Watch CBS News

Face the Nation transcripts May 15, 2016: Priebus, Gates, King, Blackburn, Collins

JOHN DICKERSON: Today on FACE THE NATION: The Republican Party becomes the party of Trump, and the tent goes up on general election circus.

With the nomination locked up, Donald Trump went to Washington this week to make peace with the Republicans he's campaigned against. But, by Friday, Trump was bombarded with blasts from the past. He denied reports that he had posed as his own spokesman in the 1990s.


QUESTION: What is your name again?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John Miller. Well, I'm sort of handling P.R. because he gets so much of it.



DICKERSON: And his refusal to release his tax returns gave Hillary Clinton a new line of attack.


HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My husband and I have released 33 years of tax returns.


DICKERSON: We will talk about efforts to unify the party with the head of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, and three House Republicans.

And what should we look for in a president? We will ask former Defense Secretary Robert Gates,who served eight of them. It's all ahead on FACE THE NATION.

Good morning, and welcome to FACE THE NATION. I'm John Dickerson.

Chairman of the Republican National Committee Reince Priebus joins us now. Mr. Chairman, I would like to ask you about a report that Donald Trump in the 1990s served as his own spokesman under another name. What do you make of that?


REINCE PRIEBUS, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: It's just -- it's a little bit odd, but I will just tell you that I think, of all the things facing this country right now, and after being through this primary for a year, I can assure you that that particular issue is not going to move the electorate.

I mean, people are comparing Hillary Clinton, a career politician, someone who has made millions of dollars on politics, and a guy who has never run for public office, a business guy, who is a total outsider that is going to cause an earthquake in Washington. That's really the issue that is on the ballot.

All these other stories -- and there's going to be, I'm sure, lots of stories -- my guess is, it's not going to move the electorate. That's not what they're looking at.

DICKERSON: Well, now that we are looking at a general electorate, and, as you point out, he's a total outsider, very new, but isn't that the point? Since he's unknown, these kinds of stories are ones that people key on.

And I guess, in this case, it's not so much the impersonation, but that this week he denied it, though, in the past, he said he had. On "The Today Show," he said it wasn't him, but in the past, he said it was.

PRIEBUS: Well, look, like I said, I think the issues that are facing Washington are who is going to bring a more efficient, accountable, effective government here. And I don't think the electorate is going to look at whether or not someone was calling a reporter 30 years ago and it was them or it wasn't them as the issue that they're deciding in this campaign.

Donald Trump has effectively carved out a niche for himself, which is, I'm the guy that's going to turn this place upside down. People believe that. They don't believe that Hillary Clinton is that person. And, by the way, Hillary -- you have got to be careful who throws stones in glass houses, because Hillary Clinton can't throw any.

So, she is not going anywhere in that regard. It's going to come down to that issue. Who is going to be the change agent? It's not going to be Hillary Clinton.

DICKERSON: One of the ways we in the past have evaluated new candidates on the scene is looked at their tax returns. Donald Trump said that he doesn't think people have right to see his tax returns.

In the past, that was kind of the standard. Do you that shouldn't be the standard anymore, whether we should look at a candidate's past tax returns?

PRIEBUS: I wouldn't be surprise if people don't care.

I think one thing for sure. Donald Trump has rewritten the traditional playbook in politics. And I don't know if anyone else could have pulled off what he's pulled off over the past year. But this sort of traditional review and analysis of individual candidates has not applied to Donald Trump.

And I think it's because he's presented himself as something bigger than just the traditional analysis. And people are angry. People want something done right this second. And Donald Trump has effectively represented that position.

Now, whether or not his taxes are disclosed or not is something I don't think is going to move the electorate.

DICKERSON: I guess the question is whether political success changes the standard by which we evaluate a candidate. When Bill Clinton was successful in politics, a lot of Republicans said, that shouldn't change the standard. He should still be judged on the old- fashioned standard. Don't let his political success create a kind of relativism that changes our standards.

PRIEBUS: Well, I mean, that's a good point.

But look at Bill Clinton. He served for eight years. And he's still out there running around, and people are still coming and cheering him on. I think that the real analysis has to be, at least from my standpoint in the moment, what it is exactly we have to do as party to make sure that, number one, we have -- we're true to our party, we're true to our platform, and that the party exists as it is today in the future, and the fact that we want to win in November.

And Donald Trump is someone who has been winning more votes in the primary than any Republican nominee in the history of our primary.

DICKERSON: That's right. Yes.

PRIEBUS: So, I look what the voters are saying, John. And the voters are saying, I like what I'm hearing.

DICKERSON: There's talk of a third party. Bill Kristol and Mitt Romney are trying to put one together. Should they stop that?

PRIEBUS: Well, I don't -- I have heard that Mitt actually isn't looking at that. I'm not sure about Bill Kristol.

But it's a suicide mission, because you're not only changing and throwing out eight years of the White House, but you're also throwing out potentially generations on the Supreme Court. Look, we could have up to three justices change over in the next eight years. And this is a suicide mission. It is not right.

