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AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

Clinton, Trump Dead Even in Big Swing States; RNC's Role in Trump/Ryan Meeting; Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired May 10, 2016 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:13] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman.

Nebraska and West Virginia, you are on the clock. But if a clock ticks in the woods, does it make a sound? The Republican race settled. The Democratic race, shall we say, mathematically constrained, even though it looks like Hillary Clinton could possibly lose West Virginia, a state she won big eight years ago, and it's probably not enough to derail her march to the nomination.

BOLDUAN: But her march to the White House, however, all of a sudden, looks a lot more arduous, nerve-racking, nail-biting than many might have expected. A brand new poll in Ohio shows Donald Trump leading Clinton by four points. And the new Quinnipiac survey in Pennsylvania and Florida shows it's really close.

Let's break it down with CNN political director, David Chalian.

David, David, David --

(CROSSTALK)

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Kate, Kate, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Wow.

CHALIAN: Let's not go nuts over polls about an election that's still --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: No, I'm going nuts. I'm going nuts.

CHALIAN: But here is what I think is critically important about these three states. This is exactly the evidence Donald Trump needs at this very moment that he's trying to consolidate Republicans to go to Republicans to make sure they realize this is a winnable race. Listen, Democrats are already questioning the makeup in this e you. These states seem a lot closer than our national poll had the race last week, as you know. All that being said, caveats aside, these are data points that Donald Trump and his team now go to Washington with as they're trying to consolidate the establishment saying this is a fight worth joining, guys, and that is what's critical. It's a psychological boost for team Trump here, and by the way, you know, Hillary Clinton herself has said, and I don't think this is just lip service, I believe this is what she believes, that she always expects this race to be close at the end. She is not anticipating or girding for some big electoral blowout. That just doesn't seem to be the way elections are anymore in America, presidential elections.

BERMAN: You know, and it's not just Ohio, a state which I understand no Republican has won the White House without. That's what they say, David. But it's also Pennsylvania and Florida, and if you look at Pennsylvania, yes, we call that a swing state. It's gone back and forth over much forth recently. It's a pretty Democratic state the last 20 years.

CHALIAN: That's true. That's why I tend to use the word battleground over swing because some of the states, you're right, have swung, but they're still where the campaign is joined, right? They look at -- both campaigns will look at those numbers and say, hey, maybe we need so spend some money in Pennsylvania. The campaign schedules, you will see candidates in Pennsylvania. So it will be a battleground state, I have no doubt. It's one that probably leans Democratic at the start of this race, but it is precisely the kind of state where Donald Trump believes his working class, you know, white male working class appeal, not college educated, the core of his support may somewhere some real resonance in a state like Pennsylvania.

BERMAN: Not so swingy, Pennsylvania.

BOLDUAN: Not so swinging, but battlegroundy.

BERMAN: But battlegroundy.

David Chalian, great to have you with us. Thanks so much.

CHALIAN: Sure.

BERMAN: Want to bring in "The New York Times" national political reporter, Alex Burns; Trump supporter, Kayleigh McEnany, also with us, CNN's Margaret Hoover, who worked in the Bush White House; along with long-time New York political journalist, Andrew Kirtzman; and CNN's Patti Solis Doyle, who ran Hillary Clinton's last presidential campaign, was the campaign manager for Hillary Clinton.

Margaret Hoover, level with us, these polls in these battleground states very, very close. Did you think we would see such close polls between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump?

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No. I'll be honest. But you see what you do see, and we know this, Republicans fall in line, and you're seeing a consolidation behind Donald Trump in a way that even though you have arch conservatives and people who identified with very different principles in the Republican party like myself, there are many people, Senators, mainstreamers who are falling in line behind Donald Trump. That hasn't happened for Hillary Clinton yet because she doesn't even have the nomination. She's still fighting tooth and nail with Bernie Sanders. So, yes, while we couldn't have expected this as a snapshot in time, let's also remember what snapshot in time this is right now. She doesn't have the luxury of consolidating her base yet.

BOLDUAN: And that presents extra challenges. And there are pluses and minuses in these numbers. Some of them that, obviously, I wanted to focus on, Kayleigh, when you look at the plus and minus, the minus for your candidate that has been plaguing him is, how is Donald Trump going to do with women voters when you look at a general election, at these national numbers. In Pennsylvania -- this is better. Kate, get your stuff together here.

(LAUGHTER)

Trump is losing by 19 points, seven points, 13 points with women in this poll. But this is a guy who said he's great with women, he's going to win with women, women all the time.

[11:05:09] KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And I do think those numbers will change. I think he has the ability to move the unfavorables. But this poll also shows not only Donald Trump not only performing not well among women but Hillary Clinton doing horribly among men. We sometimes neglect the fact that while Donald Trump may have said things that alienated women, Hillary Clinton has done the same with men. When --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Do you think he's going to change enough that --

(CROSSTALK)

MCENANY: I do think he will. I think Hillary Clinton needs to be careful because last week when she was asked about the gender card, she said I'm used to being bullied by men and painted a menacing picture of men. Men don't like that either. Both of them need to be careful when they're approaching the gender discussion.

