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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

Trump Sparks Conservative Media Civil War; Trump: Who Got Him Right, Who Got Him Wrong?. Aired 11a-Noon ET

Aired May 8, 2016 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:09] BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, good morning, and happy Mothers Day. I'm Brian Stelter and this is RELIABLE SOURCES -- our weekly look at the story behind the story, of how news and pop culture get made.

And what a week this has been. We're going in-depth today examining what Donald Trump's hostile takeover of the GOP means for the media. So many experts felt Trump would never get to this point, would never succeed, and one of them is preparing to literally eat his words.

But we have more than cooking segments ahead this hour. The top editor of "TIME" magazine is also here to explain why this is a huge opportunity for journalism.

Now, you could also call it a huge challenge. What should reporters do when Trump quotes conspiracy theories and quotes "The National Enquirer"? We will try to answer that later this hour.

One thing is for sure, none of us have seen a story like this before. While the GOP's primary battle seems to be over, the party's civil war is just beginning and it's being waged every minute on the airwaves.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

NEIL CAVUTO, FOX NEWS: He won. He won. Fair and square, he won. Time to move on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have never had a nominee of our party who is so disliked.

LAURA INGRAHAM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: These statements from Ryan and McConnell that Trump's got to unify the party, I say Trump has unified the party.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We created him and it's up to us to stop him.

NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The most substantive candidate.

BEN HOWE, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, RED STATE: I think he's a pathological sociopath.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are signaling to the Republicans stay home. That's going to elect Hillary Clinton.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, FOX NEWS: I don't think I'd be capable of voting for Donald Trump. The question is what do I do? I don't know yet.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

STELTER: With #neverTrump commentators on one side and Trump believers like Sean Hannity on the other side and a lot of turmoil in between, does the media need to cover this election differently?

My view is that stereotypical debates between two sides, you know, one on the right and one on the left, that's not going to cut it this time.

Let's take stock of the conservative media divide over Trump with Matt Lewis, a CNN political commentator and senior contributor to "The Daily Caller", Ben Howe, contributing editor to RedState.com, and Kayleigh McEnany, CNN political commentator and Trump supporter.

And good morning to all of you. Thank you for being here.

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Good morning.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Good morning, Brian.

STELTER: Matt, I think you might be in the middle here. Someone who says you can't vote for Clinton and for Trump.

Do you think in these debates on cable news the next six months, you're going to get kind of squeezed out of the picture?

LEWIS: Well, that is the danger. Look, I think there's -- you know, at least historically speaking, you know, from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson, from the left, I'm Paul Begala. You know, we want to pit and make this binary choice and pit the right against the left, and sometimes that makes perfect sense, don't get me wrong, but I do think this is unique.

And that's one of the reasons why the Never Trump movement probably won't have as much legs. It probably won't last as long as I think there is an incentive for people to kind of come home, to, you know, you're going to be pushed into supporting somebody. Most people will be.

STELTER: Ben, do you agree that it will fizzle out? You've said you'll vote for Hillary Clinton, quote, "I'm with her."

BEN HOWE, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, REDSTATE.COM: You know, I think that the less likelihood that they'll be coming home -- more likely that they'll be staying home. I think if we can just get 3 percent to 5 percent of the Republican Party to not come out for the presidential candidate, I think that will be enough to keep him from winning and at least for me, the reason that I've said that I would even vote for Hillary is because I believe he has to be stopped.

STELTER: Let me ask you, though, to be honest here. Is part of this to get attention? Part of this to get on TV? Isn't he the most in- demand person a conservative who hates Donald Trump? HOWE: Well, you know, I've been talking to a lot of people about that. I've actually been writing about and appearing and talking about Trump for probably since last June when he first announced. When he announced, I said I thought he was a clown running straight for the circus and that he was dangerous.

There were a lot of pundits and radio hosts and television hosts that I felt like were propping him up, and I think that if we don't stop him we're going to end up in a much more dangerous situation than we've been in in a long time.

STELTER: Kayleigh, we know that Bill Kristol is outside courting independent candidate for president. Of course, he's the long time editor of "The Weekly Standard", and, you know, famous television commentator. What do people like Bill Kristol have wrong about what's going on right now?

MCENANY: Well, here's the thing, Brian -- you are not a conservative if you do not support Donald Trump, and it's crazy to me that I hear Ben and I hear Matt using conservatism as a shield. They're now, all of a sudden, concerned about conservative values.

Well, where were they with John McCain who was for cap and trade, who was against the Bush tax cuts? Where was the never McCain movement? Where were they with Mitt Romney who laid out the blueprint for Obamacare? Where were leading the never Romney movement?

