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SMERCONISH

"Bayonne Bleeder" on Muhammad Ali; Trump Under Media Microscope; Trump and Role of Conservative Talk Radio; Did Clinton's Trump Attack Work? Aired 9-10a ET

Aired June 4, 2016 - 09:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: I'm Michael Smerconish.

The greatest is gone. Muhammad Ali, boxing legend, civil rights activist died last night at the age of 74. For decades, Ali was perhaps the most famous man on the planet. His journey also amazing.

Also on today's program, finally it's the end of primary season. Virgin Islands today, Puerto Rico tomorrow. Then the final big states this Tuesday including California and New Jersey and the presidential campaign is becoming more of a brutal battleground than ever.

More violence outside a Donald Trump rally this time in San Jose. Reports say the protesters started it. Others say Trump created the climate. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton's gloves are off as she uses Trump's own words to portray him as unfit to serve, but did she get the best of him or only engage him where he thrives, in a street fight?

And Trump's relationship with the press goes from dismissive to contentious to hostile and the feeling seems mutual, but after decades of bashing by talk radio, does the main stream media have any credibility remaining?

And finally Bernie Sanders makes a last play for California. Can he prevent Hillary Clinton from locking up the nomination?

But first, he called himself the greatest and with good reason. As Cassius Clay he won the Olympic Gold medal, Golden Gloves title and then was crowned heavyweight champion of the world in 1964 and then as Muhammad Ali he became the world's most famous conscientious, objector to the Vietnam War and was stripped of his title and banned from the sport. Wolf Blitzer has more on this incredible story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MUHAMMAD ALI: I shook out the world.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Shook it up like no athlete before or since. Born Cassius Marcelus Clay, Jr. in 1942, Muhammad Ali first put on a pair of boxing gloves at age 12 and six years later burst on to the scene as a brash, but incredibly talented champion at the 1960 Olympics. His star and voice rising as he turned pro, Ali stepped up against Sonny Liston for the heavyweight title four years later.

ALI: It's going to take a big man to whoop me. You look at me, I'm loaded with confidence.

BLITZER: When Liston could not answer the bell through round 7, Cassius Clay had arrived.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come here.

ALI: I'm the greatest thing that ever lived.

BLITZER: But almost as quickly as he had arrived Cassius Clay was gone. After joining the nation of Islam in 1964, Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali. He criticized U.S. involvement in the Vietnam war and refused induction in the Army as a Muslim and as a conscientious objector. The year was 1967.

Ali was sentenced to five years in prison which he never served and was stripped of his heavyweight championship and suspended from boxing for three years. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed his conviction in 1971. Ali's undefeated record as a professional came to an end in '71 when he lost to Joe Frazier in 15 rounds. It was the first of three fights with Smoking Joe, culminating the famous "Thiller in Manila," which Ali won by a technical knockout after the 14th round.

After two decades of redefining the heavyweight division Ali retired with a ring record of 56 victories and just five defeats. In 1984 he was diagnosed as suffering from Parkinson's syndrome but while over time Ali's voice was quieted, his spirit was not. He provided one of the emotional high points at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta when with trembling hands he lit the Olympic cauldron.

In 2005 Ali joined the distinguish company of people like former President Jimmy Carter and Pope John Paul II as the winner of the presidential medal of freedom, the country's highest civilian award. Muhammad Ali, one of the most charismatic figures in sports history and he knew it.

ALI: I am the greatest.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SMERCONISH: You know as a Philly guy, the first thing that sprang into my mind on hearing of Ali's passing was not the Frazier or Foreman fights, it was Chuck Wepner, the Bayonne bleeder because it was Ali's gruelling 15 round fight with Wepner on March 24, 1975 that inspired Sylvester Stallone to bang out the script for "Rocky."

[09:05:02]

In 61 career fights, Ali was only knocked down four times and only once while reigning champ and that was by Chuck Wepner and the only time that Wepner was off his feet was when Ali sent him to the canvas in the 15th round. A movie about Wepner, the bleeder, starring Live Shrriber and Naomi Watts is going to be released later this year. Chuck Wepner joins me now from where else, Bayonne, New Jersey.

Mr. Wepner, what was it like to climb into the ring with Muhammad Ali?

