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The GOP's Year of Donald Trump; Is What Scalia Said Racist?; Interview with Senator Lindsey Graham; Joe Piscopo on Sinatra's 100th Birthday. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired December 12, 2015 - 9:00   ET


MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: I'm Michael Smerconish. Here's what we learned this week, Trump is Teflon Don, no outrageous statement, perceived faux pas, no editorial and no criticism from any opponent or angry demonstrators has dented his support.

I was astonished to watched and read two focus groups, one on CNN, by Alison Camarada (ph), another run by Republican consultant Frank Luntz, both revealed that criticism of Trump only strengthens the resolve of his supporters. Trump voters, and you're about to meet a few, they hate political correctness, they hate the media, they hate the establishment, and as important as what he says is how he's saying it.

In stark contrast to all the candidates who are going through the usual motions, putting on a show for donors, the sound bites, trying to offend the least number of people. Trump, they think, is genuine. His tone resonates. They aren't supporting Trump in spite of his comments about Mexico sending us its rapists or mimicking of a reporter with a disability or his desired to end immigration for Muslims. They are for him because of those things.

The 29 Trump supporters in the Luntz focus group had all voted in the last election for Mitt Romney. Nineteen of the 29 said that if Trump left the GOP to run as an independent against Clinton and Rubio they'd go with him. And even if the nominee is Ted Cruz, half of the 29 would stick with Trump in an independent run. That's passion, and confounding all the pundits, it has proved impossible to shake.

So here's what it means for those who will share the CNN debate stage with Mr. Trump. Right now his 35 percent of the vote doesn't appear to be up for grabs. So rather than go after Trump on Tuesday, take a look to your left and right on that stage and figure out how you can win a chunk of the non-Trump 65 percent of the vote, because unless and until there's consolidation of the rest of the field, Trump will continue to lead. Of course, the bigger picture issue for Republicans is the impact the businessman is having on the GOP brand.

And for that I have the right person to ask, Sean Spicer is chief strategist and communications director for the Republican National Committee.

What kind of a year has it been for the RNC? Should it end with Donald Trump as your front-runner? SEAN SPICER, CHIEF STRATEGIST AND COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, REPUBLICAN

NATIONAL COMMITTEE: As far as this year, it's been intense, it's been awesome, I think you look at the level of enthusiasm that's going throughout this country, on the Republican side, it's unprecedented. We have the most diverse qualified field in the history of either party, and I think that's awesome for where as we head into 2016.

SMERCONISH: Don't you worry about the brand, though, where two-thirds of the country disagrees with Trump's pronouncement relative to Muslim immigration? You got to be concerned about how that can sell in a general, right, regardless of whether he's the nominee or someone else gets painted with that broad brush.

SPICER: Look, here's what I care about, winning, that's it. Number one, number two, number three, I want to win, the chairman wants to win, everyone in this building, all they care about is winning and what we are doing right now is beating Hillary Clinton up and down. You pick those candidates out, I'll take any one of them that will appear on either of those debate stages and we will win.

SMERCONISH: Well, I've looked at those same internals and I acknowledge what you're saying that in the internals you find that Americans regard her by a majority as being dishonest and untrustworthy, yet at the same time she wins most of the head-to-heads I have reviewed, which I think then becomes a reflection on your field.

SPICER: Look, I think a couple things. Number one, not only is she not trustworthy and that's reflected in every poll, number two, you look at the polls head to head our folks are either within the margin of error, tied, or beating her. That's in every single one of those polls.

Thirds, as national security becomes a bigger and bigger issue, the contrast between every one of the Republican candidates and Hillary Clinton is extremely vast. Our candidates up and down the ballot have put America's security first and forefront. We are concerned about making sure this country is safe and stays safe.

What you're seeing on Hillary Clinton is a very, very poor record when it comes to foreign affairs and the ability to keep this country safe. The contrast could not be clearer and it's going to continue to get brighter and brighter as every day goes by.

SMERCONISH: Dr. Carson was none too happy to hear about that Monday night dinner in Washington. What's your response to him?

