At a private luncheon in Washington, DC, a group of GOP establishment figures gathered to lament the rise of Donald Trump and discuss what can be done to defeat him.
The luncheon was filmed as part of an episode titled “The Reckoning” in the Showtime documentary series The Circus, which chronicles the 2016 race for the White House. Executive producers Mark Halperin and Mark McKinnon sat down with these establishment figures before Super Tuesday.
Below is a full transcript of their conversation:
RICK HOHLT [Major GOP Fundraiser]: Everybody around this table that I know, we’ve been in every Presidential campaign probably since 1980, in various degrees. And in Trump’s problem, he doesn’t have a compass. You don’t know what his compass is.
MARK McKINNON [GOP Strategist and Executive Producer of The Circus]: And how problematic is that for the future of the party?
HOHLT: I think before it’s all over, it’s gonna be hugely problematic.
VIN WEBER [Former Congressman]: I talk to people all of the time, as I’m sure everybody around the table does, and they say, “Why don’t you Republicans do something about this guy?” I’m sorry. This is not the Soviet Union. We can’t call a meeting and decide Trump is out.
RON KAUFMAN [White House Advisor Bush 41]: And we hate that.
KAUFMAN: Deny dictatorship — Who’s for it? Trump is doing well for one reason. He understands the climate and the culture of America today better than anybody at this table.
MARK HALPERIN [Political Journalist and Executive Producer of The Circus]: How do you feel about the fact that the Republican nominee may be someone that none of you know?
ED ROGERS [White House Advisor Reagan, Bush 41]: Shell-shocked. Bewildered. Republicans are hierarchical, respectful of authority, and we fall in line, and Trump has interrupted that cycle.
WEBER: Donald Trump, nobody thought of him as any kind of political leader until six months ago.
ROGERS: He’s not articulate. He’s not poised. He’s not informed. All he has going for him is a lot of votes. Why hasn’t any of that hit home? Here we are. Here we are.
ED GOEAS [Pollster, Anti-Trump Super PAC, McCain Campaign]: I think everyone’s kind of buying into this “he’s inevitable” and that he can’t be stopped. I believe he can be stopped.
HALPERIN: What are you doing or plan to do to stop him?
[Crosstalk]: He’s working with cable. -Yeah. Exactly.
HALPERIN: What are you doing?
GOEAS: We’re working on it. We were effective in Iowa, and that was enough to knock him into second.
McKINNON: None of us know who you’re talking about.
GOEAS: Our Principles PAC.
[Crosstalk]: -Katie Packer.
HALPERIN: What’s your role in that PAC?
GOEAS: Polling which is non-public record.
HALPERIN: But which concerns you more — that he’d lose the general if he were the nominee or how he’d do as President?
MIKE DUNCAN [Former GOP National Chairman]: Losing the election. What we’re facing is a choice between Hillary and Trump.
GOEAS: So what you’re saying is a vote for the least of two evils.
HALPERIN: Do you know for sure Trump would be a better President than Hillary Clinton?
DUNCAN: No, but it’s a risk that I’m willing to take. If we get off into splitting our party, we can’t put it back together. Humpty Dumpty won’t come back together.
WEBER: That’s the great dividing line, that question right there.
HALPERIN: ‘Cause you care more about him being President.
WEBER: I’m scared of him as President. I think he’s an authoritarian figure. To deport 12 million people, build a wall on the Mexican border, and impose a religious test on people coming into this country is so violative of everything I believe about America and the Republican Party.
ROGERS: I travel around the world a lot, and Trump is a laughingstock. The world, whatever that is, is at peace with Hillary Clinton.
KAUFMAN: The next President’s gonna decide the direction of the Supreme Court for four years at minimum. Do you really want to give it to her? Mrs. Warren will be beating the crap out of her to make sure it’s some lefty pinko. So you know that’s a fact.
WEBER: Lefty pinko?
HOHLT: I mean, what does that mean? But you’re right.
KAUFMAN: In the end, that’s the question.
WEBER: I’ve never voted for a Democrat. I’ve never voted for anyone other than the Republican for the President of the United States. This would not be an easy thing for me.
McKINNON: More Martinis?
Watch the video above.
Follow Rebecca Mansour on Twitter @RAMansour