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The First Presidential Debate Tonight; Can Donald Trump be 'Presidential'?; Protests Continued in Charlotte Over the Weekend; Remembering Golf Legend Arnold Palmer. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired September 26, 2016 - 04:00   ET



(VOICE-OVER): The first presidential debate, live coverage starts tomorrow at 4:00 on CNN.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And here we go. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump set to come face-to-face for the first time as presidential contenders. Their first debate, now just hours away. Both set to address the critical issues both foreign and domestic, who has the upper hand and what could each do to win over the voters? EARLY START's debate coverage begins right now.

There it is, the podium. Good morning, and welcome to EARLY START, everyone. I'm Christine Romans.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Berman. It is Monday, September 26th, 4:00 a.m. in the East.

It is here, what could be the most consequential debate or what could be the most consequential election of a lifetime. Tonight, at Hofstra University in New York's Long Island, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump face-off on stage for the first time.

Ninety minutes. Ninety minutes is what they have to convince voters that they are right and their opponent is wrong. Ninety minutes to make a case about the future. Your future. America's future.

Yes, you might have noticed that these two candidates don't seem to like each other much, but this really isn't about who wins the food fight (ph), who slings the most, who scores the most points, it's about who can lead the country when there are serious questions about race, terror, prosperity.

The selection is pretty much tied up right now, so that will pretty much tell you how big this moment is. We have new information this morning about how the candidates are preparing, who will be in the audience, and what the moderator will or will not do.

Let's bring in our CNN - our panel now, our CNN polls to present here, Mark Preston. Is Mark with us? Yes, he is ...

(CROSSTALK) ROMANS: There he is.

BERMAN: It's an upset victory. Mark Preston at the debate site. Where the debate will be held than here in the studio, senior media correspondent Brian Stelter, host of CNN's "Reliable Sources" and CNN's politics reporter, Eugene Scott.

Mark, if you can, bring us up to speed on the very latest about debate prep, what these candidates were doing late into the night.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: Well, John and Christine, it was just about five hours ago where Hillary Clinton wrapped up a late-night session of her debate prep.

She did that after meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York. Now, her debate prep is taking place at a hotel near her home. Our own Dan Merica who's been with Hillary Clinton for the past year now reported late last night that after the meeting, she went back to do one more round of debate prep.

Among those with her, John Podesta who's her campaign chairman, Huma Abedin who is really her right hand person, Jake Sullivan who is her top policy advisor.

A Christine says there will be a lot of policy issues on the table in just a few hours here in Hempstead, New York.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump all throughout the day yesterday, was meeting with advisors, talking about policy issues. Here's the difference though. What we are told is that Donald Trump did not actually hold mock debate sessions, that's where he would stand there for 90 minutes against somebody that would be the equivalent of Hillary Clinton.

Hillary Clinton, however, turned to a former confidant or a close confidant in Phillipe Reines who played Donald Trump in these mock debates session, so Donald Trump doing it a little bit differently, John and Christine, than what we are normally used to and we will see how that works this evening.

ROMANS: Yeah. We will see how that works this evening. And it is still fascinating to think of their different ways of preparing for this. You got 90 minutes, uninterrupted, split-screen potentially so it will take discipline, I think, from both of these candidates and any kind of move or roll of the eye or sigh could be taken differently.

I want to ask you, Eugene, something in particular there. We've been hearing a lot from Hillary Clinton supporters is they think that, you know, Donald Trump has a different standard that he has to meet. He just have to appear presidential. Hillary Clinton, he just have to be presidential and then will be a win. Listen to what Robby Mook said on "State of the Union".


ROBBY MOOK, CLINTON CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I am very concerned that Donald Trump will be graded on a curve. Just because he doesn't fly off the handle in the middle of this debate, does not mean that he is prepared to be president of the United States.


ROMANS: When they step on that stage, it is almost as if they are on equal footing, and that's something that Hillary Clinton supporters say it is not fair.

EUGENE SCOTT, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Yeah, very much so. It is 101, there's not a big crowd that he has to go against and appear better than just some people this time around.

He has to make it very clear that he can do what it is that he is trying to convince voters that he wants to do which is lead the free world. And some Clinton supporters feel like grading him on a curve is unacceptable, given that.

