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Face the Nation Transcript August 7, 2016: Flake, Cotton

JOHN DICKERSON, CBS HOST: Today on FACE THE NATION: Clinton climbs, and Trump slumps.

It's been a bumpy week on the Trump train, as the Republican nominee tried to get his campaign back on track, after he insulted the parents of a Muslim American war hero, a convention that is now the subject of a new attack ad from Democrats and veteran groups.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When I saw Donald Trump attack another Gold Star mother, I felt such a sense of outrage.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: His wife, she was standing there, she had nothing to say.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would like to tell Donald Trump what it feels like.


DICKERSON: No apology for that, but Trump tweeted he made a mistake when he claimed a secret video showed a cash payout to the Iranian hostages in exchange for the release of American hostages. And after his refusal to endorse House Speaker Paul Ryan and John McCain in their primaries, he took to a script to make nice.


TRUMP: In our shared mission to make America great again, I support and endorse our speaker of the House, Paul Ryan.



DICKERSON: But with candidate Trump dropping in the polls, Republicans are concerned he will take the party down with him. We will talk to Republican Senators Jeff Flake of Arizona and Tom Cotton of Arkansas.

Plus, CBS News battleground tracker polls show that despite a bump in support for Hillary Clinton, she's still got problems with Americans questioning her honesty, as she offers yet another explanation about her use of a personal e-mail server and what FBI Director Comey said about it.


HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I may have short- circuited. I have acknowledged repeatedly that using two e-mails accounts was a mistake, and I take responsibility for that. But I do think having him say that my answers to the FBI were truthful, and then I should quickly add, what I said was consistent with what I had said publicly.


DICKERSON: We will have analysis on all the political news, plus more on that payment to Iran that has got the White House on the defensive.

It's all ahead on FACE THE NATION.

Good morning, and welcome to FACE THE NATION. I'm John Dickerson.

Donald Trump's very bad week has helped push Hillary Clinton into a sizable lead in many polls, including "The Washington Post"/ABC News poll out this morning, showing her ahead of Trump 50 to 42 percent. And our CBS News Battleground Tracker has Hillary Clinton up by 12 points in the key state of Virginia over Donald Trump 49 to 37 percent. Her running state, Tim Kaine, is a former a governor and now senator from that state.

In Nevada, the race is much tighter. Clinton is up 43 to 41 percent. Arizona has been reliably Republican in recent years, but Donald Trump is up now only by two points, 44 to 42 percent. The state has received a lot of attention this week due to Trump's initial refusal to support John McCain in a tough primary.

Late Friday, Trump did endorse him, though.

To John McCain's colleague, Republican Senator Jeff Flake.

Senator, you are not supporting Donald Trump at the moment, but you met with his running mate, Governor Mike Pence. Did he try and convince you to support Mr. Trump?

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: Well, Mike and I go way back. We came into the House together and served together for 12 years. I have a lot of respect for him.

He talked about the ticket. I certainly respect him. I still told him I'm not ready to support Donald Trump.

DICKERSON: When he talked about the ticket, what was the pitch?

FLAKE: Well, that Donald Trump is a different guy in private than he's shown in public. And he made a good case.

Mike is a good guy, and I hope that he has influence on Donald Trump. But I have yet to see Donald Trump change positions he needs to change, and particularly change the tone and tenor of the debate, sufficient to win the election in November.

DICKERSON: That's something we hear a lot from those supporting Mr. Trump that he's different in private than in public.

What does that mean, though?

FLAKE: I don't know. If you could govern in private, I guess that would be OK, but you can't.

And so I do have a problem still with some of the statements that he's making, particularly here in Arizona, the statements he made right out of the gate when he got into the campaign about those crossing the border being rapists and whatnot. That just doesn't sit well, and then to refer to a judge born in Indiana as a Mexican in a pejorative way.

It's just -- you can't expect to win Arizona when you make statements like that, and you offend a large and growing demographic needlessly. And I just think that he's got to change those positions.

DICKERSON: You also mentioned that he should apologize to the Khan family, the parents of that American soldier who died.

FLAKE: Right.

DICKERSON: Any discussion of that?

FLAKE: I have not -- not with Mike Pence, but he does need to apologize.

He'd be better just to move on, just as Hillary Clinton would be better to apologize for her statement with regard to the e-mails and move on. And politicians have a hard time -- all of us have a hard time doing that.

DICKERSON: Are you, in your view -- when we last talked, you said you might endorse. You were waiting to see if some things had changed. You said they haven't changed, the positions haven't changed. Are you beyond the point of no return, or could you still possibly endorse Donald Trump?

FLAKE: Well, I still hope to support our nominee. It's becoming increasingly difficult to see that he's going to make the changes that he needs.

These changes, like I said, not only have to be tone and tenor. Some positions he's taken need to change. And he has got to have a more serious immigration policy than simply saying we're going to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it.

His position with regard to NATO and that security arrangement we have with European countries, that needs to change. The Muslim ban seems to be walked back, but we're not sure where he's landed there. And so there's a number of these positions that need to change as well.

DICKERSON: Would you also include trade on that? You're a supporter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He is very much opposed to that. Is that another one you would like to see him change?

FLAKE: Oh, you bet, you bet.

We have got to trade if we want economic growth. And TPP is important, not only because of trade and economic growth. Geopolitically and for our security, it's extremely important. We want Southeast Asian countries in particular to be in our trade orbit, and not just China's.

