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Iowa Caucuses; Interview with Sarah Palin; Interview with Congressman Steve King of Iowa. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired February 1, 2016 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, a very special edition of THE LEAD live in Des Moines, Iowa, on caucus day. It is down to every last vote and literally anything could happen.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

Good afternoon, America, from Des Moines. I'm Jake Tapper with a special Iowa caucus edition of THE LEAD.

It is too close to call here, as voters across the Hawkeye State begin to head out to caucus with their friends and their neighbors. Many, many eyes will be on Donald Trump tonight. Trump appears to hold a lead over his nearest rival, Ted Cruz, with Marco Rubio a solid third. This will be the first test of the billionaire businessman's enormous appeal to a segment of the Republican Party on the trail.

The big question, will these devoted fans follow through and become devoted voters? Trump, taking nothing for granted today, campaigning with former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Earlier today, I spoke with Governor Palin, who said she is all in for Trump and ready to go door to door.


SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: I have been knocking on doors for a couple of decades now with my start in politics, running for a city council seat, and that's how we would get elected.


TAPPER: More of that interview coming up in just a few minutes.

And in one of his last appeals to Iowans, Ted Cruz today saying it's now down to a two-man race.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This race right now, it's neck and neck. It's all about turnout. This race is a statistical tie between me and Donald Trump. It all comes down to turnout, who shows up tonight at 7:00 p.m. (END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: It's a cliche, but it's true. It all comes down to turnout. It is a crowded Republican field and all hands are on deck, the Republican candidates fanning out today all across the state.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both taking the time today to thank campaign workers and spending much of the day trying to reach voters through television and radio interviews.

Our correspondents have also spent months in every corner of Iowa's 99 counties, and tonight Sara Murray is with the Trump campaign, Sunlen Serfaty is at Ted Cruz headquarters, Brianna Keilar is with the Clinton campaign, and Jeff Zeleny is with Bernie Sanders' election night headquarters.

We begin tonight with Sara Murray, who is with Donald Trump in West Des Moines.

Sara, a lot has been said that Donald Trump avoided the face-to-face politics that usually in a normal year wins Iowa. But the same cannot be said for his family, perhaps his secret weapons.


That's why we are seeing his family on a full-out blitz across the state today. They are doing retail politics stops, they're visiting caucus sites, and they're doing things that they think Donald Trump can't do himself, like talk about the softer side of the billionaire businessman that we have come to know as a pretty brash individual.

Now, I caught up with Donald Trump Jr. at one of his many stops of the day today and asked him if it has fully set in for his father that tonight people are going to show up at those caucus sites and they're going to write his dad's name in for president. Here's what he said to say.


DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF DONALD TRUMP: It's his first time on this side of the table, right? It's a different experience. He wants to win it badly and I think our biggest focus is, we want to win this early. We want to start going up against the other side right away.

We don't want the infighting within the party.


MURRAY: Now, this is a family that is pretty new to politics. Of course, Donald Trump has been a donor, but his kids are now joining his team, doing this retail politics stuff.

What I found is that when voters meet his kids, they really do seem to walk away with a different idea of who Donald Trump is as a man in terms of his generosity and in terms of what he behaved like as a father and as a grandfather. And that might just be the final push he needs in a place like Iowa, where family is so important to the stalwart evangelical voters here -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Sara Murray, thanks so much.

Now let's go to Sunlen Serfaty. She's at Cruz campaign headquarters right here in Des Moines.

Sunlen, a big milestone for Senator Cruz just hours before the first votes.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. Ted Cruz has now completed the full Grassley, meaning that he has hit each and every one of Iowa's 99 counties.

This is a badge of honor for candidates here in Iowa, something that Iowa voters do pay attention to. But what it's really given Ted Cruz in these final hours is the ability to really argue that he is the one that has made the effort here and draw a very distinct contrast with Donald Trump and his untraditional style of campaigning.


