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Rubio Calling on Florida Voters; Kasich Continues to Hope for Win in Ohio; Big Day Tuesday Could Put Trump Nearly Over the Top; ; Dr. Ben Carson to Endorse Donald Trump Tomorrow Morning. Aired 11p- Midnight ET

Aired March 10, 2016 - 23:00   ET


[23:00:04] TED CRUZ (R-TX) REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In just a few months, one of us is going to stand on the debate stage with Hillary Clinton, and the choice we are making today is who will best defend our values; who will best defend your values and fight for you. I have to tell you I cannot wait to stand on that stage with Hillary Clinton and say, Madame Secretary, you are asking for a third-term of a failed administration. You are asking for millions more to remain in stagnant jobs, for millions more steelworkers to be out of a work, for wages to remain low, for young people not to have a future. We can do better. We can, instead, repeal Obamacare, abolish the IRS, unleash millions of jobs, defend the Bill of Rights, defend the Second Amendment, religious liberty, stand with our cops and our firefighters and our soldiers and we can keep America safe.

That's the choice I will put to her this Fall.


[Cheering and Applause]

DONALD TRUMP (R) REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you very much. The Republican Party has a great chance to embrace millions of people that it has never known before; they're coming by the millions. We should seize that opportunity. These are great people. These are fantastic people. These are people that love our country. These are people that want to see America be great again. These are people that will win us the election, and win it easily. These are people that once the election is won, will be able to put supreme court justices up that will do a fabulous job because, let me tell you, if we lose this election you're going to have three, four or maybe even five justices, and this country will never, ever recover. It will take centuries to recover. So I just say, embrace these millions of people that now, for the first time ever, love the Republican Party and unify. Be smart and unify.

[Cheering and Applause]

TAPPER: And that concludes this 12th Republican Presidential Debate. We want to thank the candidates, the Republican National Committee, the University of Miami, and, of course, each of you for watching. I'm Jake Tapper. Our coverage continues right now with Anderson Cooper. Anderson? ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Jake, thanks very much. Good evening,

again, from the University of Miami where the final republican debate, before a very big Super Tuesday, just wrapped up. The candidates, two of whom may have to make some very tough choices next week, have faced off 11 times before tonight; never quite this way. This was a very different debate than we've seen so far. We're expecting to speak shortly with the two front-runners in this race, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

Joining us tonight, CNN "Inside Politics" anchor, John King; Chief Political Analyst, Gloria Borger -- let's go to Chris Cuomo on the stage; Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: All right, Anderson, thank you very much.

Mr. Trump, we're hearing from everybody, including party officials, that it was a very different debate tonight. Again, from officials, saying they think it was probably the most substantive, --

TRUMP: I think so.

CUOMO: -- the least sniping; -

TRUMP: True.

CUOMO: -- what was your take?

TRUMP: I thought it was a very elegant debate. I thought it was very substantive and I thought it was a really -- I think your folks did a great job. I thought it was very fair and we needed this kind of a debate. We needed this kind of a tone and I'm glad it took place tonight.

CUOMO: Do you think it played to your advantage?

TRUMP: I think so. I mean, look, the other is the -- if somebody hits, you hit back and I think that's true in life. That's true in running countries. It's true in running businesses, but I just found this to be a very elegant evening and everybody did a very good job.

CUOMO: One of the questions is what would happen if it were you versus Ted Cruz, one-on-one? When you're up there on the debate stage listening to him make the case, you making your own, how was your confidence level, in

terms of how it would go, you against him?

TRUMP: Well I think it would go very well. I mean, we're doing very well against Ted right now. As you know, we're leading. We have a lot more people voting for Trump than voting for Ted. But I like Ted and I think we all did a good job tonight. I thought it was actually terrific and very different because it has really been harsh. I like that also but I think there was something -- we were ready for this kind of an evening.

CUOMO: There were a couple of points of contrast up there on the stage tonight. One was what was, I guess, you could basically call it the all versus some argument regarding Islam. You, as you remember, spoke to Anderson and you said there's a hatred coming from Islam towards the United States.

TRUMP: No doubt about it.

CUOMO: The criticism is, but not from all Muslims but from some. You understand the sensitivity to it?

TRUMP: Sure.

CUOMO: You call it political correctness.

TRUMP: Always some.

CUOMO: But the counter is that it's just correctness.

TRUMP: It's there. It's there.

CUOMO: What do you want to say now?

TRUMP: I don't want to say anything now. I've answered the question; I've answered it many times. There is a great hatred and we have to get to the bottom of it.

[23:05:03] CUOMO: The concern is that you wind up painting with too broad a brush. You've said in the past that you hire Muslims, you have Muslim friends.

TRUMP: I do.

CUOMO: You're not saying they're part of the hatred, right?

TRUMP: I do, but there's a lot of -- you look at the mosques and you go to various places and look at what's going on there and it's virtually 100%. Certainly you can say radical Islam is a disaster right now. It's causing tremendous problems worldwide, not just here. But the question was asked about Islam and there is a great hatred, there's no question about it.

CUOMO: One of the people up on the stage with you tonight said it makes an environment around the world where Muslims feel that the United States has antipathy towards them, has negativity towards them.

TRUMP: We're just going to have to run our place. We have a country - we have a country with a lot of problems, a lot of debt, a lot of weakened military. We have so many different problems right now; we're just going to have to do our thing. But the question was asked to me and, I'll tell you what, you probably heard the audience. The audience was, and I don't do it for the audience. I don't care, in terms of doing it for the audience, and I'm not doing it to be incorrect, politically, but there is animosity like I've never seen before and hopefully we can straighten it out.

CUOMO: You weren't allowed to tweet while you were up there because you were busy. So I want to let you know that Hillary Clinton, during the debate, put out a tweet saying that condoning any kind of violence, in any way that happens, is wrong, essentially. You can read it for yourself, but what's your response to that?

