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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Voting Underway in Wisconsin Primaries. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired April 5, 2016 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:15]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: It's decision day in Wisconsin. Donald Trump is promising a big surprise, but will Ted Cruz be the one surprising him? And how long can John Kasich stay in the game without a win? And can Bernie Sanders keep his winning streak going against Hillary Clinton? So many questions.

THE LEAD starts right now.

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

Republicans have 42 delegates at stake in Wisconsin today. That's the state where the GOP was born in 1854. The Democrats have 86 delegates. Donald Trump, who has 740 of his party's delegates going into today's primary, sounded pretty confident.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The polls are busy, huh?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are busy.

TRUMP: We could have a big surprise folks tonight, big surprise. Feels like South Carolina. This feels like New Hampshire. I think you are going to have a big, big turnout. You are going to have a great surprise today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: As we have all learned in this very unconventional campaign, do not count out Donald Trump, though, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton speaking on "The View" earlier today, she might like to do just that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: To put it into broader perspective, I have more votes than he does. I have a million more votes.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: I just -- I don't think the vast majority of Americans, let's hope, want to reward that kind of behavior and that sort of really hateful rhetoric.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Meanwhile, Wisconsin native House Speaker Paul Ryan on a congressional trip to Israel casting absentee ballot in Wisconsin. The speaker wants you to just stop trying to get him to run for president.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: People put my name in this thing. I said get my name out of that. If you want to be president, you should go run for president, and that's just the way I see it.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

TAPPER: Today, President Obama speaking out on state of the race and on Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: People expect the president of the United States and the elected officials in this country to treat these problems seriously, to put more policies that have been examined, analyzed, are effective, where unintended consequences are taken into account.

They don't expect half-baked notions coming out of the White House. We can't afford that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Voters are heading to the polls across Wisconsin, and as they do, CNN's reporters are covering every angle on these crucial primaries.

We are going to begin with Sunlen Serfaty. She's with the Cruz campaign in Milwaukee.

Sunlen, polls have had Cruz up in Wisconsin, but this is an open primary, and Trump is banking on independents and Democrats crossing over to the Republican primary and pulling the lever for him.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. The Cruz campaign, though, they say they still feel strong going into tonight.

And the candidates for their part today, they spent most of the day huddled in strategy meetings or doing some last-minute retail politics. But for the front-runners on both sides, both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton tonight are facing a pivotal moment here in Wisconsin.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TRUMP: Based on the enthusiasm, how do you think we are going to do in Wisconsin?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: I think we're going to do really well.

SERFATY (voice-over): Donald Trump today saying, don't count him out in the battle for Wisconsin.

TRUMP: I hear the polls are busy, huh?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are busy.

TRUMP: We could have a big surprise folks tonight, big surprise.

SERFATY: While Ted Cruz casts the Badger State primary as a potential tipping point in the race.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If we end up with a win tonight, it is going to have national repercussions, not just for the 42 delegates at stake here in Wisconsin, but I believe it's going to powerfully the states to come.

SERFATY: A Cruz win in Wisconsin could embolden the stop Trump forces, delivering a blow to the GOP's front-runner's march towards the nomination and increasing odds of a contested convention in Cleveland in July.

Trump is not shying away from the importance of the moment.

TRUMP: It's impossible, almost impossible, for Ted Cruz to win. So he would have to get it at the convention, which I think would be highly unlikely. So he can't win.

SERFATY: Trump's wife, Melania, joining him for his final Wisconsin rally before today's primary, trying to blunt the criticism of the front-runner that has turned of so many women voters, according to polls.

MELANIA TRUMP, WIFE OF DONALD TRUMP: No matter who you are, a man or a woman, he treats everyone equal.

SERFATY: Trump also detailing how he will deliver on one of his biggest campaign promises, getting Mexican to pay for a wall along the southern border.

[16:05:02]

Among the steps outlined in a campaign memo, threatening to bar Mexican immigrants in the U.S. from wiring money to relatives in Mexico.