And so these are important things that -- it would be great if we could do just bilateral trade agreements. That's not the world today. These countries have choices and we're going to be left behind if we don't enter multilateral trade agreements.

DICKERSON: One of the arguments supporters of Donald Trump say that if he were in office, he would be there to sign what Paul Ryan has put forward, what Republicans have put forward ,and that he'd be ready to do it.

Why isn't that a good argument for his candidacy, all those policies Republicans want to see passed, they have a willing partner in Donald Trump?

FLAKE: That would certainly be great, but I would argue that he simply can't get there.

You can't go on and get 65 million votes. He's only received about 14 million votes in the primaries so far. To get to 14 or 45 or so, you have got to take more responsible positions with regard to policy. And you also have to change the tone and tenor.

And if none of us on the Republican side are pushing back and saying that that needs to change, then I don't believe he will change. And he has to change if he's going to win that election, and we're going to get the policy that we need in the White House.

DICKERSON: You mentioned tone and temper. So, let's stick with the alliteration.

A lot of people bring up temperament. What does that mean to you in terms of Donald Trump's candidacy?

FLAKE: Well, when you have somebody who says what he said to this Gold Star family, when he has made the statements with regard to Hispanic Americans, there are a number of other statements with regard to women. These things have to change.

You can't go on, and then expect that you're going to be president of the United States when you make statements like that. That's why some of us, I believe, need to push back and say that we need a more responsible campaign. And we haven't seen it so far.

DICKERSON: What do you -- you mentioned Arizona and some of the effects that what Mr. Trump has said would have on voters in that state.

So, is there any chance that Hillary Clinton could win in Arizona?

FLAKE: In 1996, Bill Clinton won Arizona, so, yes, it's possible. The Hispanic population here is about 33 percent. The voting population among Hispanics isn't quite as large, but it's growing.

And what the poll also showed, that there's an increased urgency among Hispanics to vote. And if they do, then it will be a changed ball game here. We in Arizona realize that we have got to have meaningful immigration reform. You can't just throw platitudes out there about a wall or about Mexico paying for it and then be taken seriously here.

And so I think that, yes, he does have to change his positions and be a more serious candidate.

DICKERSON: All right, Senator Jeff Flake, thanks so much for being with us.

FLAKE: Thanks for having me.

DICKERSON: We're joined now by Senator Tom Cotton, who is in Dardanelle, Arkansas, at his family farm.

Welcome, Senator.

I wanted to you first about this $400 million payment the United States made to Iran. You say it's a ransom. The administration says that it's money that Iran was owed for a dispute that goes all the way back to 1979.

So, was it a ransom or a swap? And why does the difference matter?

SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: John, I said at the time in January, when the president announced that he was paying $1.7 billion, that that was a ransom payment. But we have learned in the last week that $400 million of that payment was in euros and Swiss francs, the kind of money that is favored by drug cartels and terrorists and Third World gun-runners all around the world.

It was put in an unmarked cargo plane and flown to Iran the very day that those four American hostages were released and that that nuclear deal was implemented. One of those hostages has said that they were delayed at the airport before they could take off, and they were told by Iranian officials at the time that they couldn't take off until another plane landed.

So, it's clear, I think, to every reasonable observer that the $400 million that day and remainder of the $1.7 billion was, in fact, ransom. It doesn't really matter what Barack Obama says. It matters what the ayatollah thinks and what every dictator and terrorist and gangster around the world think. And they all clearly believe, in their own words, that this was a ransom payment. And that means that they are going to take more American hostages, which is exactly what Iran has done since January.

DICKERSON: So, it's bad policy, in that you say it might encourage more hostage-taking?

What about illegality? Do you think that because there were sanctions in place that -- the president said the reason the money had to be sent that way is because you couldn't just send a wire transfer into Iran. So, there were barriers in place. Do you think anything was done that's illegal here?

COTTON: Well, lawyers disagree about whether the transfer of this cash was legal or illegal, but I think it was deeply unwise.

The president said at his press conference this week that the United States doesn't pay ransom for the exact reason that it encourages the taking of more hostages. But when the United States government acts like a drug cartel, when they take 500 euro notes, which is so much the preferred bill for terrorists and gangsters and drug-runners all around the world, that the European Union is putting it out of circulation, and then they fly that in an unmarked airplane into Iran the day that hostages are released, of course that's a ransom, and of course it's going to encourage Iran and other countries and other organizations to take more Americans hostage, which is exactly what Iran has done since January, taking two more American citizens hostage.

DICKERSON: Can you do anything to stop this president or any other president from doing that kind of thing in the future?

COTTON: Well, the $1.7 billion apparently has already been paid in full. Hopefully, the president will no longer negotiate with the Iranian regime over American hostages and will not pay them anything further.

I have introduced legislation with other senators from both parties, like Bob Corker and Bob Menendez and Joe Manchin called the Countering the Iranian Threats Act, specifically to clamp down on a lot of Iran's nefarious activity throughout the region.

Fundamentally, we have to recognize that Iran is not a partner. The nuclear deal with Iran is fundamentally flawed. They violated the terms of those deals. And according to the president's own director of national intelligence, his own commanding general in the Middle East, Iran has gotten more aggressive since that deal was consummated, not less aggressive.

DICKERSON: What would you hope that Donald Trump, if he elected, would do in Iran?

COTTON: Well, what we need to do is to walk away from the Iranian nuclear deal.