And I think what people should do is take the Paul Ryan approach, which is to work with Donald Trump and find out whether or not there's common ground and whether there can be assurances on the Supreme Court and those sorts of things to make sure that our future is secure down the line, as opposed to blowing everything up.

DICKERSON: Let me ask you about Paul Ryan. He differs with Mr. Trump on issues of immigration, entitlements, taxes, trade. Three times during the campaign, he came out and questioned his tone on issues from the Muslim ban on immigration to his reluctance to denounce white supremacists.

So, what is the basis for unity between the two of them?

PRIEBUS: Well, look, I think they agree on far more than they disagree on. They agree on various agenda items in Paul Ryan's agenda. They agree on the Supreme Court.

They agree on the platform of the Republican Party. They agree on abortion. Look, I think you have got about 80 percent overlap. And you have seen actually Donald Trump this week nuance a little bit on some of those positions that you have just outlined.

And so I think we're going to get there. I think there's plenty of common ground. And when the choice is Hillary Clinton, someone who has made a career of lying and skirting the issues, and you look at the e-mails, the Benghazi, the Clinton Foundation, and a guy who has never run for office and might have some stories out there that may make some interesting news, I think, in the end, people are going to choose the person that is going to cause an earthquake in Washington and get something done over Hillary Clinton.

DICKERSON: All right, Chairman Reince Priebus, thanks so much for being with us.

PRIEBUS: You bet, John.

DICKERSON: For more on the relationship between the Republican Party and Donald Trump, we're joined by three Republican members of Congress.

Representative Marsha Blackburn is in Nashville this morning. Peter King is on Long Island. And the first House member to support Donald Trump, Chris Collins of New York, joins us here in Washington.


REP. CHRIS COLLINS (R), NEW YORK: Good to be with you, John.

DICKERSON: Representative Collins, I want to ask you, what is it specifically about Donald Trump, other than that he's not Hillary Clinton, that -- specifically about Donald Trump that Republicans should unify around?

COLLINS: Well, first of all, all he's a chief executive. He's a not career politician.

And we need someone coming out of the private sector, certainly someone who has been a chief executive. We have seen what happened with a legislator, Barack Obama, the imperial presidency the last seven-and-a-half years.

And the reason I threw my weight behind and my support behind Donald Trump 11 weeks ago, when it was Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Donald Trump, he was the only chief executive. And I feel like that is a very important attribute with everything this nation is facing.

So, that's what drove me there coupled with his issues on trade. We have been in the trade war for 20 years. It's going to continue. The other countries are going to try to continue to steal our jobs, as Mexico and China has. And we have got to have a president who is going to stand up, bring those jobs back, and let's start talking about fair and balanced trade, not this free trade nonsense like NAFTA.

DICKERSON: Representative King, the congressman makes a good point about executive experience and the executive role of the president. There's nowhere that is more important than on national security decisions. The president makes a call. Sometimes, Congress doesn't even get a say.

That was the area where you had the most criticism and skepticism about Donald Trump. So, on national security, where it's so important, what made you come to support him?

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: I'm supporting him as the nominee of the party, but I still have real questions with him as far as national security.

I don't think his Asian policy is coherent, because, again, if he does want to get in a trade war with China, he has to explain how that coincides with him wanting to use China against North Korea. If he wants to have leverage over China, how can he be talking about taking troops out of Japan and Korea?

Does he know that it costs more to take the troops out than to leave them there? And does he realize that that would just weaken our leverage against China? I'm very concerned about this romance he seems to have with Putin.

And as far as his statement that he wants Russia take care of what is happening in Syria, that's Barack Obama's policy. But, again, there's a lot about Donald Trump I like. He's brought people into the Republican Party. He's brought in the blue-collar Reagan Democrats, which we had lost over the years.

So, there's a real chance here. But on the foreign policy, I want him to make his policy more coherent. I'm endorsing him. I'm going to vote for him. But before I can actively campaign, I have to see a much more coherent foreign policy.

DICKERSON: Representative Blackburn, in picking up on that, the idea that Donald Trump is going to

change from some of the things he said before, Chairman Priebus said that he's already nuancing or -- that was his word -- some of his positions.

That once used to, in Republican politics, be a dirty word, using nuance. You wanted people who stood on their principles. What is your view of Donald Trump and where he was in the primary and how he might change in the general election?

REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R), TENNESSEE: I think what you're beginning to see is Donald Trump has listened to the American people.

And he has shown that he has heard them. They like the way he has listened and responded. And he's bringing that information to Capitol Hill. And I, quite frankly, am encouraged that he's trying to find common ground and to say to us, what legislation do you have out there that you have been working on that we can move forward together?

I think that is a thought, a wonderful opportunity for us and it's an opportunity for the American people. You're probably going to see a very aggressive legislative agenda. I look forward to a first 100 days of the President Trump administration, when we can roll back some of this regulation that people complain about every day, when we can take the hold, the stranglehold off of some of our small businesses and allow them to move forward and push forward with innovation and job creation, which is certainly what they're wanting to see.

