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S.E. CUPP UNFILTERED

Virginia Governor Refuses to Resign After Reveal of Racist Photo; Senator Corey Booker of New Jersey Kicks Off His 2020 Presidential Campaign. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired February 2, 2019 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:00]

S.E. CUPP, CNN HOST: Welcome to Unfiltered. Here's tonight's headline, about face. Democratic Virginia Governor, Ralph Northam, refuses to resign while more and more Democrats across the country called for him to step down after this photo surfaced from his 1984 yearbook page showing a student in blackface and a student in KKK garb.

Yesterday, Northam apologized for the, quote, "photograph of me in racist costume," but this afternoon he unequivocally stated he's not in the photo. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEOCLIP)

RALPH NORTHAM, GOVERNOR OF VIRGINIA: When I was confronted with the images yesterday, I was appalled that they appeared on my page. But I believe then and now that I am not either of their people in that photo.

(END VIDEOCLIP)

CUPP: Joining me now for the latest on this never-ending controversy is CNN's Jessica Dean. Jessica, what's the reaction in Virginia to today's bizarre press conference?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have heard from a couple of state-wide leaders since that press conference, both of them putting out - the attorney general putting out a statement calling for the resignation of Ralph Northam. He's the first state- wide elected official to do so, a Democrats.

Also we heard from the Lieutenant Governor. We heard from Justin Fairfax in a statement that he cannot condone the actions from his - he cannot condone the actions from his past, referring to Northam, that at the very least suggests a comfort with Virginia's darker history of white supremacy. He went on in that statement but did not call for his resignation.

I want to go back, though, to that press conference for a moment. There was - it went on for awhile. He said he was there to answer all the questions as you said adamantly saying he was not in that photo after previously saying he was. I asked him why people should believe him. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NORTHAM: I'm accepting - excuse me - accepting responsibility that this photograph was on my page in the yearbook. I regret that. It is horrific. It made me sick when I saw it, but I will tell you that my word - I will stand and live by my word. I was the President of the VMI Honor Corps. Our code there is a cadet shall not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those do. That's the most meaningful thing to me in my life. I tell the truth. I'm telling the truth today.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DEAN: And S.E., I was there for that entire press conference. The governor very calm throughout most of it, but he got most animated, most emphatic when he kept saying, "I am not in that photo. I'm not the person in that photo." And you heard him there saying that he believes that now he's telling that truth that that's going to be enough for Virginians to restore their faith in him and move forward. Whether or not that's actually true and that's how it's going to come to pass -

CUPP: Yes.

DEAN: - we will see, but there is increasing pressure on this governor to stand down.

CUPP: Yes, lots to discuss. Jessica Dean, thanks so much for the reporting. Appreciate it. OK, I want to take you back to August 2017 following the despicable White Nationalist rally in Charlottesville that left a counter protestor dead. A Virginia politician had this to say at the time.

"When you look into a baby's eye, you don't see the hatred and the bigotry that we saw come to Charlottesville yesterday, and we have to ask where does it come from? Who taught these people?"

Well that was then Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam. He wants to know who teaches young people, who sets the examples. Well, political leaders certainly fall into that category. So what example is he setting today when his defense is basically it can't be me in that blackface photo because I remember the other time I did black face too well. Or maybe he's thinking, well, they can't prove it's me. I'll just dig in a weather the storm. Maybe there's a redemption story somewhere in here down the line, maybe Northam's work with black legislators in the state will ultimately outweigh all of this, but for now he's behaving like a desperate man hungry to hold onto power.

According to The New York Times, he's even considered using facial recognition software to prove it's not him in the racist photo, which suggests he's completely missing the point since the picture is still on his yearbook page. Are we meant to believe he submitted the other personal photos for the yearbook but not that one? Not to mentioned he can't explain why his nickname in school was Koonman. It just doesn't make sense, and I'm betting it won't hold up for very long. In fact, while he was speaking today, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus renewed calls for his resignation saying, "the damage that has been done by revelations is irreparable." Here's the deal. Governor Northam has his own Democratic colleagues calling for his resignation as well as the NAACP, the DNC, and almost all of the Democratic presidential contenders.

[18:05:00]

Making this even worse thought, the man who would replace him, Justin Fairfax, the Lieutenant Governor, is black himself. When we was sworn in, he had the papers that freed his great, great, great grandfather from slavery in his pocket, and Northam is refusing to go.