CHUCK WEPNER, FORMER HEAVYWEIGHT BOXING CHAMPION: It was great. You know, I was ready, I was excited and it was the greatest night of my life. And I was ready for Ali. I just wasn't ready for how great he was. You know, I could have fought anybody that night and probably beat them because I trained full-time. The only time in my career of 20 years I went away to camp at all. So by the time the bell rang that night I was ready for Ali. It's just that he was so great. He was in great shape as I was in and I wasn't good enough.

SMERCONISH: I mean you are the orginial, you are the real Rocky Balboa. He gave you a shot at that title. How did that make you feel?

WEPNER: It made me feel great. But you know, I earned it too. I was ranked eighth in the world and he'd beaten just about everybody in the top 10 and to be honest with you, they were looking for a white heavyweight contender to fight Ali. And I was the only one left. He had already beaten (inaudible) and I was ranked eighth in the world, like I said before and (inaudible) I earned my shot and he gave it to me which I I'll forever be happy with.

SMERCONISH: You referenced being a white fighter. What was the hype like for that fight? Because I know that there was some aspects of it that made you uncomfortable and others that you engaged in. Talk to me about that.

WEPNER: Well, you know, I was a white contender and he tried to make it into a racial bout. He tried to get me to use the n word and hype up the fight and I wouldn't do that and years later he told the press how much he respected me because I wouldn't be taken in with that kind of a ruse and I wouldn't use the n word and as a matter of fact, they even made big buttons for the fight, give the white guy a break.

And you know, it was - he promoted the fight magnificently and Don King made a lot of money with that fight. We caught the interest of the public and I put up a very good fight going 15 rounds.

SMERCONISH: Hey Chuck, what was the most feared weapon that he had in his arsenal?

WEPNER: I would have to say his jab and hook. His jab and hook, very hard to escape his jab, two and three in a row. The 9th round when I dropped before that my manager said to me, his jab is falling down and he's getting lazy with it and the next time he throws it, it slip under his body and that's just what I hit him with, a right hand under the heart. I caught him, he was off balance. It was a great punch but he was off balance and I dropped him and that was a knock down.

SMERCONISH: When you were knocked down and I mentioned at the outset it was the only time that someone had sent Chuck Wepner, the "Bayonne Bleeder" to the canvas, what kind of a punch was it that Ali hit you with? WEPNER: Well, it was the 13th round. I was pretty exhausted. I mean, that's an hour in the ring chasing Ali. It was a tough fight and my legs felt a little weak and he caught me with a punch, he hit me off the left shoulder and caught me in the side of the head, the left shoulder and the side of the head and I went down. I knew where I was. I heard the count. I got up at eight and the referee asked me if I was all right and I said yes and then he waives off the fight. He said I looked like I was groggy and that's what happened.

SMERCONISH: I'm so grateful to have you to be able to share the unique perspective of fighting Muhammad Ali, but talk to me now about the man, because I know that you have immense respect for Muhammad Ali, the legend.

WEPNER: Tremendous respect. You know, I got to know him personally. He became a personal friend of mine and we actually toured after that fight for almost a month. I played Mr. Tooth decay fighting Ali and I would knock him down and they would brush his teeth and they would come back to life and they were trying to get the kids of Washington, D.C. to brush their teeth more and I got to know him personally and I - through the years including his birthday party about three years ago, 70th birthday party, myself, Foreman, Norton, Spinks, a bunch of guys went out to Las Vegas. They brought us out there and they had us share his birthday party with him.

[09:10:00]

Bob Arum of Top Rank paid for everything, brought us all out there. Bob is a great promoter and a great man and he treated us very well that night. Three days we spent with him and we had a terrific time.

SMERCONISH: Hey, tell me before you leave me the negligee story.

WEPNER: Well, the night before the title fight, (inaudible) very confident that I was going to win especially this time I was in great shape. I went out and bought my wife a color blue negligee and I gave it to her and I said wear this to bed tonight when you sleep with me because you'll be sleeping with the heavyweight champion of the world.

Anyway, the fight was over, I come back to the hotel room, I walked in it. She's sitting on the edge of the bed in the negligee. She says to me "am I going to Ali's room or is he coming to mine?"

She had a real dry wit and you know, that story goes a long way because it's true, you know, and my wife then was a good sport and she is now (inaudible).

