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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Race for 2016: GOP Leaders Slam Trump Over KKK Stumble; Super Tuesday Primaries. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired March 1, 2016 - 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: And Super Tuesday is under way. Are there any surprises afoot?

THE LEAD starts right now.

Good afternoon. And welcome to a very special edition of THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper here in Washington, D.C.

It's truly a Super Tuesday, the biggest day of the presidential race, with the most at take for the candidates. About one-quarter of all delegates are on the table today. And when the polls close in just a few hours, we may find out if the battle for the White House is effectively down to a race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, or if the rest of the field can take enough delegates to stay in the game and keep it competitive.

For the Republicans today, 11 states vote with 595 delegates at stake, almost 600. Senator Ted Cruz is in his home state of Texas. That's a must-win for him. Marco Rubio, who has yet to win a single state, needs a strong showing tonight to prove that he is viable and has a path.

But a supremely confident Donald Trump is turning his focus to the general election, saving his harshest attacks for Hillary Clinton today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hillary Clinton...

(BOOING)

TRUMP: Hillary Clinton does not have the strength or the stamina to become president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: You're looking at live pictures right now of a Donald Trump rally in Louisville, Kentucky. Kentucky, that's a commonwealth that does not vote today. They vote Saturday. Trump feeling so confident, he's not in any Super Tuesday state today.

Our correspondents are covering the story from all the angles on the campaign trail and polling places throughout the nation.

We're going to begin with Chris Frates, who is traveling with Donald Trump in Louisville, Kentucky.

Chris, Trump has three events today, none of them in a Super Tuesday state. That obviously says something about how he's feeling.

CHRIS FRATES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Jake. It shows how confident he is about tonight's results.

Remember, he started the day in Ohio. Ohio doesn't vote until March 15. Then he's coming here to Louisville, Kentucky, Kentucky not on the calendar until Saturday. He's already looking ahead to these future contests.

And that's because you can start to hear people getting excited here as he's taking on a number of folks here. You can hear the crowd getting very excited. I'll tell you, they lined up around the block to hear from Donald Trump today, standing in the rain. They're getting very excited to hear from him next, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Chris Frates in Louisville with Mr. Trump.

Ted Cruz is fighting to hold off Donald Trump in Texas and prevent a Trump sweep. He's just cast his ballot a few hours ago with his family. Cruz admits, it will be all she wrote if he loses the Lone Star State.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe we're going to do very, very well in Texas. It's going to be up to Texans to make their decision. But there's no doubt that any candidate who cannot win his home state has real problems. I believe we will do well here in Texas.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Sunlen Serfaty is live for us at Cruz campaign headquarters in Houston.

Sunlen, how confident is Cruz that Texas will go his way?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he's very confident, Jake. The Cruz campaign is predicting here in Texas that they will have a good night tonight, but they are very aware, of course, of the stakes.

If he loses here in his home state of Texas, that would essentially cut off his path forward to the nomination. And that's why we have seen in these final hours and these final days here in Texas really Senator Cruz leaving absolutely nothing to chance. He has been campaigning incredibly hard in his home state. He's in the state four out of the last seven days, holding a flurry of events and rolling out a series of Texas endorsements. The campaign has also deployed 27,000 volunteers. So, certainly, they are leaving absolutely nothing to chance, and this sort of flurry of last-minute campaigning really speaking to the very high pressure, the position that Ted Cruz is in tonight in his home state to really perform -- Jake.

TAPPER: Sunlen, thanks so much.

His comments are really aimed at Marco Rubio, Cruz's comments about needing to win your home state, Marco Rubio polling behind Donald Trump in Florida right now. Rubio spent the day campaigning in Minnesota. He said the state's experience with another tough-talking celebrity is all of the proof that is needed to vote against Donald Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Jesse Ventura was an embarrassment. No, no, let me rephrase that. Jesse Ventura is an embarrassment.

But Donald Trump will be an embarrassment to America, will be an embarrassment to anyone who supported him. This can't happen. And if any state knows that, it's Minnesota, because of the experience you have.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Manu Raju joins us now.

Manu, Rubio has yet to win a state in this race. Does his campaign believe that Minnesota can turn that around?

