Feedback
Meet the Press

Meet the Press - March 6, 2016

Meet the Press - March 6, 2016

(BEGIN TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday, have the Republicans found their "anti-Trump?" Ted Cruz has himself a Super Saturday, and Donald Trump who won Louisiana and Kentucky seems to agree.

DONALD TRUMP:

I want Ted one-on-one, okay?

CHUCK TODD:

Cruz wins Kansas and Maine and he wins the day on delegates.

TED CRUZ:

Donald Trump is not the best candidate to go head-to-head with Hillary Clinton.

CHUCK TODD:

Meanwhile, whatever happened to Marco Rubio? Three thirds and a fourth, on a rough night. Also, Bernie Sanders scores wins in Kansas and Nebraska, but Hillary Clinton takes Louisiana and the most delegates for the day.

HILLARY CLINTON:

You just want to pull your hair out when you see that "insult-fest" that goes on among the republicans.

CHUCK TODD:

Plus, the republican "Dump Trump" movement.

MITT ROMNEY:

He's playing the members of the American public for suckers. He has neither the temperament or the judgement to be president.

CHUCK TODD:

Mitt Romney is in, but Trump supports push back

TRUMP SUPPORTER:

If Mitt Romney thinks that about Mr. Trump, than he must think that about every one of us supporters of Mr. Trump.

CHUCK TODD:

Mitt Romney and Lindsey Graham join me live. And you think the republican race is nasty?

KEVIN SPACEY:

I've had to fight for everything my entire life.

CHUCK TODD:

President Frank Underwood or, should I say, Kevin Spacey one of them will be with me this morning. And joining me for insight and analysis are, David Brooks of the New York Times, Kelly O'Donnell of NBC News, Republican strategist Mary Matalin, and Stephen Henderson of The Detroit Free Press. Welcome to Sunday. It's Meet the Press.

ANNOUNCER:

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

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Good Sunday morning. If the Dump Trump movement needs a candidate to rally around, his name just might be Ted Cruz. Cruz and Donald Trump each won two contests yesterday, but it was Ted Cruz who emerged with the most delegates, and perhaps some renewed momentum. Cruz easily won the Kansas caucuses beating Trump by a better than two-to-one margin. And Marco Rubio and John Kasich far behind.

Cruz also took the Maine caucuses, with 46 percent of the vote, 13 points ahead of Trump, another double-digit win there for Cruz. But Trump also took two states last night, winning the only primary in Louisiana, but he won that by a much smaller margin than polls had indicated. And Trump won the newly-created Kentucky caucuses. But again, it was just by just a four-point margin over Cruz, smaller than what many had predicted.

Overall, Cruz won 70 delegates last night to Trump's 61. So Cruz won the night on delegates. And although overall, Trump still holds the lead in the delegate camp, but as important as delegates are, he's also won some momentum and some hope last night.

(BEGIN TAPE)

TED CRUZ:

Maybe right now, you're supporting Marco Rubio or John Kasich. What is becoming more and more clear is if you want to beat Donald Trump, we have to stand united as one.

DONALD TRUMP:

I want to congratulate Ted on Maine and on Kansas. And he should do well in Maine, because it's very close to Canada. Let's face it, I mean.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

On the Democratic side, by the way, Bernie Sanders won two out of three states. But Hillary Clinton won the most delegates. Let me walk you through it. Sanders beat Clinton by better than two to one in the Kansas caucuses with 68-32. Sanders also won the Nebraska caucuses too, but by a much smaller margin, 56-44. The Clintons actually spent a little time in Nebraska. They didn't campaign much in Kansas.

But despite the Sanders' Kansas Nebraska act, see what we did there for you history teachers out there, Clinton won the Louisiana primary by a huge margin, 71-23. And that gave Clinton the majority of delegates for the night. So overall, with her support from superdelegates, Clinton's lead in the delegate count has now expanded to over 600 now over Sanders. But as we said, the big news was on the Republican side. And even as Ted Cruz's wins gave hope to this growing "Never Trump" movement, Donald Trump had a message for Republican leaders who think Cruz has slowed his momentum.

(BEGIN TAPE)

DONALD TRUMP:

I would love to take on Ted one on one. That would be so much fun. Because Ted can't win New York, he can't win New Jersey, he can't win Pennsylvania. He can't win California.

CHUCK TODD:

Republicans desperate to sink Trump's presidential bid for months are finally speaking out. On Thursday, the party's last nominee denounced his current frontrunner as a phony and a fraud.

MITT ROMNEY:

Think of Donald Trump's personal qualities: the bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the absurd third-grade theatrics.

CHUCK TODD:

And yet, his speech only seemed to cement Trump support.

TRUMP SUPPORTER:

If Mitt Romney thinks that about Mr. Trump, then he must think that about every one of us supporters of Mr. Trump. We are not phonies and frauds.

TRUMP SUPPORTER:

I think what's damaging the Republican brand is trashing the frontrunner at this stage.

CHUCK TODD:

And Trump crudely reminded voters that four years ago, Romney accepted his endorsement.

DONALD TRUMP:

I could've said, "Mitt, drop to your knees." He would have dropped to his knees. He was begging.

CHUCK TODD:

Romney has joined what is now a growing Republican "Never Trump" caucus.

SEN. BEN SASSE:

He's attacking all of the core tenets of the Republican party's platform.

REP. SCOTT RIGELL:

I reject Trump and I'm encouraging other Republicans to do the same.

GOV. NIKKI HALEY:

I will not stop until we fight a man that chooses not to disavow the K.K.K.

ANNOUNCER:

These were Donald Trump's--

CHUCK TODD:

And donors are pouring millions into a last-ditch effort to defeat him.

ANNOUNCER:

Donald Trump made millions while hard-working Americans got scammed.

