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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Reince Priebus Interview; Poll: Hillary Clinton's Lead Slips In Iowa; Ted Cruz Picks Up "Duck Dynasty" Endorsement; Harry Potter, Die Hard Actor Dies At 69. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired January 14, 2016 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:02] DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: ... Trump, Mr. New York, wasn't going to let that go hitting back with tales from 9/11.

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The way they handled that attack was one of the most incredible things that anybody has ever seen. When you want to knock New York, you got to go through me.

BASH: So will all this erupt on the debate stage tonight?

TRUMP: Now they attack. But they don't understand that unlike this country, I attack back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now, one thing that we should be looking for is Jeb Bush, you know, he started out these debates center stage as the front-runner. He has moved way down stage, but he is not taking that through lying down if you will, Jake. He released a new campaign ad this morning to try to maybe preview what his strategy is going to be tonight, it's called enough. And it goes after Donald Trump for -- from Bush's point of view making fun of people with disabilities. So we're going to see that kind of strategy from jeb bush, it could be an interesting night.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Dana Bash, thank you so much. Cruz versus Trump is not the only Republican showdown of course. The rift between Trump and the Republican establishment is growing after South Carolina. Governor Nikki Haley disc the front runner what's the RNC chairman going to do to smooth things over, he'll tell me live, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:35:25] TAPPER: Welcome back to "The Lead." We're going to stay with our politics lead right now. It's the giant elephant hanging over all the elephants set to take the stage tonight. Sorry about that metaphor. Is the guy standing next to Donald Trump, Senator Ted Cruz, is he even constitutionally eligible to be president?

Let's talk about tonight's debate and the Republican race with the chairman of the Republican National Committee Reince Priebus. Sir, thanks for joining me. Appreciate it.

REINCE PRIEBUS, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Yeah, we miss you. I thought I was going to be seeing you right now, but it looks great in here and everybody's excited. And we're looking forward to a good night.

TAPPER: Well, let's start with one of the issues that will definitely come up tonight, Donald Trump keeps bringing it up over and over. He says Senator Ted Cruz might not be constitutionally eligible because he was born in Canada to only one American president.

You have said that you are not going to get in the middle of all these candidate issues, "It's a bad place for me to be, I'll let all these folks argue about this stuff. I'm going to have to stay out of this." But I have to press you on this, Mr. chairman, but you have an obligation to say if the candidate second place nationally in the polls, first place in Iowa who could very possibly be your nominee, but don't you have an obligation to say whether he's eligible to the office?

PRIEBUS: He is eligible and I've said that. And the story you're referring to is, you know, three days old, which, you know, and in our world is like three months ago, but I've done many interviews, and I have said that he's eligible. All of our candidates are eligible. But, you know, the fact is, you know, what you're referring to is sometimes my knee jerk reaction to a lot of these things when I just say, look, I'm not getting in the middle of this, this argument. But as far as that question goes it is my opinion that he is, so there you go.

TAPPER: OK, good. Thank you for settling that. The debate tonight is in South Carolina, Governor Nikki Haley's backyard. She obviously delivered something of a rebuke of Donald Trump in her State of the Union response telling voters to tune out the, "Siren call of our angriest voices." Now, I know you don't like to get in the middle of these things, but in retrospect, given your brothers would you have your state of the union responder criticize your presidential front- runner?

PRIEBUS: You know, look, my belief is, is that we ought to adhere to Reagan's 11th commandment. But, you know, when I listened to that I didn't, you know, I wasn't hearing that from Nikki. I was hearing from a governor who's gone through some enormous tragedy and a lot of things down here in South Carolina has led the way not just here but our entire country. And I also remind people, and I think everyone involved, all of our candidates would agree with this too, and I'm sure Donald would too.

