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All In With Chris Hayes, Transcript 3/17/2016

Guests: Curly Haugland, Danielle Gray, Kristen Soltis-Anderson, Matt Duss, Thomas Perez

Show: ALL IN with CHRIS HAYES Date: March 17, 2016 Guest: Curly Haugland, Danielle Gray, Kristen Soltis-Anderson, Matt Duss, Thomas Perez


CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST (voice-over): Tonight on ALL IN --

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: There`s more likely to become an open convention than we thought before.

HAYES: The Republican plot to stop Trump at the convention. Can they rely on delegate rules to block the nomination?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have a very good brain and I`ve said a lot of things.

HAYES: Plus, the awkward quest for a GOP savior.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think he`s the best alternative to Donald Trump. He is certainly not my preference, Senator Cruz is not.

HAYES: Then the fight is on, as Obama`s Supreme Court nominee arrives on the battlefield.

SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: The president has a four-year term. Scientists tell us that there are approximately ten months left in his term.

HAYES: I`ll speak with Senator Al Franken about the unprecedented obstruction.

And, Senator Harry Reid unloads on his Republican counterparts.

SEN. HARRY REID (D), NEVADA: When Trump calls immigrants rapists and murderers, he is doing what he learned from generations of conservatives.

HAYES: When ALL IN starts right now.


HAYES: Good evening from New York, I`m Chris Hayes.

At the highest levels of the conservative movement and Republican Party, there is now a plan coming together to stop Donald Trump from taking the Republican presidential nomination by whatever means necessary.

This morning, a, quote, "secretive group of Republican operatives and conservative leaders convened for more than three hours to discuss ways to unite the right against Donald Trump." "The Washington Post" reported strategist affiliated with the anti-Trump group told MSNBC the group is focused on preventing Trump from getting the 1,237 delegates he needs to win the nomination outright. Seeking to rally around an alternative who can beat Trump at the convention, including potentially someone who has already dropped out of the race or who didn`t run at all.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, who former Speaker John Boehner endorsed as the GOP nominee if Trump does not win on the first ballot, today vowed unequivocally not to be that person.


RYAN: It`s not going to be me. It should be somebody running for president. Look, I made a decision over a year ago not to run for president. I really believe, if you want to be president, you should run for president.


HAYES: Ryan, who in his role as house speaker, will be chair of the GOP convention said he was gearing up for a floor fight.


RYAN: Nothing has changed other than the perception that there`s more likely to become an open convention than we thought before. So, we`re getting our minds around the idea that this could very well become a reality and therefore, those of us involved in the convention need to respect that.


HAYES: In a statement today, group that participated in that meeting this morning who bill themselves as Conservatives Against Trump, called for all former Republican candidates not currently supporting Trump to unite against him and all candidates to hold their delegates on the first ballot in order to deny him the nomination.

In the pro-trickle down anti-Trump Club for Growth came out with a new ad today attacking Trump, designed not to beat Trump outright, of course, but to depress his delegate total before the convention.

It has been more than 60 years since a political convention went to a second ballot and nearly 40 years since Republicans went to the convention without a clear nominee and Trump is warning that any attempt to defeat him at the convention would get ugly.


TRUMP: I think we`ll win before getting to the convention, but I can tell you if we didn`t and if we`re 20 votes short or if we`re, you know, 100 short and we`re at 1,100 and somebody else is at 500 or 400 because we`re way ahead of everybody, I don`t think you can say that we don`t get it automatically. I think it would be -- I think you would have riots. I think you would have riots.


HAYES: Here is the thing: political parties are not democracies, something Curly Haugland, a member of the RNC Standing Committee on Rules, who I`ll be speaking with shortly, noted yesterday on CNBC.


CURLY HAUGLAND, RNC STANDING COMMITTEE ON RULES: The political parties choose their nominee, not the general public -- contrary to popular belief.

INTERVIEWER: Why bother holding the primaries?

HAUGLAND: That`s a very good question.


HAYES: Those comments generated a lot of backlash, but important and very literal sense, he is right. In the same way that a Donald Trump campaign rally is effectively a private event where Trump gets to say who can come in and who can`t, something he`s done quite a bit of, the Republican Party like the Democratic Party effectively in some ways a private club, and the party has enormous power to decide its nominee, if it can stomach the backlash that would -- will come when it does.

Joining me now, MSNBC political analyst, Robert Costa, national political reporter of "The Washington Post", who authored that piece we mentioned in the open there.

How serious is this?

ROBERT COSTA, THE WASHINGTON POST: It`s serious in the sense that it`s a true effort from the hard right to try to have some control over the process. But it`s not so serious because of the timing. It`s late in the game and they`re struggling to figure out how they can prevent Trump from reaching that threshold and they`ve already effectively today in that secret meeting ruled out a third party challenge because it wouldn`t be logistically or financially possible.