Job stagnation and wage stagnation is just driving people crazy.

DICKERSON: Let me ask you, Congressman Collins, about some other positions that Donald Trump mentioned in the primary, the immediate deportation of those who are here illegally, the ban on Muslim immigration.

Are those policies you support?

COLLINS: No, John, those aren't policies I support.

But, as we have seen with Mr. Trump, the one thing, coming back to one of the other answers, what has never changed with Donald Trump is, he's going to secure the borders, bring our jobs back, get the economy growing, and keep our nation safe and defeat ISIS.

That's something he's been talking about for a year, and that is not going to change. He is reaching out to Congress. He's reaching out to our committee chair. Have of our committee chairmen have now endorsed Mr. Trump.

And he's asking for their input on tax reform. He's asking their input on transportation and infrastructure. That's what a chief executive does, sets the top-line vision, hires a great Cabinet, brings in the experts. They argue it out across a table, around a table, and then they come to decisions.

You're just now seeing Donald Trump, the nominee, moving into the policy area. So, as he ran for the nomination, that's not to say that he did anything other than the 30,000-foot level. So, I don't think it's that he's nuancing it. He's just now putting his team together.

DICKERSON: Representative King, I want to ask you a political question now, which is about women voters. Do you think that Donald Trump has an issue that he has to fix with women voters?

KING: I think the issue is there. But, again, I don't know if Hillary Clinton is the person to raise it.

And, also, I mean, listen, Donald Trump is a very good spokesman. He's going to go out there and make his case on this. And if there are any particular issues with women, I'm sure he will answer them.

But, overall, I think, listen, the average woman -- if there such a thing as an average man or an average woman, all Americans, but maybe particularly women, they are concerned about security. I was talking to a woman yesterday who has been active in Republican politics for years.

And her view was, whether or not she likes or dislikes Donald Trump, she's concerned about her kids staying alive. She is concerned about security. She lives in Donald Trump. She saw 9/11. And she never wants to see that repeated again.

And that is why she does believe that Donald Trump is the guy who will have the guts to stand up and do what has to be done. I just want him to fill in the details. But I think if he can show women and men, but especially suburban mothers, that he's going to defend us, that he's going to keep us strong, then that's what they're most concerned about, economic -- the economy, jobs, but also security, so their kids are not killed by terrorists.

DICKERSON: Representative Blackburn, I want to ask you about Paul Ryan.

The previous speaker was a getting lot of grief for not standing up and sticking to principle. Paul Ryan says he has issues with Donald Trump at the moment, doesn't want to come to a unified position yet. Shouldn't he be praised for that, for standing on principle?

BLACKBURN: I think you're going to see Paul Ryan move very quickly toward working with Donald Trump and unifying the Republican Party.

And, quite frankly, John, I think we're going to have the most dynamic campaign this fall that we have had in decades. You have millions of new voters that have come to the Republican Party. You have people who are saying, let's build a bigger tent, let's bring people in, let's address these problems.

As Peter said, national security, Chris said, jobs and economic security, and I will add third one, retirement security. Those are the three top issues that we're hearing about. It doesn't matter if it's male or female. What they know is Hillary Clinton is a lying, cheating, stealing-type woman.

And what they have got in Donald Trump is a can-do man who says, we're going to get in behind and fix it. Don't know exactly how, but let's be a great team and let's get it done. That's what they want.

DICKERSON: All right. We are going to have to end it there. Thanks to all of you.

And we will be back in a moment.

COLLINS: Good to be here.

KING: Thank you.



DICKERSON: Earlier, we traveled to William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, to talk to Robert Gates, who is chancellor at the school.

We began by asking him for his thoughts on Donald Trump.


ROBERT GATES, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well, I have some real issues with things he said about national security policy and some concerns. I think there are some contradictions.

You can't have a trade war with China and then turn around and ask them to help you on North Korea. I have no idea what his policy would be in terms of dealing with ISIS. I worry a little bit about his admiration for Vladimir Putin.

DICKERSON: You served eight presidents. Are these the kinds of reservations that can be -- are these policy position issues or can they be fixed with a good staff?

GATES: They're policy positions, so they can always change. I have seen presidents do that more than once.

I guess one of the things that makes it challenging for me is that he seems to think that he has all the answers and that he doesn't need any advice from staff or anybody else, and that he knows more about these things than anybody else, and doesn't really feel the need to surround himself with informed advisers.

I worked for some very different presidents of those eight. People would say, how could you work for both Barack Obama and George W. Bush? And I remind them, well, I worked for Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.

The difference is, each one of those presidents, as strong-minded as each of them was, understood he did not have all the answers, and surrounded himself with experienced, thoughtful people who would give good advice, and they were willing to listen.

