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Trump Landslide Victory in Nevada; Sanders Takes Veiled Shot at Clinton, Donors. Aired 11-11:30a ET>

Aired February 24, 2016 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:12] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello everyone. I'm Kate Baldwin.


We begin with mass momentum and a degree of political mayhem. First, take a look at this. This hopefully is the debate hall at Houston, a live look where tomorrow night five candidates will try to sell ideas, settle scores, or salvage candidacies, or perhaps all of the above.

Now, look at this. In a few minutes inside this building in Virginia, we will see the man with the math and the momentum, Donald J. Trump. This is his first event after the mayhem he caused in Nevada, not just a win, a big win.

BOLDUAN: How big you ask? Here's the math. If you add up all the votes for Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, it's still less than what Donald Trump won. That is three straight wins now for Donald Trump. And now a very real possibility, fear, hope, depending on where you stand, that Trump really is unstoppable.

Joining us now is CNN's Phil Mattingly, in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

So, Phil, Donald Trump, very happy as he heads to Virginia today?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, guys, Donald Trump will be here in about an hour speaking with Pat Robertson. And first, a speech of his own and then a Q&A from Pat Robertson, founder of Regent University, a very prominent evangelical leader.

One of the big questions is, is Donald Trump inevitable? Obviously a sweeping victory in Nevada. What happens next? This will be the first of a number of visits down south for Donald Trump, all sort of pointed towards that SEC primary. The most interesting element of this week is this was supposed to be when Ted Cruz was going to strike, coming out of South Carolina and then heading to that SEC primary. He has done a ton of ground work, has a ton of staff in that area, and yet you look at every single poll and Donald Trump is up by double digits. There's lot of concern when you talk to GOP operatives that he's right on the verge of putting this entire thing away. So, you have Ted Cruz with a big week ahead. And Marco Rubio. How does Marco Rubio position himself? He has a ton of big-name endorsements, a tone of big-name donors flowing his way.

Is there anybody that can get in the way of Donald Trump and stop him? If you look at the pathways forward, for Ted Cruz, it's now, for Marco Rubio, it's a couple weeks from now, heading into the Midwestern states, and in the winner-take-all in Ohio and Florida. And you can't forget John Kasich, the Ohio governor, and Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon, still in this race. A lot of time to see what happens, guys. I think a lot of people thinking that time might be running out.

BOLDUAN: Definitely, running short, I think a lot of folks are starting to think.

Phil Mattingly. Great to see you, Phil, in Virginia Beach, Virginia. We'll keep an eye on that event when Donald Trump heads there today.

Let's discuss more about the state of the race with CNN political commentator, Republican strategist, Margaret Hoover, a veteran of two Republican presidential campaigns. Also with us, Steve Munisteri, a former senior advisor to Rand Paul's presidential campaign and a former chairman of the Texas Republican Party.

Can we say Super Tuesday? Hello, everybody.

So, Margaret, to sum up what happened last night, wow.

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wow. Wow can be an exclamation point or terrifying --


HOOVER: -- for the Republican Party. Look, this is Donald Trump's to lose. Anybody with their head screwed on right has to admit this is Donald Trump's to lose. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz may not understand that. It seems to me that they're really focused on each other, and feel if they can knock the other out, they can get together just enough of the evangelical coalition or the mainstream coalition to, by the way, not win, but block and tackle and keep Trump from getting the 2700 delegates he needs for the election. But nobody actually thinks that Rubio or Cruz can win the sheer volume the volume of points they need to win.

BERMAN: Steve, Margaret just said it, "Donald Trump's to lose." If you look at the entrance polls, first of all, it was a blowout across all demographics. If you look at moderates, conservatives, Latinos, didn't matter about education and income level. Donald Trump won, period. So, is Margaret right? Do these guys need to get off their chairs and go after Donald Trump instead of each other? And will we see this in tomorrow night's debate. Do they need to go after each other tomorrow night?

STEVE MUNISTERI, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, there's no question Donald Trump is the frontrunner. There's a Rasmussen poll just out yesterday where Donald Trump is at 36 percent. If you look at the national polls, he's consistently in the low 30s to high 39s. So, two-thirds of the party is still against Trump. And there's more delegate said in Texas than the previous states combined.

[11:05:12] BERMAN: There are, but in Texas right now, depending on which poll you believe, it's a close race and Donald Trump is near the top. It's proportional allocation here in Texas. Even if Ted Cruz wins -- and we should mention he got a big endorsement today, by the way -- even if Cruz wins Texas, he's not getting 155 delegates.