SMERCONISH: It's a great story from the "Bayonne bleeder." I wish good things for Chuck Wepner.

WEPNER: Thank you so much and thank you for calling me. I appreciate it.

SMERCONISH: Appreciate you being here too to mourn the loss of your friend and former opponent. Everybody, tweet me your thoughts @smerconish. Still to come, more on the death of legend Muhammad Ali at the age of 74 and attacking the federal judge in a class action fraud case against Trump University, saying the judge is biased because of his Mexican heritage.

Mr. Trump might be picking on the wrong guy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:15:45]

SMERCONISH: This lead headline in today's "New York Times," it sums it up. It says Trump declarations seen as threat to rule of law. This week Donald Trump went after the federal judge who's overseeing two class action lawsuits now pending against Trump University.

His attack on Judge Gonzalo Curio sent shock waves through legal circles. He claimed that the judge was a hater appointed by President Obama who he believed was in fact Mexican. The judge is an American, born in east Chicago, Indiana and he's a former federal prosecutor who was once targeted by Mexican drug cartels. Trump nevertheless defended himself to Jake Tapper.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have had ruling after ruling after ruling that's been bad rulings. OK. I've been treated very unfairly. Before him we had another judge. If that judge was still there this would have been over two years ago. Let me just say I've had horrible (inaudible), I've been treated very unfairly by this judge.

Now, this judge is of Mexican heritage. I'm building a wall. OK? I'm building a wall. I am going to do very well with the Hispanics, the Mexicans.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: So no Mexican judge could be a judge could ever be involved in a case that involves you?

TRUMP: He's a member of a society very pro Mexico and that's fine. It's all fine.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: He should recuse himself.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SMERCONISH: Thus far Trump's lawyers have not filed a recusal motion to remove the judge. Joining me now, legal expert and author of the brand new book "Louis Brandis, American profit" is Jeffrey Rosen who is the president and CEO of the National Constitution Center.

Jeffrey, I'm concerned that people in a political context might think, well, this is par for the course. Help me explain how unusual this is. JEFFREY ROSEN, PRESIDENT AND CEO, NATIONAL CONSTITUTION CENTER: That

"New York Times" piece this morning that you talked about explains it very well. And it's very unusual for a litigant to attack a judge, but what's more unusual is that Donald Trump said "if I become president we might have a civil suit against this judge, OK?" That would be very unusual.

And as David Pose said (inaudible) piece, it's fine for a president to attack individual cases, to criticize constitutional rulings, but to suggest that he would not obey the rule of law and actually attempt to overturn it might violate the president's constitutional duty to take care that the laws are faithfully executed. So it is extremely unusual to suggest that Donald Trump would not abide by the ruling on this case.

SMERCONISH: Can we also underscore that there is a process, where in fact there is evidence of bias on the part of a member of the bench where you file a motion for recusal, and his attorneys haven't done that.

ROSEN: Absolutely right. And of course, the notion as Jake Tapper was getting at, that a judge would be biased merely because of his heritage would be unlikely to persuade any reviewing body. So it's an extremely - he's really going out on a limb here.

SMERCONISH: Take a look at Donald Trump at a rally this week speaking on this issue. Roll it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I have a judge who is a hater of Donald Trump, a hater, he's a hater. His name is Gonzalo Curio. The judge who happens to be, we believe is Mexican, which is great. I think that's fine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: You've just written this book on Justice Brandeis. Justice Brandeis was a victim of anti-semitism. Let's carry to its logical conclusion where Trump's logic if I can use that word takes us. It would mean that an African-American couldn't preside in a case concerning discrimination or that I as a litigant maybe in a divorce or child custody case could say well remove her, because she's a female, she'll be biased against me. I mean that's the danger here, right?

ROSEN: You know, that's an amazing analogy. Justice Brandeis was confirmed 100 years ago, on June 1, 1916. In his confirmation hearings there were elements of anti-semitism, people accused him of Old Testament cruelty, and suggested that he was being unscrupulous. But even then no one suggested that because he was Jewish he couldn't rule on cases involving Jews.

On the contrary, they're suggesting that Wilson had a point in him because it might appeal to the Jewish vote as an extremely sweeping and unusual claim that if you are a member of a particular race or ethnicity, you're biased by definition and that could very well have sweeping consequences.

