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Stopping Trump; Election Day; Trump Reject Comparisons to Hitler. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired March 8, 2016 - 16:00   ET


[16:00:08] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN GUEST HOST: Super Tuesday II is under way, and the stakes couldn't be higher as Ted Cruz gains on Donald Trump in the polls and Bernie Sanders needs a win in the biggest prize of the day. That is Michigan.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Good afternoon. And welcome to a special edition of THE LEAD. I'm Jim Sciutto in for Jake Tapper today. It is Super Tuesday II, and the stakes are very high.

Donald Trump continues to lead in most polls across today's contests, but Ted Cruz is coming off a strong weekend, winning two states, and splitting the delegate count in Louisiana with Trump. Tonight, Michigan, Mississippi, Idaho, and Hawaii are up for grabs in the Republican Party.

Michigan, with 59 delegates at stake, is the night's biggest prize. The latest "Washington Post"/ABC News poll shows Trump leading the field nationally at 34 percent, but Ted Cruz not far behind at 25 percent, narrowing Trump's lead by seven points in just the last month.

And in head-to-head matchups, Trump loses to both Ted Cruz and to Marco Rubio. Cruz has become a clear number two in the GOP race and today insisted that Trump is feeling the heat.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You can usually tell how dismayed he is by his volume, by the level of insults. And typically when he goes down to attacking people's faith, it's a sign that Donald is really, really worried.


SCIUTTO: Really, really worried.

On the Democratic side, just two states, but big ones, with Michigan with 130 delegates, Mississippi with 36 at stake, Clinton leading the polls in both states, and, nationally, Clinton leading Sanders by nine points. That is 53 to 44 percent, according to the latest "Wall Street Journal"/NBC News poll.

CNN is covering the Super Tuesday results from every angle with reporters fanned out across the country with every candidate in these races.

But we begin with Sara Murray. She is traveling, as always, with the Trump campaign in Jupiter, Florida, today.

Sara, so Trump still leading, but the margin appears to be tightening nationally. Is the Trump campaign, as we heard Ted Cruz just claiming, is it feeling heat today?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, they're certainly not admitting that they're worried. And I think the reality is, these states that are voting tonight are not make or break for Trump, but he has made it clear that he wants to win them.

He was campaigning in Mississippi last night and he was bragging that he's ahead by 20 points in some polls and that he wants to win by a wide margin. It's very clear that they want to pick up wins in Mississippi, they want to pick up a win in Michigan, and they want to add to their delegate count.

But I think reality is, they're also looking ahead. They know they're running sort of a two-front war at this point. So even as Donald Trump was knocking Ted Cruz last night, he also went really hard against Marco Rubio, because they're looking ahead to where I am right now, here in Florida, where they're hoping to finish Rubio off once and for all in his home state -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Sara Murray with Trump in Florida.

Ted Cruz certainly setting his sights squarely on Donald Trump today. Have a listen.


CRUZ: I understand. The last Election Day, Super Saturday, was a very bad day for Donald. He came in proudly expecting to sweep all four contents. Instead, he got clobbered. He got clobbered on Election Day.


SCIUTTO: Clobbered on Election Day.

Sunlen Serfaty, she is traveling with the Cruz campaign in Kannapolis, North Carolina.

So, Sunlen, Cruz, he's less than 100 delegates behind at this point. There are 150 GOP delegates up for grabs tonight. Does the Cruz campaign believe that they can further close that gap tonight?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're confident, Jim, that they can definitely pick up a lot of delegates tonight.

But the question is how many and how many they're able to steal away from Donald Trump. That's their big challenge that they are facing tonight. The Cruz campaign is basically setting expectations very low, not predicting any outright state wins. Their goal is to meet the threshold so they can continue to pick up delegates along the way and really start to chip away even more at Donald Trump's lead.

The campaign, though, they did get a little symbolic boost today announcing the support of Neil Bush. That is Jeb Bush's younger brother, the campaign announcing that he will join their finance team. Of course, them rolling out this announcement today of all days, on an election day, just coming also as Ted Cruz, of course, is trying to make the case out on the campaign trail that he is the Republican candidate that can consolidate the Republican vote more so than Marco Rubio -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Well, a lot of pressure certainly on Marco Rubio. He's in Florida tonight, looking ahead to next Tuesday, and his home state there, where his campaign thinks that he can rack up a big win.

