Return to Transcripts main page


Is Trump's "Fire and Fury" Best Approach to North Korea?; How Likely is Threat of N.K. Missiles Hitting U.S.?; Will Obama's Return Help Democrats?; More Americans Identify as Independent than Dem or GOP; Trump Takes Aim at GOP Leadership. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired August 12, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Don't go anywhere, though. Smerconish is with you in just a couple of seconds. Stay close.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia. We welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

Locked and loaded, fire and fury. That's where we find ourselves this week. President Trump amping up the rhetoric about North Korea's nuclear capability. Is he in danger of detonating a volatile situation or reaching a rival by playing at his level? And --




SMERCONISH: Trump also took aim at his own Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, after criticizing other GOP leaders. Is this politically savvy or political suicide?

Plus, he's been mostly MIA since the election, but President Barack Obama said to be returning to public life this fall. Does this help or hurt the Democrats? DNC Chair Tom Perez is here.

And more Americans identify as independent than either Republican or Democrat, so why are we so underrepresented? And might that change after a retreat taking place this weekend in my hometown?

But first, much of the debate this week has concerned the President's rising rhetoric regarding North Korea. On Tuesday, speaking from his country club in Bedminster, New Jersey, the President escalated tensions when he threatened that North Korea would be met with fire and fury like the world had never seen.

When critics were quick to criticize the President for sounding much like his rival, Kim Jong-un, I defended the President, or at least gave him the benefit of the doubt.

I said on my Sirius X.M. Radio program that where no amount of negotiation was successful in the past with North Korea and sanctions seemed to have reached their limit, this was probably a calculated strategy meant to reach the North Korean dictator on his own level by speaking to him in a language he would understand.

I noted that the President has surrounded himself with generals, Jim Mattis at defense, H.R. McMaster as national security advisor, Joseph Dunford, the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and most recently, former Marine General John Kelly as the President's Chief of Staff.

Surely, I surmised, he consulted their advice. And finally, I focused attention on the fact that as the President sat, arms folded, he referred to a note placed in front of him and repeated himself, seemingly for emphasis and to get the message just right.


TRUMP: North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening beyond a normal statement. And as I said, they will be met with fire, fury and, frankly, power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.


SMERCONISH: All of this, I concluded, was part of a reasoned strategy, probably one crafted with the aid of a psychological profile of Kim. But I was wrong.

Glenn Thrush and Peter Baker at the "New York Times" soon revealed that the President's words caught his own aides off guard. He was apparently speaking extemporaneously. And that note in front of him? It dealt not with North Korea but with the opioid crisis.

He apparently awakened to news in "The Washington Post" that Pyongyang had made advances with the development of nuclear weapons that could be deployed in ballistic missiles. And this was his improvised response.

And this exhibition of intemperance wasn't a one-off. On Thursday, he said he might not have gone far enough on Tuesday. And by Friday, he was quadrupling down when he tweeted: military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully, Kim Jong-un will find another path.

Provocation, never letting an opponent have the final word, it served the President well when vanquishing political opponents. But this is not the running of an election. The outcome could be measured in bodies, not electoral votes.

It's easy to slide into war, Mr. President. Peace is much more difficult.

So now that we are locked and loaded, what's the best strategy? Joining me now, former commander of the USS Cole, Kirk Lippold. He was in command in October of 2000 when the Cole was bombed while it was being refueled in Yemen's Aden harbor and killing, tragically, 17 American sailors.

[09:05:02] Commander, respond to what I've just had to say because I think we have a disagreement in this regard. You don't find the rhetoric to have been reckless, do you?

COMMANDER KIRK LIPPOLD (RET.), FORMER COMMANDING OFFICER OF THE USS COLE, UNITED STATES NAVY: I do not. The President has inherited 30 years of failed policies and actions by multiple administrations on both sides of the aisle.

At this point in time, we're in the untenable position once again where, for the first time in our nation's history, we are having a nation threaten the United States with the offensive use of nuclear weapons. That has never happened before.