President Obama today rejecting Trump's approach.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The notion that we're going to track every Western Union, you know, bit of money that's being sent to Mexico, you know, good luck with that. SERFATY: Taking aim not only at Trump, but also at Cruz.

OBAMA: It's not just Mr. Trump's proposals. I mean, you're also hearing concerns about Mr. Cruz's proposals, which, in some ways, are just as draconian.

SERFATY: On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are also locked in a tight battle in Wisconsin.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In national poll after national poll, we beat Donald Trump by huge margins, huge margins.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

SERFATY: As Sanders talks up his momentum, Clinton is touting her advantage when it comes to the math.

CLINTON: But I have 2.5 million more votes than he does. I have a very significant lead in delegates, which is what eventually decides who the nominee is.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SERFATY: And the Democratic rivals have brought to an end their debate over the debates, Both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton now agreeing to face off next Thursday in a debate in Brooklyn, right here on CNN -- Jake.

TAPPER: Sunlen, we're hours away from the polls closing. How is the Cruz campaign feeling today?

SERFATY: Well, they certainly feel strong. Senator Cruz has many endorsements he's been touting as he campaigns here in Wisconsin. He campaigned of course with Senator -- excuse me -- Governor Scott Walker, also former rival Carly Fiorina.

His wife, too, has been heavily engaged in campaigning. They have all out barnstormed the state and Senator Cruz is really not shying away from his predictions for tonight. He has, for the last few days, been saying, point blank, that he believes that he will win here in Wisconsin, the momentum so important to his campaign going forward, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Sunlen Serfaty, thank you so much.

Sara Murray is covering the Trump campaign for CNN.

Sara, Donald Trump sounding pretty confident on the stump. You just heard him. He's down in polls, but as we have seen before, the polls are sometimes, sometimes often wrong. Can he pull off a win tonight, you think?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, if he does pull off a win tonight, it will definitely be a come-from-behind victory, a surprise win. You heard him there earlier saying he feels like Wisconsin feels like

New Hampshire, like South Carolina. Right now, the polls don't bear that out. Talking to voters, they do seem to not really have this sort of fanatic support for Trump that he's seen in other states.

The other interesting thing is, even as Trump is going out there predicting a potential victory in Wisconsin, that's not what his senior staffers are saying. They are saying, publicly, that delegates in Wisconsin have never been part of their march to 1,237 delegates they need to get this nomination.

Even if he does have a poor showing in Wisconsin tonight, they're saying they still have a way to lock up the nomination before we get to the convention. Of course, that path does a lot get narrower if he does not perform very well in Wisconsin tonight -- Jake.

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

Jeff Zeleny is covering Hillary Clinton for CNN, and she's at a town -- he's at a town hall she is holding for women.

Jeff, you're in Brooklyn today, where CNN's Democratic debate will take place next Thursday night. Tonight's contest is so tight, it really could go either way. Clinton's campaign sent out a fund- raising e-mail with a subject line saying, we could lose Wisconsin. How are they feeling behind the e-mails and behind their television appearances about what's going to happen tonight?

ZELENY: Well, Jake, that's really the tricky game here of managing expectations. They want supporters and donors to know that they need their help, that they could indeed lose Wisconsin, but they also don't want to sort of place too many bets on Wisconsin.

It's one of the reasons that Secretary Clinton did not fly there today or yesterday or the day before yesterday to go out and campaign here. She was there on Saturday, but they are really trying to distance themselves a little bit.

But they remember eight years ago, that they lost Wisconsin by some 18 points to Barack Obama. They don't believe it will be that wide of a margin this time at all. But they are trying to manage those expectations and they say, look, regardless of the outcome, the delegates are essentially going to be a wash here, since Democrats split up their delegates.

That's why they're in New York. Jake, this is the real place, this is the real firewall that she knows she cannot lose in two weeks.