TRUMP: Well I think -

CUOMO: Basically she's referring to what was mentioned during the debate, that you had a lot of violence --

TRUMP: Sure. Sure. She's a political person, and she's doing the best she can, but she will be defeated. This is not what our country needs. If we have four years of Hillary Clinton, our country will go so low that it never will recover.

CUOMO: What do you think should happen next?

TRUMP: Well, I don't know. Someone said we should do more debates. I think we've had enough with the debates; wouldn't you say? I've had enough with the debates.

CUOMO: No; we love them.

TRUMP: You love them because of the ratings.

CUOMO: More, more, more.

TRUMP: The ratings are very good.

CUOMO: Well it's great for the people.

TRUMP: I can tell you, Anderson, last night, got very, very good ratings. We're very happy for him. I don't know if it helps me but he certainly got very good ratings. No, but I think they want to do two more debates, and I guess I'm pretty much okay with it.

CUOMO: What happens in Florida?

TRUMP: It's going to be a race. I have a very great stake in Florida, I have thousands of employees in Florida. I love the state, it's my second home. I think we're going to do very well in Florida.

CUOMO: There's a bunch of people behind you right now.

TRUMP: That's all right, they like Florida, too.

CUOMO: They want your attention. Mr. Trump, thank you. Appreciate it.

TRUMP: Thank you.

CUOMO: Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: All right, Chris. Donald Trump, thanks very much. Again, we're waiting to hear shortly from Ted Cruz, who is going to be talking to our Wolf Blitzer. We're back with the panel, some very quick introductions: John King, Gloria Borger, Michael Smerconish and our political commentators, to my left, Amanda Carpenter, Jeffrey Lord, S.E. Cupp. Jeffrey's a Trump supporter. Amanda's a former Cruz communications director and S.E. is a conservative columnist.

Let's start right to left, John King, what did you make of tonight? Very substantive; very not a lot of sniping.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Every candidate trying to do what they think was their job coming into tonight (1) Donald Trump gets the moment. Like him or not, he understands if he has a big day Tuesday the math is heavily in his favor. He's trying to tell the republican establishment stop fighting me and join me; Kasich playing straight to Ohio, an economic message, an optimistic message; Ted Cruz talking to the republican base saying you better rally around me or you're going to get him; and, Marco Rubio I think taking a big step to restoring his reputation as a young, upcoming leader in the party who talks generationally about the next generation, and is that enough to win Florida? Who knows.

COOPER: Gloria Borger?

GLORIA BORGER: CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well I think that the argument that has resonance that Trump made over and over again tonight was I know the system and I'm the only one who can fix it because I was a part of it. I was an insider and now I'm an outsider. That was a key message of his, which we've heard over and over again, and it clearly is something he knows is working for him. I also wondered for him who is this guy?

COOPER: Right.

BORGER: This guy on the stage tonight was very different and it's clear that someone's gotten to him and said, okay, you need to start acting presidential. The questions were substantive and he responded that way, as did the other candidate.

COOPER: He may also feel a level of confidence -

BORGER: That's right.

COOPER: -- that he doesn't need to directly even engage. He can kind of let them try to swat him -

BORGER: Right.

COOPER: -- and he'll just sort of stick with his lines.

BORGER: Cruz was engaging most directly.

KING: Read his book, "The Art of the Deal." He sort of bullied his way to the deal. He's walked away. He's come back. He's walked away. He's come back. Now he thinks he's on the verge of the deal? He's going to be gentle and try to close it. This is the shake your hand moment.

BORGER: Right.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There's an expression in sports, running out the clock, which refers to somebody who's in the lead just wanting time to expire. That's the impression that I got from Donald Trump tonight. He thinks he's got this thing won. The status quo is satisfactory to him and he hopes this is the way it ends. Dare I see he was deliberately low energy.

I have to say among the four of them, I thought the individual who had the best night, I don't know that it matters much, was Marco Rubio. I agree with John. I think he's now playing for legacy, not for victory; but, if he ekes [23:10:02] out a victory in Florida, it does upset Donald Trump's trajectory to 1237.

COOPER: And Marco Rubio, clearly focusing on Florida as much as possible tonight. The story about the man in Florida who sits outside with the sign for Rubio, other stories from Florida.

AMANDA CARPENTER, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, TED CRUZ CAMPAIGN: Marco Rubio was playing it very safe tonight. I think he is in legacy mode at this point. The thing that's really interesting for me is that, yes, Donald Trump was low energy but what happens to his supporters when he's not provocative anymore? This is what they love about him. What happens if Donald Trump becomes boring? So I think he was saying --

BORGER: There's always tomorrow.

CARPENTER: -- that I've got this wrapped up -

JEFFREY LORD, TRUMP SUPPORTER: There's always tomorrow (inaudible).

CARPENTER: -- I don't need to campaign anymore? Meanwhile Ted Cruz was using every question to turn it and say look at me and Donald Trump, how we're different and also, Donald Trump is just like Hillary Clinton and I'm the only one that can beat them both.

COOPER: It was interesting to hear, I think it was Marco Rubio saying, the numbers don't add up. The numbers don't add up, which also, frankly, was something the moderators were pointing out. I don't know how effective that really was, and it may be too little too late.

LORD: Yeah, I think it is. I think we've reached that point. What he's doing here is, as they say in baseball, batting clean-up. He talked about the supreme court. He sounded like Ted Cruz. He also said, "I like Ted". The whole tone was different. He specifically said, you know, I'm not condoning the violence at the rallies, et cetera. I mean, he went out of his way to say these things. He's a different -- not different. I think this was always there with him, but now, having gotten his way to the top, you know, now it's time for unity.