[16:05:04]

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: They certainly hope so, Jake, but they're certainly not predicting a victory in Minnesota.

Marco Rubio talked to reporters immediately after that and he said he hopes to do reasonably well there. That state's very hard to poll because it's a caucus state. We don't quite know how many voters will actually show up there. And Donald Trump, if he does bring out an influx of new voters, perhaps he can win there.

And also, interestingly, in Minnesota, that has not been a state where the campaigns have spent much money at all. It's really up in the air how that will turn out. Now, if you're the -- from the Rubio's campaign perspective, they want to pull in delegates, enough support from states like Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee to pass that threshold in order to pull in some delegate support, some delegates to take and to point to their supporters to stick with them until what they view as a very big prize, March 15, here in the Sunshine State, a winner- take-all state.

They know they have to win. That's increasingly going to be the focus after tonight, Jake. TAPPER: All right, Manu Raju with the Rubio campaign.

joining us now for our panel, CNN chief national correspondent and the host of "INSIDE POLITICS," John King, chief political analyst Gloria Borger, senior political analyst David Gergen, senior political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson, CNN political commentators Kayleigh McEnany, Bakari Sellers, and -- Kayleigh. I'm sorry. I did the Jay McInerney thing to you.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: Bakari Sellers and Bill Press. And making her debut on CNN right now, the newest edition to the CNN family, political commentator Mary Katharine Ham.

Welcome to all of you, but especially a little bit to you, because this is your debut here at CNN. So, thanks so much. We're very excited.

(CROSSTALK)

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Glad to be here.

TAPPER: You're new to the family today as well.

But, Mary Katharine, let me start with you.

If Donald Trump, as polls suggest, cleans up today, is that it?

HAM: It will not be it, but let me say this is the story. We're talking about which things he might not win.

This is a margins conversation that we're having. And it's going to have to go deeper to delegates and percentages. And Rubio and Cruz are going to have going to have make those arguments, which don't sound all that clean to voters. They go, well, this guy won a bunch of states and you're making the argument that here and there I made some moves.

Texas is Cruz's home state tonight. Rubio's looking at his like, I'm coming home, baby. But once -- if he doesn't win in Florida, then we have got real problems.

TAPPER: Well, let me just ask about Rubio, because at some point this becomes a math problem for Senator Rubio, and it's a war not against Donald Trump, but just against reality. Is there actually a path for him?

HAM: At this point, before tonight, there's possibly a path. I think if you see that the new terminator Rubio, instead of robot Rubio, who won a bunch of news cycles this week, does not also win some states, that tells us something.

TAPPER: Kayleigh, let me ask you. You're a Donald Trump supporter.

Is there any chance that in anything Donald Trump is doing to rile up these crowds and draw so many supporters to his rallies, to the polls to vote for him in the Republican primary, that he might be doing things that might hurt him in November?

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, DONALD TRUMP SUPPORTER: I don't think so. Donald Trump has engendered a lot of enthusiasm among the Republican base, and not just the Republican base. Let's be real.

He's winning independents. He's winning those leaning Democrat. He's reintegrating and I would argue expanding the party. He's bringing in people who are angry at the federal government. He's winning electorates as diverse as New Hampshire to Nevada, all the way to South Carolina, and not just winning them, sweeping them, winning every single delegate in South Carolina.

When you're winning Northeastern states as commandingly as you're winning Southern states, that should be a really big indicator that this is someone to be taken seriously, and he's really captured the current feeling within the Republican Party.

TAPPER: We're talking about him potentially winning in Alabama and Massachusetts today.

Nia-Malika, the rules that the Republican National Committee set up were designed at the time, we all thought, to help a Scott Walker.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

TAPPER: Or a Jeb Bush.

(CROSSTALK)

HENDERSON: Or Marco Rubio.

TAPPER: Or Marco Rubio.

HENDERSON: Yes. They were designed to prevent what we saw in 2012, which was this long fight, with Mitt Romney having to go to the right and Santorum being able to hold on.

This time, they compressed the calendar, really wanted to turbocharge the front-runner. They just didn't expect that it would be Donald Trump. They really wanted to have an establishment figure break through.

