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Donald Trump Way Ahead in Latest National Poll; Ted Cruz Leads in Iowa; Interview with Sean Spicer; Preview of Debate. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired December 14, 2015 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:06] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Hey, good evening from Las Vegas. Thanks very much for joining us. We are at the Venetian hotel and casino with more than a night's worth of the campaign developments on the eve of the big CNN debate. Thirteen candidates, nine on the main stage including front-runner, of course, Donald Trump, rising challenger, Ted Cruz, emerging alternative Marco Rubio, established outsider Ben Carson and Jeb Bush who continues to struggling, now polling close to zero than to any of the top four.

He, Rand Paul, John Kasich, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina will have a chance to try to regain some altitude tomorrow night. But will the shrinking number of also runs in the primary debate? They will also have that chance whoever the spotlight remains not just on the major players but the one standout among them, so far, Donald Trump.

New polling show him significantly expanding his national league while facing a strong challenge in Iowa. What they do not show is any resistance among GOP voters to his plan from bar Muslims from entering the U.S. Perhaps just the opposite.

A lot to talk about with some of the best political minds around starting with John King going inside those polling numbers as no one else can.

John, let's take a look at the numbers. How much of a lead does Donald Trump have nationwide?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is stunning, Anderson, when you look at the new numbers. Now remember, we pick nominees state by state, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina. So I'll give you the caveat first, don't put too much stock in the national polls.

But wow, when you look at this, the new Monmouth University poll out today as Donald Trump at 41 percent, 27 points ahead of his next rival, Ted Cruz, then comes Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush to round out the top five, 41 to 14. And compared this to the Monmouth poll back on October, Trump was ahead them too but at 28 percent. Cruz has gone up a little bit. But this is a huge jump for Trump, Anderson. The first poll that shows him above 48 percent.

Now, we know he has benefitted from the focus on terrorism. Republicans voters think he is strong and they think he is decisive. One of the big question all along, and this will come up in the debate tomorrow night for sure, is one of the more people saw Trump, the more they would tire of him.

One of the most interesting pieces of data in this Monmouth poll is this. Jeb Bush by that think that Donald Trump has the temperament to be president. But 65 percent of Republican voters now say Donald Trump has the temperament to be president. So you see other numbers like, this the polling, Anderson, in these national polls. That among Republican voters many of them even ones who are not voting for Trump are more open to supporting him if he is the nominee.

COOPER: There is new polling from Iowa, too.

KING: Right. And that is what gets interesting. Because remember, Trump is way ahead nationally. But Iowa votes first in 48 days. And the new Quinnipiac poll out today, as essentially a dead heat, trump at 28, Cruz at 27 then Rubio, Carson, Bush. This is the Quinnipiac poll out there today. The very well-respected Des Moines Register poll came out over the weekend, that has Cruz with a ten-point lead in Iowa. Again, which votes first and can shake up everything. Once the first state votes, everything tends to change. Cruz at 31, Trump at 21, then Carson, Rubio, Bush.

And if you look deeper into the Iowa polling, Anderson, that's why you see what Cruz momentum that is likely to cause a little Cruz-Trump bang, bang tomorrow night in the debate. Among white evangelicals, this is the Quinnipiac poo, Cruz leading with 34 percent, then Trump at 24. This has tends to be the largest piece of electorate that votes on caucus night, 34 percent of the evangelicals for Cruz.

Then you look at tea party voters, 45 percent of voters who describe themselves as tea party supporters in Iowa, they are for Ted Cruz. You add up the evangelicals and the tea party, you get a big slice of who is going to turn up on caucuses. That's good news for Cruz.

And one last one, Anderson, 49 percent of Trump supporters in Iowa say Ted Cruz is their second choice, 35 percent of supporters in Iowa say Ted Cruz is their second choice. So Cruz is strong with the key constituencies, evangelicals and the tea party. He has room to grow among Trump and Carson and others, you can be sure Donald Trump likes winning. He thinks at the moment in Iowa he might be losing to Ted Cruz. Mr. Cruz will be a target tomorrow without a doubt.

COOPER: Yes. Let's talk about it. John, thank you very much.

Joining us now is Jake Tapper, host of CNN's "THE LEAD" and "STATE OF THE UNION," also CNN senior political reporter, Nia-Malika Henderson, CNN senior political commentator and former top Obama adviser David Axelrod, Trump supporter Andy Dean who work personally for Donald Trump for seven years including as president of Trump productions and CNN political commentator, Amanda Carpenter, former communications director for Ted Cruz.

Jake, I want to play for our viewers something that Donald Trump said Ted Cruz yesterday on FOX News because it is very interesting, all along these two have been very polite to each other, and very supportive, I guess, publicly. That has obviously started to change as the poll numbers has started to change in Iowa. Here is what Trump said yesterday.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think he is qualified to be president.


TRUMP: Because I don't think he has the right temperament. I don't think he has the right judgment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: What is wrong with his temperament?

TRUMP: When you look at the way he has dealt with the Senate where he goes in there like a, you know, frankly, like a little bit of a maniac, you never going to get things done that way.


