Is Wisconsin a reset for the Republican primary battle?

Reaction from the 'Special Report' All-Star panel


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," April 5, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO HOST: The pattern for Donald Trump has been, during the primary season, that when he has lost a primary, he immediately changes the narrative. The objective here is to have a plan that reinvigorates the campaign, that changes the narrative, that takes it back to a central issue of Trump's campaign that has created so much excitement and advances it.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Rush Limbaugh today talking, not about the Wisconsin primary, but about the issue of immigration and referring to Donald Trump talking about how he will get Mexico to pay for the wall he wants to build along the southern border. "The Washington Post" types it up this way. Trump said he would threaten to change a rule under the USA Patriot Act antiterrorism law to cut off a portion of the funds sent to Mexico through money transfers, commonly known as remittances. The threat would be withdrawn if Mexico made a one-time payment of $5 billion to $10 billion to pay for the border wall. After the wall is funded, Trump wrote, transfer payments could continue to flow into their country year after year. He also wants to deport all 11 million illegal immigrants living in the United States, many of whom come from Mexico. Now the interesting thing about that, in the exit polls we are just seeing out of Wisconsin, as far as people saying, what is their most important issue, if it was immigration, only 5 percent of the people voting in Wisconsin said immigration is their most important issue. Kind of sets the table tonight.

Let's bring in our panel: Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard -- also a Wisconsin native; Kirsten Powers, USA Today columnist, and Tucker Carlson, host of "Fox & Friends Weekend."

OK, Steve, we led off with immigration there. It's not a huge issues, it seems, for Wisconsin. Anything else strike you from these exit polls as we're seeing this first wave?

STEVE HAYES, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yes, there are a number of things that strike me. Every time we've come here and talked about the exit polls, the thing I look at first, particularly since it's been basically a two-man race between Cruz and Trump, is how Ted Cruz is doing in expanding his appeal to the Republican primary electorate. And if you look at these numbers, he's pulling 46 percent of the somewhat conservative voters. That is nearly double what he's gotten in all of the other states, and beats Donald Trump by seven points. That's one of the reasons I think Ted Cruz is likely to have a pretty good night tonight. The other reason is, when Donald Trump went to Wisconsin to campaign in Wisconsin, he started out by attacking Wisconsin's popular governor, Scott Walker. Still has 80 percent approval among Wisconsin primary voters. This is a bad idea. He's attacking him using recycled attacks from the state's Democratic Party chairman. These are things that Wisconsin voters, Wisconsin Republicans in particular, have gone to polls year after year to fight against. And Donald Trump comes to Wisconsin and says, look, Scott Walker has this deficit which no longer exists, and he didn't raise taxes because he's running for president. It's not a good idea to attack a popular conservative governor in a Republican primary for refusing to raise taxes.

BAIER: Steve's point, Kirsten, is that in Wisconsin, the establishment Republicans are not labeled with that naughty word establishment. They seem to be kind of accepted.

KIRSTEN POWERS, USA TODAY: Yes, they're liked. And also, they've had time, because of all the attacks on Scott Walker, to build a real conservative infrastructure, I think, that is probably working to Cruz's advantage. The thing that I did find interesting in the exit polls, though, even though it looks like a good night for Cruz is that Trump doesn't seem to have really been damaged that badly with women and that really has been the conversation we've been having for the last couple weeks. It sort of suggests that the women that he has are with him and maybe the other women -- it seems they're voting more on the issues that go outside of the sexism accusations versus what kind of person do I want? Do I want a Donald Trump type candidate or a Cruz candidate?

BAIER: Tucker, to that point, exit polls in every state we've seen, he has a loyal following that just sticks with him, Trump does, whatever the number is, 30 to 40 percent, it depends, but they're loyal.

