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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Belief in Trump Rising?; Biden Not Running; Trump Soars in New National Poll. Aired 16-16:30p ET

Aired October 21, 2015 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:00:06]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Vice President Joe Biden says he missed his window. Does anyone out there have a time-traveling DeLorean? I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The politics lead. The third time will not be the charm. Joe Biden says his family got there, he got there, but at the end of the day, he just could not see a path to the Democratic presidential nomination. But that does not necessarily mean he will stop speaking and perhaps even continue to subtly dig at Hillary Clinton.

Also in politics, more huge news for Donald Trump, way beyond his biggest lead in the polls in weeks, the surprising number of Republican voters who now believe he will be their nominee.

And the money lead, we do not have flying cars yet, but we could still have the Cubs in the World Series. We're going to take a look at the things "Back to the Future" got right on this momentous day from that popular film series, October 21, 2015. That's the day Marty McFly arrived in the future. It's today. Great Scott.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington, where everything paused at 12:17 p.m. today, when Vice President Joe Biden strode into the White House Rose Garden flanked by his wife and President Obama to tell the world he is not going to run.

And that's our politics lead today, a seismic shift in the Democratic presidential contest. You could be forgiven if you were one of the many who thought the vice president was planning on running based on his numerous shots against Hillary Clinton in the last day or so in which he said Republicans are not his enemies. That's a stark contrast with Clinton's comment in the Democratic debate that they are hers. And she's proud of that fact.

In fact, what seemed clear from Biden's remarks today are two Biden beliefs, one, he thinks he would make the best president of everyone running, and two, he has no path to that job. So it sounded like a presidential announcement speech today, but a wistful one.

Biden closed his speech by pounding the podium and insisting we can do so much more. He rolled out what very well could have been this news cycle's version of Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: America won't just win the future. We will own the finish line.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: The vice president saying today that the window to a credible campaign had closed, but the truth is it isn't clear that that window was ever open.

CNN senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny joins us now.

Jeff, the president saying his family was ready, he was personally ready, but the path and the math didn't add up.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, that's right. The math and the path were always going to be a huge challenge, no question about it.

But in the end, Joe Biden followed his head, not his heart. It's a decision that many Democrats, including some friends of his, hoped he would ultimately reach to keep the party from being torn apart. But some of those same friends say if you're wondering whether he was actually serious, they say the answer is absolutely yes. He became so engaged in the last week, even they thought he would do it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY (voice-over): Joe Biden walked into the Rose Garden to extinguish a dream.

BIDEN: Unfortunately, I believe we're out of time, the time necessary to mount a winning campaign for the nomination.

ZELENY: With those words today, the vice president closed the door to weeks of self-induced speculation about joining the 2016 presidential race. It turns out he wasn't firing a warning shot this week at Hillary Clinton over her suggestion that Republicans are the enemy.

BIDEN: I don't believe, like some do, that it's naive to talk to Republicans.

ZELENY: He was offering an optimistic lesson to fix a broken Washington.

BIDEN: I believe we have to end the divisive partisan politics that is ripping this country apart.

ZELENY: Of all the places to make his announcement...

BIDEN: Mr. President, thank you for inviting me to the Rose Garden a minute.

ZELENY: ... the vice president picked a spot he strived to reach since arriving to Washington more than four decades ago with presidential aspirations. Biden may never win the White House, but he's an elder statesman now. He made clear that's a role he intends to play.

BIDEN: But while I will not be a candidate, I will not be silent. I intend to speak out clearly and forcefully to influence as much as I can where we stand as a party and where we need to go as a nation.

ZELENY: He offered no endorsements, but said Democrats should embrace President Obama.

BIDEN: This party, our nation, will be making a tragic mistake if we walk away or attempt to undo the Obama legacy.

ZELENY: Another unspoken message to Clinton, the party's front- runner, who's broken with the president on a few key issues.

BIDEN: Democrats should not only defend this record and protect this record. They should run on the record.

ZELENY: After the announcement, Clinton praised the vice president, saying in a statement: "I am confident that history isn't finished with Joe Biden. As he said today, there is more work to do. And if I know Joe, he will always be on the front lines always fighting for all of us."

[16:05:10]

This week, our CNN/ORC poll found with Biden on the sidelines, Clinton's lead grew to 23 points over Bernie Sanders. She's the biggest beneficiary of his decision.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: Now, Hillary Clinton was one of the first people who called the vice president after he left the Rose Garden. She didn't directly ask for an endorsement, I'm told. And he didn't offer one.

But Joe Biden is a party man who wants to be deeply involved in the race ahead. His supporters expect he will take sides at some point. If he can't campaign for himself, he will be campaigning for the Democrat he thinks has the best shot of winning the White House. And, right now, Jake, Hillary Clinton is the far-and-away front- runner.