BERMAN: Patti, there's also the issue of the economy. Our national poll last week showed Donald Trump leading on the economy. The swing states, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida, the polls show Donald Trump leading on the economy as well. This, if this election becomes, you know, about disenfranchised working class people, this could pose a problem for Hillary Clinton. How do you fix that?

PATTI SOLIS DOYLE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I think this is going to be a close race no matter how you cut it, and certainly Democrats would be foolish to underestimate Donald Trump, given his performance during the primary.

But I want to go back to the 2012 autopsy that the RNC did after Mitt Romney lost to Barack Obama. They said, it said that basically anybody -- any Republican, in order to win nationally, is going to have to win with women and with Hispanics. And these are two groups that Donald Trump is doing abysmally bad with. Remember, in 2012, Mitt Romney won white men, and the result was not good for him. So I think Donald Trump needs to focus on those two groups. And right now, it's not looking good for him. Tweeting out a picture eating a taco bowl saying I love Hispanics is not going to cut it with Hispanics. BOLDUAN: Alex, does that postmortem still stand?

ALEX BURNS, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: What stands out of that autopsy is the notion that the Republican candidate in 2016 and in every year going forward is going to need to outperform Mitt Romney with some pretty big chunks of the electorate. The idea that Donald Trump maxing out his support with white men and Hillary Clinton suffering with white men is going to decide this race does not hold water, statistically. To me, the numbers to look at in those polls is the support among non-white voters. If you're a Democratic, the silver lining is if you really think Hillary Clinton is going to underperform Barack Obama with non-white voters in states like Florida and Pennsylvania, which is what those polls show, then you're probably a lot more optimistic than most Republicans are right now.

BERMAN: There's some complaints that there's under sampling of minority voters in the polls. But polls are polls. It's a snapshot in time.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: All those caveats.

Andrew, does the Clinton campaign have a gripe right now? Could they turn to Bernie Sanders and say, look at what you're doing to me right now? Donald Trump has a clear field. You're going to beat me in West Virginia today perhaps. You know, how am I supposed to take this guy on if you're still nipping at my heels?

ANDREW KIRTZMAN, NEW YORK JOURNALIST: I don't think Bernie Sanders --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: By the way, Bernie Sanders is doing better than Donald Trump in all these states than Hillary Clinton is right now.

KIRTZMAN: That's true. The Democratic Party has basically cast its lot with Hillary Clinton. Kind of the public is like gearing for this Trump/Hillary fight. And Sanders has not really gone for the jugular recently. I think Hillary's bigger problem is Donald Trump, not to mention kind of apathy among Democrats.

One thing that's really interesting in the polling today, if you look at Ohio, 15 percent more voters feel that he would be a stronger leader than her, and I think that is a result you need to watch because I think that, you know, voters can smell a leader. They can see who a born leader is. And the people who like Trump, you know, they're willing to overlook a heck of a lot, right, the incoherent economic pronouncements, lots of stuff, because they feel he's a leader. And if she can't find of challenge that dynamic, then you're going to see tight poll numbers for, you know, for some time to come.

BOLDUAN: As you point out -- anyone can grab this -- as you point out, a snapshot in time. In this snapshot in time, I think it encompasses Thursday where this -- and this meeting between Donald Trump and Paul Ryan on Thursday. What do these numbers do in terms of pressure on Paul Ryan? Because these numbers say, we've got a shot.

[11:09:56] BURNS: They at least create a window where Trump can make the case to the party that, no, I'm not dead on arrival, no, I'm not going to drag down the down-ticket. You should at least give me a shot to prove I can do this over the long haul. It doesn't answer the reservations that the conservatives have that are about whether he can win the election but whether they want him to win the election. But in terms of just the atmosphere in Washington, it does matter.

BERMAN: Margaret, quickly, does it stifle the reservations if it doesn't answer them?

HOOVER: It emboldens Trump going into the meetings.

BERMAN: But it makes it easier for Ryan to find a way --

(CROSSTALK)

HOOVER: Yeah, but to the point also, there's a well reported report that's going around that is like sort of a sequel to the 2012 autopsy report that Newt Gingrich has been very involved in, and it says all the same -- very many of the same things, you have to get women, have to get Hispanics. They're all trying politically to the get to the right place. It's just the Philosophical differences that are the fault lines in the GOP civil war right now.

BOLDUAN: Watching it play out right before our eyes because we're going it get access to that meeting Thursday. No, that's a total lie.

Guys, stick around. We have a lot more to come.

