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Meet the Press - February 28, 2016

Meet the Press - Feb. 28, 2016

Note: This transcript matches the second feed of "Meet the Press."

CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday, Hillary Clinton's blowout win in South Carolina has her looking towards November.

(BEGIN TAPE)

SEC. HILLARY CLINTON:

Tomorrow, this campaign goes national.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

While Bernie Sanders vows to fight on.

(BEGIN TAPE)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

It would make me so happy to run against Donald Trump.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Bernie Sanders joins me this morning. Plus, what a week on the Republican side. First, Rubio thumps Trump.

(BEGIN TAPE)

DONALD TRUMP:

--four weeks ago.

SEN. TED CRUZ:

I saw you repeat yourself five times five seconds ago.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Then Trump thumps Rubio with a surprise endorsement.

(BEGIN TAPE)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE:

There is no one who is better prepared to provide America with the strong leadership that it needs.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

As Donald Trump collects endorsements, the Republican establishment approaches panic. Is it too late to stop Trump now? Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz are with me this morning. And when you look at moments like this.

(BEGIN TAPE)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO:

A con artist, you're a joker, hair force one.

DONALD TRUMP:

Total lightweight.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO:

Worst spray tan in America.

DONALD TRUMP:

Biggest ears I've ever seen.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Is it time to ask whether the GOP is on the brink of coming apart?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

My party has gone bats*** crazy.

CHUCK TODD:

Joining me for insight and analysis are Charlie Cook of the Cook Political Report, Heather McGhee of the liberal think tank Demos Action, Andrea Mitchell of NBC News, and Erik Erikson, founder of the influential conservative website, The Resurgent. Trump, Cruz, Sanders. Welcome to Sunday, and a special Super Tuesday edition of Meet the Press.

ANNOUNCER:

From NBC News in Washington, this is Meet the Press with Chuck Todd.

CHUCK TODD:

Good Sunday morning, just 48 hours until Super Tuesday. We have so much to get to, so let's get started right away. Hillary Clinton had nothing less than a blowout win last night in South Carolina. Clinton beat Bernie Sanders 74 to 26, three to one margin. She swept virtually every category in the exit poll, especially African Americans, whom she won by a margin of six to one. And she also won every single county in the state.

(BEGIN TAPE)

SEC. HILLARY CLINTON:

Despite what you hear, we don't need to make America great again, America has never stopped being great. But we do need to make America whole again.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah, look who's pivoting to the general. Clinton's huge victory is a prelude to Super Tuesday, when voters in 12 states go to the polls in the biggest single day of the primary season for both parties. And our brand new NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist polls, in three key Super Tuesday states have even more good news for Hillary Clinton. Our poll shows big leads for Clinton in Georgia, Tennessee, and Texas.

Look at that, sitting around a 60 percent mark in all three. Pretty good indication that Clinton is set to have a super Super Tuesday. But let's turn to the wild Republican race. And we'll go state by state in that one. In Georgia, Donald Trump has a seven point lead over both Cruz and Rubio, 30 percent for Trump, Cruz and Rubio tied at 23. In Tennessee, Trump's lead appears more durable. He's at 40 percent, followed farther behind by Cruz sitting in second, and Rubio a close third, and then the rest of the field.

But in Texas, it's a different story. Ted Cruz is hanging onto his must-win home state, and he has a comfortable 13-point lead over Trump. Rubio is a distant third there. Now, these polls were taken before Marco Rubio's strong performance in that Thursday night Republican debate. So we asked our pollsters to recontact as many people as possible.

We talked to 30 percent of the respondents in all three states to see whether Rubio's debate performance changed anything. In short, it did not. Trump, Rubio, and Cruz all held onto roughly 90 percent of their supporters. In fact, in the raw ballot test, Rubio moved up all of one point.

So we've got three presidential candidates with us this morning as we look forward to what could be a defining Super Tuesday. Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and Bernie Sanders. And I'm joined now by Donald Trump the Republican frontrunner, Mr. Trump. Welcome back to Meet the Press, sir.

DONALD TRUMP:

Good morning.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me just ask you, how'd you make the deal to get Chris Christie to endorse you?

DONALD TRUMP:

Well, it was just somebody that I really wanted. I must tell you, I was going to leave a little time go by before I called him. I did not call him, he called me. He saw what was happening. He said, "Donald, you have a movement going." Like, Chuck, this afternoon, I think we have 25,000 people in Alabama. We ended up moving to a football stadium because you couldn't hold.

I mean, what we have going is incredible. Yesterday in Arkansas, we had 15,000 - we had 15,000 people in a hangar in Tennessee. It's amazing what's going on. And he said, "There's a movement going on, and I'd like to be part of it." And I was very happy. I was getting ready to call him and he called me. And having Chris is a great honor, truly.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, I tell you, he seemed like a changed man when it comes to you. There was a time he wasn't such a believer. Let me play a few quotes.

(BEGIN TAPE)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE:

He's been a very successful businessman, he has lots of talents. He has absolutely no ability in this area. Be very careful about candidates who stand up and say, "Ban all Muslims who come into the country." Ridiculous. It'll be a beautiful, wonderful wall, it'll be an incredible wall, the wall will be unbelievable. We're not picking an entertainer in chief. We're not casting a TV show. I don't think it would be in the best interest of our party to have someone who I don't think would be an effective president to be the nominee.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Mr. Trump, as I can attest to, if anybody had said that, you would have unloaded on them on Twitter and sort of pulverized them. What made you accept Christie's change of heart?

DONALD TRUMP:

Well, you know, I heard those comments, and they were made in a rather low-key manner, and they were made in smaller locations, and they never got out very much, so I never really had to go wild. But I did hear a little bit about them. But that's called welcome to the wonderful world of politics, I think. You know, he's been a friend of mine, he's been a really good guy, and a good friend of mine for a long time.

