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Cruz Accuses Trump of Planting Tabloid Story; Governor Walker: Open Convention Could Pick Someone Else; Candidates Push Plans to Tackle Debt and Deficit. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired March 25, 2016 - 16:30   ET



BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Two Americans are among those still missing. Justin and Stephanie Shults from Tennessee were dropping off Stephanie's mother Carolyn Moore at the airport. Moore was visiting the couple who live in Brussels. She survived the blast but says she has still not heard from her daughter or son-in- law.

[16:30:07] And an emotional reunion for surviving victim Mason Wells and his parents. Wells, a missionary from Utah, is suffering from severe burns as his fellow church member Fanny Clain. She talked about her faith when talking exclusively with "NEW DAY's" Camerota from her hospital bedside.



GINGRAS: And it seems talking to families close to this tragedy, faith is what many are turning to now as those injured work toward recovery and those missing are accounted for -- Pamela.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Brynn Gingras, thank you so much for that.

We wish the best for those families.

Turning to our politics lead now, Ted Cruz addressing new tabloid allegations head on and he is not mincing words when it comes to blaming one of his opponents. Guess who that is.


[16:35:13] BROWN: And welcome back to THE LEAD.

Senator Ted Cruz losing his cool in a stunning news conference after Donald Trump's repeated attacks on his wife. Meanwhile, some Republican officials are worried Trump's rhetoric on women could hurt the party in the fall.

CNN correspondent Sunlen Serfaty questioned Senator Cruz this afternoon and joins me now from Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Sunlen, a very unusual move from Cruz today. SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It absolutely was, Pamela. You

know, this was a hastily arranged last-minute press conference called by the Cruz campaign here in Wisconsin. And without being asked at all, Ted Cruz came right out and went right after Donald Trump, blasting Trump, alleging that he planted a negative tabloid story about him.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald is fond of giving people nicknames. With this pattern, he should not be surprised to see people calling him sleazy Donald.

SERFATY (voice-over): Ted Cruz breathing fire at Donald Trump today.

CRUZ: Donald Trump may be a rat, but I have no desire to copulate with him. And this garbage does not belong in politics.

SERFATY: The Texas senator bringing up unprovoked a tabloid story about him, accusing Donald Trump of being behind it, but not offering any proof to back up his assertion.

CRUZ: This "National Enquirer" story is garbage. It is complete and utter lies. It is a tabloid smear. And it is a smear that has come from Donald Trump and his henchmen. It's not surprising that Donald Trump's tweet occurs the day before the attack comes out.

SERFATY: Trump today responding in a statement saying, quote, "I had absolutely nothing to do with it, did not know about it and have not as yet read it." Adding, quote, "Unlike Lyin' Ted Cruz, I do not surround myself with political hacks and henchmen and then pretend total innocence."

Cruz today evading the question whether he could still support Trump if he were the GOP nominee.

CRUZ: I do not make a habit out of supporting people who attack my wife and attack my family.

SERFATY: This comes as a GOP rivals have been sparring in sharply personal attacks involving their spouses.

CRUZ: And to Heidi, isn't she going to make an amazing first lady?

SERFATY: Campaigning side by side with his wife today, Cruz calling out Donald Trump directly to the crowd.

CRUZ: You know, in the last few days, Donald Trump has taken to attacking Heidi.


SERFATY: Part of Trump's attacks, a tweet threatening to spill the beans on Heidi Cruz and a retweet of a split screen image of his wife, Melania, and Heidi Cruz, with the caption "The images are worth a thousand words." Cruz looking to frame this as a pattern for Trump.

CRUZ: Donald does seem to have an issue with women. Donald doesn't like strong women. Strong women scare Donald.

SERFATY: This isn't the first time Trump has stirred up controversy with his comments about women, including FOX News anchor Megyn Kelly.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever.

SERFATY: Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

TRUMP: And Hillary, who's become very shrill. You know the word "shrill"? She's become shrill.

SERFATY: The latest CNN/ORC poll shows that while 59 percent of Republican women have a favorable view of Trump, 39 percent have an unfavorable view, and his unfavorable mark jumps to 73 percent among registered women voters nationwide, revealing how much of an uphill climb he could face in a general election if he emerges as the nominee.


