Can Donald Trump's rivals gain traction in the 2016 race?

Reaction from the 'Special Report' All-Star panel


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," March 2, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


SEN. TED CRUZ, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: To the candidates who have not yet won a state, who have not racked up significant delegates, I ask you to prayerfully consider our coming together, uniting.

DONALD TRUMP, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have expanded the Republican Party. I am a unifier. I know people are going to find that a little bit hard to believe, but believe me, I am a unifier.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Last night was not supposed to be my night. I never said Super Tuesday was going to be our big night. We wanted to do well. We wanted to pick up a lot of delegates, but we understood that other campaigns spent a lot more time and money in some of these states. And I think that was reflected.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Getting ready for the Fox debate tomorrow night here at the Fox Theater in Detroit. As you look at the stage, we can tell you that we were getting ready for five podiums, but now there are four on the stage. That is because today Ben Carson issued a statement saying, quote, "I have decided not attend the Fox News GOP presidential debate tomorrow night in Detroit. Even though I will not be in my hometown of Detroit on Thursday, I remain deeply committed to my home nation, America. I do not see a political path forward in light of last evening's Super Tuesday primary results. I will discuss more about the future of this movement during my speech on Friday at CPAC in Washington, D.C." Governor John Kasich said he talked to Dr. Carson today.


GOV. JOHN KASICH, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: By the way, I don't know what you heard. I just had a very, very nice conversation with Dr. Ben Carson who announced today he is suspending his campaign. And I think he held his head high. And he's a very, very good man.


BAIER: So let's bring in our panel from Washington, D.C.: Jonah Goldberg, senior editor of National Review; David Gregory, former moderator of NBC's "Meet the Press" and author of the book "How's Your Faith?" and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

OK, state of the race Republican side, Jonah?

JONAH GOLDBERG, NATIONAL REVIEW: I think all the talk about how there is a civil war coming misses the point that the civil war already here. I think that the not-Trump forces are galvanized and moving in a way that a lot of people didn't think could happen. There wasn't any time left for it. And I think that the central battlefield will be Florida. And I still think there is a chance that not-Trump forces will prevail.

Trump had a good night last night, so for far if you add up all his returns in all of the primaries, his hostile takeover of the party amounts to a 34 percent of the vote. There is still room in there for the not-Trump forces to prevail. But it's going to be very hard.

BAIER: Yes, and in fact if you have multiple candidates obviously, David, it gets easier for Trump to glide to that nomination. Just looking quickly at the exit polls from last night, angry with the federal government, you see about 48 percent, Texas, Tennessee, Arkansas, Georgia. Prefer the next president to be a political outsider. That's roughly around 60 percent in the states last night. But here's the kicker, dissatisfied if Trump wings the nomination, 54 percent in Texas and Virginia, 53 percent I Alabama, 50 percent in Arkansas, 45 percent in Georgia. So there is some flux there.

DAVID GREGORY, AUTHOR OF 'HOW'S YOUR FAITH?': People want an outsider, not just this outsider. And there's still all this -- you know, to Jonah's point, in a normal year you'd have the party establishment and the party apparatus pushing donors and others to start to rally around the frontrunner even at this point. What is different now is they are trying to see the idea of these rivals to Trump getting some traction and denying him the nomination even if it comes to a brokered convention. I think there is a feeling that perhaps not on their own, neither Rubio nor Cruz can take Trump and defeat him. But maybe they can stop him. On their own, perhaps together.

And, of course, there's a lot of ranker, I think in the party ranks about John Kasich right now who they feel is really getting in the way of a path for Marco Rubio.

BAIER: Charles, your thoughts a day after digesting all the results?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, seven out of eleven states is a pretty significant victory. But even more important for Trump is the way that it all ended up. It was like a break in the game of pool. The balls ended exactly where Trump needed them where there are still two evenly matched contenders, Rubio and Cruz, neither of which is going to get out. And as long as they remain with equal strength roughly below Trump, he wins pluralities.

