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AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

Trump Backs Campaign Manager; Cruz Rolls Out Women for Cruz Coalition; GOP Candidates Backing Away from Pledge to Support Nominee; Trump Talks Role of Federal Government; Trump Talks Nuclear Weapons. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 30, 2016 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:00] CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: -- with love.

Thank you so much for joining me today. I'm Carol Costello.

AT THIS HOUR with Berman and Bolduan starts now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. John Berman is off today.

The pledge is over, it seems. And arch rivals, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, holding rallies in Wisconsin. That's the next big battle ground in the race for the White House. Live pictures of both. On your right, the Trump event. And on your left, Ted Cruz is set to roll out His Women for Cruz coalition. He's expected to be joined there by his wife, Heidi, and his mother, as well as Carly Fiorina.

In the meantime, all eyes are on the Trump event after his campaign manager is now facing a battery charge for manhandling a reporter at an event earlier this month. Trump is standing by his man, though.

And all of it is happening as all of the Republican candidates are backing away from a pledge to support the party's eventual nominee.

We have reporters at both events covering this, now, especially after last night's CNN's town hall.

Let's go to CNN's Phil Mattingly who is live at the Trump event.

Phil, what are we expecting this morning?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, if you had any expectation that the Trump campaign was going to reverse course or not be on offense or even apologize in the wake of what happened to Corey Lewandowski, the Trump campaign manager, you were wrong. You had to watch the town hall last night. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I stick up for people when people are unjustly accused. And, in my opinion, unjustly accused. She's grabbing me, he walks in to stop it, she walked through Secret Service, had a pen in her hand, which would have been a knife. She should not have been doing that. (END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: Kate, obviously Donald Trump nothing if not consistent. There's not an assumption he'll ditch Corey Lewandowski. It's the opposite of what we've seen over the entire campaign, but certainly sticking by his campaign manager now. And in Wisconsin a big push for the Trump campaign. 42 delegates at stake. A very tight race with Ted Cruz. So a lot to keep an eye on -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: A lot to keep an eye on. We can hear the crowd behind you. As well, Donald Trump will be taking the stage.

You mentioned consistent on that issues. None of the candidates consistent on the issue of the pledge if they would support the eventual nominee. Everyone listening to hear what will happen to that. The loyalty pledge has been thrown in the trash.

Phil Mattingly is at the Trump event for us.

Now let's go now to CNN's Sunlen Serfaty, at the Cruz event in Madison, Wisconsin.

Sunlen, the war, the feud has gotten worse and now we're watching feuding rallies as they are about to get under way.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Kate. Ted Cruz is holding a different sort of event. This is solely focused on women's issues. They're rolling out in a formal capacity this Women for Cruz coalition for Ted Cruz. He'll be joined on stage, notably by his wife, Heidi Cruz, and his mother, Eleanor Cruz. She has been seen but not really heard on the campaign trail. There's will be a sort of a free flowing discussion up on stage discussing women's issues.

We've spent a little bit of time before this event started talking to some of the women the tone and tenor of this campaign, mostly Cruz supporters. There's some undecideds here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm old fashion enough to believe in good manners for everybody and I would love to see a little more civility among everybody, and every candidate and every issue, including women.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was anxious to see Ed Cruz and he never mudslings and he's a Christian man.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm a Christian so I support Ted because of that, too. I don't think Donald's lifestyle supports him as being a Christian. He's been divorced and married I think three times. He talks -- I don't know. His past history of the things he said has been degrading to women.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SERFATY: Now, the timing of this event is certainly notable given this is just one week after the fierce battle between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz over their spouses, so certainly making a very optic message here, displaying Ted Cruz's wife and mother. The Cruz campaign admitting and acknowledging that this draw as clear contrast with Donald Trump. It will be interesting to see how he addresses that on stage tonight -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

We'll keep an eye on both of these events and we'll dip in when they start. Sunlen is there for us. Phil Mattingly following the Trump event.

As we are waiting to hear what the candidates say, let's discuss what they've already said, and that's a lot, especially after last night's CNN town hall.

Joining me now is senior adviser to the Trump campaign, Barry Bennett, formerly the campaign manager for the Ben Carson campaign; and CNN political commentator and Democratic strategist, Donna Brazile; Republican strategist, the former chief of staff for Senator Mitch McConnell, Josh Holmes; and CNN's chief political correspond, Dana Bash, live in Milwaukee.