HAYES: There`s a question about whether he is going to get to 1,237. I just want to point this out. Look at what happened in Missouri, OK, this is the current state delegate apportionment rules in Missouri which was not, quote, "winner take all". It was winner take all by congressional district and then some other delegates on top.

He basically split the popular vote. He won by 1,000 votes. He got 22 more delegates. So, if that math holds for the rest of the time, I don`t think they can stop him from getting to 1,237. What am I missing?

COSTA: It`s a painful irony for those in the party establishment who after the 2012 election rethought the rules for the nominating process and made this winner-take-all state part of the calendar really come quite quickly in the process. So now Trump has a very favorable terrain moving forward, not just in terms of states coming up like Arizona on Tuesday, but it`s winner-take-all.

If Cruz struggles to get traction, it`s hard to see if he can do anything but prevent the threshold rather than beating Trump.

HAYES: You report on these folks all the time. You talk to them all the time. Here is what I can`t get -- at one level I hear -- I remember 2008 when you had people who, for instance, were supporting Hillary Clinton saying I`ll never vote for Barack Obama, I`ll boycott the convention, I`ll fight to my last dying day, and that proved not to be the case. The overwhelming majority of people supported Barack Obama. He was elected president.

So, one scenario that people talking about Trump this way are essentially going to come around eventually. The other is that we`re watching a genuine and actual historical fissure in the Republican Party. Which is it? Are these people serious?

COSTA: They`re serious but based in my reporting the fish sure is not as historic as it is sometimes presented because there`s a sense among many in the party, even among grassroots Republicans, that once Trump assumes the role of the nominee or is close to it, much of the party will rally to him, donors, party officials, many elected officials because they believe he could be a strong foe against Secretary Clinton. And I think his ability to hammer her on issue after issue is going to excite the base.

The only group that`s not going to be excited and is ready to stay out, be on the sidelines is that movement conservative. The ideological conservative who wants purity on issues, likes Cruz and just totally suspicious of Trump.

HAYES: But you basically think -- what I`m hearing from you is that the people to whatever sense there`s people that run the Republican Party, those people, are going to just basically if that guy wins enough votes it will be Donald Trump is our nominee and we are the Republican Party of Donald Trump. That`s the party that we are America.

COSTA: You see, Sheldon Adelson, he`s saying, maybe Trump. You see Reince Priebus is not walking away from Trump.

The issue right now in the Republican Party is the conservative professional class that has dominated the Republican Party for the last 20 years, held power even though they`re not representative of the entire widespread Republican Party, they are seeing their power weakened and their grip on power just totally taken away. And those are the people who are really alarmed about Trump.

But the rest of the party is often disengaged and that really is deeply ideological.

HAYES: That is a really fascinating point. I had not thought of it in those terms.

Robert Costa, thank you very much.

COSTA: Thank you.

HAYES: Now, as the odds of a contested convention grow, so too this confusion about how all that would work. The last time, there was serious doubt over a nominee going into the convention was 1976, when President Gerald Ford was battling with Ronald Reagan for the GOP nomination.

We want to show you the lead report of "NBC Nightly News" on August 10th, 1976, six days before the convention. The Reagan and Ford campaigns were battling it out over the rules over how the delegates get allocated.


JOHN HART, NBC NEWS: What they were fighting about is whether this convention should order delegates to obey their state laws. Nineteen states freeze some 900 delegates here to the outcome of their primaries regardless of the delegates` personal feelings. Reagan`s lawyer said it`s an insult to law-abiding people to tell them to obey the law.

LOREN SMITH, REAGAN CAMPAIGN LAWYER: It seems somewhat redundant if not insulting to insert this invalid principle into the convention rules.

HART: Reagan has almost twice as many delegates bound to him as Ford does. And the Reagan argument is that Ford is more afraid his delegates will switch if they have the chance.

SMITH: Apparently the Ford campaign does not trust the Ford delegates. I trust Ford delegates, Reagan delegates, and uncommitted delegates.

HART: Maybe the Ford campaign doesn`t trust the Reagan delegates.

SMITH: Well, that maybe true, but this rule wouldn`t affect that. It seems not to trust its own delegates. And that`s I think kind of sad.

HART: The rule cuts down on the opportunity for mischief, such as rebellious delegates refusing to vote to force a second ballot. The new rule says their votes will be recorded anyway, whether or not they are cast.


All right. Joining me now is Curly Haugland, a member of the current Republican National Committee Standing Committee on Rules, and an unbound GOP delegate from North Dakota.

Mr. Haugland, I want to talk about the concept of bound delegates because that`s what this all comes down to. We`re tabulating bound delegates, the states are making rules saying, "You delegate that`s going to the convention under our state party rules, you are bound to that candidate when you get to Cleveland."

Is that a meaningful concept? Are we putting too much credence into that concept?

