Return to Transcripts main page

AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

Romney Expected To Deliver Anti-Trump Speech Any Moment. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 3, 2016 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Four games after he was accused of using deflated footballs in a 2015 playoffs game. But Brady did not miss a game because a judge overturned his suspension.

Thank you so much for joining me today. I'm Carol Costello.

AT THIS HOUR with Berman and Bolduan starts now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[11:00:19] DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's my honor and privilege to endorse Mitt Romney.

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Having his endorsement is a delight. I'm so honored and pleased to have his endorsement.

TRUMP: He's a great guy, in person. He's got a great personality.

REPORTER: We are expecting that he's going to go hard against Donald Trump.

ROMNEY: There's a bomb shell in Donald Trump's taxes.

TRUMP: The reason he brings it up is that he lost. He's just trying to remain relevant. Mitt Romney is a stiff. Mitt Romney failed twice.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: There you have it. Hello, everyone. I'm John Berman.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, everybody. I'm Kate Bolduan.

Breaking news this hour: an extraordinary moment in American politics. Mitt Romney, the Republican Party's last nominee for president, will be taking the party's current frontrunner head on. The speech is billed as the state of the 2016 presidential race.

And while Romney may not describe it this way, it does seem the view from the GOP establishment is the state of the race is desperate. BERMAN: Yes, he's going after Trump. That's what someone close to

Romney told me.

Going after a man whose endorsement he sought four years ago, going after a man he praised four years ago for his extraordinary, going after a man who four years ago he complimented for caring about the future of the country.

CNN's Jim Acosta live for us in Salt Lake City.

The speech kicks off in just a few minutes, Jim. And it doesn't sound like Romney is quite as delighted with Donald Trump as he was four years ago.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No, that's right, John. This is shaping up as a junk yard dog fight between two of businessman alpha males in the Republican Party -- Donald Trump, the man who looks like he may be the nominee for the Republican Party this time around, and the last nominee, Mitt Romney.

But I'm told by a source close to the former Massachusetts governor that Mitt Romney sees this as a moment to stop Donald Trump. This is not advancing himself as a candidate, a potential candidate in this cycle. It is not about advancing other candidates who are in the arena right now.

As one source close to Mitt Romney told me, this is about how he did not want to look into the eyes of his grandchildren and say I did not do anything to stop Donald Trump. That's how personal this is for Mitt Romney. And, yes, they did essentially join forces four years ago. Donald Trump, I remember, I was there, endorsed Mitt Romney in Las Vegas at the Trump International Hotel right there on the Las Vegas Strip.

But things have changed. If you look at this excerpt, or a couple of excerpts from the speech that Mitt Romney was going to give later on here in just a few minutes, he says and we'll put this up on screen, quote, "he's saying this about Donald Trump." He's playing the American public for suckers. He gets a free ride to the White House and all we get is a lousy hat, referencing those red "Make America Great Again" hats.

And then the other excerpt that is also pretty extraordinary here, quote, "Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University."

That's the business school that Trump and his organization runs that has been in controversy for the last week or so.

Now, we should point out, Trump was almost offering a prebuttal of Mitt Romney's comments. Last night, he put out a tweet. He's put out several tweets.

But here's the latest one, "Why did Mitt Romney beg me for my endorsement four years ago?"

And then earlier this morning on "The Today Show" Trump had more to say about the last GOP nominee. Here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP (via telephone): He begged me four years ago for my endorsement. I mean, literally begged me, and he's a failed candidate. I mean, frankly, I backed him. He failed.

He was a horrible candidate. He didn't know what he was doing. He disappeared in the last month before the election, while, in all fairness, Barack Obama is doing all the shows, Jay Leno. He was doing Letterman all the time, and this guy disappeared. He went away, and he got killed, and he got decimated in the election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Now, while Mitt Romney is not here to endorse another candidate, we're told by sources close to the former Massachusetts governor that he will say positive things about Marco Rubio. He will say positive things about Ted Cruz and John Kasich.

But, of course, if you, you know, John, if you look inside Romney world, if you look inside Marco Rubio's campaign, you know that there are people who have worked with one another over the years who like each other, who are of the same GOP establishment mindset.

So, could a Mitt Romney endorsement for Marco Rubio come down the road? Potentially, yes, but not today. That's not what this speech is about according to people close to Mitt Romney -- John.

BOLDUAN: Jim --

BERMAN: Go ahead.

BOLDUAN: Jim, we have his excerpts, some of them from what he's expected to say. Do you know how long -- do you know how long he's expected to speak? What are we looking at here?

