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AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

Harry Reid Blames GOP Leaders for Rise of Trump; Trump, Carson Warn: "Riots & Turmoil" at Convention; Cruz Plots Path to Nomination. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 17, 2016 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[11:00:00] JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): And sometimes she catches herself --

HILLARY CLINTON, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE & FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: And above all -- above all.

MOOS (on camera): Speak softly and carry a big stick, so you can use the stick on people who say you're not speaking softly enough.

UNIDENTIFIED COMEDIAN: You want to win, here's what you got to do. First, yell.

MOOS (voice-over): Jeanne Moos, CNN --

UNIDENTIFIED COMEDIAN: In fact, this phone isn't even plugged in.

(LAUGHTER)

I'm just yelling.

(LAUGHTER)

MOOS: -- New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you so much for joining me today. I'm Carol Costello.

AT THIS HOUR with Berman and Bolduan starts right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE & CEO, TRUMP ORGANIZATION: I think you would have riots. I'm representing a tremendous, many, many millions of people.

DR. BEN CARSON, (R), RETIRED NEUROSURGEON & FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's no question there would be a lot of turmoil.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is Trumpsville and this guy is just crunching through the village.

SEN. TED CRUZ, (R), TEXAS & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No one should be surprised that Donald Trump is trying to stir up riots.

TRUMP: I think you would have problems like you have never seen before.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Berman. Great to see you.

Just moments ago, Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, slammed the Republican leadership and Donald Trump. Tied them together in the strongest possible terms. Senator Reid says the Republicans and what he calls its "shared searing hatred for Obama," resulted in the conditions in which Donald Trump is now thriving.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID, (D-NV), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: His vile rhetoric is embarrassing. His proposals are dangerous. Republican establishment acts bewildered, but they should not be bewildered. As much as they try to distance themselves from Trump now, Republican leaders are responsible for his rise. For eight years, they drained all the oxygen from a policy debate in this country by replacing thoughtful engagement with resentment and with hatred. We're seeing it right now that President Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court. A full months before they knew who the nominee would be, Republicans already pledged to block him or her. Republican leaders created the drought conditions, Donald Trump has simply struck the match.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Harry Reid when down a laundry list of examples that he says shows the, quote, "mindless behavior by Republican leaders that allowed Trump to rise."

BERMAN: This all comes as there are battle lines being drawn within the Republican Party over the possibility of a contested convention. Donald Trump and Ben Carson, who supports him now, both warn of turmoil. Donald Trump used the word riots if party leaders try to deny Trump the nomination. Ted Cruz, his campaign quietly plotting a delegate battle, which is going to be easy, to the convention, and influential conservatives right now are meeting today, there's a big conference call, and among the things that may be up for discussion, a third-party candidate.

BOLDUAN: What the heck is going on? Let's bring in Errol Louis, CNN political commentator, political anchor for Time/Warner Cable News; CNN political commentator and GOP presidential campaign veteran, Margaret Hoover; Dana Bash, our chief political correspondent; Doug Heye, the former communications director the Republican National Committee and a contributor to the "Wall Street Journal"; and Bob Beckel, CNN political commentator, campaign manager, a guy who's run campaigns for Democratic candidates, let's just say for, decades, Bob.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

BOB BECKEL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I was around for Lincoln's second.

BOLDUAN: I know. I loved your work back then. It was really impressive.

BECKEL: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Doug, let's discuss. Let's start with Harry Reid. You worked on Capitol Hill, when Harry Reid was the Senate majority leader at the time. You are also a party guy. What do you say to Harry Reid saying that it is Republican leaders who are responsible for the rise of Donald Trump?

DOUG HEYE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Sure, when I was on Capitol Hill and I think everybody in Washington saw when Barack Obama came into the White House, there was a lot of hope, there was a lot of promise, he had 70 percent approval rating, but there wasn't a lot of phone calls from Republicans to work with him on anything. We saw that time and time again issue after issue. Donald Trump is a separate issue from how Barack Obama worked or didn't work with house Republicans, while Joe Biden certainly worked with Republicans from time to time. But what's happening now, the language we hear is inflammatory rhetoric responding from inflammatory rhetoric from Donald Trump. There's only one person who's talking about carrying people out on stretchers and paying medical bills for people who riot. No one but Donald Trump has this kind of rhetoric happening.

BERMAN: That kind of dodges the central issue to what Harry Reid just said. He said that Republican leaders have s are responsible for the environment in which Donald Trump has come to be. Margaret Hoover, you're here. You think Senator Reid, for the first time ever in your mind, may have a point.