And while this language may seem or you seem to think that it may be intemperate or aggressive or leading us down a path to war, in fact, what it is doing is it's forcing the region out there to come to grips with the fact that this threat can't be tolerated. First and foremost, so it's aimed at not North Korea but, in fact, China.

SMERCONISH: What makes me unsteady about this is what I said, the fact that this was apparently the President by the seat of his pants and not in consultation with the intelligencia, that great cadre of generals around him, who were apparently caught off guard. As someone with your credentials, surely you must find that unsettling.

LIPPOLD: Well, I think the President did take their thoughts into account. I mean, it's not like he lives in a stove (ph) pipe world and doesn't get the briefings, doesn't understand what's going on. But occasionally when he makes these remarks, he makes them in a very lean forward fashion.

While those generals may have wanted him to probably make more temperate remarks, he should lead the language that he has used so far to others to carry, I think, in the future. At this point in time, the signal has been sent. We need to make sure that China comes to the table.

Both in articles that have been written recently both in "The Atlantic" and now this morning with Henry Kissinger in "The Wall Street Journal," the bottom line is we must denuclearize North Korea. We still have a number of diplomatic options available to us before we ever even get to the point where military options need to be truly laid out on the table.

The military will always be ready, but now it's time for the hard work. The diplomacy needs to start. And that's going to start with getting China involved, not allowing them to push this away and think that they can just have a buffer state that's going to be nuclear armed and threaten us, and engage in a meaningful manner that will stabilize the region and the world. If China doesn't want to do that, they will live with the consequences of that problem.

SMERCONISH: Commander, the "Atlantic" piece to which you refer -- and I'll put the cover up on the screen -- was written by Mark Bowden of "Black Hawk Down" fame.

And he says, look, in the end, there are four outcomes: a crushing military strike, a limited conventional strike, decapitation or assassination of Kim Jong-un, or -- get ready for it -- acceptance of the fact that North Korea will have a nuclear capability. And he concludes that's probably the most acceptable of these bad outcomes and the one that we're headed toward.

LIPPOLD: Absolutely disagree with him. The first thing is when he laid out those options, the number one thing he did was say, here are three military options or capitulation.

The fact that he didn't even consider the diplomatic pressure that can be applied on China so that we can develop a comprehensive and in- depth set of sanctions that can be applied against that country who has aided and abetted the North Korea nuclear program for years, if not decades, providing economic, financial, technical and military support to allow them to do that.

Unless that pressure gets brought to bear, we're not going to be at the point of capitulation. If we do that, then all bets are off worldwide, and you will see North Korea, Pakistan, and Iran become the largest proliferators of nuclear technology the world has ever seen. And that will destabilize the globe, much less just the United States and the Asian region.

SMERCONISH: Look, I think we all hope that sanctions, a negotiated resolution, is the way this should turn out. But thus far, leaning on the Chinese is not bearing fruit, where Kim Jong-un is saying that he's going to fire test missiles in close proximity to Guam. So I'm sure what Bowden meant --

LIPPOLD: Mike, but what --

SMERCONISH: Well, I'm -- let me just finish this thought. I'm sure that Bowden meant that if we can't resolve it peacefully, then we've got those four solutions. Which is the most likely?

LIPPOLD: I think the most likely is going to end up being a large- scale military force moving into the region, which will bring China to the table. I don't think a shot will need to be fired in order to do this.

The reality, Michael, is, also, there has been no pressure applied on China. There has been talk. Talk's cheap. It's gotten us nowhere for 30 years. It is now time for concrete actions focused on the problem.

Solve the problem, not the symptom. The symptom is North Korea and nuclear weapons. The problem is China.

We need to begin addressing it with China and making sure that they understand that this is a noncompromise issue, that we will not capitulate, we will not allow offensive nuclear weapons to threaten the United States, our territories, or our allies.

[09:10:06] SMERCONISH: Commander Lippold, thanks for your service. I once had the privilege of boarding the USS Cole, and it was a great honor. Thank you.

