Real Time host Bill Maher wondered about the effect Donald Trump is having on the Republican presidential field during the panel discussion on Friday's episode.
"What does it say about your party that the guy who's leading, you keep saying, is full of nonsense?" Maher asked GOP strategist Steve Schmidt.
Schmidt argued that Trump's lead in the party's 2016 field speaks to public mistrust of lawmakers, including Republican leadership. For his part, Maher was also unwilling to dismiss Trump's chances, pointing out that "Fox tried to put a stake in him" and failed. He also said Ronald Reagan's presidential ambitions were also dismissed early on.
"I remember when he was 12 years old in 1968, when he first floated the bubble of running, and it was a joke: 'Come on, he had a stupid television show, he's divorced, he avoided combat, he's got weird hair and crazy face paint,'" Maher recalled. "So, for all those people who say Donald Trump could not go all the way, I don't think they're right. They didn't think he would get this far."
Schmidt said it would be possible for Trump to emerge atop the 17-candidate field by retaining the support of 25 to 27 percent of Republican voters, despite his barbed remarks.
"He's not talking about policy," Schmidt said. "A lot of what he says is nonsense talk, but he is saying things --"
"Steve, listen to yourself," Maher interjected with a laugh.
"He is saying out loud what millions of Americans are screaming at their television sets every night," Schmidt continued.
California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) cut in, saying Trump's rhetoric had "the form and substance of fog."
"But do people care?" Maher asked.
"I think this is wearing thin," Newsom responded. "I think last night was the beginning of that process of decoupling ourselves from him."
Watch the discussion, as posted online on Friday, below.