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Post-Presidential Debate, Author Laments Electoral 'Dissolution'

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

David Maraniss is with us next. He's an editor of The Washington Post, a biographer of Bill Clinton and a longtime observer of Hillary Clinton, here to talk about what the Clinton campaign does now that it has an advantage over Donald Trump. He's in our studios. Good morning, sir.

DAVID MARANISS: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Paul Ryan, the Republican speaker of the House, signaled this week he thinks Donald Trump is going to lose. That's how his announcement was taken anyway. Do you think Clinton's campaign believes the election is won?

MARANISS: I think they would never say that publicly, but I think that over the last few days, they've come to the conclusion that all of the important swing states have turned in their favor and that if she doesn't make any mistakes and if the campaign continues as it's gone that she's won, yes.

INSKEEP: If she doesn't make any mistakes. Let's talk about that. How cautious a person, how cautious a politician is Hillary Clinton?

MARANISS: Hillary Clinton is strong, intelligent and cautious - all three. And also her campaigns tend to be sort of overloaded with staff, all of whom are expressing various forms of caution to her. So I think that that's just part of her inherent nature and also part of a Clinton campaign.

INSKEEP: There were some people observing the debate on Sunday night who made the comment that they thought that Hillary Clinton could have gone after Trump more, could have been more devastating in that debate than she necessarily was.

MARANISS: Well, you can make that argument. And she was criticized some for her performance in the debate, but her main objective had to be to just get through it and let Trump be Trump. So I think that all of the discussion about Hillary in that debate is almost irrelevant. The central point of that debate came when Trump said that if he were president, she would be in jail. It was against everything about American democracy and everything else in that debate should be sort of diminished in light of what - that particular statement. And so the discussion beyond that is almost useless.

INSKEEP: Would you explain why you say that's against everything that American democracy stands for?

MARANISS: Well, it's a tin-pot dictatorship in which politicians jail the other side - their opponents - without, you know - without going through the rule of law. Everything about the U.S. Constitution is based on the rule of law and that just sort of said I don't care about that.

INSKEEP: And what would you say to Trump supporters who would flip that around and say, well, Hillary Clinton is the one who disregarded the law, Hillary Clinton is the one who did what she did with emails and other things?

MARANISS: You know, you can make strong criticisms of Hillary Clinton's treatment of the emails, but it did go through the justice process. The FBI investigated it. The FBI director who is no friend of Hillary Clinton's decided not to prosecute, and in every case, that's the way the American system works - or is supposed to work.

INSKEEP: Is there an election you can remember in your long career that you would compare with this election in any way?

MARANISS: I don't think there's anything even close. I certainly can't compare it with any election that I've covered. In all of the cases, you know - I started in 1976 with the - with Carter-Ford and I've covered in some fashion every election since then, and despite whatever disagreements and hostilities and sort of superficial fighting there was in the campaigns, it had nothing like what you're seeing this year, both in the sort of dissolution of the electorate and in the particulars of Donald Trump as a serious candidate for a major political party.

INSKEEP: Dissolution of the electorate?

MARANISS: Well, I think that it's - in many ways it's falling apart, the American fabric is. And it's going to take a long time to bring it back together. I think it's been a long time coming both cultural factors, political factors, economic factors all leading to this dissolution of the electorate.

INSKEEP: You spend your time now writing books rather than daily reporting which gives you longer perspective on things. You're writing about history. Do you feel in just a few seconds that you know what this country will need when this election is over in a few weeks?

MARANISS: Whatever it needs it's probably not going to get.

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

MARANISS: I should say. I'm sorry to say it, but I think, you know, if Mrs. Clinton wins the election and does - and I think that it's going to be just two years of real difficulties and even worse over that period of time. So I mean, what it needs - I mean, the healing is a superficial comment or a way of looking at things, but it's going to need something deeper than just one election to get through this.

INSKEEP: David Maraniss, thanks for coming by. I really appreciate it.

MARANISS: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: His many books include "First In His Class" a biography of Bill Clinton. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.