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EgyptAir Crashed; Sanders Still in the Race; Shocker: Republicans Unite Behind Trump. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired May 21, 2016 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Diane Gallagher, thank you so much.

And that's it for us. We'll see you back here at 10:00.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, "SMERCONISH" starts for you now.


It's happened again. An international flight has been downed. Egyptair 804 crashed on Thursday into the Meditteranean en route from Paris to Cairo, on board 56 passengers, 10 crew and security officers and the world shudders again.

Just before it happened American travelers had been complaining about long security lines at airports. Is this just a necessary reality to keep us safe or is private security the answer?

Meanwhile, true to form, Donald Trump tweeted about the crash almost instantly. When will we get tough, smart and vigilant.

While Hillary took more time. Who looks presidential? And Bernie Sanders resolve to stay in the race fighting both Hillary Clinton and the democratic establishment. Is he hurting the party or doing the right thing?

First back to reality. The crash of Egyptair flight 804 injected a dose of purpose into the presidential campaign. One that has often resembled silly season. News regarding the fate of the 66 on board interrupted a race where the low lights have included debates over hand size and voice analysis of 25-year-old recordings. Suddenly our focus shifted from vote counting in Nevada to how best to react to world crisis.

The responses of the leading candidates provided us a microsome of what separates them. Donald Trump, shot from the hip or as he might say, he told it like it is. Thursday morning he didn't wait for any word from authorities. He said it looked like terror and he renewed his call for strength. Hillary Clinton was much more cautious. She waited until afternoon. Her words to Chris Cuomo were more measured but being deliberative is not necessarily a political virtue in a climate where so many voters are eager to reject the status quo.

As this tragedy gets sorted out, let's hope that Egyptair is a wakeup call for seriousness as we enter the second half of our presidential selection process.

Joining me now is the nation's first secretary of Homeland Security, the former governor of the great state of Pennsylvania, Tom Ridge. You know, governor, that the reaction to circumstances like this have great political consequences. I can remember yourself embroiled in some controversy over threat security levels. What's the appropriate response from someone who seeks to be the president when not all the facts are in?

TOM RIDGE, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Well, first of all I appreciate the opportunity to respond to what I think is a very seminal question. I think we're going to see, have seen and will see in the future similar situations and I think above all the president of the United States has to be - he or she has to be tempered in their remarks, get all the facts before them before they draw any conclusions.

I think the appropriate response at the outset is an expression of concern and sorrow tragedy, a commitment to work with the officials in Egypt and Greece to determine the causation. We can all jump to conclusions but I think those that would lead this country or other countries, I'd be very careful to speculate even though most Americans would probably have drawn the same conclusion but I think you would expect a little bit more from those who would lead the country.

SMERCONISH: Well, we both know who you're talking about. Let me put the tweet back up on the screen. Here's what Trump said soon after the news broke "It looks like yet another terrorist attack. Airplane departed from Paris. When will we get tough, smart and vigilant? Great hate and sickness."

Governor, you'll not be surprised to know that I heard from a lot of radio callers who said, well he was right or at least it appears he was right. Doesn't he get some credit for instinct?

RIDGE: Well, I think his instinct is no different than probably several hundred people around, on the planet, but they're not running for president of the United States. We know that there were two terrorist incidents in France. We know that there was an airliner taken out over the Sinai some time ago. So you could put those together and talk about probability and you can learn a little bit more along the way and reach some kind of intuitive conclusion but that's not based on the facts and I think before leaders speak out they should have all the facts at their hand.

There's no time for a leader to be speculating as to causation, express remorse, sorrow for the victims, pledge your assistance if called upon to do so, pray for the families that have lost loved ones and commit our resources to do whatever we can but really that doesn't help the grief the Egyptians or the families (INAUDIBLE) drawing these conclusions so spontaneously.

I happen to have the same conclusion in my own mind but I'm not running for president of the United States.

SMERCONISH: A few hours after the Trump tweet, Secretary Clinton appeared on CNN with Chris Cuomo. Here's what she had to say.



HILLARY CLINTON, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It does appear that it was an act of terrorism. Exactly how of course the investigation will have to determine, but it - once again, shines a very bright light on the threats that we face from organized terror groups.

ISIS, of course, but then there are other networks of terrorists that have to be hunted down and defeated.


