tv Situation Room With Wolf Blitzer CNN February 25, 2016 2:00pm-4:01pm PST
all that together, i think we can do much better. we did much better in 2014 than we did in 2012. >> good luck. hope it's a great debate tonight. good to see you as always. watch the last republican debate before super tuesday only here on cnn, 8:30 p.m. eastern. that's it for "the lead." i am jake tapper. i turn you over to chris cuomo and anderson cooper, who are manning "the situation room" for wolf today who is preparing for the debate. see you later on tonight. happening now, gop showdown. the republican presidential candidates just hours away from a pivotal debate here on cnn. extremely high stakes for everyone not named donald trump. on the attack, trump's closest rivals, but talking about him is one thing. saying it to him on the stage quite another. so how far will they go when it counts?
brokered convention? top rubio donors told in a closed door meeting that the florida senator is now preparing for a contested nominating process. and bracing for a messy and unpredictable battle to keep trump from becoming the nominee. are republicans facing civil war? path to victory. trump has a huge lead in the delegate count. so super tuesday could make or break his remaining rivals and push trump closer still to the nomination. what we see here tonight could make all the difference. wolf blitzer is preparing for tonight's republican presidential debate, that means you've got me, chris cuomo, along with the man, anderson cooper. you are in "the situation room." we are counting down to
tonight's cnn republican presidential debate here in houston. this will be the last time the candidates face off before super tuesday. the biggest primary battle of the 2016 race for the white house. donald trump more than ever the man to beat tonight. coming off three consecutive primary and caucus victories, still far ahead of his rivals in the polls. tonight's contest especially critical for ted cruz and marco rubio. battling for second place as they try to sell themselves to republican voters as the best alternative to trump. now cnn has learned that rubio is preparing a two-pronged attack. come strong at the debate tonight but also prepare for a brokered convention. speaking of attacks, former mexican president, vicente fox, blasting donald trump and his plan to build a wall on the border, which he says he'll make mexico pay for. fox saying in an interview, quote, i'm not going to pay for that f'ing wall.
he should pay for it. we are covering all of that and more this hour with our guests, our correspondents and our expert analysts. they are all standing by. so let's begin with cnn political reporter sara murray. she's in the spin room. sara, cnn is the first to report that the rubio campaign is preparing for a brokered convention. what do we know? >> reporter: that's right, chris. this is great reporting just coming in from our m.j. lee, who had people who were in the room for this meeting that rubio's campaign manager had with donors in manhattan last night where they essentially said, look, if we're going to be able to sew up this nomination on our own, we need john kasich and ben carson to drop out. it does not look like that is happening so their alternative scenario is a contested convention. this is where rubio does not get the number of delegates he needs and it becomes a convention fight. i think this reflects the
reality we're seeing in some of these upcoming states that rubio does not have the numbers he needs to win. let's take a look at florida. this has been a make-or-break state for marco rubio. we now have a new quinnipiac poll out that shows donald trump at 44%, marco rubio at 28%. this is an indication that he might not be able to win his home state which would be a long delegate fight that gets you to a contested convention. the other candidate that is really mucking up this race for the other folks is ted cruz, texas senator. texas is coming up on march 1st. it is the crown jewel and ted cruz promises he's going to win. a monmouth university poll puts ted cruz at 38%, donald trump at 23%. if you think trump is going to take that lying down, think again. we are now hearing they bought $1.6 million in advertising for the super tuesday states. half a million of that is going to texas senator cruz's backyard on the air waves in texas.
so all of this if it hasn't already, chris and anderson, sets the stage for a big fight on this debate stage this evening. back to you guys. >> yeah, it's going to be a fascinating night. ahead of tonight's debate we've been watching an unfolding war of words between donald trump and mitt romney. it is happening on trump's favorite battlefield, twitter. jim acosta has more. it started with romney yesterday saying there might be a bombshell in trump's tax returns and saying that he should release his returns as well as rubio and cruz. >> that's right, anderson. i just tried to ask the rnc chairman should there be an additional podium for mitt romney behind me on the debate stage. he said no and sort of laughed off the question. anderson, donald trump may be spending time tonight debating a leader not on this stage and that is the last republican nominee for president, mitt romney. as we know sha, as you said, ro is calling on trump to release his tax returns warning a
bombshell might be in there. the gop front-runner went on a tear on twitter tweeting that mitt romney, who is one of the dumbest and worst candidates in the history of republican politics is now pushing me on tax returns? dope! that's a quote from donald trump on twitter. then he posted a pic of one of his recent tax returns saying signing a recent tax return, isn't this ridiculous. now, for his part mitt romney did fire back, taking to twitter himself and saying me thinks the donald doth protest too much. show voters your back taxes. #what is he hiding. anderson, i've talked to -- and chris, i've talked to a couple of sources close to mitt romney, one who's worked with mitt romney for many, many years who said that the former massachusetts governor is trying to show the candidates who are in the race right now how to hit donald trump and draw blood as this one source said. you know, mitt romney for all of his flaws knew how to wield a blade from time to time. he's trying to show the candidates how to go after trump
later on the stage tonight. chris. >> jim, fascinating. we'll see if it does come up tonight during the debate. >> let's get a little insight right now, shall we? joining us on set is the republican national committee communications director, mr. sean spicer. good day to have the job, sean. >> this is mine, huh? we've got a beautiful setting here and a great venue for a debate. i expect another great debate. this is our tenth of the cycle. i expect nothing less than another sort of combative, exciting, enthusiastic exchange of ideas. >> what about all the romney stuff? what's going on? what do you know about the origin of this? it doesn't seem random. >> no, i don't know what's happening on the back side. i know that this is the point in the contest where candidates and supporters and people that want one person to do better than another really start realizing that this is the time that you've got to engage. super tuesday is in a couple of days. you've got 11 states. 595 delegates at stake. another 963 delegates from march 1st to march 15th.