[11:05:03] ACOSTA: We're looking at about 20 to 30 minutes. You know, I remember from covering Mitt Romney last time around, you know, this is not one of those free-wheeling, almost performance art speeches that you get from Donald Trump. But this will be scripted.

As you saw in the excerpts that were released overnight, he is not holding back, and I think we almost have to step back a little bit and take note of this moment. When was the last time, I don't think there ever has been a time when you've had the former Republican nominee going after the person who looks like is going to be the nominee? We're living in an unprecedented time. It just goes to show you how much Donald Trump has angered people inside the Republican establishment -- John and Kate.

BERMAN: All right. Jim Acosta, thanks so how much.

Harry Truman in 1960 had some not flattering words about John F. Kennedy before the Democratic convention, but nothing compared to phony and fraud, which is what we're about to hear from Mitt Romney. BOLDUAN: Very different --

BERMAN: Yes, very different indeed.

Here to discuss, CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger, CNN political director David Chalian, CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash, in Detroit to cover the Republican debate that's happening tonight. Also with us is Ryan Williams, he used to work for Governor Mitt Romney when he was running for president.

Gloria, you know, it's a long way from delighted to phony and fraud.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It is a long way, and I think there's no doubt about it when Trump says that Mitt Romney actually courted Donald Trump for his endorsement last time. He did.

I think the question that we have to hear answered today from Mitt Romney is, has something changed in the Republican Party? You have a Republican party establishment that has sat this out for quite some time, and now suddenly when it looks like Trump may well be on the precipice of getting the nomination, you have a letter signed by 50 national security experts who have Mitt Romney coming out there on mass to try and say, no, don't do it.

What they don't have, and what they're not sort of presenting is a united force for somebody else to take on Donald Trump today. We don't have that. They don't have that.

BOLDUAN: And, Ryan, as Gloria points out, what people are looking to hear from him today is that something changed in the Republican Party. Do you think something has changed within Mitt Romney?

Take us what you think was behind the decision for him to come out. I'm seeing written certain places this was a hastily organized speech.

RYAN WILLIAMS, FORMER SPOKESMAN FOR GOV. MITT ROMNEY: Well, Governor Romney is an elder statesman in the party, and he cares very deeply about the future of not only the party but the country. I think he's appalled from what he's seen from Donald Trump in recent weeks and the fact that he's now the front runner. He's clearly leading the party for the front runner.

And the governor is concerned and he wants to speak out and he wants to see if he can expose Trump for what he is -- a con man, a con artist, someone who says one thing but does another, who is playing everybody for fools. I think he's weighing in now because he feels the time is right and it has to happen before it becomes far too late.

It's already getting late right now. So, I think he wanted to chime in before this got too far beyond where they are right now, actually.

BERMAN: But, Ryan, was he not a con man four years ago when Mitt Romney sought his endorsement? You know, the birther stuff, it happened before Mitt Romney sought his endorsement. Was he not appalled by that and it was OK then? I don't doubt that Governor Romney right now has serious problems with

what Donald Trump is doing. The question is, why was he willing to look past that four years ago and not today?

WILLIAMS: Well, he was certainly a controversial figure hour years ago and Governor Romney did distance himself from the comments that he made regarding the birther issue. But what Trump has done since then has just really I think gone beyond what anybody thought any candidate for any office could say and get away with, you know, playing fast and loose with the truth at every turn. You know, the KKK, not denouncing that, retweeting Benito Mussolini.

Trump seems to set a new bar for outrage and disgusting comments on a daily basis. It's far beyond where it was four years ago. I think that's why Governor Romney is speaking up right now.

BOLDUAN: When it started coming out, Dana, that Mitt Romney is going to be making a speech, everyone thought, he's going to be endorsing somebody. That obviously has to be it. He's not going to be endorsing any candidate. That's all the reporting on there. Why not, do you think?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think as Jim reported, it's possible that at some point, he will endorse somebody. But my sense is that he knows that right now, it might not be that helpful to endorse Marco Rubio. Maybe it would be helpful to do it right before the primary here in Michigan because Mitt Romney spent his childhood here. He did win easily even back in 2008. The primary, he's popular here. But, you know, unclear if that will make a difference.

But I think what we have to sort of take a step back and ask and I don't really know if we know the answer to this yet, is whether or not what Donald Trump is arguing, and he has been doing it all morning, whether he has a point, which is, Mitt Romney was the nominee.

[11:10:09] But Mitt Romney lost for a lot of reasons. But one of them was a lot of Republicans stayed home. And Trump is arguing that he's bringing those Republicans who felt disenfranchised back into the fold because they feel like they have a voice in Donald Trump, that he's not just a regular politician.

