back to work.

So he`ll be (ph) talking about bringing jobs back to this country. He`s going to be talking on making this country safer, rebuilding our military and really getting America back on track.

I mean, we are off track.

HAYES: Yes.

LAVALLE: Hillary Clinton has doubled down on the failed policies of Barack Obama. I think that`s a big mistake on her part. She had the opportunity to kind of vary a little bit and tell a different narrative.

She didn`t do it. And I think that`s going to hurt her, big time.

HAYES: What`s the response then, to say, you know, there`s been 70, you know, 70 months, consecutive job growth, right? You`ve got employment that`s come down to around five percent.

You saw the largest increase in median wages and -- and household income in almost 50 years in the past year on the census. I mean, when you look at a bunch of metrics, right, there are a lot -- there`s a lot of evidence that things are -- that have improved.

LAVALLE: But there`s a lot of evidence, for instance, there are 14 million less people working in America than seven years ago. There are seven more million people that are.

HAYES: Big aid (ph), poor (ph) effect.

LAVALLE: .turn to be (ph) impoverished.

HAYES: Right.

LAVALLE: You know, salaries are down. You know, the wages -- especially in -- in the minority communities, I mean, that`s an area where you expected Barack Obama to excel. He didn`t. It`s failing visibly (ph).

HAYES: Let me ask you this, Donald Trump has been talking a lot to -- to African-Americans.

LAVALLE: Yes.

HAYES: He`s been making this pitch. If things are as bad as he says they are and he said they`re the worst ever, why is he pulling so poorly among that community, right?

If things are really bad and he`s the change candidate, why is he losing 90/10 among black voters?

LAVALLE: Well, you know, a few weeks ago, we were talking about, it was a hundred to zero. So we`re 90/10. We`re plus 10 right now.

And you know, that`s part of what you do in a campaign. There is different, you know, subsets that are not going to be with you.

What you want to do is chip away and you want to bring it back. I believe Donald Trump`s going to get toward -- closer towards 15 percent of the African-American vote.

That`s extraordinary, that he was at zero just a few weeks ago, being ridiculed about it.

HAYES: Yes.

LAVALLE: Fifteen (ph) percent -- he gets (ph) to 20, this race is over.

HAYES: Well (ph).

LAVALLE: She doesn`t even have a chance of winning the race.

HAYES: I will concede to you that if he wins 20 percent of African- American voters, Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States.

LAVALLE: He`s on his way.

HAYES: I`m highly skeptical that will happen. How much on trade are we going to get tonight? And -- and what I mean by that is, we`re going to get a lot on trade.

He says it was a bad deal. But then you get to the nuts and bolts. What parts of NAFTA (ph) are wrong? What`s the bad part of NAFTA?

What would you renegotiate? What do terrorists be like? What will that regime look like? What is your specific objection to TPP?

Can we expect details on that?

LAVALLE: I -- I think you`re going to hear some details on that. And, you know, listen, the trade deals are bad. It -- it didn`t work out for the United States.

This -- this globalization effort hurt the United States.

HAYES: Sure. But that`s a -- that`s a slogan, right? You`ve got to go and cut (ph).

LAVALLE: Reality (ph).

(CROSSTALK)

HAYES: Sure, right. But I`m saying he (ph).

LAVALLE: I`ll tell you the (ph) details, yes.

HAYES: What`s wrong with -- what`s wrong with NAFTA?

(CROSSTALK)

LAVALLE: Well, certainly, he shouldn`t be -- you know, and he has said this before. We shouldn`t provide incentives for companies to move their jobs to overseas.

HAYES: That`s a Barack Obama campaign line.

LAVALLE: Well, guess what, he allowed it to happen. We need to -- we need to repatriate (ph) that money, get these.

HAYES: Right.

LAVALLE: .these companies back into the United States, create jobs for Americans. I mean, think about what we`re doing in America. We are building homes overseas, you know, in other countries.

We are, you know, giving money so that they can grow crops in other countries.

HAYES: Yes.

LAVALLE: We have American families that are homeless. Children are going to bed, you know, hungry. That`s not what we should be doing.

When Donald Trump talks about making America great again.

HAYES: Right.

LAVALLE: .it`s -- it`s literally the bottom to the top. And we have to rebuild (ph) America.

(CROSSTALK)

HAYES: Right. But when you talk about that, when you talk about foreign aid, just to be clear, right, it`s -- it`s less than one percent of the federal budget, right? So the money to make America great again isn`t going to come out of that?

LAVALLE: Well.

HAYES: Just to be clear.

(CROSSTALK)

LAVALLE: .it`s the effect on it (ph). We need to take care of Americans first.

HAYES: Right.