CHUCK TODD:

Republican leaders aren't just worried that Trump would lose to Clinton. They worry that Trump at the top of the ticket would put the Senate, and even the House in jeopardy. According to The New York Times, the Senate G.O.P. leader has assured Republicans up for reelection that they can run ads against Trump if needed, quote, "We'll drop them like a hot rock."

MITCH MCCONNELL:

I don't remember saying anything like that to all of you.

REPORTER:

Was that something that you privately--

MITCH MCCONNELL:

I don't remember saying anything like that to all of you.

CHUCK TODD:

Some Republicans are so desperate to stop Trump, they're ready to bury old rivalries and unite behind whoever is best positioned.

LINDSEY GRAHAM:

If you nominate Trump and Cruz, I think you get the same outcome. You know, whether it's death by being shot or poisoning, does it really matter? We may be in a position where we have to rally around Ted Cruz as the only way to stop Donald Trump.

CHUCK TODD:

But Trump's Republican rivals:

MARCO RUBIO:

I will go anywhere to speak to anyone before I let a con artist get a hold of the Republican party.

CHUCK TODD:

Even one who called him a con artist, undermined the idea that Trump is unacceptable.

MARCO RUBIO:

I'll support the Republican nominee.

TED CRUZ:

Yes, because I gave my word that I would.

JOHN KASICH:

I will support whoever is the Republican nominee for president.

CHUCK TODD:

So in the end, it may be that Trump's real opponent, isn't named Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio or John Kasich. But perhaps it's Mitt Romney. Some people heard Governor Romney's speech on Thursday and thought, "Hey, maybe he's interested in the nomination." Well, Governor Romney joins me now this morning.

CHUCK TODD:

Governor, welcome back to Meet the Press, sir.

MITT ROMNEY:

Thank you, Chuck. Good to be with you.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, let me start with the results from last night. A better-than-expected night for Ted Cruz, not as good of a night as Donald Trump thought he was going to have. You think you had an impact?

MITT ROMNEY:

Oh, I think I had a big impact. I think a lot of people were surprised by how well Ted Cruz did. He got more delegates than Donald Trump last night. He was ebullient and enthusiastic. Donald Trump was uncharacteristically low energy last night. I think he was really surprised. This is a campaign that doesn't begin to be over. It's broken all the rules of history so far and I have a feeling it's going to break a few more before we're finished.

CHUCK TODD:

So with Ted Cruz, do you believe he has emerged as the chief anti-Trump candidate? And are you ready to back him?

MITT ROMNEY:

Well, I think he's emerging right now. He obviously had a very strong night, won seven states to Donald's, what, ten states? And yet I wouldn't write off Marco Rubio or John Kasich at this point. Marco Rubio, very strong in Florida, more recent polls there have him within a few points of Donald Trump. And John Kasich leading in Ohio. So they may be "favorite son" candidates or they may emerge down the road as being a very strong candidate on their own.

CHUCK TODD:

You had said it's a time for choosing. You seem to indicate that on March 16th it's a time for choosing. Is that when you're going to endorse an alternative officially?

MITT ROMNEY:

I may well at that point. It depends, of course, on what happens that night. But, you know, I'm leading towards supporting someone. And going onto the campaign trail and trying to convince people to vote for the person who I think can help the country in a very critical time. And who also can represent conservative values and conservatives ideals. A real-deal Republican, if you will.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, let me just confirm, are you comfortable supporting John Kasich, Marco Rubio, or Ted Cruz? Any one of those three candidates against Donald Trump?

MITT ROMNEY:

Absolutely. Any one of those three is a real Republican. They've demonstrated over time that they share conservative values. There's some differences on policy or on tactics to implement policy. But I'd be very proud having any one of them at the top of the ticket. Donald Trump, on the other hand, is someone who represents something entirely different and in my view, is not at all the real deal. This is a guy who pretends to be one thing and is something else entirely.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, I want to go to something you said about Donald Trump's business background in your speech last Thursday. Let me play a clip.

(BEGIN TAPE)

MITT ROMNEY:

His bankruptcies have crushed small businesses and the men and women who worked for them. He inherited his business, he didn't create it. And what ever happened to Trump Airlines? How about Trump University? And then there's Trump Magazine and Trump Vodka and Trump Steaks, and Trump Mortgage? A business genius he is not.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

However, when you accepted his endorsement four years earlier, this is what you said about his business background.

(BEGIN TAPE)

MITT ROMNEY:

Donald Trump has shown an extraordinary ability to understand how our economy works, to create jobs for the American people. I spent my life in the private sector, not quite as successful as this guy, but successful nonetheless.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Governor, all those unsuccessful businesses that you outlined on Thursday, Trump Airlines, Trump University, Trump Vodka, those were all failures before 20-12 as well. Were you just sort of saying something you had to say four years ago in order to accept his endorsement?

MITT ROMNEY:

Well, Donald Trump has made a lot of money for himself. And there's no question that he's got a lot of money in his pockets and has been successful in that score. But if you look at his record overall, and there are other, by the way, failures, you say, "Okay, he made a lot of money for himself, he inherited a lot of money from his dad." But this is not a guy who's a self-made man. And this is a guy who's crushed a lot of people along the way.

CHUCK TODD:

But why'd you say nice things about him four years? Why did you say so many nice things about his business career when clearly you're not impressed?

MITT ROMNEY:

You know, he's made a lot of money for himself. And I'm gracious enough in a setting where someone has endorsed me to point out that he's been successful, made a lot of money. He has a lot of hotels and so forth. But you can't also ignore the fact that he's had a lot of failures. And he tries to sell himself in this campaign as nothing but successful. He's not a loser.

You know what? He's lost time and time again. And he's crushed a lot of people in the process. And the thing that I find most unusual, and perhaps outrageous, is that even though he says he's worth $10 billion, he finds it in his interest to go out and bilk people of $10,000 here, $15,000 there for Trump University. These people have really been scammed. And I want to make sure that the American people are not subject to the same kind of scam as we nominate a president.