COOPER: And then Cruz responded by playing, I think it was a clip of Flash Dance the song, maniac. What do you think is going to happen tomorrow? Do you see these two going after?

[20:05:06] JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: I don't see Ted Cruz going after Donald Trump. His strategy the whole time has been to hug Donald Trump, not to criticize him, not to really to criticize any of his Republican rivals and that has worked for him, to be frank. I mean, he is now in a great position. You don't want to overstate the importance of Iowa. It is incredibly important. I would rather be in Cruz's position in Iowa than anybody else is. But just because you win Iowa doesn't mean you go on to win the nomination as presidents Mike Huckabee and presidents Santorum will attest.

One other thing to point out I think that is very interesting for this race and for tomorrow night, there has been this group thing when it comes to the Republican establishment and the media, to be frank, that Donald Trump is just a phenomenon and it is going to go away. He is going to self-emulate. He is going to destroy himself. Just leave him alone and he will go away on his own.

There is no evidence to support that. He has been in the lead and dominating. He now broke 40 percent in this Monmouth University poll nationally. Candidates are going to have to figure out way to go after him or he will be the nominee.

COOPER: But Nia, I mean, campaigns have been saying that from the very beginning and every pundit has been wrong from the very beginning as Donald Trump often points out. I mean, no one thought he would get in the race and no one thought he was show his financials. That people thought he was a Michelle Bachmann, a Herman Cain would fad as more people, you know, to Jake's point. He is not fading.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: He is not fading and, As Jake said, appears to be getting stronger and doesn't need these traditional forums, debate forums, or even the kind of town hall structures that you would think he would need in New Hampshire, going to town halls, going to (INAUDIBLE). He is doing, you know, sort of a television game. He does the big rally game and it seems to be paying off. Somebody like Jeb Bush, somebody like Chris Christie doing a little better in New Hampshire, but doing it in a traditional way. But those kind of traditional rules just are not paying off.

I think we will have to see what happens tomorrow. Can somebody lay a glove on him? And even if it matters are we sort of post-debate when it comes to especially Donald Trump?

COOPER: Well that is what is interesting, David. Because for a number of these candidates, debates have made a big difference. And we see Carly Fiorina, taking a jump in the polls and that faded. Debates have helped some. Donald Trump doesn't seem to really need these debates.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR COMMENTATOR: Well, in fact, he has not done very well in the post-debate polling and has generally done something after the debate to try to kick his numbers up because he has not been a great debate performer.

But one point I want to make for the establishment that Jake talks about, every time Trump gets attacked he becomes stronger with the anti-establishment core of the Republican Party. And so, it becomes almost a strengthening thing for him to be under siege by the establishment Republican.

COOPER: And Andy, this does not surprise you. I see you have a big smile on your face. You are like I knew it. I have been saying it from the beginning. Do the Iowa numbers worry you at all, though? I mean, you look at Ted Cruz, doing very well in Iowa given it is only one poll. A lot can change. Does that concern you at all?

ANDY DEAN, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Well, the Des Moines register poll, we don't take seriously. You know, their numbers have been out of whack for a long time. But David hit on something big is it when Trump is attacked, he comes in the world of New York real estate, so thrives and gets stronger for it.

If you look five months ago, it was Jeb Bush first Donald Trump. That was the big brawl. Now Jeb Bush is at three percent. Then three months ago it was Donald Trump versus Carly Fiorina. She was, you know, the talk of the hour and now at negative digits. And then a month ago, it was Trump versus Ben Carson. And now Ben Carson is nowhere to be found.

So I think Ted Cruz is going to regret going after Donald Trump. And we will see that a month from now in Iowa.

COOPER: Amanda, I mean, Ted Cruz was your boss.

AMANDA CARPENTER, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR SEN. TED CRUZ: I mean, the attack that Ted Cruz allegedly launch on, Trump was so benign. I mean, question Donald Trump's judgment is the least of what you can say negatively about Donald Trump. I think Ted Cruz has cracked the code. His bare hug strategy in saying I'm not going to go negative has forced Donald Trump into making a very big mistake in the GOP primary. Donald Trump has attacked Ted Cruz for opposing SNL (ph) subsidies. He has attacked Ted Cruz for not playing nice among the Republican strategy. And that is having negative effects already today in seeing Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin, two huge talk radio titans going after Donald Trump in saying stop attacking Ted Cruz from the right. This is not how we play in the GOP primary. And I think that is going to cause many people to question what Donald Trump really stands for and if he is a conservative at all.

COOPER: David, what do you make Ted Cruz's strategy? Because all along, I mean, not only to Nia's point about keeping Donald Trump kind of in a bear hug close. But he has always believed that if Trump fades he will benefit from that. And the fact that Carson supporters say they will support Cruz as their first choice if not Carson. That vote certainly votes well.

AXELROD: Listen. Carson's decline has all redounded to Ted Cruz's benefit. I think he has been strategically brilliant so far. If he wins the Iowa caucuses, he will be in a good position to do OK in New Hampshire which he is all has to do and then potentially to win the South Carolina primary, go on March 1st to all these southern primaries.