Fundamentally, the objection I had at the time and so many others was not that Iran was going to cheat on the deal, although they have been cheating, that even if they upheld the terms of that deal, it would still put them on the path to a nuclear weapon in 10 to 15 years, which is the blink of an eye in the life of a nation.

To give you a sense of scale, North Korea entered a similar agreement with the United States in 1994. Just 12 years later, they detonated their first nuclear device, and now we're living with the consequences. The United States needs to walk away from the deal, which Iran isn't upholding anyway.

We need to put real sanctions back in place. We need to force Iran to dismantle its nuclear program entirely or face the threat of military force to destroy that program.

DICKERSON: And Iran announced today that they executed a scientist who they believe helped the United States reveal news about its nuclear program.

Let me ask you about Donald Trump as president. Have you gotten more or less confident in his job and ability to handle the commander in chief position since you have endorsed him?

COTTON: Well, John, I know the media is obsessed with Donald Trump. I'm not going to respond to every single thing that Donald Trump has to say or that Hillary Clinton says.

I'm not going to follow the back and forth on the campaign trail. What is ultimately going to matter in the long term is not who won or lost a week in the campaign, but whether the American people are safe. You mentioned the Iranian scientist that was recently executed. Of course, I'm not going to comment on what he may or may not have done for the United States government.

But in the e-mails that were on Hillary Clinton's private server, there were conversations among her senior advisers about this gentleman. That goes to show just how reckless and careless her decision was to put that kind of highly classified information a private server. I think her judgment is not suited to keep this country safe.

DICKERSON: OK. That's on her judgment.

But since Donald Trump is the nominee of your party, and you spoke at the convention about him, you said help is on the way, when, in the future, Donald Trump is in the office of the presidency, do you think he has the temperament to handle those lonely decisions that a president makes?

COTTON: John, I'm confident, if the American people elect Donald Trump, and they elect a Republican president, that America will be safer and stronger in the world, our streets will be safer and our country will be more prosperous.

DICKERSON: You said elect a Republican president. You mean elect a Republican Congress.

Do you think the Congress will help keep him in check?

COTTON: John, the Congress plays a central role in our constitutional structure.

For instance, Donald Trump is not the first person to question the wisdom of keeping troops in South Korea. Jimmy Carter did that. In fact, Jimmy Carter wanted to withdraw troops from South Korea, but it was the Congress, members of both parties, who stopped that from happening.

And that's exactly the kind of thing that I will focus on doing in the future, regardless who is president, because the people of Arkansas elected me to go to Washington to keep this country safe and make it more prosperous.

DICKERSON: All right, Senator Tom Cotton, we thank you for being with us.

And we will be back in one moment.


DICKERSON: For some analysis of recent polls, including our own Battleground Tracker, we're joined by CBS News director of elections Anthony Salvanto, and editorial director at Atlantic Media Ron Brownstein.

Anthony, let's start with Virginia, Hillary Clinton up 12 over Donald Trump. What's happening there?

ANTHONY SALVANTO, CBS NEWS ELECTIONS DIRECTOR: Well, it's the commander in chief test, John.

You guys were just talking about it. What has happened is that has become the top criteria for voters in Virginia, just as we saw in the national polls this week. And it's so important, because, number one, Hillary Clinton is leading on it. The majority are saying that she is prepared to be commander in chief. A majority is now saying that Donald Trump is not.

And what has happened is that that is swamping all the other metrics that we see. So, Clinton is leaving the state. She's out to a big lead, even though she's doing poorly -- there's really no other way to say it -- on measures like being able to the truth, on looking out for people like you, things that the Democrats were trying to advance out of their convention.

But it's been out of that convention trying to establish Donald Trump as not prepared to be commander in chief is clearly succeeding. And that may be the lasting part of this. And bounces come and go, but that has clearly taken center stage.

DICKERSON: Ron, so it's a referendum on Donald Trump at the moment.

That's certainly what -- one of the things the president was trying to do when he says he's not fit. But is this merely a Democratic confection, the question about temperament and ability to be commander in chief, or has that been with us for a while?

RON BROWNSTEIN, ATLANTIC MEDIA: No, no, it's been with us.

Look, I think the two biggest obstacles he faces in this race are consistently -- again in "The Washington Post"/ABC poll today -- and 61, 60 percent of the country says he's not qualified to be president. And 60 percent of the country say he's biased against women and minorities.

And Virginia is kind of a fascinating place to look at this, John, because we're kind of all accustomed to thinking of Ohio as the state that best encapsulates the overall country and electorate. I think you could make a case that Virginia is now that state, because Ohio hasn't followed the diversity changing the rest of the country; 74 percent of the voters in Virginia in 2012, according to the census, were white. It was the same nationally.

Obama's margin of victory was almost identical. And what you see in Virginia is the structure that is consolidating around this race nationally, which is three parts. Donald Trump is doing very well among those white working-class voters. He has a big lead in Virginia. But he is facing historic deficit among the growing number of non-white voters, 91-1 among African-Americans in one poll this week, 92-2 in another.


DICKERSON: Meaning Donald Trump only has 1 percent or two percent among African-Americans?

BROWNSTEIN: Or 2 percent.

And then the fulcrum of the race, economy is that he's historically underperforming among these college-educated white-collar white voters.

