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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Hillary vs. Bernie; Ted Cruz Surging; Sanders Get Testy, Cuts Off Clinton at CNN Debate; Courting Women Voters in the Age of Trump. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired March 7, 2016 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:15]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: THE LEAD starts right now.

A furious day on the trail, after signs that Ted Cruz may emerge as Donald Trump's only challenger and as newly minted insult comic Marco Rubio falls way back of the pack.

Signs that they have had it with one another, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton not playing nice anymore, with another Super Tuesday on the horizon and Michigan holding the biggest bundle of delegates tomorrow.

Plus, she is the highest paid female athlete in the world, and today tennis star Maria Sharapova promised she would make a major announcement and she did not disappoint, admitting to a huge mistake.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

New this afternoon in this intense primary season, a new poll showing Donald Trump beating Marco Rubio in his home state of Florida, where a new anti-Trump TV ad features a former prisoner of war attacking Trump for attacking POWs.

And just this hour, Trump released his own negative ad in Florida targeting Marco Rubio. That's right. We are in the thick of it and more primary and caucus contests are coming, as well as debates following some unexpected results over the weekend.

But today our focus shifts to Michigan, which holds its Democratic and Republican primaries tomorrow. Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are there today. It's the big prize tomorrow, along with Mississippi, as well as the Republican caucuses in Hawaii and a primary in Idaho.

Donald Trump is favored to win Michigan tomorrow, but Senator Ted Cruz is hoping his two strong wins this weekend in Kansas and Maine will help whittle down the field so he can go mano a mano with Trump.

CNN correspondent Sunlen Serfaty joins me now.

Sunlen, both Trump and Cruz are calling for Rubio and Kasich to drop out of the race.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. They're both pushing hard to turn this into a two-man race now.

And Ted Cruz coming off his big weekend just added two last-minute events for tonight, one in Mississippi, one in Michigan. Those are both states that vote tomorrow. Not wanting to lose any of the momentum he picked up over the weekend.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Should we do the pledge? Raise your hand. I swear I'm going to vote for Donald Trump.

SERFATY (voice-over): Donald Trump and Ted Cruz making the case that the Republican nominating fight is now looking like a two-man battle.

TRUMP: I would love to take on Ted one on one.

SERFATY: Both using their big weekend wins to pressure their rivals to reassess their campaigns.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you're not able to win primaries, if you're not amassing delegates to get the nominee, I think every candidate has to reflect, has to meet with their team and say do we have a path?

SERFATY: Cruz's potential path getting a boost after banking crucial wins in Maine and Kansas, picking up more delegates this weekend than any other candidate.

CRUZ: We have beaten Donald Trump not once, not twice, but seven times in states all across this country with wide geographic diversity, wide ideological diversity.

SERFATY: But the math and momentum are still on the front-runner's side, Trump with wins in Louisiana and Kentucky leading with 389 delegates, Cruz 302, Rubio after winning Puerto Rico at 149, and John Kasich far behind with just 37 delegates.

Trump, meanwhile, is hoping for another big Super Tuesday showing.

TRUMP: We're going to have, I think, a couple of good of ones tomorrow, I hope.

SERFATY: The big prize tomorrow night, delegate-rich Michigan, the polls there showing Trump leading by a large margin.

TRUMP: I have been to Michigan a lot. And I think we're going to do well there.

SERFATY: That as the candidates keep their eyes on some big prizes up for grabs on March 15, including Florida, where Rubio faces a do-or- die situation. Trump taunting his rival today.

TRUMP: I tell you what. That guy, he couldn't be elected dogcatcher in Florida.

SERFATY: Rubio is now barnstorming his home turf looking to keep his presidential hopes alive.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm the only one left that can unite us, but I'm also the one left running that can grow it.

SERFATY: Outside groups opposing Trump are hoping to stop him from picking up a win in the Sunshine State by launching an assault on the airwaves, depicting what a Trump presidency might sound like and featuring ads with veterans to slam Trump's lack of military service.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't let Trump fool you. Look into his real record and stop Trump now.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SERFATY: And there is a new Florida poll out this afternoon from Monmouth University showing that Trump is leading. He is ahead of Rubio by eight points, ahead of Cruz by 21 points. Of course, Florida is a winner-take-all state, 99 delegates at stake next Tuesday.

