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Journal Editorial Report

The Trump reset: Do new hires signal a new direction?

This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," August 20, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT, HOST: Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.

Another big shakeup in the Trump campaign this week, with the Republican presidential nominee promoting veteran GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway to campaign manager and appointing Stephen Bannon, chairman of the conservative media outlet Breitbart News to campaign CEO. In Cleveland Wednesday Democratic rival Hillary Clinton said the changes really don't change a thing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, D-PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I think it's fair to say that Donald Trump has shown us who he is. He can hire and fire anybody he wants from his campaign. They can make him read new words from a Teleprompter.

(LAUGHTER)

But he is still the same man who insults Gold Star families, demeans women, mocks people with disabilities and thinks he knows more about ISIS than our generals.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor Dan Henninger; columnists Jason Riley and Kim Strassel and associate editorial page editor James Freeman.

So, Kim, let's take these personnel changes first. Do these first -- do these choices -- can they make a difference in the campaign?

KIM STRASSEL, COLUMNIST: Well, look, they seem to have made some difference so far. What we have seen this week is a Donald Trump who has been reading from script in a more disciplined manner. We saw a Donald Trump in Charlotte, North Carolina who actually expressed regret for some of the comments that he'd made and started talking about how this needed to be a campaign that pulled people together.

We know that he's going to be giving a series of policy speeches over the next couple of weeks that touch on immigration and education reform. So this is a different Donald Trump, you know. And you see the influence of Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon. The question is can he stay on track?

GIGOT: Right, but I want to distinguish here between Bannon and Conway. Because Kellyanne Conway, I think -- I think we saw her hand in some of that language in the Charlotte speech. What skills, experience, does she bring to the Trump campaign?

STRASSEL: Look, she is more of a veteran person in politics. She has worked on a lot of campaigns, interestingly, with, kind of, anti- establishment characters in the past, so she's comfortable in that realm. She's very knowledgeable about the women's vote. She's made a kind of study and an art of it. And her goal is to try to, I think, maybe, make Donald Trump not just more rigorous and disciplined but humanize his campaign a little bit and make him more optimistic. She said as much.

GIGOT: That's not Steve Bannon's forte.

(LAUGHTER)

Dan?

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST AND DEPUTY EDITOR: Well, Steve Bannon's forte is to appeal to unionized Democrats, blue-collar workers, the "forgotten people," as Trump describes them. And I think what we're seeing here is that Trump has finally figured out that he's not going to win merely with the base that provided him the victory in the primaries. That's 35 percent or 40 percent of the vote. The opinions polls show that you lose if that's all you get in the general election.

So now I read that speech where he talks about the system being rigged -- that's Bernie Sanders -- when he attacked Washington insiders -- that's Ted Cruz.

GIGOT: But those are old messages. It's the regret and the inclusiveness of the Charlotte speech...

HENNINGER: I'm talking about the base he's trying to assemble. And I agree that, then, Kellyanne Conway adds something with the Republican women. So clearly Trump has figured out that he needs to go beyond the primary base.

GIGOT: What about the Bannon appointment?

JASON RILEY, COLUMNIST: Right. This is -- this is desperation on the part of Donald Trump, shaking up his campaign this close to Labor Day, which is really the beginning of the home stretch. You know, things are -- he's in trouble and he knows it. I think this is something of a Hail Mary. Bannon, to me, signals that Trump wants to be Trump.

GIGOT: And that's what Trump says.

RILEY: Bannon runs -- Bannon runs Breitbart, a website that, if anything, thinks Trump has been too mild-mannered and measured up until now, if you watch their coverage of the campaign.

So this is someone, I think, who wants Trump to continue running the campaign he ran in the primaries, and that's what he's surrounded himself with.

I think Kellyanne Conway -- we all know her. We've known her a long time, very respected pollster. But she's not a campaign manager. She's -- this is going to be new for her. She's going to have to adjust to this.

(CROSSTALK)

RILEY: ... and we'll see if Trump...

GIGOT: I think that's -- I think that's her title, Jason. I don't think she's going to manage the campaign. I think she's going to try to improve and refine the message.

RILEY: Right, but campaigns are about the candidate, and then there's only so much advice Trump seems willing to take.

GIGOT: There's no question about that. And he'd have to -- But here's what I -- what's surprising to me. Trump said when he made the appointments, "I'm not going to pivot. I don't want to pivot. I'm not changing. I'm the same person." And then he gives that speech, which is a different person.