Mitt Romney won them by 10 in Virginia in 2012. In your poll, Donald Trump is losing. Both of the national polls out in the last couple days, he's losing among college-educated white voters. Why is that so significant? In the history of polling going back to 1952, no Democrat has ever won college-educated white voters. And they're the voters most likely to say among whites that he's not qualified and he's racially biased.

DICKERSON: So, as goes the commonwealth, so goes the nation.

Anthony, what about other states that you looked at?

SALVANTO: You look at here Arizona. This is a reliably Republican state. As the senator mentioned, it has been a while since a Democrat has won it.

Trump is up. He is up only two points. And what I think you see if you look at the larger picture is, this kind of tests the limits of the coalition that Donald Trump is so far trying to build, which is to say, you go out to Arizona, and 80 percent of Hispanic voters say that they're more motivated to vote in this election than they have been before.

DICKERSON: Right, which Flake also mentioned, yes.


And so that is -- Donald Trump is clearly trying to make inroads across the Upper Midwest with white working-class voters, certainly, trying to come into traditionally Democratic states there.

But there's not a lot of wiggle room. There's not a lot of margin for error in doing that. So, if he has a bad week, like he has this year -- this week, you see that some of these other states might start to shift a little bit towards Clinton. And maybe that forces him to defend red territory.

DICKERSON: So, Ron, what Anthony is saying is, he's not only doing poorly with Hispanics, but he's encouraging them to get to the polls. What does this mean? Do you see in terms of the larger map -- if he's having to have trouble in Arizona, gosh.



Now it's making the rubble bounce. That's like the 360th Electoral College vote for Democrats. Look, we have the 11 states that have basically been the swing states at least since 2004 in modern politics. And they really fall into two buckets.

You have one group of Rust Belt swing states, New Hampshire geographically distinct, but then Michigan, Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. And these are states that preponderantly white, they're older and they're more blue-collar. That is where Donald Trump has focused and probably has -- if there's a path for him to 270, it is through there.

Then you have the second group of swing states, which are in the Sun Belt. You have Virginia, North Carolina, Florida in the Southeast, Colorado and Nevada in the Southwest, potentially Arizona and Georgia looming beyond that as states that could presumably come into play.

And these states that are younger, more diverse, and in the white population, more white-collar. That's the coalition that causes the most trouble for Trump. If he's losing by 12 in Virginia, North Carolina is clearly at risk, because it's on that same continuum, not quite there.

A receding tide lowers all boats. Right now, he's in a weaker position on both sides. But eventually the Midwest and the Rust Belt is where he has got to find some breakthroughs.

DICKERSON: Twenty seconds.

SALVANTO: The poll watchers guide to this week, there's not a giant shift of Republicans over to Hillary Clinton. The Republicans are kind of drifting towards more unsure, more undecided, which suggests that they could return.

DICKERSON: So Hillary Clinton is shoring up her base, Donald Trump is losing something in his base.


DICKERSON: OK. All right. Thanks to both of you.

We're going to have you stay for the politics panel, Ron, that is coming right up.

But, for now, we will take a break and we will be back in a moment.


DICKERSON: One other controversy this week on the Trump campaign, baby-gate. It began Tuesday at an event in Northern Virginia, where the candidate reacted to a crying baby in the audience.


TRUMP: Don't worry about that baby. I love babies. Don't worry. I love babies. I hear that baby crying, I like it.


DICKERSON: But then moments later;


TRUMP: Actually, I was only kidding. You can get the baby out of here.


TRUMP: That's all right. Don't worry. I think she really believed me that I love having a baby crying while I'm speaking.


DICKERSON: You're supposed to kiss babies, not kiss them off.

Critics drew big conclusions. Trump cried foul, though. He had only been kidding.


TRUMP: The press came out with headlines, Trump throws baby out of arena. So dishonest.


DICKERSON: Yesterday, "The Washington Post" backed him up. A fact-check by the paper noted that Trump didn't dismiss the crumb- snatcher.

The mother told "The Post, "I was never kicked out of the rally." She and the crying baby left the room because it's the considerate thing to do and in fact returned to hear the candidate, with the baby calm and enjoying a pacifier.

"Trump has been unfairly maligned here," wrote "The Post." "We have given Trump many Pinocchios over the course of the campaign, but he earns a Geppetto check mark for getting at least this story right."

We will be back.


DICKERSON: Some of our CBS stations are leaving us now, but for most of you, we will be right back with a lot more FACE THE NATION. Stay with us.



David Ignatius is a columnist for "The Washington Post" and he joins us now from the Aspen Security Forum out in Colorado.

David, I'd like to get you to help us put in context this $400 million payment from the United States to Iran. Senator Cotton says it's ransom. How -- how do you see it?

DAVID IGNATIUS, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, let's start with what President Obama said last week in responding to this charge. In effect he said that because he announced the payment of the $400 million as part of an overall $1.7 billion, at the time that the deal was concluded in -- in January of this year, it couldn't be ransom, it was publically stated.

My own feeling is that the fact that it was $400 million in cash, delivered on pallets, was at the demand of the Iranians, who -- who wanted that sign that they had gotten something. The optics were terrible. I think people felt that at the time. And although the president says it was their money, which is true, and that this was in some ways a good deal for the U.S., I think the optics looked bad and it will continue to be an issue the Republicans will come back to. It shows the uneasiness that exists about this deal still in the United States a year after it was concluded and still in Iran as well.

DICKERSON: Do you think -- Senator Cotton said basically this is going to encourage more hostage taking, that -- that this idea of paying ransom if -- even if, you know, there are technicalities about why the administration says that's not what it is, that it will encourage this kind of behavior -- more of it? What's your assessment of that?