They would often make their own independent judgments. They often would act contrary to the advice they were receiving. But, nonetheless, they only acted after they had listened to different points of view and then had the opportunity to make up their mind.

DICKERSON: Is that a fatal flaw?

GATES: I think that you would have to -- one would have to show between now and the election, it seems to me, that you were willing to do that, and willing to listen to people, willing to adjust your positions, to give any sense of confidence that -- I come at this, all this, from a national security standpoint.

And that's what I look at. I just -- I came to this interview from commissioning 18 brand-new second lieutenants coming out of ROTC. And I think about all those young people in the military and who is going to be in charge of them, who is going to be in position to give them orders.

And so I want to see some evidence that a person can be trusted with the lives of those young people.

DICKERSON: Would you serve him if he asked?

GATES: Well, I learned a long time ago never to say never. But let's just say that would be inconceivable to me.

Before the election, I will be 73. And let's just say I have stopped working on my resume.


DICKERSON: But let's say you were a young buck of 63. Would you -- would it be administration you would -- you could see yourself serving?

GATES: Well, I think there would have to be a conversation with the candidate to see.

When president-elect Obama asked me to stay on, we did something very unusual. We had this secret meeting in the firehouse at Reagan Airport in Washington. And I had sent him 10 questions, beginning with, why do you think you can trust me, and what are your positions on Afghanistan and defense budget, and who is the rest of the team going to be?

No matter what age I might be, those were the questions -- those are questions that I think would have to be asked.


DICKERSON: We will have a lot more of our conversation with Secretary Gates later in the broadcast.

We will be right back with our panel.



DARRELL HAMMOND, ACTOR: No, it's true, I'm telling you.


HAMMOND: Mr. Trump is the real-life inspiration for Iron Man.


HAMMOND: Who am I? I'm his publicist, Joey Pepperoni.


HAMMOND: No, I'm not Donald Trump in disguise. This is just what classy people sound like, OK?



DICKERSON: That's not Donald Trump or even John Miller or Joey Pepperoni. That is Darrell Hammond from last night's "Saturday Night Live."

Joining us now to talk about what has been quite a week on the political front is "USA Today"'s Washington bureau chief Susan Page, Slate's chief political correspondent and CBS News political analyst Jamelle Bouie, White House correspondent for the Associated Press Julie Pace, and "Washington Post" columnist Michael Gerson.

Susan, I want to start with you.

Is Chairman Priebus right that this question of impersonating a spokesperson, it's the first little bump in the general election, but is Chairman Priebus right that is just going to go by the wayside?

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": I think the reality that he was impersonating someone else himself, presenting himself as his own P.R. person, is not really -- 25 years ago -- is not important.

The fact that he's now denying it, when on the face of it, it just seems to be true, is perhaps an issue not for the people who support him. I think it's been clear through these primaries the people who support him are going to support him no matter what.

But in this effort to expand the electorate that supports him in a general election, I think it's probably one of those things that makes people think, who is this man, can I trust him, can I trust him to be president and commander in chief?

Not a big deal, but maybe part of case that could be made against him by his opponents.

DICKERSON: Michael, what do you make of Chairman Priebus essentially saying, boy, the voters really like Donald Trump and so that's proof that these questions about him, whether it's taxes or any of this other stuff, don't really matter?

MICHAEL GERSON, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, it's a one-step- away defense.

He's not actually defending his views. He's saying, what an extraordinary phenomenon this guy is. That is an odd position for the chairman of the RNC to be in. This is case where he's deceiving people, I think. And -- but he's never had a cost to that, so it's encouraged him over time. He gets away with it. And that encourages him.

DICKERSON: Jamelle, what do you think of -- the Clinton campaign has tried to make lot of the tax returns that Donald Trump has not released.

Is that profitable for her, given the fact that she set up her own e-mail server outside the rules, the FBI is looking into whether there was any criminal activity associated with that? Does she really want to have a big, frank conversation about transparency?


I think the Clinton campaign is approaching Donald Trump so far as if he were a normal and typical nominee from the other side. And I think it's just the wrong approach for the Clinton campaign to take.

If some of the rhetoric coming from the Clinton campaign is true that Trump is something unprecedented, then these avenues of attack are really not helpful, because Trump's argument is that, listen, I'm a sleazy guy. I'm not going to deny that. I'm sleazy. I'm probably a little dishonest, but what you need in the White House is someone who is sleazy and dishonest for you.

And so I think Clinton has to find a way to say, listen, he's sleazy and dishonest, but is never going to be for you, and he is sort of conjuring the worst impulses Americans have for no other reason than his own personal gain.

And that's -- going after him on tax returns and transparency just doesn't do that. Elizabeth Warren seems to have figured out how to do it. And I think the Clinton campaign needs to sort of huddle with her about making those kinds of attacks.

DICKERSON: All right, we're going to pause there. We're going to step away for commercial, but we will have a great deal more with our panel covering all the week's news.

And stick with us.


