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CNN's GOP Debate Less Than Two Hours Away; Romney on Trump's Tax Returns: What is He Hiding?; Republicans Brace for Final Debate Before Super Tuesday; Interview with Sen. Cory Booker. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired February 25, 2016 - 19:00   ET


[19:00:05] ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. And welcome to a very special edition of OUTFRONT. We are live from Houston, Texas tonight inside the CNN debate hall. The five Republican candidates for president are about to take the stage behind me in a crucial faceoff. This is the final debate before Super Tuesday when 12 states will vote and everything is on the line tonight.

Center stage the frontrunner, Donald Trump. He'll be standing there. He has won three states in a row. In the lead by 65 delegates. And ready to take him on, on his left and his right, the men running out of time to stop him. Ted Cruz is the only man so far to beat Trump, but he's zero for three after his Iowa win and facing a must-win primary here in his home state. Texas is going to be crucial. And then there's Marco Rubio. The GOP establishment rallying behind him even though he has yet to win a single state.

And we are breaking the news tonight. His campaign is now preparing for a brokered convention perhaps hoping that that might happen. And just hours before the debate, Trump is fighting with two people who won't actually even be on the stage tonight. Last debate it was the Pope. This time it is former Mexican President Vicente Fox bashing Trump's plan to build a wall at the border and of course Trump's plan that Mexico will pay for it.


VICENTE FOX, FORMER PRESIDENT OF MEXICO: I'm not going to pay for that (bleep) wall. He should pay for it. He's got the money.


BURNETT: Trump's response on Twitter, "Vicente Fox horribly used the f-word when discussing the wall. He must apologize. If I did that, there would be an uproar." That's probably true. A war also escalating tonight between Trump and Mitt Romney after Romney claimed that there would be a, quote, "bombshell, in Trump's tax returns." There's a lot to get to tonight.

But first, I want to begin with Jim Acosta. He is here with me in this debate hall. And Jim, this battle with the former Mexican president just breaking late today when he is using the f-word to talk about whether Mexico will pay for the wall. What do you think Trump will be talking about tonight? JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, he is asked

about it, Erin. I think he'll engage. This is not exactly an endorsement coming from south of the border after battling with the Pope, the Bushs, even Mitt Romney in recent days. Now Donald Trump, as you said, is fighting with the former president of Mexico, Vicente Fox. The former president of Mexico was asked by Jorge Ramos with Fusion about Trump's vow to make Mexico pay for a wall in the U.S.- Mexico border. As you know, Erin, this is a constant in the Trump campaign speeches that we see out on the campaign trail. Fox mocked Trump's presidential campaign during this interview as sort of being on the ultimate ego trip. Here's what he had to say.


FOX: What is Trump? He is not a Republican. Absolutely not. Those are not the Republican principles. He is not a Democrat. He is just himself. He's egocentric.


ACOSTA: Now, as he often does when he is attacked, Trump fired back on Twitter. Put this up screen. It probably bears repeating. Former President of Mexico Vicente Fox horribly used the f-word when discussing the wall, he must apologize. If I did that, there would be an uproar. And of course Donald Trump has started uproars before when he's used the f-word on the campaign trail. But we should point out a lot of top GOP strategists, Erin, will tell you this is not really backfiring on Donald Trump.

This feud -- this is sort of a gift for Donald Trump as any GOP candidate at this point would love to be in a dust-up with the former Mexican president given where the GOP is right now on the subject of immigration. And at the same time, Donald Trump will remind you -- he said this after the Nevada caucus on Tuesday night. He is actually performing well. Or at least he performed well in Nevada with Latino Republicans. So, we might hear that one as well -- Erin.

BURNETT: Right. Right. He'll probably make that point. And of course, all the Republican support some sort of a wall. So, to Jim's point, maybe there will be a bit of jealousy that Donald Trump is the one that the former Mexican president is trying to fight with. And the brawl between Trump and Vicente Fox would make for an exciting debate day if it was the only thing going on but of course it's not the only battle Trump is fighting today. Trump is also fighting with Mitt Romney who is attacking him over his tax returns.

OUTFRONT now, Sara Murray who is in the debate spin room. And Sara, is this becoming a distraction for Donald Trump and Mitt Romney is doubling down, they've been fighting about this. And here we are coming into such a crucial debate.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Erin, it's incredible. You would think just hours before this debate Donald Trump would be laser focused on the Republicans running this cycle, but instead he is battling with the 2012 Republican nominee. And now even other campaigns are saying voters deserve to take a look at Trump's taxes before he becomes the possible nominee.


MURRAY (voice-over): Donald Trump under pressure to release his tax returns.


MURRAY: And the calls are coming from an unlikely source, Mitt Romney. Tonight it's clear that Trump is in no mood to comply, he is firing back on twitter saying, "Mitt Romney, who was one of the dumbest and worst candidates in the history of Republican politics, is now pushing me on tax returns. Dope." And Romney isn't backing down, also taking to twitter to say, "Me thinks the Donald doth protest too much. Show voters your back taxes Donald Trump. Hashtag, what is he hiding?" The former political pals --

TRUMP: It's my honor, real honor, and privilege to endorse Mitt Romney.