LIPPOLD: Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Now, worries about the North Korean missile threat mostly focused on the proximity, as I just referenced, of Guam, the island that is a U.S. territory just 2,100 miles from North Korea. As the front page of Guam's newspaper warns, it would only take 14 minutes for a nuclear warhead to reach there from the rogue nation.

But what about Alaska? It's only 3,500 miles away from North Korea. So how is Alaska preparing for a potential nuclear attack?

Joining me now, the Governor of the great state of Alaska, Bill Walker. By the way, an independent.

Governor Walker, you have said that the trajectory of North Korea includes Alaska. So how are you responding?

GOV. BILL WALKER (I), ALASKA: Well, we take it very seriously, obviously. And what many don't realize is in World War II, in addition to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Alaska was also bombed and so -- because of our location. So our location is very strategic, so we take it very seriously.

You know, I rely upon briefings I receive regularly from our military advisers in Alaska and their counterparts in Washington. So we watch it very closely and we're very concerned about the escalation of this.

SMERCONISH: Would the activating of a naval base in Alaska -- I've read some of your comments in this regard -- make you more or less safe, do you think?

WALKER: Well, no question it would make us safer to have a -- to reactivate a naval base in Alaska. Our coastline exceeds all the coastline in the continental U.S. and, again, our location is very strategic. So, yes, I have been talking a lot about reactivating a naval base in Alaska.

SMERCONISH: I guess the reason I ask, Governor, is I wonder if it then increases the likelihood that you become a target of sorts for Kim Jong-un?

WALKER: I don't believe it increases at all. I think it helps us in our preparedness. We have a very strong presence in Alaska in the Air Force, as well as the Army and the National Guard, so the naval is the -- and the coast guard is very active in Alaska, but, really, the missing piece to me is the naval presence in Alaska.

SMERCONISH: You use the word "preparedness." Are we at a point in this crisis where you think there need to be public activities of preparedness, drills, maybe akin to what went on in the Cold War with kids under their desks?

WALKER: Well, what we do is we make sure that Alaskans are prepared for any disaster. And we've had earthquakes. We've had, you know, fires, floods, et cetera. So, you know, our message on preparedness is a general message of we need to be prepared for whatever comes our way. SMERCONISH: But not a siren call where, in a particular time, you

would want the populace to be responding in a particular way?

WALKER: You know, we have not. We have not gone to that level at this point. I spoke with Governor Ige in Hawaii a few days ago, and we talked about what they're doing in Hawaii and what we're doing in Alaska. So we monitor what other similarly situated states are doing, and so we obviously take it seriously but we have not gone to that level at this point.

SMERCONISH: Do you feel comfortable in terms of the level of information you're being provided by the federal government? Is the White House in touch with you? Have you spoken to the President on this issue?

WALKER: You know, we do that through our military advisers that are in Alaska. And so I'm very comfortable with the level of information that we've been receiving, I'd say.

SMERCONISH: Hey, Governor, you are the only -- correct me if I'm wrong, you're the only independent governor of all 50 states.

WALKER: That's correct.

SMERCONISH: Well, we need more independents. I guess that's my plug.

WALKER: Well --

SMERCONISH: So I really appreciate your being here.

WALKER: Well, thank you. It's an honor to be the governor of Alaska, and it's an honor to be able to serve as representation for the entire state.

We have a cabinet that's made up of -- I don't even know what the makeup of the cabinet is, quite honestly, politically. It's a bipartisan administration. And Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott and I enjoy, daily, our work in doing this together.

SMERCONISH: Governor Bill Walker, thanks so much for being here.

WALKER: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: What are your thoughts? Tweet me @Smerconish or go to my Facebook page, and I will read some responses throughout the course of the program.

What do we have?

Anyone who wants to go to war has to have a child or grandchild on the front lines. This is what happens when we elect a draft dodger as POTUS.

Hey, John M., I have to tell you, it's Charlie Rangel who, time and again, introduced legislation that would bring back mandatory conscription on -- and he's a Korean War veteran. You can disagree with his politics, but the man defended his country.