BERMAN: What they are saying is if Donald Trump doesn't make some big gaffe, if Donald Trump doesn't say something wildly, factually inaccurate, then the next day people will say, oh, this was a presidential Donald Trump. And they say that is a much different standard than what Hillary Clinton will be graded on, and then, of course -- you know working the rest is the most overused phrase right now on planet Earth.

[04:05:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is.

BERMAN: But the Trump campaign is working the refs also, and they are doing this in terms of fact-checking, and they are suggesting that if the moderator gets too involved, that will be unfair to Donald Trump. Listen to what Kellyanne Conway had to say about this last night.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: If Mr. Trump has any disadvantage going into tomorrow night's debate, it's that he is not really treated fairly and that is pretty obvious if you read the print reports, if you turn on the stations in the day. The coverage varies, some incomplete and it is all about him and his negative against him to, you know, a written bias (ph).


BERMAN: To Brian Stelter, you know a little something about this. You spoke to the executive director of the presidential commission, they commissioned Janet Brown who essentially says, if you're looking for us to do the fact-checking, you might be looking in the wrong place.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes. She said that she does not expect moderator like Lester Holt to be the Encyclopedia Britannica, and they'll call out every single fact or un-fact to un- screw for this set on the state.

However, there are several egregious lies that Donald Trump has expressed in this campaign. There are times where Hillary Clinton has shaded the truth, but I think every professional factor there is essentially an agreement, Donald Trump lies more often.

And there are several times where it could be so black and white. I think Lester Holt will step in, in those cases who say something. He doesn't have to say, you're wrong, Donald Trump. He could say, Mrs. Clinton, would you like to respond to that? Would you like to set the record straight? Or Lester Holt could say, Donald Trump, what is your source for that information?

So there's multiple ways for him to fact-check that I think will see some of that on stage, even though the Trump campaign say they don't want to see that happen.

ROMANS: You know, Mark Preston, we don't know what is going to turn out to be like. (Inaudible) exciting about a debate day, right? I mean, anything could happen. But what is the conventional wisdom here? That you're going to see Donald Trump as the Kellyanne Conway Donald trump who is trying to appear presidential. No gaps, no insults; and then Hillary Clinton just maybe trying to focus there a little bit. He got him temperament out.

PRESTON: Right, you know, but I think Donald Trump would be best served by trying to go low-key in business (ph), try to talk about policy, try not to look as if he was certain all those republican presidential primary debate where he was really aggressive whenever he felt he was under attack, he would go immediately on the offense.

When somebody would punch once, he would try to punch them three or four times. Different scenarios tonight, just him and Hillary Clinton standing next to each other, 90 minutes as you said, Christine, and here is the key, back in those primary debates, when you were asked a question, you have about a minute to answer it, about 30 seconds to follow-up.

Tonight, it's going to be two minutes to answer it. So Donald Trump, who has been very serious and sure on specifics about policy proposals, really does need to fill that two-minute time period. If he doesn't then it will really expose the fact that perhaps he doesn't have the specific details for the policies that he has been talking about.

ROMANS: Does he have the command of the issues? Does he have the policy and still (inaudible) the issues? That's what we'll find out tonight.

STELTER: As much as about that, it's also about the emotional connection we feel to these people. I'm really curious to see how Trump and how Clinton come across emotionally for viewers at home.

I would like to think it is entirely about policy, and it partly is. It's probably about seeing these people who have been (inaudible) for a year up close and personal, and I think a lot of viewers arte going to be surprised when they see the real Donald Trump.

What I mean by the real Donald Trump is, the one who gives these long speeches that his supporters adore, not the person who is in attack ads offending women, offending minorities, but the Donald Trump who has a real incredible personal connection through the camera.

That could be the Trump on stage. It will be very hard for Hillary Clinton to contend with.


BERMAN: OK, now, I'll leave you with this. I think Donald Trump has been practicing. I won't buy for a second that they have not been doing mock debates ...


BERMAN: ... ninety-minute full debate. And you can bet that they've, in fact, (inaudible). Brian, Eugene, Mark Preston, stick around, we got a lot more to discuss.

ROMANS: Prosperity is one of the three main topics for tonight's debate. (Inaudible) these candidates have economic proposals. Hillary Clinton would hike taxes on wealthy Americans that would help her fund other plans like tax cuts for the middle class. She is also focusing on health for families with universal pre-k and a cap on childcare cost. Clinton would spend $275 billion on infrastructure, she also supports the $15 minimum wage.