TAPPER: Interesting. Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much.

Let's dive deeper into why the V.P. said N-O.

CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash, let's start with you.

Walk us through how you think this reshapes everything. Is it just now Hillary Clinton's to lose, definitively?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Much more so. Much more so.

And it's not just an analysis based on analysis. It's based on data. If you take a look at our poll that came out just this week, without Biden in the race, Hillary Clinton overwhelmingly gets his support and even gets the vast majority of the support, 56 percent. So, despite Republicans saying, aha, now we're going to win -- in fact, I have a tweet from Reince Priebus, the RNC chair.

He said: "V.P.'s decision is a major blow for Dems, strongest candidate gone, party now saddled with scandal-plagued Clinton."

That is certainly their spin and that is their wishful thinking, and at the end of the day, who knows, it could be. But if the trajectory stays where it is, Donald Trump as a firm grip as the front-runner. Let's just say for now that he actually gets the nomination. If you look at him compared to every single Democrat, including Bernie Sanders running, he doesn't win.

So that's -- it doesn't change the shape of the race vis-a-vis the Republicans, but it certainly does seem to change the race vis-a- vis the Democratic nomination and it gives Hillary Clinton a lot more of a solid foothold.

TAPPER: Let's bring some folks in. I want to add former policy director for 2008's presidential Neera Tanden and CNN political commentator S.E. Cupp to the conversation.

Neera, I don't -- I think this is an uncovered part of this decision. Hillary Clinton outmaneuvered Joe Biden here. There was no path for him to go. And I say this because not only did she have so many endorsements and key money fund-raisers already on her team, but a Democratic elder said to me yesterday that Hillary's decision on the trade deal that she had worked to promote as secretary of state, that she opposes it now not because of Bernie Sanders and her leftward flank.

She didn't want to give Joe Biden any sort of room with labor unions that he has a very strong relationship with. What do you think?

NEERA TANDEN, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Mm-hmm.

Well, first let me say that the vice president has a lot of respect in the party and has fought a lot of victories -- and for a lot of victories. And I'm actually -- I'm glad that he's made this decision. But he has a lot of steam and a lot of support in the party.

You know, I have worked for Hillary. I know she has views on trade that have been mixed for a long time. I'm not going to strategize about these things one way or the other, but I think the truth is that Hillary's been a really strong candidate. Specifically in the last week, the debate performance brought a lot of support from all corners.

I think she reassured a lot of Democrats there. And so I think that really in its own way narrowed the path for the vice president.

TAPPER: All right. That's not the answer I was looking for. But it was a very politic one.

(CROSSTALK)

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Creative answer, though.

TAPPER: It was good.

But, S.E., let me -- let me -- she didn't deny it, but...

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

TANDEN: I'm fully denying that politics determines every decision everyone makes.

TAPPER: But she's a key...

CUPP: She's canny, canny.

TAPPER: Yes.

S.E., Reince Priebus' tweet that Dana just read, there's a lot of Brer Rabbit stuff going on here, right?

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Nobody actually thinks that Vice President Biden is going to be the strongest Democratic candidate.

CUPP: Well, there were a couple of reasons to believe he might actually be a force if he ran. One, Democrats have been doing very badly in recent election cycles with a certain kind of voter.

TAPPER: White working-class voters?

CUPP: White male working-class blue-collar voters of a certain age.

TAPPER: Sure.

CUPP: Joe Biden speaks that language fluently. He would have definitely been a voice for that Democrat who might stay home in 2016 or even consider a Republican, depending on the Republican nominee. So there was that.

Then, in particular with Hillary, Hillary is doing as bad with men as Trump does with women. She is doing as bad with men as Republicans do with Hispanics. So, it was -- I mean, there was reason for Joe Biden to consider this. You're right. She outmaneuvered him 100 percent.

[16:10:03]

She is strengthened now, but I wonder if in the long-term this ABC caucus, this anyone-but-Clinton kind of outcry continues to follow her now that no one else is getting in.

TAPPER: Yes.

CUPP: And they're stuck with either Hillary, who is untrustworthy, or Bernie, who is not electable.

TAPPER: Neera's...

(CROSSTALK)

TANDEN: Just fascinating about this.

I mean, it's interesting that all these Republicans for so long were really working against her interest when they said we really want Joe Biden to run, he's going to be great. We really think he's going to run.

Bill Kristol has been arguing he was going to run for so long. I didn't realize that Bill Kristol was so wanting a Democratic president.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

TANDEN: Fascinating phenomenon.