(LAUGHTER)

RILEY: Yeah...

GIGOT: At least, it's different rhetoric. And if he stays with -- in my view, if he had given that speech at the convention and then that had been the speech for the last three weeks, I think this campaign could be in a different place.

JAMES FREEMAN, EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: Yeah. It was a very (inaudible) speech. It was a speech to all the people, to the forgotten people who aren't Washington insiders but to all Americans. And I think there was something in there for -- for all Americans to appreciate, and that's why I think this has been a good few days. I think Trump has benefited from creating a structure now. You don't want too much management in top campaigns. You don't want them to be bureaucratic. But he needed a staff beyond his own instincts going out on Twitter.

So I think, if you'd think of Kellyanne Conway as competently allowing him to speak to a broader audience, maybe Bannon's role is to more precisely target the -- the case against Hillary Clinton. This could be a big win.

GIGOT: All right. He's also rolling out his first ads in the campaign. Let's listen to the first one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: In Hillary Clinton's America, the system stays rigged against Americans. Syrian refugees flood in. Illegal immigrants convicted of committing crimes get to stay, collecting Social Security benefits, skipping the line -- our border open, it's more of the same, but worse.

Donald Trump's America is secure, terrorists and dangerous criminals kept out, the border secured, our families safe -- change that makes America safe again. Donald Trump for president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: Kim, first of all, just running ads is a step forward for the Trump campaign...

STRASSEL: It is.

GIGOT: ... because he hasn't run any so far in the general election.

But what do you make of that message? That's not the message of Charlotte. That's the Trump of anti-terror and the primaries.

STRASSEL: Yeah. It's the Trump, too, that is trying to play off grievances out there, a general sense of malaise among voters that they're not moving forward, that there's a sense of disorder out there in the world.

I mean, there's an element of optimism to the ad, too, in that it is presenting at least a future in which they're saying that the world will be better under Trump.

GIGOT: Right.

STRASSEL: It's not very specific on how that would happen. But -- but this is, sort of, more the Donald Trump of the primary.

GIGOT: Anybody else have a take on this? James?

FREEMAN: Well, look, this is a winning issue for him, as far as limiting immigration from parts of the world with a history of terrorism. He said in North Carolina, that dovetails with that ad, "We're not going to let in people who think sharia law supplants the U.S. Constitution." I don't know anyone who could disagree with that statement. And you look at polls, this is a winning message. Let's -- I'm for immigration. Let's have immigration but keep out jihadists.

GIGOT: All right. Thank you all. When we come back, Donald Trump's anti- terror strategy. He's taking on the Obama/Clinton record and laying out his own plan to fight radical Islam. So just how different is his approach?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, R- PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: We will defeat radical Islamic terrorism, just as we have defeated every threat we've faced.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The Obama-Clinton foreign policy has unleashed ISIS, destabilized the Middle East and put the nation of Iran, which chants "Death to America" in a dominant position of regional power and in fact aspiring to be a dominant world power.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: That was Donald Trump this week, taking on the Obama-Clinton foreign policy legacy, in a speech in Youngstown, Ohio, and laying out his own strategy to fight radical Islam.

So, Dan, let me start just by going back to what James said at the end of that last block, where he said this is a winner for Trump, on restricting immigration from -- from countries with a history of terrorism. You agree with that?

HENNINGER: Well, as you suggested, Paul, there are two Trumps at the moment, running. There's the one we saw in that ad and there was the one in the North Carolina speech. In that North Carolina speech, he said he will create a system of immigration that allows immigration to work, perhaps appealing to those Republicans who think we need a system of immigration that allows people to come in and go back out. But I don't think attacking immigrants like that is going to win him votes in, say, Pennsylvania or Virginia or Wisconsin, the battleground states.

GIGOT: Jason?

RILEY: I think where it can be a winning issue, Dan, is in how he describes the threat. And this is the politically incorrect Trump that a lot of those voters like. He at least is going to call it what it is. He is not going to pretend, like the Obama administration has, like Hillary Clinton has, that there's no religious element to this; these are just radicals. He's going to talk about -- he's going to call the threat what it is, radical Islam.

And I think he can -- I think that is a winning issue for him. And there was a lot of good stuff in that speech. Paul, he talked about prematurely leaving Iraq, creating this vacuum that ISIS has filled. But, at the same time, a lot of Trump's foreign policy is similar to Obama's, and the isolationist strain that we see there...