IGNATIUS: There have been some additional Americans who have been imprisoned since this payment. So it's possible. And it gets -- it's a hard thing to speculate about. Because the president was so firm in restating the policy, we will not pay ransom for hostages, I think -- I think that's a deterrent, relative to many other countries and Europe and elsewhere, the U.S. has been -- has been very careful about this. a lot of European countries do pay money and they pay the price in more of their citizens being taken.

DICKERSON: This morning we learned the Iranians announced, and they publicly acknowledged I should say, that they've -- they executed a nuclear scientist who reportedly helped the United States uncover information about the Iranian nuclear program. What does that tell you about the Iranian regime and how does this affect the nature of relations between the United States and Iran?

IGNATIUS: Well, this announcement of this death -- the man's name is Shahram Amiri, was a sad end to a mysterious case I wrote about at the time. This was a nuclear scientist who disappeared in 2009 in Saudi Arabia when he was on a Hajj visit, supposedly. Turned up in the United States saying in the first that we saw of him, that he wanted to go back to Iran. Talking to intelligence officials at that time, I was told that he had probably initially been what they call a virtual walk-in, coming in over the Internet. He had left his family, his wife and child, back in Iran, so they had leverage on him. He got lonely, he got unhappy, went back. Said at the time that he had been pressured by the United States.

I don't think this makes a whole lot of difference in terms of -- of the future. The U.S. has very extensive intelligence resources devoted to Iran. One reason that the U.S. officials were confident in signing the nuclear deal is because they know so much about what's going on inside the country because of a whole array of spying and surveillance.

DICKERSON: I'd like to switch topics now and talk about Russia a little bit. There's been a lot of back and forth in the campaign about Donald Trump's position on Russia. And give -- give us your take on what the U.S. relationship is with Russia right now. I should also mention Russia is finger in the hacking scandal at the Democratic National Committee. What is the U.S. relationship with Russia right now and what should voters be thinking about as they're thinking about these candidates and that country?

IGNATIUS: I think the Obama administration is deeply frustrated. It has hoped that it would be able to -- to find in Russia a partner that could help resolve the nightmarish war in Syria. That hasn't happened so far. The U.S. continues to, in effect, leave the exit ramp open for Vladimir Putin to adopt more sensible policies. I think there is deep concern about Russian hacking, Russian meddling in the -- the U.S. election process. The kind of intelligence operation that was the characteristic of the Cold War. It's really strange and worrying for people now.

Generally, I hear from foreign leaders concern that in this U.S. -- U.S. election there's a candidate, Donald Trump, who says different things about Russia than we've heard from American politicians for many years. He says different things about NATO, different things about our nuclear deterrent. They try not to make comments that intervene in our election, but I pick up here in Aspen and everywhere else I go real concern from foreign leaders as they watch what's happening here.

DICKERSON: And do they -- do they think that he's inviting some kind of more freedom of movement from the Russians? Is that the nature of their concern?

IGNATIUS: I think the fear is that -- that Donald Trump, who -- who announces that he's a deal maker, might be willing to make deals that have been traditionally outside the boundaries of the NATO alliance, of -- of consensus U.S. policy. Foreigner leaders are very careful not to seem like they're intervening in this election. They don't want to seem like they're meddling. But the U.S. is the north star for the -- for the Atlantic alliance, really for the global economy. And Trump says things that dim that north star, that guiding set of principles that -- in a way that worries leaders.

DICKERSON: And, briefly, David, here at the end, you mentioned -- you wrote that Putin thinks that Clinton shot first in terms of meddling in elections. What does that mean?

IGNATIUS: Putin feels that when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, she was so strongly in support of dissidents in Moscow who were protesting the gains made by -- by Putin and his party, who were supporting dissenters in 2010, 2011. And they said at the time, this is in effect a color revolution. You're trying to destabilize our government. Putin was very explicit at the time in blaming her personally for her statements and intervention. So this goes -- goes back a long ways. Undoubtedly he sees Trump, who is, you know, more a big guy, willing to talk, sit down, as somebody he could -- he could deal with more easily than Hillary Clinton.

DICKERSON: All right, David Ignatius, thanks so much.

And we'll be right back with our politics panel.


DICKERSON: Now for our politics panel. We're joined by Susan Page, "USA Today's" Washington bureau chief, Ron Brownstein is editorial director at "Atlantic Media," Michael Duffy is the deputy editor of "Time", and Ed O'Keefe covers politics for "The Washington Post."

Susan, let's start with the Republicans. Donald Trump's wild rid of a week. Where are we now that it's Sunday and the dust has cleared? What's real? What's just a shiny object?

SUSAN PAGE, "USA TODAY": Well, one thing we know is we've had a series of polls, both nationwide and in some key states, and they all show movement toward the Democrats. They all show bad news for Republicans coming out of the convention. Now, on the other hand, Donald Trump, in like the past 48 hours, has shown a more disciplined campaign. He had -- he basically acknowledged he had made a mistake in saying he had seen these -- that money offloaded in -- in Iran. He -- he -- and finally endorsed the speaker of the House. That seemed surprisingly slow in coming.

I guess the question is, can he keep up that kind of campaign for three months or even for another week.

DICKERSON: Michael, what is the nature -- I mean Republicans have been worried before about Donald Trump. We kind of have come to this. Was there something different about this week? Is there -- give us a sense of what the nature of the nervousness is about him that might be new.