[11:05:23] Guys, it's great to see you.

Barry, let's begin where Phil Mattingly began for us this morning, Donald Trump standing by his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski. When you look back in not so recent history when similar things have been aided by other candidates and similar things have happened, Donald Trump has jumped all over it. When Ted Cruz followed Rick Tyler over what he circulated about Marco Rubio, Donald Trump was feverishly tweeting about it. He tweeted this, this December: "Wow, Ted Cruz falsely suggesting that Marco Rubio mocked the Bible and was just forced to fire his communications director. More dirty tricks." Why, then, Barry, are you surprised that other candidates are jumping on it and Donald Trump should do the same.

BARRY BENNETT, SENIOR ADVISOR, DONALD TRUMP PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN & FORMER BEN CARSON CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I think if the sun rose three hours late, it would be Donald Trump's fault. This whole campaign is getting silly.

Everyone in this town has been a press. They're dangerous places to be. But Corey Lewandowski has ran a campaign that has more votes than anybody else. He's going to be the campaign manager, period. Mr. Trump has spoke on it, asked and answered, time to move on.

BOLDUAN: Josh, you were a former chief of staff for Mitch McConnell but you were also his campaign manager. Do you think it's silly and it's time to move on?

JOSH HOLMES, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Look, I'm not a defense attorney. I don't know what constitutes assault. What in the world is the campaign manager doing on the floor of a rally trying to peace with a press scrum. I've managed campaigns before and everybody part of a campaign will tell you, if the campaign manager is more than six inches away from their desk at any point in the day, it's a problem for everybody. That seems to me like the biggest problem.

BOLDUAN: Donna, you've also ran a campaign. We have several campaign managers right here. You ran Al Gore's campaign. Have you ever grabbed anybody? What is your view on this?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Kate, I don't like to touch people I don't know and, let alone, touch reporters, especially when they are doing their job. Yes, reporters can be aggressive. That's their job. Dana can also attest to the fact that when you're trying to get to your source to get the information, to get the feed. That's what reporters do. And I do believe at the time that this incident occurred, the right response from the campaign manager should had been a, sorry, I didn't mean to do that, and this matter might have been settled differently. Now you have a situation here the campaign manager might become the story. And what happens in a campaign when it becomes a process story -- and I think all of us can agree -- your candidate cannot get out his message. I do believe it's a problem for Mr. Trump. It's not just a legal issue that the campaign manager now has to figure out in terms of going back to Florida and all of that other stuff. I'm not an attorney. But it's really an issue now about his message and overall tone that is being set by the campaign itself.

BOLDUAN: Dana, I want to get your take on the impact.

But real quick, Barry, on what Donald is talking about here, the message that it sends here or the fact that Corey Lewandowski has become the story, do you like how Donald Trump has handled this, the fact that he said last night that she was -- she touched me first, she was carrying a pen, I don't know, it could have been a bomb?

BENNETT: I think that this whole portrayal of, you know, assault and battery and all of this stuff is crazy. Those of us that have been in these scrums, it's every man for himself. It's crazy. Do I want to get on to talking about building a wall, creating jobs and fixing this cesspool of Washington? Absolutely. That's what we're going to talk about.

BOLDUAN: Dana, he says that it's time to move on. Are Wisconsin voters ready to move on or do you think it will have an impact there?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You bet you, no question they are ready to move on. And I think at a certain point there's going to be drama fatigue. The convention -- the campaign manager being the story or process being the story is necessarily bad for him. It's obviously not good. I'm not saying that he would want this to happen or want his campaign manager to be arrested but with the way that Donald Trump is playing it, does speak to those core supporters. Number one, you know, we're just doing what we can and somebody tried to come up to us and we're going to fight back and we're going to defend ourselves, sort of the brute strength he tries to portray in every facet of the campaign. He uses the media brilliantly and also uses them to his benefit and as a foil. So that certainly is not a hindrance for him.

[11:10:44] BOLDUAN: Another big thing that happened last night I want your take, guys, is this bombshell where are three candidates came out and said what pledge? I'm not signing on to support the eventual nominee.

Josh, any concept of unity, coalescing around the candidate, everyone coming together in this bear hug moment, that seems to be out of the question at this point.

