ABC News' George Stephanopoulos (@GStephanopoulos) sat down with Jim Braude of WGBH News Monday night to discuss the state of the 2016 presidential race. Stephanopouls has sat on both sides of the camera, as a newsmaker and now as a newsman.
JIM It seems like a century ago, the debates — Marco Rubio had a pretty horrible night, that’s the consensus. The governors had a pretty good night. Too little too late for those guys?
GEORGE Well, that’s the question. As you know, people here in New Hampshire make up their minds in the final days. About a third of these voters will.
JIM Do you really believe that?
GEORGE I actually do. I mean, I’ve seen it.
JIM You have, that’s true.
GEORGE I’ve seen it in a lot of different ways. Obviously I worked here starting back with Michael Dukakis then through both Clinton campaigns, then covered every campaign since then, so I’ve seen a lot. Y’know we’ve seen, we saw Bill Clinton come back in 1992. and he won, in quotes, as we all recall.
JIM And he won, in quotation marks.
GEORGE He was a lot further back.
JIM Like coming in second.
GEORGE He was a lot further back the Friday than he was the Tuesday. And y‘know these last debates have often mattered as well. It mattered to Ronald Reagan — the famous "I paid for this microphone Mr. Green", that made a big difference as well. And y’know from talking to the campaigns over the last couple of days, they seem to be seeing a lot of fluidity in their own polling in these final hours.
JIM Do you think Trump, let’s assume for argument’s sake he’s leading in the polls, he’s been leading all along, of course he was leading in the last 13 polls in Iowa too by not by the same margin. Is there a ceiling like most people say there is or does that ceiling seem to get higher and higher?
GEORGE Well he seemed to peak out at what his biggest polling numbers here were about 34 35 at some point. He seems to be closer coming into the vote today, more around 30 31 perhaps. I guess we’re gonna find out tomorrow. A lot of that will depend on the independents here. Do they decide — I think they have basically three choices: do they decide to vote for Donald Trump, kind of the populist, fiery angry independent, do they go for Bernie Sanders, over on the Democratic Side, or John Kasich making a pretty direct plea as well.
JIM Y’know what’s great what you said, I can’t tell you how many people who we’ve seen in the last few days here, who you say who you voting for, an undeclared voter, well it’s either Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders. It’s either Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump. The common thread is amazing
GEORGE Anger. Yeah, they’re really just mad. They’re just mad at everybody. They’re mad at Washington. They’re mad at Wall Street. They think all institutions have let them down and they want to send a message.
JIM Essentially Trump is saying the system’s rigged, too, he just never uses the terminology, is he not?
GEORGE He pretty much is saying that and he’s saying you need a tough guy to fix it. And you can’t — and I can’t be bought because I’m too rich.
JIM Uh you did the first interview, you said this Sunday right with Trump after he announced.
GEORGE Right after he announced, yeah. And I’ve now done — I’m now on 24 I think.
JIM Okay so David Axelrod, I think, started a cottage industry a couple weeks ago in the Sunday New York Times when he said I was dismissive of this guy. I missed the whole thing. Did you miss it early on? I don’t mean the precise numbers. Did you get a sense that he was going to catch a wave?
GEORGE I think there’s been a couple things I’ve been surprised by. Number one, how much he’s been able to sustain that lead over time. I’m definitely surprised by that, because you know he started out and you had I think it was something like almost 70 — 67 percent of Republican voters who said they wouldn’t consider him under any circumstances. That number’s still pretty high, but it’s nowhere near 67 percent right now. Number two, y’know I gotta give the guy credit. He’s become a better candidate over the course of several months. He’s learned how to modulate a little better. I do think he will — he could be in for an even tougher ride if he wins here and if it ends up in more of a two- or three-person race. But one of the things he’s been helped by, and who knows what’s going to happen tonight, but one of the things he’s been helped by is the fact that his opposition has been pretty fractured.
JIM Fractured, yeah. So let’s go to the other side, which you know pretty well. As you mentioned before, you have I think the rare good fortune, I think, I assume you agree, of having been inside campaigns and then covering them. It gives you a perspective that’s —
GEORGE I think so.
JIM I was a city councilor in Cambridge I want you to know.
GEORGE Oh, there you go
JIM So I really — I understand high level American politics. When Bill Clinton did this thing where he essentially does an assault on Bernie Sanders and the people who support Sanders the other day, to me it sounded like 2008 redux with y’know the fairy tale candidate in New Hampshire, then Jesse Jackson won in South Carolina too. Am I overstating?