GIGOT: That's what I want to talk about. I thought the critique of the Obama-Clinton record was a lot stronger than his program and a lot clearer than what he laid out would be the differences. Because, in terms of taking on ISIS, he said he'll do it faster and he'll do it viciously if he has to, but he didn't have any details about how he would do it overseas in Syria, Iraq or Libya or anything else. That's all vague.

FREEMAN: That is vague. But he has said a couple things which, I think, resonate. One is he's saying now that he wants to work with allies. People, kind of, wondered about that...

(LAUGHTER)

... whether it was going to be a one-man band.

(LAUGHTER)

But he's also saying -- it's a very focused strategy. He's saying "I want to kill ISIS; I want to get rid of people who are trying to kill us. I don't want to do nation-building." I think people who have watched, over the last decade, a couple of presidents not entirely competently dealing especially with the Middle East region. I think that's going to resonate with people...

(CROSSTALK)

RILEY: ... talks about courting moderate Muslims, which I think is something we need to do.

GIGOT: You guys have low bars for...

(LAUGHTER)

... foreign policy threshold.

(UNKNOWN): Well, look at the competition.

GIGOT: Kim, how -- what do you think the big differences are between Trump's anti-terror strategy and Hillary Clinton's?

STRASSEL: Well, look, I mean, Hillary Clinton has basically said that she will continue Barack Obama's foreign policy strategy. And Donald Trump did very, very well critique that in that speech.

I think one of the things that would matter is he is going to talk, as Jason said, more openly about what the threat is. And he is going to try to maybe prosecute this in a lot more aggressive way.

But the specifics, Paul -- this is a problem -- is what's missing. You know, I disagree a little bit with James on the idea that there is a distinction here between Trump and Obama on some of these questions. You know, he's been very reticent, for instance, to say what he would do in Syria. You know, and there are things that you can do that are short of boots on the ground, things like safe zones. But we don't necessarily have that commitment from him.

So it's just -- this is one of the lacking aspects of his foreign policy, is we don't know what he'd do.

GIGOT: I want to get in the -- Dan, the news this week that the Clinton Foundation -- and this relates to foreign policy because they have accepted foreign donations in the past. Now they're saying, the foundation is saying, that if Hillary Clinton wins, they won't accept any foreign donations.

Now, they already -- they promised eight years ago that they wouldn't accept any foreign donations when Hillary was secretary of state. Why should we believe them now?

HENNINGER: Well, there's no reason why we should believe them.

(LAUGHTER)

I mean, I think the person who really made it interesting was former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, Democrat, prominent Democrat, who suggested, if she wins, they should close the foundation. You know what I think these Democrats are afraid of? They're afraid that, if they keep the foundation open, something will be in there that will allow Hillary Clinton to be impeached.

GIGOT: Well, and this will be -- they'll use it as the -- as a fund-raiser for Chelsea Clinton's Senate campaign...

(CROSSTALK)

HENNINGER: It's a big political liability for them.

FREEMAN: This is marketing. It's like when a car dealer says you've got to get in here by Labor Day or these deals are going away. That's what they're saying. By Election Day, you've got to send your checks in.

But we know the foundation...

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

FREEMAN: The foundation will continue just as the dealership will continue after those deals roll off the lot.

RILEY: Even more to the point, what conflicts of interest will suddenly arise when she's president that weren't there when she was secretary of state, that she's diplomat of the country...

FREEMAN: Right.

RILEY: ... in dealing with foreign donations?

GIGOT: Well, but that's why you get to the point -- Ed Rendell's point. Let's -- shouldn't they shut it down?

RILEY: Of course. Of course.

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: Yeah, Kim, go ahead.

STRASSEL: Well, no, also because we know that saying that you're not going to accept donations from corporations or foreign governments doesn't mean anything. Look, stories of the past year have shown that these donations from wealthy individuals seeking influence have been routed through family foundations and other charities which, by the way, the Clinton foundation said that they'll continue to take.

GIGOT: All right. When we come back, tensions are rising following Russia's use this week of an Iranian air base for strikes in Syria and amid new reports of troop buildup on the Ukraine border. So just what is Vladimir Putin up to and will the United States respond?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: Russia's involvement in the five-year-old Syrian civil war took a troubling turn this week when Moscow announced that it is using an air base in western Iran along strikes against Syrian militants. The move comes amid reports that Russia is building up its military presence on its western border, sending tens of thousands of troops to newly built installations within striking distance of Ukraine.

