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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Hours Away from CNN Republican Debate.; Stakes High In Miami For GOP Candidates Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired March 10, 2016 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:00] ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Presumptive?

(CROSSTALK)

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Without a doubt, but I don't think the field disappears. He's still going to have to go through these nominating contests potentially all the way through the calendar in June, because remember, this whole anti-Trump movement that is forming, there's a lot of money behind that, there's energy behind that. And if indeed this gets into a two-man race of Trump versus Cruz, even though Cruz may not be the most naturally fit for that group, they may tend to go there if they still want to try and stop Trump.

BURNETT: All right. David Chalian, thank you very much.

And I want to bring in Sean Spicer, now the chief strategist and communications director for the Republican National Committee.

OK, so here we are --

SEAN SPICER, RNC CHIEF STRATEGIST AND COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Wonderful backdrop.

BURNETT: Your candidates are going to be -- this is a big one with a lot of people here tonight.

SPICER: That's right.

BURNETT: You say that you want it to be a kinder, gentler debate.

SPICER: That's right. At least PG.

BURNETT: So, have you talked to the candidates? Is this going to happen? Or is this going to descend --

SPICER: A couple of things. One is the chairman has talked to most of the candidates and made them understand, which is something that's not lost on them, the more we can be a welcoming party, we've got amazing ratings. We've seen turnout and almost everyone in the states reached record turnout.

This is a huge opportunity for our party at a time when the Democrats are seeing not as high turnout in their debates, in their turnout. A lot of Democrats come over to the Republican side. So, we're seeing that energy and need to capitalize and show people we're a welcoming party and we've got the better solutions and tone down the rhetoric a little.

BURNETT: So do you have people calling up. We talk about all this money coming in and there is a lot of money coming in, coalescing around trying to stop Donald Trump. Are they trying to coordinate with you guys? Are they talking to you guys?

SPICER: I mean, anyone who's involved in politics understands the rule of the RNC, which is that we are the neutral entity. Our job is to create this level playing field and ensure that whomever the voters choose as the nominee, we're ready to provide the resources necessary to win in November.

But our job is to let the voters make this decision, not us. We stay out of the way, create the playing field, ensure that each of them has access to our data, and so they can communicate most effectively with Republican voters.

BURNETT: You have gone ahead and launched a Web site targeting Hillary Clinton.

SPICER: That's right.

BURNETT: You've listed a bunch of rules you say she's breaking. You have a lawsuit against the State Department to get her e-mails. Aren't they already putting all the emails out? What do you not have that you want?

SPICER: First of all, let's look at who we're joining. We're joining CNN, "The Associated Press", "The Washington Post", "The Wall Street Journal", "Vice" -- I mean, this is something that's gone on. We actually filed a FOIA request last year. We've been stalled, like organization like CNN and Vice and "Washington Post".

So, now, we're taking the next step and going to court. But the fact of the matter is this all started by Hillary Clinton, A, refusing to comply with the FOIA, which is the legal mechanism which everybody is supposed to abide by. But --

BURNETT: Freedom of Information Act.

SPICER: Yes. Second of all she told us after scanning these e-mails herself that there was nothing in these e-mails. We've now gone into the hundreds of e-mails that are classified and reveal other information that shouldn't have been in the public domain.

So, the problem is we don't know. We are at a critical time not just as Republicans but the Democrats need to know this too. They are at a phase in their election where their voters have a right to know if somebody has done something wrong or if there was any cover-up or what else is in those e-mails.

BURNETT: So, on this front, there have been questions -- there have been questions as to whether in this investigation she would be indicted or not. Jorge Ramos asked about this last night in the Sanders-Clinton debate, and here's how that moment played out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JORGE RAMOS, DEBATE MODERATOR: If you've been indicted, will you drop out?

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Oh, for goodness. It is not going to happen. I'm not even answering that question.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SPICER: Well, obviously, you know, not just as Republican but as a Democrat, the idea that she won't even acknowledge that and she says, I'm not going to answer that question, that level of dismissiveness is something we've seen of Hillary Clinton. She sort of dismisses anything. That's a serious question.

She admittedly has told us over and over again that there's nothing in the e-mails, nothing to be worried of, and we've seen over and over again there was classified information, in fact, highly classified information.

And so, to be that dismissive of a serious matter when we know they have made a plea agreement with Brian Pagliano, the person who set up the server for her, this is Democrat appointed investigators, career bureaucrat investigators and judges, and independent inspectors general, that have ruled against her.

The Clintons have a habit of telling anybody who questions them that it's a witch hunt and it's a Republican or right wing hunt and it's not. These are real people with real questions because they have chosen there's one set of rule for the Clintons and another everybody in America needs to abide by.