CURLY HAUGLAND, RNC STANDING COMMITTEE ON RULES: Well, I`ve been maintaining for years of course that binding is kind of an offensive concept, and recently, I just discovered this material that led to the clip that you produced there that shows that, in fact, 1976 was the first and only presidential convention year where the delegates were actually bound by convention rules to force -- to force them to vote according to the results of primary elections.

HAYES: So, your position is that the general tradition or actually in the rules the Republican Party in these conventions is that actually, the rules do not dictate that those delegates actually have to vote on the first ballot for the person they are, quote, "bound to"?

HAUGLAND: Yes. As I said, that was the one and only presidential convention where the delegates were actually bound because promptly in 1980, the next convention reversed that, repealed that, rescinded that amendment, and that language still exists today in our rules. The delegates are not bound. They`re free to vote their conscience on all issues before the convention and on the nominations.

HAYES: So, what I`m hearing from you that even if Donald Trump were to get over 1,237, there is some scenario which the Republican Party`s delegates could decide to not vote for him on that first ballot?

HAUGLAND: Well, I guess it begs the question, how do you -- how do you know that there`s 1,237 in the first place? You really don`t know until the first ballot when all of the candidates are known.

HAYES: Right.

HAUGLAND: And they`re nominated and the first ballot is taken. That`s the first time you`re going to know how many delegates anybody has. If it`s over 1,237, obviously, he`ll be nominated, whoever gets that number first, first to the post.

HAYES: You`re on this standing committee, right? You and I had a conversation earlier today and we were going through what`s going to happen in the run-up to Cleveland. And there`s a really important thing I think people are missing. There`s a convention rules committee that will convene a week before Cleveland, like we saw in that clip in 1976.

And that committee is going to set the rules for that convention, am I right about that?

HAUGLAND: That`s exactly right. Each convention sets its own rules. We use the previous convention rules as a template. That`s a starting point. And then anything is possible because the convention of the Republican Party is the highest authority of the party. And they can do anything they want.

HAYES: So, that rules committee, who sits on that? My understanding is one man and one woman from each state delegation?

HAUGLAND: That`s correct. And they`re elected by the delegation themselves. Each state delegation is basically a subcommittee of the convention. And they operate as such and elect from among their own members, members of the convention committees.

HAYES: So, if I want to do -- if I was dead set right now on preventing Donald Trump from being the nominee of the Republican Party, and I myself were a Republican, it seems to me that I would be putting all my effort into making sure I knew who was going to be serving on that rules committee that`s going to set the rules for the convention a week before it actually starts.

HAUGLAND: Well, you`re absolutely right. Of course, I think that work is going on right now.

But I just want to make sure everybody understands and I make this point clear, I`ve been offended by binding and forcing people to do something ever since I discovered this rule in 2008. So, this isn`t a Johnny-come- lately initiative to try to influence this particular convention.

In fact, I had a very active role in trying to force this same discussion prior to the 2012 convention and was not successful because we didn`t have enough candidates staying in to force the division of the delegates to get to the point where we needed to have the rules become important. Now, the rules are going to be important and we`re going to have a lot of people learning things that they didn`t know before because they didn`t want to.

HAYES: Yes, that may happen. And your point is the party decides, which I think is an important one for people to remember. We will see how much that`s the case ultimately.

Curly Haugland, thanks for taking the time tonight. Appreciate it.

Still to come, the latest stall tactic by Republicans trying to block the Supreme Court nomination. Senator Al Franken weighs in.

Plus, Ted Cruz`s foreign policy short list includes some truly frightening people. But is it any better than who is advising Donald Trump? I`ll explain ahead.

And later, how to take on the campaign that is thus far proven unstoppable. The Democrats are signaling their strategy for a possible Donald Trump general election fight. Those stories and more, ahead.


HAYES: After suspending his presidential campaign earlier this week, today Marco Rubio faced the ultimate humiliation. He was forced to return to place he tried everything in his power to avoid. I speak, of course, of the halls of the United States Senate -- a place where Rubio missed 35 percent of roll call votes last year. Rubio currently holds a day job there as one of two individuals representing the nearly 20 million people of Florida.

As Rubio himself noted earlier, he won`t be doing that for much longer either.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: I`m not going to be vice president. I`m not running for governor of Florida. I`m going to finish out my term in Senate over the 10 months. We`re going to work really hard here and we have some things we want to achieve, and then I`ll be a private citizen in January.


HAYES: We should note the Senate begins a two-week recess tomorrow. But before that break, Rubio echoed many of his Republican colleagues` talking points, telling reporters he doesn`t think the Senate should be moving on a Supreme Court nominee the last year in a president`s term. Since the beginning of the Merrick Garland confirmation battle and the White House is planning an unprecedented campaign to get their nominee a hearing. We`ll explain, next.


HAYES: Today was the first full day in the battle to confirm Merrick Garland, chief judge of the D.C. Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court.

