How much will the debates impact the poll numbers?

Reaction from the 'Special Report' All-Star panel


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," August 29, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


CAMPAIGN AD: In Hillary Clinton's America, the middle class gets crushed, spending goes up, taxes go up.

In Donald Trump's America, working families get tax relief. Millions of new jobs created, wages go up. Small businesses thrive, the American dream achievable. Change that makes America great again.

CAMPAIGN AD: He wears it like a crown, "Make America great again." But Trump made his shirts in Bangladesh, his ties in China, and his suits in Mexico.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Two ads going head to head. Donald Trump with a new ad and Hillary Clinton's ad over the past weekend, this the new ad buy, by the way, for the Trump campaign is said to be about $10 million in battleground states. This as a new poll out from Monmouth University shows Hillary Clinton with a seven-point lead over Donald Trump with the four candidates there.

And that tracks roughly where our average of polls that we trust that we call the "Special Report" average of polls, the five most recent polls. It has that almost exactly the same number for all four, seven points.

Let's bring in our panel: Syndicated columnist George Will; Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio, and Tucker Carlson, host of "Fox & Friends Weekend."

Mara, where do you put this race right now? As we get ready to head into post Labor Day ahead of the first debate, September 26th, where is this race?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: I think that's where it is. She's got a substantial lead, five, six, seven points. That's where it's been. There is a theory about presidential campaigns that once you get into this part of the summer, the dynamic is pretty well set. And only a spectacular collapse or a fabulous performance in the debates or a big October surprise can change the dynamic. That's where I think the race is.

BAIER: Tucker?

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS: Surprisingly close. Given that we used to say in campaigns, one candidate won the day. I can't remember the last day that Donald Trump can claim to have won. The press is united against him. He's had an awful lot of self-inflicted wounds, and yet he's still relatively close. She's definitely winning, of course. But their theory of the case that there's this large pool of secret Trump voters, people that are too embarrassed to say that they're voting for Trump, that becomes real if it gets within three points, I think. And we're not that far from it. I'm just saying it's going to get there. I'm just saying she is stubbornly below 50. That tells you a lot.

BAIER: There are negatives on both candidates, obviously, George, they're very high. How much does that mean the impact of these debates will have?

GEORGE WILL, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, the debates are everything for Donald Trump, because he has to change the arithmetic. At this point she's winning all 11 of the classic battleground states. If she wins the Obama states, the 326 electoral votes. If she loses North Carolina as he did in 2012, she still wins comfortably. So she's ahead, but it might be fragile. And his challenge is to come on stage and rattle her, I assume, by saying that you studied hard, I didn't. You have mastered your briefing books. I don't know what they are. Let's rumble.

BAIER: And that will make a difference in people's perception?

LIASSON: I think it could make a difference. Donald Trump has to pass the plausibility test for people. He has to reassure people that they can imagine him being president, and beyond his base. And those people are not leaving him, no matter what he does or says. They are very, very loyal. He has to expand. That's what all of the indications coming out of the Trump campaign in the past week or two have said, that he wants to perhaps soften his stand on immigration, change what he wants to do to illegal immigrants in this country. That's a recognition that the base is not enough for him. He's got to make it bigger.

BAIER: A possible change in this debate in the performance of both candidates, but also we mentioned other things can happen. We have this e- mail release that is scheduled for September 13. Over the weekend you had both sides talking about the e-mails and their impact.

Maybe we don't. But they did talk about it. We did have a sound bite. And it was Citizens United saying these e-mails really show the foundation was in communication with the State Department, the Clinton Foundation, and the interaction of those. And then Donna Brazile saying this is no big deal, I can't even see where the smoke is, even though Hillary Clinton said I know there's smoke but there's no fire.

LIASSON: I don't know where they get their metaphors.


CARLSON: You heard more of the same. You heard what we already knew. There was actually one of Hillary's employees working at the State Department and the foundation, so we knew there was this nexus between them. But you saw Doug Band, the president's body man, calling and asking for special treatment of Clinton donors and getting them.

What you didn't see so strikingly is any Democrat saying this actually is bad. It's unethical. It reflects poorly not simply on Hillary Clinton and her campaign but on the U.S. government, on its competence and its ethics, and I'm out. You haven't seen what you've seen on the Republican side, including from someone at this table, lifelong Democrats, or in this case Republicans, saying I'm not for this anymore. This candidate is too flawed. Why haven't you? Because the Democratic Party is not an ideological party. It's a party whose only concern is acquiring and wielding power, and I think they revealed that in a way that's kind of shocking.

BAIER: George?

WILL: The Clintons have been in politics sense they got out of law school, which means they spent their entire adult life asking rich people for money. And that is over 20 or 30 or40 years corrosive. It corrodes among other things their sense of the little line that gets blurred to the point erasure between public and private interests. If you've read your Faulkner, you've read all about these folks. They are the Snopes, and get used to it.

BAIER: Do you think this story has -- that the public has now fully digested the e-mail story to the point where even if some e-mail comes out September 13th, that they're going to be able to plow through it, depending on what it says?

WILL: The e-mails are going to have to show a quid pro quo. It's going to have to show government action, not seating someone next to Joe Biden at a State Department lunch, but some government action that looks demonstrably corrupt.

BAIER: But the fact that hundreds of hits on Benghazi, and these are the e-mails she said were personal that she deleted. We know that there are foundation emails in there. So obviously none of it is falling under just the yoga and wedding planning.

LIASSON: No. It's had an effect. Why do you think her numbers on honesty and trustworthiness are as bad as they are? This is what's causing that. But I do think for it to change the dynamic of the race, to flip what's happening, not only would it have to be a quid pro quo, it would have to be something that would be otherwise contrary to U.S. policy, or she would have to have met with someone that an ordinary secretary of state, her or her predecessors would have met with.

CARLSON: I guess, but what is the Hillary campaign about? I know, seriously. Is it about infrastructure? No. It's about getting power and passing around the fruits of that power to our friends and wielding it for good. That's it. That's not a rationale for a presidential campaign. And I think if she got any scrutiny at all, I'm not saying Trump would win, I'm not defending Trump. I'm merely saying the premise of her campaign is indefensible, and nobody points that out.

LIASSON: She doesn't have a message for her campaign other than I'm not Donald Trump, and he's really dangerous and scary.

BAIER: Because technically, George, this is a change election, it should be a change election if you look at the dynamics of election after election after election.

WILL: It is. And it's a wonder at this point that Mr. Trump hasn't been able to take advantage of that. We just finished a lost decade in this country, a decade which we had not one year of three percent economic growth. The economy is not growing at all right now. And in this atmosphere, which cries out for change, the candidate who has been a national figure now for 20, 30 years, is ahead. It makes no sense.

BAIER: We'll see what happens after Labor Day.

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