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The Final Push; Can Cruz Stop Trump?; Veepstakes 2016; Race to 2016 Convention Moments; Who's the Democratic Favorite for VP?. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired December 27, 2015 - 09:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The final push. Just days before the start of 2016, the candidates are pressing the flesh and making their case in the early states.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're the only campaign who has county chairmen in all 171 counties, 160,000 volunteers. We're working to do everything humanly possible to energize and mobilize the grassroots.

TAPPER: Can Cruz stop Trump in Iowa? Our reporters give the view from the ground.

Plus, preparing for November.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What will happen if Trump runs against Hillary? It will be the largest turnout in the history of elections, and a lot of those people that come out are going to be voting for Trump.

TAPPER: Who has the numbers to make it to 1600 Penn? We will break down the states in play.

And the veepstakes race, it's on, the competition to be number two.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm going to look hard at him for anything. That's how good he is.

TAPPER: Will early endorsements lead to a vice presidential pick?

Plus, the top political minds will be here with insights from the campaign trail.


TAPPER: Hello. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington, where the state of our union is deciding.

As we ring in the new year, the candidates are fighting through the cold or maybe just moderately chilly winter months in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, looking for support. And voters are paying attention, getting ready to make their final choices before heading to the polls.

So far, Donald Trump still on top. His lead across the country is strong. But in the early states, we're beginning to see a little change, a little sign of vulnerability. In Iowa, Ted Cruz is trading leads with Trump in some polls. Cruz is receiving praise for his ground game in Iowa, which could make the difference on caucus night there.

And first-in-the-nation primary state New Hampshire, Chris Christie slowly making gains in a state known for picking moderates and more independent candidates as their nominee, but Trump still on top in the Granite State.

So, what does this all mean? Do the old rules still apply to the Trump campaign?

Let's take a look.


TRUMP: I'm at 42 and you're at 3.

TAPPER (voice-over): So far, the Republican race has been contentious.


TAPPER: It's been adventurous. But above all, it's been unpredictable.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: That's the first thing I'm going to do as president. We are going to drink more.


TAPPER: Now that the first votes are about to cast, the roller- coaster ride could really get going.

TRUMP: If we win Iowa, I think we are going to win everything after that.

TAPPER: That, of course, is a big if here. Some polls show Trump leading in Iowa, while others give the lead to his nearest rival, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, a Tea Party favorite whose message also resonates with Iowa's religious conservatives.

CRUZ: God bless the great state of Iowa.

TAPPER: Trump's challenge is to mobilize his supporters, some of whom have never participated in Iowa's complicated caucus process.

Leading the charge on the ground in the Hawkeye State is his Iowa co- chair, once a contestant on "The Apprentice."

TRUMP: You're fired.


TAPPER: Whoever wins Iowa will head into New Hampshire with momentum, but the real question there is, who may emerge as the alternative to Trump? He leads by a wide margin there too, but clustered behind him are four establishment candidates.

Marco Rubio.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We should be very realistic about the problems America faces.

TAPPER: Chris Christie.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As governor of New Jersey, what I did...

TAPPER: John Kasich.

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What we do in Ohio can be applied nationally.

TAPPER: And Jeb Bush.

BUSH: I honestly believe I'm going to win New Hampshire.

KASICH: Push, push, push.

TAPPER: Kasich has acknowledged that the Granite State is a must-win state for him, telling "The Wall Street Journal" -- quote -- "If I get destroyed in New Hampshire, then that's the end of the game."

CHRISTIE: All right. All right.

TAPPER: Chris Christie snagged the coveted endorsement of "The New Hampshire Union Leader" and he or Marco Rubio seem most likely to benefit if the field of establishment candidates winnows, clearing a path for one to emerge to battle the Iowa winner.

From there, the battle heads to South Carolina, which has picked the winner almost every time since the 1980s.

RUBIO: It's great to be back in South Carolina, a place that believed in me.

TAPPER: Rubio has deep ties here. His super PAC is headquartered in the capital and his staff stocked with natives.

CRUZ: The first three states, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, are critical, but the RNC has sped up this process. Immediately thereafter, you're going to have Nevada and then you're going to pop into Super Tuesday within just a couple of weeks.

TAPPER: That's when Ted Cruz plans to go full-throttle for a series of contests dubbed the SEC primary, named after the college football conference.

CROWD: We want Ted! We want Ted!

TAPPER: Cruz has been campaigning in places such as Alabama since the summer, where he laid out his Southern strategy.

CRUZ: States like Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, those are conservative states. They are evangelical states. They are states where our grassroots team is incredibly strong. And I view the SEC primary as a firewall.


TAPPER: Maybe, just maybe, by then, we will be a little closer to knowing where this crazy ride will end up.


TAPPER: So, who will take the top spots in the early states?

Joining me now are some of CNN's finest, Jeff Zeleny, CNN senior Washington correspondent, Gloria Borger, CNN chief political analyst, Brianna Keilar, CNN senior political correspondent, and Dana Bash, CNN chief political correspondent.

Dana, you have been out there on the ground. Let's talk about Iowa.

I think one of the big questions is, can all these Trump supporters who show up in the polls, will they actually go to caucus, which is -- you know, it's not -- it's not as simple as just voting.


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Not at all. It takes a lot of effort to go and caucus.

