On Monday’s Today, co-hosts Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie conducted back-to-back interviews with Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager Robby Mook and Donald Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway. While Mook was treated to softballs about Clinton’s strategy, Conway was hammered on Trump being an “aggressor” who likes to “hurl insults.”
After Lauer asked if Mook was “feeling confident” about the debate, the Clinton aide issued instructions to moderator Lester Holt: “What we don't want to have is some sort of double standard where Donald Trump can get the most improved award but Hillary Clinton, you know, is getting judged on the fine points of policy....we don't want Donald Trump's lies and distortions to be a distraction, we're hoping that those can get checked so that Hillary can focus her time on what she wants to do.”
Rather than push back on such a blatant attempt to pressure NBC to help Clinton in the debate, instead, Lauer responded by fretting over Trump being “negative”: “What are her rules of engagement? What have you laid out in the debate prep in terms of getting personal and getting negative? We know that Mr. Trump has been willing to go there over the last year or year and a half....Is she willing to throw the first punch?”
Mook declared: “Donald Trump is an experienced reality show entertainer, so he may decide that this is a chance to, you know, show those chops. That's his choice. But we want Hillary to have as much time as possible to talk about how she's going to make a difference.”
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In the exchange with Conway moments later, Guthrie parroted Mook’s concerns: “You heard what Robby Mook just had to say. They're concerned that Trump will be graded on a curve. People talk about how he benefits from low expectations. Do you agree or do you think he’s being underestimated tonight?”
Unlike the show hosts, Conway actually called out Mook’s attempt to manipulate the press:
Robby and I are living in parallel universes. I mean, Donald Trump has been criticized all weekend long. I think that the Clinton campaign has clearly been gaming the refs, has been talking to the media for a week now saying, "It's your job to make sure that Donald Trump is fact-checked in real-time."
In a follow-up question, Lauer also cited Mook: “Robby also talked about their strategy will depend on which Donald Trump shows up tonight. So let me ask you, which one will show up? Is it the aggressor, the guy who has been willing in the past to hurl insults or is it going to be the more reserved Donald Trump, the reigned-in candidate that we've seen on occasion – not that often – but on occasion in the recent past?”
Guthrie then asked Conway if she had told Trump “don’t go there” on Bill Clinton’s sex scandals.
After Conway hit the Clinton campaign “running these negative ads” against Trump just “trashing him,” Lauer sarcastically sneered: “...as he's about to amp up his spending, which we know is about to happen, are you going to tell me now that all those ads that he’s about to pay for are going to be positive policy ads?...They’re not going to be negative ads?”
Here is a full transcript of the September 26 interview with Mook:
7:06 AM ET
MATT LAUER: As Peter [Alexander] mentioned, Trump has never debated one on one, while Clinton is a seasoned debater. Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager, joined us earlier this morning. We began by asking if he is feeling confident.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Clinton’s Debate Game Plan; Campaign Manager on Strategy to Take on Trump]
ROBBY MOOK: Well, first of all, even seasoned debaters are not used to debating Donald Trump. This is a very different debate than we've ever had before. I don't see this so much as winning and losing, but more about have these candidates had an opportunity to present to the American people whether they are prepared to be President of the United States. All that we're asking from Donald Trump is that he stick with the facts, that he give clear plans, and that he have a command of the issues. That's how we think that the candidates should be judged. That’s how they’ve been judged in the past. What we don't want to have is some sort of double standard where Donald Trump can get the most improved award but Hillary Clinton, you know, is getting judged on the fine points of policy.
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Both of these candidates have proven that they can land a punch. And the polls are very clear, these are the two most unpopular candidates in presidential campaign history. So my question to you is, is Hillary Clinton thinking about tonight in terms of bringing Trump down a notch or two again or do you feel like the work she needs to do is really about building herself up and addressing some of these deficits she has, for example, with trustworthiness?
MOOK: Well, I'm really glad you asked that question because Hillary recognizes she does need to earn the voters’ trust. And I think tonight is a great opportunity for her to do that. We want this to be about the issues, we want both candidates to explain their plans to the American people. We saw at the convention when Hillary had the opportunity to talk about not just the things she's going to do but her long history, how this campaign is part of a longer mission to help kids and families, she does really well. So we're looking forward to that. That’s why we don't want Donald Trump's lies and distortions to be a distraction, we're hoping that those can get checked so that Hillary can focus her time on what she wants to do.
LAUER: What are her rules of engagement? What have you laid out in the debate prep in terms of getting personal and getting negative? We know that Mr. Trump has been willing to go there over the last year or year and a half. What are her rules of engagement?
MOOK: Well, again, it just depends on what Donald Trump shows up to the debate, and we just don’t know that. And that’s where Hillary’s gonna have to make calls minute by minute.
LAUER: Is she willing to throw the first punch?
MOOK: You know, her focus in this debate, as I said, is to prove to the American people she can make a real difference in their life, to talk about the things she wants to do as president. What I’m concerned about is Donald Trump has so far not presented real plans, he hasn't taken clear positions, and he's run a very negative campaign. So – and look, Donald Trump is an experienced reality show entertainer, so he may decide that this is a chance to, you know, show those chops. That's his choice. But we want Hillary to have as much time as possible to talk about how she's going to make a difference.
LAUER: Robby Mook.
MOOK: Thank you.
LAUER: Robby, thank you very much.
GUTHRIE: Thank you. Our conversation a bit earlier.