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Preliminary to the Republican Presidential Debate in the University of Miami; CNN's GOP Debate Moments Away; GOP Chairman Addresses Audience At GOP Debate. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired March 10, 2016 - 20:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST, OUTFRONT: Donald Trump arriving here at the University of Miami. You can see him walking inside right here where I am getting ready for the Republican presidential debate. We saw Marco Rubio arrive with his wife Jeanette. Donald Trump with his wife Melania and also we have Ted Cruz also here. All of them here. Just waiting for John Kasich as we count you down to the crucial debate.

Thank you so much for joining us. "AC 360" starts right now.

[20:00:36] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: And good evening from the University of Miami here in Coral Gables, Florida. Site of the 12th Republican primary debate. And the stakes could not be higher.

We are now just five days away from another Super Tuesday. Winner take all Tuesday in Ohio and, of course, here in Florida. Home states for John Kasich and Marco Rubio. Do or die states for their campaigns.

Like I said, tonight's debate is big. Our Jim Acosta is inside the debate hall with a preview.

Jim, the last Republican debate was knockdown, drag out fight. It got ugly at times. What can we expect tonight?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, I'm told Donald Trump's campaign is bracing once again for another onslaught of attacks. A close adviser to Ted Cruz just told me in the last several minutes expect the Texas senator to attack Donald Trump on the pledges. The real estate tycoon has asked his supporters to make in recent days calling that raising of hands that we have seen at recent Trump rallies quote "disturbing." A senior adviser to Marco Rubio says the Florida senator won't go after Trump on a personal basis, no more wise cracks about Trump's tanning methods and hand size, but the Rubio campaign says everything else, just like Trump University, is fair game, Anderson.

COOPER: And with next Tuesday's winner take all primaries, as I said, in Florida and Ohio, I mean, this debate comes at a crucial time for all these candidates but particularly for Cruz and Rubio.

ACOSTA: That's right. This is turning point in the campaign. This could be Marco Rubio's last stand. If he loses his home state of Florida next week, there will be deafening calls inside the party for Marco Rubio to get out of this race. A Rubio adviser does tell me that they think their internal polling at this point tells them they will still win next week. They are that optimistic at this point.

But, Anderson, it's also critical for John Kasich to capture his home state of Ohio. The latest polls do show Kasich could indeed win Ohio. But if Trump sweeps both of those states a top GOP operative says get ready for Trump steaks. Get ready for Trump wine to be on the menu at the Republican national convention in Cleveland later on this summer. Trump, according to this source, will be the nominee if he pulls off that kind of sweep on this biggest of all super Tuesdays.

COOPER: Should just point out --

ACOSTA: The stakes, those kinds of stakes, I should say, are just that high.

COOPER: And I just want to point out the Trump steaks are actually Bush Brothers steaks which are bought by Trump and sold at Mar-a-Lago and other venues. They aren't actually things anybody else can buy.

Jim Acosta. Jim, thanks very much. Really could be something else to see tonight.

Plenty to talk about already as we wait for John Kasich and Donald Trump. We have seen Donald Trump arriving there. Some breaking news as well. Sources telling us that's Ben Carson will be endorsing Donald Trump tomorrow morning.

With that, let's bring in our CNN political commentators Kevin Madden, S.E. Cupp, Jeffrey Lord and Amanda Carpenter. All are joining me here in the spin room. Kevin is a Republican strategist. S.E. Cupp a conservative columnist, Jeffrey is a Trump supporter and a former Reagan White House political director and Amanda is a former communications director for Senator Ted Cruz.

Amanda, what are you expecting from Ted Cruz tonight? Does he focus on Donald Trump trying to make this a two-person race? Getting that idea across? Or does he try to kind go after Marco Rubio and make it as much of a two-person race as possible?

AMANDA CARPENTER, FORMER CRUZ COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: I think it's going to backfire if he goes against Marco Rubio. Marco Rubio's campaign is imploding as we speak. There is a lot of people on that crowd who like Marco Rubio and supported him. If he attacks him really hard he is going to look like he's kicking a puppy. So he needs to direct the hard fire at Donald Trump showing that he is the guy that can go toe-to-toe with Trump. He is the alternative to Trump. And if you want to take him down, you have to support Ted Cruz on Super Tuesday right now.

