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GOP Debate: Trump Returns Fire As Rivals Take Aim; GOP Rivals Pounce Over Trump University Fraud Lawsuit; Insults Fly At GOP Debate. Aired 11p-Midnight ET

Aired March 3, 2016 - 23:00   ET


[23:00:04] ANDERSON COOPER: Good evening, thanks for joining us. The four remaining Republican presidential candidates in a debate tonight that once again was one of a kind in both content and context. The context, Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee, going on national television denouncing the 2016 frontrunner, Donald Trump. The content, heavy on Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz attacking Trump and Trump returning fire with insults, calling Cruz, lying Ted, calling Rubio, little Marco, and making other size comparisons as well. People are certainly talking about that tonight. As for us, we'll talk to the candidates, some of their top advocates, and the leading political analysts and professionals around. Let's get a quick first take from our panel tonight. Chief national correspondent inside politics, anchor John King, chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, senior political reporter, Nia Malika Henderson, CNN political director, David Chalian, also joining us, our commentators, Kayleigh McEnany, Amanda Carpenter, Van Jones, and Mary Katharine Ham. Kayleigh's a conservative columnist, a Trump supporter. Amanda is a former communications director for Senator Ted Cruz. Van is a former senior Obama White House adviser. Mary Katharine is a conservative writer. John King, let's start with you. What did you think of tonight?

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Namaste. (laughter) Look, I think everybody protected and defended their brand and promoted their brand. I don't think there was a clear knockout winner in this debate. It was very clear that Donald Trump does not like to be criticized, especially when you use his own words against him. When you talk about his inheritance, when you talk about Trump University, he got very testy on a number of occasions, and the other candidates will say that he hurt himself with Trump supporters. He probably did not. If there was one thing I think is going to echo is when Trump confirmed in his meeting in "The New York Times", he did talk about being open and flexible on immigration policy. That is something I was surprised -- I was waiting for Ted Cruz to come back at him in the debate. It was a while before they got to Ted Cruz. You can you be certain in the days ahead, they will use that line against Donald Trump, especially in the conservative states, that he's flexible on that, one of his signature issues, well then isn't he flexibility on everything?

COOPER: Well, I should point out, the debate has just ended. Before we go any further, I want to show you, if you're just joining us now after having watched the debate or if you're just joining us at the top of the hour, I want to show you some of the most important moments from this past debate over the last two hours. Let's take a look. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS WALLACE, DEBATE MODERATOR: Romney on Trump, quote: the bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the absurd third grade theatrics. He challenged to you answer with substance, not insults. How do you answer Mitt Romney, sir?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well look, he was a failed candidate. He should have beaten President Obama very easy. He failed miserably and it was an embarrassment to everybody, including the Republican party. He went away -- it looked like he went away on a vacation the last month. So I don't take that, and I guess, obviously, he wants to be relevant, he wants to be back in the game.

I totally disavow, the Ku Klux Klan, I totally disavow David Duke. I've been doing it now for two weeks. This is, you're probably about the 18th person that's asked me the question. It was very clear --

BRET BAIER, DEBATE MODERATOR: In the past week, you've mocked Mr. Trump's tan, you've made fun of his spelling, you called him a con artist, you suggested he wet himself back stage at the last debate along with other vulgar jokes and jabs. So what happened?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes, you know, Bret, let me say something. This campaign, for the last year, Donald Trump has basically mocked everybody with personal attacks. He's done so to people that are sitting on the stage today. He's done so about people that are disabled. He's done it about every other candidate in this race, so if there's anyone who's ever deserved to be attacked that way, it's been Donald Trump, for the way he's treated people.

TRUMP: I also happened to call him a lightweight, OK? And I have said that. So I would like to take that back. He's really not that much of a lightweight. And as far as, and I have to say this, I have to say this, he hit my hands. Nobody has ever hit my hands. I've never heard of this one. Look at those hands. Are they small hands? And he referred to my hands, if they're small, something else must be small. I guarantee you there's no problem. I guarantee you.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And that is why our campaign is the only campaign that over and over again has beaten Donald Trump to date and it's why we're the one campaign that going forward can and will beat Donald Trump in this election.

TRUMP: I've heard Ted say that over and over again on television, that he's the only one that could beat me. Just for the record, I've won ten, he's won three or four. Last week, in fact on Tuesday, I was a half a million votes higher than him, I was a million votes higher than Marco, 1 million votes. That's a lot of votes, and was by far in first place. So I keep hearing he's the only one that can beat me but he's getting beaten very, very badly. So where does this come from? Where does it come from?

RUBIO: There is no doubt that Donald has done well in these elections. There's no doubt about that. The numbers are there. But here's what the numbers also say. Two-thirds of the people who have casted a vote in a Republican primary or caucus have voted against you. They do not want you to be our nominee.

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So we're talking about polls. I beat Hillary Clinton by more than anybody, by 11 points, and the reason it happens --

[23:05:06] TRUMP: In one poll. In one poll.

KASICH: The reason is because, as the Democrats tell me all the time -- I can get the crossover votes, you see, because throughout this campaign, I've talked about issues. I have never tried to go and get into these kind of scrums that we're seeing here on the stage and people say everywhere I go, you seem to be the adult on the stage. The simple fact is that, you all wrote me off. You wrote me off before I even got to New Hampshire. Then when I finished second in New Hampshire, you wrote me off in the South and then you wrote me off in Super Tuesday. I split delegates in Vermont with Donald Trump, I finished second in Massachusetts, and we won delegates if Virginia. But guess what? It's now March Madness and we're heading up north to the place -- to my turf, okay?


TRUMP: Hello.

KELLY: How you doing?

TRUMP: Nice to be with you, Megyn.

KELLY: It's great to have you here.

TRUMP: You're looking well, you're looking well.

