GWEN IFILL: Sixty days to the election.
What do voters want to know?
We're on the road in Colorado, hunting for answers.
Tonight, on this special
edition of Washington Week.
Colorado has voted for the winner in eight of the last
nine presidential contests.
Will the bellwether hold?
State polls show Hillary Clinton well ahead of Donald Trump, here and nationally.
To find out what's driving voter decisions, we're in a place where national security
issues run deep, Colorado Springs, just miles from the U.S. Air Force Academy.
But whether the map is blue, red, or purple, voters say this year they are also
concerned about immigration, the economy, and health care.
Our political roundtable answers voters' questions about those issues, and more, next.
ANNOUNCER: Once again, from the campus of Colorado College, moderator Gwen Ifill.
GWEN IFILL: Hello.
Thank you all for coming.
Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and even Libertarian Gary Johnson all weighed in on
national security and foreign policy, with varying degrees of success, this week.
For example, here's a taste of how the two major candidates see the challenges
facing the Veterans Administration.
DONALD TRUMP: (From video.)
Twenty to 22 people a day are killing themselves.
A lot of is they're killing themselves over the fact that they can't - they're under
tremendous pain, and they can't see a doctor.
They need tremendous help, and we're
doing nothing for them.
The VA is really, almost you could say, a corrupt enterprise.
FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: (From video.)
I will not let the VA be
And I do think there is an agenda out there, supported by my opponent,
to do just that.
I think that would be very disastrous for our military veterans.
GWEN IFILL: A lot to dig in right there.
Joining me for a little Q&A with our audience, Dan Balz of The Washington Post; Molly
Ball of The Atlantic; Jackie Calmes of The New York Times; and Michael Scherer of TIME
So, what is correct and what is incorrect about what the candidates had to
say about the Veterans Affairs Administration this week, Michael?
MICHAEL SCHERER: It's not 20 to 22 suicides.
And a lot of it was rhetorical,
You know, both candidates have put forward veterans plans that look a lot like
what previous presidents have put forward.
They say they're going to make it better.
You know what I mean?
And every president who's run - or every candidate who's run
for president since the VA was created has promised to make it better.
President Obama tried to do that and, you know, has made incremental progress.
The differences between their actual plans on these issues have actually not been very
well fleshed out.
Mostly it's in the realm of rhetoric.
So if you ask what they said that was true or not true, I mean, Donald Trump calling the
VA a corrupt organization is more rhetoric than anything else.
Where the differences are, you know, Donald Trump is more willing to have veterans be
able to have the option of going to private health care providers than Hillary Clinton,
which is why she says he's for privatization.
He says he's not for privatization.
It's an incremental move.
He wants to set up a hotline for veterans, which she has not
proposed, where they could call someone on the phone if they have a complaint.
But, you know, it's a giant bureaucratic organization.
And the solutions are not ones that fit into sound bites.
GWEN IFILL: Why is this a big issue right now, Jackie?
We're here in a heavily
veteran, military community, and maybe that's who the voters are they're going after?
JACKIE CALMES: Well, that's true.
In almost all the
battleground states you have significant military facilities.
know, people, especially people who have a direct pipeline to the VA, have got to
be a little cynical because it's in every election year there's a play for the veterans.
And every candidate of every party promises to do better by veterans.
But if I could be the devil's advocate for a second, I mean, this VA at this point in
time is not only addressing a huge population of aging Vietnam veterans, but also taking
in this new population from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, that seem to be unending, and
where the injuries are such that more people survive, but they survive not only with
harder-to-treat - or, you know, wounds that are very costly to treat, but they're - we're
now recognizing more than in any other military conflicts, they're not just physical
wounds, they're mental wounds.
So it's a big issue for - it has no boundaries.
GWEN IFILL: Our audience has questions for us tonight.
So I'm going to start right here.
QUESTION: Thank you.
My question involves the endorsement issue that's been being
brought up, how I've got 88 and somebody else has 97, I don't know.
GWEN IFILL: Generals, retired generals.
QUESTION: Yeah, generals.