COOPER: Jeffrey Lord, what do you expect from Donald Trump tonight? When I talked to him yesterday, he clearly is trying to be in sort of a more presidential mode. Whether or not he's capable of restraining himself if attack, that's another question. And point-blank he told me, look, if attacked, I'm going to attack back.

JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: In a word, I think this is going to be a slugfest? COOPER: You do, really?

LORD: Yes. I mean, I think everybody is going to be on everybody else. They all have something at stake. I mean, Ted Cruz can't let Donald Trump get away. Donald Trump can't let Ted Cruz get away. They both can't let Marco Rubio get away. And John Kasich is getting pretty close to the line.

COOPER: Do you think it's as much of a personal slugfest, personal insults as we saw at the last debate or, I mean, look, Marco Rubio has already said publicly that he regrets some of the tactics he was use, some of the language he was using.

[20:05:00] LORD: Maybe a little less of that. I mean, there was such universal condemnation of all this that I think, frankly, you know, maybe they will pull back a little bit. But let's be clear here. They all want to win. And a couple of them are really close to winning. So, yes. I mean, all the gloves are off here.

COOPER: Although, S.E., I mean, Marco Rubio if he's saying, look, that stuff didn't work, it just made me look bad, does he try to go after Donald Trump on policy or lack of policy specifics which is clearly something Trump has been hit for before.

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Absolutely. And I think in addition to the policies, I think Rubio and Cruz and maybe, you know, to a certain extent Kasich are also going to go after Donald Trump on his rhetoric. And that doesn't have to involve his hand size, you know. I mean, you can just talk about the kind of language Donald Trump uses, for example, with you when he talks about Islam hating America.

I expect there to be some of that pushback from the other candidates to, in a more sort of adult way. Communicate that he does not have the temperament to be president. He doesn't have the discipline to lead the free world, you know. I expect -- I hope, I expect there to be a little of that.

COOPER: It is interesting, Kevin, that we are at this stage of the race. And when you ask for specifics from Donald Trump, really still, there's not a lot of meat on the bone. There is not a lot of policy specifics. And yet certainly not as much as some of the other candidates have. It certainly doesn't seem to matter to Trump voters. I mean reporters have tried. Everybody has tried this in interviews. It's been tried on the debate stage. No one has really been able to sort of get him to try to actually or to be able to elaborate in a specific way.

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. And your core point I think is the most obvious one, which is the fact that his supporters, they don't really -- they aren't drawn to him because of policy papers or white papers on issues. Instead, they are drawn to him because he exudes these attributes that they find are -- that sort of run counter to what they have seen from the last eight years in Washington. They like the fact that he's strong. They like the fact he has clarity on some of the big issues, whether it's the economy or immigration or national security. And that has been, to the great frustration of all of the other campaigns.

They have wanted to try and pin him down on the fact he doesn't have specifics. They have tried to pin him down on the fact that some of what he says is just impossible, or not even serious. And I think they will continue to do that tonight because one of the things that has been lacking as well has been a broad and sustained attack on Donald Trump. Now it is getting very late in the campaign to do that, right? But what other choice do they have?

COOPER: It is interesting, you use the word clarity. His supporters see his statements as being full of clarity. His detractors say it's a complete lack of clarity. That he is kind of all over the map and, you know, he says, look. I have a strong core but I'm also believe in --

CUPP: Flexible.

COOPER: -- making deals and I'm flexible. I mean, you know, you can say that's clarity or you can say, wait a minute, that's double talk.

MADDEN: There's a quote from "House of Cards" where Frank Underwood says a public opinion doesn't have a law degree. Well, you know, that's one of the reasons - that's one of the things Donald Trump has taken advantage of is that folks aren't as in meshed in the details about economic policy. They aren't as in meshed about the details of what a real national security posture, the details of a strong national security posture or foreign policy involved. Instead what they want are the broad proclamations that run exactly counter to what they have seen with the last eight years of President Obama that they disagree with.

CUPP: Yes. As Kevin mentioned, I mean, Congress, the constitution, the Geneva Convention, a lot of things are going to stand in the way of Donald Trump's policies. And his supporters, even don't seem face that all of his promises, he's probably not going to be able to keep.

LORD: What they want is message and direction. They want the country to go this way, not this way. And they don't want 10,000 specifics. They want to know where are we going.

