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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Clinton, Sanders Prepare To Face Off in First Debate; Bill and Chelsea Clinton To Begin More Active Role in Campaign; Pre-Democratic Presidential Debate Coverage. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired October 12, 2015 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[19:00:02] ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT tonight, debate in the desert. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are about to go head to head for the first time so far in the race for the White House.

Plus, Bill and Chelsea conspicuous in only about their absence so far about to hit the trail. Will it help or hurt Hillary Clinton?

And Donald Trump weighing in on tomorrow's debate picking winners and losers. That's what he does, right? And why what is missing from the debate, it's actually him. Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening, I'm Erin Burnett. And OUTFRONT tonight, we are live from Las Vegas. It is by -- in Vegas, the two heavyweights, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are counting down to the showdown that could make or break their campaign. Clinton has been practicing. She's been practicing, practicing, practicing with mock components. Sanders though said he's hardly prepared it all. We're told that he actually only started studying reluctantly just a couple of weeks ago after two aides reportedly sat him down and gave him a talk.

We're live in Las Vegas tonight and we begin with Jeff Zeleny in our coverage. And Jeff, Hillary Clinton, a lot of preparation, I mean, certainly part of that would be her personality, how she prepares for things. But the question is, is she nervous?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, she certainly comes into this debate having more experience than anyone before. She did some 25 debates in the 2008 cycle. But tomorrow night when she stands on this stage behind me right here, it's a whole new ball game for her. She has to show that she's presidential. She has to show that she is ready for this moment in the campaign. She was a very practiced debater in 2008.

She in fact was so much better than Barack Obama then. But it's a different moment in this campaign so the Clinton aides tell me they are going to try and present her as presidential, as the grownup in the room, someone who can handle all of these problems. But in this audience behind me here, they are obviously going to be some of her supporters but there are also want to be some Democrats who have questions about her candidacy. This is not the old Clinton democratic party, it's a new Democratic Party and that's who she has to try to appeal to tomorrow night.

BURNETT: And Jeff, you know, Bernie Sanders says, he's not preparing at all and obviously as we said, just in the past couple of weeks. Now, is that the truth, that he really doesn't think he needs to prepare, that he's that confident or some might say, arrogant or is it just posturing? He actually is preparing and he doesn't want to admit it?

ZELENY: Well, the Bernie Sanders you see on the campaign trail is sort of the one you get. He's kind of a professor. He's rumpled and he's really been preparing all summer long. He's been doing these rallies across the country. But in the last couple of days, he actually has been preparing. He's been holed up in a Vegas hotel room since Saturday night, I'm told, and he has been actually going through policy papers and he is getting ready for this debate. But you do not want to become too practiced if you're Bernie Sanders. The things that always fans like about him is he's sort of off the cuff. He'll talked about the economy and other things.

And I am told that one of this advisors that he will not bring up Hillary Clinton unless he's attacked by a name first. So look for that to happen, though, because this is the first opportunity for all of these candidates to mix it up. And Martin O'Malley too, the governor of Maryland, the former governor of Maryland, he has the biggest set of mix-up overall of the candidates -- Erin.

BURNETT: That is something viewers hope will happen. Right? It makes it more watchable. All right.

ZELENY: Right.

BURNETT: Tonight we have new two CNN polls. And they both show Hillary Clinton with big leads in two states. That way in early for the race in 2016. One is in South Carolina. She has a 50-point lead over Sanders there, which is obviously significant, considering some of the national polls showing him gaining sharply. The other poll right here in Nevada, does Clinton have her momentum back or not?

John Berman is OUTFRONT.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He comes booed by big enthusiastic crowds. This, the most recent 13,000 in Tucson. She comes back by big new poll numbers in key early states.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And our next president, Hillary Clinton!

BERMAN: Tonight, CNN/ORC polls in Nevada and South Carolina show Hillary Clinton with sizeable leads over Senator Bernie Sanders, a big difference from New Hampshire where he has led since this summer. High stakes as they prepare to take the stage for the very first democratic debate of this campaign. High stakes but today Senator Sanders suggested keeping the dialogue on a higher plain.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let's treat each other civilly. Let's treat each other respectfully and let's not try to demonize people who may have disagreements with us. BERMAN: Civil, maybe, but sharp definitely. The 74-year-old self-

proclaimed democratic socialist has gone out of his way draw contrast with the front-runner. Contrast being a loaded war that means vote for me not her.

SANDERS: I know what I stand for. Hillary Clinton knows what she stands for. Let's have that debate.

BERMAN: Sanders has yet to do a mock debate. But today for the first time he practiced hypothetical exchanges with the other candidates and moderator. Hillary Clinton has been practicing with heavyweight Washington Lawyer Bob Barnett playing the role of Bernie Sanders. She took a break to celebrate her 40th wedding anniversary and --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You never sweat, like physically.