[11:05:02] MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah. I love to agree with Senator Reid and so are most Republicans. But I think it would be disingenuous and dishonest for Republicans to look back in history, to look at the crowds that are beginning to emerge, especially the ones following Sarah Palin and not say there is some kind of continuity to the energy that Sarah Palin had, the energy that came in with 2010 with the Tea Party and sort of the captors who are calling the -- holding the Republican Congress hostage. There is a theme throughout that. And those people are the same people who are saying no to whoever President Obama wants to do. I'm not saying Obama doesn't have his share in the polarization. But there is a theme on the right which frankly is a bit fringe, and is the same cohort and constituency that is fueling Donald Trump's rise. It is fuelled by anger, and it is fueled by obstructionism, and is fomenting not the better angels of our nature and our politics.

BOLDUAN: Dana, can you take us behind the scenes? You know Harry Reid very well, you've covered him for years. Harry Reid has like 12 layers of motives sometimes when he's doing something and going to speak publicly about something.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: They don't make them like that anymore.

(LAUGHTER)

BOLDUAN: What is Harry Reid trying to do here? The timing the message, the method. Because a lot of Republican will take it as a point of pride to be slammed by Harry Reid.

BASH: That's a good question. First of all, he's on his way out, but even before he was kind of unshackled by re-election or anything like that, he has always seen himself as the person who can and should lead the way on message. If you go back in time, for better or worse, he was the guy who stood on the Senate floor and he later sort of admitted to me, kind of made up the idea that Mitt Romney may or may not have some bombshell in his taxes and he should release them. He is the guy who, I'm told, behind the scenes and then in public started really going after the Koch brothers and using them as the foil for the Democrats, whether it worked for them or not. But you're right, he sees himself as the person who will set the rhetorical agenda, set the message and lead the way, he feels that way because it is his job, but also because he tends to not really care about getting out there further than maybe other people would. So on the Democratic side, maybe he is the closest match for Trump rhetorically in that way. I'm not saying he is Trump at all. But that's the reason why. And I think it's also a signal that Democrats need to and should start thinking rhetorically and message-wise about putting the Democratic primary in their rear-view mirror and looking more towards the general election and what they're going to do about Donald Trump.

BERMAN: We're hearing from other Democrats, saying if it is going to be Donald Trump, you better take him seriously, don't underestimate him. David Plouffe essentially ran Barack Obama's campaign in 2008, he basically said be careful who you wish for. Let's listen to David Plouffe.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID PLOUFFE, FORMER ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: He's unpredictable. He could win in a landslide. That would cost the Republican Party congressional seats, Senate seats. But as you see, he's bringing new people out, he does have appeal to blue collar voters, and he'll run a very unorthodox campaign. We've never seen anything like this. I think that's very hard for the Clinton campaign because he'll be in their face every day.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So, Bob Beckel, you have run presidential campaigns. How would you now run a campaign against Donald Trump?

BECKEL: I listened to my friend, Plouffe, and I listened to analysts, and I include myself in that, who last year said that Trump didn't have a chance in the primaries. Now they're hedging their bets in the general election. Let me be the first to say, right now, if Donald Trump get this is nomination, he will be crushed. There's not a chance in hell that that's going to happen. Harry Reid was also tying Trump to the Republican Party and therefore the Senate seats that are up for election. The Democrats want to get those seats and the closer he can draw their candidates to Trump, the better off he is in the fall. I think what's happened here is the people -- and Trump is the worst at this, he looks out at these massive crowds, angry white people, who are convinced that immigrants are taking their jobs and trade agreements are a big conspiracy, on and on and on, and thinks that that's an American voter, but it's not, it's a small sliver of the Republican primary electorate and it does not represent a majority of the voters.

One last point, people have forgotten this, but Barack Obama for the first time in years went more positive than negative on his favorable rating as a president in his job rating.

BERMAN: This week, that's right.

[11:10:04] BOLDUAN: This week.

Errol, do you agree with that? Do you think it would hold that Donald Trump will get crushed in a general?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it's too early to say. The unpredictability and the ability to frustrate all of the highly paid consultants, his ability to absorb as he did in Florida, $15 million worth of negative advertising and still win the Republican primaries. There's clearly something going on that clearly people have not understood. I think where Harry Reid is sort of pointing the way -- and this is what you get with a wily old guy like this -- he's sort of pointed to some disturbances within the Republican party about, some wedge issues, and Trump is the ultimate wedge issue, that can split the Senate candidates, especially the moderates, the Rob Portmans of the world, the Kelly Ayottes of the world, those Republicans who are trying to get elected and don't want this -- don't want to be anywhere near this guy.