David Satter is a former Moscow correspondent and a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. He's author of the new book "The Less You Know, the Better You Sleep: Russia's Road to Terror and Dictatorship Under Yeltsin and Putin."

So, David, welcome to the program.

DAVID SATTER, SENIOR FELLOW, HUDSON INSTITUTE: Thanks.

GIGOT: Let's -- let's start with the news about the troop buildup on Ukraine, the border with Ukraine. Russia says this is in response to NATO's buildup, but NATO's buildup is minor and it's not inside Ukraine. What's going on here from Putin's point of view?

SATTER: I think that Putin is trying to intimidate the West. Obviously, they can't be responding to a NATO buildup which is not taking place in Ukraine. But he's definitely trying to show that Western sanctions will only make him more aggressive. And therefore the Western countries should see reason, remove the sanctions, and under those circumstances, it's possible that his appetite for Ukrainian territory will be tempered.

Of course, there are alternative strategies, including arming the Ukrainians and increasing their ability to defend themselves. But that's not what Putin is hoping the West will choose.

GIGOT: Well, and, of course, President Obama has refused to send -- to sell lethal weapons to Ukraine.

But eight years ago, at the last year of the Bush administration, Putin invaded Georgia in central Asia, and they still have part of that territory.

Now, this is eight years later, the last year of the Obama administration, presidential transition coming up. Do you think an invasion inside Ukraine again is -- is possible?

SATTER: It's certainly possible, but it's absolutely not guaranteed. We just don't know whether what's taking place now is an attempt to intimidate the Ukrainians and the West and, of course, to further destabilize the situation inside Ukraine, or whether it's a serious preparation for invasion.

If it is, of course, the West will have to think very carefully about what kind of measures can be undertaken to prevent even further aggression and loss of life in Ukraine.

GIGOT: So how much of this is -- is about domestic Russian politics? That is, the last couple of years, with Western sanctions and with the fall of the price of oil, the Russian economy has suffered. Now, Putin's poll ratings are still high. But could this all be -- and I point to the Syrian flights as well, via Iran -- is this an attempt to stir up domestic nationalism on Putin's part?

SATTER: Oh, definitely. In fact, it's important to bear in mind, in the case of Russia, that war is an instrument of foreign -- of domestic policy. I'm sorry. The Russian leadership -- and it's not only Putin; this is also Yeltsin -- started wars in order to boost the support of the population for the -- for the regime, whichever regime it happened to be, and to distract the population from the way in which they were being misruled.

GIGOT: The -- it's interesting. The last two American presidents, Bush and Obama, both went into office saying we'd like to work with Putin. At the end of their administrations, they're both saying something very different.

Now Donald Trump is saying, if I become president, wouldn't it be great if we could have a good relationship with Russia?

Do you think that makes sense on Trump's part? Or is he -- would he have a very rough education if he did win?

SATTER: He will have the same education that every other American president has had, except for Ronald Reagan, who had an instinctive understanding of -- of the Russian political culture and the Soviet Union.

And the fact is that we are guilty, in the U.S., of ignoring the atrocities that have been committed in Russia and closing our eyes. I mean, when the "reset" policy was initiated by President Obama, it came in the wake of evidence that the Russian government, for example, had been involved in the poisoning, the nuclear poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in London and the murder of Anna Politkovskaya in Moscow. And it -- to start a reset with -- with a regime guilty of such crimes is totally unrealistic. And of course we...

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: Do you think...

SATTER: Go ahead.

GIGOT: No...

SATTER: Well, and of course we've ignored the most important crime, which was the 1999 apartment bombings which brought Putin to power.

GIGOT: Do you think Putin wants Donald Trump to win, and would he meddle in the American election campaign?

SATTER: He might well meddle in the American election campaign, but I think people in the United States overestimate the extent to which the Putin regime is counting on one or another of the candidates to win.

Trump has said many uninformed and inappropriate things, but it's also true that, when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, she, with full access to intelligence information that she apparently either ignored or didn't understand, initiated a policy of reset that was based on an image of Russia that has no relationship to reality.

So I don't think that the Russians think there's going to be some gigantic difference if it's Trump or Clinton. They understand that there's superficiality on both sides.

GIGOT: All right. Thank you, David Satter -- very interesting. Thanks for coming in.