This is pretty bad, almost as bad as it gets, except this wasn't only - wasn't Northam's only controversy of the week. Just a few days earlier, he went on a radio show in Virginia where he was asked about a controversial new bill that would allow for third trimester abortions. When asked what would happen if a baby survived an abortion, he said, "the infant would be resuscitated if that's what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother." Obviously the image of a doctor who took an oath to do no harm debating infanticide was a jarring one for many and with good reason. It's appalling.

All told, it's been a very bad, awful week for Virginia Governor, Ralph Northam. Everyone else seems to realize that but him. Joining me now is the Head of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, Lamont Bagby. Mr. Bagby, during Northam's address today, your caucus renewed its call on the governor to resign. Could he have said anything today that would have helped him survive this?

LAMONT BAGBY (D), HEAD OF VIRGINIA LEGISLATIVE BLACK CAUCUS: Survive this in what sense? I hope when you mean survive - the only alternative and the only thing that we were looking for is the governor to gracefully step aside.

CUPP: Yes.

BAGBY: I think that's the only way that the commonwealth is able to start its healing process and we're able to start to move forward. I think there's -

CUPP: Yes.

BAGBY: - there is an opportunity for Ralph to redeem himself, but there is not opportunity for a Governor NOrtham to continue to serve as the governor of the commonwealth. He's a good man, I believe that. But I think he needs to illustrate what I think he's done in the times in times that we need him for Medicaid expansion, providing supports to schools and criminal justice reform. I think he needs to illustrates that once more by stepping aside so that we can start the healing process.

CUPP: Yes.

BAGBY: And he will be able to redeem himself. I'm sure he will have an opportunity to go -

CUPP: Personally, yes.

BAGBY: - patient (ph), but right now I think the commonwealth as a whole needs him to step aside.

CUPP: What was your feeling about that press conference and his admission that he had dressed in blackface on another occasion, almost using that as a defense?

BAGBY: Well, I was disappointed that he decided to not resign. I was really confident that he would do that. The example that he gave as earlier said (ph) dress in blackface as Michael Jackson, and I don't know if he compared it to the blackface next to the Klu Klux Klan member, but blackface is blackface. It's unacceptable then.

CUPP: Yes.

BAGBY: It's unacceptable now. It's unacceptable as Michael Jackson, and it's definitely unacceptable next to a Klu Klux Klan member.

CUPP: Well, and you said you were confident he was going to resign. You spoke to him yesterday. Did he tell you then that he was going to step down?

BAGBY: He made no commitment to step down, but he did make a commitment that he would do the best - what was in the best interest of the commonwealth, and he said that - he said to us directly that he was committed to doing what - he was committed to helping those that needed help the most, and he was not interested in hurting anyone. But right now I think what he's ding is hurting the commonwealth because we are right in the middle of our general assembly session. Crossover is Tuesday. We're trying to get a budget through and finishing up bills. It's hurting the commonwealth at this time. This is a distraction. We don't want to sweep it under the rug. We want to deal with it, but this is -

CUPP: Right.

BAGBY: - not the way to deal with it. He needs to resign. We need to move forward as a commonwealth and start the healing process.

CUPP: Yes. Lamont Bagby, thanks so much for coming on. I appreciate it.

BAGBY: Thanks for having me on. Keep Virginia in your prayers.

CUPP: Thanks. Now I want to bring in former Obama Senior Advisor, host of the Axe Files, David Axelrod. David, you've been tweeting about this story all day. What is your reaction to that press conference?

DAVID AXELROD, AXE FILES HOST: Disaster, disaster. Look, he had an egregious and offensive and awful era of judgment when he was in his 20s, and that was bad enough, and that was enough to cost him his job, but now he has a huge credibility problem. [18:10:00]

I mean, imagine - I mean, you saw the statement. You read it from yesterday. It was a very, very thorough acknowledgement admission -

CUPP: Yes.

AXELROD: - and to come back today and say, "you know, actually that wasn't me," I mean, who can believe that -

CUPP: Yes.

AXELROD: - and beyond which as I said today and you said it here, this was on his page. And he can argue somehow that it was on his page in error. Did he not look at his own yearbook -

CUPP: Right.

AXELROD: - back in the day? And, you know, most of us do check our page out in our yearbook. And this is his medical school yearbook we should point out, not his high school yearbook.

CUPP: Right.