The irony of all of this is the Republican establishment that loads Ted Cruz may be stuck with him as their best alternative against Donald Trump.

[20:10:22] COOPER: Andy, what do you think happens if Donald Trump doesn't win Iowa? And again, in Iowa - you know, as Jake pointed out. I mean, Santorum won Iowa. Huckabee has won Iowa so it doesn't necessarily -- in fact it probably doesn't tell who is going to win the nomination. But does something change if Donald Trump has on the scoreboard a loss, I mean, and then going to New Hampshire? Do we know how he will respond to that?

DEAN: Right. I mean, if you look at the numbers in New Hampshire, Trump is way ahead. So I think, look in Iowa it is probably going to be a closer contest. But I think if he can stay in the top two there and he wins New Hampshire. He is the one that has got the momentum going to South Carolina and Florida. And then, you know, March 1st where it is all going to be decided.

AXELROD: I will say having experienced the Iowa caucuses, close up and personal, the Iowa poll that had Ted Cruz ten points ahead has actually been historically the most accurate poll. And I think Cruz really has something going there with the social conservatives who dominate that primary. He has been working relentlessly, when Carson fell, he grew.

TAPPER: Let me talk about for one thing about why some of these polls, not in my words, so different. For instance, why CNN's poll had Trump so ahead. Some pollsters are looking at the people that Trump is bringing into the process who have not necessarily voted in the Iowa caucus which is a process. It is -- you don't just go in there and click. You actually have to go, commit, spend some time and make an argument in a gym somewhere. Some people, some pollsters are saying we are going to believe that

these people who are excited for Donald Trump who haven't participated in the past, we believe that they are going to turn out. And that is why Trump is hiring some of those in the polls. The Des Moines register polls takes a look at previous engagement, previous behavior by voters. And that is one of the reason why their poll numbers probably shows Cruz higher. And I know that the Trump campaign likes to take whacks at the media as do all the Republican candidates, for that matter. But the Des Moines Register poll is a very respected poll.

We should also point out we are still seven weeks away from the Iowa caucus. And just because Ted Cruz is winning now doesn't mean he will be. Rick Santorum didn't start to come alive until about three weeks before the Iowa caucus last time.

HENDERSON: And John Kerry same thing on the Democratic side.

COOPER: We have to take a quick break.

Up next, we are going to talk about which candidates do better with voters on handling ISIS and other security issues bound to come up tomorrow night.

Later, could authorities have stop one of the San Bernardino terrorist or at least kept her out of the country just by going online, checking on her social media. We will take a look at what social media posting said about her and why it went unread when it counted.

We will be right back.


[20:16:11] COOPER: Tomorrow night's debate here at the Venetian will focus on what the Republicans will say on the top voting issue, national security. Candidates and their answers will be aiming to showcase the qualities they believe will make them a good commander in-chief.

Today, the current holder of that title and bearer of that responsibility gave a progress report in the fight against ISIS. President Obama is taking quite a bit of heat for how he is waging, it sounded optimistic today. Listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Last month in November we drop more bombs on ISIL targets than any other month since this campaign started. We are also taking out ISIL leaders, commanders and tillers one by one. Since this spring, we removed Abu Sayyef, one of their top leaders, (INAUDIBLE), ISIL's second in command. (INAUDIBLE) Hussein, a top online recruiter, Mohammed Amwazi, who brutally murdered Americans and others, and in recent weeks finance chief Abu Sale (ph), senior extortionist, Abu Mara (ph) and weapons (INAUDIBLE) Abu Rama al-Tunisi (ph). The point is ISIL leaders cannot hide and our next message to them is simple. You are next. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: We are back with our panel. Nia-Malika Henderson, David Axelrod, Andy Dean and Amanda Carpenter. Also joining us now is GOP strategist and CNN political commentator Kevin Madden.

Kevin, obviously, this debate happening in the wake of Paris attacks and in the wake of San Bernardino. In terms of national security, in terms of terrorism, all of these candidates on the stage are going to be trying to show how tough they are, what they would do different than what President Obama is doing.

KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes. And I think one thing that President Obama has been criticized for is that his national security and foreign policies have been rather amorphous. We don't seem to have a very clear-cut strategy, either dealing with our allies, building up our allies or taking the fight to the enemy. And what you have seen is in this particular field, the candidates that have flourished on issue of national security and foreign policy have done when they have been very bold. They offered strength to the American people and they offered clarity. So I think amongst all the candidates on stage tomorrow, there is going to be this race to offer the most clear, robust national security posture that offers a clear contrast with President Obama as possible.

COOPER: I want to put the latest national CNN poll, a couple of weeks ago when you asked Republicans who they think best equipped to be the commander-in-chief, look at that. Donald Trump far ahead. I mean, it is interesting, the fact he doesn't have experience in Washington it doesn't matter in terms of national security issues. If there were any issue you would think voters might hold that against him for --

HENDERSON: He has no experience, no resume on this. But what he does have is sort of the most extreme ideas on this. And we have already seen Republicans come out and condemn him, particularly for his ban on Muslims, at least the temporary ban. But when you talk to Trump voters they say they like what they hear. And even if he was elected president and was not able to enact some of these, at least he is raising these issues. And is he is not able to make it a ten, at least he is able to make it a seven, or six or five. And so, that is part of I think what is going on.