[19:05:30] MURRAY: -- now going to battle.

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: We have good reason to believe that there's a bombshell in Donald Trump's taxes.

MURRAY: As Trump tells CNN, his taxes are complex and refuses to say when he'll release them.

TRUMP: Nobody has been bringing it up except for Mitt Romney. And the reason he brings it up is that he lost in the last election and lost very badly.

MURRAY: Romney the 2012 Republican nominee knows all too well how damaging the tax issue can be.

SEN. HARRY REID (D), MINORITY LEADER: He's refused to release his tax returns as we know. The word is out he hasn't paid any taxes for ten years.

MURRAY: He slow of his own release four years ago and eventually faced fire for his low tax rate in offshore accounts. Unlike Romney, Trump is not shy about his wealth.

TRUMP: I'm really rich.

MURRAY: He says he has $10 billion in assets and raked in $362 million in income in 2014. But voters know little about his charitable giving or tax tab. Issues that his opponents could use to trip up Trump. Meanwhile, Trump's tax plan would serve up big cuts to both the poor and the wealthy. But the candidates still insist billionaires like him will also pay more.

TRUMP: I will probably end up paying more money, but as the same time I think the economy will do better. So, I'll make it up that way. But I will probably end up paying more money. I believe in the end I might do better because I really the economy is going to go boom. Beautiful.


MURRAY: Now, there's an interesting side dynamic playing out in all of this, which is that Mitt Romney has a deep affection for Marco Rubio. We do expect Romney at some point in this race to eventually endorse Rubio. But what this does bringing this up hours before the debate allows Rubio to go after this issue with Donald Trump on stage if he chooses. And for now the Rubio campaign says, Marco will release his taxes in just a couple of days -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Sara.

Joining me now Amanda Carpenter, she was communications director for Senator Ted Cruz. And the author and political commentator Jeffrey Lord, a Donald Trump supporter.

All right. Jeff, let's start with both these issues.


JEFFREY LORD, DONALD TRUMP SUPPORTER: Where do we start? So much, so little time.

BURNETT: OK. But you know what? I cannot resist playing the ex- president of Mexico yet one more time. Here he is.


FOX: I'm not going to pay for that (bleep) wall. He should pay for it. He's got the money. This nation is going to fail if it goes into the hands of a crazy guy. What is Trump? He's not a Republican. Absolutely not. Those are not the Republican principles. He is not a Democrat. He's just himself. He's egocentric.


BURNETT: I suppose listening to this again, I hear him actually take the wall as a de facto thing. He's not arguing whether -- he thinks Trump should pay for it.

LORD: I'm waiting for the news to leak it that Vicente Fox is on the Trump payroll. I mean, Donald Trump is just unbelievably blessed in the enemies that he attracts. To have the president of Mexico -- former president of Mexico say the f-bomb in terms of the wall in the middle of the Republican primary, I mean, God bless him. Thank you, sir.

AMANDA CARPENTER, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR SENATOR TED CRUZ: Well, now Donald Trump wants to be the standard bearer for political correctness. But what's really interesting about the events over the last 48 hours between Vicente Fox and Mitt Romney is that you have these big heavyweights in their respective fields essentially throwing bombs at Trump. I think they're panicked that he could become the Republican nominee. And it is kind of interesting because Donald Trump has dominated the media headlines, controlled the media cycle. And I sort of think there's going to be more of an effort by people throwing bombs at him trying to knock him off his game.

BURNETT: I mean, do you think though Jeff that this could lead tonight to their being substantive pressure on Donald Trump's talk about how he would pay for that wall? Mexico just said, f-no.

LORD: No. F-no.

BURNETT: OK. So, how are you going to get Mexico to pay for that wall? Mr. Trump --


LORD: I think probably the answer will go something like we just added another 30 feet to the wall. I mean --

CARPENTER: That is more expensive --

LORD: Well, seriously, what's important here is the message. I mean, that's how you communicate in politics, is the message. You can have 10,000 pages of detail. But when you're running for president of the United States -- Ronald Reagan did this all the time. I mean, he had his famous speech on --

BURNETT: So, you're saying, he won't answer it substantively nor does it matter that he fails to do so.

CARPENTER: Republicans as a thing, I mean, when ObamaCare being passed, everyone said, well, how are we going to pay for it? What it's going to cause? And Obama said, he didn't have to talk about it. That was a bad theme. We're paying for it today.

LORD: Did he win?

CARPENTER: Yes, he did won. But he's suffering the consequences. I would argue the Democrats are suffering the consequences now. Hillary Clinton has a very less chance of becoming president because Obama was so bad over ObamaCare. It's a big voting issue.

[19:10:11] BURNETT: All right. The other issue of course, Mitt Romney and the taxes.