(CROSSTALK)

LOUIS: He makes it hard for the Republican to get their message and image together, it's going to help with both the national campaign for president and all these individual Senate races.

BERMAN: And probably use the worlds Trump and Republicans in the same sentence every chance he gets for the next several months.

BOLDUAN: Guys, stand by. A lot more to discuss.

Also coming up next, who gets Marco Rubio's delegates now, yes, and why they could make all the difference in a contested, brokered, whatever you want to call it, convention fight.

BERMAN: Plus, in just a few moments, President Obama's Supreme Court nominee heads to Capitol Hill. He will have some meetings, he will not have others, but there are some brand-new signs that at least some Republicans may be softening at least some of their opposition to him. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[11:15:36] TRUMP (voice-over): If we're 20 votes shorts, if we're 100 votes short, and we're at 1,100 and someone else is at 500 or 400, because we're way ahead of everybody, I don't think you can say we don't get it automatically, I think it would be -- I think you would have riots.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: "I think you would have riots." That's Donald Trump speaking here on CNN to "New Day."

Let's bring back our panel and discuss.

Doug Heye, Donald Trump saying there would be riots, there could be, there may be, there would be riots if the party would take the nomination from him, with him being so far ahead, you take him literally?

HEYE: I do take him literally, because we have seen so much in him about inciting violence, again, punching somebody in the face, carrying them out on stretchers, then promising to pay legal bills. It's dangerous rhetoric. It plays into the hands ultimately of Democrats that will use all of this against him. One things Democrats will do that Republicans haven't done for months and months. Let me point out, not everybody said don't take Donald Trump seriously. I first said it on this program I think back in July when I wrote about it for the "Wall Street Journal." But Democrats will go after Donald Trump full boar. They won't wait. We'll see, he's been so Teflon, if it has any effect, but they won't make the same effect we have.

BERMAN: Bob Beckel, violence aside, punching people in the nose and the idea of riots is an awful thing to consider. But we're talking about anger and the anger that is within some ranks of the Republican Party. Won't some of that anger be justifiable if you're a Donald Trump supporter if your guy had the most delegates going into the convention and he was blocked?

BECKEL: Sure. I remember being a college kid back in Chicago in '68 supposedly as a marshal, not much of a marshal. I do remember when the establishment -- there was an establishment, power brokers, who forced Hubert Humphrey on that convention. Riots broke out in the streets and in the convention floor. That was over Vietnam. It may not be as big as issue, but the anger that I see in the Republican Party supporters of Donald Trump is very similar to that. And it's not going to take much to get them to be stirred up. I'll tell you what's the key to it is he's got to be kept under 1000 delegates. If he is, maybe you can have an argument. I think it's the most dangerous thing. As our convention in '68 set us back two decades, I think this will set the Republicans back at least two decades.

BOLDUAN: Dana, what does the RNC do about this, other than just wait, cross your fingers and close your eyes. BASH: Other than get under the covers and wait for --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Yeah, exactly.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: There's not a lot they can do, frankly. I mean, there are some things, there are some rules that are meant to be broken, so to speak, and that can be changed.

But to Bob's point, even that, in the face of this incredible anger towards the establishment, towards institutions, towards Washington, whatever you want to call, it is dangerous, and they know that, which is why Reince Priebus, the RNC chair, has been trying to dance so delicately around this Trump phenomenon, in a way that really has angered a lot of the now former Republican candidates for president. But it is very, very difficult. I think that -- I know they're preparing for this, this being a contested convention, or open convention, as anti-Trump forces like to call it. So it is going to be very much a rules-based thing, but again, rules are changeable, but it's -- not too much to make it look like it's rigged against Trump.

BERMAN: Margaret Hoover has a solution here.

(LAUGHTER)

HOOVER: I would caution all of us to just be careful about drawing the 1968 comparisons too often to the 2016 Republican convention. Let's remember what happened in 1968. This was a very disruptive year in American history. This is the year that Martin Luther King is assassinated and Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. What was happening in Chicago is very different that what will happen in Cleveland. The Democratic Party was riddled with problems, massive -- lack of transparency. It really was brokered in a sense that there were people in the back rooms making decisions and there was an uprising from very honest and earnest Democrats, who really wanted be a part of the political process. What we'll see happen in Cleveland will be a very transparent process. It will be very open. The RNC will make sure. You're right. There would be problems if there were shenanigans in the back room. That's why we're not calling this a brokered convention. If anything, it is unlikely to be a contested convention, which is where you have open and transparent voting.

(CROSSTALK)

[11:20:20] BOLDUAN: You're talking about delegates. You're not talking about popular vote. You're talking about delegates who are --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Go ahead.