SMERCONISH: Critique what you heard from Secretary Clinton.

RIDGE: Well, I think it's measured and appropriate. Listen, Donald Trump was correct. We have to be smart, we have to be tough. That's true. We haven't been very smart dealing with ISIS. We haven't been very smart dealing with Al Qaeda. We have withdrawn basically from that part of world and (INAUDIBLE) from our withdrawal from Iraq, withdrawal that region and failure to do something with Syria. That has created the vacuum in ISIS and these other terrorist organizations are thriving in it.

I understand where Mr. Trump is coming from but again as you look to lead the free world and that's what we do, the president of the United States leads the free world. People are interested in what he knows, not what he speculates about. So I understand he wants to be tough and smart but I think he needs to moderate his language if he's going to be president.

SMERCONISH: Speaking of moderating language, he then responded to Secretary Clinton and focused on semantics. Here's Donald Trump again.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We had a terrible tragedy and she came up and she said that Donald Trump talked about radical islamic terrorism, which she doesn't want to use, she used a different term. Because she doesn't want to use that term, she refuses to use that term.

A plane got blown out of the sky and if anybody thinks it wasn't blown out of the sky you're 100 percent wrong, folks.


SMERCONISH: Is her ight relative to the word choice?

RIDGE: He's absolutely right. You and I have had this conversation now for several years. I think this administration, including the former secretary of state, if in fact, you believe it was a terrorist event and obviously, Mr. Trump, does, and you believe that, then we know the ideologies based on a radical interpretation of this religion. It's radical Islam, pure and simple.

SMERCONISH: It sounds to me like you're warming to him. I think Governor Ridge, Secretary -

RIDGE: Not a chance.


RIDGE: Don't draw any conclusions. You asked me some straightforward questions. I'm giving you the answers.

SMERCONISH: OK. You've been highly critical of him in the past. You're being somewhat critical of him here. I just wondered if you were part of the whole reproachment movement. Let me ask you an additional question if I might.

RIDGE: By the way, Michael, real quick though, his use of the term of radical Islam if that in fact was the cause of this - and his criticism of Hillary Clinton's failure and President Obama's failure to identify the source of all these problems that the global scourges embedded in radical Islam, that's accurate and a lot of Republicans and Democrats agree.

SMERCONISH: Listen, that's why I like having you here because you don't tether to any particular talking points. One final question. I know you're no longer getting the daily briefings, but you're a street smart guy and you've been there, how worried are you about Americans traveling this summer season?

RIDGE: Well, I think the waiting in line won't be seen as much as an inconvenience as it had been with the notoriety it has gotten over the past couple of days. I think you can anticipate TSA upgrading not only the public measures that they take but also measures with other people getting access to the plane

I think you have to be aware of State Department warnings and the like. But once you start compromising what you do and where you're going for fear of an incident like that, they begin to win. But I do think that if there is warnings available to the public as to where you should travel, and where not to travel, you ought to heed those warnings.

SMERCONISH: Governor Tom Ridge, the nation's first secretary of Homeland Security, thank you, as always.

RIDGE: Michael, nice talking with you.

SMERCONISH: When an event like this occurs in the heat of a political campaign, how a candidate responds can help define their character to voters. Donald Trump as we were just discussing tweeted immediately, presuming terrorism and acting like he could fix it. Hillary Clinton waited until she was briefed and then went on CNN and hedged. She said it seems like it was terrorism, that was the likely cause. What does this mean for election day?

Joining me now CNN's David Axelrod, and the host of "Inside Politics," John King. You know, David, Donald Trump's tweet about the alleged or presumed terror is both what people like and fear about him. They like the fact that he was bold and he says, of course, this is what it is and on the other hand to some to it was intemperant.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I think that the same qualities that have propelled him forward as a candidate is making people pause as they think about him as a potential president because what you don't want to do when you're president is jump to conclusions, point fingers, create panic, perhaps stir reaction.

Presidents have enormous power with their words. The first thing I think that probably would have to be done if Donald Trump became president is someone would have to take his twitter account away because you just can't operate that way as president of the United States.

SMERCONISH: Well, you can't have him in with the codes in one hand and an iPhone in the other. That's for sure, right?


