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Meet the Press - January 24, 2016

Meet the Press - Jan. 24, 2015

CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday, fear and loathing on the campaign trail. The Republican establishment takes a deep breath and begins to side with Trump.

DONALD TRUMP:

Yeah, I could stand on the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose any votes, okay? It's, like, incredible.

CHUCK TODD:

While movement conservatives start to back the insurgent Ted Cruz.

TED CRUZ:

The Washington establishment knows who's willing to keep the gravy train going.

CHUCK TODD:

Donald Trump joins me this morning. Plus, now it's the Democrats' turn to worry, as Sanders surges.

BERNIE SANDERS:

We are doing, far, far, far better than Hillary Clinton, against Donald Trump and the other Republican candidates.

CHUCK TODD:

Their establishment threats over nominating a socialist and wonders, "What is wrong with Hillary Clinton?"

HILLARY CLINTON:

I'm not interested in ideas that sound good on paper, but will never make it in the real world.

CHUCK TODD:

Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are with us this morning. And if you thought this campaign could not get any more unpredictable, look who's considering jumping in: former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. And joining me this Sunday morning for insight and analysis are Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post, NBC's Kristen Welker, also from NBC, Kasie Hunt, and David Brooks of The New York Times. Trump versus Cruz, Clinton versus Sanders, eight days till Iowa. Welcome to Sunday. It's Meet the Press.

ANNOUNCER:

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

CHUCK TODD:

We've dug out. So good Sunday morning. And welcome to the blizzard edition of Meet the Press, with one week to go till Iowa. Both parties are suddenly in a bit of a panic mode. The Republicans are fractured. With the establishment now thinking the unthinkable, the best way to stop Ted Cruz might be to back Donald Trump. Mr. Trump will join me in a few minutes on that issue.

But we're going to start with the Democrats, where a more traditional split has developed. Think Carter/Kennedy, Mondale/Heart, Gore/Bradley, even Clinton/Obama. And if the Clinton folks think they've seen this all before, perhaps they have in 2008. Again, Clinton's big lead in Iowa and a big lead in New Hampshire seem to have vanished.

Again, she appears to face an enthusiasm gap. And again, the hand-wringing among her supporters has begun over what's going wrong. And if that weren't enough, The New York Times is reporting that Michael Bloomberg is again considering a run at the White House. In part, because of Clinton's troubles.

This morning, there is some good news though for Clinton. She won the endorsement of The Des Moines Register. By the way, as did Marco Rubio on the Republican side. But one would argue The Des Moines Register will probably have a greater impact among Democratic caucus voters. So joining me now from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is the former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. Madam Secretary, welcome back.

HILLARY CLINTON:

Thank you, Chuck. It's good to talk to you this morning.

CHUCK TODD:

You got it. Let me just start with this. Your opponent is 74 years old, calls himself a socialist. Started this campaign with next to zero name recognition. You have 38 of 44 U.S. senators endorsing you, 12 of 18 Democratic governors. He has zero. What happened? What's gone wrong? And save me the, "We always knew this was going to be a close race," answer.

HILLARY CLINTON:

Well, Chuck, look, I think it's actually good for the debate that we're having. That there is so much interest and energy that I feel on my side and I know obviously so does Senator Sanders on his. We've got a big choice to make. And it's exciting. I had a great couple of events yesterday. I am enthusiastically pursuing the opportunity to reach every single voter in Iowa.

And we're going to see what happens. I feel good about where we are. Obviously, we'll find out a week from tomorrow. But if you look at the differences between Senator Sanders and myself, I don't still think we can wait. We can't wait to make progress on the myriad of issues that I think we're going to be facing in the next administration. I want to build on the progress that President Obama has made. And he has a different approach. And that's what voters are trying to determine, which they prefer.

CHUCK TODD:

Look, as you know, the caucuses sometimes are about passion and enthusiasm. Let me read you something that was in The New York Times from Gail Collins, "Nevertheless, you can't ignore the fact that Hillary Clinton is now the candidate of the aging Democratic establishment whose supporters pray for a low turnout on election day. That might get her nominated in the long run, but it is not really the kind of image that makes you go whistling into the election booth." By the way, she wrote that in 2008. By the way, she wrote that in 2008, Madam Secretary. Is there a déjà vu happening here?

HILLARY CLINTON:

No, there isn't. I just have to tell you, I can only react to what I'm doing, feeling, getting responses from people. And, you know, I feel great that we have the level of enthusiasm the we do. And we also have a really good team on the ground that has been working for months to make sure that it's not just here today, gone tomorrow, but people are involved, they are really reached out to.

And yes, we believe they're going to come caucus. So, you know, this speculation and all the rest of it is entertaining. I admit that. But we're just going to keep moving forward and do the work that we think is going to be successful on February 1st.

CHUCK TODD:

Are you worried that experience, your long resume, is not an asset in this wild year?

HILLARY CLINTON:

No, I'm really not. Because I think at the end of the day, people take this vote seriously. They know they're voting for who they prefer to be the next president and commander in chief. And I believe that when I am out there talking with people about what we have to go up against, here at home, get the economy working for everybody, not just those at the top, begin to raise incomes, which hasn't happened, deal with healthcare, going from 90 percent coverage, which is what we have under the Affordable Care Act now, to 100 percent, and I'll roll out what I intend to do to get there, I can only tell you that I see people nodding, I know people are signing up as they leave my events.

That's what matters here. It is very personal. And people look and they think, you know, "Can we imagine this person to be president and commander in chief?" And because of my experience, particularly my years as secretary of State, working with President Obama, I think that's something that people really take into account.

