OTR Interviews

Is the 'Trump Factor' Weighing Down the GOP Fight to Take Back the White House?

RNC Chair Reince Priebus sounds off on the Trump debate controversy and whether 'The Donald' could hurt Republicans' chances of winning the White House in 2012

 

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," December 9, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Is Donald Trump going to ditch his debate and run for president himself? Well, a growing number of GOP candidates are dissing the Donald, saying no to his TV debate, and he is not happy about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, TRUMP ORGANIZATION (Via Telephone): You know who I'm very disappointed in? Michele Bachmann. She'd come up to see me four times. Four times. She'd call me. She'd ask me for advice. She said I should be her vice presidential -- you know, if she wins, she'd like to think about me for the vice president.

DON IMUS, "IMUS IN THE MORNING": (INAUDIBLE) work.

TRUMP: She -- you know, all of these things. And most importantly, I did, like, a two-hour phone call for her with her people...

IMUS: Wow.

TRUMP: ... and it caused me a certain problem. People said, Are you endorsing her? Which the answer was no. And then after all of that, she just announced she's not going to do the debate! It's unbelievable!

IMUS: I'm surprised you like...

TRUMP: It's called loyalty! It's actually called loyalty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAN SUSTEREN: Now the candidates may find themselves really taking on Trump. He says he might run for president. Trump says, "The Republican Party candidates are very concerned that sometime after the final episode of `The Apprentice' on May 20th, when the equal time provisions are no longer applicable to me, I will announce my candidacy for president of the United States as an independent, and that, unless I conclusively agree not to run as an independent, they will not agree to the Newsmax debate scheduled for December 27th, 2011. It is very important to me that the right Republican candidate be chosen to defeat the failed and very destructive Obama administration. But if that Republican in my opinion is not the right candidate, I am unwilling to give up my right to run as an independent candidate."

So is all this tarnishing the Republican race for the White House? RNC chairman Reince Priebus joins us. Good evening, sir.

REINCE PRIEBUS, RNC CHAIR: Hey, Greta, how are you?

VAN SUSTEREN: Very well. And I suspect this all falls under the headline "never dull," the possibility that you will now have Donald Trump running as an independent. Have you given it some thought?

PRIEBUS: Well, first of all, I thought you were going to have me on so we could talk about our Packers a little bit, but we can get right down to business and talk about this issue.

(LAUGHTER)

PRIEBUS: Greta, you know, I -- listen, I respect Mr. Trump quite a bit, and I certainly respect Newsmax. And so, you know, my position on this on this has absolutely nothing to do, really, with whether or not we appreciate or respect these -- the organization and Mr. Trump. Not at all.

What this just has to do with is the fact that, you know, if you have a moderator and the moderator is considering running as an independent, I just think that, you know, that's an issue that we need to -- we need to look at, and that's all.

And in the end, Greta, the reality is, as you know because Fox has been involved in a lot of debates, candidates decide for themselves what they want to do. And Fox and CNN and all these groups can -- you can all schedule debates, but in the end, the candidates actually decide what they want to do and what they don't want to do.

What I did earlier this week on Fox when I was on "Fox and Friends" and I was asked about it, was simply just say, Look, you know, like Mr. Trump and Newsmax a whole lot, but you know, this is an issue of concern, and I think that it's pretty reasonable for an RNC chairman to be concerned about it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Are you saying that if he would make a declaration that he has no intention to run as a Republican or an independent or anything, that you would have no problems? Because some people are opposed to him moderating a debate. But are you saying that in that instance, if he's not going to run, that you think that, you know, that might be a good idea to have him run a debate?

PRIEBUS: Well, I mean, I think that it certainly would take the major hurdle off the table. And then at that point -- like, now, even with the hurdle, it's still up to the candidates, Greta. I guess that's what I'm saying.

I think most people watching this would agree with me that it's a pretty reasonable concern to have. If that concern's completely off the table, well, you know, my answer is just the candidates decide. And the candidates decide anyway, for that matter. So it's their call in the end.

And these candidates and the campaigns have to make these decisions on their own, both on scheduling and all of those sorts of issues that these guys need to be concerned with.

VAN SUSTEREN: Have you or anyone on your staff had a conversation with Donald Trump in the last three or four weeks?

PRIEBUS: No.

VAN SUSTEREN: Not at all? So there's no communication between the Trump -- Donald Trump and the RNC?

PRIEBUS: I've talked to Donald Trump months ago. In fact, we did a fund-raiser at a golf course of his over the summer, and it was a great event. And our relationship with Mr. Trump is very good.

So I just want to -- you know, this has nothing to do with relationships or what we think about Newsmax or anyone else. This just has to do with the fact whether or not it's a smart idea to have a moderator who's batting around the idea of running as an independent to moderate a debate. That's all this is.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, there's a little -- it seems like there might be some blood on the floor in the Republican Party in the next couple of weeks because it's gotten quite rugged between a number of the candidates. Most recently, it seems that Governor Romney and his supporters are going pretty aggressively after Speaker Gingrich for his personal past. Your thought on this, what is at least sort of evolving into a rather rugged campaign between the two of them.

PRIEBUS: Well, I don't think primaries are anything unique. Obviously, the other parties had plenty of them. Bill Clinton came through one, and obviously, Hillary and -- and Hillary and Barack Obama nearly gouged each other's eyes out through the end of June, and look what happened. He won and took a super-majority in Congress and a 60-vote -- votes in the U.S. Senate with him.

So the concept that tough primaries are somehow a bad thing -- I think the opposite. I actually think primaries that are competitive and tough -- I think they're great for us.

You know, we're both from Wisconsin, Greta. Scott Walker didn't walk into the governor's house, and he's leading a great debate in this country. He didn't walk in, he had a tough fight against Mark Newman, who spent about $5 million of his own money. All those other governors that came through the Midwest, none of them walked in. They all came through primaries.

There's a history in this country that, usually, candidates that come through pretty difficult primaries end up going in and winning elections. So I think it's pretty common.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, what's uncommon, though, is that in two days, the Packers managed to sell $43 million worth of shares to citizens, when, essentially, they bought almost nothing except bragging rights. But it does show the enormous amount of -- and I'm going to take the last word on that one, but I bet you like that.

PRIEBUS: Hey, I'm a stockholder.

(LAUGHTER)

VAN SUSTEREN: We all are! Anyway, Reince, thank you. And apparently, we got a lot of new shareholders.