Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz battle for anti-Trump voters

Reaction from the 'Special Report' All-Star panel


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," February 24, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And the Nevada caucuses, by the way, are atypical. I respect Nevada very much, but last night that process was just different than the rest of the country. As long as there are four people running dividing up the non-Trump vote, you're going to get results like what you saw last night.

SEN. TED CRUZ, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The undeniable reality that the first four states have shown is that the only campaign that has beaten Donald Trump and the only campaign that can beat Donald Trump is this campaign.

DONALD TRUMP, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We weren't expected to win this one. You know that, right? We weren't. Of course if you listen to the pundits, we weren't expected to win too much, and now we're winning, winning, winning the country.



BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Donald Trump with a big win in Nevada as you look at the number in the Nevada caucuses, he had more votes than his nearest two competitors combined in the caucus results. Now for the delegate count: He has 81 so far. Cruz and Rubio tied at 17. Trump responding to what we played earlier, Mitt Romney talking about his tax returns taking to Twitter. "Mitt Romney who totally blew an election that should have been won and whose tax returns made him look like a fool is now playing tough guy." Also tweeted, "The polls showed that I pick up many Jeb Bush supporters. That's how I got to 46 percent. When others drop out I will pick up more. Sad but true."

So let's bring in our panel: syndicated columnist George Will; A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of The Hill, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

OK, Trump is clearly the best position to get the GOP nomination. How does anybody else get the GOP nomination?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, obviously, if Cruz and Rubio continue what they're doing, they're going to lose. It simply hasn't worked. If you look at what happened in Nevada, Trump won everything. He won every demographic. He won every subcategory in the electorate. For Rubio and Cruz, I think Cruz has to stop defensively. Forget about the liar and the dirty tricks. He got distracted, ended up on the defense, a waste of time. He needs to find an attack line.

And I think it might also apply to Rubio. What possibly would work against Trump? I think a kind of -- you want to do a distraction. I think you go after him on the tax returns. I think Romney is on to something. I think it can be deflected. I'm not sure it will be effective. But nothing else that has been tried is going to work. And also, they both have to work on defending their home state. If either loses his home state to Trump, they have to pull out.

BAIER: You agree Trump's best positioned at this moment to roll the table.

KRAUTHAMMER: But he is way above that. He is in a position where unless something changes he is going on run the table.

BAIER: OK, speaking of home states, today Ted Cruz got the endorsement of someone important in Texas, the governor.


GOV. GREG ABBOTT, R-TEXAS: I'm confident Ted Cruz will be a terrific commander in chief for the United States of America.


ABBOTT: Join me in voting for Ted Cruz for president of the United States of America.

CRUZ: It is an honor to be here with my friend, with my mentor, with a man who has taught me more than I can possibly convey. It is an incredible honor to be here with the governor of Texas, to be standing together saying we've got six days, six days to lead in Texas, to lead the country. So let's get to work.


BAIER: Ted Cruz thanking Governor Abbott. In the latest poll number out of Texas Cruz has 35 percent, Trump, 20 percent, Rubio down to eight percent. You see the rest of the numbers. A.B.?

A.B. STODDARD, THE HILL: Well, there are a lot of scenarios out there today with Trump and such a commanding position for the nomination, and they involve basically everyone stays in and that stops Trump, and all the delegates at a brokered convention add up to more than he has. But basically people can see, no one can stop him if they all stay in the race. So someone said to me from one of the campaigns, said, hey, if everyone left Cruz and Trump to fight it out in Texas, Cruz would smash him. If everyone left Rubio and Trump to fight it out in Florida, Rubio, if they pull themselves literally off the ballot. But it's come to that.
So he has the commanding lead. He has all the momentum.

BAIER: But what about Trump's tweet and the anecdotal evidence of Nevada that not everybody is going to go to the other candidate. Some of them are going to go to Trump.

STODDARD: That may be the case. We talked last night about a bandwagon effect. I think that is the case. But there is still the case that a strong faction of the Republican Party is going to fight against Donald Trump and believes they can amass the numbers if they can just get down to one candidate. Right now they can't.

BAIER: There is a political article out that says that establishment donors big money has abandoned the anti-Trump funding campaign, George.

GEORGE WILL, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I didn't know that there was one yet because we haven't seen institutions like the Club for Growth or Americans for Prosperity which have ample resources going after the tax returns and other parts of Trump's past in business.

Trump can reasonably feel he is on a glide path to the nomination and therefore he ought to be play defense. But the way he plays defense is by offense, by constantly throwing hand grenades and monopolizing the conversation day by day. And he did run into Mitt Romney who showed how a gentleman uses stiletto on Neil Cavuto's show by definitely moving to the front burner the issue of the tax returns which will not go away.

Ted Cruz has a theory of the race he's waged his whole career on and he has to stay with it, and that is the analytics from his wizard, Jeff Roe, will teach them to locate and motivate four to five million voters who haven't been voting in recent elections. Rubio has to win Florida. If he wins Florida, he will be a substantial come from behind. It will be a huge win of delegates and he will be on a difficult plane to stop. Don't forget Kasich, however, because if he survives to Michigan on the 8th of March, and Ohio with 55 winner take all delegates on the 15th of March, then instead of the problem of two, you have a problem of three.

BAIER: Increasingly the other paths are narrowing, fair to say?

WILL: Very much fair to say.

KRAUTHAMMER: Because even if some of the vote of those who drop out ends up in the Trump camp, the current situation is an absolute 100 percent loser for all except Trump. So that's got to change. Yes, there will be a bleeding over to Trump if some of them leave. But maybe the answer is a backroom deal. Reagan made a deal with a liberal senator a few weeks before the convention in '76 when he went after Gerald Ford. It didn't work, but it was a way to offer a compromise. Two of these guys could get together. It will be denounced as a back room deal, but so be it. That is another option.

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