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Ben Carson Endorses Donald Trump; Will Rubio's Debate Performance Win Florida; Winners, Losers in Calm GOP Debate. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired March 11, 2016 - 11:00   ET



[11:00:19] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everybody. I'm John Berman.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everybody. I'm Kate Bolduan, and we're back in New York together.

Welcome back to the "now we're all friends" edition of the 2016 contest after a debate that was shockingly and aggressively civil.

Ben Carson has just endorsed his former rival Donald Trump.

And moments from now, dueling events will be happening live. Ted Cruz is about to speak at a church rally in Orlando. We will bring the event to you life when it happens. And Marco Rubio is about to hold an event in West Palm Beach, Florida.

BERMAN: The campaign very much still on. But Dr. Ben Carson says it's time for the party to unify around Donald Trump, a man who once likened him to a pathological child molester. Carson says he's forgiven Trump.


DR. BEN CARSON, (R), RETIRED NEUROSURGEON & FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We've buried the hatchet. That was political stuff, and that happens in American politics, the politics of personal destruction, all that. It's not something that I particularly believe in or anything that I get involved in. But I do recognize that it is a part of the process. We move on because it's not about me. It's not about Mr. Trump. It's about America.


That was political stuff.

Joining us now, CNN chief political stuff correspondent --


-- Dana Bash, who is in Florida right now.

Dana, you were at the event. Quite a spectacle. DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It was. I should note

I'm now at the Rubio event. It's in West Palm Beach. He's going to show up in about a half an hour. This doesn't look like Mar-a-Lago anymore.

But it was a spectacle, and that was vintage Donald Trump to not just have an event like that but to do so the morning after a debate. He tends to have kind of a trick up his sleeve to continue to dominate the narrative, no matter what happens the night before a big debate.

But one of the most interesting things that I actually saw Ben Carson had said on a radio show this morning about Donald Trump, and then he repeated it standing next to Donald Trump was the fact that he believes that there are two Donald Trumps, the entertainer, he called him in possible, and then the thinking man in private. And I say several other reporters were asking Donald Trump to elaborate on that. Here's part of one of his answers.


DONALD TRUMP, (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE & CEO, TRUMP ORGANIZATION: I think there are two Donald Trumps. There's the public version, and people see that, and I don't know what they see exactly, but it seems to have worked over my lifetime, but it's probably different, I think than the personal Donald Trump I think Ben could say that. Ben said it well. Perhaps there are two Donald Trumps, but -- well, I'm somebody who is a thinker. I'm a big thinker. And I have my ideas, and they're strong, and typically they've worked out. And what I want to do is -- the theme, and Ben alluded to it. The theme I have for this entire campaign is make America great again.


BASH: So I'm not sure if it's happened yet on Twitter or elsewhere, or maybe it will here, but there's no question that Donald Trump's opponents are going to seize on that two Donald Trump's theme as part and parcel of what they have been accusing him of, as being, in the words of Marco Rubio, a con man, not a real conservative, that he is saying these things in public, but privately he thinks something differently. Obviously, he didn't go there at all.

And the one other big headline from this press conference earlier in Palm Beach, Kate and John, is that he does not believe there should be anymore debates. He was trying to give CNN a compliment because he thought last night's was well done, but more importantly, he feels like he's on the road to the nomination, and he clearly doesn't want to do anything that could mess that up and certainly debates are high- stakes events -- Kate and John?

BERMAN: Just the look and feel of a candidate in an event that wanted to be looking very much forward, not backward right now, and in no more debates was part of that.

BASH: That's right.

BERMAN: Dana Bash, thank you so much. We'll check back in at the Rubio event in a few minutes.

Lots to discuss. I want to bring in Barry Bennett, a senior advisor to the Trump campaign, formerly Ben Carson's campaign manager; Mary Katherine Ham, a CNN political commentator and senior writer for "The Federalist"; and Doug Heye, former communications director for the RNC.

Barry, let me start with you, bring you back to the old day's when you were Ben Carson's campaign manager, when Donald Trump was calling your candidate pathological. While that was going on, did you ever think you would say today when they'd be standing side by side?

BARRY BENNETT, ADVISOR, DONALD TRUMP PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN & FORMER BEN CARSON PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I've been in this business a long time. I never ruled that out. Dr. Carson has questioned Donald Trump's faith, and we didn't overreact to the charge. It's just heat of the moment.

[11:05:22] BOLDUAN: Heat of the moment. Well, let's remind some of our viewers and all of us of some of that heat of the moment that was not so long ago. Listen to this, guys.


TRUMP: Ben Carson is a complete and total loser.

He has a pathological temperament. That's a big problem. You don't cure that. That's like, you know, I could say -- they say you don't cure, as an example, a child molester.