And, you know, just having his endorsements amazing. We did four stops between the last two days, and he's introduced me and the place loves him, the people love him, he's tough, he's smart. And we just get along very well. So, you know, but that's called politics, in all fairness, Chuck. I think you've heard about it before, right?

CHUCK TODD:

Fair enough. He certainly has been quite the opening act for you the last two days. Look, there's been a couple other things came up at the debate. A couple of our attack TV ads are there. I want to play a clip of one on immigration that's going after you and get you to respond on the other side.

(BEGIN TAPE)

NARRATOR:

A federal court ruled that Trump's company hired illegal immigrants to help the construction process for Trump Tower. He even paid a million- dollar fine. And his new hotel in Washington?

MALE VOICE:

The Washington Post interviewed about 15 laborers at the D.C. hotel site, reporting that many revealed they had entered the U.S. illegally.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Basically, the charge is this, Mr. Trump, you don't practice what you preach on immigration.

DONALD TRUMP:

Yeah, well, it's wrong. First of all, the one charge is from 35 years ago. I think that's a pretty good record when people have to go 35 years back to find out about workers. Now, as I remember it, those workers were hired by another company. I just hired a company and they had some workers that were perhaps from Poland or someplace.

And this was the demolition of a building that made way for Trump Tower. So the workers, Chuck, this is 35 years ago, you're talking about. By the way, the laws were totally different. The laws were not what they are now. Totally different. As far as one of the great hotels in the world that's currently being built on Pennsylvania Avenue, between the Capitol Building and the White House, there were no illegals.

We do checks like you wouldn't believe. And they didn't name any names, they didn't give any information. We are very, very careful. We have an excellent contractor, one of the best in the country, works with me, because we build them, I negotiate everything. And that's why that job, by the way, is two years ahead of schedule and under budget. And it's going to be one of the great hotels of the world. So it's, you know, I'm doing a good job. They know what they did when they got me in. That's what happened.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you believe any--

DONALD TRUMP:

But they don't have any proof of any illegals. They have no proof--

CHUCK TODD:

Do you believe in E-verify? Do you believe in--

DONALD TRUMP:

They said they found a few--

CHUCK TODD:

Do you use E-verify in everything you do?

DONALD TRUMP:

What?

CHUCK TODD:

When it comes to finding out the immigration--

DONALD TRUMP:

Yeah, I have it. I have E-verify. Yes, I do. And I use E-verify in that building. And The Washington Post mentioned that they spoke to people. There's no names. I read the story. It was from a few months ago. There were no names whatsoever, they have no proof, they have no evidence, no nothing. They saw people. And there were people coming out of the building.

And they were absolutely, we go with E-verify, I am extremely strong on it, every time I have a contractor meeting on that building, and we're good fantastically well, you know, we're going to open that building in September, which will be very exciting, just before the election. Perfect, I mean, you know?

CHUCK TODD:

The timing.

DONALD TRUMP:

But, I will tell you this. I am very - the timing is good. But I am very, very tough on that. And they have absolutely no evidence whatsoever. It's a typical Washington Post story.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, obviously Trump University came up. Let me ask you this. If Trump University was such a successful business, and I know you had to change the name because it wasn't a university, why isn't it still--

DONALD TRUMP:

Only New York. I mean, outside of New York.

CHUCK TODD:

Why isn't it still a robust business?

DONALD TRUMP:

Well, because we would open it again. What happened is, first of all, you have to understand. We had about 98 percent of the people that took the courses, improved the courses. They thought it was great, they signed the report cards, and they said it was great. Those people are suing now to get their money back, because a law firm said, "Hey listen, if I could get your money back, what would you say?" You would say, "Oh, great. Get my money back. That's great."

But they signed these documents saying, they rated the course. 98 percent approval rating and high marks. Number two, we have an A from the Better Business Bureau. And here's the only thing, Chuck. I could settle the case, but I don't want to settle the case. The reason is, I don't want to be held up. And once you settle cases, everybody sues you. I don't want to be held up.

So I take the case. The one with the attorney general, that was taken from these people. They made a campaign contribution to the attorney general of New York. He met with President Obama in Syracuse, New York. And the following day or a day later, he filed a case against me. And that case has been largely won, although they're appealing. But that case has been largely won by me.

So it's very easy for me to settle these things, Chuck. I just don't choose to do it. It's not a big deal, it's a civil case. It's not a big deal. But just so you understand, we have 98 percent approval rating, and we have an A from the Better Business Bureau.

CHUCK TODD:

I guess what the question is did anybody succeed, did anybody make a billion, millions of dollars in real estate using your way? Can you produce folks that have made millions using your way?

DONALD TRUMP:

Well people did succeed, people did succeed and we have those people will be witnesses at the trial and the man that's doing that i believe he signed a document saying that he thought Trump University was terrific in some form and that it was terrific. So we will have to find out, I haven't seen this commercial. But the man that did that commercial I think if you tell me his name or we'll find it, but most of the people signed documents saying it was great. So, it will be interesting he made the made the statement, let's see what he said about the school. because I think he signed a document saying that the school is very good. But we will find out will have to do it very quickly.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, you said something else about the judge yesterday. You said one of the judges, quote, "I believe he happens to be Spanish which is fine. He's Hispanic, which is fine. We haven't asked for a recusal which we may do." Why would you need to ask for a recusal and what does his ethnicity have to do with it?

DONALD TRUMP:

Because I think he's been very, very unfair with us. I think the judge has been extremely unfair. This is a case that many, many, many people said should have been thrown out on summary judgment. We have 98 percent approval from the people that took it.

CHUCK TODD:

And you think it's because he's Hispanic?

