Return to Transcripts main page


Adviser Tells GOP Trump Playing a Part, Evolving; Clinton, Sanders Battling Ahead of Next Primaries. Aired 6:30-7p ET

Aired April 22, 2016 - 18:30   ET


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: One of his top advisers, Paul Manafort, spent part of the week wooing Republican Party officials down in Florida, making the case that there's more to the real estate tycoon than his brash image on the stump.

[18:30:13] PAUL MANAFORT, TRUMP CONVENTION MANAGER: When he is talking about the kinds of things he's talking about on the stump, he's projecting that for that purpose, and you'll start to see it come together in the course of the next -- next several months.

ACOSTA: In this recording obtained by CNN, Manafort can be heard behind closed doors, explaining to RNC leaders that much of Trump's super-heated rhetoric, which has savaged the party's delegate process in recent days...

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's such a crooked system it's disgusting.

ACOSTA: ... will cool down to just the right temperature over time.

MANAFORT: The part that he's been playing is evolving into the part that you've been expecting, but he wasn't ready. The negatives will come down, the image is going to change, but Clinton is still going to be "Crooked Hillary."

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald's campaign is now run by a Washington lobbyist who has been a lobbyist for 40 years.

ACOSTA: Ted Cruz seized on Manafort's remarks as evidence that the man who's dubbed him "Lyin' Ted"...

TRUMP: If it's Lyin' Ted Cruz.

Lyin' Ted.

Lyin' Ted Cruz.

ACOSTA: ... is telling some whoppers of his own.

CRUZ: They've been down in Florida, meeting with party leaders, and they were saying -- these are their words -- that all of this is just a show. That he doesn't believe anything he's saying. He's just trying to fool gullible voters, and he's not going to do any of it. He's not going to build a wall; he's not going to deport anyone. He is telling us he is lying to us.

ACOSTA: Cruz is arguing Trump is already betraying conservatives on controversial state bathroom laws that aim to bar transgender people from using the restroom of their choice.

CRUZ: A couple of months ago Donald Trump told us he could be the most politically correct person on earth. Well, we're beginning to see what that looks like.

ACOSTA: Trump counters that Cruz and John Kasich are wasting the voters' time, as they no longer have no path to the nomination outside a contested convention.

TRUMP: here's no path to victory for Cruz, so they should both get out.

ACOSTA: Caught in the crossfire, RNC chair Reince Priebus is calling on the GOP to look past the bitter primary season and stand united.

REINCE PRIEBUS, RNC CHAIR: Now, I know that our candidates are going to try to say things to attract attention. That's part of politics. We all need to get behind the nominee.


ACOSTA: But some top Republicans are not so sure they can stomach more of what Trump is dishing out. As one strategist put it to me, Manafort was basically telling GOP members down in Florida, quote, "Don't worry; Trump's a fraud."

The GOP frontrunner, though, will have a chance to put this controversy behind him. Brianna, Donald Trump could have another big night coming up on Tuesday. The big primary night coming up on the calendar next week -- Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Jim Acosta in Delaware. Thank you.

And I want to get more on all of this now with one of Donald Trump's key supporters, Scottie Nell Hughes of USA Radio Network. So Scottie, you heard what Paul Manafort said. What do you make of this? People are saying that he's basically admitting that Donald Trump is two faced or that he's a phony or that he's just playing a part.

SCOTTIE NELL HUGHES, USA RADIO NETWORK: OK, I didn't hear that from him. I have to tell you, I'm very, very, very -- I'm very disheartened by the fact that I'm listening once again to secretive tapes leaked out. This has to obviously be linked to Ted Cruz, showing his desperation. To sit there and record behind closed doors one of the advisors to the Trump campaign and then release the tape, as if they're going to expose some sort of fraud.

Instead of actually questioning the candidate, now they're going after the staff. And I think that's absolutely deplorable. One of the reasons why people don't trust politicians today, and why Ted Cruz is once again showing that he is your typical politician that will cut and do whatever he needs to do just to get elected.

KEILAR: Manafort -- Manafort says, and this is a quote from him, "playing a part." What is that -- why is that not a problem? So explain this to me. You're saying that this is a nothing burger. Then why is that not an issue?

HUGHES: Well, this is nothing new. I mean, we've talked in the past. Always said that Mr. Trump, there's nobody better in business than Mr. Trump, and he knows his brand.

And while you don't compromise the product -- and he has not changed -- you change the message depending on the audience and the environment that you're in.

Listen, Michael Jordan when he was on the basketball court in the early '90s, was one of the fiercest competitors you'd ever want to go against. But when you got him off the court, he was one of the nicest guys you've ever met. You adjust according to your settings.