SMERCONISH: And finally, I as an attorney, if I were representing Donald Trump, could not make extra judicial statements like he's just gotten away with, because I'd run afoul of the code of conduct and yet he as a litiganet, presumably has the first amendment right. You get the quick final word.

[09:20:10]

ROSEN: First amendment right although he said he wants to open up the libel laws and make it easier for politicians to sue those who criticize them. Justice Brandeis would have been troubled. He was the greatest champion of free expression and privacy as well as the greatest critic of bigness in business and government since Thomas Jefferson. It's a great time to honor his legacy. He reconciled populism with constitutionalism. Trump right now is being criticized for embracing a kind of populism that threatens the constitution.

SMERCONISH: Jeffrey Rosen, thank you for being here. Good luck with the book.

ROSEN: Thank you so much, Michael.

SMERCONISH: More of CNN's continuing coverage of the life of boxing great Muhammad Ali who died last night at the age of 74.

And this. The media is asking some tough questions of Donald Trump. Instead of answering Trump is calling them names. Is this disregard working thanks to the undermining influence of conservative talk radio?

And what a whacky moment this was yesterday. Check out Donald Trump's handling of someone in the crowd.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Look at my African American over here. Look at him. Are you the greatest? You know what I'm talking about? OK.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:25:40]

SMERCONISH: We're remembering Muhammad Ali today. He called himself the greatest and not many would disagree. That's Ali lighting the torch at the opening ceremonies to the 1996 summer Olympics in Atlanta, a very emotional moment. Ali passed last night in Phoenix. He was 74 years old.

Now with securing the GOP nomination comes increased scrutiny the media has buckled down to do its job asking Donald Trump to clarify policy, pointing out inconsistencies and falsehoods and probing problematic statements and actions and he's not taking it well.

Trump has been name calling and avoiding answers. As the "Washington Post" Paul Waldman just wrote, "the media have reached a turning point in covering Donald Trump and he may not survive it." A key milestone was another "Washington Post" story by one of my next guests.

Four months after Trump claimed to raise $6 million for military charities including a million of his own dollars, David Fahrenthold asked Trump to show us the money and Trump took umbrage.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I think the political press is among the most dishonest people that I've ever met. On behalf of the vets the press should be shamed of themselves. I have never received such bad publicity for doing such a job.

What I don't want is when I raise millions of dollars have people say, like this sleazy guy over here from ABC, he's a sleaze in my book. You're a sleaze because you know the facts and you know the facts well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: David Fahrenthold joins me now along with Seth Stevenson of slate.com who spent time on the road covering the Trump campaign. In fact, Seth wrote the definitive piece about what it's like to cover a candidate who hates you "A Week on the Trail with "Disgusting Reporters" covering Donald Trump" is the title of the piece.

David, a quick recap here. Four months ago he said "I raised six million, a million of my own money as well." You wanted to know what happened to all that money and he took umbrage. Is that basically it?

DAVID FAHRENTHOLD, REPORTER, "WASHINGTON POST": That's right.

We started asking questions about where - whether he'd given away the million dollars of his own or whether he'd given away most of the money that people had entrusted to him to give away. There was a lot of stone walling and then we were actually given a completely inaccurate account by Trump's campaign that said he's already given the money away when he hadn't. And then finally Trump under pressure gave the million dollars away in one swoop in the middle of the night to a charity he already knew. That is all what happened before we got to this press conference on Tuesday.

SMERCONISH: Does the excuse on his part that he was vetting those charities hold water?

FAHRENTHOLD: Well, I'll tell you a couple of things. One, the charity that he gave the million dollars to, that was his excuse to me, I needed four months to vet them. It turns out that charity, Trump had donated to them in the past and they had given Donald Trump a leadership award last year in a black tie gala at the Waldorf Astoria. So he knew these people and if he didn't (inaudible) a chance to ask him at the black tie gala. Some of the other money that he gave away, other people's money that he gave away on Tuesday, one of the groups he gave to has an F rating from charity watch, its sort of deceptive fund raising practices. If you just google that, if you just google this group's name before Trump gave them the money, you'd see of the four search results that come up first, three of them are placing warning that this might be a problematic charity.

SMERCONISH: Wow, Seth Stevenson, what's it like to be in the press pen when he points in your direction and says look at those despicable individuals?