So, if that really is true and if that really is a real chasm within the Republican Party, what we don't know is whether or not Mitt Romney and his speech today is going to make that worse.

BERMAN: That's a fair question. Let me put it to David who has not spoken yet. We don't want to leave him out of this discussion.

You don't have to go far, David, to find people who say that Mitt Romney is the exact wrong messenger for this. He is the establishment. And if you're running an anti-establishment campaign, what better foil can you have than have Mitt Romney come out and say, you k now, Donald Trump isn't the right guy.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Let's remember a couple things. Mitt Romney took a hard look at the 2016 presidential race. He assessed the electorate and he looked to see if there was a receptive electorate to him running again this time around. He chose and decided there was not. So that's one thing we should sort of put out there.

And secondly, John, just as you're saying, if you look at all the election results that we've seen so far, and if you look at the tenor and where the energy has been in this process so far in the last year this election season, where are we finding -- where do we see clamor for the Romneys of the world, the establishment wing here, to have some ability to sort of quash this energy that is driving the Trump candidacy?

I understand that many folks in the establishment lane think the Trump candidacy is flawed and bad for the party, but it is clearly where the party is right now. And I just don't know what evidence we have that there is a persuasive argument yet to be made that has not been made about whether Donald Trump is a real conservative or bad for the party.

What is the new argument that's going to be made against Donald Trump that actually is going to be sort of well-received by Republican primary voters?

BOLDUAN: But take a counter to that, who else is there if not Mitt Romney?

BORGER: Well, you know, there isn't sort of any immediate person that comes to mind other than Mitt Romney who is sort of a titular leader of the party --

BERMAN: It could be George W. Bush.

BORGER: George W. Bush can't do it. His father just, you know, finished his candidacy and failed. So, I think it comes to Mitt Romney.

I think he's been chomping at the bit to do this for some time, and before New Hampshire, we were all going to say is he going to endorse Rubio, and he didn't do it. I think now, it's a very difficult job for him. What he has to do is tell all these voters who are finally coming out and voting. We see turnout numbers up in the Republican Party and say to them, wait a minute, you're supporting the wrong guy. And that -- you know, that's a difficult --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: I do wonder -- who is the audience today?

BORGER: Well, all of us, obviously. And I'm not sure how many Republicans who are Trump supporters will listen to him. In fact, the obvious danger is, and they know this very well in the Romney camp, that you could drive people into the arms of Donald Trump, because Mitt Romney is seen as establishment, but he feels, I think personally, that this is a speech he has to give. BERMAN: Dana, what's the view for Michigan? Because there is a big

debate tonight and the actual people who are trying to beat Donald Trump will be on that stage. You know, do you think they will use this? I can see this being complicated for instance for Cruz to say, by the way, Mitt Romney agrees with me.

BOLDUAN: That's a good point.

BASH: Well, I think -- well, let's just take a step back. If Mitt Romney does what we expect him to do which is to praise the remaining candidates who are not Donald Trump, I think someone like Ted Cruz is probably going to have to pick himself up off the floor if he's praised by Mitt Romney, because -- you know, who would have thought that would happen when it was Ted Cruz before Donald Trump arrived on the scene, that was the guy who was, you know, most despised by the establishment because of his tactics, because he says he has been the person who has been carrying the sentiment of voters out there in the conservative grassroots.

But I'm not sure -- you're right, I think it's going to be tricky for him and Rubio. And, you know, I think the broader dynamic on the stage tonight is going to be maybe less about Romney and more about the fact that there are only four left on the stage, which is kind of remarkable when you think about the fact that we had to have two debates, several times over, because there were so many candidates, four left.

[11:15:07] And there is one person that they have to take down, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich, in order to get to the nomination, and that is Donald Trump.

So, that is going to be, by far, the biggest dynamic on the stage tonight.

BERMAN: You know, four is the fewest number we've seen, but it's still too many for all of them, because they need to win know from that.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Yes. All right, guys. Stick around, because there's a lot more to discuss, and Romney, as you can see, he will get behind that lectern shortly to deliver this blistering speech we were expecting. So, do not go anywhere.

BOLDUAN: A lot can change in just a few days. And I say that because there's an important programming note for all of you. Five states are going to be holding contests this weekend, this Saturday, to be exact. Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Nebraska, Louisiana, you are on the clock very soon. CNN's going to have special live coverage all day long. John and I will be live starting at 11:00 p.m. Eastern Saturday night.

