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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Ohio Governor John Kasich; Trump: Getting Complaints I'm Not On Florida Ballot; Kasich, Trump Battle to Win Ohio's 66 Delegates. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired March 15, 2016 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:10]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: It's decision day in six states and territories. Can Donald Trump deliver the knockout he promised? Will Bernie Sanders score more upsets?

THE LEAD starts right now.

Good afternoon, and welcome to a special edition of THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Super Tuesday III could be well decision day on several fronts; 358 Republican delegates at stake across Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Illinois, and Missouri, with 165 of them in the crucial winner-take- all state of Ohio and Florida.

Donald Trump began his Super Tuesday by winning the nine delegates of the Northern Mariana Islands. And whether you have ever heard of the Northern Mariana Islands, Trump's victory in that American territory, 14 Pacific islands, population 52,344, was pivotal, because, according to Republican National Committee rule number 40, to be in contention for the Republican presidential nomination, a candidate has to have won -- quote -- "the support of a majority of the delegates from each of eight or more states or territories."

And the Northern Marianas were Donald Trump's eighth victory with a majority of delegates. He's now the only Republican candidate eligible for the presidential nomination. To be even considered for the nomination, according to current rules, Ted Cruz has four more states to go. Marco Rubio has six. And John Kasich has, well, eight.

A short time after his pivotal victory, Trump spoke with NBC News and he was asked if a big win this evening would finally get the Republican Party to rally around him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I do. I mean, they're already calling. I have the biggest people in the party, they want to sit down. They want to make -- Paul Ryan is an example. I have a lot of respect for him. He called last week.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: The Ryan campaign -- or the Ryan office clarifying today that he called because Donald Trump asked him to call.

For John Kasich and Marco Rubio, it's go big in your home states or go home. Kasich and Trump are running neck and neck in the Buckeye State of Ohio. Rubio needs an epic upset to take his home state of Florida. Meanwhile, Ted Cruz is running a major TV ad campaign in every Super Tuesday primary state except Florida.

He's looking to strengthen his grip on the number two spot. President Obama weighed in on the Republican race today with some choice words for the tone of the race.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have heard vulgar and divisive rhetoric aimed at women and minorities and Americans who don't look like us or pray like us or vote like we do, and we have heard silence from too many of our leaders.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: The president and first lady also voted today in their home state primary, Illinois, by absentee ballot.

CNN is covering this crucial Super Tuesday vote from every angle. We have reporters with the candidates and with voters as we await the first exit poll results.

And we begin with Jim Acosta, who is at Trump campaign headquarters in Palm Beach, Florida, right now.

Jim, you heard Mr. Trump this morning sounding pretty positive about tonight. Is it possible he's going to go six for six?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, I talked to a top Trump campaign official here in Florida who said, yes, they are confident they will win here, maybe not as much as that margin has suggested in the polls, because, after all, this Marco Rubio's home state.

But they are confident, nonetheless. Trump has been saying all day, as you said, that members of the GOP establishment have been calling him. It's important to note, as you just mentioned, both Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell say it was Trump who called them.

And as for McConnell, today, he made it clear that he told Trump in their conversation today that the GOP front-runner would be well- served if he were to discourage the violence taking place at his rallies.

Now, Trump, has insisted his events are not as violent as they are portrayed in the media. And at this point, Jake, his campaign is more concerned about where things will stand after tonight. If he pulls a Super Tuesday sweep, he's in the driver's seat. If he doesn't, he will have to fight harder to clinch the number of delegates needed to win the nomination and the GOP civil war will simply drag on -- Jake. TAPPER: So much at stake. Thanks, Jim.

Sara Murray is at Rubio campaign headquartered in Miami, Florida.

Sara, Rubio was sounding fairly, let's call it reflective last night, his hopes all pinned today on his home state of Florida. What's the mood in the campaign right now?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right, Jake.

He gave the speech in West Palm Beach where he sort of reflected on the 11 months he's been in the race and sounded a warning about the idea of Donald Trump as a potential Republican nominee, essentially saying this is not a man who reflects our values. This is a man who reflects what the Republican Party stands for.