Programming note, Marco Rubio, he is going to be joining Jake Tapper on "The Lead" this afternoon. You can pretty much bet that's going to be a great conversation and interesting to say the very least. That is at 4:00 eastern.

BERMAN: One way or the other, he's going to make news. He's going to say he's for Trump or he's going to say not yet. Either way, it's a big story.

As voters head to the polls today, Donald Trump prepares for this high-stakes meeting with Paul Ryan and other congressional leaders on Thursday. We're going to ask the chief strategist and communications director for the Republican National Committee what's going to go on inside those closed doors. BOLDUAN: Plus, comedian Jon Stewart calls Donald Trump is thin-

skinned man-baby. So why is he blaming Democrats for the rise of Trump? Man-baby.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:15:34] BERMAN: One week, it has been one week since Donald Trump effectively locked up the Republican nomination with his landslide win in Indiana, but he has not won over yet the entirety of the party's leadership. The next two days could prove decisive in that. Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan, they meet in just two days. Ryan, of course, is at the top of the "not yet won over" list. Trump will also meet with other Republican leaders on Capitol Hill.

BOLDUAN: Before that, former Trump rival-turned-ally, Ben Carson, he's trying to smooth the way, it appears, requesting a pre meeting with Speaker Ryan. No word yet if that will happen.

Either way, as John says, Thursday's meet could certainly prove decisive in the quest for Republican Party unity.

Let's bring in right now one of the hosts of that unity meeting, Sean Spicer, chief strategist and communications director for the RNC.

Sean, it's great to see you. Thank you for coming in.

SEAN SPICER, CHIEF STRATEGIST & COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: You bet. Good morning, guys.

BOLDUAN: Good morning.

So what is the RNC's role in Thursday's meeting?

SPICER: I think Chairman Priebus has a good relationship with both individuals and wants to facilitate this meeting of the minds so we can continue to unify our party and go on and defeat Hillary Clinton.

Look, I think all of us believe that this thing was going to go to June 7th at the very earliest and potentially an open convention. Mr. Trump wrapped this up, as you noted, last Tuesday and we have spent the last seven days to that realization and are now coming together to make sure we're a unified ticket. Contrast that with the Democrats who are, frankly, there's a big chance that Bernie Sanders is going to win West Virginia and have a really good May, drag this out to June, if not to an open convention on the Democratic side. The good news for our side is because we ended soon we have an opportunity to unify quicker and move to the general and focus or resources o defeating whoever the Democrats choose as their nominee.

BERMAN: Just how you planned it all along, Sean Spicer.

That's the meeting on Thursday. Let's talk about the meeting yesterday, the one that you were right in the middle of reportedly with Donald Trump emissaries, reportedly, talking fundraising going forward for the general election, reportedly. What can you tell us about what happened behind closed doors there and what the status is of your fund-raising agreement?

SPICER: Well, again, I think that was not exactly an accurate report of what happened. Frankly, it was a briefing. We sat down with members of the Trump campaign to go over the assets and the capabilities that the Republican National Committee has ready for the general election. You heard me talk about this before under Chairman Reince Priebus. After 2012, we ensured we put our money into people and the data. We wanted to make sure the Trump campaign fully understood what the RNC has been doing with its resources, to make sure we're prepared as ever before to win a general election, and make sure the nominee has all the resources and capabilities to up, whether it's Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton. So that's an evaluation of here is what our political ground game looks like. Here is why they were so successful in 2014 and why they're going to go on in 2016 to win. Here is what the data and digital operation is. Here's what the communication and opposition research files show. It was a high level understanding of what the RNC has been doing, what the capabilities are to make sure they understand how well prepared, well resourced, and well staffed the RNC is under this chairman.

BOLDUAN: Well prepared and well staffed, but the fact that you're having this briefing, this evaluation with the Trump campaign now, is this a late start for you?

SPICER: Not at all. We had a very similar briefing with the Romney campaign four years ago. Frankly, I think we're off about eight days. Mitt Romney was the presumptive nominee on April 25th. Donald Trump was the presumptive nominee on May 3rd. We're about eight days off of where we were. The upside of this is the RNC, in 2012, Chairman Priebus spent most of his time trying to dig the RNC out of debt and to make sure we were the most prepared we could be. But frankly, the RNC of today, if we had had the RNC today, the staff, the equipment, the data, and the resources, in 2012, there's no doubt in my mind or Chairman Priebus' mind that Mitt Romney would be president. The good news is that we're about eight days off of where we were but the RNC is so well resourced right now and so well staffed that frankly we're well ahead of not only where we were, but light years ahead of where the Democrats are. As you know, the Democratic National Committee is functionally broke. They have no staff, no resources. It's been a source of great contention for the Clinton campaign because you have an incumbent -- a DNC that has an incumbent White House that doesn't have money, that doesn't have the resources they need, and frankly doesn't offer anything to their nominee. Whereas, in stark contrast to us, they're able to offer the staffing, the ground game, the digital operation, the opposition research. We're ready to go. We've been focused on the general election for four years, and that's going to be a great hand up to the nominee.