COOPER: In terms of tough talk, arguably he talks the toughest without specifics - that's really a lot of specific.

AXELROD: No. I think what people are responding to is the muscularity of what he has to say. And the more controversial and more muscular he seems, I listened to Kevin. And I'm sure this is going to be the focus of the debate. The difficulty is that when you get down to the nitty-gritty of what the strategies are, they really are not that much different than what the president is doing now because there are not any huge alternatives to what he is doing right now. So the substitute for that is to sound tough even if your policy is not that different than his policy.

COOPER: Andy? DEAN: I disagree with that completely. I mean, President Obama, we

are 18 months into a bombing campaign that has accomplished little to nothing. If we want to destroy them we get rid of all of the oil. Donald Trump knows how to do that. He knows how to manage. And the reality is that Obama won't let us, the military take the gloves off. I mean, if we are bombing their tanker, he apparently drops leaflets telling the ISIS truck drivers to go away before we blow up the tankers. That's ridiculous. Why aren't we asking questions like in downtown Raqqah, why are there still large buildings that we know ISIS operates in. And the reality is Obama is afraid of killing a couple of civilians here or there, and we are going to pay the price for it.

[20:20:29] AXELROD: Andy, I'm not here to debate on behalf --.

DEAN: We are here to debate.

AXELROD: No, we're not, actually. We are here to talk about this debate. But the fact is that we now -- ISIS controls about a quarter less territory than they did a year ago. The whole - every one, every nation that is involved in this can see that we are constricting them. We are killing their leaders. And one of the reasons they are lashing out internationally is because of the pressure that has been placed on them. It's not easy, it's not quick. You can't just go in and mow them down because there is nothing to take its place. And you would have complete anarchy there -- I understand the muscular with no knowledge saying --

DEAN: No knowledge? Correct. That is how you win wars.

AXELROD: No. That is how --


DEAN: The American public is not happy.

AXELROD: That is how -- what wars has Donald Trump won? The war for the Taj Mahal?

DEAN: No. He is a great man who built a great multi-billion dollar company.

AXELROD: That is not a war.

DEAN: Winning a war is a goal. We will destroy ISIS. I guarantee you.

AXELROD: I will take your guarantee in--

COOPER: Amanda, Ted Cruz was on tape in front of some fundraisers saying essentially who do you want to have your finger on the button? Do you think he will go that far publicly?

CARPENTER: I'm not sure, I think Ted Cruz will prepare to lay out his vision. But there is something to the fact that Donald Trump is high in the polls so people think that he is good on national security because I think he is very reactive to the daily issues. We have had a president that as Kevin raised, has been very more (INAUDIBLE) on issues that is not able to speak frankly and quickly and address the problems. Donald Trump, whether he is right or wrong on the proposals to solve the problems he talks about them. So he gets some credit for them.

On the debate stage I'm looking forward to an intense national security debate between Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, particularly on issue of surveillance of Americans in the wake of the shootings in California. That is a debate the Republican Party needs to have. Marco Rubio would love to paint Ted Cruz as the new Rand Paul. It's very helpful to have them on that stage. So the three different approaches the Republican Party has to these issues. And I'm not sure where Donald Trump has a place on that stage. I don't know where he weighs in because he has never subsequently talk about those issues.

COOPER: Kevin, where do you stand on what Andy said? I mean, clearly, a lot of popularity for Trump is, to David's point, this muscularity in his rhetoric.

MADDEN: He does have very muscular rhetoric. He comes through with and exudes a sense of strength, I think, for a lot of people particularly at the time when they are very anxious. But he is thorough on Syria and he has absolutely no experience on these issues.

Now, I think that is where Ted Cruz and others like Marco Rubio who have a great deal of experience. They may differ on some of the details. But they can move in and offer not only the clarity that people want and the decisiveness that people want on national security at a time of great anxiety, but they can also offer substance. I think that is where they make a departure and that is where they may have a certain advantage against Donald Trump during this debate.

HENDERSON: And maybe Chris Christie gets in there in some ways --

MADDEN: Chris Christie will certainly try in jump into. I think you will see a lot of establishment.

COOPER: He is back on the main stage.

HENDERSON: Yes. He is back on the main stage. I think he is maybe the best all-around debater. He always seems like he enjoys being on that stage and he sort of has to make a case that he belongs on that stage. And also that his momentum in New Hampshire is real and can perhaps go rock. He will be looking think the channel for Marco Rubio.

DEAN: But to Kevin's point about this idea that Ted Cruz is some type of oracle when it comes to national security, he was in the Senate for a year and a half. And then he sort of running for president of the United States. This idea that he has great knowledge is silly. Donald Trump has been doing business deals globally for decades.


