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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Interview With Scott Adams; Turmoil in Cruz Campaign; The Teflon Don(ald): Why Nothing Sticks to Trump; Sanders Struggling to Break Through in the South. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired February 22, 2016 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Some breaking news in our politics lead, Ted Cruz asking that his communications director, Rick Tyler, resign after Tyler tweeted a link to an inaccurate video about Marco Rubio and the Bible, all this coming as the candidates head into two crucial weeks that will determine what happens next.

THE LEAD starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

Welcome to THE LEAD.

As I said, breaking election news, Senator Ted Cruz asking his communications director to resign after a false tweet and Facebook post. We have this breaking news coming to you as the candidates head into two crucial weeks that will determine whether or not any candidate emerges that is able to stop Donald Trump after his South Carolina win.

If not, Trump's lead may become insurmountable, thanks to states where delegates are winner-take-all.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is in Las Vegas covering Ted Cruz.

Sunlen, a stunning move by Cruz today.


Rick Tyler, his communications director, such a senior member of his inner circle. Senator Cruz today asking for his resignation, moving very swiftly on that, shows that he wants to present this image that he has zero tolerance for these sort of tactics as this campaign grows more heated day by day.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're just going one after another.

SERFATY (voice-over): Donald Trump taking a South Carolina victory lap.

TRUMP: We won with everything, tall people, short people, fat people, skinny people, just won.

SERFATY: As the campaign heads west to Nevada.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When it comes to our campaign, what happens in Vegas is not staying in Vegas. We want to bring it all over the country.

SERFATY: With the top three contenders sharpening their attacks.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Gosh, who would say liar, liar?

SERFATY: Marco Rubio calling foul on the Cruz campaign for what he says are dirty tricks.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Every single day, something comes out of the Cruz campaign that's deceptive and untrue and in this case goes after my faith.

SERFATY: That after the Cruz campaign's communications director tweeted a false report which misstated what Rubio said about the Bible.

RUBIO: No one is ever held accountable.

SERFATY: Cruz today moving swiftly.

CRUZ: This was a grave error of judgment.

SERFATY: Firing his communications director.

current It turned out the news story he sent around was false. But I'll tell you, even if it was true, we are not a campaign that is going to question the faith of another candidate.

SERFATY: Meanwhile, despite saying last month that Rubio is eligible for the presidency...

TRUMP: He was born here. It's definite. He was born on the land.

SERFATY: ... Trump now raising some doubt, retweeting a message suggesting otherwise.

TRUMP: I'm not really that familiar with Marco's circumstance.

SERFATY: But Rubio brushing it off.

RUBIO: I'm going to spend zero time on his interpretation of the Constitution with regards to eligibility.

SERFATY: The GOP front-runner also stirring the pot with Cruz, tweeting that Cruz lost evangelicals in South Carolina because he is a "world-class liar." Behind the scenes, it's a frenzied scramble adjusting to the new field without Jeb Bush. The Rubio campaign trying to consolidate establishment support, rolling out a series of endorsements.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's getting bold. He's next-generation. He's reform-minded, change-oriented.

SERFATY: And gunning for Jeb Bush's big dollar donors.

RUBIO: We feel like a lot of the people that were on Jeb's team are people we're going to welcome onto our team.

SERFATY: Rubio's campaign has secured commitments from at least four major Bush donors, while other backers of the former Florida governor are taking a wait-and-see approach.

And while Trump has largely floated above getting the full force of super PAC ad spending, a pro-Rubio super PAC ad out today indicates times may be a changing.

NARRATOR: Trump erratic, unreliable, Cruz calculated, underhanded.


SERFATY: And the campaigns of course inching into caucus night tomorrow night here in Nevada. The Cruz campaign, of course, going to have to scramble to really bounce back potentially against this big hit, the loss of their communications director today -- Jake.

TAPPER: Sunlen Serfaty, thanks so much.

Joining me now to break down the Republican race and this latest news, political commentator S.E. Cupp and Trump national spokeswoman Katrina Pierson.

