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Super Tuesday Battle; GOP Civil War?; Trump Towers; New CNN Poll: Clinton Leads Sanders By 17 Points; Trump Campaigns on Eve of Super Tuesday; Trump Leads New CNN/ORC Poll; Elite Army Unit Targeting ISIS in Iraq. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired February 29, 2016 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: Trump towers.

Donald Trump enjoying his biggest lead yet in our new national poll on this, the eve of Super Tuesday. We're standing by to hear from Trump live this hour. How much closer will tomorrow's primaries put him to the GOP nomination?

Grand old implosion. Republicans find themselves at a crossroads, as Trump appears increasingly unstoppable. With some top Republicans now backing and Trump and others publicly opposing him, is the GOP facing a civil war?

Hillary's edge. Hillary Clinton riding high into Super Tuesday on a wave of momentum from her South Carolina landslide victory. Could a strong finish tomorrow propel her out of Bernie Sanders' reach?

Delta Force. Some of the U.S. Army's most elite forces now working on the ground inside Iraq to target, capture, or kill top ISIS operatives. Safe houses, informant networks and joint operations with Iraqi units, they are now all in place. Can this new strategy defeat the terrorist forces?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking political news on this, the eve of the single biggest day of the primary season, Donald Trump pulling in his highest numbers yet in our brand-new CNN/ORC poll, widening his commanding lead as White House hopefuls head into Super Tuesday.

We're standing by for a Trump rally that's beginning soon momentarily inside Georgia. We're also standing by for a rare interview with the woman who could be the next first lady of the United States, Melania Trump, talking one to CNN, revealing what she disagrees with about with her husband.

We're covering all of that and much more this hour with our guests, including key Trump supporter and Tea Party activist Scottie Nell Hughes. And our correspondents and expert analysts, they are also standing by.

Let's begin with our newest CNN/ORC poll showing Donald Trump with a huge lead; 49 percent of Republicans nationally asked -- when they were asked, want him to be the Republican presidential nominee. His closest rivals, Senator Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, are trailing Trump by more than 30 points.

Our CNN political reporter, Sara Murray, is at that Trump rally in Valdosta, Georgia, that is about to get under way.

Sara, the Trump campaign more confident apparently than ever heading into Super Tuesday. What's the latest?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the reality is jumping from controversy to controversy has paid big dividends for Donald Trump in the past and there's no reason for them to believe anything will be different come tomorrow.


MURRAY: Donald Trump's latest firestorm?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know nothing about David Duke. I know nothing about white supremacists.

MURRAY: Adding fuel to the panic that is roiling the GOP. And establishment Republicans look for one last hope to stop Trump.


MURRAY: The celebrity candidate is in the midst of another raucous day on the trail, marred by protesters, and a physical altercation between a photojournalist and Secret Service agent assigned to Trump, all of this as some Republicans launch an open revolt, refusing to support Trump even if he wins the nomination.

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: There's real chance that the party splinters if Donald Trump is nominated.

MURRAY: The Republican rift on full display, as Chris Christie and Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions line up behind Trump, and argue it is time for others to do the same.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), ALABAMA: We need to make America great again.

MURRAY: Even before Trump's boisterous rally, he was already doing damage control today.

TRUMP: When we looked at it, looked at the question, I disavowed David Duke. So, I disavowed David Duke all weekend long on Facebook, on Twitter. And, obviously, it's never enough.

MURRAY: That's after failing three times to denounce support from white supremacist and former KKK leader David Duke in an interview on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION." TAPPER: Would you just say unequivocally you condemn them and you

don't want their support?

TRUMP: Well, I have to look at the group. I mean, I don't know what group you're talking about.

You wouldn't want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about. I would have to look. If you would send me a list of the groups, I will do research on them.

BALDWIN: His opponents were quick to pounce.

RUBIO: You say David Duke to me, I say racist immediately. Why wouldn't he condemn the Ku Klux Klan?

MURRAY: Ted Cruz is still hoping to head off Trump in delegate-rich contests on Super Tuesday.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: At the end of tomorrow, Donald Trump is in all likelihood going to have a big chunk of delegates, and we are, I believe, going to have a chunk of delegates. And I think everyone else will be way, way, way behind.


MURRAY: John Kasich is pushing for a campaign beyond insults and outlandish behavior.

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am sort of tired of what I see, the name-calling, and what I consider to be childishness, when we are running for president of the United States. This is like every day. It's like a circus.

MURRAY: The absurdity is even inspiring late-night host John Oliver to unleash on Trump.

