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Romney: 'Donald Trump is a Phony, a Fraud'; Sources: Romney Wants Brokered Convention; Sanders Steps Up Attacks on Clinton; North Korea's Kim Jong-Un Orders Nukes to be Ready for Use. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired March 3, 2016 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: That's it for "THE LEAD." I'm Jake Tapper, turning you over to Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for watching.
[17:00:12] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Revenge and remorse. The 2012 Republican nominee unleashes a stunning attack on the 2016 front-runner, who answers with his usual punch in the gut. Will they rip the Republican Party apart?
Third-grade theatrics. Mitt Romney slams Donald Trump as a phony, a fraud and calls him a greedy, dishonest bully. Trump paints Romney as a failure and a loser and sums him up as irrelevant. Where is all this headed?
Splitting the vote. New information that the GOP establishment is plotting to deprive Trump of the needed convention delegates by a divide-and-conquer strategy in the remaining primary contests. If they somehow make it work, could Trump launch a third-party campaign?
And un-nerved. As North Korea is hit with punishing new sanctions, Kim Jong-un fires right back by firing off a salvo of missiles into the sea. Could the next barrage be for real?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: The breaking news: it's open warfare in the Republican Party right now. In a stunning attack, 2012 nominee Mitt Romney calls Donald Trump a phony and a fraud and basically calls on Republicans to dump Trump at the polls.
Romney says Trump is playing the American public, quote, "for suckers", would lose a general election matchup with Hillary Clinton, and would bring a disaster to the party and to the country.
Firing right back, Trump says Romney begged him for his endorsement back in 2012 and, quote, "would have dropped to his knees for him." Trump says Romney failed badly back then, chickened out of running this time around, and is now irrelevant.
Do GOP leaders have a plan or even a "hail Mary" pass to deprive Trump of the delegates he needs to win the Republican presidential nomination and force a brokered convention? We're getting new information. Our correspondents, analysts and
guests, they will have full coverage of all the day's top stories.
We begin with Mitt Romney's extraordinary attack on Donald Trump and Trump's bare-knuckled counter attack.
Let's go live to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. Jim, they certainly did not hold back.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No, they did not, Wolf. In what could be the beginning of the fracturing of the Republican Party, former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney savaged Donald Trump here in Utah, engaging in an all-out war with the real-estate tycoon. A source close to Romney tells me he would not have been able to look at his grandchildren's faces had he not delivered this speech.
ACOSTA (voice-over): The Stop Trump movement just found its most powerful voice yet, in Mitt Romney.
MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. He's playing the members of the American public for suckers. He gets a free ride to the White House, and all we get is a lousy hat.
ACOSTA: In a scathing, jaw-dropping takedown of Donald Trump, Romney warned the American economy will tank, and the nation will be less safe if the GOP front-runner is elected president.
ROMNEY: I'm afraid that when it comes to foreign policy, he is very, very not smart.
Now, I'm far from the first to conclude that Donald Trump lacks the temperament to president. After all, this is an individual who mocked a disabled reporter; who attributed a reporter's questions to her menstrual cycle; who mocked a brilliant rival who happened to be a woman due to her appearance; who bragged about his marital affairs; and who laces his public speeches with vulgarity.
ACOSTA: And while Romney mocked Trump's business background...
ROMNEY: He inherited his business; he didn't create it. And whatever happened to Trump Airlines? How about Trump University? And then there's Trump Magazine and Trump vodka and Trump steaks and Trump Mortgage. A business genius he is not.
ACOSTA: He even went where the current GOP field had not really gone before: Trump's personal life.
ROMNEY: There's a dark irony in his boasts of his sexual exploits during the Vietnam War, while at the same time John McCain, whom he has mocked, was imprisoned and tortured.
ACOSTA: John McCain blasted out a statement shortly after Romney's speech, saying, "I share the concerns about Donald Trump."
Add the last two GOP nominees to the mounting outcry over his candidacy, and Trump now faces the potential implosion of his party, just as he's seeking to become its new leader.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Mitt did a big, big joke. Mitt is a failed candidate. He failed. He failed horribly.
ACOSTA: Trump, who argues he's expanding the party, brushed off Romney's attacks as sour grapes coming from a presidential loser.
TRUMP: He let us down. He let us down. Mitt ran. Probably it was the worst run that most people have seen. He doesn't have what it takes to be president. That I can tell you.
ACOSTA: The real-estate tycoon defended his business record.