TAPPER: It's a must-win for Marco Rubio. Sunlen Serfaty, thank you so much.

Let's talk to the leading Republican campaigns now.

[16:05:07]

Stephen Miller is senior policy adviser to Donald Trump, and Ron Nehring, national spokesman for the Ted Cruz campaign.

Stephen, let me start with you.

Mr. Trump just released a negative ad in Florida targeting Marco Rubio. Take a quick listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR: Marco Rubio, another corrupt, all talk, no action politician.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: The fact that you have released this ad today suggests to me that you are at least a little bit worried about Rubio in Florida.

STEPHEN MILLER, SENIOR TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: First of all, Jake, thanks for having me on. It's great to talk with you.

What we're worried about is what Marco Rubio is going to do to Florida and the whole country. Let's remember what the Trump campaign has always been about. It's been about returning power to the working people of this country.

What this ad is about is about is about the corruption of Marco Rubio, Marco Rubio, who ran for Senate in 2010 on a solemn promise to defeat amnesty, then became the biggest champion of amnesty in the entire U.S. Congress, Marco Rubio, the no-show senator who spent all of his time fund-raising and betraying the voters of Florida, a man who has shown that his only allegiance is to the donor class.

So we are trying to stop Marco Rubio in Florida because we are worried about what Marco Rubio will do to this country.

TAPPER: All right, Ron, let me go to you. Ted Cruz calling for Rubio and Kasich to drop out of the race. Rubio just won a contest yesterday. Why should he drop out?

RON NEHRING, NATIONAL SPOKESMAN, TED CRUZ CAMPAIGN: Well, only one candidate is on a pathway in order to be able to defeat Donald Trump, become the Republican nominee, and then defeat Hillary Clinton going into November. And that's Ted Cruz.

Marco Rubio simply can't win enough delegates as he goes forward. Every time they wind up losing a state which they said that they would win, South Carolina, Nevada, et cetera, they always come back with the same response, which is, well, the map looking forward looks great for us or so.

But it doesn't. And the fact that Marco Rubio is having to spend all this time trying to defend his own state, where he is behind, really is proof of that. So these other candidates who can't get to the nomination really need to consider whether or whether they want to continue or whether they should drop out and then Ted Cruz will become the alternative to Donald Trump.

TAPPER: Stephen, I want to get your response to a new ad that the American Future Fund is putting out in Florida. It features former prisoner of war Lieutenant Colonel Tom Hanton, who spent 13 months in the notorious Hanoi Hilton. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LT. COL. TOM HANTON, FORMER VIETNAM PRISONER OR WAR: When I heard Donald Trump insult my fellow prisoners of war from Vietnam by calling us losers, that was the most infuriating comment I think I have heard from a politician in my entire life. Trump would not have survived a POW experience. He would have been probably the first one to fold. Learn about Donald Trump. He is not what he appears to be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Your boss said of John McCain last summer: "He's not a war hero. I like people who weren't captured."

Do you think that Trump's view of prisoners of war might influence how he would act as commander in chief if a service member were captured? He has voiced an opinion that he doesn't like people who were captured.

MILLER: I don't think anybody believes that Donald Trump's comment at that moment was serious.

What I can tell you is that no candidate will be better for veterans than Donald Trump. Veterans are dying waiting for health care in this country and there are plenty of politicians in Washington, D.C., who talk a good game while our veterans die waiting for needed care.

So I tell you solemnly today, there is no candidate who will be better for our veterans than Donald J. Trump, and that is the bottom line.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: But, Stephen, you just heard from a former prisoner of war who took seriously what Donald Trump said.

MILLER: There's no doubt that people are going to spend millions of dollars on ads trying to throw everything they can at Donald Trump. That's just a fact. We understand that. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are going to spend tens of millions of dollars more than Donald Trump is going to spend.

Listen, read between the lines to what Ron is saying today. Ron keeps saying, we're the only ones who can keep Donald Trump. We're the only ones who can defeat this person and that person.