DICKERSON: Some of our CBS stations are leaving us now. But, for most of you, we will be right back with more with our political panel and our conversation with former Defense Secretary Robert Gates about what makes a good president.

Stay with us.


DICKERSON: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION. I'm John Dickerson.

We're back with Susan Page of "USA Today," Jamelle Bouie from Slate, Julie Pace from "The Associated Press," and "Washington Post" Michael Gerson.

Julie, I want to start with you. This was the week that Donald Trump met with Paul Ryan. Where do things stand in the Republican unity project at the end of this week?

JULIE PACE, "THE ASSOCIATED PRESS": Well, we heard a lot of talk about unity. That was sort of the word of the week. At this point it seems to be a bit of superficial unity because beneath the surface there continue to be huge differences between the Paul Ryan wing of the Republican Party and what now is the Donald Trump wing of the Republican Party. But I think the fact that Trump came to Washington, had this closed door meeting with Ryan and got the speaker to come out and speak quite warmly about him was actually an accomplishment. And I think it showed that there is an effort underway on Capitol Hill to have lawmakers unify around Trump. And even a week ago that was a big, open question. I think we now see the direction that this is headed.

DICKERSON: Michael, give me your take on this in terms of what the party is going through. Is this a situation where all parties -- you know, it's a little messy getting unified. People say some things during the primaries, but then they all come together and row in the same direction. Is that what we have here or --

GERSON: Well, I think has Ryan has laid the predicate for eventual surrender on this. I -- I think that's the case. And I think that Trump is benefitting from extreme polarization in America. So a lot of people had thought that they were never Trump, are very much never Hillary Clinton in the party and they're making a short term appeal on the Supreme Court. That -- that all makes sense.

But there's a long-term problem with having Trump as your nominee. I mean Republicans have problems with immigrants. And he is proposing to get rid of 11 million people. They've got problems with women, and you look at "The New York Times" front story -- front page story. You know, this is a whole second front in the war on women that he represents. And so, you know, I think that there's a short term calculation, but then huge long term risks for the Republican Party, to confirm some of its worst, most destructive stereotypes. And that -- that could be -- take decades to get beyond.

PAGE: Which is what you see Paul Ryan struggling with, I think, because in -- in the short term it -- it -- you can't imagine the Republican speaker of the House is not going to endorse the Republican candidate for president. I don't think that's a realistic scenario. But you see him struggling with trying to see if maybe he can pull Trump back a little bit on maybe on some of his rhetoric or do something, can moderate it in some way.

GERSON: But he didn't get anything in return that I could tell.


PAGE: Because -- well, not --

DICKERSON: Paul Ryan didn't get any --

GERSON: There was nothing -- but no trade.


PAGE: Yes. And -- and, you know, there's no template for getting anything from Trump, right? Nobody's who's opposed Trump in the past has gotten anything from Trump. But Paul Ryan is 46 years old. He's going go to be around when Donald Trump is gone. And I think he's trying to figure out, what can I do that protects the Republican Party that I want to represent, because I don't think -- I don't think Donald Trump is now a winner of the Republican Party. Donald Trump is the face of the Republican Party this year.


PAGE: Donald Trump defines the GOP, at least until November.


BOUIE: So, I think not rejecting Donald Trump kind of sets up this future Paul Ryan for kind of the same kind of failure, because part of the problem -- part of the reason Donald Trump could even win if the Republican primary is that the countervailing forces that could have existed, a large share of Latino Republicans or a large share of African-American Republicans just don't exist.

You mentioned polarization, Michael. I think it is as much racial polarization in American politics than anything else that's produced Trump. And Trump himself is going to kind of reinforce that racial polarization. You know, after '64, Goldwater essentially helped make African-Americans a permanent Democratic voting group. Trump can do the same for Latinos, right? And so 10 years from now, 20 years from now, you could have an entirely new generation of Hispanic voters who are still voting for Democrats because of Trump.

DICKERSON: Julie, what do you -- how long does Paul Ryan have? He's -- he says he doesn't want

fake unity. But at some point, doesn't he have to get to "yes" for a variety of reasons? But how long do you think that is?

PACE: Well, he says this is going to be a long process. To Michael's point, I think that he -- he will want something. I don't know what that will be because there is so much difference between these two men in terms of style, in terms of tone, in terms of their vision for the party long term. I think that he clearly sent the message that he is going to get there. And for him personally, the longer this takes, all this means is that every day that Paul Ryan is on Capitol Hill he is going to be asked, are you there yet? Have you decided to endorse him? And it's going to overshadow what he really believes in strongly, which is a positive, affirmative agenda for -- that Republicans can run on in the fall. So he has to balance that. How much does he want this open question about Trump to overtake what he believes is an agenda that his House members can run on in November?

DICKERSON: Michael, you've seen a president up close, what they look like, having worked for one. I was interested in Congressman King saying, well, if -- if Paul -- if Donald Trump changes some positions on North Korea, on some other specific areas, he would feel more confident. Is that really all that this is about is just getting the right positions on these issues?