SETH STEVENSON, CONTRIBUTOR, SLATE.COM: I didn't enjoy it. You know, if you cover his rallies you so it there for 45 minutes as he tells lie after lie and then at some point he'll point over to the press pen and say look at those lying people, look at those disgusting horrible people and all the Trump supporters will turn around and jeer and on occasion flip the bird at the press. It's a winning applause line for him. It's not a thrill for the journalists.

SMERCONISH: Well, you point out that the journalists who are covering him who are on that Trump beat, they've pretty much given up fact checking because what's the point? They've caught him in so many whoppers and yet it doesn't seem to make any kind of an impact?

STEVENSON: Well, I don't think they've given up fact checking. You can look at the work that David did and that's still going on, but it's just when he tells the same lie 20 times, after the 12th time it sort of ceases to be news and the reporter struggles to understand how to report that again, you know, for the 15th time. How do you make that still relevant and it doesn't seem to have any impact on Trump himself.

SMERCONISH: David, I want you to speak to my father who I know is watching this right now and thinking see, now the media is ganging up on him because they want to protect Hillary.

[09:30:03] Now that Trump's the nominee, you're all coalescing in your effort to take him down.

FAHRENTHOLD: Well, that's certainly not -- I think imbued in that level of coordination of news media, it comes from people who don't understand how we actually work. The thing for me is I started checking into these donations. Trump had the fundraiser to raise the money on January 28th.

I started checking into them a later. I wrote the first story which said that only half of the money had gone out in early March. At that point, a lot of other candidates in the race, and obviously, we weren't doing that because we wanted to protect Hillary Clinton. I was doing that as fast as I could but Trump's people made it hard to get the information.

And I think there were a lot of things written about Trump in the past when there were other candidates in the Republican race. They just didn't seem to matter. And the candidates running against him seemed unwilling to use Trump's -- the coverage of Trump against him because they wanted to appeal to the same people.

The other thing is that we're now outside of a cycle of debates and primary nights which sort of served to break up the news cycles and return attention to things that Trump wanted to talk about. We're now in this long stretch where there's not much left to do and Trump doesn't have news events to break up the coverage. It's just about what people are finding out about him and asking him.

SMERCONISH: Seth, final question for you. What concerns you the most about a President Trump on the specific issue of media access?

SETH STEVENSON, CONTRIBUTOR, SLATE.COM: A lot of president's relationship with the press is based on polite norms that we've built up over the decades. I don't think there's a lot to stop president Trump from completely ignoring the media. I mean, you can imagine President Trump communicating only in tweets. You can imagine him not letting the press riding on Air Force One.

You could imagine him in picking "The New York Times" out of the White House correspondents association. Those things are not that hard for me to picture.

SMERCONISH: Yes, I can see it. David Farenthold, Seth Stevenson, thank you both. I appreciate your being here.

FARENTHOLD: Thank you.

STEVENSON: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: You would think that a war with the media would hurt a conditioned date, even Donald Trump, but not so, according to my next guest. Brian Rosenwald is a fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, Mr. Trump's alma mater, where he earned his PhD by studying talk radio. And in a recent blog, he argued that constant bashing by talk radio has created a mistrust of the mainstream media, explaining why negative reporting about Trump has failed to dent his support.

In fact, he quotes Wisconsin talk radio star Charlie Sykes, a leader of the Never Trump movement admitting as much, quote, "We the talk radio hosts bear some responsibility because we beat on the mainstream media for so long and now, there are no credible sources anymore."

Brian Rosenwald is joining me. You wrote that for years talk has bashed journalists as perfidious finks and that it's had an impact. How?

BRIAN ROSENWALD, FELLOW AND INSTRUCTOR, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: It's had an impact, Michael, because for conservatives, they -- they don't view journalists as objective referees who tell us what the facts are. They view them as Democratic cheerleaders who are masquerading as objective journalists.

And as result, they don't trust anything they say. It doesn't matter what they write about Donald Trump. It could b about Trump University, it could be about what he says about women or minorities. They don't care. As far as they're concerned it's an effort to benefit Hillary Clinton.

