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AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

Trump Soars in Polls, Cruz Gives Warning; Democratic Presidential Candidates Face Tough Questions at Town Hall; Clinton, Sanders Neck and Neck in Iowa. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired January 26, 2016 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:00] CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: AT THIS HOUR with Berman and Bolduan starts now.

(HEADLINES)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm John Berman.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

Ready for liftoff. Donald Trump soaring in a brand new CNN/ORC poll. He's more than doubled his lead over his closest Republican rival. Take a look at the new numbers. The new national poll shows Trump at 41 percent, Ted Cruz at 19 percent. No other candidate making it into the double digits after that.

BERMAN: Trump holds significant leads in every category, men, women, older, younger, conservatives, independents who lean Republican. You name it, Trump dominates. So much so that Cruz now issued a surprising statement. Ted Cruz warning that Donald Trump could be unstoppable if he wins Iowa.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty covering the Cruz campaign in Iowa.

Sunlen, good morning.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John.

Good morning, Kate.

This is a big warning coming from Ted Cruz. I think it really speaks of the urgency of the moment for him right here in Iowa that he really is feeling the pressure from these polls here that show him neck and neck with Donald Trump. The comments came in a private meeting last night with the evangelical pastors in Iowa, where he went through, laid out the stakes of this race here in Iowa for him and what they mean at large for the Republican party and offering up a more candid assessment of the state of the race than we've seen him have in the past. This is what he said last night. This video was obtained by CBN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TED CRUZ, (R), TEXAS & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If Donald wins Iowa -- he has a substantial lead in New Hampshire right now -- if he went onto win New Hampshire as well, there's a chance he could be unstoppable and be our nominee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SERFATY: In that argument, Cruz went onto make the message that even if the pastors support another candidate in Iowa, that they should think about grouping around him, coming to him, because he's trying to present himself as the candidate with the best real shot at bringing down Donald Trump. You know, you have many candidates here that are polling low like Huckabee and Carson and Santorum. They might steal a small fraction of the evangelical vote, and that could be, in Ted Cruz's argument, enough to tip the scales against him and for Donald Trump -- John and Kate?

BERMAN: Setting the stage. All right, Sunlen Serfaty, thank you so much.

I want to bring in CNN political director, David Chalian, who is in Iowa in Des Moines.

David, thanks for being with us.

Let me is ask you right out, is Ted Cruz right. If Donald Trump wins Iowa, is he unstoppable?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I think it would catapult him toward the nomination. It would be the answer to the question we have been asking for the last seven months. Does this level of support in the polls that we see translate into votes? If that answer is yes, in a place like Iowa, then I think Donald Trump is off to the races in a pretty significant way. Obviously he has a big lead in New Hampshire. I think it would answer the fundamental question in a favorable way for Donald Trump.

BOLDUAN: There have been continued questions, David, about Donald Trump's ground game in Iowa. Where is the evidence that you see? Do you see it in the poll numbers? Do you see it in this organization that you're seeing on the ground there that he can pull it off there?

CHALIAN: Well, Kate, he definitely has a steady hand in Iowa who has been running his organization here. I have no doubt that they have something built here that is significant. But take a look at some of our poll numbers inside our poll that I think get to the heart of your question. First of all, just how sticky and loyal his supporters are. 70 percent of Trump supporters say they have made up their mind. They're not moving anywhere. If you look at that compared to the other Republicans in the field, supporters of the other Republicans, it's not even close to that kind of loyalty. That's one significant moment.

The other finding in the poll is this level of enthusiasm. 40 percent of Republicans are enthusiastic about Trump's candidacy. No other candidate in the field comes close to that level of enthusiasm. Loyalty and enthusiasm are things you want on your side six days before the caucuses. He has them.

BERMAN: In politics, in Iowa politics, David, to be clear, sticky is good. Correct?

(LAUGHTER)

[11:05:06] CHALIAN: Yes, very good. Sorry. Yes. They are tried and true loyal to Trump, and no negative advertising or a mailer in their home seems to sway them. That doesn't mean that people aren't trying, John.

BERMAN: And they are.

CHALIAN: Remember, the Cruz super PAC -- that's right. The Cruz super PAC is up with a new ad yet again trying to chip away at that Trump loyalty. Take a look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Donald Trump is not a conservative because he's extreme on abortion.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Would president Trump ban partial birth abortions?

DONALD TRUMP, (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE & CEO, TRUMP ORGANIZATION: Well, I'm very pro choice.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You would not ban it?

TRUMP: No.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Or ban partial birth abortion?

