This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," May 23, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I just believe that this is the most important job in the world. It's the toughest job in the world. You should be willing to campaign for every vote. You should be willing to debate anytime, anywhere.
CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS: Have you thought about accepting that invitation?
CLINTON: We'll consider it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are not ruling it out yet?
CLINTON: I haven't thought it it. We'll consider it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Hillary Clinton back in 2008, and this weekend, about our invite to a debate on FOX, likely June 6th, likely in San Francisco, one of three debates that she agreed to with Bernie Sanders. Bernie Sanders, we told you, had agreed to this debate. We just received word minutes ago from the Clinton campaign that she decided against being a part of this debate. Basically, we are waiting for the official statement from the Clinton campaign, but basically she said she's done nine debates. They are concentrating on California, campaigning there and other states in the final states on June 7th. They don't think a debate would be the best use of resources, and the decision, they say, has nothing to do with FOX.
So, with that, let's bring in our panel, Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard, Julie Pace, White House correspondent for the Associated Press, and editor in chief of Lifezette, Laura Ingraham. OK, Steve, obviously people were looking at the politics of this and whether it was good for her to do or not. The basic premise was they agreed to three debates and this was the third. We expect the Sanders campaign to jump on this and put out a statement as well.
STEVE HAYES, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I would think he will. From her perspective, there's not a lot of reason to do it. There's not much that she can hope to gain. She's basically got the nomination locked up. All she can do is make a mistake. She allows Bernie Sanders to pretend like he is still a contender, even though he's not, if she participates.
On the other hand I think you have people in Clinton world who have been making the argument she needs to be less programmed and less calculating. She needs to be herself. Let Hillary be Hillary. And this I think feeds into the perception, an accurate one in my view, that she is overly cautious, overly calculating. Think about what she said in response to Chuck Todd's question there. "I haven't thought about it." I mean, really? We have been discussing this nationally in the news media for the past week, the past couple weeks, some people going on further than that. Of course she's thought about that. Why go on national television and say something that is so obviously untrue. And, again, that feeds into the perception she is just cold and calculating and not a very good politician.
BAIER: I know her campaign has been thinking about it. We delivered the invitation last Tuesday, and we're waiting for word. We just got it minutes ago. Julie?
JULIE PACE, ASSOCIATED PRESS: In general I agree with Steve. I think that she has more to lose in doing this debate than she has to gain. She is obviously at a point where she is fully turning her focus to the general election. She said that she is going to be the nominee with full certainty.
The one thing, though, that I would raise as maybe a caution for skipping this debate is we have seen the last couple weeks the struggle that she is going to have in a general election with Donald Trump and his ability to drive the conversation every single day, even in ways that may be negative for him. She's going to struggle to break through. And her campaign is going to have to look for ways to put her out there, to almost force her on the public in a positive set. And I think that this could have been a moment on a large cable network where she would have had a big audience where she could have gotten up there and made a case for the general election even though she had to fend off some criticism from Bernie Sanders.
BAIER: Especially, Laura, maybe in California, where she is facing polls that are pretty tight.
LAURA INGRAHAM, LIFEZETTE.COM: I mean, this is another disappearing red line for Democrats. We were going to do three debates, now we are not. I think it was the right decision for her. I agree with Steve. But I also think it ends up being great for Bernie's narrative. His whole narrative is the establishment isn't listening to the wishes of the people. The establishment Democrat Party is tone deaf and in fact are disrespecting me and my supporters. He's targeting Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the entire Democratic machine. And now this just confirms the narrative that they don't even want to deal with the unwashed masses who are showing up by the tens of thousands at these Bernie Sanders rallies.
I think it cements his pitch to the voters. I think it probably helps him going into that platform crafting at the Democrat convention. I also think for Hillary, I mean, lately at least, the more we see of Hillary, the more people see of Hillary, the less they seem to like her at least as a presidential candidate. So I think for her, it's better to have Obama out there and Bill go out there in these big news nights, have them take some of the fire and let her sit back a little bit.
BAIER: Speaking of the former president taking fire from the Donald Trump campaign today in a new ad, and then Hillary Clinton reacted to Donald Trump's campaign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was very nervous. No woman should be subjected to it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I tried to pull away from him.
CLINTON: The only thing standing between Donald Trump and the Oval Office is all of us. The last thing we need is a bully in the pulpit. He could bankrupt America like he's bankrupted his companies. I mean, ask yourself, how can anybody lose money running a casino, really?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BAIER: Hillary Clinton responding. Meantime, the average of recent polls, according to Real Clear Politics, Steve, has Clinton 43.2 and there you see Donald Trump at 43.4.
HAYES: Trump has certainly consolidated the Republican vote faster than I thought he would. I think some of that Republican support remains soft. I think people are supporting him somewhat reluctantly, those Republicans who have sort of come around to Trump.
But that message from Hillary Clinton in that speech to me is so off. I mean, she's attacking him for being a bully in the pulpit. But one of the things that was pretty consistent about the exit polls during the primaries is people like that forceful speaking. It may not translate well if he's trying to convert Bernie Sanders voters and Democrat partisans, but even independents who are broadly skeptical of Donald Trump, he still has unfavorable numbers among independents, like Donald Trump because he told it like it is, or made those kind of arguments. We saw that in the polling.
PACE: I think she's road testing a couple of messages right now, trying to see what sticks. Obviously in the primaries with the Republicans, nothing really stuck. She's hoping that in a general election audience, one of these things will maybe breakthrough. But she's going to have to settle on something. You can't totally just have a wide open, totally diffused message. You have to settle on something for voters.
BAIER: She's still focusing on Bernie Sanders, too.
INGRAHAM: He's nipping at the heels. He is pretty good on "Saturday Night Live" with Larry Sanders playing him. I take that character over the Hillary character.
But I think that Trump ad is worth mentioning. It's eerie. Oh, he can't go down that road. I disagree. I think you have to have a substantive pitch for economic renewal, for sure that has to be the base of his campaign. But the more Hillary tries to rely on the '90s Clinton economy, which is really the Gingrich economy, but the more she tries to rely on him for the domestic agenda, I think more of an opening that gives Trump to say there's more to the '90s than just the balanced budget and job growth. There was a lot more to it, including this narrative which kills your pro- women brand you want to establish.
BAIER: The official statement just came through and it just added they are turning their attention to the threat a Donald Trump presidency poses, but roughly the same I told you was in the statement.
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