COOPER: It was interesting when Jake Tapper followed up, about the violence at rallies, with specific things that Donald Trump himself has said, that some would argue actually incites it or encourages it or sort of gives license to it, he switched the topic to supporting police and the importance of being respectful of police and supporting police. S.E. CUPP, CONSERVATIVE COLUMNIST: Yes, he totally ignored that

question, completely pivoted off of it. I think it's fascinating that a day after a Trump supporter punches a protester at one of his rallies, he, at the

end of this debate, calls for unity; just amazing.

And you saw the other candidates playing to this unspoken new rule where they're going to be polite. There was a moment where Marco Rubio was talking about Donald Trump's position on Israel and he said, "I don't think this is what you intended, Donald, but here's what this sounds --." I mean, that is just -- it doesn't get any nicer than that.

LORD: We're a long way from small hands.

CUPP: Yes, I mean, it doesn't get any nicer. So clearly they've all decided, they all agree that after the Detroit debate debacle, they need -- it's better for all of them, and the party and, you know, the entire election to take a more grown-up tone.

KING: That's the moment, though. Jeffrey said we're at this point; nobody knows if we're at that point. I get we could be at that point but we're not going to know that until midnight Tuesday when we're counting -

[Cross Talk]

KING - when they have all the votes in and they now that. If Rubio wins Florida and Kasich wins Ohio, we're in a brave new world.

CUPP: Right.

KING: Then the Trump movement has a chance; and then we're going state by state and then we might be going to an open convention. But they don't know that. They know the GOP broadly. All of them took a beating after the last couple of debates. So they wanted a let's restore the brand. Then we'll see what happens Tuesday. Then we'll decide if we have to go back into the gutter again.

BORGER: By the way, Trump said the person who is ahead, as you head to the convention, ought to be the person who gets the nomination. I think he made that very clear.

SMERCONISH: Interestingly, tonight, to warm up the crowd, before your cameras were turned on, Reince Priebus came out and did his standard speech. But, the first thing he said is I want to assure this crowd we are 100-percent behind whoever emerges.

COOPER: Let's go to Wolf Blitzer, standing by with Senator Ted Cruz; Wolf?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Anderson. Senator Cruz, thanks very much for joining us.

CRUZ: Good to be with you.

BLITZER: Much more respectful, much more peaceful. No interrupting tonight. What happened?

CRUZ: I thought we had a great debate tonight. I was glad to see that there wasn't the personal insults, the attacks that have been at the previous debates. You know, I think voters are at a point where they're making

serious decisions and they want to see real contrast between the candidates, contrast in terms of policy, contrast in terms of vision, contrast in terms of solutions. I think tonight gave those contrasts.

BLITZER: Were there sort of instructions going in: don't interrupt each other, don't get into fights, be much more respectful, let the other guy make his point then you'll have a chance to make your point?

CRUZ: Look, the last couple of debates we saw two of the candidates on stage really getting nasty and insulting each other, getting into each other's body parts, and things that just, frankly, had no business on the debate stage. I think everyone got weary of it. That's something I've tried to stay out of from the beginning, but I was glad to see that instead of talking about the insult of the day, we were talking about foreign policy; we were talking about economic policy; we were talking about the things we should be talking about.

BLITZER: What's biggest issue that emerged from this debate tonight that differentiates you from Donald Trump?

[23:15:00] CRUZ: I think we heard Donald say a number of times that nobody knows the system better than he does, and he's right. Donald Trump is the system. He is Washington. He is big business. My focus is very different. My focus is on the little the guy. My focus is on small businesses. My focus is on the single moms and the student and the steelworkers and the people who are getting hammered right now. It was really striking in the whole back and forth, Donald talked all the time about how he would cut deals, how he would abuse the immigration laws and hire people illegally or bring in foreign workers because it helped him. He would talk about supporting the liberal democrats, supporting the Washington establishment because it helped him and helped big business. I think what people are looking for is someone that actually stands with the people against Washington and really fights for jobs and economic growth.

BLITZER: You heard him announce that Dr. Ben Carson will endorse him tomorrow morning. Were you trying to get Dr. Carson's endorsement?

CRUZ: Ben Carson is someone I like and respect. He's a very good man. I congratulate Donald on getting that support. This is now an election being decided by the voters. I'll tell you, actually, the last couple of

days I was very pleased to get the support of Carly Fiorina and Senator Mike Lee and Mark Levin, all in the last 24 hours have endorsed our campaign. So as it is becoming more and more a two-man race, and I think for the voters, for anyone that has a path to the nomination, if is effectively a two-man race, you're going to see people dividing it up, and it's going to be the voters who decides. BLITZER: On the issue of destroying ISIS, you heard Donald Trump say he's open to send 20,000 troops to kill ISIS. Are you ready to send 20,000 U.S. troops in there to try and destroy ISIS?

CRUZ: Wolf, we should do whatever is need to destroy ISIS, but, as I mentioned, there are a lot of tools we haven't used yet. We haven't used overwhelming airpower. We haven't been arming the Kurds. Typically, when you're engaging, you use the tools you have and boots on the ground are the last steps but that needs to be driven by the military expertise, not by politicians, either trying to act tough or not.

BLITZER: If the military says you as commander-in-chief, 20,000 troops, you send them to Raqqah, you send them to Mosul. You've got to go out there and, on the ground, airpower alone won't do it, will you send those troops in?

CRUZ: Absolutely yes; but here are the principles we follow: if we need to use military force, and with ISIS we do, we should use overwhelming force. We should kill the enemy and then we should get the heck out. We shouldn't be staying for decades and trying to turn Iraq or Syria into Switzerland. But we need to do everything necessary to utterly destroy ISIS. That's what I'll do as commander- in-chief.

