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GOP Candidates Hit The Campaign Trail After 2nd Debate


Nearly 23 million people watched the marathon Republican presidential debate on CNN, and now the candidates are back out on the campaign trail. NPR's own Mara Liasson hit the road too, and she joins us now from Rochester, N.H., to talk about how the debate factors in to the campaigning now.

Hi Mara.


SIEGEL: Let's start with last night. The dynamic - not quite the same as the first debate. Donald Trump didn't dominate.

LIASSON: Very different. Donald Trump not only didn't dominate, but a lot of the other candidates went after him. They went after him for his temperament, for his lack of knowledge about foreign policy issues. Senator Rubio, who often showcases his own foreign policy expertise, was practically begging the moderators to drill down on Donald Trump and expose him for not knowing anything. So far, Donald Trump's foreign policy has been, trust me, I'll know it all when I get to the White House. And that has been fine for his supporters.

Now, traditionally, GOP voters do buckle down after the summer. They get over their summer infatuations and they start applying more traditional criteria to candidates. We don't know if that's going to happen with Trump. If it does, I would say last night was the turning point.

SIEGEL: I want you to talk about Carly Fiorina. She got CNN to change the rules to make room for her on the stage. There were 11 candidates taking part in the primetime debate, and it looked like she made the most of it.

LIASSON: She made the most of it. She was considered the hands-down winner by almost everyone who watched that debate. She was a heat-seeking missile, and Donald Trump was her target. Her answers were crisp. She clearly has been paying attention in her foreign policy briefing. She was passionate about abortion. She told a very affecting story about her stepdaughter's death from drug abuse. The big question for Carly Fiorina is, will it benefit her? We haven't seen any post of any polls yet. Will she get a surge out of this, or has she nearly softened-up Donald Trump and made the world a little safer for a candidate like Jeb Bush?

SIEGEL: Let's talk about Jeb Bush for a moment. In response to a light question, he said that his Secret Service code name should be Eveready. Perhaps a preplanned joke, but, do you think he helped himself in the debate?

LIASSON: Yeah, I think he did help himself. That Eveready joke, of course, a response to Donald Trump's needling of Jeb Bush all through the summer of being a low-energy candidate. It's almost as if he was questioning Jeb Bush's manhood. But Jeb Bush was under a lot of pressure last night from his donors to show that he had some spunk. He was tough enough to take on Donald Trump. It was his audience last night. The people gathered in the Reagan Library were more Jeb Bush than Donald Trump. And I think he probably did give them enough to feel confident in him again. But, once again, he had to walk back a statement that he made last night. He said that Margaret Thatcher should replace Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill, but by today, he was saying, oops, maybe that's not such a good idea after all.

SIEGEL: Yeah, it's strange to have a U.K. subject on U.S. currency.

Let's turn to the Democrats. Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton got in on the act last night too. Tell us about what they did.

LIASSON: Well, Bernie Sanders tweeted all night long. He trolled the Republican debate, making all sorts of snarky comments about them. But then at 10:30, he tweeted that he was giving up on the debate-a-thon and going to bed, that he'd had enough. Three hours was just too much for him.

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, was on "Jimmy Fallon." She was showing that she was warm and funny and likable, and Fallon put on a blond wig and pretended to be Donald Trump and give her some advice. This is what her campaign wants to do, they want to showcase her as someone who is a likable, authentic, warm person. And apparently, she's going to do a lot more of this - more late-night shows and more interviews with the press.

SIEGEL: And Fallon does a good Donald Trump, so we could be seeing a lot more of that as the...

LIASSON: Yeah, and I mean, he quipped that he hadn't seen Hillary since his last marriage, and I guess she said, well, I'll be seeing you at the next one.

SIEGEL: (Laughter). OK. That's NPR national correspondent Mara Liasson in Rochester, N.H.

Thanks Mara.

LIASSON: Thanks Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
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