'This Week' Transcript: Sen. Jeff Sessions, Leon Panetta, and Evan McMullin

Rush transcript for "This Week" on August 14, 2016.

ByABC News
August 14, 2016, 9:47 AM

— -- THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT FOR 'THIS WEEK' ON August 14, 2016 and it will be updated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Starting right now on ABC's THIS WEEK WITH GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, on the ropes -- after another off message week for Donald Trump...


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Barack Obama is the founder of ISIS.

Nothing you can do, folks, although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don't know.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: More Republicans now breaking from their nominee.


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I just cannot support Donald Trump.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And with new polls showing Clinton pulling away in key swing states, even Trump himself now asking, can he still win?


TRUMP: It's either going to work or I'm going to, you know, I'm going to have a very, very nice long vacation.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So is the race now Hillary Clinton's to lose?

We'll ask top foreign policy advisers to both campaigns.

Plus, after months of searching, has the "never Trump" movement found its man?

Does this former CIA agent stand a chance against Trump and Clinton?

From ABC News, it's THIS WEEK.

Here now, co-anchor Martha Raddatz.


We're only halfway through August and it's fair to say the GOP presidential nominee, Donald Trump, is in a full summer slide.

"Time" magazine went so far as calling it a "meltdown." And this morning, "The New York Times" reports that Mr. Trump's advisers believe he is out of time to right his campaign.

And our latest ABC News presidential race ratings show a grim picture for Trump, based on voting history and the latest head-to-head polling, the electoral map now strongly favors Clinton, with 22 states either solid or leaning Democratic, which would give her 275 electoral votes if the election were held today, enough to win the White House.

And while ordinarily we'd say it's just August, at some point, the question becomes all too real -- has Trump's campaign passed the point of no return?


RADDATZ (voice-over): At the heart of Donald Trump's slide, his inability to stay on message. Trump started the week with a focus on the economy.

TRUMP: I want to jump-start America and it can be done and it won't even be that hard.

RADDATZ: But then this.

TRUMP: If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks.


TRUMP: Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don't know.

RADDATZ: And this.

TRUMP: He is the founder of ISIS. He's the founder of ISIS, OK?

He's the founder.

RADDATZ: And suddenly, Trump's week was again overshadowed by his shoot from the lip style. Trump blamed the media, saying his ISIS comments were merely sarcastic. But then, once again, went off message.

TRUMP: Obviously, I'm being sarcastic. Then -- then -- but not that sarcastic, to be honest with you.

RADDATZ: Whether you call them gaffes or jokes, the cumulative effect is now causing panic both inside and outside his campaign. Maine's Susan Collins becoming the latest senator to say she can't vote for Trump and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warning that Republican chances of keeping the Senate are very dicey.

Even Trump admits he's struggling.

TRUMP: We need help in Ohio. We're very close in Ohio. Ohio is very close, but we need help.

I think we're going to do very well in Pennsylvania. I was a little surprised to see a 10 point gap.

RADDATZ: The latest battleground polls show that gap clearly -- Clinton leading by 13 points in Virginia, 11 in Pennsylvania, 9 in North Carolina and by 5 in Ohio and Florida.

And as Trump's path to the nomination shrinks, Clinton's campaign is now trying to put traditionally red states in play. In Georgia, in Arizona and even in Utah, where Mormon voters are turned off by Trump, which makes it all the more perplexing that Trump spent last night campaigning in a solidly blue state.

TRUMP: You know, we're making a big move for the sort of Connecticut, just so you understand.


RADDATZ: Let's bring in Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama.

He was the first senator to endorse Trump and is now a top adviser with the Trump campaign.

Good morning, Senator Sessions.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), ALABAMA: Good morning, Martha.

RADDATZ: It's good to see you.

Let's start with that story in "The New York Times" based on interviews, they say, with 20 Republicans close to Mr. Trump, says, "Mr. Trump's advisers, who once hoped he would transform himself from political showman into a plausible American president now increasingly concede that Mr. Trump may be beyond coaching." And as we said, they added nearly out -- he is nearly out of time to right his campaign.

He Tweeted this morning, "The failing "New York Times," which never spoke to me, keeps saying that I am saying to advisers that I will change faults. I am who I am. Never said."

He says this story is fiction.

Do you believe it's fiction?

SESSIONS: Well, Martha, you've had this whole morning talking about nothing but negative on the Trump campaign. So this is the kind of thing that does build on itself and has, I think, made mountains out of molehills.

His issues and his strength are the fundamental challenges that America faces. Sixty-eight percent of the people in this country say we are on the wrong track. But...

RADDATZ: So do you think that story is fiction, in "The New York Times?"

SESSIONS: I -- I don't know about that story. I have no -- I have not read it.

What I would say to you is this campaign is not over. The American people want change. They know we're on the right track -- the wrong track. The American -- I believe the American people are right in that regard. And I think Donald Trump, when he's talking about trade, national security, protecting us from immigration and violence and terrorism, those kind of things he's correct on.

Now, you want to change the subject, I know.

RADDATZ: I want to go back to what...