Katrina, let me start with you. Breaking now, Ted Cruz asking Rick Tyler, his spokesman, to resign after he retweeted and posted on Facebook a video that had false subtitles, saying that Marco Rubio said something about the Bible that he didn't say.

And, as you know, this is not the first time the Cruz campaign has gotten into trouble for putting out information that wasn't correct. What's your reaction?

KATRINA PIERSON, TRUMP CAMPAIGN SPOKESPERSON: You know, I mean, this was sort of expected after the entire pathway for the Cruz campaign literally crumbled in their faces in South Carolina.

Someone had to take the fall, whether or not it was Rick Tyler's judgment or someone else's in the campaign. And I will say that you're absolutely right. This is not the first time that the campaign has admitted to falsely putting out information about a candidate. And, you know, we will see if he can recover.

[16:05:07] TAPPER: Actually, I don't know if it's the first time -- it's the

first time I think that they have admitted it. It might not be the first time they did it, though, S.E.


No, they haven't really admitted to purposely putting out false information, even though they have been accused of doing that with regards to Ben Carson, but it was starting to stick, when it's not just Rubio, but Trump focusing on Ted Cruz and really using that to define him. I think it was starting to stick.

It didn't look like the campaign. It looked like it was Cruz. And so this was, I think, the right thing to do for Ted Cruz, to ask Rick Tyler to resign and try to start making that distinction that this is not the campaign I want to run, even though it's the campaign we have been running for the past two months.

TAPPER: Interesting. And we should point out Rick Tyler did delete the tweet, delete the Facebook post and did apologize to Marco Rubio last night and this morning. I'm not saying that that...

CUPP: Yes. It wasn't enough. Obviously, Cruz needed to do something more.

TAPPER: Obviously, it wasn't enough.

But he had tried to do something to make amends.

Katrina, let me ask you about Donald Trump's recent line of attack. This weekend, he said he didn't know whether Marco Rubio, who was born in Florida to two individuals who were immigrants and not yet citizens, but he was born in the United States, he said he didn't know whether he was eligible to run for president.

Now, that contradicts something he told me just a few weeks ago when Mr. Trump was questioning Ted Cruz's citizenship as well. Let's play that clip and then the most recent one.


TAPPER: Do you think the same cloud hangs over Marco Rubio?

TRUMP: No, I don't think so. No, it's a different -- it's a very different thing.

TAPPER: Because he was born in the United States.

TRUMP: He was born here. It's different. He was born on the land.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: You're really not sure that Marco Rubio is eligible to run for president? You're really not sure?

TRUMP: I don't know. I really -- I have never looked at it, George. Honestly, I have never looked at it.


TAPPER: Katrina, so, a few weeks ago, no issue at all, Rubio was born on the land. Now, who knows? He's retweeting questions about it. What changed in those weeks other than Rubio rising in the polls?

PIERSON: First, let me point out that in Iowa the Cruz campaign did admit to running an attack ad they were running about eminent domain against Mr. Trump.

With regard to Senator Rubio, more information changes things. Mr. Trump says, I don't know, he was born in Florida, which makes him a citizen. The question here, is he a naturalized citizen? Now we know that his parents were not citizens at the time. That makes a huge difference with regard to eligibility.

TAPPER: It actually doesn't. If you're born in the United States, you're a natural-born citizen. That's pretty much just the law. I don't...


CUPP: This is the Trump campaign.

PIERSON: That is the anchor baby law, yes.

CUPP: The Trump campaign has attempted to otherize other candidates when they were surging. They have done that with Ted Cruz, a Cuban American. He did it with Ben Carson and his religion, an African- American. And now that Rubio is rising in the polls, Trump is trying to communicate that this Cuban American might be someone to be afraid of to a very small group of voters who believe that all of the problems in the world and all of their personal problems are the result of people that don't look like them.

It's really sad that that's been catching on anywhere, and it's sad and intellectually dishonest that Trump keeps trying to assert these narratives about Cruz, Carson, now Rubio. But, ultimately, I think most people know and believe that Marco Rubio is eligible to run for president.


TAPPER: Katrina.

PIERSON: That is absolutely ridiculous. I mean, trying to make this about race is just absurd, particularly...