if you're going to get engaged and be our nominee and get the delegates necessary to be the nominee, this is it. >> did it surprise you that it was mitt romney that came forward yesterday with this? he himself obviously had said he wasn't going to release his taxes, came under great fire from then candidate obama about that. >> look, governor romney has not been real active so far in picking a side so it was somewhat of a surprise he chose now to get engaged. but if you're going to get engaged, this is the time to do it. i think you're seeing individuals for pro and con, each of these five individuals really find this is when they want to jump in. if you don't get engaged now, it may be too late. >> does it help your eventual nominee to have all this hashed out during the primary stage? >> absolutely. >> have donald trump answer these questions -- >> not just donald trump but all of them. in 2008 barack obama and hillary clinton went at it until june epically. they called each other names. they had their surrogates attack. hillary clinton accused obama of not -- of a bunch of racial issues. and at the end of the day the
intensity and the enthusiasm that was on that side worked out for them. it propelled them to victory. the mccain side -- >> and it made them better candidates. >> it made them better candidates. mccain was out there really struggling to get attention because you had this two-person epic battle going on. on our side, this is an exchange of ideas. we've been out of the white house for eight years. our side knows what's at stake knowing that hillary clinton or bernie sanders would take this country in the right direction. we're fired up. >> it does seem interesting that some people have said that donald trump has not really faced that sort -- he's faced critical interviews from media but has not faced that barrage of attacks from another candidate. that rubio and cruises haz have focused on each other. >> you've seen the money spent against him, the interviews. he's talked to you guys countless times and every other network. so far be it from me to judge what's tough or not. but you can't say that any of our candidates haven't had the exposure necessary to head into
a general election without being tested. >> they're certainly offered the exposure. so if that's the story on romney, that this is the time to be involved if you want to be pivotal, and the only other phrase that applies to him is has he eaten on the insane route. >> look at you quoting shakespeare. >> i saw it written on your hand. >> let's look at the other headline. this idea that marco rubio is meeting with party officials to think about a brokered convention, we know what that means. >> he's not met with any party officials. he may from what i understand from the reporting of cnn, his supporters are talking about a strategy, but there is no -- >> there's been no contact with the party. >> absolutely not. >> you will not take the bait that i just laid out there. >> this is plain and simple. if you get 1237 delegates, you are the nominee. if you don't -- so there's two strategies. one is get 1237. the other strategy is stop someone from getting 1237. it's up to each campaign to decide which route they want to go. >> do you think this is going to go -- early on people were
saying this could go all the way to the convention. donald trump just the other night in his victory speech was saying he actually thinks it's going to end a lot sooner. >> i think, look, we've got as i mentioned a lot of delegates at stake march 1st. another close to thousand between the 1st and the 14th. if someone racks them up and the voters choose -- but this is up to the voters to decide. if one candidate is able to rack them up early, then yeah, they will be the nominee. but if the voters decide that they want to split that vote or give someone another lead or slow the process down, that's what's going to happen. what's unique about this cycle is that more voters in more states are participating in this process than ever before. that's what's different. so it used to be that you'd come out of the early states, iowa, new hampshire, south carolina and nevada, then florida and another state and you'd go through the south. we've got 11 states on march 1st and then another few on the 5th and another few on march 8th and then you go to winner take all where you have ohio and florida on the 15th. there's a lot of delegates available in a very 14, 15-day window. that really has the ability to
change this field and shake it up real quick. you've got a leader right now that's leading with 60 or 70 delegates. in texas alone, you have 155 delegates. in florida you have 99 delegates at stake. 60% will be selected in march. we have to keep some perspective as to where we are in the cycle. >> we've got to take a short break. our coverage continues in a moment. we'll be right back. ♪ ♪virgin islands nice ♪ ♪so nice ♪so nice, so nice ♪ spend a few days in the u.s. virgin islands and return with a lifetime of experiences. that's virgin islands nice. ♪so nice, so nice
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houston. the candidates are preparing to field questions from our own wolf blitzer who of course will be the moderator. we are back with the republican national committee communications director, sean spicer. obviously you're not privy to what's going to happen on the stage tonight from -- >> you can tell me. >> from the various candidates, not from our side, but how much do you expect rubio and cruz to go after donald trump? at this point they really have been aiming their fire at each other, donald trump has been aiming his fire at cruz. and to your point earlier, if not now, when? >> i think i mentioned in the last segment, you've got a very crucial period in the cycle coming up. you've got two strategies that i see. one is triy to fight to be the second place alternative to the front-runner or go straight at the front-runner but those are the only two. each of those campaigns has to make those decisions. you've seen campaigns in the past taking on mr. trump head on head and they probably have been thinking that doesn't work too well. at the same time the field is narrow, you've got five people
on stage so the dynamic is different and opportunities have been different than they have in the past. >> at a certain point all these guys in second place have to start winning somewhere. >> and that's why i think you have to figure out for yourself is your goal to take out the number two or number three and go for oi a one-on-one match or straight out go for number one. but time isn't your friend. these contests, while i think this will go until late march or air, at some point you become a presumptive nominee. if you get to 900 or 1,000, it's going to be difficult for someone to catch you. >> it's interesting. we're thinking along the same line about this. the intrigue is that to many it does seem that presumptively you know it's got to be trump. where are the paths? are they that likely for someone to catch up to him the way the polls are showing in all the states coming up? >> like i said earlier, you've got 6% of the delegates, right? so this isn't even the first
inning, it's the first out of the first inning of the game. you've got to say he has racked up a nice little lead in that first part of the first inning, but you've got 155 delegates in texas alone, which is on march 1st. 99 in florida. there's a lot of delegates at stake real early. if you can kind of come back, then like any contest, you can make the math work for yourself. but you've got to -- the one difference between this game and, say, a sports game is that there is a perception and a momentum that's very different. once you get ahead by a certain amount, i think the perception is that you are the presumptive nominee and the front-runner that can't be caught and it's difficult to change that. your support dries up, your resources dries up. if you don't engage early in this process in the next few weeks, i think that's trouble if someone is not able to go one on one. >> have you ever seen a race like this? you have the leading candidate of the gop who during that first debate was asked to take a loyalty test by the moderator.
>> i don't think anyone has seen a cycle like this. when we started this cycle back in august of last year with 17 really qualified and diverse individuals taking two stages, we're down to five. it's been historic in so many ways. i think we as a party are very proud of the number of people that we have brought, the audiences. look at the last four states. we have broken records in every single early state for the number of people who turned out. that's contrasted to the democrats, they're down in every one of the four states. i think that this is translating into a very good year for the republicans. we're seeing the intensity, the enthusiasm and the numbers are bearing out. it's not just the ratings from the debate, it's the number of people who are signing up, who are coming out to these early caucuses and primaries and wanting to take part in the process. >> there are a lot of folks on the democratic side, pundits, who have sort of been gleefully saying they cannot wait to see donald trump being the nominee for the gop going against whether it's hillary clinton or bernie sanders. do you think democrats are underestimating that battle? >> well, whoever the nominee is,
frankly at this point, look, any democrat that's gleeful needs to look at who their own candidates are. you've got one that's a 74-year-old socialist. just stop and think about that. whether or not you're a liberal or conservative, the idea of moving this country in a socialist direction is just something that i never thought would happen in a lifetime. the other candidate is someone who's under investigation by the fbi and that's frankly who most of these people are pinning their hopes on. and i think if that's who you as a democrat think is going to be your savior, that's a big problem. most persons don't trust hillary clinton. they don't think that she's truthful. they don't think that she lives by a set of rules that are separate for herself and bill and i think that's a big problem. if you are a democrat, i would be much more concerned -- >> their problem is clear, no question. >> right. >> how close is the gop to putting their arms around donald trump? >> it's up to the voters. once the voters pick a nominee, we will embrace whomever that is. and so as i mentioned earlier, more states will decide, more voters will decide.
our job is to create a level playing field for these individuals, give them the resources necessary to win in november but embrace whomever that nominee is and win. >> sean spicer, thank you for joining us. >> good luck tonight, guys. >> good luck to you. coming up, we have the former president of mexico who is lashing out during an interview with an f-bomb directed at donald trump's proposal to build a wall on the border. plus vice president biden in mexico apologizing for the rhetoric by republicans on the campaign trail. what will this mean tonight? on the floor! everybody down! nobody move! on the floor!