MUNISTERI: It is a winner-take-all by congressional district, and the at-large if you get over 50 percent. But if you go back to September and October, Donald Trump led Ted Cruz in Texas. Donald Trump's numbers actually have come down. So, Ted Cruz will win the state of Texas. It will be a life preserver for him. The problem with life preservers is they keep your head above water but they don't necessarily get you to shore. So his problem is in the other southern states.

BOLDUAN: Steve, you are the former chair of the Republican Party in Texas. How important is this endorsement from the Texas governor right now coming Cruz's way?

MUNISTERI: It's very important. Governor Abbott is very, very popular. He has a great organization. Cruz is very popular. And something else, most of the vote in Texas will be in by this Friday, an estimated 55 percent. A third of the vote is already in. I checked with election officials last night here in Harris County, 110,000 votes were already in as of yesterday. So, Ted Cruz already has a lead here in Texas, and I expect he will win somewhere between 90 and 110 delegates out of 155.

BERMAN: He has had an impressive organization all the way. You would think Texas is a place he could use that organization.

What about Marco Rubio? Where's he going to win?

BOLDUAN: Where's he going to win?

HOOVER: None of the states for the march 1st ballot speak to a Marco Rubio clear run away. Florida is the first place he's going to go all in, and now that Jeb Bush is out of the race, there's a likelihood he could win. Although Trump is doing very well there. If you look at Arkansas, Tennessee, Minnesota and Georgia, where Rubio is polling well and, hopefully, they can spin that and say, we can demonstrate we have strong second. But I don't think there's any place he can win on March 1st.

BOLDUAN: Marco Rubio said this morning he is confident where they're going to be as of March 15th, the next big day after Super Tuesday. Listen to what he said.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think what people need to understand about these contests between now and march 15th. They all award delegates, which is how the nomination is decided. It's not decided by how many states you win. That's where you have to start winning states. And we feel very comfortable about where we're going to be come March 15th.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BOLDUAN: Where does that confidence come from?

HOOVER: This is the expectation thing. The Senator is trying to lower expectations. He's trying to say, look, I may not win any of these states but I'm going to start accumulating delegates and, hopefully, it will be enough to keep Donald Trump from getting the number he needs to win.

BOLDUAN: We're redefining what win means.

HOOVER: Look, there are a lot of people in the Republican Party that wonder if this might -- I mean, the best hope we have to not having a Donald Trump nominee is a contested convention where you have enough delegates accumulated to block Donald Trump from getting nominated. That's the way it looks right now because the fact is Donald Trump has so much momentum and energy heading in his direction.

BERMAN: Steve, I know you were quoting Ted Cruz's 55 percent of the people voting so far in the country that voted for Donald Trump, voted for someone else, but the fact remains the field is what it is, and he won in moderate Independent New Hampshire, he won in conservative evangelical South Carolina, and the Wild West of Nevada. He's sort of won everywhere now with different types of voters and different types of places. Why couldn't he replicate that going forward? Texas aside, Cruz may have a home-court advantage, but Texas aside, can't Donald Trump compete everywhere?

MUNISTERI: If you look at the head-to-head match ups between Trump and, say, Marco Rubio, if those two are only in the race, Rubio is actually in front of him. If you won every single delegate from now up until March 15th, that doesn't give you 50 percent. There's only 728 delegates. So, there's plenty of time. I happened to work in the 1976 Reagan campaign. And Ronald Reagan lost every primary from January to May from to Texas, except for North Carolina. It looked absolutely hopeless. And then he went on a winning streak. So, if he can get a one on one, he definitely has a chance. Ted Cruz has taken body blows with two third-place finishes. If the opposition to Trump coalesces around Marco Rubio before March 15, you could have this down to the convention.

[11:10:30] BOLDUAN: And what does this look like, Margaret, the debate on Thursday? How does all of this shake out on the debate stage?

HOOVER, I think you have clear indications that Cruz is going it after Trump. He's sick of being nice and playing nice.


HOOVER: Now, apparently, the gloves are coming off.


HOOVER: But we know what that looks like. Nobody wins in a one on one with Trump. Somebody is going to have to land a punch on him. If they can't, there's no way they can take on Hillary Clinton. I mean, that's sort of what this demonstrates. And to be clear, by March 15th, 50 percent of the delegates will have been chosen. They put a bunch of winner-take-all states, starting March 15th. This may not go to the convention. In fact, there's no reason to think it will go to convention as long as the energy is going Donald Trump's way because there are so many winner-take-all states stacked up against it.


HOOVER: -- march 15th, it's much harder for Rubio or Cruz.

BERMAN: Steve, Margaret said they have to land a punch. Marco Rubio hasn't even thrown a punch at Donald Trump. Does he need to start doing that?