In fact, those movements didn't exist. What you have going on here is an establishment, an elitist establishment that is rejecting their voters, that says, we know better than our voters.

[11:05:01] We see that embodied in Paul Ryan and we see the courage of leaders like John McCain and Mitch McConnell to come over and say, you know what? My voters aren't agreeing with where I stand and therefore, it's time for the party to change rather than kicking out our voters.

This party would not exist absent its voters, and it's really irresponsible. It's not conservative, this Never Trump movement.

STELTER: Ben, I see you wanting to respond.

HOWE: Well, well, OK, look. The Republican Party is the vehicle for conservatism. Conservatives were -- who joined the Republican Party did so because we believed our values would make their way to D.C. If the candidate isn't conservative, then it's preposterous to claim that I must support him.

That's not in support of conservatism. That's in support of Republicanism. And I'm not just a Republican. I'm a conservative.

(CROSSTALK)

MCENANY: Ben, I hear so much --

STELTER: Go ahead, Kayleigh. I'm sorry. MCENANY: I just hear so much outrage from you and the Never Trump

movement now. But as Rush Limbaugh pointed out, where was this outrage about the Obamacare ruling? Where was this outrage about the Iran deal? Where was this channeled outrage, this concerted effort, the millions and millions of dollars?

The outrage that I see now against Donald Trump, no one, none of you have exhibited half of that against the left wing extremism in Washington. So, it's just interesting that it comes out now against your own.

(CROSSTALK)

LEWIS: I think part of the reason -- I think part of the reason for this is that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama cannot destroy the conservative brand. Donald Trump can. Donald Trump can redefine what it means to be a Republican and what it means to be in a conservative. In a way, Trump is more dangerous to conservatism than Obama and Hillary because he is posing as a conservative.

MCENANY: That's ludicrous.

STELTER: Matt, do you think the story we're seeing play out is the breakup of the GOP, will this party exist in December of this year?

LEWIS: That's unclear. I'll tell you, this is really making for strange bedfellows and we're used to a certain sort of -- we're used to a certain cleavage here, right? So, for example, normally speaking, you might have people from like "National Review" sort of intellectual conservatives and writers who are sort of supporting people like Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan, and you might have bloggers and talk radio folks supporting someone like a Ted Cruz.

But with this Donald Trump candidacy, you are seeing a breakdown that really defies even what we've come to know as the traditional split, where you have people like Marc Levin, Erick Erickson, who were, you know, kind of never Trump people and more populist authoritarian, I'll have to say, types who are more than happy to support Donald Trump.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: Let me ask Ben about something interesting that happened on Tuesday. On Tuesday, kind of Ted Cruz's last, dying gasp of his campaign involved attacking FOX News, attacking Rupert Murdoch and Robert Ailes. Let me play what he said and get you all's reaction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: There is a broader dynamic at work which is network executives have made a decision to get behind Donald Trump. Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes at FOX News have turned FOX News into the Donald Trump network, 24/7. Now, Rupert Murdoch is used to picking world leaders in Australia and the United Kingdom, running tabloids and we're seeing it here at home with the consequences for this nation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: That comment borderline conspiratorial, saying this man coming in from Australia and the U.K. is trying to affect our election here. Ben, do you think that there's something to the idea media that Ted Cruz is pushing for weeks before dropping out of the race, that the media did want Donald Trump to become the nominee of the GOP?

HOWE: I don't know that they were concerned about whether or not he'd be the nominee. I think it was just a matter of he creates ratings. There were plenty of networks that were able to charge more for advertising when he was in a debate.

But I want to address the idea that we were all missing in action when Obamacare came around, when the stimulus came around. I don't know about anybody else, but I was out there marching with the Tea Party in 2009 and 2010. I was out there on the ground in 2012 and in 2014. I've been fighting the left and fighting Obama ever since I've been able to have a voice at all on these issues.

So the fact that now I'm coming out against Donald Trump is actually very consistent. I'm against liberalism and the destruction of conservatism and that's what Trump represents.

STELTER: Matt, let me go to Cruz --

MCENANY: Ben --

STELTER: Sorry, Kayleigh, go ahead.

MCENANY: That's just so funny to me that you're saying that you want to vote for Hillary Clinton and somehow you're saying that furthers the conservative movement.

HOWE: Want to?

MCENANY: That is so logically inconsistent. That makes no sense whatsoever. What do four more years of Obama values further the conservative movement? They -- it would destroy conservatism, not further it.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: Ben, is the issue for you that with Hillary, you know who you're getting, with Trump, you don't know who you're getting because he changes his positions?

HOWE: No, I think I know exactly who I'm getting. I think I'm getting a sociopathic maniac. And not only do I feel that's what I'm getting, I think if Donald Trump was president, we have four years of him defining conservatism.