Again, they didn't expect that the sort of establishment figure -- I mean, even Donald Trump is saying he's going mainstream, and it looks like he is, you know, starting to be the mainstream candidate.

You mentioned that he's winning, he won in South Carolina, he won in New Hampshire, he's going to win in the Deep South. We haven't seen that kind of strong candidate in many years. If you think about John McCain, he did well in moderate and big states. he didn't win in the South, the same thing with Mitt Romney, but it looks like Donald Trump is going to be able to do that.

TAPPER: Bill Press, you're a supporter of Bernie Sanders. How worried should Democrats be about Donald Trump?

BILL PRESS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think you ought to be damned worried about Donald Trump.

And I see a lot of articles today where Democrats are saying, oh, we can't wait to run against Donald Trump. We're going to take everything, sweep the board, it's going to be an easy thing.

[16:10:01]

They are dead wrong. I think Donald Trump could very well appeal to blue-collar Democrats. His message of anti-establishment, anti-media, anti-Washington, resonates, and so I think they better be very, very concerned.

TAPPER: Yes. Some lighthearted comments in that "New York Times" story, I think you're referring to, were Robby Mook, the Clinton campaign manager, saying, oh, I have got to get me some Trump.

It's a joke to some people.

John, let me ask you about Ted Cruz, who is -- he hopes that he wins in Texas, but it's not a sure thing, is it?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's not a sure thing.

And even if he wins, if Trump comes in a close second, they will roughly share the delegates. But, look, this is Ted Cruz -- it's a cliche, but he has said it himself. This is his Alamo. He needs to win.

All of the candidates who project themselves as the alternative to Trump, whether it's Rubio, Kasich or Cruz, needs to win their home state. So, if Cruz -- Cruz is already a diminished candidate. He thought that the South -- he South Carolina would be his. Tonight, there's a whole bunch of states with a lot of evangelicals voting.

He thought this was his base. He looked at what happened to the Tea Party in 2010, the Tea Party in 2014. He looked at Tea Party voters and evangelical voters and said here's my path to the nomination, and Donald Trump has stolen his toys, if you will. He has to win his home state.

But the fact that -- you heard Sunlen -- he spent four of the last seven days in Texas defending his home turf instead of trying to expand and win other states. It tells you everything you need to know. But if he wins, he will be able to stand up tonight and say I'm the only guy who has beaten Trump twice. Does that give him a clear path to the nomination? Absolutely not.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Does it give him a better argument than anybody else? Yes.

TAPPER: And, Gloria, Hillary Clinton obviously hoping for a big night, hoping to run the table the way that Donald Trump is hoping to run the table.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, she is. And, you know, she's hoping at a certain point she can turn and pivot, which by the way, she's started to do, and pivot to talking about Donald Trump and talking about the Republicans.

And I think, you know, they understand that, for example, in the state of Vermont, they're not going to win Vermont, but they think they're going to have a really strong showing in the South, which I believe they probably will. So that won't be a surprise. I think the question that John raises about Cruz is really important here, because this was supposed to be his firewall.

And we will see whether the South and Texas really is. If it isn't, I think it's a problem.

TAPPER: I didn't get to everybody, but I'm going to take a quick break. I promise I'm going to get to you, David Gergen, Bakari Sellers, when we come back.

But coming up next, the top Republicans in the House and Senate weigh in on Donald Trump's latest controversy. Will that only help Donald Trump?

And Marco Rubio has yet to win a single state. If he comes up empty tonight, he will be zero for 15. Can he go on?

Plus, Hillary Clinton talking about Donald Trump a lot more than Bernie Sanders these days. Stay with us. After this quick break, we will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:16:33] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to our special Super Tuesday edition of THE LEAD -- the biggest voting day of the campaign.

You're looking at live pictures right now of Donald Trump speaking to supporters in Kentucky, a state that won't even vote until Saturday.

Trump's coming under fire from the two top Republicans in Congress today for not disavowing the support of David Duke in an interview with me on Sunday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: If a person wants to be the nominee of the Republican Party, there can be no evasion and no games. They must reject any group or cause that is built on bigotry.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: Let me make it perfectly clear, Senate Republicans condemn David Duke, the KKK, and his racism.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Trump again today tried to undo some of the damage from Sunday's remarks.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: David Duke and all were disavowed. I disavowed them on Friday. I disavowed them right after that because I thought if there was any question, you take a look at Twitter, almost immediately after on Twitter and Facebook, they were disavowed again.

