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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Review of the Last Republican presidential debate before Super Tuesday. Aired 10:52p-12mn ET

Aired February 25, 2016 - 22:52   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, AC360 SHOW HOST: Wolf, thanks very much. There it is, the final republican debate here in Houston before the biggest primary days so far Super Tuesday.

The final opportunity before 13 states decide for every candidate not named Donald Trump to face Donald Trump head on. The smoke just now starting to clear from what was a very, very fiery debate. The candidates now making their way to our cameras.

I'm Anderson Cooper in the spin room outside the debate hall and, yes, they do really call it that. With me tonight, the entire CNN debate team.

We have Jake Tapper with his panel, Chris Cuomo, moderator Wolf Blitzer, our correspondents, as well as the best team of analyst and campaign professionals around. Let's get a quick take from them first. Inside politics anchor and chief national correspondent, John King, senior political reporter, Nia-Mallika Henderson is joining me. CNN political commentators Amanda Carpenter, Jeffrey Lord, S.E. Cupp, and Kevin Madden. Amanda is a former Cruz's communications director, Jeff is a Trump supporter, former top Reagan political adviser, S.E. is a conservative columnist and Kevin is republican strategist.

John King, let's start with you. What a night. What a -- the fire, the hostility at times on that debate stage intense.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Very aggressive. Marco Rubio tonight a very aggressive at times. Ted Cruz tonight going after Donald Trump essentially saying an issue after issue, you are not a conservative, you are not a republican and our voters should not trust you to be president. They prosecuted that effectively. The question is why did they wait till the tenth debate? Why did they wait till the 10th debate and for Donald Trump to be so far ahead...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Let's go -- Chris Cuomo has Donald Trump. Let's listen in. Chris, you're on.

CHRIS CUOMO, NEW DAY SHOW CO-HOST: All right. Well, here we are, Mr. Trump. You were in the middle of the stage tonight. It seemed like at times it was two-on-one that your head was on a swivel with Rubio and Cruz coming at you.

TRUMP: Well, they were coming. I mean, they're doing very badly in the polls. The new Bloomberg poll just came out before the debate where they were way down, I mean, really down. And so, they are politicians that want to get elected. But they are doing badly.

I think CNN did a good job, but I think they had a focus on the three in the middle. And maybe that was the way it should have been, I don't know. But I was very happy. I thought it was great. I thought it was exciting and I thought it was great.

CUOMO: What did you think of that dynamic of having to take both of them on? Did you feel that...

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: I thought it was fine. You know, I've dealt with the toughest people in the world over my lifetime and I've dealt with much tougher. I think that it was fine. I really enjoyed it. I mean, I enjoy the debating process.

[22:55:01] CUOMO: What do you think that brought out for the voters tonight to your advantage?

TRUMP: Well, I think they see that I'm a guy that can handle people. I mean, I've done this people. I've created jobs, I've created great companies and a really great company, and I think it shows what you're made of. I think it's really a good test. But I enjoy the process. I've actually enjoyed every single debate.

CUOMO: During that debate as it was going on, Marco Rubio started on his web site selling watches as a pretend gimmick to say that they were watches that, you know, that would have been yours that you would have been selling but they're just donations for him. It was a quick response during the actual debate what do you make of the move?

TRUMP: Well, look, the problem with Marco, he's a choke artist. He chokes. And he did it in front of Chris Christie. I've never seen anything like that. I was standing right next to him. I look over, I said are you OK? I mean, he was -- it looked like he just came out of a swimming pool, he was soaking wet and he kept repeating himself, repeating himself.

CUOMO: He tried to use that on you tonight.

TRUMP: No, no, but I didn't do any repeating, I mean, I just say, hey, I just say what's need. I didn't do that. But he really -- we can't have a choke artist. You know, one thing I've learned from sports. I was a actually a very good athlete. When you're a choker, you're always a choker. We can't have that. We can't take any chances in this country.

CUOMO: How long, now that you're starting to get the votes in and you're at the top, do you think that people should start thinking about leaving this race?

TRUMP: I think so, but, you know, it's not for me to say. I would say that a few of them maybe should. You know, Marco, I'm 20 points up with him in Florida, right? With Cruz I'm even, it seems the last polls I'm even in Texas and winning every other state. Yes, I think so. I think it's going to be over fairly quickly and I don't think there is going to be a convention.

CUOMO: It seemed like Senator Rubio was more intent to going at you directly tonight than even Senator Cruz. Why do you think that was?

TRUMP: I think that's true. I was a little surprised by it but I liked it. I thought it was fine. But, you know...

CUOMO: Did he show you the toughness that you didn't see against Christie?

TRUMP: No, I think it was the same basic person. But he's a meltdown guy. I mean, I'm looking at him, he's pouring sweat. I've never seen anything like it. I don't know what the problem is. But he is just pouring down sweat. We have to have somebody that doesn't sweat.

I mean we need somebody that when to walk in to Putin's office or Putin walks in to our office or the Chinese come to deal with us, that we know what we're doing. We need somebody that doesn't have whatever that is that he's got.

CUOMO: Now online, there was an interesting observation. I want to see if you share it, which is sometimes you like to use tough language about people, certainly in tweets as we know. But tonight they said you weren't doing it, that you were doubling down on your positions and trying to argue on a policy level more than a personal level. Was that intentional?

TRUMP: I think it was intentional because I'm leading by so much. Honestly, it got me here, that attitude got me here. But now it's now. And I'm very focus on policy. Look, I'm somebody that went to the best college and I got very good marks. Policy is very easy.

But when I started off we had a total of 17 people, we're now down to five. That got me there. But now I think I have a little bit of a different attitude.

CUOMO: Do you think that the race is over for the nomination?

TRUMP: No, I never say it's over. It's not over until it's over, as our friend would say, right, Yogi. But I think we're doing really well. I love that Bloomberg poll. It did many of the southern states and we're just leading by tremendous numbers.

CUOMO: Do you think when you're standing on that stage tonight specifically, as you said, it was a focus someone of three-man dynamic tonight?

TRUMP: I thought it was very unfair, I must tell you, to Ben Carson and to the governor. I thought it was really pretty unfair because they weren't asked very many questions. And you know, they are the final five. And I actually though Ben in particular was treated unfairly. I don't think he was asked enough questions. It wasn't -- it wasn't right.

CUOMO: Well, a little bit of it was obviously what the players are decided to do, right? When two of them decide to start...

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: I just think he was upset.

CUOMO: You're talking about each other that's what happens.

TRUMP: Yes. I think he had a right to be upset. But that's up to CNN. And the same is true I think with Kasich. You know, I just enjoyed it. I had a good time, I was in the middle of it and I really enjoyed the process. I love the process and I actually like debating.

CUOMO: They came at you tonight about something that's in the news right now that really is that your control, which was the tax returns.