AXELROD: Yes, I've said repeatedly, you know, having spent a couple years sitting next to a president what you learn very quickly is what presidents say and do can send armies marching and markets tumbling and discretion is really an important part of the job and it's a quality that Mr. Trump has yet to display.

SMERCONISH: John, on the other hand, does she appear too cautious, too out of touch with that visceral reaction from Americans in the aftermath of an event like this?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's an interesting question. There is no doubt, zero doubt that Mr. Trump's following has got, Mr. Trump always trying to project strength right away after events like this, helped him in the Republican primaries.

David raises a key point. Trump needs more than Republican votes. He has to grow and as we get closer to November you're not picking a nominee, you're picking a president. Will it be a different scenario?

I thought what was interesting though about the initial reaction you mentioned, Secretary Clinton did say in that CNN interview, she says that she thinks that Donald Trump says a whole lot of reckless things. But she also says that the early indications were or the likelihood that it was terrorism. That at a time, a lot of democrats were saying there goes Trump again, shooting from the hip or shooting from the lip or shooting from this twitter account, he should wait for the information.

She did lean forward and say it likely was terrorism too, so in some ways his toughness may be influencing other politicians as well.

SMERCONISH: Well does he get covered, David, because presumably he was right and his instinct was correct.

AXELROD: Well, he gets covered because he is entertaining. He gets covered because that blunt talk is good TV and makes news, but that doesn't necessarily make it wise in terms of a potential president and I think that's the issue. The issue for Trump is preparedness and temperament. His ability to generate attention is beyond question. He's a past master at it, maybe the best we've seen in many a moon in American politics but I think what's going to happen in this campaign - and he may pass the test at the end. He may develop qualities or show qualities that he hasn't shown to date.

But what people are going to take a good hard look at is at the end of the day, does he have the temperament to be in a job that has such enormous power and hair trigger potential.

SMERCONISH: John King, in 2016, when there are unsettled matters pertaining to national security, does the Republican party necessarily benefit or is that folklore, is that a thing of the past?

KING: It's a fascinating question. You have a two-term president who is wrapping up. To Republican voters, they very much want change. The question is does the rest of the country want change or some continuity. You have an incredibly clear contract here.

Ronald Reagan had no foreign policy experience. Bill Clinton had no foreign policy experience. Senator Obama had very limited foreign policy experience so it's not unusual for Americans to elect a president who doesn't have a deep portfolio in foreign affairs. This is quite a contrast here, Hillary Clinton says my record as first lady, as secretary of state, in the United States senate, being around a president as David just said. Being around two presidents, her husband and President Obama, gives here the experience to this job.

Donald Trump says and Bernie Sanders said some of this in the primaries you don't have to judge. This isn't about experience. What about Benghazi? We don't think that the world is in a better place than when Barack Obama inherited it and you were a part of that. You can sell that to Republican voters but the question for Donald Trump is can he sell it now to independents and some Democrats to win a presidential election but the contrast between the experience level and the tone and the temperament with which they discuss these issues is striking. The American people have a very clear choice.

SMERCONISH: David, react to that same issue. Do unsettled times from a security standpoint necessarily benefit the GOP because they talk tougher in circumstances like this?

AXELROD: Well, I do think that, you know, that that is - that has been the operative theory. I think that this temperament question is very, very important though. You know, the interesting thing about Donald Trump is that he - he preaches this notion of noninterventionism. He thinks we've gotten involved in too many bad situations yet he's completely intemperate to his approach to issues that could bring portend conflict and he does have this sort of muscular image. I'm going to take care of this.

How are you going to take care of it if not through intervention? So he doesn't seem like the world's greatest exponent of diplomacy so it creates a lot of questions that he's going to have to answer between now and November.

One thing I would caution though, Michael, is I think there are going to be many, many stories between now and November that are going to test the candidates in different ways. For Barack Obama, it was the collapse of Lehman Brothers on September 15, 2008. It was kind of a defining event in that campaign.


There will be other kinds of situations that will arise between now and November that will test different aspects of their experience, their profile, their temperament and this one may be in the rear-view mirror by then.

SMERCONISH: You know, John, it's funny that David should say that because I often make this observation to folks, and I say so on the radio, who could have forecast in 2008, the emergence of Reverend Wright or in 2012 that there would be the comment about Mitt Romney heard on tape talking about the 47 percent or in this cycle there would be the debate about the size of a candidate's hands. Or that a week ago, we'd be talking about whether we can authenticate a tape, perhaps Donald Trump from 25 years ago. To David's point, the next several months we have no idea what they bring.