JOHN OLIVER, HOST, "LAST WEEK TONIGHT WITH JOHN OLIVER": So, if you are thinking of voting for Donald Trump, the charismatic guy promising to make America great again, stop and take a moment to imagine how you would feel if you just met a guy named Donald Drumpf, a litigious serial liar with a string of broken business ventures and the support of a former Klan leader who he can't decide whether or not to condemn.


MURRAY: In that 20-minute tirade, John Oliver was also quick to point out that a biographer once wrote that Drumpf was Trump's original last name. Now the hashtag #MakeDonaldDrumpfAgain is trending.

My guest is Trump is not going to spend a lot of time on that in his rally here tonight, but who knows. Maybe John Oliver will become his new top target -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That was his family name in Europe a couple of generations or so ago.

All right, Sara, an excellent, large crowd I see behind you as well. We will stand by to hear from Donald Trump.

A Trump win in Texas tomorrow could be the end of the Ted Cruz campaign. He has to win his home state to remain viable. He's there tonight campaigning down to the wire.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is with the Cruz campaign. She's joining us now. She's been covering that campaign.

Sunlen, what are you learning from his aides, Cruz aides about his chances in Texas?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the Cruz campaign tells me tonight that they are feeling very optimistic about his chances tomorrow here in Texas, but are leaving nothing to chance.

And, as you said, Texas is seen as a do-or-die state. He needs to win here in his home state. If he loses, not only would it be an embarrassing and symbolic defeat, but also in terms of when you are looking at the math, looking at those delegates, Ted Cruz himself has referred to Texas as the crown jewel of Super Tuesday, 155 delegates at stake. The core part of the Cruz campaign strategy from the start has been snatching up this treasure trove of delegates here in Texas.

That's why in large part we have seen Ted Cruz really barnstorm this state in the final week faced with this pressure and faced with this reality of the moment for him, spending four out of seven of the last days here in Texas and his final day here before Super Tuesday in his home state searching for last-minute votes.

Ted Cruz today has predicted that tomorrow will be a very good day for him, but, of course, the stakes are very high, Wolf, for him to make that happen.

BLITZER: He won Iowa. Presumably, he could win his home state of Texas. But do they think he will win any other state tomorrow?

SERFATY: Well, the Cruz campaign, Wolf, is looking at Georgia. We saw Ted Cruz campaigning there over the weekend. He said to voters there it's neck and neck. So they're looking at places like Georgia and Oklahoma, really relying on those core Southern states that have always been in large part key to his strategy.

Of course, we have seen some cracks in that strategy. So, tomorrow again will be a big test, not just in here, but in those Southern states as well -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly will be. Sunlen Serfaty, thanks very much.

As we stand by to hear from Donald Trump, let's talk to one of his key supporters. Scottie Nell Hughes of USA Radio Networks is a Tea Party leader. She's with me here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Scottie, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: You think Trump can win in Texas or Cruz has it locked up there? It's his home state.

HUGHES: The question, is a win enough for Ted Cruz? Let's just say he does pull it off and he gets a win. Technically, he...

BLITZER: It's the biggest prize of the day tomorrow, Texas.

HUGHES: But how big of a prize is it?

He has to win 51 percent of the vote in order to get all 155 delegates. Anything less, it goes into proportional. And right now the latest ARG poll has Cruz sat 33 percent, Trump at 32 percent. He's far from that 51 percent he needs to take all 155 delegates.

So, yes, he could win the state, but is he going to get the 155 delegates for the ultimate prize he needs to stay in this race? I don't know about that.

BLITZER: What do you think of the stumble? And I think it's fair. He stumbled when he was being interviewed by Jake Tapper yesterday on CNN's 'STATE OF THE UNION." And Jake asked him three times to disavow David Duke, the KKK white supremacist. And he gave awkward answers, at best.

HUGHES: But that's nothing different than what he's done all along.

We have always shown the one reason why people like Mr. Trump is he is human. We are not all perfect all the time giving our answers. But in this election, we're finding that actions speak louder than words. Mr. Trump had disavowed David Duke on Friday. He had actually disavowed him.

And the key that people miss is, why did this all get started, Wolf? Because David Duke came out and said, I never endorsed Mr. Trump. He didn't endorse him last August. He didn't endorse him last week. He didn't endorse him this weekend.

And he had clearly said over and over again, I don't endorse Mr. Trump. Where is this whole controversy being stirred up from? That showed -- that kind of makes it look a little bit suspicious that this is...



BLITZER: But he did post some comments that were supportive of Donald Trump, telling white people, in effect, go ahead and vote for him, saying that the Jews control various businesses, lobbies, stuff like that.