CHUCK TODD:

What are you willing to, you know, it's interesting. Your husband used a lot of political capital. You and your husband used a lot of political capital to do healthcare. President Obama, arguably, used all of his political capital to get healthcare passed. What is it? What is the one issue you are going to be willing to use all of your political capital to focus on? You and I both know, you basically have one big shot at one big issue. What is it that you're willing to use all your political capital to do it with?

HILLARY CLINTON:

Well, Chuck, first of all, I don't agree with you on that. I think that there are several really important issues, healthcare being one of them. We've got to get costs down. I met a man on Friday who no longer can afford to pay for his HIV medication. I met a woman yesterday whose bill for these drugs she must take and has taken for 25 years has gone from a couple of hundred to over $14,000 for the same amount of the drug. That really hits my heart.

I know what people are going through. I'm going to use whatever tools I can to get us lower prices, cap those prescription drug companies, take that on. But I'm also going to focus on the economy. Because unless we create more jobs and get incomes rising and fix the tax system so that it doesn't, in so many ways, tilt toward the wealthy, people are not going to get ahead. They're not going to feel they're getting ahead. And they're going to still believe that the government, the economy is rigged against them, which is bad for our democracy.

CHUCK TODD:

As you know, your opponent, Senator Sanders has been hitting you on Wall Street contributions, and including some paid speeches that you did for Goldman Sachs, among other banks. Let me ask you this. Why do you think one of these big banks paid you over $200,000 for a speech?

HILLARY CLINTON:

Well, look, I gave speeches to a wide array of groups, from healthcare groups to auto dealers and many, many more. And I think what they were interested in, because what we talked about was the world. Coming off of four years as secretary of State, in a complicated world, people were interested in what I saw, what I thought, they asked questions about the matters that were on their mind, a lot of interest in the bin Laden raid, how such a tough decision was made and what I advised the president. You know, I think Americans who are doing business in every aspect of the economy want to know more about the world. I actually think it's a good conversation to be having. And--

CHUCK TODD:

You don't think they expect anything in return?

HILLARY CLINTON:

Absolutely not. You know, first of all, I was a senator from New York. I took them on when I was senator. I took on the carried-interest loophole. I took on what was happening in the mortgage markets. I was talking about that in 2006. They know exactly where I stand. And I'll tell you, Chuck. It's really interesting to me that now Karl Rove has taken money from the financial interest to run an ad against me to try to influence Democrats not to support me.

Why? Ask yourself why. Because he knows, number one, I know what must be done, and number two, I know how to get it done, to make sure that Wall Street, writ large, not just the banks, but the investment banks, the hedge funds, and everybody else, no longer can wreck our economy the way they did in 2008.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, two more quick questions. The Des Moines Register editorial, in praising you and your experience, did bring up the email issue as one of those things that they're frustrated with how you responded to it. Let me just ask you this question. Last week, you were asked about the F.B.I. investigation. Are you concerned? You said you haven't been contacted by them.

Are you concerned this investigation's taking too long? That it's putting an extra cloud over your candidacy, and until it gets behind you, you're sort of going to have these issues? And Michael Bloomberg even cited it as a reason why he's thinking about running.

HILLARY CLINTON:

No. I'm not concerned, because I know what the facts are. I never sent or received any material marked "classified." I cannot control what the Republicans leak and what they are contending. And I thought it was interesting, Chuck. You, as a political observer, understand why. You know, back a couple of months ago, Kevin McCarthy spilled the beans that the Benghazi investigation was all about bringing me down, something that I suspected, but I went ahead, testified for 11 hours, answered all their questions and even they admitted there was nothing new.

And now, Senator Grassley shows up at a Trump rally yesterday in Iowa, he's the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, who has, and his staff have been, you know, behind in pushing a lot of these stories, and announces he's there for the simple reason to defeat me. I can't control what the Republicans are doing. But I know what the facts are, and I will just keep putting them out there.

This is something that I think is very clear about what happened. And I know it will be over and resolved at some point. But I can't control what the Republicans and their allies do. But I think it's important for voters to know what they're doing.

CHUCK TODD:

And Michael Bloomberg, your reaction to his potential candidacy?

HILLARY CLINTON:

He's a good friend of mine. And I'm going to do the best I can to make sure that I get the nomination and we'll go from there.

CHUCK TODD:

So you're not worried about him getting in?

HILLARY CLINTON:

Well, the way I read what he said is if I didn't get the nomination, he might consider it. Well, I'm going to relieve him of that and get the nomination so he doesn't have to.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, Madam Secretary, stay safe on the trail. We'll catch up with you soon.

HILLARY CLINTON:

Thank you, good to talk to you.

CHUCK TODD:

Nice to talk with you. Now let's turn to her chief opponent, Senator Bernie Sanders, who's also on the campaign trail in Dubuque, Iowa. Senator, good morning to you. And I want to start with getting your reactions. I have not heard your reaction to this. Your colleague, Senator Claire McCaskill said that Republicans were licking their chops, getting ready essentially, they won't touch him right now because "they can't wait to run an ad with a hammer and a sickle." What do you say to her?

BERNIE SANDERS:

Well, what I say to her is that if she would look at the matchups that are taking place between Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump right now, she would find that we were 15 points ahead of him nationally. That in tossup states, battleground states like Iowa and New Hampshire, we're even further ahead of him.