DEAN: We know that Ted Cruz is more to the Rand Paul libertarian hippy side of surveillance. Trump is much tougher. MADDEN: There will be differences on the issue of surveillance, but

what you will have is a year and a half of (INAUDIBLE) trail of having work on all these issues and a much more substance in level than Donald Trump and his quote-unquote "deals."

COOPER: We are going to take a short break. There is a lot more to talk about including in a phrase, the elephant in the room, which some are calling chaos in the Republican Party. I will talk RCN communications director John Spicer about that next.

We will be right back.


[20:28:46] COOPER: And welcome back. We are here in a windy and cold Las Vegas on the eve of the fifth Republican presidential debate. The second one hosted by CNN.

Roughly 24 hours, nine top candidates will face off with frontrunner Donald Trump once again at center stage. As we have been reporting Trump has hit a new high in the latest national polling 41 percent, who is also locked in a tight race with Ted Cruz in Iowa, where a new poll shows them in a statistical tie. Over the weekend, a different survey showed Cruz leading Trump by ten point. On the campaign trail, punches are flying. Listen.


TRUMP: Hey, there is only one way you get to the top and it's all through Trump, let's face it.

BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think he is acting like Donald Trump.

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I can guarantee you Donald Trump is not going to be the nominee.

TRUMP: Marco Rubio has a disaster on his finances.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That is Donald Trump, he doesn't know what he is talking about.

BUSH: I have great doubts about Donald Trump's ability to be commander-in-chief.

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You put me on the air as much as Donald Trump is on the air and I would be leading.

TRUMP: (INAUDIBLE) has a habit of just speak to you whenever she wants to speak.

CARLY FIORINA (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think Donald Trump knows how to play the media like a master.

KASICH: Trump is not going to be president. It's not going to happen. TRUMP: He will never get anything done and that is the problem with


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Do you know how you make America great again? Tell Donald Trump to go to hell.


[20:30:03] COOPER: Part of the backdraft for tomorrow's debate is what some are calling the chaos within the Republican Party.

Joining me now, Sean Spicer, Republican National Committee chief strategist and communications director, also Nia-Malika Henderson is back with us. Also CNN chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, and Michael Smerconish, CNN political commentator and host of CNN's "Smerconish."

Sean, is there chaos within the Republican Party or is it just a wide range of highly qualified candidates out there?

SEAN SPICER, RNC COMM. DIRECTOR: It's excitement, it's enthusiasm, it's intensity. I'm excited about tomorrow night.

COOPER: So are we.

SPICER: I know you guys are. But when you look at the number of people who are going to watch tomorrow and tune in, it's because people are really fired up about our side and our candidate. It is a snooze-fest on the other side. I think we are poised well headed into 2016. This is the final debate of this year, and I think 2016 is going to kick off with a bang.

COOPER: But is it good for the GOP? You have not a lot of attention being paid to Hillary Clinton right now, a lot of attention being paid to the fighting between your candidates.

SPICER: Great, look at the number of people who are excited about our candidates and are saying, I'm with this person and I'm with this person, I am going to tune in because I think this vision for America is what I'm trying to figure out. Or I'm scared, I think that America's security is at stake, and I think one of the Republicans is the best choice. It's our party that the intensity is with, not theirs. I think they have made up their mind with Hillary Clinton because she is untrustworthy, and they are looking for the right alternative within our party to meet their needs.

COOPER: How long do you see this going? I mean, do you see this going, Gloria --

BORGER: I was going to ask Sean, because behind closed doors, there are a lot of Republicans who don't seem as excited as you are. And they're like, we don't want to get to a brokered convention and have that potential problem. So aren't you nervous about that?

SPICER: No, no, I'm not, because here is the thing. The only way a contested convention actually occurs is if the voters don't elect the delegates to give someone the majority. That is the only way. If the voters get involved in this process, and more than ever in history will, in this cycle we have more states that will be involved early in the process than ever before. That gives more people the opportunity to be involved in the process, and it gives the party more of an opportunity to grow. That is a very healthy thing.

BORGER: But my question is what about people collecting delegates along the way and it's all proportional. And so you could have a bunch of candidates --


SPICER: If you read CNN's Jeff Zeleny four years ago, he asked the same question in February.

BORGER: I always read Jeff --

SPICER: He has a good job (inaudible), but this story gets written every year, and every year in late March, early April we have a nominee. I'm fully confident we'll continue that pattern.

HENDERSON: If in 2013 you guys had the growth and opportunity project that was sort of the autopsy after 2012. The argument there was, listen, we have to reach out and broaden the scope of the party. In what ways is that idea showing up in the primary or not showing up? Is it your sense that people have kind of tossed that to the side?