DONALD TRUMP:

We have an A from the Better Business Bureau. This is a case that should've been-- well, because of the wall and because of everything that's going on with Mexico and all of that, I think it's frankly, look, this is a judge who I believe has treated me very, very unfairly. This is a case that should have been thrown out a long time ago, in the opinion of many great lawyers.

CHUCK TODD:

And as you know, right now on Twitter, there is a trending retweet of yours, you retweeted somebody from Il Duce 2016, it was a Mussolini quote, but you didn't know it was Mussolini when you retweeted it, it said, "It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep." That's a famous Mussolini quote, you retweeted it. Do you like the quote? Did you know it was Mussolini?

DONALD TRUMP:

Sure, it's okay to know it's Mussolini. Look, Mussolini was Mussolini. It's okay to-- it's a very good quote, it's a very interesting quote, and I know it. I saw it. I saw what-- and I know who said it. But what difference does it make whether it's Mussolini or somebody else? It's certainly a very interesting quote. That's probably why I have--

CHUCK TODD:

Well, Mussolini is a known fascist.

DONALD TRUMP:

--between Facebook and Twitter, 14 million people when other people don't.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you want to be associated--

DONALD TRUMP:

It's a very interesting quote, and people can talk about it.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you want to be associated with a fascist?

DONALD TRUMP:

No, I want to be associated with interesting quotes. And people, you know, I have almost 14 million people between Instagram and Facebook and Twitter and all of that. And we do interesting things. And I sent it out. And certainly, hey, it got your attention, didn't it?

CHUCK TODD:

Well, and it is trending on Twitter right now. Mr. Trump, I have to leave it there. Stay safe on the trail. We'll see you Super Tuesday. Could be a big night for you.

DONALD TRUMP:

Thank you very much.

CHUCK TODD:

Thank you.

DONALD TRUMP:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now is Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who comes to us this morning from one of his must-do-well states in, Springdale, Arkansas. Senator Cruz, welcome back to Meet the Press.

SEN. TED CRUZ:

Chuck, good morning. Good to be with you.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, let's set the expectations straight up. If you don't win Texas, can you stay in this race?

SEN. TED CRUZ:

Well, I think we're going to do very well in Texas. And I think Super Tuesday could well be the most important day of the entire primary season. We are campaigning all across Super Tuesday. And at this point, the facts are clear, that there is only one candidate who has beaten and who can beat Donald Trump. And in Super Tuesday, we are neck and neck with Donald across Super Tuesday. We're going to do very well in Texas and we are fighting hard to beat him across the country. And I will say to the 65 percent of Republicans who recognize Donald Trump is not the best candidate to go head to head with Hillary Clinton, the only way to beat him is for us to come together and unite, and our campaign is the only one that can beat Donald, so I ask for your support on Super Tuesday.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you this. Is the fairest way to decide who the chief challenger is to Trump, is the person who's in second place in delegates come Wednesday morning between yourself and Marco Rubio?

SEN. TED CRUZ:

Listen, there's no doubt we're likely to come out of Super Tuesday with a big difference in delegates. I think it is likely that you'll see Donald Trump has a whole bunch of delegates, I think it's likely that we'll have a whole bunch of delegates.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you think you'll be second?

SEN. TED CRUZ:

And I think there's going to be a big, big drop off between Donald and me and the rest of the field. Right now, Donald and I are one and two in delegates. Right now, Donald and I are one and two in the popular vote.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay.

SEN. TED CRUZ:

You know, as you know historically, no one has ever won the nomination in modern times without winning one of the first three states, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina. Donald and I are the only two who have done that.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you this. You released summary pages of your tax returns, so did Marco Rubio. And you said the only reason you released summary pages is because Marco Rubio released summary pages. Why should Donald Trump - how are you forcing Donald Trump to release his tax return if you're only releasing the first two pages?

SEN. TED CRUZ:

Well, listen. I've released nine years of tax returns. And by the way, the first five years have everything. The last four have summary pages. I've got nine years of tax returns. Donald Trump has not released so much as a paper clip. And Donald needs to release his taxes. You know, Mitt Romney this week--

CHUCK TODD:

So will you be happy if he just does summary pages? Will you be happy if he just does summary pages?

SEN. TED CRUZ:

Look, it would be a very positive step in the right direction. I would be thrilled, if he releases the whole thing, I'm happy to release everything. I've released, for five years, I've released everything. We just matched what the opponents did for the last four years. But the critical point, Chuck, as Mitt Romney observed, the fact that Donald seems terrified to release his taxes suggests that there's a bombshell there.

And it's natural to wonder, "Well, what is it that he's hiding in his taxes?" Maybe it's that Donald Trump doesn't earn nearly as much as he has so loudly told everyone. Maybe he's not as rich as he says he is. Who knows, maybe it's the case that Mitt Romney is richer than Donald Trump. He can answer that by releasing his taxes. On the other hand, maybe it's the case that he has given large sums of money to left-wing groups like Planned Parenthood.

You know, he praises Planned Parenthood in the debates over and over again. Maybe he's been a big financial supporter of that. All of those questions Donald can put to rest. Or you know, maybe it is the case that Donald, there have been multiple media reports about Donald's business dealings with the mob, with the mafia. Maybe his taxes show those business dealings are a lot more extensive than has been reported. Regardless of what the bombshell is--

CHUCK TODD:

Well, let me stop you. Wait a minute. Senator Cruz, let me stop you there. That's openly speculative. Do you have any facts to support that Donald Trump has mob ties?

SEN. TED CRUZ:

Oh sure. ABC, CNN, multiple news reports have reported about his some dealings with, for example, S&A Construction, which was owned by "Fat Tony" Salerno, who is a mobster who is in jail. It is owned by two of the major New York crime families. And that has been reported in multiple media outlets. You know, you're going to have Donald on the show later today, you ought to ask him, "Donald, have you written a check to Planned Parenthood? If so, how much and when?"