BURNETT: All right. That's the Republican side of the story.

Sean Spicer, thank you very much.

And he's maybe way behind in the delegate count, but Marco Rubio's message has always been "Florida, Florida, Florida". Now, the Sunshine State, can he deliver it? If this debate is do or die for Rubio, what is his strategy tonight?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:39:15] BURNETT: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Erin Burnett, in for Jake Tapper. He's getting ready to moderate tonight's Republican presidential debate in the hall where we are right now at the University of Miami.

The delegate count shows Marco Rubio trailing Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz. And the polls are so far not indicating a great performance in Florida, but, of course, he wants to turn that around.

I want to bring in our senior political reporter Manu Raju. And, Manu, now Marco Rubio, he knows this is do or die, this is a

crucial night. He is changing his tune. Those personal attacks against the frontrunner, Donald Trump. He said, look, it embarrassed my kids, I'm not going to be doing that.

What does that mean for tonight, Manu?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, I think he's still going to be rather aggressive against Donald Trump, but try to make the case a little more explicitly to voters here in Florida that this is a state that can stop Donald Trump.

[16:40:00] Now, I'm told by a senior Rubio official, what does that mean? He's going to make the case explicitly that voting for John Kasich or voting for Ted Cruz in Florida will effectively be a vote for Donald Trump. In addition, watch for him to really go after some of those policy positions, Trump's policy positions.

They believe that has been effective by trying to draw out Trump and have him explain what he actually stands for. In addition those attacks over his business record, Rubio believes that is effective.

So, the fire -- there will still be plenty of fireworks tonight from Marco Rubio, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Manu Raju, thank you very much.

I want to bring in our panel now: Andy Dean, a Trump support, Trent Duffy, national spokesman for John Kasich's campaign, Ron Nehring, next to me, spokesman for Ted Cruz's campaign, and Brian Morgenstern, a supporter of Senator Marco Rubio.

OK, great to have all of you with me.

So, this is where you're nervous but you kind of glad it's not you that has to go out there tonight and actually fight the fight.

Brian, especially you -- this is a huge night, this is a huge night for Marco Rubio. Just from a purely psychological perspective, how difficult is this for him, to know that it's do or die?

BRIAN MORGENSTERN, SEN. MARCO RUBIO SUPPORTER: Oh, he's used to being an underdog. This is where he thrives the most. He was running against the sitting governor of Florida when he ran for Senate.

He was -- he frequently tells the joke when he started running, the only people that believed he could win lived in his house and several were under the age of 10. So, he's used to coming from behind. This is -- this is right in his wheel house. He is ready to remind the voters of Florida that a vote for anyone but him is a vote for Trump and he's going to drive that point home tonight.

BURNETT: All right. So, what does that make you think then? He's basically saying a vote for Ted Cruz, he doesn't want anyone to vote for Ted Cruz anyway, but that's a vote for Donald Trump here in Florida? RON NEHRING, NATIONAL SPOKESMAN, TED CRUZ FOR PRESIDENT: We're

playing hard to win in Florida. We're playing hard to win in all 50 states.

You know, if you take a look at some of the recent victories that we've had, people wouldn't have predicted that. They wouldn't have predicted that we would have won in Maine or in Alaska or had a landslide victory in Kansas. The only way you prepare the battlefield for those types of victories is by being engaged everywhere and we're fully engaged here in Florida. We've had a great two days, Carly Fiorina coming on board, Utah Senator Mike Lee coming on board today, Marc Levin coming on board this week.

We've got a lot of momentum going into the Super Tuesday and we're looking forward to it a great deal.

BURNETT: Are you worried about that, that Ted Cruz is starting to get some endorsements? Because that had been the case against Ted Cruz. The people who know him and work with him don't like him, they're not endorsing.

Now, you're starting to see some people get on the Cruz train.

TRENT DUFFY, NATIONAL COMMUNICATIONS ADVISOR AND SPOKESMAN, KASICH FOR AMERICA: Well, Governor Kasich was endorsed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently. We've got coach Urban Myers in the state of Ohio today.

We're really pleased with where Governor Kasich is in Ohio. He's beating Donald Trump and he's past him. Trump plateaued in Ohio and now he is going down, John Kasich is on the rise.

And what we're excited about, Erin, is that a new national poll showed us as a three-way tie between Trump, Kasich and Cruz going forward in the states that are yet to come.

