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Trump Boycotting Republican Debate; Clip of Trump Complimenting Megyn Kelly, Ripping Candidates Not at Debate. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired January 27, 2016 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Pamela Brown. Great to have you along with us today.

We begin with another stunner from Donald Trump. The unpredicted billionaire is boycotting tomorrow's Republican debate just days before the all-important Iowa caucuses. It's the latest in the war with FOX News over its debate moderator, Megyn Kelly. This morning, Trump fanned the flames, tweeting, "I refuse to call Megyn Kelly a bimbo because that would not be politically correct. Instead, I will only call her a lightweight reporter." That coming from Trump after he announced last night that instead of attending the debate, he will host a competing event.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm going to have something else in Iowa. We'll do something where we raise money for the veterans at the Wounded Warriors. We're going to do something simultaneously with the debate. They can't toy with me like they toy with everybody else. Let them have the debate and let's see how they do with the ratings. I told them, give money to the wounded warriors, to the veterans, they are going to make a fortune with the debate. Now let's see how many people watch. Megyn Kelly is a lightweight. This is not a reporter.


BROWN: All right. Let's go live to CNN's Sunlen Serfaty in Iowa ahead of tomorrow's GOP debate.

What is the reaction there on the ground in Iowa, Sunlen?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Pam, it's interesting. One campaign telling me that they feel like this is a period of limbo for the candidates and I think the reactions that we're seeing from the candidates themselves to this morning are really reflective of that period of uncertainty that they are feeling. These reactions have been all across the spectrum, everyone from Chris Christie, who is calling the boycott a mistake, to Mike Huckabee, having a little fun with it, joking that he will gladly take over Donald Trump's position at the lectern.

But it was interesting last night, really right out of the gate, we saw Ted Cruz really come out with a no-holds bar response to this, really issuing a direct challenge to Donald Trump, directly in front of Iowa voters. Here's what he had to say.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are effectively tied in the state of Iowa. If he's unwilling to stand on the debate stage with the other candidates, then I would like to invite Donald right now to engage in a one-on-one debate with me any time between now and the Iowa caucuses.


SERFATY: And the Trump campaign has responded to this, this morning. The campaign manager said they will gladly debate Ted Cruz if it comes down to a two-man race. That's basically, in essence, Pam, a big no.

BROWN: All eyes on Donald Trump today. We're not only talking about him but you're also following him on the campaign trail. What is his schedule like over the next 24 hours?

SERFATY: We will see Donald Trump at some point today. He already has been tweeting up a storm, as you referenced. It will be interesting to see how, throughout the day, he gains traction for this town hall, this fund-raiser that he's anticipating to have as counter- programming to tomorrow night's debate at the campaign out today saying that they are hearing from other candidates, we don't know exactly, who wants to join into that event tomorrow night. So it will be interesting to see how much traction, how much he uses it on the campaign trail as he makes his way here throughout Iowa -- Pam?

BROWN: Interesting to say the least.

Sunlen Serfaty, thank you so much.

Joining me to talk about all of this, CNN political commentator and Jeb Bush supporter, Ana Navarro; Brad Woodhouse, former communications director for the Democratic National Committee; and Adriana Cohen, columnist for "The Boston Herald" and radio host.

Where to begin?


Adriana, I'm going to start with you here first.

We are five days from Iowa. Once again, Trump is dominating the news cycle. But could this move to boycott the FOX News debate in Iowa backfire for him?

ADRIANA COHEN, COLUMNIST, THE BOSTON HERALD & RADIO HOST: I think it could because with Donald Trump off the stage, it gives the GOP candidates a time for Iowa caucus goers and the public at large, the voters, to learn more about the individual candidates, have all of these important exchanges that they need to have amongst each other and really flush out the issues before the country. And so, you know, one man's loss is another man's and woman's gain.

BROWN: Absolutely.

I want to get to how this could impact the other candidates.

But, Ana, do you really think that this is about FOX News and Megyn Kelly or is this more of a calculating move by Trump to not be on the debate stage right before the caucuses?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Both. Look, having been a recipient of Donald Trump's wrath, I can tell you that when he gets scornful like this towards somebody, when he gets somebody in the cross-hairs, it is for real. He's not just pretending that he doesn't like Megyn Kelly. He wants her out. He wants to cause her harm. He wants to put her in a difficult position. But I also think that he's calculated it. He's taken a look at the scenarios and he's doing this because he can. I think that when we heard him say last week -- and I do agree that he was joking, that he could go out and shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and not lose a voter, he actually believes that. And I think he's got a right to believe that because he's been pushing the envelope for the last seven months whether it's offending Iowans to their face or mimicking a reporter with a disability in front of all sorts of cameras, whether it's insulting POWs and his numbers keep going up. So the reason that Donald Trump is doing this is because he can. And it is, you know, again, a brilliant P.R. move on his part. We are going to be talking not about the upcoming debate but about the fact that Donald Trump is not in the upcoming debate for the next 24 hours. Even though he's not going to be at the debate, he is going to be the looming a presence at the debate. The guy knows how to illuminate the press.