CARPENTER: And one thing that Donald Trump does well and other candidates should learn from is the fact, he owns 100 percent of everything he says. He doesn't take it back like Marco Rubio once he attacked and Trump then. I apologize for that. It wasn't a good --

COOPER: There's never the word apology. In fact, this is the arrival of governor Kasich. We saw Donald Trump arriving a short time ago. As we watch governor arriving, I want to bring in CNN's John King, anchor of "INSIDE POLITICS" and chief political analyst Gloria Borger who are inside the debate hall where we'll also be shortly.

Gloria, first of all, how big of a deal do you think it is that Dr. Ben Carson is going to be endorsing Donald Trump?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's -- the timing of it is a great political move, first of all, by the Trump campaign. Because if he doesn't do well tonight, he has got a new news story tomorrow morning and that's this endorsement. And I think that, you know, Carson's people are really, really loyal to him in the way that Trump's people are loyal to him. Carson lives here in Florida. So I don't think it hurts Donald Trump at all and probably helps him a little bit.

COOPER: John, there is a new FOX News poll showing governor Kasich who we just arriving there, leading in Ohio. To point it out, that's different from our CNN poll which shows Trump leading. And also different from the, I think it was the Quinnipiac poll which was also released yesterday. But that's who Kasich really is talking to tonight, Ohio voters. He's not focused on talking to Florida voters like the other candidates are.

[20:10:23] JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. He is a one state wonder because just like Marco Rubio, this debate is survivor. This is debate survivor edition for Marco Rubio and John Kasich.

Look. So the polls are mixed in Ohio which means it's a close race. The polls are mix in Ohio which means Governor Kasich knows maybe he is a little ahead. Maybe he is behind. He does have the state party on his side in Ohio. His campaign team, I was just speaking to one of his top people a few moments ago, Anderson. They are confident they can pull it out. But they also know the wild card in their confidence is tonight's debate.

Kasich has not been an attack dog but he might come under attack tonight. Trump has been a little bit more aggressive with Kasich of late because Trump wants to run the board. Listen. You cannot understate the importance here for Donald Trump and that means because of that for everybody else.

Trump enters the debate with 461 delegates. If he wins Florida and Ohio which are winner take all and then wins the other states, gets 30-something percent of the delegates, even if he came in second, 30- something percent, but assume he won the other states with 35 percent, he would end Tuesday night with about 700 delegates. You need 1,237 to clinch. But Donald Trump is looking for an exclamation point over the next few days, beginning with tonight's debate. If you are John Kasich and Marco Rubio, your life depends on stopping that.

COOPER: And John, when Donald Trump said to me yesterday that if he wins Florida, if he wins Ohio, he believes it's pretty much over. Is he right?

KING: Well, psychologically maybe. Mathematically, not quite. He would still need to win something like 50 percent of the remaining delegates. And that's why the interesting dynamic will be how does the quote/unquote "never Trump movement" adapt to that? Can you block Donald Trump from getting 1237? Conceivably? Is it better to do that with a two-man race, ted Cruz versus Donald Trump? The Cruz campaign would make that argument.

But there will be some people, Anderson, who say not all the states after March 15th are winner take all. There's a misperception about that. Many of them are still proportional. So there will be some people who say Marco Rubio or governor Kasich, stay in anyway. Stay in even if you lose your home state, which is frankly kind of humiliating because with for people on the ballot it's more likely to deny Donald Trump the 1,237.

Imagine Trump and Cruz in a one on one in those proportional states. Even if Trump comes in second to Cruz in some of those states, if he gets 45 percent like we see on the Democratic side with Bernie Sanders, he would get those delegates. So this is a very complicated game of math. The lawyers are involved in everything else. Let's see what happens Tuesday night and then the math will be clearer.

COOPER: All right. We are going to continue the conversation after a quick break as we count down to tonight's debate.

We will also be joining by former candidate Carly Fiorina who is now, of course, supporting Ted Cruz.

We'll be right back.


[20:15:53] COOPER: We're getting close to the final debate before voting on Tuesday which, of course, could seal the fate of at least two of the remaining four Republican candidates. Donald Trump goes in striking a softer tone, perhaps, unless he says he is attacked. Marco Rubio expressing regrets about attacking him personally. Ted Cruz on the other hand took another swipe at Trump today. They are all grappling with a question they have been grappling with this whole time. How to confront Trump and prevail whether on a debate stage or on the trail. They are all still seeking the winning formula.

Joining us now along with our panel, someone who faced that same challenge, former candidate Carly Fiorina who has just endorsed Senator Cruz.