SMERCONISH: So, David Farenthold was just here with Seth Stevenson. But, David, in particular wrote the whole back story of, you know, where's the money? Are you saying that good quality investigative reporting like that by "The Post" will have no impact on certain among us? ROSENWALD: That's absolutely right. For conservatives, they he spent

30 years listening to Rush Limbaugh and other conservative talk radio hosts saying to them, don't trust the mainstream media. The mainstream media are a bunch of Democratic cheerleaders and all they're trying to hurt the guys that you want to win.

And these people have been yearning for someone like Donald Trump to take on the mainstream media and they don't believe anything they're saying about Trump and it's just -- it's almost impossible --

SMERCONISH: OK, I --

ROSENWALD: There was one quote in my blog --

SMERCONISH: Go ahead. Finish. I'm sorry.

ROSENWALD: There was one quote in my blog basically from Trump supporter basically saying, well, they're saying he's racist and against women but I believe it's all lies.

SMERCONISH: I get that he's inoculated himself among conservatives but is there any spillover beyond the conservative community into the mainstream part of the electorate?

ROSENWALD: I don't think so, given his high negatives. It seems clear that a lot of other people are bothered by what he's saying, but there are certainly people who consume conservative media who are not conservatives. So those people may have more doubts about the mainstream media and mainstream reporting.

SMERCONISH: Would you go so far to say that a smackdown -- I've got a tweet. Trump's response to the whole issue in the back and forth in terms of the media in terms of how he's handling this.

Would you go so far -- amazingly with all the money I have raised for the vets, I have got nothing from bad publicity from the dishonest and disgusting media.

[09:35:02] Is he actually benefitting, Brian, from this back and forth?

ROSENWALD: I think absolutely, because remember, Michael, one problem he's had as the primary has wound down is consolidating conservative conservatives. Some who say we don't like his position on trade for example or we don't trust that he's one of us, they may look at this and say, hey, we finally have the guy who's going to take on the media and call out their dishonesty and call out there left leaning nature, and he's going to fight for us, and so, we'll tolerate all this other stuff that we don't like as much.

SMERCONISH: The more he gets vetted the more he benefits at least according to that theory.

Brian Rosenwald, thank you. I appreciate you being here.

ROSENWALD: Great being with you, Michael. SMERCONISH: What do you think? Tweet me your thoughts @smerconish.

Here's an early one. Check it out. Oh, boy. No comment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:40:10] SMERCONISH: So many great moments in Muhammad Ali's life to remember. In 2005, he was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush. That's the nation's highest civilian award. The president at the time called Ali a fierce fighter and a man of peace.

Now, this week, Hillary Clinton unleashed a strong takedown of Trump's candidacy by using his own words against him. During a foreign policy speech in San Diego, she spent a good chunk of time cataloging numerous Trump statements and actions which she says he lacks both the knowledge and temperament to be president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump's ideas aren't just different. They are dangerously incoherent. They're not even really ideas, just a series of bizarre rants, personal feuds and outright lies.

(APPLAUSE)

This is not someone who should ever have the nuclear codes, because it's not hard to imagine Donald Trump leading us into a war just because somebody got under his very thin skin.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: So, what will be the impact of this approach? Did she get the best of him or only engage him where he thrives? Don't forget he took down a whole slew of GOP challengers in the primary season, but has Hillary finally found the right condition to stop her GOP challenger?

Joining me now, David Brock, founder of Correct the Record. That's a pro-Hillary super PAC.

What gives you confidence that this is the right brew?

DAVID BROCK, CORRECT THE RECORD: Well, a couple things. First of all, we know that the Republicans never really ran a sustained strategic effort against Donald Trump. They didn't really have a plan to defeat him.

And so, I think the idea out there that well, gee, everything's been tried and nothing worked, it's totally wrong. Virtually nothing's been tried. So, this is step one. This is sort of the beginning of the general election campaign I think.

And I think it was extremely effective on a number of fronts, as you said, hang him with his words. It may sound like a bit of ridicule and belittling, but it's actually the quotes themselves that are so self-discrediting. So, I think --

SMERCONISH: It was a combination of wonk and ridicule. You know, we played the sound bites. Everybody plays the sound bites. Everybody plays the sound bites. We don't play the wonky aspects of it, but here's what occurs to me.

You're sophisticated. The super PAC is sophisticated. A lot of deliberation goes into a speech like this. I have to believe that was the result of what your focus groups and your polling said was the way to go after him.