AXELROD: I mean, he was a mature adult at the time. So I mean, there's just no - Ralph Northam is dead man walking right now. He may not realize it, but there's no way that he can sustain himself in office. He's lost the confidence of his legislature. He's lost the confidence of most of his allies. Some have remained silent. No one is defending him.

CUPP: Right.

AXELROD: And, you know, it's very clear he can't govern at this point. So he is delaying what I think is the inevitable.

CUPP" I know you know this, but for our viewers who don't, Virginia is a one and done state. So he's just got one terms. There's no reelection effort to protect. Are you surprised he's digging in?

AXELROD: No, because I think, you know, one of the questions I hae is how much trouble is he having confronting his own past? I'm sure that Ralph Northam doesn't hold these views now. He's certainly proven that in his public life. This is not the person he wants to be remembered as. He doesn't want his career to end this way.

I'm actually sympathetic to those things, but you know, you also have to live up to your public obligations, and right now in a state with the freighted and troubled history of Virginia, a state that's a diverse state, you know, it's just - it's impossible for him to govern and he has to recognize that.

CUPP: Something that I mentioned earlier at the top of the show, Democrats in Congress largely avoided weighing in on Northam's other bad comments - on his abortion comments. Ron Wyden, "I haven't seen them." Joe Manchin, "I haven't seen anything." Ed Markey, "I don't know what he said." Pat Leahy, "I have no idea what he said." Jack Reed, "I know what it is about, but I have not listened." Before the yearbook photo, this was one of the biggest stories of the week. It's hard to believe all these guys didn't hear about it. I am encouraged that Democrats aren't rushing to bear hug Northam's views on third trimester abortions, but do you think it's important for Democrats to outright denounce them?

AXELROD: Well first of all, let's just straighten a couple of things out. As you said that this bill will create third trimester abortions, this bill wouldn't have changed the law of Virginia in terms of the length of time that an abortion could be had is my understanding -

CUPP: No, but instead of three doctors give permission, you can only have one now, and yes -

AXELROD: No, no. Theirs is no doubt that it did change those things.

CUPP: Yes.

AXELROD: And these are serious discussions and serious debate and I don't minimize -

CUPP: Yes.

AXELROD: - them. I also saw Northam's comments and I can - I understand how they can be interpreted. I also understand that they can be interpreted, you know, to say he was advocating infanticide. I think it's a little bit unfair, and I also think that it is unbecoming this kind of rush. I know the president jumped in here and said this is going to energize the pro-life movement like nothing has energize the pro-life movement and so on.

I think on an issue like this which is such a sensitive and -

CUPP: Yes.

AXELROD: - important issue, we don't need derogatory on any side, and this has lent itself to that, and I think it's unfortunate.

CUPP: Well, and I think that's my point. Democrats will be accused and painted with a broad brush of being extreme on abortion if they don't maybe take this opportunity to say that's - and Tim Kaine actually to his credit said he didn't want to change the existing law, but to say I don't think we should be going that far or maybe to your point if they don't see anything wrong with it, why not embrace it?

AXELROD: Well, the question is what - I mean, I only saw the quote of Northam -

CUPP: Yes.

AXELROD: - and he claims it was - the context was not right. Let's keep in mind the man is a pediatric -

CUPP: Yes. AXELROD: - neurologist or neurosurgeon. He spent his life saving young lives. And -

CUPP: Yes.

AXELROD: - you know, what he contends he was saying was that if you had a child that was born under these circumstances who wasn't viable and was being kept alive, then there was a decision to be made.

[18:15:00]

That would be true of a pregnancy taken to full term as well. So you know, I'm not going to dive deep into this because I don't know enough about it and about the - I haven't seen his full remarks, but I do think we're going to have this discussion -

CUPP: Yes.

AXELROD: - everybody should clearly understand what was said and what was meant, and I think infanticide is an awful, awful word, and it shouldn't be applied unless the facts support it.

CUPP: I think a lot of people heard it that way, but I get your point. I take your point, and thanks for coming on to discuss the awful week that was for Ralph Northam.

AXELROD: Yes. Good to see you.

CUPP: OK. The Virginia controversy broke on the same day Corey Booker declared his run for the White House, the first day of Black History Month. We'll talk about that, and later it's wall or nothing. The president teases and upcoming announcement at Tuesday's State of the Union Address.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

Senator Corey Booker of New Jersey kicked off his 2020 presidential campaign yesterday, the first day of Black History Month, and his slogan, "We will rise," borrows from a Maya Angelou poem.