CHUCK TODD:

I understand that. But, you know, you did, you laid out a whole bunch of things that you thought disqualified Trump, not just his business background, you thought his support for terrorists could lead to a trade war, you were pretty critical of the vulgar language that he uses, the insulting of Muslims. But, you know, he was pretty insulting of Muslims four years ago. He was the face of the birther movement, which has been totally discredited. And I'm going to play you something here, in 2011. Listen to this vulgarity he used:

(BEGIN TAPE)

DONALD TRUMP

The messenger is important. I could have one man say, "We're going to tax you 25 percent." And I could say another, "Listen (BEEP) we're going to tax you 25 percent."

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Governor, it's Sunday morning, so we had to beep that out. But it was this horrible, frankly, F-bomb tirade that he went on, it's been making the rounds on YouTube. Again, in 2011. So I go back. Do you believe you mainstreamed Trump, made him acceptable, and do you regret it?

MITT ROMNEY:

Chuck, there are a lot of people who supported me who I'm sure used the F-bomb, and other words. I had 61 million people vote for me in the general election. And I'm not endorsing all 61 million people for president. And I'm happy to accept the endorsement of a lot of people who I disagree with on some issues, and some people who I wouldn't want to be associated with the things they say.

But I, at this stage, am at a point where we're looking at Donald Trump and the future of the country. And we say to ourselves, "Is someone with his record and someone who believes the things he believes, which in my view would lead to a recession and to a trade war, and would lead to a world being less safe, do we want that person to be president of the United States?"

Do we want that clip you just saw being on TV for our kids to see time and time again? Even the debate, the presidential debate last week, Donald Trump is saying something I don't want my grandkids to watch. So this guy, look, he may be colorful, he may have made a lot of money for himself, he is not the person who should be president of the United States.

CHUCK TODD:

But in hindsight, I take it you're embarrassed that you stood next to Donald Trump four years ago?

MITT ROMNEY:

You know, some of the things he said more recently would have made it difficult for it, particularly with regards to the Klu Klux Klan, things he said about Muslims in general. Look, I'd have a long, a very difficult time standing next to him four years ago.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you this, you know, you made that compelling speech, some people called it the clearest indictment of Trump yet that anybody had done. And hours later, the three candidates running against Donald Trump sat on a debate stage and all pledged to support him if he's the nominee. Did that disappoint you?

MITT ROMNEY:

I think it was expected. They had been asked that from the very beginning of the campaign, and they've pledged to support whoever the nominee was. And they had to stand by their pledge. But you saw that with few exceptions, they hesitated when it came time to answer that question. It was a difficult one for them to swallow. And I respect the fact as they honored their word, as Ted Cruz said.

But Donald Trump is a more and more difficult person to support. In part because he says, look, he's going to become presidential, he'll act presidential. And yet even on that debate stage, and in his reaction to my speech, he's anything but presidential.

CHUCK TODD:

You have said you will not support either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton for president. You would look for another way, maybe you skip the vote, maybe you vote for a third-party candidate. Is Donald Trump becoming president worse in your mind than Hillary Clinton becoming president?

MITT ROMNEY:

Both of them are pretty darn bad. As Lindsey Graham said, you know, "A poison or a bullet." And I'm going to be voting, but I'll vote for someone who's on the ballot that I think is a real conservative and who would make us proud. And I may write in a name if I can't find such a person.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you believe there should be a, if Trump's going to be on a glide path to the nomination, do you think there should be a concerted third-party effort by Republicans? Maybe it's the Constitution party, maybe it's something else?

MITT ROMNEY:

I'm not going to encourage, at this stage, the creation of a new party. But I think it would be very difficult for Donald Trump in the final analysis to get the nomination. I think we're going to nominate someone who really represents our party. And I believe that'll happen in the process leading up to the convention.

But if the convention has no one person getting a majority of the delegates, then we'll have the 2,000-plus delegates there, and they'll have to make an assessment, they were elected by their people in their respective states, they'll make the judgment as to who should be our nominee.

CHUCK TODD:

You told Matt Lauer, my colleague on Friday, that you would not be a candidate for president. But let me ask you the way General Sherman was once asked, "If nominated, will you accept the nomination?" If your name is placed in the nomination, and was elected at this Cleveland convention, would you accept it?

MITT ROMNEY:

You know, I can't imagine anything like that happening. And I don't think anyone in our party should say, "Oh no, even if the people in the party wanted me to be the president I would say no to it." No one's going to say that. But I can tell you this, I'm not a candidate, I'm not going to be a candidate, I'm going to be endorsing one of the people who's running for president.

And one of the people, I can guarantee you this, one of the people running for president, one of the four, is going to be the Republican party nominee. Three of the four are people I would endorse. But I'm not running and I'm not going to be running.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Governor Mitt Romney, I will have to leave it there. Governor, thanks for coming on. Good to see you.

MITT ROMNEY:

Thanks, Chuck, good to be with you.

CHUCK TODD:

You got it. When we come back, if Trump can't be stopped, could we be witnessing the breakup of the Republican party as we know it? Mitt Romney seemed to hint at it. We'll be right back.

* * *COMMERCIAL BREAK* * *

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. There are six more contests, by the way, coming up in just the next few days. Today, Democrats hold their caucuses in Maine, and then Puerto Rico holds its Republican primary today. Then on Tuesday, Republicans have caucuses in Hawaii and a primary in Idaho. And both parties have primaries in Mississippi and Michigan.

Michigan perhaps is the big prize. And so we have a brand new NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll to show you this morning that has Donald Trump way out in front at 41 percent, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio sitting much farther behind, and John Kasich, who was hoping for a big boost from Michigan, we have him languishing in last place. We know there's other polls out there that indicate he's stronger, we'll find out on Tuesday.