But I think what I would like to ask, as a daughter and
spouse and mother of military, is if we could please educate the American public about
who can campaign and make political statements in the military, and who cannot.
And I think it's a very important thing, distinction, so.
GWEN IFILL: Sure.
Dan, do you want to take that?
DAN BALZ: Yeah.
I mean, it's a very important question, and a good one, because we
have seen in this campaign, it seems, more military people coming out and endorsing one
candidate or the other.
Most of them are retired, let's be - let's be honest.
But we've also seen some criticism of some of the people who have been very high profile
in their endorsements of one candidate or the other.
There's discomfort that we can see within the military about the degree to which the
military is being politicized, as is every other part of the government.
And I think - I mean, I think that's an important and legitimate concern.
GWEN IFILL: Molly?
MOLLY BALL: Yeah, you saw generals on stage at both political conventions this year.
You had General Flynn at the Republican Convention and General Allen at the Democratic
And there are a lot of people in the military who are uneasy with that
level of political involvement, with lending - especially General Allen, you know,
brought a bunch of people on stage with him, really seeming to seek to lend the
imprimatur of the American military.
And, you know, I spoke to Marine General Mattis, who really objects to this kind of
thing, really feels that for the military to continue to be an independent and trusted
and nonpartisan organization - which it is; people trust the military very much - it
shouldn't be politicized like this.
So I think this is controversial thing within the military.
GWEN IFILL: Thank you.
QUESTION: Do you think that this year's campaign has showed the need to have
more than two major traditional political parties?
GWEN IFILL: Who wants to tackle that?
MICHAEL SCHERER: I'll take it.
I think it's been fascinating in that regard,
because what we've seen is a real unevenness in how the political parties have handled
The Democratic Party is a unified party, for the most part.
There are disagreements within it, but it is cogent, it's coherent.
Republican Party has been far less coherent.
And you have, at the same time -
GWEN IFILL: What do you mean when you say "coherent"?
MICHAEL SCHERER: That what the basic premise of the party, the basic beliefs, the
basic ideology is very much up for grabs.
What Donald Trump talks about when he talks about conservatism is not what many
Republicans talk about, or what Republican Party has been talking about for the last
I mean, it's really a jump ball there.
The Democratic Party has
also had some turmoil, but more that it's moving to its left as a group.
And you don't see the same divisions and infighting that you see in the Republican Party.
I think the question is going to be one that will be asked in a very real way after this
election, depending on the outcome.
If Hillary Clinton wins, the Republican Party is really going to have to decide whether -
I mean, this is now the third or second incarnation of this division.
We had the tea party a while ago where they were fighting.
Now you have this Trumpian
movement within the party.
And the party is going to have to figure out whether it is
a group of people that can congeal, or whether over time it fractures.
On the Democratic side, I don't think there's that same danger.
Bernie Sanders is
basically trying as best he can, even though he has a lot of disagreements with
Hillary Clinton and a lot of people in the party, to bring his people in.
GWEN IFILL: Another question?
QUESTION: My sense is that Hillary Clinton is a more warm, caring, ethical, normal human
being than her high negatives would indicate.
If that's at all true, what can and
should she and her supporters do to reduce those high negatives?
GWEN IFILL: Dan?
DAN BALZ: I think it's very difficult for her at this point.
And the point you made is something that people who are very close to her say time and
time and again, that if you know her up close, she is very warm, she is very funny, she
is very lively.
She worries about her friends who have illnesses and when she's in
between events, she calls, and when she's off the trail she checks in.
But she has been in public life for so long that opinions about her are, I think, so
baked in at this point, that there's very little she can do.
I think the degree to which she can change that, particularly over the last 60 days in
this campaign, are very - are very limited.
GWEN IFILL: Jackie, you and I have covered Hillary Clinton off and on over the - it
seems like a long time.
It seems like a long time for us.
It must seem like a long time for voters watching her evolve.
JACKIE CALMES: Right.
Yeah, it's remarkable watching sort of the - literally, they
are ups and downs of her standing with the public, from being first lady to a Senate
candidate and a senator herself, and then a presidential candidate.