TRUMP: No. I am -- I am pro choice in every respect.

ANNOUNCER: Does this sound conservative?

TRUMP: I am pro choice in every respect. I am pro choice in every respect. I am pro choice in every respect.

ANNOUNCER: For partial birth abortion, not a conservative.

ANNOUNCER: People's Promise One (ph) is responsible for the content of this advertising.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Wow.

CHALIAN: Clearly Cruz allies are throwing the back at him, but, again, the poll numbers. These attacks have not worked before. I don't know that there's evidence it's going to work in the final six days.

BOLDUAN: Let's talk about the Democrats, David. I want to get your take on last night's big night, the town hall in Des Moines. Voters going face to face with these candidates asking the questions, some of them cut right to the issues. Who do you think shined last night? CHALIAN: You know, Kate, i think it was a pretty good night for both

Sanders and Hillary Clinton. I think Sanders just wrapped himself in his ideological mission, not afraid to say he'd raise taxes. For his supporters, he gave them a shot in the arm to continue to be excited about his candidacy.

But I think Hillary Clinton had one of the best nights she's had in a while. She got a question from a young voter that is critical to sort of one of her Achilles heals. An enthusiasm gap, and I think she gave one of her best answers all campaign long on this issue of the enthusiasm gap, making the case that she's been working to fight for these issues since she was that young person's age. She came with a lot of energy and a lot of passion, and even though her argument is still one of pragmatism and I can get the progress accomplished in a way that others can't, last night I think she came and actually added some passion to that pragmatic appeal.

BERMAN: And you're there. We're not. The ground game, Hillary's organization there, you see evidence that she's got the apparatus to get people to the caucus sites on Monday?

CHALIAN: I've been talking to her campaign, folks inside her campaign, and they really have invested a ton of time and money trying to model off the successful operation. There's no doubt they have a robust ground game here. The question is, as you know, is it going to be enough to withstand what we see in sort of crowd size and enthusiasm for Sanders. The Clinton camp is feeling pretty good. It's hard to see real evidence of it until Monday night. Trust me, they have put a ton of money and thought into this ground game in a way they wanted to escape what happened in 2008 to Hillary Clinton here.

BERMAN: All right. A sticky David Chalian, in a good way.

(LAUGHTER)

Thank you so much, David.

BOLDUAN: Stop with the sticky references, you know.

Thanks so much, David.

Our new CNN/ORC poll numbers show that Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are neck and neck. Her lead is slimmer than it's ever been in Iowa. She's leading by just two points with 46 percent.

BERMAN: Bernie Sanders, yeah.

BOLDUAN: Bernie Sanders leading with 46 percent. There's a two point difference between the two in Iowa as we speak.

BERMAN: Let's talk about this more with the former Texas State Senator Wendy Davis. She is a supporter of Hillary Clinton.

Thank you for being with us. I want to get right to what was a very tough question right out of the

gate to Hillary Clinton. And let's play the question and her response. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've heard from quite a few people my age that they think you're dishonest. But I'd like to hear from you on why you feel the enthusiasm isn't there?

HILLARY CLINTON, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE & FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I've been around a long time. People have thrown all kinds of things at me, and I can't keep up with it. I keep going forward. They fall by the wayside.

If you're new to politics, if it's the first time you've paid attention, you go, oh, my gosh, look at all of this. And you have to say to yourself, why are they throwing all of that? Well, I'll tell you why. Because I've been on the front lines of change and progress since I was your age.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Now, the part of that question that I don't think they played that was really tough, she flat-out said, my friends, I'm hearing you're not honest. That's tough to hear from a kid.

[11:10:01] WENDY DAVIS, (D), FORMER STATE SENATOR & HILLARY CLINTON SUPPORTER: Well, it certainly is. But I think she answered that question incredibly well, and by pointing out that she's been on the front lines since she was that person's age, I think she helped put it all into relevant perspective for him. That's a message that I've been talking about in Iowa and in New Hampshire on behalf of her campaign. I'll be in Nevada this weekend. Hillary Clinton has fought these fights time and time and time again. She has been a champion for women. She has been a champion for working families. She has put her head down and fought against insurance companies and big pharmaceutical companies, and no matter what they throw at her, she hops back up and fights for the American people. And I know she'll do that as our president if we have the privilege of electing her to serve us.