That's not something that Donald Trump wants to be associated with at all.

HUGHES: Not at all. And that's why he disavowed it. But are we going to sit here and start holding these candidates accountable for the craziness that might follow them? BLITZER: But it was not a tough question for Donald Trump. He could have easily said, I disavow, disassociate. Even if he had said it on Friday, which he did, he could have repeated it very easily.

HUGHES: Trust me, Wolf, it would have been a much easier morning, probably Monday morning, for us and it may be an easier if he would have just made that clear answer. But for some reason or another, the events happened as they are.

BLITZER: So, it was a mistake. He made a mistake.

HUGHES: I can't speak on behalf of Mr. Trump or the campaign.

BLITZER: But you think it was a mistake?

HUGHES: I think it could have been clearer.

But the question -- the truth is in all this, he did say, I know nothing about it. I already disavowed him. I have disavowed him in the past. Let's go back to 2012. The reason why Mr. Trump did not -- one of the reasons he did not run for president back then was because the party that was pushing him had some sort of connection to this same group that David Duke is a part of. He said, I don't want anything to do with it then.

He has got a long track record of distancing himself. He might not have put it as eloquent as Ronald Reagan put it when he made his statement.


BLITZER: But he should, don't you think?

HUGHES: I think he has. He's been strong against it at all of his rallies. He will strong against it...


BLITZER: But this morning on "The Today Show," he complained that his earpiece was not good, he couldn't exactly hear what Jake was saying, although that certainly didn't come across like that.

HUGHES: Well, like I said, I can't explain Mr. Trump sometimes.

But the key is, actions speak louder than words. There is no other candidate on the trail right now that has more diverse people out there speaking for him than Mr. Trump, especially on the GOP side, but possibly even on the Democrats' side.

I challenge -- because there's not much diversity being shown in these surrogates. Mr. Trump has the most out there. And when you look at the people that are supporting him, he has a long track record of supporting people of all races, all colors, all genders.

BLITZER: Scottie, I want you to stand by, because there's a lot more going on. We're getting some more information. We're also standing by to hear

directly from Donald Trump. He's at a rally.

Much more right after this.



BLITZER: There he is, Donald Trump. He's getting ready to speak at a rally in Valdosta, Georgia, a large crowd, a usual, standing by to hear from him. We will monitor what he has to say. Stand by. We will share some of his latest comments with all of you as well. He's about 30 points ahead of his closest rivals in our latest brand-new CNN/ORC poll.

Super Tuesday is tomorrow.

He's just getting started, Scottie.

Let's talk for a moment or so before we dip in and listen to what he has to say.

There was a little spat earlier today at another rally where the Secret Service had to come in. Protesters were there. We will show some of that video for our viewers. It was not necessarily a pleasant moment, although he's getting more and more used to these kinds of interruptions at his respective rallies. You can watch the video there. You see it right there.

HUGHES: And they sit there and they play to him. They play to his appeal right now, because people are frustrated, people are angry.

People are angry at disrupters. There are folks that have waited hours to get in there to listen to who they want to possibly be president.

BLITZER: Does it concern you that there was an altercation between a journalist, a photographer and the Secret Service security? You saw that video as well. It was not very pleasant.

HUGHES: No, but I have utmost respect for Secret Service right now. They are put in a very difficult place right now. And I'm sure they are very well-trained. And it's obviously -- that guy knew what he was doing. He had some major -- he could compete with most WWE wrestlers with that takedown. But...

BLITZER: All right, stand by, Scottie. You know what? He's just getting started.

Let's listen in to Donald Trump right now. He's in Georgia.


TRUMP: Lying Ted Cruz, 15 percent. Good guy Ben Carson, 10 percent, and Kasich 6 percent. So, we're 49 percent. Can you believe it? (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: Man. And we got the endorsement yesterday of Senator Jeff Sessions. It's an incredible thing. And we have Sarah Palin, and we have so many incredible people.

We have, I will tell you, Jerry Falwell Jr. You know, we're winning at every level with evangelicals. Jerry Falwell Jr. did -- was unbelievable. And maybe that's one of the reasons that we have had such help. But the evangelicals, the Tea Party people, we're winning with old, we're winning with young, we're winning with highly educated.

We're -- right?


TRUMP: We're winning with a little bit less than highly educated, which is OK. I love you. And we're winning with the veterans. I love the veterans. We're winning with the military.


TRUMP: In other words, we're winning with everybody. So, I just want to thank everybody. It's been so much fun. Who would have known this was going to happen?