BLIZER: I want you to clarify one comment you made that's generating a lot of commotion out there. You told this to David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network, you said, "Donald Trump does well with voters who have relatively low information." A lot of those voters, millions of them out there, think that was an insult. What did you mean by at that?

CRUZ: Well, look; maybe I should have used a different term. Donald himself brags about, I think his words were, he loves the poorly educated and talks about he could go out on Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and it wouldn't lose him any support. The point I was making is the people what are supporting Donald are angry. They're angry at the corruption in Washington. They're angry at the politicians who haven't been telling them the truth. They're angry at politicians who have been supporting the big money interests over the interests of men and women in the country.

But what we've seen is when they learn more about Donald's records, they discover he's been doing everything he's been doing everything they're angry about. That he is Washington, Donald is the system. So what we see - let's take, for example, the state of Louisiana; it is a good example. Donald won the early vote in Louisiana. But as we did a better job of communicating Donald's record and my record, we won on election day with those same voters because they realize if you want someone to take on Washington, you got to ask who has taken on Washington and I've done that over and over again. Donald has never once shown the courage to take on the special interest. I think the people who are supporting him, when they discover that, they don't end up staying and supporting him.

BLITZER: Are you going to win any of these five states on Tuesday? CRUZ: Well I certainly hope so. We're competing in all of them and what we are seeing happen is, we're seeing republicans uniting behind our campaign, those who doesn't want to see Donald as the nominee. if we nominate Donald, Hillary Clinton wins. So we are seeing supporters who have been with Marco Rubio, have been with John Kasich, who have been with Ben Carson or Carly Fiorina or others, coming together and uniting with us and we are welcoming others to our team. It's one reason we've had eight big victories already and we look forward, hopefully, to a lot more.

BLITZER: Senator Cruz, thanks very much.

CRUZ: Thank you.

BLITZER: Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: Wolf, thanks very much. Thanks to Senator Cruz as well. We're here, back with our panel in the Spin Room, where candidates are starting to filter in after this debate. I want to play one of the important moments in [23:20:02] the last debate that we just saw. Donald Trump asked about the convention, about basically what will happen, about it being in his opinion a two-person race heading toward the convention. Let's watch.


TRUMP: First of all, I think I'm going to have the delegates; okay? I think. Let's see what happens.

[Cheering and Applause]

TRUMP: But if somebody doesn't have the delegates, and I guess there's two of us here that can and two of us that cannot at this moment, but -- no, by the way, that is not meant to be a criticism. That's just a mathematical fact; okay?

If two of us get up there, I would say this: if Marco, if the Governor, if Ted had more votes than me, in the form of delegates, I think whoever gets to the top position, as opposed to resolving that artificial number that was set by somebody, which is a very random number, I think that whoever gets the most delegates should win. That's what I think.

CRUZ: If there are only two of us that have a path to winning the nomination, Donald and myself, at this point I have roughly 360 delete, he has about 100 more than I have. We have at this point beaten Donald in eight separate states all over the country, geographically from Maine to Alaska, from Kansas to Texas, all over this country we have beaten him. So, for the people at home, if you're one of the 65 or 70-percent of republicans who recognizes that if we nominate Donald Trump, Hillary wins, that's why the media wants him to be the nominee so much. If you recognize that, then I want to invite you, if you've supported other candidates, come and join us.

TRUMP: I listen and I watch Ted, on television when he speaks, and he's always saying I'm the only one that beat Donald in six contests and I beat him, but I beat him in 13 contests. He never mentions that.

[Cheering and Applause]


COOPER: Just one of the moments. I mean, clearly Donald Trump -- go ahead.

SMERCONISH: Smart on his part because if it goes to a convention and someone doesn't have 1237, he's not the one coming out with the endorsement of the party, with the nomination. So he's conceded absolutely nothing and appeared fair all at the same time.

BORGER: And, you know, smart of Cruz tonight also, in Wolf's interview, because he just wants to make this a two-man race; period. He's not paying attention to anybody else on that stage. For Cruz and Rubio, who were battling it out for such a long time, it was as if Rubio did not exist for Ted Cruz on that stage tonight. He only had eyes for Donald Trump. If he's - he's talking to the Stop Trump Movement saying you need to coalesce around me, Ted Cruz, and he's telling Donald Trump I'm not going away any time soon and its clear Trump gets that.

KING: And yet, he's right. Ted Cruz has a powerful argument to make right now -


KING: -- that it's a two-man race because Trump has his delegates, Cruz is about a hundred behind and then Marco Rubio is way back. However, we have five states that vote on Tuesday. Where is Ted Cruz going to win? He's not going to win Florida. He's not going to win Ohio. Is he going to win Missouri or North Carolina or Illinois? If he doesn't, and let's say if Trump runs the board, game over conversations are going to start, and I don't know where the nevertrump math goes then, maybe Neverland. But, if Rubio wins and Kasich wins, or just one of them wins, and Cruz wins nothing, he will still be second in the delegates but he will just have gotten spanked in some pretty big important states and we will look across the South and have no Ted Cruz wins in the places where evangelical and Tea Party voters are. So his argument gets very weakened Tuesday if the other guys win and he doesn't.

COOPER: And, of course, the question is, did Marco Rubio do enough on that stage tonight to reverse the collapse that we have seen from him. We're going to be speaking to Senator Marco Rubio after the break. We'll be right back.

(Commercial Break)

COOPER: We're back; after the final debate, before two key winner- take-all primary on Tuesday in the home states of John Kasich and, of course, Marco Rubio, which is the state of Florida. Marco Rubio happens to be sitting right now next to our Wolf Blitzer. Let's go to Wolf. BLITZER: Anderson, thank you. Senator Rubio, thanks very much for joining us. Much more civilized today. No personal attacks. What happened?