TRUMP: Yes.

CUOMO: Mitt Romney during the debate was bringing it up again. You could show them in a second if you want to why is Trump delaying, what do you say?

TRUMP: Well, let me explain about Mitt. You know, Mitt is a guy who was a horrible candidate. He lost a race that should have been won and should have been won easily. And I don't know what happened. He like disappeared the last time.

But when Mitt gave his tax returns, just so you understand, it was about six months from now in 2012. It was exactly 2012 -- it was exactly September 21st. And that's when he gave his tax return. We're in a different world. So, you know, Mitt is just trying to remain relevant. Nobody's talking to him much anymore. He got some publicity today.

But the one problem I have is that I'm always audited by the IRS, which I think is very unfair. I don't know maybe because of religion. Maybe because of something else. Maybe because I'm doing this although this is just recently.

CUOMO: What do you mean religion?

TRUMP: Well, maybe because of the fact that I'm a strong Christian and I feel strongly about it and maybe there is a biased.

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: You think maybe you get audited for being a strong Christian?

TRUMP: You see what's -- well, you see what happens. I mean, you have many religious groups that are complaining about that. They've been complaining about it for a long time.

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: But that seems like an easy answer for you.

TRUMP: No, I can't do that. I can't do that. We have to put it together in a very unified way.

[23:00:01] They all relate to each other. I don't know if you saw the picture I have where I have almost a thousand pages. The ones from previous relate to the ones later and it doesn't make sense unless they're all released.

CUOMO: You know what would you do with this issue if somebody else had it? Would you say what are you talking about? The tax returns just put it out.

TRUMP: Nobody that is under a regular audit. I mean, it is just a regular audit I do almost every I think for 12 years, 10 years, 12 years, I get audited. Nobody would ever put out their returns that's under an audit. It's very unfair that I'm audited all the time. And by the way, I always passed the audit. Excuse, I have always passed the audit.

CUOMO: Why wouldn't you put it out because you're under audit just so people understand?

TRUMP: Of course you put it out. You are in the midst of negotiating and talking to the IRS. You never put it out. You would never do that. Your lawyers would never allow you to do that. It is a very simple audit. I think it perhaps will go fast and perhaps it won't. And when it is complete, you got them. I love it. But I think until that audit is done, certainly you wouldn't do that.

CUOMO: Do you think that people tonight got a chance to see the best of those two senators could bring to you and your ability to handle it? Is that you think (INAUDIBLE)?

TRUMP: I don't know if they were good, bad or indifferent. I didn't think they were effective, but again, that me talking. I think I handled it very well. I knew it was going to happen. I mean, here I am standing in the middle. I knew it was going to happen. I just enjoyed it. I thought it was a great debate.

CUOMO: Did you anticipate both of them coming at you that way?

TRUMP: Yes. I did. I really anticipated it. I was prepared for it. I thought would happen. They're desperate. I mean, what are they going to do? They are losing by massive amounts. Rubio hasn't won anything. Ted one Iowa and that's under suspicious because of what he did to Ben Carson. So, you know, I mean their - and he has lost very badly since then. I mean, Ted is -- I'm leading with evangelicals, I'm leading with men, with women, I am leading with everything. So he is under a lot of pressure. Hey, look. The politicians, they are under a great deal of pressure.

CUOMO: Have you heard anything from former Mexican president Vicente Fox?

TRUMP: Well, I think he should apologize for his foul mouth. I think it is a disgusting thing that he said. And I could tell you, I would not use that word. But if I did use that word, I probably wouldn't be even been allowed on the stage tonight. CUOMO: You do understand as a touch of irony in that though, that you

are saying there is someone who are using foul language?

TRUMP: No. I'm just (INAUDIBLE). I mean, I don't know what the problem is. But I think he should apologize to a lot of people that hurt that word. That was a very - I heard it this afternoon, I couldn't believe it.

CUOMO: How do you feel after tonight?

TRUMP: I feel great. I mean, I think we're doing so well. I think the debate was really one of my west debates considering the fact that is being hit from all sides.

CUOMO: It best to be tested, though, right?

TRUMP: It was a good test. It was really a good test. I really liked it. I enjoyed it. And now, I go down and I guess I speak to other people other than you.

CUOMO: Thank you very much.

TRUMP: Thank you, Chris. Take care of yourself.

CUOMO: Good luck, Mr. Trump.

TRUMP: Thank you.

CUOMO: Back to you, Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: All right. There is no one other than Chris Cuomo as far as I am concern, Chris.

Chris Cuomo talking to Donald Trump immediately after the debate.

Let's continue with our panel right here.

Kevin Madden, what did you make of what you saw tonight?

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look. I think Rubio clearly came out with a very aggressive strategy. He looks a lot like a boxer who is setting a speed bag. And I think he tried to hold Donald Trump accountable for what he believes is hypocrisy and departure from a lot of Republican orthodox, on key policies that Republican voters care about. And the fact that Donald Trump went pressed for details doesn't have any. And so, those are very serious vulnerabilities right now that Marco Rubio just had to go out.

COOPER: Pressed details particularly on his healthcare policy beyond to kind of two sentences he wasn't really able to --.

MADDEN: Yes. I think one of the questions and I think John eluded to this earlier, is whether or not you can do - whether or not at one debate is enough. I think Marco Rubio that was here tonight is going to have to do this 24/7 from here on out.

COOPER: I want to go to Jake Tapper who has Sen. Ted Cruz with him -- Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Anderson.

I'm here with Senator Ted Cruz. First of all, is it nicer to be in your home state to do a debate than in other places?

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is wonderful to be at home, you know. This was the first time I slept in my own bed in a month.

TAPPER: Right.

CRUZ: And it was great to wake up with my girls jumping in bed with me to wake me up. It is the best alarm clock you can have. I love being home in Texas.

TAPPER: And I saw you talking to your girls during the break. It is very sweet.

But let's talk about the debate. Donald Trump said that he thought he had a good debate, especially considering the fact that both you and Senator Rubio were coming at him. I'm sure you disagree. How do you think it went?

CRUZ: Well, look, I think this debate provided a lot of clarity. It became very clear that Donald Trump is not a good candidate to face Hillary Clinton. And he is not a good candidate to face Hillary Clinton because he has agreed with her on far too many issues. You know, it was really striking when we talk about Obamacare that Donald ran away from for decades. He has argued for socialized medicine, basically the same government control of your healthcare, Bernie Sanders advocates.

Tonight on the debate stage, he ran away from it. And when I pointed it out, he did what Donald always does. He called me a liar because he doesn't like it when anyone points to his record. He is literally for 20 years had that position. I mean, that was astonishing to see him run away from it. And we saw that over and over again whether it was on Obamacare, whether it was on amnesty and citizenship, whether it was on Libya or whether it was on Israel where he said he wouldn't stand with Israel. Instead he agrees that the Hillary Clinton that the United States should be neutral between Israel and the Palestinians. Those are positions that would fit well in the Democratic Party. But I think if he is our nominee, in all likely, put Hillary wins. That's a very bad outcome potentially.