MICHAEL DUFFY, "TIME MAGAZINE": This -- this was the week, John, where Donald Trump himself made Donald Trump's fitness to be commander in chief a central issue of the campaign. That's the change. And he did it in a kind of triple blunder. He attacked a gold star family when coming out of his convention he could have been magnanimous and when gratitude was clearly the order of the day. Instead of talking about the -- he was talking about that instead of talking about the economy, which had -- he had been given a good number on the -- for him at least. The -- the growth in the first half had been less than 1 percent. That was a good topic for him if you're going to be campaigning in Ohio and Pennsylvania. He wasn't talking about that. He was talking about the Khan family.

And then, third, I think the -- the worst of it is, is that -- is that if you're in August and you're having an argument with the country about your fitness to be president, you're probably losing it.

DICKERSON: And, Ed, the Trump campaign has said the bar here, if it's a change election, is really that fitness question. They've said -- I mean, obviously the Democrats are trying to get everybody to talk about fitness. That's their game plan. But the Trump campaign has also said, if he can convince people he's fit enough to be president, because it's a change election, that's all he has to do.

ED O'KEEFE, "WASHINGTON POST": And he's not doing it. Six in 10, not qualified in our poll that's out this morning. Three in 10 would be uncomfortable if he becomes president. Look at what Jeff Flake told you, he might lose Arizona. Joh Kasich, this morning, saying he might lose Ohio. There's no confidence for him across his party and in all this polling. And I think, you know, if this sustains itself through Labor Day, I've been reminded by senior Republicans that that is the point at which they will probably start making the checks and balances argument, that -- try to do what they did in 1996 where you have --

DUFFY: '96. Yes.

DICKERSON: Explain to people what that means, the checks and balances argument.

O'KEEFE: Well, it's -- it's -- it's -- it's the idea that, you know, we've kind of acknowledged that our Republican presidential candidate has no hope, but we need a Republican Congress to be the check and the balance on a Democratic president. It worked in 1996 for them, and I think they look at the numbers now and they think, if this continues through Labor Day, once people start worrying about the presidential election, it might be something they have to do.

DICKERSON: In 19 -- in 1996 Bob Dole was the Republican nominee.

BROWNSTEIN: As we were talking about before, I mean there -- there's a lot of structure in this race. You mentioned 60 percent in that ABC/"Washington Post" poll said that he's not qualified to be president. The total variation in all the times they've asked that question is maybe there were 58 saying he isn't and 61 percent saying he isn't. That's it. It's been that way for a year and a half.

On the other hand, the one big advantage Donald Trump consistently has is that people see him as more likely to bring change to Washington, right? So if he can -- if he can stay on that terrain, he's in a -- he's in a stronger position. But the underlying structure, what we talked about before, we see in Virginia, you look at this race, Donald Trump is going to do very well with blue collar white workers. He is going to face probably the biggest deficit any Republican has, I think, among non-white voters. He could lose 84 or 85 percent of them, which would be more than -- than we have seen in modern times.

The pivot of this race, the piece that is the most moveable, are these college educated white voters who tend to be social moderate, but most of them lean toward a smaller government argument. When he gives his speech tomorrow on the economy --

DICKERSON: On the economy.

BROWNSTEIN: And he kind of wraps himself in traditional Republican arguments among tax -- about taxes and regulation, he may move back some of those example college white men who are now where he is significantly underperforming. But as long as the percentage of those voters who now think that he is not qualified --


BROWNSTEIN: And who think that he is racially divisive, is a -- those are the twin towers in the way blocking him to the White House.

DICKERSON: Susan, let me ask you just before -- can a candidate fix the temperament question in a campaign? Hillary Clinton has -- there's also the question with her, can you fix the trust -- how do you show trust in a campaign? You -- so can you do that? Can you show temperament? Is there something that can be done by Donald Trump to fix the worries that we've been talking about?

PAGE: I think as long as the referendum is on them, they each lose, right? They each need -- each of these candidates needs the referendum to be on the other guy.

You know, you mentioned the underlying structure as being very important. Of course that's true. You know, moments matter too. And I remember in convention moments, 1988, the speech that George H.W. Bush made a difference. In 2012, the convention speech that Barack Obama made that -- by Bill Clinton made for Barack Obama made a difference. And in these two conventions, the speech that I think made the most difference was that by Mr. and Mrs. Khan --

O'KEEFE: Yes. Yes --

PAGE: Two people I had never heard of before they got out on that convention stage at the Democratic Convention, but both the kind of reality, the authenticity, the -- the emotion of their speech and his response to it, that is what has crystallized, I think, concerns about him. You know, there will be a lot of twists and turns in this election. I think it's possible we look back on this election and that turns out to be a turning point.

BROWNSTEIN: And Curiel. And Curiel.

O'KEEFE: And it -- it speaks -- it -- yes, exactly.

BROWNSTEIN: Curiel is the turning point.

O'KEEFE: Curiel is the -- I spent a lot of time talking to Hispanic operatives, Hispanic voters, Hispanic politicians. You hear from -- from African-Americans as well. Maybe other candidates can fix the temperament question. He will not be able to do it unless every single day between now and election day he goes out there and says, 'Mea culpa, lo siento'-- you know, 'I'm sorry I did this. I'm never going to do that again.' Because absent that, it just won't -- it won't resonate and he has no hope of it.