[11:10:00] It's been bad enough with some of the people that we've had defined conservatism over the last several years.

To have Donald Trump be our standard bearer I think would be so destructive, I don't think we can recover. This is going to be a third party situation if we can't get him to lose the election.

STELTER: Let me pull it back to media for one moment before we run out of time. Matt, I want to ask you about this.

Thinking about this divide in conservative media which we're seeing play out here on screen, and thinking about what Cruz said about FOX News. Do you think it is a problem, Matt, for FOX News and other conservative media outlets that have to figure out where to stand and where to be amid this possible meltdown of the party?

LEWIS: Absolutely. Trump has changed every -- he's changed the rules. He's changed the paradigm, the dynamic and I think individual commentators are going to have to wrestle, not just with where they ought to be morally or ethically, but what positioned themselves for their careers.

I mean, that's part of the calculus and I think the same is true of networks. I mean, FOX News, you know, they're going to have to sort of decide where to go, and I know right now it's not monolithic, you've got straight reporters like Brett Baer and Chris Wallace who've been -- and Brit Hume who've been very tough on Trump, and you've got the more -- the evening, the Sean Hannitys who have sort of sucked up to him.

But this is a time for choosing, and I feel like we're going to look back. And I don't know how -- who's going to be -- you know, who's going to come out looking good. But what's happening this election cycle will define you I think going forward.

STELTER: So even 10, 20 years from now, when we think about the rising stars of conservative media, this will be the year, you think --

LEWIS: Yes.

STELTER: -- where brands are made.

LEWIS: Well, people look back right now at 1976 and 1980. Where were you? Were you with Reagan? People look back to 1964. I think 2016 will probably be, you know, our generation's 1964.

STELTER: Matt, Ben, thank you both for being here. Kayleigh, please stick around. We're going to come back to you later this hour.

Coming up here, why one columnist is literally eating his words about Trump, while another is being praised for correctively predicting Trump's rise. We're going to bring them together for a must-see conversation and maybe a meal preparation right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:15:53] STELTER: By now we know that many experts did not see Donald Trump coming, did not think he'd ever become the presumptive nominee.

So, what about the people who did? What can we learn from them? Let's consider someone like political scientist Norm Orenstein, who's

been saying for years that the GOP has become ideologically extreme, that he doesn't recognize his own party any more.

Last summer, Orenstein was one of the very first people and one of the few to declare that the time was right for a candidate like Donald Trump. That Trump wasn't a flash in the pan, but a force to be reckoned with.

Meanwhile, many other experts were saying things like this -- here's a headline from "The Washington Post." "Trump will lose or I will eat this column", that's what "The Post's" Dana Milbank has said back in October, making a promise that he plans to fulfill this week.

So, what's it going to be, crispy newspaper dumplings, newspaper line tacos, ground newspaper falafel?

Let's ask him. He's an op-ed columnist for "The Washington Post". He's in Washington with us this morning, along with the aforementioned Norm Orenstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Norm, do you have any recipes for Dana? Any suggestions for how he should consume his column?

NORM ORENSTEIN, AMERICAN ENTEPRISE INSTITUTE: Dana, I think you should fold it into gefilte fish. You wouldn't notice the difference.

(LAUGHTER)

DANA MILBANK, THE WASHINGTON POST: That sounds tasty, Norm.

STELTER: It's a good way for us to start.

MILBANK: A little horseradish.

ORENSTEIN: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

STELTER: Let me read your original argument from last October. Let's explain what this was all about. You wrote that, quote, "I'm so certain that Trump won't win the nomination, that I'll eat my words if he does. Literally, the day Trump clinches the nomination, I will eat the page on which this column is printed in 'Sunday's Post'. I have this confidence for the same reason Mitt Romney does. Americans are better than Trump."

So, Dana, did the voters disappoint you? What happened?

MILBANK: No, Brian, I don't think the voters disappointed me and I don't mean to sound defensive because I'm eating these delectable dishes we're putting up. But I recognize that Trump was a force the same week he announced. I said, this is a monster the Republican Party created, and he's not a joke, he's not a flash in the pan. I did have faith in the voters generally and even in the Republican

primary voters, and it was vindicated in the sense that he never got a majority of them. You know, he got 38 percent overall and the others never really got one clean shot at him other than Ted Cruz and that was hardly a consensus candidate.

So, that's sort of my excuse. It was really the system that let us down more than the voters. I will double down and expect that the American voters will get it right in the end and they will reject Trump. However, I want to see how my digestion works after I eat the column on Thursday before I commit to eating any further.