I mean, that's the question that Donald ought to answer. We don't know what it is that he's hiding in those tax returns. But I can promise you this, if he's the nominee come September, October, every day on the news will be about those tax returns, about whatever the bombshell is. And Republican primary voters deserve to know before the nomination, not after. Because you better believe Hillary Clinton and the media are going to go to town on it. And the primary voters should be able to vet all of us.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you something Rush Limbaugh said earlier this week about your candidacy. He said, "Ted Cruz has fought these guys every day that he's been in Washington. And for a lot of reasons, that doesn't register." Basically, it sounds like he's almost lamenting it. But the fact is, Donald Trump stole your outsider brand. Super Tuesday was supposed to be the day you were going to be solidifying your status as the frontrunner and it's not turning out that way. How did Trump steal your outsider brand?

SEN. TED CRUZ:

Well, listen, I think Super Tuesday will continue to narrow the field. The first four states narrowed the field down from 17 candidates to a much smaller field. I think Super Tuesday we will effectively have two candidates coming out of it that have a viable path, that have enough delegates to have a shot at winning. And head to head with Donald Trump, I beat Donald by 16 points, 56 to 40.

And, you know, we really saw this in the debate last week. We saw a contrast between Washington dealmakers, and this is how we've gotten in the mess we're in now, is Republicans who cut deals with Democrats, grow the debt, grow government, and give away our constitutional rights, a contrast between dealmakers, and a principled constitutional conservative.

You know, Chuck, it was striking when Donald Trump said, "Ted, you've got to be willing to compromise on the Supreme Court. You've got to be willing to compromise on religious liberty." Let me tell you, I will not compromise away your religious liberty rights. I will not compromise away your Second Amendment. And Donald Trump is telling us, if he's president, he'll cut a deal with Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer and give away your constitutional rights. That's how we got in this mess.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me end where we began. If you are third in delegates Wednesday morning, do you reassess your candidacy?

SEN. TED CRUZ:

Well, listen. I don't intend to be third in delegates. I don't believe I am. I think that may be a question you'll have to pose to other candidates. But I will say, what we saw last week was in the seminal battle on amnesty, when I was leading the fight against the Rubio/Schumer Gang of Eight Amnesty Bill, and we defeated the Gang of Eight Amnesty Bill, Donald Trump was funding the Gang of Eight.

He had given over $50,000 to five of the eight members of the "Gang of Eight." You cannot lead on illegal immigration if you spent four decades supporting open border Democrats and if you've been hiring illegal immigrants, as Donald Trump has been doing.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, Senator Ted Cruz, I've got to leave it there. Republican from Texas--

SEN. TED CRUZ:

Thank you, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Have a safe time on the trail. And we'll be watching on Super Tuesday, sir.

SEN. TED CRUZ:

Excellent.

CHUCK TODD:

Alright when we come back the Republican establishment is now in a full on panic over the possibility of Donald Trump securing this nomination. Could we be looking at the beginning of a crack-up inside the GOP as we know it?

****COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Panel is here. Charlie Cook, editor and publisher of the Cook Political Report, Heather McGhee, she's president of a liberal think tank Demos Action. Andrea Mitchell, of course, is our chief foreign affairs correspondent, but all over the Clinton campaign for us, and Erick Erickson, editor of the conservative news site, The Resurgent, and author of the new book You Will Be Made to Care: The War on Faith, Family, and Your Freedom to Believe.

Welcome all. All right. Republicans in a full-on panic. I caught up with John Kasich yesterday. There was this big New York Times story, Mitt Romney apparently trying to convince Kasich to get out, here's how Governor Kasich responded to that news.

(BEGIN TAPE)

GOV. JOHN KASICH:

Nobody's asked me to drop out and it, you know, it doesn't matter to me anyway. Uh, I don't really want to get into private conversations with people, but, that never happened in terms of Mitt trying to tell me, you know, what I need to do with my career. That's not what it was about and, I've had a number of conversations with him and a lot of email exchanges and you just have to leave it there.

At the end of the day, each of these candidates should be able to win their own home state. I'm going to win Ohio, but if I don't win Ohio, then ballgame over.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Charlie, this is the issue. There isn't anybody to rally around. Kasich's not ready to drop out, Cruz won't drop out for Rubio, Rubio won't drop out for Cruz. I mean, it's, and Donald Trump's going to walk away with this thing.

CHARLIE COOK:

Chuck, at this point, momentum. I mean, none of that matters. Expectations don't matter. It's delegates. It is, after Tuesday is Donald Trump on a trajectory to get 1,237 delegates? Yes or no. And you know for all these other guys, you know, it's can they keep him under that trajectory is what's important. And I've been very skeptical about Trump winning the nomination from the very beginning.

CHUCK TODD:

Are you still skeptical?

CHARLIE COOK:

Yeah, my knees are weakening a little.

CHUCK TODD:

All right.

CHARLIE COOK:

You know, the thing is, when two out of three Republican voters in national polls, in averaging in the four events so far, are against him, are they going to coalesce behind him? They all knowing, they're all familiar with--

CHUCK TODD:

You know his percentages right now--

CHARLIE COOK:

-- one third are with him --

CHUCK TODD:

But do you know his percentages in the first four state are identical to Mitt Romney's, like, within a point either way? Party united around Mitt Romney. Well?

HEATHER MCGHEE:

I also think part of the problem is that Republicans haven't really been able to say in a unified way why exactly he can't be their standard bearer. They can't say, "It's because he says bigoted things," because he says explicitly what has been racist dog whistles in the party for a long time, particularly around immigration. They can't say he's not conservative around taxes, his tax cuts are three times as big as Bush's. There's not a unified story about why he's not a Republican.

CHUCK TODD:

Erick, do you believe it's on conservative values?