You know, there's really only two doors people can walk through it's the Republican door or the Democrat door. And the people that walk through these doors they're just not going to agree with each other on everything and they shouldn't. I mean, this isn't Italy. We don't have 28 parties where everyone kind of holds up with people that believe the exact same thing they do. So we have to accept the fact that we're a huge party and the Democrat Party is a big party, and people have differences of opinions. And that's going to happen. It's going to continue to happen.

TAPPER: Of course, but of course Nikki Haley saying something like that not just in South Carolina ... PRIEBUS: What goes that those are saying -- you know, I think this is much to do about nothing, I mean, I think we're in a pretty strange place right now on this issue.

TAPPER: OK, let's move on then. The RNC is launching a brand new ad campaign. It focuses on field organizers and how they are working to get out the vote for Republicans, but I want you to listen to Rush Limbaugh yesterday talking about Governor Haley.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I think its proof and it's an example of so much. For one thing it's almost absolute proof of what I have been saying for the last couple years now, that the Republican Party's trying to drive conservatives out of the party.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

TAPPER: And that's probably the most influential conservative talk show host in the country telling conservatives that the Republican Party doesn't want or care about them. How do you as the head of the RNC how do you combat that kind of narrative?

PRIEBUS: Well, I mean, it's completely false. And, you know, there's no base and fact of it I mean, the truth is no matter who you're for, whether anyone of the 12 candidates, the one thing that we have to have is a national party that has its act together when it comes to the mechanics, the ground game, the data operation, the thousands of people we pay across the country to register voters and to make sure that no matter who wins that we're a heck of a lot better than we were in 2012.

[16:40:09] Now, I can't think of a single controversial thing about that. So, you know, no matter who wins, if you don't have a Republican National Committee that's really good, they will lose for sure. So we win if we have a good nominee and a good national party. We lose if we don't. It's pretty simple.

TAPPER: RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, thank you so much. We look forward to tonight's debate. Hope it goes well for you, sir.

PRIEBUS: Thank you.

TAPPER: The jabs just keep oncoming as Bernie Sanders continues to move up the polls. A new line of attack from Hillary Clinton. Is it a sign that she's getting desperate?

Plus, he played a villain like no other from "Die Hard" to "Harry Potter", Alan Rickman remembered today as an amazing actor and one of the nicest people in show business. That story ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to "The Lead." We're going to stay with some politics now. If there's a time for panic for Hillary Clinton, now might be that time yet another poll shows her campaign losing steam in Iowa where voting will begin in two and half weeks.

[16:45:01] A new Bloomberg/Des Moines Register poll, a highly respected survey in that state, only two points ahead of Senator Bernie Sanders. The two virtually tied a month ago. Clinton led in that poll by nine points.

Earlier this week, a different poll, Quinnipiac, showed Sanders beating Clinton in Iowa. CNN's Jeff Zeleny joins me now. He's traveling with Sanders today in the gorgeous city -- city, town really of Hanover, New Hampshire.

Jeff, so the senator's getting pressure, Senator Sanders, to release details about how he would pay for his health care plan.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, no question about that. It's one more sign that Senator Sanders is surging because he is facing this scrutiny. The Clinton campaign believes he's not been forthcoming enough on some of his plans, how specifically they would be accomplished, get paid for. But, Jake, that's one more sign that this race is on.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you so very, very much.

ZELENY (voice-over): She said she never wanted a coronation. Now Hillary Clinton's getting her wish and more. Bernie Sanders threatening her marks to the Democratic nomination. A new Iowa poll today from the "Des Moines Register" shows the race effectively deadlocked.

But it's a troubling trend for Clinton as her support has dipped, Sanders has surged month by month. He's heading into the final two weeks with real momentum. He's promoting a populous message, like in this new television ad today.

(VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: But now Sanders facing intense pressure to get specific on other issues like health care. He's yet to explain just how he would pay for his universal health care plan, but told CNN's Dana Bash earlier this month he would before the voting begins.

BERNIE SANDERS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have more to do and we will be doing that in the very near future.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Before the Iowa caucuses?

SANDERS: Yes.