SERFATY: And Cruz also blasted Trump for being absent from the campaign trail this week. He said here in Wisconsin that Trump is just hiding out in Trump Tower as he wages this fight against him basically over Twitter, and Trump is expected to return to the campaign trail next week -- Pam.

BROWN: Just ratcheting up their rhetoric.

Sunlen Serfaty, thank you so much for that.

Now, I want to bring in our political panel, CNN political commentator Mary Katharine Ham, senior editor at "The Federalist", Mollie Hemingway, and campaign director at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, Emily Tisch Sussman -- thank you for all being here. Love being with fellow women.

So, let's just talk about this, speaking what Donald Trump has said now about Ted Cruz's wife. This follows other comments he's made about Megyn Kelly and other women. It seems like up unto this point, his supporters have been unfazed.

But, Mary Katharine, could this be a turning point? I feel like we always asked that question. It never seems to be, could this be it?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I never think that it will be a turning point of 34, 35 percent of really die hard Trump fans that are in the GOP electorate.

[16:40:06] I do think there's a possibility obviously in the general this is a mistake to continue this kind of thing. I think in Wisconsin in a Republican primary, you might get people who say this is not how we do things. We've had a rough run in politics in Wisconsin but we're decent people and don't really deal with this kind of thing.

BROWN: Yes, Molly, when you widen the discussion and we look at the recent poll, the CNN/ORC poll that Sunlen has in her story that shows that Donald Trump has 73 percent unfavorables among women, could the new voters Donald Trump is bringing to the party compensate for those he may lose among women and minority groups?

MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, SENIOR EDITOR, THE FEDERALIST: I mean, you see it in the polls, he's struggling mightily with women. Every time he opens his mouth, you learn why a majority of Republicans oppose him, but also why women loathe him. And it does seem he has a particular problem with strong, confident women. He seems to be dealing with some insecurities.

And it's the one thing that seems consistent going back decades. He's changed his position all over the place when it's foreign policy or immigration. But going back decades, she seems to struggle with his treatment of women. And I think that you see in the polls, he's getting crushed by Hillary Clinton.

It's not just that women don't like him, but so many Republican women say they could never support him. It's a huge problem for him.

BROWN: And on that note, Emily, Donald Trump has signaled that if Hillary Clinton attacks him over his remarks about women, that Trump will bring up Bill Clinton's history. What do you think? Is that fair game?

EMILY TISCH SUSSMAN, CAMPAIGN DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS ACTION FUND: I mean, talk about a double standard. Trump has always said that he thinks his personal life is open, that he thinks he could potentially be -- that it would be something that other candidates could attack him on.

I mean, I just don't think anybody else wants to take this campaign to the place that he's taken it. Trump has no clean record in his personal life, that is for sure. But I just don't think anybody else wants to take it there. I mean, that's why we're seeing he greatly, greatly struggles among women, millennials, voters of color.

But in new polling out today, we saw generally how you look at how a candidate is rated. You look at them like a five-point scale. If you don't like them, it would go from neutral to unfavorable to very unfavorable. His very unfavorable among registered voters are 53 percent. That's unreal.

BROWN: How could that affect the GOP, Mary Katharine?

HAM: Well, I mean, this is the thing about how this is going, right? This is a symmetrical warfare. Trump observes no rules and sort of standards, and his supporters, the hardcore ones, do not require him to follow any of them. In fact, they're excited that he doesn't.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They like it. HAM: And then, Trump, and so, I think that's one of the reasons Cruz

came out and gave a press conference style sort of angry presentation today, incensed presentation because he wants to say, hey, this is how we're going to do battle, this is how we're going to do battle. Now, he's still going to observe more rules than Donald Trump does, but I think this is the problem with fighting this guy. But when it gets to the general electorate, people are turned off. Women specifically are turned off.

BROWN: Yes, you saw a real change in tone in Ted Cruz, calling him a sniveling coward yesterday and today called him a rat, and sleazy.