That I would very much look forward to a race against Donald Trump, a guy who does not want to raise the minimum wage, but wants to give hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks to the top two-tenths of 1 percent who thinks wages in America are too high and who thinks that climate change is a hoax, invented by the Chinese. Chuck, there would be nothing more in this world that I would like to take on Donald Trump. We would beat him, and we would beat him badly.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, but as you know, a lot of Democrats are concerned. And not a single one of them has endorsed your candidacy. I just read through that. Not a single Democratic senator has endorsed your candidacy. Not a single Democratic governor has endorsed your candidacy. What does that tell you?

BERNIE SANDERS:

It tells me that we are taking on the political establishment, we're taking on the economic establishment, the financial interest in this country, and we're taking on the corporate establishment. That is what is unique about this race. That in fact, we are trying to make a political revolution bring millions of people into the political process that Washington and all of these politicians have significantly turned their backs on.

So yes, we have the establishment supporting Secretary Clinton. That is not a secret. But the reason that our campaign is generating so much interest and enthusiasm is people think it's time that we take on the establishment. Take on Wall Street. Take on big money interest. And that's why I believe we're doing as well as we are.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, you have been calling for political revolution. And there have been some critiques of it, though, that you're sort of narrow in where you call for revolution. Ta-Nehisi Coates, one of the more respected thinkers in the civil rights movement these days, wrote in The Atlantic, "Why aren't you for reparations because of slavery for African Americans when you're calling for economic justice on so many other levels? Why do you stop short on that issue?"

BERNIE SANDERS:

Well, for the same reason that Barack Obama has and the same reason I believe that Hillary Clinton has. And that is, it is absolutely wrong and unacceptable that we have so much poverty in this country and it is even worse in the African American community. That African American kids, between 17 and 20, who graduate high school, have unemployment rates and underemployment rates of 51 percent.

That 36 percent of African American children are living in poverty. This is an issue that we have got to address. And my intention, as president of the United States, is to be very aggressive in dealing with those issues, to put our kids to work rather than see them go to jail. To improve our schools. That's what we have to do. And I think that's what the American people want.

CHUCK TODD:

I understand that. But you didn't answer the question of why you weren't in favor of reparations.

BERNIE SANDERS:

Well, again it's the same reason that the president is not. And I think--

CHUCK TODD:

And what's that reason?

BERNIE SANDERS:

--that Secretary Clinton is not. We have got to invest in the future. What we have got to do is address poverty in America, something that very few people talk about, and especially poverty in the African American community and the Latino community. And if you look at my record and if you look at my agenda, raising the minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour, creating millions of jobs by rebuilding our infrastructure, focusing on high rates of youth unemployment. I think our candidacy is the candidacy talking to the issues of the African American community.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, let me ask you, though, many African Americans, they hear that, and some will say, "Okay, he's talking about major economic justice. But an African American hand raises his hand and he says, "Well, can't get that through Congress. You can't deal with this because it's politically very difficult." A lot of your other plans are going to be politically difficult, if not impossible.

BERNIE SANDERS:

Well, look. This is what I think. That is looking at politics today as a zero-sum approach. And what I am trying to do in this country is to say, "You know what, in the last election, 63 percent of the American people didn't vote. 80 percent of young people didn't vote in the midterm election. That is why the rich get richer. And that is why billionaires are able to buy elections."

What we are trying to do say that in an American democracy, maybe it's a radical idea, but Congress should represent working families and the middle class rather than just wealthy campaign contributors. So Chuck, what I am trying to do now, is change the dynamics of American politics. Bring millions of young people, working-class people, in to stand up and fight for their rights. When you do that, yes, we can raise the minimum wage. We can create jobs. We can make public colleges and universities tuition-free. That is what we have got to do.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, in 1988, you talked about a major difference between yourself and at the time, the sort of insurgent candidate in the Democratic party, Jesse Jackson. And you simply said, "Jesse believes that serious social change is possible within the Democratic party. I don't." Do you still believe that?

BERNIE SANDERS:

Well, obviously not. I'm running for president of the United States in the Democratic party. And by the way, when you talk about my relationship to the African American community, check out how many white public officials, elected officials, supported Jesse Jackson in 1988. I did. And he won my state of Vermont. He came to Vermont. Jesse Jackson is a friend of mine.

I thought he ran a brilliant campaign. But my view is right now, and the decision that I made, as the longest-serving independent in the history of the United States Congress, I said, "If we are going to win this race, we have to do it within the Democratic primary process." That's what we're doing.

CHUCK TODD:

And if you win, apparently, you're going to have a third candidate in the race. Michael Bloomberg essentially is that. If you are on your way to the nomination, he's running as an independent. What's your reaction?

BERNIE SANDERS:

Well, my reaction is that if Donald Trump wins and Mr. Bloomberg gets in, you're going to have two multi-billionaires running for president of the United States against me. And I think the American people do not want to see our nation move toward an oligarchy where billionaires control the political process. I think we'll win that election.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, Bernie Sanders. I will leave it there. From Dubuque, Iowa, we'll see you next week, I imagine, as we head to Iowa to find out what's going to happen. Thank you, sir. Stay safe on the trail.

BERNIE SANDERS:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

When we come back, the other big fight, Trump versus Cruz. Each knows the other guy is the biggest obstacle for the nomination. Donald Trump joins me next.

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. As tight as the Democratic contest is, it's the Republican race that's become to resemble the end of the Quentin Tarantino movie. Think Reservoir Dogs, where everybody winds up shooting at everybody else. Jeb Bush has spent millions attacking Marco Rubio. Rubio has blasted Chris Christie with super PAC ads.

Christie has questioned Rubio's work ethic, saying, "Dude, show up to work." Donald Trump ridiculed Bush for being low-energy. Bush called Trump a "jerk." Then the non-aggression pact between Trump and Ted Cruz crashed with each attacking the other. In fact, here's the latest Trump ad going after Cruz on immigration.