And then on the Democratic side, let me show you our numbers. Hillary Clinton has a comfortable 17-point lead over Bernie Sanders here, but both campaigns have indicated to me they believe this race is much closer than what our polling indicates. Let me bring in our panel. David Brooks, columnist for The New York Times, Kelly O'Donnell, NBC News's Capitol Hill correspondent, Mary Matalin, long-time friend of the show, Republican strategist is here, who of course has worked for Presidents Reagan, both Bushes, and of course Vice President Cheney.

And Stephen Henderson, editorial page editor for the big newspaper that will be covering the big Michigan primary, The Detroit Free Press. Stephen, welcome to you. Let me just start with Mitt Romney. I feel like there's two different reactions here between David and Mary. David, what was your sense of Romney on the Trump endorsement and Romney leaving that door open about running?

DAVID BROOKS:

First, on the Romney on what happened Thursday, finally. Finally somebody's beginning a sustained attack on Donald Trump. And to me, every Republican office holder, if they want to save their party, has to continue that attack. And it's not an attack on things people like about him, that he's politically incorrect and sort of a bully, that's what voters like.

It's attack that he betrays people, he's a betrayer, and he's a narcissist and he thinks ultimately only about himself. And I think that just everyone's got to hit this note. They've got prior examples of people who were scammed by Trump University, Trump Mortgage, all the other stuff, and just keep this going day after day.

CHUCK TODD:

Mary, did you think it was effective? You weren't so sure the Romney speech was effective?

MARY MATALIN:

I think it was the wrong messenger and wrong timing, although David's right about the substance of it. Because when you attack Trump the person, you're trumping the people who support him. When you show that his business record isn't good and all that other stuff, then you make people think. This was evidenced in the late vote went to Cruz in Louisiana, and you're reallocating--

CHUCK TODD:

Well, let me show you, since you brought it up. Let me show you the Louisiana numbers. This was from our friends at FiveThirtyEight. They were able to compare. This is what, according to the early vote, just early vote totals, Donald Trump, look at that, 24-point lead, election day itself, Louisiana has some early voting. Election day itself was a total tie. That says a lot. So clearly, late breakers--

MARY MATALIN:

I will add to that that Cruz won the delegate, we each pick our delegates by caucus, so he won those too. But I think Rubio hurt Trump more than Romney hurt Trump. But Rubio hurt himself in doing it. And but what Mitt did say, which is important, the time for choosing is now. And if the party wants to stop Trump, they have to stop Kasich and they have to stop Rubio, and they have to stop them right now, save Rubio an embarrassment of losing his home state.

If Trump goes to Florida and Ohio, it's over. When you reallocated your Michigan vote, all the Carson votes went to anybody but Trump, and most of them went to Cruz. He's a real-deal conservative. I don't know what's the problem with--

CHUCK TODD:

Well--

KELLY O'DONNELL:But the party is not--

CHUCK TODD:

--Kelly, you know the problem on Capitol Hill, right, it comes to Ted Cruz.

KELLY O'DONNELL:

Absolutely. He does not have many friends there. But one of the problems is the party that is starting to say, "Stop Trump," does not offer the voters one choice. And if someone wants them to do it, as you in your interview with Mitt Romney, not willing to choose someone else right now. So those who are against Trump, who say he is not truly a Republican, not really a conservative, but then you have, you know, this "Never Trump" crowd, and then you have the voters who say, "Well, live Forever, Trump. If you tell me never, I say forever."

CHUCK TODD:

Right they get, again--

STEPHEN HENDERSON:

There's also a substantive credibility problem here. I mean, you have Republicans saying, "Trump is not one of us." And yet, a lot of the things that he's saying are said in coded language by other Republicans. I wrote a column last week about Paul Ryan, for instance, saying, "This is not a party that preys on people's prejudices."

And yet, you can think of lots of examples of Republicans doing exactly that, going back to Ronald Reagan, giving a states' rights speech in Neshoba County, Mississippi, in 1980. This goes on all the time in coded ways. Trump is saying some of these things more explicitly. And that makes them, you know, it makes you uncomfortable too--

MARY MATALIN:

No, it doesn't make me uncomfortable, it just makes me want to choke you (LAUGHTER) because it's ridiculous and it's the creation of Trump. Because conservatives do not consider themselves bigots or homophobes or misogynists, okay? What Cruz won at CPAC, and he won overwhelmingly, he is expanding the electorate by bringing like-minded libertarians, young people. Trump is expanding the electorate by getting people who are sick of being called bigots, because they want to secure the border. This is not a race race, okay? Let's not go there.

STEPHEN HENDERSON:

I think it is. I mean, I think there's no question that what he is doing is appealing to race. And Republicans have done that for a long time.

CHUCK TODD:

By the way, there was something else though that Donald Trump did yesterday that grabbed my eye. And David, I just have to show it to you and I want to get you to react to it as well. Here it is.

(BEGIN TAPE)

DONALD TRUMP:

I've never done this before. Can I have a pledge, a swearing? Raise your right hand. I do solemnly swear, that I, no matter how I feel, no matter what the conditions, if there's hurricanes or whatever, that's good enough, will vote on or before the 12th for Donald J. Trump for president. Thank you.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

David, the visual, the hands go up, Trump asks for a pledge.

KELLY O'DONNELL:

Wow.

CHUCK TODD:

I just, I was flabbergasted.

DAVID BROOKS:

If we're going to get Trump, we might as well get the Nuremberg rallies to go with it. No, I mean, the number-one trait that associates or correlates with Trump support is authoritarianism, a belief in authoritarian leadership style.

We live in a democracy where we recognize other people, and we make messy deals and we're always sort of disappointed. That's what politics is. And there are two ways to run a country like that. You can either run it with democracy and compromise, or through authoritarianism. And for some reason, there's something in the electorate right now, people feel they're losing out on things, that they want a strong leader who will show me the way. And that's what they're doing.