GWEN IFILL: An incredibly popular secretary of state, it should be said.
JACKIE CALMES: Right.
And that's the thing.
And she had - she was a popular first
lady in the second term, not the first term.
She was a very popular senator.
People thought she would have a terrible time with the New York tabloid culture.
She didn't for the most part.
And what's really been interesting to me in Washington
is when she - because I think there's - half of her problem is she's her own worst enemy.
And just this recent - you know, the fact she hasn't given many news conferences or
accessibility to the media.
It's really - to people who have covered her for a long
time, in some ways, it's inexplicable because she's not that bad at it at all.
And when she was in the Senate, and most of all secretary of state, the reporters who
covered the State Department loved her.
And she would come back on the plane with
them, she would pour a golden drink, and she would hold forth with them.
And it's like a
totally difference between political reporters and diplomatic reporters is like night and day.
GWEN IFILL: Pouring a golden drink?
That I like.
Molly, quick, yeah.
MOLLY BALL: I just think that we have to mention though, in this context, I mean, she
hasn't always been unpopular.
This isn't something that's always been baked into
She was quite popular as secretary of state.
Something happened between
then and now and it's not only, as I think a lot of her supporters see
it, that the Republicans and the media all ganged up on her.
There also has been this revelation about the email scandal, which I know many of her
supporters feel is blown out of proportion, but clearly a lot of Americans take it very
seriously and do feel that it has damaged their trust in her as a person and as a politician.
GWEN IFILL: We must just have a question about that.
With all these talks about email and servers, wasn't it once common for
Cabinet members, or even congressmen and women, to have private email addresses and a server?
MICHAEL SCHERER: So, there's a remarkable email that came out this week from Colin
Powell to Hillary Clinton, explaining how he did it when he was secretary of state.
And what was interesting about the email wasn't just the words, it was the tone.
It was sort of like, do as much as you can to get away with it because the diplomatic
security people and bureaucracy and using the old servers will drag you down.
And the email talked about how he escaped his Secret Service minders or
his diplomatic security minders.
So, yes, it has.
And really, the government - this story about Clinton's email is a story of a federal
government that has yet to really catch up with email.
I mean, we have a Federal Records Act which predates this technology that says basically
all work product has to be saved.
And that's where this problem is created.
In Congress, if you're a senator or you're a congressman, you don't have to preserve
The Federal Records Act doesn't apply to you.
So it applies to some people and not others.
And so, yes, most members of Congress
still, I think, do most of their work on private email.
They don't use their
And I think to this day, many, many people in government still
work - not their own servers - but they'll use their Gmail accounts, things like that.
And the government still has not figured out how to balance that because according to the law,
all that government - all that personal email, all those Gmails, if they mention anything
they're doing for work, they have to find a way to get that into a public system when they leave.
MOLLY BALL: Well, there - so that's a transparency issue, I agree.
And you do see that
But the difference between members of Congress or other,
you know, people in agencies, something like that, is that they're not routinely
dealing with secure systems and classified information.
And that's, I think, the difference for a secretary of state.
DAN BALZ: I guess I would add only this, that the way she has handled this from the
beginning has added to the distrust.
Her unwillingness to be fully transparent at the beginning, to try to minimize this
completely as opposed to addressing it and alleviating concerns from the beginning,
allowed this to spiral to the point that it did.
GWEN IFILL: OK. Another question.
QUESTION: Given the recent controversies surrounding Chris Wallace and Matt Lauer, what
do you see is the role of a moderator for the debates?
And do you think the
moderator should be a fact checker, or to allow falsehoods to stay unchallenged?
GWEN IFILL: Hmm.
Go for it, Dan.
DAN BALZ: I think that being a moderator in the debates this year will be more difficult
by a factor of 10 or 20 or 100 than it has been in the past, largely because of the kind
of campaign we've been through and the degree to which things have been said,
particularly by Donald Trump, that simply are not true.
The Commission on Presidential Debates prefers that the candidates talk to one another
and that the moderator in a sense stays out of that.