[18:20:00]

Now contrast bookers embrace of black history with Virginia Governor Ralph Northam's blackface yearbook photo controversy. Senator quickly called on Northam to resign, but it shows how quickly a positive message like Booker's can get drowned out by a horrible one on the same day.

Joining me now to discuss Booker's chances our New York Daily News Editorial Board Member, colleague, Robert George, and Democratic Strategist, Basil Smikle. Basil, before getting into the nitty-gritty of Booker's run -

BASIL SMIKLE, FORMER EXEC. DIR. OF NEW YORK STATE DEMOCRATIC PARTY: Sure.

CUPP: - how do you think he and other party leaders have handled the Northam situation?

SMIKLE: I think for the moment they've handled it pretty well. There's - there was -

CUPP: What do you mean for the moment?

SMIKLE: - because - and here's my concern.

CUPP: OK.

SMIKLE: My concern is that now that Northman has said, "I'm staying in office," my concern -

CUPP: Yes, inexplicably.

SMIKLE: Right. My concern is that the longer he does that, the greater the problem is for Democrats because we've got - to be honest, there's so many people saying you got to leave. We've not need to find a way to make him go away -

CUPP: Yes.

SMIKLE: - because he - by staying in, all that does is call so much attention to what will be labeled as Democratic hypocrisy, and that's what's concerning me because even though a lot of Democrats have said, "he needs to resign. He needs to resign," I can imagine Republicans are going to say, "look at how they're protecting this guy when as a Democrats when they called for Republicans to leave or resign." So we need this -

CUPP: So the calls are one thing, but the action will be important -

SMIKLE: The actions are another thing. We have to - you know, we have to act decisively, and that's the concern.

CUPP: Robert -

ROBERT GEORGE, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Given the one two punch that Northman has given the party over the last couple -

CUPP: Yes.

GEORGE: - the last couple of days, it may take a DNC operation to end his term.

CUPP: Yes.

GEORGE: I mean, he embarrassed them on abortion and put every member - every senior member of the party on the spot, and now -

CUPP: Yes.

GEORGE: - he's done this, making it harder for the Democrats to paint Republicans as the party of racism. So you know, so we'll see.

CUPP: Yes. GEORGE: I - based on his press conference today, I don't think he's going to be surviving much more -

SMIKLE: Yes, I don't think so.

GEORGE: - much more than a week or two.

CUPP: No, no.

SMIKLE: That's right.

CUPP: No.

GEROGE: But as we've seen over the last couple of years, the old rules of politics don't necessarily apply.

CUPP: Yes, that's true. Well, let's talk about Corey Booker. Do you think his optimism, his hopeful message, right, can that sort of compete with Trump?

SMIKLE: You know, I think it can, and here's why, and I actually go back to this. So I grew up in the Bronx. Newark in many ways reminds me of the Bronx, a place with a tremendous history, great culture, well spring (ph) of talent, largely neglected by government and corporations in the private sector. And he came said, "look, we're going to turn this around," and he did so with a coalition that predated Obama's coalition in 2008. He - Corey Booker did this in '02 before we even heard of Obama in '04 at the DNC convention. And he said, "let's take this coalition and all this support and let's put it into Newark. If you support me, support Newark." And I actually - I think that's a message that resonates because if you see what's happening in Detroit and Philadelphia, (inaudbile) in Baltimore, across the country you're seeing - you could see where people have said we're going to sort of put this city - this community back in the communities hands. And that's the kind of message that I actually do think resonates across the country.

CUPP: Robert, I have - I've met Corey Booker. I've interview him, and he is one of the most charismatic, engaging, energetic politicians I have every met. I have long been saying I am jealous the Democrats have someone like that on their bench. But he was ridiculed mercilessly for that Spartacus moment at the Brett Kavanaugh hearing. Some Democrats complain that he's a bit of a grand stander. He had a mixed bag as a record as Mayor of Newark. Does he have some liabilities?

GEORGE: He's - I think he may have some liabilities. I do think, though, that one of his greatest learning experiences was losing his first (inaudbile) in Newark.

CUPP: Yes.

GEORGE: And the way Sharpe James went after him, which was that he was this kind of boreshy (ph) black guy that had come in -

CUPP: Right. GEORGE: - was not connecting with the people.