Ms. Fiorina, thanks very much for being with us. What do you expect to happen at tonight's debate? Nobody knows better what it's like to be on that stage than you. For your candidate, Ted Cruz, is it important for him to take on Donald Trump specifically on policies? Or more important to draw distinctions with Marco Rubio?

CARLY FIORINA (R), FORMER REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, you know, one of the things that I've admired about Ted Cruz is he's never gotten down in the gutter. He has always stayed on substance and policy. He has offered very specific policy positions of his own. When he is challenged Donald Trump, he has challenge him on substance. And on positions. And I think that's what you'll see him do tonight. That's what I always try to do in my candidacy. And I think you'll see him on not only introducing himself to those people who perhaps had not considered Ted Cruz in the past, but now are willing to consider him and embrace him. And I think you will see him focus on Donald Trump because Ted Cruz is the only who can beat Donald Trump. He is the only guy who has beaten Donald Trump, and we need to beat Donald Trump. COOPER: You know, I was thinking when Marco Rubio started kind of

trying to match Donald Trump's rhetoric, some of the language he was using, I was wondering what you thought of that. Because when you were on the stage, you were very effective in using a slight sense of humor, slight sense of irony to push back at Donald Trump, but it wasn't -- I found it effective some of the things you said. The audience knew what you were talking about but it wasn't sort of a head-on frontal assault. Did you know when Marco Rubio started using the kind of language he did on the campaign trail that that was a mistake?

FIORINA: Well, Marco Rubio has to answer for his own campaign strategy. But I guess what I would say is I don't think talking about spray tans and body parts is helpful to the American citizenry who are trying to make a choice, you know. These are serious times. These are serious issues. I don't really know why Donald Trump gets away with half the stuff he gets away with. I guess it's because it is entertaining. I guess that's why every network, including your own, you know, broadcasts his entire press conference, if that's what you can call it. It was more like a QVC commercial for a full hour without commercial break. I don't know what that is, but it doesn't actually help Americans understand the solutions to real problems in their lives.

COOPER: Well, I think --

FIORINA: And having been out there on the campaign trail for a long time, I think citizens are concerned and they want solutions.

COOPER: I just for the record, I think we broadcast it because no other candidates were actually speaking at that point. And particularly your candidate had stopped speaking at 5:00 that afternoon, and no other comments were being made. And h is the Republican front-runner.

But I'm curious for Dr. Ben Carson, what an impact do you think an endorsement from Carson to Trump is going to have? Clearly it's an endorsement Ted Cruz would have liked. They are similar in terms of evangelical support. It would have been -- obviously could have been a big positive for Senator Cruz. Do you think a lot of Ben Carson's supporters are actually going to go to Donald Trump, or do you think your candidate, Cruz, will pi up some of them?

FIORINA: You know, I honestly don't really know what the impact is. What I know in looking at the last several election results is that Dr. Carson's support was fading away. He barely registered, honestly, in the last couple of contests. So I don't really know what impact it will have.

What I know is this. If you look at the polling data, and you and your great panel of experts have said this, what you will see is that late deciding voters don't go Donald Trump's way. Donald Trump has a very solid core of support. But he is actually not growing that support.

On the other hand, Ted Cruz is growing his support. He is the only guy in the race right now who actually has momentum. You know, one of the things that I think was unfortunately underreported on Tuesday night was that Ted Cruz beat John Kasich in Michigan. It isn't what people expected to happen. And I think it's indicative of growing support for Ted Cruz and sort of plateauing or maybe even waning support for Donald Trump and, frankly, the other two guys still in the race.

COOPER: Gloria Borger and John king are with you. I know they want to ask you some questions as well. Gloria, John?

BORGER: I would love to ask you a question about women Republican voters because if you look at all the exit polling, Donald Trump does the best with women and Cruz is second. Can you explain that to me? Why Trump does so well with Republican women?

FIORINA: You know, I know a lot of Trump voters. And contrary to some of the way that some of the media characterize them, they are smart. They are educated. They are concerned. And so I think Donald Trump's appeal is that people think, well, he's going to challenge the system. And I think the reality is that Donald Trump h no intention of challenging the system. He is the system. He has benefited from the system all his life. He has made his billions of dollars by buying off people in the system to his benefit. And I think the more that comes out, that is the reason you see late-breaking supporters.

BORGER: He's honest about it. I did it. Now I know how to run against that's because I was a part of it.

