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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Poll: Trump Gains 13 Points Since October; GOP Candidates Prepare For Final Debate of 2015; Anti-Establishment Republicans Dominate 2016 Polls. Aired 7-8:00p ET

Aired December 14, 2015 - 19:00   ET

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


[19:00:00] ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: OUTFRONT next, Donald Trump surging even after he proposes banning Muslims from America, can he be stopped? The final Republican debate of the year, less than 24 hours away right here on CNN.

Plus, Ted Cruz, he's been called the wacko bird and a Marxist by his fellow Republicans. Does the party establishment fear him more than Trump?

And did one of the San Bernardino shooters get a free pass? Why did U.S. immigration officials completely ignore Tashfeen Malik's social media accounts before giving her a visa? Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening to all. I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight, Trump is surging. Donald Trump taking an even more commanding lead in the new poll tonight as he prepares for the final GOP debate of the year live on CNN. The latest Monmouth University poll giving Trump his biggest nationwide lead ever. Forty one percent of Republican voters. Just look at the screen for a second. If you're listening on the radio, I'll make it loud and clear. That is 27 percentage points ahead of Ted Cruz, which is who is number two, and it's up 13 percentage points since October. That's a stunning lead. To be loud and clear, this poll was taken after Trump's controversial proposal to ban Muslims from entering the U.S.

You are looking at a live picture of the debate stage in Las Vegas, that is at the Venetian where the Republican candidates will face off tomorrow night. Rehearsals are under way right now. Trump will be at the center podium -- by chief rivals Ben Carson and for the first time Ted Cruz because Cruz is closing in on Trump in at least one poll, according to the latest Des Moines Register poll. He has a lead in Iowa. Ten points ahead of Trump. The stakes are also incredibly high for Marco Rubio who moments ago avoided his GOP rivals in a speech to Vegas supporters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARCO RUBIO (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is our turn. The time for us to act is now. What we have before is the opportunity to be the authors of the most extraordinary chapter in the amazing stories of America.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BURNETT: Jeff Zeleny begins our coverage OUTFRONT tonight in Las

Vegas. Now, Jeff, how high are the stakes? Right? I mean, this is as big as it gets.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Erin, there is no question this is as big as it gets marginally because time is running out here. Voters are beginning to make their choices in those early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina. So, Donald Trump is leading nationally. No question about it. But at this point in the contest, it's those state by state polls that may be more important. That's why all eyes are going to be on Ted Cruz and Donald Trump tomorrow night.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you very much.

ZELENY: Donald Trump is still on top but tonight a new pecking order in the Republican race. And a new line-up on the debate stage. Ted Cruz suddenly gaining ground nationally and in the key state of Iowa, even overtaking Trump by 10 percentage points. The frontrunners will be standing next to each other tomorrow night, this first time they have come face-to-face since the personal attacks started. Trump giving CNN's State of the Union a preview.

TRUMP: Because I'm more capable, because I have a much better temperament. Because I actually get along with people much better than he does.

ZELENY: He took it one step further on "FOX News Sunday."

TRUMP: When you look at the way he's dealt with the Senate where he goes in there like a, you know, frankly, like a little bit of a maniac, you're never going to get things done that way.

ZELENY: That generated the most unusual response from Cruz. Responding on Twitter with a 1980s flashback to "Flashdance." "In honor of my friend Donald Trump and good hearted maniacs everywhere." So far, Cruz refuses to hit back publicly at Trump. But behind closed doors, he took the first swing.

RUBIO: People are looking for who is prepared to a commander-in- chief. I think that is a question of strength but it is also a question of judgment and I think that is a question that is challenging question for both of them.

ZELENY: Cruz maybe the top target tomorrow night and not just for Trump. Senator Marco Rubio is drawing attention to Cruz's voting record, accusing him of being weak on National Security.

RUBIO: So, I guess my point is, each time he's had to choose between strong national defense and some of the isolationist tendencies of American politics, he seems to side with the isolationist.

ZELENY: Rubio is trailing Trump and Cruz in national and state polls, he hopes to convince voters he's more electable. In a hypothetical head-to-head matchup, Hillary Clinton crashes Trump 50 to 40 percent. She's 48 to 45 over Cruz. But a different story for Marco Rubio. He leads her 48 to 45 percent.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: Now, Donald Trump will be coming to Las Vegas tonight to hold a late-night rally on the eve of this debate. But a bit of different news from Donald Trump today. Some medical news from his doctor, he's 69-years-old and they are having some questions about how his health is. So, his doctor put out a statement saying, his health is astonishingly excellent. So sort of talking about some of those superlatives like Donald Trump often talks to himself. But he said he's lost 15 pounds over the last year or so and the doctor closed the statement saying this. He said, "If elected, Mr. Trump will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency." So, Erin, unclear how this doctor can make quite that judgment. But Donald Trump is saying he is incredibly healthy and he's ready to be president.

