CNN's Wolf Blitzer sits down with Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus to discuss tonight’s GOP debate, Trump’s competing veterans event, and the potentiality of a Michael Bloomberg independent candidacy. Please see below for a full rushed transcript.
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Priebus on Trump’s competing veteran’s event on debate night: “I mean obviously, we wish that all the candidates would compete in the debates that they qualified for. But they don't have to. I mean just like Rand Paul didn't a couple of weeks ago. It's up to the candidates. If it's in their interests to compete, they'll compete. If it's not, they won't. So, you know, there's a lot of reasons why candidates do the things that they do. And I'm not sort of going to put myself in the position to start analyzing every move made by every candidate…I think it - listen, I don't really make much of it. I mean I think that it's fine that they - the first debate is going to be over, they may go to that other event. It's not a competition. I mean I just don't look at it that way.”
Priebus on the possibility of Trump changing his mind and attending the GOP debate: “You know, in this cycle, I think anything is possible, Wolf. You know, you - there certainly is a lot of intrigue and a lot of drama… Like I said, I'm not predicting anything anymore in this cycle. I - I don't know, Wolf. I doubt it, because that's what they've said, but, you know, who knows?”
Priebus on a potential Bloomberg candidacy: “He should run, because then we're going to have New York in play, Pennsylvania will be in play, Connecticut might be in play. He has no pathway to 270 electoral votes. So - and even if he did have some kind of pathway that he thinks, well, then, we'll leave it up to the majority in the House to decide. But, you know, tongue-in-cheek, obviously, I think it's a - I think it would be a blessing, but, you know, he's not going to do it.”
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WOLF BLITZER, CNN’S LEAD POLITICAL ANCHOR AND HOST OF THE SITUATION ROOM: Joining us now is the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus.
Reince, thanks very much for joining us.
I know you're out there in Des Moines, getting ready for the debate.
Does it hurt the Republican Party that Trump is holding this separate event for veterans tonight?
REINCE PRIEBUS, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: No, not at all, Wolf. I mean obviously, we wish that all the candidates would compete in the debates that they qualified for. But they don't have to. I mean just like Rand Paul didn't a couple of weeks ago. It's up to the candidates.
If it's in their interests to compete, they'll compete. If it's not, they won't.
So, you know, there's a lot of reasons why candidates do the things that they do. And I'm not sort of going to put myself in the position to start analyzing every move made by every candidate. Obviously, we've got a lot of candidates so I'd spend all day talking about the reasoning and the rationale and the wisdom of every move made by a candidate.
BLITZER: We're showing our viewers, Reince, some live pictures. Long lines gathering right now outside the Trump event for veterans. People waiting in line right now. And at least two other Republican presidential candidates, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, after their earlier debate, they're going to be going over there.
What do you make of that?
PRIEBUS: I think it - listen, I don't really make much of it. I mean I think that it's fine that they - the first debate is going to be over, they may go to that other event. It's not a competition. I mean I just don't look at it that way.
I mean the fact is we have a nomination process. The delegates on the floor of the convention are going to decide who the nominee is of the Republican Party. And that person, in July, is going to be the nominee of the party.
Now, the debates are a big part of it, and so are all these events. But, you know, whatever happens happens and we're going to be there making sure that we're prepared for whoever that nominee is, much more so than we were four years ago.
BLITZER: Have you personally spoken to Donald Trump about his decision to skip the debate?
PRIEBUS: No. I mean I do regularly speak to all the candidates, but I have not spoken to Donald about this debate issue.
BLITZER: I know it's very late right now. We're what, less than three hours away from that debate.
But do you think there's still a possibility he could change his mind?
PRIEBUS: You know, in this cycle, I think anything is possible, Wolf. You know, you - there certainly is a lot of intrigue and a lot of drama.
But you look at the other side of the aisle and, you know, they're up to their eyeballs over there with what they're - what they're dealing with.
We've got, I think, all the excitement and enthusiasm and youth and diversity on our side of the aisle. Look, there's going to be two people that are going to run against each other in the general, and I think ultimately, you know, the message is of freedom and opportunity, equality, all the things that founded the Republican Party, are going to be the things that's going to save our country come next January, when a Republican president is sworn in.
BLITZER: Trump says it was a statement, a public statement put out by Fox News ridiculing him and his attitude, if you will, that forced him to skip this debate.
Here's the question.
Have you spoken to Roger Ailes, the head of Fox News, about that, asked him if there was some way he could apologize, maybe, something along those lines, to get Trump back on the debate stage?