KING: We do have no idea what they bring. We know the calendar. We know there will be debates. We know when the election is. But the thing you learn, this is my eighth presidential election. David's been through quite a few of them, Michael, you have as well.

In every presidential election, even when you have established politicians, in this case, we have somebody new to politics. He's an established public figure, Donald Trump. He's an established in the business community. He's established as a celebrity but even when you have established politicians, they always think, well, I've been a governor for two terms, when I was in the United States senate, I've been around for 25 years. There's nothing new to be learned about me.

Every cycle we learn something new and often we learn it late. The scrubbing continues, the vetting continues, the looking continues, technology has made some of this easier as we now find new things that we're missing before. Trust me, we will learn new things about Hillary Clinton, new things about Donald Trump and new things just about the environment in this country between now and November, without a doubt.

SMERCONISH: John King, David Axelrod, thank you so much, but don't leave because I want to talk to each of you about commencement season later in the program.

Coming up, Bernie Sanders staying in the race. Is he advancing his core issues or damaging his party?


[09:20:50] SMERCONISH: By staying in the race, is Bernie Sanders hurting the democrats or is he just seeing the democratic process to its conclusion?

Joining me now, Sanders' supporter and delegate Angie Moreli from Nevada where things got a little heated last week and Thomas Frank, you'll remember he wrote "What's the Matter with Kansas," his latest book, "Listen, Liberal Whatever Happened to the Party?"

Thomas, let me begin with you. I know you saw this "Washington Post" editorial at the end of the week. I'm going to put it up on the screen. It said this. "Mr. Sanders denies reality when he tells supporters he still has a plausible pathway to the democratic presidential nomination, but passion cannot trump reality. It also cannot excuse violence, threats and attempts at mob rule, it is past time for Sanders to be honest with his supporters before they take the campaigns irresponsible ethos to greater extremes and thereby help ensure the election of Donald Trump." Your response, Thomas Frank, is what?

THOMAS FRANK, AUTHOR, "LISTEN LIBERAL": That's an editorial, right? It's not one of their news stories. They're well known for that.

SMERCONISH: Lead editorial, I think it was Thursday.

FRANK: Yes, well, look, it's just they're trying to get him to drop out of the race by some other means, but look, the rules of the game are until somebody wins, it's still going on. We're still having a robust competition of ideas and people are forever coming up with these ways of saying, I'm trying to win the debate by some other means, by disqualifying one of the two candidates.

Look, it's a good robust debate. Let's have the debate and let the elections happen.

SMERCONISH: But Hillary Clinton said to our Chris Cuomo this week, look, I have three million more votes than him. I'm going to secure based on pledge delegates alone, the nomination. Isn't there a point to what she said and what the "Post" said that he doesn't have a plausible path?

FRANK: But she hasn't done that yet. The game goes on until one side or the other wins.

SMERCONISH: But what is it that you think is going to happen between now and I guess, it's the District of Columbia on June 14th?

FRANK: Look, my own feeling is of course she's going to win. There's no doubt in my mind that she's going to win, but it's - like I said, there's this robust debate going on, you know, and why interrupt it? It's good for democracy. This is how the game is supposed to be played.

SMERCONISH: You know that I read and enjoyed your most recent book, "Listen Liberal." I'll give it another plug. In the book you argue that democratic leadership hasn't been liberal enough. In fact, you go after Bill Clinton in a pretty big way. Aren't you concerned that by Bernie staying in and beating up on Hillary, you're helping elect Donald Trump and I know you're not comfortable with that.

FRANK: I'm helping elect Donald Trump? Look, I'm not going to vote for Donald Trump. The - you know, no, I'm not - I'm actually not concerned about that. I think that Bernie, I think that what he's doing so far is healthy for the process. He's bringing in all sorts of new voters, as I said, bringing in all sorts of new ideas.

Look, the mainstream of the democratic party needs a challenge. This is how democracy works. This is what makes it healthy. You know, having this robust conversation of ideas and just trying to constantly shut one side or the other down, that's not healthy or good for the system.