And what's coming up now are states where with a plurality in the 30s or lows 40s, it's winner-take-all. So at this point, up until now where the vote was split, it was OK to lose states. But now you can't. And the question is what -- will one of them drop out? I think Cruz right now has a stronger claim. He's won four states. He's got strength across the board. And then if you play it out theoretically, you could see the Rubio people headed largely into a Cruz camp. With Cruz it's not that certain that a lot of big number, perhaps even a majority would go to Trump since this is the so-called outsider lane. So if you are planning it that way, you'd say that Rubio should cede.

The other way to play it is they all stay in, and then they deny Trump a majority of the delegates. And then he goes into Cleveland with a plurality but not enough. And then you have to do some kind of coalition where the other candidates pull their delegates, win the nomination, and decide among themselves who gets it.

There is one caveat. If that happens, Trump walks out with 1,000 people walking out behind him, and that would be a calamity.

BAIER: Yes. It's an amazing story that is developing either way you look at it. Our James Rosen was with Cruz campaign yesterday, caught up with Senator Cruz last night late, early this morning, and asked a question that a lot of people are asking. What took so long?


JAMES ROSEN, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: For a good eight months or so, when all the other candidates were attacking Donald Trump, trying to slow the momentum and questioning his conservative bona fides, you were thanking him for raising important issues. Didn't you give Donald Trump political cover that is now serving him very well, and do you regret that?

CRUZ: I have been taking on Donald Trump directly for months now. Going directly at him.

ROSEN: About a month and a half.

CRUZ: And there are stages to the campaign. As I said it was a winnowing field. You saw candidates who took on Donald from a position of weakness and it didn't work out. They got squashed. From our end, we had to consolidate our strength. We had to build our base to be in a position to take him on directly.


BAIER: Jonah, what do you think about that?

GOLDBERG: It's a theory. Look, at the end of the day, the amount of blame to be distributed across the landscape from the mainstream media to various people in talk radio and the Republican establishment and the counter- establishment, you would have to set up FENA tents to distribute all the blame that deserves to go around. And Ted Cruz certainly deserves some.

But at the same time, look, all these guys are in this to win. And he picked a strategy that backfired on him because did he not expect that Donald Trump would eat so much of his base, which is a lot of what we saw in Super Tuesday.

BAIER: Especially with evangelicals, which has been the surprising story. David, what about setting up the debate on this stage tomorrow night, and perhaps how consequential it is as a moment in this race? These seem to be big moments, these debates.

GREGORY: And I think it's another big moment. You not only have more winnowing going on in the field with Dr. Carson getting out, but you have an opportunity, and you directly and your colleagues are going to be posing questions to really get to this ultimate point of disqualifying Trump. What it is -- what is it about his rivals that they see in him that is disqualifying.

Those numbers in the exit polls, there is a high level of dissatisfaction with Trump. And it has gotten real for voters out there to take a look at him and think about him being the standard-bearer of the party. You know, this assault that Rubio has started as well, which was overdue and so late in coming, if he's able to sustain it now and can keep it going for about a month, and if there is a lot of super PAC money that comes in behind it, there is certainly some hope that there is enough there to slow him down and allow Cruz and Rubio to catch up and deny Trump. It's not about beating him outright, but it's denying him a chance to get over the top.

BAIER: Ten seconds here, Charles. The other option here as we have seen before is Donald Trump comes out of these debates better positioned.

KRAUTHAMMER: Unless his opponents, namely Rubio and Cruz, open the bomb bay doors and drop all the remaining ordinance. It seemed Rubio enjoyed doing that last time around. And he found a way to get after Trump kind of is with mockery and ridicule. And if you look at the exit polls, late deciders did not go to Trump. They went to Rubio and to Cruz. So it might work. It's the only option. I would look for carpet bombing starting in about 12 hours -- 24 hours from now.

BAIER: Charles, David, Jonah, as always, thank you.

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