STELTER: I was going to ask you, what are you going to eat in November then?

MILBANK: I'm going to be very careful on this. I want to see how the body consumes this ink. Apparently, it's got some heavy metals in it, but it also has fiber and, you know, it could be beneficial.

STELTER: I do have a copy of Trump's "The Art of the Deal" here. So, maybe that's an idea for the fall if you want to think about it.

But tell us briefly, so on Thursday, you will do this live on Facebook, right? You're going to do this in the kitchen with a four- star chef?

MILBANK: Yes. We've got Tom Sietsema of -- "The Washington Post" food critic. He'll do a little tasting with me, I don't know what sin he committed to get involved, and then we have Victor Albisu, a noted chef here in Washington cooking up. I think we'll have a seven-course meal and really consume some really delectable pulp.

STELTER: OK, you're all in on this.

MILBANK: All in.

STELTER: Let me get serious for a moment and talk about what this moment means, what we can learn from the wrong predictions that were made. Norm, let me read from your column in "The Atlantic" last August. You said that, "Egged on by talk radio, cable news, right- wing blogs and social media, the activist voters who make up the primary and caucus electorate have become angrier and angrier, not just at the Kenyan socialist president but also at their own leaders."

And, Norm, we've seen that in the exit poll and we've seen most of the voters in the states where we did these polls saying they felt betrayed by their own party. Is that why you believe early on Trump had a real shot at the nomination?

ORENSTEIN: That's one of the main reasons, Brian. I mean, there were a lot of others including the way the rules were set up, the large number of candidates, the money and all of that.

But I do think that Republican leaders seduced and abandoned voters over a period of time, promising them things that they simply couldn't achieve, including bringing Obama to his knees and repealing Obamacare and Dodd Frank and blowing up government as we know it.

[11:20:08] And we have just as examples the three young guns that did a book in 2009 and that's Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy and Paul Ryan. So, Eric Cantor knocked off in a primary by an unfunded Tea Party candidate. Kevin McCarthy blocked from moving up after John Boehner was hounded out of the speakership. And now, Paul Ryan facing a challenge from the right in his own primary in August and being called Paul RINO by a lot of people, which is so absurd, it's almost impossible to reflect on it.

STELTER: Norm, your argument over the years has been that there's been asymmetrical polarization, that the Republican Party has moved further to the right than the Democratic Party has moved to the left.

You say the press has not fairly covered this, and I wanted to ask Dana about that.

Dana, do you agree with Norm's critique that the media has not fully explained to the odd wrens and the readers and the viewers this idea of asymmetric polarization and as a result we pretend there is balance when there's not?

MILBANK: Right. I think that's exactly right and we in the media generally are guilty of this sort of false equivalency and saying there are equal and opposite things occurring here. The fact is they have not been equal and opposite things and I think there is a real problem now in the coverage of Trump and that the instinct in the media say he's going to be the Republican nominee, let's cover him the way we've covered Mitt Romney and George W. Bush and John McCain.

My argument is no, this is something fundamentally different. This is a character acting outside of our democratic system and he needs to be covered differently. But that's a real challenge and I can't tell you exactly how to do it. Certainly, the huge volume of free advertising the media are giving Donald Trump who hardly had to spend a thing to do the nomination really needs to be looked at.

STELTER: This is what I'm wrestling with as well, and again, I don't have the answers either.

But should Trump be covered like any other GOP candidate in history or should he be covered as someone who's outside the norms, outside the mainstream, partly because he's never held elected office, so we don't have a list of votes that we can cover, or a list of actions he's taken. What we haven't said is a businessman track record and a reality TV show to compare with.

It's a very different situation. And, Norm, I wonder if you have any thoughts on how Trump should be covered, should he be covered fundamentally differently than Mitt Romney or John McCain or others.

ORENSTEIN: Sure. And, Brian, let me go back to your question to Dana. When Tom and I did our book in 2012, it's even worse than it looks. And we heralded it with "The Washington Post" outlook column which said, let's just say it and this time, the Republican is the problem. There was almost a willful decision especially by television networks, cable and broadcast, to ignore that argument completely. They didn't even want to touch the idea that this was anything but both parties are the same.

And now, I think there's a dilemma that Trump is a different kind of candidate. You're discussing some of it, your first segment, the divisions among Republicans and on the conservative side. But the degree to which Trump is being treated in a fashion different from other candidates is one in which he can sit there in his pajamas and call in in a fashion that no one's been able to do before, doesn't get challenged with the second or third follow-up question.

I think this is a real gut check time for American media.

STELTER: We are seeing that change. The call-s in, for example, I noticed on the morning shows today, "Meet the Press," and "This Week", both had Trump on camera and there does seem to be a change there.