MUNISTERI: Well, right now, his race is with Ted Cruz, as far as I'm concerned, a contest within a contest. But when he gets to that point, I think a key punch he needs to land, one important to us in Texas, is Donald Trump's favorability rating is only 16 percent. In the state of Texas, 39 percent of our residents are of Hispanic descent, 29 percent of our registered voters. We won the Hispanic vote. John Cornern (ph) won it 49-48. Governor Patrick got 46 percent, Governor Abbott, 44 percent. In Texas, if we do not split the Hispanic vote, you could lose Texas and its 38 electoral votes. And I think Marco Rubio and others will make the point, you can't have a nominee that turns off the Hispanic voters. It would be devastating to us here in Texas. I think that's one of the reasons why Governor Abbott came out for Ted Cruz.

BERMAN: Although, to emphasize, Donald Trump won the Latino vote in Nevada.


BERMAN: I'm just saying it's out there.

BOLDUAN: And you're seeing Ted Cruz move more towards Donald Trump on the issue of deportations of the illegal immigrants.

HOOVER: To be fair, let's not go away thinking Donald Trump can win all of these Hispanic voters. 8 percent of 66,000 votes. This is not going to make winning the national --


BERMAN: They didn't vote against him though.

HOOVER: A, they're Hispanic Republicans, and 8 percent, guys. It's like 2500 votes. This is not going to bode well for a national election or even be a forecaster.

BERMAN: Fair point.

BOLDUAN: Margaret Hoover, Steve Munisteri, great to see you, guys. Thanks so much.

An important programming note, everybody. The five remaining Republican candidates will meet head-to-head in the next GOP debate tomorrow night in Houston, Texas. Wolf Blitzer will be nominating. This is a CNN moderated presidential debate. It begins at 8:30 p.m. eastern, right here on CNN.

BERMAN: Moments from now, Donald Trump will speak in his first big event after his big win in Nevada. We'll take that live. And then we'll talk about what these rivals need to do on that debate stage. You saw it behind Steve. That's tomorrow night.

BOLDUAN: Plus, let's call it the carbon copy accusation. Bernie Sanders says Hillary Clinton's campaign message is sounding a lot like his, and now with him embracing President Obama more, will Hillary Clinton accuse him of the same? And just in, the president dropping hints about who he will nominate

to fill the empty seat on the Supreme Court as Republicans say, no matter what, it's not going to happen.


[11:18:12] BOLDUAN: Bernie Sanders, after facing questions from voters in the CNN town hall last night, is now facing questions from reporters this morning in South Carolina.

BERMAN: We want you to listen to what seemed like a very thinly veiled allusion to Hillary Clinton a few moments ago.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Billionaires and wall street, executives pour hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars into the political process in order to elect candidates who represent the wealthy and the powerful, and the poor remain invisible, powerless, not heard from. Most don't even vote.


BERMAN: CNN Washington correspondent, Joe Johns.

I think I heard your voice in that room, Joe. What was Sanders doing the morning after the CNN town hall?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, for one thing, John, I think he was just making his appearance felt here in South Carolina. There has been this running narrative in the Palmetto State that Bernie Sanders has been writing off South Carolina because Hillary Clinton has such a big lead in the polls and that has been sort of spurred by her strong support in the African-American community. Sanders, this morning, at that news conference, saying he has not been writing ff South Carolina, but also tipping his hat to the idea that he might have to worry about doing better in some other states. Listen.


SANDERS: We came to South Carolina, and if you look at the polls, we were like 7, 8, 9 percent in the polls. We were 50, 60, 70 points behind. We have waged a very, very vigorous campaign. We have picked up a lot of support and we have closed the gap very significantly. But this, from day one, was going to be a very difficult state for us. We're not writing off South Carolina.


[11:20:13] JOHNS: So, if you look at his schedule, it tells a slightly different story. After Sanders' news conference, he went on to Kansas City. From there, to Tulsa, Oklahoma, then tomorrow, to the states of Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota. So, it's pretty clear that the Sanders' campaign is looking forward, not just to Super Tuesday, but even beyond the 15th of March. That's when Ohio is. So they have other things on their mind. The fact of the matter is Hillary Clinton continues to run pretty strong in South Carolina according to the polls -- John and Kate?

BERMAN: The number-one tell about where a campaign is going is where they're headed.


BERMAN: -- and where they spend their time.

Joe Johns, thanks very much.

Joining us now, CNN political commentator, Donna Brazil; and Democratic strategist, Margie Omero.

Donna, let's me start with you.