SESSIONS: But I want to tell you...

RADDATZ: I want to go back to...

SESSIONS: -- why I think...

RADDATZ: -- my original question.

SESSIONS: -- I think he can still win and will have a very good chance of winning. And that's because the issues are what the American people believe in and he's right and they are right.

RADDATZ: And I do want to talk about the issues...


RADDATZ: -- but I want to go back to this conflict that's being -- being reported -- in the campaign.

Trump, in his own words, in a "Time" magazine interview, sounds conflicted himself. He said, "I am listening to so-called experts to ease up the rhetoric and so far, I like the way I ran the primaries better," adding, "but I'm now listening to people that are telling me to be easier, to be nice, be softer. That's OK and I'm doing that. Personally, I don't know if that is what the country wants."is that a man you feel confident will stay on message?

SESSIONS: Well, I think he's wrestling correctly there. He was so exacerbate. He had a lot of fun in the primaries. He was really charging away. And he enjoyed that.

But it is a different thing to run a presidential election. You're dealing even with a different constituency. And so he's got to wrestle in his own heart, how does he communicate who he is, what he believes, the change he thinks he can bring to America, why what he's doing is fulfilling the desires of the American people. And so I -- I think there's no doubt. He had a good bump after his convention. She's had a long and sustained bump after her convention and he does need to communicate -- and I think he can -- more effectively.

RADDATZ: And stay on message?

SESSIONS: Well, I think that's important, yes.

RADDATZ: Look -- let's take a look at these new polls out this week that we mentioned. They show Clinton ahead in those battleground states, 11 up in Pennsylvania, five in Ohio, five in Florida -- states he must win.

Back in May, when I spoke to you, you cited polls showing he was ahead in Ohio by four, neck and neck in Pennsylvania.

What happened?

SESSIONS: Well, it has -- she got a good bump out of her convention and -- and this kind of negative press coverage of things that are not that significant really have impacted his numbers.

But he's still very competitive in Ohio. It's been 12 years since a Republican has carried Ohio. One poll recently had him up in Iowa. Republicans haven't won Iowa in years.

A "Los Angeles Times" poll, I think, has it virtually neck and neck, within the margin of error nationwide.

So I don't know that this is a -- these -- these numbers are also accurate.

RADDATZ: But let's listen to what Mr. Trump said on Friday about the state of Pennsylvania.


TRUMP: The only way we can lose, in my opinion, I really mean this, Pennsylvania, is if cheating goes on. I really believe it.


SESSIONS: Well, look, Pennsylvania, is a state that Donald Trump and his campaign believe they can win. This poll shows an erosion of support there. But he's been neck and neck and Republicans haven't won Pennsylvania in many, many years. So he's going after Pennsylvania. He believes he can win Pennsylvania. And he's going to work at it.

RADDATZ: Well, but let -- let's talk about his accusations of cheating. The Trump campaign is also asking for volunteers to be Trump election observers.

Do you agree there could be cheating?

SESSIONS: Well, there's cheating in every election. And every party goes out in advance of the election and they call on poll watchers and those kind of things to make sure that they're not cheated out of an election.

And that just really helps create integrity in the system. So, yes, I think he'll be (INAUDIBLE)...

RADDATZ: I -- I think a study of elections from 2000 to 2014...

SESSIONS: I think too much has been made out of that comment.

RADDATZ: You -- you think...

SESSIONS: I think he believes -- what he was saying is, it's going to be a very close election. He believes he's going to win Pennsylvania.

RADDATZ: All right, the Senate majority leader, as you've heard, Mitch McConnell, said this week that the chances that Republicans will keep the Senate are very dicey.

SESSIONS: Well, it's going to be a battle, there's no doubt about it. We are so exposed. We have about three times as many Republicans up as Democrats. And so it's going to be a battle.

But we've got some great candidates. I'm thinking like Rob Portman is -- is leading. We've got other great candidates like Pat Toomey and others that are out there working every day and they're skilled leaders.

And I think, in the end, we'll be successful.

RADDATZ: But do you think your Senate colleagues in very competitive races should be embracing Trump or moving away from him?

SESSIONS: I think the Republican Party needs to listen to what Donald Trump's been saying. He's talking to the American people what they care about. These trade deals have not worked. I have supported them, Martha, in the past. I've looked at the results of them. They have not produced anything like promised. We're bringing in more workers than we have jobs for. Wages have declined by $4,000 per median -- median income has declined $4,000 since 2000.

And so I guess what I'm saying to you is our party, our leadership needs to be more sensitive to concerns of the people who are saying we're on the right track and if we can get more to the Trump message and work together better, it will benefit both Trump and the Republican candidates.

RADDATZ: And let's talk about tomorrow, if we can. Donald Trump is giving a big speech, which he says is on radical Islamic terrorism and will outline a plan. What's new in that plan?

SESSIONS: Well, he's going to talk about a number of things. He's going to talk about how we restore credibility with our allies and friends in that region who also are hostile to and resist this kind of terrorism. He's going to talk about how you target your enemies and work with your friends. You don't overreach and destabilize countries like the Obama/Clinton administration has done.