ORENSTEIN: Let's hope so.

STELTER: I have to go to a bottom line. Why had should we believe experts like you, Dana, why should we believe experts who weren't entirely right last fall or last winter when you tell us what's going to happen now?

MILBANK: Well, I don't think you should believe me or anyone else in making predictions about the future. It's only that, a prediction and speculation. Obviously, we don't have crystal balls, you know, we can give you snapshots in time like polls do.

I think what's important to listen to in the media is what's being described of this man. You ask, you know, why should he be covered differently? Well, I think it's fair to say he has a consistent record of being a racist and misogynist, demagogic, talking about -- you know, doing things that are unconstitutional in terms of targeting innocents and torture. This is fundamentally outside of our system.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: His supporters would say he doesn't mean it when he says that.

MILBANK: Well, let his supporters say that, but we in the media should be saying this is something fundamentally different from what we have seen certainly in modern times.

STELTER: Norm, final word to you. Who should we be listening to, who should we be listening to in the fall, because already we've heard how the deck is stacked against Trump in support of Hillary Clinton, and how she has the electoral advantage and the electoral maps in the fall show that and yet there are worries on the Democratic side about not taking Trump seriously in the months to come?

[11:25:00] ORENSTEIN: Well, one of the things that I would say, Brian, as I watch the talk shows, whether it's on Sunday or during the week, you get an array of people who have been wrong for a very long period of time consistently and who keep coming on the air -- and that's all right. We're always -- we have to be humble. Not everyone is going to be right in making predictions about human behavior, but the guests that come on, the Democratic strategists and the Republican strategists, the ones that bloviate a lot, there has to be an improvement in the discourse here, and I just haven't seen it.

I think it's a broader problem than Trump. It's a problem with the way that television especially handles its analysis.

STELTER: The reality here is that there's two X factors in this fall, right? Hillary Clinton expected to be the nominee. For the first time a female nominee president of the a major party and on the other side, Donald Trump, a billionaire businessman who does not have a political track record. So, we don't know what could happen because we've never had either of those variables before, that's what makes it such an interesting story.

Also, it's so hard to forecast where we're going to be in six months.

Dana, thank you so much for being here. We look forward to Thursday.

MILBANK: Thanks, Brian.

STELTER: Norm, thank you for being here, as well.

ORENSTEIN: Thank you, Brian.

STELTER: Coming up next here, will we be seeing fewer Donald Trump interviews? Will he change his free media strategy? We'll talk about that and what one top magazine editor calls a huge opportunity for journalists right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:30:37]

STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter.

For newsrooms, the pressure is on.

Everybody has an opinion about how Donald Trump should be covered, including the president of the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just want to emphasize the degree to which we are in serious times and this is a really serious job.

This is not entertainment. This is not a reality show. This is a contest for the presidency of the United States. And what that means is that every candidate, every nominee needs to be subject to exacting standards and genuine scrutiny.

(END VIDEO CLIP) STELTER: Hillary Clinton said much the same thing at a private fund- raiser on Friday, urging reporters to ask more follow-ups.

With all these media critiques swirling around, I asked one of the top editors in the business, "TIME" magazine boss Nancy Gibbs, how she's telling her staff to prepare for the fall election.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STELTER: Nancy, thanks for being here. Happy Mother's Day.

NANCY GIBBS, EDITOR, "TIME": Thank you.

STELTER: I would love to hear your impression of this week's coverage. You say this is a huge opportunity for journalists, now that we know who the presumptive GOP nominee is and probably the presumptive Democratic nominee.

Why such a huge opportunity?

GIBBS: Well, particularly on the Republican side, there has never been a candidate certainly in most of our lifetimes about whom we know so little in terms of what his vision of his presidency would be, what his actual policies would be, what his -- who would be advising him, who he would listen to, what his priorities would be.

There is just no road map, other than...

STELTER: Even though he's been in the media spotlight for 30 years?

GIBBS: Even though he's been in the media spotlight for 30 years.

And so there certainly isn't a voting record or a legislative record or a governing record to look at. I think that there will be a lot of excavation of his business record, going back now, as people sort of put together the pieces of what and who has shaped him. But we still don't know what a Trump administration, were that to happen, would be like.

And to the extent that, you know, when people ask him, who do you respect, who do you take advice from, he says, well, he listens to himself, that makes it an even greater reporting challenge, if the answers are all in his head, and somehow reporters are going to have to get them out of him.

STELTER: Are you adding more reporters to this beat in the months to come?

GIBBS: I -- it depends on how we define the beat.

The actual following candidates, probably our plans don't change. But I think the real opportunity and the real challenge is actually to turn the cameras around away from the candidate and to the audience. I want to understand this electorate much better than I do now.