ERICK ERICKSON:

Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

That that's the way to unify the party on this. And you've been critical of both Cruz and Rubio, for not being able to coalesce. You feel like they're being childish about this.

ERICK ERICKSON:

Yeah, they are being very childish about it. It was very interesting Thursday, they finally, together tag-teamed Donald Trump. In fact, name-checking each other at the end of their times so the other could say, "Hey, hey, I get 30 seconds to respond" and going after Trump. At some point when Wednesday comes, when the sun rises on Wednesday, whoever has the most delegates to be in second place, has a plausible case to say, "You know, we need a Reagan/Bush coalition."

CHUCK TODD:

And you think the other guy needs to get out?

ERICK ERICKSON:

Yeah, he needs to get out and be the V.P.

CHUCK TODD:

And that's what you would tell them to do?

ERICK ERICKSON:

Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

And the likelihood of those two guys working together?

ERICK ERICKSON:

You know, they're going to have to. Reagan and Bush had to work together.

CHUCK TODD:

Well.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

That said, what Marco Rubio now has to prove is that he is a credible alternative for the establishment Republicans. And what we saw in that debate Thursday night, the playground rhetoric was so deeply offensive to so many people on all sides that you've got people, you know, Trump and Rubio going at each other for their hair--

CHARLIE COOK:

It's funny you say that.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

--their ears, wetting your pants. How have we reached this point?

CHUCK TODD:

Well, instead of you quoting them, I want to play them going back and forth.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Good, better.

CHUCK TODD:

It was bizarre and stunning. Let me play it.Well we gonna, all right, we're going to deal with that later in the show. But the other part of what we saw in the playground rhetoric though was Chris Christie's endorsement. How important was it?

CHARLIE COOK:

It's I think it's a big, it's was obviously a big deal for Trump, to have somebody, any kind of an establishment figure say, "He's okay." And I was as flabbergasted as anybody. I did not expect it.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me tell you other people who were flabbergasted. Here's what John Fund said, and amazingly, it's Chris Christie that's taking heat here. John Fund, a conservative writer, writes this: "Well, now we know the stuff of what Chris Christie is made: opportunism laced with RINO tendencies." Meghan McCain, daughter of John McCain: "What a cynical hack Mr. 'straight shooter' Chris Christie turned out to be. I hope he sleeps well tonight selling out what's left of him."

But here is the unbelievable quote of the morning, Meg Whitman, National Finance Co-Chair for Chris Christie for President, puts out this statement that she sent to NBC News this morning, quote, "Chris Christie's endorsement of Donald Trump is an astonishing display of political opportunism. Donald Trump is unfit to be president. He is a dishonest demagogue who plays to our worst fears … The governor is mistaken if he believes he can count, now count on my support, and I call on Christie's donors and supporters to reject the Governor and Donald Trump outright." Erick Erickson, how about that?

ERICK ERICKSON:

Wow, I agree with Christie Todd Whitman for once in my life.

CHUCK TODD:

No, Meg Whitman. That's Meg Whitman. CEO of H.P.

ERICK ERICKSON:

Oh, yeah yeah yeah, yes.

CHUCK TODD:

Former California. She is the national finance--

ERICK ERICKSON:

Good for her. Yes. I agree with her statement. And I've gotten it from a lot of people. And I don't know that it actually helps Donald Trump headed into the South to have a governor who supported gun control, the supporting--

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Well, what's so remarkable about it, it isn't as though they were adversaries in the past. Two weeks ago, Chris Christie's on video, as you played for Donald Trump. So the hypocrisy and the opportunism of this is so transparent that it helps in one big way. It cut Marco Rubio's momentum on a day when he otherwise would have been the national story.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. We're going to take a quick pause here. We've got a lot more to talk about on this, I promise. But in a moment I'm going to catch up with Senator Bernie Sanders. Does he have a path left to the nomination after getting shellacked in South Carolina?

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back, it was a tough night Saturday for my next guest Bernie Sanders with Hillary Clinton enjoying a big victory in the South Carolina primary that makes Super Tuesday even more crucial if he's going to keep his hopes alive for securing the Democratic nomination. Senator Sanders, welcome back to Meet the Press sir.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

My pleasure.

CHUCK TODD:

A month ago, Senator, a month ago you said, "I think we're picking up more and more African American support frankly I think we can win there," referring to South Carolina. You lost African American voters 84 to 16, worse than any poll had shown. Senator, what happened?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

Well, we got decimated, that's what happened. Among older African Americans it was pathetic from our perspective. But by the way, what was - a glimmer of positive news for us is that we won the 29 years of age or younger vote and we did well with African American young people as well as white young people. But no question Secretary Clinton won that state and she won it big. But I'm in Minnesota now, I think we've got a real shot at Minnesota, I think we've got a shot at Colorado, Oklahoma, Massachusetts and Vermont. So we're looking to the future not looking back. We had two rallies yesterday in Texas, 10,000 people out in Austin, 8,000 people out in Dallas. I think the future for us, it's going to be a tough fight. I think we can pull it off Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Look the game is delegates now it's not where you win states it's about accumulating delegates. Your campaign is targeting states that are worth 288 delegates on Super Tuesday. Secretary Clinton is targeting six states that are worth 571. If you both do well in the states you're targeting she's going to have at least a 200 delegate lead on you if you're not careful at that point. Why aren't you trying to win more delegates than her on Super Tuesday?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

Well we are trying to win every delegate that we can and not only are we fighting for Super Tuesday we're looking ahead to California, the largest state of all, New York State, we think we're going to do well in Michigan. Look Chuck let's be clear, we began this campaign nine and a half months ago at 3 percent in the polls. 3 percent, 70 points behind Hillary Clinton. In the last two weeks, some polls nationally have actually had us in the lead. We have come a long long way fighting for the message that we are going to end income and wealth inequality and a broken criminal justice system and a corrupt campaign finance system. We have developed enormous momentum all over this country. It is a tough fight, we knew that from the beginning. But I think we're going to do well on Super Tuesday, we're going to do well in many states after that and we look forward to those state by state struggles.