BERMAN: Have some fun with BuzzFeed podcasters.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You guys are the first to realize that I am not really a human being. I was constructed in a garage in Palo Alto.

[19:05:25] BERMAN: As for the man they all want to replace, President Obama gave his most complete answer yet on the lingering e-mail question surrounding his former secretary of state.

PRES. BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES: She's made a mistake. She's acknowledged it. I do think that the way it's been ginned up is in part because of politics.

BERMAN: And as for the elephant in the room or more specifically the Vice President, not in the room, Vice President Joe Biden consulted with family over the weekend but no leaks from the White House.

OBAMA: I'm going to let Joe make that decision and I mean what I say. I think Joe will go down as one of the finest vice presidents in history.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: Tonight, a notable endorsement for Bernie Sanders. Keith Ellison, democratic member of Congress from Minnesota, African- American, one of two Muslims in Congress, has now come out in support of the Vermont senator, the second member of Congress to endorse Bernie Sanders. Now, Hillary Clinton has the endorsement of more than 100 members of Congress -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, John Berman. We'll going to be talking a lot more about that later in the hour, whether any of the endorsements actually get anybody to vote.

But right now, David Axelrod and Dan Pfeiffer join me there, both former senior advisors to President Obama. And also joining us, republican strategist Ana Navarro, she is a Jeb Bush supporter and a friend of Marco Rubio --

ANA NAVARRO, JEB BUSH SUPPORTER AND FRIEND OF MARCO RUBIO: And not an advisor to President Obama.

(LAUGHTER)

Oh, just to make that clear. And spokesman for the Congressional Black Caucus and a democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Doug Thornell. Okay. Great to have you all with us. So, David, you know, Hillary Clinton has been preparing, she is getting ready. This is a really important moment because there's downside for her. She's the front-runner.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, whenever you're the frontrunner, there's risk in a debate like this. I suspect that's why there are only six debates because they wanted to limit the risk there. But I would say this, having been involved where the candidate was doing debates against her, 25 debates in 2008 --

BURNETT: Twenty five debates?

AXELROD: Twenty five debates. She's a very proficient debater. I don't expect her to come and melt under the pressure tomorrow night. I think this is -- I wrote a piece for CNN earlier today. I said, if this were the cathlon (ph), this is her event. And I would expect her to do very well.

BURNETT: So, Dan, the thing is though, she's dealing with perceptions of her. Right. She's the frontrunner but a lot of people don't like her. Right? The latest of it, we call it the word world cloud. What are you words that you think of when you think of Hillary Clinton? Quinnipiac poll said, dishonest, untrustworthy and liar. Those were the top three. What can she do to change that?

DAN PFEIFFER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think it's important to note that Democrats lied for a while. This are not with Democrats think about her. This are what Republicans think about her. But her challenge here I think tonight is to show some inspiration. Inspire people, disappoint (INAUDIBLE) is to right now she has made a very good policy taste for why she should be president. The question is, is she going to be able to inspire people? And not just vote for her today, wait in line ten hours to vote, to knock on doors and make phone calls. That's how you win in a mobilization election which is what 2016 will be.

DOUG THORNELL, FORMER SPOKESMAN, DEMOCRATIC CONGRESSIONAL CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE: Yes. She has got to show passion. You know, I mean, as Dan says, she's got to go out there and excite her supporters and remind them why she was getting such strong support, you know, a several months ago. And no unforced errors. Like she, there is obviously going to be a question about the e-mail server. That needs to be handled with no equivocating and no hedging. She needs to make sure that's taken off the table or might --

NAVARRO: She can't be defensive about it either. She can neither be flippant or defensive as she has been in the past.

THORNELL: That's a good point. I mean, staying on the offense for her. She's not Floyd Mayweather who were in the capital, were in the boxing capital. He's a great defensive fighter.

NAVARRO: Yes.

THORNELL: She is not. She needs to be on the offense and that's not necessarily going after Bernie Sanders but that is going after Republicans who are just pushing her policy proposals. That's where she is really --

NAVARRO: I think one of her biggest weaknesses is going to be one of her biggest challenges tomorrow night, it's going to be, to explain her changing position on so many issues. The Hillary Clinton that's standing up here tomorrow night could practically debate the Hillary Clinton from 2008. On issues like immigration, on issues like gay marriage, on issues like trade promotion authority with, you know, that she has backed away from last week, she's going to have to explain those evolutions and I'm sure people like Martin O'Malley are going to be right up there trying to emphasize the flip-flops.

AXELROD: This actually explains why he is so enthusiastically for her in 2008. So, he's got a little flip-flop of his own. Listen, flip- flops are very, very damaging but less so when you're flopping over to the popular side and that's the gamble that she's made here. I think Dan's point is the right one, which is, she has to make people feel like she believes these positions and that they added up to a coherent message about where she wants to lead the country.