(BEGIN TAPE)

BRET BAIER:

It sounded like you wanted the bill to pass.

TED CRUZ:

But of course I wanted the bill to pass, what-- my amendment to pass. What my amendment did--

BRET BAIER:

You said "the bill."

TED CRUZ:

--is take citizenship off the table but what it doesn't mean that I supported other aspects of the bill.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

And then here's a Cruz ad hitting Trump on greed.

(BEGIN TAPE)

DONALD TRUMP:

I think eminent domain is wonderful.

FEMALE VOICE:

It made him rich, like when Trump colluded with Atlantic City insiders to bulldoze the home of an elderly widow. Trump won't change the system, he's what's wrong with it.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Well, joining me on the phone right now is Donald Trump. Mr. Trump, welcome back to Meet the Press.

DONALD TRUMP:

Good morning, and I have to tell you his ad is wrong, because I never knocked down that house. I wanted to get that house to build a major building that would have employed tremendous numbers of people, but then the woman didn't want to sell, ultimately I just said, "Forget about it." So he's got me bulldozing down a house, I never bulldozed it down. It's false advertising. But what can I tell you.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, all right. I think the accusation was that that's what you wanted to do.

DONALD TRUMP:

No, the accusation was--

DONALD TRUMP:

--that I did it. And I didn't do it. So I didn't. But, you know, the way to eminent domain, if you didn't have eminent domain, you wouldn't have highways, you wouldn't have the Keystone pipeline, because they need their desperately if it's ever going to get built. You wouldn't have roads, you wouldn't have schools, hospitals. I mean, I don't love eminent domain, but you need eminent domain or you don't have a country.

CHUCK TODD:

Look, this race between you and Ted Cruz, he wants to make it about who's the real conservative. Here's what he said yesterday when it comes to you and conservatism. I want to get you to react to it. Here he is.

(BEGIN TAPE)

TED CRUZ:

Perhaps one of the reasons that the Washington establishment is rushing so quickly behind Donald Trump is that Donald has been an active supporter. He gave $100,000 to the Clinton Foundation. He's actively supported Hillary Clinton as a political candidate. He supported Chuck Schumer, he supported Andrew Cuomo, he supported Rahm Emanuel, so they know he will cut a deal.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

You know, I know you've embraced the idea of cutting a deal. But some conservatives fear you're not a real conservative, that 60 years, you weren't a conservative, you've only been one the last eight or nine.

DONALD TRUMP:

Well, that's not right, number one. And most conservatives love me, or I wouldn't be having the poll numbers that FOX just came out. They just released their numbers, it's through the roof. And I wouldn't be having the poll numbers that I have. I am a conservative. But I get along with people. Ted cannot get along with people at all.

I mean, the biggest problem he has, he's a nasty guy and nobody likes him. Not one Republican senator, he works with them every day, not one Republican senator has endorsed Ted Cruz. I mean, when you think of it, that's actually a shocking thing to believe--

CHUCK TODD:

I'm just curious, you've been laying into Cruz over the last ten days on this issue. For six months, you talked about how much you liked Ted Cruz. Were you--

DONALD TRUMP:

What I said was...

CHUCK TODD:

--on that?

DONALD TRUMP:

Look, he was very nice to me, and I kept saying, "When is it going to happen, Ted? When is it going to happen?" I was waiting, because I wanted counterparts. I don't want to be the first one. And then during the debate, a debate which everyone said I won, he got very nasty. And he started hitting me and I hit him back.

And then, you know, since then. But I was saying, he was following along, anything I said was okay to him. Anything I said. And he was really, you know, look, I had some people that have been terrific on the stand. And I like some of the candidates very much on a personal basis. But Ted was very nice. And then I said, and during that period of time, I said, "Come on, Ted, when is it going to happen?" Because I understand Ted. Ted's a nasty guy who is not a very well-liked person.

CHUCK TODD:

It sounded like, by the way, you said the other day you wouldn't vote for him if he's the nominee. Is that true?

DONALD TRUMP:

No, I talked about the fact that I'm not sure that I can vote for him, because as you know, he has a very major issue. In fact, Illinois now is looking at it very seriously. I don't even know, is it going to be okay to run in Illinois, the state of Illinois. He was born in Canada, he was born on Canadian soil, he was a citizen of--

CHUCK TODD:

Didn't you sign a pledge?

DONALD TRUMP:

Chuck, Chuck, he was a citizen--

CHUCK TODD:

Didn't you sign a pledge though that you would support the Republican--

DONALD TRUMP:

Oh, yeah, no, I will. That was relating to Canada, by the way, when I said that. The question was that when it's relating to Canada. The question is whether or not he can run. And I'll tell you something, from the standpoint of voters in Iowa and New Hampshire and all these places that have to go out and vote, how can you vote for a candidate, I mean, how can you do it, when you don't even know if that candidate is able to run?

Laurence Tribe from Harvard said, "It's totally unsettled law." A number of the top constitutional lawyers have come out recently over the last few days, said he's not allowed to run. He was born in Canada. He can't run. So there's a real question. And I said he should get a declaratory judgment, he has to do something. Because how can you have a campaign when it's very possible you're not allowed to run?

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you about National Review, I've seen your tweets. I know how you feel about the magazine and I know how you feel about this issue. But let me get you to respond to one quote from Erik Erikson. He writes this: "Like the angels in heaven who rejoice for every new believer, we should rejoice for Donald Trump's conversion to conservatism. But we should not put a new conservative in charge of conservatism or the country." What do you tell conservatives that will make them believe you won't leave the ideology if it's convenient or unpopular?