LAVALLE: That`s what we need to do. That`s his mantra. And whether it`s one percent or 10 percent, or a hundred percent.

HAYES: Right.

LAVALLE: .if Americans are hurting.

HAYES: Right.

LAVALLE: .if Americans are homeless, if Americans are hungry.

HAYES: Right.

LAVALLE: .we shouldn`t be looking overseas and helping others.

HAYES: Sure. So then what`s the homelessness plan?

LAVALLE: Well, that`s what he`s talking about. Bring jobs back to this country. Give someone a job.

You know, when you don`t have a job, you`re demoralized. You see all these.

HAYES: YES.

LAVALLE: .like distresses throughout this country.

HAYES: Yes.

LAVALLE: .you know, social, unrest, guess what, put people back to work. Give them a chance at the American dream.

HAYES: You, guys.

LAVALLE: You do that and.

(CROSSTALK)

HAYES: .I -- I think it`s fascinating that you guys -- you guys have adopted this sort of economic anxiety model. Basically, your -- your case is that Americans are feeling economically anxious.

And that`s the source of Donald Trump`s support.

LAVALLE: Well, not the source of Donald Trump`s support. I -- I truly believe Americans are feeling that distress.

HAYES: Yes.

LAVALLE: And I think it`s coming out in a lot of different ways. It`s creating some divides in this country.

HAYES: Where does that go (ph)?

LAVALLE: And you know, we need to -- to bring America back together. And you know, we have two candidates. They -- they might disagree.

But I`m going to tell you, Donald Trump loves this country.

HAYES: Yes.

LAVALLE: He wants this country to succeed. He wants each and every American to succeed. And he`s going to do everything he can to make that happen as president of the United States.

HAYES: This -- this is making me -- like I said to Donna, this is making me think I`m getting a preview of what tonight`s going to be, the (ph).

LAVALLE: A little bit.

HAYES: .the positive message, John. Thank you.

LAVALLE: And good (ph) to see you.

HAYES: Appreciate it, John LaValle. Up next, managing debate expectations -- polls show that voters expect Hillary Clinton to win, but by how big of a margin? We`ll talk about that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAYES: Donald Trump`s campaign has tried to lower expectations going (ph) tonight`s debate to an almost comical degree. Their efforts have not worked as well as they may have hoped.

In the past two presidential elections, expectations for President Obama ahead of the debates were sky-high, with polling showing, like going into the first debates in both 2008 and 2012. Voters expected obama to win by a 25 percent margin.

This time around, voters expect Clinton to defeat Trump or outperform him. But the margin between the candidates is considerably smaller, with the percentage of voters who expect Clinton to win just 10 points higher than the percentage who expect Trump to prevail.

Joining me now, MSNBC political analyst and Nation Magazine correspondent, Joan Walsh, MSNBC`s contributor, Sam Seder, host of "The Majority Report," our own Joy Reid, host of MSNBC`S "A.M. Joy," which is campus (ph) television, and McKay Coppins, senior political writer at BuzzFeed.

You know, I find the whole expectation thing -- setting thing bizarre. But there`s also something to it that`s not bizarre, because there are -- there`s -- there`s some evidence that this actually -- I talked to Michael Beschloss last night, right, like historically, this sense in which essentially, the incumbent, there`s a kind of like expectation they`ll be good.

And the -- the person who`s quoted as the non-incumbent, it`s like, oh, look at that, they`re getting (ph) -- and that was definitely the case last year with the last election with Mitt Romney.

JOAN WALSH, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: They -- they don`t drool, so they.

HAYES: Right, yes.

WALSH: .so they did a really good job. Yes, I mean, I think that she can -- she`s got a really great gift in the fact that she, in the coin flip, she`s going first.

And I think that lets her set the tone, that lets her come out and talk to the American people about her great progressive policies.

HAYES: Yes.

WALSH: .which people don`t know enough about, to talk to millennials about debt-free or tuition-free college.

HAYES: Right.

WALSH: .free public college.

HAYES: Right.

WALSH: .to talk about, you know, family leave, to talk about building in preschool at the earlier phase of education. To really talk about a vision, she has to acknowledge that some people are still in pain.

But I think she also has to say, America is still great. America is really great with some pockets of problems.

And we`re going to pay attention to the problems. These problems are not insoluble.

HAYES: I also think one of the things that`s happened, Sam, in -- in the coverage, is that it`s like, this is -- this has very much happened, I would say, in the last month of the campaign, right? So trump, like, the frontiers of Trumpness are out here, OK?

And like the frontiers of normal politics are here, but he`s around (ph) here.

SAM SEDER, HOST, "THE MAJORITY REPORT": Right.