TAPPER: And, Jeff, as you know, Bernie Sanders' campaign is predicting a win. The margin of victory matters. How much do you think this would lift him up, and give him momentum heading into New York?

And explain to our viewers why the margin matters.

ZELENY: Jake, the margin of victory matters because the Democratic rules say that the delegates are picked proportionally. If he wins only by a point or two, he will only get, you know, maybe one extra delegate or two extra delegates.

If he wins by double digits, that's when he starts to close the gap here. But that is unlikely to happen ,that he's able to win by a large enough margin to close the gap considerably. She still leads in some 239 pledged delegates or so, never mind the superdelegates.

[16:10:10]

But Bernie Sanders, a win certainly would add to his argument that he's been winning a rush of states lately, and it would send him headlong into the New York primary and with a head of steam here.

But the reality here is how Democrats elect their nominee, it's their rules, it's not ours, that delegates matter. That's why Hillary Clinton's strong lead here, it's frustrating to the Sanders campaign, but it is so important here going forward.

But a win is a win. He will take the win if he gets one. That's why the New York primary so important in the next few weeks -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jeff Zeleny, thank you.

When CNN puts up that graphic, make sure to pay attention to the top number. That's the pledged delegates. The bottom number is the combination of pledged and superdelegates, but superdelegates, as we saw eight years ago, can be convinced to change their mind.

Keep your eyes on the top one.

Joining me, our mega-monster panel for the hour.

Sally Kohn, she's a columnist for The Daily Beast who strongly leans towards Bernie Sanders. We also have with us the former mayor of Philadelphia, Michael Nutter, who supports Hillary Clinton.

Congratulations on Villanova, Mr. Mayor.

CNN chief national correspondent and host of "INSIDE POLITICS," John King, CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger. We also have with us Jeffrey Lord, political director for the Reagan White House and a CNN political commentator, supports Donald Trump. Amanda Carpenter, who is a former communications director for Senator Ted Cruz. Republican strategist Kevin Madden, who is also a CNN political contributor.

And last, but certainly not least, the birthday girl, Mary Katharine Ham, who is a senior writer at "The Federalist" and a relatively new CNN political contributor.

Thanks, one and all, for being here. We appreciate it. It's going to be a long night. Let's get our feet wet right now.

John King, let me start with you.

Donald Trump is predicting a surprise. It's an open primary. Explain why that could help him.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Open primary, so Democrats and independents can cross over.

His trade message also should play well in much of the state, and yet most of the public polling has shown him down about 10 points to Ted Cruz. Critically important to the stop Trump movement, which has invested time and a lot of money. They have a stand-alone primary in a big battleground state, where the talk radio establishment, the Republican organizational establishment, everything has been against Donald Trump.

If he won tonight by one vote, it would send such a message to the stop Trump movement that you had your best shot, you had a sustained time to do it, and you didn't do it. If he loses, is he dead? Of course not. He's moving to his home state New York. He delegate math, though, does get more difficult, Jake.

He begins the day needing 56 percent of the remaining delegates to get to 1,237.

TAPPER: Unlikely, but possible.

KING: Possible. He's the only one that has a possibility, only one who has a possibility.

TAPPER: Right.

KING: There's 42 delegates at state. To get -- to keep the 56 percent number, he'd have to get 24 of them. Most people think that's unlikely, but let's count the vote.

TAPPER: Gloria, even if Trump loses and the election is contested at the convention, he's far from finished, as John just noted. He's leading in the delegates by quite a bit. He's heading into his home state of New York.

Is it possible that either John Kasich or Ted Cruz or both of them together can slow him down?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think that's what they're trying to do. I think we all presume to a certain degree this is going to wind up, you know, at a contested convention.

What we know about tonight is that Ted Cruz really needs to win this. It's important for him, not only because of the math and the numbers, but also he has to show that he's got some juice outside the South, he's got some juice in the Midwest, heading into particularly some very difficult contests, you know, in the Northeast.