TRUMP: They don't want to talk about 92-story buildings all over the place.
ACOSTA: And he joked Romney once courted his endorsement.
TRUMP: I could have said, "Mitt, drop to your knees." He would have dropped to his knees. He was begging. He was begging me.
ACOSTA: That lovefest was four years ago.
TRUMP: Mitt is tough. He's smart. He's sharp.
ROMNEY: He understands that our economy is facing threats from abroad.
ACOSTA: Times have clearly changed for Romney. who looks a bit like a candidate himself, shaking hands with supporters after his speech in Utah. And meeting in private with his former running mate, House Speaker Paul Ryan, in Salt Lake City just last weekend.
Asked about Trump's warning earlier this week to Ryan to support him or pay a price, the speaker says he LOL'ed.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-MN), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I actually watched it live. I was sitting in my office watching it live and I just -- I just laughed out loud.
TRUMP: Our country is going to hell.
ACOSTA: But Trump has his own loyal surrogates who see Romney's savage attack on Trump as just a difference of opinion.
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: That's the way it goes in a primary, Republicans differ with each other. But I have great respect for Governor Romney. And I'm sure that there's others in the race who wish that, you know, he would make an endorsement and get out there and actually try to help someone.
(END VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA: After his speech, Mitt Romney tweeted he would have never accepted Trump's endorsement back in 2012, had he known what the GOP front-runner would be saying now about the KKK, Muslims and Mexicans. And he insists he wasn't out there today to announce his own candidacy or endorse another contender. But a source close to Romney tells me there are signs Romney is keeping his options open, Wolf.
BLITZER: Let's follow up on that. Jim Acosta, thanks very much.
So what is Mitt Romney's strategy right now? Let's bring in our special correspondent, Jamie Gangel, who's very well plugged into all of this.
What are you hearing about his strategy, maybe the next step, taking this one step further?
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: I think what Jim Acosta just said is exactly correct. There is a long-term strategy. A close -- a source close to the Romneys has told me that they are looking to stop Trump with a brokered convention. The goal is to lock him out at the convention. Now, they have to get to the convention, but that's the long-term strategy. And implicit in that, Wolf, is that Mitt Romney could offer himself up as a white knight to save the party.
There is another name that we keep hearing, and that name is Paul Ryan, his running mate, who he just had dinner with last weekend.
What's interesting is nobody is talking about bringing back Rubio or Cruz or Kasich. This would be get to the convention, lock the convention, and come in with a white knight.
BLITZER: In other words, by all -- any means possible prevent Trump from getting the magic number, enough pledged delegates to guarantee he will be the Republican nominee. But how do you do that?
GANGEL: That all presumes exactly that. That's correct. And they may not be able to do that. But there is a strategy they're laying out, and it's the following.
No. 1, keep everyone in the race. And you heard Romney say this in his speech today. He said, if you're in Florida, vote for Rubio. If you're in Ohio, vote for Kasich. The point is keep as many of these guys in and try to keep the -- from hitting that magic number.
The other thing is today was the opening volley. Expect the GOP leadership establishment to hit harder and harder on Trump and expect them to go after two things: his taxes. They're going to keep asking for him to release his taxes. There is a thought that he is not as rich or as liquid as he says he is, and they think they can undermine him by doing that.
BLITZER: The magic number at the convention is 1,237 -- 1,237 pledged delegates you need. If they manage to prevent Trump from getting that, and they have this white knight in the background getting ready to run, whether it's Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan or somebody else, you know Donald Trump. I know Donald Trump. He'll bolt. He'll be angry. He might run as a third-party candidate.
GANGEL: Right. And I think what they said to me about that when I asked is, "We're willing to take that chance. It's better than having him as the Republican nominee."
BLITZER: All right, good reporting. Jamie Gangel working her sources for us. Thank you.
This afternoon Donald Trump said he's facing a lot of incoming fire right now. There will be even more during tonight's Republican presidential debate in Detroit.
[17:10:05] Our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, is on the scene for us.
Dana, not everyone in the Republican Party clearly on board with Mitt Romney and the Stop Trump movement. Some think it's risky, especially if he wins the nomination. What are you hearing over there?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right. Certainly, I'm hearing a lot of what Jamie is reporting about members of the Republican establishment apoplectic about the idea of Donald Trump being their nominee, which is why they're hoping to take this all the way to the convention.
But others in prominent positions, especially on Capitol Hill, are saying, "Are you kidding me? This is just proof that the Republican establishment doesn't get what's going on in the country."