SPICER: Not at all, when you look at 2014, the governors race and the Senate races, we have particular--

HENDERSON: But here--

SPICER: But hold on. So the point is that when you look at a lot of these candidates, every candidate has to embrace the idea of going out and bringing in more voters. When you look at John Kasich in Ohio and Chris Christie in New Jersey, Greg Abbott in Texas, Corey Gardner in Colorado, those folks that embrace the idea of going out to places that Republicans traditionally haven't, show that you can be successful. Every one of these candidates in their own way is talking about that kind of growth in our party that needs to occur. But don't, I mean, some of them have different tactics to occur. But everyone gets it. At the end of the day, this is a math issue. We need more voters to be brought into the party to win.

SMERCONISH: Do you worry about brand damage harming down ballot? I am mindful of the fact that last weekend, front pages of newspapers all across the country, 195 nations buying into doing something about climate change? Frankly not a peep from Republican leadership this week on that issue. Iowa Republicans, six in ten think that is a fraud. You take a look at this issue about Donald Trump wanting to keep Muslims out of the country. Half Republicans agree, but two thirds of the country disagree. My question, do all these things catch up with the GOP come the fall?

SPICER: Look, Michael, I think there is a big difference between what sometimes the mainstream media defines as important issues and what voters--

SMERCONISH: Climate change not an important issue?

SPICER: You just cited the polls that show that voters in Iowa and around the country don't necessarily agree with that.

SMERCONISH: Republican voters.

SPICER: I understand that some elites believe in a certain agenda, but at the ends of the day, when you look at our candidates and what we do as a party, we have won up and down the ballot. We have 66 of 99 legislatures, the majority of governors, the majority of secretaries of state, the second largest majority in the House of Representatives, the majority in the Senate. Our party is doing very well with reaching out and winning elections. So I appreciate the concern from the media about what issues we're not fully embracing. But I think we're doing really well. And that's what matters most. And when you look at brand damage, you look at somebody like Hillary Clinton, who is at the top of their ticket, she is horrible for their ticket. She is unbelievably untrustworthy. People don't like her.


SPICER: I would be more concerned as a Democrat running with Hillary Clinton at the top of the ticket.

SMERCONISH: I looked at that data. The fact that a majority of Americans regard her as untrustworthy and dishonest, you would think you would be cleaning her clock with all of your candidates. But--

SPICER: Wait, we don't have a nominee. The polls you guys have had on today and yesterday show that we're either within the margin error, tight or beating her.


I'll take that every day. We don't even have a nominee. They're walking around having a coronation for Hillary Clinton, she has 100 percent name ID, and she can't beat a lot of these candidates who don't even have close to the same name identification.

COOPER: Wasn't part of the so-called autopsy that was done after 2012 talking about the need to reach out to immigrant communities and reach out to African-Americans. Is Donald Trump doing that?

SPICER: I'm not going to decide which candidates are doing it or not. But just as I said a minute ago, you look at Greg Abbott in Texas, Corey Gardner in Colorado, Chris Christie in New Jersey, John Kasich in Ohio, candidates who have gone out and embraced that absolutely have done tremendously better. So we're not in a general election strategy yet. I think each of our candidates once they secure the nominee and we continue to embrace the general election strategy, we'll have an opportunity to speak to a broader base. Right now most of them are focused on trying to win those Republican caucus-goers and primary goers.

COOPER: And if Donald Trump is the nominee, you see him being able to reach out to the people he may have alienated in the process thus far?

SPICER: Sure, I think all of the candidates can do that. That's what elections are about. It's right now, they understand that to do well early, you have to do well in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada. And then those 11 states on March 1. That is how Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are playing the game, too. She's gone way over to the left to try to watch that left flank that Bernie Sanders has encroached on.

BORGER: Can I ask you about this question about Trump running as an independent? He said he wasn't going to run as an independent. You guys went to New York, you got the pledge from him. Now he's saying, well, let's see if they treat me nicely. Do you think there is a chance?



SPICER: Because he is a smart man. He understands that the only way we beat Hillary Clinton is a united Republican Party. Every single one of these candidates understands that. So unless you want to be the person that helped to elect Hillary Clinton, you will run as a Republican nominee. Second, he keeps talking about fairness. The Republican Party, Chairman Priebus, has been committed to treating every candidate with the same level of fairness and neutrality. And I think over and over again, Mr. Trump and Dr. Carson and others understand that, that that is how we operate.

HENDERSON: How worried are you about the kind of declining significance of the party? The theory is always, you know, the party decides. Are you worried at all that in some ways you have constructed this calendar, and this proportional and all this kind of stuff, but it seems like it is not really going in your favor in the way it was sort of designed to do?

SPICER: It's never our favor.


SPICER: No, no, no, I reject that out of hand. It was always about including more voters in this process and allowing more people to vote and have a say in who the nominee is. It should never, ever be about the RNC or anyone in Washington deciding anything. It is always up to the people of America to decide who is going to be the nominee and the president and down ballot. So that was never the goal and it never should be. Because the last thing that we want is anybody in Washington making some kind of back room deal about this. This should always be up to the people.

COOPER: Sean Spicer, appreciate you being on.

SPICER: You bet, thanks. It is going to be phenomenal.

COOPER: No doubt about that. We have a lot more to talk about. Coming up next, she posted her jihadist beliefs online and she still got into the United States. How the system failed when it failed to stop this woman, who would become one of the San Bernardino terrorists, from immigrating to the U.S.