SPICER: There's two different issues. One is, what happened at that dinner, and the dinner was just literally a group of folks getting together having a political discussion of which this was a subject that came up halfway through a dinner because people were trying to understand the process through the course of a normal conversation that occurred.

[09:05:00] However, that being said, I held a press briefing that 150 members of the press came to last week, excuse me, three weeks ago, where we walked through the delegate nomination process, where people asked us about different rules and procedures that are going to be different for the cycle and, of course, the conversation of does a contested primary, is that being covered and the answer to that I would say publicly, privately, in a phone booth, on the metro, is of course, we plan for every scenario.

Look, we're a party that's had the last two conventions we've had a hurricane, so, of course, we plan for scenarios. What happens if weather's a problem, what happens if there's a transportation issue, what happens if there's a contested convention, we will prepare for every scenario. It would be malpractice for us not to do that. Especially after the last two weather-related conventions.

So anyone who tells you that we're not preparing for a variety of scenarios should have their head checked, but we're not doing it in any kind of closed door way. The bottom line, Michael, is this, Republican voters will choose delegates in the next year and more of them than ever will have a say in this process.

SMERCONISH: Tuesday night's going to be a huge night, and I will see you in Vegas.

SPICER: Look forward to it, thank you for having me, and safe travels out to Vegas.

SMERCONISH: So, Trump, the GOP can't win with him, but can't win without his supporters. And Trump supporters like Trump himself, they don't care about the Republican party. That's what columnist Peggy Noonan reported this week in "The Wall Street Journal," she knows what she's talking about, having once written speeches for President Reagan.

She's just published the "Time of our Lives," the greatest hits collection of her pieces updated with new insights and she joins me now.

You know, because I've told you before, I love this book, I love your work, and even when I disagree with you, I have to respect the manner in which you've presented it.

PEGGY NOONAN, FMR. REAGAN SPEECH WRITER: OK. Fair enough, and I thank you very much for that. It's a very big compliment from you.

SMERCONISH: Thank you.

Let's talk about the Donald. So these establishment types who say this guy can't win, but we need his followers to win the White House, so what then is resolution, how do you get him out and keep all of his supporters in the tank?

NOONAN: Well, I think a few weeks ago there was talk among various party leaders to get together a bunch of money and hammer this guy in a series of commercials. I think cooler heads prevailed, it was not done, I hope it will not be done. It would only further alienate Trump supporters, many of whom are serious in believing people, and it would only give credibility to their thought that Trump represents the perfect antiestablishment guy and that's why the establishment is trying to kill him.

SMERCONISH: I know you don't regard yourself, no one would regard Peggy Noonan, as a member of the liberal media, but any time the media, the column you wrote for "The Wall Street Journal" this week probably helps him, because when he's perceived as being under attack by anyone in a position of control or authority, they rally to him.

NOONAN: Yes, that's true. I think his supporters feel he has a lot of enemies, and once they see somebody pushing back against something he said or something he did, they are very good at calling you - they see themselves, I think, in a way as a very special enclosed group and anybody who doesn't see it their way is a RINO, a conservative, you know what I mean? All those names, I'm sure you've been called them.

SMERCONISH: Of course. My god, (INAUDIBLE) to be called those words. Is it possible that there's a hidden vote for Donald Trump? I can think of nothing more politically incorrect than to tell a stranger that you're voting for Donald Trump. Could there be a hidden vote out there of people who - I'm not going to admit it, but I'm pulling that lever when given the opportunity?

NOONAN: Certainly possible, and there's another part that I wonder about. Republicans are always being polled about Trump, but I talk to a lot of people and a lot of Trump supporters, some of them are independents. Some of them are democrats. It's a very interesting thing he's got going on there.

So I don't know how that translates into the polling. I know what you're saying, is it mildly embarrassing to say you're for him therefore you won't tell the pollster, possible, but Trump's people don't strike me as mildly embarrassed. You know what I mean? They are sort of, I'm for this guy.