FIORINA: Yes. Well, you know, I ran because I think the game is rigged. The deck is stacked. Towards the big, the powerful, the wealthy and well connected. Well, guess what? Donald Trump is big, powerful, wealthy and well connected. So it works for him. And I think it's very revealing when he asks his supporters to pledge their support to him. The truth is the president of the United States should pledge their support to the nation and to the citizens of the nation. So Donald Trump has it exactly backwards who this is about. His whole career has been about him and this run is about him, except it should be about the citizens of this nation.

COOPER: Well, Carly Fiorina, thanks for joining us. We will be watching to see how your candidate senator Cruz does tonight. We enjoy talking to you always.

Want to bring in our CNN political commentators.

Kevin, in terms of what you'll be looking for tonight, what's the top thing that our viewers should watch for?

MADDEN: Well, I was very struck by your interview with Donald Trump just the other day, where he seemed to take a more unifying tone. It's as if he is watching the trajectory of this race and believes that the time now is to start bringing some elements of the party together because he could be the eventual nominee. And in a way that maybe invites some of the -- some of his opponents now in a debate like this to go after him. But for him to quickly deflect and start looking more toward the general election, making the case against Hillary Clinton.

I will be interested to see if that Donald Trump shows up tonight. The thing is, though, if he gets attacked, Donald Trump seizes to be Donald Trump if he's not swinging back. So I expect that we may see glimpses of it. But the Donald Trump that knows how to counterpunch probably better than anybody in this race, I expect to that he will be here. We will see a little bit of that tonight as well.

CUPP: I don't know what a disciplined Donald Trump looks like. That's not a joke, you know. I mean, I don't know what that looks like. And if it's compelling even to his supporters to see a guy who can -- who is restrained and can hold back from taking the punch. I don't know. And I don't expect we'll see that guy tonight. I'm looking for a big night for Marco Rubio. I mean, if he needs to have the best debate performance of his life. He is in his home state. He needs to remind Floridians of who he is and why the stakes are so high in this election, whether it's Supreme Court, national security, immigration, jobs. I mean, all of that, he needs to make that case.

I have seen him do it before. That's Marco Rubio isn't completely gone. It's in there somewhere. I'm hoping he harnesses it tonight.

COOPER: Jeffrey Lord, what are you watching?

LORD: Two today. One, in terms of Trump and discipline, the entire Trump organization, meaning his business, could not possibly have been built without discipline and vision and all of that sort of thing. So I would respectfully disagree with you.

I do think that Marco Rubio's got a problem on his hands. He had that terrible debate with Chris Christie. And then he seemed to recover and then had this whole business with Donald Trump which he has now felt compelled. And what is the sort of knock on him, professionally? It's that he's not quite ready. That he's young and he is not quite mature enough, et cetera. I think tonight he has got to recover from this yet again and I'm not sure that he can do that.

CARPENTER: Yes. I do think Carly touched on something that is really powerful in that interview. And I say this almost in a complimentary way toward Donald Trump. He may be the greatest self-promoter we have ever seen in our lifetime. There's a lot of tactics other candidates should adopt from that. But it is a devil and sword because who is he really in this for? Is he running for himself, for his ego, for the expansion of Trump empires into infinity, or is he in it for the betterment of the country?

I don't think he has ever proved the latter. And if another candidate on that stage can make the case that he is only in this for himself, you can't trust him to fight for the little guy, that's a very powerful argument.

COOPER: There's a lot to watch for. Everyone, get ready for the main event. I'm heading right into the hall, right just a short time ago. We are looking at more arrivals. There is the debate hall itself. Get ready for tonight's make or break CNN Republican debate. We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:30:07] COOPER: Welcome to the CNN Republican presidential debate live from the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida.

I'm Anderson Cooper, the stage behind me is set, the audience is here and the candidates are ready.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In Florida right now, the Republican candidates are heading into a climactic contest in one of the most coveted prizes in presidential politics is on the line.

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If we win Florida, believe me, it's over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a big stake battle that could change everything.

MARCO RUBIO, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It always comes down to Florida.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tonight, the last GOP Debate before a pivotal primary night, including the winner take all votes in Florida and Ohio.

TRUMP: Who likes me in this room?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Donald Trump. Looking to lock up the nomination and defy his critics.

TRUMP: I'll act presidential but if somebody hits me I'm going to hit them back harder.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ted Cruz. Eager to go one-on-one with the frontrunner.

TED CRUZ, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: For those who have supported other candidates, we welcome you on our team standing united as one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Marco Rubio. In a make or break bid to win his Florida home turf.