TAPPER: Maryland, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania.

BORGER: New York, New York values, remember that?

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Noted Tea Party bastions.

BORGER: Yes, not exactly.

And I think what we will learn tonight, for Donald Trump, is really whether Wisconsin was never supposed to be a great state for him, but whether he's got some real problems, given to the controversies over the last couple of weeks, or whether Wisconsin could just be a little speed bump on the way to a contested convention, where he goes in with, you know, he's just 100 or so shy of clinching the nomination.

TAPPER: Kevin Madden, let me go to you now. There's a shadow campaign going on now trying to appeal to delegates.

First of all, there are unbound delegates in places like North Dakota, where voter -- the delegates at the end of the day can go to the convention and vote however they want. Pennsylvania, it will be similar.

And then there are the bound delegates who can be released after the first ballot. How intense is this campaign going on?

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, we're talking -- you're talking as intense a campaign as you can imagine.

We're looking at campaign staffers who are giving detailed personal attention to each and every single delegate. It's literally a person- by-person fight, because, as we know, if we go into a contested convention, every single delegate will count.

So, you have campaigns that are calling people at home, you have these campaigns that are trying to find out who is it amongst that universe that knows a potential delegate that may have influence on them, and then they're working them.

[16:15:00] So, it's a pretty intense situation right now.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And on that point, Ted Cruz, no one foresaw going into a contested convention but Cruz is prepared to play in all 50 states. He knew that in order for him to secure the nomination, it would probably go until April or it will take a long time. Now, he didn't think the primary opponent would be Donald Trump, rather a Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio, but he was prepared to talks to the delegates and it's paying off now as you saw with North Dakota, Arizona, going forward.

TAPPER: Stay with me, everyone. If I haven't gotten to your favorite, I will.

Coming up next, Wisconsin primary math, according to Donald Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Ted Cruz can't win. There's no way he can get the delegates.

(END VIDEO CLIP) (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Our breaking news: voting under way at this hour in the Wisconsin primary, which is a high stakes contest for both Democrats and Republicans, both underdogs are trying to use Wisconsin win. Bernie Sanders, hoping to continue his momentum as he vows to take his campaign all the way to the Democratic convention, as does Ted Cruz on the Republican side, banking on a victory in Wisconsin, hoping the Badger State becomes Trump's Waterloo.

But might Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton pull off wins in this unpredictable open primary?

[16:20:01] Back now with the panel.

Mary Katharine, let me start with you. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell just spoke to our colleague Manu Raju about how important electability is to him when it comes to picking a Republican presidential candidate. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: Well, I don't think it should be a particularly surprising observation that I'd like a candidate for president who can win. Does that shock any of you?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Do you think all three can win?

MCCONNELL: I'm not going to get into who fits the description, but I will say, the nominee's going to be somebody who can get 1,237 delegate votes and I hope that's a person who can appeal to a broad swath of the American public and win the election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: I'm not asking you to read the mind of Mitch McConnell there, but who do you think he might be talking about? Do you think he's saying that that's not Donald Trump or Ted Cruz?

MARY KATHARINE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'm going to venture a guess that's what he's talking about. I think the problem thus far has been that much of the Republican electorate isn't interested in electability up until now.

Here's what I will posit though about Wisconsin, is that you've had concentrated media attention on Trump because the race is not split up as it was before, you have people pressing him on answers that led him to his abortion thing, which is five different answers in a couple of days. It's sort of peaked Trump and it's a very concentrated, and it's in a place like Wisconsin, where people are interested in decency, they're interested in retail politics, and they're going, hmm. And certainly among women and Republican women, you're seeing a drop- off in reconsideration, because some people among Trump's camp are unmovable, but some are regular Republicans who may be susceptible to the electability argument, at long last.