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ahead of tonight's republican presidential debate here in houston, donald trump is demanding an apology from former mexican president vicente fox for the language he used. this irony involves an interview today where fox blasted trump as crazy and egocentric. and as for trump's vow to build a border wall and make mexico pay for it, fox said i'm not going to pay for that f'ing wall. cnn's jim acosta is back with us. jim, trump is quite put out by fox's expletive. >> absolutely, chris and aroundson. donald trump is tang inling wit fox today. now he's fighting with the former president of mexico, vicente fox. the former mexican president was asked by jorge ramos about trump's vow to make mexico pay for a wall on the u.s.-mexican border. it is a staple of just about every donald trump event.
vicente fox was having none of it and was quite spicy, you might say, in disagreeing with that proposition. here's what he had to say. >> i declare, i'm going to pay for that [ bleep ] wall. he should pay for it. he's got the money. >> are you afraid that he's going to be the next president of the united states? >> not at all. democracy cannot take us to crazy people that doesn't know what's going on in the world today. >> now trump, who's been known to use a few f-bombs himself fired back on twitter saying, we can put this up on screen. former president of mexico vicente fox horribly used the f word when discussing the wall. trump going on to say that he would have caused an uproar had he used that word and he's caused uproars in the past. but we should note in just the last several minutes, vice president joe biden down in mexico with the current president of mexico, biden apologized to the mexican
people, he said, for some of the gop rhetoric, namely from donald trump that we're hearing out on the campaign trail. here's a bit of that sound from the vice president. here's what he had to say. >> there's been a lot of damaging and incredibly inaccurate rhetoric, and i would argue i feel almost obliged to apologize for some of what my political colleagues have said. it is about mexico, about the mexican people. it's a heated campaign season and i just want you to know, mr. president, that the most heated of the rhetoric you've heard from some of the competitors for the nomination for president is not who we are as the american people. it is not a view that is the view of the majority of the american people. it's the exact opposite. it's the opposite view. >> now, the vice president may have apologized there, but democratic strategists will tell
you, anderson and chris, that they are very much looking forward to using donald trump's rhetoric on mexico in the upcoming general election campaign. donald trump was bragging the other night in nevada that he did well among latino republicans, but when it comes to a general election, it's going to be a very different matter altogether. anderson, chris. >> jim, has donald trump responded at all about joe biden essentially apologizing? i imagine that is going to be sort of the next wave of comments by at least if not trump, by other gop candidates. >> he has not, but as of yet as we know, anderson, donald trump likes to rip news from the headlines and make it his own. so i would imagine it's just a matter of time. given the fact that trump has been tangling with the pope, the bushes, mitt romney and now the former president of mexico, i would assume the vice president is next on his list, anderson. >> all right, jim acosta. thanks very much. let's get more on the gop race with cnn chief political analyst, gloria borger,
nia-malika henderson and mark preston. gloria, it is a little rich for donald trump to be shocked at the use of language by the former president of mexico. >> shocked? how could he possibly do that, right? and i think seeing joe biden also apologize, joe biden can't keep out of this race either, you know. i think trump takes every opportunity he can. he knows exactly what he's doing because this -- in his tweet about fox, he's playing to his base. this will be great. he's picking a fight with fox. works for him. so why not do it. it is rich, but it works, right? >> pick up the other side of that then, nia. what is the perceptive downside to having the former president of mexico show the obvious disdain for this idea? >> i think broadly if you look at the demographics in this country and you think about trump's rhetoric here in terms of building the wall and forcing mexico to pay for it, we already
know that he isn't doing well in the polls. >> we just had one today that showed really tough numbers for trump. >> essentially 80% of latinos view him unfavorably. so if you think about states like nevada, which he won in this last caucus, but in a general election in nevada, a state like florida, north carolina, even virginia and the entire south, which is growing in terms of the latino population, that's where it starts to hurt because we know that any president is going to need to do well among that demographic to win. >> mark preston, let's talk about expectations for tonight. we had sean spicer on earlier in the broadcast saying essentially the clock is ticking for attacks against donald trump. if other candidates, rubio, kroou cruz, are going to make a case against donald trump, it would seem to be that the time is now because there's not much time left on the calendar, frankly. >> you're absolutely right, anderson. on the stage behind me we expect to be very hot tonight. what's probably going to happen is you're going to see ted cruz and donald trump tangle pretty
toughly up here on the stage. at the same time you're going to see this crossfire with trump in the middle and cruz and marco rubio throwing punches at each other through donald trump because cruz and rubio right now, anderson, believe that one of them has to leave the race in order for the consolidation to continue to try to get trump out of the race. so as sean said earlier to you, that the clock is ticking. i have to tell you talking to republicans in washington, establishment republicans right now, they're kicking themselves because they have come to the realization that it's almost too late at this point. that donald trump right now has got so much wind behind his back that he's on his way to the nomination. if anything is going to derail him, it's going to have to happen tonight, they believe. >> and then comes mitt romney. so gloria borger, of the thick and bipartisan rolodex, can this be coincidence that romney and other party elders pop up talking about trump's taxes?
>> romney pulled a harry reid on him. >> went full reid. >> went full harry reid on him and gave the republicans something to say tonight at our debate. to talk to trump about. you know, rubio can make the comparison and say, you know, i'll put my taxes out there. i'm still paying off my student loans or i just finished a year or two ago. >> how far can it go? >> it won't -- honestly it won't hurt trump. he's inoculated himself to a great degree on this because he said, hey, i try to pay as little as i can in my taxes. the only way it could hurt him is he might not be as rich as he says he is. >> the two things that romney pointed to is perhaps he's not as rich as he says he is and also perhaps he has not given as much money as he has indicated from time to time that he has. but regardless he has sort of inoculated himself against this already by saying to your point i pay as little taxes as possible. >> right. and for romney, who paid, i think, around 15% because it was mostly investment income, right,
it was not earned income. >> it was investment capital. >> right, right, so it was a little bit more embarrassing for romney, obviously. but for trump, you know, we'll have to see. look, the taxes are done. right? he could just -- he could just put it out there. >> and we should point out donald trump -- i asked him about this yesterday. he sort of seems to now be hedging his bets. previously he had said, well, we're going to figure out the time when we're going to do this. now he's saying we'll look at this to see whether we do this at all. >> he's seeing what hillary clinton -- where are your e-mails, where are your speeches, why do you hide things from the people. that's a little bit of it. >> i don't think the average voter in the republican primary process is like my goodness, when is donald trump going to release his taxes? it's just not an issue and proving once again that donald trump is playing by his own rules. most presidential candidates have released these. but he's -- >> and it's been an issue for donald trump. i mean the idea that he is not as rich as he says has clearly
been an issue in the past that has struck him, has annoyed him, but it's a question of "forbes" magazine says he's two or three or four billion dollars rich. >> it's not going to affect his people. >> the difference between 2 and 4 billion. >> if there is an achilles heel for donald trump, and i'm not sure there is, it's that late deciders, we've seen in the most recent contests been splitting -- going towards marco rubio. so if there are people still undecided out there, and i'm not sure there are a lot, that this could have around the edges i would say. >> in terms of just a path forward, ted cruz, even if he wins texas, you know, you look at the map, where does marco rubio actually win? where do they actually start to pick up the delegate numbers that they would need to compete with where donald trump will shortly be after super tuesday? >> well, even if ted cruz does
win texas, it could just be a symbolic victory in many ways because the way that they apportion delegates, it's not a winner take all. so symbolically ted cruz could win texas, could win a plurality of the delegates but will not win all of them. but marco rubio has problems in some ways. down in florida we have a new quinnipiac poll that shows that donald trump has a 16-point lead over the native son, marco rubio. now, when jeb bush exited the race, the hope was is that you would see this consolidation certainly in a state like florida where when it votes on march 15th, the winner takes all 99 of those delegates. to gloria's point about late deciders going for marco rubio, if we are to believe this quinnipiac poll right now, there's only two in ten floridians who haven't made up their mind at this point. 30% said that they could change their mind. and this is what is very troubling for the republican establishment. it's 21% right now said they would not support donald trump.