[23:05:18] TAPPER: He also, as you say, he called you a liar. He also called you a basket case at one point, I think. Since you won Iowa, he has been going at you a very hard. Before Iowa, he went after you on issues like your opposition to ethanol subsidies. But it has been very personal since then. And since then, you have come in third three times in a row and lost the evangelical voters in the two other states other than Iowa where they are sizeable population in the Republican electorate, South Carolina and Nevada. Are you afraid at all that his branding powers are sticking on you? CRUZ: Jake, we are going to have a very strong Super Tuesday in five

days. Here in the state of Texas, I was really honored this week to be endorsed by the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, an incredibly strong governor and dear friend. And our support across Super Tuesday.

There's a reason Donald is attacking me so hard because he recognizes I'm the only candidate in this field that can beat him.

TAPPER: Well, because you won Iowa.

CRUZ: Well, I'm the only candidate has beating him and I'm the only candidate - you look at, for example, right now in Texas, I have got a large lead in my home state of Texas. Marco Rubio is down to Donald 15 minutes to his home state of Florida. If you can't win your home state, that's a problem.

And so, Donald's approach, he can't respond those substance. So what he just does is he attacks and he goes nasty, he goes personal, he throws insult. You know, it was amazing seeing him criticizing Vicente Fox for using profanity even this a man who curses like a sailor as a presidential candidate.

At the end of the day, listen, this has been fun with Donald in the race. It is entertaining. It's like going to the circus, you know. You have acrobats and clowns and dancing bears. But the stakes are serious, OK. If we get this wrong, you and I both have little kids. This election is about what kind of country our kids inherit. And Donald Trump, if he's our nominee, the last ten polls, eight out of the last ten he loses to Hillary Clinton. The last ten polls take it nationally. Eight out of the ten I either tie or beat Hillary Clinton.

And you know, we saw two examples going to ethics, one of tax returns. The fact that Donald refuses to hand over his tax current and by the way his excuse is I'm being audited. That especially means you aught handed over. Because if the audits are going to show that he committed tax frauds, we ought to know this in the primary and not let Hillary Clinton and the media go to tout on him in the general.

And then secondly, is support of the Clinton foundation - listen. The Clinton foundation, the corruption there is going to be a major issue in the general election. If Donald is our nominee, he can't raise that issue because Hillary will laugh at him and say, well, God, Donald, why did you donate to the Clinton foundation?

TAPPER: One other thing, Marco Rubio has gotten a lot of good marks from pundits it's this evening for his performance including --.

CRUZ: I'm shocked because that has never happened that the TV pundits give Marco Rubio a good mark.

TAPPER: Well, including by some of your supporters such as Glen Beck, who obviously is a very strong supporter of yours, but has tweeted that he thought Marco Rubio had a good debate performance. (INAUDIBLE), another supporter of yours. What did you think of Marco Rubio's performance?

CRUZ: Listen. I actually agree Marco did a good job. That he did something tonight that he's never done which is, he actually for the first time took on Donald Trump and I'm glad he did.

Listen, Marco is not my enemy. Marco and I are friends. Marco and I would both make a much better candidate and a much better president than would Donald. I like Donald personally. I mean, he is a charming guy, although he can turn on you in an instant.

TAPPER: As you learned firsthand.

CRUZ: You know, one minute he says he's my friend. He is terrific. I love him. And then he comes back and starts hurtling personal insults at you. So you know, I think it depends of what side of bed he woke up or actually what it really depends on is his poll number. If they are up, he is really happy. If its poll numbers dip, I mean, he really has a hard time with that.

TAPPER: You were very strong against Donald Trump this evening, though. I would say it is probably fair to say that you were more forceful against him. Marco Rubio was especially more forceful because he has been holding as far.

CRUZ: Yes. I guess it is the first time. I was glad to see Marco doing that. And that is important to have that clear distinction. And that was worthwhile.

TAPPER: But both of you were stronger than you have ever been. And I think one of the questions that a lot of Republicans might have, people who don't want Trump to have the nomination, is why wait until the tenth debate to draw these distinctions? Why not earlier?

CRUZ: Well, let's be clear. I have been drawing distinction with Donald for weeks, if not months, taking him on directly while the rest of the field has been unwilling to do so. You know, the only one else in the field that was willing to take on was Jeb Bush. Actually, when I chatted with Jeb, a couple of days ago, I said it was really a shame he wasn't going to be on the debate stage anymore because he was the only, other than me, that has shown the backbone to take on Donald. So I was glad to welcome Marco to the debate for the first time. But that should have happened earlier. And for whatever reason, the other candidates have been afraid to tangle with him.

[23:10:03] TAPPER: Well, to be fair to the other candidates, there's an elephants graveyard of others that took him on.

CRUZ: There is.

TAPPER: Bobby Jindal, Lindsey Graham, Rick Perry, now Jeb Bush. You have survived of course.

CRUZ: Well, not only survive, but beaten him. And I think the question right now, we are headed in to Super Tuesday, if folks at home, if you are one of the 65 percent of Republicans that thinks Donald Trump is the wrong candidate to face Hillary Clinton, Super Tuesday is the best opportunity to stop that. The only candidate who is ever beaten Donald Trump or who is in a position to do so on Super Tuesday is us.

And so, I would encourage everyone who doesn't want to see Donald as the nominee, stand with us. If you vote for someone else, that's what Donald wants, as he wants those vote splintered. If conservatives continue uniting behind us, we will have a very strong day on Super Tuesday. We will beat Donald Trump for the nomination and we will go on to beast Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders or whatever socialist the Democrats nominee.

TAPPER: All right, senator, we will see you out there on the campaign trail.

CRUZ: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Thank you so much for your time. Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: Jake, thanks very much.

We are going to have more from our panel shortly. But first, in case you didn't watch the entire debate, I want to quickly welcome our U.S. and international viewers and also give everyone just a sample of some of what we are talking about, have been talking about and are going to talk about over the next two hours, this explosive final Republican debate before Super Tuesday. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But you are the only person on the stage that has ever find for hiring people to work on your projects illegally. You hired some (INAUDIBLE).

TRUMP: No, no. I'm the only one on the stage that's hired people. You haven't hired anybody.

RUBIO: Well, hold on.

TRUMP: And by the way, I have hired tens of thousands of people. You have hired nobody.

RUBIO: You hired a thousand people from another country -- Let me just say that did, if so --

(CROSSTALK)

RUBIO: This is important. He hired workers from Poland and he had to pay a million dollars or so in a judgment trial.

TRUMP: That's wrong.