I think about 130,000, maybe just little bit more, that's the universe of people we're talking about who generally go. What you just asked is really the $64,000 question...


BASH: ... because a lot of people who are telling pollsters, like our polls and others, that they like Donald Trump, that they are going to go and caucus for Donald Trump haven't been to the caucuses before.

And it really is a cultural situation, where you kind of have to know what it's about and be willing to spend an entire evening there and raise your hand publicly and say that you're for Donald Trump. Those are a whole lot of ifs. So, the question is whether the passion is there and whether the organization is there.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It is about organization, because it's also about the campaigns.

Now, Trump has been getting more organized in Iowa. Ted Cruz, I would argue, is somebody who has already been organized in Iowa. And he's got a lot of evangelical support. Evangelical voters are a large part of the turnout in the Iowa caucuses. And so that works well for Cruz.

The question for Trump is, if he's bringing these new caucus-goers into the process, will they actually turn out and be able to get them there? This is literally about getting people into buses and putting them in those buses and getting them to their caucuses.



But the thing that Trump has is, he knows the name, address, e-mail number, phone number, text of everyone who has been at his rallies.

BORGER: Right.

ZELENY: So, he knows who these people are. This is not some organic thing, people just showing up and listening by the thousands.

BORGER: Right.

ZELENY: They know who they are. They have to sign these cards. They sign up in advance.

So, you can be sure in the month ahead, only five weeks until the Iowa caucuses now, you can be sure they're going to be getting e-mails and texts exactly where their caucus location is. So, they are more organized than you think.

It seems like kind of a chaotic campaign on the surface. Underneath, it's actually -- I think actually pretty organized.

BORGER: But the...

TAPPER: And Jeff, former "Des Moines Register" reporter.




TAPPER: We should point out -- but, Brianna, I want to play some sound from the 2012 Republican caucuses and the winner that time.


RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You -- by standing up and not compromising, by standing up and being bold and leading, leading with that burden and responsibility you have to be first, you have taken the first step of taking back this country.



TAPPER: As President Santorum and President Huckabee...


TAPPER: ... and President Huckabee before him have illustrated, winning in Iowa does not necessarily mean getting the nomination.

KEILAR: No, it doesn't, although it certainly could give some momentum.

I think that if Donald Trump is doing pretty well in the polls, and then he pulls it out in Iowa, then that has people questioning from the get-go, is this someone who could actually clinch the nomination?

And, actually, if you go back to 2008, on the Democratic side, this wild card really is, what is the turnout when it comes to the Iowa caucuses? Hillary Clinton based her numbers on what she thought certain turnout would be. Barack Obama, then Senator Obama, turned it on its head by getting more people to come to the caucuses, completely changed the map.

And the question is, will Donald Trump do perhaps something similar?

BASH: The one thing I will add to that, to your question, is about, yes, there's no President Huckabee, there's no President Santorum, but they were also two candidates who had no -- no nothing, basically...

TAPPER: Right.

BASH: ... in the states after that. So, they didn't have any mechanism to build on that momentum at all. The other thing...

TAPPER: It's a place that you can go with very little backing financially and win.

BASH: Exactly.

TAPPER: Absolutely.

BASH: And the other thing it does is weed out a lot of candidates. This is a very big field. It will be hard to see all of them continuing after Iowa if they don't do well.

ZELENY: And that is the key.

There's always three tickets out of Iowa. That's been the old adage for a long time. This year, I think it's probably five tickets...

BASH: Yes, I agree.

ZELENY: ... because there is such a big Republican field.

But that's the importance of Iowa, I think. It's going to chop the field in half. Some will go on. Most will not.

BORGER: But you have to be ready to continue...

ZELENY: Right.

BORGER: ... post-Iowa.

And I keep talking about Cruz. Well, one of the things about Cruz is that he spent a lot of his summer on a Southern state bus tour, because he knows that there's a big Super Tuesday in which he might do very well. So...


TAPPER: The firewall, yes.

BORGER: That's right.

So -- so, these candidates have to be looking ahead, as they are looking towards Iowa and New Hampshire, but they know they have to play in the South.


TAPPER: And, Brianna, you -- you just -- you just raised our recollection of Hillary Clinton coming in third in the Iowa caucus, people forget, behind John Edwards.

But she managed to turn that loss into something that appealed to Democratic voters in New Hampshire. Take a look.


CLINTON: This is very personal for me. It's not just political. It's not just public. I see what's happening. We have to reverse it. And some people think elections are a game. They think it's like who's up or who's down. It's about our country, and it's about our kids' future, and it's really about all of us together.


TAPPER: Wow. I haven't seen that Hillary Clinton in a long time.

BASH: Right.

TAPPER: That was a moment where people really gave her credit for being human.

KEILAR: And it was a fascinating moment, because, leading into the New Hampshire primary, she was behind in the polls.

And in between the last polls being done and voters going to the polls, that moment happened. And it really just flipped everything. She came out the winner. It was a really sort of interesting moment.

But, right now, I think she is certainly having a little deja vu in being in a really tough race in New Hampshire. Bernie Sanders has been leading at certain points.

TAPPER: From neighboring Vermont. KEILAR: That's right, from neighboring Vermont.