KELLY: As are you.

TRUMP: This little guy has lied so much about my record.

RUBIO: Here we go, here we go. (booing)

MODERATOR: Senator Rubio, why don't you let him finish.

TRUMP: And I will tell you this. First of all, I got a call from my sister and brother tonight. They said, we had no idea dad gave you $200 million. Believe me, I started of with $1 million, I built a company that's worth more than $10 billion, and I say it not in a bragging way, but that's the kind of thinking we need. Very low debt, tremendous cash flow. My financials are all in there with the federal elections. You've seen them, everybody's seen them.

RUBIO: You ever heard of Trump Steaks? You ever heard of Trump Steaks?


TRUMP: You know what, take a loot at Trump Steaks.

RUBIO: Trump Steaks is gone. You've ruined -- TRUMP: Mitt Romney came up with things that were false, totally false. And now, the funny thing is, he didn't talk about the hundreds of really successful jobs, the buildings all over the world that I made a fortune on. He doesn't talk about that.

WALLACE: I have a policy question for you, sir.

RUBIO: Let's see if he answer it.

TRUMP: I will. Don't worry about it, little Marco, I will.

RUBIO: Well let's hear it, big Donald.

TRUMP: Don't worry about it, little Marco.

WALLACE: Gentlemen --


COOPER: And there you have it. Back to our panel. Gloria Borger, what do you make of tonight? Were any positions changed, do you think?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Little Marco, lying Ted. No, I don't think people's positions have changed. I think if you look at a general election scenario, this debate was terrible for the Republican Party. And what I think we saw was like this, in real time, a reality show of the Republican Party being torn apart before our very eyes. I mean, you had Donald Trump standing there and you had Cruz and Rubio just pounding at him in every way, some of it tasteless and ridiculous and calling each other names and you had John Kasich wanting everyone to get along and kind of trying to rise above it all, and in the end, I think it doesn't help the Republican Party one bit as you look towards the general election. We saw Donald Trump tonight, I think, turn towards the general election, trying to show that he's flexible, when Megyn Kelly tried to show his changing position, his answer was flexibility, you have to negotiate, you have to get along with everyone. That's a general election argument I think that he is making. But this debate, overall, I think is getting tedious between these guys and we're hearing it over and over again. And it just not -- it's just kind of unpleasant sometimes.

NIA MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: It didn't feel presidential. It felt really small and as I was watching it, I was almost exhausted watching it. Because I think -- it just felt really tedious. I do think, in terms of what the different candidates were able to accomplish, it looks like Rubio really wants to hammer on Trump University. During the course of this debate, his campaign sent out three e-mails about Trump University. I thought in this debate, he was able to connect it better to the little guy and basically say, Trump, the way he treated these people who signed up for Trump University, that's basically the way he would treat you. I think Cruz, he's going with the, Donald Trump is not really conservative. I don't think that's necessarily going to work, particularly in a state like Michigan. And I think the other thing is, they should have maybe played more to Michigan. That is where you have got all those blue color union folks who are out of jobs because manufacturing now has gone away, and it felt like they didn't have that Chris Christie moment enough where Chris Christie was able to channel those people.

COOPER: Yes. David Chalian?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I agree. I don't think when Reince Priebus, the chairman of the RNC, sort of designed the debate schedule that this was the debate he envisioned the party would be happening this late in the season. I don't think that was the goal --

COOPER: I don't think anything of this is by design. (laughter)

[23:09:55] CHALIAN: Right. But, I don't think this was a good debate for the part. I don't. It was small, in many ways. To the Trump University point that Nia just talked about, I was e-mailing with a senior Rubio adviser during the debate to say, why is this what you guys seem to have landed on as why you believe this is your strongest argument against him? And they do think that the parallel from Trump University and screwing the little guy there is a parallel to him trying to pull the wool over on voters more generally. I don't know that that is going to hold.

COOPER: Let's play some of that Trump University stuff just so those who maybe did not see this or weren't there for it -- let's play it and we'll talk more about it.


RUBIO: There's a difference between flexibility and telling people whatever you think you need to say to get them to do what you want them to do. And that's what Donald has done throughout his career. Well he did, that's why Trump University is so relevant here.

TRUMP: This is a case I could have settled very easily, but I don't settle cases very easily when I'm right. 98 percent approval rating, we have an A from the Better Business Bureau, we have a 98 percent approval rating --

RUBIO: That's false.

KELLY: The rating from the Better Business Bureau was a D minus. That's the last publicly available rating in 2010 and it was a result of the number of complaints they had --

TRUMP: But it was elevated to an A.

KELLY: That's never been publicly released.

TRUMP: I can give it to you.


COOPER: That was just some of the exchange.

CHALIAN: I just want to say, remember that the debate ended after Marco Rubio made this entire claim about Trump University, with him pledging his support to support Donald Trump if he's the nominee of the Republican Party. I think that they're all -- they reasserted that pledge at the end, and especially for Rubio, who's making the sharpest attacks right now, I think it undercut the entire evening for him in many ways.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know, the question is, what could he have done at this very moment --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- it's a closed Republican primary. If you say you're not going to support the nominee, you've got to say it.


COOPER: Let's turn to our commentators.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CONSERVATIVE COLUMNIST: Yes, I want to quickly respond to some of the things that you guys said. I think this was a very successful debate because for the Republican Party for the point that Gloria mentioned, that flexibility was mentioned. The Republican Party, for so long --

COOPER: Do you mean for the Republican Party or for Donald Trump?

MCENANY: I think for the Republican Party. Because for so long, the Republican Party has been dubbed, very effectively, by the left, as the party of "no". The party that shuts down the government and hurts the little the guy, the party that's not willing to budge on anything that's short of ultra conservatism. And for the first time, we have a candidate that says, I have never seen a successful person who is not flexible.