And he plunged it into the belt, and amazingly, the belt stayed totally flat and the knife broke. How stupid are the people of Iowa? How stupid are the people of the country to believe this crap?


BOLDUAN: And now it is just one big bear hug, Mary Katherine. Do you believe it?


MARY KATHERINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: In which the nice, seemingly nicest man on the earth, Ben Carson, endorses Donald Trump. I mean, it's incredible. This entire campaign is a giant shrug emoji. This is what's going on here.


But, look, I think it's indicative of how Trump changes the political rolls. He compared somebody to a pedophile and he's up there endorsing him. I have a lot of respect for Dr. Carson, but that's truly amazing. Transcending the political rule there.

BERMAN: Why? Why do you think, Mary Katherine? Ben Carson, what he says is, look, we need to unify the party. I think Donald Trumps actually a smart man. That was what Ben Carson said. (LAUGHTER)

HAM: Actually.

BERMAN: I mean --


HAM: That's the harshest dig Ben Carson has used.

BERMAN: But that's what Ben Carson says. Why do you think he's falling in line behind Donald Trump right now? It has to mean something.

HAM: He, too, was an outer candidate. I think a lot of people look at Donald Trump and say none of these other things have worked. None of the "business as usual" has worked. That's a fair criticism. They look at Donald Trump and say at least he's different. I think Dr. Carson, for that reason, probably is lining up behind Donald Trump. He's ahead in the delegate count. He says maybe we can unite behind this guy. I look at the debate stage and see him calling Tiananmen Square's peaceful protest a riot and the Chinese government strong for murdering probably hundreds, maybe thousands of pro-democracy protesters, and I go, I'm not so sure about this guy.

BOLDUAN: Doug, what do you make of it? Especially, endorsements this cycle have largely meant bunk. Just ask Sarah Palin and what she did for Donald Trump in Alaska. But when it comes to Ben Carson, do you think this means something, or do you think this means less than something?

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It means a coalescing. Day of media for Donald Trump. If you look at what he said in the press conference, I see a lot of things that can be used against Trump. With the child molestation comments, which he made about Carson. Both Carson and Trump dismiss them as playing politics. One thing that's central to Donald Trump's whole identity is he's somebody different from the political process. If he's going to excuse things away because he, Donald Trump, the anti politician, is just playing politics, that runs counter to his entire brand.

One other troubling thing for me is, if there are two Donald Trumps, it's a pretty good guess on who he thinks his running mate should be. That should send shock waves to everybody.

BERMAN: There's a constitutional issue there. They both are in the same state.


BOLDUAN: And you can't tell the difference.

BERMAN: Florida, Donald Trump, and New York, Donald Trump.


BOLDUAN: There you go.

BERMAN: Barry, one of the things Dana Bash hit on was Donald Trump in the news conference essentially saying we're done with debates. He said we think we've had enough debates.

BENNETT: Please be done.

BERMAN: You saw the done last night and in the news conference. It seems he's trying to look forward really to the general election.

BENNETT: I think two points. One, if you look at the focus groups last night done after the debate, the guys who watched the debate said that Donald Trump looked presidential. That is a huge hurdle to cover for a candidate. To actually have people imagine you standing in the Rose Garden. And I think last night I think this morning, people can actually see what Donald Trump would look like as president. It's a massive thing.

The other massive thing, and we saw in Pennsylvania since January 1st, 48,000 Democrats have switched parties. More than that in Massachusetts, and we're seeing it in Ohio. Take that and then add the Carson's ability -- the Ben Carson campaign, 40 percent of the people who showed up at the rallies were not Republicans. They were either Independents, unregistered or Democrats. He can help Donald Trump expand the party, make the tent bigger, both in the African- American community, which going from seven to 11 percent -- doesn't sound like much, but it's massive -- but particularly in the 40 million Christians that don't vote, Ben can help him get those people out.

[11:10:21] BOLDUAN: With that in mind, Mary Katherine, do the other candidates have time to turn that around if Ben Carson could bring those kinds of numbers?

HAM: I think he can bring some. The state of his campaign when he dropped out of the race shows he's not bringing as much as he would have several months ago. I don't discount Donald Trump's ability to sort of change the map and to change the rules. And Democrats should not either. But I would like to talk about the idea of looking presidential and the bigotry of low expectations. On the stage last night, I mentioned the Tiananmen Square thing, calling it a riot, going soft on the authoritarian figures. When asked about violence as his own rallies, and confronted with his own quotes encouraging it, it was like, eh, couldn't really say that much about it. He said he was the most pro Israel person on the stage, even though his repeated stance doesn't show that. Because he was the grand marshall of a pro Israel Day parade. I'm just not sure that those are what makes up being presidential on that stage, even though he is able to bring energy and these different voters. Let's evaluate that on its own.

BERMAN: It is a good question.


