Updated [12:28 ET]: More analysis and full transcript added. Lauer goes after Herman Cain's 9-9-9 plan.
In an interview with Donald Trump on Wednesday's NBC Today show, co-host Matt Lauer cautioned Republicans against rejecting the far-left Occupy Wall Street movement: "There are people in the streets here in New York. In other cities around the country and around the world. Does the Republican Party, if they ignore the Occupy Wall Street group, do they do so at their own peril?" [Audio available here]
Trump turned the question around and saw the protests as a bad sign for Democrats: "I think so. But I also think it's very bad for Obama and he's feeling it. I really believe ultimately it's more dangerous for President Obama." [View video after the jump]
Earlier in the segment, Lauer ran through the GOP candidates with Trump and was particularly critical of Herman Cain's 9-9-9 tax plan: "A lot of conservative economic experts say it's a disaster....would you agree with a lot of conservative experts who say that this takes the burden completely off the wealthy and puts it squarely on the shoulders of the poor and the middle class?"
At one point, Trump praised Cain for "putting something out there." Lauer responded: "So if he puts it out there and it's wrong, just because it's something, does that make a difference?"
Here is a full transcript of the October 19 interview:
MATT LAUER: Donald Trump flirted with a White House run a little earlier this year. Since then, a steady parade of GOP presidential hopefuls have made their trip to New York to meet with him. And on Tuesday, in an exclusive interview, I asked Trump to explain just what happens at those sit-downs. When you sit down with these people, what do they want? Do they want your money? Do they want your megaphone? Do they want your stamp of approval?
DONALD TRUMP: They want an endorsement. And the reason is that I really believe I bring a lot of people. When you look at what's going on, I bring a lot of people.
LAUER: What do you want from these meetings? Do you want to be the king-maker of the Republican Party?
TRUMP: No, I don't. I want this country to be great again. This country is in such trouble. I want this country to be great again.
LAUER: I was surprised because recently you participated in a teleconference town hall for Michele Bachmann. Now, this to me seems to be a little bit crossing the line. No longer are you just meeting and greeting, this seemed as close as you've come to endorsing a candidate and participating in her campaign. Are you endorsing...
TRUMP: No, not at all.
LAUER: ...Michele Bachmann? Why not?
TRUMP: She's a really nice woman. She was up, she had breakfast with me. She said, "Would you do me a favor, it's not an endorsement. Would you do a teleconference?" I said, do I want to do it, no. Will I do it, yes.
LAUER: Let's do a little kind of Republican candidate word association or laundry list here. So let's talk about Michele Bachmann. She started off with a lot of attention.
LAUER: Fell to the bottom of the pack. Can she win?
TRUMP: Very tough. I think it's going to be very tough. And I told her that. I even said it during her conference. She said what she believes but I think when Rick Perry came in, it was hot. He was hot as a pistol and he really knocked her off the perch.
LAUER: Since you bring up Rick Perry. He has lost more than half of his support in the last eight weeks. What happened to him?
TRUMP: I think he did poorly in the debates and Rick Perry is a much different person in person than he is – in fact, he called me and he was talking so forcefully and so strong and so good, I said why can't you do that during the debates? He said, "Debates aren't my thing."
LAUER: Herman Cain is now, according to some polls, the front-runner on the Republican side. And yet, some call him, as they called Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, the flavor of the month. Is Herman Cain the flavor of the month?
TRUMP: No, I think he's got great substance. The fact is, he's a really – he's got a great personality. He's got a great way about him and people relate to him and 9-9-9, whether you like it or you don't like it-
LAUER: And a lot of people don't. A lot of conservative economic experts say it's a disaster.
TRUMP: A lot of people don't, but you know what? Right, but Matt – but it's something, okay. It's something. He's putting something out there. Other people are putting out 97-page reports-
LAUER: Wait, wait, wait. Do you agree with 9-9-9?
TRUMP: No, I don't agree with it.
LAUER: So if he puts it out there and it's wrong, just because it's something, does that make a difference?
TRUMP: He's not just catering to me, he's catering to a lot of people. And they understand the simplicity of it. It's simple. It's concise. It's easy to understand. Now, I will say this. I think the sales tax part of it is very tough. Now, do I like being brought down to 9%? I love it. Will sales tax affect me? Not too much.
LAUER: So would you agree with a lot of conservative experts who say that this takes the burden completely off the wealthy and puts it squarely on the shoulders of the poor and the middle class?
TRUMP: Well, I think he's going to amend it. I think he's going to – I don't think he's completed it. Now, he says he has experts. I said – I told him, by the way, "You've got to come through with these experts."
LAUER: Could you vote for Herman Cain?
TRUMP: I could vote for anybody, anybody that we've been talking about, including Governor Romney, who's made a great impression at the debates. But I could vote for anybody over President Obama. President Obama has been a total and complete disaster.
LAUER: Mitt Romney's the EverReady Bunny. You know, for the last seven years we've been talking about Mitt Romney, he always close or near the top the pack. He's right there again this time. Can he win the nomination and the presidency?
TRUMP: Well, I think last time was different. I really do. I think this is a different age, this is a different time. I think the country is certainly in more turmoil than anybody has ever seen.
LAUER: There are people in the streets...
DONALD TRUMP: That's right.
LAUER: ...here in New York.
TRUMP: We haven't seen that in a long time.
LAUER: In other cities around the country and around the world. Does the Republican Party, if they ignore the Occupy Wall Street group, do they do so at their own peril?
TRUMP: I think so. But I also think it's very bad for Obama and he's feeling it. I really believe ultimately it's more dangerous for President Obama. But the Republican Party sees what's going on. I see what's going on. There is – this country, a friend of mine used an expression today and I'll use it, this country's blowing up. We're blowing up.
LAUER: You are never shy in expressing an opinion. So I want you to express a heartfelt opinion right now. You talk about the country as not great anymore and it needs to return to its greatness. Of the candidates you see out there on the Republican side right now, which one is most likely, in your opinion, to return this country to its greatness?
TRUMP: I don't want to say it. I will be saying that, Matt. I can't do that today.
LAUER: Why wouldn't you do it now and give somebody a leg-up?
TRUMP: Because I'm in the process – well, I would give somebody, I think, a very big leg-up. It's not fair to the candidates. I've told some that I will not be making a decision. They're all up here, they're calling.
LAUER: Sooner or later you got to dance with somebody.
TRUMP: I'm going to do it and maybe I'll do it with you, I just can't do it now.
LAUER: When do you think you might do it?
TRUMP: Sometime prior to the primaries.
LAUER: The question is how much impact will that have? Mr. Trump thinks it'll have a lot for one of the candidates.
ANN CURRY: Well, we'll find out.