Senate Democrats are strongly objecting to Republican obstruction and its refusal to hold hearings on the nominee.

And Minority Leader Harry Reid even linked the tactic to the Trump phenomenon.


REID: Republicans are slamming the door on a good man they once embraced simply why? Because President Obama nominated him. That`s how they`ve treated him over his entire presidency. Donald Trump`s style of no-holds barred politics was forged in the Senate Republican caucus. We`re seeing this play out now before our very eyes in the debate over the Supreme Court.


HAYES: Today, Judge Garland met with the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Pat Leahy, the kind of customary meeting that most Republican senators say they will not even take. Those Republicans are probably hoping if they can just withstand this early bout of pressure, the nomination will eventually fade away.

But there`s a truly unprecedented offensive being put in place to keep this nomination in the public eye. It`s called the Constitutional Responsibility Project, a nonprofit organization which according to "The New York Times" will accept donations, develop advertising and coordinate messaging and populated by staff in the president`s two election campaigns.

Some Republicans, like Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah had been discussing the novel idea of holding hearings on the Judge Garland in a lame duck session if Hillary Clinton wins the next election, out of fears that she would nominate someone a lot more liberal or considerably younger than the 63- year-old centrist.

But today, Republican leaders like Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator John Cornyn pushed back hard on the idea, saying the hearings should come after the next president is sworn in.

I spoke to Senator Al Franken earlier, asked him what he thinks the Republicans taking up the nomination if Hillary Clinton wins the presidency.


SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: You know, first they`re saying let the people decide and so we have to have an election and then the next president can pick their nominee and we`ll take it up then. But now, it`s let the people decide, unless they decide on someone we don`t like, then we`ll take up this kind of consensus guy who everyone thinks is great but instead of letting the new president, who we don`t like, appoint her own nominee.

It`s -- you know, it shows that in a way that this isn`t been based on principle the whole time.


HAYES: All right. Joining me now to talk further about this, Danielle Gray, former adviser to President Obama and former law clerk to Judge Merrick Garland, and someone who worked in the White House on the Supreme Court nomination process.

How -- what`s the game plan here? I mean, basically, here it was day one, right, Merrick Garland goes there the doors are closed, he can`t get the meetings that people he needs to meet with, now what?

DANIELLE GRAY, FORMER OBAMA SENIOR ADVISER: You know, listen, I think part of the game plan is to -- for the White House is to follow the process that the White House follows when the White House appoints -- when the president appoints a Supreme Court justice. This is a process the White House has been through twice before now.

So, you saw in the remarks yesterday, I think, the president endeavored to really make an introduction to the American people of Chief Judge Merrick Garland and who he is, the kind of judge he is, the kind of person he is. The remarks were quiet detailed I think if you compare them to 2009 and 2010. I think part of the case that you should expect this White House to make is, you know, this is by all accounts one of the most widely admired jurist in the country.

HAYES: OK. Can you -- I`ve got to say, can you explain this to me?

GRAY: Yes.

HAYES: Because I met Merrick Garland. He seems like a delightful and smart young man. I know people who clerked for him who sing his praises.

But for an outsider, I mean, even his opinions, right, a lot of very dry agency stuff that comes with the D.C. circuit. You know, there`s not a lot of like, you know, amazing sort of high profile dissents on really controversial areas of law. What is it about that the guy that he is so uniformly acclaimed?

GRAY: I think a few things. I think -- first, you know, if you are a lawyer and you discover that you`re going to argue in front of Merrick Garland that day, you`re very excited about that because you know a couple of things. You know that he has really processed the case back and forth and probably knows it better than you and you`ll be really challenged on the bench.

But at the same time, he is respectful, he`s likable, you know, he actually reminds me a lot in his questioning from the bench of Justice Stevens. You know, the president in his remarks mentioned that he has a quality of being understanding before disagreeing and that -- he oozes that in droves.

I think another reason that he inspires such loyalty is because he is a careful jurist. He is not issuing sweeping pronouncements. He is really taking the cases as they come to him. The facts of those cases and the precedent that is applicable to those cases and really trying to get it right.

HAYES: There`s reporting today that the Congressional Black Caucus expressed frustration a few of the members skipping a meeting with Valerie Jarrett about this nominee and other things because it`s a 63-year-old white man. There is, of course, one African-American on the court, Clarence Thomas.

More broadly than that, I mean, are liberals -- the liberals that were disappointed when this was announced yesterday and there were some of them, what is your message to them?

GRAY: Well, a few things. I think when I was working on judicial nominations in 2009 and 2010, at least what was reported as the short list really tremendous candidates with such broad diversity of backgrounds, ethnicities, gender -- that is in large part a credit to President Barack Obama. Many of those judges that were rumors to be under consideration in the press have been appointed by this president in the last few years. This president`s appointed more African-Americans to the bench than any other president in history, more African-American women to the bench.