DICKERSON: Yes, let's -- let me just --


DICKERSON: Let's take a look at -- John McCain was asked the temperament question this week and had some difficulty answering it, which also, I think, contributes to this question. Let's take a look at McCain and we'll talk about it.


QUESTION: Are you comfortable with Donald Trump possibly having control of the nuclear arsenal?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I -- anyone that the people of this country choose to be the commander in chief, and the president of the United States, therefore can lead this country, and will lead in a responsible fashion anyone who is elected president fairly in this country. And that's the way that our democratic system works. That's the way our government works. The American people select the next president of the United States knowing full well what the role of the commander-in-chief is. Therefore, I have the utmost respect for the verdict of the people.



DICKERSON: That was not exactly a straight up answer. The kind Senator Cotton gave -- Senator Cotton said it would be OK, but then he also added, 'but Congress will be there as a check.' What do you -- what did you make of that?

DUFFY: Well, when -- there are moments that matter and it wasn't -- what was so interesting about this week is it wasn't just the Khan family moment. You -- you had the extraordinary moment also this week where Donald Trump said that the race is rigged.


DUFFY: And that raises a whole other question about, not just temperament, but judgement in our political life. Now, 'rigged' is a word that's been thrown around in this campaign a lot by lots of politicians about our tax system, our trade system, you know, how the economy benefits some and none of this. But what Trump did was put the actual manner of voting and choosing our elections on the table and said, it's broken and it's corrupt.

O'KEEFE: And it's --

DUFFY: And -- and he's either doing one of two things here. He's either laying the predicate for his own failure --


O'KEEFE: Right.

DUFFY: Which is a very thing to contemplate mid-August, or he's setting the table for saying later that the outcome is illegitimate. Now, this puts the whole -- like the nuclear codes or whatever McCain was talking about there, this puts a whole other set of verities about this election on the table for voters that do go to temperament. Is this the kind of person, or not, that you want to have? So -- so I -- I think -- and, you know, don't forget, we've had peaceful transfer of power for 100 -- 200 and some years. It's the longest in human history. It's not a small thing that he tabled there.

DICKERSON: Couldn't it also be a turnout mechanism, which is --


DICKERSON: The other side is trying everything to undermine me--

DUFFY: Right --

DICKERSON: Anything that's bad that you see is only the result of chicanery from someone else. So you all, on my side, better turn out --

DUFFY: Right.

BROWNSTEIN: It -- it feels -- every critical moment he chooses to narrow and deepen rather than broaden.


BROWNSTEIN: He -- it is an argument that appeals to the alienated voters who -- we believe that they are both culturally and economically marginalized and are being ignored by a political system that is in -- you know, in control of moneyed interests and elites. But if you -- if you believe, as I do, that the pivot -- the fulcrum of this election are these white collar, white voters who normally lean Republican, Mitt Romney won them by 14 points in the exit poll, Hillary Clinton is now ahead in every -- both the ABC/"Post" and NBC/"Wall Street Journal," she's ahead. For those kind of voters, hearing and talking about a rigged election is again more evidence that this is someone who is maybe a little too erratic to put in the Oval Office.

So, again, I mean the -- the Trump theory seems to be that they're going to turn out this massive, non-voting, non-traditional voters. Maybe they will. But they are looking at, you know, structural problems with two big blocs. By the way, if -- if you add up the minorities and the college whites, where he's struggling the most, depending on the data source you use, that's either 60 or 65 percent of all the voters.

PAGE: And what a dilemma for the Republican Party coming out of this election with that as the base of -- of their electorate. Could John McCain have looked any more uncomfortable?


O'KEEFE: Well --

PAGE: And what about when Jeff Flake said -- said to you, I still hope to vote for Donald Trump. Really? Doesn't sound like a man who wants to vote for Donald Trump.

Ed and I were talking in the green room. That's all about the dilemma that Republicans face in looking at primary challenges.

O'KEEFE: In 2018 and in -- in governing next year.

And I think the point about McCain, we should remind the viewers who may wonder why he stammered through that, he has a primary this month.


O'KEEFE: He's facing a legitimate threat. He's one of eight senators who has a primary this month. Sixty-eight House Republicans face a primary this month. One of them lost this week. It was an isolated case. Ask that question of him and others in a month, when they're through their primaries, and I suspect that the question will be more clearly answered.

BROWNSTEIN: Can I add one quick thing there?


BROWNSTEIN: Up until now the biggest modern fissure in the Republican Party of a presidential race was Barry Goldwater in 1964.


BROWNSTEIN: Lyndon Johnson was able to announce a national independence committee for Johnson and Humphrey in early September. It had a lot of former Eisenhower cabinet officials. It had a lot of big business leaders. But what it didn't have was as many current elected officials expressing resistance and reluctance to vote, even compared to Goldwater in '64. I mean there were a few. There was Jacob Javits and Keating in New York, John Lindsay. But what we are seeing now from Jeff Flake --

DICKERSON: All northeast Republicans.

BROWNSTEIN: A few northeast Republicans.

DICKERSON: Moderate types.

BROWNSTEIN: But what we are seeing now is the long list of John Kasich and Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush and Jeff Flake and the congressman in Virginia says he's going to vote Libertarian, that goes beyond -- and, again, if you are that kind of swing suburban voter who usually votes Republican, because you like the Republicans on economics, they are getting a consistent signal. I'd have Mike Bloomberg as an important speech --


BROWNSTEIN: From the convention. They are getting a consistent signal that this may be a year when it's OK to depart from your usual inclination.