And this has been pretty consistent that they have been pretty close. Hillary Clinton's strategy here is to really position herself as the person who can take on a Republican. She hardly talks about Bernie Sanders.


KEILAR: So, she's trying to say, look, I'm more electable, I have more experience, especially after these terrorist attacks.

TAPPER: I want to get to New Hampshire in the next block, but, Gloria, let me ask you a question.

If Donald Trump does not win Iowa, what's his reaction going to be?

BORGER: That he's a loser? Yes. Yes.

TAPPER: Is going to -- is he -- I mean, because part of his whole appeal to his supporters is, he's a winner.

BORGER: He's a winner.

TAPPER: What if he doesn't win?

BORGER: Well, I think you're going to have to look at the margins.


BORGER: And if he loses by a smidge, that's different from losing by a lot.

And I think Donald Trump has been saying, I will never give up. And so I would think that, if he comes in second, and it's by a hair, that you will see Donald Trump move on to New Hampshire and then on to the South, by the way, where he has a lot of blue-collar support.

And I think they are better organized than a lot of people give them credit for, as Jeff was saying.


BORGER: And so I don't think that would end his campaign by any stretch.

TAPPER: All right, stay right there.

When we come back: Donald Trump may take the headlines, but is Ted Cruz quietly building the ground game that will take Trump down?



(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: If I become president, your life will be much better than it would have been if I didn't become president. It's as simple as that.



TAPPER: It's as simple, as simple as that. Your life will be better than it would have been. It's a little twist on the, are you better off than you were four years ago?

Jeff Zeleny, let's turn to New Hampshire now. You're a former newspaper man, having worked for "The Des Moines Register." Chris Christie got the coveted endorsement of "The New Hampshire Union Leader," not the biggest circulation in New Hampshire, but the biggest New Hampshire newspaper, because "The Boston Globe" has a bigger circulation up there.

ZELENY: Right.

TAPPER: How important is a newspaper endorsement in this day and age?

ZELENY: A newspaper endorsement for Chris Christie gives him validation. It gives him second life. It gives him a sense that he's still alive, especially in a very big field like this.

But, at the end of the day, people do not hold newspapers in all that high of esteem. I worked for "The Des Moines Register," "Chicago Tribune," "The New York Times." I don't think that any of them have a very good track record in terms of whoever they endorse winning.

But it's important in terms of sending the message of who could be a credible candidate here. But you raise a good point about New Hampshire. New Hampshire loves to contradict what happens in Iowa. We have seen it again and again over the years. So...


TAPPER: ... McCain.

ZELENY: No question.


TAPPER: Obama, then Hillary.

ZELENY: Right.


ZELENY: What will be fascinating to see, if -- if Trump wins in Iowa, sort of, is New Hampshire going to say, not so fast? New Hampshire loves to put the brakes on front-runners. It's happened over time so much. That's what I'm watching for in 2016.

BORGER: And don't forget, if you're an independent voter, you can vote in the Republican New Hampshire primaries.

TAPPER: Right.

BORGER: So, you can cause all amounts of chaos if you want.


ZELENY: The majority of voters there are independent.

BORGER: That's right.

If you are so inclined to -- if Donald Trump were to win in Iowa, and you were inclined to try to stop Donald Trump, there might be a little movement going supported by other campaigns. I mean, it's a puzzle. And people in New Hampshire love to kind of mix it up that way.

KEILAR: It does give him a moment to sort of, I think, show that he's been putting in a lot of work. I don't think that narrative was necessarily...

TAPPER: Christie?

KEILAR: Christie.



KEILAR: It wasn't necessarily out there.

And so this kind of gives him a moment to capitalize on that. But probably the bigger deal for him in New Hampshire is that he's turned his favorability around. It was completely underwater, and he's really righted that ship. And that's something that I think is probably a bigger deal for him than this.

TAPPER: And, Dana, I was watching some of Wolf Blitzer's old debates from 2012 when we were preparing for our debate. And there was a Florida debate. And it was interesting, the dynamic, because Santorum had won Iowa, Romney had won New Hampshire, Gingrich had won South Carolina.

BASH: Yes.

TAPPER: And here they were in Florida, and, basically, this narrative had emerged that whoever wins Florida, since it was a three-way tie in the primaries and caucuses, would win. And Romney did win.

Tell me where you see other candidates potentially winning when it comes to post-New Hampshire, Nevada or South Carolina?

BASH: South Carolina is, I think, what we should be talking about, because let's just say -- we were talking about the scenarios -- Trump or Cruz win Iowa, somebody else wins New Hampshire.

Look at Marco Rubio. He's unlikely probably to win one of the first two. And everybody is talking about him as the alternative to Cruz, to Trump. His campaign manager is from South Carolina. They think they know that state very well. He's been there in 2015 more than any other Republican presidential candidate.


BASH: Watch for him to try to play more than people realize he's playing there.

BORGER: And, you know, Super Tuesday, the states are proportional.

So, somebody could win a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and you are going to have a delegate fight at that point...

BASH: Exactly.

BORGER: ... if you have no clear front-runner. So, we're going to be back to counting who has got what.

TAPPER: One of the things that I have never heard Republican officials talk about until this election season is the idea of this going all the way to the convention.

I have never -- RNC officials have never talked about -- oh, that's never going to happen, whatever. Now they are talking about it.