Rubio's focus very clear today.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Here in Florida, if you vote for John Kasich or Ted Cruz, you are voting for Donald Trump. I am the only one that can beat him in Florida. I'm the only one that can stop him here.



SCIUTTO: Jason Carroll traveling with the Rubio campaign in Ponte Vedra, Florida.

Jason, what are the expectations from the Rubio campaign tonight? Are they doing some expectations management, even?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's probably the way to put, managed expectations.

Look, they're not looking for any wins tonight. What they're looking to do is pick up delegates. They're looking for a strong showing in states like Idaho and Hawaii. Basically, what they're doing, Jim, is already looking ahead to next week, March 15, the Florida primary.

This is the must-win state for Marco Rubio. He knows that. The campaign knows that. His supporters know that. That's why he's campaigning out here today, was campaigning in Tampa again yesterday, speaking of Trump a little earlier today, calling the man reckless, calling him dangerous, saying he is the only one who can stop him and he plans on doing it right here in the state of Florida -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Jason Carroll traveling there.

John Kasich making a big play for the most delegate-rich state in play today. That is Michigan.


GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If I spent any more time in Michigan, I would have to start paying taxes. I know that. OK.



SCIUTTO: Phil Mattingly traveling with the Kasich campaign.

So, Phil, Michigan, of course, neighboring Kasich's home state of Ohio, where you are right now. At this point, Kasich has only 37 delegates in total in the race. Compare that to Trump, more than 10 times that of 389. Does the Kasich campaign think he can make up some ground tonight?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kasich's advisers are confident they will be pulling in delegates.

Keep an eye on Mississippi, a state where Kasich and his team have quietly made a push. He was actually in the state for last Super Tuesday just seven days ago. But, again, Jim, as you said, it's all about Michigan for John Kasich's campaign. They started this campaign targeting that state as a potential win. They started ratcheting back those expectations weeks prior.

Now they feel good about it again, according to one of his advisers that I spoke to. There's a good reason why. They spent more than $900,000 in the state between the campaign and its supportive super PAC. As John Kasich himself said, he more or less camped out there for the last week.

They don't necessarily -- they are not necessarily predicting a win of any sorts, but they do feel like they have been rising. Possibly clinching a second-place finish would be a big, big night tonight. Obviously all eyes on Ohio, a must-win state for John Kasich next week. A big finish in Michigan could really give him some much-needed momentum as he heads down here just a week from tonight -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Phil Mattingly traveling with the Kasich campaign in his home state of Ohio.

Well, joining us now for our panel, an all-star panel, CNN chief national correspondent and the host of "INSIDE POLITICS," he is John King. Chief political analyst Gloria Borger, senior political analyst David Gergen, senior political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson, to my left, CNN political commentators Kayleigh McEnany, Mary Katharine Ham, Bakari Sellers, and Peter Beinart.

So, John, there are a lot of supers these days. We're on Super Tuesday II. Should we expect to get further clarity in both races tonight?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think we will get definition in both races tonight that is very important heading into next week, which could be a decisive week in both races, not mathematically, but in terms of the arc of the races.

Tonight, can -- Ted Cruz delivered a couple of body blows to Donald Trump on Super Saturday. The challenge for Donald Trump is every front-runner takes a few hits. Can he get back in the ring tonight and prove, OK, you landed a few punches, but I'm going to win this round?

If he wins again in Mississippi, even though Ted Cruz says he's back in the race and Ted Cruz has closed the delegate gap, Ted Cruz was supposed to win across the South. If Donald Trump takes Mississippi away, it kind of goes to the underpinning of the Cruz campaign, Tea Party, evangelical voters in the South.

Then you get into Michigan, which Donald Trump wants to send a message, not only to Republicans, but to Democrats. He wants to win Michigan and say I'm winning in the South, I'm winning in the Northeast, I'm winning in the everywhere, and I'm winning in places that the Democrats think are theirs in November.

Watch the margins in Michigan, very important in Michigan. But if Trump can get wins tonight in the two big contests, he's back on his feet. Maybe he's a little wobbly, but he's still the champ and he's still in the race.