CUPP: Yes.

GEORGE: Sharpe James brought the entire old school machine against him.

CUPP: Yes.

GEORGE: I think, in a sense, that toughened him up in a way that will make him formidable against a Donald Trump who would try and paint him as being -

CUPP: Yes.

GEORGE: - as they say all hat and not cowboy.

CUPP: Well, I mean, it's not baseless, and I only say that because, look, he's an outspoken, vocal vegan doesn't drink.

SMIRKLE: Right, right.

CUPP: He's reportedly dating a Hollywood actress. How's that all going to play in the middle of the country?

[18:25:00]

SMIRKLE: Yes, I think it'll play fine. You know, and to - so to Robert's point, what's interesting is that, you know, he for - that Sharpe James fight actually was sort of a precursor for what we would see happen with Obama a few years later. And what's interesting is that where Obama was this sort of calm, the very even tempered sort of guy -

CUPP: Yes, yes.

GEORGE: No drama (ph) -

SMIRKLE: - which a lot of folks said also made him seem aloof -

CUPP: Yes, (inaudible)

SMIRKLE: Right? And very in his head. Corey is so not like that -

CUPP: Yes.

SMIRKLE: - and I think for some -

CUPP: Yes.

SMIRKLE: - that will actually be a refreshing -

CUPP: That's a good point (ph).

GEORGE: And he's also - he's mastered social media in a way that's -

SMIRKLE: That's exactly right. Yes, that's exactly right.

CUPP: Oh, that's for sure. If you've got snow in your driveway and you tweet about it, he will be there.

SMIRKLE: That's right.

CUPP: OK? Basil, Robert, always good to hear your perspectives.

SMIRKLE: Thank you.

CUPP: I appreciate it.

GEROGE: Thank you.

CUPP: Thank you. Coming up, the president seems to already have given up on the still ongoing bipartisan negotiations on border security. Will he finally declare a national emergency? And later, lots of people are mad at billionaire Howard Shultz, but for a good reason?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

Presidential Advisor Kellyanne Conway, no stranger to controversy, lit Twitter ablaze last night when she tweeted, "what does Corey Booker have against all the women already running for president? Are they not good enough? Too weak? Not likable? They're certainly liberal enough? Pretend he's a Republican when you read this."

Well, OK, let's. This was the Republican field for the 2016 election, I'll remind you. We're they all sexist for running against Carly Fiorina and Hillary Clinton? Was Trump? Let met tell you what. I know Kellyanne's just having fun gaslighting America, seeing what insane lies she can get us to believe, but it's dumb crap like this that diminishes real sexism and makes people less likely to believe women when we say sexism is real. And she does this a lot.

Remember when she claimed Anderson Cooper's eye roll at her was sexist? Senator Mazie Hirono was sexist in her opinion for criticizing Brett Kavanaugh. Tim Kaine was sexist for interrupting a female debate moderator. Chris Cuomo was sexist for interrupting her. MSNBC, sexist. New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, sexist. It's her go-to critique. I'm sure by the time this is over, I'll be sexist, too. Look, the only thing worse than actual sexism is a woman who uses sexism to shut up her critics. We'll be back in two minutes.

[18:30:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUPP: In the Red File tonight, lawmakers in the White House have 13 days to defuse the current immigration (inaudible) yet another shutdown of the president's own making.

The negotiations appear to be going about as well as you'd expect. That is they're going nowhere fast. In an interview with CBS sent to air before the Super Bowl, the president described speaker of the house Nancy Pelosi as very ridged and tried at (ph) the speaker for playing politics with border security.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I think she is very bad for our country. She knows that you need a barrier. She knows that we need border security. She wanted to win a politic point. I happen to think its very bad politics because basically she wants open borders. She doesn't mind human trafficking or she wouldn't do this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUPP: President's comments come a day after declared in a New York Times interview the talks between democrats and republicans on Capitol Hill were quote, "waste of time."

And suggested tat he would likely declare a national emergency to build the wall, an announcement that could very well come during his state of the union address on Tuesday night.

For the latest on the fight to avert another government shutdown, let me bring in CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger. So Gloria, that's a pretty serious accusation Trump made. That Pelosi quote, "doesn't mind human trafficking." She has since responded through a press statement--

GLORIA BORGER, CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

CUPP: Saying, "The president's wild and predictable misrepresentations about democrats' commitment to border security do nothing to make our country safer." How is this new level of animosity likely to impact negotiations, Gloria?