LORD: Right.


BURNETT: Now, there is of course a deep irony here in Mitt Romney calling on someone to put their taxes out when he fought doing it and then when he finally did his tax rates were so low. And now he's implying Trump's tax might be low there's some sort. But Amanda, he is certainly insinuating there is wrongdoing in Trump's taxes. And he's hashtaging, what is he hiding?


BURNETT: Does Donald Trump need to release his full taxes to make this go away or not? CARPENTER: No. This is standard operating procedure for a Republican

presidential candidate to do. I mean, the reason why Donald Trump has gone after Ted Cruz over the -- that he take out, the self-finances run for the Senate is because it was on a Senate financial disclosure form. People found out about it. So, Donald Trump is certainly used that as ammunition against his fellow candidates, but he hasn't put his own papers out there. And why I think this is really interesting is that he's been criticized in the past for the donations that he's given to liberal organizations like Planned Parenthood. He said that's in the past. It could have been last year. We don't know.

BURNETT: So, do you think when Mitt Romney says bombshell it could be something like that? Because you have to keep in mind in terms of cheating on taxes, I mean, you would imagine New York Attorney Generals have been looking at Donald Trump for years and years. It would be very unlikely that there's anything like that in there, right. But there could be some surprise in terms of where he's donated as an example in that --

LORD: The American people themselves are so furious at the IRS. That when they see the picture of Donald Trump signing a tax form with this little stack that's up there, they may not have the same kind of stack, but in their own lives they have some version of that problem. So, they get it. And they're sympathetic. Number two, again, like the President, former president of Mexico, to be attacked by Mitt Romney who is Mr. Establishment himself, God bless him. Go for it. Endorse Marco Rubio tomorrow morning.

BURNETT: In a minute, what Donald Trump said to me, he said, well, under my tax plan my friends aren't going to pay more because he's going to close that crucial loophole. By the way, the loophole that Mitt Romney benefitted from.


BURNETT: The loophole where you get to pay lower taxes on money that you didn't earn.

CARPENTER: That's right.

BURNETT: And Donald Trump said, well, he'd pay more under that. So, he has an easy out. You know, he's said that in the interview. I mean, no problem. I'll pay more under my plan. He does in fact --

CARPENTER: Yes. In every issue, he's for tax hikes, he's for tax cuts. I mean, who knows where he actually is? But the tax issue does matter because it is a matter of disclosure. Other politicians who have run, they go through the vetting process. Donald Trump has never been a politician. He's never been vetted in a way that an ordinary candidate would be. Because it does matter. Look, he's made his wealth in success a qualification for president. At the very least we should see how wealthy and successful he's been.


LORD: One other thing I would add is that senators who only earn a paycheck from the public payroll, that could become an issue as well. In other words, they didn't participate in the private sector. Ted Cruz did.


LORD: But Marco Rubio I believe has earned most of his money from the public sector. That could be an issue right there.

BURNETT: And negative in this particular election.

LORD: Right.

BURNETT: People want an outsider who has gotten a different paycheck.

LORD: Right.

BURNETT: Thank you both very much.

And next, CNN learning tonight that Marco Rubio is preparing for a contested convention. As a new poll show, he is losing to Donald Trump in his home state of Florida.

Plus, will Texas be Cruz's last stand? I'm going to ask the former Texas Governor Rick Perry. He's going to be my guest OUTFRONT. And we are live tonight in Houston counting down to CNN's Republican presidential debate just over an hour away.


[19:17:00] BURNETT: And welcome back to a very special edition of OUTFRONT tonight. We are live in Houston, Texas and we are just about an hour away from CNN's Republican presidential debate. It's going to be on the state behind me. It's a beautiful stage. We've been talking about it. They have been polishing it and shining it. It is as beautiful as presidential stage as we've ever seen. And a preview of what we may see tonight. Take a listen.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Everybody running for president tells you I want to get rid of ObamaCare. I'm the only one that's ever done anything about it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: National polls show John Kasich is the one who beats Hillary Clinton by 11 points. Not Marco Rubio.

RUBIO: There is only one campaign that has beaten and that can beat Donald Trump.

TRUMP: So far everybody who has attacked me has gone down. Maybe that's a good thing for the country because maybe that's what our country needs.


BURNETT: OUTFRONT now, the state treasurer of Arizona, Jeff DeWit, he has endorsed Donald Trump. Also the state chairman for the Cruz campaign and California Ron Nehring and the national spokesman for John Kasich's campaign Trent Duffy.

OK. Thanks to all of you. Marco Rubio's campaign, they represented any second here. But let me start with you, Jeff. It's clear Donald Trump is the frontrunner, so I will start with you. With Super Tuesday just a few days away, is he going to try to play it safe tonight or is he going to be aggressive, be loud, and try to go for the kill?