On the Democratic side, if Sanders -- we don't expect him to win in Mississippi. If he can't win the Midwest, if he can't sell his economic message in the industrial Midwest, he becomes a message candidate, not a mathematical challenger for the nomination.

SCIUTTO: Gloria, I will ask you. John mentioned some of the polls. Trump losing ground to Cruz, Rubio and Kasich. I almost hesitate to ask the question, could this be a troublesome night for Donald Trump, considering his past, exceeding of expectations? But are there warning signs in there?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think right now what we see is a fight within the Republican Party and the establishment is trying to blunt Trump's momentum, even if it means backing Ted Cruz, who no one has ever considered a part of the establishment before.

The challenge here is to just blunt it. And, you know, that would mean Ted Cruz, for example, winning in a state like Mississippi. That would mean John Kasich winning in Michigan, which the polls don't seem to indicate that he will.

It seems to me that it's a difficult task. But Trump, you know, as John was saying, wants to lay mantle to the fact that he can win in every part of the country. And the thing he's got going for him in Michigan, quite honestly, is that it's an open primary and he does much better when you can have those crossover voters, when independents can vote, when conservative Democrats can cross over and vote in the state of Michigan.


Reagan Democrats in Macomb County, you will remember that. There are conservative Democrats. Trump is going to want to say, I can do it everywhere. You can't deny me this domination. SCIUTTO: David, Gloria mentions what the Republican establishment

wants, as if it matters. But do you have Mitt Romney doing robo-calls now for both Rubio and Kasich. An effective tactic? And is Mitt Romney the effective voice for those calls, for that kind of message?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think he delivered a very effective message last week, but he was not an effective messenger.

What I do think we're seeing, Jim, is that assaults on Trump from the -- quote -- "so-called establishment," and, by the way, from the media, he's gone through very -- he's gone from a wow kind of coverage to, whoa, let's hold on here, there are a lot of faults in this guy.

And I think that is having an effect upon his national standing. It's remarkable to me this new "Washington Post"/ABC poll finds that over half of Republicans and independents who lean Republican now think Donald Trump is dishonest. We always had that distrust issue surrounding Hillary. And this is the Republicans' great strength against Hillary.

You get somebody on a Republican side who is just seen as dishonest, that's troubling for him.

SCIUTTO: Some of that mud starting to stick.

Nia-Malika, enormous stakes, you can't overstate the stakes for Marco Rubio. He's won just one state so far. He's banking on Florida of course next week. Let's have a quick listen to what he had to say today.


RUBIO: Florida's always going to be important. Always is. In 2008, John McCain basically wrapped up the nomination in Florida. In 2012, Mitt Romney basically wrapped up the nomination in Florida. I think that will in many ways have the same impact in 2016.


SCIUTTO: So, do or die today for Rubio and for Kasich, really?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, very generous of himself to compare himself there to Mitt Romney and John McCain, who had many more wins going into Florida and did -- after those wins were able to show some momentum.


HENDERSON: I think it is indicative of the lowered expectations around Marco Rubio at this point that he is betting it all on Florida. He basically has a Giuliani strategy in his own home state, that he should automatically be able to win.

You hear stories now that he doesn't have much of a ground game in Florida. Again, this is his own state. This just -- I think it is just a continuation of a narrative that really started at the beginning of the race, which was that, which state could he win?

It wasn't clear that he had much of a ground game in any early states and I think it's now catching up with him. And the idea that he might come in fourth in Michigan, fourth in Mississippi, this is -- this is not good if you're the candidate who is saying I'm the most electable and I'm the one who can bring the party together. I think he could be in for really a bad night.

This idea that, oh, if he wins Florida, does that mean he's going to win North Carolina and Illinois and all of these other states? It's hard to argue why he would, given his poor showing across the board in all of these other states.

SCIUTTO: We have got a big panel here. We're just beginning. Everybody, stay with us. We're going to give you a chance to pipe in.

Next on a special Super Tuesday II edition of THE LEAD, Donald Trump has taken to swearing in his supporters. But their raised right hands are drawing comparisons, to, yes, the Nazi salute. Now Trump is fighting back.

Plus, Clinton slamming Sanders over the auto bailout. Will it work in Michigan?