You have seen a lot of campaigns. You are not picking sides in this one. But after the CNN town hall last night, just a few days before the South Carolina primary, where the heck are we?


DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, there's no question that South Carolina is going to turn the tide for one of the Democratic candidates, in large part because we have a much more diverse electorate in South Carolina. With 65 percent of the voters projected to be African American. I do believe South Carolina will not just turn the tide one way or another but also give one of the candidates needed momentum going into Super Tuesday. While you may not come in first place, if you're able to capture 15 percent or more of the voters, you're able to accrue delegates. And I'm happy to see not only Hillary Clinton but also Senator Sanders doing so well reaching out to voters that will be important to their victory.

BOLDUAN: Speaking of reaching out, Margie, I want to remind our viewers of something Bernie Sanders did last night. It sure seems like the first time he's gone so out of his way to embrace President Obama during this primary, at least in this way. Listen here.


SANDERS: Look, you can disagree with Obama all you want, but to say that the president of the United States, who won an election fair and square, was not a legitimate president, really undermines what we are as a nation.


BOLDUAN: Now, it's everything that we know that has gone on, especially Bernie Sanders basically accusing Hillary Clinton of taking on his campaign message. Does that help Bernie Sanders embracing President Obama last night?

MARGIE OMERO, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, the president is enormously popular with Democratic primary voters across the board. So, it makes sense for both candidates to talk about the president and talk about the relationship to the president and remind voters how they feel and how we all feel about him. Certainly that he has encountered a lot of obstructionism and unfair criticism from Republicans. That's something that all Democratic primary voters typically agree on.

Also, it you look at lot of the exit and entrance polls, you see Clinton has the advantage of folks who want to see a candidate continue Obama's policies while Sanders has the advantage among those who want to see a candidate go further. What comes first? That we can't really tell from the exit and entrance polls but it does make sense to have that conversation.

BERMAN: Margie, I want to know if you think Hillary Clinton puts issues behind her. There's been the issue of should she release her transcripts from paid speeches to Wall Street firms, and she said, I will when everybody else does, including the Republicans. Then the emails came up and the FBI investigation happening. A federal judge saying they may have to testify, and Hillary Clinton said I don't think the voters care about that. Is she doing anything to make these issues go away?

OMERO: I think each one of these news stories, I don't think they change a lot of minds, in the primary or general. That's not to say that they can't hurt her because whenever these issues are in the news that just takes up oxygen that can be better spent, from the Clinton's campaign's point of view, on other topics.

BOLDUAN: Donna, you're nodding your head. What do you think, that line from Hillary Clinton last night, "I'll release all my transcripts when everybody else does, including the Republicans."

BRAZILE: Kate, I want her to release her love letters. I want her to release her bills. Come on. It is true these are serious issues and the campaign, like the secretary, must take these issues very seriously. But at the same time, they're distractions, especially when you're trying to have a conversation with voters. So, I wish she could put all of these issues behind her.


[11:25:25] BOLDUAN: But Bernie Sanders is the one pushing it. BRAZILE: Look, it's a contest, and he's saying he didn't give up,

quote, unquote, "a damn about her emails," but perhaps he cares about her transcripts. He wants to know what she said in those meetings. But I think she has what I call a terrific record. Her record is someone who has been a champion for issues of the middle class. She's fought to insure that Wall Street is properly regulated. She hasn't sold out, so to speak. Her values are still the same, whether she gave speeches as a nonelected official, and now that she's running for the presidency. She is not just running the Democratic primary. Republicans are attacking her every morning. Every morning I get the emails from the Republican National Committee. Yes, I'm on the list for the Republican National Committee. Don't take me off. I have not seen one attack on Bernie Sanders. They love to attack Hillary Clinton. They attack her before she puts on her pajamas at night and before she gets up to wash her face. They love attacking her. But here's where we know about Hillary Clinton, and I'm sure Bernie Sanders will agree, she's one tenacious fighter because she knows what anchors her in this life, and that's her faith in the American people and her faith as a leader. And that being said, I like Bernie Sanders, too. So I'm neutral. And I'm going to keep it that way.

BERMAN: Donna Brazile, Margie Omero, thanks for being with us. Appreciate it.

OMARO: Thank you.

BRAZILE: Thank you.

I'm going to talk about the Republicans again. One staffer for Ted Cruz says that Cruz has had enough, he's hitting a boiling point, and about to go hard at Donald Trump. We're going to ask a key Cruz supporter what an angry Ted Cruz really looks like.

BOLDUAN: Plus, moments ago, Senator John McCain and other Senate Republicans lay into the president president's plan to close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility and potentially send detainees to American soil. Hear why they say it's such a bad idea.