BORGER: But people want to know what a candidate believes in.

MCENANY: And I think we know that with Donald Trump.

BORGER: And the question I think that was put on the table tonight was, to Donald Trump, what do you actually believe in? And flexibility is not a core belief.

MCENANY: I think he's very clear on what he believes.

KING: It depends on the question. I'd love if the conservatives were more in touch with the base of the party. On the one hand, he says, I'm flexible and I negotiate, specifically on immigration, I think that's dangerous for him in the Republican primary, but then he says, the generals will do what they're told. Anyone else who disagrees with me will do what they're told. I will tell them what to do, they'll do what they're told. He talks like he's talking to a 2-year- old.

COOPER: I want to continue this discussion. Dana Bash is standing by with Governor Kasich. Dana, let's go to your.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, thanks, Anderson. Governor Kasich -- first of all, what did you think of that? What was it like actually being on the stage as opposed to watching the food fight?

KASICH: Oh, it was great. And again, I'm really, really happy with the fact that I think could, I think, show a little bit more of who I am. The frustrating thing on the debates is that I always feel like they don't see what happens in our town halls. And this was a case where I think I was able to show a little bit more of who I am, and that's been the thing that's been the challenge for me. And to show confidence, experience, both domestically and internationally, I think it was really, really good.

BASH: You were clearly trying to be the adult in the room, but given where you are and where the delegates are after all of these contests, do you think Republican voters are looking for an adult at this point?

KASICH: I do. And I'm going to win Ohio, and when I win Ohio, it's a whole new ball game. Winning Ohio means -- I'm now on home turf. I've been playing places where people completely counted me out, and we did all right on Super Tuesday. And I think we'll do fine here and then we get to go to Ohio, and then we get to do some other states. Pennsylvania, Illinois -- these are places where we feel very, very good about our chances and every day, I get a little bit better known and I think it's working. I mean, our crowds are good --

BASH: And governor, the moderators played a clip of an ad that your campaign supporters are running, which really hits Donald Trump, but you said that you weren't going to bite. So --

[23:14:41] KASICH: I don't even know who's running it. I don't know if it's my Super PAC, I don't know if it's -- I don't know what that is. But it gave me a chance to talk about foreign policy, and I don't think you'd beat Donald Trump by trying to tear him down. You need to present a bigger vision than what he talks about. And so -- excuse me, for a second, please -- I just think that the way you beat him is to project a bigger vision and more experience and solid credentials. I think getting in a brawl with him, you're not going to change his people. I know his people, I understand his people, I grew up with this people. So I think this is the way to go. And look, people are very happy to see a positive campaign, too.

BASH: And yet, you tweeted today support of the really tough message that Governor Romney had for Mr. Trump.

KASICH: Not the personal attacks, I didn't agree with Romney on. But some of his analysis on foreign policy and his budgets, I mean, his budgets don't add up. And I think talking policy is fair game, but I'm not going to talk about his hands or his face or his tan or --

BASH: What did you make of that, by the way?

KASICH: I thought it was terrible. I'm not going to do that. And you know what? My kids are proud of me. My wife is proud of me. My friends are proud of me. And I just want to get this done and not screw it up. And I'm capable of it. We all are. We all make mistakes.

BASH: We're here in Michigan. You've been campaigning hard here. The primary is this coming Tuesday. What if you don't do well here?

KASICH: We're going to Ohio and we'll have a decent showing here. I don't know what it's going to be yet. I have a very packed schedule here and I'm going to give it my best. But look, it's a matter of voters having an opportunity really to get to know me, because when we focus like we did in Vermont, I nearly beat Trump. We were neck and neck all night long. So we're just going to keep plugging, and I'm having a ball.

BASH: Governor, thank you for your time. Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: Dana, thanks very much. Sorry, Amanda, for interrupting. Were you -- I mean, do you believe it was good for the GOP tonight?

AMANDA CARPENTER, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, CRUZ FOR PRESIDENT: No, I think it was embarrassing and exhausting to watch. But it wasn't because all the Republicans on that stage were bad. It was for the guy sitting in the middle of the stage that probably has the most time. Donald Trump has used his massive, outsized platform to talk about his manhood on stage? That is embarrassing, and the Republican --

MCENANY: Marco Rubio brought that up, in fairness. Marco Rubio brought up the hands analogy. What do you think he meant by the hands analogy?

CARPENTER: But going forward, if you want to see a substantive debate, look at the things, how Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have engaged each other. Imagine a debate without Donald Trump. At some point, people have to unify behind one or two of those candidates, because judging from Donald Trump's behavior tonight, no one will unify behind Donald Trump coming from the Cruz or Rubio camp.

MCENANY: But should Marco Rubio accept no responsibility? He sat on a stage just a few days ago and analogized someone wetting their pants --

CARPENTER: And I'm saying, the Republican frontrunner --

MCENANY: That's wrong. But look, that is the micro picture. The micro picture is focusing on these jabs that are going to meaningless come the general election. The macro picture is that the Republican Party is finally opening its doors to new voters. There used to be a litmus test. You can't come into this party unless you vote a certain way, think a certain way --

COOPER: When you heard Donald Trump referencing, you know, things that were not seen on stage and the size of them, did you find that at all --

MCENANY: He was joking. It was an analogy that Rubio brought up about the size of his hands. Rubio initiated this analogy by bringing up the hands in the first place. It was a light-hearted moment, he was joking around --

COOPER: I'm just asking. Just asking. VAN JONES, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ADVISER, BARACK OBAMA: I am a person of

faith. I'm not the most zealous person in the world but I am personally saved and I am trying to raise children. And I said the last time we were here, I cannot let my children watch these debates. And I can't tell you -- my father was born in poverty, was born in segregation. He joined the military to get out. He put himself through college, he put his brothers through college. We watched this stuff together. It's important to me. We watched this stuff together. We would read the newspaper together. This was a part of raising family and you can't do this anymore. And I do think that even people who support Donald Trump have to acknowledge that you don't have to follow someone into the gutter. Even if Rubio started it, if you want to be the leader of the free world, be better than that.