Ted Cruz a few hours ago declaring that he has been the one that faced scrutiny, he's the one that has looked Iowa voters in the eyes. But it's interesting to note and important to note here that this happened very late in the game. And in the final days leading up to today, this strategy took Ted Cruz away from big populated centers and really made him be in really rural, small towns, populations 200, 400.

So the postmortem within the Cruz campaign if he loses Iowa may very well be centered on this strategy -- Jake.

TAPPER: Interesting. Sunlen Serfaty, thanks so much.

Now let's go to the Democratic side. Brianna Keilar is live at Hillary Clinton's campaign headquarters in Des Moines.

Brianna, is the Clinton campaign worried that they will face a repeat of 2008, strong and then a loss?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: They absolutely are, Jake, but it's not actually based in any of the indicators that they're seeing. They're looking at the trajectory of the polls. They're looking at what they expect turnout to be.

And they think that this is going in their favor. But at the same time, so many people who were involved in her 2008 effort where she was delivered such a stinging third-place defeat here in Iowa remember that going into caucus night they felt good. They felt like they feel right now.

And so they don't want to be too confident. But I'll tell you, I did just bump into Secretary Clinton in Des Moines on my way here to headquarters and she seems in very good spirits, so that's sort of something, perhaps an indicator of how she's feeling, certainly how the campaign is feeling. They feel good. They feel like they're going to be able to beat Bernie Sanders, but they're also anxiously awaiting the results tonight.

TAPPER: Brianna Keilar, thank you so much.

Let's talk about Sanders.

Jeff Zeleny is live in Des Moines at Sanders headquarters.

Jeff, is there a magic number that they're looking for in terms of turnout that would tell them that they're likely to have a successful evening?


The Sanders campaign believes if their turnout is north of 170,000, that is a good night for them. Let's put this into a bit of perspective for you. Let's look at these numbers from the last two competitive Iowa caucuses on the Democratic side. In 2004, there were 124,000 people who participated. In 2008, 239,000 people actually attended.

So the higher the number, the better it is for Senator Sanders. They believe that will be an indication that they brought in new voters to this process, new people who have never caucused before. So watch for the lines at caucuses, new people register to vote. But if the number is higher than 170,000, that is good for Senator Sanders.

Speaking of Senator Sanders, we also bumped into him just a short time ago. He and his wife, Jane, were having a quiet lunch before this big storm. As you can see behind me here, they are setting up what they hope will be a victory party, but, again, Jake, it all gets back to the turnout number. If it's more than 170,000, the Sanders campaign believe they will pull off an exceptional win here in Iowa -- Jake.

TAPPER: The Clinton campaign has a similar number with the same similar projection. Jeff Zeleny, thanks.

The winner of the Democratic race could, of course, go on to face Donald Trump, who has won two of the most highly sought after endorsements in this race, Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

Trump had Palin join him on the trail today, banking on her star power, especially among evangelicals, to rally the troops one last time before the caucuses begin tonight.


SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: Because Mr. Trump promised me that he will make America great again, and that's the only thing I'm asking.


TAPPER: Earlier today on the campus of Drake University here in Des Moines, I sat down with Governor Palin.


TAPPER: Governor Palin, thanks so much for doing this.

PALIN: Thank you.

TAPPER: So, the last time you and I spoke, you were torn between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. Torn. And now you have gone with Trump very enthusiastically. What made the difference? What tipped the scales?


Well, it became a much less difficult decision once some inconsistencies started coming out about Cruz's position on amnesty, on building that wall, and securing our jobs and our homes via tighter borders.

You know, I just started looking a little bit closer and realizing we just don't need more of the same. We need that fresh, energetic, can- do spirit that Trump has brought with him from the private sector, which I love. So, at the end of the day, it wasn't a tough decision.