The pulling out of all the troops out of Iraq really created ISIS, that's what he's been talking about.

It did. And the disorder in Syria has led to 4 million displaced persons, maybe 300,000-plus killed. That was an Obama disorder that was caused there. You have got Libya -- Hillary Clinton prevailed over Secretary of Defense Gates over the Defense Department. Destabilized Libya, now we've got a million refugees there. Benghazi arose out of that.

We have got 8,000 ISIS people in Libya.

RADDATZ: So, lots of specifics tomorrow?

SESSIONS: Yes, he'll talk about those things.

RADDATZ: OK, thank you very much, Senator Sessions for joining us.

We turn now to the Clinton campaign and another collection of embarrassing emails releasedthis week. Republicans say they show improper relations between the Clinton Foundation and Clinton's top aides at the State Department.

The Clinton campaign and the State Department deny any wrong doing.

I spoke earlier to former Defense Secretary and CIA Director Leon Panetta, who has endorsed Hillary Clinton and started our conversation with accusations based on those email, that a Clinton Foundation senior executive was asking top aides at the State Department for favors.

LEON PANETTA, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: You know what -- that's that something obviously will continue the be looked at. But staff people trying to make connections in Washington is a pretty prevalent behavior by most people in Washington.

RADDATZ: You don't see anything wrong with a billionaire businessman donating to the Foundation and then asking Clinton's senior State Department aides for favors?

PANETTA: Well, I think the question is, whether anything was done in return for that kind of donation. And as far as I know, nobody's been able to pin down that that actually happened.

RADDATZ: You know, her campaign implied this week it is all part of a right-wing conspiracy or a load of bull as Bill Clinton said Friday. Do you think there is a conspiracy against her?

PANETTA: No, I think it's politics. It's been politics for a long time. And, you know, opposing parties always going to make attacks. And you'll make attacks on the other party. That's part of the nature of the game. And I think they've been through it a lot.

But on the other hand, I have always found both of them to be first and foremost committed to the country and doing what's right for the country.

RADDATZ: And yet, these latest emails -- and there were more this week that hadn't been turned over to the State Department, play further into this notion that Americans don't trust her. You have known the Clintons for decades. Have you ever or would you like to sit down with them and say, look, this looks bad. There's got to be a different way to handle it?

PANETTA: Well, I think it's important for them to acknowledge the mistakes that have been made and to then move on.

But I would -- I would frankly hope that the candidates would all focus on the issues that arefacing the American people as we face another term for president of the United States. That's really what this debate ought to be all about, not about emails or some of the screwed up statements Trump has made. I think we ought to be focusing on the issues.

RADDATZ: But Secretary Panetta, that is an issue, those emails are an issue. You heard what FBI Director Comey said, she was extremely careless.

PANETTA: Well, at the same time, they found no basis for any kind of action. And so, you know, it's been investigated, no action has been taken by the Justice Department, and I really do think it's time for the candidates and for the American people to move on and talk about the real issues that are going to affect us as we face the future.

RADDATZ: Let's talk about the DNC hack. As you know, Russia may be to blame for that. What do you think the appropriate response to Russia should be if they are, indeed, guilty of that?

PANETTA; Well, I think it's outrageous that Russia would try to interfere with American politics in that fashion. And I -- thought it was outrageous that Donald Trump was urging the Russians to conduct that kind of espionage and try to take a position with regards to our election.

RADDATZ: And what should we do?

There are appropriate ways to send a message to the Russians that we will not tolerate that kind of behavior.

RADDATZ: Let's talk about Trump's comments that President Obama and Secretary Clinton are founders of ISIS. You know, he later said he was being sarcastic. But many Republicans think that the failure to keep troops in Iraq contributed to the rise of ISIS, and you, in your 2014 book, said you clashed with the White House over the issue saying those on our side of the debate viewed the White House as so eager to rid its of Iraq that it was willing to withdraw. To this day, I believe that a small, focused U.S. troop presence in Iraq could have effectively advised the Iraqi military on how the deal al Qaeda's resurgence.

Was Secretary Clinton on your side of the debate? And should she have pushed harder tokeep the troops there?

PANETTA: Well, I think we all made our positions clear. But, look, mistakes have been made in the war against terrorism going back to the 80s. Ronald Reagan when he sent the marines to Lebanon and 241 were killed by a bomb. You could -- if you were Donald Trump, you could label as father of violent terrorism.

I think what would be appropriate is for Donald Trump, instead of making an outrageous claim that somehow President Obama is the father of ISIS, which is a lie, he ought to present what strategy he would implement to defeat ISIS. Instead, he says he has a secret plan. And nobody knows what that plan is all about. That's what he ought to be debating.

RADDATZ: Secretary Panetta, I want to end with this, Hillary Clinton's unfavorability numbers are averaging 53 percent, or as the Washington Post put it, if it weren't for Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton would be the most disliked major party presidential nominee in recent American history. If Hillary Clinton wins, how do you see her bringing this country together and getting anything done?