COOPER: Well, investigators have been combing through phones and other electronics used by the terror couple in San Bernardino mass killings. The New York Times reported over the weekend they found the female attacker openly posted on social media for support for violent jihad and her desire to get involved. Still, she passed three background checks when she came to the United States, which certainly raises a lot of questions. For answers, we turn to CNN chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto. How did she get through? How did her social media posts fall through the cracks?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, what investigators have discovered now is she posted under a pseudonym and also posted setting the privacy settings so that only a small group of people could see those postings. So the truth is that even had the federal government been reviewing social media at the time that she applied for her visa, which they were not, they likely would not have seen those postings.

COOPER: And has anything changed in the background checks process since her visa was approved? Are there any plans for more changes?

SCIUTTO: It has. Well, it already changed even before the San Bernardino shooting. The Department of Homeland Security introduced a pilot program to begin reviewing social media of some visa applicants, but it's not done with the highest level of scrutiny. Partly it's a manpower problem. I mean, there are thousands of people applying for these visas all the time, but there were also early on concerns and continuing concerns about the privacy, et cetera. Clearly the San Bernardino shootings may change that calculus. And you hear from a number of officials now, even Secretary of State John Kerry said they are going to review the way they do this.

COOPER: What about the search for that lake the couple allegedly visited I think it was the day before the attack --

SCIUTTO: That's right. And we've seen those pictures of the divers combing through that lake. They spent three days searching the lake. They did not find anything. It was cell phones found in the attacker's home that led them to that lake, they could track the cell phone movements. They saw they had visited there. But after that search, they didn't find that crucial hard drive that was missing from their computer. They really do want to find that.

COOPER: And there is still a gap of several hours on the actual day of the attack, from the initial attack to where they ended up, right?

SCIUTTO: That's right, and also those phones, those destroyed phones that they found at the scene of some of the attacks, they tried to in effect harvest, digital information from there, and they have not yet. Clearly they destroyed those phones for a reason, so the suspicion is that there is something on there that would be indicative, that could be helpful to the investigation.

COOPER: And just last, I know authorities have announced the arrest of a guy in Maryland who was trying to aid ISIS. Do we know more about that?

SCIUTTO: We do. And listen, you know, this year, there have been more than 50 Americans who have been charged for aiding the terror group ISIS, and this one, it's not just some dumb kid caught in a sting. This appears to be substantive. It's a Maryland man, not far from the nation's capital here, who took multiple payments from ISIS operatives overseas, nearly $9,000. The FBI investigating now whether those payments were going to be used to carry out an attack here, that is a possibility, or possibly to get him to leave the U.S. to go fight on the battlefield. Obviously both of those concerning, particularly, the idea of carrying out an attack here. And they also saw he pledged his allegiance in those communications to ISIS. So federal investigators believe this was a serious ISIS recruit they caught here in the US.


COOPER: All right, Jim, thanks for the update. I appreciate. We are joined now by Phil Mudd, a CNN counter terrorism analyst and a former senior official with the FBI as well as with the CIA. Also joining me is Tom Fuentes, the CNN law enforcement analyst and a former assistant director of the FBI. Tom, did the U.S. drop the ball here, in your opinion? Should this woman's social media post about jihad have been discovered during her background check or multiple background checks?

TOM FUENTES, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: Anderson, the hard part of this is just number one the sheer volume of it. Last year the United States government issued 10 million visas, 40,000 were k-1 fiancee visas. I just went through the k-1 process two years ago, with my fiancee at the time, currently my wife. It is a very, very diligent process with extensive checks, extensive records on both the petitioner, being either the husband or wife-to-be. And the fiancee themselves. It is very difficult. And you know, that without checking social media, without asking somebody what their religious affiliation is, but the idea that somehow the U.S. government is going to check 10 million visas, and that is just the ones that were given, not all of the applicants which is probably a much greater number than 10 million. I don't see how it could be done even if you wanted to. Then add on top of that that she had a pseudonym and privacy settings on top of it, which probably would require some type of a court order or subpoena to even get those kinds of records if you have the manpower and the ability to do so. I just don't see how it can be done.

COOPER: Phil, do you agree with that? I mean fake names and privacy settings?

PHIL MUDD, FORMER SENIOR OFFICIAL, CIA AND FBI: I think half of that is true. I mean I agree with Tom on the volume piece of this. You cannot have a human being look at every visa applicant and start googling their name determining where they were on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram two years ago. That said, I think there has to be a conversation with Silicon Valley that says, identity has changed.

15 years ago if the government wanted to determine if you were dirty, they would bounce you up against their own databases. Did your phone number ever call the phone number of a terrorism suspect, for example?

Right now, your identity has changed fundamentally. You're out on social media in ways that the government could access. The question will be, will Silicon Valley, which is very concerned about partnering with the U.S. government, concerned for competitive reasons. They don't want the U.S. government taking data on their clients. Will they partner, with the government, just say, when someone walks in a visa line in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, we will help you figure out a way to access their background. I don't think it's as easy as it looks, but it's got to be done, Anderson.