BROCK: Well, what I can tell you is what we believe will work and it's three things. First of all, what I think Clinton was trying to establish with this speech and the winner of this election is going to be the one who defines the terms, right?

She wants to make this a fight about fitness for office. She wants to make that the central question. And by the time she's done and her allies are done, the only answer to that who's fit to be president of the United States is going to be Hillary. It's not going to be Donald Trump. I think so -- and that goes to temperament.

I think the second issue is his business career as it relates to his claim to be on the side of the little guy and we see that with Trump University playing out and there is a treasure trove of information involving his business career establishing that Donald Trump has only ever been in this for Donald Trump. He's a total opportunist.

And I think the third is the Republican Party, unfortunately, has nominated an open bigot. And in the primaries, maybe that didn't hurt, and in fact, sadly, maybe he was rewarded for some of that with the Republican primary electorate, but it's not going to play in a broad diverse electorate. And those are the things we think we'll move.

SMERCONISH: Based on polling and focus groups. Right?

BROCK: Yes.

SMERCONISH: Let's take a look at Donald Trump's response. Here's what he had to say after she finished her speech.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The only reason she's behaving like this and the only left, believe me, is she doesn't want to go to jail over the e-mails. OK? Believe me.

Folks, honestly, she's guilty as hell.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: You've seen those negatives. You know what he's referring to in terms of the honesty and trustworthy issues in internals of the polls.

BROCK: Sure.

SMERCONISH: Can you boost those numbers? Can you do better than she's doing right now on the honesty and I should frame it as dishonesty and --

BROCK: Can you boost her negatives?

SMERCONISH: Can you turn it in a better direction --

BROCK: Sure. Yes, by the same laws of politics that drive these numbers up, they can come back down. Yes, you can do better.

Look, she's been vetted for 30 years now. I think the people who have made their mind up that they don't like Hillary Clinton for whatever reason, their mind is made up. There's not much room for her negative to go up.

With him, he has had wide media exposure as you know, but it's been shallow and we're just starting to get the Donald Trump story, and what we're going to deconstruct the phony story he's telling about himself and tell the American people who he really is. And so, I think there's room for his negatives to go up.

[09:40:01] SMERCONISH: I question whether she's the right messenger to play the negativity against him. You said he really wasn't vetted but let me just remind everybody the way Marco Rubio many the latter stages of his effort took on Donald Trump. Roll that tape.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: The worst spray tan in America.

If he builds the wall the way he built Trump Towers, he'll be using illegal immigrant labor to do it.

He's not a conservative.

You know what they say about men with small hands?

(CROSSTALK)

Con artist. Make sure his pants weren't wet.

If he hadn't inherited $200 million, do you know where Donald Trump right now?

TRUMP: No, no, no. No --

RUBIO: Selling watches in Manhattan.

Donald Trump likes to sue people, he should sue whoever did that to his face.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

SMERCONISH: He did take him on. Why do you think it will work for her where it didn't work for Rubio?

BROCK: Well, for one thing, Rubio was on to something, but there was nothing sustained behind it. There wasn't a real campaign behind it. He had a couple of days and a couple moments and I do think on the example of Trump being a con man that Rubio was hitting the right note but there was no money behind it.

There wasn't -- we're going to run a real campaign against Donald Trump and the Republicans fail to do that.

SMERCONISH: I think her biggest problem is that she is a status quo candidate in a climate where people are desirous of change. Take the final word on that.

BROCK: No, I don't disagree with you. I think that is her big challenge but again, if this election is framed in the way we want to frame it, as a choice about who is more fit to be president of the United States, and who actually is a genuine hazard and threat to our future, Hillary's going to win that hands down.

SMERCONISH: David Brock, thank you for being here.

BROCK: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Still to come, you may remember her as Pat from "Saturday Night Live", but Julia Sweeney is one of the prominent atheists convening on the mall this weekend to promote an atheist perspective on politics.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pat, would you saw you're more like your mother or your father?

JULIA SWEENEY AS PAT: I'm the perfect combination of both.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:51:05] SMERCONISH: They're claiming it's the biggest gather of nonreligious people in history. Tens of thousands of atheist expected on the mall in D.C. this weekend for the reason rally, trying to clarify that age old division between God and state.