So I have a special treat. I love NASCAR. Do we love NASCAR?


TRUMP: I love it.

So, we had an endorsement a little while ago, and my son Don is very, very friendly with the folks over at NASCAR and in particular Brian France. And how good is Brian France? Is this guy like a winner?

And, you know, I have grown up -- and George Steinbrenner of the Yankees, he was a great friend of mine and so many of the owners. And, honestly, Brian France, there's nobody like this man. There's nobody like him, the job he's done. And the family is so incredible.

So some of the NASCAR friends came over here today, because, guess what, they are endorsing Donald Trump. Can you believe this? Can you believe this?



TRUMP: You know, I will tell you what. If the people that like watch and NASCAR vote for Donald Trump, they can cancel the election right now. Nobody can win. Nobody. Nobody can win.

So, what I want to do, I will bring them up individually. But these are incredible. First of all, the owner, the whole deal, the big guy, Brian France. Brian, come on up here.


TRUMP: Come on up. He's getting pretty dapper. Used to be on the beaches of Daytona. Look at him.

Brian, we love you. You want to say a few words, Brian, before we...

BRIAN FRANCE, CEO, NASCAR: Well, I will just -- real quick. I have known Donald for over 20 years. And I'm going to tell you one thing about him. You know about his winning in business and success.

I'm here to tell you, he wins with his family. He does. He does. And I will tell you one thing. If you leave on one other thing, any of his children, you would be proud to have them as part of your family. That's how I judge a winner, how somebody manages their family, raises their family. That's how I judge a...


TRUMP: All right. So we have some of the great drivers. One of the great drivers of the world in history, the great, the legendary Bill Elliott. Come on, Bill.


TRUMP: We love Bill.


BILL ELLIOTT, FORMER NASCAR DRIVER: I don't know what to say. I have known him just a little bit, but for what he can do, I think, for our country, I'm all for it. We need a change, guys. That's all there is to it. And I think this is the man for the job.


TRUMP: Oh, do these guys have guts. I could not press it. I'm telling you.

I want to go about 60. That's enough, right, for most of us. So we have Ryan Newman.

Great, Ryan. Come on up here, Ryan.

We have David -- you know who I'm going to say? David Lee Regan.

David, come in. Come in.


TRUMP: And then, because of genes, he was really helped a lot. Bill and his incredible wife had a son, and the son -- you got it -- and the son -- I don't know. Are you going to be upset if he turns out greater than you, Bill, or are you going to happy? He's going to be thrilled.

That's a good father. That's a good father. I know a lot of fathers have a son that becomes successful, they're not happy. That's a great father. And most fathers are that way.

Chase Elliott, the hottest young driver in the world.


CHASE ELLIOTT, NASCAR DRIVER: I'm not sure why he let me say anything. Just happy to be here. This is a great man. I think he's a guy who can do some great things for us.

So, thank you. Thanks for having us.

AUDIENCE: Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump!

TRUMP: Thank you, fellows. That's cute. They just said, keep that wall going. We're going to keep the wall going, believe me. Believe me.


TRUMP: So it's been an amazing period of time, and, you know, I just have to thank NASCAR so much, because that's something that to do is just incredible. These are incredible people, incredible athletes.

Brian is an incredible guy who I have known for so long, and the job he's done is legendary. So I just could not be happier that they were here.

I just want to discuss a few other things. Tomorrow is a really big day. We have to get out and vote. You know, I don't want your money, because I'm self-funding, right? I'm self-funding.


TRUMP: I don't even want Brian's money. Brian is good for some money, but I don't want Brian's money. What I want is I want everybody -- I guess I just heard we have 13,000, 14,000 people outside. They hear me very well. We have a good mike system.

But I just want you guys to go out and vote. We have the head of "TIME," one of the top writers of "TIME" magazine here. He did a story three, four weeks ago talking about a movement.


And I said, what are you talking about? You're going to do another story? Where is he, by the way? Where is David? Where the hell is David? He did such an amazing story, and he's talking about a movement.

This is, in fact, a movement. This is not, like, me. This isn't about me. It's about you. It's about all of -- I'm just the messenger. And I'm just the messenger, folks. And there's not -- there's never been -- they have said -- I have gotten calls from a lot of the biggest writers. The media is back there, a lot of media, but they're very dishonest people, but some are good.

Not -- oh, they're terrible. They are so terrible. They are terrible. But, you know, no, 20 percent of them are good, 80 percent are bad, 40 percent are disgusting.