PANETTA: Martha, my experience, having worked under nine presidents, I think the responsibility of a president when they walk into the Oval Office is to earn the trust of the American people. And they earn the trust of the American people by what they do as president.

You know, everything occurs in terms of a political campaign. There are attacks and counterattacks. And it's a wonder, frankly, that the American people you know can look at any of these candidates and want to support them. We have been through this in the past.

But ultimately, when you do elect somebody to be president of the United States, it is then and then only, frankly, that that president begins to earn the trust of the American people. And that's why I believe that Secretary Clinton, because of her judgment, because of her experience, because of her knowledge about world affairs and the issues we confront, that she will bring that kind of leadership to the presidency.

And she ultimately will earn that trust by virtue of what she does not what she says.

RADDATZ: Thanks very much for joining us, Secretary Panetta.

PANETTA: Thank you, Martha.

RADDATZ: And coming up, more on the tough week for the Trump campaign with those Republican officials jumping ship. But where can conservatives turn? I'll talk to the new independent candidate jumping on to the national stage. What are his chances? Where does he stand?

Plus, that critical shift in the electoral map. What does it mean for Trump's chances in November? Our powerhouse roundtable brings their forecasts.



BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS HOST: Is there anyone on stage -- and can I see hands -- who is unwilling tonight to pledge your support to the eventual nominee of the Republican Party?

Raise your hand now if you won't make that pledge tonight.

Mr. Trump.


RADDATZ: Donald Trump one year ago refusing to pledge his support for the Republican nominee. And now it's Trump himself facing Republican defectors, who say they'll never vote for him.

But where do they turn?

I'll go one on one with the new independent candidate who's seeking their support -- next.



SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: If you love our country and love your children as much as I know that you do, stand and speak and vote your conscience, vote for candidates up and down the ticket, who you trust to defend our freedom and to be faithful to the Constitution.


RADDATZ: Parting words from Senator Ted Cruz to the RNC; to Donald Trump and his campaign, it was an infuriating shot across the bow. But to the conservatives who still can't stomach the GOP nominee and will never vote for Hillary Clinton, it was a rallying cry. And as their ranks grew this week, a new candidate declared that he's the best alternative.


TRUMP: Thank you very much. I love you all.

RADDATZ (voice-over): The Never Trump movement picked up steam during the primaries. But despite the steady drumbeat of Trump critics…


CRUICKSHANK: This man is a pathological liar.

RADDATZ (voice-over): -- no alternative to Trump ever emerged in Cleveland, as he easily took the GOP nomination.

TRUMP: I will win for you.

RADDATZ: But with unforced errors piling up in the weeks since, the trickle of Trump defectors has become a steady stream, most still dissatisfied with the alternatives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not going to support Hillary. But you know, in America, we have the right to write somebody in or skip the vote. That's what it's looking like for me today.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I have concluded that there is not going to be a new Donald Trump, that he's incapable of saying he's sorry.

RADDATZ (voice-over): With some Republicans searching for someone, anyone to throw their support behind, this week a virtual unknown threw his hat in the ring.


RADDATZ (voice-over): Forty-year-old Evan McMullin on Monday launched his long-shot independent bid for president.

MCMULLIN: There is another choice.

RADDATZ (voice-over): Born in Utah, serving a Mormon mission in Brazil, the BYU graduate has never run for office, instead going undercover for the CIA after 9/11, working secret counterterrorism operations in conflict zones around the world.

He later earned his MBA at Wharton and worked at Goldman Sachs before heading to Washington in 2013 as a Republican staffer on Capitol Hill.


RADDATZ: And Evan McMullin joins us now.

Welcome and good morning to you.

MCMULLIN: Thank you. Good to be here.

RADDATZ: You have a very impressive bio. But you, as we said, are a complete unknown.

So why do you think you would make a better president than a former secretary of state and a billionaire businessman?

MCMULLIN: Well, let me just say that I'm the only candidate in this race now that has any firsthand experience fighting terrorism. And both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, I think, have proven in different ways that they're unprepared for that challenge.

That's one of many reasons. But we can talk about some of the others as we talk, I think.

RADDATZ: Do you think you have a prayer of winning?

MCMULLIN: We do. We absolutely do. Now I fully acknowledge that it would have been much better had someone else with national name ID gotten into this race six months ago.

But, as I waited and as millions of Americans waited for that to happen, it became clear at this -- at this last stage of the race, the general election, that if somebody didn't make a move soon, that all hope would be lost.

And so consulting with people who had been involved in this effort for quite some time, I decided that I would do it, that I would go forward.

RADDATZ: You said you think Trump would lose whether you're in the race or not.

MCMULLIN: Oh, certainly. Certainly.

RADDATZ: But with you in the race, doesn't it make it more likely that Hillary Clinton will win?

MCMULLIN: It's so likely that Donald Trump will lose, it doesn’t -- my entrance into the race doesn't affect that. I've been in this race for less than a week. I entered at a time when he was down by 10 percent. You pointed out just recently that polls are showing in key states that he's doing even worse than that.