Still ahead, Donald Trump makes his pitch to black voters, taking on Democrats and the failed liberal policies of the past.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The Democratic Party has failed and betrayed the African-American community.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I'm asking for the vote of every African-American citizen struggling in our country today who wants a different and much better future.

The Democratic Party has failed and betrayed the African-American community. Democratic crime policies, education policies, and economic policies have produced only more crime, more broken homes, and more poverty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: Donald Trump in West Bend, Wisconsin, this week making his most direct pitch yet to black voters and connecting the recent violence in nearby Milwaukee to the plight of African-Americans in cities nationwide and to decades of failed Democratic policies.

We're back with Dan Henninger, Kim Strassel, James Freeman, and Jason Riley, author of the book "Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed."

So, Jason, I want to get the voting side of this. But let's talk about the law and order message that Trump has been delivering. That has probably been arguably his most consistent message certainly since the convention.  Is it working?

RILEY: I think it's -- I think it's working to some extent. It's playing to his strengths. There is a lot of unrest around the country. There's a lot of tension between cops and these minority communities.

You have the "Black Lives Matter" movement out there throwing gasoline on the fire, frankly. So, yes, I think that that message can resonate, yes.

GIGOT: And, Dan, you wrote this week that you thought this was actually a place where Trump can drive a real sharp distinction with Democrats who have been -- who are ambivalent, I think was the word you used, about anti- crime policies.

HENNINGER: Yes. Well, I said that he was running a law and order campaign both at home and aboard. His anti-terror policies are essentially a law and order version of it.

And I think the Democrats have always been ambivalent. And it is their Achilles's heel. Richard Nixon ran on law and order against Hubert Humphrey in 1968. In the 2004 election then-President George W. Bush raised the issue of whether John Kerry could lead the war on terror.

It's always a good issue for Republicans because the Democrats always argue that in the inner cities like Milwaukee or Baltimore, the police are at fault as the people committing the crimes. Most Americans, I don't think, believe that and Trump is raising that issue.

GIGOT: But here's the problem, James. The crime figures are way down.  This is not 1968. It is -- you know, I mean, there have been murder increases in the last couple years in a lot of cities, no question.

But as far as some general broad increase in crime, we haven't really seen it.

FREEMAN: No, but remember, a lot of those gains especially in a city like New York, for example, occurred because of policing tactics that are largely condemned by Democrats like Hillary Clinton.

Also, what has given him the political opening obviously is this sort of war on police since Ferguson. And you have seen lately, although there's still relatively low historically murder rates coming up in the nation's largest cities.

And I think he made a disciplined case here to say this, most of all, hurts the black community. And the problem is not too many police it's too few.  People need safety in urban neighborhoods.

GIGOT: What about this reaching out, Kim, to the African-American vote?  We have been arguing for years that Republicans should do this. He's now trying to do that. But the polls suggest so far he really isn't doing very well among black voters.

What do you make of the pitch?

STRASSEL: Well, the upside is he has got nowhere to go but up because at the moment by some estimates he's getting about 1 percent of the black vote.

And I think he has also got a very strong message here in that what he's -- you know, Hillary Clinton is feeding this narrative that this is talking about these occasional shootings. Donald Trump instead wanted to talk about the root causes of poverty and crime in inner cities.

He talked about the failings of domestic policies that Democrats promote on education and other issues, manufacturing policy. So he's trying to actually get to the root causes. I think the bigger question though is can you do it by just giving a one-off speech?

You have to do this in a sustained manner. You've also got to do what you have seen Paul Ryan doing, which is making alliances within faith-based communities, within minority communities, within cities, going and visiting and showing that you're not just asking for a vote but that you understand the problems and that you're devoted to having a cooperative relationship going forward.

GIGOT: No offense to West Bend, Wisconsin, but it's not a center city -- it's not an African-American audience who are going to make this kind of pitch, why not go right there?

RILEY: Right. Exactly. You're asking for the white vote -- or for the black vote but you're doing it in a white suburb in front of a white audience.

Kim is absolutely right. Trump has to go into these neighborhoods, he has to introduce himself to these folks, and ask them to explain their concerns to him, and tell people why his policies would be different from the liberal policies that they have been living under.

You know, Trump -- effective black outreach is not just about standing in front of an audience and saying he supports school choice or talking about how Democrats take the black vote for granted.