JEFF DEWIT, ARIZONA STATE TREASURER, ENDORSING TRUMP: Well, Donald Trump is Donald Trump. He doesn't need to do anything different than he's done. In every single previous debate the online polls and every polls afterwards that ranks the candidates and how they did, he won every poll. He's done very well. He's very good in debates which is really quite something when you consider that he is not a professional politician and he is going up against long time professional establishment politicians that have been media trained and have high paid consultants. And Donald Trump just gets up there. He speaks his mind. It resonates with the people. And I don't expect him to do anything differently tonight.

BURNETT: So, what do you say, Ron? I mean, are you going to see Ted Cruz coming after Donald Trump aggressively?

RON NEHRING, CALIFORNIA CHAIR, TED CRUZ CAMPAIGN: I think you're going to see a stark contrast tonight between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. You know, whenever Ted Cruz moves closer and closer to Donald Trump, he says weirder and weirder things and tries the win the arguments and insults through cutting people off and so on. And I think now we're entering the phase of the campaign where people are getting serious and you know, it is time for the circus and the clown show to be over. We're going to move on to electing someone who is going to be serious about the presidency of the United States, move us in a new direction and what we had under the Obama administration and really has a conservative credentials that Republicans are looking for in this primary season.

BURNETT: All right. The clown show obviously referring to Donald Trump, I'm just saying, you know --

NEHRING: You know, Donald Trump is not someone who has the temperament to be president of the United States. And the closer that Ted Cruz is to him, the more he demonstrates that.


TRENT DUFFY, NATIONAL SPOKESMAN, JOHN KASICH CAMPAIGN: Well, it was a great lead-in to John Kasich because he's the only one that's going to be on stage tonight, Erin, that has done all that stuff. No one on that stage tonight can match his record of conservative achievement from balancing the federal budget, cutting taxes, getting America moving again in 1990s, and then doing that again in the state of Ohio. Taking a rust bucket state and creating 400,000 jobs. And now, he's going to be able to really differentiate himself and his record from all the three other candidates. Because he's the only one left that's done anything.

BURNETT: All right. So, I want to bring in Rory Cooper now, Marco Rubio, former communications director for Majority Leader Eric Cantor and member of the Bush-Cheney re-election campaigns. So, Rory, what about Marco Rubio? What is he going to do? I mean, this is a crucial night. He's trying to portray this as a two-man race between himself and Donald Trump, but obviously we got a poll that came out today showing Donald Trump ahead and Marco Rubio's must-win state of Florida.

RORY COOPER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes. Well, I mean, the polls right now don't mean anything because we still have a few days to go before people start voting in those states on Tuesday. What I think you're going to see tonight is Marco differentiate himself that it is a two-person race, it is Donald Trump and Marco Rubio. And while Ted Cruz has won a good election and John Kasich has won a great governor, the path just doesn't really exist for them beyond Tuesday. And so, I think that what you're going to see is that Marco starts what you've seen him over the last couple of weeks is consolidating that anti- Trump support showing a reason why people need to get behind him and why there needs to be really a rallying around. This is the guy who is going to be not only our nominee but the next president.

BURNETT: You have upset Ron and Trent. When he says it is a two-man race, you both started shaking your heads vigorously but --

NEHRING: The -- here is pretty amazing.


NEHRING: I mean, the notion that the guy Marco Rubio, who has yet to win a state anywhere who is running badly behind in his own state of Florida, and when asked what state he's going to win bypasses every Super Tuesday state, all the states have vote between Super Tuesday and the 15th and points to Florida and nowhere else which is a bizarre assertion to make. By the time the polls close in Florida, 60 percent of the delegates will already been allocated and that's when the Marco Rubio campaign is going to started, Marco Rubio is no path --


DUFFY: Let me be clear that the only person who is running --

DEWIT: You know if I can -- it makes me -- well, it makes me laugh when everybody says, oh, if so and so gets out, that support is going to go somebody else other than Donald Trump. When you look at it in South Carolina, Donald Trump won with 35 percent of the vote and Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz had 22 percent each. And Jeb Bush got out of the race. And yet all of that support went to Donald Trump. And Donald Trump in Nevada went to 45 percent and Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz basically stayed exactly the same at 22 percent. So, when everybody gets out, that support is going to keep going to Donald Trump. If one more person gets out, Donald Trump is over 50 percent and this race is over. And quite frankly, I think if any of the other candidates cannot win their home state, they need to get out. Because if they can't deliver -- if Marco Rubio cannot deliver Florida, then he has no business being the President of the United States.

COOPER: But you also can't just win your home state. You also have to go --

BURNETT: All right --


Hold on, Rory. Hold on, Rory. Trent, go ahead here.

[19:22:55] DUFFY: Yes. John Kasich can and he will win his home state. There was a Washington Post analysis yesterday that said that Kasich is the last, best, and only chance of stopping Trump. I mean, with all due respect to Rory, Marco Rubio to Ron's point has done 16 points in his home state. You need to tell as an advertising budget like Ford Motor Company and -- and you know, all state insurance to try to close that gap. He cannot do it. A month ago senator Rubio said by March 15th, time to start winning states. And he pointed to Florida and Ohio. He's trailing badly in Florida and he's not going to win in Ohio. Kasich is the only one that can beat Trump.