MARCO RUBIO (R-FL) REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, first of all, I think it's great to see (inaudible) U.S. policy questions. A lot of those attacks come from when they say so-and-so said this about you, how do you respond. So, I think there's a lot of credit to CNN that goes into that, number one. I think, number two, I think the voters deserve that kind of debate. We haven't had a substantive debate like that in quite a while, and it's important to really dig deep on these issues, and there were contrasts tonight on that stage, but they were policy contrasts and that was a real service to the voters and the viewers that were watching.

BLITZER: You were blunt the other day, I think yesterday, in acknowledging that you shouldn't have gone down to that personal level -


BLITZER: -- in that last debate, the debate before, and you even you're your kids were embarrassed.

RUBIO: They were; and I'll never do that again. Again, Donald deserves criticism on all the other issues, regarding Trump University and all that is fair game and that needs to be examined and I don't back off of that at all, but when it comes to some of the personal stuff, I regret doing that very much and I'll never do that again.

BLITZER: Do you think that hurt you, in terms of -

RUBIO: I don't know. It doesn't matter politically. I can just tell you, I don't think it was a good reflection of my faith and what it teaches me and how I need to live and it's not the kind of candidate I want to be. More importantly, my kids and my wife were not happy about it either, and rightfully so.

[23:30:03] BLITZER: What did they say to you?

MARCO RUBIO (R-FL) REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They were just embarrassed by it. Again, I'll --

BLITZER: Whose idea was it to do that?

RUBIO: I don't think it was an idea. I think it was me responding to insults that he had made, but I just - look, I'm never going back into that gutter again. It really -- from now on, our campaign is going to be about what I've always wanted it to be about, and what's been about the whole time but for, you know, one day I guess.

BLITZER: Yes; well, this was a really substantive, important debate on the critically most important issues and I think all of us were pleased by that. What was the biggest issue, from your perspective, that makes you more qualified to be president than the three others? RUBIO: Well first of all, I think on the issue of social security, have you heard the question that was asked? Donald's not - the numbers just don't add up. I mean, you can't just say I'm going to save social security by going against fraud and abuse and foreign aid. The numbers aren't there. I think if you're running for president, you're the frontrunner of the party, by the way, you have a real obligation to have an answer about that question. The Democrats will make mincemeat out of you if you don't, and, of course, the country deserves better. So I think that, in and of itself, was a very important question and one that was answered tonight, on my part, that he did not. So I thought that was a real moment, I hope, voters will focus in on.

BLITZER: Do you think he's qualified, Donald Trump, to be commander- in-chief?

RUBIO: I don't believe he is at this moment. Obviously anyone can learn and change overtime but I don't believe he's qualified to be commander-in-chief on day one. I think you saw that here tonight, as well, on the issues of foreign policy. He's talking about a deal with Cuba as it if it's a real estate deal that they're going to sue us on; or on Israel, where I don't think he realizes that his position is anti-Israel. It is my sincere and deep belief, and I know this to be true, that if, in fact, pressure Israel to a negotiating table it weakens them in the region and actually emboldens their enemies.

So I thought those things tonight, I think it evidenced a true lack of foreign policy understanding and, you know, voters are should care about that a lot because your commander-in-chief, on day one, -- you can always reverse domestic policy, but if you make a mistake in foreign policy, the consequences are grave.

BLITZER: I suspect you still believe you can win in your home state of Florida on Tuesday?

RUBIO: Oh, we're going to win. We are, and I think one of the reasons why is because, for example, a growing number of voters now recognize -- there are people in Florida that like Kasich and they like Ted Cruz; but I'm the only one that can beat Donald Trump in Florida. So even people watching in Florida that like Ted Cruz or John Kasich, if you vote for them in Florida, you're voting Donald Trump. The majority of Floridians do not want Donald Trump to be our nominee. I'm just saying vote strategically on that. Now we've got, obviously, a lot of supporters, ourselves. They all have to come out and vote, but if you're a vote of John Kasich or Ted Cruz, a vote for them in Florida is going to be, in effect, a vote for Donald Trump.

BLITZER: John Kasich says if he loses his home state of Ohio, on Tuesday, he's out of this race. If you lose Florida next Tuesday, are you be out of the race?

RUBIO: Well I won't put it that way. What I'll say to you is, I believe Republican nominee needs to win Florida. I believe the winner of the Florida Primary will be the republican nominee and I'm in this race to be the nominee. So I intend to win Florida and then we'll make decisions after that. But my intention is to win in Florida; we already have events scheduled, moving forward, into Utah and Arizona. We have great teams there on the ground.

We're going to win Florida. It's going to be tough. It's going to be close. It's going to be a lot of hard work but this state, I know - you know, this state believed in me five years ago and I'm asking them to believe in me again and we'll turn this country around, and they will. They will vote for me.

BLITZER: Senator Rubio, thanks very much for joining us.

RUBIO: Thank you.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much. You have a beautiful state here. Miami is a great city, too.

RUBIO: It sure is.

BLITER: Sunlen Serfaty is joining us right now. Sunlen, you've got John Kasich with you.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf; I'm here with the Ohio Governor, fresh off the debate stage. Sir, we're interested to know your impressions about the tone tonight. Do you feel that other candidates were picking up a page from your playbook?

JOHN KASICH (R-OH) REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It sort of looked that way, and thank goodness. I think it was very good to be able to have a long policy discussion, and it's something that I've been trying to do the entire campaign and maybe we nudged them over that way. I don't want to - I don't know. I just worked out, I think, in a more positive way than the back and forth and the negative. It doesn't serve us.

SERFATY: Much has been said that you needed a real breakout moment on the debate stage tonight. do you feel that you made that happen and is it enough?