KEILAR: Yes, they are talking about it.


But I also feel, sometimes, that, when this is discussed, that, sometimes, that ultimately isn't what happens, right?

BASH: Well, I think the irony is that the Republican National Committee changed the calendar, like we were just talking about, to try to make...

TAPPER: Right.

BASH: ... the nominee process -- or to -- the nominee would happen earlier.

TAPPER: Right.

BASH: And the irony is, because of the Trump factor and everything else, it might do the opposite.

TAPPER: But brokered conventions have happened. They happened at the Democratic Convention in 1980...

BORGER: Exactly.

TAPPER: ... the Republican Convention in '76.

ZELENY: Seventy-six. TAPPER: Jeff, I can't believe -- even if Trump is winning, right, and he wins the states with 40 percent of the vote, 40 percent of the vote, the Republican Party does not want, the official Republican Party does not want him to be the nominee.

Somebody is going to be fighting all the way to the convention.

ZELENY: No doubt. And the person who is fighting, if it's a Marco Rubio or a Ted Cruz, they both have pretty big super PAC backing them. Up until now, the super PACs have not played a huge role in terms of keeping the tank full and keeping you on the road.

BASH: Right.

ZELENY: They will play a huge role in this going forward.

So, I think, if Trump is leading, the Republican establishment will want to have one candidate sort of fight him to the death. It could go all the way to California, to New York.


BORGER: Or a white knight.


TAPPER: The Romney dream, is that what you're...


BORGER: The Romney dream.

TAPPER: It's not...


KEILAR: When you look at all of this money that's out there, and a lot of it hasn't been spent on the Republican super PAC side to perhaps clobber someone, I sort of expected at a certain -- it seemed possible at a point when Marco Rubio schooled Jeb Bush in that debate, that he could have had a wall of money coming at him.

But it seems like -- and, actually, this is true -- Republican donors even supporting Jeb Bush have said, don't take my money and slam Marco Rubio with it. In a way, they are sort of looking and waiting to see what they need to do to try to avoid Donald Trump having that momentum.

BASH: And just to button it where we started this conversation on Donald Trump, as we end 2015, the most striking thing to me is the conversations I have, not only just about money sitting on the sidelines, but -- but the paralysis inside the Republican establishment on what to do about Donald Trump, because, as you said, they don't want him to be the nominee. That's just -- we know that.

TAPPER: Yes. They think they will lose because...


BASH: But they don't know how to deal with it. Do you throw money at it? That can only make him stronger.

TAPPER: Right.

BASH: Do you attack him? That's only made him stronger.


TAPPER: I have got to leave it there.

Gloria, Jeff, Dana, Brianna, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up: Trump's language endears him to his base, but will it bring in those independent voters so coveted? We're at the magic wall breaking down the race to 270 electoral votes.

That's next.



TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are spending a lot of time talking about each other on the campaign trail, each saying the other cannot win a general election in November.

So, who is right?

CNN's John King is at our magic wall to try to break down their general election prospects -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, you always start the next election by trying learn the lessons of the last election.

If you look at the map, this is Obama vs. Romney, the numbers obviously not good for the Republicans, the president winning with 332 electoral votes last time. That's what Hillary Clinton wants to match. She would like to beat it, but her main goal is to try to keep, assuming she's the Democratic nominee, to keep the Obama coalition together.

Now, it looks bleak, but the Republicans can actually win the White House by not changing all that much. Watch this. Republicans will focus a lot of time on Florida. If they can change that red, the numbers start to look a little better.

Republicans will spend a ton of time on Ohio. No Republican has ever won without Ohio. Right? You know the cliche. If they win Florida and Ohio, suddenly, they are in play. The question is, if you can do that -- and that's a big if -- we will get to that in a minute -- how do you go from there?

A Republican playlist says Virginia should be next. They think, even though it's been trending blue, they can pull it back to the Republican side. If do you that, then you're definitely in play. Then the Republicans need one more state.

If you can win Florida, Virginia and Ohio, it takes just one more state. A lot of Republicans think that state could be Colorado. That would put the Republican over the top, if only those four states change.

Let's assume, for the sake of argument, they can't get Colorado. We will make that one back blue. Where else could they go? Iowa is a swing state in presidential politics. If they could move Iowa, that would put the Republicans over the top.

So, again, with just four states, Republicans can do it. And I could give you several of these combinations, if not Iowa, maybe the state of New Hampshire. That would get the Republicans to victory. So it can to be done with changing just four states.

Now -- so that sounds not so hard. At the same time, though, Jake, it's not so easy. Let's switch maps and we will get into that, because one of the reasons the Democrats have been successful in the Electoral College is because of their success with nonwhite voters.

So, just imagine, maybe it won't be him, but just imagine Donald Trump is the nominee. Can he win Florida? Can he win Virginia? Could he win Colorado? Well, that's where the problem lies, because let's go back in time and remember the history.

President Obama in 2012 won reelection by getting more than nine in 10 African-American votes and more than seven in 10 Latino votes. He won two-thirds in 2008, seven in 10 in 2012.

Well, look at Donald Trump numbers right now in a hypothetical matchup against Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump is only getting 7 percent of the Latino vote, 13 percent -- 13 percent of the Latino vote -- excuse me -- and 7 percent of the African-American vote.