RUBIO: I will campaign as long as it takes and wherever it takes to ensure that I am the next president of the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John Kasich. Staking his campaign on his home state of Ohio.

JOHN KASICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: A positive message and raising the bar for our kids will win. We'll win in this country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now the stage is set for an intense debate about who should lead the Republicans and the nation.

RUBIO: A turning point is coming in this election and for this country.

CRUZ: We are seeing Republicans uniting.

TRUMP: The Republicans are eating their own. We have to bring things together.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The fight for the White House returns to Florida right now.


COOPER: And welcome inside the debate hall where the four remaining Republican candidates are waiting to take the stage for the 12th republican presidential debate.

Let me tell you what's ahead as we get ready for the start of tonight's debate which is going to be moderated by CNN's Jake Tapper.

But now, we're getting here shortly from the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus.

Then, we'll see the candidates come to the stage at 8:55, debate itself again sharply at 9:00 and we'll last for two hours.

The debate hall filling up as we speak more than 1,800 people will be in the audience tonight. The hall is usually home for the University of Miami basketball team. But tonight, is a different kind of March madness.

With me, high above the hall is CNN Chief Political Analysis, Gloria Borger and the Anchor of CNN's Inside's Politics, John King.

There's so much to watch for, so many kind of different games and strategies at play on the stage tonight.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Each of the candidates, all of their teams and everybody in this room understands the stakes of this debate. And you really can't understate them.

But, Donald Trump has a chance to pull away from the field on Tuesday. This is the last big debate before those elections on Tuesday. Big basket of delegates at stake, winner take all here in Florida, winner take all in Ohio who is just happen to be the home states of Senator Marco Rubio and Governor John Kasich.

Rubio has two wins so far, modest States, Puerto Rico and Minnesota for recomposition, of course, territory. And then Kasich has none. And so, they either win or the pressure will be to get out of the race or they won't be able to raise the money.

And so, the stakes just tonight ...

COOPER: I mean, Gloria, I mentioned the pressure on Marco Rubio tonight backstage right now. I mean, this is such a cliche to say to make or break, do or die for him, but it certainly is. And he knows that the tactics he's used out on the campaign trail, he's already said publicly, it was a mistake to kind of talk about the spray tan, to kind of use some of Trump's language ...


COOPER: ... against Trump. He's got to come up with a different way of distinguishing himself from Donald Trump.

BORGER: Absolutely. He hurt his brand when he did that.

And Marco Rubio was always known as this optimistic candidate. And suddenly, he was attacking Trump in the gutter, and he's got to do it differently this time.

He has got to talk about Trump on the issues. I think that's what you're going to hear from Cruz, who wants to establish himself as the only alternative to Donald Trump. That stop Trump movement doesn't have one horse yet and Cruz wants to, after this debate tonight, be that horse. And Kasich here, wants to say, you know what? Not so fast.

COOPER: Let's check in with our reporters who are covering each of the candidates. And of course, have been for quite some time. Get a sense of what they are hoping to do tonight.

Sara Murray is covering the Trump campaign. Sara, what are you hearing from Mr. Trump about his strategy tonight?

[20:35:06] SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, Anderson, Donald Trump told you just last night that he wants to see a softer debate. And that is because he knows he's now the undisputed Republican front-runner.

He wants to appear presidential, he wants to appear above the fray. And he wants to look like someone who can actually unite the party behind him.

Now of course, he could face challenges doing that. There are a number of his rivals who want to take him out on stage. And that's why Donald Trump is also coming in with a backup plan. And that backup plan is a big flashy press conference tomorrow morning at Mar- a-Lago where sources tell us, he's going to pick up an endorsement from Dr. Ben Carson.

Now when I was speaking to a Trump's spokeswoman earlier today, she said, they do feel good going into this debate, they think it will be a solid debate performance and she called it what should be at the last Republican debate.

So as far the Trump campaign is concern, this might be last time you see all these candidates on stage together, Anderson?

COOPER: And Sara, as Gloria pointed out in our last half hour, Donald Trump no matter how he does tonight he gets to change the new cycle or at least attempt to change the new cycle tomorrow with the endorsement by Dr. Carson.

So even if he has a bad debate performance tonight, perhaps much of the story tomorrow will be about the endorsement.