What we're talking about, what our campaign is talking about is winning for the American people. Everybody else is obsessed with politics. Every other campaign is obsessed with, we're going to stop this person, we're going to stop that person.

What about, we're going to stop the donor class from taking away the birthright of American citizens, who have been betrayed for 50 years by trade deals that have sent our jobs oversees, by immigration policies that have sent our wealth away from the working people of this country? We're going to win for American workers.

TAPPER: OK, Stephen.

Ron, let me just ask you going forward, where can Ted Cruz win? What's the next state you think you're going to win?

NEHRING: Well, you will have to forgive me if I don't engage in the curtain-raising in that regard.

Look, we're going to continue to pick up delegates as we go forward. We're going to continue to certainly outperform Marco Rubio and we will outperform Donald Trump in other states. We're going to continue to do that.

[16:10:10]

And then, of course, as we all know, there's going to be a great amount of attention placed upon Florida because Marco Rubio is in so much trouble among the people who know him best.

And that's why I was in Florida this past weekend. That's why the candidates are stepping up the campaigns there, because Marco Rubio is weak. Marco Rubio can't win Florida. It's going to be only a question as to which candidate does, and that's why we're fully active and engaged there. TAPPER: All right, Stephen Miller with the Trump campaign, Ron

Nehring with the Cruz campaign, thank you to both of you.

MILLER: Thank you.

TAPPER: Sanders won last night's CNN's debate, at least when it comes to GIFable moments, but seeing him roll his eyes and wag his finger on an endless loop might do his campaign more harm than good. That's what the Clinton campaign hopes anyway.

What else did Sanders do that has some Democrats so turned off today? That story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Let's stay with our politics lead.

Based on the following responses, I want you at home to try to guess the candidate who said them in a distinct New York accent? One, "Excuse me. I'm talking."

[16:15:02] Two, "Can I finish, please, all right?" And three, "When you're white, you don't know what it's like to be living in a ghetto. You don't know what it's like to be poor."

Well, who do you think it is? No, I'm not talking about Donald Trump. Those are all things that Senator Bernie Sanders said last night at the CNN Democratic debate in Flint, Michigan.

Joe Johns is with Senator Sanders in Dearborn, Michigan, today.

Joe, the Clinton campaign and some in the media said Sanders was disrespectful to Clinton last night, and he managed to offend with his comments on race. Is that true? And how is he responding today?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, he is certainly pushing back on all of that, as you said, Senator Sanders here in Dearborn today. His campaign and the candidate himself using words like "deceptive" and "dishonest" to describe Hillary Clinton.

He also admitted that he was a little taken aback when she accused him of voting against the automobile bailout bill in 2009.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS (voice-over): After squaring off at last night's CNN debate in Flint, Michigan, the Democratic candidates are back on the campaign trail.

Senator Bernie Sanders today eager to correct the record, after Hillary Clinton's claim that he voted against the 2008 auto industry bailout.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Last night, Secretary Clinton went out of her way to mischaracterize my history as it relates to the 2008 auto industry bailout. I voted for the auto bailout.

JOHNS: But Sanders got in a bailout jab of his own, slamming Clinton's ties to Wall Street.

SANDERS: Well, I -- if you were talking about the Wall Street bailout, where some of your friends destroyed this economy --

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know --

SANDERS: Excuse me, I'm talking.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN MODERATOR: Let him respond.

CLINTON: If you're going to talk, tell the whole story, Senator Sanders.

SANDERS: Let me tell my story, you tell yours.

CLINTON: I will.

JOHNS: And it didn't end there.

SANDERS: When billionaires on Wall Street destroyed this economy, they went to Congress and they said, "Oh please, we'll be good boys. Bail us out." You know what I said? I said let the billionaires themselves bail out Wall Street. It shouldn't be the middle class of this country.

CLINTON: OK. So --

COOPER: Secretary Clinton?

SANDERS: Wait a minute. Could I finish? You'll have your turn.

JOHNS: Sanders today defending his method of attack.