That's something Mr. Trump has always done. That's why he's so successful in business. But you don't compromise the product. Mr. Trump has never compromised what he said or his values or exactly what he's going to do for this country. But it's depending on the message and the environment and the people he's talking to. This is nothing new from what Paul Manafort said than what we've been saying since September, when he had 17 people on the stage with him competing. And obviously, his message works, because he's still in the race; and he's beating the other two by quite good numbers at this point.

[18:35:06] KEILAR: No, I will say there are a lot of Republicans who say he would need to make a change if he is going to be successful in the general election. So if he is now evolving, if he is going to be changing, what does that look like, Scottie? What does he do to appeal to more people, and how does that work?

HUGHES: Well, just like his campaign is changing by bringing on more staff, getting ready for a general campaign, I think it is. I think it's true that Mr. Trump is evolving into a general race candidate with the insurance that, in case we go to brokered convention, we can handle it.

But I think we're all pretty much set that Mr. Trump is going to be our nominee, and we're going to have to be prepared to go against the Democratic Party. That includes bringing in unity and evolving into a candidate that can talk to all different groups, all the diversity that we're seeing within his supporters right now. He's going to continue to expand that.

And one of the best ways is going to be tapering down some of the vocabulary he has used in the past. I mean, you go back and you watch Mr. Trump from the '80s and the '90s, and the way that he has been able to portray himself. There's a reason why so many people respect him, so many people work for him.

I talked to a gentleman that works for him. He's been with him since the '70s. He does not -- people that work for him love him, are loyal to him, and there's a reason why.

You can't say that about any of the other campaigns, especially Senator Ted Cruz's campaign, where fiercely loyal people don't stay loyal for very long. Because he turns around, and something happens. Mr. Trump, once you're with him, and once you stick with him, you realize you respect him. And that's the same type of respect he's going to continue to grow and gain amongst the Republican Party and the rest of the country when he becomes president.

KEILAR: He is showing a new side of himself in a new ad. Let's play this. Then we'll talk about it.


TRUMP: Washington is broken. The truth is too many politicians are totally controlled by special interests and lobbyists. That's going to change quickly. We'll cut taxes for the middle class, negotiate new trade deals, bring back jobs, save Social Security and Medicare without cuts, end illegal immigration, build a wall, strengthen our military, knock out ISIS, and take care of our great veterans. We're going to make America great again.

I am Donald Trump, and I approved this message.


KEILAR: Now, he's sort of -- you hear the music there. And obviously, the tone that he's trying to kind of get across is one of "These are the things I'm promising to do." He does sound a little -- I guess you could say -- more presidential, or he certainly did on the evening of the New York primary. He's trying to project something here. We did see that he went back to attacking Ted Cruz with the nickname "Lyin' Ted" and so forth.

So which one is it that we're going to be seeing more of? Or is this his effort to show more that he's multi-facetted? Are we going to see both of these Donald Trumps?

HUGHES: I think you're going to continue, like you said, how we started the segment, to see him evolve. I think he still has to deal with Senator Cruz, and he still has to deal with Governor Kasich, but the truth is neither one of them got 50 percent in their own state. They've got almost a zero chance of being able to get the nomination before going to a chaotic convention.

I think you're going to see Mr. Trump continue a message. What was great about that commercial is that it was clear; it was understandable; it didn't have a bunch of ways to do it. It's something every single American, whether you're Republican or a Democrat, could relate to something in that commercial, say, "That's exactly what I want."

That's the kind of candidate that I think you're going to see Mr. Trump continue to evolve into on the stump. It's nothing new, but it's just making his message be able to be more clear so that more people understand him. Now that he doesn't have to deal with all of the riffraff and hopefully not any more of the shenanigans that we've seen from the other campaigns as we get closer to July.

KEILAR: All right, Scottie. Thanks so much for being with us. Scottie Nell Hughes there, representing the Donald Trump campaign. We do appreciate it.

We do have some breaking news ahead. New details of the death of Prince and this police investigation that is under way tonight. What did the autopsy reveal?

And then Ted Cruz seizing on those remarks by Donald Trump's convention manager about Trump playing a part. Can he help Cruz close the gap in next week's key primaries?


[18:43:46] KEILAR: Our breaking news coverage of the death of Prince continues in a moment.

But first, an update on the Democratic race for the White House. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are locked in a battle for the five states that are holding primaries four days from today.

And CNN senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns is in Philadelphia for us tonight.

Joe, what's the latest on the Dems?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bri, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders continue to work through a grueling day on the campaign trail. Three stops a piece for both of these candidates among the highlights. A hint from Hillary Clinton today of what the future could look like, suggesting that, should she win the nomination, she will be subjected to a campaign on the other side of insults and derogatory comments.