Let's go to Sunlen Serfaty who's covering the Cruz campaign. What are you hearing from his people?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, in talking to the Cruz campaign today, Anderson, it's very clear that Senator Cruz is going to try to distinguish himself tonight on the tone. His goal, they say, is to remain above the fray to avoid specifically any mud slinging tonight.

And like Donald Trump's play book tonight, to appear presidential up there on the debate stage, but Cruz campaign advisers say that make no mistake about it. He is prepared to draw a clear contrast with Marco Rubio, with Donald Trump and that's an expansion of what he's been focused on the last few days.

He has been exclusively focussed on Donald Trump. So very clearly adding to Marco Rubio, of course, to his sights tonight, a very clear that the Cruz campaign sees that as a chance to potentially to help shut the door on Marco Rubio's campaign. Anderson.

COOPER: Sunlen Serfaty, thank you very much.

Let's go to Manu Raju covering the Rubio campaign. Manu, what are you hearing?

MANU RAJU, SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Well Anderson, the Rubio campaign is telling me that they want to make it very clear to Florida voters that this is the state that could stop Donald Trump.

And what is that mean? Well Marco Rubio, I'm told, is going to make it very clear that the way to stop Donald Trump is to vote for him and not vote for John Kasich or Ted Cruz.

They were going to say to actually, it is actually that would be actually helping nominate Donald Trump. Now he may not launch in the personal attacks but what I'm told is that he's going to try to draw Trump out on policy. He's also believe that's those attacks against his business background, even calling him a con artist, that is still fair game.

In addition, wants to remind voters why they elected him in the first place and try to present himself at the one candidate would be electable in the general election. They know this is do or die, the stakes are very high. A high bar to clear, but fairly that's of the game plan going in. Anderson.

COOPER: All right we'll see if that game plan is actually executed on the stage. Manu Raju, thanks.

Phil Mattingly is covering the Kasich campaign. Phil, Governor Kasich clearly focused on Ohio as much as anything that's happening here in Florida.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, no question about it Anderson and the strategy tonight is really to stick with what he thinks has worked up to this point.

Stay under the radar a little bit, stay positive. Look presidential. Look experienced. And the reason he's not trying to shift right now is his advisers think that as this field has winnowed, their message has started to break through.

So stick to that message, stay positive throughout the nigh, Anderson, hope to come out of this debate with some momentum heading into that big Tuesday race. One quick thing to keep an eye on his advisers are cognizant of going into the night. Last night Donald Trump attacked John Kasich at a rally in North Carolina, really for the first time that we've seen in his campaign.

They are wary about what could happen tonight on that debate stage. John Kasich was in pretty good numbers in Ohio right now challenging Trump. That will be something to keep an eye on as this debate plays out, Anderson.

COOPER: Right, we've seen different polls of Fox News poll shows Kasich ahead in Ohio. A CNN poll from yesterday and the kind Quinnipiac poll both showing Donald Trump up by 6 or 7 points. So a lot to -- an important night for John Kasich.

Thanks to each of our correspondents who are here with the candidates of course, they are expected on the debate stage in less than 15 minutes. Debate starts right at the top of the hour.

Now after last week's debate in Detroit, there is a lot of talk about bringing down the temperature for tonight's debate, bringing the rhetoric, talking that rhetoric with Chris Cuomo on the debate stage with that part of the story.

Is there any sense Chris, that the folks would like to see less personal attacks tonight, and is that even frankly possibly?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: I think the answer to both of questions is yes, Anderson is no question the campaigns, especially and their primary support at teams do want that, but for very different reasons.

John Kasich's team says we don't change, we've always been consistent. That's how we got where we are right. And we're building. So they want it to stay the same late.

[20:40:07] The Cruz campaign is saying they want a tone shift but it's because they believe that especially tonight, this could be their night that in points of contrast of policy, Ted Cruz can get the momentum that he needs.

From the Rubio camp, more of a negative influence. They do not believe it worked for them the last time. They're laying off some of the recent displays in the elections, the different cycle that they're in right now as a function of that. So they want Marco Rubio to get back to what they believe is his strongest suit, staying positive.

Trump supporter said something interesting. He wants to be presidential, but he said, "Don't forget who we're talking about. You mess with the bull, you get the horns."

COOPER: All right. Chris, thanks very much. And then Chris is going to be on the stage right after the debate ends to talk with the candidates. We look forward to that.

Gloria, John, let's bring them back in here. And the debate -- the hall is pretty much filled up. It's pretty much everybody is in place. There's a lot of anticipation, certainly. Anything else we should watch for?