CUPP: I agree. You should tell your boss that.

PIERSON: It is absolutely absurd.

This has nothing to do with race. This has everything to do with eligibility of running for president.

CUPP: He's an American citizen.

PIERSON: And Senator Cruz, does he not look like you? This is so strange to be even discussing this at this level.


PIERSON: Mr. Trump answered a question. He said, "I don't know, I'm not sure."

And somehow that's an attack on Marco Rubio? I don't think so, S.E. This is ridiculous.

CUPP: Marco Rubio is an American citizen who was born here. There's nothing to not know.

What he's doing is trying to put out a question to his supporters about Marco Rubio. We have seen him do it before, Katrina. He's done it two other times.

PIERSON: By saying I don't know is being honest. There is a lot of discussion going around with the new laws and interpretations and amendments with regards to eligibility.

And Mr. Trump says he doesn't know. He doesn't know. He's not a constitutional lawyer. He is not going to render that judgment. If other people want to have that discussion, then have it. Mr. Trump answers questions, unlike most other candidates.

TAPPER: I will just say, I did ask him that same exact question a few weeks ago, and he said there was no issue.

And the only thing that I know that has changed is that Rubio has done better in South Carolina and Iowa since then.

But, Katrina Pierson, that's all the time we have.

S.E. Cupp, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

The five Republicans will go head to head for the next Republican debate Thursday in Houston, Texas, on CNN, very exciting. It all starts at 8:00 p.m. Eastern time only on CNN.

He's the brains behind the popular cartoon "Dilbert," and now Scott Adams is tackling politics and Donald Trump. He says Trump is unstoppable, and it just might be because he's hypnotizing voters.


Scott Adams joins me to explain what he means by that coming up after this quick break.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Staying with our politics lead now: It's a fairly regular occurrence for me to sit here and tell you how Donald Trump said something, how he called for the U.S. government to bring back torture, or to ban noncitizen Muslims from entering the United States, or seeming to make fun of a disabled reporter, or belittling the sacrifice of POWs.

Take your pick. Pundits have by now, thankfully, learned the lesson and they have stopped breathlessly predicting the end of the Trump phenomenon because this time he went too far. There is no too far, it seems.

Joining me to talk Trump is Scott Adams. He's the creator of "Dilbert" and author of a memoir/inspirational book called "How to Fail Almost Every Time and Still Win Big." And Scott on his blog has been analyzing the rise of the Republican front-runner for months now.

And, frankly, he has some of the most interesting and accurate observations about why Trump is appealing to so many people and in the process winning.

[16:15:00] Scott, thanks so much for joining us.


TAPPER: So, we don't even need to provide the list. Trump, let's just posit, has said a number of things that would seemingly sink almost any other politician. How come nothing sticks to him?

ADAMS: Well, he's got the magic of saying that, first of all, his brand is not being politically correct. That's part of it. People like his honesty.

But there's also a sort of a magic the way he does things. First of all, he's mostly making fun of people who are in the cage fight with him. So, he's making fun of reporters who are really in the fight and other politicians and people don't mind that so much. But when it comes to American citizens, actual legal citizens, he's pretty consistent about favoring them and being not so favorable to anybody who is not a legal citizen.

TAPPER: So, you have another theory about Trump saying that he uses certain words and almost hypnotizes the audience. What do you mean by that?

ADAMS: For background, I'm a trained hypnotist and have been studying persuasion all of my life as part of what I do for a living as a writer. And I noticed back in August of last year that Trump was using persuasion techniques to perfection. When it looked like he was just a crazy clown saying random things. But if you look at his method from a trained persuader's point of view, it's been perfection from the beginning. It just looks random to someone who's not trained in how to persuade.

TAPPER: Give me an example of something. Like the linguistic kill shot, whether calling Jeb Bush low energy or something else?

ADAMS: Yes. So, the linguistic kill shot is finding some kind of an insult, if you can call it that, that sticks like other insults would not. He likes to pick things that are visual. You look at the person and say, yes, that feels kind of right. But he also picks words and phrases that haven't been used before, so they haven't been polluted by other meaning, which is a good technique.