PRIEBUS: Obviously, I've spoken, you know, we're - we're here with Fox and it's a Fox News debate. Obviously, we've spoken to a lot of people. But, you know, remember, the candidates, back in November, didn't want - they wanted to be the ones involved with negotiating with the networks. And so they're doing that.
And so I'm just not going to get in the middle of every squabble with every reporter, every network, everything back and forth. It would - it would take up all of our time to do that.
The candidates have to decide for themselves what's in their best interests and we move forward.
BLITZER: Because Trump says it's unfair for him to participate in a debate where the host organization, in this case, Fox, is attacking him.
You understand his concern?
PRIEBUS: Well, look, I hear what he's saying and I've heard that, you know, and we go through this a lot.
Obviously, there are things written, things said in every publication. Where we draw the line, of course, is when a publication actually takes an editorial position in a debate as to be all for a particular candidate or all against a particular candidate.
That's not what - that's not what's happening here. It's happened in other cases and we have to do the right thing when it comes to these debate partners. And we've done it and will continue to do it.
BLITZER: So how - how fair is the debate going to be when the frontrunner isn't participating?
PRIEBUS: Well, I mean, look, I mean we've got a debate before - we have two debates tonight. So they're - they're both going to be fair. I mean obviously, all the candidates are going to have an opportunity to put their positions out to the public. But, you know, it's really important in Iowa. And I can tell you this, the people in Iowa are going to be watching this debate because, as you know, anything can happen in Iowa.
And there have been, you know, there are histories of all kinds of things that happen on caucus night that people predicted or didn't predict.
So in Iowa - and I know for the rest of the country, of course - but in Iowa, this is a really big night. And all these candidates have an opportunity to make their case.
BLITZER: Yes, you're right, because four years ago, Santorum actually won the Iowa Caucuses. He wasn't doing well in the polls going into the Iowa Caucuses.
BLITZER: Mike Huckabee eight years ago.
So are you - are you predicting we're going to be hugely surprised Monday night on the Republican side?
PRIEBUS: No, I'm just - no, I'm not - I'm not saying one thing or the other, Wolf. What I'm saying is that in a caucus state, where, you know, the turnout is not huge and it's different. You sit in a gym or, you know, for hours and you talk and you listen to other people and you take a vote. I'm just saying in these early states, if you don't live in one of these early states, you don't realize how seriously the people here take their responsibility in choosing these candidates early on in the process.
And that's all I'm saying. And tonight is an important time in that process, I think, for the folks in Iowa.
BLITZER: Which Democratic candidate appears - do you fear the most, Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders?
PRIEBUS: Honestly, I would normally want to take the bait on that, because there's usually - actually, when I was asked that about Joe Biden, I actually said Joe Biden is actually the hard guy - harder guy to beat, because, you know, he's a person that a lot of people like and you might want to have a beer with him.
But the problem is, Hillary is in all kinds of trouble. We don't know whether she's going to be indicted or not. Bernie Sanders is someone like totally, you know, a socialist that's not even a Democrat.
So, you know, it's - I don't know, six of one and half a dozen of the other. I couldn't answer the question. I think they're equally terribly flawed candidates.
BLITZER: What about the former New York City, Michael Bloomberg, who's toying with the idea of running as an Independent third party candidate?
Would he hurt the GOP candidate more or the Democratic Party candidate more?
PRIEBUS: Oh, well, I hope he does regardless of his formula of who has to win, if he gets in or not. He should run, because then we're going to have New York in play, Pennsylvania will be in play, Connecticut might be in play.
He has no pathway to 270 electoral votes. So - and even if he did have some kind of pathway that he thinks, well, then, we'll leave it up to the majority in the House to decide.
But, you know, tongue-in-cheek, obviously, I think it's a - I think it would be a blessing, but, you know, he's not going to do it.
BLITZER: So - and so just to be precise, you think that Bloomberg would take more votes away from the Democratic candidate than the Republican candidate?
Is that what I'm hearing?
PRIEBUS: Absolutely. Yes, I think so. I think that he would actually help the Republicans if he was on the ballot. He would put states in play that we used to be able to be competitive in, but we haven't been lately, like up in the Northeast.
BLITZER: That's it. We're going to continue these conversations.
Reince Priebus, bottom line right now, I just want to be 100 percent sure, no chance Trump surprises all of us, shows up at the debate tonight?
PRIEBUS: Like I said, I'm not predicting anything anymore in this cycle. I - I don't know, Wolf. I doubt it, because that's what they've said, but, you know, who knows?
BLITZER: Reince Priebus, thanks very much.
Good luck tonight.
PRIEBUS: Thank you, sir.
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