Will Romney's criticism of Trump move the needle?

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," March 3, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


MITT ROMNEY, FORMER REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. His domestic policies would lead to recession. His foreign policies would make America and the world less safe. He has neither the temperament nor the judgment to be president.

Watch, by the way, how he responds to my speech today. Will he talk about our policy differences, or will he attack me with every imaginable low road insult?

DONALD TRUMP, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'll just address it quickly because it is irrelevant.


TRUMP: Look, Mitt is a failed candidate. He failed. He failed horribly. I backed him. You can see how loyal he is. He was begging for my endorsement. I could have said, Mitt, drop to your knees. He would have dropped to his knees.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Well, Mitt Romney today with a blistering speech against Donald Trump, saying Republicans should rally to any candidate that is not Donald Trump. You heard Trump respond there in Maine on his way here to Detroit. Romney then tweeted after Trump's response, quote, "If Trump had said four years ago the things he says today about the KKK, Muslims, Mexicans, disabled, I would not have accepted his endorsement."

With that, let's bring in our special expanded panel tonight. Joining me here in Detroit: Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard and Charles Hurt, political columnist for The Washington Times; in Washington this evening, syndicated columnist George Will; Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio, and Charles Lane, opinion writer for The Washington Post.

OK, Charles Hurt, Romney, the impact. Does it move the needle where we are in this race?

CHARLES HURT, THE WASHINGTON TIMES: I don't really see how it moves the needle. But my goodness, watching that, where was this guy four years ago? He gave a very, very, it was a very impassioned, very forceful argument, which of course he failed to do four years ago and which is the whole reason that we're here today and the whole reason for Trump being, running the table as he is today, because if Romney had done what he needed to do four years ago, you know, we would be talking about Romney's running for reelection. We would be talking about Romney's nominee to the Supreme Court to replace the Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. We wouldn't be having this conversation right now.

BAIER: Mara, besides the four years ago, even just months ago there are a lot of people saying where was this, either from Mitt Romney or from, frankly, Senators Cruz and Rubio?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Right, or anybody. This was the argument that the establishment of the Republican Party has been taking an awfully long time to make. And in the battle for the soul of the Republican Party, which is what the party is engaged in full throttle right now, I would say that Mitt Romney's speech was a real rallying cry. And I think it will go down as one of his finest hours.

Now, is it too late? Probably. He also didn't indicate who the party should rally around. He said any of these other guys are fine. That's exactly the problem that's allowing Donald Trump to run the table, because the opposition to him is so split.

But I thought what Romney did was lay out a really comprehensive case against Trump. Any of these candidates had that research and could have been carrying the case. It's mystifying why they haven't. But what he also did is he gave a pretty good preview of what the Clinton campaign is going to do to Donald Trump.

BAIER: Yes, and Republicans looking at that, Steve, say, OK, fine, you don't want Trump, but now you've given the Democrats ammunition in this party. The only way some of these candidates can get the nomination now is to go through a contested, and it seem like Romney was trying to lay out a blueprint for that very thing.

STEVE HAYES, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yes, or at least the arguments for that. I think the results on Saturday and on Super Tuesday were good for Donald Trump but didn't give them glad path to the nomination. And to a certain extent, it changed the race, the dynamic of the race from one in which all the candidates were on offense just trying to accumulate as many delegates as they could so that each individual candidate could be the nominee to a more defensive posture for some of these candidates, the non-Trump candidates, where they're basically looking now to block Trump as the nominee. Each one would of course like to be, to earn the 1,237 himself. It seems less and less likely. So this is now a much more defensive race. And I think Romney's speech on substance framed it very well.

BAIER: Here it is, Governor John Kasich asked about his path today.


GOV. JOHN KASICH, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it is important that we stop Mr. Trump. He is not my pick for president. And I want to have a more positive approach to the solutions of the country.

And if I win Ohio, he is not going to be the nominee. We'll go to the convention. I'm going to be the nominee, because I don't know whether you noticed or not, it is being held in Ohio. We plotted this all out.


BAIER: Well, George, that seem like wishful thinking but that's what the Kasich campaign is saying.

GEORGE WILL, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: The Kasich camp has been waiting for this to get to Michigan. Four months ago a senior official in the Kasich campaign told me that they were looking at March 8th and Michigan because, a, it is contiguous to Ohio, and, b, it contains Romney Republicans, sort of centrist, moderate Republicans, and they think they can do this there.

The problem is they're up against the theory of the race from Ted Cruz. Cruz says Michigan is his kind of place because, I guess what, about 10 miles from where you're sitting is open county. In 1980 it was ground zero for the discovery of what was called then the Reagan Democrats, the basically working Republicans, people who do not have college education, and Democrats who were feeling even then kind of resentful and left out of the cultural and economic problems of the country.

So the theory of the race from Ted Cruz is that he can locate and motivate those nonvoters. The theory of the Kasich race is that they're natural Kasich Republicans.

BAIER: Chuck, you look at the latest poll out of here, the Michigan "Detroit Free Press" poll, and Kasich is down at eight percent and Trump is at 29. He is 21 points down. What about the rest of the race here, the Senators Cruz and Rubio?

CHARLES LANE, THE WASHINGTON POST: Look, the problem that Cruz and Rubio face is summarized by the poling you just mentioned, similar ones that have recently come out from Mississippi and Louisiana which are also coming up, and more importantly by the Gallop poll on the issues as they relate to the various candidates. And on the top three issues, economics, budget deficit, and national defense, Donald Trump is clobbering Rubio and Cruz by more than 30 points in each of those issues categories.

Mitt Romney did his duty today. He did not probably do any good, because we all have to acknowledge the big fat fact here, which is there is a tectonic shift going on in the ideological basis of the Republican party. The voters who are bothering to show up for that party support a nationalist, protectionist, populist package that Donald Trump is offering.

BAIER: I don't know, Chuck.

LANE: They're doing it in spite of a persona that they have questions about. His temperament is a big liability. But so far it is the issues that he is winning on.

BAIER: Yes, I don't know if that's the characterization of all Trump voters. I think, Charlie, it is much more likely that he is riding this wave of voter anger, discontent with both parties, and he has found a way to capitalize on that. Some people looking at the Romney speech today who are not in the never Trump category are saying is that makes me angrier, not less angry, about this speech that is going to infuse Democrats with talking points and commercials.

HURT: I think that precise anger is very much what has solidified Trump's support from the very start because he was so viciously attacked. His supporters felt attacked because they were attacking him, calling him a racist. Yet once they fused that bond with him, you will never get them to turn away from him.

BAIER: But on substance there are things, blows that Romney is making against --

HURT: These are arguments that are going to be made whether Mitt Romney makes them or not. It is not like this is any evidence that is a surprise to Hillary Clinton and her team. It's important to remember, we're talking about a third of the Republican Party. Donald Trump has gotten roughly 35 percent of the popular vote thus far. That is a huge bloc. It has given him a delegate lead. He is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination right now. But there are nearly two-thirds of Republican who's don't feel this way, and judging from the exit polls, roughly half of them who say they would be dissatisfied with Donald Trump as the nominee.

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