Look, I think the reality -- I mean, we should look forward at this point. I think actually Hillary has shown over the last week that her Democratic support can grow. It's not that it's just always coming now, that she can bring more Democrats.

I think the vice president's decision allows that to grow even further. But we will have a lot of turns in this race.

TAPPER: Dana Bash, Neera Tanden, and, of course, S.E. Cupp, thanks so much to all of you.

Donald Trump firmly on top in a brand-new poll out today, beating his closest competitor, Ben Carson, by double digit digits, but the biggest headline in the new poll is how many Republicans now think Donald Trump will be their nominee -- that story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:15:35] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Happy "Back to the Future" day.

More now on our politics lead -- roads? Donald Trump doesn't need roads. He's going where no pundit thought he would ever go and could ever stay above 30 percent in national polls of Republicans.

The new ABC News/"The Washington Post" poll out today shows the businessman killing in the competition. Thirty-two percent of registered Republican voters want Trump to be their nominee and the next guy Dr. Ben Carson is ten points back.

But is Trump doing enough to convert support in the polls to real actual votes?

CNN political reporter Sara Murray is in Burlington, Iowa.

Sara, is he?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Well, Jake, I think the Trump ground game is a lot more sophisticated than many folks have given credit for, particularly his Republican rivals. And what is sure to be good news for Trump, now even more Republicans are thinking of him as presidential.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY (voice-over): For the 100th day, Donald Trump dominates the GOP field.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: First of all, it's an honor to have such a wonderful poll. It's a very nice way to get up in the morning and see and I will says I fight for it.

MURRAY: Trump's latest poll numbers matching his larger than life personality. In a reversal from when he entered the race, Republicans increasingly believe Trump has staying power. More than four in ten Republicans say he will win the nomination in a new "The Washington Post"/ABC News poll.

The poll shows Trump with 32 percent support from Republican voters, a ten-point lead over Dr. Ben Carson. The only other candidate to hit double digits, Marco Rubio at 10 percent. Meanwhile, Jeb Bush once the front runner now at just 7 percent nationwide.

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Four years ago, Herman Cain was the front runner, and two weeks prior to that, it was Rick Perry. Both are great guys and didn't win the nomination.

TRUMP: Well, look, Jeb has had a very hard time. He's way down in the polls. He's doing very poorly. He's embarrassed by what's happening, so he has to attack me to get his numbers up.

MURRAY: Trump's team now looking to prove it has the organization to bring the candidate to the finish line. It boasts paid staffers in 11 states, including a total of 40 employees in states holding the first four nominating contests.

And the operation is still growing.

TRUMP: Our ground game is all over Iowa, New Hampshire, all over. South Carolina, tremendous ground game.

MURRAY: Iowa offers a unique challenge -- turning Trump super fans into committed caucus-goers. To make it happen, the campaign is teaching supporters how to caucus and organizing precinct captains to help deliver a victory.

But the question remains, can Trump turn his poll numbers into actual votes?

TRUMP: We have a great team. We have a great ground game. And I think we're going to do very well. I actually think we're going to do even better than the polls. We have I think the best people. We have a tremendous group of people that are dedicated to making this really special.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: Now, Trump will be campaigning here in Burlington, Iowa, in just a couple hours. This is a state where most candidates would be happy to draw 100, 200 supporters. Event organizers tell us this venue holds 2,500 -- Jake.

TAPPER: Sara Murray in Burlington, Iowa, thanks so much.

Joining me to talk all things politics is associate editor of "The Washington Post" and a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Bob Woodward. He's out with a brand new book titled "The Last of the President's Men."

Bob, thanks so much for being here.

BOB WOODWARD, THE WASHINGTON POST: Thank you.

TAPPER: I want to see your excellent book in a minute, but I have to ask you about politics as long as I have you here.

WOODWARD: Yes, sure.

TAPPER: Joe Biden's announcement he's not running, were you surprised?

WOODWARD: I think at one point he wanted to run. And then he undecided and then, you know, this is where he landed. It's probably a sensible decision for him. But it gives the nomination to Hillary Clinton for all practical purposes.

TAPPER: On the other side of the aisle, you have Donald Trump commanding lead. I don't think anybody other than maybe Donald Trump and his associates thought he was going to be doing this well for so long. Do you think that he's likely to be the nominee?

WOODWARD: You have to doubt it --

TAPPER: Yes.

WOODWARD: -- because the Republican party is looking for somebody who's like Reagan. I mean, you talk to Republicans, they all love Reagan. And Donald Trump is not Reaganesque in many ways, and the party would gravitate towards somebody who can win. And the polls show that Rubio and Kasich, if they ran and won Ohio and Florida, no Democrat could beat them. So, Republicans are going to want to win obviously.