(LAUGHTER)

BORGER: Well, it's not going to make them any faster, easier, or more successful. I would say that. I mean--

CUPP: Yes.

BORGER: -- accusing Nancy Pelosi of sort of supporting human trafficking is just absurd, ridiculous. And he's juts throwing these names around. He's already said -- he's said negotiations are going nowhere.

CUPP: Yes.

BORGER: That the conference committee which is actually trying to work on something is useless. So, he's dismissed everything. So when you talk about negotiations, I'm not quite sure what's going on.

CUPP: What's being negotiated?

BORGER: Exactly.

CUPP: What are you hearing from democrats with regard to Trump preparing to declare a national emergency? What's the talk about strategy?

BORGER: Look, they believe first of all that he shouldn't do it, as do lots of republicans.

CUPP: Yes.

BORGER: They believe it would wind up in court. But here's the interesting thing, and you're hearing this from republicans as well, is that the house can actually pass a resolution, a disapproval of a national emergency. They'll pass it easily. It'll go to the senate.

And Mitch McConnell is whispering that -- the senate republican leader is whispering in the president's ear, guess what, if the house passes that, the senate's going to pass it too. And then we're going to have a lot of trouble. So, politically it's not a fabulous idea for him.

CUPP: Yes.

18:35:00:]

BORGER: Well, it's going to be in an alternate universe. They're all going to be sitting there--

(LAUGHTER)

CUPP: What do you mean?

BORGER: Well, the president is -- the president is going to be talking about we're told choosing greatness as apposed to making--

CUPP: OK.

BORGER: -- America great, I guess. Choosing greatness and bipartisanship and all the ways that democrats and republicans can work together on things like infrastructure and trade, etcetera. But in the meantime, you have -- you have a government that's going off the cliff.

CUPP: Yes.

BORGER: That's about to shutdown again. A president that's about to get in a fight with his own party about declaring a national emergency, which they don't like because they believe it's an abusive executive authority.

CUPP: Right.

BORGER: And so, it's going to be very interesting to see the reaction not only of democrats but of republicans, should he choose to mention the national emergency at the State of the Union. He may not, we don't know.

CUPP: Yes.

BORGER: He told us stay tuned. So we will--

CUPP: Well, it's going to be the first State of the Union with a new democratic congress.

BORGER: Yes.

CUPP: Nancy Pelosi's in charge. I wonder what that sort of tension will set up there.

BORGER: Yes. There's not going to be a lot of democrats standing and applauding, I can tell you that--

CUPP: You don't think? No.

BORGER: No, I don't think.

(LAUGHTER)

CUPP: Well, I know where you will be on Tuesday night--

BORGER: Yes.

CUPP: I know what you'll be doing, Gloria--

BORGER: Yes.

CUPP: Thank for spending your Saturday night--

BORGER: Sure.

CUPP: -- with me for a little bit, I appreciate it.

BORGER: Thanks, S. E.

CUPP: OK. Up next, is Howard Schultz going to get Trump reelected? He says no.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:40:00:00]

CNN - File 1840

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUPP: It's been quite a week for Howard Schultz. In an interview with the New York Times, the billionaire, former CEO of Starbucks, said he's seriously considering running for president as an independent.

Schultz's statement elicited an instant backlash from democrats who see the coffee mogul as a spoiler in the vain of Ross Perot or Ralph Nader. All but guaranteeing him -- guaranteeing a second term for President Trump.

Almost immediately, Senator Elizabeth Warren tweeted of Schultz's potential run. "What's "ridiculous" is billionaires who think they can buy the presidency to keep the system rigged for themselves while opportunity slips away fro everyone else." Speaking of billionaires, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg added to the pile on saying in a statement, "In 2020, the great likelihood is that an independent would just split the anti-Trump vote and end up reelecting the president. That's a risk I refused to run in 2016 and we can't afford to run it now."

As if getting tuned up by other candidates wasn't bad enough, Schultz was also reportedly heckled during an experience at a Barnes & Noble while promoting his new book with one protestor calling him an egotistical a-hole.

Democrats are united it seems in their animosity towards Schultz. But shouldn't we be asking the question, what kind of candidate and president would he be? Joining me now is assistant editor at the Washington Post, CNN political commentator, David Swerdick.

David, I have long been critical of solutionists. Solutionists are people who are very successful in one aspect of their life--

DAVID SWERDICK, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right.