He's not a credible candidate. And that is --

RADDATZ: You heard Jeff Sessions talk about he thinks he can win.

MCMULLIN: Well, Jeff is on the Trump team. I understand that. But it's clear, the numbers, the fact that Donald Trump can't control what he says. He's never had to control what he says. Never in life has he had to do that. It's unrealistic to expect him to do that now.

He's the wrong person. He's dividing this country. We need somebody who will bring this country together. I firmly believe that the time has come in this country for a new generation of leadership. And that certainly is not Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton.

RADDATZ: You're running the campaign out of Utah, a state that's quite extraordinary. It's now leaning Republican instead of solid Republican, which it has been since 1964.

But, Utahns, particularly Mormons, don't seem to like Donald Trump. They voted overwhelmingly for Ted Cruz in the primaries.

What's going on in Utah?

And how do you see that state leaning?

MCMULLIN: Well, I think Utahns -- and I won't speak for all Utahns -- but my sense is that they have real issues with Donald Trump's lack of decency, with his bigotry, the way he's divided this country. That's not the Utahn way. I think they have issues with his attacks on religious minorities. That's something that --


RADDATZ: What are your -- what are your issues with Hillary Clinton?

MCMULLIN: Look, 82 percent of Americans -- and I just checked this last night. According to Gallup, it's 82 percent find that we are on the wrong track as a country. That's a -- that's an over 10 percent jump in just six weeks or so.

People are really, really frustrated. Both of these candidates are the least popular in at least three decades of major party candidates. That's what's happening in this country. A change is needed. A change is needed from both of these candidates.

On Hillary Clinton's side, she believes she's unaccountable to the American people. She favors these old ideas about government, these -- these centralized, top down solutions from Washington that keep insiders in the know and give them influence but regular Americans have no voice.

RADDATZ: They're -- there are also some other alternatives for voters.


RADDATZ: Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party, Jill Stein, the Green Party.

Why -- why not just leave it at that?

MCMULLIN: Well, the Green Party is -- is essentially a single party -- a single issue party. I don't think that's what this country needs. We need some -- we need a -- a leader who understands the full scope -- security, economy, civil rights, all of these things. That's what we need.

As far as Gary Johnson is concerned, he is not a credible person on foreign policy. We need somebody like that. He doesn't understand religious liberty. I have some other concerns about his suitability and reliability in, you know, for the presidency. I just don't think he's a credible option.

RADDATZ: OK, thank you very much for joining us and good luck to you.

MCMULLIN: Thank you.

RADDATZ: See you soon.


And up next, Trump's slide in key swing states, a string of new controversial statements and reports of a campaign unable to control its candidate -- is Trump digging himself a hole he can't climb out of by November?

While Clinton skates by without enough scrutiny from the press.

The Powerhouse Roundtable on all that and more, next.



REINCE PRIEBUS, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Don't believe the garbage you read. Let me tell you something, Donald Trump, the Republican Party, all of you, we're going to put him in the White House and save this country together.


RADDATZ: Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus making a surprise appearance with Donald Trump on the campaign trail Friday, painting a picture of GOP unity.

Instead, more panic this week, as Trump's numbers ignited anxiety among down ballot Republicans.

Our Powerhouse Roundtable on that and more, next.



BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Is there anyone on stage -- and can I see hands -- who is unwilling tonight to pledge your support to the eventual nominee of the Republican Party?

Raise your hand now if you won't make that pledge tonight.

BAIER: Mr. Trump.


BAIER: So...


RADDATZ: Donald Trump one year ago, refusing to pledge his support...


RADDATZ: OK, Donald Trump last night was railing against the media in a rally in Connecticut. He followed that up with a Tweet this morning, writing, "If the disgusting and corrupt media covered me honestly and didn't put false meaning into the words I say, I would be beating Hillary by 20 percent."

Full force, Trump is now running against the media, trying to delegitimize the press, as it covers him, and with headlines like these. "It Is Easy To See Why," "Inside the Failing Mission to Tame Trump's Tongue," "Has Donald Trump Hit Bottom?" "RNC Considers Cutting Cash to Trump,"

Let's discuss with our Powerhouse Roundtable, ABC News chief White House correspondent, Jonathan Karl; ESPN's senior writer and ABC News contributor, L.Z. Granderson; "USA Today's" senior political reporter, Heidi Przybyla; and "National Review" editor Rich Lowry; all members of the media.

So let's...


RADDATZ: -- let's get right...


RADDATZ: Well, you know, OK. You can try. You can try.

But I want to very seriously take this on. You saw those headlines. You see the coverage. It truly is focusing on Donald Trump this week.

So is there, L.Z., let me start with you how on this one, is there legitimacy to what Donald Trump is saying?

L.Z. GRANDERSON, ESPN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so as you mentioned before, (INAUDIBLE) worked for ABC, I worked for ESPN as well. And the "blame the media" technique is something athletes use as well when there's news out there about them that is true that they don't like and they don’t like the focus -- it being on there.