BORGER: Well, I think, I think we all know Cruz is going to punch up. You know, the question is whether Trump is going to punch at all and punch down to Kasich.

And I heard Phil saying that the Kasich people are going to have the same game plan. Well, if they're attacked, as Trump has been attacking him as being an absentee Governor, others have attacked him as being a tax raiser, I think he has to fight back if he wants to win the State of Ohio and continue on in this race.

COOPER: He's been offered the chance a number of times in past debates to directly contradict or attack Donald Trump. He hasn't chosen to do, we'll see what happens tonight if he is attacked by Trump.

We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, the anticipation building. The chairman of the Republican National Committee will be talking to the audience and telling people to sit down right now. And then it's the candidates turn.

We're just moments away from the start of the Republican Presidential Debate live from the University of Miami.

We'll be right back.


[20:45:57] COOPER: Welcome back to campus of the University of Miami. The 12th Republican presidential debate is now just minutes away. The candidates will take the stage at 8:55, the debate will begin at 9:00 p.m., right now on the debate stage, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus.

REINCE PRIEBUS, THE CHAIRMAN OF THE REPUBLKICAN NATIONAL COMMITTE: We want to welcome you. We want to welcome you to the debate of our great party. The party of equality, the party of freedom, the party of opportunity, and I want to get something really clear, because there's have been a lot of talk about this.

This party is going to support the nominee, whoever that is, 100 percent. There is no question about that. And I want to -- what I want to do is explain that what's happening here is that these candidates are competing to see who is going to be the nominee that joins the Republican National Committee, the Republican Party, all of you, the conservatives, the Tea Party. There are entire wonderful group of people that are going to come together and unify in Cleveland and get behind that nominee.

That's what we do as Republicans. Can you at least agree with me, without question, that any one of these four gentlemen would be a world better than Hillary Clinton or a socialist in Bernie Sanders?

We have something to fight for. We're in a battle for freedom in this country. It's a same battle that founded this country, the same battle that James Madison reaffirmed in the Bill of Rights. The same battle that's founded our party, and here we are again together. And that's where we're going to end up together. So thank you very much. God bless you, and let's have a great debate.

COOPER: That's Reince Priebus, the chairman of the RNC. Let's bring back Gloria Borger and John King for quick final thought. Interesting message from him. It certainly trying to lay any concerns about when they happen to convention (ph).

KING: That the chairman of the Republican Party needs to state, we're all going to be behind the nominee, right. That that's an open question this far into the process after this many debates tells you everything you need to know. Because there are still candidates on that stage and there are still forces in the party who say we're going to try to block Donald Trump no matter what it takes and there are some people who say publicly, I will never support him if he's the nominee.

Reince Priebus as the chairman knows his party may fracture if what -- if the trajectory of Donald Trump continues. His party may yet fracture. He's trying to hold those pieces together. Good luck.

BORGER: Not only just people who say they won't support Donald Trump but the former Republican nominee for the presidency, Mitt Romney, has come out and said I will never support Donald Trump. So he had to do that tonight to sort of tell everyone we are going to be behind whomever it is. And the unspoken words were Donald Trump.

COOPER: It's interesting because we know even the candidates on that stage who have been hitting Donald Trump hard, they have said they will support Donald Trump if he is, in fact, the nominee.

KING: They have said that, but they've also said that until the very end. Essentially until the convention votes, they're going to do everything they can to throw themselves in front of the train. That's the big challenge tonight.

Can Donald Trump have a strong debate and a very good Tuesday and make the math so convincing that the air just comes out of the balloon. Or as Donald Trump gains strength does the anti-Trump movement, you know, gain energy even if it doesn't have momentum or math on its side.

I think there's a huge open question which is why this debate going into Tuesday, the stakes are enormous.

COOPER: Enormous stakes. A lot of tension. A lot of excitement about tonight. We'll be back, of course. John King, Gloria Borger. All our panelists, all our analysts and reporters will be back with me after the debate for complete analysis.

This debate is a two-hour debate. We'll be on from 11:00 p.m. to at least 1:00 a.m. and our coverage of course will continue throughout the night, and that longer with the entire team.

[20:50:03] When we come back, it is time the candidates will be introduced, take their places behind their podiums, and the debate will begin.

Jake Tapper is in the seat moderating tonight. He'll pick it up when we come back to the campus in the University of Miami, right after this short commercial break. Debate is next.