NAVARRO: It worked really well for John Kerry.

[19:10:12] BURNETT: But how does she have people believe in her as more and more genuine and just think about the simple passion that Bernie Sanders, he gets these crowds, nine, 12,000 people. Right. She prefers a smaller room. That's what she gets. But you know, you want to have people feel passionately about you.

AXELROD: Yes, look --

BURNETT: Even Democrats, I mean, you don't get the feeling there's a lot of passion.

AXELROD: I think that one of the things that we learn in 2007 and 2008 was -- in 2007, she was the front-runner, she was very cautious, she was very un-connecting. She lost the Iowa caucuses. She became a different candidate after that when she was not the front-runner. And she became a lot more connected with people, a lot more revealing of herself, a lot more sympathetic as a candidate. She needs to connect with that person. And I think that's genuinely who she is. But she's not a good front-runner and we saw that in 2008. She can't think like a front-runner.

BURNETT: So, Doug, I'm also curious here, she tweeted out today, support for the family of Tamir Rice --

THORNELL: Right.

BURNETT: That's the young boy who was shot in Ohio, a horrible sanctioning by the police. They came out and said, it was justified or it seemed to be justified. She came out in support of him. She's met with Black Lives Matter. But, you know, that Tamir Rice's case has been going on for a long time. She hasn't said anything about it in a long time. How does she again proves that that's genuine and not just pandering to, well, that's a politically popular point of view right now?

THORNELL: Well, I think it was the right thing for her to do. I mean, she's going to get criticism from the right for whatever she does. But what she said to Tamir Rice's family, that was the right thing to do. Clearly, that is a very highly sensitive situation that's going on. Meeting with Black Lives Matter and their representatives. That's also, you know, look, that's the right thing for her to do. I don't think like ultimately, she can't worry so much about the criticism that she's going to get from the right on whether or not she's, you know, moved -- saying this or saying that. That was the right -- that was the right thing for her to do.

And I think ultimately Hillary Clinton, she has a passion deficit with her supporters but there is one thing that is going to make her unique on this set and that is the only female running for president and I think that that's going to be something that for a lot of, you know, for a lot of the women out there, that's going to be something that's going to be powerful.

BURNETT: And we're going to talk more about that coming up. All of you will going to stay with us throughout the hour.

OUTFRONT next, Melania and Ivanka Trump are readying for the campaign trail. So, where are Bill and Chelsea? I can actually tell you. Bill actually landed here with his wife just a few moments to go in Vegas. But you'll never believe which celebs are backing Bernie. Whose endorsement though actually means real vote anymore. We have a special report. And Trump on Clinton's chances in tomorrow's debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She hasn't been a great debater, I guess, you know, in the past, but I think she just has to hold. I can't imagine Bernie Sanders will beat her.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:16:29] BURNETT: You're looking at live pictures of the debate hall. That is where the five democratic presidential candidates will be facing off for the first time tomorrow night right here on CNN. And just moments ago, Hillary Clinton arrived here in Las Vegas. Bill Clinton was with her as they got off that jet. But the campaign spokesman says that as of now, the former president won't be attending the debate. That's a little strange. What's he out here for? Anyway, their daughter Chelsea Clinton's plan are still unknown but both Bill and Chelsea Clinton are both expected to hit the campaign trail soon. The question is, will it help?

Alexandra Field is OUTFRONT. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He's her biggest supporter.

BILL CLINTON (D), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: She'd be a very good president and I think she's proving to be a pretty good candidate.

FIELD: But during this campaign, both Clinton is more often on the sidelines than by Hillary's side.

B. CLINTON: First of all, it is true that I have done markedly less to this point than I did eight years ago when she ran. Eight years ago, I did a lot by now of what I've only done two things.

FIELD: Hillary Clinton walked with Secretary Clinton in the Fourth of July Parade, he was with her when he launched her campaign, but months before that, the former president seemed to diminish his role.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you're just a bit player as to whether Secretary Clinton runs?

B. CLINTON: That's exactly what I am. I'm a foot soldier in her army. I will do what I'm instructed to do.

FIELD: Last week Bill Clinton was at a democratic dinner in West Virginia where he rallied the base. He didn't talk about Hillary's campaign but he kept in line with her message.

B. CLINTON: Thank you. We don't have paid leave, universal preschool, affordable child care.

FIELD: Daughter Chelsea has also been in the spotlight. She's out promoting her book and also supporting her mom.

CHELSEA CLINTON, DAUGHTER OF HILLARY CLINTON: Every opportunity I have, I want to tell people why I so strongly support her not only as a voter but also as a daughter and not a mom.

FIELD: But she's skipping the kind of campaign stops that featured her four years ago.