We have been serially surprised from the very beginning of this campaign. That's why so many predictions were wrong. And I think understanding what it is that has caused, to this point, Republican primary voters to behave in ways that defied all sorts of expectations, what levels of anger, of dispiritedness and of hope are driving them, I think there's so much we do not know about where the public is right now.

And that is an enormous challenge. And that takes a lot of shoe leather.

STELTER: You referenced some of the faulty predictions made in the past. Last time you were here on the program, you said the early coverage of Trump was like a continuous obit.

Of course, now, now that he's the presumptive nominee, do you think that's changed markedly? Has there been, if anything, an overreaction in the coverage?

GIBBS: It hasn't changed in certain quarters, where this week you heard some conservatives saying that Republicans in the Senate should push ahead with Merrick Garland's Supreme Court nomination because there's no possible way that the Republicans can now take back the White House, and Hillary Clinton nor Bernie Sanders would surely nominate a more liberal justice, and so Merrick Garland is the best they can get.

So they're already -- they're already predicting that November is settled and have written off the prospects of a Trump presidency. Having said that, I think, by and large, what we saw this week was an extraordinary reckoning and -- of this -- he actually now is the presumptive nominee, when -- when Kasich and Cruz dropped out, I think more quickly than anyone had anticipated.

STELTER: Yes. Let's remember, on Tuesday, we were not expecting these speeches from Kasich or Cruz.

GIBBS: That was not the narrative. That's right.

And you just felt it within the political establishment of, oh, my goodness, this is -- this is actually real. This is actually happening.

[11:35:05]

And you're right. There was -- I don't know if you would say it was an overcorrection, but certainly the fact that the entire storyline that this was going to be fought right up to Cleveland...

STELTER: Right.

GIBBS: ... and that Cleveland itself would be a fight, and -- and so the prospect of Donald Trump as the Republican nominee was by no means fixed, and then, all of a sudden, everyone wakes up Wednesday morning, and there we are.

STELTER: Once again, reporters are maybe disappointed they're not going to get a contested convention this summer. Of course, a lot -- I guess a lot could happen between now and July.

So much has already happened in the last 11 months, but, at the moment, no contested convention. That's a big change in the conventional wisdom from a few weeks ago.

GIBBS: It depends on how you define contested.

You have Reince Priebus as the RNC chair. You have Ryan -- Speaker Ryan as the chairman of the convention. And then you have Trump as the presumptive nominee. Those three men are not exactly all on the same page.

And so what is the message of that convention? What fights are going to take place within committees? There are going to still be a lot of Cruz delegates on those committees.

I think the idea of a very predictable, scripted, staid Republican Convention that party leaders in the past have always tried to orchestrate is probably a less likely prospect this year.

STELTER: I had a hard time on TV on Wednesday morning trying to get my arms around what was happening, because this was such a historic moment to see Trump as the presumptive nominee.

Now, you wrote the book on this, "The Presidents Club," about all the living former presidents. Now, this was back in 2012. And it made me think about that image, that iconic image of Barack Obama in 2009 with all the living former presidents in the Oval Office.

Just help us imagine what that picture might look like if it's President Trump.

GIBBS: Well, this was also the week when both former Republican presidents, both Presidents Bush came out saying they were basically -- couldn't support Trump and were going to sit this one out.

So, you're facing the prospect that, if such a lunch, such a gathering of the club to meet the new guy were to happen next January, before President Trump's inauguration, every single person there would have been opposed to him.

You would have President Obama, President Clinton, President Bush, President Bush, President Carter all in a row to welcome someone that all of them, both parties, have opposed.

What the presidents always say to each other is, it doesn't matter what party you belong to. We want you to succeed. The country is more important.

That's what President Bush said to Barack Obama. Leave aside party. We all are here to help you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STELTER: So, how many more times do you think Trump will be on the cover of "TIME" between now and November? I'm going to put the over/under on five.

Coming up next here, we all know Donald Trump distrusts the mainstream media. He says we're dishonest. So, what is the link between what he reads and what he says? We are going to explore Donald Trump and the conspiracy theory election next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:42:02]

STELTER: We are all only as good as our sources of information.

We make decisions about how to vote and who to believe based on the information we consume. That's why we need, pardon the use of the title here, reliable sources. And that's why I cringe when I hear Donald Trump reciting conspiracy theories.

This is harmful, no matter how well journalists debunk what he says. Case in point, this week, the "National Enquirer" story alleging a link between Ted Cruz's father and JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald. This is unproven. Just to be clear, there's no evidence to believe it's true and there's lots of evidence to believe it's not true.