KASICH: Well I don't know who would say -- nobody looks at these debates as some do-or-die kind of thing. I think I did really well and we're going to win Ohio and we're rising all across the country and everything is working in the right direction. I mean, I think those comments are just hyperbole by people who get paid to speak a lot on the air; but I didn't have to have any breakout moment. Everything -- every time we have a debate it's got to be a breakout moment. I'm doing just -- I'm doing really, really well and we're gaining and growing and it's exciting.

SERFATY: The math though is not on your side. You spoke on the debate stage about math. That is an important dynamic to this going forward. What happens next?

KASICH: Well, look, I mean, half the delegates are yet to be selected. Period, half of them; and by the time we get to the convention and by the time we leave, I'll have enough delegates to be the nominee of the republican party. Why? Experience. Record. Vision and the ability to articulate all that and understand people's challenges and help them to overcome them. SERFATY: If you don't win Ohio, I know you've predicted you will win Ohio but if you do not, have you given serious thought what comes next?

[23:35:01] KASICH: Well I'm going to win Ohio, so there's no reason to give it serious thought. I'll see you on Tuesday night out there.

SERFATY: What is your mindset this week? How pivotal is it to your campaign?

KASICH: Ohio? Oh, it's absolutely critical. Ohio is critical. We're rising everywhere. We're getting good crowds. Fundraising is up. I mean, people are endorsing. It's been really, really great and it's been happening now for the last couple of weeks. Guess what? I'm finally starting to get time on the debate stage. I don't have to fight for every second that I get and it's working out great.

SERFATY: You met with Governor Jeb Bush. Tell me about that meeting.

KASICH: We had a nice conversation. We talked about golf. We talked about his family. We talked about politics and that's all I'm going to tell you.

SERFATY: Did you ask for his endorsement?

KASICH: I'm not going to get in to what I did. I had a nice meeting with Jeb and it was great to see him.

SERFATY: And going forward, regardless of what happens in Ohio, you will be inevitably asked about vice presidential -

KASICH: Why would I - you have too negative of an attitude here tonight. I'm going to be the nominee. Are you available for vice president?

SERFATY: But this certainly a do or die situation -

KASICH: What state are you from?

SERFATY: -- for you.

KASICH: Everything is a do-or-die. Tonight was do-or-die. Everything isn't do-or-die. The fact of the matter is we're doing fine. I'm going to win Ohio. It's going to be a whole new ball game, and we'll be traveling all across this country. At the end of the day I'll have the delegates to be the nominee; okay?

SERFATY: Thank you, governor.

KASICH: Thank you.

SERFATY: So some big predictions from him there. Anderson, back to you.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: All right; Sunlen, thanks very much for that. Let's talk more with our panel. John King, it was very interesting to hear Marco Rubio saying -- he wouldn't say that he would drop out if he didn't win Florida, but he said the person who wins Florida will be the republican nominee.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We'll see if he takes it back Wednesday morning, if he doesn't win Florida; but implicit in what he was saying was that if I win I think I'll be the nominee; but if Donald Trump wins, he's the nominee.

COOPER: Right.

KING: There's no other way to take that sentence. Now, again, every now and again politicians have to revise and extend, if you will, but we'll see.

COOPER: Is that true?

KING: But, look, he gets it. There may be pressure on Marco Rubio. If Donald Trump wins here and wins in Ohio -- or wins four of the five, plus the Northern Marana Islands votes -- we didn't mention that?

But the nevertrump math gets really hard because even if Ted Cruz is in a one-on-one with Donald Trump, if Donald Trump has a big delegate lead and if he sweeps the board on Tuesday, he'll be close to 700 delegates, if he runs it up on Tuesday. Then, in a one-on-one race, they're not all winner-take-all. So Ted Cruz might beat Donald Trump somewhere 55-45, Donald Trump will still get delegates. So there will be some people saying we need a third or fourth candidate.

Now, if you've just lost your home state and you're third or fourth and way behind in the delegate chase, pride and smarts probably tells you to pack it in and go home and prepare for the next chapter but there might be some pressure on these guys to please stay in. I suspect they'll say no, but we'll see.

COOPER: But, Gloria, to hear Marco Rubio also saying to the people in Florida, look, even if you like Ted Cruz -


COOPER: -- even if you like John Kasich, --

BORGER: Exactly.

COOPER: -- don't vote for them this time. Vote for them later on, but don't vote for them this time because that's a vote for Donald Trump.

BORGER: Right, I -

COOPER: Vote for me and I'll keep it all going.

BORGER: I mean, he was basically saying to people, look, you're voting for Trump if you do that. And if you don't like Donald Trump -- COOPER: It's an interesting argument he's making.

BORGER: Well, it's his last argument.

COOPER: Right.

KING: Or his only argument.

BORGER: It's the last, best argument that he has and he just made it. I thought he had a great debate tonight.

KING: A strong night.

BORGER: I thought -- he said I don't believe in political correctness; I believe in being correct. That was a great line for him, and he's substantive. I think all of the folks on the stage decided, finally, after you saw candidate after candidate drop trying to attack Donald Trump, that it really -- it's about time to give it up because it was only hurting them and even when Donald Trump said, and I circled it and wrote it down, that he used the visa, you know, the H-1B visa for foreign workers, he said, "I use it. I shouldn't be allowed to use it. It's very bad for workers, but I use it." And nobody jumped down his throat on that.

COOPER: Right.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In the same way that you had Marco Rubio saying this is why you need to vote for me, even if you're for Ted Cruz, I've been really interested to see how often callers to my radio program, in this cycle, are engaged in strategic voting.

COOPER: Right.

SMERCONISH: They're not necessarily voting for the candidate of their choice but they're being very methodical. It's like a chess match.

COOPER: Interesting.

AMANDA CARPENTER, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, TED CRUZ CAMPAIGN: This whole idea of strategic voting, I don't just don't buy. I don't think it's ever works. I don't think it ever has worked. There's a saying, if you're talking about process, you're losing. If you're trying to get voters to buy into this convoluted process, you are losing.