MCENANY: I agree with you on that, Van.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CONSERVATIVE WRITER: The jabs are a micro picture. The jabs are his entire brand. The jabs are Donald Trump's entire brand. And the problem with the GOP until now, and Cruz and Rubio, frankly, has been that they're not going after the frontrunner in such a way as to push him off his game, which is to jab, jab, jab. A bully got to get punched, and what I think this last debate, you saw the Rubio we should have seen five months ago. In this debate, you saw the Cruz you should have seen five months ago, and the fact is that, this is how you have to fight Trump and then you have to ask him some policy questions when he's off his game. The race we have --

COOPER: As much as the moderators tried to pin Donald Trump down on specifics, it's a problem that everybody has in trying to pin Donald Trump down on specifics, he's very difficult to pin down. I mean, he --

[23:19:55] KING: He went back to (inaudible) abuse even though Chris Wallace did a very effective job, I think, with, OK, here's how much you're going to cut with this program and what about the rest, and the others jumped on him a little bit -- Trump, whether it's by design or whether it's by lack of knowledge, I don't read minds, he will not go deep on policy. He just doesn't. He's changes the question, he turns it into an insult, he refuses to answer the question -- this has worked for him so far. And that is the point. Why did they wait 9 debates to start it and this 11th debate to continue it? That's the defining question. Will it have an impact, is the question. We have votes in a couples days. We have votes on Tuesday, and if we get to March 15 and it doesn't change the tide, then Donald Trump's your nominee.

BORGER: I think Trump changed on this stage tonight, because he's the candidate you see in every exit poll that you do, that he's the candidate who tells it like it is. He's the guy who's the truth- teller. So when he was pushed on what's the truth tonight, on what you believe, his answer always -- and he was confronted with these videos and all the rest -- his answer was, I believe you have to show a degree of flexibility. Changing my mind is not weakness. It's flexibility.

COOPER: Actually, what he said was, I have a very strong core but you also have to be flexible, which is, I mean, again --

BORGER: I'm just saying, it's a change in him. And what I think the moderators were trying to point out is that he talks about information that he hasn't vetted or researched and so he speaks too quickly sometimes and adopts a position. He was, tonight, a different guy because he's thinking about not Marco Rubio and not Ted Cruz, but he's thinking about those conservative democrats --

COOPER: Let's play the flexibility, him commenting about flexibility.


TRUMP: We're listening to the all talk, no action politician, and he was the primary supporter of John Roberts who gave us --

CRUZ: That's flat out false.

TRUMP: No it's not. You take a look. He was the primary supporter. He pushed John Roberts and pushed him and pushed him and Bush ultimately appointed him. He got appointed, and when it came his time to raise his hand and kill Obamacare, not once but twice, he let us down and he did the wrong thing. This is the man that was the primary supporter. And you can read "Law Journal", you can read whatever you want to read, I've read plenty of it. There was no stronger supporter of John Roberts than him, and it was a very, very big mistake.

MODERATOR: Quickly, Senator Cruz.

CRUZ: You know, Donald has a tenuous relationship with the truth. I wrote one op-ed supporting President Bush's nomination after he made it, I would not have made that nomination. But let me point out --

TRUMP: That's not what you said in the op-ed.

CRUZ: Donald, please, I know it's hard not to interrupt --

TRUMP: Yes, I know, but it's not what you said in the op-ed.

CRUZ: breathe, breathe, breathe, breathe -- you can do it.

TRUMP: Lying Ted.

CRUZ: Breathe. You can do it. I know it's hard, but just --

RUBIO: When they're done with the yoga, can I answer a question?

CRUZ: You cannot. I really hope that we don't see yoga on this stage.

RUBIO: Well, he's very flexible, so you never know.


COOPER: A different flexibility bite than I thought, but --

HENDERSON: You know, I don't think this is a problem for Donald Trump in the primary. I think when you talk to Trump voters, they feel like he's telling it like it is, but they also feel like he's proposing ideas, whether it's the Muslim ban, temporary Muslim ban, whether it's the 10 foot wall or the 50 foot wall or however much it'll be, that it's the starting point. And maybe you don't get 100 percent of what Donald Trump is proposing but at least this is in the conversation and at least this will be kind of where the starting point is and maybe you only get 50 percent of where he started from --

CHALIAN: If Donald Trump's style was going to be his undoing, he'd be undone already. I don't think that people are going to learn more about the brashness and all the sudden be turned off by it. But what I think works for him tonight on this flexibility matter, what I think is still a good part of his brand, is the doubling down on, I am not your typical politician. So your typical politician was presented with what they said one time and then another, doesn't own that and tries to walk away -- he completely owns it. The donating to Democrats, he completely owns it. He doesn't step away --


CHALIAN: I think that sounds different than most politicians to voters, and I think that that's --


COOPER: One at a time. Van --

JONES: I see it slightly differently. When he does that, I think it works, but this is the first time I started thinking, he seems kind of phony at times. Like, when he gets pushed on the thing around the "New York Times" tape, that's the one thing you're like, dude, you just seem like a big old phony.

COOPER: I've got to say, it is interesting for a guy who says that 50 percent of reporters, who in every --

JONES: That's exactly where I was going.

COOPER: -- in every speech, has the whole audience turn against reporters, says the media is despicable, political reporters are despicable -- for him to say that he respects the -- and the idea that the "New York Times" was saying to him, this should be off the record -- it's rare that a newspaper are the ones saying, oh, let's have this off the record. It's usually the candidate.