A lot of the times (INAUDIBLE) focuses on them so much is because they didn't handle their initial story properly. And that's what happened to Donald Trump. Whatever the story happens to be, instead of saying, I made a mistake, let's moved on, he added fuel to that fire that made it worse. So I think the coverage has been on him. But it's because of his actions that it's stayed on him.

JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: But let's be honest. He does face a hostile news media. And that's not surprising when you have a candidate who bans news organizations from his events, a candidate who calls the press "despicable and disgusting," a candidate who, in every single stump speech I've ever seen has lashed out at the press. So it's not surprising.

But look, Donald Trump's problems are not because of media coverage. I have talked to in the past week people that are very much on the Trump train, advisers outside the campaign, even some advisers inside the campaign, who think that it's almost as if Donald Trump is trying to lose. There is absolute frustration in his inability to get on message and to win a race that many of them believe is eminently winnable.

RADDATZ: So Heidi, I want to go back to the media again and obviously from what Jon says, he's trying to make a turn, to change the subject, to blame the media in some ways.

But is it working?

Is this a strategy that --


HEIDI PRZYBYLA, "USA TODAY": Well, he's done that --

RADDATZ: -- successful?

PRZYBYLA: -- every point, Martha, where his strategy or his off-the-cuff remark has backfired. And I think in this case --

RADDATZ: You might say it worked in the primaries.

PRZYBYLA: -- well, let's take the ISIS example. I really do not think he was saying this sarcastically since he said it so many times over and over again. I think in calling the president the founder of ISIS, he was continuing a narrative that's he's begun frankly years ago in 2011, when he began and was very prominent in the birther movement.

And I think then his real -- his advisers got to him and said, this is not such a great idea. And he got up in the morning and tweeted out and said, well, I meant it sarcastically but not really.

And so we, as the media, we need the take what you say, report it and put the context in. And I think that's what we have done.

At the same time, I agree with Jon that, with any candidate -- and especially with this candidate -- there is a pile-on at this point, where it looks like he's stumbling.

RADDATZ: And so Secretary Clinton, is she getting a free ride here?

And obviously we're all addressing the issues of the e-mails?

RICH LOWRY, EDITOR, "NATIONAL REVIEW": Right. But in any other week, in any other media environment, those e-mails would have been the dominant story. They spoke to real corruption, where her aides at the State Department were extremely responsive to a guy at The Clinton Foundation, who was tending to the needs of donors.

But the problem is there's this perverse symbiotic relationship between the media and the Trump campaign. The media itself evidently wants to destroy him. And he' is perfectly happy to give them the material to do it and it's -- and because, in some ways, he's not running a presidential campaign. He's going to rally to rally. And he really wants to entertain people, which means you have to say things different. You have to say things off the cuff.

And I think part of him, even though he chafes at the coverage, says it's unfair, enjoys the fact that he is getting more press attention than he's ever gotten in his life.

RADDATZ: OK, so let's go back to those two covers this week. He is getting more press attention there. He's on the cover of two magazines. "Time" magazine calling it "Trump's Meltdown." "The New Yorker" with Trump getting rained on, very clever covers.

But, Jon, give us, give us your read on what happened this week and him getting off-message and, obviously, we tried to push Jeff Sessions on that and he seemed to say that he was getting a little off message there.

How do you rein him in?

KARL: The frustration with those who want him to win desperately want him to get back on message, is that he has managed to overshadow what they see as Hillary Clinton's real vulnerabilities, the stories of the e-mails this week.

But there's this sense -- who see some Republicans saying that the RNC should simply cut him off and focus on the Senate and House races, governors' races, focus down ballot.

The RNC cannot do that right now. And you talk to senior people at the RNC. They say that their fate is tied to Trump. First of all, they need him as a moneymaker. They need him to raise money.

And they also believe that if Trump loses huge, if he really goes down in a spiral, loses by double digits, that he brings everybody with him, that they lose the Senate, they lose big in the House, they lose governorships.

So the RNC may make a decision -- you know, I'm told, you know, in October to cut him off if they're -- if he's still way down. But at this point, their fate, as frustrated as they are, their fate is tied to Donald Trump.

LOWRY: They also don't want to be blamed. They don't want Donald Trump if he loses to stand up on election night and say, you know what, Reince Priebus stabbed me in the back. So everything Jonathan said is absolutely correct. But that's also another factor.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He'll still do that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Or he'll blame Mike Pence and the media.

RADDATZ: And has Trump -- back to the general election -- has Trump hit a ceiling?

PRZYBYLA: That is where we may be going with this, Martha. I'm going to give this a few more rounds of polling for these numbers to really harden and to believe that they've hardened.

But I think what we saw here is Trump came out of what was not probably historically the most successful convention. The Democratic convention did get a lot of buzz. So she got a bigger bump. So his opportunity then this week, for example, was to roll out his economic agenda and to stay on message. And he didn't do that.

He got sidetracked by the Second Amendment comments, by the ISIS comments and so on. Now I think that fraction of the population, those moderate Republicans and independent voters who may have given him more attention post-convention and during the convention, those attitudes now are starting to harden a bit. And I think we are getting closer to seeing what his ceiling is.