COOPER: Tom, you were talking about the k-1 visa program, the fiancee visa and how strict it is. But isn't most -- aren't most of the objectives of that process to figure out whether the marriage itself is legitimate? That someone is not scamming the visa process to get a quick entry to the U.S.? Is it really set up, the background checks, to look at you know, possible beliefs of theirs? Possible you know, radical ideas they may have?

FUENTES: It's not set up to look at radical ideas, you're right. It is set up, part of it was started because of organized crime all over the world bringing people in to have arranged marriages, to have that situation or to have people get in to where they could have a baby in the United States which will be a citizen. That is true. But the k-1 process, the reason it's stricter than the other visas, it's because it's considered to have more permanence. It's the pathway toward marriage, which is the pathway toward citizenship. So, it's not like a student visa, a diplomat visa, a businessman visa, a work visa where that's considered probably temporary. The person is probably going to go back to the country that they came from. But in the k-1 process with the marriage at the end of that visa issuance, it's a pathway towards citizenship for most of the people to get that visa. So it is a much stricter process.

COOPER: You know, Phil, even right now, I mean Donald Trump has talked about not allowing Muslims into the country, a temporary pause until the U.S. kind of figures out what the issues is - here at home. Even in the visa process, though, there is - is there any way to actually tell if somebody is a Muslim?

MUDD: I don't think you can. For example, let me give you a couple of ideas. Talk to ambassadors from the U.K., France and Germany. Ask them a simple question, Anderson, will you require your citizens to put their religion in a passport? I guarantee you what the answer is going to be, no. The second question for this - for these countries - When a citizen gets to JFK airport in New York or Dulles in Washington, are you comfortable with the United States asking one of your citizens or requiring one of your citizens to declare their religion when they enter the country?

[20:50:07] I understand this is a political debate, I'm not a politician. Practically, this is not workable. You're not going to stamp somebody's religion in a passport, and we wouldn't do it either.

COOPER: Phil Mudd, appreciate you being here, Tom Fuentes, as well. Just ahead, she may be Ted Cruz's biggest weapon on the campaign trail. His wife, Heidi, is taking a leave from her high power job in finance to convince voters her husband is sweeter than he may appear to some who don't like him. More on her ahead.


COOPER: Well, the fifth Republican presidential debate now less than 24 hours away here in Las Vegas. The frontrunner, of course, Donald Trump leading by a big margin in a new national poll. While Senator Ted Cruz is set to be making substantial gains in Iowa. Polls show that voters view Cruz more favorably than Trump, in other words, they find him more likable in Iowa. For that he may owe a big debt to his wife, Heidi, Heidi who's been putting long hours on the campaign trail, trying to soften her husband's image. Tom Foreman reports.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alongside Ted Cruz' rising poll numbers, is a rising political star, his wife, Heidi, steadily pushing the spotlight toward him and never stealing even part of it.


HEIDI CRUZ: I don't want to be the candidate, you are electing Ted Cruz, not Ted and Heidi.

FOREMAN: Born in California, Heidi Nelson studied economics and international relations at Claremont McKenna College. A stint on Wall Street was followed by Harvard Business School. Then, in 2000, working on the Bush campaign, she met the future senator from Texas.


HEIDI CRUZ: And somehow, in the first two weeks, Ted and I got assigned to almost every project to work together, and we learnt very, very early on that we are a great team.

FOREMAN: They married soon after, and ever since whenever her husband's record has been challenged she has defended it fiercely.

HEIDI CRUZ, WIFE OF TED CRUZ: He told (INAUDIBLE) for the million - he would work with every breath in his body to defund Obamacare, and it's exactly what he did.

FOREMAN: She can hit talking points like a candidate.

HEIDI CRUZ: Ted understands the constitutional liberties that - our country.

FOREMAN: But while pundits may characterize her husband as almost robotic in his devotion to conservative causes, like when he filibustered for 21 hours over Obamacare.

TED CRUZ: Green eggs and ham, I do not like them, Sam, I am. I do not like green eggs and ham.

FOREMAN: Fans say it is Heidi who humanizes him.

HEIDI CRUZ: Ted is absolutely the coolest person in our family, and I say that from the bottom of my heart. He is funny, he's lighthearted. He is the first one to say let's go out on a date.

FOREMAN: By all accounts she works very long hours, talking endlessly about the family's religious faith, their home life and most of all, him.

HEIDI CRUZ: And I want Americans to know what the qualities were that made me fall in love with him. And the first is, he is principal. This is a man who knows what he believes.

FOREMAN: And through it all she makes it clear what she believes, that her husband, Ted Cruz, though he is not dominating the polls is still very much in this race. Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.


COOPER: There is a lot more ahead from Las Vegas, including new polling on how Republican voters rank the candidates on national security issues. National security, of course, as we mentioned, a focus of tomorrow's debate which comes in the wake of the terror attacks in San Bernardino and Paris. Would do the voters think will keep them safest? The answer is ahead.