SMERCONISH: I'm just playing devil's advocate with you. I mean who would have thought that we'd be in a position where there would be an unsettled situation on the democratic side of the aisle and that the Rs would be coalescing around Donald Trump and headed for seemingly a smoother convention.

FRANK: I know, and this is ultimately the point is it's up to Hillary to win this election. She needs to get out there and win in this competition of ideas. She needs to win that competition of ideas. That's the only answer.

SMERCONISH: But is it also incumbent on Bernie, at some point, to see the handwriting on the wall and to try and marshall the troops on his side of the aisle?

FRANK: Yes, he should do that once she has clinched the nomination and I fully expect that he will.

SMERCONISH: Thomas Frank, thank you as always.

FRANK: Sure thing.


SMERCONISH: Now to a Sanders' supporter and delegate from the great state of Nevada, Angie Moreli. Angie, we've all seen the film footage. Is what happened in Nevada a sign of what's to come to my hometown of Philadelphia when Philadelphia hosts the DNC?

ANGIE MORELLI, SANDRS NEVADA DELEGATE: Well, I think that we've all seen some footage. I don't think that things that created some of the chaos on Saturday has - have all been shown, but I think that we are prepared to see this through in the democratic way such as Tom was just suggesting.

We need to make sure that we're having this conversation all the way throughout because I think that the media and everyone has been saying that this has been in the bag for Hillary Clinton since super Tuesday when the contest was first starting off and we have this process for a reason. You need to see it all the way through. SMERCONISH: If Bernie Sanders were tomorrow to stand up and say, you know, that "Washington Post" editorial is right, I don't have a plausible path, I guess we've reached the moment when we all need to embrace Hillary Clinton, Angie Morelli, you ready to do so?

MORELLI: Well, I don't think that for a second he would do that first of all.

SMERCONISH: Well, what if he does?

MORELLI: Second of all - I don't think that he would do that. That's not something that he's been campaigning on this entire time. He's been campaigning on the fact that we have a rigged political system at this point and this there's a lot of smart people that are involved that could be standing up and making the decision to make this is a more transparent conclusion.

SMERCONISH: I guess what I'm trying to get at, because I have this genuine a doubt in mind as to whether this Sanders' constituency of which you're a very vocal part, whether you're ready to follow his lead. I don't know that you're going to take direction from him if and when that time comes.

MORELLI: I think that we will see what Berrnie Sanders has to say, but I think that - us sitting here having conversations about what could possibly happen in the future especially when those are very unlikely is ignoring the fact that we had a very contentious situation on Saturday.

There are some real problems that came out of that to be addressing on a national level. We have a very -- we have a very divided party and I think that's not going to get solved until we start actually looking at reasons why it's divided.

SMERCONISH: Would Elizabeth Warren on a ticket with Hillary Clinton appease your concerns?

MORELLI: I think again - let's talk about what actually happened. I mean, I think that if Elizabeth Warren came out and she made some comments there would probably be a lot less incendiary than the comments that have come out, you know, from different other people that have been involved in this political process.

But I think that Elizabeth Warren coming on a ticket is ignoring exactly what the problem is. That's a flashy way of saying hey, here's that carrot let's give this to you so that we can try and make everybody happy when it's said - the real concern is that we are not having our voices heard, that we've got draconian rules that are governing our local elections and our national elections and I think that those are the things that we need to be addressing instead of just here's a quick fix for the reason why everybody is so upset right now.

SMERCONISH: There was a statement that was put out by the Sanders campaign this week that you're reminding me of. And it said "in the past three weeks, voters in Indiana, West Virginia and Oregon, respectfully disagreed with Secretary Clinton, we expect voters in the remaining nine contests, also will disagree and with almost every national and state polls showing Senator Sanders doing much better than Secretary Clinton against Donald Trump" - here's the key part, "it is clear that millions of Americans have growing doubts about the Clinton campaign."

When I read it I said that doesn't sound like a campaign that is ready to go quietly into that night and you are a supporter of that campaign. It doesn't seem like you're ready to fold the tent yet either. You get the final word.