DONALD TRUMP:

Well, first of all, that's not an insulting quote. I mean, it really is. I was going to hit--

CHUCK TODD:

I know, you were about to -

DONALD TRUMP:

And it wasn't really an insulting quote. Second of all, National Review is a failing magazine. And you get that. You know, they did it because they'll get some nice publicity. I am a conservative. And what I say to people is this: Ronald Reagan. He was a somewhat liberal Democrat, and over the years, he evolved and he became fairly conservative. Not overly, a fairly conservative Republican.

Now, he became a great president also. And I've evolved. And a lot of people have evolved. And a lot of people change positions on things over years. And by the way, Ted Cruz has changed his position. He was very, very weak on illegal immigration. He was very, very weak on illegal immigration.

And now, all of a sudden, because of my stance, he got strong. But Ted Cruz was absolutely weak on immigration. And now all of a sudden he gets stronger. So let's hear what happens. But I use the term Ronald Reagan, I use the name Ronald Reagan, and that's pretty good to me.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, just about, well, about 15, 20 minutes ago, Mitt Romney put out a tweet saying, "Four years ago today, he put out his tax returns," and he believes that every 2016 candidate should release their returns before the first contest. Just so you know, every nominee, Mr. Trump, has released their tax returns going back to 1980. The Clintons, by the way, Hillary Clinton, we have every tax return that her name's been on since 1977 in the public domain. Will you release any of your tax returns for the public to scrutinize?

DONALD TRUMP:

Well, we're working on that now. I have very big returns, as you know, and I have everything all approved and very beautiful and we'll be working that over in the next period of time, Chuck. Absolutely.

CHUCK TODD:

What's a period of time? Before--

DONALD TRUMP:

I don't know, I mean, you know--

DONALD TRUMP:

--accountants. This is not, like, a normal tax return. This is--

CHUCK TODD:

No, I understand that.

DONALD TRUMP:

And I have to- But I will say this, and I'm very proud to say it, I think the country is run horribly. I hate what they do with our money. And unlike everybody else, I try to pay as little tax as possible, because I hate what they do with my tax money. I hate the way they spend our money, the way they give it to Iraq, the way they give it to Iran, the way they give it to s-- to everything. They give it to everybody--

CHUCK TODD:

But you are going to release?

DONALD TRUMP:

I hate the way our politicians spend our money, I hate the way they give it away to everybody but us. We have to rebuild our country.

CHUCK TODD:

But you will release it--

DONALD TRUMP:

I pay, it's a little tax. And I say it. And the reporters said, "That's the most refreshing answer I've ever heard on taxes," because everyone tries to build it up, like Mitt Romney. He built it up, tried to build it up, how much he paid. It just doesn't work that way. But I'll be, we're working on it right now, and at the appropriate time, you'll be very satisfied.

CHUCK TODD:

And finally, I've got to ask you about Michael Bloomberg, what do you make of the idea that if you're the nominee, if Sanders is the nominee, that's what would inspire Mr. Bloomberg to go third party.

DONALD TRUMP:

Well, Michael has been a friend of mine over the years, I don't know if we're friends anymore, frankly. But Michael has been a friend of mine. I would love to have Michael Bloomberg run. I would love that competition. I think I'd do very well against it. I would love to see Michael Bloomberg run.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, you'll embrace it. Mr. Trump, I will leave it there. Stay safe on the trail. We'll see you next week in Iowa.

DONALD TRUMP:

All right, thank you very much.

CHUCK TODD:

You got it. We'll be back in a moment, folks, with more on the Republican race, and the Republican party's bank-shot strategy of late. Support Donald Trump now, to defeat Cruz, then hope somehow you can defeat Trump later. Good luck with that. We'll be back.

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. It's possible that the Republican field could be narrowed down to just 2 candidates. After New Hampshire, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. Both camps are making the electability argument. So, who's right? Let's look at Cruz. According to our latest NBC News, Wall Street Journal poll, among these five groups that the Republican party has struggled to win Cruz is underwater across the board. That means more people have an unfavorable view of him than a favorable one. So that's bad news for the Republicans, right?

But now here's how the Trump numbers look among the same groups. The negatives are much worse. Look at where he is among African Americans. His net negative rating is 72 points in the wrong direction. In fact, Trump's best numbers in these groups of voters , independents, suburban voters, and latinos… His worst numbers are still better than Cruz's worse numbers. Excuse me, Cruz's worse numbers are better than Trump's worse numbers.

So just looking at it by the date at least suggests that Trump would start a general election campaign in a much deeper hole than Ted Cruz. When we come back the Republican party's double bank shot plan to support Donald Trump now in order to beat him later.

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back, while the Democrats are experiencing the traditional mainstream versus insurgent split, the Republican party is in a much different place. It appears totally fractured. The establishment is willing all of a sudden to back Trump, at least temporarily, in order to beat Ted Cruz now and they'll worry about how to beat Trump later. Let me bring in the panel: Chris Cillizza, Mr. Fix political reporter for The Washington Post, two of our campaign reporters - I got them to stay here for the blizzard - who are out on the trail, Kristen Welker of course who's been covering the Clinton campaign a lot, and Kasie Hunt who we've had you all over the place most recently with Mr. Sanders, and of course David Brooks, columnist for The New York Times. Welcome to you all.

Before we get things started, we've got this great little Trump versus Cruz this week. It's nasty, and it's personal. Take a look.

(BEGIN TAPE)

TED CRUZ:

Right now, the Washington Establishment is abandoning Marco Rubio. They made the assessment that Marco can't win this race. And the Washington establishment is rushing over to support Donald Trump.