[19:05:26] BURNETT: Wow. As you say, it's almost as if Donald Trump wrote it himself. I'm sure we've checked to make sure it's a real doctor. I'm just kidding, everyone.

OK. OUTFRONT next, nationally syndicated radio host Steve Deace, he is endorsed Ted Cruz for president. Jeffrey Lord, Trump supporter. S.E. Cupp and Ben Ferguson, both our political contributors. OK. Thanks to all of you. I'll start with you Steve. Cruz started a Trump fight with Trump behind closed doors. Just heard Jeff talking about it. Does he need to take it out into the open tomorrow night to say, all right, I'm going to fight this?

STEVE DEACE, RADIO HOST, "THE STEVE DEACE SHOW": I don't think so, Erin. I mean, listen, Ted Cruz has been right to welcome Donald Trump to the Republican Party. I mean, I know, the establishment hates him but they are always the ones talking about growing the party and here's Donald Trump, a lifelong democrat, lifelong progressive, lifelong liberal who's given more money than anybody watching this as ever seen in their lifetimes to the Rahm Emanuels and the Al Shartpons of the world. We should be welcoming him to the Republican Party with open arms. At this late hour in the country's tipping point here, he's finally decided to adopt conservatism and I'm happy to hear that.

BURNETT: Well, to your point about a big ten, if he could bring Democrats in, it would be the biggest of all. But Jeff --

DEACE: Well, by bringing in Donald Trump, we've brought Democrats in. We've brought win in to the big ten. Yes.

BURNETT: So Jeff, Cruz is a master debater. Let's just be honest, right? Even arguing in front of the Supreme Court nine times. Is Donald Trump afraid facing off against Ted Cruz?

JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, I don't think so. Donald Trump is not afraid of much, if anything. No. I don't think so. I think he'll perform as he's supposed to perform. He'll do very well. You know, at this point, interestingly, we've had so many of these debates. As you saw after all of these debates and after his most recent comments, he's broken the 40 marks. So, I don't really know that there's that much going on in terms of his debate-wise tomorrow night. I mean, what can he lose?

BURNETT: I mean, Ben, that's the point, right?

BEN FERGUSON, RADIO HOST, "THE BEN FERGUSON SHOW": He could lose a lot.

BURNETT: He could lose a lot.

FERGUSON: I mean, look, if you say, if you're Ted Cruz, do you want to go back and forth with Donald Trump back on stage? Yes. Do you want to trash talk with him over twitter? No. Do you want to trash talk with him -- his campaign stop versus your campaign stop? Absolutely not. But tomorrow night, if you're Ted Cruz, engaging Donald Trump on issues and showing how vulnerable he is compared to his knowledge of what is going on is probably the best move that Ted Cruz can make.

BURNETT: It's pretty incredible. I mean, S.E., nothing Donald Trump has or has not done on that stage has hurt him so far. Right? The moment he infamously called Carly Fiorina a beautiful woman because people said, what he had said in the magazine was she was ugly. None of this hurts him. This latest poll, 41 percent, 13 percentage points up since October. Twenty seven percentage points ahead of Ted Cruz after the Muslim comments. That is pretty stunning.

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: For sure. Yes. He seems to be Teflon. I think there was an interesting development today. Rush Limbaugh was talking about Donald Trump and Donald Trump's attack on Ted Cruz. And it's a very complicated sort of the love triangle between Trump and Cruz and Rush. But basically, Rush criticized Donald Trump's attack on Ted Cruz as sort of the establishment attack on Ted Cruz. And if Rush is suddenly sorting -- seeming to side with Ted Cruz and defend Ted Cruz against Trump, that might put Trump in a very, very precarious position. You know, as loyal as Donald Trump's supporters are, they can't hold a candle to Russia's supporters. So he -- you know, interesting to see if he goes after Ted Cruz again on the same line of attack knowing he might get Russia's wrath again or if he seems, you know -- starts to moderate it a bit, both at the debate and in future, you know, events.

FERGUSON: It was one of the most awkward, I think, debates that I've ever seen with, when you see Donald Trump ripping on Ted Cruz for going after the GOP establishment. He literally was going after Mitch McConnell which is exactly why people love Donald Trump. And now he's saying, when you go to Washington, you don't attack the establishment? It was one of the most shocking moments for me looking at Donald Trump. Because if you hear Donald Trump, if I'm Ted Cruz tomorrow night, I'm going to walk out there and say, Donald, if you go to Washington and people send you there, you're saying you will not go after the establishment? You'll play a game with them? You'll be nice to them? You won't call them out when they are lying? Because that's what America fell in love with the Donald Trump. That's what conservatives are falling in love with.

BURNETT: Right.

FERGUSON: And how he's literally saying that Ted Cruz is a maniac for doing that exact same thing which is going after Republican establishment.

BURNETT: Well, speaking of the Republican establishment, Jeff, who has to hit it out of the park tomorrow?