And the idea that, you know, those who are about to put individuals in harm's way should have skin in the game has always made some sense to me.

One more if we have time for it.

I'm concerned if Trump feels more heat from the Russian probe, he'll act irrationally and dangerously toward North Korea.

[09:15:06] Jim Hilt, I heard that from radio callers this week who wonder and worry that this is a response to what's taking place domestically. I would hate to think, and I don't believe, that the President would gin up the Korean situation so as to divert attention from Russia, but I know that that's a concern on many people's minds.

Up ahead. Since leaving office, Barack Obama has mostly been quiet, and now that's about to change. But will this help the Democrats or just hand President Trump his favorite target? I'll ask DNC Chair Tom Perez.

Plus, I'm not alone in my declaration of independence on my voter registration form, but I wish there were more independent candidates to vote for. Well, there's a move afoot that's trying to make that a reality.


SMERCONISH: Can Barack Obama save the Democrats again? Given the current chaos and infighting in the White House and GOP, the Democrats should be thriving but they seem in disarray.

[09:19:55] That could change this fall with Obama's rumored return to the national stage, but it's a delicate dance both because the party needs a new look and leader to move forward and because there's a risk that bringing back Trump's favorite target would reignite the GOP.

I spoke with the Chairman of the Democratic Party, Tom Perez.


SMERCONISH: Mr. Chairman, welcome back to the program. Nice to have you.


SMERCONISH: So "The Hill," on Friday, reported that President Obama will re-emerge in the fall. And I'm thinking I know somebody elated by that news, President Donald Trump. Go ahead and react.

PEREZ: Well, you know what, I know someone elated by that news and his name is Tom Perez because Barack Obama did so much to expand opportunity for so many people. And whether it was the passage of the Affordable Care Act, whether it was getting us out of the worst recession of our lifetime, helping workers in the auto industry through the courageous bailout that he did which helped save over a million jobs, that's what he did.

SMERCONISH: Truth be told, you need him for fund raising support, right? I mean, I've read an analysis that says that, in the first six months of the Trump administration, the RNC has doubled that which the DNC has raised and that they're beating you among small donors.

PEREZ: Well, I don't know what the RNC has raised. Here's what I can tell you, though. We had our best small donor quarter of -- ever the first quarter of this year. We raised over $5 million. Average increment, $22.

When we took over -- when Democrats took over the house in 2006, Michael, the RNC outspent the DNC by over two to one. And so the reality is they've got a lot of well-heeled donors because their primary funding base is folks who want to repeal the Affordable Care Act so they can get a big tax cut. And our donor base is different. They're people across the economic spectrum.

I'm very confident that we are going to be able to compete everywhere. We're -- we've seen, already, progress in special elections that we're investing in at a state level, whether it was Iowa earlier last week, whether it was New Hampshire a couple of weeks ago, state races where Donald Trump did really well in these districts and Democrats won. Oklahoma, five, six weeks ago, two special elections in Trump country, Democrats won.

Virginia and New Jersey this year, we are working hard there. The DNC is all in. And those are two races where, I think, Democratic governors have a real shot. And this is what it's all about -- winning elections, leading with our values, and continuing the momentum.

SMERCONISH: You referenced the Affordable Care Act. You know the tradition among ex-presidents. It's not to be critical of their successor.

We live in interesting times. Do you think that President Obama should be speaking out in opposition to President Trump on things like Trump's attempt at repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act? Maybe the issue of the day, North Korea? Do you think that now he should be more vocal in defending his own record?

PEREZ: Well, I think the President has been pretty clear on things like the Affordable Care Act and his long-standing support for it. And frankly, the American people, just as importantly, have been very clear that they understand that the Affordable Care Act was a lifesaver. And what we should be doing is building on that progress and mending it, not ending it.

We should be making it better. We should be addressing the issue of affordable prescription drug prices. We can take on the pharmaceutical industry and lower the costs of prescription drugs for folks --

SMERCONISH: Right. PEREZ: -- if they'll simply move forward on the Republican side and

be willing to take on that powerful lobby. We're willing to take on that lobby on the Democratic side.