Atheism is on the upswing in America. Secular Americans now make up nearly a quarter of American population according to recent polling by Gallup and Pew Research. And yet, amazingly, not a single current member of Congress admits to being an atheist.

When Barney Frank came out at one to Bill Maher, it was a bigger secret than being gay or a pot smoker.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL MAHER, TV HOST: You could come on this show and sit next to a pot-smoking atheist, and it wouldn't bother you.

BARNEY FRANK FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Which pot smoking atheist are you talking about here?

MAHER: You are liberated.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Among the many celebrity speakers at the recent rally this weekend, Bill Nye the science guy, the rapper Method Man, magician Penn Jillette, and my next guest who you'll remember from her portrayal of Pat on "Saturday Night Live," Julia Sweeney. She also did a one woman show called "Letting Go of God".

Julia, thank you for being here.

If a quarter of Americans are secular, you know there are atheists in the Congress. Why this remaining taboo?

JULIA SWEENEY, FORMER SNL CAST MEMBER: I don't know. Our culture in America sort of reinforces this idea that you have to show like your allegiance to the culture by saying that you believe in God, or that you're part of a religion. I think a lot of people think that it makes someone seem like a good person, to be part of a religion, or to believe in God, and somehow the Congress is way behind the American public.

SMERCONISH: Or maybe it's because no one has really tested this. Maybe no one has stood up and said, look, I'm a person of moral foundation, I don't derive that moral foundation from any particular book, but here I am and I'm putting myself out there.

SWEENEY: I think so, too. I actually think it's going to happen in our lifetime and it's rapidly. I really am optimistic about it.

SMERCONISH: So, what are you hoping to get out of a showing of support today? What is it you want?

SWEENEY: Well, I really want American public to see it. I want people to realize how many people there are out there who don't identify with any religion, we call ourselves the nones, that's another way to describe us. We're 25 percent of the public and I think it may be double that if people just admitted to themselves what they really felt.

I want our laws of the land and our Congress to not be so influenced by the culture of conservative religious thought, which has an outside influence, the conservative religious people in Congress and in the laws of the land and I really think it needs to change. And this rally I think can really help bring a focus to the people who don't identify with religion and do not believe in God.

SMERCONISH: Are we more accepting today of gays and lesbians and transgenders than we are of atheists?

SWEENEY: Absolutely, which really shocks me but, yes, that seems to be the case.

SMERCONISH: Finally, I wonder if there's a semantic issue here. Maybe atheist is too harsh a word.

SWEENEY: Yes.

SMERCONISH: Maybe liberals became progressives. You need a new label.

SWEENEY: I think that's true. There was a word, brights, that didn't seem to work. My parents didn't care that I didn't believe in God but when I said I was an atheist, they were very upset and they wouldn't speak to me. So, that -- it's a very harsh word. I think it brings up ideas of the Cold War and communism. But really now, people today are embracing that word. I mean, it's actually describes them. They're not theist. They're atheists.

SMERCONISH: I wish we had more time. You answered the mystery about Pat. But we're out of time.

SWEENEY: Yes. You're out of time. Sorry.

SMERCONISH: Thank you, Julia. Appreciate it.

SWEENEY: All right. OK.

SMERCONISH: Still to come, your tweets like this one, from let's see, LeftBob.

[09:55:02] "I've been a Trump supporter since day one with the hope that he would tone it down after winning the nomination. My support is wavering."

Only wavering, Bob?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: I like to say you can follow me on Twitter if you can spell Smerconish.

Here are some of what has just come in.

Tommie Jones, "Smerconish, wouldn't it be interesting" oh, different Tommie Jones. "You idiots at CNN spend time bashing Trump over the comments. A good idea might be to get legal experts to examine the rulings."

Hey, Tommie, if Trump believed the guy were biased, don't you think his lawyers would have filed a recusal motion? I do.

Let's go to the next one. I think it's George Mamos, OK, guys, you're toying with me. "Wouldn't it be interesting if press didn't show up for the four

[10:00:00] next Trump conferences?"

That's not going to happen, John Hyman. Thank you.

Next, "The phrase the greatest doesn't work" this is nice "compared to whom or what, there was no one else, it's too small of a phrase for Muhammad Ali's life."

On that note, I'll see you next week.