One example is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker. He released a statement today, and in part, he said the following: "Here's my message to the Republican leaders. Focus more on listening to the American people and less on trying to stifle their voice." And he went on to say, "To be candid, I think the American people should be angrier than they are." And we should note that he is from Tennessee. Tennessee is a state just two days ago on Super Tuesday that within the Republican Party went heavily for Donald Trump.
And he's not alone. Bill Bennett, who is definitely a member of the Republican establishment; he was education secretary; he is Paul Ryan's mentor. He also said today that he thinks that this is a terrible idea to grab the nomination from Donald Trump, if that's what Republican voters want. He said that the party has been trying to get working-class people, why alienate them now? He said, "I don't get it."
And this is sort of another important strain of the Republicans not just out in the states, not just their rank and file, not just the grassroots, but people trying to understand and echo the grassroots even in Washington, Wolf.
BLITZER: We saw Romney try to take down Trump this morning, Dana, but tonight his three remaining presidential rivals, they'll get another chance to try to take him down at a debate. What are you expecting we will all see and hear in Detroit? BASH: It is going to likely be a very bloody night, Wolf. The debate
that you moderated, I accompanied you with last week. We thought was pretty raucous and it was. But the expectation is tonight will be even potentially more so or even as much of a food fight as we saw, because there are only four people on the stage; and the three that are not Donald Trump understand that the way to get to the nomination is to go through Donald Trump.
The one person who will probably -- in fact, I am told by his aides, John Kasich will take the high road, because that's the way that he thinks that he is resonating with people. He's not the nasty guy. He is going to continue to say, "Look at these guys. They're acting like children. I look like a president. I'm going to act like a president," so expect that. And I'm told that even though John Kasich tweeted out today support for Mitt Romney's message, he's not likely to talk about that unless asked by the moderators, Wolf.
BLITZER: We'll see if he changes his strategy. All right. Thanks very much, Dana Bash, on the scene for us in Detroit.
With us now here in THE SITUATION ROOM is Donald Trump supporter Scottie Nell Hughes. She's a Tea Party leader; works for the USA Radio Network.
Scottie, thanks very much for coming in. Let me read to you a line from Mitt Romney's speech today attacking Donald Trump, the man you want to be president: "Donald Trump says he admires Vladimir Putin while he has called George W. Bush a liar. That is a twisted example of evil trumping good." Your reaction?
SCOTTIE NELL HUGHES, USA RADIO NETWORK: This entire speech was a page out of the Donald Trump playbook. I think what Romney was trying to do is that he was trying to make sure that his name was the headline on the day of the debate, two days before we have another big election day, and make sure that we were talking about Romney.
But it completely backfired, because Romney built his speech on emotion, and we've learned this time that you still have to have facts. From the very beginning, when Romney was up there speaking, he referenced Ronald Reagan's 1964 speech, "A Time for Choosing." Guess what? That speech was about Barry Goldwater, not about continuing to keep the establishment of President Johnson in office. And it just completely digressed from there.
I feel like I need to send him a fruit basket and say thank you, because the response is that it was obvious this was a vile attack against Mr. Trump. And the reason why so many people are engaged in the election today is because of leadership or the lack thereof, and the failing leadership of the establishment Republican Party.
BLITZER: Because Romney started his remarks by saying he has no desire to run again, but you believe he still wants to be president?
HUGHES: No, but I think he wants the establishment still to be in control. This was kind of like a "hail Mary" pass when it comes down to it. But let's also remember: this might all have to do somewhat with his
pocketbook. Governor Romney, if you remember, he worked for Bain Capital for 15 years, which became known as the king of outsourcing and taking these jobs and sending them overseas. Guess what Mr. Trump, one of his big parts is? He wants to bring them back home. You know, Governor Romney still has a nice retirement package from Bain Capital, from others. Could it also have been a little personal motivation? Everything about this speech was unhinged. It was very un-Romney-like.
[17:15:12] BLITZER: He said -- he said that Trump is a phony and a fraud. He said Trump doesn't have the temperament or the judgment to be commander in chief, president of the United States. Says his foreign policies -- I'm just looking from my notes -- would make America and the world less safe. And he says Trump never gives specifics; he just says we're going to make America great. That was the basic theme of his criticism.
HUGHES: Well, basic theme, but let's talk about it. I mean, why are we taking any sort of compliments or criticism from a man who literally for two election cycles lost and represents the five million that stayed home in 2012 or those five million that are making Senator Ted Cruz and Donald Trump lead right now. It's that silent majority that's awoken.
