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AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

Rubio, Kasich Hit Back at Bush at Bush Attacks Trump; Russia Accuses U.S. of Bombing Aleppo; GOP Candidates Get Personal in S.C. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired February 11, 2016 - 11:30   ET

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


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[11:33:55] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It must be South Carolina, because we have fresh attacks this morning in the race for the Republican to the White House. Marco Rubio trying to reboot his campaign after a disappointing performance in New Hampshire, taking aim at his ally-turned-rival, Jeb Bush. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO, (R), FLORIDA & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Jeb Bush has no foreign policy experience, period. And I'm an incredible admirer of him and his family. Jeb, Governor Bush has no foreign policy experience.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: And just moments ago, Governor John Kasich hit back at Jeb Bush over his negative campaigning toward him. Don't worry. John Kasich is still staying positive. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KASICH, (R), OHIO GOVERNOR & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm worried about Jeb. It's all negative. How the heck can you sell negative? You know, I want to talk about what I'm for, my vision, my view, my positive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: He's worried about Jeb. He's doing this out of concern.

BOLDUAN: I'm here for you. Help me help you, that's the message here.

Victor Blackwell is in Florence, South Carolina, following the Bush campaign today.

We're going to hear from Bush in a little over an hour and also later this afternoon. What are you hearing from the Bush campaign today, Victor?

[11:35:02] VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Let's take these two candidates separately. We're hearing two narratives as it relates to John Kasich and Marco Rubio, the start of their blood bath that a Rubio advisor forecast would be here in South Carolina.

First, the campaign believes that what they're hearing from Marco Rubio is him trying to not just rebuild the momentum that he gained after Iowa but stop the slide after the poor performance in the debate. And they believe that the governors' national security bona fides, his preparedness to be president is his strongest card, especially in a state that treasures military service. Eight bases here, the Citadel here as well. That's what they believe about Marco Rubio.

As it relates to John Kasich, the campaign believes he has a one state strategy, does not have the ability to run a national campaign. And actually, at the town halls and rallies across the state over the last 24 hours, Governor Bush has been more likely to heap praise on John Kasich than criticism. Yes, criticized him for expanding Medicaid in Ohio, but is this a play for a Florida/Ohio ticket if the governor gets the nomination? That would be a powerful pair for the Republicans.

What we're hearing from Governor Bush, though, is a more aggressive attack on Donald Trump. During the debates we heard from Governor Bush and candidates that any of the GOP nominees would be a better president than former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But last night, at a town hall in Mt. Pleasant, Governor Bush said that Trump would be worse than what we have now, suggesting that Donald Trump would be a worse president, for at least GOP interests, than President Obama.

So this continued aggressive ramp up of attacks here in South Carolina, which proved to serve him well in New Hampshire, we see he's not going after the other occupants of the more traditional establishment lane only, but going after Donald Trump, who, according to the latest polls, has a substantial double-digit lead here across the state -- John, Kate?

BOLDUAN: Victor Blackwell. Thank you so much, Victor.

BERMAN: We want to bring in Doug Heye, the former communications director for the Republican National Committee; also Scottie Nell Hughes, chief political correspondent for USA Radio Network, and a Trump supporter.

Doug, if that's not going after people, I can't wait to see what it's like when they start talking about each other. That was the Jeb Bush front. We heard Kasich. We heard a taste of Rubio talking about Bush. I want to play a little more about Marco Rubio because it's interesting the number of targets now for Rubio.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUBIO: Donald Trump has zero foreign policy experience. Negotiating a hotel deal in another country isn't foreign policy experience. Jeb Bush has no foreign policy experience, period. Ted Cruz, the only budget he voted for in his years in Washington was a budget sponsored by Rand Paul that bragged about cutting defense spending.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So, Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz. I guess that just leaves Rubio for Marco Rubio, if not John Kasich. Doug, it's interesting to here Rubio talk more about other candidates. He seems to be broadening his range of targets right now.

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Absolutely. Once we get to South Carolina, real southern manners go out the window and everybody starts attacking everybody. It's a battle royal we're seeing right now. Part of it is because there are so many different -- even though there are less candidates, there are more targets and opportunities. There are people you take more seriously. People weren't criticizing Kasich, say, three weeks ago, two weeks ago. Now, John Kasich has a target on his back. Donald Trump has always had a target on his back. And to John Kasich's point about how to sell negative, that's been Donald Trump's entire message his entire campaign. It's worked for him. It's not surprising to see people go after him, especially the way Ted Cruz has in his ads recently that's reminiscent of the old Jesse Ventura ads from 1988.