that means 80% of them would. these are numbers that are starting to flip because i think there is this thought, inevitability right now that donald trump is going to be the new nominee. >> yeah. mark preston, nia-malika, gloria, thank you. the cnn tonight is less than three hours from now. we'll take a short break. our coverage continues in just a moment. ♪
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we are live in houston where cnn's wolf blitzer will moderate tonight's all-important republican presidential debate. the final gop face-off before the super tuesday primaries and caucuses. and first on cnn, marco rubio's campaign now said to be preparing for a brokered convention. yes, sources tell cnn rubio's campaign manager delivered that news to top donors at a closed door meeting. let's discuss. we have political commentators ana navarro and s.e. cupp. so let's deal with that headline. yes, we've got to talk about the favor that the former mexican president just did donald trump by being angry about the wall but rubio as well. ana, rubio as well, you know a lot of his top donors. what do you hear about this and what that means about preparing for a brokered convention. >> just go ahead and kill me now, why don't you. the idea of a brokered convention -- look, i've got to
think that marco's people, terry sullivan, who may not be the snugliest of bears but certainly is very smart understands that if he's going to say something in a closed door meeting to donors, it will invariably get out. so i think they are floating this idea on purpose. it's got to be. nobody says anything closed door these days with the intention that it's going to stay within closed doors. look, in our lifetime there's never been a republican nominee that hasn't won one of the first four early states. marco rubio has not won one of the first four early states. he's not leading in any of the super tuesday states. florida is huge for him and a poll came out today that doesn't look good. >> down 16 to trump. >> so if you're going to convince donors that you've got a path, one of those paths would be a brokered convention. >> and if you can't win in your own state, i mean, you know, a lot of people thought, okay, rubio spent time in nevada as a kid. that didn't seem to work and
obviously in florida this latest poll shows him down significantly. >> well, there's another poll that came out today in florida too from the associated industries of florida that's a very reputable organization. it's got it a lot closer. it still has trump leading rubio but by single digits, by seven or eight points, not 16 points. i think marco will have to spend the time and resources in florida, which means he's not going to be able to go anywhere else because winning florida march 15th is crucial. >> that poll should point out doesn't really use the same standards that cnn would use in a poll that we would really put a lot of faith in. in terms of brokered convention, do you think there's any reality to that, s.e.? >> well, that could definitely happening but i'm not sure sending the message to donors or voters that this could go on for a while is the most useful thing for marco rubio. i think you want to make it look urgent. you have to go out and vote now. it's now or never if you want marco rubio to win.
that's the message i would be sending. >> and isn't the question for marco rubio tonight do you go after donald trump? do you do what you have not done before? he's been focused a lot on ted cruz, as has donald trump. >> right. >> do you now decide this is the time? >> there's two schools of thought here. no one has lived to tell the tale of going after trump and really, you know, surviving. it doesn't usually turn out well. on the other hand, what does marco rubio have to lose at this point? it's the only thing he really hasn't tried. he's positioned himself to be the candidate that can win and so he's kind of left donald trump alone in his own lane as the anger candidate. and ted cruz in that same lane. but it's time, you're on the stage, there's only five people up there now for the first time. this might be the time to finally go after him. and by the way, i don't think it's attacking donald trump to point out that he likes parts of obamacare. that's campaigning. >> no, but there is an odd macho metric going on within the gop when they get on that stage. how do they look at each oar and
how do -- >> go ahead, cuomo, explain macho metric. >> you don't have to explain it to know it when you see it. so the question is will rubio step up and be his own person when trump looks at him. we're assuming that he's going to drive the game tonight. probably not. but we will certainly see and we have wolf blitzer there. we know that he can keep it in line. his name in german means the man who makes lightning. let's see what happens tonight.
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or so. cnn republican presidential debate, the final face-off ahead of super tuesday when roughly half the gop delegates needed to win the nomination will be up for grabs. let's take a closer look with chief correspondent and anchor of "inside politics" john king. we've heard former president of mexico vicente fox in an interview talking about donald trump, use something profanity to talk about not paying for the wall. is that just a big present to donald trump? >> heading into a bunch of primaries predominantly in the south and anywhere you have republican voters angry about immigration, donald trump is in another debate with a global leader about building a wall. donald trump is a happy man. this is one of his big issues. he loves this. >> does it distract from what's going to happen tonight? this is a very pitched battle to figure out how somebody finds a paths to the delegates they need to beat him. now they'll be talking about this. this is not their strong ground.
i don't think you can overstate though importance of tonight's debate, especially anyone not named donald trump. the first four primaries about trying to get victories to get momentum into the maths phase. when the calendar gets crowded. trump leads the momentum phase, 3 and 1. so let's look at it. donald trump has 82 delegates. you need 1,283. >> go slow, john. >> we're just getting started here. donald trump has 82. cruz at 17, rubio 16, kasich at 6 and carson at 4. you need 1,283 to win. now we're going into 11 states have republican primaries or caucuses on tuesday. 11 states. 595 total delegates at play on tuesday. if trump keeps winning, just do the math at home, folks. it's proportional still. not in the winner take all phase but trump essentially is going to -- >> what are the x-factors? how do they cut into him.
they're still running for a reason. how do they get to him. >> polls show ted cruz ahead in texas. let's assume cruz wins texas. he has to win texas otherwise the rationale for running. even if cruz wins texas. trump is ahead in every other state. if trump goes 10-1 on super tuesday, and he's 10-1 and second place in texastexas, we come out of super tuesday -- there's some big baskets there. georgia with 76 and tennessee and arkansas. 58, 40, alaska votes, minnesota. look at the scenario post-super tuesday. if trump went 10-1 super tuesday he could come out with 345 delegates. that's a quarter of the way to victory. cruz and rubio in the ballpark of 183, 187 each. way behind. at that point, how do you catch up? the guy is ten laps ahead of you even if you run a perfect campaign from that point out.
>> and this argument that some make, well if it was just a one on one contest, then there would be more votes against donald trump. there's a flaw in that in which if a ted cruz drops out, it's possible a lot of those voters would go to donald trump. >> when does that happen? let's assume cruz wins texas. he'll say i have proved i can win. then rubio trailing in florida. march 15s, kasich and rubio in their home states have to win or people will say, you have to get out. first tuesday and trump is going to build a lead. >> first we have tonight which will be a big lead-in to what happens on tuesday. we need you here tonight to watch wolf blitzer moderating this last big debate of the republicans before super tuesday. thousands of hours of painstaking craftsmanship. and an infinite reserve of patience... ...to create a vehicle that looks, drives and thinks like nothing else on the road.