There's virtually no way any Republican can win the White House with those numbers. On the Latino front, most people think the Republicans need to be up close to 40 percent, even at 40 or above, double digits among African-Americans to make the demographics challenging.

And this is hypothetical poll matchup. But it's a serious problem for Trump. Let me give you some more numbers here. His favorability among Latinos and African-Americans is in the tank. So, if Trump is in the nominee, he would have a lot of work to do to make the presidential election competitive on a demographic level.

And even if he's not, some Republicans think all his talk during the primaries could hurt their party. And what happens if you have that? That's why you hear the establishment concerns about a Trump as a nominee or about a Trump effect on the eventual nominee, because, if you can't win nonwhite voters, not only can you not win the presidency.

What Republicans are worried about is a key Senate race here, a key Senate race here, a key Senate race here. a key Senate race here, and maybe more could get lost if you have a Republican Party that cannot win nonwhite voters.

So, it's early. We're just looking at the hypotheticals right now. But the map is doable for the Republicans, Jake, but it's going to take a lot of work.

TAPPER: Thanks, John.

When we come back: the balloons, the speeches and the chaos -- why the conventions don't always go exactly as planned and what's in store in the new year for the presidential candidates.



TAPPER: Welcome back. The Republican Party is known for its predictability when picking their presidential candidates but has Donald Trump ended all of that? CNN's chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, looks at the pomp and unusual circumstances around this year's political conventions.


TRUMP: I'm not dropping out of anything. I never dropout.

BORGER: That's not exactly music to the ears of the Republican establishment whose dreams of a smooth election cycle and a predictable convention have been trumped. Making some Republicans nervous.

TRUMP: I've been hearing about it. I've been hearing about these closed door meetings and I don't like that. That wasn't the deal I made.

BORGER: The fear? A protracted fight for delegates leading to a messy battle on the convention floor. Crazy? Maybe. But it happened before.

Way back in 1924 when Democrats took 103 ballots own 16 days to nominate a loser. Party leaders always prefer the more packaged route with unified delegates and a preordained coronation. Somehow conventions always manage to deliver the moments that reflect the political mood of the nation, even when the speeches are planned.

SEN. TED KENNEDY (D), THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.

GEORGE BUSH (R), THEN-PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Read my lips, no more taxes.

THEN-GOV. ANN RICHARD (D), TEXAS: Poor George, he was born with a silver foot in his mouth.

BORGER: Some of which --

THEN-GOV. BILL CLINTON (D), ARKANSAS: I'm honored to be here tonight to nominate my friend Michael Dukakis for president.

BORGER: ... went (ph) way (ph) too long.


BORGER: And some launched national careers.


THEN-STATE SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: There is not a liberal America and a conservative America -- there is the United States of America.

SARAH PALIN (R), THEN-VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know they say the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick.

BORGER: And others we're still trying to figure out.

CLINT EASTWOOD, ACTOR: I got Mr. Obama sitting here and he's -- I just was going to ask him a couple of questions but --

BORGER: Now that's a hard act to follow. But someone surely will.


TAPPER: So who's going to be talking to an empty chair in 2016? Here with me are CNN's top political commentators and (INAUDIBLE) among them, Ana Navarro, who supports Jeb Bush. Alongside Donna Brazile, S.E. Cupp, and Bakari Sellers, who is a Clinton supporter.

Ana, let me start with you. Gloria made the point about conventions reflecting the mood of our times. If the Republican front-runner is Donald Trump what does that say about the mood of the Republican Party?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't know. There's going to be a lot of us who are going to be in a really funky mood if that's in fact the nominee. I think it's going to be very strange. I think you're going to have a bunch of unusual suspects at the convention if it ends up being Donald Trump because -- you know, I sense that a Donald Trump nomination would be very bad for some of the senators, folks running state wide in some of the purple and blue states. People like Kelly Ayotte -- like Rob Portman. So I'm not sure how much of the, you know, traditional Republican mainstream usual suspects who go to a convention you would see (INAUDIBLE).

TAPPER: You mean -- you mean -- so you think --


NAVARRO: Of course there'll (ph) be (ph) no drinking at the CNN grill and I'm going to have a lot of drinking to do --



TAPPER: Moving back to that little newsy item you just made. The idea -- you think that if Donald Trump is the nominee you think some Republican senators incumbents will not go to the convention?

NAVARRO: Well, look, Rob Portman has to go, right? It's in Ohio. But I think you are going to see some of the folks running in blue and purple states running away from our nominee if it ends up being a Donald Trump. Maybe even a Ted Cruz.

BRAZILE: Look first of all I think it would be a mistake for these senators to miss out on this convention. After all Donald Trump might pick somebody exciting to be his running mate and who knows?

NAVARRO: How much more excitement do you think my heart can take, Donna?


TAPPER: We'll talk about beef stake in a second.

BRAZILE: You know, you're coming up on a birthday tomorrow so I understand.

Well look, the fact is that Donald Trump has had an outsize role in this campaign. He is -- he has been the person who has energized the base of the Republican Party. They are with him. They believe that he's the guy or the candidate who could take on the establishment. So I don't know if this convention will produce the kind of malaise that my good friend here is thinking but I guarantee you it will be one for the history books.