[11:06:18] BROWN: Megyn Kelly's response to all this was he thinks that he can control people but he can't control the media. Trump tweeted this morning back at Kelly saying, "I refuse to call Megyn Kelly a bimbo because that would not be politically correct. Instead, I'll only call her a lightweight reporter."

So, Adriana, isn't Trump's appeal about not being politically correct?

COHEN: Correct. His appeal is pushing back against political correctness. I think a lot of his supporters like that about him for the most part. It's refreshing he's able to monopolize the media attention, like Ana pointed out.

However, Megyn Kelly is a very respected journalist. It's the wrong move for him to attack her in terms of calling her a bimbo. This is a woman who is a lawyer. She's very successful.

BROWN: Well, he's not calling her bimbo.


NAVARRO: Adriana, he's been calling her that and worse for seven months without any negative effect to him. So it goes back to my point. He does it because he can.

BROWN: OK. Really quick, Brad, this is not just about Donald Trump, if you can believe that. This is also about Ted Cruz because now he's going to be on that debate stage, center stage as the leader. He's ahead in the polls. Won't he be in the cross-hairs of all of the other candidates? And do you think that might be behind his call now to have a one-on-one debate with Trump?

BRAD WOODHOUSE, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Look, I think Ted Cruz should have called for one-on-one debates with Trump, perhaps when Ted Cruz was still leading in Iowa. The fact is every poll that has come out has Trump ahead in Iowa, Trump ahead in New Hampshire, Trump ahead in South Carolina, Trump ahead nationally. This is Trump's nomination to lose. There are two theories of Trump. He's either F'ing crazy or crazy like a FOX, and I think in this case, I think he's crazy like a FOX.


People are going to turn to FOX and expect to see Donald Trump in that debate and they are not going to see him. His supporters are going to flip the channel until they find him. I think his viewers are more fervently in support of him tht FOX viewers are in support of it.

BROWN: Ana, let's talk about this.


NAVARRO: Brad, I think he's both. I think he's F'ing crazy like a FOX.


NAVARRO: Or brilliant. Look at his poll numbers.

BROWN: Tell us how you really feel, Ana.


So this rivalry that Trump says he's going to hold at the same time as the debate, do you really think that he would be able to sort of set something up and take away viewers from FOX because his campaign is saying that FOX's ratings are going to plummet now that he's not on the stage and he's holding this rival event.

COHEN: Yes. I believe that -- what if he gets millions of viewers and put this event that he's doing online? I mean, that makes a statement. But then also, on the other hand, if FOX gets great ratings without Donald Trump there, that speaks volumes as well.

BROWN: And, Ana, what do you think about that?

NAVARRO: Look, I think that if FOX gets as many as 2,000 less viewers than they did last time because Donald Trump isn't there, he's going to blow it up into those gigantic thing that he's going to talk about in the press and say that they got low numbers. One of the things about Donald Trump, he's got this uncanny ability to manipulate facts. So even if the numbers are the same, he'll say it wasn't and everybody will believe him. I think this move of his, of trying to raise funds for veterans at the same time that the debate is going on is brilliant. I mean, who can take issue with raising funds for veterans? You know, it really is -- like I said, the guy is a pro and his media savviness is just impressive and one of the factors that has helped him stay on top for this long.

[11:10:15] BROWN: Yeah. It's interesting, when you watch this play out in the media, first, he told our Wolf Blitzer he may not be at the debate and then it turned into very likely and now he's definitely not going to be there. But does this provide an opening, Ana, to Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush and some of the other candidates?

NAVARRO: In a way. I suspect that they are all going to go after the nonentity in the room, Donald Trump. That's why I say he's going to be the looming presence. And I suspect, you know, Senator Cruz, who has got a flair for drama, is going to go on an imaginary dialogue with the missing in action, Donald Trump. Look, I think what's going to happen, every other network is going to show the Trump event. That's why. They like to see FOX. You know, this is a brilliant, brilliant move by Donald Trump.