CUPP: -- and they think they can solve all the other problems too. Solutionism stands from the belief that the problems mankind has spent all of history toweling to solve simply haven't benefited yet form their wise contemplation.

Michael Bloomberg, rabid solutionist. Trump, solutionist. So my skepticism of Schultz is that he sounds like a solutionist.

SWERDICK: Yes. I think that's right. That's not a word that I have typically used, but I think the concept, you've hit it dead on. I would separate Michael Bloomberg, Mayor Bloomberg from Howard Schultz only at least in the sense that he served three terms as mayor of New York City. So--

CUPP: True, yes.

SWERDICK: -- they are both billionaires. They're both sort of centrist. But he has some government experience. But you're right--

CUPP: Yes.

SWERDICK: They both bring this particular idea to office holding or potential office holding that what the world needs is not the two parties, but them--

CUPP: More of me?

SWERDICK: Yes, exactly--

(LAUGHTER)

CUPP: I'll be honest; I don't know a whole lot about Schultz's policies. He hasn't gotten too specific. We know he's called progressive policies un-American. He criticized Kamala Harris for saying (inaudible)-- SWERDICK: Right.

CUPP: -- the insurance industry. He criticized republicans for wanting to repeal Obamacare. He said both parties have failed on immigration. He said pulling out of the Paris climate accord was a mistake.

SWERDICK: Yes.

CUPP: And he said Trump pulling troops out of Syria is a mistake. What else do we know about his policies?

SWERDICK: Well, here's the challenge for someone like Schultz. And I do think that he would get some traction if he got in this race if for no other reason, then he would have no problem coming up with the resources, S. E.

CUPP: That's right.

SWERDICK: And I do think he speaks for a lot of Americans, who maybe at one time were sort of nominally left of center, considered themselves democrats but are disenchanted with the perceived leftward swing of the party.

CUPP: Yes--

SWERDICK: Here's the problem, S. E.

CUPP: OK.

SWERDICK: Is that the problems in America now are known. We know that healthcare is something that is not suitable either with status quo before Obamacare and a lot of people including myself would say Obamacare is not sustainable not implemented in the way that it was intended to be.

We know that we have income inequality. We know that we have protracted foreign policy problems, including in the Middle East. So, he's not coming out and saying anything that anyone doesn't already know. And unless -- and until he articulates specific policy solution to these things that have not been discussed previously--

CUPP: Yes.

SWERDICK: I think that gives everyone on both sides of the aisle the opportunity to essentially say OK, what do you have to offer? [18:45:00]

Again, why are you a solutionist? What are you saying that we haven't been talking about for years?

CUPP: Right. What do you--

SWERDICK: Right.

CUPP: What do you bring to the-- SWERDICK: Yes.

CUPP: -- conversation? I know you wrote about Howard Schultz. I did as well.

SWERDICK: Yes.

CUPP: And democrats are really pounding on him. Do you wonder if democrats are in a way elevating Schultz by making him see him like a big -- a big threat? Maybe a bigger threat than he is?

SWERDICK: I mean potentially, yes. But I also think that for commentators and journalists, people in our line of work.

CUPP: Yes.

SWERDICK: I think people have to -- as soon as someone puts themselves out there, I think those people have to be open to that criticism. And of course--

CUPP: Yes.

SWERDICK: -- it's not our role to say oh, we don't a handicap it for one person or another. One of my criticisms of Schultz was not again on ideological grounds or it was more so that he pitched himself on 60 minutes a week ago as someone who wanted to come out as a centrist independent. And of course he's a business man.

Well, the president we have now is a supposed successful business man. And the president right before that was an absolute down the middle centrist. So, what is Schultz providing that's not -- that's different than what we've immediately had?

And again, I think that's why so many people (inaudible) said you've got to be specific about what you would do that's radically different--

CUPP: Yes, yes.

SWERDICK: -- than other politicians.

CUPP: Well, he's getting quite the political education this week--

SWERDICK: Indeed.

CUPP: -- David.

(LAUGHTER)

SWERDICK: He really is. OK.

CUPP: Yes. Thanks so much, David, appreciate it--

SWERDICK: Thanks, S. E.