C. CLINTON: Thank you very much.

FIELD: There was controversy in 2008 when Chelsea took on a public role and refused to take most questions and there was more controversy when some of Bill's answers tested the campaign's control.

JONATHAN ALLEN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, VOX: I think they are being a lot more reserve this time with Bill and Chelsea Clinton. We are going to see more of them going forward but Clinton sometimes a liability on the campaign trail in 2008 and I think they want to avoid that this time. What you don't want him to do is interact with reporters and have those unscripted moments really hurt her like last time.

FIELD: Like this response to a reporter who have claimed Clinton accused Obama of playing the race card.

B. CLINTON: No, no, no. That isn't what I said. You always follow me around and play these little games and I'm not going to play your games today.

FIELD: And this unscripted exchange over Barack Obama's voting record on the Iraq war.

B. CLINTON: And there's no difference in your voting record and Hillary's ever since. Give me a break. This whole thing is the biggest fairytale I've ever seen.

FIELD: Hillary takes center stage in the first democratic debate tomorrow night. It still isn't clear where Bill or Chelsea will be watching.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FIELD: So Erin, we do know of course that Bill Clinton did arrived in Las Vegas with his wife by his side. No word yet on whether or not Chelsea Clinton is in town. But there's two big questions here. Why hasn't Bill had a larger role in the campaign? That's a question that will be asked and answered by a lot of people. The other question is, you know, should he have a bigger role? Does he have any plans to have a larger role? And that's a question that you were able to put to him directly and I think it's probably worth reminding all of our viewers that his answer to at the time was that he hasn't taken on a larger role to this point this year because of his agenda, with his foundation. But he did say that he can be really helpful to his wife in terms of meeting and greeting voters and also of course attending fund-raisers and that's something that he will continue to do and you will see him do quite a bit more of that. He says, that's something he can do as she pokes her full force on campaigning -- Erin.

BURNETT: Alexandra Field, thank you.

And OUTFRONT now, our political commentator and former special advisor to President Obama Van Jones. Joining our panelist, David Axelrod, Dan Pfeiffer and Ana Navarro.

Van, so welcome to the groups. Okay. So, he's here in Las Vegas but they're saying no plans as of yet to attend the debate.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.

BURNETT: What do you make of that?

JONES: Yes. Well, you know, he's here to support, I would imagine, his spouse and he doesn't have to be in public to play a major role. He can -- Bill Clinton is the kind of person, you know, just a couple bits of advice, telling the story, relaxed, hey, I've got you. That can have a huge positive impact on any candidate, let alone his wife.

[19:21:02] AXELROD: But it does underscore the complexity of the situation because it's unusual that he's here and wouldn't go. But he represents a kind of mixed bag for her. He is obviously a very popular person. A world-class politician but he also can eclipse her as he has at times and he's a reminder of the fact that the Clintons have been around for a very long time. And for those two reasons, plus, what we learned in 2008, I mean, he was an all-star in 2012 for President Obama, probably the MVP of the campaign. That's what the President called him. It's different when you're fighting for your own wife. And we saw in 2008 --

BURNETT: Caused some problems for her then. Highly controversial comments.

AXELROD: He kind of lost it a few times in 2008.

THORNELL: I see it differently. This time around, I say, let the big dog bark. Let the big dog bark. This guy is one of the most popular people on the planet earth. It's always been, buy one get --

(CROSSTALK)

NAVARRO: I'll tell you why, because he screwed it up in 2008 because he had a very hard time keeping his emotions in check. Absolutely.

AXELROD: Which is understandable. But the point is, just like a lawyer shouldn't be his own client, you know, it may be that he shouldn't be as deeply involved publicly for his wife.

NAVARRO: He's here because the donors want to see him. There's, you know, there's a lot of donors that --

AXELROD: Sure, that's true.

NAVARRO: -- that go all the way back to the Clinton time that are here. Some of them from Miami that I know. I think, you know, he loves being with people, you know, shaking hands and visiting with his old supporters. But he overshadows her. And that's, you know, that's the simple truth.

PFEIFFER: But there is no question, that as the campaign goes on, it will be a massive advantage for Hillary Clinton, when she's in Iowa, Bill Clinton can be in New Hampshire and vice versa. And to draw crowds and to draw attention into new other camp, he cannot make a mistakes because the mistake that he makes is fundamentally different mistakes than any other political spouse makes.

BURNETT: Right.

PFEIFFER: To have that on your team. To have that kind of surrogate is a huge advantage.

NAVARRO: And as long as they are not sharing the stage, as long as he's not introducing her or following her, they are fine. The moment --

BURNETT: What is more valuable to her though, Van? Is it President Clinton or would it be President Obama?

JONES: Well, here's the thing -- BURNETT: Who said this weekend he would run for a third term and if

he could, he could win.

JONES: Here's the deal.