NEHRING: We can ask Rudy Giuliani about how effective a strategy is to wait all the way until Florida to start winning states. That's not a winning strategy. And in fact, I think the son of desperation that we've seen for the Marco Rubio campaign is all of this talk today about preparing for brokered convention, that's virtual, you know, surrendering that he's not going to win anything.

BURNETT: So, all right, Rory, please, your turn.

COOPER: I would actually say the exact opposite. The Rudy Giuliani strategy actually is appropriate here. If you're talking about somebody banking everything on one person losing one state. Yes, you have to build support in more than one state. And this is, you know, there are some states that are all or nothing and there are some states that are proportional. And I think over the next few weeks, some of these candidates are trying to take on Donald Trump who is absolutely going to win some of these -- a lot of these delegates are going to have to build support in many states.

From the Midwest to the south, from the northeast to the west. And right now, Marco Rubio seems to be the only person who is able to be able to start picking up those delegates in those key states, who has a strategy beyond just having this talking point over one poll in one state. You actually have to have a long-term plan, which by the way, has gotten him to this point where he is one of the last people standing.

BURNETT: OK. All right. Very quick, final word.

NEHRING: Marco Rubio is leading in zero Super Tuesday states. Ted Cruz has a 15 point lead in the biggest Super Tuesday state which is a second biggest state in the country --

BURNETT: Yes. In one Super Tuesday state. NEHRING: -- which is a critically important state and has more

delegates up for grabs on Super Tuesday more than double what Donald Trump is racked up so far. That's really the big prize on Super Tuesday.

BURNETT: All right. Well, I appreciate all of you taking the time. I am sure your candidates will be duking it out as you were here and thank you all.

OUTFRONT next, Ted Cruz's campaign promising a fight with Trump tonight, saying, we are not taking it on a chin anywhere. But is it enough for him here in his home state? That crucial lone star state.

And as we countdown to tonight's debate here in Houston, the Democrats fighting for every single vote in South Carolina. Senator Cory Booker who is campaigning with Hillary Clinton is OUTFRONT tonight. He'll be my guest. We'll be right back.


[19:29:32] BURNETT: And welcome back to our special coverage. We're coming to you live from inside the CNN's debate hall at the University of Houston in Texas tonight. As you can see the stage is set for tonight's Republican debate. And the stakes for the remaining five candidates have never been higher. There are only going to be five of them tonight. Donald Trump has the momentum. He has won the last three contests, but it is Ted Cruz who may have the most to prove tonight. This is the city where Cruz lives with his wife and two young daughters. And the senior campaign official for Cruz tells CNN, the Texas senator will be fighting back against Trump tonight. Will it help him win his home state, which everyone says is a must win?

Sunlen Serfaty is OUTFRONT.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: After what has been an incredible year on the road, it is good to be home.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Pressing for a home field advantage, Ted Cruz may find Texas is no longer a clear home run. Cruz is in danger for an unexpected late-in-the-game threat on his own turf, coupled with Trump's raw momentum and Rubio's super PAC throwing big money in the state.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think this is very disturbing when you have a candidate that now on the regular basis just makes things up.

SERFATY: Cruz is feeling a Texas-sized squeeze.

CRUZ: The crown jewel of Super Tuesday is the great state of Texas.

SERFATY: To be cure, Cruz has the upper hand. He is ahead in the polls. The latest out today from Monmouth University shows Cruz leading in Texas by 15 points. But far from the glide path, the Cruz campaign had once hoped, making

stakes tonight even higher.

RICHARD MURRAY, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF HOUSTON: The campaign's on life support if they don't come through with a strong performance in the debate and then win the state on Tuesday. He needs to win and win strongly or the Cruz campaign falls apart.

SERFATY: Voters in his hometown today reflects the state of play.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If he can't win his home state, how is he going to win the country?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Honestly, I hear a lot of Trump. Trump, Trump, Trump. I know it is a lot of negative things. I think it's actually working for him because he's in everybody's mouths.

SERFATY: On the ground this week, Cruz has been ratcheting up the rhetoric.

CRUZ: I shall never surrender or retreat.

SERFATY: And at the debate tonight, he will push back more aggressively on Trump over his accusations that Cruz is a liar. "We're not taking it on the chin anymore", Cruz campaign official tells CNN.

The Cruz campaign as well organized here with 27,000 volunteers and banking on a large loyalties in the state. A Cruz adviser tells CNN they are feeling optimistic at their chances, but are leaving nothing to chance.

CRUZ: We're competing hard for every vote here in the state of Texas.


SERFATY: And in the six days between the Nevada caucuses and Super Tuesday, Cruz will spend four of these days here in Texas, barnstorming the state looking for last-minute votes. That is such precious time invested in a state that should have been a layup for him -- Erin.