HAYES: So there`s all this stuff happening in between the frontiers of normal politics and the frontiers of Trump that are just bonkers by any standard. But it`s like, oh -- and so I wonder if that`s -- that pertains in the -- in the debate tonight, right?

Like if he doesn`t like go after some fallen soldier`s family or whatever, that -- that he -- that he sort of is -- is considered acting normally.

SEDER: Yes, I mean, I think the -- the bar is lower for him to act like he`s, you know, supposedly presidential, I guess. But I mean, I think that`s the point of why that she needs to -- to use those issues that were developed over the course of the primary, and you know, in some ways, bring us back to a normal.

HAYES: Yes.

SEDER: .election (ph).

HAYES: I can hundred percent agree with that.

SEDER: I mean, there`s a reason why.

HAYES: YES.

SEDER: .Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney in 2012.

HAYES: That`s right.

SEDER: And it wasn`t the allure of Obama at that point. It was simply (ph).

HAYES: Or that Mitt -- Mitt Romney was uniquely terrible, right.

SEDER: Right, exactly. It was simply that the Democratic Party has policies that are more appealing to the rest of the country. And the fact is is that, you know, Paul Ryan has gotten a real break over the past couple of months.

I don`t know what -- what vacation he`s been on. But it`s time that the Republican Party address whether or not they agree with Donald Trump on his policies, and whether Donald Trump.

HAYES: Right.

SEDER: .agrees with the Republicans. There should be some -- he should be fighting two fronts. And he`s gotten away with only fighting one.

HAYES: I think that point about normalcy, so key (ph) -- if you`re -- and I think that the -- the goals tonight for Hillary Clinton is control the -- like you -- your job is to make this as normal as possible.

WALSH: Yes (ph), the normal one.

HAYES: And not -- and not allow yourself to get chased.

COPPINS: Yes.

HAYES: into -- do you agree with that?

JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: Yes, well, I hear that. I mean, this is a jump- ball election. Even though there is sort of this -- sort of shroud of incumbency over the.

HAYES: Right.

REID: .Hillary Clinton candidacy, in a jump-ball election, what each of them has to do is stand up there, and perform the act of being president in front of the nation, to show you what it would be like to live.

HAYES: Yes.

REID: .with this person for the next four years. For Donald Trump, because he is so wacky and because his whole candidacy has been so bizarre, we have dumbed it down to where his performance of being presidential is what he did in Mexico, literally, just standing there, near somebody.

HAYES: Right, yes, right.

REID: .who is a president. And that is such a low bar, that I think that it is sort of embarrassing for to us say that that is all he has to do. People are assuming that if he doesn`t, A, drool, scream, hit Hillary Clinton or do something overtly crazy, that he`s met that minimum test.

HAYES: Right.

WALSH: Right.

REID: Hillary Clinton met that minimum test a year ago. Everyone.

HAYES: Right.

REID: .already can see her as president. She -- you know, it`s unfair to say -- I think it was called today in Think Progress (ph) the soft bigotry of high expectations.

HAYES: Right.

REID: .right? That people expect her to be good, so if she`s not great.

HAYES: Right.

REID: .she`ll be seen to have failed.

MCKAY COPPINS, SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER, BUZZFEED: Well, and this is the trick that the Trump campaign has played this entire past year, is that they`ve all -- they`ve made the whole campaign about him, right? He hijacks every news cycle.

It`s always about him. And the gift that they now believe that they have coming into this debate is that they want the question to be, is he better than he has been in the past.

HAYES: Right.

COPPINS: .as opposed to, is he better than the other person standing on the stage with him.

HAYES: Or in the words of John Fetter (ph), he twitted, you know, I think a good way to score the debate is to -- that we can, you know, say who won by who would we rather be president of the United States?

COPPINS: Right.

(CROSSTALK)

HAYES: That`s -- that`s the (ph) bar. Or the debate is, who would you.

HAYES: And I think -- and Michael Steele, I think, was -- was wrong on this, respectfully, in absentia. The -- you know, there is this tendency when -- when Trump is doing -- he`s outperforming expectations, like I think it`s fair to say he is right now, right? It`s -- it`s -- it`s close to a dead heat (ph), that -- that people rediscover like he`s so -- he`s crazy like a fox.

And -- and it`s true. And there`s something about that, right, like that - - that he -- he does have his own brand of talents. But it is still the case that there is a spectrum of voters that need to be convinced that this guy should literally have his finger on the button.

REID: And.

HAYES: That is -- that`s an actual goal that he has to meet tonight.

WALSH: And -- and I think one thing that`s really challenging is, there`s no teleprompters, like we`ve -- we`ve gotten calm Trump, mature Trump, some would -- some say Xanax Trump. When he`s got a teleprompter.