All right. Mary Katherine, Mollie, Emily, stick around, there's a lot more to talk about. Thanks so much.

Well, if the Republicans have a contested convention, the GOP nominee will likely be someone who isn't currently running. That's according to one former presidential candidate. But is it a realistic possibility? That's the big question. We will talk about it, up next.


BROWN: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Our political panel is back with us. Mary Katherine, I'm going to start with you again because there's this idea that Ted Cruz has a limited appeal. If you look at the results, Cruz has matched Trump win for win everywhere but the south. Do you think Cruz is still limited?

MARY KATHERINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think Cruz has some obstacles, but if you look at the head-to-head polling with Hillary Clinton, Trump versus Cruz, it's clear that Cruz has a better shot head-to-head with her than Trump does.

Cruz also has some challenges moving forward in the states he is going to, to win those states. But I do think he has some things to work on, but there's plenty to show that he's the better general election choice than Donald Trump for many of the reasons we just mentioned.

BROWN: Speaking of the general election choice, you have Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker telling reporters today he doesn't think any of the candidates in the running right now will actually be in the general election if there is an open convention. He says it's very likely the nominee would be someone who's not currently running. Molly, what do you think about that?

MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, SENIOR EDITOR, "THE FEDERALIST": Anything is possible this year and that is one of the possibilities that is out there.

BROWN: A lot has happened that we were surprised by this year. Let's be honest.

HEMINGWAY: I think it's more likely it will go to a second ballot and that's what makes everything very interesting as to how Donald Trump, a relative newcomer to the Republican Party, whose supporters are independents or crossover Democrats, who don't know the party as well.

They're not as well positioned to handle a second ballot race. You saw this recently in Louisiana, where Donald Trump actually won more of the electoral votes than Ted Cruz, but Ted Cruz took ten more delegates to the convention. He's taking ten more delegates.

That's because he and his campaign understood the party rules down there. They understood how you allocate delegates. It's this type of knowledge that will be very important should it go to a brokered convention. A totally new candidate, not as possible as second ballot where Ted Cruz would be in a good position to win.

HAM: You've got two groups here, establishment folks and conservative grassroots. If anything can unite them at the convention, it is opposition to Donald Trump.

BROWN: Emily, what do you think?

EMILY TISCH SUSSMAN, CAMPAIGN DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS ACTION FUND: It's certainly a possibility. I think Scott Walker would certainly like that to be true. I think he has a lot invested in that being true because he was also at one point in this race and he was considered early on to be a very strong candidate.

And taking on that piece of the electorate that Rubio ended up occupying a little bit of, that sort of insider/outsider. He's been elected but he is not totally of the establishment.

So he really thought he was going to occupy that space. So I think he would have a lot invested in saying it's could be somebody not on the ballot. But the open question is whether they go to a second ballot is what happens to those Trump supporters.

They do not care about being in the party, about building up the party. They do not care about making sure that whoever the nominee is gets elected. Do they stay home? Do some of them ending up voting for Clinton? Nobody knows. It's a risk and it's a very large piece of the electorate.

[16:50:04]BROWN: Absolutely. So I have to ask you all about this because Ben Carson today claimed that he has helped Donald Trump act more presidential. Do you see any change in Donald Trump since Carson's endorsement, Mary Katherine?

HAM: I think that Donald Trump is his id. That's what he is. He's walking around doing that all the time. And you'll see occasionally at these press conferences where he tries to get his tone down and be a little bit more, quote/unquote, "presidential" and the real Donald Trump just rages forward just a few minutes later. I just don't think he can keep a lid on it, Ben Carson or no.

BROWN: All right, go ahead.

HEMINGWAY: Ben Carson did tweet out something yesterday saying that the important thing is that we all be civil when we disagree. Everybody mocked him saying, why did you support the candidate that's so uncivil? I take it that he's trying to encourage his buddy, Donald Trump, to tone it down a little bit.

BROWN: And there's this other race going on, on the Democratic side that we haven't gotten to yet. Bernie Sanders implied on an internet show that Hillary Clinton will go with the wind all the time.