Let's show our viewers and listen to what they said last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not in the habit of attacking somebody who attacks my family and wife. I think that is going beyond the line.

GOV. JOHN KASICH,(R-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've been disturbed by some of the things that I have seen and I have to think about what my word and endorsement would mean in a presidential campaign. So I want to see how this thing finishes out.

TRUMP: No, I don't anymore. Look --

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: You don't?

TRUMP: No. We'll see who it is.

COOPER: You won't promise to support the eventual nominee?

TRUMP: He was essentially saying the same thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Josh, when you watched this last night, what were you thinking?

HOLMES: I'm not sure that loyalty pledges are significant at the time that we give it. We seem to talk about this once a month since the beginning of the campaign, whether this candidate or that candidate --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Only because they change positions on it once a month.

HOLMES: That's true. That's true. It does break news every time. But I think -- look, I ran a campaign last cycle where our primary opponent, very contentious primary and our primary opponent never endorsed and we won the general election by 16 percent by 90 plus percent of Republican voters. If I'm in these campaigns, I'm worrying a lot less about whether or not I can consolidate a Republican Party than I am about whether anybody else in the electorate is even interested in voting for us. I mean, I think at this stage the campaign has gotten to a point where you're appealing to nothing but straight core supporters and I realize it's the primary but they are doing damage well beyond party politics at this stage.

BOLDUAN: One of the things that Trump pointed at, Barry, the reason why he wasn't going to support an eventual nominee that is not himself was that he is being mistreated by the RNC and the Republican Party. This has been part of the conversation from the beginning. He wouldn't run third party or be an Independent if they played nice, and last I thought everyone was friends at least as it relates to the RNC. What mistreatment is he talking about?

BENNETT: I think he's just talking RNC but the state parties like what happened in Louisiana and some of the shenanigans that are starting to unfold around the country where they put their will in the place of the will of primary voter. That kind of stuff is a little alarming, the backroom smoky deals. That's what he's concerned about the most.

BOLDUAN: Go ahead, Dana.

BASH: Kate, if I could add to that, the way I took what Trump said about the party and the way that they've been treating him was as much of a warning shot as anything else, where we are in the campaign now is all about not just trying to gobble up as many candidates as possible but doing so that there isn't a floor fight at the convention and that's obviously, as we've been talking about, increasingly likely to have that fight. To me, it's a warning shot. There are all kinds of discussions, Reince Priebus, the RNC chair, told me a couple of weeks ago, remember the rules at the convention from 2012 are going to be different this year because every convention has different rules. And, you know, it could be that, for example, something that Ted Cruz brought up, right now, the rules that say that you cannot get the nomination unless you've won eight states. Well, it is entirely possible that the RNC, the rules committee at the convention, could change that and make it possible for John Kasich or somebody else to get the nomination. My sense is that that is what Trump was warning about. Don't pull that stuff, even though it's technically legal and allowed within the bounds of the Republican Party, when it comes to the sentiment out there, basically, don't tempt me.

BOLDUAN: Let's talk about that, guys. Stand by.

We need to go to a quick break. We're waiting for these live events to happen. But let's continue that conversation. Barry Bennett calls them shenanigans. Ted Cruz's campaign will say we have better ground game in places like Louisiana. Let's discuss this.

[11:15:03] And also I want to talk about Donald Trump's head- scratching answer on nuclear weapons last night and what that means for the conversation going forward, and also why Donald Trump seemed to some to sound more like a Democratic than a Republican front-runner on another very important question. We'll be right back.

And we're also -- speaking of Democrats, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are holding dueling rallies. A lot going on this hour. We'll dip in live to Hillary Clinton as she confronts Trump on her home turf in a brand-new ad.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: Welcome back, everyone. We are waiting for dueling rallies in Wisconsin, the next place for the battleground. On the left is the Ted Cruz rally billed as -- they are going to be rolling out a Women for Cruz coalition. We're watching that very closely. On the right, Donald Trump will be taking the stage for a rally of his own in Wisconsin. We're watching all of that. And we're also talking about the issues and what came of last night's CNN town hall.

Our panel is back with me.

Let's start with this moment that I found this moment fascinating as it played out last night. Donald Trump was asked, it appeared to be a simple question of what were the three core or three most important functions of the federal government. Donald Trump said the first was security and then this happened. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[11:20:15] COOPER: So in terms of federal government role, you're saying security but also health care and education should be provided by the federal government?