MORELLI: Yes, absolutely not. This is not just about Bernie Sanders. This is about a political revolution. This is about getting people involved and allowing them to say exactly what they feel and I think that anybody who thinks that this is going to be over after the national election or after the national thing in Philadelphia, they're wrong. Yes, the convention. This is not something that's going to go away. People are upset and people want to get involved and Bernie Sanders has inspired us all to get involved and make sure that our voices are going to be heard and that we stop being given the wholly unpopular candidates.

SMERCONISH: Angie Morelli, thank you so much.

MORELLI: Of course. Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Heading to the conventions, which I was just referencing, who would have thought that it would be the democrats who are splintered and angry while the Republicans are holding hands to support Donald Trump? I will talk to the RNC's Sean Spicer, next.


[09:33:41] SMERCONISH: For months, the GOP seemed hell-bent on tearing itself apart. Leaders refused to condone the candidacy of Donald Trump. Meanwhile, everybody expected Hillary Clinton to have her nomination wrapped up by now.

But now, there's been a huge reversal of fortune. Clinton still out there fighting with Bernie Sanders. Trump cruising into the convention with the backing of most of the GOP establishment.

You know, usually, I have to pester Sean Spicer, the RNC chief strategist and communications director, to come on the program. This week he reached out for me. I think he's here too a victory dance.

Hello, Sean.


SMERCONISH: A little premature to be doing a victory dance, isn't it? I know you're feeling good.

SPICER: Look, I'm not doing any victory dance by any means. I think we've had a good week. We've talked for a long time here at the RNC about the fact that we went through a rather contentious primary and it would take a little while for the party to come together, unify and pivot. I think we've done that quicker that anybody anticipated.

And you're right in your intro, that it's the Democratic Party that frankly is looking highly undemocratic. You're seeing chairs being thrown in the Nevada caucuses, you're seeing the two sides talking about the concessions that they might have to offer to get Bernie Sanders to at least even talk about being on the team again.

[09:35:01] You're seeing someone like Governor Ed Rendell talk about the fact that the majority of women in America are ugly. I mean, I think this is like the - I think the Democratic Party has probably had one of the worst weeks it's ever had.

SMERCONISH: Wait a minute. He said something bone-headed if which he apologized, but he was actually explaining a comment by your standard bearer who said that you can't be a ten if you're flat-chested. I mean, do you want to hang your hat on that?

SPICER: Here's the funny -- look, no, no, I think the funny thing is whatever anyone and I mean anyone who has an "R" next to their name, the RNC gets a phone call asking us to explain or repudiate Little Johnny at St. Thomas Middle School because he said something.

When Ed Rendell, the chairman of the Democratic Convention, the former governor, former DNC chair and top surrogate, says the majority of women in America are ugly, and Hillary Clinton refuses to comment on it, the Democratic chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz refuses to comment on it, and yet time and time again, Donald Trump says, you know, every tweet that he sends out, every Republican is asked to comment on, I think there there's clearly a double standard.

And so, I do think it's unbelievable that he turns around add and says, yes, it's a bone headed thing and the rest of the media says let's move on --


SMERCONISH: Listen, I can tell you, I talked about it extensively, and the reason it stands out is that that was a Dave Weigel a piece in "The Washington Post" with a dateline of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, which is in a town in which I was born and raised. But, Sean, you have to acknowledge that was what began that conversation is that Donald Trump said no woman who's flat-chested can be a ten. I mean, come on, you really want to have this conversation, you're celebrating this week.

SPICER: But, again, here's the point is that you will talk -- and I don't mean to pick because you have been very balanced and fair, throughout your coverage throughout this cycle, but I'm saying the rest of the media, every comment that Donald Trump or frankly any Republican makes that's outside what is considered the bounds of mainstream discussion, we get a phone call asking us to denounce and explain.

Ed Rendell makes a bone-headed statement and no one called him to pick up the phone to call the DNC to ask them to repudiate. There is an amazing double standard that comes to when comments are made on the left.

No one at MSNBC, no one at "The Washington Post", they don't call the DNC and ask for comment because they excuse it and say, "Oh, well, he didn't mean it." But when Republicans do it, it's quite a different story.

You're seeing a week of the DNC getting trash. You're seeing Van Jones on CNN talking about he'd rather have Reince Priebus as his chairman. This has been a very, very bad week for the DNC, for the Democratic process, for the entire candidate battle.

SMERCONISH: All right.

SPICER: Between Hillary and Bernie, they've had a very, very bad week.