But just in the last 24 hours, Marco Rubio has been out there doing some interviews and saying, irrespective of what happens here tonight in Florida, he's planning to go on to Utah.

[16:05:04]

Now, he's saying that, just to reiterate, even if he loses his home state of Florida, he's still planning to go on. He said this in multiple different interviews. I think that would be a tough sell though to his donors and also to his supporters going forward.

If you have not won your home state, it's going to be difficult to go to a place like Utah and go to a place like Wisconsin, and to convince voters that you still have a chance not just of winning those states, but of taking on Donald Trump to win the nomination -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Sara Murray, thank you so much.

Sunlen Serfaty is at Cruz campaign headquarters in Houston, Texas.

Sunlen, Cruz is focusing in really on one state tonight, Governor Kasich's state, Ohio. What is Cruz's calculation in Ohio?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, this is interesting, Jake.

The Cruz campaign has been squarely focused leading to today on picking up delegates in North Carolina, Illinois, and Missouri. But there is a surprising last-minute focus within the Cruz campaign on Ohio tonight.

Now, the Cruz campaign is certainly not predicting a win in Ohio, but they do say that it's a potential big opportunity to close the gap with Donald Trump, to close the gap with John Kasich in that state. They have been spending big money in the last few days on TV ads, nearly $500,000 in that state and a few others combined, really see it as potential.

Of course, Ohio is a winner-take-all state. There's really no runner- up delegates on the table. But the Cruz campaign sees their consolation prize potentially coming out of tonight as kind of closing the gap, blunting any momentum that John Kasich may have coming out of his home state -- Jake.

TAPPER: Sunlen Serfaty, thank you so much.

Joining me now on the phone, Republican presidential candidate and Governor of Ohio John Kasich.

Governor Kasich, thanks for joining us.

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Glad to do it, Jake.

TAPPER: So, how confident are you about winning Ohio tonight? You basically said that it is make or break for you.

KASICH: Well, we're totally confident, Jake. We're doing well. We have a great ground game. We have got good momentum and a good record and a positive campaign.

So, we're going to do well here. And I'm scheduled to leave tomorrow morning for Philadelphia and places, you know, on the schedule. So, we feel very good.

TAPPER: As you know, Governor, Rule 40 of the Republican National Committee states that a candidate must win a majority of delegates in at least four states and territory to be the nominee. If you win Ohio, which is winner-take-all, you will still have seven more to go. Where else do you think you can win?

KASICH: Well, I don't know, Jake. I don't even know the ones that are coming. That's a process question. And I kind of leave that to the campaign.

But with the momentum we're gaining, we believe that we're going to be very strong going forward. I will have to have you talk to all my campaign strategists because, Jake, because I'm just trying to take care of today.

TAPPER: You responded to a new TV ad from an anti-Donald Trump super PAC featuring women repeating quotes that Trump has made about women. Here's a clip of that ad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bimbo.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dog.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Fat pig.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Real quotes about women from Donald Trump about women.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A person who is very flat-chested is very hard to be a 10. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would like her right in that fat ugly face of

hers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: You said this morning that you just saw that TV ad and you're going to have more to say about those comments. I guess my question is, were you not aware that Donald Trump has made comments like this?

KASICH: Jake, it's really interesting, because when we had the debate, you were the moderator, you did a fine job, but, in those debates, I'm not paying a lot of attention to the details of the questions.

And, frankly, after the Friday problems in Chicago, I actually had my press people give me all of his quotes at rallies. And, you know, I just didn't know the extent of them, to tell you the truth. I'm too busy doing what I need to do.

And then this commercial, you know, which I just saw yesterday, I was not aware of all of this. It's deeply disturbing. It really is. This is not what we would expect out of a leader of our country.

So, look, today, I'm focused on Ohio, and we will have more to say when we get down the road.