That said, I want to give a few more weeks of polling and I want to see the first debate.

GRANDERSON: I think his ceiling, though, is basically a demographic that we can easily identify, which is how many heterosexual white men without college education are there in the country?

Because for the most part, that's where his message has been targeting towards. He may get some other outside groups that are --

KARL: Well, he'll get a few other votes.


GRANDERSON: But if you bring in Omarosa, you aren't serious about trying to get the black vote, right?

I mean that's not helping your policy.

KARL: But here's the thing: Trump --

RADDATZ: And I want to move to Hillary Clinton here because we're not going to talk about Trump the entire time.

KARL: But the one thing he has going for him is the issue set. Look, he is the change candidate in a time when voters want change. Hillary Clinton is essentially the status quo candidate, the issues that should favor Trump. The problem is that he's been able to get so far off.


LOWRY: He's not losing on issues. He's losing on demeanor.

KARL: Yes.

RADDATZ: OK. And let's talk about Hillary Clinton's week. Those e-mails, The Clinton Foundation reaching out to the State Department. They say no meeting occurred.

Will this stick?

Will this come back again -- Jon.

KARL: The question is whether or not Trump can effectively keep the focus on those issues and not go off in some other direction.

These are serious issues. She didn't get -- you heard Panetta, you know, when you pressed him on the emails. Well, she didn't get indicted. OK.

I mean, is that the bar?

The FBI director said she was extremely careless. More e-mails are coming out. The foundation issues at the very least raise conflict of interest issues. But the question is whether or not Trump can effectively keep the message on Hillary.

RADDATZ: Can he do it?

LOWRY: That's the big question. And so far, he's shown no ability to do it. And I just thought these e-mails are so telling because what we heard from The Clinton Foundation is, oh, all these big donors, they chip in to The Clinton Foundation because it's like giving to the Red Cross or Amnesty International.

No, there's this enormous significant advantage of political influence. You would have someone emailing on your behalf to State Department employees, asking for meetings and other favors. And that's just wildly inappropriate by any measure.

RADDATZ: OK. We are going to end. But we're going to start with you, Rich Lowry, because we asked you all to do a little homework. We've done this before.

If the election were held today, what would the map look like?

Let's go around and see.

LOWRY: Right this minute -- and it can change, obviously -- right this minute, it would be a complete debacle for Donald Trump. The only swing state I have him winning is Iowa. You know, the cleanest path for him would be holding the Romney states, winning Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. He would lose all of those and bleed some red states, because if Hillary is winning by eight, nine points nationally, states like Georgia and North Carolina come into play. So it would be a terrible map for him now.


Heidi, how about your homework?

PRZYBYLA: So, again, operative word is "today." I think these polls --


PRZYBYLA: -- OK, today, looking at my map, I'm going to take the Obama 2012 map and then add in North Carolina, which he took in 2009, as well as Indiana where I think Hillary Clinton could be helped by a popular former governor, Evan Bayh, running. I also think he might pick up the Warren Buffett. I'm not going to steal this from Jon.



RADDATZ: Way to go, Heidi.

PRZYBYLA: -- in Nebraska. But if you take -- if you basically double Obama's four-point lead to eight points, I think she can also squeak by in Georgia.


GRANDERSON: So I was not willing to hand over Georgia just yet. As someone who used to live in Atlanta and report in Atlanta, I still know there's Atlanta and then there's the rest of Georgia. So I still think the rest of Georgia's going to go for Trump. Same thing with Utah. I know those numbers have gone back and forth, at least (INAUDIBLE) leaning Republican.

I lived in Provo for a little bit. I can tell you there --

RADDATZ: Utah, Provo, Utah.

GRANDERSON: Yes, yes. So, I'm telling you they're not going to go blue as of yet, but everything else to me is again what I said earlier. I look for the trail of the white male voters and that's what the map has rendered to Trump at.

RADDATZ: OK. Let's remember what you did last time. You had him...

KARL: In the Sunday right after the conventions, I had it coming to 269-269, tied for both. Remember, this is if the election were now. He's now had three of the worst we have seen in the history of Presidential politics. I now have Trump losing, if it were held today, all of those swing states. And I even have Hillary Clinton winning what we call Obama-ha, that one district, the second congressional district of Nebraska, because Warren Buffett has promised to drive voters to the polls in that district. Obama won that district in 2008.

So -- but this is if the election were held now. Obviously a lot can change.

RADDATZ: That's exactly right. And we won't be voting until November. Thank you, guys.

When we come back, we turn to Trump supporters after months of their candidate's ups and downs. His core constituents still stand by him. What is driving that devotion? One explanation from a provocative new book. The author joins us live.



LOU MAVRAKIS, MAYOR, MONESSEN, PA: He's been saying that we're going bring steel back. We're going to bring coal back. Where do you think you're at, Martha? You're in the heart of where steel and coal is born.

RADDATZ: And you really think Donald Trump can bring that back?

MAVRAKIS: Do I think Hillary Clinton can do something for us? I don't think any one of them can do anything for us. But he's saying what I want to hear, and what everybody else around here wants to hear.