BURNETT: Sunlen, thank you very much.

And OUTFRONT now, former 2016 presidential candidate and former Texas Governor Rick Perry.

Governor, thank you very much. Good to see you in your home state.


BURNETT: You just heard Texans talking and one of them saying, look, he's got to win and he's got to win big in order to continue. If Cruz loses Texas, is that game over or not?

PERRY: I don't think so. But more importantly, I don't think Ted Cruz is going to lose Texas. I mean, this is his home state. He's going to deal well. He's got a great organization here.

His values are Texas values. People know they are getting a consistent conservative with Ted Cruz. So, I expect he's going to do well here and continue this fight on. I mean, this is really an interesting election cycle to say the least.

BURNETT: I would say that's appropriate word (ph).

PERRY: To say the least. And, obviously, the American people are ready for an outsider. The question is going to be which one of these people really know how to go to Washington, D.C. to destruct, if you will, that cabal, that people, think, and certainly many of us think needs to be, turn on its ear. And who really knows how to make it work? Who knows the underpinnings, if you will, of Washington, D.C. well enough?

Senator Cruz is it. If you want to see power devolved out of Washington, D.C., these governors empowered to do the things they know they can do and respecting the Tenth Amendment, then Ted Cruz without a doubt is the individual on the stage that can do that. Has the commitment, has the intellect, and has the know-how to make it happen.

BURNETT: When you were governor, you welcomed then President Vicente Fox to the governor's mansion. The former president said something today that some people think is going to be manna for Donald Trump, a wonderful thing for him. He said, I'm not going to F-ing pay for your wall. Here's how he said it.



VICENTE FOX, FORMER PRESIDENT OF MEXICO: I'm not going to pay for that (EXPLETIVE DELETED) wall. He should pay for it.


BURNETT: But the thing that makes me chuckle about that is he accepted the premise, as if there is going to be that wall. The issue is, who is going to pay for it?

PERRY: Yes. Well, the issue here is how are we going to secure our border? Many of us think that the border has to be secured. I know a little bit about it. I sent the Texas Rangers, our Texas Ranger Recon Team, the law enforcement.

The border can be secured. It doesn't take a physical wall. It takes a virtual wall.

[19:35:00] And that's with technology, that's what boots on the ground.

And, you know, the issue is not whether there's going to be a wall. It's going to be what kind of a wall. It's going to be -- are we going to be successful in securing that border? We know how to do this, and listen. Senator Cruz understands that.

Donald Trump understands that. I think -- this is kind of one of those issues that you have to really understand the difficulty of building a 35-foot wall from Brownsville to El Paso, Texas, which is what I think Mr. Trump tries to get into people's minds when the fact is, it is about securing the border and making that our citizens are safe.

BURNETT: It's interesting. You say Donald Trump understands part of it. You say Ted Cruz understands part of it. You know, obviously, you have endorsed Ted Cruz. He comes in tonight with Donald Trump and Marco Rubio criticizing his character, his morality, his ethics. And here's a little bit of how they've done it.



DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This guy Ted Cruz is the single biggest liar I have ever dealt with in my life. I mean it. I've never seen -- he will lie about anything.

RUBIO: He's been lying, because if you say something that's not true and you say it over and over again, and you know that it's true, then there's no other word for it.


BURNETT: Are these attacks having an impact?

PERRY: If you say something over and over again, it has an impact. I agree with Marco Rubio.

Ted Cruz isn't a liar. Ted Cruz is matter of fact, I think if there's one person in this race who is telling the truth about Washington, D.C., telling the truth about what needs to happen and has the intellect to be able to make a difference, it is Ted Cruz.

So, you know, listen, Donald Trump gives a whole new meaning to the word bombastic. And that's fine. That's entertaining. The fact is we do need to hear the truth and we hear the truth from Ted Cruz.

BURNETT: All right. You hear the truth from Ted Cruz.

Something changed for you yesterday. Charges against you for abuse of power were dropped. This has been something that have been having over you. They're gone. Dropped. No merit to them. Now that that's happened and there's talk of independent runs, influential blogger Erick Erickson, you, of course, who he is, came out and tweeted, "I'd would support Governor Perry in a third-party run."

PERRY: Well, Erick Erickson is a wonderful fellow, but the fact of the matter is, I think this campaign, if there is an odd twist to it, it will be no one gets enough of the delegates to get the nomination. You go to a brokered convention. At that particular point in time, it is a whole new ball game for everyone. BURNETT: That could be a new ball game for you.

PERRY: Everyone.

BURNETT: OK right. Governor Perry, it is a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you so much.

PERRY: Good to be here with you.

BURNETT: Great to be here in Texas.

PERRY: You're welcome. Enjoy it. Have some barbecue.

BURNETT: Yes, I'm going to try to tonight.

And OUTFRONT next, we're counting down to tonight's Republican presidential debate right here from the debate hall. We are just moments away from the big event.