SMERCONISH: But, Mr. Chairman, to my point in wondering what will the re-emergence of President Obama look like, he was not a player. As the Senate voted, as John McCain walked out and gave the thumbs down, President Obama's voice was nowhere to be heard. Do you think he should be more of an activist in speaking out on his agenda as we move toward fall?

PEREZ: Well, I think President Obama's voice and his message have been very clear, which is that healthcare is a right for all and not a privilege for a few. That's why he took the courageous step. It was politically unpopular at the time, but it was the right thing to do. And he never wavered in that commitment to ensuring access to healthcare for all.

And we've gotten so much closer to universal health coverage. We're 90 percent now. We've made dramatic progress under his leadership. We've got 10 percent to go, and we know how we can get there as Democrats.

There's a lot of things that we can do to stabilize the markets, to lower the cost of prescription drugs, to stabilize risk pools through reinsurance programs. And these are the things that the President has talked about -- President Obama, that is -- for some time.

[09:24:57] And what we need from this administration --the Trump administration, that is -- is leadership. Stop sabotaging the markets.

You talk to CEOs, as I do, and uncertainty is not good for them. They either have to raise the cost of their premiums or get out of the market altogether. And this administration is deliberately fomenting uncertainty in order to try to make it harder for people to get access to healthcare. Shame on them. And the American people --

SMERCONISH: All right.

PEREZ: -- want us to improve access.

SMERCONISH: I hear all the arguments. I'm just wondering if we're going to hear them articulated by the former president of the United States.

I appreciate your being here. Please refrain from plugging your buffalo bills and come back.

PEREZ: I will always come back and on behalf of Wolf Blitzer and I, go Bills!



SMERCONISH: So let's see what you're thinking. Here's a Facebook comment that just came in on this subject.

There's no standout new Democrat Obama type. What's going on with them? We need to lose the two-party system permanently.

Hey, J.W., I agree with you. The bench is not strong. Let me tell you something else. When you evaluate it based on occupants of office at the state legislative level, the gubernatorial level, Houses of Congress, both houses, the Democrats are in the worst shape than they've been since reconstruction.

So, you know, despite the chaos perceived by some critics taking place in the White House, they do not have their act together. There's no doubt about that. And I love your plea for third party movements, and we're going to go there next.

Up next. A new poll reveals more Americans are calling themselves independent than they do either Democrat or Republican. So why aren't there more independent candidates? I'm going to talk to somebody trying to change that, next.


[09:31:08] SMERCONISH: The centrists are coming, the centrists are coming. That's the rallying cry at a retreat in my hometown of Philadelphia this weekend.

What's called "The Centrist Project" seeks to build independent representation at all levels of government. The independent movement would seem to be a cause in search of some leadership.

According to a Gallup survey undertaken in July, 45 percent of Americans regard themselves as Independents compared with 28 percent who say they identify as a member of the Democratic Party or 25 percent who say I'm a Republican. And yet, there are only two Independents in the U.S. Senate and none in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Greg Orman is participating this weekend. He's also the author of the book, "A Declaration of Independents: How We Can Break the Two-Party Stranglehold and Restore the American Dream."

He obtained 43 percent of the vote in Kansas in 2014 running as an Independent against Republican incumbent Senator Pat Roberts.

Greg, why the disconnect? Why, if 45 percent of the country say I'm an "I," is there a Blutarsky 0.0 in the House of Representatives?

GREG ORMAN, AUTHOR, "A DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENTS: HOW WE CAN BREAK THE TWO-PARTY STRANGLEHOLD AND RESTORE THE AMERICAN DREAM": Well, that's a great question. You know, if you look at the re-election rates for members of Congress, they run in the high 90s. And yet Congress, routinely, has a 15 percent approval rating, so you have to ask yourself the question.

And the answer is multiple, but number one is, obviously, they rig the rules to make sure no one can compete with them. And we've been working with organizations to try to change those things.