BOLDUAN: One thing she doesn't talk a lot about, but it's become the centerpiece of the Sanders argument is the political revolution. He says she's been around and part of the establishment for a long time, and he's looking for a political revolution. Here's what he said last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, (I), VERMONT & DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think we are touching a nerve with the American people who understand that establishment politics isn't good enough. We need bold change and a political revolution.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BOLDUAN: But isn't that kind of a lot of what you're about as well? I mean, this is what -- a little bit what you made your name on, fighting the fights even if they're not winnable fights in the moment. Why don't you -- why doesn't that Sanders message resonate with you?

DAVIS: I think that Hillary is fighting those fights in a way that demonstrates that she's working hard to create change. I think she's going to be effective at creating that change.

It's interesting that Senator Sanders referred to Planned Parenthood and the human rights campaign as part of the establishment. These are organizations just like Hillary who have been fighting for decades to assure that the rights of all of us are respected and guaranteed.

BERMAN: But do you want a political revolution? Do you think Bernie Sanders is wrong calling for a political revolution?

DAVIS: I think we need change, but the way Hillary Clinton is talking about it makes the most sense for me and many voters. Building upon the progress that President Obama made, making sure we have a candidate going into the general election that has a very good chance of becoming our president and not getting beaten by a Donald Trump, for example, if he's the nominee. We can't afford to put a Republican back in the White House and to see the change that we've been able to manage in these last eight years unwound, and we need to keep building on it. She knows how to work with people. She works across the aisle, but she knows how to stand her ground when it's important to do so. And I know she's going to be effective at actually advancing the revolution that many of us like would like to see.

BOLDUAN: She and Sanders are neck and neck in Iowa, and in some of the latest polls, she's down by a couple of points. What's missing? What can she do in the next couple days to turn it around?

DAVIS: I think she did it last night. Last night she showed the kind of passion that makes people like me get behind her and wake up and work hard for her every day. And her ground game, I am absolutely sure, is a very sophisticated one. I expect they're going to perform very well in the caucus setting. And I think she is going to be the winner of that caucus, come next week.

BERMAN: Your reaction to news in your home state. A jury indicting the anti-abortion activist who shot the video that made a big deal a little while ago. What do you make of the decision?

DAVIS: It is sweet justice coming from the perspective of someone like me and so many others who share my views on reproductive rights in the state of Texas. Particularly when you consider that this was a Republican lieutenant governor that asked for this investigation. The Texas Rangers spent an inordinate amount of time investigating the facts as did Republican Harris County D.A. and the Houston police. And after over two months of the grand jury looking at all of the evidence that had been put in front of them, not only did they clear Planned Parenthood of wrong doing and choose not to bring indictments against them, but they chose to bring indictments against the two people responsible for the videos for tampering with government records and also actually for engaging in the very thing they accused Planned Parenthood of which was seeking to purchase fetal tissue which is shown time and time again in their own videos. They got caught in their own trap, essentially.

BOLDUAN: Wendy Davis, thank you for joining us. We appreciate the time.

DAVIS: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thanks.

[11:15:05] BERMAN: Donald Trump, he rips the establishment in one breath. In the next breath, he says the establishment is starting to come around. So which is it? Can he have it both ways?

BOLDUAN: Plus, as Rubio fights to convince Republicans he is the anti-Trump candidate, he's just picked up a big endorsement on his own. How much of an impact will it have?

A manhunt under way after a daring jailbreak. The inmates on the run could have gotten a 16-hour head start. We'll speak live with a former inmate on why he says this looks to him like an inside job.

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BOLDUAN: Six days and counting to the Iowa caucuses and brand new polls out today show it's coming down to the wire. This brand new poll shows Donald Trump and Ted Cruz in a dead heat, really, among voters there. Trump with 31 percent. Only two points above Cruz. And Rubio in third with 13 percent support securing his lead right there, at least in Iowa among the establishment candidates heading into the caucuses.

[11:20:08] @ Joining us to help us figure out where we are just six days from voting, a great journalist from "New York Times" magazine, also writes for "National Geographic" and "G.Q.," Robert Draper. Also with us, chief political correspondent for USA Radio Networks and a Trump surrogate, Scottie Nell Hughes.

Robert, you have a big new piece out called "Ted Cruz's Evangelical Gamble." I have it on my computer.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: There's a screen grab right there of that. His evangelical gamble. What is that gamble and what size do you see six days from away that will pay off?

ROBERT DRAPER, JOURNALIST, NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE: Hey, John.