TAPPER: Right.

WOODWARD: And so this is the mystery. And we'll see what happens when people actually go to vote.

[16:20:02] I think a lot of those Trump supporters are no votes. They're voting no against politics in Washington and what's going on. And it's a protest.

And is that going to bring people to the polls? We'll see. So I think there's still a question mark over all of it. But the big question is, do we understand who Trump really is. And is he in touch with reality? This -- I'm going to deport 11 million people out of this country. Do you have any idea the logistics of doing that? I mean, it's impossible.

TAPPER: Well, I agree a lot of questions about his policies. Looking ahead to tomorrow's Benghazi hearing there are a lot of Republicans out there saying Benghazi is worse than Watergate. You obviously know a little thing about Watergate, know a thing or two about Watergate. Is Benghazi worse than Watergate?

WOODWARD: No, I haven't really heard anybody seriously say that.

TAPPER: There's a Republican congressman out there saying that.

WOODWARD: Well, people died and that's tragic obviously. But Watergate was a level of criminality in the documentation of that criminality. And Nixon and his people really tampering with the electoral system in deciding who the Democrats are going to nominate by spying and sabotaging the people who might be stronger candidates against Nixon.

TAPPER: I want you to take a look at this new TV ad running today, starting today from a pro Clinton super PAC about tomorrow's hearing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, PRIORITIES USA ACTION)

AD NARRATOR: Now, Republicans are playing politics over Benghazi.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R), CALIFORNIA: Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So, that was Kevin McCarthy's voice in there. Can you think of anything that undermined the credibility of the Benghazi committee more than their own House majority leader saying that it was political?

WOODWARD: No. Clearly a problem.

As we know all of these hearings and investigations have a political component. But the idea is to get the facts.

And in Watergate, they set up the Senate Watergate committee with a vote 77-0. Dozens of Republicans said let's get to the bottom of this. Now, that was a different time, much more politicized now.

It's going to be an interesting hearing. And as people have said, there's still unanswered questions about all of this, unanswered questions about the e-mail. Question is, do we have a system, an investigative system in the Congress that can in a sensible, nonpartisan way get to some answers. And we're going to see. It's going to be eye opening, isn't it?

TAPPER: All right. Bob, stay with us. We want to cover much, much more including the Republican race for speaker and your new book about the Nixon White House.

We're going to take a very quick break. Stay with us.

(COMMRECIAL BREAK)

[16:27:31] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Staying with our politics lead. Now, Republican Congressman Paul Ryan says he is willing to be the next speaker of the House but only if all the Republicans he would represent unite behind his candidacy.

Back with us is the legendary Bob Woodward. He's out with a new book titled "The Last of the President's Men." I want to get to the book but one last question on Paul Ryan.

What do you make of these demands that he will accept the speakership only if all the factions get behind him and he gets to have guaranteed time with his family?

WOODWARD: Well, it makes sense. You know, if you're going to be the speaker you have to lead a majority.

But if you know a little bit about Ryan's background, he came to Congress 16 years ago, 1999. And he was so young they wouldn't let him on the House floor. They thought he was a staffer. And he would have to you know say it's me.

And the idea that somebody who's been there that short time and is so young might become speaker is rather amazing. At the same time when I did the book "The Price of Politics", I got to know him. And he's a serious policy wonk. And a lot of people would disagree with him. A lot of people would agree. But he's got a fiscal rationale for doing the things that he proposes.

TAPPER: Yes. He -- I think he really does like being on the House Ways and Means Committee, the chairman.

But let's turn to your book, "Last of the President's Men." This is a profile of Alexander Butterfield who was a top Nixon aide. And I have to say it's a riveting read, but it's also disturbing. Alexander Butterfield for people who don't know, he's the one before Congress admitted there was a taping system thus undermining the entire Nixon presidency.

The portrait that he paints of President Nixon, I don't want to be flip about this, but Nixon almost sounds mentally disturbed.

WOODWARD: Well, he was lonely. He obsessed with things. I mean, my real concern and you know this from your book about Afghanistan -- war is really important.

TAPPER: Yes.

WOODWARD: It is the measure of who we are as a country. And there's a memo in there that really shocked me.

TAPPER: That he's talking about.

WOODWARD: Historians and Nixon said, oh, we've done three years of bombing and we've accomplished zilch. It is a total failure.

Well, publicly, he was saying the opposite. You talk to people in the White House at the time and the idea was, oh, the bombing is going to win the war for us. And it's a lie.

And, you know, the crimes of Watergate are of a very high magnitude. But doing this, continuing the bombing, a war strategy that you know is accomplishing nothing is, it borders on another kind of crime.