(CROSSTALK)

I think right now -- whoever runs against Hillary Clinton is going to run against Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama. The four of them are going to be on the campaign trail for the general election. I don't think anybody can calculate what it's like to have four superstars like that on the field. And I say Bill Clinton for every one damn thing he says. He will say 100 brilliant things, I think they should let him do -- I agree with you. Don't put him on the stage with Bono, with Elvis Presley or anybody? He will outshine anybody. But he's a superweapon for Hillary Clinton.

BURNETT: Okay. But you just mentioned four people, it starts with David, we're talking about assuming that there's no Joe Biden in this race which would complicate everything. And Barack Obama had to make a choice over who he is going to support. And you have another beloved democrat.

AXELROD: He doesn't have to make a choice. He'll allow the primaries to run and he will support the winner of those primaries. I'm still a doubter on Joe Biden. I think he's doing some of the things necessary to run but I believe him. I believe him when he says he is wrestling with the emotional toll of running for president. We all say, gee, we love Joe because he speaks his mind. Why don't we believe it when he says, I don't know if I have the emotional reserves to make this race. And as time goes on, I'm more and more doubtful as to whether it's going to happen. I maybe wrong tomorrow. And obviously if she makes a big gaffe or there's some sort of upset in the Clinton campaign, there will be more pressure on him.

NAVARRO: Why don't you think people will believe it? You know, I don't know anybody who doesn't believe that Joe Biden is being completely transparent and truthful when he talks about wrestling with the decision.

AXELROD: But if you listen to him, it's hard to conclude that at the end of the day he's going to calculate that, yes, I'm going to jump in to this.

JONES: What I would say about it is that the biggest opponent Hillary Clinton has tomorrow night is not on that stage. She has got to put on such a clear, commanding performance. This is no reason to get in. I think if she does stumble, I think he's on the bubble. And I think he could come in if she makes a mistake.

PFEIFFER: Reporters and people always ask, what does the vice president mean by that? And the answer always is, exactly what he just said. He's the most authentic.

JONES: Sometimes it's a consternation.

PFEIFFER: Yes. We're more happy with that in the White House but he is the most authentic politician.

JONES: Absolutely.

BURNETT: But do you think it's down to the wire David, when you say he's leaning against it? Do you think Dan has a point that he's watching and if she does stumble, she seems less than perfect?

AXELROD: It think it will put more pressure on him to get in the race but I think the things that are keeping him out are less about political calculations and more about personal calculation.

BURNETT: All right. Well, we'll hit pause for a moment.

Next, though, a report shows that Barack Obama picked up one million votes. One million votes. Thanks to Oprah when she decided to endorse him in 2008. Can anyone pack that punch this time? We have a special report on endorsement and their value. And Donald Trump says, he will be watching tomorrow night. Watching but not exactly cheering.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[19:26:02] DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not running for anybody. I mean, I just want to see what they have to say. There are a lot of bad ideas out there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:30:05] BURNETT: And we are back live from Las Vegas tonight, the site of the first democratic presidential debate. It is tomorrow night right here on CNN. But even with the Democrats headlining, I checked in my hotel room today and I looked out and I saw -- I saw that. That's really actually all I could see, that and the sky. You can't escape him. As you can see, the GOP front-runner is literally looming over this debate. And tonight he's defending the rhetoric that made him skyrocket to the top of the polls.

Sara Murray is OUTFRONT.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICS REPORTER (voice-over): Donald Trump trying out a new style today, consensus builder.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The word compromise is absolutely fine. But if you're going to compromise, ask for about three times more than you want.

MURRAY: Speaking at an event hosted by the nonpartisan political group No Labels, Trump touted his business deals as proof he can bring people together.

The GOP front-runner facing some doubts that an expert in hurling insults can reach across the aisle. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm wondering if the divisive language

undermines your ability to sell --

TRUMP: I have to say what I do -- you know what, I mean, I am --

(APPLAUSE)

I went to Ivy League schools. I know what's divisive. I know what's not divisive, in all fairness. And what you do, I don't want to necessarily be politically correct.

MURRAY: Today, Trump confronting questions about how he treats women.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So if you become president, will a woman make the same as a man and do I get to choose what I do with my body?

(APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: You're going to make the same if you do as good a job. You're going to make the same if you do as good a job. And I happen to be pro-life.

MURRAY: With the stage set for bipartisanship, Republicans landed some jabs. Trump taking on President Obama.

TRUMP: I thought he did terribly last night. I thought he did not do a good job. I think that our country has nothing but problems.

STEVE KROFT, CBS/"60 MINUTES": What do you think of Donald Trump?

BARACXK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's the classic reality TV character and at these early stages, it's not surprising that he's gotten a lot of attention. I don't think he'll end up being president of the United States.