ZELENY: Sanders campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, amended that remark telling CNN this week he may not meet that deadline. The question is how Sanders's plan affects middle class taxes. Clinton says it would.

CLINTON: Well, if you wait too long nobody will have a chance to see them or analyze them and so I am very clear --

ZELENY: It's not just Hillary, the Clinton family has rallied to her aid.

FORMER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: I think she's the best candidate.

CHELSEA CLINTON, HILLARY CLINTON'S DAUGHTER: My mom never gives up.

ZELENY: Sanders supporters are unfazed. His strength reaches across the party. A coalition that looks like Barack Obama's in 2008. He's leading Clinton decisively among independents, voters under 45 and first-time caucus goers, according to the new Iowa poll. But Clinton is raising doubts on guns.

CLINTON: It's time to pick a side.

ZELENY: And whether his plans sound too good to be true.

CLINTON: I wish that we could elect a Democratic president, who could wave a magic wand and say we shall do this, and we shall do that.

ZELENY: It sounds like a remark she made eight years ago when her lead collapsed.

CLINTON: You are not going to wave a magic wand and have the special interests disappear.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: And, Jake, it's a little bit of a political throwback Thursday, if you will. You remember the magic wand line as well as I do, we both covered that 2008 campaign with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Now, some other Democrats are wondering is she getting desperate here by raising all these questions. The Clinton campaign says, no, they are trying to sort of jolt Democrats into paying more attention to Bernie Sanders' specific policies.

But Jake, I can tell you I just got off a conference call that top Clinton campaign officials were having complaining that Bernie Sanders was running a negative ad against them.

So we are entering a new phase of this campaign, the Clinton campaign is so worried about Bernie Sanders and all that enthusiasm surrounding his candidacy -- Jake.

TAPPER: Jeff Zeleny at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, thank you so much.

Two CNN political commentators join me now, Patti Solis Doyle, she ran Hillary Clinton's campaign in 2008, and also with me Republican strategist, Kevin Madden, who once worked for Mitt Romney.

Patti, it seems like a lot of the attacks that Clinton is leveling against Bernie Sanders. And they're not above -- they're not below the belt or anything like that. They're fine.

But they seem to be very repetitive from what she said about Barack Obama. You heard the magic wand thing. She's also going after him on electability. That was a big line of attack.

These voters literally heard this eight years ago from her. Could that really undermine how successful these attacks are?

PATTI SOLIS DOYLE, 2008 HILLARY CLINTON CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I don't think so. Look, I think it's two and a half weeks out of the Iowa caucuses. I think it's getting close. I think the race is tightening and I think they're going to go after each other. That's what happens in elections. That's what happens in traditional elections.

I think some of the contrast that she's making are very reasonable and very fair. Bernie Sanders should tell us how he's going to pay for his universal health care plan. There's a real difference between the two of them on guns.

And, look, there are some similarities to what happened in 2008. Obviously Bernie Sanders is doing better with millennials, he's doing better with independents. But there's also some big differences, right?

TAPPER: Sanders and Obama are not the same candidate absolutely.

[16:50:04] DOYLE: Exactly. And, look, admittedly we had some holes in our ground game in 2008. I think the Clinton campaign is very confident in their ground game this time around. And the other big difference I think is Obama in 2008 really was surging.

TAPPER: Right. Bernie Sanders is surging?

DOYLE: Not according to the latest "Des Moines Register" poll.

TAPPER: She's just kind of deflating.

DOYLE: That's a big difference.

TAPPER: Kevin, if you were advising Hillary Clinton, how would you -- well, stranger things have happened. How would you tell her to get rid of the Sanders threat? What would be the thing to do to get rid of his momentum?

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I think the reason that Bernie Sanders is doing so well is because he seems like more of a warrior for Democratic values. I think one of the problems that Hillary Clinton has is that she's been a very cautious candidate.

And cautious candidates don't perform well when there's a sense of urgency like this. So I think that's one of the things that I look to do if I were in this campaign which is make her much more passionate.