[19:10:16] LORD: Well, I mean, they all -- I mean, I would say that Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and Marco Rubio have to hit it out of the park respectively. Frankly, at this point, I'm not sure any of the others matter with the possible exception of Governor Christie. But I must say, I'm amused to hear some the same people who are essentially saying, Donald Trump was acting like a maniac and now they're pleading with them to act like a maniac.

BURNETT: But there is an irony --

LORD: This is good. We're making progress.

FERGUSON: And that's not what I'm saying at all. But my point is this. Donald Trump has come out and said that if you send me to Washington, I will go after the Republican establishment. He's even threatened to leave the GOP over the Republican establishment yet he's criticizing Ted Cruz for doing the exact same thing that he's claiming he wants to go to Washington to do and called him a maniac.

BURNETT: Maybe he's saying he wouldn't shut down the government. He wants to get something done as opposed to Ted Cruz.

FERGUSON: Look, I don't want to put words in Donald Trump's mouth, that's exactly but I say this, that's not what he said at all.

BURNETT: Right.

FERGUSON: He said he's a maniac because he called a leader of the Republican Party a liar when he lied to him and I think that's something that people should pay attention to.

BURNETT: Steve, I'll give you the final word.

DEACE: I completely agree and I think if I'm Ted Cruz, all I'm going to be concerned about is to continue doing what I'm already doing, Erin, which is consolidating the conservative vote because there are more conservatives than Trump supporters. He's already built a larger coalition in Iowa than Trump has. And if Trump ends up being the polling leader for 180 days heading into Iowa and then loses the very first contest where people actually vote, you will see his campaign implode and I do believe he will lose Iowa.

BURNETT: All right. We'll talk much more about that at this hour. Whether that really would cause his campaign to implode. Because we have got the full electoral map coming up. Next, could Ted Cruz topple Donald Trump and which one of them

really is a bigger nightmare for the Republican, quote-unquote, "establishment?"

Plus, with those caucuses just weeks away in Iowa the primaries are kicking into high gear. We're going to show you on that map how quickly a Republican nominee could emerge. Would losing Iowa cause Trump to quote-unquote, "implode."

And San Bernardino shooter Tashfeen Malik, she posted about jihad on her social media account. She never tried to hide it at all. But officials never checked that. And by the way, it was purposeful. It's policy to not check social media. Shocker. We'll be back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:15:44] BURNETT: And this is a live picture next to me, this is a CNN debate hall, that's where the Republican candidates will be taking the stage tomorrow less than 24 hours from now. This is their final debate of the year, the crucial debate before everyone starts to talk about the real vote. Center stage will be the front-runner, Donald Trump. Next to him is Ted Cruz, the Texas senator surging ahead of Trump in a new Iowa poll. The two have one big thing in common. The so-called establishment detests -- and that's a very fair word here, we thought long in here before using it. It's fair, detests them both.

Sara Murray is OUTFRONT.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Donald Trump and Ted Cruz leading the field in Iowa. A conundrum for establishment Republicans. Is the bigger threat the enemy you know?

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And we need to take power out of Washington and back to we the people.

MURRAY: Or the one you don't?

TRUMP: I'm dealing with all of these blood-sucker politicians and they will make their deals and have all of their money guys around. And they'll be in the back room making deals. But if I get the number of delegates, there's not a thing they can do.

MURRAY: Both candidates have made waves with controversial policy positions. Cruz suggesting a religious test for Syrian refugees.

CRUZ: Christians right now are facing persecution and potential genocide by ISIS. They are being beheaded, they are being crucified. And we ought to be working to provide a safe haven to the Christian refugees but we shouldn't be bringing potential terrorists into America.

TRUMP: Wow. Thank you. MURRAY: And Trump, calling for blocking Muslims altogether.

TRUMP: Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.

MURRAY: Like Trump --

TRUMP: When Mexico sends its people, they are not sending their best. They are bringing drugs, they are bringing crime, their rapists.

MURRAY: Cruz also has a history of making jarring remarks. One saying that accepting ObamaCare was akin to appeasing the Nazis during World War II.

CRUZ: We saw in Britain, Neville Chamberlain who told the British people except the Nazis and in America, there were voices that listened to that.

MURRAY: And taking a flip approach to a question about contraception.

CRUZ: Last I checked, we don't have a rubber shortage in America.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: Now, neither of these candidates are stranger to starring with the Republican establishment. And when I talked to a number of Republican sources today, they told me begrudgingly that they felt like Ted Cruz might be a slightly better option out of Cruz and Trump but all of the Republicans I talked to, these mainstream establishment Republicans said they still felt confident that the party would rally around someone like Marco Rubio or maybe even someone like Chris Christie, someone closer to the mold of candidates who have been nominated in the past -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Sara, thank you so much. OUTFRONT now, Ted Cruz supporter Bob Vander Plaats, president and CEO of the influential family leader. Ben Ferguson back with me as well. Also Donald Trump's supporter and former Navy SEAL Carl Higbie and David Gergen, former adviser to four presidents including Reagan and Clinton.