RUBIO: Well, those people can look it up. I'm sure people are googling it right now.

(CROSSTALK)

RUBIO: You'll see a million dollars for hiring illegal workers on one of his contracts. He did.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

RUBIO: That happened.

TRUMP: I've hires tens of thousands of people over my lifetime, tens of thousands.

(CROSSTALK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, SITUATION ROOM. The former president of Mexico, Vicente Fox, he said today and I'm quoting him. He said "I'm not going to pay for that, quote, f-ing wall." So if you don't get an actual check from the Mexican government for $8, or $10, or $12 billion dollars, whatever will it cause, how are you going to make them pay for that wall?

TRUMP: I will and the wall just got ten feet taller, believe.

CRUZ: In 2013, when I was leading the fight against the gang of eight amnesty bill, where was Donald? He was firing Dennis Rodman on "Celebrity Apprentice." And indeed if you look at the gang of eight, one individual on this stage broke his promise to the men and women who elected him and wrote the amnesty bill. But Donald funded the gang of eight.

TRUMP: I can only say this and I have said it load and clear and I have said it for years and many of these people who are sitting right on the audience right now. You're a lobbyist and you're special interest and you are donors because the audience is packed with them and they're picked with you.

I have had an amazing relationship with politicians, both Democrat, Republican, because I was a businessman. As one magazine said, he is a world class businessman. He was friendly with everybody. I got along with everybody.

You get along with nobody. You don't have one Republican -- you don't have one Republican senator and you work with them every day of your life, although you skipped a lot of time, these are minor details. But you don't have one Republican senator backing you, not one. You don't have the endorsement of one Republican senator and you work with these people. You should be ashamed of yourself.

RUBIO: If he builds the wall the way he built Trump tower, he'll be using illegal immigrant labor to do it.

TRUMP: Such a cute sound bite.

RUBIO: But it is not a sound bite. It's a fact. Again, go online and google it. Donald Trump Polish workers. You'll see it. The second thing about the trade were I don't understand because you are ties and clothes you make is made in Mexico and in China. So you are going to be starting a trade work in to your (INAUDIBLE).

TRUMP: All right. You know what, because they devalue their currency.

RUBIO: Well, then make it in America.

TRUMP: Well, you don't know a thing about business. Let me just tell you. They devalue their currencies, China, Mexico, everybody, Japan with the cars. They devalued their currencies to such an extent that our businesses cannot compete with them. Our workers lose their jobs. But you wouldn't know anything about it because you're a lousy --

RUBIO: I don't know anything about bankrupting four companies you --

TRUMP: And you know what --

[23:15:00] RUBIO: That was a fake university. A fake university! There are people that borrowed $36,000 to go to Trump University and they're suing them now, $36,000. That's a fake school. And you know what they got? They got to take a picture with a cardboard cutout of Donald Trump.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: I want to move on.

TRUMP: And they actually did a very good job, but I won most of the lawsuit.

RUBIO: Most of the lawsuit?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator Rubio, you accused Senator Cruz in a previous debate of lying when you said he said one thing in Spanish and another one in English. So in what sense did he lie?

RUBIO: Because it is not true that I'm not going to get rid of DACA. I am going to get rid of CARA. In the Spanish interview, you just read all the transcript in Spanish. I said it will have to end at some point. That point will be when I eliminate the executive order and the people who have those permits, when they expire will not be allowed to renew it. And new people will not be able to apply. In fact, I don't even think we should be taking new enrollees in the program now. That is how the program ends on how you wanting it down is you allow the people who are on it. When the program expires, they cannot renew it and it goes away. But I will cancel the executive order as soon as I take in, as soon as I step foot into the oval office.

TRUMP: I have to say he lied this time. He lied, 100 percent.

RUBIO: You lied about the polish workers.

TRUMP: Yes, yes, yes, yes, 38 years ago.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let Senator Rubio jumps in.

RUBIO: He lied 38 years ago. All right. I guess there's a statute of limitations on lies.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Some of the remarkable exchanges we witnessed over the last several of hours.

S.E. Cupp, I mean, Marco Rubio clearly came ready to try to score points against Donald Trump. Was he effective?

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I thought so. And I got lots of texts all night from friends and other strategists like this Marco is legit. I got one text saying welcome to the campaign, Marco Rubio.

I thought he was great tonight. The problem as John has identified and everyone else has, why did it take so long? And you have to wonder. I mean, there's two answers to this. One is, well, they were waiting because, as Jake alluded, this graveyard of former candidates who attempted to do this kind of scared them off or did they wait just long enough, right, where they got through the tough part, waited until sort of the finish line to pull all of this stuff out.

I mean, the stuff on Trump University that's correct been out there but no one's really brought it up. Pointing out how Trump's, you know, uncomfortable relationship with Hillary makes him a tough match against here, that's been out there.

Maybe they waited strategically long enough. We won't know until Super Tuesday. But I don't know that waiting as long as they did is going to be fatal.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is like spotting the other team five touchdown saying we're not going to score the fourth quarter.

There are eleven states to vote for the Republicans on Super Tuesday. I think there are 13 states to vote all. But 11 states vote for the Republicans on Super Tuesday. Donald Trump is ahead in ten of them.

There are 595 delegates at stake. Donald Trump is going to get a couple of hundred, maybe 300 or more based unless everything changes from one debate. And the campaign pros can tell me more. But normally, even if - look, Rubio and Cruz peeled his skin off. They questioned his conservatism and they questioned his personal character, the lawsuits, the hiring of the foreign workers, the hiring the illegal workers. So it was both character questions and conservative questions.

But I get that he is tough. I get that, you know, he is a chain saw when you attack him. But they let his supporters very solid. And once your support, the cement starts to dry. It is hard to peel people away. And as long as they all stay in the race, Trump doesn't have to get new people. If he just keeps what he has, he is going to have a huge day on Tuesday. It will be 300, 400 delegates ahead of them.

COOPER: Nia?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. I think one of the most effective things that emerged tonight was this idea of Donald Trump ripping off the little guy. And they did that by talking about Trump University. They also did that, Rubio most effectively, by saying listen. He has looked over American workers. Instead went to hire illegal immigrants. And we know that that is Trump's brand. It goes against the brand that he is trying to set aside here.

COOPER: Also referencing these 200 undocumented Polish workers who you described. A lawsuit which has been going on for I think decades.

HENDERSON: Right. Because he is the one who says I'm the grand protector of America, of American workers. I'm going to make it great again. Marco Rubio had that line which is also pretty effective. He said, listen, if you build the wall, who is going to do it? It is going to be illegal immigrants. If we look at your record, and see what you have done so far. So I think if they carry that through, we know that part of the base of Donald Trump's support is a pissed off, working class, you know, white workers. And I think this gets - this starts to kind of appeal those folks away and starts raising questions in their minds about who Donald Trump would be.