But the conspiracy theory showed up first on fringe right-wing Web sites this time last month. Then it made its way to "The Enquirer" and then made its way to Donald Trump's mouth.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: His father was with Lee Harvey Oswald prior to Oswald's being, you know, shot. I mean, the whole thing is ridiculous.

What is this, right prior to his being shot? And nobody even brings it up. I mean, they don't even talk about that. That was reported, and nobody talks about it.

But I think it's horrible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: The most troubling part of that, I think, is when Trump accuses the press of covering up this horrible family secret.

Later in the day, CNN's Jake Tapper fact-checked him on that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: We in the media don't talk about it because there's no evidence of it.

So, any suggestion that Cruz's father played a role in the Kennedy assassination is ridiculous and, frankly, shameful. Now, that's not an anti-Trump position or a pro-Cruz position. It's a pro-truth position.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: tell me if you agree. I think it's pretty unusual to see something like that on TV, but it shouldn't be, because by retweeting false information or repeating what he reads on obscure Web sites, Trump represents a unique challenge for the press.

Before we go any further, let's be honest. Trump is far from the only politician who tells exaggerated stories or depends on dubious statistics. But he is the only one that repeats a smear that was on the front page of "The National Enquirer," a tabloid.

The journalists who fact-check him every day say he is categorically different from all the rest of the contenders out there.

Now, Trump later said that he was just counterpunching because Cruz's father had attacked him. He said he didn't believe the "Enquirer" story, but he thought people should know about it.

Trump has been doing this for a long time. He bought into the birther conspiracy, repeatedly saying that President Obama was not born in the United States. In some ways, that led to his rise among conservatives.

More recently, Trump cited grossly inflated numbers of Syrian refugees being relocated in America. And he falsely said that thousands of people in New Jersey cheered on the day of the 9/11 attacks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down, and I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[11:45:00]

STELTER: That story has circulated via chain e-mail letters for years, you know, the ones that you get from your relatives.

As George Stephanopoulos pointed out to him, it wasn't true.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I saw it. It was on television. I saw it.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: You saw that with your own eyes?

TRUMP: George, it did happen.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Police say it didn't happen.

TRUMP: There were people that were cheering in the other side of New Jersey, where you have a large Arab populations. They were cheering as the World Trade Center came down. It was well-covered at the time, George. (END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: To be clear again, that did not happen.

If lots of people had been cheering in Jersey, it would have been a huge story and we would have the video and we would play that video right now.

To be fair to Trump, he has not repeated that 9/11 claim in a long time, but he has invoked other conspiratorial ideas. Back in March, he wrongly claimed that this protester who rushed the stage at one of his rallies had -- quote -- "ties to ISIS."

Chuck Todd tried to tell him that he'd been tricked by a hoax Web site.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: You have to check it before you ask the question.

CHUCK TODD, MODERATOR, "MEET THE PRESS": Well, no, that's what I -- we have checked it. That's my point, sir. There's no ties to ISIS for this man. No law enforcement official -- and this video that you linked to appears to be a hoax.

TRUMP: Supposedly, there was chatter about ISIS. Now, I don't know. What do I know about it? All I know is what's on the Internet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: "All I know is what's on the Internet." I think that sentence is key to understanding Trump's campaign.

It doesn't seem like he distinguishes between "Meet the Press" and "The National Enquirer." And I think it's important to recognize here that many voters don't either. We can't put our heads in the proverbial sand and pretend like this misinformation is out there.

We have to address it head on as journalists. And I think a lot of us see a lot to like about Trump, a lot to admire about his campaign, but not his tendency to believe this misinformation and these hoaxes and these conspiracy theories.

But here's the thing. This is the important part. I could sit here and tell you about how some news outlets have higher standards than others. Some people will believe me and some people won't. But mistakes and self-inflicted wounds and the lowering of standards across the board have lowered trust in media overall and made it tougher for us to hold all candidates accountable.

Now, I hope that forceful rebuttals, like the ones we saw here from Tapper and Stephanopoulos and Todd, are part of the solution, because, as Seth Meyers predicted this week, we're going to be hearing more conspiracy theories this fall.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS") SETH MEYERS, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS": Can you imagine

what Trump's going to say about Hillary? "I think it's time for Hillary to tell us where she was when Biggie got shot. That's all I'm saying."

(LAUGHTER)

MEYERS: "If she has an alibi, I would love to hear it."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: That in a nutshell is maybe what the next six months will be about. And it is a unique challenge for the press.

When we come back, more on this relationship between Trump and conspiracy theories. And we're going to ask two of his supporters what the press is still getting wrong about the GOP nominee.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:51:50]

STELTER: Hey. Welcome back.