MURRAY: And Lindsey Graham taking on Trump, asking whether his style can succeed in a general election.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Can Donald Trump bring us together? I don't think Hispanics believe that he will be a good president for them. When 75 percent of Hispanic community disapproves of your candidacy as a Republican, you're in trouble.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: Now, even Trump can't resist tuning in to the Democratic debate tomorrow night. He says he'll be watching but he's not rooting for anyone in particular. He says he'd be happy to take on any one of the Democratic candidates in a general election, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Sara.

And OUTFRONT now, former Republican Congressman Mike Rogers, Ana Navarro, David Axelrod and Dan Pfeiffer are also back with me.

All right. Ana, in a new poll, Donald Trump is still at the very top. By the way, really at the top, 27 percent, Ben Carson almost ten points behind, and everybody else is in single digits. At some point, don't people, people like you and the Republican Party, need to say this guy has something real?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Oh, listen, I think we've been saying it for a while now. Yes, we are in that level -- at that stage of grief right now with those of us who don't like Donald Trump. We recognize that what is very real about him is him tapping into the frustration and angst that the American people feel at the dysfunction of government. People are fed up and I think Donald Trump is most definitely voicing that.

BURNETT: Is it true, though, Congressman, if this were Jeb Bush at this level of the polls, we would all be sitting here talking about how a Republican race is done. Let's talk about a vice presidential candidate. But with Trump, people are just -- people are not giving it that full respect.

MIKE ROGERS (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Well, it's only because of the frustration I think that Ana talked about.

But I will tell you one thing about Donald Trump, I represented a union district when I was in Congress. If I went to the local hall and had a beer with the union guys, that's exactly how they would talk to me. So, he's tapping into something that I think --

DAVID AXELROD, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it's not so much about the dysfunction in government, it's about stagnant future, about concerns about their kids and the future.

(CROSSTALK)

AXELROD: The partisan Congress hasn't worked over the last many decades for people just like that. And he's tapping into that.

But it is important to point out that he keeps bouncing between 20 and 30 percent and occasionally may go a shade under. Sometimes he goes to the low 20s. But that still means that 20 percent of the rest are not supporting him and I think the theory is when the field narrows down, there will be a race. The question is, just with whom?

(CROSSTALK)

NAVARRO: And remarkable, that every poll also shows you that even though Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both have wide margins and leads, they are also the ones with the highest unfavorable numbers. It is -- you know, it's puzzling.

[19:35:00] ROGERS: They are going to have to have a substantive switch. This gets you maybe into the later part of this year and I think because financially he can hang, it gets you there. But when you start not showing up at the Latino chamber, when you stop -- you can't have a discussion on foreign policy or national security, that does catch up to you and I think those unfavorables start to wash over you. AXELROD: I've said it before, he did well in the swimsuit

competition, but the talent rounds are harder. That's in terms that he understands.

(CROSSTALK)

BURNETT: To that point, the president also dismissed him as a reality kind of a star.

AXELROD: Yes.

BURNETT: The president dismissed him as a reality TV star.

But, Dan, yet, there's something about that that maybe shouldn't be said so dismissively. I mean, let's listen to Donald Trump defend himself against his tone. Here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I don't want to necessarily be politically correct all the way down the line because I'm seeing people -- I see people, they can't even function. I see politicians, they are afraid to say anything because it's not politically correct and they know the answers and they refuse to give them because they are afraid it's not going to be politically correct and I am going to have to be who I am.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: The thing about that is, there is truth in that.

DAN PFEIFFER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right.

BURNETT: It's not just the people reacting to him being honest. It is true.

PFEIFFER: Look, for an outsider running as an anti politician, he's the best politician running in the Republican Party. He's very good at politics.

But I think the president hit on what the other Republican candidates should do, which is the idea of Donald Trump as president, or even Republican nominee, is ridiculous. He is running a ridiculous campaign. He has ridiculous contradictory policy positions and the way to do it is to call him out.

The president did this at the White House correspondents' dinner the last time Donald Trump was thinking of running for president, and he eviscerated then entire concept. And so, I think the candidates are making a mistake when they try to debate him.

You know, he says divisive things. Well, that's not going to hurt him. He used to be a Democrat. That's not going to hurt him. That's all priced in to the baseline with Donald Trump. But call it out for what it is, which is absurd.

NAVARRO: Well, you know, the fact that he's a reality TV star has helped him so very much. He is so media savvy. This is a man who has spent precious little of his huge amount of money on TV because he knows how to work it. He knows how to work the media and get earned, free media.

He's also, you know, tapping into the fact that reality TV has met politics. In the year 2015, we have a 24/7 news cycle. We have blogs, Reddit, Tumblr, Twitter, you name it. And he knows how to tap into that very well.

ROGERS: But I would not recommend that Republicans go after Donald Trump. What they need to do is tap into that vein of that frustration.

