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Trump Campaign Strategic Communications Director On Vice Presidential Debate

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Later this evening, eight days after Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden met President Donald Trump on a debate stage in Cleveland, six days after President Trump tested positive for coronavirus, the candidates for vice president will face off in Salt Lake City. Elsewhere in the program, we hear from vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris' chief of staff about how she is approaching tonight's debate. Now we're going to hear how Mike Pence has been prepping. And to do that, I want to bring in Marc Lotter. He is director of strategic communications for the Trump campaign.

Hey there. Welcome back.

MARC LOTTER: Well, thanks for having me.

KELLY: I want to start with the stage, what tonight is going to look like. We've seen some pictures. They're giving us a little preview. There are going to be these plexiglass dividers, which is something your team resisted. And I'm curious why. Why not try to make things as safe as possible?

LOTTER: Well, you've even heard from some experts in viruses that these plexiglass shields are going to basically have no bearing on any kind of virus that is traveling in the air. They're not sealed. They're just a shield. And I think it was actually - someone said that unless they're actually spitting on each other, they actually provide no protection since they're already going to be 12 feet apart.

KELLY: Twelve feet and a few inches - it's very precise, as they're actually measuring the stage. I mean, I do have to press you on that, which is, the barriers are - they are a visual - a big, prominent TV visual and a reminder that this pandemic is not yet under control.

LOTTER: Well, are we looking for visuals, or are we actually looking for actual protection? I mean, I think obviously, most people who are experts in this have said that this will provide absolutely zero protection. So then it's just nothing more than virtue signaling when we both know that they have tested negative. They've tested negative today. And they will be 12 feet apart from each other and three inches, so there's absolutely no threat to either of them or to Susan Page or anyone in the audience. So I think now it's just overkill. But if that's what they want to do, if they want to surround themselves in plexiglass, you know, then that's their - they can do that.

KELLY: And just to confirm, I just caught you there saying Pence has tested negative. And that test was today, just to confirm.

LOTTER: I believe that was put out earlier today by the vice president's office.

KELLY: OK. And I know Kamala Harris has released her results as well. OK. Let's talk about the substance because vice presidential debates are, among other things, a platform to promote the policies and the message for the candidate at the top of the ticket. President Trump - this week, his message has been to tell Americans not to be afraid of COVID, not to let it dominate our lives. Is that what we will hear from the vice president tonight?

LOTTER: Well, I think you'll hear the president and the vice president talk about the president's plan of getting America open again. And we know that with the exception of those people who are in very high-risk categories, that the overwhelming majority of Americans who even come down and contract the coronavirus will recover and that we can get back out into our lives and we can do it safely and healthy. Doesn't have to be one or the other - we can do both. And so you'll hear the president - the vice president talk about that. And you'll hear him contrast that with Joe Biden's plans.

KELLY: Is he going to argue that this administration has successfully managed the pandemic? And I should note that he's been in charge of managing the pandemic as chair of the White House task force.

LOTTER: Yeah, there's nobody better prepared for making that case than the vice president because he has been chair of the coronavirus task force since very early in the pandemic. And he can talk about the things, the decisions, the discussions that were taking place with Dr. Fauci, with Dr. Birx, the issues they took in with the president but then also how we mobilized the American private sector in the largest mobilization since World War II to produce PPE, to produce ventilators, to produce the therapeutics that are now helping so many people and ultimately, right around the corner, a vaccine.

KELLY: I will just note for the record that that is going to be a hard sell for the families and loved ones of now 210,000 Americans who have died in this pandemic. But in the minute or so we have left, let me ask you this. Big picture, what are Americans missing about the Trump/Pence reelection strategy and message? And I ask that because as you will have seen, the latest polls pretty much all show Trump trailing Biden.

LOTTER: Well, those polls were wrong in 2016. They're wrong again in 2020. I'll trust our numbers. We've got them right.

KELLY: Twelve points nationwide - that's a big - that's a whole lot of margin for error. That's Rasmussen.

LOTTER: A faulty model will produce a faulty poll. But we can have that discussion, I'm sure, at another time. But I think what you're going to see - you're going to see the president, the vice president, talking about getting this country moving again. We've seen the success of this administration through - just through the census report a couple of weeks ago that talked about how...

KELLY: OK.

LOTTER: ...Americans' household income was very high in 2019, closed the income gap. Why do we want to go back to the failed policies of the past?

KELLY: Marc Lotter, thank you very much for your time.

LOTTER: Thank you very much.

KELLY: He is director of strategic communications for the Trump campaign. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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