And one of the things I think we`ll see as a result of President Obama`s commitment to diversifying the judiciary is we`re going to hear about those names again. Those names are going to be on the short list for future vacancies. What Judge Garland own example shows is that being on the short list is actually a fast track to finding your way to the Rose Garden one day.

HAYES: Yes, he has been on it a few times.

Danielle Gray, it`s always a pleasure to have you here.

GRAY: Thanks for having me, Chris.

HAYES: Thanks very much.

Coming up, Ted Cruz releases his list of foreign policy advisers and the names should concern you a lot. I`ll explain coming up.


HAYES: Earlier this week, PBS news hour a show I should say I`m a huge fan of, profiled a family in North Carolina. It`s a family that says they have been motivated by Donald Trump to become more actively involved in politics. Among the people profiled first-time voter, 33-year-old Grace Tilly (ph).


GRACE TILLY, 33-YEAR-OLD: My father-in-law and my husband are both veterans and the whole idea of the care, the veterans being sub par is very true.


HAYES: Almost immediately after that interview hit the Internet, the folks over at Gawker flagged something. Two very interesting tattoos on each of Grace Tilly`s hands. On her right hand, a tattoo of a cross. The Anti- Defamation League calls the version of the cross on Tilly`s hand, which is known as a Celtic cross, or Odin`s cross, one of the most important and commonly used white supremacist symbols.

On the back of the left, hand there`s another tattoo of the number 88. The ADL says, 88 is a white supremacist numerical code for Heil Hitler. H is the eighth letter of the alphabet, so 88 equals HH, equals Heil Hitler.

Today, PBS addressed the controversy. In an editor`s note, it reads in part, "Ms. Tilly argues these tattoos are not representative of Neo-Nazi positions, but are connected to her family`s Celtic religious beliefs, that is what she told our producers as well."

They also changed the headline of the piece from "Tar Heel family illustrates why Trump appeals to the south." New title "Tar Heel explains why they support Trump."

Now, we have reached out to Ms. Tilly several times have not heard back. Her husband told the Fayetteville Observer he`s not interested in talking about his wife`s tattoos and that, quote, we have said they have personal meaning to us. It`s personal business.

The Observer also noted that her husband`s YouTube channel includes videos for nature`s eternal religion under the playlist White Pride is all right.

That playlist appears to have been taken down. So, who knows. They say it`s all a big mix up, and Maybe it is. Maybe when Donald Trump addresses the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC on Monday, he should show a picture of this new voter he`s inspired to get involved and the conference attendees can make up their own minds about what those symbols portend.



TRUMP: I`m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I`ve said a lot of things. I speak to a lot of people, my primary consultant is myself and, you know, I have a good instinct for this stuff.


HAYES: The Republican front-runner finally announced his list of foreign policy advisers on Morning Joe yesterday and consists of one person: Donald J. Trump.

The question of candidate`s advisers has been a real issue on the campaign trail with Bernie Sanders being accused of lacking both foreign policy chops and a deep bench of experts, and group of 120 self-proclaimed GOP national security leaders writing an open letter to Trump proclaiming, quote, "we aren`t able to support a party ticket with Mr. Trump at its head."

Today, Trump`s most serious remaining challenger Ted Cruz released his list of foreign policy advisers. And it`s a real rogue`s gallery of warmongers and bigots, including Elliott Abrams who pleaded guilty to keeping information from congress about his role in the Iran-Contra scandal; and Michael Ladine, another Iran-Contra figure and namesake of the so-called Ladine Doctrine -- and I`m quoting directly here -- every ten years or so the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall just to show the world we mean business.

But by far the worse of the bunch, a guy who has no business anywhere near the corridors of power ever is anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney. The man who the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as one of America`s most notorious Islamaphobes. Gaffney believes the Obama administration and large parts of the U.S. government are fronts for the Muslim Brotherhood, accusing such figures as Supreme Court Justice Ilena Kagan, Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, and Republican anti-tax fanatic Grover Norquist of promoting Sharia law.

Gaffney`s organization, the Center for Security Policy, is responsible for the bogus polls cited by Donald Trump himself in justifying his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., an idea that now appears to have gone mainstream in the Republican electorate.

According to exit polls, around two-thirds of the voters in this past Tuesday`s Republican primaries said they support banning Muslims from the country.

As Gaffney sees it, Islam is less a religion protected by the First Amendment than a militant political plot to take over the U.S.


FRANK GAFFNEY, CENTER FOR SECURITY POLICE: This group, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation,or OIC, it is 57 states and Palestine that have come together to promote what is fundamentally the agenda known as Sharia. That is a totalitarian, political military legal program that would force all of us, Muslim and non-Muslim alike to submit to its barbaric, repressive supremacist agenda.