COOPER: Jeffrey Lord, Trump supporter, was your candidate damaged tonight?

JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Let me say something about Trump University. I looked into this about three years ago before I knew Donald Trump because it just struck me as curious, why would a billionaire many, many times over define to as the allegation was defraud people of a few thousand dollars. This made no sense to me on its face. I looked into it.

What I have discovered were number one, the attorney general of New York been going to Donald Trump himself, to his family members asking for campaign contributions and wanted more and didn't get it. Number two, a state senator from New York, Democrat, who was convicted, was working with the FBI wearing a wire, she accused the attorney general, a former state senator, of corruption. So, in other words, there is a whole another side to this Trump University thing.

[23:20:39] COOPER: I mean, is this more than just a few thousand dollars. I mean, I think there is about a thousand people who paid as much as $35,000 for courses --.

LORD: But if you are a billionaire ten times over, is my point, I mean, this is not --

COOPER: You could also make that argument of why have a vodka or a tie line if you're a billionaire, why do you really that? Clearly, Donald Trump is interested in businesses as much as possible.

LORD: All I'm saying is I looked into it and I found a whole another side to it about the attorney general.

COOPER: But this is what he does. He licenses his name to a whole set of people.

LORD: Right. Right.

CUPP: But we just talked about Trump University for longer than any one of these candidates have until now, and that is mindboggling.

COOPER: Amanda Carpenter, I mean, you formerly worked for Ted Cruz. I mean, did Cruz did reveal wait too long for this? Because let's be honest, Cruz months ago was tweeting, look. I'm not going to be drawing out by the media into a fight against Donald Trump. Donald Trump is a wonderful person and great candidate.

AMANDA CARPENTER, FORMER CRUZ COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Yes. Well, best thing he can say is better late than never. Listen. There were a lot of good, specific attacks that exposed Donald Trump on many vulnerabilities. But there is two things that I think are going to step one from Cruz and one from Rubio.

The way that Cruz consistently pin at Donald Trump with many examples as a Washington deal maker that you can't trust because he will compromises Democrats and not stand up for Republican values is a big deal. But then also Marco Rubio, when he kind of mocked him on the state limes and really, I think, got Cruz - excuse me Trump on the personality issue. That was another great moment.

So I think those things are kind of sticky, you know, the taxes, the fact that Donald Trump has donated lot to liberal Democrats. Those things will add up. The question is do they attack them both, Cruz and Rubio, came enough with a big question mark of people if who have been supporting Trump to say, you know what, maybe this guy can't beat Hillary, which Cruz also did a wonderful job beating again and again and again.

COOPER: But I mean, Jeffrey, to I think with Nia or John's point, I mean, his support has solidify them. And the people who support him, do you see any signs that any of those people were killed awaits tonight?

LORD: No. I mean, one of the sort (INAUDIBLE) messages there was you had Donald Trump on stage, with the bunch of other than Dr. Carson who is I think sort of effectively not in this, dealing with a couple politicians. And at the very end, when he summed it up in essence saying well, here they are again and this is what they do and we are in the situation we are precisely because of conduct like this.

COOPER: Let's check in with our Jake Tapper who is with Dana Bash and moderator Wolf Blitzer -- Jake.

TAPPER: Thanks, Anderson.

That's right. I'm stilling here with two from the stage who are no running for president, not yet anyway, although a Blitzer-Bash panel I could get behind it a ticket. And first of all, great job to both of you and the other two.

Was there anything that really stock out for you as moderator having down the Republicans once before from the cheap seats, looked like Rubio and Cruz really eat their wheat this morning.

BLITZER: They really both came out swinging. I always knew that Cruz and Trump would get into it but I didn't expect Rubio to come in as sharply as tough as he did right from the opening bell if you will. He came out swinging and it was two-on-one. So what you have to do as the moderator when one of them goes after Trump, you got to let Trump respond. The other one goes up to Trump. He got to let Trump respond as a result.

Trump is on the defensive. He is responding but these guys are really going after that. And you know, as you know, and as Dana knows, when you hit Trump, he hits you right back. And then you got let Cruz respond, you got let Rubio respond. That's that nature of this debate. And the hard thing is to try to keep them from talking over each other. And that's not that easy when they're as passionate and excited and as angry as they are.

TAPPER: Yes. I know. And there is obviously a line you have to walk. You want to have them engage with one another, but you also have to move along the proceedings at that some point, you have to cut if off, they are going to tout you.

BLITZER: They never happy if you cut them off.

TAPPER: Yes, and they are going to keep invoking each other, you could go all night like that, but you want to bring in Kasich, you want to bring in Carson.

And Dana, what was very interesting I though was it wasn't just that Rubio hit back. He came with a box of opposition research. I mean, he was talking about the "New York Times'" investigation and decades- old story about Trump and to and the fraud lawsuit, he was ready to go.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He was absolutely ready to go. Joe Founder (ph) who we know well who is head of opposition research, he should probably get a bonus for tonight because of all that information.

And really, I mean, going in, we weren't sure where Marco Rubio was going to go with this. He was, we know, getting a lot of pressure from the so-called establishment to say this is your moment. You got to do it. You got to him or it game over. Unclear if that is going to help him or not.

But to your point, Wolf. Look, you know, because you've done this as well, you have a lot of questions ready to go. There were many that we didn't get to because we didn't actually realize but I guess we should have, they were going to be so determine to engage with one another because the stakes are so high.

[23:25:42] TAPPER: Yes. Now. And some of the topics I'm sure you had plenty of topics that you wanted to get into. But at the same time it good for a debate to take on a life of its own for the candidates to engage with one another even though sometimes it did get a little heated as it does especially with Mr. Trump on stage calling Ted Cruz a basket case, calling him a liar, referring to Marco Rubio as a choke artist. We got some new terms in the Trump branding program that we've had this campaign.

BLITZER: But what I thought was really good was that we focused it on the most important issues right now, the domestic, economic issues, future of the economy, the future of Obamacare, and the most about national security issues, we got into.

And yes, they were fighting and yes, it got ugly at times, but they were at least discussing and fighting over the most important issues that the voters are most concern about, immigration, the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. They got into that. What are you going do with the 11 million undocumented immigrants? What are you going to do with the children born here in the United States? All those issues are really important issues and they wanted to fight it out then we let them.

BASH: Yes, they were calling each other names and he had his box office as a research. But what we came at them with were substantive questions.

TAPPER: Sure. You tried to stir them back to substance sometimes especially on health care.

BASH: Especially on healthcare. And we wanted to get to the bottom of what is your plan, Mr. Trump, the front-runner, for healthcare. And obviously, Marco Rubio got it on that too. You know, they were going at it, but it was substantive on that --.