And voters can cross party lines in Michigan. Are Democrats crossing over just to beat Trump?


[16:17:34] SCIUTTO: Welcome back to a special Super Tuesday edition of THE LEAD.

As voters head to the polls in four states today, Donald Trump is pushing back against comparisons to -- yes, Adolf Hitler. At issue: this pledge that he asks supporters to take at his rallies. Critics say it brings back memories of the "Heil" salute from Nazi, Germany.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I do solemnly swear that I, no matter how I feel, no matter what the conditions -- if there's hurricanes or whatever -- will vote on or before the 12th for Donald J. Trump for president!


SCIUTTO: For his part, Donald Trump says he just doesn't get the controversy.


SCIUTTO: I think it's ridiculous. I mean, we're having such a great time. Sometimes we'll do it for fun and they'll start screaming at me, do the swear-in, do the swear-in. Honestly, until this phone call, I didn't know it was a problem.


SCIUTTO: Polo Sandoval, he is live in Jackson, Mississippi, one of the four states voting today.

So, Polo, you've been speaking to voters today. Are they aware of this? Has it affected any of their opinions of Trump as they go to polling stations today?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely, Jim. It's something that is on their mind, of course, as you played the clip, Donald Trump having some fun, but it's a serious issue for several voters. In fact, some of the roughly 800 individuals who (INAUDIBLE) this polling election in Jackson, Mississippi, have actually voted for the opposite party.

I spoke to one loyal Hillary Clinton voter who actually got her ballot from the Republican side today and voted for John Kasich. In her words, she essentially is using her vote to keep Donald Trump from becoming the eventual Republican candidate.

But I can tell you that this is something that people are talking about. It's affected people. And this is one of several reasons why we continue to see some of these crossover voters, numbers continue to add up, Jim.

So, it's going to be interesting to see exactly who comes out the winner, not just the Republican side but, of course, on the Democratic side as well. By the way, many people seem to agree, likely Hillary Clinton. But again, their voting continues at this hour here in Mississippi -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Polo Sandoval, he's in Mississippi. One of those four states voting today.

Now, back to me is my big panel. I'm going to turn it over to this side to give a chance to comment today.

Kayleigh, you're a Trump supporter. So, first of all, just the image here, that association of Donald Trump with something for many evokes memories of Adolf Hitler.

[16:15:04] Is that a fair association?

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think it's a fair association. Look, this is something fun he does with his audience. And, unfortunately, we see Hitler comparisons too often in politics. Reagan was compared to Hitler. "Esquire Magazine" compared him to Hitler. An L.A. cartoonist depicted him as such.

And we see this with Obama. I've seen conservative radio talk show hosts compare him to Hitler.

Unfortunately, it's a go-to comparison. I think it's irresponsible. I think it's unethical. This is a genocidal maniac that killed 11 million people. To compare any American politician to Hitler is unacceptable. SCIUTTO: But let's the Hitler comparison aside, because it's the

positions, right, that draw this comparison, if not to Hitler, to authoritarian leaders -- you know, changing libel laws, telling soldiers to disobey the law, deporting 11 million people, that's the substance behind the comparison, whether it's Hitler or not. It's those kinds of positions that lead some to say, wait a second, this is un-American.

MCENANY: Sure. But for the most part, when you look into these positions, they are mainstream opinions, libel laws, for instance. That was something Scalia was for, opening up libel laws, the terror and waterboarding and whatnot, that was allowed in the Bybee memos. It was a memo that was rescinded but it was legal mechanism.

He was right to come out and clarify what he meant, it was wrong of him to say or to elude to the fact that he would go beyond the law. I was very pleased to see him tell him "The Wall Street Journal" what he meant and to clarify that position.

But by and large, when you look at specifics of policy, it's easy to generalize, but the specifics are well within the bounds of law, and to compare to Hitler because of those policies, again, I think it's irresponsible.

SCIUTTO: And to be fair as well, he changed the position on forcing soldiers to disobey the law. Geneva Convention on torture, et cetera.

Kayleigh and panel, stay here for a moment, because we're just joined by the Arizona campaign chairman for the Trump campaign. He is Jeff DeWit. He's also the state treasurer of Arizona.