Is trump advertising on black radio stations? Is he spending money on television shows that black people watch?

GIGOT: Jason, he hasn't been advertising anywhere.

(LAUGHTER)

RILEY: But, you know, he has got to roll up his sleeves and go into these communities. And I don't think he's done that, Paul, because I really don't think the black vote is part of his winning strategy.

I don't think that's what he's trying to do. He's trying to go after a different demographic group and, frankly, I don't think he thinks he needs the black vote in November.

FREEMAN: Well, I'm not sure it's a black/white issue on this because he basically managed somehow to win the Republican nomination without doing any of the retail politicking we normally associate.

He wasn't walking through diners in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Ames, Iowa.

GIGOT: Yes, but this is the general election. These rallies aren't going to be good enough, James. And he's preaching to the converted in the rallies. Why don't you go to Louisiana, go to a charter school this week and then maybe go to a Harlem charter school the next week? And then after that talk to a whole town hall.

(CROSSTALK)

FREEMAN: That kind of sustained coordination.

GIGOT: Right, exactly, or downtown Baltimore. What's wrong with that?

FREEMAN: Yes, you hope his new campaign team gives him that. What you're starting to see now though is a focused message, that's what we're seeing in these recent speeches.

GIGOT: Dan?

HENNINGER: Well, I think I agree with all this but I think he was also trying to appeal to suburban Republican voters in a way that suggests to them that Donald Trump understands the problems exist in black America and that he has an alternative answer to it.

So it wasn't just that he has to go into those neighborhoods, he has to appeal to suburban Republican voters if he's going to win.

GIGOT: All right. Still ahead, with Donald Trump facing an uphill battle in some battleground states, Republican fears of a Senate loss grow. But could ticket-splitting voters save some vulnerable Republican incumbents?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: With Donald Trump losing ground in some recent swing state polls, Republican leaders are keeping an anxious eye on the Senate where Republicans are defending 24 seats in November compared to just 10 for Democrats.

Republican pollster Whit Ayres is here to tell us how some key races are shaping up.

So, Whit, welcome back. Good to see you.

WHIT AYRES, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: Thanks. Paul, good to be with you.

GIGOT: So I'm hearing more and more anxiety among Republicans across the country that if the race is really a 10-point defeat for Donald Trump, and we're not there yet obviously, but if it is, that will take down the Senate, too, and maybe even the House. How do you see it?

AYRES: Paul, any time your defending 24 seats, it's a challenging effort in the best of environments.

GIGOT: Right.

AYRES: This is obviously not the best of environments with Donald Trump at the top of the ticket. But I'm a lot more optimistic than a number of Republicans about the possibility of holding the Senate.

You have a lot of Republicans who have their own independent identities.  And the Trump brand is very distinct from the Republican brand. We could see a level of split-ticket voting in this election greater than anything we have seen since the 1980s when a lot of southern conservatives voted for Ronald Reagan at the top of the ticket, the Democrat down the ballot.

So there a lot of Republican incumbents running well ahead of Donald Trump in their home states.

GIGOT: Well, let me take that ticket-splitting point, because as you know, the recent history has been that there's less and less ticket-splitting.  More and more people just voting down ballots.

So why do you think this year is going to be different from that relatively recent trend, particularly when you see a lot of Democrats basically getting in behind Hillary Clinton and not the same kind of unity behind Trump?

AYRES: Because in recent years, Paul, the people at the top of the ticket have reflected the values of the people down the ticket. That's not the case this year. You had a Trump convention which bore no resemblance to a Republican convention when the two most recent Republican presidents, the two most recent Republican nominees, the Republican host governor, and most of the other Republican candidates didn't even show up.

That created a Trump brand distinct from the Republican brand. Just look at the some of the polling today. Marco Rubio in Florida. Rob Portman in Ohio. Chuck Grassley in Iowa. A number of others running are double digits ahead of Donald Trump.

And there's no reason to think they can't continue to do that.

GIGOT: Well, OK, but in some states you're seeing Republican Senate candidates run ahead of Donald Trump but 5 points, 6 points, I'm thinking of Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania. I'm thinking of Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire.

They can probably do that -- they can afford a 5-, 6-point Trump undertow in a state. But 10, 12, that becomes very difficult to overcome, wouldn't you have to agree with that?

AYRES: I would say it's a challenge but let's not forget, in the South in the 1970s and '80s Democratic senators frequently won overwhelming victories at the same time that George McGovern was cratering in 1972 and Walter Mondale was cratering in 1984 throughout the South.

