First presidential debate takeaways

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," September 27, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


HILLARY CLINTON, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I got a chance to say a few things about what I want to do if I'm so fortunate enough to be elected as your president. And you know, I do have this old-fashioned idea that if I'm asking for your vote, I should tell you what I want to do.

DONALD TRUMP, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: It was a fascinating period of time, and I think we did very well. Very big moment. Very important moment. Talking about a lot of very important subjects, including jobs, including immigration. It was an interesting evening, certainly, and big league.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: It was an interesting evening, definitely that. And, of course, the candidates were saying they both won. What about their top supporters or advocates?


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: It was boring. It was robotic. She looked out of it. She looked rattled. She looked like she wasn't prepared for the way Trump was behaving and what Trump had to say.

JOHN PODESTA, CLINTON CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: She came in prepared, ready to talk about the economy, ready to talk about all the issues. She had specific plans. And I thought he came in unprepared and kind of fell apart. The focus groups that were being done real time had her winning.


BAIER: All right, let's bring in our panel here in New York: Monica Crowley, editor and columnist for The Washington Times; Philip Bump, politics reporter for The Washington Post; Caitlin Huey-Burns, national political reporter RealClearPolitics, and Bill McGurn, main street columnist for the Wall Street Journal. Thank you, all, for being here. Bill, let me start with you. Your thoughts?

WILLIAM MCGURN, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, look, I think part of the focus after the debate, the post-debate story is almost bigger. I'm not sure regular people watched the debate the way we do. I don't know about you, but I was watching with the computer screen, with the Twitter feed, and then family reaction. I'm just not sure people chew the bone so much as other people.

BAIER: Let me just say one thing, let me interrupt you, I was in the hall and it was a completely different thing because I went home to my hotel room and watched the whole debate again. That's why I'm very tired today. But it's completely different.

MCGURN: Oh, it's -- there's a lot of different experiences.

Look, overall, I thought this Mrs. Clinton did better than I expected, presented herself well. I think there's a lot of analysis of Donald Trump. I think his main problem was she put him on defense a lot on his business stuff. He spent a lot of time defensive and explaining himself. And we haven't seen a defensive Donald Trump in a long time. You know, Donald Trump is an offense kind of guy.

BAIER: Yes, Monica, I heard of a few people say, you know, the first 25 minutes were really strong for Donald Trump, but, unfortunately, the debate was 90 minutes.

MONICA CROWLEY, WASHINGTON TIMES: Yes, and my biggest complaint about his performance, which I thought was fine because he cleared a lower bar, which is presenting himself as a reasonable person and a plausible president. He cleared that. And that in itself constitutes a win for somebody who has never done this before.

But my biggest complaint was that throughout this campaign, or at least for the last two months, Donald Trump has done the right thing in making his campaign not about himself, Bret, but about America, talking about the American people and how he's going to restore America to economic strength and military greatness. And what he did last night was he kept falling for the bait. She kept baiting him. And he turned it into a commentary about his businesses, his properties, his hotels. He rescued him himself on a number of occasions, but I think it was a lot of lost time on his part where he could have been talking about that he's really doing this for the American people and for the country.

BAIER: You know, Caitlin, he spoke the most, about 65 percent of this debate, and when the debate is about him, Clinton is probably doing better.

CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS, REALCLEARPOLITICS: Right. We've seen that throughout the course of the campaign. Whoever's in the spotlight that week, they tend to be doing worse in the polls. And so what I thought was interesting, I was actually kind of surprised how much time he took and how much time he took to defend himself instead of moving on.

To your point earlier, he missed a lot of opportunities to change the course of the debate back to what he's comfortable talking about. He missed lots of opportunities to go after her on the foundation, on immigration, on Benghazi. He said he wasn't asked about it but this was a format in which there was no opportunity to go head to head. We didn't see that in the primary.

And I think the preparation strategies really showed last night. The idea that he was not really -- didn't seem prepared to take these attacks and move on, I think, was apparent.