Jeff, if I could ask you, since you're with the campaign, you heard Kayleigh commenting here, but you've certainly heard the criticism, the appearance of this sort of "Sieg Heil" kind of pledge, but also the positions. What is your response to that criticism?

JEFF DEWIT, ARIZONA CHAIRMAN, DONALD TRUMP CAMPAIGN: Well, it's just absurd. You know, the more -- the more scared the establishment gets, that Donald Trump is going to be the nominee, the more ridiculous the attacks are that they use against him. You're saying that raising a hand in the air is now -- any time you do that, it's a Hitler comparison, then you know I go to church on Sunday, and there's a lot of people when they're singing, they raise their hand in the air, or when you go to court and put your hand on the bible and raise one hand in the air, does that mean all of those were inspired by Hitler?

No, of course not. So, it's absolutely absurd. Donald Trump --

SCIUTTO: But, Jeff, to be fair.


DEWIT: -- has great fun with his audience. He said, hey, raise your hand, tell me you're going to vote. It's just absurd. The whole thing is absurd. SCIUTTO: But to fair, Jeff, that symbolism comes with hard positions that the candidate himself has posited repeatedly and defended, things like banning Muslims from the country, things like changing libel laws, deporting -- forcibly deporting 11 million people, as I mentioned earlier. It's that connection that many people are making to positions that strike many on both sides, frankly, Democrats and Republicans, as authoritarian, not democratic.

DEWIT: Those weren't Hitler's position. Hitler's position was to take over the world and go and forcibly use the military to dominate other countries. And nothing like that has ever been said by him or any other candidate that I know of. So, again, it's a ridiculous comparison and surprised it's getting any air time at all, quite frankly.

SCIUTTO: Jeff, just in terms of the effects on a key day, Super Tuesday II, today, key states, certainly Michigan, a big prize for the Trump campaign, is the campaign concerned about these associations and that it will give people, voters, pause as they go into the voting booth who might have voted for Trump that it will make them change their minds.

DEWIT: Well, we think that voters are smart enough to see through it. It's just a typical political attack. Obviously, you don't like to see it. They always say these until, you know, right on game day, right on election day, and they'll drop these crazy things. Kind of like you saw that new -- that Cruz did it to Ben Carson, and now, the Cruz campaign or somebody associated did another e-mail like that saying Marco Rubio was going to be out and you're wasting your vote.

So, all these attacks come on election day where you see these things. And so, there's always that concern of, wow, why did they do this. But, you know, it's politics. And everyone sees through it.

And quite frankly, this attack is so blatantly absurd that I don't think it's going to give anybody pause, but you know, it's something you wish wasn't a part of politics. I wish they would stick with the issues.

SCIUTTO: Jeff DeWit with the Trump in Arizona, thanks for joining us today.

DEWIT: Thank you very much.

SCIUTTO: Mary Katharine, I want to talk to you, talking about broader effects on the Republican party, how much -- does it tarnish the other GOP candidates to have the Republican front-runner with these kinds of comparisons?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I don't have to go there on the comparisons and I don't want to go on the comparisons but you can talk about this and just say, well, that was a creepy authoritarian moment on the campaign trail.

[16:25:09] That's something that if Obama did it, it would creep me out and it creeps me out when Trump does it. So, that's a sort of blanket statement you can make without having to go to comparisons.

But I think these things make a candidate vulnerable when they speak to the vulnerability that the candidate already has and these are the positions you talk about, which are the Muslim ban and these things, as Kayleigh points out, he's clarified at other times or maybe if you look at details they're slightly different.

But the problem with Trump he operates on his gut often first and then he'll look up details later. If his gut leads towards comfort authoritarian positions, that's a problem.

SCIUTTO: Bakari and Peter, I see you both nodding there. You're sticking with us. We have more time. We're going to go to a break now before we get to comment more.

Don't miss the next Republican debate, that is Thursday night at 8:30, right here on CNN.

And you're watching a special Super Tuesday II edition of THE LEAD now.

Next, Michigan is a key state for Bernie Sanders tonight. If he loses the state, is there a path forward for him in 2016?

And the Clinton campaign unleashed the big dog today.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT: We can rise together, therefore, clearly, we ought to vote for president for the best change maker I have ever known. Be there next week and you'll never be sorry.