SMERCONISH: In "The Wall Street Journal" this week in your column you said about Donald Trump he doesn't think it through, doesn't anticipate legitimate pushback, doesn't try to persuade, only declares. Is it possible he's dumb like a fox? There's a different analysis in "The Washington Post" this week that said it may not appear so, but it's all calibrated, it's all tested, he has a great ear, he knows exactly what he's doing and it's not as chaotic as you might think from the sidelines?

NOONAN: I just don't read - I can't help but think him impetuous and spontaneous. I mean, spontaneity can be a very good thing, but I don't get the vibe from him that he sits down and says this is serious policy that's going to be considered by a serious nation at a serious time, therefore, I'm going to write it down, think it through, talk to people, make it good and serious.


He just pops off. Now, does it work for him? Yes, so far, kind of, because he hits on real concerns, real anxieties, and real frustrations that are to be respected.

SMERCONISH: Twenty five years worth of work, of what are you most proud in this book?

NOONAN: My political work. I love writing about presidents. I love writing about the greatness game, the thing that's so preoccupies us and interests us. We certainly got a big one this year. We're having a year you and I have never seen before.

SMERCONISH: No doubt, I've been wrong so many times.

NOONAN: Me, too.

SMERCONISH: Don't leave without signing my book. The book is titled "The Time of Our Lives," Peggy Noonan, thank you for being here.

NOONAN: Thanks, Michael.

SMERCONISH: So who are Donald Trump supporters? Polls keep painting a certain demographic - white, older, working class, high school educated, but they are not the only ones.

Joining me now, Pax Hart, an I.T. specialist in the finance industry and Micah Serrant, a data scientist and political policy researcher. Micah, I joke to packs, wait a minute, we ordered two angry white guys from central casting and now the tow of you up. Does the media get it wrong when we judge who the Trump supporters are?

MICAH SERRANT, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Largely, I think so. It's not necessarily that it's a body of white angry people, it's also just Trump has a message that somewhat affects me and somewhat I can believe with and agree in.

SMERCONISH: What is that message, what is it about Donald Trump that's affecting you?

SERRANT: It's the kind of shining city on the hill, the American exceptionalism idea, America, it's time to kind of go back to a yesteryear when things were somewhat more economically possible and easier time all around in the economy.

SMERCONISH: Pax, same for you, what's the Trump appeal that you feel?

PAX HART, TRUMP SUPPORTER: I think he's tapping into - he's tapping into problems that real Americans are concerned with, he's making these kind of spit ball statements, the media goes insane, the GOP establishment goes insane, everybody starts talking about it, everybody starts taking positions, then he'll come out with his formal official policy, which is well thought out, well vetted, they checked it out for its constitutionality, but what he's doing is he's starting the conversation.

Right now we're in a period where from the White House to Loretta Lynch, to the GOP establhment, all the way down to college professors and opinion columnists. Americans are being told you cannot have these conversations. If you have these conversations, if you discuss immigration, if you discuss radial Islam, we're going to call you a bigot, we're going to call you a racist.

SMERCONISH: But it has nothing shaken your faith? I mean when I was wrong what he said about John McCain, (INAUDIBLE) he said he likes the ones that don't get captured. I thought that would be the demise of the Trump campaign, obviously, I was mistaken.

The comment about Muslims celebrating in Jersey City, I could go on and on and on, have any of these shaken your faith in Donald Trump?

HART: No, they haven't.


HART: You know, he's doing the kind of shock and awe 1985 Madonna publicity, shock them, get them talking, and then he keeps going. So that's fine, because we need that. I think he's incredibly entertaining, but what's more important is, he's forcing - he's forcing the establishment to allow Americans to have conversations we're being told we cannot discuss immigration, we cannot discuss Islam, we expect discuss x, y, and z. He is a voice for me breaking through this establishment that is preventing us from having serious real conversations about the direction of our country.

SMERCONISH: Micah, the fact checkers and I'll use the Pulitzer prize winning Web site of Politifact, just by way of example, they looked at Donald Trump. Thirty nine percent of the times that they've looked at Donald Trump he said things that were false, 15 percent, mostly false, 22 percent pants on fire, how do you rationalize that? How do you take a look at a guy that you want to support and understand the fact checkers say that he's often way off the mark?