TAPPER: Ted Cruz told me on Sunday about Trump's decision to skip the debate -- quote -- "If I was doing a job interview with you and I called you up and said I'm not willing to show up at the job interview, you wouldn't hire me, and I think that's what Donald said to the people of Iowa. "


PALIN: I think, A, that's no reflection on Mr. Trump's opinion of the great, great people in the heartland here in Iowa.

No, that's kind of a funny perspective that Ted Cruz has, because Donald Trump, if anyone, has the record to prove that he, as the businessman who is so successful and wants the rest of America to be successful, he's kind of the epitome of the job interview.

He has gone through the job interview and he has proven himself via that very successful record of strength that's made manifest in not just materialistically, but where he is in our culture, where he is now politically. He's at the top. So, yes, no, he passed the job interview.

TAPPER: As you know, a caucus is much more complicated than just a primary vote or an election vote. People have to come, they have to devote a little bit of time.


TAPPER: A lot of Mr. Trump's support, they're first-time caucus- goers, theoretically, if they turn out. Are you concerned at all about whether or not they're going to turn out tonight?

PALIN: You know what I have been concerned about in terms of this process of the caucus? You're making a good point that it is kind of difficult. And we hear that weather may move in and make that kind of a cumbersome situation for people.

Maybe they can't get to the caucus. What I have been concerned about is what the Cruz campaign has done to previous voters, potential voters, who weren't able to make it to a caucus, maybe because this is a difficult process.

TAPPER: You mean that literature...


PALIN: Then they were shamed, they and their neighbors being sent report cards, saying, you know, you got an F because you didn't vote. You didn't do what we think you should have done.

That to me is very reflective of politicians thinking that they know best or that they know the intricacies of your life so they can make decisions for you. So that's what I have been concerned about with this whole caucus process.

TAPPER: What did you make of it, other than politicians telling people? Did you think it was offensive? Did you think it was...

PALIN: Very offensive.

However, it's been done before. I don't know if necessarily in these parts it's been done before, but I know that elsewhere people think that they're clever. Political parties who get out of hand think that they're clever by shaming people and by trying to intimidate voters.

I think that's very shameful. I don't -- man, I'm just such a freedom-loving gal. I don't even want government to know what my voting record would be. I certainly don't want and don't think it's necessary for a political party to collect the data from government about who votes, who doesn't vote, and then rub it in their face.

TAPPER: Have you -- a few months ago, when I interviewed you, I asked you what position you might want in the Trump administration. And you said the Department of Energy, you would be secretary of energy, and then you would shut down the Department of Energy.

Have you actually talked to Donald Trump at all about a possible position in his administration if he were to win?

PALIN: I have been very, very clear with him that I'm not asking for anything. He's in a position in life, I'm sure, where he is asked every day from everybody for something. And I'm not going to be one of those asking for anything.

TAPPER: You talked about inconsistencies among the votes and the positions of Senator Cruz. Donald Trump is somebody who has clearly had different positions on issues that he has today, including an issue very near and dear to your heart, the issue of abortion and life. Have you talked to him about that? He used to be -- he called himself

very pro-choice. Now he says he's very pro-life. Have you talked about it?

PALIN: I am so glad that Mr. Trump has seen the light and understands the sanctity of innocent life and how a baby in the womb should be most protected.

What has been kind of sad about this situation, though, politically speaking, are groups that are pro-life and want to -- they say they want to bring more people into the fold, they giving Trump a hard time for his past views on abortion, where they're celebrating others, like -- I was going through a list, like Justin Bieber, and, gosh...

TAPPER: Justin Bieber?

PALIN: Yes, yes, who has made statements, understanding the sanctity of life, but in the past said it was no big deal to him. He's just one example.

But I have heard these same groups celebrate people who have -- I have been to their fund-raisers. I have spoken at their events. And there's usually someone in the crowd, every single one of these crowds, who will testify to having seen the light, you know, to understand, oh, I get it. I get it, that God has created life with purpose. And...

TAPPER: So, you believe Mr. Trump when he says he's...