So right now I can honestly say, as people watch Governor Romney, whether you're a Donald Trump fan or not, they saw it for what it was. It was the last "hail Mary" pass by a guy who's lost the Super Bowl twice.
BLITZER: Did you vote for him in 2012?
HUGHES: Absolutely. Was I thrilled with it? Not so much. But I knew that was better than anything would be.
Let's also remember this. If you would have had Governor Romney attack President Obama even half as hard as he's going after Donald Trump, we might not have had a second term of President Obama.
BLITZER: Stand by, Scott. We have more to discuss. We're getting more information, as well, much more right after this.
[17:20:53] BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. Only moments ago, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, our special correspondent, Jamie Gangel, reported that Mitt Romney's inner circle, sources tell her, is exploring ways to block Donald Trump over at the Republican National Convention later in July in Cleveland.
We're back with Donald Trump supporter Scottie Nell Hughes.
You heard that report from Jamie. Do you think that's realistic, that it's possible that they could prevent him from reaching that magic number? He won't have enough pledged delegates, and then all of a sudden a white knight, whether Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan or somebody else, could emerge as the Republican nominee?
HUGHES: Well, but I mean, they have to still come in and get voted in. You have to realize we have high record turnout right now, which means these -- population is voting for Mr. Trump. My husband was just elected delegate in Tennessee; had over 20,000 just from a small district of people just showing up to vote for Mr. Trump.
So you have to realize, if they try to do that, they've lost. Either way right now, this rusty side of the Republican Party have lost. The question is how bad do they want to lose? If they try to sit there and pull these antics and they're going against the people they say they represent, and I can tell you, people have awoken. They're not going to let it happen.
BLITZER: If that happens, would he run as a third-party candidate, do you believe?
HUGHES: I don't know if he'd run as a third-party candidate, because I don't think we could even understand how that would go. Because actually, there at the RNC, you are going to have delegates that were elected for Mr. Trump, and so you're going to have an absolute upheaval.
What I find is going to be interesting is going to be the recruitment of these delegates to change their minds behind the scene.
I will tell you, when these delegates were being recruited, they were pretty much vetted. They were heavily vetted. And I think they were very much asked, "Do you really support Mr. Trump? Why do you support Mr. Trump?" They made sure that these delegates, if we're elected, were solid Trump supporters, and I think that's a good thing right now. That meant they knew this possibly could be an option for the establishment.
BLITZER: Looks like it could be chaotic.
As you know, more than 50 Republican national security figures, many of them leaders, served in government, they have now written an open letter denouncing a Trump presidency. Among other things they say this: "His vision of American influence of power in the world is widely -- wildly inconsistent and unmoored in principle. He swings from isolationism to military adventurism within the space of one sentence." The letter goes on to say, "We are unable to support a party ticket with Mr. Trump at its head."
That's a pretty strong letter.
HUGHES: Now, I have to ask them, though, and a lot of them, I respect those names on there. Michael Chertoff on there. Highly respect them. Are you more willing, then, to support a Hillary Clinton as president?
BLITZER: Some of them, apparently, are ready to even vote for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump.
HUGHES: Which really makes me question how really loyal they are right now. Are they actually more important to sit there, to risk not having pie on their face and saying they lost because of this letter and go to the other side? What are their actual motivations in this?
Plus a lot of those guys are your establishment guys. Now I put a lot or faith in somebody like Sheriff Joe Arpaio, on the border, who's endorsed Mr. Trump. I think you talk to a lot of law enforcement, as Mr. Trump has said, you know, "I support our men in blue. I support those people that are actually having to deal with this on Main Street, not the bureaucrats that are sitting up there making these laws. While I respect those, I actually wanting to help those that are on the streets that are having to deal with the laws that are being made, more importantly. I value their opinion."
BLITZER: We'll see what happens. All right. Scottie, thanks very much for coming in.
Scottie Nell Hughes is a Trump supporter.
Let's take a quick break. There's other developing -- developments in this race for the White House. We're watching. We'll be right back.
[17:28:39] BLITZER: We're following breaking news and another astonishing and improbable moment in this, the 2016 presidential campaign: 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney's speech publicly attacking Donald Trump as, in Romney's words, a phony and a fraud.
With us here in THE SITUATION ROOM, CNN political commentator S.E. Cupp; CNN Politics executive editor Mark Preston; and the former Virginia attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli. He's a Ted Cruz supporter. Thanks to all of you for coming in.