MARY MATALIN:

But they want a strong leader who's consistent. You can't be flexible on, or sketchy on rules of engagement, flexible on the border, or compromising on SCOTUS, on the Supreme Court. You can't do that.

DAVID BROOKS:

How is Donald Trump anything but flexible? He switched his position on torture, on everything this week.

MARY MATALIN:

Then that undermines the message. It's the medium, if the messenger is the message that undermines his credibility as an authority figure.

KELLY O'DONNELL:

Is that also a sign of weakness though too? Because A) he didn't anticipate the visual of how that would stand over time, but also sort of signaling to voters, "I'm worried that you'll not show up."

CHUCK TODD:

It's a fair point. And as you point out, he also had the date wrong.

KELLY O'DONNELL:

The date wrong.

CHUCK TODD:

It is March 15th.

KELLY O'DONNELL:

Early voting is one thing.

CHUCK TODD:

He may have been talking about when early voting shuts down, but still, it probably was confusing to some people. All right, we're going to take a pause here. We'll be back in a little bit. Senator Lindsey Graham will be here. And he has said this.

(BEGIN TAPE)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

My party is going bats*** crazy

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Gosh, all of the words we use today on Meet the Press are something else. Anyway, he now says it may be time to back Ted Cruz to defeat Donald Trump. And then later:

(BEGIN TAPE)

KEVIN SPACEY (AS FRANK UNDERWOOD):

You're right, I am still white trash. I just happen to be white trash that lives in the White House.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Is art imitating life or is it the other way around? Kevin Spacey, A.K.A. President Frank Underwood joins me right here in his first appearance on Meet the Press. We'll be back.

* * *COMMERCIAL BREAK.* * *

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back to our Meet the Press Data Download. The convention may be in July, but it's possible that Donald Trump's opponents have just nine days to truly stop him. Why? Because it all comes down to winner-take-all states Florida and Ohio. Let me break down a few scenarios to explain why time is so short.

Here's a delegate count as of this Sunday morning. So so far here, as you can see, Trump has won 45 percent of all delegates awarded so far, less than a majority, so that's pretty important. So let's assume he wins that same 45 percent for all of the remaining contests, through March 15th, besides Florida and Ohio. We're going to do some estimates here.

And if Trump wins both Florida and Ohio on March 15th, here's what happens: He would end up with a nearly 300-delegate lead, a huge gap here, as you can see. And of course his chances, Marco Rubio, John Kasich both probably drop out of they lose their home states. So Trump would need to just win 51 percent of all remaining delegates in a one-on-one versus Ted Cruz.

That's probably very doable when you think of places like New York, California, et cetera. But what happens if Trump only wins one of the two big states? Well, we did that math too. If he wins Florida but Kasich wins Ohio, which right now, that's what polls seem to indicate, our projections look something like this. In that respect, Trump then would need to win 57 percent of all remaining delegates.

That's tougher, but actually still somewhat doable. And if Trump wins Ohio, but Rubio wins Florida, by the way, it's kind of a similar story. But here's where there's trouble for Trump. And it comes if Rubio and Kasich both win their home state. Then Trump would need 67 percent of all remaining delegates in order to avoid a contested convention.

Guess what? That's an extremely heavy lift, especially because Rubio and Kasich, you think they're dropping out if they win the home states? No way. All four stay in. The likelihood of a contested convention nears 100 percent. And oh my would Cleveland rock then. In any other year, with any other candidate, we'd say this nomination was locked up.

That conventional wisdom totally out the door. Conventional wisdom has been proven wrong over and over again this cycle. So we'll see when and how it gets proven wrong again. When we come back, Senator Lindsey Graham joins us on the perils of nominating Donald Trump and of denying him the nomination at the convention. And later.

(BEGIN TAPE)

KATE McKINNON (AS HILLARY CLINTON):

Because I've got clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, and here you are, stuck in the middle with me.

(END TAPE)

* * *TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE: COMMERCIALS NOT TRANSCRIBED.* * *

CHUCK TODD:

There are few politicians more outspoken than my next guest. Senator Lindsey Graham has never been at a loss for words in his criticism of Donald Trump or the direction of the Republican party has taken this election season. Senator Graham joins me now. Senator, welcome back to Meet the Press.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Thank you, I'll try not to cuss.

CHUCK TODD:

(LAUGHTER) Well, sadly you wouldn't be the first one on air today to do it. Let me start with something you said Tuesday night that got the Cruz campaign happy and raised a lot of eyebrows in Washington. And considering what happened Saturday, are you getting more comfortable rallying around Ted Cruz as the "Stop Trump" candidate?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

I would support Cruz over Trump, I'd prefer Rubio over Kasich, Rubio and Kasich over Cruz. But if Ted's the alternative to Trump, he's at least a Republican and conservative. And here's my message to the Republican party and the conservative movement. I'd rather risk losing without Donald Trump than try to win with him because it will do more damage over time.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, it's interesting you say that. I want to play, I think it's been amazing, the rhetoric many Republicans have used against Donald Trump. Let me play a collection for you, and I'm going to ask you about something on the other side.

(BEGIN TAPE)

SEN. TED CRUZ:

Donald Trump has written checks to Hillary Clinton not once, not twice, not three times, ten times.

GOV. JOHN KASICH:

I think it is important that we stop Mr. Trump.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO:

We have a con artist as the frontrunner in the Republican party.

SPEAKER PAUL RYAN:

If a person wants to be the nominee of the Republican party, there can be no evasion and no games. They must reject any group or cause that is built on bigotry. This party does not prey on people's prejudices.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Marco Rubio actually added one more criticism of Trump. I want the play that too.

(BEGIN TAPE)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO:

I don't want us to have a president that with constantly have to be explaining to our kids, "Look, I know that's what the president did, but you shouldn't do that." I don't want that. We actually had a president like that not long ago, it was really bad.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

But Senator Graham, all four of those individuals, do you know what they've also pledged to do? Support the nominee.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Support him.