Bob, let me start with you. People have criticized Trump's rhetoric. But you just heard Ted Cruz compared ObamaCare to the Nazis. The Nazis of course exterminated six million Jews alone during the holocaust. Is that acceptable rhetoric from Ted Cruz?

BOB VANDER PLAATS, CONSERVATIVE LEADER ENDORSING CRUZ: Well, when you take a look at what's happening on the ground, whether it be the national polling you keep sighting or the Iowa polling you're sighting. And you're seeing Trump and Cruz rise to the top, it's because they are saying what is on the minds of the American people. They want national security. They want border security. They want bold leadership. They don't want someone who is just going to roll over with the establishment and play politics as usual. These two men are real forces in this campaign and I think in Iowa it's going to be down to Trump and Cruz. I happen to believe that Cruz is unifying the conservatives the way he needs to unifying the conservatives, and I believe he has a chance to be successful in the state of Iowa.

BURNETT: All right. I noticed you didn't directly address my question on the Nazi issue. But Carl, let me put that to you. You have Ted Cruz talking about Nazis and ObamaCare. You have Donald Trump saying, he wants to ban all Muslims.

CARL HIGBIE, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Yes.

BURNETT: I mean, these things are offensive to a lot of people and divisive to a lot of people.

[19:20:04] HIGBIE: They are. They are divisive. But that is what's getting the soundbites, the American people have a fire in their gut right now and they are igniting it. You know, the Iowa poll, that's fine. Look at who won Iowa in 2008. It was Huckabee and then Santorum in 2012. I'm not too concern about Iowa --

BURNETT: So, you're saying -- even if the poll is right, it doesn't matter?

HIGBIE: I don't think it matters. I mean, like in the last eight years, nobody has gone on to be president who has won the republican primary in Iowa.

BURNETT: All right. Which is a fair point on that poll.

FERGUSON: It's a fair point but I also think this election is a little different. I mean, this is a different election this time because Donald Trump is setting himself up for failure. He said, I'm the greatest, I'm the best, I'm going to win everything.

BURNETT: Right.

FERGUSON: You come out and you lose the first one. That is a momentum stopper and it also, well, it also makes everyone pay attention to this other person that, in the eyes of the media that has been talking about. This was not supposed to be able to win. Donald Trump said no one is supposed to be able to win this. I'm the guy, I'm the winner, I always win. You don't win coming out, it can have a much bigger effect.

BURNETT: So, David, when we just heard in our last panel the conclusion from Steve Deace was, look, if Trump doesn't win Iowa, his campaign implodes.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't think that's true there. It's much stronger in New Hampshire. You've got these national surveys. I think there is that danger and I think we're all going to be watching this. Does the air start going out of the balloon? BURNETT: Right.

GERGEN: Is that finally -- everybody has been expecting. But I think it's way too early to call that if you go into New Hampshire, you just don't finalize support for Ted Cruz. You do find a fair amount of support still there for Donald Trump.

BURNETT: All right. In terms of this whole Donald Trump-Ted Cruz duel that's going on that all of us are talking about, all right? The latest poll that I mentioned a few moments ago, the 41 percent Monmouth that is so stunning for Donald Trump, 41 percent, 27 percentage points ahead of Ted Cruz at number two. But that's not the way to look at this poll. I would argue try to combine the outsider candidates, Trump, Cruz and Carson, you get to 64 percent. So, 64 percent of the Republican voters are going to pick one of those three. Eighteen percent is the combination for the establishment. Rubio, Bush, Kasich and Chris Christie.

FERGUSON: They are furious. Republican voters are furious. And that's what that points out.

BURNETT: I mean, I would argue that the worst establishment actually goes to the outsiders because the establishment is a big course. The establishment here is the fringe.

FERGUSON: The establishment has been losing. I mean, you can go back to Eric Cantor and he lost. Why? Because he was the establishment. It was that simple. And I think there's a lot of people that look at this and I talk to them every day when they call in. They are furious with the Republican establishments, the easy person to hate right now. They gave you Jeb Bush. You rejected him instantly. Look at where he is in the polls.

BURNETT: But isn't that a recipe for loss if their anger is directed at their own party?

GERGEN: When the Republican control the Senate, they control the house, they have more than half the governorship, it's hard to say that they are not the establishment.

(CROSSTALK)

BURNETT: But they are angry at a lot of these Republicans and have been too establishment.

HIGBIE: They are angry at the people that are currently in office right now. And like, like I said, I've been saying this since day one. People said, look, five percent, that's a ceiling, ten percent, that's a ceiling, 15 percent, the Trump train is coming. Get on board or get run over.

BURNETT: It is now about 40. I think it's fair, people said it couldn't get there.