TRUMP: Those are two of things. Yeah, sure. I mean, there are obviously things, housing, providing great neighbors and --

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Aren't you against the federal government's involvement in education? Don't you want it to devolve to the states?

TRUMP: No, I want it to go to state, yeah, absolutely.

COOPER: And federal health care run by the federal government?

TRUMP: Heath care, we need health care for our people. Good -- Obamacare is a disaster.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Is that something that the federal government should be doing.

TRUMP: The government can lead it but it should be privately done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Barry, do you want to clear that up for us? What is Donald Trump talking about?

BENNETT: Medicare and Medicaid are two of the largest chunks of health care in the country and they're totally run by the government. And that's what he's talking about.

BOLDUAN: And education, he wants that to be run by the federal government?

BENNETT: No. We fund it. We fund a lot of money back to the states. He wants to block that money and now let some bureaucrats fine-tune it, the Department of Education.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: And housing?

BENNETT: Well, housing, you know, the mortgage industry is totally propped up by the federal government. Veterans programs, all kinds of mortgage programs and the old Fannie Mae, Jennie Mae stuff, so federal government has its finger in everything.

BOLDUAN: Josh?

BRAZILE: So less taxes, less government, only fund the military. Look, I'm a Democrat, and I, of course, believe what Donald Trump said is absolutely correct in terms of economic security, the actual security. Health care, education, a right. We should make sure that Americans have that security. But I'm going to give back my time to Josh who will give the more conservative argument of what Donald Trump should have said. I just think that Donald Trump was being honest and there's nothing wrong with being honest.

Go ahead, Josh.

BOLDUAN: Was just Donald Trump being honest, Josh?

BRAZILE: About his views.

HOLMES: You know, he may have been being honest but it's literally the worst possible answer that could give as a Republican in a Republican primary. The idea that you can somehow make health care and education the -- he didn't ask whether the federal government was involved in these two areas. The ask was, what are the most important areas where the federal government is involved. Health care with Obamacare is just a dead letter with Republican primary voters everywhere. We would argue that you can't expand it in the federal government because they do a really bad job at it, as is the case for education, where we've argued for a decade or longer that all of this should be under local control. So I was just totally baffled by that answer.

BOLDUAN: Dana?

(LAUGHTER)

BASH: Yes. If you are running a traditional Republican campaign, whether it's for Republican or Senate, Josh successfully did that, and a pretty tough one in Kentucky, or even dog catcher, you don't say that. As we have said until we're blue in the face, there is nothing conventional about Donald Trump. Not just that. To me, that answer spoke to the populist message he has been successful with. It's not necessarily Republican credo to say those things but he did say it should be state-run, which is a Republican philosophy. But big picture, his whole argument about not spending so much money overseas, spending it over here. And on the bridges and roads over here, that is the Trump populism that has resonated with Republican primary voters in so many states.

BOLDUAN: Barry, do you think on some level he did not understand the question for some reason?

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Because you just saw what Donna said and the reaction of Josh. It sounded more like a Democrat than a Republican in the priorities he would lay out for the federal government.

BENNETT: We're not going to operate on Republican handle for the last 30 years. The two biggest problems --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: You're running for the Republican nomination.

BENNETT: I understand, and we're doing a very good job of it.

(LAUGHTER)

But the two biggest problems are education and health care. Education, let's talk about this. Gun violence kills by the ones and the twos. Our inner-city education is killing by the generation. We have to fix it. We have to stop talking about it and we have to fix it. Health care, same problem. Our costs are ridiculous. We've got to introduce market-based solutions into the system. And, you know, just because they are not on the list of the Republican handbook doesn't mean because there are problems we have to face.

HOLMES: Barry, there is nobody, and I mean nobody, who is arguing that they are not huge problems. The question is whether or not they should be the top priorities of the federal government. You just said market-based solutions.

BENNETT: You don't think solving problems should be our top priority?

BOLDUAN: Hang on, Barry.

Go ahead, Josh.

[11:25:05] HOLMES: I don't think the federal government should be involved in the education of kids in counties and school districts across the nation, as if someone in Washington, D.C., has a better idea than the parents and school administrators that are two blocks away from them. No. And I think most conservatives would absolutely agree with that.