We've seen this exit polling showing Clinton struggles on the question of honesty and trustworthiness. Is there a fix to that, Emily, or is it just baked in at this point so much that there's nothing to do about it?

SUSSMAN: Well, I think there is some truth to the fact that she has been under attack from the mainstream media for 20, 30 years. This has been a very consistent attack on her. There is a piece of people that feel like that's in there. That's part of who she is.

I do think that when people start to look at her record, where she's been, the policies she's putting forward have actually been quite consistent. Particularly if we do get into this head-to-head matchup, whether it's Trump, whether it's Cruz.

She's putting forward proposals that are quite realistic of the and part of what she struggled with the Democratic base, why Sanders has done a little better than people expected is because he's speaking in platitudes. Everything is very large, it's very extreme.

Actually her policy positions are not so different. These are policies that people want to hear about, but they're a little bit more toned down because she's been acting like she has to govern at some point on them, which is a little different than other people in the race have been.

BROWN: What do you think, Mollie?

HEMINGWAY: I think it's a good reminder too when we were talking about how people will match up against Hillary Clinton in the general. Hillary Clinton is a really difficult candidate. She is someone who does change her positions a lot. She is not viewed as trustworthy. So I think that has to be factored in once she goes head to head that this might be a struggle for her more than people realize.

BROWN: All right, Mollie, Emily, Mary Katherine, thank you so much. Be sure to tune into CNN this next Tuesday for the next Republican town hall in Wisconsin starting at 8:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

Meantime, gunshots and a suspected terrorist down in Belgium as U.S. forces kill a top ISIS commander in Syria. Much more on the breaking news just ahead.



BROWN: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Today, the White House is applauding a new economic report, a boost to the GDP. The best snapshot of spending and global trade. Presidential candidates who want to take over managing our economy might beg to differ.

But pay close attention to how they describe our debt versus deficit. It's often confused, even by politicians. Our CNN money team is explaining the difference in our series "America's Debt."


UNIDENTIFIED CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): America lives on borrowed money. That's why the terms debt and deficit get thrown around so much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're mixing up the deficit with the debt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's $19 trillion?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Does anybody even know what a trillion means, right?

UNIDENTIFIED CORRESPONDENT: Good question, what does it all mean?

TRUMP: You know what it means? It means a lot.

UNIDENTIFIED CORRESPONDENT: Right. Let's first start with our definition. In a given year a country will raise money through taxes and spend money on everything that a government spends money on. If it spends more than it takes in, it's called a deficit and the government has to borrow money to pay for it.

Now this leads us to debt. The debt, the debt is the total sum a government owes. In other words, a deficit is your dirty dish from last night. The debt is your sink. People love to talk about how huge and how unprecedented the debt is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: America's future is debt that we're piling on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The transcendent issue of our era.

UNIDENTIFIED CORRESPONDENT: Looking at a chart we see the debt in 1950 was around $257 billion compared to now which is around $19 trillion. With inflation, that $257 billion in 1950 is around $2.5 trillion. That's still a fraction of our current debt of $19 trillion, but we're not entirely there yet.

You have to look at the total size of the economy. Our economy has grown tremendously since 1950. We have more money. We have more assets. We have more people. The GDP is around eight times what it was in 1950.

That's why when economists talk about the debt, they prefer to use this number, the debt-to-GDP ratio. It takes the total amount of public debt and shows it a percentage relative to the size of the total economy.

So now if we go back to that scary, terrifying chart of the debt, as a percentage of the total economy, it's a different story. The U.S. number right now is about 103 percent. If you're wondering is that too high?

There's no simple answer. Some economists say 85 percent is too high. Some say 100, some say even higher. Regardless of what you think the number should be, economists agree those big scary numbers people show around --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The one trillion 90 billion --

UNIDENTIFIED CORRESPONDENT: Ignore them. These are the numbers you should be looking at.


BROWN: And be sure to tune in to "STATE OF THE UNION" on Sunday at 9:00 a.m. Eastern Time. Senator Bernie Sanders will be Jake's guest.

That's it for THE LEAD. I turn you over to Brianna Keilar in "THE SITUATION ROOM."