NAVARRO: And just to be clear I am still firmly in my denial stage of grief. I refuse to believe Donald Trump will be the --

TAPPER: Well, we don't know yet. We don't know.

But S.E., you might be too young who remember when Pat Buchanan gave a major culture war speech in 1992 and Molly Ivins the famous liberal columnist quipped that she preferred it in the original German.


TAPPER: It had an impact.


TAPPER: What if it was an entire convention of that tone? CUPP: Yes. I really like -- like Ana, I refuse to believe that that

-- I think the more likely scenario is how does Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz convince Donald Trump to show up at their convention when they are the nominee and bring his supporters to the table when he is not the nominee. I think that's the more likely problem that Republicans are going to be facing come convention time.

I just don't believe he'll (ph) be the nominee.

TAPPER: OK. Then that's a good challenge? Assuming that this dream of yours...

CUPP: Yes.

TAPPER: ... comes true how do you bring in...

CUPP: Yes.

TAPPER: .... Trump and his supporters to a process that they will at that point maybe be really angry with?

CUPP: They will be angry, angrier than they already are apparently. And look it's tricky. You don't want to mimic Trump's rhetoric. It's divisive. It's incendiary. It's damaging to the party.

TAPPER: But he'll be given a primetime speaking slot.

CUPP: Right. Well -- yes and that's also the trick, right? Like, you know, the last convention Republicans were very excited I don't know why to bring Clint Eastwood. But obviously they had no idea what he was about to say.

So, if you're going to invite Donald Trump because you want his votes and you want his presence you got to make sure that it's carefully managed otherwise of course he goes off script and --

NAVARRO: Let's make it a books signing. You know, he wrote a book "The Art of the deal."

SELLERS: Nothing about Donald Trump has been carefully managed throughout this entire race so I don't know how you would assume you're going to get to the convention and carefully manage him. Donald Trump is going to get on stage and is going to be the complete antithesis to what Barack Obama did 2004 when he took this country to another place where he uplifted independence. And regardless of what you think about the president and his presidency that was a really, really good speech.

TAPPER: That's going to be a Democratic challenge as well because presumably Hilary Clinton is going to be the nominee just based on today's analysis and today's poll numbers.


TAPPER: Bernie Sanders and his supporters I suspect that Sanders is going to be easier to get on that stage and give a nice speech than it is going to be to get his supporters on board the Hillary train.

BRAZILE: Imagine it's in Philadelphia. The birth place of democracy and with the backdrop of we the people and the revolutionary candidate, the candidate that has really rallied the Democratic base will be there along with others to give an uplifting speech.

Look, I think there's going to be a huge contrast between the chaos that will -- might occur at the Republican convention, I don't want to spook them, you know, being from New Orleans (INAUDIBLE) call that voodoo but at the same time you'll see a very manageable convention that will say good-bye to President Obama --


TAPPER: But what if you don't? What if you don't? What if the Sander supporters are more like occupy movement?

SELLERS: This is -- they are not first of all but this is also --


TAPPER: There's a lot of overlap, I think.

SELLERS: This is not Hillary Clinton versus Barack Obama.


SELLERS: Now, that was a real deep hatred. It was visceral between the two camps. And when Hillary Clinton righteously (ph) walked out on the floor (INAUDIBLE) in Denver -- when she walked out on the floor and actually said, I support Barack Obama, it took the convention to another place. So we're not even at that place.

CUPP: Sure. And Bernie Sanders, I mean, sounds -- is so unwilling to take on Hillary Clinton. He sounds like a Hillary supporter most of the time when he's debating her. So, I don't think you're going to have any problems getting Bernie on board.

TAPPER: Yes. No --


BRAZILE: There's a lot of -- there's a lot of --

CUPP: Yes. But her (ph) supporters -- her (ph) supporters are very wary of (INAUDIBLE).

BRAZILE: Yes, they may be but you know what? They were also wary of Bill Clinton. They were wary, you know, of the fact that he was a centrist. But Democrats --


CUPP: Not as they are now.

BRAZILE: Yes. But you know what? I go to these meetings. I see Democrats from all stripes. And I can tell you one thing. They want to win. They want to continue what I believe the advance forward policies of Barack Obama into the next, into this century. They don't want to go back to the Bush years or go back -- they don't want to embrace Donald Trump. So, you'll see a lot of (INAUDIBLE) --


BRAZILE: Democrats will come together.

NAVARRO: A couple of weeks ago at the last Democratic debate in New Hampshire. And I can tell you two things out if that.

Number one is that Bernie Sanders' supporters are committed. They are fired up. And they are not ready --


NAVARRO: They're not ready to play ball.

BRAZILE: We got a big contest coming up in a couple of weeks.

TAPPER: Donna, you raised the prospect of the "veep" stakes, the vice presidential pick.


TAPPER: We're going to talk about that in a second the campaign for vice president really already under way. Who is ahead might surprise you.


CLINTON: I am going to really look hard at him for anything because that's how good he is.





PALIN: Now more than ever we need someone tough as president. Someone who has the experience and the courage and the good judgment and the truthfulness in order to lead on day one. We need a leader with a bold and free and fair plan. We need a new plan to take this country in a new direction and that's got to be John McCain.