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happening now. final showdown. the gop candidates arrive for tonight's debate here in houston. it's their last face-off before super tuesday. and if his rivals can't stop donald trump express soon, will they try for a brokered convention. attack mode. marco rubio and ted cruz badly need to land some punches tonight. with trump's tendency to hit back hard it could turn into another bare-knuckled brawl. 2012 nominee mitt romney is in a public spat with donald trump over tax returns after hinting the millionaire has something to hide. plus, with the debate taking place in a border state, the immigration battle is heating up. the former mexican president warning trump he's not going to pay for the, quote, f'ing wall and warns latinos against what he calls a crazy guy. i want to welcome our viewers in the united states and watching around the world.
wolf polblitzer is preparing to moderate tonight's debate. i'm anderson cooper along with chris cuomo. you are in the situation room. 23. welcome. we're live from the university of houston, site of tonight's cnn republican debate. now just 2 1/2 hours away. a critical showdown. the final gop debate before super tuesday when delegates are up for grabs in more than a dozen states. the candidates have arrived at the debate hall where it may be the last chance for donald trump's rivals to try and slow his momentum. the front-runner has won three states in a row and is riding high in polls. ted cruz leads in his home state of texas. but has spent much of his time clashing with marco rubio who hasn't won a single state and trails trump badly in his own state of florida. john kasich and ben carson stand at opposite ends. they are taking heat for acting as spoilers and need strong
performances to fend off the increasing power to bow out. there's a wild card as the gop establishment shows growing anxiety or trump's lead. 2012 nominee mitt romney has gotten into a public feud with trump over taxes. trump called him a dope. first on cnn as marco rubio scrambles for support, his campaign is telling donors and power brokers that it's preparing for a brokered convention as a way to keep the nominee away from trump or cruz. we have the kind of coverage only cnn can deliver. the candidates have checked out the debate hall. they are making their final preparations. that is the room inside the debate hall. we begin with jim acosta. what are you learning from the campaigns, jim? >> anderson, donald trump better have his body armor on tonight on this debate stage behind me with the gop front-runner looking to run the table on super tuesday.
trump's rivals are signaling they are going on the attack tonight. a senior adviser to ted cruz says he is no longer going to take it on the chin when it comes to trump calling him a liar. cruz has been more aggressive in going after trump in recent days urging voters not to fall for p.t. barnum and this adviser tells me we'll see that's play out on the stage later tonight. this could be a make or break night for all of the contenders vowing to be the front-runner. marco rubio has sharpened his rhetoric saying trump supports parts of obamacare. we'll probably hear trump's response to that. and a pro-john kasich superpac is going after rubio disputing the notion he should be the establishment's number one candidate. as for rubio, my colleague m.j. lee is reporting the florida senator's advisers have been meeting to prepare for the possibility of a brokered convention, but rubio needs to survive all the way to the convention. he's going to have to do some winning before then.
needs to win his state of florida. a new poll there shows him losing to donald trump but they are saying take it to the bank. he will win in florida. chris? >> jim acosta, not so secret secret coming out of the rubio camp. we'll talk about the implications. there no question there's so much riding on tonight's debate. the showdown could turn into another brawl among republican rivals. let's turn to sara murray in the spin room. sara, a key republican establishment figure is throwing fuel on the fire now. what do you make of the romney situation? >> that is right. you'd think that donald trump would be brawling today with other republican rivals from this cycle, but the guy he's fight with is the 2012 republican nominee mitt romney who has said there could be a bombshell in donald trump's taxes. is calling on trump to release his back taxes. trump took to twitter to respond. mitt romney, who was one of the dumbest and worst candidates in
the history republican politics is now pushing me on tax returns. dope. and he even released a photo, donald trump did, of him signing his tax return. a huge sheet of paper is there talking about how ridiculous the whole thing is. now none of this is prompting governor romney to back down from his criticism. he decided to join this twitter battle today weighing in and saying me thinks the donald doth protest too much. show us your back taxes, donald trump. #what is he hiding. mitt romney knows betters than most how damaging the tax issue can. he was slow to release his tax returns four years ago. when he did he faced criticism about his low tax rate and overseas holdings. the questions for donald trump would be, what kind of charitable giving do you have? what is your overall tax tab? we were speaking to alex conan, the spokesman for marco rubio's camp. he does believe that republican voters should get a look at these candidates' tax returns before we hit the general
election. he said marco rubio will release his own returns in just a few days. back to you, anderson. >> but a bombshell, obviously, sara, is a little more of a shoulder strug if you don't have the proof. what elgs are you hearing out of the rubio campaign, this odd tension between the urgency of telling everybody, vote for me now versus we'll maybe do a brokered convention. what are you hearing? >> we were just talking to alex conan about that. while he'd not comment specifically on what terry sullivan had to say, he expects marco rubio to sow up enough delegates to win the nomination before we get to california but this is going to be a long slog campaign. their campaign is preparing for any possible scenario. that's how they are spinning that little discussion to us today. anderson? >> sara murray, thanks. joining us is republican congressman jason chaffetz of utah. he also serves on the judiciary
committee and is endorsing marco rubio's white house bid. thanks for being with us. this new quinnipiac poll shows rubio well behind trump in florida. rubio's campaign says not to worry. tim scott couldn't say that rubio had florida in the bag. given these numbers, what's do you say? does rubio have his own state? >> i hope so. he needs to. i think as you look at the home state as ted cruz, if he can't pull off in texas, i think marco rubio needs to pull off florida. my personal opinion. and in kasich if he thinks he's going to stay in the race, the governor has to pull off ohio. you are expected to win your home state. >> at this point, though, if the race doesn't become a one on one matchup, how does your candidate -- if cruz doesn't drop out if kasich doesn't drop out and carson, how does your candidate start to win anywhere? where on the map do you see him right now winning? >> look, this is the challenge for republicans. if you actually want to have a
nominee who is conservative, then you better rally around somebody. and the most conservative person that can win in november is marco rubio. and we've got a decision as a party. there's still millions of votes to be had. that's in part why i'm pouring my heart and soul be heinz mind rubio. he can rally and expand the tent so we take on hillary clinton or bernie sanders, we can actually win, with a conservative. >> the math isn't exactly clear anymore that this coalescing theory around one candidate, in particular marco rubio, would be enough to wind up more than balancing the field against trump. but that's a little theoretical. we have to see which way the vote goes. tonight is practical. tonight is real. what's is your advice to senator rubio about what's to do on stage? >> to answer the first part of your question, donald trump has not broken 50%. south carolina got less than one-third of the vote. there's still a lot of votes out
there and a lot of people that are still shopping and trying to find the right person. for the debate, i think marco rubio just needs to be marco rubio. you don't need to try to pretend to be somebody else. if you do pretend to be somebody else, you'll get called out on it. be the passionate conservative that talks from his heart and his soul and marco rubio will be doing just fine. >> do you believe he should start to go after donald trump to try to confront him more directly than he has? >> marco rubio's style is to be aspirational. i think he's got a very detailed plan. the most detailed plan i see out there in the field. if he gets hit, i think he'll hit back. i know in new hampshire to use a sports mess for, he threw a little bit of an intercept yoon. you can still go out and win the super bowl even though you throw an interception in the first quarter. he's going to be just fine. he talks from his heart, knows wlats what he believes. he's probably not going to throw the first punch but that second
punch will be quite a punch to the gut, if he gets one. >> in terms of marco rubio has said that he is the most qualified in terms of foreign policy, the most experienced to become president. aside from committee assignments which is what he often names, i mean, can you name a specific plan he has to defeat isis that's really anything different than what's being done? >> you can't dismiss his committee assignment when you are on the senate intelligence committee. he's seeing the same intelligence the presidential level intelligence is seeing. nobody else in the field is having those types of experiences. so, for instance, i went into libya. i was the first person after benghazi to go into libya. i'd talk to marco rubio who had also been to libya. i don't think anybody else in the field had been to libya. he's done good things on human trafficking. he's traveled the world. you can't dismiss seeing that intelligence, digesting it and having those secretive discussions in a classified setting. >> but in terms of policy, does
he -- i mean, how is he -- how is he any different than any of the other candidates. what can he offer? >> if you look at his world view and his understanding of the world, whether it be the middle east, north korea, the south china sea, just watch the debates. i think it will play out tonight on the program. he understands this, can articulate it, has a vision for it unlike the others who have trouble articulating who the leaders are, which countries are involved, understanding the sunni/shia relationship and how we put together a force to win in -- defeat isis. he has the most comprehensive plan. everybody needs to go and look at their own websites and hear them out and make their own decisions. >> to this point, clearly, it hasn't been resonating as we look at the results. and that raises another practical concern for you and all of his supporters, which is, if he does not get the delegates that are necessary and trump doesn't, is rubio's best chance at this point a brokered
convention? >> well, yeah. you have had no candidate that's broken the barrier of sophi50%. he was north of 50% of the vote. no doubt donald trump is doing well. he's got three wins. not trying to take anything away from him. but let's understand you have millions of votes out there, more proportional votes than we've had in the past. a brokered convention is still a distinct possibility. >> we'll take a short break. we'll have more with congressman jason chaffetz in just a most. o moment. our coverage continues.