The moderator is supposed to facilitate, but not get in the middle of that.
But as you saw when Chris Wallace said he did not see his role as being a fact checker,
there was an immediate blow back.
And Matt Lauer got some criticism for the way he
I think it's a fine line, that they're going to - I mean, to some
extent, the candidates have to be their own fact checkers.
They have to be prepared to
call their opponent when they are incorrect or when they say something that's
But I think the moderators this year are going to also have to be
on their toes and play some kind of role on that.
JACKIE CALMES: I agree with Dan.
I mean, I would not want to be a moderator.
But if I were - if I were, I could not have been there and let him say that he had never
- that he had been against the Iraq War from the beginning and not challenge it.
I just - and I do think the moderator has to be a fact checker, to the extent you can
under the circumstances, and when you know that there's another - there's an alternative view.
MICHAEL SCHERER: The other thing that's shifted - and it's not just this cycle, it's
been building - is that the campaigns have become more talented at making this the issue.
You know, when they walk out of debates, the campaigns now will spend enormous energy
attacking the journalists in the middle of it, often to cover up for their own
And that's changed this.
Like, you know, 20 years ago the
candidates would basically lay off the press.
The press was a moderator.
Now the press has been elevated by the campaigns to be participants in this, which makes
our job far more complicated.
In the case of Trump, he came out the day after that
forum and contested the point, falsely.
I mean, he was not against the Iraq War from
But he claimed yet again he was.
And then he said any reporter who tells you different is lying to you.
And he made -
he made the issue about a fight with the press, not about what is true and what is not.
GWEN IFILL: I just have to say that to my dear friend, Martha Raddatz, to Eliane
Quijano, to Anderson Cooper, Lester Holt, who am I missing?
I wish them
all the best moderating.
Chris Wallace, moderating these debates.
QUESTION: What factors could be contributing to the apathy of the middle spectrum of the voters?
GWEN IFILL: Dan, you wrote a piece about pessimism.
We're going to - tell me a little bit about that.
DAN BALZ: Yeah, we did - the Post just did a 50-state survey that we published this
week, that we did in conjunction with Survey Monkey, which is an online polling
And it allowed us -
GWEN IFILL: With a ridiculous name, it should be said.
DAN BALZ: Pardon me?
GWEN IFILL: I'm sorry.
DAN BALZ: (Laughs.)
It allowed us to have sizable samples in every state.
We had a total of 74,000 respondents to this survey.
And we asked a series of questions in addition to who are you going to vote for, trying
to get at questions about their perceptions about what this campaign is doing to the
Ninety-five percent of people interviewed said that either Donald Trump or
Hillary Clinton or both would be a threat to the well-being of the country if they
become president - 95 percent.
And 20 percent say both would be a threat.
We asked another question about to what extent do you think this campaign will be able
to reduce the political divisions that have been commonplace for some years?
And again, overwhelming majorities and majorities in every state - red state, blue state,
purple state - said they think it will do very little to nothing at all to reducing that.
So this is such an incredibly pessimistic electorate at this point, not only their view
of the two candidates which we know they find them untrustworthy and they don't like them
very well, but also the degree to which they think this election is going to move us to a
different place than we have been.
MOLLY BALL: Yeah, I actually don't perceive much apathy at all in the electorate.
I find a lot of people very riled up, very interested, very passionate about this
What I do perceive is people who don't feel they have a voice, people who
don't think anything they can do can make a difference, whether it's voting or being
an activist or any politician they support even getting in there.
And that's why I think so much of the sentiment of the election this year has been
motivated by this anger at institutions and the establishment and a whole system that
people perceive as not working, to the point where, you know, they would elevate a
candidate like Donald Trump who proposes to tear the whole thing down, or Bernie Sanders
proposing a revolution.
Saying things are so out of reach for me, I am so not
being heard that I want to go in and just smash the whole thing and start over.