BOLDUAN: To this point, the thought has been, Scottie, it's Trump and Cruz, where they've stood in the polls, and then it's everybody else against each other. Now, Rubio, Kasich and Jeb Bush, and Carson there as well. But is that really the case? Do you think there's crossover now, especially looking at Donald Trump? He still took time last night to smack down on Jeb Bush. What do you think?

SCOTTIE NELL HUGHES, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, USA RADIO NETWORK: I think it's fair game. Let me correct Doug on this point. Southern manners did not go out the window. We just put a smile on ourselves and served a mint julep.

(LAUGHTER)

We still have our manners.

But you're right, the gloves are off. There's a reason why South Carolina is known as the fighting Gamecocks. They like a good fight. They want to see candidates that can throw good punches, but also who can take those punches. That's what you're seeing in this exchange between Jeb and Trump, who can handle and who can throw the strongest ones.

Now, you look at Marco Rubio, and I love how he's going after the idea of foreign intelligence saying nobody has experience. I'll give Jeb this, United States governor, was the commander of a National Guard. He has a little bit in his pocket. But there's a reason Rubio can talk about these talking points he continues to have. He sits on the committees where he gets to see the information that no one else gets. He can make up his talking points and nobody else realizes it because they don't get the same information.

[11:40:03] BERMAN: You talk about this being a battle royal. There's a new wrestler in the ring, the masked mysteria, Doug Heye, this week, George W. Bush. George W. Bush coming to campaign for Jeb Bush at some point in the next week. Good move? Bad move? How will it play?

HEYE: George W. Bush's popularity in South Carolina among Republicans is over 80 percent. It's a good move. It's the obvious move. For over a year, he's campaigned as Jeb with an exclamation mark. We've not heard a lot about the Bush name. Barbara Bush was a great advocate for him in New Hampshire. No surprise that George W. Bush would be a strong advocate for him in South Carolina.

BOLDUAN: You're shaking your head. From the Trump perspective, do they think this can backfire?

HUGHES: Yes. It might seem great now. But the reason we had Barack Obama and why he had such popularity in 2008 was because of the last two years of the Bush administration. It's not hard to remind people what Bush gave us in his second administration, but most importantly, towards the end of it. We could not have elected anybody. I think Jesus could have come down and run as a Republican and not been elected come 2008 against Barack Obama. There was so much hatred for what the Republicans did in Congress as well as across the world.

BERMAN: In a word, do you think Donald Trump goes after George W. Bush in South Carolina?

HUGHES: I think he points out why we're in the financial crisis we are in today. It was because of his lack and spending and opening up the taxpayer checkbook and writing out to anybody who asked.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: That is South Carolina politics right there.

(CROSSTALK)

HEYE: That's what Donald Trump and Barack Obama have in common. They want to blame Bush on everything. That's why you see such different approaches between Donald Trump, who last night retweeted "a white supremacist" again, a terrible message to send, and what you're seeing from the other candidates who are talking about serious substance and politics.

BERMAN: South Carolina, ladies and gentlemen.

Doug Heye, Scottie Nell Hughes, thanks so much.

(LAUGHTER)

BOLDUAN: Ding, ding, ding, round whatever we're on.

BERMAN: Breaking news. Moments from now, the final occupiers in the federal building in Oregon in the wildlife refuge are expected to come out with a big announcement in the ongoing stand off. We'll take you there.

BOLDUAN: Plus, new this morning, Russia is accusing the United States of striking a war-torn city in Syria. You're going to hear how the U.S. is responding to those accusations. And also, CNN goes inside Syria with a firsthand look at the destruction and desperation as this war carries on years now.

We'll be right back.

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[11:46:46] BERMAN: New this morning, Russia is accusing the United States of bombing the key Syrian city of Aleppo. But two U.S. officials say coalition aircraft were not in the area. This comes as Russia claims it conducted more than 500 air strikes in several Syria cities, destroying nearly 2000 what they call terrorist facilities last week.

BOLDUAN: Senior international correspondent, Fred Pleitgen, is live from Damascus for us. He has just returned from Aleppo where a battle is raging there.