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we're back with republican congressman jason chaffetz of utah. he backs senator marco rubio's white house bid. it's good to have you with us, congressman. last time you were on this show it was wolf blitzer. this time anderson cooper. both times the same question. can you point to a major specific achievement that rubio has had in the area of foreign policy. you tout that as his advantage. you want to answer that today? >> well, yeah, as i said before with the work he did in a bipartisan way on human trafficking, a very important thing. talk about the future of little girls and what they've done, it's been very important. also a contrast with ted cruz. marco rubio has been in support of the national defense authorization act. ted cruz votes against that. marco rubio is voting for an increase in paying and those are distinguishing features in the two candidates they have to vote and participate in things. >> human trafficking you'll find
a little audience for people opposed to trying to stop it. when dealing with the big-ticket issues of isis and what to do in the ongoing wars in syria and lib libya, can you point to something else that marco rubio wants to do that others do not. >> if you go to marcorubio.com he lays out what he's trying to do in building that coalition. it's difference from what donald trump is trying to do. if you look at the actual votes and the leadership it takes to pass a national defense authorization act, there's one person in this race that's voted against that. that's ted cruz. if you talk to the military and the people that are there on the ground and fight, there's a huge difference between marco rubio and ted cruz. there's just -- it's a vote. it's what senators do. he spent time in the area. he's been on the intelligence committee. that's the way i see it. >> there's very few people, though, who don't believe there should be a coalition of people
fighting isis, particularly from muslim countries. the question is, what's different about rubio and can he achieve that? there's a reason why the coalition has not been built because a lot of these states are frankly not willing -- they don't see isis as their primary enemy. >> look, a lot of them take a very different stance than, say, the democrats. the republicans have been very united in saying the iran deal was absolutely wrong. you're right. there's not a lot of daylight and difference from the fact that republicans are absolutely totally opposed to what the president did in iran does that mean that's going to be a distinguishing factor? it is in november. but is it right now? they are all pretty strong in saying the iran deal was totally and fundamentally wrong. >> can you say right now that marco rubio would repeal the iran deal which, as you know, may not even be possible but are you saying that would be his intention? >> yes, absolutely.
i've heard him talk about that. i would expect that. >> do you think that's a good idea to -- can you argue why that's a good idea to undo a deal that your partners wanted and they are so important to the sustainability in that region? >> look, we gave the iranian regime more than $100 billion. as marco rubio has talked about, they'll not use it to go out and build orphanages. they're going to invest in terrorism and building up their own defenses and i just don't think it was in the best interest of the united states of america. i really don't. it's amazing to me that this president took that position, pushed it down and republicans have been adamant across the board in saying it was absolutely the wrong policy for the safety and security of the united states of america. >> congressman chaffetz, appreciate your time tonight. we'll be watching how your candidate does on the stage tonight in a little more than two hours from now. let's bring in our panel. cnn chief national correspondent and anchor of "inside politics, john king, chief political analyst gloria borger and senior
political reporter nia mallika henderson. it's going to be fascinating on the stage what tactics these candidates take against donald trump. is it too late now to try to take him down? >> it's not too late but they let him get to the point ahead in the delegates. ahead in the polling if you look at the next round of states. we're entering a busy phase. you aren't spending a week in new hampshire and a few days in south carolina. 1 1 states vote on the republican side tuesday. donald trump just bought about $1.6 million in advertising time. he'd not been on the air. he's ahead in 10 of the 11 states, but but texas and isn't running tv ads. his strength in the race is just -- >> look, it's an interesting dynamic we have. people say, don't call it yet. only just 6%. we have all these other things. yes, but that assumes things will change, gloria borgerer
that will disrupt the polling and momentum and his advantage. what are those things? >> potentially one of the other two guys dropping out or three guys, i should say. >> and then what happens if everybody leaves expect marco rubio? >> you can't assume that -- >> even if it did. >> cruz's supporters could go to trump. >> that's right. >> you really don't know. and i think if i remember donald trump, on texas, and i don't know wlahat you think about thi john. why focus on this money in texas? it's in his interest to keep cruz in the race because then you have these two guys going after each other. >> you think it's in donald trump's interest -- >> absolutely right. >> absolutely right. if cruz wins, he stays. if he loses his home state, it's embarrassing. a lot of pressure to leave. that delays until march 15th. it delays for another 6, 8, 10 -- >> delays what? why is it good for trump? >> rubio and kasich stay, it's still divided.
it's home court advantage. everyone says, jason chaffetz just said if rubio can't win florida what's the rationale for his candidacy. kasich has said i'm not going anywhere until ohio votes march 15th. in the meantime, even if they win their home states and trump is winning everything else, he starts to pull away in the delegates. >> you don't want to test the proposition that if it's one on one that trump has a ceiling if i'm donald trump. so keep -- let cruz win texas. why not? >> it was announced mike huckabee's daughter has joined the trump campaign. thinking about possible vice presidential candidates for trump. i asked trump about this yesterday, about what he's thinking about in terms of a vice president. obviously, he said somebody who could actually fill the role of president if something happened to the president. he also talked about not having a businessperson, somebody with political experience, somebody who could help him in washington get things done. >> yeah, a little bit early to be talking about who the number
two on a trump ticket would be but as you laid out there and trump laid out last night, mike huckabee would fit that bill. he was a southern governor, a successful governor. lots of african-americans voted for him when he ran in arkansas. but i do think this is really about arkansas, which is voting on march 1st. huckab huckabee, obviously, from arkansas. huckabee worked for him in some of those campaigns he had for president. sending a signal that donald trump is serious. serious about the different coalitions in this party. huckabee representing evangelicals and home schoolers, the kind of folks in arkansas and iowa. it's more about that. just him sending this signal, the chattering classes and to the republican party. he's getting serious. he's bringing in different counselors who are known and who have a name brand and constituency. also notable that last week for instance, it was reported that giuliani is also an informal
adviser. so you've got two different types of people there who are lending him support and giving him advice. >> it's interesting. you keep hearing from the new york power circles that's people are reaching out to trump for one of two reasons. one is to try to get him to stop what he's doing and the other to help him with what he's doing. you have a different dynamic when looking at the rubio race. we're all hearing the same kinds of things. people are nervous about where the path is forward. then we hear word that they're saying, don't go so fast about rubio not getting the votes he needs and then talking to donors about a brokered convention. >> plan for all contingencies in life, including candidates in a race for president. do some republicans think now that you can't stop trump, you're not going to beat him so the only way is to keep him from getting a majority, 1283 delegates by the convention? we're only four contests in. here's a proposition. let's say hypothetically donald
trump gets 950 delegates. so he doesn't win and rubio is second with 500 something and cruz with 300 something. do you think -- so the first ballot donald trump didn't win. do you think that donald trump delegates are going to say, let's -- the guys running behind trump. if we get to a convention, they'll face a choice if he's the leader. do you give it to the leader anyway? democracy rules. he didn't get the majority but got the most. it would be a bar fight if you try to tell the trump delegates, we're going to give it to cruz or rubio. i don't see that's happening. >> there's no such thing as a brokered convention anymore. there aren't any brokers. >> it's just broke. >> it's just broke, right. >> how would it work? >> i don't even know how it would work. the old rules were, and i think, john, you'd know more about this. when they were afraid of ron paul last time around at an open
convention, they said you had to win a majority of eight states. now every convention reconstitutes itself. and comes up with new rules. so what are the rules? if you went into a convention where nobody had a majority. if you went into a convention, they'd have to write new rules. you think the trump people are going to lie down and play dead when you write those rules? absolutely not. so there are no power brokers anymore. there are very committed delegates for donald trump. and then as john points out, what do you do? say maybe we'd like paul ryan to be the nominee? i don't see how you do that without going through the process. >> i don't think it's going to happen. if it happens, i do not see somebody who came in second, third or fourth ending up being the nominee. if you van open convention and nobody who ran wuns at that point, then i don't think this is going to happen but they'll say where is mitt romney, paul ryan, it goes to somebody new.