GERSON: I think politicians are used to dealing with splitting differences on issues. They're used to their best of, you know, two bad alternatives. But the question is here whether the Republican candidate for president is fit to be president. Whether he has pursued a division, a nativism at the center of American politics that could really change our public life in destructive ways, fundamental and destructive ways? And under those circumstances, you're not talking about this issue or that issue. You're talking about fitness. You're talking about, can this man represent America in the world? Can he represent all our citizens in -- in -- in this process. And those are open questions right now given the way that he has gotten to this point.

DICKERSON: Jamelle, what Reince Priebus and others would say is that, well, whatever questions people may have about Donald Trump and his fitness for the office, Hillary Clinton has, and we heard him say it today --


DICKERSON: Has the same kinds of challenges. Is that a pretty good pushback to the point Michael makes?

BOUIE: I don't think it's a good pushback at all. You know, Hillary Clinton has a whole host of problems. She has, you know, the aforementioned problems on transparency. She has her tight connections to Wall Street. She has all these things that people the left, to her right, are justly upset about. But she is fundamentally a mainstream politician. She exists well within the categories of American politics. On policy substance, she's not that far from Barack Obama.

Trump is -- I use this word intentionally, he's conjuring sort of the worst kind of nativism. He's conjuring bigotry for the sake of trying to win an election. And once you take those -- once you open that box in any kind of society, but especially American society where we are -- we have these deep seeded racial divisions that have -- have long had implications for our politics -- once you kind of open that box, it doesn't close again. And I think because of that, because Trump is bringing in -- bring to the fore, for the first time in decades, in an explicit ways at least, some of the ugliest impulses in American life, I don't -- I don't -- I don't think it's just a matter of, oh, well, you know, Hillary Clinton's worse. I mean, sure, she's a liberal and you don't like her, but she's not -- she's not encouraging violence at political events.

DICKERSON: Right. PACE: Well, this gets to the whole calculous that Clinton is making in the general election, which is that voters, in the end, will want a mainstream politician, someone who does have experience in the political arena. Trump is clearly making a different calculation. He won out on that argument in the Republican primary. And I do think that it's risky for her in some -- in some degree because she does have to try to inspire people. She does have to make them feel likely she could come to Washington and shake things up because in both parties people want that. She just wants them, in the end, to come to this idea that she -- you might not like her, you may think she has trouble with honesty, transparency, but she is at least fit for office.

PAGE: But this is exactly the wrong campaign for Hillary Clinton to be running in, right? She may end up -- she may end up winning, but it's a -- it's an electorate that wants change. She represents continuity. You know, she -- she wants to outline policy positions and everything. She -- Julie and I were talking about this. She's comes out with some very interesting policies in the last couple of weeks, including Medicare for more. Absolutely not breaking through because what breaks through is what Donald Trump says and how she responds to it. and that will be a dilemma for the next six months, how do you define a campaign on your own turf when he is driving the conversation.

DICKERSON: I want to -- I want to pick up on that when we come back. But for the moment, we'll take a little bit of a break. We'll be back with our panel and much more.


DICKERSON: And we're back now with more from our panel.

Michael, I want to try and get you to help me explain -- think about what the turf looks like now that we're in a general election. There were a lot of things that were undone by Donald Trump, masterfully, really, in the primaries in terms of just changing the playbook, as Reince Priebus called it, of politics. So how much is the playbook totally new now in the general election, or are there some standards that still apply?

GERSON: Well, he's making a -- an unusual message to the American people. This is not -- he is pretty random on his policy views. It's very hard to determine them. It's kind of like quantum physics, they change all the time, OK? He's --


GERSON: Right. He's offering himself to be in charge of everything essentially. It's a very much a person appeal he's making. The -- the side effect of that, by the way, is that we're very likely to get a negative election here. You're going to have two personalities against one another. Not necessarily two visions. I think, you know, given Trump's pension for attacking back with even greater intensity, this could be a very negative election based on personality rather than, you know, on policy views, which he changes all the time.

DICKERSON: That's right.

And, Julie, it feels like we're going to have -- it's not only based on personality, but both parties feel like they're having an arranged marriage here, where we talked about the unity in the Republican Party that's going to be -- that's a little difficult getting that put together. But in the Democratic Party, when that contest is over, there's also going to be this kind of arranged marriage.

PACE: And it's being put off longer and longer as Bernie Sanders continues to win in several states. He will probably have more victories coming up. You do see Hillary Clinton trying to reach out to Sanders' voters. I think what her campaign and what Democrats broadly believe is that having Trump as the Republican nominee will be more of a motivating factor for these Sanders supporters than anything else, but at a certain point she does have to be able to turn her attention toward the general, toward uniting her party. And the longer that Sanders keeps winning, the harder that becomes for her.

PAGE: It's very hard to say, why won't you get out of the race, you keep winning.


PAGE: Right?

DICKERSON: All right.

PACE: She didn't like when people made that argument against her in 2008, certainly.