But maybe more importantly is, there are just institutional and structural barriers to Independents succeeding. The whole political economy has been built around serving Democrats and Republicans, and that's really what The Centrist Project is trying to change.

We're trying to put together the infrastructure, both in terms of data and electronic infrastructure, but also in terms of campaign staff, to be able to allow centrist independent candidates to run and win.

SMERCONISH: You ran so strong a campaign and ultimately garnered 43 percent of the vote that the "D" dropped out because they knew they had no shot and they thought, well, you know, maybe Greg Orman is the best chance in that election. What was the largest impediment, the largest institutional barrier, that you faced in that race?

ORMAN: Well, again, I'm not sure what the decision-making process was among the Democrats in that race. What I can tell you is we worked very hard in the state of Kansas to make sure people understood that we were truly different. You know, when I went out and campaigned and told people I was an Independent, if you were a Democrat, you heard Republican. If you were a Republican, you heard Democrat.

And so while 45 percent of Americans are politically independent, and I even think greater numbers are dissatisfied with the system, it's sometimes difficult to comprehend anyone other than Democrats or Republicans running our government. And so I sort of refer to that as the Stockholm syndrome. We have a tendency to relate to our captors.

SMERCONISH: You know, another answer might be that people lie. People like the cache of saying, oh, I'm Independent, I'm not an "R" and I'm not a "D," when, in fact, they are hard leaning one way or the other.

I mean, it's pretty impressive. Look at that screen. Forty-five percent say I'm an "I," 28 percent say I'm a "D."

And by the way, this is not a one-off. I track this Gallup surveys, and the number of Independents has been somewhere in the 42, 43, 45 percent range in the recent past.

ORMAN: Well, Charlie Wheelan, who founded The Centrist Project, actually had a great explanation for that. He said, you know, most Americans say they love lobster. And yet when they go to the buffet line at a wedding, they pick only the chicken or the beef so that must mean they don't like lobster.

[09:35:01] The fact is we don't have enough Independent candidates running, and that's really what The Centrist Project is trying to do. We're here in Philadelphia today where it all began, where our republic was formed, and we have brought together a dozen potential Independent candidates for the United States Senate and Governors' races across the country. And we're working to change that.

We're working to provide the leadership that you mentioned. And if your viewers are interested, they can go to and see more of what we're about.

SMERCONISH: One last thing I want to discuss, the passion index. See, I do believe -- I do believe -- that 45 percent of the country are Independents. When I am leading my life, pumping gas, grocery store, back-to-school night, and people approach me and engage in a conversation about politics, they're a mixed bag. I find many who are fiscally conservative and more socially liberal.

That could be a reflection of where I live, but the fact is they're not represented. But they're not as passionate as the folks on the fringes. And somehow, people need to be more passionate as centrists and as independents and take this debate back from the loudest voices in the room. That's what we need to do.

ORMAN: Well, and it's a chicken and egg argument. If we were going to get those people passionate, we need to give them candidates. We need to give them something and people to be passionate about who they know can lead and put our country ahead of political parties, use facts and common sense to solve problems, and ultimately not be influenced by the special interests who control both parties.

When I talk to voters in the state of Kansas, when I talk to my fellow citizens there, it's clear to me they want something different. They demonstrated that in 2014 when 43 percent of them decided to vote for an Independent who hadn't run for political office before. We saw it in the 2016 election when voters gravitated, even in both parties, to unconventional choices.

The fact of the matter is the American people are frustrated with the system that isn't serving them. They're looking for leaders. They're looking for a new path. And The Centrist Project is looking to give that to them.

SMERCONISH: Greg Orman, thanks for being here. Good luck in Philly, and welcome to town.

ORMAN: Thanks, Michael. My pleasure.

SMERCONISH: Let's check in on your tweets and Facebook comments. What do we have?

I's are wishy-washy. What do they stand for? System won't allow an -- you know Claggett Pruitt, Jr., that's the comment that I most get angry about.