(CROSSTALK)

BENNETT: I'm not saying force solutions on them. But we've got to focus our resources and bring out the best ideas, and let these states and cities, primarily, fix the problems.

BOLDUAN: Let's talk about this --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Go ahead, Donna. BRAZILE: As you well know, Democrats believe that the federal

government has a role in communities and strengthening our country to ensure that whether any child lives in the city or suburbs or rural areas can get the education they need to find them a job to live a prosperous and healthy life. This goes back to what is going on in the Republican primary. I'm a Democrat, of course, and I love when Republicans do all of the talking points. But the fact is, Donald Trump is able to appeal to not just what I call real conservatives of the base of the party but also Independents, and in Wisconsin and some of the other states coming up, they are open to Independents. This message may not resonate with the real what I call Republicans, the base, but it resonates with the middle and he's trying to also draw from them as well.

BOLDUAN: Beyond domestic policies, let's look at -- since we got you here, Barry, let's talk about another moment last night that I think folks are scratching their head about on the question of nuclear proliferation. Listen here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: You have so many other countries --

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: So some proliferation is OK?

TRUMP: No, no. I hate proliferation. I hate nuclear more than any. My uncle was a professor at MIT. He used to tell me about nuclear. He used to tell me about the problems.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: No, no, no. At some point you have to say Japan is better off protecting itself against this maniac in North Korea. We're better off, frankly, if South Korea is going to start protecting itself. We have

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Saudi Arabia with nuclear weapons?

TRUMP: Saudi Arabia, absolutely.

COOPER: You would be fine with them having nuclear weapons?

TRUMP: No, not nuclear weapons, but they have to protect themselves, or they have to pay us.

COOPER: But you said, Japan, it's fine, you get nuclear weapons, you as well, and Saudi Arabia says they want to, too.

TRUMP: Can I be honest with you? It's going to happen any way. It's going to happen any way. It's only a question of time. They are going to start wanting them or we have to get rid of them entirely.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: So Barry, do you think -- do you like what you're hearing from Donald Trump there? Do you think he needs to dial that back or clarify that at all, they are going to get if anyway, it's going to happen any way, it's only a question of time that Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, they are going to have nukes?

BENNETT: I think in today's marketplace, you know, it's happening, whether or not we have some policy in Washington against it or not. I mean, it's what's happening in Iran, Israel. I mean, I don't know for sure that the Saudis don't have the capability. They all want it.

BOLDUAN: So you think --

(CROSSTALK)

BENNETT: And money is talking. And we've got this great set of talking points but it's not based on reality.

BOLDUAN: So with Donald Trump's position, he's not just said it last night. He also said it in an interview with "The New York Times." Do you think -- is that the position, that Japan, Korea protect themselves, even if that includes having a nuclear program?

BENNETT: I think when he talks about defense he's talking about missile defense systems, which need to be -- the technology is advancing very fast, cost is coming down, and we need to deploy it everywhere so people can protect themselves. But as long as we allow a crazy man to be a dictator in Korea, then we've got to do something. Japan has to do something. Taiwan has to do something. China needs to do something. You know, we can't prevent it from here.

BOLDUAN: Dana, Barry is not saying "no" here.

(LAUGHTER)

BRAZILE: I'm sorry. Oh, my god. It's just --

BOLDUAN: Go ahead.

BRAZILE: His nuclear -- his foreign policy, I think Donald Trump -- I don't think it's a crash course. He needs a real, live, what I call handbook on nuclear proliferation in how we have tried to end it in the Korean peninsula. And this is something that I think that Donald Trump really needs to go back to somebody bring him back to the drawing board. His foreign policy is very incoherent and inconsistent. And I don't think from day to day or week to week we understand what exactly it is, other than we've got to be tougher and somebody has to pay for -- to do whatever job our military is doing.

BOLDUAN: Dana, wrap it up for us.

BASH: I would just add that Barry is being a very good soldier and that's what he's supposed to be doing in not contradicting his boss. But I will say, privately, people who love Donald Trump heard that answer last night and went, what? No way. The last thing on earth that the West wants, after trying to avoid it for decades, is a nuclear Asia. So I'll leave it there.

BOLDUAN: Josh, quick final thought.

HOLMES: Look, to paraphrase Marco, let's dispel the notion that Donald Trump knows what he's talking about. He doesn't have any idea what he's talking about.