And Hillary Clinton battling for every vote in South Carolina. Senator Cory Booker is on the trail with here. He's going to join me right after this.

We'll be right back.


[19:42:06] BURNETT: Welcome back. We are live tonight at the University of Houston, right here in Texas, the site of tonight's Republican presidential debate.

This is by far the most important matchup this election. This is the last chance for the remaining five presidential candidates to go before primetime cameras in front of millions of Americans and make their case before next week's crucial Super Tuesday's contests.

If history is any indication, one name we're sure to hear tonight is Hillary Clinton. She has the momentum heading into this weekend's Democratic South Carolina primary.

And OUTFRONT now is New Jersey Senator Cory Booker. He's endorsed Clinton for president. He's been on the trail with her.

Senator, I appreciate your taking the time to be with me here tonight. I know you've been on the trail with her today in South Carolina.

I want to start, though, with some breaking news here. Just from "The New York Times", the editorial board coming out with an editorial saying that Hillary Clinton should release those Wall Street transcripts. Obviously, this is coming from the paper that has endorsed her and supported her candidacy.

What do you say to "The New York Times"?

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: Well, I haven't read the editorial, so I don't want to comment. I don't know what their logic is. I hope that within that, they're going to call for all candidates to release a similar kind of information because there is a lot of people in the field on both sides who've done a lot of speaking. And if there is a standard that is set, I hope we're calling for the same standard for everybody.

BURNETT: But you would agree it's for everybody, she should go ahead and release them? Part of the thing I think people have had a hard time understanding, Senator, of course, is, well, she says there is nothing in them that's problematic, then why not just release them? If you don't release them, then people could think that there's something wrong. If there's nothing wrong, put it out in the daylight.

BOOKER: Again, it's nothing that concerns me. I think it is a wild stretch to think there might be something in there that is contrary to what her consistent public position has been.

She's got a very long tradition of going up against large corporate interests, whether it's been the insurance companies or even calling for Wall Street reform.

So, I think she knows what needs to be done to get this economy moving. We need to have fair tax rates where people aren't benefitting from things like carried interest. We had a mortgage industry that was out of control, rating agencies that were rating trash as treasure, over-leverage banks. These were all things we cannot let happen again.

I'm confident in her. I'm confident in her determination to not only make sure we don't ever fall back into the kind of recession that was caused by this reckless behavior, but also that she's going to have a vision that is beyond Wall Street. She's not a one issue candidate.

She also wants to see important things happen in the communities I live, from ending mass incarceration, expanding universal pre-school, making college more affordable, creating family leave -- the kind of kitchen table economics and empowerment that is so important in today's day and age in America.

BURNETT: And, Senator, how confident are you about her performance this weekend and of course on Super Tuesday?

[19:45:04] BOOKER: Well, I just come from a school where you take nothing for granted. And when I saw her today, to see the determination in her eyes, she's not leaving anything to chance. She still feels like she needs to go out there and shake as many hands as she can, communicate her message and try to earn every single vote.

This is something she told me at the very beginning of this campaign that was very prescient, before things even gotten started. She said, this is not going to be an easy road. I'm going to have to work hard and earn every inch of ground I gain.

And I think she is still in that mode and she will be until she clenches the nomination, which I believe is something she is will do. BURNETT: And now, on the Republican side, there are, of course, calls

for Donald Trump to put his taxes out there, right? She's been called on for transcripts. Now, you got Mitt Romney saying Donald Trump needs to put his taxes out there in full. He has not yet done so.

Do you think he should?

BOOKER: You know, Donald Trump has belied all the conventional wisdom I had. This is a guy I thought for sure was going to be done after he insulted a war hero, John McCain, somebody I serve with, I don't agree with his policies. But dear God, he spent time in a prison camp, was offered a way out and didn't because he didn't want to leave his people behind.

So, there is a lot of things I think Donald Trump should do and I know I'm probably one of the last he's listening to, I'm just happy that we have candidates on the Democratic side that are calling for more unity, appealing not to fears, not to divisiveness, not acerbic language, but are really talking to the best angels of our country.

I can't call shots on the other side of the aisle right now. I don't think many Republicans understand what's going on as -- I think there's a crisis over there. The reality is we've got a lot of progress since the Great Recession. We need to do even more. And I'm hopeful that Hillary Clinton will be the president that will enable us to do the things that really need to be done in America.

BURNETT: I think it's a fair point. A lot of them don't know what's going on either.

Senator, it's a pleasure. Thank you very much.

Cory Booker campaigning with Hillary Clinton in South Carolina, a state she is significantly ahead in the polls ahead of voting on Saturday. Thanks again, Senator.

BOOKER: Thank you, Erin. Thank you very much.

BURNETT: And OUTFRONT next, we're counting down to tonight's Republican debate, a high stakes showdown you're going to see right here on CNN. You're going to hear them starting to get ready behind me. We're going to tell you the crucial things to watch for in just a few moments.

We'll be right back.