So, as John Kasich gets a chance to distinguish himself and his record on the stage tonight like he did in Michigan, we're going to see --

BURNETT: So, how badly do you want Marco Rubio out of the race? Do you think those Rubio votes are really going to go to John Kasich? I was talking about one Florida voter I told the story to David Chalian, he is a Rubio supporter, he's worried about the polls in Florida. So, he thinks he might switch to Kasich.

DUFFY: We do think that we're going to get a lot Senator Rubio supporters, because they have kind of the same vision. But as this race narrows, Kasich is continuing to rise. That's why that new NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll shows him a three-way tie. It really is jump ball.

BURNETT: So, Andy, how important is it for Donald Trump to keep it high brow and show that he can be presidential, not take the bait to go to the lowest common denominator?

ANDY DEAN, DONALD TRUMP SUPPORTER: He can do it. If you remember last debate, Marco Rubio sort of firebombing and went berserk. So, apparently, he's got a software update. He's going to be very chill, which we're excited .

BURNETT: What did you call it, a software upgrade?

DEAN: Software upgrade. We're very excited.

But what I'd like to discuss the three strategists for the other campaigns have all these theories, if these voters here vote for this person in this states -- it's really not that complicated. You just need to win more votes, and Donald Trump does that.

If you look March 8th just a couple of days ago, he's at 49 percent in Mississippi and 37 percent in Michigan.

And I just feel for the Kasich campaign, because Kasich didn't even come in second --

BURNETT: Overall though, we're only getting about a third. I know you keep going --

(CROSSTALK)

DEAN: -- in the '40s.

BURNETT: There are, there are but his overall average is still --

DEAN: Remember, Abraham Lincoln ran against three other people and he won the presidency with 39 percent. So, you just need to beat your competitors, which Trump does time and time again.

I actually feel bad for the Rubio campaign because on March 8, just two days ago, Mississippi voted and only 5 percent of the people in Mississippi voted for Marco Rubio, which means northern Florida will vote like Mississippi, and you got Trump winning like double digits in Georgia.

DUFFY: Donald Trump is not Abraham Lincoln, come on. Let's have a little reality check here.

DEAN: We're talking about math here.

DUFFY: This is a software upgrade saying all of Islam hates the United States? That's being softer and gentler?

DEAN: First, we could talk about Islam if we could. So, when we're talking about Islam, what Donald is talking about is --

BURNETT: He said they hate us.

DEAN: It's extremely important. He's talking about the culture of Islam in the Middle East. I want to get down for this because it's important. We love Muslims in America and they love us. Why? We have a great culture that respects women's rights.

[16:30:00] This is about women's rights. In the Middle East, they don't respect --

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Relax, relax. The thing about Muslims in the Middle East is they don't respect women's rights. If a woman wants to get a divorce in Middle East, than woman could be killed. If you want to leave the religion of Islam in the Middle East, you can be killed. It's very real.

It's a culture in the Middle East, right, in South Asia. I encourage people to look at the Pew Research poll of 39 Muslim countries and they will see, this isn't 5 percent or 10 percent. This is the majority of those populations who hate America and hate women's rights.

BURNETT: All right, I'm going to give you a quick chance to respond here before we take a break.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is what Trump does, he says one thing one minute and the opposite the next. The fact of the matter is he has changed his position on a minute-to-minute basis, not talking day to day. So tonight he's going to be pressed to share his plan and actually be consistent.

In the last debate, we saw him have a position on immigration before the debate, a different -- one during the debate and one after that. So he is going to have to tell the American people what he'll do.

BURNETT: Just to pause for a moment and we'll all be back in just a break. We'll take a couple minute break and be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:50:18]

BURNETT: We are live at the University of Miami for the final presidential debate before Florida and Ohio vote. Let's go to our correspondent, Phil Mattingly. Phil, John Kasich's campaign tells you they're bringing out a secret weapon in Ohio. They think they can win. What is that weapon?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they think the determining factor might actually come down to the state party, Erin. It's not a surprise that the Ohio governor has support of the state party but the Ohio State Republican Party endorsing Kasich in January.

The first time they have done such a thing since nearly 70 years, opened the doors for the party to run a shadow campaign while Kasich was campaigning elsewhere. They have put out slate cards to more than a million Republican voters talking about how Kasich is their endorsement.

They have been chasing absentee voters across the state giving Kasich an organizational advantage. Erin, you combine that effort with the effort of a super PAC that has 30 staffers just focused on Ohio, eight separate offices as well. All of that super PAC staffed by top former Kasich staffers, who have a network going on in his own state that could make the difference come Tuesday -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right, Phil Mattingly, thank you very much. My panel is back with me. Let me go straight to you, Trent Duffy, the spokesman for John Kasich.

So you know, you hear about Phil talking about the shadow campaign that you all have been able to run in Ohio. Winner-take-all, it's crucial.