HAYES: With an adviser like that, you almost wish Cruz would just take a page out of Donald Trump`s book and just consult himsel for heck, even Donald Trump.

I`m joined now by Matt Duss, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace.

Am I being too harsh here, Matt?

MATT DUSS, FOUNDATION FOR MIDDLE EAST PEACE: No. I think you`ve got it right. As you noted looking at that list of foreign policy advisers, they seem to run the gamut from Iran-Contra conspirators to anti-Muslim conspiracy theorists.

HAYES: You know, I`ve got to say one of the -- if there`s a single thing that I found most distressing about this election season so far, it actually isn`t Donald Trump, it is the exit polling on this question of banning non-citizen Muslims from the U.S., a policy that would be absolutely -- is sort of on its face bigotry...

DUSS: Right.

HAYES: ...has no grounding in what actual security experts say would make the country safer, would be a horrible black eye for the U.S. around the world, would inflame all sorts of terrible sentiments towards it and this is now a real strongly supported position among Republican voters.

DUSS: Right. This is a serious problem. I think that`s what this demonstrates is that the GOP has a bigotry problem that goes way beyond Trump. The fact is that they`ve been so obsessed with obstructing and opposing Barak Obama`s agenda that they`ve allowed all of these crazy ideas to kind of germinate and grow. And as you noted Frank Gaffney has been behind so many of these wild conspiracy theories. I mean, we don`t have time to list all of the crazy things he said over the past ten years.

And for Ted Cruz to just name him as someone who he takes seriously -- I mean, let`s understand, this guy`s ideas are taken seriously by no one who understands or studies Islam, by no one who studies national security, so it`s extremely troubling that Cruz puts him on the list of people he is talking to.

HAYES: I`ve got to play this Lindsey Graham interview. Graham, who is someone who, you know, is a neoconservative of the first order, has also been an opponent of Cruz and also has really attacked him on the Muslim ban, attacked Trump on the Muslim ban idea. This is him talking about coming around to fundraising for Cruz.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: I`m going to be doing a fundraiser with and for Senator Cruz. I think he is the best alternative to Donald Trump. He`s certainly not my preference, Senator Cruz is not, but he is a reliable Republican conservative of which I`ve had many differences with. I doubt Donald Trump`s conservatism. I think it would be a disaster for the party. So I`m going to try to help raise money for Senator Cruz in the (inaudible) community.


HAYES: I`ve never watched a person actually gnaw off their own tongue in an interview before.

Here is what`s striking to me. There`s two wings it seems in the Republican Party. You have got the neoconservative wing who is advocating lots of more military intervention in the Middle East, which has led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Muslims, but who rhetorically and conceptually been probably the loudest voices actually standing up against anti-Muslim bigotry, at least rhetorically, and then you have got the folks who are sort of less -- more kind of nationalist in orientation, less inclined to engage in those wars, but who are also the most sort of rankly bigoted when talking about the issues.

DUSS: That`s right. I mean, this is exposing some serious fissures within the GOP elite expert community as well.

You played Lindsey Graham, but let`s think back to a couple weeks ago when we saw this letter from GOP foreign policy experts who listed a whole set of crazy positions that Trump has and then said because of these positions we pledge not to serve in a Trump administration.

Well, go ahead and look at those positions and see how many of them Ted Cruz himself holds, just for example: support for torture, anti-Muslim bigotry as you showed. It seems as long as you don`t hit Trump bingo and hold all of these positions somehow it`s OK.

HAYES: Yeah. All right, Matt Duss, thank you very much.

Will Democrats be more successful at attacking Donald Trump than Republican establishment has been? We`ll look at their strategy coming up.


HAYES: Who is to blame for the poisoning of the water in Flint, Michigan? We did not get much closer to an answer today following a public shaming on Capitol Hill. Republican Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan and the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy, appeared before a congressional committee to answer for the Flint water crisis, which exposed thousands to lead poisoning.

Both McCarthy and Snyder faced calls to resign as the blistering rounds of questioning and assessment of blame fell along partisan lines.

Republicans accused Ms. McCarthy and her agency of hesitating to act. But Democrats repeatedly pointed out that it was the emergency managers who Governor Rick Snyder appointed that pushed the city of Flint to change its water supply to the Flint River in the first place, all to save a few million dollars a year.

They also questioned Snyder`s leadership on the issue.


CARTWRIGHT: You admit here today that even after the whole world knew that Flint residents were exposed to unimaginable levels of lead, you did not declare a state of emergency until January 2016, isn`t that true?

GOVERNOR RICK SNYDER, (R) MICHIGAN: I took immediate action as soon as I learned there was a lead issue, we started issuing filters to people, doing water testing, doing blood testing -- and to be open with you, I wish more would have been done.

CARTWRIGHT: Mr. Snyder, plausible deniability only works when it`s plausible and I`m not buying that you didn`t know about any of this until October, 2015. You were not in a medically induced coma for a year. And I`ve had about enough of your false contrition and your phony apologies.