Jamie Gangel reporting that, among Mitt Romney's inner circle, there's one school of thought. Go to the convention. Maybe Trump won't have enough pledged delegates to ensure that he's going to be the nominee. Have an open convention, let Mitt Romney or maybe Paul Ryan, a white knight emerge. Is that realistic at all?
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: I don't think it's realistic that Paul Ryan is going to come in as the white knight. I mean, he's the speaker of the House.
S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Reluctantly.
PRESTON: Reluctantly, as we remembered.
BLITZER: He was the vice-presidential nominee four years ago.
PRESTON: He certainly was. But you know, we've been talking about this the last couple of days. That there are definite strategies right now the Republicans are talking about to try to deny Donald Trump the nomination.
And in fact during his speech today, he let it -- a little bit of that information out when he said, "I'd like to see John Kasich win Ohio. I would like to see Marco Rubio win Florida. I would like everyone to start winning."
BLITZER: Like Ted Cruz to win some other states.
PRESTON: Win some other states, because by doing so, he hopes that Donald Trump can't get over the threshold to become the...
[17:30:01] BLITZER: It's sort of divided.
What did you make of that line? Because it's sort of jumped out. And you're a Ted Cruz supporter.
CUCCINELLI: I am a Ted Cruz supporter. Mitt Romney is not a great vehicle to deliver this kind of a message. However --
BLITZER: Why not? Why is he -- he was the Republican nominee four years ago.
CUCCINELLI: Icon of the establishment and, you know, this is fuel for all of the wrong fires in this campaign right now. Ted has got a great track record fighting the establishment, but right now what I thought has been fascinating the last day is Lindsey Graham's comments. Well, you know, very authentic. You know, I can't believe I'm saying this, but yes, I think it may be time to get behind Ted Cruz. It's Lindsey Graham of all people.
BLITZER: Who doesn't -- who's no great fan of Ted Cruz.
CUCCINELLI: No, no, no, but he recognizes where things are and the reality of the nomination contest and the eight Bush fundraisers who got behind Ted today. Obviously -- all these campaigns tell sort of their version of the story. A lot of the other campaigns have been telling the story that nobody can get along with Ted. And here come the Bush people and here comes Lindsey Graham. That story is shattering. It's shattering.
BLITZER: S.E., what about this strategy, though, to try to prevent Trump from getting enough pledged delegates and have some sort of contested convention. Do you believe that's at all realistic?
CUPP: I don't think it's realistic and I don't think it's a good idea. I don't think that's the spirit of democracy. I think look, as much as I have, you know, bemoaned a Trump nomination and, worse, a Trump presidency, this is the Democratic process. And I feel like Mitt Romney coming in to say let's try to rig an alternate solution isn't really the spirit of democracy. Furthermore, I don't think -- I mean, I'm not surprised Mitt Romney goes to strategy first, right? But I don't think that's the way you change hearts and minds. This is an emotional --
BLITZER: So if it comes down to Trump versus Hillary Clinton, you're with Trump?
CUPP: No. I can't vote for Donald Trump and tell my son why in 20 years. I can't do that.
BLITZER: So what would you -- CUPP: But I certainly wouldn't vote for Hillary Clinton.
BLITZER: So you would look for a third party or you'd look for some --
CUPP: For sure.
BLITZER: Quote, "white knight."
CUPP: Or I might write you in, Wolf.
CUPP: I might do a write-in candidate.
PRESTON: That would be amazing. But, you know, to S.E.'s point, though, about if there is some kind of strategy put in place by the smoke-filled room, Washington power brokers, as one of them said to me the other day, as much as they would like to see Trump denied the nomination, Cleveland would burn. Cleveland would burn. You would see like probably physical violence at the convention because you would basically be overthrowing the will of millions of voters.
BLITZER: He does have the most votes by far.
CUCCINELLI: But below 50 percent.
BLITZER: No, no, no. Right now in all of these maybe 15 contests that the Republicans have had, the primaries, the caucuses, if you take a look at the numbers, he's got a lot more votes than Cruz or Rubio or Kasich or anyone else and these are poll numbers. These are actual people voting in Republican caucuses. Shouldn't their vote be heard?
CUCCINELLI: Well, their vote is being heard and he's ahead in the delegate count right now. But he's still below --
BLITZER: He's also ahead in the popular vote.