JOHNS (voice-over): Tonight Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are crisscrossing Pennsylvania ahead of the Keystone State's primary next Tuesday. Clinton addressing a range of issues, including online bullying and tying it to the presidential race.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If I am the nominee, we could very well have a campaign that is exactly all about that.

JOHNS: Clinton offering a rebuke of GOP frontrunner Donald Trump's rhetoric on the campaign trail.

[18:45:00] CLINTON: It isn't about me, and I am not going to respond to what he says about me. I'm going to respond to what he has said about women in general. I'm going to respond to what he said about immigrants.

JOHNS (voice-over): And on Earth Day, she challenges all of the Republican candidates on climate change in a new Instagram video.


GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Some theory that's not proven.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There has been zero warming. None whatsoever.

JOHNS: Clinton is locked in a primary fight with Sanders but she's dialing back attacks on her Democratic rival. Her message now, one of unity.

CLINTON: We've got to pull the country around to a point of unity where we're all helping each other again.

JOHNS: But Sanders is not backing down, calling out Clinton for her stance on reforming Social Security.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Time after time after time, she has waffled, not given a straightforward answer.

JOHNS: Sanders is seizing on comments Vice President Joe Biden gave to "The New York Times," praising the Vermont senator's aspirational message.

SANDERS: Mr. Biden said in an interview, quote, "I don't think any Democrat's ever won saying, quote, we can't think that big. We ought to really downsize here because it is not realistic," he said in a mocking tone.

JOHNS: Biden telling "The Times", I like the idea of saying we can do so much more because we can.

SANDERS: I think the vice president is exactly right. That is what this campaign is about.


JOHNS: The Sanders campaign says it is actively pushing for votes in all five states that vote on Tuesday. However, of those states Hillary Clinton has double digit leads, according to the polls, here in Pennsylvania as well as in Maryland and also in Connecticut -- Bri.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOIR: Yes, in Pennsylvania and Maryland, the big ones there. We'll be watching. Joe Johns in Philadelphia for us -- thanks so much.

Let's get more now with CNN's Sunlen Serfaty, CNN political commentator and the host of CNN's "SMERCONISH", Michael Smerconish, and CNN senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin. He is back with us as well.

And, Michael, you say it has been known that Donald Trump when we get back to this idea, you know, Hillary Clinton says she expects she will be bullied, but the big story today is his convention manager is saying that he's been playing a part. You're saying this has been clear since 2 Corinthians, which, you know, you would say, Second Corinthians, if you knew the bible. So, the question is, does this matter? Do voters even care?


KEILAR: You do?

SMERCONISH: I don't think that this was -- yes, I don't think this was some bombshell. I don't think it was an error. I think that Paul Manafort is a very skilled political operative who knew exactly what he was doing. He would never say something in a room like that without an expectation it would get out.

And my interpretation is that this is the early stage of Donald Trump pivoting toward the general election. He thinks he is coming in the home stretch of the 1,237, and knows he's got to appeal to more centrists to win this thing.

KEILAR: What do you think, Jeffrey?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I do think this process of on. I think we disagree about this Paul Manafort statement which I continue to believe is no big deal. The real problem Donald Trump has is that his views on a lot of issues are still not very consistent with what the base of or generations, so he has to walk this line of still continuing to campaign in the Republican primaries while turning towards the general election when his deal is not quite done yet.

KEILAR: But can't that work for him? Let me play devil's advocate here. If his policies are a little, not right there with the base, but the base likes his tone, and if folks have issues with his policies would like to see him moderate his tone a little bit, can't this work for him?

TOOBIN: Absolutely. And that's why candidates always move toward the center when it comes to the general election. His problem is some of his policies he can't really change. He does say he's going to build this gigantic wall, which -- that's the core of his campaign. He also said he is going to keep all Muslims who are not citizens outside the United States. That's a rather extreme, unprecedented view that I don't think he can modulate or change because it has been such a high profile position.

Those will remain problems regardless of what happens in the Republican primary.

KEILAR: Sunlen, Ted Cruz is just jumping on these comments, right? He really sees an opening here or is this sort of a Hail Mary, do you think?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I mean, he went out of his way multiple times today and yesterday, bringing it up in radio interviews, bringing it up to rallies today. It so reminds me, Brianna, of the early days of the Cruz campaign, his

first foray into criticizing Donald Trump. Where he in Iowa, sort of caucus stores rather breathlessly was trying to make this argument, really drilling down and hammering down at every turn -- Donald Trump is not a Republican.

[18:50:03] Donald Trump is not a conservative. He doesn't share your Iowa values.

This really has given him an opening to kind of refresh the argument once again.

And I think also the fact that these comments were made in his behind closed doors setting in front of Republican officials. I think that also plays into, you know, Ted Cruz's hand, arguing what more don't we know about Donald Trump. So I suspect we will continue to hear him argue this going forward.