BERMAN: That's the main show. The pregame begins long before that.

BOLDUAN: Obviously, that's the main show. I want to make sure you guys doing those. BERMAN: All right. But first, in just moments, Mitt Romney delivers

the speech that everyone is talking about today -- really, almost unprecedented in American political history. He will call who could be the Republican nominee a fraud, a phony -- talking about Donald Trump. And Mitt Romney will beg voters to rethink their support. Don't miss it.

BOLDUAN: Plus, we'll talk with a Trump supporter what he thinks the impact of Mitt Romney's direct attack will have.

And is Donald Trump flirting with an independent run? He seemed to toy with the idea this morning.

This is CNN's special live coverage.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:20:58] BERMAN: Just minutes from now, it will hit the fan. Mitt, that is. Mitt Romney, the new front man in the mission to take down Donald Trump.

BOLDUAN: That's one way to put it, my friend.

The Republican Party's most recent nominee set to deliver a speech calling out Donald Trump as a phony, as a fraud, saying the American people are being played for suckers. Donald Trump wanted to get ahead of that message already this morning. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Mitt Romney is a stiff. Mitt Romney will not get elected. Mitt Romney failed twice and really failed last time. He was going against the president that should have been beaten. The president was not doing well and he should have been beaten. That should have been an easy election.

The problem is nobody came out to vote for Mitt Romney, and I'm talking about Republicans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: I'm talking about Republicans.

Joining us right now to continue the discussion, CNN political commentator Mary Katherine Ham, Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the conservative political action conference, also known as CPAC, it started their big annual meeting just that yesterday, Bill Press, CNN political commentator, Bernie Sanders supporter, and Barry Bennett, the former campaign manager for Dr. Ben Carson, and now a Trump supporter and adviser to Donald Trump.

Great to see you all.

So, Barry, first to you. This is pretty extraordinary. The counterpunch seems pretty easy. Just roll the 2012 video of Trump endorsing Mitt Romney. But is it that easy?

BARRY BENNETT, FORMER CAMPAIGN MANAGER FOR BEN CARSON: It is. This is absurd, right? The last CNN poll had 72 percent of Republicans wanting an outsider.

So, the establishment is rolling out Romney to attack Donald Trump. It's ridiculous. They're probably helping Donald Trump. I don't know why they're doing this. This is completely absurd.

BOLDUAN: Why is it absurd?

BENNETT: Well, I mean, there's no way that Mitt Romney could ever be viewed as a conservative. I mean, he was pro-choice. He was pro- bailout. He's pro-amnesty. He's pro-global warming. It's ridiculous.

And we all swallowed it and we all worked for him and he came up 5 million votes short. You know, he lost Virginia, Florida, Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin, Nevada, it goes on and on and on. And now he's going to be the great savior of our party? I don't think so.

BERMAN: So, Mary Katherine, I know you've made the point that the opposition to Donald Trump isn't just establishment. It's movement conservatism right now. A lot of movement conservatism who are standing up and saying, hey, not Donald Trump, not ever.

But, Mary Katherine, but having Mitt Romney now go out and give this speech and be the most high profile opponent to Donald Trump, the most high profile "never Trump" guy, doesn't this make it an establishment movement?

MARY KATHERINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That is what it feels like. And though I hate to agree with Barry, as you know, excuse me. I do think that this is problematic to have him delivering this message.

On the scale of political speeches if you have at one end, the Mitt Romney very light punch to the Donald Trump jab, this is certainly more toward Donald Trump for Mitt Romney's style. He'll say a lot of things that are true, and he'll make some criticisms that many conservatives agree with, and in the end, they will not matter because of the messenger and because of the time.

And, by the way, this attack on Donald Trump much like many of the others seems oddly timed when he could have made a bigger difference in delegate count and popular wins, he could have endorsed in Nevada, pre-caucus. That might have made a difference.

But this is a little bit past that point, and although the points he'll make are true, the messenger is going to be an issue.

BOLDUAN: But, Matt, is there an argument to make that it's easy to pooh-pooh it because he wasn't worked yet, but who knows? I mean, if Mitt Romney can't speak out on it, who's the alternative?

HAMM: I don't fault him for coming out and saying something. I just think the timing is odd.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

Go ahead, Matt.

MATT SCHLAPP, CPAC CHAIRMAN: Look, I somewhat agree with Mary Katherine. I'm of two minds in this.

I actually think everybody ought to leave it in the field. We have days, weeks and months left in this Republican nominating contest.

[11:25:05] And we have very sharp differences. And they will be on the stage here at CPAC, and everybody ought to go for it as strong as they can. That's what Romney is trying to do.