TAPPER: So, I guess my question is, beyond your being offending by the comments, do you also think that if Donald Trump ends up the nominee, a premise that I know you're not going to buy into, but if he does, that that could actually help deliver the election to Hillary Clinton? Is that also a concern?

KASICH: Jake, today is Election Day in Ohio. I have said everything that I want to say about Mr. Trump. Today is Ohio.

Tomorrow will be another day. The sun will come up and we will have -- I will have more to say whenever I'm prepared to say more.

TAPPER: All right. Governor John Kasich of Ohio, best of luck to you today, sir. Hope to talk to you soon.

(CROSSTALK)

KASICH: Sorry you didn't get a lot there, but, you know, it is Election Day in Ohio. So, I have got to be focused here, my friend.

TAPPER: I hear you. I will hit you up later. Thanks so much, Governor.

[16:10:04]

TAPPER: And joining me now, our panel for the hour, CNN chief national correspondent and host of "INSIDE POLITICS" John King, CNN political analyst Maggie Haberman. She's also a presidential campaign correspondent for "The New York Times." CNN senior political analyst David Gergen, CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger, and CNN political commentators Donald Trump supporter Kayleigh McEnany, Mary Katharine Ham, who is a senior writer at "The Federalist," CNN political contributor and Hillary Clinton supporter, and the former Mayor of the great city of Philadelphia Michael Nutter, and Bill Press, host of "The Bill Press Show" and a Bernie Sanders supporter.

John, let's start with you.

Do you think John Kasich really had never heard comments that Donald Trump has made that are offensive to women, or some women?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No.

I think that, with a crowded field, he thought his lane in the race was to be Mr. Positive, to ignore Mr. Trump, to try to win Ohio and to try to develop his sort of I'm different, blue-collar economics message. But if he wins Ohio tonight and Rubio loses Florida, it's more than likely, especially if the margin is big, we lose Marco Rubio, and then John Kasich is the establishment candidate against Donald Trump and he has no choice but to be tougher.

This is his moment. If he gets this moment, he's going to have to turn on Trump and turn on him aggressively if he's going to win in the future and if he's going to compete with Ted Cruz to be that alternative.

He was drafting, if you will, off the other candidates for a while, but he may be the last establishment man standing tomorrow morning.

TAPPER: Kayleigh, you're a Trump supporter. It is a matter of historical record that no Republican has ever gone on to win the presidency if he didn't win Ohio in the general election.

Do you think Ohio is going to be an area of strength for Donald Trump or might this be a loss for him tonight?

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It could be a loss, technically speaking, but if he comes anywhere close to John Kasich, that is a win.

It's important to emphasize John Kasich won Ohio by 31 points less than two years ago in the race, in the gubernatorial race. So the fact that he's fighting for his home state, the fact that Donald Trump very well could win Florida and do so handedly, come close to Ohio or even win Ohio, home states are usually givens.

It's not a given tonight, because Donald Trump is performing that strongly among union workers, among blue-collar workers in the home state of John Kasich. No matter what happens tonight, if he comes within five points of Kasich, that is in fact a win.

TAPPER: Mayor Nutter, you're a supporter of Hillary Clinton. Where are you on the Donald Trump phenomenon? Are you one of the Democrats who thinks he's going to be easy to beat or do you subscribe more to Kayleigh's theory, and the theory of others I have heard, including Bill Clinton, that he really has a following among white working-class voters and really could be a real challenge?

MICHAEL NUTTER (D), FORMER MAYOR OF PHILADELPHIA: Well, I think it's pretty clear he has a following. No candidate is easy.

It's the presidency of the United States of America. If he gets to be the Republican nominee, I fully expect that the Democratic Party will win the presidency and we will have a very, very good candidate and Mr. Trump will then really have to explain much of the bizarreness that's been going on in the course of the race.

TAPPER: OK. We are going to have a lot more and a lot more talk about all sorts of bizarreness from all sorts of people.

But coming next, Florida's winner-take-all primary with 99 delegates, it's the biggest prize of the night. Will it also be Marco Rubio's last stand?