KEILAR: All right. And, Sunlen, I want to ask about this. It does seem like Ted Cruz is hanging his hopes on Indiana. He says if Trump doesn't win, he's not going to reach this 1,237 number for delegates and the latest poll out of Indiana from FOX, Trump is ahead only by eight points, though.

Does Ted Cruz think he can close this gap?

SERFATY: Well, the Cruz complain certainly sees Indiana as a good opportunity for them. We know that they have already really laid the groundwork in the state, they're already on TV rather quietly went on the air there just recently.

And I was with Ted Cruz yesterday in Indiana. He's very clearly sensed that he is in Indiana to do well, to win it. He was courting the governor there, Mike Pence. He was the only candidate to appear at this GOP state dinner last night. So, very clearly setting his sights on Indiana, playing out the stakes high for Donald Trump, saying this is pivotal to really not shy at all about his strategy going forward. And he even himself says I expect to spend a lot of time here in Indiana over the next week and a half.

It's a better opportunity and frankly, for him than the states coming up in the next go-round on Tuesday. Much better terrain for the Cruz campaign going forward, and it seems they know that.

KEILAR: Yes, we'll see if it's a game-changer.

All right, friends, stick around with me. We'll be back with more on this in just a moment.


[18:56:12] KEILAR: We are counting down to the next presidential primaries, just four days from now in Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island, Maryland and the big win, Pennsylvania. And we have our group of folks back with us, Michael, Sunlen, and Jeffrey. Michael Smerconish, to you first. You did this focus group with 11

voters. This is fascinating. This is part of a 165,000 voters in Pennsylvania who switched their registration this year to vote in Tuesday's Pennsylvania primary.

You got some surprising answers. Let's watch.


SMERCONISH: How many of you switched from Democratic Party to the Republican Party? Raise your hand.

Wow. Everybody.

How many of you either favorably or unfavorably were motivated by Donald Trump? Raise your hand. Oh, my.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's your focus group.

SMERCONISH: Maybe this is why I've never done a focus group before. OK. Is there anyone among you who joined to vote for Trump because you want to prop him up so that Hillary or Bernie can beat him?


SMERCONISH: Ah. A couple of those.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Donald Trump, I believe, is truly a dangerous man. For American democracy. If he was to be elected president, it would say more about the electorate, actually, than Donald Trump.

SMERCONISH: You don't want him to be your president.


SMERCONISH: Even if you vote for him, it's to prop him up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It would be to set up the showdown in the general election. Yeah. Essentially, I don't want Donald Trump to be president. And I listen to Cruz and he's even scarier in many ways.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I agree with you.


KEILAR: All right. That was pretty interesting. And it's also very strategic on the part of these voters.

What else did you learn?

SMERCONISH: What I learned is that it's a referendum on Donald Trump, right? So we had 11 individuals all former D's who became R's. We knew they had become R's. We weren't sure if they had been independents or they'd been Democratic or not voting in the past at all.

They were all motivated by Donald Trump. And, Brianna, some because they want to vote for Trump, and as you just heard from that gentleman, some because they view him as the weakest Republican, and they want to prop him up.

What's interesting about Tuesday in Pennsylvania, is that we will elect 71 delegates, and 54 of them, regardless of the outcome, will go to Cleveland and be untethered, unaffiliated. It's the single-largest delegation that will be unaffiliated to a particular candidate.

So, regardless of what happens, it's a beauty contest Tuesday. They are ripe for Trump or a Trump opponent.

KEILAR: So what --

TOOBIN: Brianna, can I just raise one issue?


TOOBIN: I think that suggests that Donald Trump is having a big problem with the people who wear jackets that are the stars and stripes and hats that wear stars and stripes. And that may be a weakness of his going forward, because that jacket may set off a huge trend. I was really impressed by that jacket.


KEILAR: I wonder, Sunlen, are you hearing -- when you talk to folks on the road there, do you hear them doing this? Switching?

SERFATY: You know, yeah. Well, I think that you -- certainly on the ground in Pennsylvania, there is certainly this reflection of what battling with the last several months, people strategically voting to stop Trump and then voters who like that one voter said, I'm scared of Ted Cruz. These two who are emerging as the front runner and then the one that wants to put this into a contested convention has now -- his path forward.

I think it is this divide between voters that you very well see going to these town halls, going to dinners like here in Pennsylvania.

KEILAR: Yes, it's fascinating. All right, Sunlen, Michael, Jeffrey. Thank you so much.

And be sure to join Michael Smerconish for his show tomorrow at 9:00 Eastern, and tomorrow as well at 6:00 in the evening.

Thanks so much for watching. I'm Brianna Keilar.

And "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.