GERGEN: They are praying a very dangerous game, though. You know, the kind of rhetoric, the extreme rhetoric is one thing to go after the establishment and it's another thing to start talking about Nazism the way Ted Cruz is and the other thing to start talking about Muslims the way Donald Trump is. If they are not careful, the nomination is not going to be worth having, they're going to give it to Hillary Clinton if they're not careful.

HIGBIE: Cruz is seeing the Trump, you know, the factor saying the most outlandish stuff in the world. I think Cruz is trying to get onboard with that and he just didn't have the same charismas from.

BURNETT: Bob, are you worried, though that to this point that if you have this fight within the Republican Party, right, establishment versus outsider, you end up fighting so much within yourselves that you do hand it to Hillary Clinton.

PLAATS: Absolutely not. Because Hillary Clinton is a great motivating factor for all Republicans to come together. And to think that Republicans are the only ones having this conversation and discussion and argument and being upset with D.C., take a look at the democrat side. You have this thing called Bernie Sanders. Hillary Clinton has got a huge issue with her base. And I take exception with Iowa. The last general election winners, George W. Bush and Barack Obama all got their start in Iowa. I believe in '08, Iowa got right with Huckabee, the country got it wrong. In '12, we got right with Santorum, the country got wrong. But this time when Cruz wins Iowa, I believe he runs the table and we get it right and you'll see a President Cruz.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you all four very much.

OUTFRONT next, does Donald Trump have a lock on the nomination? Obviously not what Bob just said but as the question. Or could just one primary lost derail his campaign? We have a special report on that map, coming up.

And the San Bernardino shooters ranted about jihad on social media. Why didn't U.S. officials ever even look at Tashfeen Malik's accounts before handing her a visa? Here is the scary thing everyone. It wasn't a mistake.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:28:46] BURNETT: Tonight, the countdown to Iowa. We are just weeks away from first contest of 2016 in and historically crowded field where an outsider like Donald Trump has led the pact for six months running. Who has a real shot at winning the nomination? It's time to look at the map.

Tom Foreman is OUTFRONT. And Tom, how long will it take for a winner?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If the numbers of the polls are correct and if Donald Trump has his way, it might only take five weeks. But there are plenty of people who want to stop that. Let's look at these early states. They all come off in February and there is still a contest in play here. Look at this. Donald Trump is out here in Iowa. He's got -- they have 27 delegates there to compete over. He's very close to tied with Ted Cruz in the state. So, they could be splitting those delegates. Move over to New Hampshire. There, Donald Trump has a much bigger lead. But look who is running second there for 24 guys.

Chris Christie and Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. Come down to South Carolina. Look what is happening there. Again, Trump has a lead but this is not all getting overall. Once it's proportional. Ben Carson and Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio competing for 50 delegates there. And then across here in Nevada, it is Donald Trump and Ben Carson behind him for 30 delegates here. So, you can see what is happening here. Yes, Donald Trump has big numbers out here. But -- but bear in mind, all of these elections can affect the next one along the way. And the question becomes in this debate, in this debate, can anyone push that momentum down on him and establish himself or herself as a strong second so that they are still in the game as they move further down the way -- Erin.

BURNETT: Yes. Because I mean, it sounds like, you know, what you are saying, Cruz is a second, Rubio is a second, Christie is a second, Carson is a second. You can see exactly how it gets complicated quickly.

So, I know that getting in early matters but you're going to just four states. If Trump -- even if he does well, could others catch up later? Because as you point out, you don't get -- you don't win and get 100 percent of the votes in those early states.

FOREMAN: That is exactly right. And you nailed it right there, Erin. You talked about all of the other people who are in second but it's a question of momentum.

What they have to look at is a possible momentum because as soon as you move into March, look what happens -- 13 states come in to play. Hundreds of delegates are out there and we don't have great polling to say who is doing the best job but we know in many of the states, Trump's issues run very, very well. It becomes an uphill battle if they let him get a lot of momentum.

Again, that's why in this debate, the candidates have to somehow knock Trump down a little bit or somebody has to emerge as a clear second. If they do that, and these numbers hold true, then they have a real race. If they don't, then Trump might be able to do exactly what he said -- run the table. We don't know until the actual voting begins. But the numbers are tough right now.

BURNETT: The numbers are tough and the uncertainty in so many ways unprecedented.

Tom Foreman, thank you very much.

And OUTFRONT now, the chief strategist for the Bush/Cheney '04 presidential campaign Matthew Dowd, along with David Gergen back with me.

All right. David, how long could this go? You heard Tom Foreman. It could be very quick, or it could be -- DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It could be short,

middle or long. If Donald Trump wins Iowa, there's a reasonable possibly he could run the first four.

BURNETT: And it's done?

GERGEN: And then he sweeps the table.

If Donald Trump loses Iowa, Ted Cruz wins it, he could shake things up. And, say, if Cruz was to win Iowa and South Carolina and Trump win the other two, New Hampshire and Nevada, then you could have a two-man race. Or, if there are four different winners and it's the first four, it could go all the way to the convention if they're brokered event.

That's why it could be short, or it could be middle, or it could be long.