DONALD TRUMP:

His new line of attack is that I've become establishment. Oh, give me a break. Because Bob Dole, who's a terrific guy, said, "Trump will do better than Cruz." Which is, you know, believe me, I will do better than Cruz.

TED CRUZ:

If as a voter you think what we need is more Republicans in Washington to cut a deal with Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, then I guess Donald Trump's your guy.

DONALD TRUMP:

Guys like Ted Cruz will never make a deal, because he's a strident guy. "No you cannot have that!"

TED CRUZ:

As our poll numbers of surged, as Donald's numbers keep dropping, he's getting more and more rattled.

DONALD TRUMP:

He's a very strident person. Nobody likes him.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

David Brooks? Before National Review came out, you came out earlier in the week beGging basically all of the other parts, the governing wing of the Republican party, I think you called them, to revolt against both of them.

DAVID BROOKS:

Yeah. This is going to go on for a long time. I mean, this is the Iran/Iraq war. I want them both to lose. And I think that's going to happen. I still think I'm the last person in America. This is not Trump/Cruz. This is going to go on for months and months and months. Where if you've got A attacking and B and B attacking A, then who's C? Do we get a C?

CHUCK TODD:

Who is the C?

DAVID BROOKS:

It's going to be Rubio. I'm telling you, it's going to be Rubio. Right now, you have the conflict between the conservative, the philosophical conservative wing, which is the National Review crowd, and the rogue wing, which is talk radio and Trump. And so it's interesting to see how that breaks down.

Right now, Trump has the advantage in that, because the conservative movement is less conservative than it was ten years ago. The financial crisis has hit people hard, and they want a government that's on the side of the little guys, as long as it's not filled with liberal values. So Trump, in the short term, but we're prepping the establishment. Do not panic. There are going to be months of this. Wait for Rubio.

CHRIS CILLIZZA:

Look, I think if you are part of the Republican establishment, you should not go through the scenario that you just talked about, Chuck, this triple bank shot. What you want is, in my opinion, Trump versus Cruz for an extended period of time. This idea that, "Well, okay, we'll get rid of Cruz and then we'll handle Trump."

If Trump wins Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, there is no handling. The race is effectively over. I think you want Cruz to win Iowa. Then Trump wins New Hampshire. Then it's a muddle. That's the way that a Rubio emerges. This idea, like, "Oh, well, Trump will just win the first four or five states, we'll get rid of Cruz, then we'll just insert our candidate," that does not seem to me likely.

CHUCK TODD:

Kasie, you've been covering that Republican side for a while...

KASIE HUNT:

Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, David, I feel like he is the last man standing, that I am starting to question whether the establishment can even find a candidate.

KASIE HUNT:

And I think that's why you're seeing so many of them turn and focus on trying to figure out, "Okay, would I be okay with Donald Trump?" Most of them feel that Trump, and he said this again in his interview, Trump's attack that Cruz is a nasty guy is ultimately right. They all feel like he's a nasty guy. And they feel like, well, some of those numbers you've showed, showed Trump's negatives overwhelming. They think that the Clinton campaign or the Democrats could so aggressively define Cruz, that it would ultimately end up being worse.

KRISTEN WELKER:

And I think what's interesting, in my conversations with Republican members of the establishment, they have really shifted their tone when they talk about Trump. They're now saying, "He's the best person to make deals. He's someone who we can actually work with whereas Cruz is not." And he's also--

CHUCK TODD:

Now that's establishment panic.

KRISTEN WELKER:

It's almost as if that is Trump's talking point--

CHRIS CILLIZZA:

That makes no--

DAVID BROOKS:

We have such a dumb establishment.

CHUCK TODD:

By the way, you will get universal agreement on the conservative side. Conservatives love to go after you, on that they won't.

DAVID BROOKS:

And that is just embracing the poison. I mean, there will be an inauguration in January, 2017. And a man or a woman will be standing up there. That's where Abraham Lincoln stood. That's where F.D.R. stood. That's where Ronald Reagan stood. Donald Trump is going to stand there? I just do not believe that.

CHUCK TODD:

You sound like The New Yorker cover. I should put it up. Because it was actually quite cute, it has all these former presidents watching Donald Trump on television, with F.D.R., with the remote. And they're all, like, aghast at this front.

CHRIS CILLIZZA:

I talked to a smart Republican consultant who worked for a presidential candidate, not one in this race, but in past races. And he said, "Look, yes, the Trump thing is real, yes, it's going to go on." He said, "The one question I have," and I think this is interesting, "is there is a 'can I imagine this person being president,'" to David's point, "in a hurricane, in a blizzard?"

Sort of being the empathizer in chief after a mass shooting. And that Trump, it is impossible for the majority of America to conceptualize Donald Trump in that role. And at some point, though it won't be, you know, on February 1st in the primary, it won't be on February 9th, and it might not be through March or April or May, at some point, that reckoning will happen. And the goal is to have someone who looks the role of president, whether it's Rubio or Jeb, which is unlikely. But someone else other than him.

KASIE HUNT:

But that's the argument the Republican establishment has been making ever since Donald Trump got into this race--

CHRIS CILLIZZA:

Since June '16, yeah.

KASIE HUNT:

And here we are. And the reality is, the challenge for these establishment candidates is that you still have to prove to the voters that you are big enough to run for the presidency, before you get to the point where you're handling hurricanes and all of those things. And the reality is, none of these guys, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, none of them have been able to stand up in a way that makes them seem bigger than Donald trump.