His numbers and why he does and folds head-to-head with Clinton is that under $50,000 family that's trying to struggle is saying something is wrong. I can feel it. My finances aren't getting any better and I'm scared of what I see.

He's tapped into that in an artful way. And if other candidates get into that and tap into that, like Jeb Bush or --

(CROSSTALK)

AXELROD: They are good at his. His base are non-college educated white men. That is his base. And it's a good base for him. It's not enough to win a nomination but it's a strong base.

He also, by the way, benefits not just from the experience of being on reality TV, but I saw a poll and I wrote about it in which people who watch "The Apprentice" had a 2 to 1 favorable opinion about him. The rest of Republicans 1 to 1. He's actually been building a base for the last 14 years on television.

NAVARRO: You know what is so very interesting about him, how comfortable he is with his wealth. It's something that we've seen with Hillary Clinton be awkward and Romney be awkward about.

BURNETT: His supporters buy into that and they aspire to that as opposed to the other message, right, of taking it away. So, that's something that --

ROGERS: But it's a simple economic message, I made it and I'll make it, so you make it. That's a very powerful message if you're struggling today and I think it sells very well.

AXELROD: It's also that it's beyond the people of reach with money. That's part of his appeal as well.

BURNETT: All right. Thanks to all.

And OUTFRONT next, candidates chasing celebrity endorsements, almost as hard campaign donations.

And while money talks, do endorsements actually matter? We'll look into that. We have a special report.

And how just one moment in a debate can make you stand out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:43:09] BURNETT: We are live in Las Vegas, the site of tomorrow's Democratic presidential debate. And tonight, Donald Trump is claiming he's worked it out with Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler over his use of the group's hit "Dream On" at campaign events. Now, Tyler claims Trump's use of the song gives the impression that the band is endorsing Trump which it is not. So, while Trump may not have the backing of his good friend Tyler, his rivals are trying to shore up celebrity support.

Kyung Lah is OUTFRONT.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Celebrity always goes hand in hand with presidential politics. Then, there's this year.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

LAH: Clutching a "People" magazine --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm Hispanic and I vote for Mr. Trump --

LAH: Fandom meets a superstar, who happens to be the Republican frontrunner.

Thanks to Donald Trump, the currency of celebrity is taking on a new calculus.

SARAH SILVERMAN, COMEDIAN: Bernie, President Bernie.

LAH: Comedian Sarah Silverman, not the only the famous supporter of Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders. His campaign releasing this eclectic list of 100-plus celebrity backers.

From the Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, to Danny DeVito, who quoted "Star Wars" in this tweet, "Bernie Sanders, you're our only hope."

Not to be outdone, Hillary Clinton sandwiched in her own Kimye moment.

Also supporting Clinton, actress Lena Dunham and Katy Perry, who roared her support on Instagram, even volunteering to write Hillary's theme song.

(on camera): Katy Perry, why does her opinion -- does anybody's opinion who's a celebrity matter?

TED JOHNSON, SENIOR EDITOR, VARIETY: I think celebrity does have currency in kind of affirming your existing beliefs, if you are wavering about a candidate.

(YOUTUBE CLIP) [19:45:01] LAH: A measurable effect. Remember in 2008, many recognized the faces backed then-candidate President Obama, but it was this face who pumped his polls.

OPRAH WINFREY, CELEBRITY: I'm here because of hi personal conviction about Barack Obama.

LAH: An endorsement that a Northwestern University study found actually translated into votes.

CRAIG GARTHWAITE, ASST. PROFESSOR, MANAGEMNET AND STRATEGY, NORTHWESTERN: The endorsement of Oprah Winfrey of then-Senator Obama resulted in a million additional votes in the 2008 primary.

LAH: Let the fawning for even fawn starts begin. Marco Rubio scoring Rick Harrison.

RICK HARRISON: Trust me, I know a good investment when I see one.

LAH: Even star athletes weigh in. Dennis Rodham who last supported North Korean leader Kim Jong-un tweeted, "We don't need another politician, Trump 2016."

Then there's Patriots QB Tom Brady, appearing to endorse Trump by sporting Trump's "Make America Great Again" cap in his locker.

REPORTER: You think he's got what it takes?

TOM BRADY, PATRIOTS QB: I hope so.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAH: Brady later said that wasn't a true endorsement of Donald Trump. So, is there another Oprah effect on the horizon for this election cycle? So far, it doesn't appear to be so because Oprah doesn't have quite the same following. Other big celebrities like Beyonce and Lady Gaga have already thrown their support behind Hillary Clinton.

And, Erin, we're still kind of waiting to see what happens with other notable celebrities who have sizeable followings like Taylor Swift and Ellen DeGeneres.

BURNETT: All right. Kyung, thank you very much.