Before the break, we were talking about conspiracy theories that Trump has brought up during his campaign.

I want to follow up on that and ask what the press is perhaps still missing about the presumptive GOP nominee.

Let me re-bring Kayleigh McEnany, a CNN political commentator. She's in Sacramento today. And here in New York with me, Joseph Borelli, a councilman for the 51st District in New York City and the co-chair of Donald Trump's New York campaign.

Kayleigh, I want to ask you about this week's controversy involving Ted Cruz's father. When something like that happens, when Trump brings it up and creates a news cycle out something that is unproven, does part of you at least wish it didn't happen, wish he wouldn't express those sorts of beliefs on TV or on phone-ins?

MCENANY: We mentioned, why hasn't the media looked into this?

But I agree that you should never cite a story from "The National Enquirer" and it kind of took us off-message. So, I definitely agree with you there. It's probably not a source you want to cite. But he mentioned it in passing.

And instead of focusing on him being the nominee, we talk about this time and time again. So, yes, you probably shouldn't mention it, but that's not the big story. I think the big story is he's about to have more votes than any Republican nominee in presidential history.

STELTER: Joe, what was your reaction to this "Enquirer" thing, though?

I'm of the view that we can't pretend like other media doesn't exist, right? If it's on the front page of "The Enquirer," people are seeing it at a supermarket, I think we have to knock that information down, check it out, see if it's true, and knock it down. Don't you think it hurts his campaign over the long term, though, to espouse conspiracy theories?

JOSEPH BORELLI, CO-CHAIR, DONALD TRUMP NEW YORK CAMPAIGN: Look, I think, like Kayleigh mentioned, I think it does detract from some of the better articles that could have been written about him when he was clinching the nominee.

That said, look, people do sit at the grocery line and they see "The National Enquirer" and it kind of endears him to a lot of people who lead quite regular lives and don't read "National Review," for example.

(CROSSTALK)

BORELLI: Most people read "The National Enquirer" than "National Review."

STELTER: Right.

So, Kayleigh, the way this came up was an interview on FOX News. It was a call-in to "FOX & Friends." Do you think this free media campaign by Trump will continue into the general campaign? Do you have any insight on that?

MCENANY: I don't have any insight from the campaign.

But I will say that him being in the headlines, him being a constant story, it's kind of a double-edged sword, because on the one hand, you have a group who says this has helped him, this is the reason he's the nominee. But on the other hand, this media coverage has been extraordinarily negative. Every week, I look forward to waking up to see what the media was saying now. He was a racist, he was a xenophobe, Islamophobic.

Every week, it was something new. And the voters were able to see through the bias and say, we see this person for who he is, not the caricature the media is trying to make him out to be. So I think the media coverage has been a double-edged sword, but in the end, I think voters were able to see through it and they will continue to.

STELTER: I agree with you. It's important.

We talk about over-coverage or disproportionate coverage of Trump, that some of it has been negative.

Joe, what do you think is still misunderstood by commentators on television or anti-Trump or by journalists who are very skeptical of his campaign? What is still misunderstood about his appeal?

BORELLI: I think people, whether they be in the Beltway or whether they be in sort of just mainstream media, don't really understand that Trump has a better ability, even as someone who is a billionaire, a better ability to bond with regular people than most people of that class.

STELTER: Do you think that come from "The Apprentice"? Where do you think that came from?

BORELLI: I don't know.

I have met him a number of times. And he's always come off as rather normal in person. But take this taco tweet thing. Media was talking about it and went head over heels for almost a couple of days about it.

[11:55:03]

Juxtapose that with Hillary Clinton, who came here to Brooklyn and went to Junior's Cheesecake and absolutely refused to even touch the cheesecake. What do you think voters find more odd?

STELTER: What if he had posted a tweet, though, talking about fried chicken and saying, "I love blacks"?

Don't you think he was setting himself up here for racial debates on cable news by posting that and saying, "I love Hispanics"?

BORELLI: Look, he's not the first candidate to ever eat ethnic food or do something to appeal to a broader array of people.

Ted Cruz was here rolling matzos, eating Dominican food. Look, Donald Trump does it in a way that is probably different from every other candidate. But guess what? It's working. We have seen it time and time again.

He's gotten obviously the most votes in the Republican nomination, but we are going to see him have probably more votes than Hillary Clinton at the end.

STELTER: Joe, Kayleigh, thank you both for being here. Thanks for letting us wrap up this conversation this hour.

MCENANY: Thanks, Brian.

STELTER: We will be right back on RELIABLE SOURCES in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STELTER: Thanks for tuning in today.

Happy Mother's Day to my mom in Maryland and all you moms watching at home.