TRUMP: But the end result, it doesn't make any difference. What we have going is so special. It's incredible. It's incredible.

So the big thing, and I'm going to -- I will tell you one more time before we finish, which will be in a little while. We will talk about a few things, like the wall. We will talk about, like, not getting ripped off in trade, like rebuilding our military, like taking care of our vets.


TRUMP: But I just want to say, so I'm self-funding. That means that nobody is going to say, oh, please, well, I gave you a contributor. You have got to help me with the pharmaceutical industry, or you have to help me with something.

No, no, there's not going to be any of that. Do you know that, in bidding, that we're the largest purchaser of drugs in the world, right? In the world, by far. So, I mean, drugs like to make you better, right? And do you know that, in bidding, we don't bid. It's like if you go out to buy, to get some drugs at your local pharmacy, the government is paying a similar amount of money, that we would save billions and billions of dollars.

Now, the problem is that all of these guys that I'm running against, they are all taken care of by the pharmaceutical industry. They are taken care of by all of the industries. And when it comes time to bid, they say, oh, no, no, you can't have them bid. They gave me a million dollars or they gave me $5 million.

It's a bad system, and we're going to change the system. We're going to clean it up. We're going to clean it up.


TRUMP: Do you know, we could save as much as $300 billion if we went out and bid, $300 billion? That gets to be big money, right? That gets to be big money.

The numbers of fraud, waste, abuse in the system are incredible. We're going to take care of Social Security. We're going to cut in terms of -- not cut what you are getting. We're going to cut all of the waste, fraud, abuse. And we're going to save you Social Security without cuts. Mark my words.


TRUMP: And we're going to have something that's going to be so exciting.

And, look, I deal with these people. Now, I have dealt with politicians all my life. Somebody said, oh, Donald hasn't been political. I have gotten zone changes. I have been over the world. We're doing over 114 projects right now all over the world, all over.

And I have dealt with politicians. I have dealt with politicians worldwide. And I want to tell you, they're never going to get you to the promised land, folks. They're never going to do it.

And I saw this -- like this little Marco Rubio, this guy. I call him lightweight. I call him lightweight Marco. No, I see him. I'm on the stage.

You saw Chris Christie endorsed me the other day, right? Great guy. Tough guy.


TRUMP: And a few weeks ago, we're at one of the many debates. These debates, they're just brutal. They're coming out of my ears. Who wants to do any more debates? It's enough.

And we have another one coming up, I think, on Thursday. The last one, I was double-teamed, and I won. Every single poll had me winning. Can you believe it?


TRUMP: And these two guys, I see them backstage. They're talking. You do this, I will do that. You do this. Don't cut me off. And then they're high-fiving.

And there actually is one picture where I'm standing here in the middle. By the way, I have been in the middle from the beginning. Brian would like that. I have been in the middle from the beginning, from virtually the time I announced. The middle means like that's the one that's winning.

And I have been in the middle right from the beginning. And that's great. But I see these two guys. There's a picture in one of the newspapers, big picture. I'm standing here like this. There's a little bit of a break and they are both behind me shaking hands, like, oh, isn't everything wonderful?

So, every single online poll -- Drudge is an incredible guy, by the way, incredible -- Drudge, "TIME," Slate, everybody, every one of them. Every single event, I have been number one in this whole thing with the crazy debating.


TRUMP: And the reason is, I have never done this before. I'm not a politician. These guys, all they do is talk. It's all talk, no action. They debate, they talk. Nothing gets done. They then go to get campaign contributions. Yes. I promise I will do this. Will you give me a contribution?

That's what they do.

[18:30:4] But I am so convinced that our country can be greater than ever before. I am so convinced. That's why I'm doing this. Greater than ever before.

But this guy -- I watched him, and he's standing there. Think about this negotiating with the Chinese. I do a lot of business with the Chinese. I've made some great deals. I have the Bank of America building because of the Chinese. Big chunk of it. I have 1290 Avenue of the Americas. That's Sixth Avenue in New York. The largest floor, just about the largest floor. Massive building. Chinese. Ideal -- I have the largest bank in the world. The Chinese bank says 400 million customers. Largest in the world. They're a tenant of mind in one of my buildings in Manhattan.

I sell tens of millions of condos. Dealing with the Chinese is fine. But their leaders are too smart for our leaders. They're killing us, folks. And we can't let that happen anymore.

Carl Icahn is one of the...

BLITZER: All right. So we're going to continue to watch Donald Trump. We've got to take a quick break. We'll take a quick break. More of Donald Trump. More of all the news right after this.