COOPER: We've got to - actually, let's go back to Wolf, who has the moderators from tonight. Wolf?

BLITZER: Anderson, thanks very much. The moderator Jake Tapper is with us, along with questioners Dana Bash and Hugh Hewitt. Guys, all three of you did an excellent, excellent job.

Jake, it was a really substantive, important debate and they didn't interrupt each other. I think they listened to your warning, at the beginning, when you said, don't talk over each other. What happened? How come they were so, "nice"? JAKE TAPPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Clearly they were afraid of me. Clearly they were terrified.


[23:40:01] DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Why do you think I'm sitting on this side of the chair here?

TAPPER: They knew I would bring down the hammer. I think we're at a point in the presidential race where the candidates realized, after the last debate, Fox News Debate, where they were comparing the sizes of their manhood's and such, and interrupting each other quite a bit, that perhaps what they were doing on the stage was not good for the Republican Party, and not good for themselves, as potential presidential candidates -- or presidential nominees. So I think all of them came ready for a more substantive debate.

Now we brought up areas of disagreement, and there were certainly areas where they were criticizing each other, but they just generally were more civil. And, as a general note, we came wanting to really get into some issues and talk about some of the substantive issues that the American people want to us ask about.

BLITZER: And you really did. Were you surprised that they were so polite? What were you expecting in other words?

TAPPER: I didn't know what to expect, but I'll tell you, and you know this, because when we prepare for these debates we do mock debates with our amazing CNN political team playing the roles of different candidates and going through all the questions, figuring out what works and what doesn't work. we mocked -- every mock debate we had, the candidates were much more energetic, let's say, and they were much more substantive and civil than we prepared for, which was nice, which was a pleasant surprise.

BLITZER: Donald Trump did not back away from the comments he made about Islam to Anderson Cooper. I thought he might revise them a little bit but he did not seem to.

TAPPER: He did not seem to.

BASH: He didn't at all.

TAPPER: No, he doubled down, if anything, and there was some applause for him here and he was - you know, obviously the other three republican candidates disagreed with him and expressed their strong disagreement.

BLITZER: Dana, you spoke to all of the candidates about social security, especially here in Florida, where Social Security is so important to so many of the people who live in Florida.

BASH: Sure.

BLITZER: There were nuances. There were significant differences that came through. It was a very substantive discussion. Your thoughts? BASH: There were big differences, especially between Donald Trump and Marco Rubio, for example, on whether or not benefits need to be cut and whether or not the retirement age needs to be raised. You heard Donald Trump, even though in the past he's actually said that the retirement age should go up to 70, he wrote that in his book in 2000, he doesn't anymore. Those are substantive differences. I think that's a great example of how they got it. They saw the reaction to the last couple of times they've been together on the stage and, as you said, it not just on the party. It clearly did not reflect well on people like Marco Rubio, and to a lesser extent Ted Cruz. They were - they were not in agreement. I mean, they were definitely disagreeing, but they were doing so in a way that kind of allowed their positions to get out there and not be lost in the yelling and screaming and interrupting other, which is nice for viewers and voters.

BLITZER: Hugh, you had a discussion on Donald Trump's very controversial comment that he wants to be neutral in order to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement if he were president of the united - very sensitive issue and you heard the other three candidates go after him on that.

HUGH HEWITT, CONSERVATIVE RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Taylor Force came up, the American graduate of West Point who was murdered in Tel Aviv on Monday. That sparked a conversation among the candidates.

I want to go back to something Jake said. I'm not a CNN'er. So I can say this, and you guys don't have to pat yourself on the back, the amount of preparation that's gone into these four debates, the two that you've moderated, Wolf, and the two that you've done, Jake, and four that my new best friend, Dana, has sat next to me telling me things about, your political team is extraordinarily fair and well prepared, --

BASH: Amen!

HEWITT: -- and it showed tonight in the depth of the question, the backup, no one challenged a fact. They did not want to come in for a food fight, they wanted that. Every one of them have said thank you for a substantive discussion.

BASH: Right.

HEWITT: And I bet you Tim Russert is smiling because of Dana's conversation about Social Security and I think it's a model of how a little bit more time, 75 seconds I think, made a huge difference here to the candidate, so they were not, in fact, rushing. Actually a couple of them added a couple of things going forward. I actually don't have any idea who won. it the best seat in the house. It's the worst seat in the house to judge.

TAPPER: You're in such a bubble, -- you know this. You're in such a bubble you have no idea how it's going, how it's being received. I really --

BLITZER: I think it's being received very, very well. It was an excellent debate, very substantive. You're a conservative radio talk show host.

HEWITT: Right.

BLITZER: How are your colleagues, conservative radio talk show hosts, you think, going to react to this debate?

HEWITT: Very well. I think they will go right into the depths of the distinctions that were carved out on social security, on Israel, on global warming, where Jake asked about the Mayor of Miami specifically, and followed up to John Kasich on common core, where Jake pressed on that and there were [23:45:01] disagreements among them. Conservatives who don't know who they're going to vote for have a lot of reasons to make that decision based upon tonight. They can actually watch this debate and make a decision. Amen!

BASH: Can I just say one thing, because I was with you on the debate stage two weeks ago when Marco Rubio surprised all of us by going pretty bonkers on Donald Trump -

BLITZER: And he apologized; you heard him just now again apologize.

BASH: -- two weeks ago. Right, but he continued to do that after the debate. It was full force, not just on substance but of course with some pretty personal attacks, to say the least, and the way that he went off brand because he was the optimistic candidate, the policy candidate, the I'm not going to get into this personal attack situation candidate so much and the way that he has gone all the way, kind of, back full circle in just two weeks because it didn't work.