BERMAN: Let me do a dramatic reading --

BOLDUAN: Oh, please.

BERMAN: -- from an RNC party official, Curly Hogueland (ph). He's an RNC member. He said, Errol, "Political parties choose their nominee, not the general public, contrary to popular belief."

BASH: That's true.

LOUIS: Which happens to be true.

(CROSSTALK)

LOUIS: There's a reason we have these conventions. People are supposed to get together and figure out -- we met the rules that we have established well in advance, transparently published, to select the nominee. If Donald Trump doesn't have 1,237 delegates, or anybody else, they don't have anything to do except to have another vote, and that's what they're going to do. And to the extent that people are calling this a coup, calling it a contested convention, a brokered convention, or anything like that, let's just call it a convention. That's what it is. That's what it's for.

We should also keep in mind that the delegates -- this is what really matters, and we know there's a lot of subterfuge going on state by state to figure out who these individuals will be, but all of us have been to conventions. These are not by and large wild-eyed anarchists. These are people who run the local hardware store --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: I've seen their hats.

LOUIS: The hats, the hats are a little crazy.

(LAUGHTER)

BOLDUAN: And the fashions are fabulous.

LOUIS: Finally, I would say that this is a guy who prides himself, Donald Trump, on being such a great deal maker, start dealing. Somebody that wants to be the nominee can go into some -- whether it's the backroom or an open ballroom -- say, I've got things to offer. I've got cabinet positions potentially. I've got a vice presidential pick. Let's talk.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Bob, you get the final quick word.

BECKEL: OK. Let me make a point about this. There is going to be a very important meeting at that convention, it's going to be a rules committee. They can and have in both parties change the rules --

(CROSSTALK)

BECKEL: -- as it sees stuff that benefits the party. They have got the kind of powers that the others have, but I would be very, very careful to assume that the rules you see now are going to be the rules that are going to be on the floor of the convention, or at the minimum, they're going to be voted on on the floor of the convention.

(CROSSTALK)

BECKEL: From my stand point, I could not be happier.

BERMAN: Bob Beckel.

BOLDUAN: This is Bob Beckel, over the moon enthusiastic right now.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Everyone, thanks so much for being with us.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: We're actually going to talk about this idea that of the contested, brokered convention, or as Errol calls it, the convention. He also used the word subterfuge. What kind of subterfuge? What is going on behind the scenes? We're going to speak to the guy who literally wrote the book on how to do this.

BOLDUAN: It's like the convention. It's like the Ohio State University. Let's just leave it there.

Plus, fireworks on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers ripping into Michigan's governor for the toxic water crisis that's still hitting Flint, Michigan. We're going to see how Governor Rick Snyder responds to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: Pretty soon, we will have men who strike their wives, saying, I'm sorry, dear, but there were failures at all levels.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:28:58] BERMAN: A quiet day on the physical campaign trail, but Twitter not quiet at all. Donald Trump is going after Ted Cruz, calling him a liar who can't win, and saying this: "Great news that FOX News has cancelled the additional debate. How many times can the same people ask the same question? I beat Cruz debating."

BOLDUAN: Cruz trying to plot his own path to the nomination. He set up a petition to force Donald Trump to debate him Monday in Salt Lake City.

Joining us to discuss, former Georgia congressman, Bob Barr. He is a Ted Cruz supporter.

BOLDUAN: Congressman, great to see you.

BOB BARR, (R), FORMER GEORGIA CONGRESSMAN & AUTHOR: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: We were listening to, of course, Harry Reid who's taking on Republican leadership and tying Donald Trump's rise to Republican leadership. One thing really stuck out to me when Harry Reid said this: "I'm not as turned off by Cruz because he stands for something, Trump stands for nothing."

BERMAN: It's an endorsement.

BOLDUAN: Your thoughts?

BERMAN: Do you accept the Harry Reid endorsement?

BARR: I'm sorry. I didn't know there was a question in there. Certainly the scenario or the characterization that Senator Reid has illustrates one of those few times that I would have to agree with him. Senator Cruz has been trying repeatedly, both in the debates and on the campaign trail, to bring the Republican campaign back to substance and, of course, Donald Trump has been doing his best to skirt away from that and keep it on personal attacks, personal issues, and personal insults, that's why the field has narrowed to basically Donald Trump and Ted Cruz with Governor Kasich off to the side there. Donald Trump, all of a sudden, now does not want to debate. So what the Republican Party leadership ought to be doing, but does not have the power to do, I don't think, but they ought to at least be trying to force Donald Trump back on to the debate stage if what he says is accurate, and that is if he really is a Republican. He isn't, and that severely limits the ability of Reince Priebus and others to have any control over him.