[23:25:06] JONES: Well, you said beautifully what I was about to say, which is that, it doesn't ring true that the reason that he does not want this audio tape of him discussing this issue is because he somehow has this great love and respect for the sacred relationship between him and this reporter. The reporters, I'm sure, are happy. And so I think the questioners made a mistake. They should have asked him, would you willing to ask "The New York Times" to release the --

MCENANY: And his response would be the same response that Hillary Clinton had with respect to releasing her speeches. She said, until every other candidate releases a transcript of their speeches, I'm not doing so with mine.


MCENANY: Let me finish, Amanda. So off the record, every person on that stage had done off-the-record conversations. Until every person on the stage declassifies those conversations, Donald Trump does not have to as well, and the point is, for people to say that he doesn't have core policies and core principles, he does. He says we're building a wall, that's going to happen. He said on that stage tonight, what I'm willing to negotiate on is how tall the wall is. Those are minor details that are grounded in big policies.

CARPENTER: -- Trump could have done better tonight. Is there anything you would criticize about his performance?

MCENANY: Yes, yes, I actually agree with Van. I wish that there weren't insults flying across the stage. I think that that would be a better debate. However, that is part of this. It's unfortunately the way the conversation has gone, and voters are not -- 49 percent of the Republican Party is not supporting Trump because they love his insults. They put up with it because they believe that he has a message of putting America first and flexibility and broadening the Republican Party --

JONES: You believe in Trump and you believe that he's a strong leader, but then when these failures happen, well, he should wait for others. Don't you think that he should lead sometimes on this stuff --

MCENANY: That wouldn't be leading, that would be following. Because he's being coerced to this. That would be following, not leading.

BORGER: I think this argument of flexibility is not going to hurt Donald Trump with any supporters, obviously, right? I think the larger argument here is, that if you're a want-to-be president of the United States, you have to know things before you say things. And on the Syrian refugee issue, again, to David's point, he was quite open about it. I said it and then I learned some more about it and then I actually changed my mind. I think it was the next day, right? And so, I think the question is not flexibility even so much as it is, this is a big job and you can't talk about your positions until you really have internalized them and understood them and know a lot about them --

COOPER: The question of Donald Trump and the truth, though, even something as ridiculous as the hand thing, he keeps saying, this is the first time I've ever heard this, no one has ever raised this with me -- "Spy Magazine" made fun of him for this back in the 90's and apparently, this has been an ongoing thing between him and Graydon Carter who's now the editor of "Vanity Fair", of Trump writing him letters, according to Graydon Carter, with him circling photos of his hands saying, look, not so small. So the idea of just him repeatedly saying, no one has ever said this to me, that's just not factually correct, and that's such a minor, stupid, idiotic thing to even be --

CARPENTER: But he holds grudges, and this is a thing that makes Donald Trump unpresidential. He holds grudges and he cannot get over anyone attacking him. It's not presidential.

COOPER: We got to take a quick break. We're going to be back in a moment with our 360 Republican Debate coverage.


[23:32:28] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And candidates are making the way through the spin room. Dana Bash is there. And Donald Trump is there was well, Dana?

DANA BASH: That's right Anderson. Mr. Trump, thank you very much and Mrs. Trump. What do you think of the debate?

DONALD TRUMP, (R) U.S. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I thought it was great. I think they did a very good job. And I thought it was very fair. I actually thought it was going to be tougher. I thought it would be more violent but, it was good. I thought ...

BASH: Could it be more violent than the what?

TRUMP: Well, I thought it was tough fighting. I though it was going to be worse.

BASH: A big moment was when the moderators trying to get you to explain some sort of shifting of positions, the way that they put it.

TRUMP: Well I think I explained it very well, all of you ...

BASH: Do you think that after this that the brand that you have of telling it like it is could be in jeopardy?

TRUMP: No, I think I explained it very well. I though it was very easy to explain. And according to every single poll, I won the debate by a lot. I'm in the 70s which is a lot when you have four people on the stage so, I think I -- I think it was a really successful.

Look, I know I think I answered that very well actually.

BASH: On the issue of immigration and the question of what you did or didn't tell the New York Times, aside from that specifically, just big picture. You did say that you could be and would be flexible because that's what leaders need to do.

How ...

TRUMP: You could be flexible with everything. You can not just say, "This is it and you never going to talk, you never ..." you have to be -- and I explained that I think very well tonight. You have to be flexible. You have to have a certain flexibility, Dana, and if you don't, it's going to be a problem. And ...

BASH: Can you tell me where you'll be flexible?

TRUMP: I have people over my life I've known people that are totally inflexible, they go nowhere. You have to have now. With that being said you want to make great deals, not average deals or not in need in the middle, you want to make great deals. But there's nothing wrong with having some flexibility on something.

BASH: How -- on what part of your immigration plan do you think you would be ...

TRUMP: I think it would be quick to say, frankly right now, I'm very satisfied with what I have. That doesn't mean I wouldn't take it different. I might make it tougher. I mean, to be honest with you, it could be tougher, it's pretty tough but I might make it tougher like ...

BASH: Then like the wall for example non negotiable?

TRUMP: The wall is going to happen and Mexico is going to pay for the wall. And just like you standing there, you can bank on it.

BASH: I can't believe I'm going to ask you this question but, do you realize that you're probably the first person in American history may be even world history to make a joke about your, you know, what on a debate stage?

TURMP: No, I only made a joke a bout my hands. I have very powerful hand.

BASH: Yeah, you went a little further than that.

TRUMP: Look at these hands, aren't they beautiful? I have very powerful hands and large hands, relatively large hands and a politician was said, I didn't have a large hands. It's the first time anyone has ever said that one. So, no, I think it was a very - I think was a good moment.

