NBC’s McCaskill: See ‘Who Makes a Fool of Themselves’ at Dem Debate

Appearing on Wednesday’s Today show to preview the upcoming Democratic debates, NBC News political analyst and former Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill was surprisingly honest when she predicted the events “probably will be the end of the road” for several candidates and urged viewers to “tune in tonight just to see who makes a fool of themselves.”

Reporting live from the debate hall in Miami, Guthrie noted that “with so many candidates,” the next two nights “could be the beginning of the road or the end of the road for some of these candidates.” McCaskill agreed: “It probably will be the end of the road for a number of them just because of the money, Savannah. You know, you can’t stay in this and actually compete if you don’t attract a lot of grassroots donors.”

 

 

Following up, Guthrie wondered how some of the lesser-known contenders would make an impression on voters: “A lot of people are gonna feel like they got to stick their necks out and really make a moment. But that’s a dangerous game to play, isn’t it?” At that point, McCaskill offered viewers this promo for the debate: “I think people should tune in tonight just to see who makes a fool of themselves, because somebody will.”

Guthrie, one of the moderators, joked: “Hopefully not me.”

McCaskill warned her fellow Democrats not to pull “a Trump” at the debate: “Well, somebody will try so hard to stand out, to try to do what I would call in quotes, ‘a Trump.’ You know, be that outside the mainstream that they’re talked about the next day. But that’s a real tight rope because you go too far and it looks phony, it looks forced.”

Later in the discussion, Guthrie alluded to the fact that the Democratic presidential field may skew too far left: “Obviously this is the Democratic primary debate, the candidates are primarily concerned about Democratic voters, but with something that’s on three different networks, you have general election voters watching, too. Do you think Democrats should keep that in mind?”

McCaskill advised the candidates to go beyond just trying to please liberals on social media:

I think it’s really important they be thinking not of that left-leaning person on Twitter but that single mom in the suburbs who’s working an extra job to pay for her child’s college education or that family that can’t afford their insulin. They really do need to relate to not just the middle of America but the middle of the political spectrum, because that’s who’s going to decide this presidential election.

The former Missouri Senator’s frank assessment of how the debates will unfold may prove particularly prescient.

Here is a transcript of the June 26 exchange:

7:12 AM ET

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Former Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill served in the Senate with seven of the contenders you’re gonna see on that stage over the next couple of nights. She’s now an NBC News political analyst. Senator McCaskill, good morning to you.

CLAIRE MCCASKILL: Good morning.

GUTHRIE: You know, those of us who cover politics like to say debates are make or break moments for candidates. But in this case, with so many candidates, it kind of is make or break. This could be the beginning of the road or the end of the road for some of these candidates.

MCCASKILL: It probably will be the end of the road for a number of them just because of the money, Savannah. You know, you can’t stay in this and actually compete if you don’t attract a lot of grassroots donors. So what those candidates are looking for tonight, they’re looking for people at home to go online and give them 10 bucks...

GUTHRIE: Yeah.

MCCASKILL: ...when this debate is over. And that will be the real measure of who succeeds tonight in terms of communicating with the American people.

GUTHRIE: When you look at that stage behind us, this is just one night, ten candidates. A lot of people are gonna feel like they got to stick their necks out and really make a moment. But that’s a dangerous game to play, isn’t it?

MCCASKILL: I think people should tune in tonight just to see who makes a fool of themselves, because somebody will.

GUTHRIE: Hopefully not me.

MCCASKILL: Well, somebody will try so hard to stand out, to try to do what I would call in quotes, “a Trump.” You know, be that outside the mainstream that they’re talked about the next day. But that’s a real tight rope because you go too far and it looks phony, it looks forced. So, I think the important thing is for people to focus on – most of these folks, the American people have no idea who they are. They need to introduce themselves and not try to get in cheap shots and not try to be the most clever person on the stage.

GUTHRIE: Well, that was my next question because there are obviously tiers of the candidates in terms of the polling and fundraising. And you have top tier, top polling candidates like Senator Warren, Vice President Biden, Senator Sanders. Do you think some of those other candidates should take shots at the front-runners or do you think they should just try to stay positive?

MCCASKILL: I think it’s going to be very hard to be effective at taking shots. I mean, there may be some insider/outsider stuff, which is important in American politics today. People like outsiders. They are disgusted with the dysfunction in Washington. So for the senators, for my former colleagues, they’ve got to wear the cloak of an outsider even though they frankly are insiders. And I think there’s a lot of pressure on Elizabeth tonight.

GUTHRIE: Senator Warren, she’s the front-runner on the stage tonight.

MCCASKILL: Well, expectations are very high for her. And I think she’s going to have to be really on her game to meet those expectations. And I think some people tonight will surprise those pundits who are watching this, I think Amy could surprise people, she’s funny –  

GUTHRIE: Senator Klobuchar.

MCCASKILL: Yeah, she’s funny and she’s smart and she’s used to the courtroom where you have to think on your feet. And I think Beto and Booker will also do well. So it’ll be interesting to see if one of the folks on the outside of the debate stage is able to breakthrough.

GUTHRIE: Obviously this is the Democratic primary debate, the candidates are primarily concerned about Democratic voters, but with something that’s on three different networks, you have general election voters watching, too. Do you think Democrats should keep that in mind?

MCCASKILL: I think it’s really important they be thinking not of that left-leaning person on Twitter but that single mom in the suburbs who’s working an extra job to pay for her child’s college education or that family that can’t afford their insulin. They really do need to relate to not just the middle of America but the middle of the political spectrum, because that’s who’s going to decide this presidential election. It’s not gonna be decided on either end of the political spectrum. It’s gonna be those folks that maybe voted for Barack Obama and voted for Donald Trump.

(...)

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