KRISTEN WELKER:

And by the way, if he gets an electoral victory under his belt, if Trump were to win Iowa, I think that perception starts to change. And based on my reporting, his ground game is actually a lot more robust than initially thought.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, I'm just wondering, David, early-state voters, they don't vote with their head. They've been conditioned to vote idealistically, either on the left or the right. So this is where I think the establishment, both Hillary Clinton and the establishment are suffering.

DAVID BROOKS:

Well, at some point, but then you get to later states. At some point, these early states, they do vote identity more than they do who's actually going to make the change, who's actually going to deliver or not.

CHUCK TODD:

Right, because they've been fed this for months.

DAVID BROOKS:

But this is, like, a big cultural event in these early states. Then the later states, I think the emotions are a little lower, and they're a little more pragmatic. Second, something's going to happen in the Middle East, events will happen. And third, Cruz and Trump going after each other, week after week, week after week, that's going to start to look pretty ugly.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, that I buy. And then the question is, is there a candidacy left? And I think that's the question. All right, let's take a pause here, we'll be back in a moment. We're going to talk more about the Democratic race with my fine quartet here, and why Hillary Clinton's 2016 run has some wondering if it's the 2008 model all over again.

* * *COMMERCIAL BREAK* * *

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. With just over a week until the Iowa caucuses, a lot of people are thinking about who is best seated to lead the country. My next guest, Robert Gates, has a unique inside to what it takes to be commander in chief, having served under eight presidents, most recently as secretary of Defense, under both Presidents Obama and Bush. And in his new book, it has a very topical title, A Passion for Leadership. Secretary Gates, welcome back to Meet the Press.

ROBERT GATES:

Thank you, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

So let's talk about this leadership test. What is it that you wish voters would use as a leadership test to decide who to support?

ROBERT GATES:

I think it's the question of who can actually lead the country, and equally, who can run the government? Government is different and especially the federal government, is different in many ways than running a business or anything else. And people who have never run a governmental organization often have no idea how complicated it is and how difficult. For example, if you're a CEO, you don't have 535 members on your board of directors.

CHUCK TODD:

You may have 12 or 15. Let me go through, you're here we should talk a little bit about ISIS. I'm not going to tell you which candidates is saying these things, I just want you to assess the different ideas. One candidate, "We won't weaken them, we won't degrade them, we will utterly destroy them, we will carpet-bomb them into oblivion."

Another candidate says, "You take away their wealth, you go knock the hell out of the oil, you take back the oil." Another one says they want a no-fly zone, humanitarian corridors to try to stop the carnage on the ground, try to provide some way back, another candidate says, "You've got to bring in a Muslim coalition together, Sunni and Shia fighting side by side." Of those plans, what's realistic?

ROBERT GATES:

I think bringing in some kind of Arab coalition to try and help, creating some kind of humanitarian corridor, or safe haven, they're both tough. But you could do them. The first alternatives, I think, are completely unrealistic. And furthermore, wouldn't accomplish the job. And I can't figure out whether those who are arguing that really believe they can do that, or whether they're just be cynical or opportunistic.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, I quoted, the first two were Cruz and Trump, the ones you're criticizing, the second two were Clinton and Sanders, the ones you're saying are the more realistic approach. Is the problem though that voters are frustrated? And they see this and they think, you know, "We're always told that you can find a coalition to do this, but nothing ever seems to change in the Middle East." I mean, do you think that's why voters are more susceptible to something a little more bold or brash?

ROBERT GATES:

Or simple. And the problem is most of these problems are not simple. And it requires, first of all, building coalitions in Washington. It would be useful in terms of foreign policy and national security to have some coalitions in Washington, where Washington speaks with relatively one voice, one sum unity, before we try and form coalitions around the world.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, in your book, we point out that over the last 80 years, only Eisenhower, Ford, and Bush 41 did not evoke deep animosity. We are going to, the next president will be polarizing. That is probably a fact, just the nature of our politics.

ROBERT GATES:

But it doesn't need to be that way.

CHUCK TODD:

Why are you convinced that it, okay, I hear that it doesn't need to be. But your examples, two of them couldn't even win, one couldn't win a full term on their own, and the other one couldn't win reelection. Polarization actually helps these guys win. That's part of the problem, isn't it?

ROBERT GATES:

Now, I think the question is who can move the country. And that requires building coalitions. It requires reaching out to the other side. And we have had polarizing presidents that nonetheless were able to reach out to the other side and move the country forward. After all, Harry Truman was one of the most unpopular presidents in American history, and yet accomplished extraordinary things--

CHUCK TODD:

I love your noting here. You said until you were ten, you didn't know his first name. It's Harry, you thought it was "gosh darn." I'm not going to use the other--

(LAUGHTER)

ROBERT GATES:Practicallly speaking.

CHUCK TODD:

Then I take it you should be a Michael Bloomberg guy. You worked for people on both sides of the aisle, he's a potential candidate that's saying he wants to create a campaign that would have people from both sides.

ROBERT GATES:

I think again, practically speaking, I don't see how a third candidate works, how a third candidate can be elected.

CHUCK TODD:

You must like the message.

ROBERT GATES:

What I'm interested in is a president, a candidate for president who talks about how he can bring us together as a people, who can emphasize that we all have a common destiny, and who can emphasize that we need to work together to begin to address some of the problems here in the country.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, it's some wise words from you. We'll see if the voters will listen to your way of figuring out how to decide who can lead this country. Robert Gates, congrats on the new book.

ROBERT GATES:

Thanks, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Thank you, sir. We'll be back in a moment with our endgame segment, and one Washington resident who thought the blizzard of 2016 was just about the best thing that could possibly happen.