SANDERS: She ended up going on many occasions far -- spoke a lot longer than the time allotment allowed and when I was speaking, she interrupted me, I didn't interrupt her. But I think in the middle of a debate is somebody is trying to make a point and somebody else interrupts you, I think that's rude.

JOHNS: Sanders who has struggled to gain traction with African- American voters also received criticism for his response to a question about his racial blind spots.

SANDERS: When you're white, you don't know what it's like to be living in a ghetto. You don't know what it's like to be poor.

JOHNS: But on the sensitive issue of gun control today, Sanders got some words of praise from an unlikely ally, the National Rifle Association, which put out a statement calling the candidate's comments in the debate spot on about making gun manufacturers legally liable for the harm their products cause. Sanders said liability would drive them out of business.

SANDERS: If anybody can sue a gun manufacturer or anybody else when somebody uses that weapon irresponsibly, that means you're shutting down the entire industry. If that is Secretary Clinton's position, let her state it. That is not my position.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: A busy day for Bernie Sanders today -- Kalamazoo first and then here to Dearborn later. Later he'll be in Ann Arbor in the windup before primary day. He is telling his supporters that if there's a big turnout, he'll get over the top -- Jake.

TAPPER: Joe Johns, thank you.

Joining me now, former press secretary for the Obama 2012 campaign, Ben LaBolt, and Bernie Sanders supporter, Jonathan Tasini. He's the author of "The Essential Bernie Sanders and His Vision for America".

Jonathan, let me start with you. As you heard in Joe's piece, the NRA tweeted Senator Sanders was spot on about guns at last night's debate. I'm assuming that is an unwanted endorsement for the senator?

JONATHAN TASINI, BERNIE SANDERS SUPPORTER: Well, Bernie Sanders has a d minus rating from the NRA. The NRA can say whatever it wants. I think it's on the issue.

Bernie has been very clear on the campaign trail that he does not believe that small store gun owners should be held liable when some crazy person goes off and commits a terrible crime with a gun. At the same time, he's been very clear for many, many weeks that he wants to go back and co-sponsor and get together on the larger question of liability so he wants to revisit that.

So, you know, the NRA -- it's like saying if Henry Kissinger said let's bomb Iran, should we hold Hillary Clinton responsible for something that Henry Kissinger says?

TAPPER: Well, I think he tried to do that at one point, try tying Kissinger to Hillary Clinton. But be that as it may.

Ben, let me ask you. Secretary Clinton said Senator Sanders voted against the bailout for the auto industry. Obviously, that's a powerful thing to accuse him of doing in Michigan.

[16:20:03] But just to be technical here, Sanders voted for the $15 billion package to rescue Chrysler and GM, but only when it was tied in with the big bank bailout that he vote against it.

So, doesn't he have a case to make to suggest he was against the auto bailout?

BEN LABOLT, FORMER PRESS SECRETARY, OBAMA 2012 CAMPAIGN: Well, Sanders is always into symbolic vote. And don't take it from me, take it from Michigan Senator Stabenow, who said the only way to get that funding through would be to do it within the TARP legislation. Senator Sanders voted against that. It seems like he's campaigning more on the side of Mitt Romney, who said let Detroit go bankrupt than the president when it came to rescuing the auto industry.

TAPPER: Go ahead, Jonathan.

TASINI: Jake, I'm holding up a card which is a union card. I'm a member of the United Auto Workers. I've been a member of the United Auto Workers for 25 years. And I would not support a candidate that was not a solid UAW supporter that was behind workers all the way.

Bernie Sanders was for the auto bailout and the way you described was actually correct. And "The Washington Post" essentially called the Clinton campaign a liar or at least misrepresenting saying it seems like she's willing to take the gamble that fact checkers may call her out for her tactics Sunday but that voters won't.

And the reason they're making this emphasis, Jake, is because she has supported bad trade agreements, NAFTA and all those trade agreements that have destroyed the lives of working people, autoworkers in Michigan, Ohio, for many, many years. That's really the Achilles heel.

And let's debate those trade issues. Those are the things that have hurt middle class Americans, working class Americans in Ohio and particularly autoworkers.