this is fantasyland. the challenge is, if you aren't donald trump, the challenge is to find a way to beat him consistently. they've not been able to do that. >> you can't disenfranchise your base. >> when you turn out new voters and a lot of enthusiasm about -- >> the customer is always right. >> the people at the convention for trump aren't the same ones for him, but the point still stands. nia, gloria, john, appreciate it. if that's fantasyland then what we have tonight is an all-important reality. what happens on the gop debate stage is going to make a big deal going on. the factors that go into it, we're going to talk about as well. this man, the former president of mexico, has just weighed in in a big way. and used language that even donald trump doesn't like. does a freshly printed presentation fill you with optimism? then you might be gearcentric.
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welcome back. we're live from the university houston where the cnn republican debate begins in two hours. donald trump will be the target tonight. for his rivals, it's a final chance to slow down the front-runner. let's check in with chief white house correspondent jim acosta. the candidates will provide
plenty of fire tonight. now an outsider, former mexican president, is also lashing out at trump and probably giving him a gift. >> that's right, anderson. so much of an outsider, he's outside of the country. donald trump is battling with a different kind of fox. after battling with the bushes and the pope, he's now fighting with vicente fox. he was asked by jorge ramos at fusion about asking mexico to pay for a wall on the border. he had some harsh words for saying mr. trump, tear down that wall. here's what's he had to say. >> i'm not going to pay for that [ bleep ] wall. he should pay for it. he's got the money. >> are you afraid he's going to be the next president of the united states? >> not at all. no, democracy cannot take the crazy people that doesn't know what's going on in the world
today. >> now as he often does, trump fired back on twitter. we put this up on screen saying vicente fox horribly used an "f" word in attacking me. of course, donald trump known to use a few f-bombs himself. vice president joe biden who was down in mexico today with the current president of mexico enrique pinieto. he apologized for some of the rhetoric on the campaign trail on the republican side, namely, donald trump. here's what's vice president biden had to say. >> there's been a lot of damaging and incredibly inaccurate rhetoric. and i would argue i feel almost obliged to apologize for what some of my political colleagues have said. it is about mexico, about the mexican people. it's a heated campaign season, and i just want you to know, mr. president, that the most heated
rhetoric you've heard from some of the competitors for the nomination of president is not who we are as the american people. it is not a view that is the view of the majority of the american people. it's the exact opposite. it's the opposite view. >> while democrats, including the vice president are seizing on this fight between donald trump and vicente fox, i talked to a top republican strategist who said this is sort of a gift to donald trump to have the gop front-runner fighting with the former president of mexico. probably will play well with donald trump supporters and probably here tonight as well. chris? >> you know, jim, what does he want to talk about? justifying whether his economic plan adds more to the debt than the current administration or building a wall and how the mexican former president is against it? easy decision for donald trump. let's discuss with our political commentators, ana navarro, kevin madden and s.e. cupp.
donald trump says he wants an apology. he probably wants to say, thank you. >> it's the best thing that could happen to donald trump. the best thing that could happen to donald trump today. maybe the only thing that would have been better if vicente fox said it in spanish. look, for -- i can see vicente fox's position. mexico, mexicans very nationalistic country. they have to be very offended at some of the things donald trump has said. but it plays right into his hands. it is a great gift with the republican base to get into a fight with the former president of mexico. sure as hell beats into getting into a fight with pope francis. >> biden's comments and using the word apologize down in mexico. that plays right into donald trump's hands. >> no doubt you'll hear that on the debate stage from one or more of the candidates talking about joe biden apologizing in a
foreign country for rhetoric that's being said on the campaign trail. >> i don't think that's the best line of attack from marco rubio or ted cruz. i think there are other things they'll want at the top of their agenda. donald trump, the next time you hear him on the campaign trail, he's going to be reveling in the fact he has now gotten us into this one-on-one debate with somebody like vicente fox. he's going to be using that to his advantage. >> and it also makes him look like the big man, right? he's being taken on my former presidents, popes, it gives him a sense of dominance. >> yeah. >> with that in mind, what's do you think the ads justment is, the calibration on that stage for a rubio, for a cruz when they want to be considered the man? >> well, i absolutely would take on trump on that biden apology. the whole problem with trump is that he's a gift to democrats. he allows democrats like joe
biden to inaccurately but convincingly paint all republicans with the same brush. you heard joe biden apologizing for some of the candidates. we know he's talking about one candidate, donald trump. but whether it's hillary clinton or barack obama or joe biden, they are all able to paint the entire republican party with a trump brush, even despite the fact that the other candidates have regularly and routinely gone against donald trump. so i absolutely would, if i were rubio or cruz, talk about the damage that trump is doing to the republican party and that he is a gift to democrats like hillary clinton. >> kevin madden, you were the senior communications strategist for mitt romney. what do you think his strategy is in coming forward now? coming forward yesterday and questioning donald trump when is he going to release his taxes? is he hiding something, suggesting there may be a bombshell there. >> it's born of a frustration
that the campaigns right now haven't gone after donald trump with a harder edge. >> this is a signal to the other candidates -- >> it's a signal this is how you do it. the other part of that message is what i'm going to do is soften him up so you can attack him -- >> who asked him? >> i don't think it was coordinated. >> it was his idea to call out taxes after what happened with harry reid? >> i think the other candidates would say, mitt, i don't think you are the best guy to -- >> we should point out to our viewers, he was hit hard by the democrats for not releasing his taxes. finally did release them. >> and nobody betters than governor romney knows the effectiveness of that attack and how it exposes you to a certain vulnerable message that you are -- you are hiding something or you aren't being transparent enough. and that is a potential vulnerability for donald trump should he decide to continue to not -- >> but has trump inoculated himself from some of that
criticism? i think it was you who made the point last night, when the democrats did it against mitt romney it allowed the democrats to define mitt romney who was largely unknown. donald trump is a known quantity and has come forward and said i'll tell you one thing. i want to pay as little taxes as possible. >> and the qualification i had for it last night which is this is a potentially very effective attack on a traditional candidate. donald trump is not that traditional. >> people like that he's rich. it's not a net worth statement. >> he's been unapologetic, chris. he said absolutely, i try to keep my taxes low. i don't want to give any more money to the government so they can waste it. that's been a bridge between him and his supporters who buy into that economic -- >> we have to take a short break. more from ana and s.e. and kevin. we'll take a short break. our coverage continues in just a moment.