BURNETT: Uncertainty is what makes it so exciting.

GERGEN: Exactly.

BURNETT: I mean, you pointed out that Donald Trump's lead is similar to other winners, Ronald Reagan, among them. Does Donald Trump has the clearest path to victory right now?

MATTHEW DOWD, CHIEF STRATEGIST, 2004 BUSH-CHENEY PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: Donald Trump absolutely has the clearest path to victory right now. He's leading all the national polls. He's basically tied in Iowa.

He's the most dominant candidate we've had in a primary since George Bush in 2000. He's the most dominant primary candidate. He's more dominant than John McCain was in 2008. He's more dominant than Mitt Romney was in 2012.

And keep this in mind: if February is a state by state month, if it's a state by state, this is always the case, the first month in the Republican or the Democratic primary is the state by state, those states matter. After February, it become as national race. And if Donald Trump can piece this together long enough in February that it becomes a national race, it's very hard to stop Donald Trump if the national race -- if Donald Trump is carrying a 15 or 20-point lead.

That's why everybody else in the past process, Erin, has fallen off and it becomes a national race and the national race takes over. That's what this race is all about. It's state by state for the first month and a nationalized race after that.

BURNETT: And when you say nationalized, I mean, you're talking right about, you know, last time I feel like every month -- every week, there were one or two primaries. Once you get to March this time, you have a Tuesday where you have ten states and another Tuesday, five or six. It favors those with money that can play in multiple regions. DOWD: Well, it favors those with money. But, more importantly,

it favors those with momentum and a broad constituency across the country. There's going to be multiple states at one time. Even though primaries and caucuses are conducted in different states in March, they are simultaneous.

And so, you can't be a Ted Cruz in Iowa and spend all of your time and effort and go after one constituency. You're in multiple states at one time.

I agree with David. This race could go any a number of ways. It all depends on what happens in Iowa.

I think if Donald Trump wins Iowa, the race is over because after that, the dominoes start falling. If Ted Cruz, as David said, wins Iowa, then we don't know for sure where it goes from there.

I think this debate could be the most important debate in the cycle because we have these Christmas holidays and New Year's holidays. The debate is going to happen tomorrow night. And then the debate happened, three or four days after than, we'll freeze primarily until we get to the New Year.

And then you have the sprint going into Iowa in New Hampshire and then quickly the states start falling. That's why I think tomorrow night is so important for all of the candidates in the field.

GERGEN: Matthew has nailed this in many, many ways, as he often does.

[19:35:03] I just want to point out one thing.

BURNETT: Yes?

GERGEN: Yes, Trump is like Reagan, he's like some of these other front-runners we've had in terms of his numbers, 41 in the Monmouth poll today. Big number for him.

But he's the least reliable, most unpredictable, most volatile candidate, you know, we've ever had as a frontrunner, and therefore, it puts a lot of volatility and uncertainty into this almost right down every week by week. I mean, who knows how to get a blowout.

BURNETT: What about anyone else? I mean, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, does anyone else have a chance -- I throw this to both of you, but Matt, what about why don't to show it both of you?

DOWD: I don't think Jeb Bush has much of a chance. I think Jeb Bush has spent $25 million in Iowa, New Hampshire, he's had 5 percent in both states. I don't think money is going to solve Jeb Bush's problems in January. He has no momentum. He has no real message. And he's the wrong guy at the wrong time in the Republican primary.

I think Marco Rubio still has a shot. I think Marco Rubio is the most electable Republican going into a general election. If that begins to matter, he could begin to rise. But I think Marco Rubio is going to have to show in New Hampshire

quickly in New Hampshire, he doesn't have to win New Hampshire. He just has to finish better than all the other, quote/unquote, "establishment" candidates. He has to hope this race comes down to him, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. That's what Marco Rubio has to hope.

GERGEN: Agree. Marco Rubio has to win the debate tomorrow night.

BURNETT: He has to win the debate, this debate which is so crucial. Thank you both so very much.

And OUTFRONT next, U.S. officials don't check Facebook, Twitter, social media when approving a visa. So, if you're posting about jihad or attacking America there, they're not going to check. It's a mistake. It's purposeful. We're going to tell you exactly why.

And then, anti-Muslim attacks on the rise in the United States. Why? Is it fair to blame Donald Trump?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:40:l7] BURNETT: Tonight, the Obama administration facing serious questions after U.S. officials acknowledge they did not check San Bernardino killer Tashfeen Malik's social media accounts when she applied for a visa. It's a shocking admission given that groups like ISIS speak openly on Facebook and Twitter. We also know Malik had posted about jihad prior to arriving in the United States, and it appears this was not an oversight but formal policy.

Jim Sciutto is OUTFRONT live in Washington.

And, Jim, what are you learning as to why authorities did not check any of her social media accounts, which I should emphasize, the word "social" means it's for the public. It's for other people to see.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right. But it was only -- it wasn't until very recently that they started to check social media as a regular part of the visa vetting process.