But there's another side to this. It is late. Why didn't he do this before Nevada? Why do some of the billionaire financers of our party and our movement think they can plop in at the end here? They should have started this a year ago if they had these alarms.

And I agree with Mary that some of these challenges and some of these attacks that they're making of Donald Trump, they ring hallow. I think Mitt Romney has every right to do this, but I don't think it's going to be that effective, and I think what he's saying to the 40 percent or so of Republican primary voters who are out there casting these votes for Donald Trump, is they're trying to say their voice doesn't matter. That's a huge mistake.

BERMAN: You know, Bill, I'm going to ask you to disagree to make it interesting since everyone is being agreeable here.

But is this now the establishment, essentially, biting the hand that feeds it? The establishment for a long time of the Republican Party has courted Donald Trump and the folks that are now supporting Donald Trump. It was the basis to an extent, part of the Tea Party movement. The establishment benefitted from that. Paul Ryan rode it to the speakership, to an extent, the Republicans rode it to a majority.

For them to come out now and say, oh, no thanks, it's getting too real now -- does that seem disingenuous?

BILL PRESS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The saddest words I heard this morning listening to your program are elder statesman, right? This is -- they're rolling out the elder statesman. Really, they think he's going to make the difference and be the one to bring down Donald Trump?

I don't get it. But you're absolutely right. I think the Republican Party has created at least the field for a Donald Trump to emerge. He has brilliantly taken advantage of the occasion, and I think it's too late to stop him.

I got to tell you, a couple of months ago, I wrote a column saying if the Republican Party really wanted to stop Donald Trump, they had to do two things. One, the other candidates had to unite between one other challenger; and two, the party poobahs, like Reince Priebus and Mitt Romney, had to come out and say, no way will we vote for Donald Trump as our nominee or accept him.

Even today from what we hear, Mitt Romney is not willing to say that. Why not? I think the hidden agenda here is, Mitt Romney is saying if you really get stuck, me, me, me, me.

BERMAN: Oh, boy.

BOLDUAN: Barry, let me ask you something. Donald Trump did today what Donald Trump does. He got out. He wanted to get in front of it. He basically presented his prebuttal this morning on all the morning shows.

One of the things that he said on "Morning Joe", he said, "If I leave, everybody is going to leave with me." And they asked, are you toying once again with the idea of running as an independent? And his response was, "I signed a letter with the RNC saying I would run as a Republican. That pledge as they call it, but I'm not being treated the right way. I'm not being treated properly."

Thoughts on that?

PRESS: I don't know. I think that's a Donald Trump bluff. I don't think he'll do that. I don't think Mike Bloomberg will do it either.

His other point is he's excited people and gotten new people out to vote in the Republican primaries. I think that's very, very important. Mitt Romney did not and cannot.

So, Donald Trump has got that going for him. I think the party has got to recognize that as a real reenergizing of the base that they need.

BOLDUAN: Barry, weigh in on the idea of Donald Trump toying again with the concept of an independent run?

BENNETT: I don't think there's any chance of an independent run. I mean, the only way the establishment wins this is to subvert the will to the Republican primary goers. We when we get to the convention, Donald Trump will be the majority of the delegates.

I mean, if Rubio doesn't win 60 percent of the delegates between now and the 15th, statistically, he can't even get the nomination, let alone the fact that he never won eight states and all those things. But --

BERMAN: Mary Katherine -- sorry, go ahead, Barry.

BENNETT: If they want to wear a bomb vest into the Republican Party and blow it up for the sake of their own power, then no one can stop them doing that, but it's really stupid.

BERMAN: Mary Katherine, you wanted a piece of this?

HAM: Yes, here's what Romney can do today -- he can put something into the media bloodstream. If everyone listens to him, he has 100 percent name ID. He'll get up and say maybe the guy should release the taxes. He can, and maybe that's an issue.

But that's an issue that affects traditional candidates, and Donald Trump is not a traditional candidate. And the part where they endorsed each other back in 2012, I will say Donald Trump's rationale has always been "I will pick the right leaders for everything when I get into the White House. I don't need to know about it right now. I'm going to pick the right leaders. I'm really good at that. "

He picked Mitt Romney, and now he says he's a loser and it was an easy election. So, I think that speaks to a little bit of his judgment perhaps, if that's his line.

BERMAN: Matt, and again, we're looking at the lectern right now. There's some activity. So, I might have to cut you off when Mitt Romney starts speaking.

But I want to ask you, Matt, about the vehemence now of the anti-Trump movement.