Plus, Republicans slamming Bill Clinton for this:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Millions and millions and millions and millions of people look at that pretty picture of America he painted, and they cannot find themselves in it to save their lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Who is Bill Clinton talking about? Who is painting that pretty picture? Hint, it's not Bernie Sanders.

And we are counting down to the first exit poll results. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:17:27] TAPPER: Welcome back to a very special edition of THE LEAD. We are fewer than three hours away from when the first polls close, and the fight for Florida is taking center stage right now.

Moments ago, Donald Trump tweeted, quote, "A lot of complaints from people saying my name is not o the ballot in various places in Florida. Hope it's false."

The Florida secretary of state says it's not the case.

Kyung Lah is live in Hialeah, Florida.

Kyung, what are you hearing there?

KYUNG LAH, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we reached out to the secretary of state's office an hour ago, that we first saw this tweet that Donald Trump tweeted out to all of his followers that those complaints that his name wasn't on the ballot and he said we hope this is false.

So, we reach out to the secretary of state's office. They said they have pinpointed where complaints were coming from. It is in Palm Beach County here in the state of Florida, Palm Beach County, you may remember, infamous forever in Florida politics and national politics that's where the hanging chads of 2000 and the year 2000 where they originated. But there's a perfectly reasonable explanation for what is happening here according to the secretary of state's office.

Florida has a closed primary. No party affiliation, if you do not have a party, you do not get a ballot for a Democrat or a Republican. So, what people got in Palm Beach County was a local municipal ballot and Donald Trump's name was not on there. That's what we're hearing from the secretary of state's office -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Palm Beach County, looking at you.

Kyung Lah, thanks so much.

Also tonight, all eyes on Ohio. Governor John Kasich is betting on his home team advantage to help him score Ohio's 66 delegates. It's a winner-take-all state, one of tonight's biggest prizes.

Dan Simon is live at a polling station in North Olmsted, Ohio.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not surprisingly in our unscientific survey, John Kasich is doing well with Republicans voters but Democrat voters as well. And the same can be said of Donald Trump. I spoke to a 59-year-old construction worker. He had supported Democratic candidates his entire life. Well, today, he supported Donald Trump.

Let me explain how that works. You see, when you come to the desk, if you're a voter in Ohio, you can choose either a Democratic ballot or a Republican ballot. Republicans here on the pink side, Democratic ballots here on the green side.

So the bottom line is, that crossover vote could be critical in determining the winner tonight. I can tell you that voter turnout has been extremely high at this one precinct, and the same can be said throughout the entire state, according to the Secretary of State John Husted.

[16:20:04] Jake, we'll send it back to you.

TAPPER: All right, Dan. Thanks so much.

All right. My panel's back with me now.

David Gergen, we're all looking at Ohio and Florida. If Kasich is not able to win Ohio and Rubio's not able to win Florida, what, what happens?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's the part (ph) of tonight's election, it's a clarifying election. All the way along, we've been waiting for a nice that would tell us what the path forward is. Tonight is that night, because we'll come out knowing either Donald Trump has a broad clear path or it's a rocky path and he may well not get there, getting into the convention, the brokered convention.

On the other side, Hillary has to shake loose from Bernie sanders or is he going to stay in there? Bernie's not going to take the nomination away from her. If he has the force, he will have enormous power at the convention, the platform, what position she'll be taking in the general election and indeed what a Hillary Clinton presidency would look like.

TAPPER: And, Maggie, right now, Donald Trump with his victory in the Northern Mariana Islands the only one eligible to have his name in contention at Republican convention. Other candidates are hoping they're going to be able to do that.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, this might be the first rules committee meeting at RNC that's going to be broadcast in prime time, because --

(LAUGHTER)

HABERMAN: It's a scramble to play with the changing rules.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: If they let cameras in.

