Will Trump's war of words hurt his quest for GOP unity?

Reaction from the 'Special Report' All-Star panel


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


BARACK OBAMA, D-PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I think the Republican nominee is unfit to serve as president.  I said so last week, and he keeps on proving it.  

I think what's been interesting is the repeated denunciations of his statements by leading Republicans.  There has to come a point at which you say, enough.  And the alternative is that the entire party, the Republican Party, effectively endorses and validates the positions that are being articulated by Mr. Trump.  


BRET BAIER, HOST "SPECIAL REPORT":  President Obama with a lengthy and very forward-leaning attack on Donald Trump today at a press conference at the White House.  The Trump campaign put out a lengthy statement in response to that, but it was the vice presidential nominee who was first on camera to respond.  


MIKE PENCE, R-VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Allowing for the fact that Barack Obama knows a lot about being woefully unprepared to be president of the United States, why don't we look at the record?  Let's look at judgment for a second, OK?  It was Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton who after hard- fought gains in Operation Iraqi Freedom that found Iraq stable in 2008 squandered that, pulled our troops out without a status of forces agreement, created a vacuum in which ISIS was able to conjure itself up.  


BAIER:  But it wasn't just Republicans on Democrats today.  Donald Trump gave an interview to The Washington Post in which he talked about three Republicans, asked if he was going to endorse Paul Ryan, Senator John McCain, talked about Senator Kelly Ayotte.  Here is what he said about Paul Ryan who is up for a primary coming up, the House speaker, "I like Paul, but these are horrible times for our country.  We need a very strong leadership.  We need very, very strong leadership, and I'm not just -- I'm just not quite there yet.  Ryan's opponent is a big fan of what I'm saying, big fan."  That, you may remember, mirrors what Ryan said about Trump when asked, at first, if he was endorsing Trump.  


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Now you have a presumptive nominee, Donald Trump.  Will you support him?  

REP. PAUL RYAN, R-SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES:  Well, to be perfectly candid with you, Jake, I'm just not ready to do that at this point.  I'm not there right now.  


BAIER:  OK, so he used those words.  

Then here is Donald Trump on John McCain.  "I've never been there with John McCain because I've always felt that he should have done a much better job for the vets.  He has not done a good job for the vets so I've always had a difficult time with John for that reason because our vets are not being treated properly.  They're not being treated fairly."  

And on Kelly Ayotte, up for reelection in New Hampshire, "I don't know Kelly Ayotte.  I know she has given me no support, zero support, and yet I'm leading her in the polls.  I'm doing very well in New Hampshire.  We need loyal people in this country.  We need fighters in this country.  We don't need weak people.  We have enough of them.  Are these the people that should be representing us?  OK, you tell me."  

All right, long intro to our panel, Kirsten Powers, USA Today columnist, Mercedes Schlapp, columnist for the Washington Times, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammar.  Mercedes, a lot to digest.  What are your thoughts?

MERCEDES SCHLAPP, WASHINGTON TIMES:  Where do you want to start, Bret? Let's just take the first part, which is the fact when President Obama gave a moral speech basically saying, dictating how Republicans should think or act.  It's an insult to Republicans.  They really don't want to hear it from President Obama.  President Obama has decided he is going to try this knock-out punch on Donald Trump.  

But with that being said, you know, Trump obviously needs to figure out a way to somehow bring this party together, which is something he said he's going to do, he hasn't been able to do.  And Obama, what he has been able to do is say let's focus on Donald Trump and not on my legacy, on the fact that we've seen a weakened economy, where we've seen failed foreign policy. And the mere fact that the Democrats have successfully changed the narrative so now it's all about Donald Trump and whether he is unfit to be president and not focusing on the fact that you have a record behind President Obama, I think it's a big problem.  

BAIER:  Two things there.  One, does it fire up Republicans when the president comes out and does what he did today?  

SCHLAPP:  Oh, absolutely.  

BAIER:  Two, then stepping on that, does Donald Trump do that by saying he's not going to endorse Paul Ryan in his primary or John McCain in his primary?  