They frequently ran well, well ahead the top of the ticket because they ran their own independent campaigns. That's what Republican incumbents are doing this year, and it could very well succeed.

GIGOT: How are they doing that, running an independent campaign? Is it stressing certain individual issues? And how do you make a campaign like the Senate, which is usually -- you know, you don't hear as much about when it's a presidential year because the presidential race gets all the attention from the free media.

How do you lift a campaign up so the Republican voters who might be skeptical about the top of the ticket say, you know what, I've really got to get out there and vote for that Senate candidate?

AYRESL Three words. Localize, localize, localize. The senators need to make a compelling case that their service in the Senate has made life better for the constituents in their states.

And if you look at some of what the candidates are doing with Marco Rubio on the Zika virus, with Rob Portman about the opiate epidemic in Ohio, you are seeing senators take that lesson to hear. And they are talking about local issues and how their service has made life better for people in their state.

GIGOT: Now I'm also beginning to hear national Republican figures saying if we go into September and Donald Trump is still trailing badly in the polls, that what you'll see are the national campaign committees shift resources to the House and Senate races.

That's what happened in October, as you know, of 1996 with Bob Dole when it looked like Dole couldn't win. Does that have to happen this year as well and how early does it have to happen?

AYRES: It may very well happen this year, Paul. We'll have to talk with the officials in charge of that. But let me give you one data point from 1996. Bob Dole lost to Bill Clinton by 8.5 percentage points. The average Republican House incumbent ran 16 points ahead of Bob Dole in that year and they lost only five seats.

There is a record of people doing this in difficult environments and that's why I'm more optimistic about the Republicans holding onto the House and the Senate.

GIGOT: But they're going to spend a lot of money to get out that message in those races.

AYRES: Yes, they are.

GIGOT: Would you agree with that?

AYRES: Of course. Of course.

GIGOT: All right. Whit Ayres, thank you very much for being here. We'll see if you're right.

AYRES: Good to be with you.

GIGOT: When we come back, with the 2016 Olympics wrapping up this weekend, a look at the highs and the lows of the Rio games.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: With the 2016 Olympics set to wrap up this weekend, we're back with a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly in Rio.

So, James, what did you like or not about these Olympic Games?

FREEMAN: Well, let's see, Helen Maroulis, first American Olympic medal in female wrestling, that was a high point.

GIGOT: This is a former wrestler talking here.

(LAUGHTER)

FREEMAN: That's your lead, isn't that what you wanted?

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: All politics is local.

FREEMAN: Lilly King, swimmer, winning the gold medal and calling out her drugged up competitor, or allegedly, I guess I should say. And I guess we'll get into the Ryan Lochte story as well. But don't lie to your mother and get -- is the number one lesson I get.

(LAUGHTER)

GIGOT: All right. Let's talk about Lochte. We can't avoid it. Being portrayed, I mean, it looks like he didn't tell the truth about having been robbed although all the details aren't clear.

This is being taken as an opportunity to talk about the ugly American and about white male privilege. Jason, are you buying any of that?

RILEY: Well, my takeaway from this is what we should have learned -- or did a long time ago. If you're going to lie, get your story straight. And if a group of you are going to lie, you all need to be on the same page.  This is lying 101. You're supposed to learn this in kindergarten.

(LAUGHTER)

GIGOT: And also don't leave video evidence. Kim, isn't that always a good idea?

STRASSEL: Yes, don't do it in front of the cameras too.

(LAUGHTER)

GIGOT: Kim, do you have any particular memories from the Olympics?

STRASSEL: Well, you know, I mean, I think this has been a kind of clouded Olympics. I mean, we went into it with the news about the Russian doping scandal and that has hung heavy. We've had athletes that have been disqualified since they got there because of doping.

There has obviously been so many logistical challenges from Rio holding it, which has brought up questions about whether or not you should continue holding events like this in countries that are still working on some of their own infrastructure problems.

So, I mean, I think those things have clouded a lot of the otherwise interesting stories about the athletes.

GIGOT: Just to return it to the athletes, Dan, I love the story of the return -- the continuing rise of the American distance runner. I mean, For two decades or more we just really didn't do very well. And now you see them, American distance runners, competing across nearly every race.

Jennifer Simpson won the first women's medal for an American ever in 1,500 meters. And we won steeplechase medals for both men and women.