I'm not wishy-washy on anything. I have viewpoints that just don't line up in these artificial ideological boxes. But it doesn't mean that people who are independent thinking are weak in their thinking.

I mean, do you watch me on a week in and week out basis? Am I lacking in solid opinions? I might be wrong in them, but I hold them. And I just -- I don't like the comment that says I's don't stand for much. I's stand for independent thinking and not adhering to talking points.

Sorry to get so worked up. One more, quickly, if I can.

Smerconish, the two-party system is the worst idea in human civilization history. It's no different than any dictatorial system.

Yes, well, we need more choice. That's the bottom line. Choice is good for all of us.

Still to come, President Trump was on the warpath this week with his own Senate Majority Leader. Does that make political sense?


[09:42:47] SMERCONISH: President Trump, this week, did something that, for any other president, might seem an act of political self- sabotage. He attacked his own Senate Majority Leader for not getting enough done, alienating the power broker who is most likely to accomplish his agenda. Asked repeatedly about it this week, he would not back down.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Should Senator McConnell consider stepping down as majority leader?

TRUMP: Well, I'll tell you what, if he doesn't get repeal and replace done and if he doesn't get taxes done, meaning cuts and reform, and if he doesn't get a very easy one to get done infrastructure, if he doesn't get them done, then you can ask me that question.

He should have known that he had a couple of votes that turned on him and that should have been very easy to handle. What happened, in my opinion, last week is unacceptable.


SMERCONISH: It's part of a larger pattern of the leader of the Republican Party attacking his own, as he did with those who defied him on repealing Obamacare. So what's the end game?

Joining me now to discuss, CNN Contributor and "Washington Examiner" Reporter Salena Zito and Michael Warren, senior writer at "The Weekly Standard," who wrote this article, "Is Trump Preparing to Leave the Republican Party?"

Michael, what's the answer to that question?

MICHAEL WARREN, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, I think he's certainly laying the groundwork to do that. If you look at his actions and his rhetoric over the last several months, what has it been about? It's been about how Republicans are impotent. They're weak. The Republicans in Congress, that is.

And I think it's very obvious he's at least inching, moving, in that direction. Whether he's going to actually formally leave the party or essentially abandon them as allies for his agenda, I think, is up in the air. But I don't know how -- if that's going to help him achieve his

agenda. It seems to be the direction he's going in, but I don't know if it's necessarily the politically smart thing for him to do.

SMERCONISH: Salena, he or she who should occupy the White House is the titular head of their party but he shows no desire to play that role. Why not?

SALENA ZITO, REPORTER, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Well, because he's never really had a political ideology. He's been a Democrat. He's been an Independent. He's been a Republican.

[09:44:55] And that is part of the appeal that he had with voters, voters that turned out in a larger number that typically don't, because he wasn't part of the establishment, because he wasn't part of the swamp.

I mean, that was part of the populist appeal. That's why you saw crossover voters that liked Sanders in the Democratic primary but voted for Trump in the general election. He had an appeal that is not tied to the swamp, if you will. And so for his -- a lot of his base, not all of his base, but for a lot of his base, they don't have a problem with this, you know.

And we have to think of sort of the larger picture, right? Like, does this really hurt Mitch McConnell politically? Probably not. Nobody wants his job. Nobody wants to be the Majority Leader of the Senate.

He's very good at his job. Yes, repeal and replace failed, but it doesn't mean he's not brilliant at what he does. He's not going to have any sort of ramifications in his home state. While everyone always predicts that he's not going to win every six years, he always finds a way to come back and win and typically in double digits.

And you know, and the Senate Majority Leader is not a nationally voted position, so, you know, this might just be -- this is a good way for Trump to shore up his base. It is actually a way for McConnell to unite, you know, his conference. And I think, by next week, that Trump will probably move on to something else.

SMERCONISH: Michael, there was a "Fox & Friends" tweet that went out on a story that talked about, perhaps, they're replacing Mitch McConnell. And I noted -- and we're putting it up on the screen, the story, Trump fires new warning shot at McConnell, leaves door open on whether he should step down.