REPORTER: So, are you prepared right now to make a clear and unequivocal statement renouncing the support of all white supremacists?

TRUMP: Of course I am. Of course I am. I mean, there's nobody that's done so much for equality as I have.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

TAPPER: Let's go to Ed Lavandera. He's live for us in Allen, Texas, where voting is afoot. Texas is the biggest prize of the night, 155 delegates.

Ed, are voters talking about Trump's comments about David Duke or are they focused on other things going on, his comments about jobs, about trade? Tell us what they're saying.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's interesting, we've been talking to a lot of voters as they've come to this polling location in Allen, Texas. It's not something people bring up on their own, but we've asked a number throughout the day and what we've found, Jake, is a mixed bag.

We spoke with one woman, who was a Trump supporter, until she heard that interview with you and changed her vote to Marco Rubio. Several other people who voted for either Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio saying they found Trump, in the words of one person, to be a scary candidate, someone who was disgusting, bringing disgusting rhetoric to the campaign. That's what we heard on one side.

We've also heard from a number of Trump supporters throughout the day when we asked them about these comments and controversy, many shrugged it off, saying it was something they were willing to look past because they felt that Donald Trump was the best candidate to change things up in Washington and despite those comments that might have worried some of them, they say they were willing to look past it and still vote for Donald Trump.

TAPPER: All right. Ed Lavandera, thanks so much.

My panel is back with me, along with Mike DuHaime, a Republican strategist fresh from the Garden State.

Mike, thanks for coming down.

But, David Gergen, let me start with you. Have you ever seen something like this, where the leaders of the party on Capitol Hill both go out the same day and basically distance themselves from the nominee of their own potential -- potential nominee of their own party?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I can't remember. The only possible comparison would be way back in 1976 when Ronald Reagan was seen as the outsider, took on President Ford and there was a lot of unrest in Capitol Hill about that. You know, bringing them to get it later.

But I think the leaders were right to do what they did today to separate out, send a message to Trump, they're not going to be just, you know, manipulated by him if he makes a mistake, he's going to have to pay a price. It will cause him to be more careful next time because he clearly blew it.

[16:20:00] At the same time, I must tell you, all this talk about -- we're going to distance ourselves from Trump generally, they've got to be careful in the leadership that they don't look like they're dismissing Trump voters.

TAPPER: Right.

GERGEN: The voters are really important to them. And if they look like they're dismissing them as sort of you're second class, we don't want you in our party, they going to miss an opportunity to build a party.

TAPPER: And, Bakari Sellers, you're in the state of South Carolina, where racial politics are known to occur from time to time. How seriously do you take the threat of Donald Trump if he is the Republican nominee, and how much do you think the Clinton people will just be able to easily caricature him as a racist and that will be the end of the election?

BAKARI SELLERS (D), FORMER SOUTH CAROLINA STATE REPRESENTATIVES: I think we have to take Donald Trump seriously because how many blue collar workers that Bill was talking about earlier are coming out to the polls. Just yesterday, I saw the current lieutenant governor and former lieutenant governor of South Carolina come out and state that they stand behind Donald Trump. You know, he disavowed these comments, blah, blah, blah.

But I do think Democrats are looking forward to having Donald Trump on the ballot because he is such a tool to energize the Democratic base. You're going to have Hispanic voters, African-American voters come out in droves just to beat back on the hate, vitriol and bigotry that Donald Trump has espoused.

Now, I also think it's intellectually dishonest to our viewers and everyone else to say that Donald Trump simply doesn't know what he's doing. I think he knew what he was doing on your show. I think he was talking to a base of voters that are voting today on Super Tuesday and he didn't want to discount those voters and I think also he didn't want to keep those voters from just repudiating him are coming to the polls.

TAPPER: Kayleigh, I'll come to you in one second. I see you shaking your head.

But I do want to bring in Mike DuHaime.