PALIN: And then to see that they're celebrated, but for political reasons, Mr. Trump is condemned for changing his views to the right side. Yes, that's -- man, that's politics.


TAPPER: Coming up next, more of my one-on-one interview with Sarah Palin.


[16:15:00] PALIN: Candidates who campaign one way and then govern another way, I think that's what people are sick and tired of in this country.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Making it clear that she's itching to get back in the political arena and run for office again.

Plus, Sarah Palin telling me she's not supporting Ted Cruz because of his, quote, "inconsistencies". The Cruz campaign responds, next.


TAPPER: Is this heaven? No, it's Iowa. Welcome back to a special edition of THE LEAD. We're live in Des

Moines where earlier today on the campus of Drake University I chatted with former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, who's here to try to help Donald Trump.


TAPPER: When you came out and started supporting Donald Trump, a lot of people said your word is gold with evangelical voters in Iowa. But according to the latest poll, 56 percent of evangelicals in Iowa still have a negative view of Donald Trump.

[16:20:02] What's your message to those voters who look at him very skeptically?

PALIN: I appreciate what Jerry Falwell Jr. said the other day when formally endorsing Donald Trump. He said, you know, he's not -- like his dad used to say, when he goes to the voting booth, he's not looking to elect the most, subjectively speaking here, Godliest guy out there running. He wants in the case of the president of the U.S., the strongest CEO.

And, thankfully, as far as I know, each one of the candidates on the GOP side, each one of them, they do have God in their hearts. They do serve the Lord. You know, I appreciate that. But I'm never going to be one to judge somebody's level of Christianity, you know. Who am I to judge that?

TAPPER: But you still sound frustrated with politics as usual and talking points. Is it over for you or you still might run for something some day?

PALIN: No, it's not over for me because my frustration maybe some day will lead to being in the position to change that so that we're not frustrated about the old politics as usual. But candidates who campaign one way and then govern another way, I think that's what people are sick and tired of in this country and the electorate then is making that known via the poll numbers that are showing the outsiders doing so well.

Bernie on one side, Trump, people with a lot of respect for Carson. That's -- you know, it's that -- it is that manifestation of people going, oh, man, the status quo has got to go. That's what's gotten us into the problems we have today. We need those outsiders to get in there, so maybe some day that will be me.

TAPPER: Maybe some day.

PALIN: Uh-huh.

TAPPER: Before you go, how is your family? How are your kids? How's Todd? How's everyone?

PALIN: Family is doing great. And thank you for asking.

I know that kind of the elephant in the room lately has been my son having returned from Iraq. He was there twice, from Afghanistan, going through some kind of tough times, as so many of our warriors do, trying to kind of get back in the groove of the real world without a lot of transition and knowing that -- you know, a lot of our soldiers, a lot of our troops, they do go through so much and I haven't been shy about telling people that, yes, our family goes through that too. We are like so many other families in America.

And it really, to me, sheds light on the need for the American public to understand how important it is that the leaders of this country respect our troops and what they go through and what they bring home from the battlefield. You know, there's a reason that PTSD is very prevalent in our society and that 22, 23 wounded warriors or vets kill themselves every day. And they go through tough times and I see that. Not just my son, I see it with his buddies, I see it with just a lot of people that I come in contact with across the country, and people want to make sure that our troops are respected and they get the help that they need.

Thankfully, you know, my son will get the help that he needs. I want to make sure that others also receive.

TAPPER: All right, Governor Sarah Palin, thanks so much for your time. Appreciate it.

PALIN: Thank you.


TAPPER: Trump supporter Sarah Palin with some tough words about Ted Cruz.

Joining me now is Congressman Steve King of Iowa, the national co- chair of Ted Cruz's campaign.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. STEVE KING (R), IOWA: Thanks for having me, Jake.