TAPPER: Let me ask you something, Ben, because the Clinton campaign is making a thing out of Bernie Sanders saying, "Excuse me, I'm talking." Is there an unfair thing going on when it comes to gender that is actually hurting Bernie Sanders? If he had said that to a male candidate, would anybody have been saying, "oh, how rude"?

LABOLT: I think what's interesting about last night is Secretary Clinton got under Bernie Sanders' skin.

TAPPER: Clearly true, yes.

LABOLT: And he's not good when he gets attacked. Presidents take heat every single day and one of the things that the electorate judges you on is how you can handle that pressure.

And Bernie Sanders doesn't handle it well. He doesn't respond quickly. He talked over her. He got annoyed. He didn't look like a diplomat on stage last night. I think that was voters' takeaway.

TASINI: Well --

TAPPER: Go ahead, Jon.

TASINI: I want to say quickly, first let's step out. Maybe Ben and I can agree on one thing, that we're a whole lot better on the debate than the Republicans, and let's embrace that thing we can unite on.

LABOLT: I'll agree with you on that, Jon.

TASINI: OK? We don't talk about some of the nonsense that they talk about. I do think that there was a testiness there, but frankly Hillary Clinton was interrupting Bernie and he was trying to get an answer in so they went back and forth.

And, frankly, honestly, it's one reason that I like the town forums that CNN has held over the last several weeks. I think it fit better where each candidate can actually explain their position and get questions from the voters. In that scenario, there's naturally going to be a little bit pack and forth.

But I think we're making a little bit too much of it personally.

TAPPER: Jon, I just want to bottom-hole something, somebody told me it's unfair people are holding Bernie Sanders responsible for his story about the ghetto and white people and race because he was quoting or paraphrasing what somebody told him. Is that your understanding as well?

TASINI: Well, I don't know what was paraphrasing. I think he was -- there was a couple of examples he tried to put out that said white people don't experience things that African-Americans do. Trying to hail cabs and doing things like that.

You know, in New York City, that's been a story that's been repeated many, many times, that African-Americans who try to hail cabs in Manhattan, for example, to go to someplace in Manhattan or to Brooklyn, cabs won't stop for them. And I think that was the example he was trying to make. I don't know if he was trying to paraphrase the story, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Jonathan Tasini, Ben LaBolt, thanks to both of you. Really appreciate it.

Donald Trump has been criticized for saying things like this about some women.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They'll walk up and they'll flip their top.

HOST: Wow.

TRUMP: And they'll flip their panties.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

TAPPER: Is Trump writing the attack ads for the Democrats? Especially if he ends up running against Hillary Clinton?

Also, U.S. airstrikes taking out more than 150 suspected terrorists while the U.S. military says they could not wait one more minute before they acted.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:28:42] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Sticking with our politics lead.

Women voters are often crucial, especially in presidential contests. In 2012, Mitt Romney won men voters 52 percent -- 52 percent went for the Republican. But Obama carried women voters by 11 points, and thus he was re-elected. Hillary Clinton's support even among Democratic women has proven unreliable so far, but could Donald Trump be a dream candidate for her should they both emerge as their parties' nominees?

Let's bring in CNN's Sara Murray who's in Madison, Mississippi.

Sara, what do Democrats think about this potential matchup? Do they think that Trump's nomination might make some voters embrace a woman candidate whom they don't particularly like?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, Jake, Democrats are fully aware of the fact that Hillary Clinton has suffered with female voters, particularly with these younger women that they thought would be energized by her campaign and really aren't. But they are hoping that a Republican nominee, Donald Trump, some of his past comments and past behavior will be just what Democratic women need to show up for Hillary Clinton.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY (voice-over): Democrats are readying their arsenal of crass comments like this one.

TRUMP: A person who's flat-chested is very hard to be a 10, OK?

HOST: Right.

TRUMP: I mean, it has to be extraordinary.

MURRAY: Betting that Donald Trump's own words could be one of their most powerful weapons in a potential general election matchup between Trump and Hillary Clinton.

CLINTON: Mr. Trump insults and dismisses women.