SMERCONISH: I've had my eye on something I want to point out to Sean Spicer. That is the emergence of this libertarian ticket which will apparently consist of two Republicans, or former Republicans, Gary Johnson, governor of New Mexico, and Bill Weld from Massachusetts.

Are you concerned? There's a Fox poll that shows that Johnson, there he is, in double digits at 10 percent. Are you worried that two Republicans banding together now as libertarians could eat into Donald Trump's vote?

SPICER: No. I'll tell you why because story has popped up over and over again, and it's never -- if you look back to the course of history, it's never panned out. I think I am much more concerned right now, we're talking about Democrat, I'm much more concerned when you look at the poll numbers at the number of people that are Bernie supporters who say they will never vote for Hillary number. But number two, one in ten is actually saying they're going to vote for Trump.

I think that the Democrats have a bigger issue than we are, and I appreciate the media's incessant concern about the state of the Republican Party. But the fact of the matter was the foretelling of the concerns that are going to go in Philadelphia. The Democratic Party is fractured, very fractured when it comes to where Hillary Clinton is and the far left extreme, socialist, communist kind of wing that Bernie Sanders represents. It is going to be very hard for them to get back together.


SMERCONISH: I will give you this. I will give you this. If you --

SPICER: -- another faux fight on the right.

SMERCONISH: I will give you this, if you said to me at the end of May, going into Memorial Day weekend, one of the parties is going to have a contest and the other looks relatively smooth going into the convention, I'd reverse the two, no doubt about it. Sean Spicer, thank you. Call me any time.

SPICER: Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Still to come, it's graduation season. I've got something in common with two of my CNN favorite cohorts, David Axelrod and John King. We all are giving commencement speeches to millennials. So, what did we each say to them and what did the experience teach us.


[09:43:46] SMERCONISH: Hey, it's graduation season and seniors around the country are celebrating around the country are celebrating with caps and gowns and commencement speeches. I'm delivering one of my own this weekend to the graduating class of Widener University in Chester, Pennsylvania. It's a big honor and a big responsibility.

Think about it. What the most crucial piece of advice that you can give a new grad about to tackle the world on their own? It's a challenge both of my guests have faced.

CNN's John King, the host of "INSIDE POLITICS" gave a commencement address at American University earlier this month. David Axelrod spoke at Ronald Reagan's alma mater, Eureka College in Illinois.

David, do you think that they felt a need to offset, you know, it being Reagan's place by bringing you in?

DAVID AXELROD, FORMER OBAMA SENIOR ADVISER: I think they wanted to see what a guy of my particular they brought me in so everybody -- no, you know, they -- I think I was invited there because I run the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago now and I'm very committed to the goal of inspiring or trying to inspire young people to consider lives in the public sector and public's sphere.

And that's why I wanted to be there because this is where Ronald Reagan's journey began in many ways, and it was a very great experience.

[09:45:01] SMERCONISH: Hey, guys. The three of us do a lot of public speaking. I don't know about the two of you, but for me, this was an awesome responsibility. In other words, I had to spend a lot of time. You might not know it from having heard my speech, but I put John King, a lot of time into my remarks. What was your approach?

JOHN KING, CNN HOST, "INSIDE POLITICS": I spent a lot of time asking what do you want to say? What do you want to live? Do you want to be an optimist or do you also want to be a realist, that it's tough out there, it's hard. But you also just -- you know, what I get -- I get more than I give from these speeches, Michael, in the sense that these kids are so full of idealism. They're changing American politics.

A lot of them are very idealists, yet, they're skeptical of government. So, they're looking for new ways through community service, like David is talking about at the institute of politics -- new ways to serve, not necessarily in public office but in nonprofits, as volunteers. And so, you have these great optimistic talents in front of you, and you're just trying to give them a little bit of advice and hopefully make them laugh once or twice.

SMERCONISH: Here is John King at American University.


KING: And I'm being brutally honest when I tell you, I don't think I have any great secrets or any unique insights. You heard mine before. Don't just work hard. Work harder and work smarter. Respect others. Get up when you fall and when you fail. And trust me, you will fall and you will fail.


SMERCONISH: Hey, John. You're looking pretty handsome in all that garb if I might say.

KING: They know how to do it at A.U. They give you a very nice robe there. I'm Dr. King now, I guess.