HAYES: Rachel Maddow will have more on today`s contentious hearing tonight at at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. You do not want to miss that.



SEN. HARRY REID, (D) NEVADA: For too long, Senator McConnell and Speaker Ryan have tried to have it both ways, giving Trump occasionally a slap on the wrist each time he says something detestable, but always committing to support him at the end of the day. This is precisely the moral cowardess that enabled the rise of Trump. If they refuse to revoke their support for Trump, they should put on make America great again hats and stand behind Trump at his next press conference be a mini-Christie I guess.


HAYES: Democrats appear to be scouting a broad strategy for the general election that doesn`t just go after Donald Trump, but that attempts to tie Trump to Republican leadership and make him an avatar for the entire Republican Party.

Their plan, as Politico noted in a piece today, is to basically sound the alarm against Trump and paint his candidacy as dangerous and terrifying, which is essentially what Elizabeth Warren did with some sense of urgency on this program last night.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN, (D) MASSACHUSETTS: I take Donald Trump very seriously. What he is promoting is a form of hate that is virulent. This is not a reality show, this is real life and this is our country.


HAYES: Meanwhile, the Clinton team began preparing a strategy to go after Trump a few weeks ago, according to The New York Times would portray Mr. Trump as a misogynist and an enemy of the working class whose brash temper would put the nation and the world in grave danger.

Yesterday, Clinton`s chief strategist Joel Benenson seemed to preview a slightly different tack that Trump is not so much an extreme manifestation of the Republican Party, but rather just another Republican. He told The Washington Post`s Greg Sargent, quote, "Donald Trump is a very unconventional candidate, be sure, but when he comes down to the big issues we`re debating, everyone one of these Republicans is aligned with the most extreme policies of the Republican Party economically."

Now, traditionally, the person most suited for unleashing effective attacks in the general election is the one running to be vice president.

Joining me now is someone who is being discussed as a potential VP candidate for Clinton, you`re shaking your head, you don`t like that intro but it`s true. Secretary of Labor and Clinton supporter, Tom Perez. Great to have you here.

THOMAS PEREZ, U.S. SECRETARY OF LABOR: Always good to be with you, Chris.

HAYES: Have you had any talks with anyone about this?

PEREZ: No. You know, Brown University people aren`t allowed. And you and I are Brown.

I`m just here in my official capacity.

HAYES: Yeah.

What is your -- you were just talking right before the interview, you said you`re a political junky, you`re watching this, which you are and I think most people who work in Washington are.

What is your sense -- I got a little worried when I saw people talking about, you know, the policy ways of going after Donald Trump because it seems to me like that has been shown to be a short -- not to work in the primary.

PEREZ: Well, I`ll tell you this election is about what it means to be Middle Class in America. Under the president`s leadership, we inherited the worst recession of our lifetime, 2.3 million jobs lost in the three months before president took office. We`ve now had six years in a row of private sector job growth. And so we made a lot of progress on the one hand, not withstanding all the opposition from McConnell and others.

And at the same time, we have unfinished business. The rising tide must lift all the boats, not simply the yachts. And so this is a conversation about what it means to be middle class in America and the thing about it is when I hear the president and the Democratic candidates what they are talking about is raising the minimum wage, making sure -- I had a hearing today where, you know, Republicans opposed our efforts to lift overtime pay for millions of people who used to get overtime but don`t anymore.

HAYES: Yeah.

PEREZ: And things like this -- paid leave. These are kitchen table issues that are very different between Democrats and Republicans.

HAYES: But here is the problem, there`s a moment when Trump said the following, he said, you know, incomes have stagnated, wages have stagnated, they`re down for some people, right, and it`s true for certain portions of the economy. What have they done? And this strikes me as this is the fundamental problem, challenge, whoever gets the Democratic nomination is it is absolutely true all these macroeconomic indicators have improved dramatically -- job growth, unemployment, inflation is very low, gas prices are low, and yet median wages are still lower now for I think most households -- or the median is the definition right -- than in, say, 2000.

PEREZ: Well, and the question presented is what are you going to do about it? And that`s where the differences couldn`t be more stark. You have the president talking about raising the minimum wage. You have the president talking about raising overtime, investing in skills and then you have folks on the other side who say, you know, a low minimum wage is not a problem.

I won`t say who but, you know, rimes with dump. And the -- then you go on.

I mean, union organizing, talk to the folks that I have spoken to on the strip in Las Vegas who tried to organization and they didn`t do it with the cooperation of management. And so if you`re one of those voters who has angst -- and it`s by the way, it`s very understandable angst because this has been four decades in the making, and a big part of what happened for workers was, you know, the loss of leverage.

HAYES: Yeah.

PEREZ: And as a result of a very conscious attack on collective bargaining and you see it most recently, for instance, in the efforts in Las Vegas which were successful, but not withstanding the opposition of management on the strip.