The gamble basically sets itself up like this. It's an explicit rejection of the conservative orthodoxy after the 2012 election that, hey, to win the presidency we are going to have to expand on our base. Cruz says we have enough of the conservative voters out there. We need to go out them. And where Cruz has sought to find them is in the evangelical group. He says it's his contention there are millions who have checked out of the process. So his belief is that if he can tap into that base, then that will especially help in Iowa where 60 percent of caucus goers from the Republican side are evangelicals by their self-identification, but beyond that, 11 of the first 23 primaries are front-loaded with evangelical voters. That's the strategy. It carries with it a certain risk. Basically, he is putting himself as a consistent conservative. There's no real way we can move toward the center if he gets the nomination.

BOLDUAN: He has a plan. He's trying to execute the plan, Scottie. If that happens, if that works out, it's going to be tough for Donald Trump. He's making a play for evangelicals as well.

SCOTTIE NELL HUGHES, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, USA RADIO NETWORK & TRUMP SURROGATE: And he's not only making a play. He's winning. The latest poll with evangelicals says Trump is 37 percent to Cruz's smaller percentage. Evangelicals have been lumped together and not looked at the issues. The politicians have sold them out. They tell them they're going to fight against Planned Parenthood and fight for state's rights, and then they get to Washington D.C. and they don't. Evangelicals, I think this time around, have literally woken up and said we're not going to vote based on what you say, and we'd rather have humbleness and truth rather than what the lines are going to give us.

BERMAN: Scottie, on the subject of truth, on the subject of authenticity, we're getting two lines from Donald Trump about the establishment. He's got this Facebook post. He says the establishment is all out to get me. Out of the same breath he says the establishment is warming up to me.

Let's play the sound so you get a sense of what I'm talking about.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I mean, hey, I lived in New York City and Manhattan all my life. My views are a little bit different than if I lived in Iowa.

ANNOUNCER: They are different, like on abortion.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Would president Trump ban partial birth abortion?

TRUMP: Well, I am pro life in every respect.

ANNOUNCER: What does Trump think about Iowa?

TRUMP: How stupid are the people of Iowa?

ANNOUNCER: Donald Trump, New York values, not ours.

TRUMP: My views are a little bit different than if I lived in Iowa.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The media, the special interests, the lobbyists, the donors, they're all against me.

I think the establishment, actually, is against me, but really coming online, because they see me as opposed to Cruz, who is a nasty guy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: They're against me, but they love me. Scottie, which is it?

HUGHES: I think it's a little bit both. I think it's the optimistic nature of Mr. Trump. He's --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: How can it be a little bit of both, Scottie? Come on.

HUGHES: At the same time, you have to realize he is so far ahead in fact in the polls. He has to be a diplomat in dealing with these folks. He's looking to be the leader that will be dealing with these people. That's the one thing we've learned. So many on the other side will slap you across the face and expect you to work together. I think Mr. Trump is going, no, I'm going to be optimistic until you decide to take a step against me, I'm not taking a step against you. That's how he's played this entire game.

BOLDUAN: Robert, after spending all the time you have with the Cruz campaign, you spent multiple days with them on the ground in Iowa. You've got Donald Trump, who is leading.

He wants it both ways, though, Scottie. I'm going to say it. He wants it both ways.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

BOLDUAN: Just saying.

But, Robert, the time you've spent with the Cruz campaign, he spoke with everyone in his campaign, you did not get to sit down with him. Why do you think they didn't have him sit down with you? This is a big piece you put out about his big game, his big gamble?

[11:25:10] DRAPER: Kate, I can only guess, and the guess would be that there's no percentage in having their candidate who says nasty things about "The New York Times" being interrogated by one of their reporters. They have deniability now. They can see the evil lady has come out to get us. The story is fair, but indemnifying themselves against that reality, they decided not to talk to me.

Can I just say, by the way, relative to what Scottie was saying, I don't see an inconsistency between Trump saying the establishment is opposed to me but starting to come online. Here in Washington D.C., Republican friends of mine are in angst. It's like an inverse Sophie's choice. They don't want Trump and they don't want Cruz and they're trying to decide which is the lesser of two evils. It's a moment of hand ringing for them. Neither happens to be the establishment's preference, but there are arguments for and against either of them.

BOLDUAN: So Scottie wins. You can have both, Scottie. Gosh darn it.

HUGHES: I like it. Mr. Trump is not on a diet. He can have his cake and eat it too. It's OK.

(LAUGHTER)

BOLDUAN: I can't, unfortunately.

DRAPER: I can't either.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, guys.

Thank you.

Ahead for us, new fallout the day after Democrats face voters in a town hall in Iowa. Hillary Clinton defending her years being a target of the right. Bernie Sanders making some big statements about what he'd do in office.

BERMAN: Plus, three inmates missing after a daring escape. A former prisoner joins us live on what he says is unheard of in this case.

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