CUCCINELLI: He's still below 50 percent and he needs to win more than half the delegates that remain, more than half to become the nominee on the first ballot. And next behind him is Ted Cruz and much farther back than that is Marco Rubio. And really the -- if Marco Rubio believes what he's been saying, if Mitt Romney really believes this, the next thing for him to do is pick up the phone and call Marco Rubio and say, you know, what are you doing? And for the anti-establishment folks who are splitting between Trump and Cruz, there is competition there.
Ted Cruz is the only candidate that competes for those votes. Not beat him over the head and take them, but competes for them on the anti-establishment, I'm fed up with Washington mentality that is firing them up.
BLITZER: But so far Trump's message is resonating with Republicans a lot more than Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio for that matter. CUCCINELLI: Well, that's why he has more delegates and he is getting
a lot more play but he's also getting a lot more attention and he's having a lot more --
BLITZER: If you think that Ted Cruz is not going to get the nomination, would he step aside, let's say, for Mitt Romney?
CUCCINELLI: I don't see anybody not in the race becoming the nominee. That will never ever happen.
BLITZER: You think so, Mark?
CUCCINELLI: In Virginia we have a lot of contested conventions.
PRESTON: I think that there's no such thing as conventional wisdom anymore. But I do have a question for you, Ken. If for some reason over the next couple of weeks, Marco Rubio starts to win some contests and eclipses Ted Cruz, do you think that that phone call goes the other way where Ted Cruz says, OK, I'm going to step out for Marco Rubio?
CUCCINELLI: And that would then, of course, assume he turns a 20- point deficit around in Florida as well, and wins the state.
BLITZER: Well, if he carries --
BLITZER: If he doesn't carry his own state, it's over for him.
CUCCINELLI: It's over.
BLITZER: And if Kasich -- if Kasich doesn't carry Ohio.
CUCCINELLI: Senator Ted Cruz --
PRESTON: If you can't win Ohio and you can't win Florida, you should get out of race.
BLITZER: I mean, the bottom line, S.E., that Marco Rubio has to carry Florida on March 15th and John Kasich has to carry his home state of Ohio on March 15th. Otherwise it's over for the two of them.
CUPP: For John Kasich I think even winning Ohio, 66 delegates, is not going to be enough for his campaign. But certainly for Rubio, the stakes are much higher because I think there's more of a chance for Rubio. So yes, I would say he has to win Florida to go on.
[17:35:11] CUCCINELLI: But from now until then.
BLITZER: Until March 15th.
CUCCINELLI: There's too many states under the bridge. If Marco Rubio is serious about stopping Donald Trump and he talks about that all the time. I went to one of his rallies to listen and talk to the press on -- last Sunday. And he hit that and hit it and hit it and hit it. If he really believes it, there's one way that he can meaningfully take a shot at achieving that goal and that's to get out and back Ted Cruz. And that's very uncomfortable --
BLITZER: It doesn't look like he's going to do that before Florida. There's a bunch of contests this Saturday and there's a bunch of contests next Tuesday. How are these main guys in the Republican Party going to do?
PRESTON: You know, I think Donald Trump is going to have a pretty good couple of weeks. You know, I mean, it becomes surgical now for -- well, he is. I mean, if we're going to go on the polls, then he's going to have a couple of good weeks. He has the wind at his back. I'm not saying he's going to win the nomination but I think if you have money to put down, you would probably put it on him.
I mean, the fact is it becomes a surgical strike right now for each of these candidates. Ted Cruz is targeting certain states because he knows that he can pick up delegates there. The same thing with Marco Rubio. I mean, Trump -- I mean, Trump is all over the place.
CUPP: And let's put it in this perspective. Donald Trump won 49 percent in Massachusetts. My home state, your home state. We don nominate in the Republican Party in Massachusetts risky picks. We go establishment. I mean, I went back eight contests and it was like establishment pick, establishment pick. So this is -- I mean, we just -- we don't go with, you know, the outside the box picks. Yes.
BLITZER: Even in your home state of Virginia he did well there, too, didn't he?
CUPP: If he's playing --
BLITZER: And Virginia is one of those swing states, Massachusetts not so much in a general election. But Virginia is critically important.
CUCCINELLI: It's a pretty different analysis in the primary than in the general. I mean, Donald Trump is not going to win Massachusetts in the general election.
CUPP: No. But even the Republicans in Massachusetts.
CUCCINELLI: I understand. I understand.