CUPP: OK. Party affiliation can be a fickle thing. I'll talk to my next guest about that, because he's been a member of all of them. Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:50:00]

CUPP: The democrats' reaction to Howard Schultz doesn't just reveal their paranoia over 2020. It's an illustrative of a larger problem both parties are facing. Voters are sick of them, and they know it. Faith in most American institutions is down. But in particular, voters don't believe our two party system is working.

According to a 2018 Gallup poll, 57 percent of Americans say our two parties do such a poor job, that a third party is needed. Only 38 percent say the two parties do an adequate job.

And that's almost the mirror opposite of what the results were back in 2003, when Gallup first started polling the question. 56 percent said then that the two party system was good enough.

It's not surprising then that we're less and less likely to align with the far left or far right. And in a (inaudible) poll from 2018, Americans on average put themselves near the midpoint on an ideological scale.

If zero is very liberal and ten is very conservative, most put themselves at around a five. Naturally, the party's response to our disaffection for them is to literally force us to choose one or the other. But is this the year we elect a third party candidate?

To help answer that question, I'm joined by former governor of Rhode Island, Lincoln Chafee. Governor, you have some unique insight in to this as you have been a republican, you've been a democrat, you've been an independent.

And I'm no stranger to Rhode Island politics, so I understand your particular evolution. But what is your sense of the American people's frustrations with our two party system right now?

LINCOLN CHAFEE, FORMER GOV. OF RHODE ISLAND (D): Well, I selected governor as an independent, governor of Rhode Island as an independent.

CUPP: Yes.

CHAFEE: But that's a lot easier then president because of the Electoral College system.

CUPP: Right.

CHAFEE: You've got to win the 270 Electoral College vote. So, it's very, very difficult to run for president as an outsider. It's pretty much set up as a two party system. The last time a third party won was 1824, way back--

CUPP: Yes. CHAFEE: -- John Quincy Adams. And then it goes to the House of Representatives. So even if you do win as an independent, win some states as Andrew Jackson did back in 1824, then it goes to the House of Representatives.

And the House of Representatives in 1824 gave it to John Quincy Adams even though Andrew Jackson had gotten more votes and more Electoral College votes.

CUPP: Yes. But I mean do you think -- clearly people don't think that we are best served by the two parties. And the parties know that, they entrench, they make it really hard for an independent or a third party person to get on to the debate stage.

Without a lot of money, it's nearly impossible. What is the alternative for someone who doesn't want to vote for a democrat or a republican?

CHAFEE: Well, even with the two candidates in 2016 that a lot of people weren't too enthusiastic about Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton. The third party candidates, the libertarians only got 3 percent and the greens only got 2 percent. I mean even with those two candidates, Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump. There was--

CUPP: Yes.

CHAFEE: -- not a lot of enthusiasm and energy. The other parties just couldn't get any traction. So, that's just the reality, S. E.

CUPP: So -- and you ran, you--

CHAFEE: And then you know Electoral College and Ralph Nader and all the--

CUPP: Yes.

CHAFEE: -- (inaudible) Perot. And people just did not -- but 2020 could be different. And the polling is usually right on. And the polling showing--

CUPP: Well, who do you like? There's a lot of--

CHAFEE: -- maybe 2020 is going to be different.

CUPP: A lot of people are already running. Who do you like so far?

CHAFEE: I'm watching like all the Americans. And I think Michael Bloomberg is absolutely right what he said because he had been as a previously guest David said, he had been--

CUPP: Yes.

CHAFEE: -- mayor of New York City. What harder job is there than that? And he did it for three terms. The people liked what he did. But when he looked at running in 2016--

CUPP: Not all of us, but OK.

CHAFEE: -- as an independent.

[18:55:00]

Even with all his -- even with all his billions, he said no thanks.

CUPP: Right, right. Well, it's going to be really interesting to see if someone like Howard Schultz can cut through or if - if this is the year that we really start paying attention to a third party candidate.

CHAFEE: Yes, I don't think Howard Schultz without any electoral experience. I know Donald Trump did it, but his administration has been so chaotic. I don't think people want to go back to someone that's never held elective office.

CUPP: Probably not. Governor Chafee thanks so much for coming on. I appreciate it.

CHAFEE: Thank you, S. E.

CUPP: OK, that's it for us tonight. Coming up a little later on CNN, one of the most incredible true stories ever told about triplets separated at birth. Watch CNN film's remarkable three identical strangers at 9:00 P.M. eastern.

Before that, my colleague Ana Cabrera will have the latest headlines on CNN News Room. That's next.

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