Mike, you're kind of in an interesting spot, because a man you advise or have advised in the past, Governor Chris Christie has endorsed Donald Trump, and yet you're also a Republican strategist in New Jersey, a state that has a lot of moderate Republicans, and you need them to turn out to the polls.

What do you make of all of this?

MIKE DUHAIME, REPPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think Donald Trump is going to have to bring the party together after this. This is part of it. And I think that's incumbent upon the winner if he does as well as we expect him to do tonight, as well as everybody here speaks to do tonight, it's going to be incumbent upon him.

I think at the end of the day, if Donald Trumps a nominee, it's going to be up to him to reach out to Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, everyone, Jeb Bush, everybody who lost, and bring them together.

Right now, I think the party's divided right now, more so than in previous primaries. We always see divisions. Quite frankly, it's more vitriolic than we've seen. And he's going to have to bring the party together and then ultimately be able to reach out to independents.

But I agree. I think Democrats dismissing Donald Trump would be wrong. Republicans did that six months. We didn't see what was happening.

He's an x-factor. This is not going to be the same kind of blue/red map that everybody looked at in the past. He's very much an x-factor.

TAPPER: I think that's true. I think he's going to be able to bring a lot of states in play that weren't in play, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan.

Kayleigh, go. I know you want to respond. You're a Trump supporter. Disagree with Bakari. Tell him why he's wrong.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, DONALD TRUMP SUPPORTER: The notion that Donald Trump is using this as a strategy, I find to be an insulting concept, because what you're essentially saying is that embracing the KKK, somehow plays well in the South. That's dismissing an entire region of the country. The KKK is a small, small, fringe minority that is a terrorist organization that most people in the South, overwhelming majority of people in the South dismiss out of hand.

And Donald Trump --

TAPPER: What do you make -- what do you make of his answer on Sunday?

MCENANY: I think it was a mistake. I think he stumbles.

He mentions the earpiece. I don't know about the earpiece. I think that it did not function as he said. I don't think he' a liar.

I know he has dismissed the KKK five times. In 2000, he called David Duke a racist, a bigot, a problem. And what this boils down to do you in your heart of heart believe Donald Trumps a racist? The answer is no. He's lived on the earth 69 years, if he was a racist, we'd have far more allegations than one interview where he said that the earpiece flubs up.

TAPPER: All right. We're going to have a lot -- settle down, everybody. We'll have more.

Coming up, we have to take a quick break. Marco Rubio racking up some big endorsements but can he win a single state tonight? That remains the big question for Mr. Rubio.

If Trump wins the nomination, what's plan B for frustrated members of the Republican establishment? We'll ask my next guest, former Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, which is another state voting today.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:28:34] TAPPER: Welcome back to our special super duper Tuesday edition of THE LEAD.

Eleven contests for the Republicans today, 12 for the Democrats. When these votes are all counted, this could really be a very, very different race.

Brian Todd is in Ashburn, Virginia, in the Washington, D.C. suburbs. That commonwealth is where Marco Rubio hopes to run strong today.

Brian, what are you hearing from voters who are turning out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, depending on the candidate who they're supporting, voters are giving us their driving reasons for being here.

Hillary Clinton supporters say they're here because she's a steady hand in their view. They value her experience. Donald Trump supporters say they want change. They value maybe the businessman's experience in the White House.

But it's Marco Rubio's supporters who give the most interesting reasons. Number one, they like his moderate brand of Republican politics which scores well in this area of affluent and well-educated voters, and also, some of them are saying it's purely an anti-Trump vote. They want to stop Trump's momentum here in Virginia, here in northern Virginia especially, and it's going to be a telling thing, Jake, if they can do it in this district in the Dominion Trails district where we are and also the surrounding districts in Loudon, Fairfax, Arlington counties.

Now, as voters -- we show voters checking in for possibly a last surge before the polls close at 7:00 p.m. What we're hearing from first- time voters is a lot of them are skewing towards Marco Rubio. He does well in that segment.

And fully, one-third of those who we sampled say that they are first- time primary voters. So that may bode well for Marco Rubio.

Is it going to be enough to carry him to possible upset victory tonight or maybe to score some of those badly needed delegates?