CHUCK TODD:

If it's Donald Trump.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Yeah, really.

CHUCK TODD:

Was that a mistake?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

I don't know. Ask me if I'll support the nominee after the convention. No, they're in a spot where they've got to be loyal to the party. Here's what amazes me, is that the guy that gave money--

CHUCK TODD:

Do you?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

--call me after the convention. I'm not going to say anything about our nominee, supporting that person until after the convention. If Donald Trump's the nominee, the Republican party will get killed, will get creamed, we'll lose, we'll deserve it. But call me after the convention.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, I want to bring in a couple other people. A friendly face here to you, Kelly O'Donnell, who you see a lot on Capitol Hill. Kelly?

KELLY O'DONNELL:

Senator, good to see you. One question I have, you know Ted Cruz better than most people do from working with him. Is there anything that you think he could do as the nominee of the party to convince people he would be willing to work with others and to expand his sort of ability to cross the aisle? Anything at all that suggests he could do that?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Yeah, I think so. He called me just a couple of days ago when I suggested I would support him over Trump. At the end of the day, I know what I'm getting with Ted Cruz. He would repeal Obamacare and replace it with something better. He's not going to order our troops to commit war crimes, he would defund Planned Parenthood. We have a lot in common. Tactically, I disagree with Ted about shutting down the government to repeal Obamacare. I thought it was a bad idea. But yeah, if I can work with Ted Cruz, I think that shows that there is hope.

CHUCK TODD:

David?

DAVID BROOKS:

Hi, it's David Brooks from The New York Times. Senator, I want to ask you about Ted Cruz as a senator. Aside from the government shutdown, what has he accomplished in the Senate?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Well, he's basically made most people in the party believe that the reason we don't repeal Obamacare is because of me and Mitch McConnell. It's not like I prefer Ted Cruz. Here's what happened. When we wanted to shut down the government to repeal Obamacare, I thought that was never going to happen. It's going to be hard to repeal a law named after a president while they're still president. And when Ted said that me opening up the government made me for Obamacare, that kind of stung.

But Ted is a conservative. He's more ideological than I am, but he is a Republican conservative and Donald Trump is not. I hope Rubio wins Florida, I hope Kasich wins Ohio. But if I had to support Ted Cruz over Donald Trump, I would because I think he is a Republican conservative, and he might could beat Hillary Clinton.

CHUCK TODD:

Stephen?

STEPHEN HENDERSON:

Senator, Stephen Henderson of The Detroit Free Press. Four years ago, your party talked about the need to sort of expand the tent, and get more of these new voters to support your party. What are the prospects for that with either a Donald Trump or a Ted Cruz as the nominee?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Some hope with Ted, no hope with the Donald. We're in a demographic death spiral. What did we learn in 2012? Hispanics don't like our message on immigration of self-deportation. I don't think they're going to like forced-deportation better. At the end of the day, Donald Trump has taken every problem we've had with Hispanics and young women and made them worse.

In that regard, Ted Cruz would be much more acceptable. I cannot tell you the damage that Donald Trump would do the Republican party if he carried our banner because he has ran a campaign on xenophobia, race baiting, and religious bigotry, that cannot be Republican conservatism.

CHUCK TODD:

Mary?

MARY MATALIN:

Senator, you said you want Rubio to win Florida and Kasich to win Ohio. If you're ready to take your poison, you have to take it now. Because if that transpires, then Trump will be our nominee and we're not going to have a contested convention, it will be chaos. And you left out one thing on Cruz's consistent conservative record, SCOTUS, Supreme Court, all things hinge on the Supreme Court.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Good point, good point.

MARY MATALIN:

So you take your poison now?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

No, well I think Rubio and Kasich have got to decide among themselves can they be an alternative to Trump over time. To me, it's clear that Ted has made the best case thus far, that he can be the alternative to Trump. The best thing I think could happen is for the party to unite before Ohio and Florida and make sure that we not only beat him, Trump in Ohio and Florida, the we have a candidate that can beat him thereafter. And right now, it seems that Ted Cruz has the best case to be made.

CHUCK TODD:

That's very interesting there. Quickly, Senator Graham, on the Supreme Court nomination. You've confirmed two of President Obama's justices, what's wrong with having confirmation hearings?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

I don't think it helps. I think we should let the next president decide. The person I admire the most is me. And if he nominated me, I wouldn't vote for me this year.

CHUCK TODD:

If he nominated you, you wouldn't vote for you?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

There you go.

CHUCK TODD:

That's a new forget Sherman-esque.

(LAUGHTER)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

We'll let the next president see what happens.

CHUCK TODD:

That's a new thing, we'll call it Lindsey-esque. "If nominated, I would not vote for myself."

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Absolutely.

CHUCK TODD:

Senator, I've got to leave it there. We made it through without any beeping. So no seven-second delay. Thank you sir.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

It would've been the right direction. Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Later in the broadcast, the Democrats. Bernie Sanders won two out of three contest yesterday. And yet, things actually may have gotten tougher for him. I'll explain the stubborn nature of delegate math. But first, Kevin Spacey, also known as President Frank Underwood of the Netflix series House of Cards.

* * *COMMERCIAL BREAK* * *

(BEGIN TAPE)

KEVIN SPACEY (AS FRANK UNDERWOOD):

What they are trying to do is divide us. What they really want to succeed in doing is making sure you don't vote for me today. They've gone through a whole lot of trouble to try to make me look bad.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Well that was President Frank Underwood on the defensive on the campaign trail in South Carolina on the new season of House of Cards. Which many of you may have already binged-watched on Netflix this weekend, including some of my staff believe it or not already. I'm joined now by the show star Kevin Spacey. as many are asking if truth is becoming stranger than fiction this campaign season. Mr. Spacey welcome to Meet the Press.