GEORGE A little bit. I mean I think there’s some of that there because he was the first person to do it in their campaign. I think the nature of the critique he was making was a little bit different than the one he made against Barack Obama. It didn’t quite have the undertones that the one against Obama had. And I do think that he’s picking up an argument that y’know you talk to a lot of people, a lot of Democrats who say maybe it is time for Hillary to be making more of that argument even though she’s been resisting
JIM But is he the right messenger? That’s the whole issue isn’t it....
GEORGE Well that’s — even he said it again I think it was y’know today. Um, no, not first. Not necessarily. But I think what he was saying there is I’m a little frustrated.
JIM Could you — since you know him. I mean, again, sitting across from him and sitting with him, is this a strategy or does he just — is he unable to stop the venting?
GEORGE I think it’s his strategy.
JIM It is his strategy.
GEORGE I think so.
JIM Let’s stay on Hillary Clinton for a couple minutes and talk about 2008. Could Wall Street end up being in 2016 for her what Iraq was in 2008.
GEORGE Not quite. I mean I think if you look back at 2008, I would say that was the single biggest strategic mistake the Clinton campaign had. By not apologizing for the vote on Iraq, she gave Barack Obama the opening — the policy opening he needed and that a lot of his other strengths to come into play. I don’t think that this has — there’s no single vote that you can point to, no single speech you can point to, no single policy — and I do think that Secretary Clinton at least has an argument — now there’ a lot of disagreement — at least has an argument as to the kind of reforms she’s putting forward and whether or not they’re as tough as Bernie’s. But there’s no question that she’s being saddled by not just the Wall Street, but the whole idea that she’s part of the establishment, which rankles her, but she’s been around a long time. She’s been first lady and senator. And that’s clearly weighing against her.
JIM Yeah but you suggested that had she apologized quickly it may have muted the criticism. I’m a huge believer that America’s very forgiving, but there’s no apology here either. I mean that answer that other night, which she seemed totally unprepared for when it came from Chuck Todd, “that’s what they offered me.” That was not only an apology, it was pathetic.
GEORGE That was a bad answer. That was definitely a bad answer, no question.
JIM Speaking of Wall Street, let’s go to her opponent for a second. The business model of Wall Street is fraud. The line, you’ve heard this ten-thousand times, you’ve probably said it — boy it’s aspirational. People love it, particularly people who have college debt or all these things, are angry about the economy or at least how the economy affects them. But the criticism of the guy as voiced by Hillary Clinton is I won’t promise what I can’t deliver. Obviously, the implication is all he does is promise what he can’t deliver. How does he shake that? Howard Dean was here the other day and told us — obviously he’s supporting Clinton — Howard Dean says the guy’s not a coalition builder. He doesn’t know how to get anything done. He’s inspirational, he’s all those things. He can’t get anything done.
GEORGE I think he can’t change. I think so much of his power — and the reason he’s done so well up until now — is that speech he gave he’s been giving every single stop on the campaign is the same speech he’s been giving for the last 15 years — going back even further maybe 25 years, the issues change a little bit. The minute he starts to change on that, the more trouble he’s going to have. I think he’s gotta stick with what brought him to this point so far. The difficulty he’s going to have is the states coming up are quite different than Iowa and New Hampshire. They’re not as liberal, they’re not as white, there are more moderates in them and that could pose more of a challenge to him.
JIM Okay so if I had done this interview with you six months ago and I said to you okay there’s a Democratic Socialist who almost nobody’s ever heard of, who’s going to be tied in the national polls and there’s going to be a reality TV star and a guy who’s maybe the most hated man on Capitol Hill — Ted Cruz — who are going to be atop the two sets of polls. What would you have said to me?
GEORGE I would have thought by now — I think they’d be up there, but I thought others would have emerged in stronger positions than they are right now. Y’know Bernie Sanders — I think for a long time it’s looked like a win in New Hampshire is very possible for him for a lot of different reasons, including the fact that he’s a neighbor. In some ways, Donald Trump has the kind of message that has worked for other insurgent candidates in the Republican party in New Hampshire in the past as well like Pat Buchannan. No question about that, so the fact that they can do pretty well here is not that much of a surprise. The fact that they’ve been able to sustain such strength across the board, I think is.
JIM George Stephanopoulos it’s great to see you.
GEORGE Thank you.