BAIER: Yes. Phil, the Trump campaign points to these online polls, and there's a ton of them. We know this from the primary debates. And they're click polls, but the most significant I guess number was TIME had 53-47 Trump won, 1.4 million votes. But supporters can flock to there and influence those polls. The scientific poll from CNN had Clinton winning. But the perception about how Middle America looks at it, to Bill's point, and how much it affects this race, I think is yet to be seen.

PHILIP BUMP, WASHINGTON POST: That's exactly right. I mean, one thing we're going have to wait for, and we're all chomping at the bit, the point that was made earlier, we're all junkies for this stuff. We want to see polls right now that showed exactly what happened last night. We're going to have to wait a couple days for that to happen.

BAIER: Even five days, right?

BUMP: Yes, exactly. Normally polls are run over the weekend as well. So we may have to wait until next week. But we'll see. They tend to rush these things.

You know, yes, those online polls, that TIME poll you referenced, right above it, it says this isn't a scientific poll. People really latch onto this because there was a lot of talk that Donald Trump didn't do well, that Hillary Clinton won the debate, so people really seized on this including folks in the Trump campaign. So we're going to have to wait and see. Yes, there's a lot of anecdotal evidence that goes one way or the other, but we don't really have anything that shows us what happened.

BAIER: All right, Bill, the New York Post had a story about how Donald Trump won over some Democrats and undecided voters in a bar in Pennsylvania. And Ken Reid is a 35-year-old registered Democrat, small businessman. He's quoted in the piece saying, "By the end of the debate Clinton never said a thing to persuade me that she had anything to offer me or my family or my community. I have to say Trump has the edge this evening. He came out swinging but also talked about specifics on jobs and the economy."

MCGURN: Right. I think it points to the two very different kinds of campaigns. Mrs. Clinton is a policy wonk. That's what she offered last night. She was in command of her different policies.

Donald Trump isn't running on policy finesse. He's running on the idea that America is not great anymore. He's going to make it great again. And he's running against political correctness and against Washington. So I don't think you're ever going to get the details but this is the question I wonder. If you're sitting in Dubuque, if you're not Bill McGurn watching with the Twitter accounts and people e-mailing you, if you're just sitting there in your living room with your spouse and someone says, I'm concerned, the people that are worried about their jobs, worried about the economy, that might resonate.

BAIER: What about this day after and dealing with the one question about the woman that he had called fat from Miss Universe, and then dealing with it this morning on "Fox & Friends." I don't even think it was a direct question. He kind of brought it up. How -- is that winning with women?

CROWLEY: He has a tendency that doesn't work in his favor. It's not helpful when he extends the life of a story that is not helpful to him. And I think in that situation, he should not have fallen for her bait. Clearly at the end of the debate she had that talking point prepared about women. And since Lester Holt didn't bring it up and he didn't hit her with it, she felt she needed to interject it.

And it was a problem because he felt then that he had to address that instead of focusing on the larger picture, which is that 70 percent of the American people believe the country is on the wrong track. This is a change election. Donald Trump is the change agent. She is running as the status quo incumbent, the global elitist, which is being roundly rejected by voters across the west. Instead of addressing those issues directly, which he did to during --

BAIER: Definitely in the first 25 minutes.

CROWLEY: Absolutely. But I think too often he went down the rabbit hole. And I think in the next two debates he will probably avoid doing that.

BAIER: Caitlin, you know, he said at the end of the debate, I'm not going to mention something I was going to mention, but by not saying it, he essentially said it, about the Clinton's --

HUEY-BURNS: Exactly. He made the point that he was trying to make, and the campaign is saying that he might bring things up in the next forum. Remember the next format is a town hall kind of format, which could actually sometimes work in his favor because he feeds off crowds. But it's also not the kind of format where he can really attack her on those certain things. It's a different kind of environment.

BAIER: We shall see.

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