BENNETT: Look at the numbers, look at the polling, that's what it's telling you. HAM: He always looks at the polling. He repeated that he's beating

Hillary Clinton in head-to-head polls. He's not. He's had -- I'm happy to have him argue that he can change that dynamic but lying about the polls on the stage, again, not super presidential.

BENNETT: We're not talking about the head-to-head polls.

HAM: He was on stage last night.

BENNETT: We're talking about him looking presidential last night. I don't know how you can deny that.


BERMAN: Doug, 10 seconds left.

HEYE: I would say, Barry, being incoherent on Cuba, isn't presidential. I would say, hey, Ben Carson, we're going to hire the good generals, not the bad ones, isn't presidential. It would be nice if the Republican opponents would have gone after him when he was incoherent. But not only does this emperor not have any clothes, he has no answers to substantive questions from journalists or candidates.

BERMAN: Then the bar is --


BENNETT: -- different for the Republican primary voters?

BERMAN: We'll leave it there, guys, but maybe the bar for being presidential is not making jokes about manhood.

BOLDUAN: It is evolving, the bar is evolving.


BERMAN: Barry Bennett, Mary Katherine Ham, Doug Heye, thanks for being with us. We appreciate it.


BERMAN: Any moment from now, on the campaign trail, Cruz, Rubio, they are holding events in Florida. Interesting that Cruz is holding an event in Florida. Polls show the battle there, well, Donald Trump out in front. Marco Rubio certainly needs to win that state, his home state. 99 delegates at stake. We'll check into these events live. We'll talk to Marco Rubio's communications director.

BOLDUAN: Also ahead, Bernie Sanders is fighting to make end roads with the African-American community ahead of Tuesday's big primary contest, meeting a major African-American voice. What is Sanders' pitch? Can he pull off another Michigan surprise?

BERMAN: It's not in Michigan.

BOLDUAN: It's a Michigan-style surprise.


[11:17:00] BERMAN: Any minute, we'll here from Marco Rubio. He has a foreign policy event, West Palm Beach, fresh off the debate last night. Many saw it as a strong performance. Certainly a more restrained performance last night for Marco Rubio.

BOLDUAN: Will it translate into a need win into his home state of Florida.

Let's talk about the debate and the race ahead for Senator Marco Rubio. Joining us is Alex Conant, the communications director for Marco Rubio.

Alex, great to see you. Thank you for joining us.


BOLDUAN: Thank you so much.

We did see a very different tone from Senator Rubio on that debate stage last night. Why?

CONANT: Well, I think he wanted to remind people here in Florida why they elected him in 2010. And he wanted to talk about the issues. Look election is a generational choice about what kind of country America is going to be in the twenty-first century. He didn't want to get into personal insults. He said earlier this week he regretted the campaign had gotten to nasty in the previous debates. Last night's debate, he wanted to focus on what voters are choosing. That's what kind of a country we're going to be.

BERMAN: He said he didn't want to get into the type of language on the trail for a couple weeks. Is that really what you blame for not winning more than one or two delegates on Tuesday for the troubles you had last Saturday? Is that what's caused the problem in the polls, Alex?

CONANT: I don't think so. I mean, look, we did well in Virginia. We won Minnesota. We won the Puerto Rico primary last Sunday. Mostly we've been 100 percent focused on Florida for the last two weeks. As you said, Florida, there's 99 delegates at stake. It's winner-take- all. Any vote not for Rubio is a vote for Donald Trump. If Trump wins here, his pathway to the nomination is much easier. That's why it's so important that Republicans, who don't want Donald Trump to be our nominee, they vote for Marco Rubio in Florida. That's why we've been focused on Florida and why we're campaigning hard, as you just showed. Marco is about to talk about foreign policy, talk about his commitment to Israel, something that Donald Trump does not share. We're going to keep campaigning here through the weekend, finishing hard on Tuesday night.

BERMAN: Can I ask, can we apply the Florida logic to Ohio. Are you willing to say right now, Alex, any vote against Kasich in Ohio is a vote for Donald Trump?

CONANT: Yeah, there's no question that John Kasich has the best chance to beat Donald Trump in Ohio. And right now --


BERMAN: So you want all Rubio voters in Ohio to vote for John Kasich?

CONANT: I'm just stating the obvious that John Kasich is the one person who can beat Donald Trump in Ohio, just like Marco Rubio is the one person who can beat Donald Trump in Florida. If you're a voter and Rubio isn't your first choice, if you like Kasich or Cruz, and you're here in Florida, you need to vote for Marco Rubio. He's the only one who can deprive Donald Trump of the 99 delegates. If we stop Trump in Florida, we can stop him in Cleveland, he will not be the Republican nominee. Rubio can be the Republican nominee. We can beat Clinton. Marco is the only candidate on the stage last night that consistently beats Hillary Clinton in every poll. There hasn't been a poll in the last month where Hillary has beat Rubio. If Marco is the nominee, we'll win the White House this fall, and we'll bring in a new American century.