SEN. CHUCK TODD:

You know there was a long story in the New York Times today detailing Secretary Clinton's role in pushing the President on Libya at the time, helping to step in to overthrow Gaddafi. Let me ask you this, would Libya be in better shape today if Gaddafi were in power?

BERNIE SANDERS:

Let me say this, Secretary Clinton and I have very strong differences of opinion on foreign policy. I helped lead the opposition to this disastrous war in Iraq, she supported it. To answer your question, no one can speculate, nobody knows. But I think in terms of regime change whether it is Gaddafi whether it is Assad in Syria. These are terrible dictators, but you have got to be thinking about what happens the day after, the kind of political vacuum that occurs in Libya of course as a result of the overthrow of Gaddafi. ISIS now has a strong foothold. I would have done it differently if I were President of the United States.

CHUCK TODD:

What would you have done?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

And Secretary Clinton also believes in-- no, well I would have worked more patiently. I know it's a difficult situation, but you can't just go forward with regime change. You've got to be thinking about the day after. And I think the same thing is true in Syria.

Secretary Clinton disagrees with President Obama and myself regarding a no-fly zone. I fear that can get us entangled more into that war. I certainly hope that the ceasefire that they have now holds, negotiated by Secretary Kerry. But I think her approach to foreign policy and mine are just quite different.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, earlier this week, the back and forth on the Crime Bill going, you had said you supported the House version of the Crime Bill because it had an assault weapons ban in it. But that turned out not to be the case. So, why did you put out a statement that was misleading on that front?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. No, that's not my understanding .

CHUCK TODD:

It was not in the House bill that you voted. It was in a Senate bill. But it was not in that House bill.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

Well, to the best of my knowledge, hold it. To the best of my knowledge, there were two important provisions. And that is the Violence Against Women Act, which was very important, I've worked very hard to prevent domestic violence. And my understanding is, there is a ban on assault weapons in that bill.

Look, I spoke on the floor of the House about the harmful impacts of that bill, but weighing the pros and the cons, I voted for it. And by the way, I also voted against the so-called Welfare Reform Act that Secretary Clinton then supported, which has had a horrible impact on the poorest, on the poor people in this country.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, Senator Sanders, I have to leave it there. I know you have another interview coming up. I appreciate it. Stay safe on the trail. We'll be watching on Tuesday.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

You've got it. And we'll be back after the break with a look at where the Republican race might be headed after Super Tuesday. And then later.

(BEGIN TAPE)

DONALD TRUMP:

You know why? I didn't want to, but he sent me his book with his autograph.

SEN. TED CRUZ:

Donald, Donald, Donald. I understand rules are very hard for you. They're very confusing.

DONALD TRUMP:

Mr. Trump, you're doing a great job.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

If the Republican presidential race is becoming a race to the bottom, how will that play with general election voters in November?

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

Well, let's dive right into our Meet the Press data download on each of the top three Republican candidates and their paths to the nomination-- our own version of March Madness. So, we'll start with Donald Trump because his path is the most straightforward. On Super Tuesday, 11 Republican contests across the country. If the polls are right, Trump is going to have a sizable delegate lead. In fact, if you look here, this 289 number, it's possible we're being conservative in our estimates there. He could have an even bigger delegate lead come March 2nd.

Then, for him it's about March 15th. If Trump does take the critical winner-take-all delegate states, particularly in Ohio and Florida-- there's a few other states that day as well-- but if he wins both of those and the others, he will have more than half the delegates he needs to win the nomination, and then it becomes almost impossible for anyone to catch Trump.

So, let's look at Marco Rubio's path. On Super Tuesday, he's got three or four states that he's covering the most and this is what he needs. He needs to ideally win somewhere, but at least be consensus second everywhere. Virginia, Oklahoma and Arkansas-- the three states he's spending the most time in, and by the way he would be helped if Trump beat Ted Cruz in Texas, which would effectively knock Cruz out of the race. So that's the strategy there. Then, in a one-on-one on March 15th, Rubio hopes to beat Trump in Ohio and Florida and then after that look at what the delegate total would be under that scenario. Rubio would actually have a slight lead at this point, and we'd be looking at sort of a long march to Cleveland because by the way, it would be impossible for anybody to get a majority of the delegates by July to pull that out.

So, let's now move to Cruz. Cruz, he's got a pretty straight-forward path to relevance here. Number one, he's got to win Texas and he's hoping to win the two states that border Texas on Super Tuesday-- Oklahoma and Arkansas. Cruz really wants to be able to say that he won Iowa, Texas and something else. What is that something else, and of course he needs to be second? Then, he also would like to eliminate Rubio before Florida, and then Cruz become the alternative? Can Cruz be the guy that everyone rallies around, and he somehow beats Trump in one of these two Super Tuesday states. But again, just like Rubio, there is only a path to a contested convention for Ted Cruz.

So that's the bottom line we're looking at here. Two paths forward. Trump comes away from March 15th, substantial lead and it's game, set, match, presumptive nominee, or the Republican party is looking at an open convention come July. Talk about Cleveland rocking then.

When we come back we're going to look at where the Democratic race is headed, and we've got a surprise endorsement from a top official at the Democratic National Committee.

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back, we've spent much of the show talking about how divided the GOP has become, but there are also some fractures within the Democratic race and my next guest, Tulsi Gabbard, Congresswoman from Hawaii, Democratic National Committee Vice Chair, has been at odds with her boss, DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz for months over the Democratic presidential debate schedule.

Congresswoman you're here because you have an announcement to make regarding your position at the DNC. Tell us.