KEVIN SPACEY:

Thank you for having me.

CHUCK TODD:

Not to, I don't want to do spoilers here, but let's see this season, the Supreme Court vacancy, the K.K.K. scandal, and ISIS inspired group, a battle with the NRA, what are you doing a documentary? It's amazing here you filmed this before this campaign started?

KEVIN SPACEY:

Yeah, this has happened every season that we have shot House of Cards. We have decided on a story line, we have written it, we have shot it and just before the series gets dropped something very close to what we have decided to develop happens in real life. And I know people think we've ripped it from the headlines, but it's actually the other way round. We think somehow they are getting our stories.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, you know maybe this is the merging of reality television and scripted television. Let me ask you this, and this is I'll admit maybe just a criticism from me, but House of Cards some of the other politically themed dramas they paint politicians as pretty nasty individuals. Do you at all worry that it does contribute to this assumption that maybe it's contributing to the real life feeling that people seem to have about politicians?

KEVIN SPACEY:

Look, I believe in public service and I've always believed in public service and I, I've been sort of involved in politics my whole life, and I have great admiration for people who decide that they can do something that they can try to gather people together to help, uh, make this country a better place. Um, so I'm remarkably hopeful and I'm an optimist in that way. I think, look, we are an entertainment program. We're a fictional show, although there are times, you know, when we'll shoot some sequence and I'll get back to the hotel after and I'll think, gosh, you know, did we push it too far?

CHUCK TODD:

Is that right? You do?

KEVIN SPACEY:

Did we cross the rubicon? And then I turn on the news and I go, well actually we probably haven't gone far enough.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, no, and I wonder that. But, I mean which is-- and that's what I mean-- which is, which is pushing the other?

KEVIN SPACEY:

I just think there's the right amount of wrong going on that it's a very interesting campaign.

CHUCK TODD:

So, I gotta ask the inevitable question: what would Frank Underwood make of Donald Trump?

KEVIN SPACEY:

Uh, you know I was asked this question recently that if Donald Trump and Frank Underwood were in a debate, who would win the debate? And I thought about this for quite some time and then I said as long as we understand that there is a distinction-- that one of this figures is a fictional character… and the other is a fictional character. And I think as long as you understand that distinction--

CHUCK TODD:It's a good thing we have a little audience over here. You needed a little bit there.

KEVIN SPACEY:

Like a drum roll…

CHUCK TODD:

You did…You just did it. It's Sunday morning. It takes people-- it takes people a little while longer. Uh, I think it's interesting that you have, and I see this with actors-- they'll play a politic-- politician and then they just move on-- they move on to other projects. You do seem to have embraced this a little bit, you're into documentaries, you're now making a movie about-- you're going to play Nixon.

KEVIN SPACEY:

I did play Nixon, yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

And with an Elvis-themed movie with Nixon, which has been- sounds fun.

KEVIN SPACEY:

It's a true story.

CHUCK TODD:

Oh, I know.

KEVIN SPACEY:

They actually met in 1970.

CHUCK TODD:

And is it-- has it just made this more interesting to you. Do you find yourself now just gravitating more to politics just as a civilian?

KEVIN SPACEY:

No, Chuck, I think it's just the happenstance of things-- the Elvis thing , the Nixon film was offered to me a number of years ago, but it didn't work out and it's just remarkable. We actually are-- our tagline is I think the really good one-- On December 20th, 1970, two of America's greatest recording artists met for the first time. And it's this crazy story where Elvis came to Washington and wanted to be made an undercover federal agent at large and wanted Nixon to give him a badge. So, it's just this sort of side-- it's a farce, obviously. We play it very seriously. But no, I've always been fascinated with politics and at the moment, I'm having such an extraordinary time playing Frank Underwood, a remarkable character that Beau Willimon and David Fincher really put on the map that I've -- it's such a pleasure to play.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, how many more seasons.

KEVIN SPACEY:

Don't know yet.

CHUCK TODD:

Will you do another one?

KEVIN SPACEY:

Definitely, yeah. If they want.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, well that means. I haven't seen it all the way. We're not going to give it all away .

KEVIN SPACEY:

You need to start your binge tonight.

CHUCK TODD:

I will start my binge tonight. And we shall see. Kevin Spacey, it was a pleasure, sir.

KEVIN SPACEY:

Thank you so much.

CHUCK TODD:

Alright. Back in a moment with our endgame segment and the Democratic race, where Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, the big winners of Thursday's Republican debate.

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

Panel is here for Endgame, we haven't talked much about the Democratic race. Stephen I want to start with you. Michigan's on the, we show a pretty substantial lead for Hillary Clinton but Sanders, you know this is a state that has done quirky things in the past.

Jerry Brown won this primary in 1980, Jesse Jackson won, George Wallace has won the Democratic primary. We've had some stranger than fiction type of results in Michigan. Can Bernie Sanders pull the upset?

STEPHEN HENDERSON:

I don't think he will. I think he will do better than some of the polls are suggesting. But the institutional support for Clinton in Michigan is really remarkable. Former Governor Jennifer Granholm, former Senator Carl Levin, our current Senators Stabenow and Peters. They are such strong Clinton advocates and have worked really hard to make sure she does well on Tuesday and I think that will carry her over the finish line.

CHUCK TODD:

Mary are you one of these people that thought that the debate on Thursday night was so bad for the party itself that it was helpful to Democrats?

MARY MATALIN:

I do not. I don't think anything has been helpful to the Democrats. I'm going to agree with Stephen that Michigan on both sides is institutional. I was exiled after losing Iowa, my punishment was I was assigned to Michigan and we had a rump convention but in the end it is institutionalized and I think she'll win. I think for Mrs. Clinton her problem is not that she's not going to be the nominee. It's the lack of intensity. In these primaries they have lost millions of voters and we have gained millions of voters.