SCHLAPP:  I finally have decided that there's two camps.  There's the never-Trump camp and then there is the exhausted Trump camp.  Those Trump individuals who have supported Trump, willing to be on the front lines for Trump, but then at the same time Trump has made these significant mistakes that he needs to clean up.  And they're all saying, these Republicans are very worried that he's not staying on message, which the message is very clear.  Focus on the Obama record.  Focus on the Hillary record and you really have a chance to win.  Otherwise if it's all about Donald Trump, there's no way he can pull a victory in November.  

BAIER:  Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST:  Look, I'm not sure you can call these mistakes.  I think they're a reflection of who he is.  Everybody expected the pivot to being presidential, to being conciliatory, to bringing the party together, and it never comes.  People say mistake after mistake.  At some point you have to ask yourself, is he capable of conducting himself in any other way?  

I think you're right, Mercedes, that the basic structure of this campaign is simple.  With any other candidate on the Republican side, this thing would be over given the eight years of record, the failures abroad, the things that Pence raised about what's happening in the Middle East, the news we got on the economy last week, the weakest recovery since 1949.  The list is very long.  And the question that Democrats have to ask, the only way that they can win is to argue for the unfitness of the opponent for the office, because if he crosses the threshold of fitness, he wins.  And that's what the election is all about.  

BAIER:  All right, looking at the Real Clear Politics average of all the recent polls, you have Clinton with a bit of a bump after the democratic convention.  She's now at 46.4.  Trump at 42 percent.  Swing state polls seem like they're roughly the same.  Clinton with a little bit of an average as you look at them, the newest ones.  But the favorability ratings in the average, Kirsten, still upside down for both candidates.  I mean, these are unfavorable candidates.  So basically what we're looking at a major negative race over the next 98 days.  

KIRSTEN POWERS, COLUMNIST, USA TODAY:  Yes.  And there was another poll that showed, I think, 50 percent of Trump voters saying that their vote a vote against Hillary Clinton.  So I think that -- I want to get to what Charles was saying.  I actually don't think these are mistakes for Trump. I think this is his plan.  

BAIER:  His plan?  

POWERS:  If he was here, he would say I'm the one who beat everybody when everybody was telling me I shouldn't be saying these things.  And I don't think he's necessarily this erratic person who just does things without any kind of strategy.  It seems that he has been pretty strategic, and he has been given opportunities to back down many times, and he doesn't back down. And it seems to work for him.  That's the thing.  He seems to continue to poll fairly well.  Hillary Clinton got a bump there.  

BAIER:  Obviously this Khan story was different than the McCain comments he made in the primary.  Arguably the past two, three days of coverage has not been a great thing for him.  Understanding there's more to the story.  

POWERS:  I certainly would agree with that.  But I think there are many times that we have sat at this table and we've talked about things that Trump has done.  And yet he still has managed to bounce back from it, where it looks like maybe he will pay a price for it and he doesn't.  He does seem to have this core base.

Now, the question is, how does he expand that out?  How does he expand that out when he needs to try to get independent voters?  But Hillary Clinton also has a similar problem.  She's not beloved, far from it.  She's not trusted.  

So, I think, you know, his bigger problem, frankly, is that he doesn't have so many Republicans in the establishment behind him and that he places loyalty so high.  You heard him talking and saying I want loyal people. Well, loyal to what?  Not loyal to Republicans.  Loyal to you.  

BAIER:  Yes.  He used the same terminology that Paul Ryan used when hedging on endorsement.  

SCHLAPP:  He doesn't play politics the way a normal politician would.  And you would think there would be a book called "Politics for Dummies" and somebody could give him a copy of it.  But I has to say, he would be so much stronger in a position where he would be able to bring together the Republican establishment.  Although they're not popular, this election cycle, but you need them, because part of the fact is that they bring out voters.  

BAIER:  But Mercedes, we are now on what month where we sat at this table saying this is the presidential pivot.  This is the time when he's getting serious about his presentation.  

POWERS:  There is no presidential pivot.  

BAIER:  Right.  

POWERS:  Right.  

BAIER:  So the question is, when you know that Hillary Clinton is playing this card, saying it's a referendum on your stability, your ability to take over this job, then why isn't the campaign saying we should do something different?  

SCHLAPP:  If you notice in the Ohio rally these past couple of days, he was able to talk about Hillary and the economy and focus on the foreign policy perspective.  You saw Pence also focusing on these topics.  Part of it is staying on message.  And I think that's the hope that Republicans have with Trump.  Will it happen?  We'll have to see.  We have a long way to go.  


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