BLITZER: And I think -

BASH: It did not work because he wasn't being true to the kind of candidate he has been and the way people perceived him. And so he didn't do well last election day and he didn't even get any delegates and the time before that. So it just shows how candidates, when they try to be somebody that they're not, it doesn't always work.

HEWITT: I think that Marco Rubio helped himself in Florida tonight. John Kasich helped himself in Ohio and Ted Cruz helped himself in Missouri and North Carolina and Donald Trump's people are happy with Donald Trump. I don't know who won.

BLITZER: Probably all four of them - I suspect - I don't know if they said anything to you during the commercial breaks or afterwards, but probably all four of them emerged relatively happy.

TAPPER: I think that they were happy about a substantive debate and one that had a civil tone. I think they were. Now, they should be thanking themselves to a degree because they're the ones that brought the civil tone.

BLITZER: You did an excellent job. all of you did an excellent job.

TAPPER: You did an excellent, excellent job. You're taking back --

BLITZER: Two excellents; thanks very much. Anderson back to you. COOPER: All right; a double excellent from Wolf. That's high praise indeed. Just ahead, we're going to check-in not only with our panelist here, we're going to check-in with Randi Kaye who watched the debate with a group of voters, some of them undecided, in Tampa, Florida. Find out what they thought, ahead.


[23:51:15] COOPER: Well, we are back after a debate at the University of Miami. There was light on March Madness and heavy on southern civility, you could say. Donald Trump sounding the call for republican unity. Let's listen to that.


TRUMP: First of all, Ted was in favor of amnesty so there's no question about that. And Sheriff Joe Arpaio recently endorsed me and there's nobody tougher on the borders than Sheriff Joe. And Jeff Sessions, one of the most respected senators in Washington, an incredible man, also endorsed me, and there's nobody than knows more about the borders than Senator Jeff Sessions. I would say this, we're all in this together. We're going to come up with solutions. We're going to find the answers to things and so far I cannot believe how civil it's been up here.



COOPER: And back now with our panel. S.E., I mean, it was interesting, we talked about it a little bit before, how he basically batted away any kind of even semi-attacks people made on him. He would occasionally respond, but he really just sort of batted it away and stuck to -- he could have gone into depth on that but he just basically -- or maybe he couldn't have, but he chose not to. Instead, he just talked about his endorsements and just moved forward.

CUPP: Yes; it was a restrained Trump that we've not seen before, and you can tell if you've been covering him for a long time, you can tell, boy, he wanted to. He wanted to. But, a really interesting moment, sometimes they're not always captured on camera. During one of our last breaks tonight, Donald Trump swept through the Spin Room that we're in, to take questions. He and I have known each other for a long time and, needless to say, he is not pleased with a lot of the things I've been saying of his campaign, but he saw me. Came up, shook my hand and said, "Did you like that? It was time."

So I think he's of the mind, whether it was because of that Detroit debate or just where we're at today in this campaign, it was time for a new tone. I think he's really pleased with his perfor-- with his ability to show that presidential tone.

COOPER: The flipside of that, of course, is it's very easy to be magnanimous once you're way in the lead -

CUPP: Right. COOPER: -- and everybody is still running after you.

LORD: I mean, this is fairly typical behavior for a lot of winning politicians, right? Once they've knocked the living stuffing out of the other guys, --

COOPER: Right.

LORD: -- then they say, hey, why don't you come on over and we'll have a drink and talk about it.

COOPER: And the other thing, John, is it's literally from "The Art of the Deal."

KING: Well, if you read his book, it's a trademark of "The Art of the Deal." Sometimes you make demands and back off. You make more outrageous demands and then you back off. But then, when you're ready to make the deal, you have to make friends and shake hands. But, again, a lot of people don't like him and this story is not over. We're in the early or middle chapter, but he knows what's happening right now.

If he has a good day on Tuesday, the math is in his favor. The republican establishment is trying to stop him. So when there are House members across the country, governors across the country who are now saying should I get on board? Especially House members, in your district, if Donald Trump is winning your district, why don't you want to get on board with Donald Trump? It does not hurt you at home. So he understands this debate within the party: should we pour money into the anti-Donald Trump efforts? Should we try to hold people back from endorsing him? He saying I'm on your side. I'm winning. This is great. We're going to unite the party. We're going to unite the country. We're going to beat Hillary Clinton. It's a smart negotiating tactic -

[Cross Talk]

COOPER: And his final statement tonight, it really wasn't, sort of, selling himself. He was essentially saying millions of people, which is an arguable fact, at this point in the primary, but the number, you can argue over the numbers. Hundreds of thousands of people, however many it is, he's saying millions, new people are coming in. It's an amazing time for the party. Embrace it.

CARPENTER: Yes, here's the thing: he keeps saying he wants to be the unifier. He realizes that to date people have been unifying against him. [23:55:00] When you have Lindsey Graham saying things, nice things about Ted Cruz in order to stop Donald Trump, that's a big, huge problem for Donald Trump. So now he's trying to say look at me. Look how nice I am. He wants points for being nice. He's saying to S.E., did you like that. It was time. He wants to show people I can control my temper. I don't think it's going to last but that's what he's trying to do right now.

BORGER: It shows how much he dominates the tone of these debates because once Donald Trump made the decision not to attack, -- COOPER: Right.

BORGER: -- nobody else did.

SMERCONISH: But it wasn't all Kumbaya. He should have pulled in the comment he made to you. I was really surprised that he didn't do that.

COOPER: About Islam.

SMERCONISH: About Islam, really surprised.

COOPER: We'll have much more ahead, including key moments from tonight. We'll also look at how viewers were reacting, particularly here in Florida, a viewing party in Tampa. We're also fact checking the candidates; much more ahead.