CHUCK TODD:

And by the way the turnout we have done just some quick envelope here but Kansas Republican caucus nearly double the turnout. The Kentucky Republican caucus got a higher turnout than the Kentucky Republican primary.

DAVID BROOKS:

I would disagree though there is no correlation between primary turnout and wins in the fall in the last 11 elections it just doesn't…

CHUCK TODD:

Enthusiasm it didn't hurt the Democrats in '08 they did set records in '08.

DAVID BROOKS:

I'm one who thinks this has been a great week for the Democratic party and what we saw today is a lot of Republicans have all these Trump cocktails and it's two in the morning and Ted Cruz is starting to look good.

CHUCK TODD:

You think it's Trump goggles? Not beer goggles but Trump goggles?

DAVID BROOKS:

And so they're thinking 'oh Ted Cruz,' but this guy Ted Cruz is almost as electable as Donald Trump to me. He is basically in the Santorum bucket there and he's still not really breaking out of that. He's the most conservative member of the United States Senate so he's not really reaching out to independent voters. So Democrats I feel like you've got to be thinking pretty well of yourself.

CHUCK TODD:

It is amazing though what happened today on this show. Mitt Romney went closer and closer to saying he was almost, not quite enthusiastic about Cruz but he was closer and then Lindsey Graham by the end, by the time with Mary he seemed to agree with the premise, do it before Florida and Ohio.

KELLY O'DONNELL:

But winning helps and Cruz has demonstrated an ability to get voters to commit to him even if the party is so hesitant to do so. And now that he's racking up some wins and Republicans who are looking seriously at this and are worried about what could happen if Trump is the nominee are seeing Cruz as a disciplined reliable conservative and in this atmosphere that's something they're interested in.

CHUCK TODD:

Mary a bad Saturday for Marco Rubio is turning into a disastrous Sunday.

MARY MATALIN:

They've been using an old template on this. It's not Republican, Democrat, Independent, it's the country class versus the ruling class and Ted Cruz was on the trajectory to be in the country class which expands the electorate exponentially. He got CPAC again, he got the youth, he got the libertarians, he's a full spectrum conservative, but he's also not someone who plays the Washington game. He will expand the electorate for Republicans.

CHUCK TODD:

Look I think Lindsey Graham is speaking out of self-preservation here. One thing I think you can say, Cruz at the top of the ticket will be predictable and more comfortable for other Republicans running down the ballot. They can run with him, separate where they need to, but are comfortable he's not going to embarrass them. That seems to be why they're getting more comfortable with him.

STEPHEN HENDERSON:

I think that's true I think if you look at Michigan at the Republican establishment they're really fearful about what Trump will do to those down ballot races in November, that he could wipe them out in a way that they haven't seen. We have some really good congressional races, first district UP in Northern Michigan typically a Democratic seat has been in Republican hands for a couple of cycles, could flip back if you have a Trump at the top of the ticket. Maybe Cruz helps you a little that way but I'm sort of with David, I don't see that much of a difference between the two.

CHUCK TODD:

Message discipline is a big difference though, the campaign trail is the big difference here, right. Cruz would not be unpredictable.

MARY MATALIN:

You can not compromise on the Supreme Court you can't be flexible on the border you can't be sketchy on rules of engagement. That's Trump this week.

DAVID BROOKS:

That mobilizes extremely conservative voters, it doesn't mobilize everybody else who want economics who are going to vote on economics who are not particularly ideological. The Republicans will win several important counties in Mississippi if he is the nominee.

CHUCK TODD:

David before I go to something a little fun here from SNL last night, the last time you were on you were saying you're not ready to give in on the idea that Marco Rubio is done. After hearing this morning, after seeing the results, what is Marco Rubio's path at this point?

DAVID BROOKS:

It's what you showed, I mean listen I'm clinging by my fingertips I don't see a real path but you still dream. It's what you showed this is why I don't understand why people want the party to unify before Florida and Ohio

CHUCK TODD:

You don't want them to unify?

DAVID BROOKS:

No absolutely not. Rubio's got to win Florida, Kasich's got to win Ohio, and Trumps got that 67 percent rate he needs to win in delegates. That is the only hope.

CHUCK TODD:

Why is Cruz contesting Florida, doesn't that help, Mary, doesn't that help Donald Trump?

MARY MATALIN:

Because I hope there is a presumption, particularly with Lindsey Graham leading the way and giving cover that Cruz is what you just said. Donald has embarrassed the institutional down ballot races enough that there is a hope that the party will unify before Florida and Ohio. Why not contest it?

CHUCK TODD:

Well it would be interesting to see what kind of phone calls Marco Rubio is getting but before we go, our friends at SNL, we thought it was an off week for them, but it wasn't. And they had a little fun speculating that Hillary Clinton seems to be enjoying the state of the Republican race. Take a look.

(BEGIN TAPE)

KATE MCKINNON (AS HILLARY CLINTON):

To all of you voters who have thought for years, 'I hate Hillary I could never vote for her,' to you I say welcome. Because I've got clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, and here you are stuck in the middle with me.

(END TAPE)

KELLY O'DONNELL:That's brilliant.

CHUCK TODD:

Kelly, the two most unpopular people with general election voters, for the Democrats it's Hillary Clinton, for the Republicans it's Donald Trump. I mean what happens to swing voters if that is the choice?

KELLY O'DONNELL:

They have such a hard choice. And I think where Trump poses a greater threat to Hillary Clinton is that he does pull some of those Reagan-style Democrats and that could be interesting. But one of the unpredictable things about Trump is can you even imagine the apparatus of a general election for him? Who staffs him? Where are the strategists going to come from to actually help him get down the line?

CHUCK TODD:

Oh you know what, we'll hire experts for that. Speaking of that-- speaking of experts I had four good ones here today thank you that's it for today we'll be back next week. Because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

***END OF TRANSCRIPT***