* * * COMMERCIAL BREAK * * *

CHUCK TODD:Endgame time and the panel is here. All right, the Democratic side. David Brooks, what did you make of Clinton v. Sanders this morning?

David Brooks:If I didn't know anything about the race until I saw these back-to-back interviews today, I would think wow Sanders really has honed his message, and he's captured both authenticity and joy, and Hillary Clinton hasn't honed her message.

Theres a lot of Chinese menu stuff: A, B, C, D, and so you can see why he's doing well. You've got to pick that message, hone it, deliver it, velocity

CHUCK TODD:

Well, I think they have a message, but they know it doesn't follow voters, which is experience counts.

KASIE HUNT:

Well, and I was struck Chuck. Chuck, when you asked her what her top priority was going to be, that number-one thing she was going to spend political capital on, I didn't feel like she had a clear answer about what it was she cared the most about. She in some ways backed into it, talked a little bit about healthcare, which is obviously she has obviously gone after Sanders on--

CHUCK TODD:

I was surprised she made it healthcare, in an odd way, because really?

CHRIS CILLIZZA:

Well because of the 1990s. Her whole argument is, "This is about the future, not the past." I mean, it is remarkable. When I was watching these interviews back-to-back, it is remarkable, and I thought you put this really well, a 74 year old, former mayor of Burlington, Vermont, avowed socialist, who on your show, refused months ago to say, "I'm not a socialist," he's the change and future candidate.

That is, I mean, the way that she has found herself in this race, in this déjà vu all over again, her only benefit is Bernie Sanders does not equal Barack Obama in that Bernie Sanders, at least yet, doesn't have the support in the black community, anywhere near Barack Obama. So she may benefit from that. But from her own perspective, who she is as a candidate, is still the same. And that's the problem.

CHUCK TODD:

The primary calendar is her friend here. There's a lot of states with large African American voting blocks.

KRISTEN WELKER:

Well, that's absolutely right and what I was going to stay. I think she continues to invoke healthcare because she continues to hug President Obama and his policies. Might not be as effective in a place like Iowa and New Hampshire, but it matters a lot in a place like South Carolina. She's very focused on building up a firewall in the South. And in those Super Tuesday states, in case she does lead the nomination.

CHUCK TODD:

No, it does feel as if she's setting up a March message. Going to your point, the February message is idealism. And she doesn't have it.

DAVID BROOKS:

Right. And that's I think the same as on the Republican side will get more pragmatic, and I do think events will happen. I think both races will be really long. Some big terrorist blow up somewhere, she'll look a lot better. But right now, lacking the joy.

CHRIS CILLIZZA:

I mean this with Trump and with Hillary, this idea that you can simply lose to a socialist, 74 year old, who no one thought had any chance of being anywhere close to her, the idea that you can lose Iowa and lose New Hampshire, and people will just go on their merry way. Now, David may be right, that it's an extended race with lots of twists and turns that she eventually wins. That's the only path that she wins the race by--

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah, you know the last person to pull that off? Their last name was Clinton. I'm just saying, Bill Clinton has some familiarity--

CHRIS CILLIZZA:

Go much lower expectations, though, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

He had his own Bernie Sanders, Jerry Brown.

CHRIS CILLIZZA:

Jerry Brown.

CHUCK TODD:

And he had his own billionaire, Ross Perot.

KASIE HUNT:

Second round is the comeback kid in New Hampshire, and if she almost gets up against him and doesn't actually win.

KRISTEN WELKER:

But Chuck, if you're a Hillary Clinton supporter, they've been saying this from the very beginning, this is the toughest part for her, the campaigning, the actual getting out there and selling her message and being authentic.

CHUCK TODD:

Connectivity.

KRISTEN WELKER:

But they also say that she has built a ground game in Iowa, very much modeled after Barack Obama's ground game. They still think they're going to get the people out when it comes to the election--

CHUCK TODD:

The New York Times, Paul Krugman had a great, he said, "Bernie Sanders is the heir to Candidate Obama, and Hillary Clinton is running as the heir to President Obama." That's a pretty good summary.

DAVID BROOKS:

Yeah, and the question is whether people will get pragmatic. For five years, I've been saying that Bob Gates should be president.

CHUCK TODD:

I couldn't even get him to endorse Bloomberg there. I thought I would.

DAVID BROOKS:

People want that kind of, somebody who can actually manage, they'll vote for her. I think there's some part of the country that does want that.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, we'll see where they are and if they live in Iowa. Anyway, before we go, we spent a lot of time on this show talking about how politicians in Washington can't agree on anything. But guess what? In this town, we can't even agree on how much snow fell this weekend. There was a mix-up in the measuring process, the Bureau of Measurements, at Reagan National Airport, meaning the official numbers underestimated the amount of snow which had fallen.

Some people probably think our deficits gets dealt with that way on math too. But there is one thing everyone can agree on in this city, that it's impossible not to smile at the video of D.C.'s most famous Chinese resident, Tian Tian, the panda having a lot of fun in the snow. Wow. That was something else.

KRISTEN WELKER:

That's what I did on my way to work, yesterday--

CHRIS CILLIZZA:

Genuinely, that's just like my--

KASIE HUNT:

Just a little bit more of this in our lives, and we'd all be happier.

CHUCK TODD:

Absolutely.You know, the panda for president. Anyway, I'm going to leave it there. Next week, we'll be in Iowa.

KRISTEN WELKER:

\That's right.

CHUCK TODD:

You'll be in Iowa. Everybody's going to be in Iowa. I can't wait for it. We'll see you then. If it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

* * *END OF TRANSCRIPT* * *