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Special Report

GOP concerns increase over the 'Trump effect' on other races

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," August 12, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: You know, the Republicans do have a tougher path, just so you -- not my fault. Not my fault. It's a tougher path. For the presidency, it's just a tougher, winding road. But if we win Pennsylvania, we win Florida, where we're doing really well, I think we can win Ohio. It will be over. It will be over. It will be over.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DOUG MCKELWAY, GUEST ANCHOR: Well, some say that is wishful thinking, especially when you look at some of the latest polls. The latest one out today, the NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll of some key swing state puts that all into perspective. Let's take a look at it right now. Florida, Clinton up five percentage points right now. In North Carolina, Clinton up nine percent. In Virginia, Clinton up 13. And in Colorado, Clinton up 14.

Let's bring in our panel now: Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard; Fox News media analyst and host of Fox's "MediaBuzz," Howard Kurtz; David Catanese, senior politics writer for U.S. News and World Report, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Charles, still a lot can happen. We are 90 days out. Unpredictable things we don't know.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Let's remember, this is about the worst two or three weeks Trump has had of any candidate that we've seen recently. So this is the trough, I think. It's also what's left of the bounce that Hillary got from a successful convention. Also, the disappearance of her main challenger, Bernie Sanders. So you've got a consolidation on their part.

But given the fact that we have had a crazy year, and a totally unpredictable candidate, I wouldn't predict anything right now. But I would point out the great irony. Trump's strategy has been to flood the media, the free media. And that works extremely well, when you're running in a primary against 16 other people. He got more than a half of the coverage compared to all the others and he emerged as the winner. But it works precisely the opposite way, when you're in a two-way race with the two most unpopular candidates in recent history. That's where the less you're on the air, the less you're the story, the more advantageous.

Hillary has been hiding in a cave somewhere, and as a result it's all about Trump, and he's been -- when you're on that much, when you do that many interviews, when you do that many rallies, you're going to make mistakes, and that's what's been hurting him.

MCKELWAY: David?

DAVID CATANESE, U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT: Trump's lost the entire rationale for his candidacy in the in the first place, which it was I'm a winner. Now he can't point to most states. There are Republican states like Georgia and Utah that now look close. So he can't point to anywhere. And these polls today are just disastrous.

I talked to a lot of Republican strategists this week, who say, from the outside, not on the inside, they say put him on a rally diet, put him in small groups with opinion leaders, put him in the Qantas Club in Ohio, put him in the Home Builders Association in North Carolina and get validators out there so he can be taken seriously, so that people think he has the right temperament, so that people think he still cares about issues and this isn't only some egomania thing that he's doing here.

He's now suggesting openly, it's OK if I lose. I can go back and have a vacation. That should worry Republicans across the board and across the ballot that have to run with him.

MCKELWAY: And so much of this depends, it seems to me, Howie, on not only organizational problems at the grassroots level that we've seen, but also the imprecision of Donald Trump's language, which can be interpreted in so many ways by so many different people. We saw a classic example of this with a conflict over ISIS and the founder of ISIS. Let's take a look at a little montage of interpretations of this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

TRUMP: ISIS is honoring President Obama. He is the founder of ISIS.

HUGH HEWITT: I know what you meant. You meant that he created the vacuum, he lost the peace --

TRUMP: No, I meant he's the founder of ISIS, I do.

I said, the founder of is. Obviously, I'm being sarcastic. Then, then -- but not that sarcastic, to be honest with you.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

MCKELWAY: It kind of reminds me of the old Freudian Rorschach inkblot test where somebody looks at it and says that's a puppy dog and somebody else looks at it and says that's a pit bull with rabies, and everything in between.

HOWARD KURTZ, FOX NEWS MEDIA ANALYST: You've got to track Twitter feed hour by hour to know what he means, I'm only being a little sarcastic there, not that sarcastic. It helps him in the primaries because when people are attacking him for the language, did he go too far, it would turn a one-day story into a five-day story. Right now Charles is right, he's getting most of the coverage. He's doing far few interviews, but he's getting most of the coverage, a lot of it hostile.

Republican Party is starting to panic. Many of the congressional candidates want to save their own skin. They didn't like him in the first place. He ran against the establishment. They're discounting the possibility, in my view, that he could bounce back. But this picture of disarray is starting to overshadow Trump's message.

MCKELWAY: Steve?

STEVE HAYES, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I think Charles is right that this has been the worst two or three weeks of any candidate really in recent memory. But looking forward, you have to ask yourself, what is it that Trump has that allows him to recover? I mean, it's certainly not message discipline.

You look at the other things that have traditionally mattered. And Trump has shown us that not all these things will matter. But you look at demographics, a huge advantage to Hillary Clinton. Money, a huge advantage to Hillary Clinton, organization, get out the foot operations. She has one, a sophisticated one that she inherited largely from Barack Obama. He has virtually nothing and has really acted with contempt when asked why he should have one.

And finally, I think, is the media. You know, Charles is right, that it was 16 to one and Trump was able to dominate the debate when he was competing against 16 rivals. And that's true. And it resulted in, I think, a lot of favorable media coverage for him. But the other big difference is not just that it was 16 to one versus one-on-one with Hillary Clinton now. It's that when Donald Trump was beating the heck out of other Republicans and conservatives, the mainstream media loved him. They egged him on. They thought this was the greatest thing they've ever seen. Now that he's one on one with Hillary Clinton, they don't like him as much. They aren't as sympathetic to the argument.

HAYES: And many people predicted that would be the dynamic that would happen. Indeed it's done just that.

Secretary Clinton released her tax returns today. Let's take a look at them. In 2015, the Clintons paid an effective federal income tax rate of 34.2 percent and then combined with state and local taxes they paid a rate of 43.2 percent. Trump responded, quote, "Hillary Clinton has turned over the only records nobody wants to see from her. The American public wants to see those 33,000 emails she deleted to obstruct an FBI investigation." And he goes on and on with that email. Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: Well, that's the best response you can make since Trump will not release his tax returns. And you would expect if she's releasing them, Kaine is releasing them, that the pressure would be on him. So I think it's a clever way to swat it away and deflect it.

But it still I think leaves open the question, why has Trump not released them given the fact that every candidate going back, I think, to Richard Nixon has released them. And this is a glaring exception.

CATANESE: She's stepping on his throat here. She looked at this week and is like, I am lapping him and it's a Friday, and most people are on their way to the beach, and I'm going to put more pressure on him, right? This is all -- I think the Clinton campaign thinks they can bury him in August like the Obama campaign will go back and say that they buried Mitt Romney in July. And I think they're going to be just as aggressive. Over the next couple of weeks I think you're going to see more Republicans that are going to be rolling out, crossing over, national security figures crossing over for Clinton. I think the Clintons feel like they can -- the Clinton campaign feels like they can put him away now, and I think just a tactic like this, throwing scrutiny back on him, on tax returns --

MCKELWAY: But as we've reported out, at the start here, things can change. And one of things which is a gift that keeps on giving to the Trump campaign is this Clinton Foundation and e-mails associated with that, Howie?

KURTZ: This is becoming a major headache for the Hillary Clinton campaign after we all thought that she had sort of dodged a legal bullet here. And I think because it's easier for the public to understand, you have this cozy culture of favor-seeking and job-seeking between the Clinton Foundation and Hillary Clinton's top aides a to the State Department. In fairness, there's no incriminating e-mail from Hillary Clinton herself, but we're still getting a look at this, and I think that this story does have legs, even though overshadowed by Trump.

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