HABERMAN: But right now, as you say, Trump is literally the only one who qualifies to be nominated on that first ballot. Ted Cruz has won some states, but he's not there yet. John Kasich hopes to end tonight with a state. It not clear how many people, with the remaining calendar, are going to be able to get there. Ted Cruz probably has the strongest case to make, assuming that the polls in Florida are right and Rubio has a tough night.

If you reopen rules and rewrite them, they -- people who have been involved in conventions will say the rules are temporary, they are always reissued. But if it's done in such a way to dramatically change it, there's an uproar from Trump supporters.

TAPPER: Yes, a revolution.

BORGER: The Republican Party is just going to suffer an existential crisis tonight, honestly, if Donald Trump wins Ohio and if he wins Florida, because then they're going to have to decide what do we do next? Do we go to the rules committee? Do we rewrite this so we can put somebody in at convention? Do we tell Rubio and Kasich and Cruz, hang in there, guys, which is what the "Wall Street Journal" editorial page wants him to do, all of you hang in there, guys so we can fight Donald Trump, or do they rally around -- I can't believe I'm saying this -- does the establishment of the Republican Party rally around Ted Cruz, the man they loathe?

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: Right.

Kayleigh, I want to ask you, one of the ways that Donald Trump is hoping to get some excitement, not that he needs it, and more attention to his campaign is he got the endorsement from Dr. Ben Carson, who lives in Florida, as well as Maryland. I don't know that Dr. Ben Carson is quite the surrogate that, for instance, you are, take a listen to this radio interview yesterday.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BEN CARSON (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have to look at what is practical and what is going to save this country and the American dream for the next generation. Is there another scenario that I would have preferred? That scenario isn't available.

STEVE MALZBERG: With one of the other candidates, you mean?

CARSON: Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: There's Trump surrogate saying he would have preferred to have endorsed someone else, but he went with Donald Trump.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Yes, you know, Ben Carson, I love him to death but he doesn't always say the exact thing that you would hope he would say. But I think he's being honest and that's why we love Ben Carson, because he's just being honest. Maybe he would have preferred another candidate.

But I commend Ben Carson for realizing this will likely be the candidate, it's time to line up behind him. Ben Carson is not one of people saying I want to take it to a brokered convention and probably destroy the Republican Party, because I can promise you this, if Donald Trump ends with less than a majority of votes and yet the nomination is taken from him, I would personality advocate for him to run third party, because that is exactly why Republican voters do not like the establishment. They choose their candidate at the coronation. Voters feel disenfranchised and that would be the ultimate way of disenfranchising voters.

TAPPER: Mary Katharine, Rubio says he's going to stick in the race no matter what happens tonight. Is that really a viable option, if he loses his home state, he can actually keep running and running?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, SENIOR WRITER, THE FEDERALIST: I think it's difficult, partly he's made the argument that Florida is the end game.

Kasich on the other hand has not made that argument, and he's been pretty good at sticking around without much of a rationale except going towards Ohio. So, he may be the one that's more problematic, even if he doesn't win in Ohio, because I think he has a little more to hold on to.

The interesting thing in Ohio and Florida, actually, that I'm seeing, why Democrats should not say that Trump will not scramble the map or Trump won't be unpredictable, he's fighting him is going to be interesting, because in both of these cases, you've got Kasich in Ohio with 60-some percent approval ratings in Ohio and he's fighting for his life. In Florida, you got Senator Rubio who has decent high 40s to low 50s approval rating for his job as senator but many of those large portions of those saying they're voting Trump.

[16:25:02] This is scrambling the entire way that politics works. And so, don't think in the general it ain't going to do the same thing.

TAPPER: No, it's crazy.

Coming up next, Hillary Clinton telling supporters, don't trust the polls.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Sometimes, you know, the public reporting of polls, you know, somebody might say, well, my candidate is so far ahead I don't need to come out. Everybody should come out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Trying to avoid the replay of a Michigan upset. Bernie Sanders needing big turnouts today. Could he stage another Sanders surprise?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to a very special edition of THE LEAD. It's Super Tuesday 3 or you could it "survival Tuesday" because in a few hours results could literally end the campaigns of several candidates.