GWEN IFILL: Over or not, the battle within the GOP is threatening to split the party in two.
We get views from the pro-Trump and the stop-Trump wings of the party.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach endorsed Trump this week, and strategist Henry Barbour is Mississippi’s Republican National Committeeman. He is backing Marco Rubio.
Gentlemen, thank you for joining us.
So, starting with you, Henry Barbour, what is Donald Trump’s success, his electoral successes in the past few weeks, what is It doing to or for the party?
HENRY BARBOUR, Republican Strategist: Well, you know, I think that remains to be seen what Donald Trump is doing to the party.
You know, we’re still very early in this process. You have got to get 1,237 delegates to win. We have only allocated some 728 delegates to this point. And for Mr. Trump to get to 1,237, he has got a lot — he has a long ways to get there.
It’s not inevitable that Donald Trump is going to be our candidate. We have 1,100 delegates that will be awarded in March and April, and there is no way that Mr. Trump is going to be able to get there at the pace that he’s been going. He won 42 percent of the delegates yesterday. That would put him at about 750 delegates at the end of April.
My point is, Gwen, we have a long ways to go in this process, and a majority of Republicans, about two-thirds, are voting for somebody other than Mr. Trump.
GWEN IFILL: But, Mr. Barbour, is this about delegate nose-counting or this about a rejection from so many Republicans of the establishment, of the way the Republican Party has always been structured?
HENRY BARBOUR: Well, look, the voters are going to decide in the Republican primaries and caucuses around the country who they want to be our nominee, whether that’s Donald Trump or Marco Rubio, who is a candidate who I think could — that we could coalesce behind and who could beat Hillary Clinton.
I’m afraid Donald Trump would lose in the general election against Hillary Clinton, when he can’t answer a question about the Ku Klux Klan, whether he’s for them or against them. Sounded like he needed to do a little bit of studying or fix his earpiece or something. I’m not sure what that was about.
And Reid mentioned in the segment before this that people like that Donald Trump tells it like it is, but I think if you ask the students at Trump University, they weren’t told like it is. The New York attorney general said it was a bait and switch program, a scam.
GWEN IFILL: Kris Kobach, why did you decide to endorse Donald Trump?
KRIS KOBACH (R), Secretary of State, Kansas: Well, first and foremost, because he’s taking the strongest position we have ever heard a presidential candidate take on illegal immigration and the vulnerability our country faces with respect to immigrants coming legally through the refugee system, which is now, it appears, being used by ISIS as way of getting into the United States and into Western Europe, and illegally.
And the threat to our country in terms of national security and then the threat to working Americans who see their wages depressed if they don’t lose their job, or lose their job, is something that many people say, look, Trump is the guy who’s actually going to do something about it, and he’s not speaking in half-words and half-tones. He’s saying, look, we’re going to solve the problem and solve it now.
The other thing that I really find appealing about Donald Trump is he is massively broadening the Republican base for the first time in, well, 25 years. And we have had all of these talking heads and consultants tell the party — Republican Party, well, the way you broaden your base is you roll over on amnesty and you tell everyone you’re for amnesty and then, hopefully, instead of getting 30 percent of the Hispanic vote, you will get 40 percent of the Hispanic vote.
That doesn’t broaden the base. What Trump is doing is broadening the base, and we’re seeing it right before our very eyes. But, unfortunately, the Republican establishment is looking a gift horse in the mouth and saying, yes, we don’t really want those blue-collar workers who are coming over to the Republican Party.
And I think that’s the biggest thing Trump offers is when you have something like the Reagan coalition, where you have massive numbers of Democrats and independents who are working men and women voting Republican. And I think that’s a huge threat to the Democrat Party’s base too, if that happens.
GWEN IFILL: I get the feeling that Henry Barbour wants to respond.
HENRY BARBOUR: Well, it’s just funny that Kris mentions gifts that Mr. Trump has given.
And I know we he gave a gift to Hillary Clinton so she would come to his wedding. And, I mean, if that doesn’t look like an establishment move, you know, I don’t know what is.
I do think that, if you look at Marco Rubio’s track record in Florida, he was the original renegade who ran against the establishment in Florida, a sitting governor running for the U.S. Senate. Everybody told Marco, you can’t do it. The Tea Party rallied around Marco Rubio and he won. And he’s been a real reformer and he’s made a real difference as a conservative.
And I think one of the important differences for Republican primary voters to understand is, we know that Marco Rubio is a conservative. Has a 98 percent rating with the American Conservative Union.
One day, Donald Trump says he’s pro-choice. The next day, he says he’s pro-life, yet he’s giving money to Planned Parenthood, which funds abortions.
GWEN IFILL: Let me ask you both about whether this means — the big discussion here and around the country is whether the Republican Party is splitting apart.
Can you see, Kris Kobach, a way that Donald Trump goes to the convention, plays by the rules of this party, and unites the party, as he said last night he would?
KRIS KOBACH: You know, I think it is going to happen, because, at the end of the day, although there is grousing among some of the moneyed establishment interests and some people in the RNC, but not all, they’re going to have — ultimately, if you have this many voters saying overwhelmingly, yes, we like Trump, which is what’s happening — and you are going to see more of it as you get to the winner-take-all states, where the delegates are overwhelmingly in his corner — I can’t see any way that the RNC or the Republican establishment, however you define it, would then say, you know what? We’re going to try to find some way to derail the Trump campaign.
I think you will see the — the threat of a Clinton presidency will be so great that Republicans will united behind Mr. Trump.
And I just want to answer one point about Mr. Rubio being a conservative. Look, he is still for in-state tuition for illegal aliens, which he advocated for in Florida. He’s still for amnesty. He just says, well, we will secure the border, then we will have amnesty.
I mean, he hasn’t take a conservative position on this critically important issue. And he even deceived Florida voters when he was running against Charlie Crist, saying, well, he’s going to be opposed to amnesty. Then he came in and give the opposite.
KRIS KOBACH: So, I think that’s — well, he told Florida voters that he was against amnesty. Then he sponsored the amnesty when he got into the U.S. Senate.
GWEN IFILL: I just want to make the point that, looking at exit polls last night, not a lot of voters were listing immigration as their reason for supporting Donald Trump.
But I want to — we don’t have a lot of time left. So, I want to ask Henry Barbour about this whole question about contested elections, and the general election and whether in the end Donald Trump is electable, and, if he is, whether he would get your support ultimately — could get your support.
HENRY BARBOUR: Well, look, right now, he’s getting the support of about 35 or so percent of Republicans.
So, the majority of Republicans right now want somebody else. And I think he would have a hard time winning the general election. I have said consistently…
HENRY BARBOUR: I’m sorry, Kris.
I have said consistently that I intend to support the nominee. And that’s what I hope to do. I will say this. Mr. Trump’s comments about the Klan the other day, as a guy from Mississippi, I find that very troubling. And when he tries to pawn it off that something happened with his earpiece, I just find that really hard to believe.
And maybe Kris can explain that.
KRIS KOBACH: Well, he’s disavowed it so many times, and I find it kind of strange when Republicans, who are constantly falsely called racists, suddenly take the left’s tactics and start using it against fellow Republicans. Come on.
And we are all going to support the candidate at the end of the day. If Rubio wins, which I don’t think will happen, I will be supporting him.
GWEN IFILL: Well, this is a disagreement we’re not going to settle tonight, but we will revisit it.
Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, Henry Barbour, member of the RNC from Mississippi, thank you both.
KRIS KOBACH: My pleasure.
HENRY BARBOUR: Thank you.