Donald Trump would cut taxes for most Americans, but the wealthy would see the biggest tax cut. He would add in a deduction for childcare cost. Trump wants to lower the business tax rate to 15 percent from 35 percent, and he would renegotiate trade deals like (inaudible). He also wants to spend twice as much as Hillary Clinton on infrastructure, that would total $550 billion over five years.

BERMAN: All right, protests over a deadly police shooting in North Carolina. They were largely peaceful over the weekend. The issue of policing is one of many that will be brought up at the debate tonight. We will discuss much more about their strategies, next.

Also tributes pouring in this morning for Arnold Palmer. The legendary golfer had passed away. Really, one of the most important figures in all of sports. We will remember him next.


Also tributes pouring in for Arnold palmer. Really one of the most important figures in all of sports. We will remember him next.


ROMANS: A midnight curfew has been lifted in Charlotte as protesters hold new peaceful demonstrations in the wake of the deadly shooting of Keith Lamont Scott and the release of police footage of his death. City officials are urging the community to come together, to stay calm. We get more of this Monday morning from CNN's Nick Valencia.

[04:15:00] NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John and Christine, the demonstrations continued over the weekend in Charlotte. This crowd chose to protest outside of the NFL game. The Panthers playing the Minnesota Vikings. It did not really disrupt the game so much and a thin crowd, as you can see behind me.

Also, over the weekend, we saw the first police video, released, from the fatal shooting of Keith Scott, one dashcam video, one body-cam video was released. That was part of the demand from the protesters that we had been hearing all week.

As far as what's happening on Monday, protesters tell me they plan to march to city hall. What they want now is the resignation of the governor, they would like the mayor to step down and the police chief, and they say to plan these protests anyway, will continue, they say, until the demands are met. John, Christine?

ROMANS: All right, Nick Valencia, of course, in Charlotte. Thank you. Let's bring back our panel this morning on the game day in the political world. Mark Preston, Brian Stelter and Eugene Scott.

BERMAN: There's no game. This is (inaudible).


BERMAN: All the Super Bowls combined.

ROMANS: This is the Super Bowl of politics, 100 million viewers.

BERMAN: I'm sorry, (inaudible).


ROMANS: All right, my question. Let's talk (ph) we just heard the report from Nick Valencia about the situation in Charlotte. How big of a role do you think policing and policing and tensions in communities and "Black Lives Matter" and that story line, how big do you think it will play tonight?

PRESTON: It is no doubt it's going to be woven throughout this 90 minutes, and the narrative about who has the better plan to deal with these types of issues. But it goes deeper than just the relationship between the police officers and the urban community.

It really has to do with economic prosperity and who has the better idea of creating a pathway, you know, toward the American dream and who is willing to invest in education.

I think you're going to hear a lot of specifics from Hillary Clinton as she is addressing that. At the same time, I think you will hear Donald Trump continuing to make a case to minorities that why not come with him because as we heard him say in the past few weeks, what do you have to lose? Which hasn't really been a winning message, necessarily, with the minority community. But I expect that he will play that card tonight.

BERMAN: And Eugene, you know, the issue about race and policing, not the only issue that popped up over the last 10 days, obviously terror. It is something in the front contender on the agenda here with the attack in New York City just a week and a half ago. I have to imagine that both candidates are preparing for it as well. SCOTT: Pretty much so because voters on both sides have highlighted terror as an issue that they care about a lot, and both of these candidates have very different approaches to what they think is the best solution top move forward in addressing this issue that doesn't seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.

ROMANS: So interesting, Brian Stelter, the idea that, you know, Mark was just saying they have two minutes to respond.


ROMANS: So that's more than just a bumper sticker or I can fix it. If they're going to have a chance to really explain how they are going fix it. Put some policies behind these issues.

STELTER: In Clinton's case, so that she has been there and she's done that, remind the viewers at home about her experience. This debit is in much works and more for casual political consumers than it is for a news junkie like me.

I think I probably heard Clinton and Trump talk for hundreds of hours. Most Americans have not. A lot of Americans have purposely avoided it.

Oh, this is when they (inaudible) and we talk about 80, 90, 100 million viewers watching. Let's put a stake through (inaudible) normal Super Bowl of politics. And normally, with debate like this, we got 50 or 60 million viewers.