CUPP: Who never typically vote for the outsider --
BLITZER: Let me ask you this question, Ken. If Trump is the nominee, the speech that Mitt Romney gave today, you've got to believe that will be used in a lot of advertising by the Democrats against Trump.
CUCCINELLI: Sure it will and it's easy. Easy to do. I mean, you know, I'm sure they were all running their DVRs today and it's an easy ad to cut. One of the super PACs that's hitting Trump today is basically running think about this ad in the fall and running Democrat ads against Trump. And they're devastating. They're devastating. And if you're thinking about winning in the fall, if that's a priority, Donald Trump is a very unsafe bet.
BLITZER: Romney gave a very blistering attack on Trump, and Trump responded. What did you think of Trump's response?
CUPP: I mean, it was a typical Trump response, all over the place, lots of nonsequiters, throwing protesters out, very little substance. He did exactly what Mitt Romney predicted he would. He would offer very little in the way of policy and substance, and he would go after his character. And that's what he did. And you know what, that probably works. I think Mitt Romney handed him and his supporters a big gift today.
BLITZER: Do you think that Romney helped Trump?
CUCCINELLI: Boy, I tell you, he sure didn't try to achieve the goal he came out there to achieve.
BLITZER: We'll see what happens. All right, guys, stand by. Lots more news coming in.
We're watching this truly unbelievable race for the White House unfold. Other developments when we come back.
[17:43:06] BLITZER: While Republican frontrunner Donald Trump faces a revolt within the party establishment, Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton faces a problem of her own making. The inquiry into her e- mails as secretary of state. Bernie Sanders is trying to gain ground ahead of Sunday's CNN Democratic presidential debate.
Our senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny is covering the Democratic campaign for us.
What's the latest out there, Jeff?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I can tell you Bernie Sanders is traveling to a collection of states that are trying to make up for some lost ground earlier in the week. He held a rally a short time ago here in Lincoln, Nebraska. That's a place where Democratic presidential candidates seldom visit. He did not stop drawing contrasts and distinctions with Hillary Clinton. Did not make up any comments about her e-mail, but he's all after one thing, Wolf. The state's 25 delegates on Saturday.
ZELENY (voice-over): Bernie Sanders had a message today for Democrats. The primary isn't over yet.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What a fantastic turnout this afternoon. Thank you so much. ZELENY: Yet the campaign trail to himself from Michigan to Nebraska
to Kansas, hunting for delegates in his uphill fight with Hillary Clinton. After basking in the glow of Elton John and Katy Perry Wednesday night at one of the Clinton campaign's biggest fundraisers.
KATY PERRY, MUSICIAN: This is it.
ZELENY: She spent the day out of public view as questions about her e-mail returned. A former aide was granted immunity and will talk to the FBI about the private server she used as secretary of state. It became instant fodder today for Republicans.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Assuming she's not arrested for the e-mail situation, which is so terrible.
ZELENY: Again and again, Clinton has defended how she handled classified information.
HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is just not something that, you know, is going t have any lasting effect and I'm not at all worried about it.
ZELENY: But the Justice Department inquiry still hangs over her campaign. Sanders once again steered clear but he wasted no time going after other parts of her record, starting with the Keystone Pipeline, which would run straight through Nebraska.
[17:45:09] SANDERS: There is a candidate out there running for the Democratic nomination who was a little bit wobbly about the Keystone Pipeline.
ZELENY: And on trade he called her positions a disaster for Michigan.
SANDERS: She was very, very wrong and millions of families around this country have been suffering as a result of those disastrous trade agreements.
ZELENY: He told CNN he has no time for Democrats who say he should tone down his rhetoric against Clinton.
SANDERS: In many ways Democrats can say what they want. We're in this race to win it. I don't run negative campaign ads but I do think it is appropriate that in a campaign you distinguish your differences with your opponents.
ZELENY: He's fighting to win the Nebraska and Kansas caucuses on Saturday and Maine on Sunday.
SANDERS: On the other hand, maybe Nebraska is not quite so conservative.
ZELENY: Still it's an uphill climb for Sanders. In pledged delegates he has 405 to Clinton's 606. But when you factor in super delegates, Clinton's support soars. 1,074 to 426.
(END VIDEOTAPE) ZELENY: And Wolf, when we talked to Senator Sanders this afternoon, he said he has no intention of either lightening up and certainly not leaving this race. The Sanders campaign believes by the end of this week, and they will have three more states in their win column. The Clinton campaign does not disagree. She believes she will only win the Louisiana primary on Saturday.