TAPPER: So, earlier today, you suggested that Palin may have been swayed to join the Trump team because Trump has a, quote, "massive amount of assets and resources that he can deploy when it comes time to convince someone." That's an explosive charge, and Palin addressed it at a rally. Let's listen to that.


PALIN: That just doesn't sound like the heartland of America. Maybe he -- maybe he's forgotten some of his heart in the heartland. He got a touch of that Potomac fever there in D.C. Maybe he's been -- I don't know, maybe he's been hanging out in a cornfield too long huffing ethanol or something, because his accusations here are way off base.


TAPPER: That's an explosive charge and that's an amazing rejoinder by her. But it's an explosive charge. Do you have any evidence of this? Certainly, Trump has a lot of supporters.

KING: I like Sarah, and I get a kick out of her. I like her style and you can tell by the way I respond to that --

TAPPER: You laugh.

KING: -- how this is.

TAPPER: You have not, for the record, been sniffing ethanol?

KING: Well, I don't know. Maybe they'll want to do a little test on me on the way out of here, but I can walk and drive.

But I'll just say that, you know, it was to a direct question, how do you explain this? I'm speaking in broader terms. There have been a number of endorsements along the way that have come to Donald Trump that one would be a little surprised at, especially if you understand his record, where he's been, where he went and where he shifted to after that.

So I know how persuasive Donald Trump is. And there's a star factor there.

[16:25:01] There's a resource factor there. And then it's the carrot and the stick.

And so, ask a direct question, I give as direct an answer as I can, but I don't want to pick a fight with Sarah Palin. I really like her and I did say also that her political ideology is much closer to Ted Cruz than it is to Donald Trump.

TAPPER: The spokesman for the Trump campaign, Rick Tyler, tweeted a few days ago a chart comparing Ted Cruz with Trump on a number of issues. One of them was number of marriages. Ted Cruz 1, Donald Trump 3. Is that fair game, do you think?

KING: Well, any of that is, although the Cruz campaign has not made an issue out of that. That's the first I've heard of that. So I think that there's been a hands off of Donald Trump. People have looked into his private life very deeply, although there are a few things out there that have trickled through that I see on the internet. So I think they have been very velvet gloved with Donald Trump when it comes to his personal life and --

TAPPER: But you think it's fair game?

KING: It is fair game. And we're about choosing the next leader in the free world. Everything is fair game as long as it's true and right and factual and just.

TAPPER: Your congressional district here in Iowa, probably the most conservative and very interesting in the recent "Des Moines Register" poll showed that Trump and Cruz were neck in neck. That surprised a lot of people. They'd think with all the evangelical voters and religious conservatives, Cruz will be doing better. How do you explain that? KING: Well, I think that they've spent hundreds of thousands, if not

millions of dollars, on an information -- I'll say a misinformation campaign on the ethanol argument.


TAPPER: About opposing ethanol subsidies.

KING: Yes. And what they have put out has been false. Cruz has introduced legislation that phases down the RFS or renewable fuels standard, but also eliminates the subsidies for petroleum. The industry has been asking me to eliminate, tear down the 10 percent blend wall so they can mark it up to an E-25 or E-30 and eliminate the subsidies that come on petroleum.

TAPPER: And that's how you explain these negative ads.

KING: And so, I give them all they ask for, Cruz gives them almost everything they ask for but they set this ad campaign up early in this process and they're not willing to change no matter what --

TAPPER: When you say "they", you don't mean Trump, you mean the ethanol industry?

KING: The ARF group that's put together of a consortium of the ethanol industry.

TAPPER: OK, good luck tonight.

KING: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Thank you so much, Congressman. Really appreciate it.

Next, can New York's very liberal mayor help the Clinton campaign here in the Bible Belt? My guest, Bill de Blasio.

And Bernie Sanders, first or second, the one-time long shot almost can't lose tonight. Ahead, the man running the Sanders campaign.

Plus my guest today, the man who was the surprise leader in Iowa not that long ago, Dr. Ben Carson will join us.