[23:35:07] BASH: Mrs. Trump, what did you think at that moment?

MELANIA TRUMP, JEWELRY AND WATCH DESIGNER, AND FORMER MODEL: It was a great moment, OK. No, it was fine, you know, he was attacked and Marco Rubio attacked him and he responded.

BASH: Mr. Trump said earlier today in Main I believe is that, before he went on stage that you said to him, "Can you please act presidential like you did at Mar-a-Lago". What did you mean by that?

M. TRUMP: Just a presidential in one way to be in one, wake himself but to use to right language and he did it. He was great.

BASH: Mr. Trump what was going through your voice?

TRUMP: It's a little different when you're being attacked from five different angles by many different people, especially when we had 17 people. But I thought actually tonight I was really happy with the result.

I'm very happy with all of the online polls because I think we have a highest numbers I've had so far.

BASH: What was going through your mind when Ted Cruz said, more than once that you should breath.

TRUMP: Nothing, I didn't even know if he said that, I mean, did he say that? I mean.

BASH: Yes.

TRUMP: I really don't know. I don't think Ted had a very good night but I think that and I think we did have a very good night. But I found it to be very interesting. I did not find it to be a stuff as that though.

BASH: One more question about Mitt Romney. What ....

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Trump, now this way.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want to kind of get to ...

BASH: Mr. Trump, can I touch you one more question about Mitt Romney. You were very clear in saying that opposed him personal and politically and so on and so forth, but what about the concept of him saying that people should vote for anybody but you. It seems as though he want to take it all the way to the convention.

TRUMP: He fails candidate, he failed horribly. It's an election that he should have won. He choked. I mean, it's pure and simple and when a person chokes, once they choke, they always choke.

Marco choked, that means he's going to choke. When Chris Christie was grilling him, it was a total choke. When Mitt Romney got -- I don't know what happened, he got the nomination and he just choked like a dog. And he knows I know that and I said to him very loud and clear, I was very unhappy. I spend a lot of time with him. I spend a lot of money on him and a lot of effort and he went away for like the month's prior. He wasn't anyone. Nobody could find him. And the last person we need running is Mitt Romney, so he knows how I feel about it and obviously he's not too happy.

BASH: One last question. If or some reason you don't get the magic number delegates you need 1237 before the convention. So you feel confident that its there is a contest to convention you will be the victor?

TRUMP: No, I don't feel confident but I think there is certainly a good chance. I will certainly have the most delegates by far. I already do, I'm way in the front and I think I'm going to have a very good Saturday.

We're going to have a very good Tuesday. We'll see what happens and I certainly had the best Super Tuesday before. I -- you know, and I think even you would admit that, right? BASH: That a very good night, thank you sir. Thank you.

Anderson back to you.

COOPER: All right, Dana Bash there with Donald Trump. Mary Katharine, it's interesting, I mean, do you think any of the other candidates shift away at any of the bedrock of support that Donald Trump has. Because clearly what we have seen in poll after poll and you know, primary night after primary night in caucuses, is that those who have, you know, are with Donald Trump are really with him. That's support is rock solid doesn't seems to be going anywhere. Did tonight make any sense?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CONSERVATIVE WRITER: No I think that's still the state of the ridge. You have a guy who has a plurarity of votes and you have a split field fighting over the rest of it. And here's a thing, Trump himself chips away at this own -- the rational for his own candidate. He is talking about Mitt Romney, how he failed horribly, he lost this election, he should have won.

His rational for his candidacy when he's asked, how are you going to put people in position, he said, "I'm the best at picking the best leaders". Well you picked Mitt Romney? You endorsed it. You explicitly pick this guy. All over the stage, you saying, he admits he's a transactional politician, who takes money form Democrats and Republicans and I think Ted Cruz had a really nice moment and this is -- if this changes any -- if anyone's buying this change, it might be this. He says, "For 40 years, he's been part of the corruption Washington that you're angry about it".

He's speaking to those voters that liked Donald Trump and he think he's part of the problem.

COOPER: I mean, for all, you know, you can point a line and all the stuff but I mean, to your point, Kayleigh, the support seem -- it just seemed impervious to any kind of avenue of that opponents or recorders try on Donald Trump. I mean, the support is there and whether -- it feels like its people who believe in Donald Trump. I mean, believe that he's a true teller. Believed that he is not politically correct or what ever it may be for whatever reason. It just seems like that's supported is solid and it's not going anywhere.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, TRUMP SUPPORTER: It's not going anywhere but I do think Cruz might have benefited from tonight visa v Rubio. There is still room for horizontally to move between Rubio and Cruz.

Well it might be hard to tip away a Trump. It certainly possible to tip away among those two, and I think Rubio when he really was going after Trump and kind of delving into these insults, Cruz took those moments two or three times to say, "These are like bickering school, they are children. You know, let's talk about policy".

[23:40:09] I think that really benefited Cruz the last debate because he kind of just had approach somewhat. This debate he took it wholeheartedly. And I think this of the Rubio that was certain.. GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's interesting to me was that Cruz and Rubio barely talked to each other, acknowledged each other or criticized each other. It's kind of makes you wonder whether there was some kind of a little wake or a nod saying, "OK were both going after this time".


COOPER: For a moment it was like philosoraptors, you know, one distracts while the other attacks.

BORGER: Exactly, exactly and, you know, these guys ...

COOPER: Or is it udaraptor, anyway, I don't know just which Dinosaur from Jurassic Park.

