Trump-Cruz feud heats up ahead of South Carolina

Reaction from the 'Special Report' All-Star panel


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," February 17, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


SEN. TED CRUZ, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: For the first time in many months, there's a new national frontrunner on the Republican side.


CRUZ: So the sound you're hearing is the sound of screams coming from Washington, D.C.

GOV. NIKKI HALEY, R-S.C.: Every day is a great day in South Carolina.


HALEY: Ladies and gentlemen, if we elect Marco Rubio, every day will be a great day in America.

DONALD TRUMP, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They come out with a voter violation form, which is a fraud as far as I'm concerned. And what did he with that whole thing is a disgrace. So we're not going to let that stuff happen anymore. We will not let it happen. We're all watching. You're all watching. Keep your eyes wide open.


BAIER: So the sights and sounds from South Carolina today. The poll that Ted Cruz was referring to is the new NBC/Wall Street Journal, a national poll in which Cruz is up two points, within the margin of error there, over Donald Trump. And there you see the rest of the poll. Again, it is one poll. But here's the head to head match-up. Donald Trump versus Ted Cruz head to head if they were just going at it one against the other, Ted Cruz with a 16-point lead. And against Marco Rubio, it is also a 16 point lead for Marco Rubio. Again, one poll.

Take a look at the national poll out of Quinnipiac poll today. And that has Donald Trump at 39 percent, Marco Rubio at second. So where are we in this race? Let's bring in our panel, Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard, A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of The Hill, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Steve it's important to point that this is one poll. We don't know whether this is a trend until we see more numbers.

STEVE HAYES, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Right. Just a small difference between those two national polls. You have one that has Cruz plus two. You have others have Trump plus 20, plus 18. I think you identified the key question. Is the new NBC/Wall Street Journal an outlier or the beginning of a trend? And I don't think we have enough data to know. We'll certainly have a better idea when we see what happens in South Carolina Saturday. We'll see what happens in Nevada on Tuesday.

BAIER: By the way, we have new number out of South Carolina tomorrow morning 10:00 a.m. on FNC.

HAYES: Right. The national polls, I still believe the national polls tell us something. They tell us the direction that things are trending. For a long time Donald Trump has had the commanding lead in national polls. It has been steadily shrinking. And if Ted Cruz is overtaking him, that tells us that there are developments in the race that we ought to be attuned to.

The more important polls of course are the state by state polls, particularly the polls in the upcoming states of South Carolina, Nevada, and then the March 1st states.

And then in South Carolina by all accounts in the public polling, Donald Trump maintains a commanding lead, sometimes a 20-point lead. If you talk to people who have been doing private polling both associated with campaigns and with some the super PACs, the belief is that Trump's lead is not quite as commanding as the public polls suggest, that Ted Cruz is closer to Donald Trump than the public polling suggest and that Marco Rubio has momentum. In a way the polling in South Carolina feels a bit like the polling in Iowa going into Iowa.

BAIER: We should point out we'll have our own national poll tomorrow night at 6:00, South Carolina in the morning. A.B., the battle between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz is pretty intense in South Carolina. Today Cruz gathered the media, defended an ad they have against Trump, played some of the ad, and then went over a lawsuit that has been threatened against Ted Cruz. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Life, marriage, religious liberty, the Second Amendment
-- we're just one Supreme Court justice away from losing them all. We cannot trust Donald Trump with these serious decisions.

CRUZ: I have to say to Mr. Trump, you have been threatening frivolous lawsuits for your entire adult life. Even in the annals of frivolous lawsuits, this takes the cake. So Donald, I would encourage you, if you want to file a lawsuit challenging this ad, claiming it is defamation, file the lawsuit.


BAIER: And this was the letter from Trump's lawyer that Cruz was responding to. "Ted Cruz has already had one of his ads pulled off the air concerning Senator Rubio because it was totally false. Additionally he was forced to apologize to Dr. Ben Carson for fraudulently stealing his votes in Iowa and was embarrassed by his phony voter violation form. He is a liar and these ads and statements made by Cruz are clearly desperate moves by a guy who is tanking in the polls, watching his campaign go up in flames. It finally explains Cruz's logo. If I want to bring a lawsuit, it would be legitimate. Likewise, if I want to bring the lawsuit regarding Senator Cruz being a natural born Canadian, I will do so. Time will tell, Teddy."

A.B. STODDARD, THE HILL: I don't really have enough time, Bret, to go through how many things he said that that aren't true, starting with the fact that President Bush led us into war intentionally, knew he was lying about intelligence and all the other stuff. Also, he apparently predicted that the Iraq war would be a mistake but no one can ever find him ever predicting it until we were a year into the war and things were going south.

Ted Cruz never apologized for stealing votes from Ben Carson. Ben Carson outperformed the polling in Iowa that came out two nights before the votes.
He came in fourth. He did very well. Ted Cruz apologized for not saying something to his staff earlier that night and having his staff deal with a tweet or whatever about breaking news on CNN. He has never said "I apologize to Ben Carson for stealing his votes in Iowa."

So the thing is about his presser today which was impressive is Ted Cruz obviously is well-versed in the law. He has argued before the Supreme Court. And when he gets going, no one is going to stop him and everyone is going to believe everything he is saying. But also the grounds for this obviously is legal joke even if he were not the scholar that Ted Cruz is.

Ted Cruz, Just like Steve said, they have the same anxieties as they did going into Iowa. Rubio could be surging. Ted Cruz is worried Rubio might come close to him. Trump is worried Ted Cruz could eclipse him and come in first. And so it is really the same feeling and the same fights going on, only Trump has brought to it a new level.

BAIER: And the whole narrative of they want the fighter, the voters want the fighter this year, is this legal effort, this lawsuit threatening, is that the fighter the people you think want?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I'm not sure it helps him and in that respect I think it looks rather petulant. Also conservatives, ordinary people don't like when rich, powerful people threaten lawsuits here and there. I thought the strongest element of what Cruz said is that he's done this all his life and business as well, because it is a use of your power and your money and your influence because ordinary folks can't afford a defense and often have to cave in. It is a bully using the law.

BAIER: Let me say one legal group has Donald Trump named in 169 lawsuits, federal lawsuits.

KRAUTHAMMER: So that plays into that narrative.

But look, we were talking about the polls, how disparate they are. But the one thing they agree on is that if you take Trump against the field, the field wins. And that's why I thought the numbers you just showed of the hypothetical one-on-one of Cruz against the Trump, Rubio against Trump, the 16-point lead, that tells you what we have been saying which is so obvious for the last six months, that the problem in this race is not necessarily that there is a wholesale majority revolt of Trumpites against the Washington establishment. What there is a significant plurality. But the reason he is way ahead and it looks like a wholesale revolt is because the anti-Trump vote is so split. And if it consolidates, it would beat him.
The problem is it has not consolidated and the vote remains split. It may never consolidate and Trump will win the nomination.

BAIER: There was one town hall sound bite from Jeb Bush where he looked frustrated. He said, what, I am a supposed to give up and just pack it in?

HAYES: Yes, he sounded frustrated in that audio. And that town hall came right after Marco Rubio had won the endorsement from Nikki Haley. Jeb Bush had wanted that endorsement. He had said in an interview yesterday he thought it would be a very important endorsement, and then it went to Marco Rubio.

I think the most important thing going into South Carolina to remember is that 55 percent of South Carolinians decided in the last few days if there is a surge as there was in Iowa, it would seem to benefit Marco Rubio. If there is a surge as there was in New Hampshire, it would benefit a John Kasich or maybe a Donald Trump.

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