TUCKER CARLSON, 'FOX & FRIENDS WEEKEND' CO-HOST: Almost impervious would be the word I would use. I've never seen a candidate in any race ever have a worse two-week period than Donald Trump had. It was entirely self- inflicted, and worst of all, he took the attention away from the two issues that have worked for him. Despite what exit polls say, immigration and trade have worked for him, clearly. Maybe they're proxies for frustration with the elites or whatever, but he hasn't talked about them for two weeks. Instead, he's embroiled himself for whatever reason; maybe he doesn't want to be president -- in a series of pointless battles. And yet he still has this support. So here's the bottom line. At the end of this process, June 7, we're likely to see Trump with the most delegates, the most states won, and the most votes. What's the Republican Party going to do with that?
I'm confused by why establishment Republicans -- and by the way, they do exist. They pretend they don't but they are real. Why aren't they in Mar- a-Lago right now trying to surround Trump, moderate him, teach him, make him better? Because we're inevitably looking at a really fierce, divisive, truly painful fight in Cleveland otherwise, and I don't know why they aren't making a better effort --

BAIER: Do you think that Donald Trump would listen to folks that come in from Washington and say, hey, here is what you have to do?

CARLSON: Probably not. I think there is some evidence that his oldest daughter is the person, maybe the sole person he really listens to. And by the way, she was gone with a new baby for part of this period. I suspect all these events are linked. But I think there's also evidence that he's not totally deaf to the entreaties of others. There are some people he listens to and they should make an effort because he is going to have the most votes. That's the fact.

BAIER: The key is, this race, no matter what happens, is not going to be decided until California on June 7 when you look at the delegates. You can't get there mathematically until California, even if he has a tremendous run.

HAYES: Right, if then. And I think that's exactly the reason that you haven't seen Republicans do what Tucker suggests that they do. It's too early. You still have a party that is so badly divided, there's no reason to rally around Donald Trump at this point. In these exit polls, when voters were asked, if it's a race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, will you support Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, 61 percent said they'd support Donald Trump. Thirty-five percent said they wouldn't support Donald Trump in a head-to-head race against Hillary Clinton, which is consistent with what we've seen in exit polls elsewhere. It's far too early to rally around Donald Trump or even try to make him better, at this point, when you've got people like Ted Cruz, who I think is the obvious alternative, trying so hard to beat him and a whole other group, whole other huge section of the party, well beyond just the establishment, trying to do everything they can to stop Donald Trump from getting to that 1,237.

BAIER: Here is John Kasich from Greta's town hall.


GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS: Donald Trump says that you don't have the votes, you can't do it, and so does Senator Ted Cruz. So what is your strategy?

GOV. JOHN KASICH, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, both of them say I ought to get out of the race because I'm winning their votes. I agree with them. Well look, nobody is going to win this going in. There's going to be an open convention, and it's going to be cool.


BAIER: It's going to be cool, Kirsten.

POWERS: It's going to be very cool, yes. The thing is, I think the reason that they're not rallying around Donald Trump is because there's a group of people, at least that I talk to, who feel like they don't really care what happens to him. He's not going to hit the magic number, and as long as they keep him under the magic number, they think there's going to be a contested convention and on the second ballot that Ted Cruz will probably win. And these aren't even people that necessarily love Ted Cruz, but they think that that's where they're headed. And so there's no reason to get around Donald Trump, especially, they're saying, if he wins Wisconsin tonight.

BAIER: So what about John Kasich? We talked about his narrow path. It's narrower, even after Wisconsin, potentially, if he doesn't pick delegates in some of these congressional districts. But one would think he takes away from Cruz. Trump says he takes away from him. What's your thought?

CARLSON: I would think he takes away from Cruz. He's the living embodiment of the attitude that is going to cause us a lot of problems pretty soon. He can only be the nominee by fiat. Whenever you impose something by fiat on a population that's not convinced of it, whether it's Roe v. Wade, or Obamacare, or the Iraq War, or whatever, you have long term, decades-long resentment and problems as a result of that. We're getting to a place where the Republican Party is willing to say, we're going to put someone in there who didn't get any votes, or got far fewer votes. Whoever the nominee is, and I think it actually could be Cruz, has to have enough votes to be a legitimate nominee. I know that that's technically not true. You can force someone who doesn't have it, but you're going to pay the price for that because basically you're saying, this is not a democracy, and people recent that.

BAIER: What these exit polls show is a split Republican Party, seriously divided.

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