I love that tension in those races between the endurance and the speed at the end. You never know who is going to kick to finally win the race.

HENNINGER: Well, you're talking about the extraordinary training and talent that these athletes display across the board in the Olympics. And I think, to pick up Kim's point, they need a venue in which they can display those talents.

The 2022 Winter Olympics are being held in Beijing which has no snow.  They're being held there, now listen.

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: There may be black snow, if they have it.

(CROSSTALK)

HENNINGER: They're being held there in part because the Olympics have become too expensive. Sweden, Norway, and Poland pulled their bids for the Winter Olympics because they simply can't afford it.

It's becoming very difficult to put on a reputable Olympics. And the International Olympic Committee has got to go back to the drawing board about the way they put these Olympics together.

GIGOT: With a goal of what, putting it in one specific location.

HENNINGER: Possibly finding one or several venues that are permanent, where people are trained in doing it, where the venues are living up to the standards.

GIGOT: And if the infrastructure can be reused.

RILEY: That's the problem. The rich countries, you know, you build these structures, you take on all this debt, and then they become ghost towns at the end. They're not even used again.

And then when you go into a third world country or less rich countries, you have a strongman or authoritarian dealing with contractors, enriching themselves, I think a permanent location would allow for the infrastructure to be reused and that would make a lot more economic sense.

GIGOT: But to Kim, and the argument is that if you put it in a permanent location, then that provides a permanent advantage for wherever that is. I mean, I'm not saying if you put it -- I mean, so if you put it in Europe, Europeans would have an advantage, you put in Asia, then Asians would have -- North America, nobody is going to agree to put it in the United States, I can tell you that.

So, I mean, is that really a possible outcome?

STRASSEL: It's probably not, because, I mean, look at the fighting that goes on now about where the Olympics are going to be held every time and the bidding that goes on. People really care about this.

And, I mean, it's true there have been places that have been pulling their bids because of worries about costs and economics or downturn, but, you know, I think the idea of that and the advantage, I mean, this is one of those things we've got to remember that people -- countries are very proud to get to hold this in their home places.

GIGOT: All right. Kim, thanks. We have to take one more break. When we come back, hits and misses of the week.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: Time now for our hits and misses of the week.

Kim, start us off.

STRASSEL: Paul, the FBI turned over its investigation file on Hillary Clinton to Congress this week. But what's extraordinary is the high-level security requirements for those in Congress that want to view it.

This file is being kept in a secure facility, it has been heavily redacted so that even the people with top security clearances can't read much of what's in there. So this is a miss to Jim Comey, the FBI director, for the double standard.

If these documents require that much security clearance, then Hillary Clinton ought to be sitting in the dock right now under indictment.

GIGOT: OK. James.

FREEMAN: Paul, this is a hit to the American people for their eminent good sense, or maybe it's a hit to Barack Obama for inadvertently teaching everyone that government doesn't work.

But we're talking about the results of a Gallup poll, I think we're going to show it up on the screen, basically showing what people think of different industries. So this is a net positive rating. The number of people who approve versus disapprove.

You see restaurants, 59 percent, very strong rating. Computer industry, farming, we put that in there for Kim, very positive view. And even bankers and those people at big oil are more popular than the federal government at minus 27.

GIGOT: All right, James, thank you.

Jason.

RILEY: This is hit for John McLaughlin, the television personality who died earlier this week. He was sort of the father of combat television journalism. Paul, he taught us how to cut each other off, shout over each other, and he made cable TV news much more entertaining for the viewer, or...

GIGOT: Wrong! Jason! OK.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

HENNINGER: Paul, amidst the sometimes unreal presidential election, I'd like to draw attention to the reality that people in two parts of the country are fighting the ravages of nature. In California wildfires, some of the most intense ever seen have displaced 82,000 people from their homes.

In Louisiana, this extraordinary flood has killed 13 people, destroyed 40,000 homes. So at least we'd like to extend some public sympathy to people trying to survive these two terrible events.

GIGOT: All right. Hear, hear.

And I actually did the McLaughlin show a few times, Jason. That's back when I had pigment in my hair.

(LAUGHTER)

GIGOT: And remember, if you have your own hit or miss be sure to tweet it to us @JERonFNC. That's it for this week's show. Thanks to my panel and all of you for watching. I'm Paul Gigot. We hope to see you right here next week.

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