[11:20:23] BERMAN: Sean, there's a notion out there that Reince Priebus wants Donald Trump to sign on broadly speaking to the Republican Party platform, which I understand doesn't exist yet, until the convention. But what ideas are they specifically that you think it would be beneficial for Trump to officially sign onto publicly endorse?

SPICER: Well, I think what the chairman is talking about is the process -- going back to what I said a few minutes ago, everyone expected this process to go to June 7th and thought there would be a greater -- more time to understand a little bit more in depth as to what Mr. Trump felt on certain issues, what his tax policy was a little bit more, et cetera. I think what the chairman is talking about is that some of these folks now, because we've ended this process a lot sooner and been able to focus on the general election, that it would be helpful to, you know, in the case of, like, say, Supreme Court justices, to talk about specifics that he can offer to some of the wings of the party to make sure they understand what Mr. Trump's thinking is on some of these areas.

BOLDUAN: Since you mentioned it, are you guys comfortable with Donald Trump's position on tax policy?

SPICER: Sure. I mean, again, he's going to be the nominee of this party, and, you know, again, he's talking about cutting taxes. We don't have proscriptive things in the platform, as you know. We're a party that believes in smaller government, less taxes --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: But when he says he's comfortable paying more, he said on ABC --

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: No, no --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: -- that he had a good run under Obama and he's open to paying more. I know he's tried to clarify that but when you read his words, he said he's open to paying more.

SPICER: Again, as you noted, he's clarified that statement. So he has clarified exactly what he meant.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: So you believe he's only into cutting taxes. Is he open -- is won't be open to raising any taxes?

SPICER: He's a smart businessman. I think he understands that right now the economy, you know, and people are hurting. He's talked specifically about the middle class and the burden that they've had under this administration. I think he clearly understands the concerns that many Americans are feeling right now and, frankly, the financial constrains. Most of them haven't had a raise in a long time, have tight budgets. I think he understands the plight the middle class in this country is feeling.

BERMAN: Sean Spicer, thanks so much for being with.

Keep us posted about what's going on behind closed doors as you prepare for the big meeting on Thursday.

Thanks, Sean.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, Sean.

SPICER: I will.

Thanks, guys. Appreciate it.

BERMAN: Jon Stewart says, in his words, that he would vote for Mr. T over the man he calls man-baby Donald Trump. Mr. T over Donald Trump he says. But he's got some tough words for Democrats too. Why he blames them for Trump's rise. BOLDUAN: Plus, he dropped out of the race after losing Indiana, but

Ted Cruz is signaling he's holding tight to his delegates in at least a few states. What is the end game there? Cruz's campaign spokesperson, national campaign spokesperson, is joining us to discuss.

BERMAN: And new this morning, an historic announcement from the White House. President Obama will visit Hiroshima, the site where the United States dropped the atomic bomb at the end of the World War II. The question is, what is the president going to say there?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:28:04] BERMAN: All right. West Virginia, you are voting. Hillary Clinton won there eight years ago but today could be a vastly different story. Coal country does not look like Clinton country.

BOLDUAN: No matter what else was said on the stump leading up to today, it's that one line from Clinton when she said at a CNN town hall that she would put coal miners out of business. It seems voters in coal country are not forgetting very quickly.

CNN's Jean Casarez is outside a polling place in Charleston, West Virginia, watching folks do their duty on that fabulous day.

Jean, what are you seeing?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, we have been talking to a lot of voters, and every single voter knows what Hillary Clinton said about the coal miners.

Let's look behind me. It's been a constant flow of people going to this polling place, from 6:30 in the morning when it opened and it's been constant.

And on the minds of the voters, number one, foremost, this is coal country, Appalachia, they call it. They say coal miners losing their jobs not only have ramifications for those families, but there is a domino effect, because you have the coal miners, the suppliers, the operators of heavy equipment. You have the attorneys that negotiate the contracts for the miners. You have the suppliers. You have people in state government. And so everybody is affected in this state.

Now, they all don't believe that coal mining at the height of where it was is the answer. One woman we spoke to believes that there needs to be diversification in this country. And that's Hillary Clinton, because she can diversify the industry. But we've also had people tell us that it's Donald Trump, that he is the one that truly cares about the economy. One man said, I know Donald Trump is the only Republican candidate, but I'm coming to show my allegiance to him who has allegiance to coal country.

And the early voting statistics show that this may be a record- breaking primary election for the state of West Virginia, and at least they all have one common goal in mind, it is to help the state they live in to bring jobs back here -- Kate, John?

BOLDUAN: Jean Casarez on the ground for us.

They're voting all day today.

Jean, thank you very, very much.