So when you say somebody is low energy, there's nobody else that you ever talked about like that. When you say somebody has robotic, somebody is sweaty, somebody has that face, these are all things which have an immediate visual. Plus, every time you see the person, it comes up again because the visual reminds you so it's kind of brilliant.

TAPPER: And on your blog, one of the things you wrote is that one of Trump's signature moves involves creating situations in which he has two or more paths to win and no paths to lose. He wins at the start by picking his battles. Give me an example.

ADAMS: Yes. So, two good examples are when Iran had the hostages and Trump was saying, you know, they better release those hostages before I become president. Now, what could -- what's going to happen? One of two things, either they release them and he takes credit, which is what happened and he sort of did. Or they don't and he says, well, that's even a better argument for electing me because I'm such a strong negotiator, I'll get them back.

If you look at his dispute with FOX over Megyn Kelly being one of the hosts of the debate, either she was going to stay and he got to do his big event that CNN covered with, you couldn't wipe the smiles off your faces that day, that was a lot of fun, or she would not be a host and he would win that way. So, he only had two ways to win.

TAPPER: Democrats like to say they would like to run against Trump. You clearly think that they are underestimating him.

ADAMS: Yes, based on his talent stack alone. If you look at any individual talent he has, you can say, well, that's not the best in the world.

But look how many he's put together. He knows strategy, business strategy, he knows negotiating. He's the best persuader I've ever seen. He's quick on his feet, he's funny. He's smart enough. He knows enough about politics.

So, when you put that stack together, nobody really stands up to that stack. I've been predicting he's going to win in a landslide since last year.

TAPPER: Not just the nomination but the presidency?

ADAMS: Yes, I think it will be one of the biggest margins of victory in history.

TAPPER: Scott Adams, thank you so much for your insights. Wee all big fans of Dilbert here.

ADAMS: All right. Thanks. TAPPER: Police say he admitted to killing people while driving around

and now the Uber driver is in court and his last passenger is talking.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I said, you're not the shooter, are you? And he said no.


TAPPER: Plus, the next two weeks are key for Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. Can either of them compete with Donald Trump? We'll do the delegate math, next.


[16:23:44] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Let's turn to the Democrats now, but stay in our politics lead. Hillary Clinton's Nevada firewall did not collapse. She successfully staved off the Sanders' momentum in a possibly pivotal victory on Saturday. So, now, Senator Bernie Sanders needs to figure out a way to prevent the South from smothering his revolution.

Step one for Sanders, he needs to break through with African-American voters. But at least yesterday, Sanders applause lines that normally break our sound board barely registered any decibels worth of clapping or cheering at an historically black church in South Carolina.

CNN senior political correspondent Brianna Keilar joins me now in Washington.

Brianna, Sanders isn't even in South Carolina today. He's in Massachusetts where he hopes to score a victory a week from tomorrow.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's pretty revealing where the candidates are on the Democratic side today. Hillary Clinton is fund-raising in Los Angeles, so maybe some confidence revealed there.

But you see Bernie Sanders banking on some of these states that are whiter for sure. His team realistic about his chances in South Carolina but he will have to broaden his support if he's going to win the Democratic nomination so he has a lot of work to do to challenge Hillary Clinton from here on out.


KEILAR (voice-over): Hillary Clinton, stealing back some momentum after her victory in the Nevada caucuses.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want to knock down all the barriers holding people back.

[16:25:01]We spent a lot of time talking with voters in the last week about the barriers they felt did impede their getting ahead. KEILAR: It's a message her campaign thinks is resonating with

African-American voters in South Carolina, which holds its primary Saturday. Clinton has an 18-point lead over Sanders in the Palmetto State buoyed by her 37-point lead with black voters. Sanders making his own appeal to the black voting bloc, highlighting his activism civil rights era, including a 1963 arrest in Chicago.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This had to do with opposition to segregated schools in Chicago. I mean, I remember very clearly being arrested, being thrown into a police wagon, driven to the police station. It was an interesting day.

KEILAR: Clinton getting a little star power in her bid for support with a new ad out narrated by actor Morgan Freeman.