Before that, it's considered just too cumbersome, one. Two, there were privacy concerns. Three, the understanding was that oftentimes people might not say on social media exactly how they feel. So, they didn't consider it to be a necessary step. That has changed recently. The Department of Homeland Security only in recent months really adding this is one step to the visa vetting process.

BURNETT: Now, I know CNN is learning more about her social media accounts. You know, what she was exactly posting and that she may have been using a pseudonym.

SCIUTTO: That's right. Two things, that she was using -- they were both, in fact, using a pseudonym. And two, they were setting their privacy settings so that only like, we can all do, on Facebook or Twitter or elsewhere, so that it can only seen by a small group of friends, so that visa issuing officer likely would not have seen -- one, would not have known the pseudonym, two, wouldn't be in that group, so likely would not have seen those social media postings. You know, that's a fact.

What it shows you is that you can take measures like this. You can start making social media the part of the vetting process for a visa, but it doesn't guarantee that you catch people already radicalized. One, they could take a natural step of hiding it, right? Or concealing it.

BURNETT: Right, right.

SCIUTTO: Or another natural step, which is to confine it to a very small group, which is what she and Farook appeared to have done here.

BURNETT: Right. All right. Jim Sciutto, thank you very much.

Of course, from an intelligence perspective, one would think you would be able to break both of those issues. So, is everyone able to go through that level of scrutiny?

Former CIA operative Bob Baer is OUTFRONT.

Bob, let me just start with you on the reasons, right? We're making a point. This was not a mistake. It wasn't as if they were supposed to check social media and it was an oversight at the time. They didn't check it because it wasn't part of their policy.

What is the reason for that? Were they trying to be politically correct? Were they worried about privacy which, of course, as a non- U.S. citizen shouldn't have been an issue, or did they just think, well, whatever you post on social media, you can't trust it anyway because someone can lie?

BOB BAER, FORMER CIA OPERATIVE: Erin, it's a combination of, you know, concerns about privacy, political correctness, manpower to check all this.

Most visa applicants are checked by local employees and embassies. It's a very inefficient system. I use to work visa lines abroad. And, you know, you depend on your locals and you hope they check with the police. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don't.

But, Erin, we have to face it, our visa system is as broken as it was on 9/11. All of those hijackers that came in 9/11 came on on tourist visas. None of them were properly checked and we still don't know how they got here or why they are even given visas. I mean, they came to schools but they couldn't go home and get jobs. They should have been excluded in a clause 214B, to get technical. But the system is lax and it's still lax.

BURNETT: Why is that? I mean, what is it that is making it lax, if this is such a crucial issue? You had 9/11 happen because of it. What is holding them back? What would make them not check anything they could?

BAER: We had to come to the political decision that it's not a right of everybody in the world to immigrate to this country. We have to vet people. If you and I want to immigrate to Switzerland, trust me, they're going to vet us. They're going to get into our social media, they're going to look into our bank accounts.

We simply don't have the same standards for immigrants coming here and it is a big mistake because it's turning our politics in the wrong direction. Americans don't understand it and we get these statements by Donald Trump when the system is fixable and you have to look at the State Department and Congress, and right now, they just haven't done their duty.

BURNETT: So, are they even able to do it? You just heard Jim saying Malik may have been on social media under a pseudonym. Obviously, you would think that if you had someone from the CIA or NSA looking at this, they could have figured this out. But when you're dealing with, you know, piles and piles of applications, you can't go to that level.

So, anyone who's really planning attacks against America, you would think they wouldn't be posting under their own name.

[19:45:01] So, is it even possible to catch them anyway?

BAER: To put more money into it, the money is spent efficiently and not only should you be looking at social media, you should be able to query the National Security Agency. It's amazing what they have in their computers, and certainly, she was up on telephones and they picked her up at some point. But the State Department doesn't have the mechanism nor immigrations to check those databases. We have to start spending our money wisely on this or we're going to get another attack.

BURNETT: Bob Baer, thank you.

And with this issue of immigration front and center, OUTFRONT next, mosques set on fire, a pig head and fake grenades left at mosque doors, all part of a surge in Islamophobia in this country. Our report, next.

And Jeanne Moos with Ted Cruz embracing a Trump insult and owning the maniac label.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: Tonight, an FBI launching an investigation after at least three mosques were vandalized in California, the growing number of assaults targeting the Muslim community now the worst since 9/11.

[19:50:03] Some are blaming escalating anti-Muslim rhetoric, including that from Donald Trump.

Jason Carroll is OUTFRONT.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): American-Muslims are becoming increasingly concerned about being targeted because of their faith. In the past few days, three mosques vandalized in California, one set on fire. A 23-year-old under arrest.

In Philadelphia, a severe pig's head thrown at a mosque. And then there was this attack on Sarker Haque.

SARKER HAQUE, VICTIM: I am standing and he jus tin a second. I mean, a minute or less, you know, he turn and he punch me here.