[18:35:48] BLITZER: Our brand-new CNN/ORC poll shows Donald Trump more than 30 points ahead of Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.

Let's get some more on all of this with CNN politics executive editor Mark Preston; CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger; CNN political director David Chalian; and our senior political commentator, the former Obama senior adviser, David Axelrod.

David, the Trump comments yesterday, the awkward moment, the stumble in disassociating himself with David Duke, the KKK white supremacist. Is that -- do you think that's really going to have an impact tomorrow, Super Tuesday?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, if history is a guide, no. And the polling doesn't suggest that he's losing any momentum. I think that, long term, the aggregation of these things could be a problem for him, but in the short term, I don't think this is going to hurt him.

BLITZER: What about the disruptions, the protest, that encounter between a photographer and the Secret Service at one of his rallies today, Gloria?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, we're used to seeing protests at Trump rallies. I don't think to this extent. I think it was clearly a response to what occurred yesterday with Jake Tapper. But again, I don't think that, among those Trump supporters who were

diehard Trump supporters, that it's going to make any difference. I think what it does is it gives people who oppose Trump -- and now they're becoming more vocal, including Marco Rubio most notably, Ted Cruz, Mitt Romney, those people coming out and being able to use it against him and say, "Look, this is not where we want to take the Republican Party." Making him seem more out of the mainstream Republican school of thought than he -- than he wants to be positioned as, right?

BLITZER: David, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, Ken Mehlman, wrote this on Facebook, quote, "Leaders don't need to do research to reject Klan support. They also don't mock people with disabilities, insult war heroes, divide people by religion and nationality, and insult women. #NeverTrump." How significant is this?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Listen, it's significant in the sense that, in any normal circumstance, it is -- that would be a bombshell, that a former chairman of the Republican National Committee is being so opposed to the guy that is poised to sew up the party's nomination. That would be an earthquake in American politics, much like Senator Ben Sasse and his comments that he wouldn't be able to support Trump...

BORGER: Or Mitt Romney calling him disgusting.

CHALIAN: And yet, in this environment, I think that that only emboldens Trump, and I don't think -- and I don't think...

AXELROD: And his supporters. It's certification of establishment support.

CHALIAN: Precisely. Now, but I do think it's significant. I think that Ken Mehlman has not been one to jump into these fights since he's left has tenure at the RNC. And here he's clearly...

BLITZER: But there is a little bit of a civil war erupting within the Republican leadership.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: A little bit of a civil war? I mean, there's an all-out war. A couple of things.

One is what we saw happen at that Trump rally today, I think it's going to repeat itself as we head into the summer right now. And the season I say that is I think you have a very angry electorate. We've seen that on the Democratic side, and we've seen that on the Republican side. People are very frustrated. And we have seen that Trump supporters aren't afraid to mix it up a little bit. And when he's up at the lectern, sometimes he does fuel that fire a little bit. So I do think that the passion heading into -- heading into the summer could get even more heated.

BLITZER: I want to play a little clip. Anderson Cooper sat down for a rare interview with Trump's wife, Melania, today. I want to play this little clip. Listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MELANIA TRUMP, WIFE OF DONALD TRUMP: We are both very independent, and let him be who he is.. And he lets me be who I am. And...

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: You don't try to change him?

M. TRUMP: I don't try to change him. He's an adult. He knows the consequences. And so I let him be who he is. I give him my opinions many, many times.

COOPER: You do?

M. TRUMP: Yes. And I don't agree with everything what he says, but you know, that is normal. I'm my own person. I tell him what I think. I'm standing very strong on the ground on my two feet, and -- and I'm my own person. And I think that's very important in the relationship.

COOPER: Do -- can you say something where you disagreed with him on?

M. TRUMP: Oh, many things. Some language, of course.

COOPER: Language?

M. TRUMP: Yes, some language I didn't approve.

COOPER: Language you hear him using on the campaign trail?

M. TRUMP: Especially I was in New Hampshire when the woman was shouting out the inappropriate word.

COOPER: Right.

[18:40:06] M. TRUMP: And I was there, and I'm thinking, like, "Don't repeat it" in my head. Just for him. "Don't repeat it. Just don't say it, because the next day media, all they will talk about is about that." But he repeated.

He goes with the momentum. He goes with the flow. He goeswith -- with the people. They're having fun. Everybody was cheering. And you know, he said it, and the next day -- but he repeated the word. That was not his word.

COOPER: Right.

M. TRUMP: So...

COOPER: So you -- he heard from you about that?