SERRANT: Once again, kind of what Pax was saying, it's more of the getting the conversation going, the ideas of what he's saying, his facts may be incorrect and he's not necessarily testing his knowledge on the actual polls and numbers, but it's still the ideas that he has and the basic principles he's guiding himself with that are the things we tend to agree with, at least I tend to agree with as a supporter.

SMERCONISH: Micah, how difficult, if at all for your among friends and colleagues and co-workers to let them know, "hey, I'm a Trump guy?

SERRANT: It's a bit of a challenge. Growing up in a very liberal environment, it's been a kind of a calling card to be made fun of instantly, but I think it's kind of the job of the conservative or the Trump supporter to articulately explain yourself and show why he's able to get your vote or why he's able to at least get your support.


SMERCONISH: Pax, do you worry that in the process of promoting Trump in the end Hillary is the one to benefit, this will tarnish the GOP and in the end you will have laid down and made a statement for a guy who is incapable of winning the general and they'll hand it to her?

HART: This is always a risk. You know, my number one agenda is to push back against progressivism, that's what I stand for, I'm all about personal responsibility, these are things that just kind of bread and butter -

SMERCONISH: You're a libertarian guy?

HART: More conservative than libertarian, which is partly why I like Donald Trump, because he's very kind of middle of the road as far as social issues go, but as far as handing something to Hillary or Bernie Sanders, whoever it may be, I don't know. I think the impact of Donald Trump on the GOP establishment is going to be long lasting.

I think he's permanently changed - he's teaching the GOP how to fight, which they don't know how to do. They are terrible at fighting, they don't know how to stand up for themselves, they get bullied constantly. He's fighting back and for me that's why I admire him.

SMERCONISH: Micah, if not Donald Trump, among the Republican field who are you looking at?

SERRANT: (INAUDIBLE) not quite sure, kind of the message Donald Trump to make America great again, it sends, it sells an idealism, an ideology and also sort of management ability that someone can get it back to what it was and I'm not sure I've been sold by any other candidate they have the ability to get it back.

Ted Cruz, of course, gets the same ideas and the same ideology base, but he doesn't really show me the charisma or the leadership ability to make things happen.

Carly Fiorina has somewhat of an ability to lead as we've seen with HP or being a CEO formerly but then again I'm not quite sold on the other half of her when it comes to the ideas and the ability to follow through on many of her positions.

SMERCONISH: Thanks, Micah. Give me one name if not the Donald.

HART: Ted Cruz.

SMERCONISH: Ted Cruz. OK. That's what I suspected. Most Trump supporters will head in that direction

Pax Hart, Micah Serrant, thank you both for being here. Really appreciate it.

SERRANT: Thanks for having me.

SMERCONISH: Tweet me at smerconish and I will share some of the best at the end of the program. Of course, this discussion will continue this Tuesday night as CNN hosts the next GOP debate from Vegas. I will be there to watch firsthand.

Coming up, a firestorm erupted over remarks by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Scalia about affirmative action. He's being called a racist. I don't think so, I think people who are observing got it wrong and I'm about to tell you why.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SMERCONISH: The internet went crazy about Supreme Court Justice Anthony Scalia this week because of something that he said with journalists and politicians calling him racist or worse. Here's just a small sample.

I think they got it wrong. And it wasn't just an oversimplification, but a complete misreading of the situation. Here's the background.

The case is Fisher v. The University of Texas at Austin, and it's being brought by a white female student, she's now 25, against the university's affirmative action admissions policy because she didn't get in years ago. The court read legal briefs prepared by both sides and Justice Scalia was quoting one of them to get a response from the university's attorney. A theory that's been called mismatch. And here's what he said.


ANTONIN SCALIA, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: There are those who contend that it does not benefit African-Americans to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less advanced school, a slower-track school, where they do well. One of the briefs pointed out that most of the black scientists in this country don't come from schools like the University of Texas.