BORGER: Yeah, right, right. But these are guys who were at each others throats. Constantly and suddenly now they're on either side of Donald Trump and they are not even acknowledging each other, they're just helping each other attack Donald Trump.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR, INSIDE POLITICS: I do think to the question you just asked, Mary Katharine, this is -- is this may be an open question. I'm not sure about it, but these are now which had two debates in a row where they've gone after Donald Trump aggressively, gone after GOP (ph) policy, gone after month (ph), is he conservative, gone after him on personal character, gone after him on his business record and there are significant amount of money being spent on negative adds now against Donald Trump on these very issues. That has not happened before.

So I do think it's an open question as to whether we move on. Can it happen by Saturday, is it going to the numbers by Saturday? Which I again, every time Donald Trump comes away with more delegates, Donald Trump stretches his lead, but so let's see if it happens by Saturday, but does it happen by Michigan? Does it happen by March 15th in Ohio (Florida)? I don't know.

I can tell you tonight, you know, Ted Cruz was the college debater tonight. He got a pretty good debate last time too. He responded, he was kind of slow at first then responded to Rubio's aggressiveness.

Tonight I thought he was very aggressive. That Ted Cruz on the stage tonight has to be pretty mad at the Ted Cruz who let the first nine debates pass without going after Donald Trump.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, what one of the things that we haven't talked about yet was, and I though again the debate moderator is missing opportunity. They cheat up the -- for the easy question for him around the KKK. And he answered it in the way that he always does and they moved on.

But the question really nobody has asked him, no, we could have asked ourselves is not, why did you hesitate, you know, that one time to denounce? It's more, why do you think that they want to endorse you? What about your candidacy Mr. Trump is appealing to the klans, great that you don't want them, but why do they want?

COOPER: Let's play the -- his response to the question that was asked on this subject.


TRUMP: I totally disavow the Ku Klux Klan, I totally disavow David Duke. I've been doing it now for two weeks. This is you're probably about the 18th person that's asked me the question. It was very clear. That question was also talked about in the form of groups, groups.

I want to know which groups are you talking about? You have to tell me which groups. Ultimately he got to the Ku Klux Klan which obviously I'm going to disavow. And by the way, if you look on my twitter account, almost immediately after the program they would disavowed again.

You know, it's amazing. When I do something on twitter, everybody picks it up, those all over the place. But when I did this one nobody ever picks it up. Take a look at my twitter account.


COOPER: It seems actually interesting because the ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's the standpoint.

COPPER: But it's interesting too because the question from Chris Wallace was not about, you know, the disavowing, it was about, you know, in greater depth. What are your feelings about -- and it gets to something you have raised actually in the past, Van, which is -- when he's talking about terrorism, he's incredibly passionate ...

JONES: Very close Trump, he and as it should be.

COOPER: ... on Donald Trump. You were hoping to hear that same level of passion and sort of going deep on what his feelings about white supremacy is and then ...

JONES: One way to think about it is, if ISIS had endorsed them. I say another terrorist sort of base and say it ISIS had endorsed him or say, Al Qaeda had endorsed them. Imagine the response. With the biggest terrorist organization in the United States so (shortly) has been the Klan and also I think people forget, more Americans have been killed in the United States since 9/11 by right-wing supremacist organizations then by Jihadists. So this is a major terrorist threat. So you had you a missed opportunity from the moderators to say -- he's right. They have asked him a million times. Don't ask him the same question. It's not fair. We know that you disavowed them, but why do they still like you? And then also -- and since you have disavowed them, why is there this different standard in terms of the way you deal with terrorist organization?


COOPER: That's only -- just a long you push back it on. Is it really fair to hold the candidate responsible to -- for other people who like that person and whether or not.

JONES: The Klan liked Reagan, for instance. And so, it's not -- if you're right, it's not his fault, but -- I would be curious to know why he thinks that such a large number -- in his South Carolina vote, 20 percent of the people who voted for him in South Carolina. Believe that abolishing slavery was wrong. If somebody told me that about my support, it would give me reason to fall.

MCENANY: But I don't think that's fair to ask, you know, I would never ask why -- what about Barack Obama encouraged Louis Farrakhan to endorse him? Does that somehow mean that Barack Obama is anti-Semite? Louis Farrakhan said that he wanted to send Jews back to the other and that is horrible.

[23:45:00] I would never presume that Obama supports any of that. I would never think Obama is an anti-Semite, and likewise, I don't think we should jump to conclusions with regard to Trump.

HAM: But that would be about President Obama that was ...

MCENANY: ... specifically this is a whack ...


HAM: That would give Obama great opportunity to repudiate this as lot (ph) of these out of the way and he can ...

MCENANY: And by the way he was given that opportunity -- he was given ...

HAM: ... and you can do it forcefully.

MCENANY: ... he was given that opportunity and he said something -- he was asked explicitly by Russert, do you reject the support of Louis Farrakhan? And his response was, well, you know, I can't help who likes me. That was his response.


MCENANY: People make mistakes and I think that was a mistake on Barack Obama's part. People make mistake.


AMANDA CARPENTER, FORMER COMMUNICATION DIRECTOR FOR SEN. TED CRUZ: It's unlikely problem with Donald Trump with this question, because Chris Wallace did say, could you help with more about your views of what's supremacy. He probably dig in a little bit deeper, but Donald Trump never goes deep on any issues. We have no idea what his core convictions are beyond what is politically expedient at any given moment. And a lot of the candidate and moderators questions were getting at that point which will slowly chip away to his support.

COOPER: We got to take a quick break, to say what Michigan voter will be going to the polls next Tuesday. I have to say about what they saw tonight our Gary Tuchman's at a watch party. We'll check in with you next when we're back.


[23:50:03] COOPER: Tonight's debate took place in Michigan, of course, where Republicans are just days away from the primary. The open question, how they responded to potentially polarizing moments like this one tonight.


BRET BAIER, HOST FOX NEWS CHANNEL: In the past week, you've mocked Mr. Trump's tan, you've made fun of his spelling, you've called him a con artist. You suggested he wet himself backstage at the last debate, along with other vulgar jokes and jabs. So what happened?