MORGAN FREEMAN, ACTOR: She says their names, Trayvon Martin.

CLINTON: Trayvon Martin, shot to death.

FREEMAN: Dontre Hamilton.

CLINTON: Dontre Hamilton, unarmed.

FREEMAN: Sandra Bland.

CLINTON: Sandra Bland did nothing wrong.

FREEMAN: And makes their mothers' fight for justice her own. She speaks for a city poisoned by indifference.

CLINTON: We need action now.


KEILAR: Even as Clinton rebounds from her New Hampshire loss, questions linger about perceptions from some voters that she's not honest and trustworthy. An area she needs to work on as she acknowledged on "STATE OF THE UNION" this weekend.

CLINTON: I think there's an underlying question that maybe is really in the back of people's minds and that is, you know, is she in it for us or is she in it for herself. I think that's a question that people are trying to sort through.

SANDERS: We have the momentum. And I believe, I believe that when Democrats assemble in Philadelphia in July at that convention, we are going to see the results of one of the great political upsets in the history of the United States.


KEILAR: And Bernie Sanders really coming out swinging today on Wall Street and Hillary Clinton, tweeting, "17 days, 16 hours, 32 minutes since Hillary Clinton said she would look into releasing the transcripts from the speeches that she gave to Wall Street" -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Thanks, Brianna.

Don't forget to tune into CNN tomorrow night for the Democratic town hall. South Carolina voters are going to get their chance to ask Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders questions. It all starts at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only on CNN.

Who leads the Democratic race depends on how you look at the delegate count. Clinton and Sanders are tied with 51 pledged delegates each. Those are the ones you get when you win caucuses and primaries.

Clinton has a huge advantage, however, in super delegates. Those are the Democratic VIPs whom get to back whoever they want. There she leads 496-69.

On the Republican side the question, is Donald Trump inevitable? He leads the delegate count with 67 delegates, almost six times of Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Is it even possible for the other to catch up?

Let's do the math with out numbers guru, CNN's John King joins me at his wall o magic.

John, the first question for the Democrats, does Sanders have a path? Are there opportunities for him to win more delegates than Clinton?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He would have to start winning again and winning soon. Number one, you start at 51-51 pledged delegates.

The Clinton campaign says they're 52. There's one congressional district delegate in Nevada, we have not finished the math yet. We're not ready to award yet. The Clinton campaign says its information is they'll get that delegate. No reason to dispute that, we're just not there yet.

So, perhaps she's ahead 52-51. We still have it 51-51.

Let's just play this out. First, South Carolina, this Saturday and then Super Tuesday. This scenario has Clinton winning them all at 60- 40. If she wins them all 60-40, she begins to pull away in the delegates chase.

But remember, proportional rules give Sanders some of the states. Now, I know what Sanders voters who are looking at these states and saying, wait a minute, I'll fix them in just a minute. Let's assume that she wins 60-40, right? If she wins 55-45, it's a little closer.

If she wins 60-40, then you go through the end of March first. If Clinton won them off 60-40 through March, Sanders would get a lot of delegates, but Clinton would be mathematically well ahead and pretty hard to catch up if this happens.

You say, where are the Sanders opportunities? We fully expect Bernie Sanders, not Hillary Clinton, to win his home state of Vermont. So, we'll do that one. The Sanders campaign says, you know what, we think we can win

Minnesota. So let's switch and give that one to Sanders by a -- I'm giving him 60-40 in all of these states.

He says he can win down in Oklahoma, he spent sometime there. So, let's accept their argument. We'll see how that plays out, but let's accept their argument and give that to Sanders and Sanders also says we think we can win Colorado.

Again, Clinton campaign says they won't, but for the sake of a hypothetical, let's switch the winners there.

If Sanders wins only those four states, yes, he gets closer but she's still -- it's 2,383 to win and she's on her way then. What the Clinton campaign is hoping, when the bar looks something like, this the Sanders campaign says, OK, mathematically now, we can't beat her and they tone it down. Today, he's saying, "Release the transcripts".

TAPPER: Right.