HAYES: You know, and there`s a certain degree to which I think you could make the argument that it is the success in attacking private sector unions particularly and their destruction that has meant there`s a certain part of the electorate that is very unattached to any institutional force that has looking out for their interests.

PEREZ: Well, there`s studies that show anywhere from about 20 percent to 33 percent of the inequality that we have seen in the last couple decades is the result of declining union density.

So, you know, when unions succeeds, America succeeds. And when folks with angst are looking at who has a formula, you`ve got to really pay attention to what people are saying. And there couldn`t be a bigger difference. And this is what it means to be middle class in America.

HAYES: All right, Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, real pleasure. Thanks for joining me.

PEREZ: Always a pleasure.

HAYES: Coming up, Trump`s favorability with a major voting group is down, and by major voting group, I mean, half the population. Could it be his undoing in a general election? I`ll explain next.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Real quotes from Donald Trump about women.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A person who is very flat chested is very hard to be a 10.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, it really doesn`t matter what they write, as long as you`ve got a young and beautiful piece of (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

UNIDENTIIFIED FEMALE: Women, you have to treat them like (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

UNIDENITIFIED FEMALE: This is how Donald Trump talks about our mothers...




HAYES: It`s a recent attack ad on Donald Trump produced by group of Republicans. Meanwhile, a new poll out today finds that half of American women have a very unfavorable view of Donald Trump, which is up from 40 percent who felt that way in October.

Joining me now Kristen Soltsis-Anderson, Republican pollster and a columnist for The Washington Examiner.

Kristen, I guess my first question is I guess it`s not surprising but the real question is this recoverable from?

KRISTEN SOLTIS-ANDERSON, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: I think it`s very difficult for Donald Trump to change somebody from very unfavorable to a more positive position. If someone is somewhat unfavorable, you can move them, you can persuade them. Once you`re very unfavorable, that`s pretty entrenched. And with half of women in that position, it is going to very difficult for Donald Trump to put himself in a competitive position with whomever the Democratic nominee is come November.

HAYES: Also, can you win an election with half -- I mean, I guess we`re going to test that. It looks like we`re going to test that if he`s the nominee. Can you win a national presidential election with numbers like that?

SOLTIS-ANDERSON: It would be very difficult to do so. Gender gaps run both ways. Look, in the 2014 mid-term elections, Democrats won female voters but by a single digit margin while Republicans won male voters by double digit margins in state after state. And Republicans obviously had a very good mid-term election.

But in this general election, if you`re talking about 52, 53 percent of voters having a very unfavorable view of the Republican nominee, and certainly this is a message that`s -- it`s not just about a position that Donald Trump can flip or change or try to get away from, these are statements that he`s made. This is a way that he has treated women throughout the course of his public life that I think the Democrats are extraordinarily excited to be able to surface and it`s almost a shame, frankly, that Republicans are only just now getting around to using these sorts of lines of attack against Donald Trump instead of merely saying, well, he is not conservative enough.

HAYES; That -- I think that`s well said. I mean, here is a tweet. Again, you can go all day with these.

"26,000 unreported sexual assaults in the military only 238 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put men and women together?"

You know, that`s just like a tweet more or less taken at random. There`s long Howard Stern interviews in which he talks about avoiding STDs being his own personal Vietnam. There`s no end of the material.

SOLTIS-ANDERSON: There`s no end to the material, but Donald Trump has sort of confounded expectations this election by saying things any one individual Donald Trump tweet would scuttle the campaign of anybody else who abided by the normal rules of political gravity.

But because Donald Trump has tapped into this very powerful frustration with the status quo, he is somehow able to abide by the rules of celebrity and entertainment instead of politics and get away with things that are incredible.

HAYES: Right.

But my strong sense is that that is partly also due to the confines of the electorate to which he is accountable right now. He is winning, 40, 42 percent among the people that vote in Republican primaries. I mean, when move out to general and you see these unfavorables I think the expectations, the normal rules of political gravity apply.

SOLTIS-ANDERSON: You would think so.

I`ve sort of been the kind of person who thought that Donald Trump didn`t have much of a shot at winning the Republican nomination about nine months ago. So, I`m very humble about coming to the table and saying Donald Trump can`t win something because he has proven people like me wrong before.

But I think very unfavorable numbers, that`s what you didn`t see with the Republican Party last summer. You saw somewhat unfavorable numbers. Donald Trump`s brand wasn`t great at the beginning of this process, but he took those somewhat unfavorables and made them more positive.

It`s really hard to take someone from very unfavorable and move them to more positive ground.

HAYES: Yeah, and that`s where he is right now. And again, we`ve got four more months probably of just this part of the campaign. Kristen Soltis- Anderson thanks so much for joining us. Appreciate it.


HAYES: All right, That is all in for this evening.