Has Trump become part of the Washington establishment?

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," January 21, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


SEN. TED CRUZ, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You're right there's a bunch of big money in this race. The Washington establishment right now, they're abandoning Marco Rubio and they're rushing to Donald Trump. So that's where the big money is. That's where the corporate lobbyists are. That's where the Wall Street interests are.

DONALD TRUMP, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's trying to paint me as part of the establishment. And somebody said, establishment? Well, how about Sarah Palin just backed him? And you know what, there's a point at which let's get to be a little establishment. We've got to get things done, folks, OK? Believe me, don't worry, we're going to make such great deals.
But at a certain point you can't be so strident, you can't not get along.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Donald Trump and Ted Cruz today on the battle of the establishment.
One person who definitely is establishment, former Republican nominee Bob Dole weighed in on this race, the former Kansas senator saying in an interview Wednesday that "the party would suffer cataclysmic and wholesale losses of if Mr. Cruz were the nominee and Donald J. Trump would fare better. I question his allegiance to the party," Dole said of Cruz. I don't know how he's going to deal with Congress. Nobody likes him. If he's the nominee we're going to have wholesale losses in Congress and state offices and governors and legislatures." He described Mr. Cruz of having falsely convinced the Iowa voters that he's kind of a mainstream conservative, which wasn't Republican well by the Cruz folks, as you can imagine.

Let's bring in our panel, Fortune magazine's Nina Easton, Mara Liasson, National Political Correspondent of National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Nina, what about this back and forth on establishment?

NINA EASTON, FORTUNE MAGAZINE: I think Dole has a point because, here's the thing, Cruz is going to have I think a tougher time in a general election than Trump. And here's why. Cruz is playing by regular political rules, conventional political rules. He's a hard right conservative, and based on those rules it's going to be very hard for him to tack to the middle, and I think he potentially will have great losses in a general election.

Donald Trump has been an incredible at rebranding himself, right? We watched him doing it during the primary season. This is a guy who has ties to the Clintons, who once supported single payer health care, and he gets away with completely rebranding himself because he's the entertainer. And I can imagine him in a general election rebranding himself once again and then he's going to become the I'm the guy who can negotiate. I'm the guy who can get things done. I'm the guy who can reach across the table. I've done it before. And I think he will have a better go at it in the general election, I hate to say.

BAIER: Mara?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Cruz has the theory, the theory of the missing conservative voters, that they stay home because the Republican Party nominates people like Bob Dole. And he's said that many times. I'm sure that was in Bob Dole's mind when he made those comments. And that if they would nominate a conviction conservative, a real conservative, a courageous conservative, then all of these people come out of the woodwork and they vote, and that's how you win. Not by reaching out to the middle, not by getting swing voters, but by expanding the conservative voter universe. That's his theory, and it hasn't been tested, but it will be if he's the nominee.

And the question about Trump is, how much can he etch-a-sketch the Trump he became in the primary? Can he convince Hispanic voters that he's not the person who called them rapists? I don't know if that's possible if he's the nominee.

BAIER: Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I think we're getting to a moment where there's a scenario that one can see which is, you get Bob Dole, who represents the oldest establishment, if you like, essentially choosing Trump over Cruz.

Now, if Cruz loses Iowa, Trump wins convincingly. I think all he will need at that point is to have a single current establishment figure, meaning a sitting governor or a sitting senator endorse him. Nobody has, everybody has stayed away from him. But if there are people who think he's the winning ticket, he's going to win the nomination. I want to be on the right side of this.

And you get one standing out there endorsing him. Sarah Palin doesn't meet that bill. Bob Dole does, but, you know, he's yesterday's man. If you get somebody today from the so-called establishment who endorses him, I think it becomes a flood. At that point the dam breaks and you will get a rush of other establishment figures who will rally around him. And that could be the point at which he becomes inevitable as the nominee.

BAIER: Why is it that no senator has stepped up to endorse Ted Cruz, not even his ally Jeff Sessions as of yet, on immigration?

KRAUTHAMMER: Well, I think the short answer is because everybody who knows him in the Senate hates him. And I think hate is not, is not an exaggeration. The enmity which he wears on his sleeve as, you know, with pride, is something that he's now you could almost say cultivated to make him a freshman senator with no particular record into a national figure rallying everybody against the Washington cartel. You know Republicans in the Senate, in the House have been out there half of their lives don't appreciate being called essentially traders to the cause of conservatives.
And then you get antipathy, and they will put that antipathy perhaps even over what's best for the party.

BAIER: But clearly he's stirring up the anger about Washington, that it's not working and that the Republicans are not getting it done either.

EASTON: And the other reason there's hatred for him on the Hill is there's a sense that he's hurt the Republican brand, and he very much did so when he led the government shutdown parade back in 2013 when the Republican Party's favorability rating dropped to its lowest in modern history. We all remember that. And I think there's an anger towards him about that.
So I think there's a personal --

BAIER: Nina, you know what they say, is that 2014 ended up being a major landslide and they showed backbone.

EASTON: And I would say to all the people who are going to tweet me and attack me for that is that 2014 was a very low turn-out election. It's the lowest since World War II, and it's not the same as a presidential election. And the party came in and picked candidates that were very electable very early on. The Chamber of Commerce and the party got electable candidates out there. So it was an outlier election in that sense.

LIASSON: But that is a really important point. That was the election where the empire struck back. The establishment got its act together. It beat down the Tea Party people who weren't going to be ready for primetime, and it coalesced around candidates. Why aren't they doing that now?
You've got Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio. Now granted, Bush had his shot and didn't make it, but why haven't the establishment coalesce around a candidate. They're attacking each other. They're in a circular firing squad. Why isn't there an alternative to Trump other than a hard right candidate?

BAIER: There may be after New Hampshire, perhaps, but Jeb Bush has spent
$22 million attacking Marco Rubio, or at least his super PAC has.

KRAUTHAMMER: I think the answer is because the establishment is largely a fiction, exaggerated by the so-called anti-establishment candidates as a way to create a boogeyman. If you take the four establishment candidates in New Hampshire, for example, so-called establishment, Bush, Rubio, Kasich, and Christie, add their numbers together, that exceeds the Trump number by 10 points. The fact is they're not only cannibalizing their own part of the spectrum, as you say, they are actively attacking each other.
Bush is unloading tens of millions of dollars attacking all the other establishment candidates in a scorched earth policy, thinking that if he knocks them all down, knocks their numbers down, he will emerge. I think that's an illusion, and I think the result is that you get a Trump and a Cruz emerging out of the rubble.

BAIER: We didn't talk about Hillary Clinton this time, but we'll do it again, I promise you.

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