TAPPER: Sarah Palin in 2008 doing what vice presidential nominees do best making the guy on top look good and the one on the other side look bad.

Some vice presidential nominees are picked to rally the base such as Sarah Palin, create some excitement. Some are picked to fill a policy gap. Joe Biden, Dick Cheney both of whom had more foreign policy experience than the presidents whom they served.

What will the calculus be this year? With me now are CNN's top political commentators. Ana Navarro, who supports Jeb Bush alongside Donna Brazile. S.E. Cupp and Bakari Sellers, who is a Clinton supporter.

All right, S.E., play now with me Donald Trump gets the nomination.


TAPPER: OK. Donald Trump gets the nomination. Who would you tell him to pick as his veep?

CUPP: Well, it's not who I would tell him to pick it's who would do it? I mean, other than Jeffrey Lord I'm not sure who he could get to fill this slot. I mean maybe --

NAVARRRO: Ivanka which would make me feel very, very good.

CUPP: Maybe a Ted Cruz. I mean, I don't know of the current candidates running who would jump on to a Donald Trump ticket. I think it would mean certain professional death if they did. But maybe a Ted Cruz. Clearly Ben Carson I think would take the job.

TAPPER: Ben Carson. There's a lot of -- there's a strong bench on the Republican side. Theoretically if they don't win the nomination Rubio could do it. Kasich could do it. Christie.

CUPP: Scott Walker.

TAPPER: A lot of talk of Nikki Haley out of South Carolina.

NAVARRO: I think there is a very deep bench -- Brian Sandoval in Nevada is really very good.

TAPPER: Governor of Nevada.

CUPP: Cory Gardner I'm hearing --

NAVARRO: Tim Scott, I think, would be a...

TAPPER: South Carolina senator.

NAVARRO: ... very interesting pick out of South Carolina also Tea Party. So I think it all going to depend on, you know, who the nominee is and what gap they need to fill.

The one piece of advice that I would give the nominee on either side is do not pick a token because you think you need to check off that box.

TAPPER: Correct.

NAVARRO: Don't pick a woman because there may be a woman running on the other side. Or don't pick a Hispanic because there might be a Hispanic running on the other side. Pick somebody that you get along with, that you trust and that the American people have confidence in, can take over on day one if need be.

BRAZILE: That's right. That is the most important --


TAPPER: Somebody who can be president.

BRAZILE: That's right.

You know, I had that experience with Al Gore back in 2000 in selecting Joe Lieberman who I thought filled many gaps that Vice President Gore had at the time. Look, I do believe that the Republicans have a wealth of politicians that might be available to be on the short list. That may not wish to be on the short list.

CUPP: Right.

BRAZILE: If it's Donald Trump I don't think Donald Trump is going to look at this so-called Republican establishment.

TAPPER: So who, Mark Cuban?

CUPP: Carl Icahn.

SELLERS: Carl Icahn.

BRAZILE: He is -- he's already flipped the switch.

SELLERS: Correct.

BRAZILE: So, I believe if it's Donald Trump he's going outside the political box and find somebody with business experience or somebody outside of Washington --

CUPP: Who will do it. Somebody who will do it.

NAVARRO: And frankly even if it's not Donald Trump, you know, if it is an establishment candidate...


NAVARRO: ... it makes some sense to go to the outside because this is proving to be on both sides the year of the outsider.

TAPPER: Bakari, let me ask you because when Nikki Haley, the governor of South Carolina, had her moment taking down the confederate flag after the horrific shootings in Charleston a lot of people myself included said she just shot to the top of the list for a possible vice presidential nominee for many, many reasons including the fact she showed some real leadership in that moment.

You're from South Carolina. What do you think?

SELLERS: Well, I mean, Nikki Haley -- when the national spotlight shined upon her she did very well.


I mean, we're talking either the confederate flag coming down. We just had the first catastrophic flood in a thousand years and she rose to the top. She showed amazing leadership. I mean, she wiped all the boys to become governor.

She's an Indian-American governor. She doesn't --

CUPP: One of the most popular governors in the country.

SELLERS: Correct.

TAPPER: As with Sarah Palin.

SELLERS: Our state is still very poor -- as with Sarah Palin. Very good comparison.

Our state is still very poor. Education system is still crumbling and in South Carolina, we were talking about it off set, you know, we played rough and rugged politics so the question about Nikki Haley is whether or not she can vet. And that will be a very, very interesting question to answer.

However, however, if she does check more than one box for the Republican Party, she and Tim Scott both. But I guarantee you both of them have amazing futures in the country and leadership but neither one of them want to serve with Donald Trump.

NAVARRO: In addition to checking off boxes, Nikki Haley definitely has the substance. That woman is solid. Yes.

SELLERS: And she's -- that is a -- that is an accurate perspective because she does get Tea Party politics and conservative politics correct. Now whether or not that governs a state or a country in the right direction we just have to --


NAVARRO: And without (INAUDIBLE) S.E. and --


CUPP: When we talk about the veep (ph) pick (ph) there's a tendency to think, well, what states are, you know, important. And we should not this. I don't know --

TAPPER: The states never -- they are never delivered. Paul Ryan did not deliver Wisconsin.

CUPP: Right.

TAPPER: They never deliver.