GWEN IFILL: I talked to a class here yesterday at Colorado College in which one of the
students said: You know, I want to vote and I'm interested in voting, but I feel I'm just
blowing into the wind, I'm throwing my vote into the wind, and it's not going to make any
What do you think I should do?
And all I could say was, voting is your
And what you do beyond that to make a difference is really up to you.
So, students, this is what I'm saying.
JACKIE CALMES: Well, you know, if I could add to that too.
GWEN IFILL: Quickly.
JACKIE CALMES: We've all felt like that at one point.
But having lived through the
2000 campaign and covered the 2000 campaign and then the recount, 538 votes in
Florida made the difference in the final analysis.
So your votes do matter.
GWEN IFILL: Yeah.
QUESTION: It has been said we have a dysfunctional government.
To what extent does the media contribute to that dysfunctional government by too much
focus on the presidency and too little focus on Congress, its chairpeople, its moderates
that get things done, or other members of Congress that get things done?
MOLLY BALL: I would say not at all.
No, I'm joking.
Look, the media's
But we write a whole ton about what's going on in Congress and who's
in charge of it.
And you know what happens to those articles?
People don't read them.
They want to read about the presidential race.
I do worry about the hollowing out of local journalism.
When I was growing up in Denver, we got two local newspapers, the Denver Post and the
Rocky Mountain News.
Now only one of those still exists.
So I think what I worry about is the lack of reporters, and therefore the lack of
accountability at the state government level.
I was a state capitol reporter.
And there are fewer and fewer of those positions.
And that's an important training
ground for journalists to see close up the workings of an often very dysfunctional
But it also is important, obviously, to the people of all those states to have
that kind of reporting.
And so I think the financial crisis of the media - what I'm
saying is you need to spend more money supporting your local media.
But you know, so much of it is about the fact that media organizations cannot afford, in
many cases, to impose as much accountability as we would like on local institutions.
GWEN IFILL: We've only got a little time left for one more question.
QUESTION: Love your program.
GWEN IFILL: Thank you.
QUESTION: In the closing weeks of the presidential campaign, what is the one thing that
has really surprised each of you?
GWEN IFILL: Let's start with you, Jackie.
What surprised you?
JACKIE CALMES: Oh, that's - what surprised me is actually easy.
I mean, that we have a candidate who has become a major party nominee that - you know,
dangerous ground here, but I think it's less and less so - that I'm seeing a freedom to
just call and describe in ways that we would never have thought to do to a nominee, and
just because of the provable falsehood of many of the things that Donald Trump says.
GWEN IFILL: Quickly, Dan.
DAN BALZ: I think everybody would agree Donald Trump is the biggest surprise.
He was the - you know, everybody or almost everybody said he would never become the
And he did.
And he and his - he and his "movement", quote,
unquote, have been the biggest surprise of this cycle.
MICHAEL SCHERER: In the last two weeks, I would say the way Trump has run his campaign
over the last month has been endlessly surprising.
Every few days he's got a totally
different tone, a totally different message.
He seems to be listening to different
I've never seen that before at this stage in a presidential race.
MOLLY BALL: And he really doesn't have much of a campaign to speak of.
There's very little field organization.
There's very little staff, compared to what
we would expect.
There's very little television advertising, which is usually what
campaigns spend hundreds of millions of dollars on.
Full disclosure, this is the topic of my new article in The Atlantic.
But I think one of the surprising things about this campaign is how little
that seems to matter, how little the sort of tactics and strategies that we spend so much
exertion studying are really seeming to affect this result.
GWEN IFILL: It surprises me the most is that we've got 60 days to go and we're still
kind of terrified about whichever way it's going to turn out - no matter what your side
So it's going to be a fascinating time.
Thank you everyone for your great questions.
Thank you all for your great answers.
And we also want to be especially thankful to
our folks here at Colorado College, and our producing partners at Rocky Mountain PBS.
Sunday marks the 15th anniversary of the September 11th terror attacks.
Online, you can see our conversation with more than 15 Washington Week panelists about
how the U.S. changed in the year after the attacks.
That's at PBS.org/WashingtonWeek.
And we'll see you next week on Washington Week.