TAPPER: A concentration of media, Mary Katharine, let me show another thing that's been concentrated in Wisconsin, and that is super PACs spending a lot of money to attack Donald Trump. Look at this, these numbers come from circavictory.com. More than $2 million against by super PAC against Trump just in the state of Wisconsin., Jeffrey Lord.

JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I remember Donald Trump saying, after he won by a lot in Florida, that he was down there for a golf tournament or something, and every time he turned on the television these ads, where they're propelled by this kind of folks. All it wound up doing in the end is helping him. And I would just suggest that the more this kind of stuff is done, it just piles on to the establishment versus Donald Trump and the American people kind --

TAPPER: Amanda --

CARPENTER: But I want to say, tactically, what's he going to do about this? He has no fund-raising operation. He prides himself on being a self-funded candidate. But let's say he gets the nomination. There's going to be so much anti-Trump money coming in, and he has no apparatus to raise money on his own, outside of cutting himself check. That's a problem, not an asset.

TAPPER: Although he has suggested that he has not decided to self- fund for a general election.

CARPENTER: Sure. He needs a pool of fundraising email, direct mail operation not of thin air. You have to have it going for months, you have to be in people's inboxes, you have to be sending them text messages, and he hasn't even attempted that.

TAPPER: Let's turn to the Democrats now if we can. Mayor Nutter, Jeff Weaver, the campaign manager for Bernie Sanders, is suggesting that the Sanders strategy for winning is that nobody will be able to get to the magic number of delegates needed and then he will go to the convention and he will try to convince the super delegates pledged to Hillary Clinton, are you a super delegate?

MICHAEL NUTTER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I am.

TAPPER: So, you're one of them, although I'm guessing not convincible.

SALLY KOHN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Not yet.

TAPPER: And try to convince you and your ilk --

NUTTER: No.

TAPPER: And your ilk. But it brings to an argument, Al Franken, senator from Minnesota, go with your constituents, Democrats voted for Bernie Sanders in Minnesota, and that is the strategy. What do you think of that?

NUTTER: Well, first, Jake, he needs a new strategy. As Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said on CNN about two hours ago, the expectation is that Democrats will have a nominee who has the requisite number of pledged delegates to then go on to be our nominee and from our perspective, to go on to be the 45th president of the United States of America.

But everybody has to have their theory. That's his theory. And they're going to keep going. There's no question that senator sanders is going to continue to run late into this convention season. But at some point in time, believe June 14th, this game will end.

There's no fifth quarter to this. There's no overtime. There will be facts. There will be pledge delegates, there will be super delegates, add numbers up, you have what you have and there will a nominee.

TAPPER: Sally, I want to you let weigh in here.

KOHN: Well, I mean, look, Bernie Sanders is going to keep going, and he should keep going, both because he has an agenda, it's important that he's raising and it's helping make Hillary Clinton a better, more populist candidate, number one. Number two, I think he'll shape the Democratic platform, and it's important he keep going so voters he's engaged and mobilized, especially the young voters, feel increasingly invested in politics in the Democratic Party as opposed to ostracized and checked out. So, those are all incredibly important reasons.

And for all those reasons, if we get to that point, that are all kinds of scenarios, if we get to that point where at Democratic convention and deciding factor in who becomes the Democratic nominee, I emphasize Democratic nominee, we kind of proud of that word, and a deciding factor are these anti-Democratic super delegates, that's not only a problem for our branding as a party, but frankly, it's going to alienate all of those young voters who we have a chance to have invested.

NUTTER: I'll keep that Democratic card in my pocket.

KOHN: I love you, I'll love you more when you abandon --

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: We got a lot of ground to cover on that state, everyone.

NUTTER: Not even a candidate.

TAPPER: It's the cornerstone of Donald Trump's campaign: building a wall along the Mexican border to keep undocumented immigrants out and forcing Mexico to pay for it, but he has never spelled out exactly how he would get Mexico to hand out billions of dollars until today. Up next, we'll take a look at Donald Trump's plan. Even President Obama weighed in using words like "wacky" and "half-baked".

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)