TAPPER: Sure. I think one of the big questions and we'll see this on Tuesday with Super Tuesday with the results from the state was it too little too late. I mean, it was a very strong performance by Marco Rubio, by Ted Cruz. Donald Trump I think, you know, as always held a zone. But is it enough to knock Trump off his speed. I'm not sure that it will be.

And also will it matter? I mean, Marco Rubio made the case that there isn't a lot of there there when it comes to Donald Trump's position on healthcare reform and what he would place Obamacare with? But does that matter to the people who support them?

BLITZER: We will find that on Tuesday, eleven Republican contest on Tuesday. And they will be critically deciding which direction this campaign is moving.

TAPPER: All right. So I imagine you get lie a week off now after that?

BLITZER: No. I will be back in Washington tomorrow.

TAPPER: No, I know. Like mules.

BLITZER: It is our busy season.

TAPPER: Wolf Blitzer, Dana Bash, thank you so much.

Anderson back to you.

COOPER: Jake, thanks very much. Congratulations to Dana and Wolf.

Coming up next, more conversation with more candidates.

Also, reality check on one of the claims made on the stage tonight. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[23:32: 29] COOPER: We're back in the debate hall. There are times look more like a bar in blitz. With us now is candidate Donald Trump. Thanks for being with us.

TRUMP: Thank you very much.

COOPER: You were getting it from both sides there. They really came after you. Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, really -- almost a tag team at times. How did it feel?

TRUMP: Well, it felt fine because I expected it. And I was told by watching you and everybody else in all fairness, you in particular. I was told that was going to happen. So I expected it. And you know, based on every poll, I hear I did very well. But I felt very comfortable out there.

COOPER: How did you prepare for something like that? I mean, do you look at what they are saying on the campaign trail to kind of predict what they are going to come after.

TRUMP: Yes. Basically, you have it or you don't. It is very interesting the debate - I never debated before professionally. And I'm against these politicians. That's what they do. They talk. They do a lot of talking. And you know, you never know how are you going to do it? But the first debate was good. And you know, I think we did very well into debating according to every single poll. I guess that the more important polls are polls that we have now. Bloomberg just came out with the poll couple of hours ago. That's phenomenal. It is like double-digit lead is practically everywhere.

So we are really happy. I would love to do well in Texas. I mean, in theory --.

COOPER: Look.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: I think he is vulnerable because I'm even. I mean, right now, I'm even with him. And I would love to win Texas. I love Texas. I love the people of Texas. I have so many friends here. And I guess we are pretty much.

COOPER: You clearly knew that Mitt Romney comments were going to come up on the stage whether it was the moderator to brought it up or whether some of your opponents brought it up. Mitt Romney was actually (INAUDIBLE). Your book was actually tweeting during the debate saying, look, your reasoning for not release attacks, it doesn't make any sense. You could release it even though you are being audited or even if you didn't want to do that, you could release all returns that have nothing to do with ones being currently audited.

TRUMP: Look. I know the audit for us is very well. I have been audited for many, many years. I have friends that are very rich, they have never been audited whatsoever. But until your audit is complete, you just don't do anything. You are negotiating and you just do anything. But I am under audit which is very standard and very, you know, many, many people --.

COOPER: I mean, that's some overturn some --.

TRUMP: No, because they are all mesh. They inter relate. I don't know if you the picture of me where I have almost a thousand page tax return where I am signing my tax returns. You probably sudden become fairly famous picture.

COOPER: Right.

TRUMP: Which by the way, tells you how the ridiculous the system is because when you have to go that much and the complexity and millions of dollars, and legal fees and accounting fees and everything else to do an audit, because I built a great company and both are very large company.

COOPER: Are you still point-blanc tonight once this audit is done, you will guarantee release your tax returns.

TRUMP: Sure. I would love to release them. I have no objection. But I am not going to release them in the middle of an audit. Nobody would do that.

COOPER: But you will ultimately release it.

TRUMP: Sure, 100 percent. I don't know. Whenever the audit is done. You will have to find out when the audit is going to be done. Whatever it is done. But just say you understand, Anderson, that I have been under audit for years like beyond this administrations, many years. And I think it is unfair because I am always being audited and I pass the audits. I do very well, but why aren't they going after other people? I have friends that are very rich people and they never get audited. And I said to one guy the other day. He was a very rich guy. I said how often do you audit? He said I have never been audited. And yet I am audited every year. I think it is very unfair.

[23:35:26] COOPER: You suggested a few minutes ago there to our Chris Cuomo that perhaps it is because in your words, you are Christian, strong Christian, do you really believe that?

TRUMP: Well, I know they certainly had a lot of problems. I mean, if you look at what has been happening over the years, I don't think it applies but I can tell you one thing, I am audit when I shouldn't be audited. I actually tell my people. I say I don't know maybe because they make fees. Who knows why? But I tell my people why is it that every single year I am audited whereas other people that are very rich people and never audited. And they don't even know what I am talking about when I talk about audit.

COOPER: So just so I'm clear, because couple of days ago I talked to you. It sounded like you were kind of backing away from the idea of perhaps ever releasing your tax returns. You are going to release that.

TRUMP: No. I'm not backing away. I would release them but I have to get the audits done because only a fool would release in the midst of an audit.

KING: (INAUDIBLE) Senator Cruz as essentially a, questioning your character, some of the business deals and then questioning your (INAUDIBLE). Let us start with Supreme Court pick. What would be your criteria? Two or three things when you are looking at the candidates --.

TRUMP: Well, I would say - yes, John, I would like to say - I would like to take Scalia and use him as my template. You know, my sister is a very high ranking judge, as you know. She is on the court of appeals. She signed a decision with Judge Alito, who I think is a terrific judge.

I think that - but if I was really going to look at somebody, the man that so shockingly all of a sudden is gone. I mean, you would ever thought this. Nobody was -- this was not in the ball game. I think he would be the perfect person. You're never going to find that. But we're going to get a conservative judge who is very good, who is a scholar because I think it is important to be a scholar, who is pro- life and I think we're going to pick somebody that people like, you know, Diane Sykes (ph) from Wisconsin is one becomes to mind who - no, I don't know that she is being considered but she is a very highly respected judge.

KING: Would ask specific questions, though, in your interview with the candidates so that you don't get David Soulter or you don't get a John Roberts --.

TRUMP: David Soulter was a disaster. John Robert was a disaster. Now, he may be good in many other ways --

KING: What would you ask to make sure? You know, you say know people. You're a good judge of people --?

TRUMP: And if you notice I said to Cruz tonight. I said John Roberts, I'm not even blaming you for it, it was a mistake, but if you look at the various articles that he published, and everything else, he was really pushing hard for John Roberts, it turned out to be a bad decision. If for no other reason, Obamacare - Obamacare makes it a bad decision.

KING: But what would president Trump do make sure that that didn't happen? What would you ask?