[19:51:15] BURNETT: Welcome back. We are live tonight at the University of Houston for CNN's Republican presidential debate.

Right behind me is where the candidates are going to take the stage in just a few moments -- a lovely theater, beautiful stage, beautiful. Testament to our special events team here at CNN.

This is the most significant matchup so far this election, with Super Tuesday only a few days away.

And tonight, one issue this may dominate the discussion is Trump's bitter back and forth with Mitt Romney over releasing taxes. Trump, so far, has dismissed Romney's attacks, but the one-time presidential nominee is not letting up, and he's doing it on Twitter.

So, he's going Trump's way. Here's what Mitt Romney tweeted today, "Me thinks Donald doth protest too much. Show voters your back taxes, Donald Trump. #whatishehiding." Emphasis in tone implied channeling of Mitt Romney.

OUTFRONT, our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, CNN political director, David Chalian, and executive editor for CNN Politics, Mark Preston.

All right, Gloria, obviously, Mitt Romney is going heavy on this. The deep irony, of course, is that Mitt Romney, who the taxes was it part of his downfall as a nominee, but maybe that's why he's doing it. It worked against him, so he thinks it will work against Trump.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: He's pulling a Harry Reid. This is exactly -- this is exactly what Harry Reid said about Mitt Romney. What's he hiding? He's got to be hiding something.

BURNETT: Well, Harry Reid said something that was blatantly untrue. He said, I have reason to believe that he paid no taxes. That was false.

BORGER: And Romney said, there might be a bombshell in there. He didn't say there was. But what he's doing is he -- it's a technical term called stirring the pot, right? And that is what he's doing for this debate tonight.

BURNETT: And David Chalian, he was very careful to say, that could mean he didn't pay enough taxes, or it could mean he's not as rich as he says. Any of those things in Mitt Romney's minds are a, quote/unquote, "bombshell".

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: It's that second point about net worth that set Donald Trump off. That's something he's very sensitive about, and he made the point, hey, you don't get net worth for your tax returns. I've already filed financial disclosures that show my net worth and I'm very wealthy. He's already pushing back on that, because he -- there's nothing that upsets him more about money than when somebody questions how much he says he's worth.

BURNETT: That is true and that's been true for a long time.

Mark, let me ask you tonight, most important thing you're looking for on that stage?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Well, look, I mean, Donald Trump is going to be in the middle of the stage and he could get caught in a crossfire between Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.

Now, we're led to believe that Marco Rubio is going to try to take out Ted Cruz tonight, thinking that if he's able to do so, that the full consolidation will come together and get behind his candidacy, as they try to stop Donald Trump. At the same time, expect Ted Cruz to go directly at Donald Trump, and then go directly at Marco Rubio. So, in many ways, Erin, you would think that Donald Trump, who will have a very difficult time doing this, might want to step back and see if these two senators, these two colleagues, take each other out tonight.

BURNETT: Donald Trump has arrived. What are you looking for tonight? He's here.

BORGER: I'm looking to see whether Marco Rubio continues what he has started, a little bit this week, which is to take on Trump more directly, because if Cruz and Rubio just keep going at each other, it elevates Trump, and it helps Trump. And I think what I'm looking for is Rubio to directly attack Trump, Cruz to directly attack Trump, and to see whether it has any impact whatsoever.

BURNETT: Could they team up? I mean, I know that's not directly teaming up, but it sort of is, David Chalian. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz both believe the other one has to die for either to survive. So, it would be a very big risk for them both to go after Trump and not after each other, but do you think that would happen?

[19:55:00] CHALIAN: I think it's possible. Because they do -- yes, they believe they have to take each other out, Erin. But they also clearly -- Rubio has indicated it on the campaign trail. Cruz has been doing it for some time in his advertising, as well, doing this frontal attack on Trump.

I do think they realize, there are only five podiums on that stage right now. Those five lecterns up there, smallest stage we've had. There's not as much time anymore to not go directly after the front- runner. And the other thing I'm looking to see is the front-runner himself. Does Donald Trump, as he's done in the past, use this opportunity to extinguish his opponent that he deems a threat, or does he use this opportunity as the winner now, winning a lot of delegates, does he pivot to a more presidential moment? I think we're hearing applause for Barbara Bush --

BURNETT: Yes, everyone to know what you're hearing -- yes, we are, Barbara Bush and George H.W. Bush have just entered the room where we are to resounding, standing applause from the audience.

It is actually lovely to see. George H.W. Bush is in his wheelchair, Barbara Bush is beside him. It's lovely to see.

BORGER: David and I were kind of honored to run into them in the hallway, as they were on their way into tonight. And they seemed in a great mood.

BURNETT: Yes, and they -- we can now -- we do now -- you can see, George H.W. Bush, a beloved ex-president now by Democrats and Republicans. A man that truly is beloved by many Americans.

We will be right back.


BURNETT: We are about to begin the GOP presidential debate. Let's hand it off now to Anderson Cooper.