RUBIO: Yeah. You know, Bret, let me say something. This campaign for the last year, Donald Trump has basically mocked everybody with personal attacks. He's done so to people that are sitting on this stage today.

He's done so about to people that are disabled. He's done it to about every other candidate in this race. So, if there's anyone who's ever deserved to be attacked that way, it's been Donald Trump for the way he has treated (inaudible).


The media has given these personal attacks that Donald Trump has made an incredible amount of coverage. Let's talk again about the issues that matter to this country. I'm ready to do that starting right here, right now, tonight.

BAIER: Mr. Trump, your response?

TRUMP: Well ...


I also happened to call him a lightweight, OK? And I have said that. So, I would like to take that back. He's really not that much of a lightweight.

And as far as -- and I have to say this, I have to say this, he hit my hands. Nobody has ever hit my hands. I have never heard of this. Look at those hands, are they my small hands?

And he referred to my hands, if they're small, something else must be small. I guarantee you there's no problem. I guarantee you.


COOPER: Our Gary Tuchman watched tonight's debate with a group of voters at Grand Rapids, President Gerald Ford's hometown at South Western Michigan. It's long been the most Republican corner of the state. Gary joins me tonight. Gary? GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Anderson. We were

invited to this Debate Watch Party at the Gerald R. Ford Republican Party headquarters in Kent County, Michigan, here in Grand Rapids.

Hello everybody. Thanks for inviting us. I want to ask you, first of all, who is supporting after this debate, Cruz?

CROWD: Whoo!






TUCHMAN: All right. So far, Cruz is leading. Kasich?


TUCHMAN: All right. So very interesting. Kasich needs to do well in Michigan and Ohio. His home state, he's doing well in this county, no question about it.

One thing I need to ask all of you at this point is, a lot of you were cringing during these insults and these criticisms that we heard during this debate.

This was the liveliest debate in terms of those criticisms. How many of you were upset about hearing all those criticisms and insults? And that's pretty much everybody. That's pretty much everybody. I'm going to ask you over here. Tell me why that bothers you. It makes it livelier, people pay attention, people telling their true feelings, why does that bother you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah. I think it's good for substance to come out and do we need to see who these people really are. But it's embarrassing. It's not what our party is about. It doesn't represent me. You know, I don't want a candidate that is going to -- representing my party and me as an American, that's going to constantly be insulting everyone every where they go.

TUCHMAN: How many of you, when you when walked in here today, were undecided, did know which candidate you wanted to support for president? Raise your hand. You right there. Are you still undecided, now that this debate, the last debate before the Primary Tuesday is over, have you decided?

UNKNOWN FEMALE: I have not decided. I am still undecided.

TUCHMAN: You decide in between?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:: I like John Kasich and, I like Ted Cruz. TUCHMAN: So, how are you going to decide? You got to vote in a couple

of days.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know how to figure it out.

TUCHMAN: What will make you decide?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, I like that -- I felt like Donald Trump was the candidate on stage that had the most -- was the most confident. But yet, I did not like all the insults and -- so back and forth.

TUCHMAN: But this is not Donald Trump's best crowd. And it leads me to this final question, and that is, if Donald Trump gets the Republican nomination, would any of you not vote for the nominee, Donald Trump?

That's a lot of people in this room. Would any you vote for a Democrat instead of Donald Trump?

So, we have five hands in the Republican Party headquarters in the home of Gerald R. Ford who would vote a democrat. And I leave you with this, are you still all proud Republicans?


OK. Thank you for having us. And we've learned a lot in this room. Back to you Anderson.

COOPER: Gary, thanks very much. And thanks everybody for sticking around for us. I really do appreciate it. That's always interesting to hear.

Mary Katharine, it's interesting -- I mean, all the politicians who have come forward, Republican politicians who have come forward saying, never Trump, who we've interviewed and others have interviewed. None of them that I know at least or none of them that, I've talked to, at least have said they would actually vote for a Democrat. Do you actually think, I mean, that room is representative of something larger going on or not?

[23:55:04] HAM: Yeah. I mean, there's a real phenomenon here where in people look at Trump and say, this man does not line up with what I believe, I have been in the republican party for a long time, I am a conservative who believes these things, I don't understand this man's ideology, I don't trust him to not to be flexible when he's in a room with New York Times editors.

I don't trust him on these issues, even when he's as blustery as he is about them. And that's a real phenomenon. It's going to take a lot to overcome that. And I'm not sure that Trump being Trump has what it takes to come to those people and make that argument and really get all of them onboard.

COOPER: Amanda?

CARPENTER: I think there's a big attitude factor. If you look at the people in that room, they're turned off by Donald Trump's attitude. I think Donald Trump has brought a lot of viewers into these debates.

Attracted a lot of attention to what the Republican Party may be about. But this shtick is getting old. At some point, it turns people off. And I think tonight may have been the night for some of these people.

COOPER: Although, it's not just viewers, it's voters. I mean, he has brought out ...

CARPENTER: Yeah. Like those people in that audience saying, I ...

COOPER: ... a lot of voters. And that, I mean, for them, it doesn't seem to be getting older. They're certainly coming out still. And we'll see what happens in their -- in the (inaudible) ahead.

CARPENTERL: I do think there's a new level of seriousness as there's fewer people on that debate stage, as Donald Trump has more attention on him as a serious presidential candidate. People -- And he's going to even lower levels of insults, it's more dramatic.

[24:00:24] COOPER: We're going to take a short break, much more ahead to about when we come back. Around all through the next hour, the dusk still settle in Detroit where, tonight, the three Republican candidates, not in Donald Trump took him on and one way or another, after their 2012 standard bearer Mitt Romney weighed in as well.