BROWN: And some would argue that this --


NAVARRO: It would be unfair to the Iowa voters but --


BROWN: Some would argue that is working in FOX's favor and Rupert Murdoch just came out with this tweet. Of course, he's in charge of the company that owns FOX News. He says, "This is Michael Bloomberg's last chance. You never know until your hat is in the ring. Events change everything."

Brad, what's the message here with this latest tweet?

WOODHOUSE: Well, look, it's obviously a slam at Donald Trump without actually mentioning him. You know, someone else should get in the race. But, look, I think Trump is going to have the last laugh here. No matter what the ratings are, this really hurts the other Republican candidates. Remember, they are chasing Donald Trump. Donald Trump's poll numbers are not going to plummet because he doesn't participate in a debate and when he's going to be covered by every other network whenever he's on television. It will make it very hard for the other candidates to attack him when he's not on stage. And they need to bring his numbers down.

BROWN: And even though -- I mean, the candidates have been attacking him and it seems like that just galvanizes his supporters.

Ana, Jeb Bush tweeted about Donald Trump skipping the debate. He said, "Donald Trump, do you know else is scared of Megyn Kelly? Barack Obama. Enough whining."

Which candidate gains the most if Donald Trump is not on the debate stage, do you think? Brad?


NAVARRO: Look, which candidate gains the most?

BROWN: OK, Ana, go ahead.

NAVARRO: Which candidate gains the most of Trump not being on the debate stage? Donald Trump.



WOODHOUSE: I agree. I think Donald Trump will gain the most. He's sucking up all of the oxygen. We're not talking about the differences between the candidates. We're talking about Donald Trump not participating, which is smart. For him, it's probably smart. Him doing the unconventional thing politically has turned out to be to his Benefit. I do think it's a short gain for him. He's playing just in Iowa and New Hampshire and he's not thinking about the fact that he may be the nominee and insulting a woman like Megyn Kelly will have repercussions in the general election when other women will be turned off by that.

BROWN: Quickly, Adriana, do you think he's definitely not going to show up at this debate?

COHEN: I don't think he's going to show up and it benefits the remaining candidates on the stage. There's been a lot of exchanges between Jeb Bush, Donald Trump and others and usually Donald Trump wins most of these exchanges, so Jeb Bush must be relieved that he doesn't have to go up against Donald Trump.

WOODHOUSE: Good point.

BROWN: We'll leave it there.

Brad Woodhouse, Adriana Cohen, Ana Navarro, thank you for that lively and interesting discussion. We appreciate it.


BROWN: Next AT THIS HOUR, we have dug a clip of Donald Trump complimenting Megyn Kelly, complementing her, and ripping into candidates who didn't show up for the debate.

Plus, moments from now, Bernie Sanders will meet with President Obama at the White House as Hillary Clinton's lead shrinks nationally. Hear what is on the agenda at the White House.

And we have breaking news coming in involving that standoff in Oregon. The situation has just turned deadly after police encounter the anti- federal government activists taking a building hostage. We'll return right after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [11:18:51] BROWN: Donald Trump's political stunner, his boycott of the FOX debate. It's his latest in the escalating feud over moderator, Megyn Kelly. I want to take you back to the question that started it all. It was last August at the very first Republican debate. Here is the debate.


MEGYN KELLY, FOX ANCHOR & DEBATE MODERATOR: You call women you don't like fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals. Your Twitter account --


TRUMP: Only Rosie O'Donnell.


KELLY: No, it wasn't.


KELLY: You're twitter account --


TRUMP: Thank you.

KELLY: For the record, it was well beyond Rosie O'Donnell.

TRUMP: Yes, I'm sure it was.

KELLY: Your Twitter account had several disparaging comments about women's looks. You once told a contestant on "Celebrity Apprentice," it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees. Does that sound to you like the temperament of man we should elect as president?

TRUMP: What I say is what I say. If you don't like it, Megyn, I'm sorry. I've been very nice to you. Although, I could probably not be based on the way you have treated me. But I would not like that.


[11:20:05] BROWN: Needless to say, a lot has happened since then.

I want to bring in Mark Preston, executive editor of CNN Politics; and "Washington Post" media critic, Erik Wemple, to discuss all of this.

Thanks for coming on.

Mark, I'm going to start with you.

Are you surprised that it has come to this?

MARK PRESTON, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, CNN POLITICS: No, not at all. He pretty much forecasted it, if you're not going to be nice to me, I'm not going to be nice to you. We've seen this feud escalate between these two. It's gotten to the point where Donald Trump is saying he will not appear in their debate.