A lot of people say Governor Kasich has a better chance of winning Ohio than Marco Rubio does of winning in Florida here. Fox News poll actually defines Governor Kasich ahead. Are you confident you have it?

DUFFY: Yes, we are confident we have it and not just because of the ground game, but because of what John Kasich has done in Ohio, 420,000 private sector jobs, 16 percent income tax cut.

John Kasich was re-elected in the state of Ohio. A bell weather stay here -- do or die for presidential politics by 66 percent with 25 percent of the African-American vote.

So John Kasich knows how to fix problems. There is a lot of people on the stage tonight that are going to be able to identify problems and describe problems, but Kasich is the only one that's ever fixed them.

BURNETT: So what does Ted Cruz do on Tuesday if he doesn't win Florida or Ohio, which no polls show him winning, of course? I'm sure you'll say that he has shot but --

NEHRING: I think it's been fun to listen to some of these Alice in Wonderland stories coming from the Rubio campaign or the Kasich campaign saying we're going to going to win our state and then everything is going to be different.

It's not going to be different because the reality is that they are so far behind in terms of these delegate counts and have zero momentum going forward that it really doesn't put them in a position to go head-to-head with Donald Trump.

Only Ted Cruz has that pathway to victory. We've continued to rack up delegates. Marco Rubio not having a great night.

BURNETT: So you don't care if you don't win Florida's 99 --

NEHRING: We're playing everywhere. We are playing everywhere. We don't play somewhere in order to deny anybody anything. We play everywhere and that's how we were able t take advantage of changing political dynamics and win states like Maine, have a big landslide victory in Kansas and the like.

And these additional endorsements that have been coming on board, Mark Levin, Utah Senator Mike -- and, Carly Fiorina, who have tremendous amount of energy within the Republican Party, these are further propelling Senator Cruz going toward.

We'll have more announcements coming out in the days ahead. He's the candidate with the momentum going into Tuesday. Tonight, I think you'll see, you know, a candidate who people will see can be president of the United States in stark contrast to some of the alternatives.

BURNETT: Alice in Wonderland stories. That's what he say you are pedaling.

MORGENSTERN: Yes, that's interesting. Tow polls out today do have Rubio within single digits here in Florida. He wins 99 delegates with this state. That changes the whole dynamic. He was the first candidate with 50 chairs -- state chairs all across the country.

He's ready to drive his own pickup truck as he said. The fact of the matter is Rubio has the broadest appeal. He is the only one who can both unite the Republican Party and grow it and attract more people.

BURNETT: But people always play this game with the polls. Our poll has him significantly behind. A Fox poll has him 23 points behind in Florida. You say those polls are wrong?

MORGENSTERN: Those are wrong. They're not accurate. Two polls out today was just reported in "The Washington Post" that he's in single digits and it is two separate polls both just released today with more recent, more accurate data.

BURNETT: Who does Donald Trump think his biggest threat is in Florida? Is it Marco Rubio?

DEAN: I agree with the Cruz campaign that Rubio and Kasich, you just look at the numbers, they have no chance. Donald Trump has nine times as many delegates.

I think, you know, Cruz, the campaign makes an interesting statement that once Ohio is done and Trump has won that, and once Florida is done, Trump was won that, I don't see what the route is for the Cruz campaign.

Because they have only won primaries in Texas and Oklahoma and most of the rest are caucus states. We look forward to the rest of the calendar, 23 out of the next 24 states, the final roundup of the states, 23 are primaries. There is only one caucus left in Utah so --

BURNETT: Our David Chalian just said, though, even if he wins Florida and Ohio, this could still go to June.

DEAN: Well, I mean, the math gets to 1,237 will keep going longer. Remember also on Tuesday, March 15th, there's Illinois where Trump is ahead by 10. He's leading in Missouri and North Carolina. I just don't see a route for unfortunately any of these guys.

[16:55:04]BURNETT: All right, well, tonight is going to be a big night for all four of you and your candidates. I thank you all very much for being with us. Andy Dean, Trent Duffy, Ron Nehring, and Brian Morgenstern. Of course, stay with us here on CNN. We have a huge night ahead of us. We're just beginning our countdown to that big debate. I'll be back here at 7:00 on "OUTFRONT."

RNC Chair Reince Priebus will be my guest and Florida's Governor Rick Scott had a lot of positive things to say about Donald Trump but not yet an endorsement.

Our coverage of the actual debate moderated by my colleague, Jake Tapper, all begins at 8:30 Eastern. First, though, Wolf Blitzer joins us from "THE SITUATION ROOM" right here in Miami after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)