DUFFY: You mentioned, to some -- interesting numbers in there. One of the most interesting polls this week came in Georgia --


DUFFY: Where Hillary Clinton is up in "Atlantic Constitution" poll by one point. And -- and Democrats have not won Georgia since 1992 --


DUFFY: When Bill Clinton won it. Two interesting things going on there. One is, in that poll, Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, is polling now in double digits. This is -- quite -- there are only a couple of states where that will happen, Montana, perhaps Alaska, but Georgia. That puts Hillary Clinton in reach, not -- it's not absolute by any means guaranteed, because of the plug for the third party candidate, which is how Clinton, her husband, won in 1992 when Ross Perot got 13 percent.

DICKERSON: You know, the Trump campaign has talked about, we're going to run in 20 states, which sounds complicated and like they're putting new states on the map for themselves. But right now with Arizona and Georgia, the states that are coming on and in contention, even if they're not seriously, you've got to spend a little time there, are going the other way.

DUFFY: Right.

DICKERSON: There are states where Clinton shouldn't be competitive but is.

DUFFY: Chiefly because -- go ahead.

DICKERSON: Quickly, a time -- give us a sense of, how many days are left and how you can possibly compete in that many different states if you're the Trump campaign.

DUFFY: Exactly 92 days are left. And in some -- this -- and that looks like a long time, and it is. It's not -- it's not short. But, don't forget, in some states the voting starts in 45 days -- 46 days. I think Minnesota. So -- which means it's not as long as 96 days. This -- and some of these votes -- voting. You can get an early ballot in some states before the debates are over. In some ways -- and so that -- that just really changes the fact that this happened this week --


DUFFY: In mid-August before -- as the Olympics get underway and people go on vacation, he's chosen a time when he could have been consolidating, as you said uniting and broadening his appeal, to really making people think again about whether this is a referendum on -- not on the incumbent for the first time in my memory covering politics, but on the challenger. And that's --

BROWNSTEIN: But let's remember that Hillary Clinton's lead is largely dependent on voters who don't really like here or trust her.


BROWNSTEIN: So, in that sense, the ground is always a little unstable underneath her. You know, those college whites who -- who are so important to why Trump is stuck in the low 40s, a majority of them say they have an unfavorable opinion of Hillary Clinton.


BROWNSTEIN: So, you know, sleeping easy is still a -- maybe a step too far.

DICKERSON: And she -- and, Susan, once again, Hillary Clinton had trouble with the e-mail question. This is -- why is this such a hard question?

PAGE: So two -- two confounding questions this week. One, why did Donald Trump engage with a Gold Star family in a negative way -- got me. Two, can't Hillary Clinton have -- practiced and then deliver an accurate and clear explanation of -- of her treatment of handling of this e-mail question. And, instead, she had other chance this week and her answer was muddy and it was, at the least, misleading. And I don't understand why that's so.

DICKERSON: Quickly, that's another problem to the Donald Trump week, which is that they didn't get to focus on that.

O'KEEFE: And it continues. I mean the economic growth numbers is one thing. Her e-mail scandal is another. That is what continues to frustrate Republicans so much, is that there's just so much material there for them to be using against her, they can't do it because he continues to do this.

I want to make one point about --

DICKERSON: We've got to go, I'm afraid. Sorry.

O'KEEFE: Oh, then we'll -- then we'll quit at that.

DICKERSON: And thanks to all of you.


DICKERSON: And we'll be right back.


DICKERSON: Usually when there's a lot of news on the campaign trail, there's a lot of material for the late night comics. This week was no exception.


STEPHEN COLBERT: I come to work every day wanting to start the show with something other than Donald Trump. And yet every day more words come out of his face.

JAMES CORDEN: Trump took a dip in the polls and immediately said that the election was rigged. And you just know that if Donald Trump was a teenager, he'd definitely be the kid who turns the Nintendo off the second he starts losing at Mario Cart.

JIMMY FALLON: Speaking of Hillary, it was reported that she's been asking "Vogue" editor and chief Anna Wintour for fashion advice during the campaign. And when Anna isn't available, Hillary turns to her next choice, Kim Jong-un.

STEPHEN COLBERT: And this morning on CBS, Paul Manafort may have finally cracked.

NORAH O'DONNELL: You're a life-long Republican. I mean you've severed presidents in the past for years. I mean --


NORAH O'DONNELL: Do you support Speaker Paul Ryan?

MANAFORT: Well, I support him as the speaker and I know after next week I'm going to be supporting him as a candidate for -- for president, too. Ah, I mean for --


STEPHEN COLBERT: It's funny because, God, I hope it's true.

STEPHEN COLBERT: Are you so certain that Donald Trump is destroying himself that you are avoiding public appearances and statements?

ANIMATED HILLARY CLINTON: Great question. You know, in my heart, I truly feel -- smoke bomb.

JAMES CORDEN: When I saw the photo, it reminded me of something. Look at this photo that Trump posted of himself eating a taco bowl. All right, I look at that. Right. Now look, it's the same face in both pictures. Look. That's Trump's, I'm about to eat face, which makes me really nervous about this picture.


DICKERSON: And we'll be back in a moment.


DICKERSON: That's it for us today. Thanks for watching. Until next week, for FACE THE NATION, I'm John Dickerson.

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