REP. TULSI GABBARD:

Well first of all, I am resigning from the DNC so that I can support Bernie Sanders for president, and I'd like to tell you why. As a veteran and as a soldier I've seen firsthand the true cost of war. I served in a medical unit during my first deployment where every single day I saw firsthand the very high human cost of that war. I see it in my friends who now a decade after we've come home are still struggling to get out of a black hole.

I think it's most important for us as we look at our choices as to who our next commander-in-chief will be is to recognize the necessity to have a commander-in-chief who has foresight, who exercises good judgment, who looks beyond the consequences. Who looks at the consequences of the actions they are willing to take before they take those actions so that we don't continue to find ourselves in these failures that have resulted in chaos in the Middle East and so much loss of life.

CHUCK TODD:But you know it was just a month ago, and this is what sort of got us curious. A month ago, you said you think the next commander-in-chief needs to have a "military mindset." You said this during an interview on Fox News. Does Senator Sanders have a military mindset?

REP. TULSI GABBARD:

From what I've seen and from talking with him and from his record he does. And what that military mindset means is you go through an analysis process as you're looking at potential courses of action that you're gonna take and how and when we use our military power, and just as importantly when we don't use that military power.

That military mindset says you have foresight. You look at what are the results? What are the consequences of these actions? How will other actors in the area react to those actions? What will we then do? And you look and continue down the line so you know exactly what you're potentially getting yourself into before you make that decision that ends up costing us lives and treasure.

CHUCK TODD:

All right I want to bring in the rest of the panel here. Heather I'll start with you. Let's all mix it up here. Just when it looks like the Democratic Party-- Hillary Clinton's going to go on the ability to unite the party, as she's potentially building a commanding lead, this is a fracture.

HEATHER MCGHEE:

I think that the Democratic party has always needed a primary. This is a time when our core issues around the social contract, around the future of our country around climate change, around debt free college and the next generation are at the center of the debate. So we have to have a full debate about them. And I frankly think it's time for us to have a message that actually integrates the party, that talks about economic inequality and how racism has driven economic inequality.

CHUCK TODD:

So you think this primary is-- Do you think it's moved Hillary Clinton?

HEATHER MCGHEE:

Absolutely The primary has moved Hillary Clinton. I think it's sharpened Bernie Sanders and most importantly it's educated millions of of Americans about the plutocracy in this country and the real human cost of economic inequality and racism.

CHUCK TODD:

Andrea?ANDREA MITCHELL:I think having been out there that it is a very healthy debate and a more civilized debate, I should say. But being in South Carolina as much as I was, it's striking, and the results in the election last night prove, and it could foreshadow what happens on Tuesday, that Bernie Sanders has yet to understand the language and the way to describe issues that really appeal to the African-American voters, at least in the south and certainly the older African-American voters.

He frames income inequality in terms of Citizens United, and campaign finance reform and Super PACs and Wall Street and what the older African-American women are eager to hear is more kitchen table issues.

And it really strikes me that going all the way back to January 17th when we had our debate in South Carolina, that's when her closing argument was Flint, Michigan. Her entire closing argument was Flint, Michigan. And that was her first foray into appealing to these voters and she seems to be connecting in a way that he is not.

CHUCK TODD:

Congresswoman, respond to this, that Bernie Sanders hasn't connected.

REP. TULSI GABBARD:I think when you've seen the groundswell of support that he's gotten not only in one or two states but in states across the country, I think this is where there's a hunger for a leader, a commander-in-chief who is honest, who has integrity, who exercises good judgment.

The communication of the contrast between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders is something that has begun and I think needs to continue to grow. To make sure that as we continue through the next Super Tuesday states that are voting and beyond, that voters are equipped with the right information as it pertains to war and peace and how these decisions impact these communities of color, how they impact communities that are going to be coming from a different place.

CHARLIE COOK:

I think whenever you see problems in one party if you look you'll see them over in the other side. And in the Democratic side the divisions that are on the Republican side are there as well. And if you think about it, Hillary Clinton was at the far left of her husband's administration. And now she finds herself scrambling like mad to keep up with a party that's moved to her left. There are divisions in both sides. And if you think about the sort of the future of the Democratic party, you get past Hillary Clinton or maybe Joe Biden and you've gotta go way, way left before you find anybody that's on the national stage.

HEATHER MCGHEE:

I also wouldn't characterize as left and right the way we've been talking about it for a long time, particularly the way we've been talking about economic progressivism, this is something that is really more about insider and outsider, about top and bottom on the economic spectrum--

CHUCK TODD:And that's been the split there

ANDREA MITCHELL:And her vulnerability she has yet to prove her--

CHUCK TODD:Erick, I am curious, if Hillary Clinton is on a march to the nomination, does that help your efforts to unify behind Cruz and Rubio? Do you think that would help?ERICK ERICKSON:I think it would in a normal year, it would. I don't know that it will this year because there is so much anger, talking about outsiders and insiders, there is so much anger now, people are making decisions emotionally, they're not looking. I for one am very happy to be talking about the Democratic primary instead of the Republican primary right now.

CHUCK TODD:All right, fair enough. We're going to pause there. Congresswoman, nice to see you, thanks for coming by and making that news over here.

REP. TULSI GABBARD:Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:We'll be back in a moment with our endgame segment and the question of whether or not the Republican party can survive after this campaign.

(BEGIN TAPE)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

My party is going bats*** crazy (LAUGHTER)

(END TAPE)

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

Endgame time, and to say the Republican race is getting ugly would be quite the understatement. Andrea, as we talked about, I promised a compilation of this earlier in the show. Here it is.

(BEGIN TAPE)

DONALD TRUMP:

There's a guy totally disruptive, throwing punches. I'd like to punch him in the face, I'll tell you.