Look, my speech was a lot more optimistic than that. But I do want to say, as somebody -- I have a blessed life. I grew up in family of seven kids. We didn't have a lot of money growing up. I now travel because of my work at "Associated Press" here at CNN, all around the world, 50 states, to more than 80 countries around the world. So it's a blessing. It's a blessing.

I get paid to learn is the way I describe it to these kids now. But you always tell them, guess what? You're going to screw something up, you're going to make a mistake, you're going to make a bad choice in life and in your career. You can turn and run from that, you can dwell and mope in it, or you can get up and learn the lesson and move on.

And that is one important, especially the younger generations now, the world is so complicated. It's so loud.

The other piece of advice, find quiet time to think because you're always connected to devices, you're always doing these thing. My main point is be an optimist. If you make a mistake, learn from it but go forward.

SMERCONISH: Well, I loved your speech. I also loved Ax's speech. I think Fabs may have dropped in a line for him. Let's take a look at David Axelrod at Eureka.


AXELROD: Embrace the glorious fact that as you march out of here today and into the future, you're as mobile and as unfettered and free as you'll ever be to try things out to find your passion to share -- to chase your drains.

Don't get so swept up in your trajectory that you break free from your anchors. Don't focus so heavily on making a living that you forget to make a life.


SMERCONISH: David, I love that. Don't focus so heavily on making a living that you forget to make a life.

See, I work at it, I couldn't come up with something that memorable.

AXELROD: Well, you know, I was really drawing on my own life experience because I was driven as a young man and as a young father. I was busily building my business. And looking back, I think one of the things I would like to do better is recognize earlier what the anchors in my life -- in my life were.

I think these kids feel so much pressure to excel, to achieve and they forget or they're not told what the most important thing is, which is family, which is friends, which are those things that you can count on, whether as John says you succeed or you fail, and I really wanted to impart that as part of my message.

SMERCONISH: Well, guys, here's what I'm saying at Widener University this weekend.

My climb has taught me that in order to succeed, you must first ask for the order. You'll need to request the meeting, be prepared to introduce yourself, write the e-mail. Better yet, sign the letter. Make the phone call. Show up where you're not invited.

Find a mentor. People like to be asked for assistance.

My key line: your level of success in life will be determined by your unwillingness to accept rejection and failure.

Well, happy birthday graduation to everybody. John King, David Axelrod, loved your addresses and I really appreciate your being here.

KING: Thank you, Michael.

AXELROD: Thanks, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Thanks, guys.

Coming up, a huge important story that almost everybody has forgotten about.


[09:53:48] SMERCONISH: Finally, was it all about catfishing? By now, you know that "Rolling Stone" magazine published a huge story in 2014 under the title "A Rape on Campus."

It told a story of a woman they gave the name Jackie allegedly gang- raped by seven men in a fraternity. The university, the fraternity, its members, they were all dragged through the mud, but the story was bogus and later retracted. And a review by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism found that the "Rolling Stone" reporter never interviewed the alleged perpetrator or the friends of the alleged victim.

Then, the media moved on, before we learned the origin of falsehood. Well, T. Reese Shapiro at "The Washington Post" is an exception. This week, he explained what has come out in court documents from the pending civil suit against "Rolling Stone." And here's the story those documents tell.

Jackie, a freshman, had a romantic interest in another student, Ryan, only Ryan wasn't interested. In an effort to attract Ryan, Jackie made up a name, Haven Monahan. Got a Yahoo account in Haven's name and had Haven communicate with Ryan. It's all a ruse.

Haven told Ryan that Jackie had a crush on him.

[09:55:01] Apparently, when that didn't work, she took it up a couple of notches. Jackie claimed that Haven assaulted her after a dinner date and word of her account then spread. And she circulated a photograph that she said was of Haven, only it was someone with whom she went to high school.

Jackie never went to the police. So, she faces no charges for her false account. A UVA assistant dean is seeking $7.5 million from "Rolling Stone," for what her lawyers say was a false portrayal of her as indifferent to Jackie's alleged assault.

So, what did this unrequited schoolgirl crush cause? A terrible fallout for the fraternity, the university, the magazine, and making life harder for real rape victims. And yet nothing happens to Jackie. That's not right.

I'll see you next week.