M. TRUMP: Yes, I told him that, yes.


BLITZER: Gloria, I think she could be a big asset for him in this campaign. BORGER: Absolutely. It's clear that she didn't think he should have

used the language that he should, and it's clear she gives him advice and doesn't agree with him. I personally agree with everything my husband says.

But I think she can be an asset. She's very cool to his very hot, and that's always good. And spouses are character witnesses.

AXELROD: Well, I think it's also interesting that they're putting her out there, because he's had a problem with women.

BORGER: Exactly.

AXELROD: And to have her out there is obviously an attempt to try and soften his image. And, you know, that's a helpful interview.

CHALIAN: But it also validates, yes, it softens the image and helps with women, but also that he can have people of different opinions around him. Right?


CHALIAN: Her big talking point is that she disagrees.

AXELROD: Well, a woman around him.

CHALIAN: So all of a sudden, if you're somebody who doesn't agree with some of the things you've heard Donald Trump say, you now have sort of an access point in his world, as that way, if you think about it.


BLITZER: And a lot of people realize -- and Mark, you know this, as well, his children, whether it's Ivanka or his sons, they're all pretty impressive, as well. When they go out and campaign for him and they do these interviews, I think they help them -- they help the Donald Trump campaign, as well.

PRESTON: Right. And there's no doubt that his best surrogates has been his blood. Right? It has been -- Ivanka has been amazing on the campaign trail. His sons have really done a very good job of going up there and mixing it up with these -- with these blue-collar voters that he is trying to get.

And then, of course, you know, his wife, who we haven't heard very much from, but when she does go out there, that mystery, you know, the veil is lifted. The mystery of her is gone. And then you look at her and say, wow, she's very accomplished, and she can challenge her husband; because many of us don't think that Donald Trump can be challenged by anybody.

BORGER: Right.

PRESTON: In fact, all his people around him do is enable him, and then we hear something like that. You know, it certainly helps him. BLITZER: Doesn't hurt that she's beautiful either.

BORGER: She's -- you know, she's a different kind of political spouse, right? She has an accent. She's a model.

BLITZER: Potentially, she could -- she could be the first lady.

BORGER: She's a mother. She's also a mother. But she -- you know, she says her husband listens to her, and we have to take her at her word.

AXELROD: Does she want to take responsibility for that?

BLITZER: The endorsement he got today from NASCAR, from -- going into Super Tuesday with all these Southern states, that's going to help.

AXELROD: Not bad in the SEC. Right. Especially when you're lapping your opponents by a couple of lengths, so...

BLITZER: These NASCAR drivers...

AXELROD: Just trying to signify.

BLITZER: David Chalian, you saw the NASCAR drivers go out there. They were speaking enthusiastically about Donald Trump. I suspect that's going to help him tomorrow.

CHALIAN: Without a doubt. This doubles down on the image he's trying to project heading into those southern states.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Stand by.

By the way, you can hear the full interview, watch it, as well. Donald Trump's wife Melania opening up to our own Anderson Cooper. That interview will air, "AC 360" tonight, 8 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

Coming up, more analysis from all of our commentators, including David Axelrod. By the way, check out his podcast, "The Ax Files." You can sign up at I think you're going to want to do that. We'll be right back.


[18:48:21] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hillary Clinton is hoping her crushing victory in South Carolina will launch her campaign into a very strong position with Democrats nationwide. Our new CNN poll shows Clinton with a 17-point lead nationally over her rival Senator Bernie Sanders.

Our senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny is following the Democratic contest for us.

Jeff, what's the latest?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Hillary Clinton is pushing hard for Super Tuesday tomorrow night. She hopes it will be the biggest collection of delegates yet. She just wrapped up a campaign rally here in Virginia a short time ago. She's decided to add Minnesota on to her campaign schedule. She'll be going there tomorrow.

That, of course, is a state Bernie Sanders has been planting his flag in. Now, the Sanders campaign is confident of win something states but a short time ago, he told reporters when asked if he could win any state other than Vermont, his home state, he said, "I surely hope so."


HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Tomorrow is Super Tuesday. Massachusetts is right in the middle of it. And I need your help.

ZELENY (voice-over): Hillary Clinton is riding a wave, hoping her South Carolina landslide becomes an even bigger Super Tuesday victory lap.

CLINTON: I will work as hard as I can every single day. I will get up and go to work for you and fight for you.

ZELENY: The delegate fight with Bernie Sanders will go on, but a strong finish could make Clinton all but unstoppable, at least mathematically.

Politically, it's a long race ahead.

CLINTON: If I were grading some of those Republicans, you remember the little box that used to be on your kids' report cards, "play well with others"? I'd have to put a big no. Democracy requires that we play well with others.