PAGE: And, you know, the -- I think in -- when you look at the West Virginia primary, which -- which, of course, Sanders won, the scariest number for Clinton people were 38 percent of Sanders' voters said they would vote for Trump. Now, West Virginia has some peculiar politics, but that -- that shows the kind of appeal of the anti- establishment candidate that both Sanders and Trump have been.

DICKERSON: What if that's right, Jamelle? What if it's just, we -- you know, we are so fed up with Washington that -- and Reince Priebus used the word "earthquake," you know, that -- that they want the earthquake. And forget positions, smitions, we want the earthquake, and that's Donald Trump.

BOUIE: I mean I think that might be true in the Republican Party. I'm just not sure how true it is in the Democratic Party. You ask Sanders' voters, you know, separate and apart from the West Virginia primary, you ask them, you know, what do you think of President Obama? Huge approval. You ask them, what do you think of Hillary Clinton? Pretty good approval. You ask them, do you want -- what kind of policy would you like to see continued? And it's usually kind of an Obama- style mix. So I think -- I think much, as was true in 2008, the heat of a primary has sort of created the perception in the Democratic Party that there are these steep divisions and no doubt I think there are generational divisions in the Democratic Party that Sanders has revealed and may play themselves out in various ways going forward. But in terms of the presidential race, I tend to think that there really isn't that much disunity in the Democratic Party and that if, you know, if Sanders decides to campaign vociferously for the Democratic Party, which, you know, he continuously says him and his surrogates, that they will do everything they can to keep Donald Trump out of the White House, I don't think -- I don't think this will be such a problem. And I don't think -- given that the Democratic Party is almost like, you know, it's close to majority non-white, I just do not think that Trump is the earthquake that anyone in the Democratic Party is looking for.

DICKERSON: Michael, let me ask you about the Trump cabinet, which is, in talking to some Republicans, they've said, well, if he -- if he puts Chris Christie in here and Ben Carson in there and maybe brings in Giuliani, they -- they take comfort in the people he might surround himself with. Is that a plausible -- is that a good way for him to make the case to a larger group of Republicans, hey, I'm not -- give them stability?

GERSON: I think the way to make the case to a larger group of Republicans is to look like you might win. I think that that's what persuade a lot of people that are interested in power in Washington. And all of a sudden they find ways to accommodate in these -- in these circumstances. I think, though, that the foreign policy establishment of the Republican Party is probably the least attached to the Republican Party. They've been the most critical of -- of his views say on tariffs with China and our views -- our ties with our allies, just basic things, which you saw some in the Gates' interview as well. These are radical, dangerous foreign policy positions that he's undertaken. I think the foreign policy establishment, you know, has a lot to swallow in order to participate in a -- in a Trump administration.

PAGE: You know, Robert Gates, a pretty good Republican, right?


PAGE: Who do you think he's going to vote for from listening to that interview? He didn't answer that question but it sure sounded like he was more comfortable with Hillary Clinton than with Donald Trump.

DICKERSON: All right, we're going to have to leave it there. Thanks to our panel. We'll be back in a moment with that interview with Secretary Gates. Stay with us.


DICKERSON: And we're back with more of our conversation with former Defense Secretary Robert Gates.


DICKERSON: You talked about how important it is to have somebody on your staff who tells you "no" as president. There has been, in "The New York Times" magazine, there was a profile of Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security advisor. It's a -- there's a lot of talk about that in Washington. Is his relationship with Barack Obama typical in your experience?

GATES: Well, I think every president has advisors with whom they have very special relationship in -- and particularly, though, when it comes to substantive matters. Those advisors tend to be very senior and very experienced. For example, there was an extraordinarily close relationship between the first president Bush and his national security advisor, Brent Scowcroft. I think I had a very close relationship with Bush 41 as deputy national security advisor. Sort of the same level position that -- that Mr. Rhodes has.

So I think that -- I think that all presidents have those relationships with people that they can trust and people they can be themselves around. People they can let their hair down, say what they really think about somebody. The question is, how much influence they have on the policy making process and whether, at the same time, they're listening to the senior cabinet officers and others that they've appointed, presumably in whose judgment they also trust.

DICKERSON: There has been criticism of the Obama administration, that they block or shape, or try to shape the views of senior cabinet officials and there's too much control by the NSE (ph). Did you experience that in your days?

GATES: No, I never had that problem, mainly because I just didn't let them. I -- you know, it's -- and it's mainly staff. The president always -- I found President Obama very welcoming of honest and candid points of view. He and I would have some very direct conversations in private. And he more often than not would end them. And sometimes we disagreed very strongly. And he would end them by standing up, smiling, and saying, are you sure I can't get you to stay another year? So, I think -- I think that --

DICKERSON: Was he being facetious or did he like the back and forth?

GATES: No, I think -- I think he welcomed it. I think he found it of value. He didn't -- he, obviously, didn't decide my way all the time, by any means, but I'm not sure how many people there are left in the administration at this point who are willing to have a -- have direct issues with him like that. I just don't know.