They came from lesser schools where they do not feel that they are being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them.

This court --

You know, I'm just not impressed by the fact that the University of Texas may have fewer. Maybe it ought to have fewer.


SMERCONISH: We have with us one of the authors of the book "Mismatch," who also wrote one of the briefs for the court, UCLA professor Richard Sander, and someone who says she benefited from affirmative action, civil rights attorney Areva Martin.

Professor Sander, did he get it right, did he do right by your theory?

RICHARD SANDER, LAW PROFESSOR, UCLA: Well, he oversimplified it a lot, it's not a theory about race, it's about preferences. So any kind of preference can have a mismatch effect, but he was raising as a very important issue, I think. The underlying fact that no one should deny is that African-Americans pass the bar when they finish law school at about half the rate that white graduates do. Only about one-seventh as many blacks who start on the sciences in college end up following to get a Ph.d in science as a proportional number of whites, so those are just real disparities out there.

SMERCONISH: Isn't mismatch a theory that says if you got in by virtue of any assistance, in fact, I don't mind telling the two of you I was a legacy at Lehigh University as an undergraduate, mismatch would apply to me in as far as I got in by virtue of my brother and father having attended that school, if, in fact, I struggled when I got there, which thank god wasn't the case. Is that the theory?

SANDER: If the preference amounts to 50 S.A.T. points, that's probably not going to keep you from succeeding, but if it's a preference of 200 S.A.T. points, that creates a real barrier and makes it more likely you're going to learn less in school, it makes it more likely that if you want to go in the sciences you're going to drop off the science track. It has a variety of negative affects.

What mismatch is trying to do is study those. I think what's disturbing about the reaction to Scalia's comment is that it typifies this kind of absolute denial by universities and a lot of mismatch critics that this is even an issue. They want to pretend it's not there.

SMERCONISH: Areva, was the criticism of Justice Scalia fair and appropriate as far as you're concern? Isn't this what he's supposed to be, socratic questioning, probing, raising controversial theories during the course of oral argument?


AREVA MARTIN, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Absolutely he's supposed to be asking questions and he was quoting as we saw from the text that show you showed some points that were made in the brief, I think the problem came in when the University of Texas lawyer tried to intervene to give him the other side of the argument he kept talking and wouldn't let the lawyer respond and the problem with this mismatch theory is the way it's stated, it seems as if it's ironclad and without its critics or controversy, and with all due respect to Richard, there are law professors around this country at UCLA, Sheryl Harris, Randall Kennedy, at Harvard and others, noted professors who take tremendous issues with this theory of mismatch and say that it's not reliable, that the data that he used to come to his conclusions, that that's not reliable.

So I think when you have this theory out there that appears to say that black students do better in lesser schools and you don't get to counter that with this is highly controversial and others disagree vehemently, it leaves the impression that's a true statement and that's a problem with what we heard from Scalia.

SMERCONISH: Areva, what about the merits of the Texas case? I like the way they do it in Texas, that the top 10 percent across the state at public high schools are guaranteed acceptance because there is segregation among high schools, not necessarily deliberate, and it then guarantees a good sampling of all communities in terms of who gets admitted. Do we need to layer on top of that race in the so- called holistic approach for who comes after the 10 percent?

MARTIN: Well, if you look at these top universities that we're talking about and you look how white they are, absolutely race needs to be one factor. Not the only factor, and that's what the 2003 Supreme Court decision that upheld race as a factor in university admissions said, that race, along with legacy, along with other things such as philanthropy and leadership and non-merit based things should be taken into consideration.

Look, it is ridiculous to think that race is not used in admissions policies. Even if the universities don't talk about it, I'm the applicant I'm going to talk about my race. When I go in for an interview, -- you're going to meet me, you'll know I'm a minority student, so we can pretend that race doesn't exist, but the reality is race is a huge factor.

SMERCONISH: Professor, respond to that, if you would.

SANDER: Well, the problem is that race is treated differently (INAUDIBLE), if it was treated like geographic background or socioeconomic status, I don't think there would be a mismatch issue, but it is given substantially more weight by most universities than any other diversity factor or, in fact, all the other diversity factors combined. That's what disparity. There's no dispute about the key factual findings in mismatch.