President Trump retweeted. You know, he wants people to know about this prospect. Does he need Mitch McConnell, or do you agree with what Salena just said about how President Trump sort of transcends all of party and the apparatus?

WARREN: Well, I agree with Salena that that is what Trump does. I just don't think that there is a path forward going down that direction, toward getting anything done in Congress.

Look, it does help to run against Washington, to run against the swamp, to run against the establishment, when you're running for President. But when you get here to Washington, unfortunately, you often have to deal with people that you may disagree with.

And, you know, I was struck by something the President said this week, the video that you played. All of the blame, for the President, on healthcare's failure goes to Mitch McConnell and Congress.

I think there's a lot of blame that belongs in Congress and, particularly, Mitch McConnell. But a lot of it goes to the President as well.

The President has not made a public case at all for why this particular healthcare bill or any particular replacement for ObamaCare should be made. That's actually the role the President plays.

And so if you look at what, you know, predicated Trump's comments this week, it was Mitch McConnell saying, essentially, we're going to do it our way on tax reform. I think that's sort of a realistic response to the disaster that was healthcare, the healthcare bill, which was, look, the President didn't pull his weight on this.

The Vice President, Mike Pence, can only do so much in sort of negotiating on Capitol Hill. The President has a lot to do. If the President is not going to do it, then Congress is going to have to go their own way.

I think that's something the President doesn't quite appreciate, which is, he has a lot of power here that he's -- for whatever reason, he doesn't care about that particular issue. He doesn't know enough about the issue. He doesn't seem to want to exercise.

SMERCONISH: Hey, Salena, final comment from you on something Michael said, which is, what's the prospect of tax reform getting done if the President and the Senate Majority Leader are now at odds?

ZITO: Well, I think maybe they're publicly at odds, but I don't think that maybe personally they're at odds. The last time I interviewed both men, which was a couple months ago, separately, they both talked about, you know, their relationship. And, yes, they go back and forth on things, but they have a lot of the same goals.

Look, Mike is absolutely right. Trump did not take ownership of repeal and replace. It was never his thing. It was McConnell's thing, it was the Republicans' thing, and he just didn't jump in it the way he needed to.

I think you'll see him do that with tax reform and infrastructure. Those are things that he cares about. But as far as repeal and replace, Trump never bought into it, and I think that's why he never tried to sell it.

SMERCONISH: Salena, Michael, thanks so much for being here. We appreciate it.

WARREN: Thanks.

ZITO: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Still to come. Your best and worst tweets and Facebook comments. Here's another.

Smerconish, I don't believe Trump will leave the Republican Party. But as we've already seen, the Republican Party will leave Trump.

[09:50:00] Greg, I don't know because I think something that's taking place here is that President Trump's loyalists are and have seized control of the party apparatus, for what that's worth. So he might be at odds with some of the leaders, but I think that, in the end, the party is going to be there for him. At least the machinery, what exists of it, for Donald Trump.

We're back in a moment with more social media.


SMERCONISH: Hey, if you ever miss any of the program, you can catch us at any time on CNNgo, online, and through your connected devices and apps.

Please follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Hit the YouTube page. Here's some of what you thought this week.

[09:55:00] Smerconish, I didn't vote for our POTUS, but I support his tough talk and consideration of military action against any enemy, potential or real.

I didn't either. And I certainly support our Commander-in-Chief in a tenuous time like this, but I am not surrendering my right to question the way in which he's going about it.

And as I said in my opening commentary, initially, I was giving him the benefit of the doubt. And I was troubled to find that he was speaking extemporaneously when issuing some of those rhetorical challenges to Kim Jong-un. That was really unsettling to me, and then it got progressively worse.

What else?

Isn't Independent really code for Democrat?

No, it's absolutely not code for Democrat. It's -- what it is, is, it's independent of being a Republican or a Democrat. Ask the 45 percent of us who are in neither of those categories.

Hey, gang, we're off for next week. I'll see you in two weeks. Thanks for watching.