TRUMP: But I think more than my asking, I would go on references of other people that are respect because that is not necessarily my world. I'm very much into the world of legal and legality, but that is not my world. So I would go to people that I have straight respect for and say who would you recommend?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: What would say to the average American worker who might have been watching the debate tonight and hearing about the Polish workers lawsuit for the first time hearing about you hiring illegal immigrant. (INAUDIBLE) Donald Trump, it sounds like you are part of the problem of wages being driven down in an employment being high.

TRUMP: Number one, the Polish worker thing I think was 35 years ago. I was like I had the most beautiful head of hair you would have ever seen. Still not so bad, I mean, I'm hanging in pretty good. But that was many, many years ago and like that was yes, like 35 years ago, I guess.

To bring something like that up when I've had deal ever deal after deal is pretty pathetic where they have to go back that far to find something. And it was a negotiation we settled. It wasn't a big deal. There was negotiation when we settled.

COOPER: But you know your opponents are going to repeatedly bring that up. It you were a guy o who even 30 years ago knowingly hired illegal -

TRUMP: And here is the thing. Number one, it was many, many years ago. Number two, it was just a settlement. It wasn't like a big deal. In fact, I hadn't heard about that case for years. It was just brought up tonight. That's all right.

But pretty sad when you have to go back that many years. It might have been a little bit longer than that. On the Palm Beach thing, it is very, very hard, you know, Palm Beach, OK. You probably do know Palm Beach. You may not Palm Beach. I hope you do know Palm Beach. It's hot as a pistol. You cannot get help during the season. The season goes from like October until March. It is almost impossible to get help. And part of the reason that you can't get, you know, American people, they want full time jobs. This is a four-month, five-month jobs. They want long term jobs. They done want this. So we do hire some people. But we have to bring people in because it is a season and you can't get people. It is pretty simple.

And by the way, I do it legally. You know, it has done through a process. So we sign documents. We sign also some papers. They come in totally legally and they are coming from different parts of the world. But we have no choice.

[23:40:02] KING: Another thing, Senator Rubio trying to do says his version of (INAUDIBLE) on healthcare. He says that every time Donald Trump is asked about this, Donald Trump says eliminate the barriers on competing across stateliness, make sure -- and keep the one thing you like in the Obamacare, as you said the prohibition, you can't ban somebody with a preexisting condition. Senator Rubio essentially say you got nothing else. You don't know what else you would do.

KING: Look. I know more about healthcare than her can ever - he has never employed one person. I mean, the guy is a disaster in so many ways. Look at his credit cards. Take a look at what he took out of the Republican Party. Take a look at the fact that he bought a house for $478,000 or so and he sold it for $380,000 to a lobbyist. And then the lobbyist got legislation of something passed through him when he was in Florida.

COOPER: His point tonight, though, was essentially --.

TRUMP: I know that.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: No. It is not the same thing. When you get rid of the line, you are going to have companies coming with all different plans. Right now, it is competitively broken. You have almost a monopoly in different stage. The insurance companies want to keep it that way. They rather have Florida. They rather have Texas. They rather have than go all over the country and negotiate because they are not going to make a good deals.

When, Anderson, when you do what I say, get rid of the lines and they almost did it around the time of Obamacare and they failed because the insurance company took take of the politicians. That's why they failed.

But when you do that, you will have so many different plans. You have all different plans and that is the beauty of it.

COOPER: Jut final question. There are some people who say for strategy maybe you let - you don't really compete that hard in Texas. Ted Cruz lose in Texas and stays in the race and that actually benefits you.

TRUMP: No. I'm doing - Texas is very important to me. And I want to beat him in Texas if I can. And I should. Look. You know, Jeb Bush actually said Donald Trump is a gifted, gifted politician. I was surprised that he said that. But he said it in a number of times.

So let's assume I'm a gifted politician. And I know it might be advantageous to him to win here, believe me, I want to win. And I shouldn't necessarily share that because then if I don't then you are going to say, this was a terrible defeat. I love Texas. I have so many friends in Texas. I think I have a good

chance of winning I want to win it.

COOPER: Donald Trump, thank you for your time tonight.

TRUMP: Thank you. Thank you very much.

COOPER: Always good to talk to you. Let's go back to Jake Tapper - Jake.

TAPPER: Thanks, Anderson. Let get more debate analysis with Michael Smerconish and Gloria Borger.

Michael, a lot of pundits out there seem to think Marco Rubio had the best night perhaps. What was your estimate? MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST, MICHAEL SMERCONISH SHOW: I thought that

he had a very good night. I thought that he was aggressive in a way we hadn't seen him in the first nine. But Jake, I'm not sure that he is the beneficiary of a good night because I'm not certain that if you bring Trump down a couple of pegs that Rubio is necessarily the person to whom those voters would gravitate. It seems to me that Ted Cruz is probably the more likely individual that if you were a Trump supporter, you would go to.

I also think that that Trump core constituency is pretty harden at this point and nothing that happen on that stage tonight is probably going to get those folks to change their minds before Tuesday.

TAPPER: Gloria, what you do you think?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, if we look at our exit polls, though, the late deciders tend to go to Rubio. That's what we have seen in the last couple of contest. So, I agree with you. I think if you are Trump supporter and you watch this, you say it was being tagged team by Rubio and Cruz. It is not going to really change your mind.

I do think, however, that Marco Rubio in particular had a great night tonight. He basically called Trump a huckster. He seems to enjoy himself actually for the first time at the debate. He is seem to kind of enjoy poking fun at Trump in a way that we haven't seen before if we were wondering whether Rubio is finally going to go on the attack. I don't think we have to wonder about that anymore.

In the end, will it make a difference on Super Tuesday, not sure. Cruz certainly came out also. This is his home state of Texas, won't hurt him here. But I think that the big question that was raised came from Mitt Romney actually who wasn't on the debate stage and he kept tweeting during the debate about this audit question. We learned tonight for the first time, seemed to be a new excuse from Donald Trump that he is being audited. And he says that he cannot release his income taxes because one audit depends on another, depend on past years. And Romney, who is also quite a wealthy man says that is not true. He can release whatever he wants and he should do quickly.

TAPPER: It is interesting. Obviously, we saw after the New Hampshire debate when Chris Christie took a shift to Marco Rubio and carved them up like a pumpkin. That obviously had an effect. Marco Rubio had been doing better in the polls and we learned from exit polls and we learned from exit polls, a lot of people defected, some went to John Kasich, others went to Cruz and Trump.

I guess the question is with the dozens states, is it too big of playing field? Are there is just too many states whether it is Arkansas or Texas or whatever is it? Is it too big for a debate like this, even if one things that Rubio had a star night just hypothetically, is it too big a playing field to have that kind of impact that we saw in New Hampshire with the negative impact?