DICKERSON: One of the conclusions some have drawn in reading that article about the deputy national security advisor, Ben Rhodes, is that he shaped the environment for the Iran deal, that he misled the public. Do you see that from your observation of the Iran deal and it's -- it's being sold by the White House?

GATES: Well, I didn't have that sense. I thought some of the things the White House was saying in terms of -- of believing that lifting the sanctions could, over time, lead the regime in Iran to change its stripes and become a -- a normal country, if you will, I thought -- I always thought that was a stretch. But I didn't have the sense that -- that people were being manipulated. That -- that was news to me from that article.

DICKERSON: In that article you are a part of what Rhodes calls "the blob" of the American foreign policy establishment. What does that mean to you?

GATES: The thing that struck me, and because there was also this kind of disdainful reference to the foreign policy establishment in an earlier interview that the president gave, and what --w hat intrigued me about it is the notion that "the blob" all has one point of view. I mean "the blob" presumably includes Brent Scowcroft, who was deeply opposed to the Iraq War. It presumably includes me. I was deeply opposed to the intervention in Libya. It presumably includes George Schulz, who has argued for getting rid of nuclear weapons, along with Bill Perry, former secretary of defense.

So "the blob" is as diverse in its points of view as any group of people around. The one thing that members of that elite group have in -- that have in -- that have in common is experience. And some of them have given bad advice. Some of us have given bad advice in the past. Some of us have given pretty good advice. But to lump everybody together and say -- and really the candidates kind of do that. And to say, I don't need those people, I don't want those people, is to dismiss an awful lot of experience and a very great diversity of views on the challenges we face and how to deal with them.

DICKERSON: The president's characterization of that establishment was that the reaction to any event anywhere else is always kind of -- the president has to act and act militarily.

GATES: Well, and the irony in that is, I opposed the intervention in Libya. I mean my reaction in the situation room was, during those debates, can I just finish the two wars we're already in before you go looking for a third one. So, again, I -- I think that there is this sort of political shorthand of lumping people together that really doesn't make any sense and, frankly, is a disservice.

DICKERSON: The president, in that "Atlantic" article, also said that he was proud of his decision not to take military action against Syria, the so-called red line moment. Other people have a different view. Is that something the president should be proud of, his decision not to act?

GATES: I would separate that into two questions. Should he have laid down the red line in the first place? And having laid down a red line or whether or not he laid down a red line, should he have taken military action? First of all, I believe that -- and always cautioned, that presidents should be extraordinarily careful about issuing ultimatums or drawing red lines because when the president of the United States does that, the rest of the world must know it is fatal to cross it. That when the United States makes a threat, it is not an empty threat. That said, so I don't think he should have ever made the threat in the first place. And I would have counseled him against it. Whether he should have used air power early on to -- to either create safe havens or to ground Assad's air force, I -- I think that's a -- that's a debatable point. Should we send significant numbers of American combat forces into Syria, I would say, absolutely not. And I agreed with him on that point.

DICKERSON: How different do you think Hillary Clinton's world view is than Barack Obama's?

GATES: Well, you know, there -- as -- much as -- or as -- to the extent that I watched the debates and the commentary and so on, I haven't, frankly, seen a lot of discussion about foreign policy on the Democratic side. It was my experience in working with her that she was very tough minded. And, for example, when General McChrystal was asking for 40,000 additional troops in Afghanistan, she was very tough in support of what the general wanted. She also was an advocate for going into Libya. So I suspect, although we've -- we have not had a conversation in -- since I left in almost five years, I would suspect that generally speaking she is more hawkish than President Obama.

DICKERSON: Do you think with Hillary Clinton that politics gets in the way of her judgment?

GATES: I did not. All I can say is that in the two and a half years that we worked together, I never saw that.

DICKERSON: You mention in your book -- in "Duty," though, you mentioned that she said that her opposition to the -- to the surge during George W. Bush's administration was political.

GATES: Well, senators take -- senators have the luxury of taking positions, because they have no responsibility. And -- and as -- as I've said, I think that I was startled by that. But -- but I never saw her take that position in the two and a half years. I never saw her in that two and a half years let domestic politics influence her recommendations to the president or her positions in the situation room.

DICKERSON: You think she can handle the job of the president?

GATES: Yes. Again, I think -- I think it also depends in her case, who -- who is she going to surround herself with? And -- and what -- what are the policy options she's going to pursue? What are -- what would be her alternatives in places like Syria and with ISIS and -- and how to deal with Putin and the Chinese and so on. And we just haven't heard much of that.

DICKERSON: Secretary Gates, thank you so much.

GATES: Thank you, John.


DICKERSON: And we wanted to note that Ben Rhodes is the brother of CBS News president David Rhodes.

We'll be right back.


DICKERSON: That's it for us today. Thanks for watching. Until next week, for FACE THE NATION, I'm John Dickerson.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.