SEN. TED CRUZ:

Donald, Donald, I understand the rules are very hard for you.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO:

I don't know why cause the podium goes up to here, but he wanted a full length mirror. Maybe to make sure his pants weren't wet. I don't know.

DONALD TRUMP:

Thank god he has really large ears, the biggest ears I've ever seen.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO:

He's flying around on Hair Force One and tweeting…

DONALD TRUMP:

I go back and I see him with makeup. And it's like he's putting it on with a trowel

SEN. MARCO RUBIO:

And the guy with the worst spray tan in America is attacking me for putting on makeup. Donald Trump likes to sue people. He should sue whoever did that to his face."

DONALD TRUMP:

It's Rubio. (CHEERS)

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Alright, it is becoming WWE. There are nights that I thought like the debate, Erick, was WWE Raw. Am I on USA? Am I on the right channel? This is not good for the party.

ERICK ERICKSON:

No it's not. Donald Trump has brought the party down to a new low. He's feeding off of people's anger about this country on both parties. There are legitimate grievances feeding into the anger, but it's becoming unhealthy. I think Rubio and Cruz had to do what they did, to prove they could dish it back out to Donald Trump. Voters who are supporting Donald Trump, they are looking for the alpha dog. You are going to show that you could be the alpha as well. Unfortunately, it turns American politics into more of a farce that it already is.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And I think it really is a warning to Hillary Clinton if she were to become a nominee, because I'm not sure she knows, that any democrat, especially democrat women,would know how to counteract the Donald Trump phenomenon. How do you debate that in the general election debate? And he'll go after her on Benghazi, on emails. Well she has vulnerabilities. You can have another email dump on Monday night, tomorrow night before the Super Tuesday. Three thousand pages, you know, everyone, all of us are going to be going through it --

CHUCK TODD:

Aren't they, are the Democrat going to make the same mistakes as Republicans did, which is to ignore him for three months and hope by the fall when the debates happen, they beat him?

HEATHER MCGHEE:

No I think they've already seen that in both of their speeches actually. They've been going after Donald Trump. It's really important because right now half of the Americans couldn't pay a $400 bill without going into debt or selling something. And when you see billionaires and well-connected politicians going after each other and being sort of obsessed with each other when you are struggling, that's really really bad for our democracy and alienates people.

CHUCK TODD:

So Charlie, you still believe Trump can be stopped. But to stop him is got to be an insider's game. And if you do an insider's game, don't you play to Trump's outsider strength?

CHARLIE COOK:

Well, I mean I think these other candidates are frustrated that Trump's played by a different set of rules. and that he's been held to a lower standard. If they had a plan they will have to explain it. He can just skate away by saying and it will be the biggest or well we'll have many state plans. i mean it gets and just been building and building and building and it's finally and they're just exploding, plus they have to keep him below that delegate number--

CHUCK TODD:

Do you think that it's funny with Rubio doing what he did-- Again it's sought of the Rick Flare mindset to be, if you wanna be the man you gotta beat, if you wanna beat the man you gotta be the man? But he's already got the is he presidential?

ERICK ERICKSON:

I think that, that does impact Rubio to a degree. To Charlie's point as well, it's not just that Trump plays by different rules. It's that Republicans haven't used the existing rules against him. Very few ad-dollars have been spent against Donald Trump.

CHUCK TODD:

Thank you, I don't get it.

ERICK ERICKSON:

They have not attacked him. Attack ads work and they are only just now starting. It's not that Trump gets by with everything. It's that they've let him get by.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And one of the things about Rubio which you just alluded to is he already had a deficit of stature of being presidential and commander-in-chief. So to get into the playground or the sandbox with Donald Trump, yes he needed to go after him but go after him on substance. Not go after him on---

CHUCK TODD:

Well, but the substance hasn't worked. I mean that's been the problem.

ERICK ERICKSON:

I think you've gotta go after his personality--

ANDREA MITCHELL:

But don't you think It lowers Rubio's--

CHUCK TODD:

Well I agree but substance hadn't worked. But let me ask you this, you alluded to it during the break. The ultimate like suicide mission to stop Donald Trump is to run a third party Republican. you've mentioned, you half-joked Rick Perry for president. Do you think there will be a third party a Constitution party say that is a legitimate Republican, a conservative?

ERICK ERICKSON:

There absolutely will be, there are too many conservatives who would sit it out if it was Donald Trump and--

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Doesn't that elect Hillary Clinton?

ERICK ERICKSON:

It could but I think that ultimately that Donald Trump supporters need to understand that Hillary Clinton will be elected if they choose to go down this path and Republicans have an obligation to to make it clear in the primary that it will be Hillary Clinton if they don't change.

CHARLIE COOK:

And not just among the hardcore conservatives but for the establishment they are deathly afraid that the establishment Republicans voters will just stay home.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

CHARLIE COOK:

If Donald Trump--

CHUCK TODD:

Goodbye Senate maybe even goodbye House.

CHARLIE COOK:

Right, so if you gave someone normal republicans , conventional republicans to just to show up and vote for even if they have no chance of winning a general election, they will be showing up to vote for the senate, for governor, for house for all these down ballot offices.

CHUCK TODD:

Right … wow.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

I think Donald Trump has a lot of crossover appeal in the general election with lot of democrats and in the Rust Belt…

CHUCK TODD:

It's going to be interesting. Trump could over perform at the Rust Belt, underperform in the Sun Belt. And that would be an electoral nightmare. I have to leave it there. We are out of time. We need to go 90 minutes alert the affiliates right isn't that what Ted Koppel use to say …

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And also, Mussolini. (LAUGHTER)

CHUCK TODD:

That's right. That's all for today. On Tuesday night, please join Lester Holt, Savannah Guthrie, and myself for complete prime time coverage of the Super Tuesday results on your NBC News affiliate. As for us, we will be back for next week, because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.