So essentially, every American sometimes going to watch, and every American is going to watch, and every American is not (inaudible), going to watch later on Twitter and Facebook and on CNN. Everybody across the country will be exposed to the use two candidate messages, for the first time tonight?

ROMANS: If you're Hillary Clinton and you're trying to show that you've been around That is why it is more important than the Super Bowl of politics. Every American at home will watch. Everybody across the country will be exposed to the use two candidates messages for the first time, tonight.

ROMANS: If you're Hillary Clinton, are you trying to show that you are -- you have been around these issues for a long time. Donald Trump is new to this.

BERMAN: I actually think that what Hillary Clinton will try to do and what Donald Trump is preparing for is to make sure he is up to see (ph) on his policies.

I mean, Mark Preston, one of the things that has been remarkable, he had a tax plan, for instance, and it is not at all clear, you know, a key part of the pastor's act (ph).

There may be $1 trillion here, a $1 trillion there they have not accounted for. On immigration, it is not exactly clear what he wants to do with the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country. He has got to have answers about himself. And I think that is what he is preparing on. I would imagine that is what Hillary Clinton is preparing on too.

PRESTON: Yeah, no doubt. And specifically when you're talking about Donald Trump and we're talk about policy or talking about expectations, John, to your point, he has gone back and forth on what he would do with these undocumented immigrants here in the United States.

One point cities are going to sell them home, and that was kind of the mantra that we heard from most of the campaign. Then he said, well maybe not. And then he went back and said, yes, at the same time you talk about the tax plan where his original plan differed from what he released a few weeks ago. So, the idea that he is flipped flopping hasn't necessarily hurt Donald Trump, but again, we'll see what he offers tonight.

BERMAN: Mark Preston. 4:19 a.m. in long island. I can't remember the last time he was up in Long Island at 4:19 a.m.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Brian Stelter, Eugene Scott. Stick around. So much more to talk about all morning.

We are remembering one of the great athletes of all time. Arnold Palmer had passed away. Seven major titles, but his influence goes way beyond that. We will discuss his legacy next.


BERMAN: All right. The king is gone. Golfing legend Arnold Palmer, he passed away, Sunday at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. He was 87 years old. Arnold Palmer had millions of adoring fans, and he really changed the game of golf in the 1960's.

His Hall of Fame career was defined in part by the epic Battles of the Fairways with his rival Jack Nicklaus, a player as well. Nicklaus released this statement, "Arnold transcended the game of golf. He was more than a golfer or even great golfer. He was an icon ... We were great competitors ... but we were always great friends along the way. We were always there for each other. That never changed. He was the king of our sport and always will be."

[04:25:00] Tiger woods had a statement as well, "Thanks Arnold for your friendship and counsel and a lot of laugh. Your philanthropy and humility are part of your legend."

President Obama tweeted, "Here's to the king who was an extraordinarily on the links as he was generous to others. Thanks for the memories, Arnold."

I mean, he really didn't just change golf. I mean, he made golf accessible for the masses. But he also, in many ways, was the first corporate athlete. He was the first athlete to turn it all into, you know, a business brand with the Pennzoil sponsorship.

He has a drink. How many people had a drink named after them? This is the guy who knew how to play and knew how to work, and people just adored him everywhere he went. Arnie's armies on the fairways forever.

ROMANS: We wish his family well.

Another tragedy this weekend.

A high rate of speed is believed to be a key factor in this horrifying boat crash that killed Miami Marlins star Jose Fernandez and two other men. The 24-year old Fernandez survived a heroin defection from Cuba to become one of baseball's most feared pitchers, and news of his death bringing Marlins manager Don Mattingly to tears.


DON MATTINGLY, MARLINS MANAGER: There is just joy with him when he played. It is bad that he would make you with some of the stuff he would do, you just seen that little kid that you see when you watch kids play Little League or something like that. That's the joy that Jose played with.

ROMANS: Baseball just heart broken. A moment of silence is observed at ballparks across the country on Sunday. The Marlins game against Atlanta was canceled. The team will resume play today.

BERMAN: I know so many people when they woke up today and took your breath away.

ROMANS: He was such a vibrant and ...


BERMAN: He was such an amazing pitcher and he was beloved around the game.

ROMANS: All right, 27 minutes past the hour. Debate day for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Tens of millions are getting ready to watch the showdown. Our latest inside for the big night. The countdown begins, everyone. That's next.