Try to drive a lot more of the energy about how she's going to be fighting for these voters in a way that is more than where she can actually deliver on them where maybe Bernie Sanders couldn't. But that's been something that I've noticed is, again, look I don't think that they're panicking. But they did not expect to be in this position right now. That's pretty clear from the Clinton campaign.

TAPPER: No, not behind in New Hampshire and possibly behind in Iowa depending on the poll. Ted Cruz just picked up an endorsement from one of the most popular reality shows on television, "Duck Dynasty." Here is Duck Commander Phil Robertson explaining why this candidate -- let's run that clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My qualifications for president of the United States are rather narrow. Is he or she godly? Does he or she love us? Can he or she do the job? And finally, would they kill a duck and put them in a pot and make them a good duck gumbo?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: OK. So that's for Ted Cruz. He's endorsing Ted Cruz and all these shots of them hunting together. That's fun and light hearted and kooky little guy.

But this is a guy, Phil Robertson, lest we remember, lest we forget, not long ago he was penalized by "Duck Dynasty," taken off the show for a little bit because of his controversial some would say bigoted comments about gays and African-Americans enjoying life pre-civil rights. Is this a risk long-term, you think?

MADDEN: It's a risk in a general election. If anything it's emblematic of the fact that there are short-term objectives of an endorsement like this.

For cultural conservatives of which there are many in a place like Iowa, this sort of helps reinforce the message that Ted Cruz is trying to make to those voters that he's just like them.

And that -- and I think if you see that, if you complement that with the fact that he keeps arguing against Donald Trump and his New York values.

TAPPER: Right.

MADDER: As a New Yorker I take offense to that.

TAPPER: Right.

MADDEN: But that I think is where he's starting to draw these contrasts. In that critical phase we're getting where people are to make that final decision he wants to force that choice with voters.

TAPPER: I don't think he was referring to Yonkers.

MADDEN: Definitely not.

TAPPER: Last question for you, Patti. Do you think that Hillary Clinton -- just very quickly, do you think Hillary Clinton is still the frontrunner?

DOYLE: I do. I think she's definitely still the front-runner. Maybe not because of Iowa and New Hampshire, but certainly because of South Carolina, Nevada and Super Tuesday.

TAPPER: The fire wall as they call it.

DOYLE: Yes.

TAPPER: Patti Solis Doyle, Kevin Madden, thank you so much.

Coming up, he almost turned down the role that made him famous and now he's being remembered as one of the greatest movie villains ever. Remembering the life and career of Alan Rickman next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:57:50]

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. In Pop Culture, when you've played arguably two of the top five villains in film history, you got to be doing something right. The voice, scowl, part of what made Alan Rickman so great on the screen.

Rickman died today after a battle with cancer, but he will of course live on as the Vile Snape from the "Harry Potter" films and the part that sent your heart to your shoes in the modern Christmas classic, "Love Actually."

Also from an even better Christmas movie "Die Hard" as the evil Hans Groeber. And somehow Rickman was able to convince all of us watching including almost John McClain that he was one of the good guys.

(VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Where I come from it's not Christmas until you see Hans Gruber fall from the Nakatomi Tower. Yippee kaya, Hans. Alan Rickman was 69 years old.

Finally from us today, the Academy Awards nominations were announced this morning and a few friends of the show got some nods. Matt Damon nominated for best actor, joined us to talk about his clean water mission in developing countries.

Bryan Cranston is nominated in the same category for "Trumbo" about the Hollywood blacklist. He talked about that dark chapter in American history on our show just a few weeks ago.

I have to confess we're most excited about Henry Hughes' nomination for best live action short film. He wrote and directed the short film "Day One," the first lieutenant served at one of the most dangerous outposts in Afghanistan.

I got to know him while writing the outpost. After a rough time re- acclimating to civilian life, Henry Hughes went to Los Angeles to pursue his dream. And now he's living his dream. We could not be prouder of him.

That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Turning you over now to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."