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Special Report

Can Donald Trump win without Republican unity?

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," May 9, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Does the party have to be together? Does it have to be unified? I'm very different than everybody else perhaps that's ever run for office. I actually don't think so.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It doesn't have to be --

TRUMP: No, I don't think so. I think it would be better if it were unified. I think there would be something good about it. But I don't think it actually has to be unified in the traditional sense.

I'm a conservative, but don't forget, this is called the Republican Party. It's not called the conservative party. You know, there are conservative parties. This is called the Republican Party.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Donald Trump on his unification efforts with the GOP. He is meeting Thursday morning with Paul Ryan, House speaker. And now we've just learned that he is going to meet Thursday at 11:45 with Senate GOP leaders, including the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell.

This as the unfavorable numbers for both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton continue apace here. This is the average of polls. And there you see the favorable/unfavorable numbers for Donald Trump. But look at Hillary Clinton's favorable/unfavorable numbers. And you can see the average of polls, pretty similar. Also not that strong.

The Trump people are pointing out a Military Times poll tonight showing that Donald Trump beats Hillary Clinton. This is, we should point out, not a scientific sampling of military voting patterns, but it is done every so often by the Military Times, pointing out his dominance in that poll.

So let's bring in our panel tonight: national correspondent for The Atlantic Jeffrey Goldberg; U.S. News and World Report contributor Mercedes Schlapp, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. OK, Jeffrey, let's talk about Donald Trump and the unification. He seems like it doesn't matter.

JEFFREY GOLDBERG, THE ATLANTIC: Historically, the truth is it does matter. No one has ever won the presidency, I think, with a split party behind him or not behind him. And then you have to imagine, going forward, imagine a situation in which every time a Republican state assemblyman comes out in whatever state and says I can't support this man, it's another news cycle, it's another story about a negative. It's very hard to imagine somebody doing well when the party is fractured behind him.

BAIER: He's meeting with Speaker Ryan, now the Senate side as well on Thursday. Clearly he's going to try to mend ways. And he told me last Thursday that he is up for negotiating on pretty much everything.

MERCEDES SCHLAPP, U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT: I think that is going to be an incredibly important meeting. Here is the deal. You have two gentlemen who are trying to become the standard bearers of the party. And they all are going to have to meet somewhere in the middle. And I think for Ryan, I think it was a very smart move on his part to say, wait a second, you are going to come to my office here. You have got to realize that I have to control part of the space as well. And although you are bringing in new voters, part of the deal is making sure you don't lose your base in the meantime. So I think that's going to be a very telling, critical point to see if, in fact, we can unify the party. And that's also going to include if Ted Cruz comes out and endorses Donald Trump, which will send a sign over to the social conservatives as well.

BAIER: Charles, I have just talked anecdotally with people up on the Hill, and there's concern about various policy points that Donald Trump has been talking about over the past couple of days, taxes, the minimum wage, other shifting things that he has said one way before and now a different way.
What about that?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Look, there's been a huge number of shifts that he has done during the campaign. But the fundamental issue is, as we heard him say, yes, I'm a conservative, but the party is not necessarily a conservative party. It's clear that he is at best a newly minted conservative.

Ryan represents his whole life, 20, 30 years of being a Reagan Republican, being serious about policy. But what you have here is a situation where, you know, the Catholic Church once had two Popes, one in Rome and one in Avignon. So Trump is in control of Rome. And Ryan is now holed up in Avignon. And he's saying, look, I represent an important wing of the party, the traditional, ideological wing. You represent, yes, new people, new ideas. It's a populist nationalism. It's a different faith. And unless the breach is healed, I don't see how he can win. But it is a breachable one if each recognizes the other's positions without necessarily conceding.

BAIER: Ryan saying that he will step aside as convention chair if Donald Trump wants him to. Gamesmanship, leverage, what is that?

GOLDBERG: I'm sorry, I'm trying to picture Palm Beach as the new Rome, by the way.

(LAUGHTER)

GOLDBERG: Some of the architecture is a facsimile I guess.

It seems like brinksmanship. It also seems like something very sincere on his part. I talked to a couple people up on the hill about this. He is -- I think we sometimes underplay people's genuine anguish when they happen to be in politics, but I think there's anguish here, and I think he doesn't want to have to oversee a process of destroying conservative values, let's put the word "conservative" back into play, the things the Republican Party has stood for in order to oversee a convention that nominates Donald Trump.

BAIER: Mercedes, I want to play a sound bite from the weekend. And this is Donald Trump attacking Hillary Clinton, and her response today and what that tells us about the way forward.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Nobody in this country and maybe in the history of the country politically was worse than Bill Clinton with women. And she was a total enabler. She would go after these women and destroy their lives. I mean, have you read what Hillary Clinton did to the women that Bill Clinton had affairs with?

HILLARY CLINTON, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm going to let him run his campaign however he chooses. I'm going to run my campaign, which is about a positive vision for our country. I have nothing to say about him and how he's running his campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: So, I mean, is that going to tell us that he is throwing everything he's got, even on the woman card?

SCHLAPP: The Republicans have always been very fearful of taking on Democrats on anything that could be scandalous. In this case, I think Donald Trump has said I'm not afraid of this woman. I'm not afraid of her husband. I'm going to take them on. And I think for the Republicans out there for a long time who wanted someone to beat up on the Clintons, it's actually quite refreshing.

So I think in case of the women card, it's harder, I think he's getting sort of the history lesson to the millennials, so those Americans who are not aware of the Monica Lewinskys of the world, of the Gennifer Flowers of the world, and really saying take this woman card off the issue. The identity politics in America has evolved. Younger women in particular are not interested necessarily in voting for a first woman president. There's sort of that separation between the older generation and the younger generation on that.

BAIER: He's got upside down numbers with women. He points out that so does she.

KRAUTHAMMER: I think this will genuinely thrill Republicans who want revenge for what Clinton did in the late '90s where he did a jujitsu and the GOP and he crushed them when they went after him and his infidelities. However, for non-Republicans, I think this is unbelievably risky. I think it will likely hurt him with independent and Democratic women. It's a big risk because he's the kind of guy who is in the casino every day.

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