Matt Lauer Worries Trump Looks ‘More Presidential’ Than Obama or Hillary

Talking to longtime Democratic strategist and Clinton operative James Carville on Monday’s NBC Today, co-host Matt Lauer fretted that Donald Trump visiting the flood zone in Louisiana could give him an edge in the presidential race: “He goes down there, looks at the damage first hand, talks to people, before President Obama. It wasn’t until after his visit that Hillary Clinton picked up the phone, called the governor there. Did he appear more presidential in the wake of that tragedy than Hillary Clinton?”

Carville tried to excuse the absence of the Democratic leaders: “I think the timeline is, is that she and the Governor spoke. The Governor has said that he would prefer that people come later because they have – particularly the President comes.” He added: “I’m sure the President is gonna come on Tuesday. But here’s one thing everybody agrees on down there, the federal response has been really good.”

However, even Carville praised Trump’s visit: “I’m grateful that he came, I’m not going to criticize the visit. He gave $100,000 to a church in Greenwood Springs, which is a hard-hit area.”

Later, at the top of 7:30 a.m. ET half hour, the morning show devoted a mere 12-second news brief to President Obama returning from vacation before finally traveling to Louisiana. Co-host Savannah Guthrie noted: “And President Obama arrived back to the White House late last night after the First Family’s 16-day vacation in Martha's Vineyard. Tomorrow the President travels to Louisiana to view the devastation from that state's historic flooding.”

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At the top of the exchange with Carville, Guthrie wondered: “Let's pretend you’re in your old job, you’re working for Hillary Clinton, what should she do about this e-mail issue? It continues to dog her....Do you think they’ve handled this issue well?” In part, Carville argued: “Well, look you can go back to anything in politics and say, ‘Well, you could have done this better at this time, you could have done that.’ But you know, right now, they’re up in the polls and they’re ahead.”

Lauer pointed out: “They’re ahead, but there’s a kind of reboot on the Trump side of things right now. A little bit of a softer side of him, he's walking back some of his most controversial policy issues, including this mass deportation. How worried should the Clinton campaign be that this is going to actually help him?”

Carville downplayed the shift: “...his campaign manager is saying that he’s going to redo this, it’s not Trump himself that’s saying that....everything that I read indicates to me that they’re not doing things that a campaign does, they don’t have a field organization.”

Here is a full transcript of the August 22 interview:

7:11 AM ET

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Let's bring in James Carville, the mastermind behind Bill Clinton’s 1992 run for the White House. He’s out with a new book, it’s called, We’re Still Right, They’re Still Wrong. James is still blunt. Good morning, it's good to see you.

MATT LAUER: Hey, James.     

JAMES CARVILLE: I didn’t want to leave very much for interpretation in that title, you know?

GUTHRIE: Let's pick up where Hallie just left off, Colin Powell now saying to People Magazine, reportedly, the Clinton folks are trying to pin this e-mail business on him by saying he had recommended or detailed his views of personal e-mail while he was Secretary of State. Let's pretend you’re in your old job, you’re working for Hillary Clinton, what should she do about this e-mail issue? It continues to dog her.

CARVILLE: Well, maybe there’s documentary evidence, like a memo or a letter, if they have that, they should get that out and show that. Then I would stop there. “You know, we’ve e-mailed a lot here but we’ll see what it is because, well, we sent a memo, but it was after.” So obviously there's a piece of paper floating around there somewhere.

GUTHRIE: Do you think they’ve handled this issue well?

CARVILLE: Well, look you can go back to anything in politics and say, “Well, you could have done this better at this time, you could have done that.” But you know, right now, they’re up in the polls and they’re ahead. You know, but anything that you do in politics – you could say, “Did we handled the Gennifer Flowers story well or did we handle this well?” There's always something you could have – you know, would have, could have, should have.

LAUER: They’re ahead, but there’s a kind of reboot on the Trump side of things right now. A little bit of a softer side of him, he's walking back some of his most controversial policy issues, including this mass deportation. How worried should the Clinton campaign be that this is going to actually help him?

CARVILLE: Well, first of all, he’s on a little bit of an apology tour, but we don’t exactly know –  he’s apologizing on this tour but he’s not – we're not really sure for what. I saw a story this morning, I read about it, and his campaign manager is saying that he’s going to redo this, it’s not Trump himself that’s saying that. So let’s do this – and I think that – everything that I read indicates to me that they’re not doing things that a campaign does, they don’t have a field organization. Some people doubt that he’s trying to win, I don't know. But that’s –

GUTHRIE: Reince Priebus, the Republican chairman, says by Labor Day this will be an even race. Would you like to take that bet?

CARVILLE: You know, I sure would like to take that bet, but it’s not Labor Day that counts, it's election day that counts, and I think he’s gonna be way ahead – she’s gonna be way by then.

LAUER: On Friday, Donald Trump went down to Louisiana, you’ve got family in Baton Rouge.

CARVILLE: A lot.

LAUER: It’s a mess down there. He goes down there, looks at the damage first hand, talks to people, before President Obama. It wasn’t until after his visit that Hillary Clinton picked up the phone, called the governor there. Did he appear more presidential in the wake of that tragedy than Hillary Clinton?

CARVILLE: I think the timeline is, is that she and the Governor spoke. The Governor has said that he would prefer that people come later because they have – particularly the President comes. I’m grateful that he came, I’m not going to criticize the visit. He gave $100,000 to a church in Greenwood Springs, which is a hard-hit area. I’m sure the President is gonna come on Tuesday. But here’s one thing everybody agrees on down there, the federal response has been really good. That’s been a total agreement in Baton Rouge.

LAUER: I want to ask you a question about your book. You say, “Elections may be won in the center by converting independents, but they are lost by the base.” Right?

CARVILLE: Well, yeah, and that if people don’t – and that's why I wrote this book – if people don't understand that there’s been a clear performance differential between the two parties they will think there's not a stake in there. And I think Democrats have a really large stake in there. You know, we’ve had two successful Democratic presidencies with a disastrous Republican president in the middle. And as Democrats, we have to remind our own people of that. And I think that’s part of what this book – this book is more of a book for a converted than anything else.

GUTHRIE: Are you worried about the overconfidence? That Democrats just think, “Why bother showing up?”

CARVILLE: You know, in ‘92 we used to – you know, I’m a Catholic, so we have a very negative view of the world, we never get very overconfident about anything. I don’t – you know, knowing Mrs. Clinton and knowing the campaign and Robby and Mandy all of those, they’re not going to suffer from overconfidence, that's the last thing in the world that I’m worried about.

GUTHRIE: James Carville, good to have you here.

LAUER: Thanks, James.

CARVILLE: Thank you all so much.

GUTHRIE: Once again, the book is called, We're Still Right, They’re Still Wrong. It’s available on Amazon, also in book stores tomorrow.  

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