SMERCONISH: Professor, I know I'm being overly simplistic when I say that one of the thoughts you're advancing is that certain of the students you're referencing would be better served at a different school, at a lesser school, at least according to the ratings. I like to think that the best thing my wife and I have done for our four children is geography. We've educated them in an environment where they make connections and if you're following my thought process, I think there's something to be said for giving assistance to individuals to be able to interact with people who are going places, for lack of a better description.

Respond to that idea.

SANDER: Finding that there's a mismatch effect is not necessarily saying you don't want to give a preference. An alternative is to provide adequate academic support so you actually back up student achievement. The difficulty that we have is what we're seeing in this controversy, which is that when these ideas are aired, they tend to be met with this blanket denial and this insinuation that they are racists and, therefore, shouldn't be advanced. And that just, you know, completely chills discussion. You can't identify exactly where the issues are and what might be workable solutions if you deny that any problem exists.

SMERCONISH: Areva, you get the final word and I hope you'll draw reference to your own educational background as you explain your sentiments.

MARTIN: Well, there are students like me who were highly qualified to get into universities and excel in selective universities who don't - are not given an opportunity to do so, and you talk about wanting your kids to be where kids are going places, that's such an important point. You look at every U.S. Supreme Court clerk, you look at partners in major law firms, you look at federal court judges, where did those students go to school? They graduated from the ivy leagues. They weren't at the, "lesser schools."

So if we want diversity, if we want African-American, Latinos and Asians in federal courtships, if we want to see them clerking for the U.S. Supreme Court, if we want to see them as partners in law firms, they have to be admitted to selective universities, the Ivy Leagues and not relegated to these "lesser schools."

SMERCONISH: And for my kids when they get out of school and they enter the real world, regardless of what their classmates looked like when they were being educated, they'll be interacting with people of all stripes.

[09:30:00] And I want them to have those diverse experiences while they are being educated so they are prepared when they leave.

Anyway, thank you both. That was a great conversation and I'm glad you were here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks for having us.

SMERCONISH: So where do you stand on this? Tweet me @Smerconish and I will read the best later in the program.

Coming up, presidential candidate Lindsey Graham was one of the first to call for boots on the ground against ISIS. Why isn't he getting any traction?

And, "SNL" funny man and famed Sinatra impersonator Joe Piscopo is here to raise a glass in celebration of today's centennial of Frank Sinatra's birth.


[09:35:00] SMERCONISH: Swiss police made two arrests and found traces of explosives in a car as security remains high around Geneva amid a terror alert and a hunt for suspects.

In the wake of the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Americans are more afraid than they've been since the events of September 11. That's according to the latest CBS/"New York Times" poll.

For many Republicans, that fear is pushing them toward Donald Trump, seeing him as a strong leader.

But it's my next guest, Lindsey Graham, who's been long advocating boots on the ground, emphatic about what we need to do before it's too late.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're going in on the ground and we're going to pull the caliphate up by its roots and we're going to kill every one of these bastards we can find, because if we don't, they are coming here.


SMERCONISH: Lindsey Graham joins me now from Manchester, New Hampshire. Senator, nice to have you back.

With regard to ISIS, here's what occurs to me -- you were there first. You've been the one consistently from the get-go who said, we need to be prepared to confront them, we need to have boots on the ground.

And then along comes Donald Trump with a lot of tough talk and he seems to have usurped your position and he gets the political payoff, not you.


GRAHAM: You know, I think he comes across as an anecdote to Obama. Obama seems to be slow to embrace fighting back hard. You know, Donald Trump says very tough sounding things.

And the reason I said boots on the ground is because I think we need them. I don't want to send them, but the good news is, if you do it smart, it won't be as many as we've had in the past. The single most important thing to understand about the war is that people in the Islamic faith are our salvation in terms of winning the war.