[11:20:28] BOLDUAN: Since you bring up polls, the polls don't look good in Florida, and haven't looked good in Florida for Marco Rubio. I was at his rally in Hialeah on Wednesday. And he said, if he said one thing, he said it strongly, and he said it over and over again in any number of words, the nominee has to win Florida. It was always going to come down to Florida. It is all about Florida. So are you acknowledging that if he cannot compete unless he wins Florida?

CONANT: Well, regarding the polls, they've been all over the place. Just yesterday, we saw three polls that showed the race tightening dramatically. He's in single digits. We know we're well ahead in the early voting and the absentee ballots. If we finish strong, he'll win the delegates. After Florida, the map gets better for Marco.


BOLDUAN: But if you don't win Florida, are you acknowledging you can't compete beyond it?

CONANT: No. I'm not acknowledging that at all. Marco has said he'll get in his pickup truck if he has to, to defeat Donald Trump. We can't let Donald Trump be the nominee of the Republican Party. That starts in Florida. We're focused in winning on Florida. If we deprive him of those 99 delegates, if Marco can win here on Tuesday, then we can stop Donald Trump, and Marco can be the Republican nominee.

BERMAN: Alex, I want to go back and put a fine point on it. To be clear, you're calling on Kasich and Cruz voters to vote for Rubio. Will you right now tell supporters of Marco Rubio in Ohio to vote for John Kasich?

CONANT: Yeah. I think I'm just stating the obvious. If you're a Republican primary voter in Ohio and you want to defeat Donald Trump, your best chance in Ohio is John Kasich, because he's the sitting governor and close to Trump in some of the polls. The same is true in Florida. If you want to defeat Donald Trump in Florida, there's 99 delegates at stake, you need to vote for Rubio. He's the only one with a mathematical shot, and a good shot of beating Trump here.

BOLDUAN: Your answer to John, Rubio supporters in Ohio should vote for Kasich, your answer is yes?

CONANT: My answer is John Kasich is the one candidate in Ohio that can beat Donald Trump. That's stating the obvious. If you're a voter primary voter in Ohio and you don't want Republican to be the nominee, Kasich is your best bet. If you're a voter in Florida and you don't want Donald Trump to be your nominee, Rubio is your best bet. That is indisputable. Everybody would say that.

Alex Conant, great to have you with us. Thank you for joining us. Appreciate it, sir.

BOLDUAN: Thank you, Alex.

CONANT: Thank you, John and Kate.

BOLDUAN: Any moment now, as Alex said, we'll be looking for Marco Rubio who is holding an event in West Palm Beach, Florida, and also looking for Ted Cruz holding a rally in Orlando ahead of Tuesday's crucial contest. It's crucial. We just talked to Alex about it. What is Ted Cruz's pitch to voters there after last night's, oh, so, civil debate. We'll bring you Ted Cruz live when it happens.

BERMAN: Plus, John Kasich, he is fighting for his political life in his home state. Can he hold off Donald Trump? And where does Kasich go after Ohio? We'll discuss all after the break, next.


[11:28:30] BOLDUAN: It could have been the last Republican presidential debate of the primary season, but for what seemed like the very first time, the tone was civil. The final four GOP candidates facing off last night in Miami before next week's crucial contest that includes Florida and Ohio.

BERMAN: It was a big shift from the name calling. No discussions about hand size, and it really wasn't about hand size. Instead, the candidates were attacking the issues, and they were attacking each other's differences on the issues. So who are the biggest winners and losers?

Let us bring in a fantastic CNN panel, CNN commentators, Kayleigh McEnany and Amanda Carpenter and Ana Navarro. Kayleigh a Donald Trump supporter, Amanda is a former communications director for Ted Cruz, and Ana is a friend of Marco Rubio.

I saw your tweet earlier, you're voting for Marco Rubio. Let's get that out there right now.

We just spoke to Alex Conant, Rubio's communications director, Ana, and he said he thinks that Marco Rubio supporters in Ohio should vote for John Kasich because that's the best way of stopping Donald Trump.

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, I've come to the point where I think people just need to follow their conscious and follow their heart. FBI can tell you I was incredibly torn for the last week, and, yeah, getting over some hurt feelings over the entire Marco and Jeb thing, but I was very torn on whether to vote for Ted Cruz, and get this down to a two-man race in hopes that Cruz would be able to take care of -- handle Donald Trump later, or vote for Rubio, because I think there's a legitimate and strong argument to be made about stopping Trump by not giving him those 99 delegates in Florida and the 66 delegates in Ohio. Last night --