Wolf, of course this is a race about delegates and these states are all small numbers of delegates but we are entering a very busy stretch here. That key debate on Sunday in Flint, Michigan, followed by another debate next Wednesday, this could be one of the most important stretches of this Democratic campaign -- Wolf.
BLITZER: You're absolutely right. Jeff Zeleny, reporting for us, thank you.
Coming up, 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney slamming 2016 presidential frontrunner Donald Trump as a phony and a fraud. Does Romney have a secret plan to deprive Trump of the nomination?
And breaking news. A day after the United Nations imposes tough new sanctions, North Korea fires off a salvo of missiles and Kim Jong-Un orders nuclear warheads be ready for use.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
[17:51:56] BLITZER: The breaking news just coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM, only moments ago, Kim Jong-Un's regime issued a chilling new threat. A threat involving nuclear weapons.
CNN's Brian Todd is joining us right now. What was this threat all about? What are you learning, Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it seems with each new day we get a new provocation from Kim Jong-Un. And just moments ago, according to North Korea's official news agency, Kim ordered his military to be ready to fire nuclear warheads at any time. Now there is a huge caveat here. Weapons experts say the North Koreans have not yet flight tested long-range missiles enough to ensure that they won't break up upon re-entering the earth's atmosphere. So it is not believed that Kim can hit the U.S. with a nuclear weapon right now.
Still, with all of his dangerous moves recently, including another one that he just pulled, the Korean Peninsula is on edge tonight.
TODD (voice-over): Call it middle finger to the West the size of a missile from Kim Jong-Un. Tonight Western leaders are discussing how to respond after North Korea's defiant young leader fired off missiles into the sea overnight. That was after the U.N. slammed Kim's regime with the toughest barrage of sanctions it's faced at one time.
PATRICK CRONIN, CENTER FOR A NEW AMERICAN SECURITY: Kim Jong-Un is signaling to the world that the sanctions will not hurt him. He will deviate from his nuclear missile plans. That he will circumvent sanctions.
TODD: A U.S. Defense official tells CNN Kim fired off six very short range ballistic missiles. Tonight CNN has learned the Pentagon is watching the situation closely and calling on Kim's regime to refrain from more provocation. But for two months now there had been nothing but provocations between Kim and his enemies. He's tested a nuclear bomb and test fired a rocket with long-range missile technology.
In retaliation, the South Koreans shut down the Kaesong Industrial Complex they share with North Korea. And the U.S. flew low over South Korea with stealth fighter jets angering Kim's regime.
Kim's fight with the outside world comes as he's dealing with his own palace intrigue in Pyongyang. Kim just replaced yet another general at the top of his military. Three of the previous four generals in that position are believed to have been executed or disappeared. And since a top party official died in a suspicious car crash in late December, Kim's never publicly left the capital.
MICHAEL MADDEN, NK LEADERSHIP WATCH: There are signs that there might be security issues around the supreme leader in North Korea. And one of those is him not leaving the capital Pyongyang. In the capital Pyongyang he is guarded by a population of 150,000 troops. There's all sorts of tunnels and secret places that Kim Jong-Un can squirrel himself away.
TODD: Tonight even as he watches his back, most observers believe Kim is plotting ways to get around the U.N. sanctions.
SAMANTHA POWER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: We fully anticipate that they will try to drive a truck through any loophole that they can find.
TODD: And again back to our breaking news just moments ago. Kim Jong-Un, according to the North Korean official news agency, ordered his military to be ready to fire nuclear warheads at any moment. But again, U.S. officials, weapons experts say they've not yet flight tested long-range missiles enough to be ensured that they can survive re-entering the earth's atmosphere.
[17:55:04] It is not believed that Kim Jong-Un has the capability of hitting the United States with a nuclear weapon. At this moment, he is working on them -- Wolf.
BLITZER: How many nuclear bombs? What's the latest assessment? How many nuclear bombs does Kim Jong-Un's regime have?
TODD: Analysts we speak to, Wolf, say he's got between 10 and 16 nuclear bombs right now. At the rate he is accelerating his build-up they say he could have as many as 100 by the end of 2020. Not far off.
BLITZER: All right. It's very worrisome development.
All right, thanks very much, Brian Todd.
Breaking news we're following. Also coming up, 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney attacks 2016 presidential frontrunner Donald Trump as a phony and a fraud.
Will Romney back up those words with a secret plan to stop Trump at the Republican convention?