And Donald Trump did the one thing that you cannot do -- he made the biggest mistake of all, basically declaring war on the faith itself, making it hard to partner with others in the region, and giving ISIL a recruiting opportunity for the ages.

SMERCONISH: But what does it say about the Republican Party, that according to NBC News and "The Wall Street Journal", half the GOP agree with him in that regard?

GRAHAM: They believe that banning Muslims makes us safer. They are afraid of radical Islam. But what Mr. Trump has done is basically declared war on the religion itself, making it hard for the king of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt and other Muslim nations to help us destroy a common enemy.

SMERCONISH: Has it occurred to you, Senator Graham, that the only way politically Donald Trump will be stopped is when the field is winnowed, that his support is pretty solid, a third or thereabouts of the GOP --


SMERCONISH: -- and respectfully where you haven't popped in the numbers thus far, maybe you and others getting out is the coalescing that will allow someone else to give him a run?

GRAHAM: Well, you know, the point is well-taken.

His support is pretty solid. I don't know, it's around -- whatever the number he is, it's pretty solid. But it's a minority of the Republican Party, it's a third of a third of the country.

But at the end of the day, if I can't make it, I'll get behind somebody that I think can win an election that we can't afford to lose.

And as to Mr. Trump, he doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell of being president of the United States. He doesn't understand what makes America great.

SMERCONISH: Senator Graham, thank you so much.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Don't forget, you can watch Trump and all his rivals Tuesday night right here on CNN.

Coming up, today would have been the 100th birthday of the chairman of the board, one of our greatest singers ever, Frank Sinatra. And who better to celebrate with than his stellar impersonator and super fan, "Saturday Night Live" veteran Joe Piscopo?


[09:42:58] SMERCONISH: He was known simply as the voice and many still consider Frank Sinatra the greatest singer ever.


SMERCONISH: Today would have been his 100th birthday and there have been many celebrations of all kinds, one of them is taking place tonight in my home state at the Sands in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and it's anchored by one of the greatest Sinatra impersonators ever, former "Saturday Night Live" funny man Joe Piscopo, who kept Sinatra retro hip for a new generation by doing remakes of old hits.

Joe Piscopo joins me now.

Hey, am I right in your audition for "SNL", you did Sinatra?

JOE PISCOPO, SNL ALUM: I did. Nice to see you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Good to see you as well.


SMERCONISH: What did Frank want?

PISCOPO: I'm not sure. Hey, baby, how are you? You look great, you cuckoo cat you.

SMERCONISH: You did in the audition, pretty gutsy move.

PISCOPO: I know, I did a Sinatra-esque character at the improvisation comedy club about ten blocks from here. I went in, I did this when I auditioned for "Saturday Night Live," I said, the old man, it was the word youth, if you do Frank Sinatra --


PISCOPO: Well, it was a song I did called -- I don't stand a ghost of a chance with you.

So I did it. We got laughs and worked it out. But the thing is when they asked me to do him, I chickened out, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Why? Why were you apprehensive then as the skit?

PISCOPO: It was the old man. It was my father's hero. It's the greatest generation. It was Frank Sinatra. It was the North Jersey Italian-American and it wasn't fear. Oh, afraid the old man.

No, it wasn't any fear. It was just respect, man.

SMERCONISH: What did he think of Joe Piscopo doing the imitation on "SNL"?

PISCOPO: He loved it.


[09:45:00] PISCOPO: Yes. "Saturday Night Live" wasn't really the kind of show for that generation, but he -- and I didn't know until I got an invite in the mail, and I'll talk about it on stage tonight at the Sands, is when he sent me an invitation to the friar's club. N


PISCOPO: Yes, with the golden boss, Joe Piscopo, what is this? It was a roast of Dean Martin and the master of ceremonies was the old man, Frank Sinatra. So I'm on the dais scared out of my mind, scared out of my mind.

I'll tell it different on stage tonight, but I have to tell you the way it was. I'm waiting, oh, my God, he steps up and introduces me, there's my hero, my father's hero.