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there is a lot going on in the race for president ahead of tonight's big cnn gop debate. let's get back with our political commentators to make sense of it all. here you have cuomo and cooper with ana navarro, kevin madden and s.e. cupp. you are too good a source about romney having worked on the campaign. >> you do know he was known as the sixth son.
hopefully he'll get 1/6 of the inheritance. >> from the trump perspective, here comes the party at me. they're supposed to be fair. now the guy that's the last nominee coming up about taxes being echoed by other village elders. it can seem a little contrived. >> the hard part about it, it can serve as a rallying point for so many republicans who felt like mitt romney and the campaign we ran didn't run hard enough. and wasn't successful. and that's some of what you've seen in donald trump's response, right? mitt romney didn't fight hard enough, i will. mitt romney didn't win, i will. and it has served as a bit of a motivator for some of his supporters. you'll continue to see that, which is that's the past. i'm the future. >> do you think romney continues to kind of be in the forefront? >> i do. first he cares about the direction of this party -- sorry, the direction of the country and thinks it would be important for him to lead some
of the criticism against somebody he thinks would be a -- would not be a good president. also would not be a good nominee for the party, a good representative of the party. he believes that's deeply and will continue to have a voice in this process. >> interesting. >> it's got to be incredibly frustrating for mitt romney. he's got to be tearing the beautiful head of hair out because, look, mitt romney got labelled a flip-flopper. donald trump has flip-flopped on every possible issue under the sun and yet the label has not stuck to him. >> different time. donald trump is seen as an antidote to the ills of that party and the process. >> donald trump has embraced his wealth and said i'm very, very rich. he's turned it into an asset. so i think he's just judged on a very different scale than everybody else. >> s.e., there has been so much talk over the months of a trump ceiling. let's look at this quinnipiac poll from florida. trump stands at 44% beating rubio in his home state.
look at his numbers in nevada that he won wutith. as gop candidates continue to drop out, it's possible you'll see trump cross the 50% threshhold. this whole notion that if other candidates drop out it ends up being a one on one contest that benefits the anti-trump. that may not be true at all. >> it may not be. you know, when the campaign first began, i think, for example, ben carson and donald trump shared some voters. i think as donald trump ratcheted up his language, a lot of those carson voters didn't go to trump. they went to other candidates who were more convincing candidate. more electable. but, sure, there's no guarantee that if, say, ben carson or john kasich dropped out that those voters would definitely go to marco rubio or ted they could go with trump, but what i do know is as long as there are four other people running against trump, that only benefits trump.
and we'll never really know if there's a contest between a trump and a trump alternative until there's only one trump alternative. who is going to tell ted cruz, who has actually won a primary, to get out now? who is going to tell marco rubio, who is besting cruz, to get out? from my point of view, it only makes sense for ben carson should drop out. you could make a case that kasich could go into ohio. it's a tough spot. i think tonight is going is to be a hugely, hugely important debate for all of these contestants. >> yeah. about an hour and 40 minutes ahead. a critical showdown in tonight's cnn republican debate. can donald trump's rivals try to slow his momentum? is that even possible? what does the frontrunner need to do tonight to help him stay on top? we'll ask a supporter next.
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when you're a fan it's never just one thing, it's everything. introducing nascar on xfinity x1, get live race stats right on your tv. change the way you experience nascar with xfinity x1. we are counting down to the cnn republican presidential debate. a little over 90 minutes away. joining me now is a donald trump supporter. good to have you on the program. trump hasn't focused on specifics. he said he'll build a wall and mexico will pay for it. he says he'll knock the hell out of isis. could we be looking at a candidate who doesn't have a lot of meat on the bone in terms of
specifics for these policies? >> i don't think so. right now the beauty of trump is his simplicity. he puts forth a very simple message. i'm going to make america great again. he brings forth the outline of his policies in debates and it resonates with voters. if you go to his website, you see the specifics. a debate format isn't necessarily where he's going to bring those out. he wants to drive home his simple message. >> i'm not talking about a debate format. i'm talking about in interviews and speeches. don't you want the president to be familiar with the specifics, the very detailed specifics, of a policy rather than just saying you can go to this website where maybe somebody else has written it out? >> i think he gives those specifics. >> really? >> with health care, he says he doesn't want to see americans dying on the streets. health care savings account. i'm going to allow there to be a
free market system. i think he's given a lot of specifics. i think it's working. >> right. but those two sentences. it's definitely working, but those are two sentences describing his health care plan. can you say three or four more sentences to describe his health care plan? >> i think he certainly could. he's a very smart man. he's build a $10 billion brand. >> you cannot? >> hillary clinton has eight 12-point visions. donald trump can do that. but people are tired of the 12-point visions that never get implemented or put in practice. people want strength more so than 12-point plans. >> i'm not asking for a 12-point plan. i'm asking for two or three more points about the health plan. >> absolutely.
let's pivot to the tax plan where he says anyone under -- >> no, i'm talking about the health plan. >> those are the two key prongs of his plan. repeal -- okay, the health plan, repeal obamacare. replace it across state lines. that's all he needs to put forth at this time. >> two. >> those are the two prongs of the policy. you can go to his website to find the detailed nitty-gritty. >> you know what the point is. he's not winning or fighting this fight on the basis of policy. that's not what he's offering right now. what he's offering is an antidote to the process. if he maintains this position and he becomes the nominee, everything changes in the general. just looking at hillary clinton or bernie sanders and telling
them how much you don't like them won't be enough. do you believe that he will change in a way to capture minds and hearts the way you need to to win an election in this country? >> i don't think he needs to change. you look at south carolina where 92% of voters who voted were angry with the federal government. likewise you look in nevada. 94% were angry the federal government. people don't like what's happening. they don't like obamacare. you have 2,000 more pages in obamacare. what you get in practice is a flawed and broken system. voters are rejecting washington and specifics. they want donald trump to capture their anger, speak to them, purvey strength. when he gets in the white house, you're going to see a very successful country. >> thanks very much. thanks very much for watching. i'm anderson cooper. you've been watching "the situation room." coverage continues right now with "erin burnett outfront."
i'll see you back in an hour. good evening. i'm erin burnett. welcome to a very special edition "outfront." we are live from houston, texas. the five republican candidates for president are about to take the stage behind me in a crucial faceoff. this is the final debate before super tuesday when 12 states will vote and everything is on the line to want. center stage the frontrunner, donald trump. he'll be standing there. he has won three states in a row. in the lead by 65 delegates. ready to take him on his left and his right, the men running out of time to stop him. ted cruz is the only man so far to beat trump, but he's 0 for 3 after his iowa win and facing a must-win primary here in his home state. texas is going