[23:45:13] SMERCONISH: When you look at each of those states that have already voted in either a primary or a caucus, you do notice and Gloria made reference to this that the late deciders don't go in Trump's direction. And I think the reason for that is we know what we think we know all there is know about him despite some of the negative issues that were raise tonight. So you are either buying it or you are not buying it. If you have not yet decided, in all likely hood, you are not going to go for Donald Trump.

BORGER: You know for Jeb Bush, and you are seeing and you are watching this debate, they are saying, where were they? With Cruz- well, they all waited too long. Let's pause at that.

TAPPER: Jeb Bush was out there pretty early payback.

BORGER: but he was out there and you know, the other candidates who tried against Trump were all out of the race, obviously. I ran into Rick Perry earlier. He was the first one. But Cruz had a bromance with Trump, OK. That wasn't on the stage tonight. And then Rubio had basically not attacked Trump or not dealt with Trump because he though Jeb Bush was going to do it for him. And tonight if I am Jeb and I am watching this debate, I'm thinking OK, guys, where were you?

SMERCONISH: Can I just make a quick Bush point because I worked -- I'm very proud of the fact that I worked for President George Herbert Walker Bush.

TAPPER: Who was here this evening.

SMERCONISH: He was here this evening. This was an S show in many respects. And I worry about, for the Republican Party, the long term injury that they have done to their brand. You know that autopsy post-2012 said we need to reign in the debates. This was the first one that I think, because of the behavior of the candidates, was out of control in a way that whomever emerges, you have to wonder what is going to happen in the fall.

TAPPER: Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: All right. Jake, a lot more to talk about with our panel.

Just ahead the most important critics with all. Of course, the voters will go a debate watch party in El Paso. It is going to be fascinating. I'm very curious to hear what they thought of tonight's event particularly some of the sharpest exchanges. We will have that in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[23:51:00] COOPER: Of course, we are going to have more political analysis from our CNN contributors. But what you can get actual voters, folks who are going to be casting ballots, particularly here in Texas. That, of course, is what really matters.

Gary Tuchman tonight is with the group who watch in El Paso, Texas. He joins me now.

So Gary, what did they think of this incredibly firing debate? GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They were entertained, Anderson.

And they were informed. That's what they tell. You thought it was a good debate, everybody?

(APPLAUSE)

TUCHMAN: Here are some loud people. You know, I have been sitting with them a long time. I'm watching the debate for two-and-a-half hours. We tell you this is El Paso County, Texas. Most of the voters here are Democrats. We are on the border. But this is a room full of Republicans as a presidential debate watching party in the Republican Party headquarters. Folks, we want to tell them about what they do here. They is a straw poll. Literally they use straws. They have five glasses to vote on who they are going to vote for in the Texas primary this Tuesday. And the winner in this room was Ted Cruz.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

TUCHMAN: Now, I'm going to pick this up and this shows you the straw poll is over. Ted Cruz came in first and in the 30. All right. Coming in second place, Marco Rubio with 12, Donald Trump with 10, Ben Carson with four and John Kasich with two.

All right. You can see there's one of the two right there. Now I want to ask you guys a quick question. How many of you, if you don't mind me asking, just came up a lot during the debate. We are here in a border county, how many of you are Hispanic descent?

OK. This shows you 82 percent of this county is of Hispanic descent. But in this room it looks about 80 percent also. Were any you insulted by what Donald Trump has been saying over the last few weeks that he wants to send anybody who has come over here illegally back to Mexico? Back to other Central American countries? Anyone insulted by it? Who is not insulted by it? Raise your hands. So most of you are not insulted by it.

Let me ask you, who did you vote for?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I voted for Ted Cruz.

TUCHMAN: What's your name?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Mike (INAUDIBLE).

TUCHMAN: OK, Mike. Why do you like Cruz?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I like that he is a consistent conservative. He has a track record of being conservative and with the Supreme Court coming out. I think that is a really important consideration.

TUCHMAN: What do you think of Trump?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think Trump has been very nonspecific. Most of his answers on the issues and I think it was good that Cruz pressed him on that tonight.

TUCHMAN: OK. Who here is of Hispanic heritage voted for Trump? You over there. OK. This guy right over here, what's your name?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).

TUCHMAN: This is your mother?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir.

TUCHMAN: Your mane?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE).

TUCHMAN: And you supported who?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Cruz.

TUCHMAN: He supported Trump. You are Hispanic heritage. Does that insult you at all that he talks about sending everybody back?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely not.

TUCHMAN: Why?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because if they come to this country illegally, I think they should be sent back.

TUCHMAN: Do you like Trump?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I feel that he has more feeling than most of the candidates. He seems to rub off on you and makes you feel like this is the greatest country in the world.

TUCHMAN: Well, these people have one thing in common. They do all think this is the greatest country in the world. Are you all voting this Tuesday?

(APPLAUSE)

TUCHMAN: An enthusiastic crowd, Anderson, here in El Paso County, Texas. A stone away from the Mexican border. You can literally jog to Mexico from the city of El Paso -- Anderson.

COOPER: Gary, thanks very much. And please thank everybody for sticking around and participating with us.

Again, you hear that time and time again from Trump supporters. He served the positive enthusiasm that make America great. That marketing, that constant refrain, it really sticks.

KING: Pride, passion, leadership, strength, winning. He has branded himself very well and the blue collar stuff on trade, I'll fight for you, which is why to the point I made earlier, why did they wait ten debates? Because I do think that Donald Trump because of his experience in business and his experience in television understands branding. And he has built himself a strong brand now in this race.

We saw in Nevada it was a 40-something percent brand. We know it's at least a 30-something percent brand. That these five candidates in the race, that is a lot of win. And he has built that brand and he has strengthened that brand and it stuns me that they waited ten debates to make a sustained minute by minute concerted effort speed bag as Kevin said earlier to try to diminish him and to try to keep him.

[23:55:17] COOPER: Do you think -- this is open to everybody. Do you think that was because they kind of assumed -- they didn't take him seriously, they assumed he would flame out somehow that he would self- destruct?

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: They deployed hope as a strategy. And they expected that he would fall on its how owned or many of them individually the campaign believed it's not our fight to have. And that is crucial mistake. In a campaign, one of the most important elements to winning is taking controlling of the environment. And they didn't control the environment. They left it to the atmospherics. And we saw the rise of Donald Trump happen --

COOPER: And Donald Trump did take control.

JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Absolutely. There are two different things, one months ago, he was doing a television interview with Sean Hannity, who asked him about Donald Trump and he goes like that. He rolls his eyes with such evident disdain on his face. And you are thinking, you know, this is just not a good place to be going here.

COOPER: We have to take a quick break. We have a lot more ahead in the hour.

Ahead, a lot more ground to cover more highlights from tonight here in Houston, the dust now beginning to settle. A lot of heat on that stage. We'll show you more moments when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)