"Here's a kid," he goes like, "here's a kid, he's great, he's Italian, he's the most talented kid I ever saw because he does me." He does something like that. And I go -- and when Frank Sinatra says the words "Joe Piscopo," that was surreal. Here's Joe Piscopo.

Your hero introducing you, you know?

SMERCONISH: If you say the words Joe Piscopo to me and you mention "SNL" and the chairman in the same breath, there's a particular skit I think of, it's you, it's Eddie Murphy, you're the chairman and he is Stevie Wonder. Let's watch.


SMERCONISH: What do you think as you're watching that?

PISCOPO: My love for Eddie Murphy. Absolute adoration, respect, and love for Eddie Murphy.

SMERCONISH: So I watch "Ebony and Ivory" and I think of you tonight at the Sands, right, do you play it that way or do you play it straight?

PISCOPO: You know, let's leave a little mystery to it. I'm not sure, I'll decide, I have the wig.

SMERCONISH: Oh, come on.

PISCOPO: The wig is at the ready, the wig is at the ready, I don't need makeup because I'm so old now.

SMERCONISH: Joe, I'm just kind of wondering, just give me a little taste. What's your favorite thing you'll do tonight?

PISCOPO: The way the old man can hold a note longer than anyone else, "Ol' Man River", I studied him, he would do "Ol' Man River", great Broadway show, go.



PISCOPO: He held it longer than anybody else. His whole lungs would open up. So tonight we're going out and I may come out as the old man and just for like a half hour.

SMERCONISH: Do it straight as Frank.

PISCOPO: Don't you think?

SMERCONISH: I think you should.

PISCOPO: Great to be here. Where the hell I am? Bethlehem, what the hell, we're going to move out of Vegas, baby? Where are the broads? Sorry to be politically correct.

SMERCONISH: You're allowed to on this show.

PISCOPO: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: One final subject, he was a political guy. You become Joe Piscopo, maybe you were always a political guy, do the politics jive, yours and the chairman's?

PISCOPO: Yes, exactly. Ironically not. Kennedy Democrat my whole life and Reagan Democrat my whole life, we're immigrants, we come from another country, came here, isn't the Democratic Party supposed to be your party? All my life.

And then somehow the party wasn't living up to what I believed in originally, you know, what Kennedy, John Kennedy was. So I switched and became an independent just within the last year I left the party.

Will I become a Republican? No. But I can't quite get to that "R," but right at the independent.


PISCOPO: You are good.


SMERCONISH: Thanks, Joe. Have a great show tonight.

PISCOPO: Thank you, Michael. Love you, man.

SMERCONISH: Thank you, bud.

Coming up, your best tweets and a farewell to an old friend, the victim of partisan politics. Here's one.


[09:53:52] SMERCONISH: Finally, I note with sadness the passing of "The National Journal" whose reporting I've long respected for its nonpartisan analysis. In fact, when I speak to groups across the country about how polarized we've become, I often rely on the "Journal's" annual I ideological assessment of the Congress.

How ironic that the same environment that polarized Washington is what contributed to the magazine's demise. Look at this, as editorial Ronald Brownstein notes in his final say, quote, "Fewer elected officials follow the sequence of gathering objective information and then reaching a decision. Usually, they follow ideological or partisan signals to reach decisions and then seek talking points to support them."

Well, he's absolutely right. And the loss of that voice is going to create a void.

I appreciate all the tweets @Smerconish. A couple of that have come in.

Thomas Price said, "Colleges are overrated and overpriced. A history class at Harvard is the same at junior college."

Thomas, the material might be the same. The argument I was making is your kids would benefit from the others they would meet on that Harvard campus.

There was also this from Flo Patterson, "Not one single vote has been cast. It's all about polls. The crowds are a better indicator than the polls."

[09:55:08] Flo Patterson, I would say that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, they hope that you're correct.

I don't know if I have time for this. Will George says to me, "Smerconish, don't quit your day job, leave the singing to the pros." OK. I hear you. I will never sing again.

What I will do is be at Vegas Tuesday night for the GOP debate. I hope you'll be watching CNN for the next couple of days. And then back here next week.

Thank you.