HAYES: Right.

WALSH: .he has a script, he knows what he`s supposed to say, he knows what he`s not supposed to say. But to go out there and -- and basically wing it, he`s been prepped for -- for, you know, for 90 minutes, in the debates with 16 people or so, he would often fade into the background.

Or if he really got pressed, just turn -- just like answering word salad and -- and the moderators never really pushed him on that. I -- I think we`ve all been talking about, with (ph) Lester Holt has an amazing job and will he fact-check?

I think the more interesting thing in some ways is will he follow up. If Trump resorts to, how are you going to bring back jobs, I`m going to just bring them back, you know.

HAYES: Right, right.

WALSH: You know, I`m going to tell a company they just can`t move them anymore, that I`m just going to stop that. If Lester probes.

HAYES: Right.

WALSH: .it could be a very possible (ph).

HAYES: Well, and I think -- that`s also Clinton`s role, too.

WALSH: Right. And I mean that (ph).

SEDER: Well, I think it`s even less about probing as to what is the playing field that the questions are going to be on (ph).

HAYES: That`s right.

WALSH: Right.

SEDER: You know, are there going to be questions about personality? Are there going to be questions about perceptions about voters?

Or they going to be actually about policies?

HAYES: Right, yes.

SEDER: And if they`re on the policy level, I think Clinton has an opportunity to basically say, he may be able to sit up there for 90 minutes and look like he could be president, but here is the implications of what are going to happen if he becomes president, versus if I become president.

HAYES: Yes.

SEDER: I mean, I think that`s very important.

REID: And the other issue, too, is that it can`t just be about policy. Donald Trump, at some point in this campaign, I think needs to be asked, is your foundation merely a vehicle for you to enrich yourself?

WALSH: Yes.

REID: These are facts on the table.

HAYES: Right, yes.

REID: .the Farenthold (ph) reporting has.

HAYES: Today.

REID: .been so important and even up to today, this idea that people.

(CROSSTALK)

HAYES: Two million dollars that were (ph).

(CROSSTALK)

REID: .giving him money.

HAYES: .two million dollars of (ph) -- two million dollars of -- of compensation that were directed into the foundation.

REID: Right. But he said, don`t pay me.

HAYES: Right.

REID: Pay my foundation.

HAYES: Right.

REID: .and then get a tax break. The idea that he hasn`t released his tax returns is salient for a reason. What is the implication of your ties -- your business ties to Russia?

HAYES: Right.

REID: Did your aide, Carter Paige (ph), travel to Russia? And is he being investigated? Make him answer questions about his past, not just policy (ph).

HAYES: The -- the question for me on that is whatever questions are coming from -- from the moderator, right, Clinton can raise those or not (ph), right?

SEDER: Yes.

REID: She can.

HAYES: And so -- that is, I think, a really tough thing to -- to figure out tactically, I think for the Clinton campaign.

WALSH: Yes.

HAYES: .because there are two things that are in tension with each other. One is there are certain things that he has not yet been challenged on.

REID: Right.

HAYES: And there`s a sense of what should be challenge on him, he will double down, right? There`s another way in which you do not want to get pulled into the everything`s about Trump.

REID: Yes, right.

HAYES: .sand trap that I think is.

COPPINS: This is what -- this is, I think a huge danger for Clinton. I don`t think she actually wants to get engaged in a three, four, five-minute debate about the -- the intricacies of Trump`s Foundation.

HAYES: Yes.

COPPINS: .because, A, I think a lot of viewers have not following the "Washington Post" reporting very closely. The debate setting is not the best place to educate voters about what actually was happening.

HAYES: Although, then (ph) sort of the counterpoint to that is if you go back and look at that one Marco Rubio -- the one debate where Marco Rubio just.

WALSH: Yes, where he tried.

HAYES: .tried to strip the bark off him, he -- he landed a lot. I mean, there`s a lot of those that you`re the only ones who hired illegal immigrants, like that stuff actually was pretty effective.

WALSH: And it definitely.

(CROSSTALK)

COPPINS: If you can boil it down to one line that you can get off quickly.

HAYES: Like Google public workers (ph)?

COPPINS: .without -- without letting him just roll over you, then -- then it`s effective.

REID: And if this isn`t (ph) the time with a hundred million people watching to educate them about important issues about somebody who could be president.

HAYES: Right.

REID: .well, then what is the right time?

HAYES: All right, Joan Walsh, Sam Seder, Joy Reid, McKay Coppins, thanks you, all, for being here at the center of the political media universe, Hofstra University.

(LAUGHTER)

Our coverage continues live here in Hofstra just after this break. Do not go anywhere.

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THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END