CARROLL: Haque owns a convenience store in Queens, New York. He said last Saturday, a man attacked him because he is Muslim.

HAQUE: He said, I kill Muslim --

CARROLL (on camera): I'm sorry. He said, I kill Muslims.

HAQUE: I kill Muslim --

CARROLL: Is that how you got the black --

HAQUE: He punched me.

CARROLL: He punched you?

HAQUE: He punched me I don't know how many times. I said, help, help, help, you know?

CARROLL (voice-over): This man who did not want to be identified for his safety heard those cries for help.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the guy was just angry, and wanted to keep hitting him and hitting him until the cops came.

CARROLL: Haque believes that Donald Trump, who is from Queens, is partly responsible.

Muslim leaders say Trump's plan to ban Muslims from the United States is part of a continued effort to demonize their faith.

NIHAD AWAD, CAIR NATIONAL EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: This rhetoric echoes the policies enacted by Nazi in Germany against the Jews. Trump and Carson's mainstreaming of Islamophobia in the election is inciting real discrimination, real hate crimes.

CARROLL: Nihad Awad called out not only Trump and GOP candidate Ben Carson for his claim of Muslims should not be president, but also New Jersey governor and GOP candidate Chris Christie.

AWAD: I think many Muslims in New Jersey feel a sense of betrayal for what Governor Chris Christie has done.

CARROLL: Why betrayal? Many New Jersey Muslims thought Christie was an ally, but now disappointment over this comment by Christie about Syrian refugees.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think orphans under five should be admitted in the United States.

JIM SUES, CAIR NEW JERSEY DIRECTOR: In the Republican primary campaign, Muslim bashing seems to be the red meat that the candidates are throwing to some of their supporters.

CARROLL: As for Trump, a new Washington Post poll finds nearly 60 percent of Republicans support his plan. The frontrunner himself says he has support among the Muslim community.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have many friends who are Muslims and I will tell you they are so happy that I did this, because they know they have a problem.

CARROLL: But for Sarker Haque, his problems are just beginning, he is on his way to speak to the district attorney hoping his attacker gets the punishment he deserves.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: And, of course, so many of these -- the Muslim-American community have been trying to assimilate.

CARROLL: Yes, and I will tell you something else. Despite what Trump says, they are not happy about what he is advocating here, and some of the Muslim Americans we spoke to, Erin, have been here for generations. They so desperately want someone within the GOP field to really speak out on their behalf and they're hoping that will happen tomorrow. But given the rate that things have been going so far, they really don't have much hope at this point.

BURNETT: All right, Jason Carol, thank you very much.

CARROLL: You bet.

BURNETT: All right. OUTFRONT next, Jeanne Moos on the secret weapon Ted Cruz is using to try to turn that Trump attack around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:57:23] BURNETT: So after all we've heard over the past few months, is it any surprise that one of the theme songs for "Flashdance" has become identified with the race for the White House.

Here's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: How did this flash back to "Flashdance" become a flash point in the presidential election?

It was only two months ago when Donald Trump and Ted Cruz shared a hug, two hand shakes, some intimate whispering, a shoulder pad and a second hug, all in the space of less than a minute. Now, the Donald is saying Ted acts like?

TRUMP: Frankly, like a little bit of a maniac.

MOOS: Maniac.

But maniacal Ted Cruz answered Trump's diss with a dance, tweeting, "In honor of my friend at real Donald Trump and good-hearted maniacs everywhere," he then linked to the iconic '80s movie clip.

(MUSIC)

MOOS: Many right-wing blog commentators said, "Right on. Well played Senator Cruz. The response flattens Trump without actually attacking him."

The one anchor footing his foot in his mouth --

BRET BAIER, FOX ANCHOR: Tweeting "Maniac" from "Footloose", that is --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "Flashdance".

BAIER: Oh, "Flashdance"?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, "Flashdance". You're forgetting your iconic dance movies.

BAIER: Thanks for the video, it's good.

MOOS: Maybe not good.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: God bless you!

MOOS: Cruz's evangelical family values voters, who might prefer a little less flash and more dance.

So what is next? Is Jennifer Beal going to come out and pour cold water on the Cruz campaign for injecting her into the race?

Some commentators thought the Tommy boy, Chris Farley version, was more appropriate for the campaign.

(SINGING)

MOOS: But my, oh my.

(MUSIC)

MOOS: It is the know that the lyrics to "Maniac" actually apply when it comes to Trump insults.

(MUSIC)

MOOS: But Ted Cruz is not stabbing back. Instead he is --

(MUSIC)

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: And, of course, among some people called a maniac is very much a compliment.

All right, thank you for joining us. Be sure to set your DVR to record OUTFRONT so you can watch our show any time.

And the big event, CNN's Republican presidential debate, it is tomorrow night at 6:00 p.m. and 8:30, live from Las Vegas.

"AC360" with Anderson begins now.