But you know what, it wasn't always so bad between Megyn Kelly and Donald Trump. He had kind words to say about her back in 2011. Let's listen.


TRUMP: I think I know the issues better than most, if not almost all. I mean, I know moderators doing debates that don't even know what they are talking about.

KELLY: Do you really think that you're a better moderator than I am?

TRUMP: No, I could never beat you. That wouldn't even be close. You have done a great job, by the way, and I mean it.


PRESTON: Wow. You know, what can you say? A lot has changed over the past few years, certainly over the past five or six months.

But as you say, this has really turned into a major political drama as we head into the final days before the Iowa caucuses.

BROWN: That's right.

Erik, even though Trump isn't exactly innocent here, when a news organization moderating what is supposed to be an unbiased debate releases a statement questioning a candidate's ability to be president, is that problem?

ERIK WEMPLE, MEDIA CRITIC, WASHINGTON POST: Well, I do think that there are some issues with how FOX News has sought to issue statements at each particular phase of this and I think they went over board a little bit yesterday in their statement referencing the ayatollah and Putin about whether he should participate in the debate. FOX has gotten a little bit off its game here and the main reason is, FOX and I think this could be said of other news channels, are totally obsessed with ratings, to an unhealthy degree. I think they are so scared of having Donald Trump not be at their debate that they've tried every way over the months since August, they have tried negotiating with them, tried appeasing him. Roger Ailes and him have been on the phone. I think as a news organization, FOX News should just cover Trump instead of try negotiate with him.

I would redact a little bit of what Mark said, quibble with one word. He called a feud between Megyn Kelly and Donald Trump. This seems more like a one-sided affair where Trump decides every once in a while that he's going to blast Megyn Kelly on Twitter. Megyn Kelly has been more or less quiet and has not responded to every one or very few of Donald Trump's broadsides. So it's a really strange situation. And Donald Trump automatically sort of -- just one-sided unilaterally reignited this thing on Saturday, and here we are. BROWN: And here we are. Talking about Saturday, how should FOX News,

how do you think they will handle this now that Trump says he's not going to be there? Are they going to have an empty podium? Are they going to talk about Trump with the moderators? How do you think that's going to play out?

WEMPLE: Awkwardly. I think it's going to be a pretty strange sort of thing. Especially since I think people do tune in to these debates because of Donald $ump. My own son said, I told him this is a Democratic one. He said Donald Trump and he sort of walked away.


I think it's going to be strange. There is going to be a huge vacuum. And I think that's a problem that FOX News has to contend with. And I think that is the very dynamic that Donald Trump is playing off of here. He knows he's a big deal. He knows he drives ratings. Chris Cuomo, your own colleague, told me in an interview he conceded that Donald Trump drives ratings. That's no secret.

BROWN: Well, absolutely. But what will be interesting to play out and it will help FOX's ratings come on Saturday because people want to tune in how it's going to be handled if there is going to be an empty podium.

Mark, what do you think?

PRESTON: Well, listen, a couple of things here about Megyn Kelly. She was widely praised back in august when she asked Donald Trump that question and how she stood her ground. And to Erik's point, this is not necessarily a feud between Megyn Kelly and Donald Trump. It's really a feud between Donald Trump and FOX News channel, who has stood behind Megyn Kelly, which you would expect as a news organization. Will the ratings go down or up? I don't think FOX cares and now should they at this point.

Really what happens in these closing days right now, will it affect Donald Trump's ability to win here in Iowa? I don't think it necessarily will. Donald Trump has his support here. He's going to get it. The question is, can he take it over the finish line? And we don't know if that's going to happen.

The bigger question about Donald Trump here in Iowa and moving forward is will the support for Donald Trump at these big rallies turn out to people appearing at the caucuses, in the New Hampshire primary and South Carolina primary.

So this fight going on with the debates is, in some ways, a side show. It's really not indicative of whether he wins or loses the nomination.

[11:25:27] BROWN: Yeah, that's been the question all along.

By the way, my mistake, the debate is tomorrow night.

Mark Preston, Erik Wemple, thank you. Appreciate it.

WEMPLE: Thank you.

BROWN: Just ahead, you're going to hear from supporters supporting Trump. Hear what attracts them to the candidate.

Plus, breaking news involving the standoff in Oregon. The situation has just turned deadly after police encounter the anti-federal government activists taking a building hostage. We'll be back.


[11:30:05] BROWN: New this morning from Oregon, one person is dead and eight others are in jail after a dramatic shootout between members of an Oregon protest group and the FBI and state police.