[18:50:01] ZELENY: She is steadily shifting her focus from Sanders to Republicans, one in particular.

CLINTON: Yes, I don't think America has ever stopped being great. What we need to do now is make America whole.

ZELENY: In battleground Virginia, the early outlines of a potential general election fight is starting today.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Bernie Sanders is over, unless she gets indicted.

ZELENY: Sanders isn't sugar-coating his 48-point blowout in South Carolina.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We got decimated, George. We got decimated.

ZELENY: But he says the race is just getting started. He is drawing big crowds from Oklahoma to Colorado to Minnesota, with thousands of supporters answering his call for a political revolution. And he's making it clear he's far from finished with Clinton. SANDERS: We are listening to the American people and their pain and

their needs rather than hustling all over the country collecting millions of dollars from the 1 percent.


ZELENY: A new CNN/ORC poll today shows a majority of Democrats across the country favor Clinton 55 percent to 38 percent over Sanders. But it also shows warning signs. Fifty-nine percent say Sanders is more honest and trustworthy, compared to 36 percent who say Clinton is.

CLINTON: Hello, Virginia! Hello, George Mason!

ZELENY: Tonight in Virginia, Clinton sounded like she had the general election on her mind.

CLINTON: Because at some point, you can't just say whatever pops into your head if you want to be the president of the United States of America.


People around the world actually listen to what people running for president say.


ZELENY: Now that is a central part of Clinton's strategy: to show people that she's an experienced, steady leader. She reminds audiences at every turn, they're also electing a commander in chief.

But, Wolf, there are 40 million reasons the Clinton campaign is still keeping an eye on Bernie Sanders. That's almost how much money he raised in the month of February alone. That ensures that this contest is going to go on for weeks to come -- Wolf.

WOLF: It certainly does.

All right. Jeff, thank you.

Coming up, we're learning new details about an elite group of U.S. soldiers conducting operations against ISIS inside Iraq. Can the army unit known as delta force turn the tide in this war against the terrorists?


[18:56:45] BLITZER: The fight against ISIS in Iraq is getting a boost from an elite U.S. Army unit known as Delta Force. The soldiers are conducting a wide range of operations from gathering intelligence to rescuing hostages.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has details on this shift in U.S. strategy.

Barbara, what are you learning? BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, very oddly

today, the Pentagon began to shed new light on some of these very secretive operations.


STARR (voice-over): In secret locations across northern Iraq, the Army's elite Delta Force is now conducting its first operations CNN has learned. Today at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Ash Carter outlining what Delta and the Expeditionary Targeting Force, ETF, has been ordered to do.

ASHTON CARTER, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Seizing places and people, freeing hostages and prisoners of ISIL. And the only thing I'll say is the ETF is in position. It is having an effect and operating.

STARR: The timing and location of all operations remains classified.

There are about 200 troops in northern Iraq. They've been setting up safe houses, establishing and paying off informant networks, and gathering intelligence.

The plan, attack compounds not just to capture or kill ISIS, but to grab laptops, cell phones, anything that can provide more intelligence and lead to more raids.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Special Operations Forces, I have vast experience in Iraq and Afghanistan using these kinds of tactics and techniques.

STARR: New techniques as well. With surprising openness, the secretary of defense detailed going after ISIS in cyberspace.

CARTER: To interrupt, disrupt ISIL's command and control, to cause them to lose confidence in their networks, to overload their networks so that they can't function.

STARR: The ultimate goal: drive ISIS off the dark web that the U.S. cannot monitor.

CARTER: Sometimes we do drive them to other means, but it cuts both ways. Sometimes those other means are easier for us to listen to.

STARR: But it could have unintended consequences.

LEIGHTON: You're going to end up basically not knowing what they're doing. They could be using everything from couriers to carrier pigeons in order to get the job done for them.

STARR: All of this as Carter is considering sending more troops to the upcoming Iraqi operation to retake Mosul, Iraq's second largest city.

CARTER: Because of our strategy and our determination to accelerate our campaign, momentum is now on our side and not on ISIL's.


STARR: But why telegraph so much information about raids, about cyberattacks? It is generally classified. Well, one analyst tells me this is now as much as anything a PR war, a public relations war, and the Pentagon has to show progress to the American people, or at least that's the thinking -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Barbara, thanks for that update.

I want to remind our viewers watch CNN tomorrow for Super Tuesday coverage that we're bringing you the best political reporting analysis throughout the day as voters head to the polls in 12 states.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.