And next, debate, you know, they have breakthrough moments. That's why we all watch the moment that makes you or breaks you and then, there are -- well, these moments.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK PERRY (R), FORMER TX GOVERNOR: Commerce and, let's see -- I can't. The third one, I can't. Sorry. Oops.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [19:50:55] BURNETT: We're back live in Las Vegas where in 24 hours, the five Democrats running for the oval office will for the first time square off. That's in our presidential debate tomorrow night. And it will be a crucial moment. It could make or break somebody, front runner or not.

Sara Murray is OUTFRONT.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TRUMP: I want a build a wall.

CARLY FIORINA (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Immigration did not come up in 2016 because Mr. Trump brought it up.

TRUMP: More energy tonight, I like that.

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As it relates to my bother, there is one thing I know for sure, he kept us safe.

BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's an OK doctor.

MURRAY (voice-over): It's one of the highest stakes moments in presidential politics.

MEGYN KELLY, DEBATE MODERATOR: You guys nervous?

(LAUGHTER)

MURRAY: A few minutes, seconds even on the debate stage can define a candidacy, sending contenders soaring in the polls or struggling.

This moment in the first Republican presidential debate, solidifying Trump's standing as a candidate who doesn't play by the rules, and boosting him even higher in the polls.

In the second GOP debate, Carly Fiorina's cool as ice come back to Trump's criticism of her appearance elevating her as a formidable contender.

FIORINA: I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said.

(APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: I think she's got a beautiful face and I think she's a beautiful woman.

MURRAY: Her polished performance rocketing her to second place in post-debate polls while the latest polls show her slipping slightly.

But a cringe-worthy misstep can deliver a crippling blow to an ailing campaign.

PERRY: The third agency of government, I would do away with Education, the -- Commerce and let's see. I can't. The third one, I can't, sorry. Oops.

MURRAY: Two months later, Rick Perry dropped out of the 2012 presidential race. This year his second bid never caught fire.

(CHANTING)

MURRAY: Hillary Clinton had her own oops moment in 2008.

TIM RUSSERT, MODERATOR: What can you tell me about the man whose going to be Mr. Putin's successor?

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's a hand picked successor?

RUSSERT: Who will it be?

CLINTON: Medvedeva, whatever, yes.

MURRAY: But her opponent proved not every awkward debate moment marks the end for a candidate. After this chilly exchange in 2008 --

CLINTON: I don't think I'm that bad.

BARACK OBAMA, THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You're likable enough, Hillary.

CLINTON: Thank you so much.

MURRAY: Voters a win for Hillary Clinton in the New Hampshire primary, stalling Barack Obama's momentum after his stunning win in Iowa, and setting off a long slog nomination fight.

In the end, Obama turned it around, won the Democratic primaries and went on to win the White House, but very few candidates managed to make it that far.

Sara Murray, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: And OUTFRONT now, Michael Smerconish, host of "SMERCONISH", which airs Saturdays at 9:00 a.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

All right. Funny when you see --

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST, "SMERCONISH": Yes, love that, highlight reel.

BURNETT: Yes. And when President Obama says to Hillary Clinton, you're likable enough. But these unforgettable moments, right?

SMERCONISH: Looks good on you.

BURNETT: All right. But there is so much at stake tomorrow and part as you point out, there are a couple people never heard of. SMERCONISH: Remember how high her numbers were before she formally

declared? And I think this is natural. Then you declare and you see a tumbling of the numbers when all of a sudden, you're evaluated by a different spectrum. It will happen to Vice President Biden should he get into the race. His numbers I think will tumble, as well.

But here's what I keep coming back to her. Her numbers have tumbled because she's taken fire but not from anybody, Erin, on that stage tomorrow night. They have really gone soft on her. Senator Sanders has not wanted to engage in any negativity toward her. So, will it change tomorrow night? I don't think it changes with Bernie Sanders, maybe it does with Martin O'Malley. Maybe it does with Jim Webb. I think those were wildcards.

BURNETT: You're saying that moment could come from somebody that people don't know. I mean, most Americans do not know who Jim Webb is.

SMERCONISH: Right. And, by the way, therefore, what does he have to lose?

BURNETT: Nothing, right?

SMERCONISH: Something else that occurs to me is that these issues that we talk about, the trust issues, the e-mail issue, the so-called Benghazi issues.

[19:55:02] They are now because of what we just saw with Kevin McCarthy, so associated Republicans, I think it's kryptonite. I think you take a reel danger if, all of a sudden, you're one of her opponents and play that card because in front of these 1,500 people, I think you'll be perceived as the enemy.

BURNETT: Well, it's going to be fascinating. We'll see if one of those unknowns create the big moment of the night.

Michael Smerconish, thank you and we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: And thank you so much for joining us live from Las Vegas tonight. Be sure to set your DVR. You can watch OUTFRONT at any time.

And now, the man of the moment, "AC360" begins right now.