Fred, what did you see?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It certainly is, Kate. When we were there, we saw massive destruction, essentially in the old town area of Aleppo. This is a UNESCO cultural heritage site. It's absolutely been flattened in the past couple of years of war.

Actually, also I did manage to get to the place where most of the fighting is taking place right now, the north of Aleppo, which is where the Syria government is trying to cut off rebels there, trying to get them away from the Turkish border and trying to take the territory towards the Turkish border.

I spoke to people from the Syrian military there. I also spoke to some people from villages there who were pro Syrian government, and all of them said the same thing. They praised Hezbollah. They praised Iran. And first and foremost, the praised Vladimir Putin and Russia. They said without those Russia air strikes there was no way they would have been able to turn the tide. Now they believe that they are on the cusp of possibly dealing a crushing blow to the rebels in that area. And one of the other things they said is they said that America should not intervene in all this. There were some people who warned America not to intervene in what's going on right now.

Right now, the Syrian military, you can tell they have a lot of confidence at this point in time, and also you can just, the whole time hear airplanes in the sky. There's thuds from bombs being dropped as well. It is the key battle field at this point in the civil war that has been going on for about five years now -- guys?

BOLDUAN: No signs it's going to let up.

Fred, thank you so much. So important to have your reporting, your first-hand look at the destruction and devastation. Thank you so much.

Coming up next for us, the politics, the issues, and the voters of South Carolina.

BERMAN: The battle lines, they may not be where you think they are. The players with the advantages may not be who you think they will be. We'll go there live.

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[11:53:02] BOLDUAN: As the presidential race heads south to South Carolina, the candidates find the political terrain there looks quite a bit different than the contest before it.

BERMAN: Let's bring in Jeremy Borden, a political journalist in South Carolina.

Jeremy, thank you for being with us.

We talk about the evangelical vote, a lot in many states. Certainly, crucial in South Carolina. But it looks different in some ways in South Carolina than other places. It's huge, but it's also divided particularly along economic lines.

JEREMY BORDEN, SOUTH CAROLINA POLITICAL JOURNALIST: Yeah. I mean, it is huge. And I think that one of the big questions that I and other political journalists have is, can another candidate make inroads in that group. It's expected to be 60 percent or so of the GOP electorate. And so for any of these -- for any of these candidates who want to do well here, and obviously all of them do, speaking to them and speaking to those issues are going to be important.

One of the most interesting things we have seen this election, I think why a lot of people have scratched their heads about Trump, in particular, is that, you know, he obviously doesn't speak necessarily well on those issues, and had some flubs on the Bible and all of that. But he speaks on issues that cut across -- sort of cut across the grain. I mean, I think, especially in the upstate and other areas where you have a lot of evangelical vote, there is a lot of concern about immigration, in particular, and economic insecurity. And I think that, you know, in terms of what people miss about him, he speaks to that, you know, a little bit better, I would say, than a lot of the candidates. And, you know, remains to be seen whether they can sort of, you know, move in on the territory.

BOLDUAN: And, as you know, Ted Cruz, he kind of rode the evangelical strategy to a win in Iowa. You're talking about Donald Trump in making inroads there. Do you see evidence of that on the ground? Donald Trump has a sea of support among evangelicals nationally. Big support. Are you seeing that already in South Carolina, from your research?

BORDEN: Yeah. I mean, I would say the events, the Trump events that I've covered are really as big as he says they are. I mean, they -- you know, people really do pack the place in. I think a lot of those voters also identify as evangelical.

But it's interesting. At least when I've posed this question in terms of -- it's kind of a delicate question to pose, because you're asking about somebody's religion and how that plays into their politics. I mean, in the few instances that I've asked that, it's sort of like they start talking about other issues. And that's interesting. And I think that Trump saw something there before other people did.

[11:55:45] BERMAN: Jeremy Borden, great to have you with us. Thank you so much.

We do have to get to some breaking news on Wall Street. The Dow plunging. We're down 319 points right now. Oil prices falling to a 13-year low. This is important. It's developing. We'll get you there shortly.

BOLDUAN: Plus, we're also following some more breaking news. The last occupiers that are holding that federal building hostage in Oregon, they are expected to surrender moments from now. We'll take you there.

We'll be right back.

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