JUDY WOODRUFF: The deep divides among Republicans were on full public display today with Donald Trump again the center of attention.
We explore the rifts now with Michael Leavitt, former Republican governor of Utah. And Stephen Moore, he’s an economist at FreedomWorks. It’s a conservative political group.
And, gentlemen, welcome to both of you.
Governor Leavitt, to you first.
We know you know Governor Romney well. This is almost unprecedented in American politics, for the former standard-bearer to be going after the current front-runner like this.
Four years ago, Mitt Romney praised Donald Trump. He begged for his endorsement, according to Mr. Trump. What changed?
FORMER GOV. MICHAEL LEAVITT (R), Utah: Well, I have the benefit of having actually been there, and I can tell you that the way Donald Trump described it is simply not accurate.
I think Governor Romney graciously received his endorsement. But I think it would be valuable for me to at least provide a bit of personal context here. I think what we have seen is a personal statement on Governor Romney’s part.
I think we have all had a brother or a sister or a close friend we care about who’s about to make a very serious mistake that will have bad consequences and we watch it happening, and there’s a point at which we just simply say, I have to say something or I’m not going to feel good about myself.
I think Mitt Romney feels that way about the country, and this was a statement of his own views of how important it is that this not be made in the context of an emotional state that I think we all understand, but would produce bad consequences.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But, Governor Leavitt, we saw Mitt Romney said he wasn’t there to announce his own candidacy, but he didn’t rule it out either. Is he waiting to be called on? We notice that he didn’t endorse any of the other candidates in the race.
MICHAEL LEAVITT: He says privately to me the same things he says publicly, and that is he is not a candidate and doesn’t intend to be a candidate.
I think this was, as I suggested, a desire to express his views at a time on a matter that he feels deeply about and about a country he cares deeply about and a party he cares deeply about.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Stephen Moore, what was your reaction to Governor Romney’s statement?
STEPHEN MOORE, Economist, FreedomWorks: Hi, Judy.
Well, first, let me say I don’t have a horse in this race. I like Mitt Romney. I like, actually, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. So, I’m not necessarily in favor of one over the other, but I will say this.
And, by the way, I did support Mitt Romney when he ran for president. I have been in politics for 30 years. I think what Mitt Romney did, with all due respect, Governor, today was totally disgraceful.
I am so ashamed of him, as a Republican, to go after the Republican front-runner, the person who is very, very likely to be the Republican nominee, and basically to say that he’s dishonest, that he’s a phony, to call his voters, the millions and millions of middle-class, blue-collar workers who Donald Trump has brought into the party, which is one thing I love about Donald Trump as a Republican — he’s bringing all these people into the party — to call them suckers, I just am outraged by it.
And, by the way, I actually think that this — that the American people and a lot of the Republican voters are outraged by it, too. And I actually think, Judy, that this is going to help Donald Trump, because it makes the point that he is representing the kind of middle-class, blue-collar voters who haven’t seen a pay raise in 10 years, and that, you know, the establishment Republicans are totally against him and they will do anything they can to stop him.
And one last point, if I may, Judy. You know, a lot of — I’m a conservative Republican, and I have kind of held my nose. And I have, you know, worked for Bob Dole to win and Mitt Romney, even though I had serious disagreements with them, because the establishment always said, you conservatives have to get behind the candidate.
Well, now the establishment, now they don’t like the candidate and they’re saying they’re not going to get behind him.
And, Governor, I just think that’s — that’s duplicitous.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Governor, what about that? Could what Governor Romney did today backfire in what he said about the people who support the — what, a third or more of the Republican electorate who support Donald Trump?
MICHAEL LEAVITT: I think there will be people who react that way, in the same way that sometimes we tell a brother or a sister or a friend who is involved in some sort of emotional thing that has them charged up, and they’re about to make a big mistake, say, I’m going to do this because you said this about it.
And I just think Mitt has made a personal statement. This is the way he feels. This is the way he believes. And he simply didn’t feel, doesn’t feel that he wanted this to go forward without having made that statement.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But do you see how voters could take this as an insult, if you will? And are you worried Democrats will use what he said against Donald Trump in the fall if Trump is the nominee?
STEPHEN MOORE: That’s what I’m worried about.
MICHAEL LEAVITT: Well, the Democrats have a lot they can use if Mr. Trump is in fact the nominee.
Again, this is a personal statement. He’s not the nominee and he’s not running to be a candidate. He’s not running for president. He is saying what he believes is important for the American people to know about Donald Trump and he is calling the question.
He called the question on his tax returns and said, release them, so we can see, and if he doesn’t, that’s all the proof that’s necessary. You might recall that Governor Romney went through this himself. And I think he concluded it was a mistake for him not to have done it sooner and in a way that answered the questions. He’s saying the same thing to Donald Trump and has questions that I think many other people share.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Stephen Moore, you said a minute ago you think this could end up helping Donald Trump, but what about the other efforts out there?
We hear that big donors in the Republican Party are trying to raise money to help, whether it’s Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz? What about those efforts?
STEPHEN MOORE: Yes. Yes.
Well, they’re out there. And there’s no — I mean, this is the Republican establishment, and the millionaires and billionaires of the party think that they can buy this election. And, you know, where I disagree with — and, again, I disagree with Donald Trump, Judy, on a lot of things.
I disagree with him fervently on immigration and trade. I am a pro-free trade, pro-immigration Republican, just as the governor is. But what I object to is this idea that we’re not going to let the voters speak.
And I think just that a lot of the Republican establishment is insulting — you used that word, and I think it was exactly the right word — it’s an insult to the people who go out to these things. I have been to some of these Donald Trump rallies, Judy, and it is amazing the people who turn out.
They are bikers and they’re carpenters and they’re soccer moms and they’re veterans and people who care fervently about this country. I just am very reluctant. And I hate to see them dissed this way by the Republican establishment. I just think it’s beneath the party.
And, by the way, Donald Trump is going to be the nominee, and you’re right, Judy. These insults are going to come back and haunt our nominee in November.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Very quickly to both of you, could you each support Donald Trump if he ends up being the nominee of the Republican Party?
MICHAEL LEAVITT: I think we all want a Republican to win the presidency and think it’s deeply important.
MICHAEL LEAVITT: … deeply important that, in fact, it happens. And I think that’s why Mitt Romney spoke as well.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And…
STEPHEN MOORE: I would certainly, Judy, support any of these Republicans over Hillary Clinton.
And I will say this. If Donald Trump is the nominee, he is going to win 35 states. He is going to win New York. He’s going to — I just disagree with the polls. I think he brings tens of millions of new voters into the Republican Party.
JUDY WOODRUFF: We will leave it there.
MICHAEL LEAVITT: Governor Romney also obviously disagrees with Stephen.
JUDY WOODRUFF: All right. We got — we did get that sense today from his news conference.
STEPHEN MOORE: I love the governor, by the way.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Stephen Moore, Governor Michael Leavitt, thank you both.
STEPHEN MOORE: Thank you.