CUPP: No. You may be too young to the remember, but in 1980, Michael Dukakis chose Lloyd Bentsen to run with him solely to get Texas, and of course, he was running against George H.W. Bush, they lost Texas. George Bush won Texas.

TAPPER: You weren't even born in the 1980's.

CUPP: I was born --


NAVARRO: Nobody could deliver Texas from (ph) Michael Dukakis --


TAPPER: Let me -- as long as we're talking about Texas because the Democrats might want to check a box too especially if Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz or (ph) the Republican nominee, Hillary Clinton, might want to pick a member of the fastest growing minority community in America, the Latino community, and there's a lot of talk about the Castro brothers.

SELLERS: That's --


NAVARRO: By the way let's specify that we're talking about the Castro brothers from Texas and not the Castro brothers from Cuba.

BRAZILE: We're not raising blood pressure (INAUDIBLE).

SELLERS: That does more than check a box...


SELLERS: ... because Secretary Castro is amazing. I mean, he's dynamic.

BRAZILE: Incredible.

SELLER: They brought him up here to D.C. to kind of shove him away are from the local politics that can sometimes get rough and rugged. But we also Thomas Perez who also -- Secretary Perez who also is --


We're not just checking --

TAPPER: S.E. is grimacing (ph) --


CUPP: No, I think that's lunacy. I think that's lunacy.

She needs to fill a box with older white men.

SELLERS: Why? CUPP: That is where she is losing. That is going to be her main problem area. She needs a Tim Kaine on that ticket, not an unknown, you know, maybe Latino super unknown senator or secretary that no one has heard of.

NAVARRO: Well, the one good thing about the Castro brothers you get two for the price of one.


NAVARRO: Good for the --


BRAZILE: Tim Kaine is a great guy, come from a very important battleground state, Virginia. I worked very closely with him when he's still in the Democratic Party.


NAVARRO: Se (ph) habla espanol --

BRAZILE: Yes -- si.

NAVARRO: Habla espanol.


BRAZILE: He speaks Spanish unlike me.

But I do think that the generational box of the Democratic Party has to be checked as well because --

TAPPER: That's interesting.

SELLERS: We also have Bernie Sanders who fits in that --


TAPPER: He's 74.

SELLERS: And he's slightly above 30. Martin O'Malley tried this, do not do (INAUDIBLE) the ages (INAUDIBLE).

BRAZILE: Yes, do not do the ages --


TAPPER: No but it is an important point, the generational point because Hillary Clinton --


TAPPER: Unless --

(CROSSTALK) NAVARRO: Particularly if she's running against somebody -- against a 44-year-old senator...

TAPPER: Right.

NAVARRO: ... like a Ted Cruz or a Marco Rubio.

TAPPER: Marco Rubio or even if it is Jeb -- or even if it's Jeb.


NAVARRO: ... and saying, you know, you're yesterday we're tomorrow.

TAPPER: And election is --


BRAZILE: And Jeb who also --


SELLERS: The secret for the Republican Party is something they won't do. The ticket that can win and the be the 45th president is Rubio as your presidential nominee and Kasich as your vice presidential nominee. And then as Democrats we have to figure out something, but unfortunately the GOP (INAUDIBLE) --

TAPPER: The voters -- the voters aren't --

NAVARRO: Dear Republicans, when Democrats are giving us advice be (ph) wary (ph) --



TAPPER: All right. Good (ph) to (ph) know (ph).


BRAZILE: Happy new year to everybody.

TAPPER: ... Ana, Bakari, S.E....

SELLERS: Happy New Year.

TAPPER: ... thank you so much.

After the break is Santa leaving the candidates a nomination or coal? It's this week's "State of the Cartoonion."



TAPPER: Welcome back. Santa has gone back to the North Pole, but there is one present that candidates cannot open until January 1st, and it is the gift marked Iowa caucus results. Is it a ticket to New Hampshire or a lump of coal? It is it is the "State of the Cartoonion."


TAPPER (voice-over): It was the month for the caucus and all through the house of the RNC chairman folks are getting quite (INAUDIBLE). The debates and primaries have been scheduled with care to ensure an orderly process. This was not time to air.

Committee men cozy, dreamt visions quite gauzy of ads about scandals, emails and Benghazi. But the noise from the trail became unseemly and ruckus. Establishment candidates dropping out way before the caucus. The RNC chair rushed and saw on the stump a deluxe and gold-plated sleigh labeled with Trump.

Out Perry, leave Walker, the field started to dwindle. Scram Lindsey, you loser, and the same with you Jindal.

John Kasich, said, Trump sounded a bit like a Nazi. To be sure Trump ignored the post Romney autopsy.

Trump came to the door or Reince Priebus, ding dong, and did state, in '08, Hillary Clinton got "schlong" (ph). His support kept expanding. They built Trump tabernacles haunting RNC dreams with Hillary cackles.

So, this Christmas as Santa took his magical flight (ph) some thought of Reince Priebus who was having quite a bad night.


TAPPER: Thanks for spending your Sunday morning with us. You can catch me here every Sunday and weekdays on "THE LEAD" at 4:00 p.m. Eastern. And go to, STATE OF THE UNION, for extras from the show.


I'm Jake Tapper in Washington. Merry Christmas and happy New Year.

"FAREED ZAKARIA GPS" starts right now.