RADDATZ: That was Lou Mavrakis, the Democratic mayor of Monessen, Pennsylvania, a city in the state's southwestern corner, once home to roaring steel mills that have been shuttered now for years. I met Mayor Mavrakis in my travels across the country talking to voters. And there are so many just like him -- disaffected, left behind, economically depressed.

Much of Donald Trump's success has come from targeting voters like that who are white. And a new book tells the stories of those working class white Americans in a deeply personal and passionate way. It's called "Hillbilly Elegy: a Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis." And it's author, J.D. Vance, joins our discussion now.

It's great to have you here at the table.

You grew up poor in the rust belt. You say in your book, the statistics tell you that kids like me face a grim future, that if they're lucky, they'll manage to avoid welfare, and if they're unlucky, they'll die of a heroin overdose.

You ended up in the marine corps then at Yale law school, a success story, but you said this isn't really about you, it's much bigger.

J.D. VANCE, AUTHOR: It absolutely is. It's about why it's so hard for kids like me to have the life that I've been able to have. And as I write in the book, frankly a bunch of really lucky things happened to me. I had a fantastic grandma and grandpa who stepped in. I had the marine corps. And I had these incredible people who have step in throughout my life and made it possible. But a lot of kids don't have that. And I think that's why a lot of people were frustrated.

RADDATZ: One of the things you do in the book is argue that working class whites of Scots-Irish decent suffer from learned helplessness. They think economic and social success is entirely out of their control.

You don't talk about Donald Trump in this book. You never mention his name. But what are you saying about your people?

VANCE: Well, that they're very frustrated because they feel like the institutions that enable success are closed off to them. When I got into Yale Law S, a family member asked me if I had pretended to be a liberal. And I think that goes to show that people don't think that the traditional markers of success are actually open to them. And I think that breeds a sense of learned helplessness, a sense that folks' choices don't matter, and that's very destructive in and of itself.

RADDATZ: And so what do you think they should be doing?

VANCE: Well, I think -- one thing they should be doing is thinking seriously about what's wrong in their communities and going both in personal ways, but also in the political leaders that they choose really holding their feet to the fire and asking them that they do things that will actually address their problems. I think, frankly, that's a big problem with Trump is that he diagnoses the problems in a very successful, very passionate way. But I don't see him as offering many solutions.

RADDATZ: So in a sense, you're saying, it's your fault.

VANCE: No, I don't think it's their fault at all. In fact, I think there are many negative economic factors -- factories closing down, coal miners that have been put out of work. It is very important to recognize the very legitimate economic hurts that these folks have suffered. But at the same time, I think we have to recognize that people do have agency, and it's not just the individuals, it's the communities that they live in.

I think you have to recognize both sides of that problem to be frank and to be able to actually solve the problem.

RADDATZ: I want to get you in this discussion, L.Z.

GRANDERSON: We talked earlier. And I have said -- and what I have always thought was the big problems with Democrats and liberals was that they have taken the word diversity and they turn it mean anything but heterosexual white male. And when you do that you begin to create a different version of two different Americas that we hear politicians talk about all the time.

And so every time they talk about poor, every time they talk about struggling, they're talking about minorities, they're talking about people in the inner city, they're not talking about the people that J.D. is talking about. And that has been a problem with the party, and that's a problem with our economic policies.

As we go forward and we try to figure out what to do we do to get the country back on the right track, we cannot leave these communities behind because we're looking for clean energy. We need to think about how do we make sure that not only are the inner city people get the training that they need, but also those white people in those rural communities also get he training they need, because are hurting differently, but they're still hurting.

PRZYBYLA: My question is actually for Rich.

LOWRY: Uh-oh.

PRZYBYLA: That is...

RADDATZ: But you can answer if you would like.

PRZYBYLA: Well, given the problems that are diagnosed so eloquently in this book, does the Republican Party, does the Republican establishment, view Donald Trump, the phenom of Donald Trump, win or lose, as a fluke or as something that necessitates some fundamental changes in Republican orthodoxy and the Republican platform?

LOWRY: I think it should be the latter. My fear is if Trump goes down, the Republican establishment will want to say, well, that was a weird flier. That's never going to happen again and ignore all the real issues and real people he's identified.

I think the party should be more populist, but without the excesses of Donald Trump personally.

RADDATZ: I'm going to let J.D. react to that. We just have a couple of minutes.

VANCE: Well, I totally agree with Rich. And as L.Z. said, it's the Democratic Party I think that's ignored these working class white voters, but it's frankly the Republican Party, too, and it produced -- it produced this very populist uprising that in a lot of ways was very predictable even if the vessel ultimately wasn't.

KARL: And the issues that Republicans have campaigned on for so long -- free trade, tax cuts for the upper brackets, these issues don't speak to the lives of the voters you're talking about.

RADDATZ: OK, and John, we're going to have to leave it there. Thanks to everybody. We'll be right back after this from our ABC stations.


RADDATZ: That's all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Check out World News tonight. Have a great day.

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