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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Romney: Trump Is A "Phony" And "Fraud"; Source: Romney Team Looks At Blocking Trump At Convention; Romney Blasts Trump's "Brand Of Anger"; Trump's Vulnerabilities; Does Rubio have a Path to the Nomination?; Attack Ads Targeting Trump Flood Florida; Trump's Rivals Ready to Attack at Debate. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired March 3, 2016 - 20:00   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening. We're just a few hours from something we have never, I mean, never, ever seen before. The party's last presidential nominee going on national television to denounce the party's current frontrunner, a party that once an informal 11th commandment, thou shall not speak ill of any fellow Republican.

Today the famously non-profane Mitt Romney went before the cameras and in the strongest language possible broke the 11th commandment right over Donald Trump's head.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Here's what I know. Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as the degree from Trump University. He is playing the members of the American public for suckers. He gets a free ride to the White House, and all we get is a lousy hat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: That was not all he said. Far from it nor did it go unanswered by Donald Trump nor does it shut the door on the possibility that the one-time nominee may also be angling to make it two times.

There is word the Romney team is exploring ways of blocking Donald Trump at the convention. We'll have more on that all throughout the hour tonight. Chief political correspondent, Dana Bash starts us off.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An unprecedented takedown of a Republican frontrunner by a former Republican standard bearer.

ROMNEY: Donald Trump lacks the temperament to be president.

BASH: The most extraordinary part of Mitt Romney's message, he wasn't just blasting Donald Trump as bad for the GOP, he was calling him perilous for America.

ROMNEY: Donald Trump tells us that he is very, very smart. I'm afraid that when it comes to foreign policy, he is very, very not smart. If we Republicans choose Donald Trump as our nominee, the prospects for a safe and prosperous future are greatly diminished.

BASH: Romney's carefully crafted speech was aimed at exposing Trump as a phony.

ROMNEY: But you say wait, wait, wait. Isn't he a huge business success? Doesn't he know what he's talking about? No, he isn't, and no, he doesn't.

BASH: Romney effectively called Trump a loser, an attempt to undermine Trump's core rationale for his candidacy that he's a winner.

ROMNEY: Whatever happened to Trump airlines? How about Trump University and then there's Trump magazine and Trump vodka and Trump steaks and Trump mortgage. A business genius he is not.

BASH: But the 2012 GOP nominee is an imperfect messenger since he courted Trump's endorsement just four years ago.

ROMNEY: Having his endorsement is a delight.

BASH: Then Romney even praised the business acumen he criticized today.

ROMNEY: Donald Trump has shown an extraordinary ability to understand how our economy works to create jobs for the American people.

BASH: But the straight-laced Romney is also clearly disgusted with Trump's demeanor as a presidential candidate now.

ROMNEY: Think of Donald Trump's personal qualities. The bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny. The absurd third grade theatrics.

BASH: Romney even tried to preempt Trump's response.

ROMNEY: Will he talk about our policy differences or will he attack me with every imaginable low-road insult? This may tell you what you need know about his temperament, his stability and his suitability to be president.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Mitt was a disaster as a candidate.

BASH: Trump responded true to form.

TRUMP: And I backed Mitt Romney. I backed him. You can see how loyal he is. He was begging for my endorsement. I could have said, Mitt, drop to your knees. He would have dropped to his knees.

BASH: Trump claimed Romney didn't run for president this time around because he feared the reality star.

TRUMP: Jeb had him convinced he's going to run. He's got the money and Mitt chickened out. But I'll tell you the real reason. It wasn't Jeb. It was me.

BASH: But it was clear Romney's criticism of Trump's business record hit a nerve. The billionaire came armed with a list of accomplishments.

TRUMP: They don't want to talk about 92-story buildings all over the place. They don't want to talk about the Bank of America Building in San Francisco, 1290 Avenue of the Americas. Frankly, it's ridiculous.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Dana Bash joins us now from the Republican debate site in Detroit. As we mentioned, there's also news that the Romney team is exploring blocking Trump at the convention. What do you know about that?

BASH: Well, in some ways that was kind of implied in what Romney didn't do, which is endorse any of Donald Trump's opponents. Instead he said that he encouraged voters in each of the important contest states coming up to vote for some of his opponents and praised all of them.

So if none of these candidates even and including Donald Trump gets the magic number needed to be the nominee, the 1,237 delegates, then that's effectively what will happen.

[20:05:03]Now there are some who adore Mitt Romney who have a dream of him kind of emerging as a white knight and as the person who will be picked as the nominee.

However, I've talked to a couple of people tonight who are extremely close to Romney, who insist that he would not want to be that. He's been through this process. He knows how hard it is.

And if somebody said that they wanted to come in and just kind of emerge as the nominee, he wouldn't have liked that. If it comes to it, he would work the convention floor, pick somebody, but right now, they insist that that is not his plan.

One more thing I want to add, we are here in Michigan, Anderson. There's going to be a Republican debate tonight. This is the place where there is going to be a Republican contest this coming Tuesday.

And I talked to a senior Republican here who really understands the ground, who said to me that she thought that the Romney speech was a big mistake, and that she might have just handed the nomination to Donald Trump because she believed it so misreads the electorate and the anger out here on the ground -- Anderson.

COOPER: Interesting, Dana Bash, thanks.

Donald Trump provides the introduction to one of our panel members. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: His campaign guy was terrible, terrible. He had a terrible campaign manager who is always on television, Stuart Stevens. He's always on television knocking everybody. He ran one of the worst campaigns in the history of modern politics.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Safe to say he's not a fan and the feeling is mutual. Stuart Stevens was actually Governor Romney's campaign strategist, not campaign manager. We're happy to have him in any event.

Also with us chief national correspondent and "INSIDE POLITICS" anchor, John King, chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, senior political reporter, Nia-Malika Henderson, our political director, David Chalian, political commentators, Kayleigh McEnany, Amanda Carpenter, Van Jones.

Kayleigh is a conservative columnist and a Trump supporter. Amanda is a former communications director for Senator Ted Cruz. Van is a former senior Obama White House advisor.

Stuart Stevens, first, let's start with you. What do you make of Governor Romney's speech today? You heard Dana Bash saying some folks in Michigan are saying they think it actually is going to help Donald Trump.

STUART STEVENS, FORMER ROMNEY PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST: Listen, I think Governor Romney went out there and spoke his mind and said what he thought was important about this race and about the country and the choices before us.

You know, he echoed Ronald Reagan's speech and that's really what it is. He feels and a lot of people share his view, that Donald Trump is a disaster for the Republican Party, and a disaster for the country.

So if you are not -- if you don't speak up when you believe that, it doesn't make sense. I don't think he can gain this thing out politically and say you do x and y and z will happen. It's a time when you have to speak up.

Look, you have someone who is a frontrunner for the Republican nomination that has to research the KKK, white supremacist, and David Duke. That's a disgrace. If you don't call it that, why they would maintain any sort of sense of dignity.

COOPER: Gloria, do you think what Romney said will make a difference?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think it could incite his supporters to be even more devoted. I think Mitt Romney is a very smart man, and he knew that going into this.

That there are voters out there who are undecided, and if they are undecided, Mitt Romney was probably speaking to them. But to say that Mitt Romney represents the establishment, that these voters feel so betrayed by that they're not -- they aren't going to listen to him, and he knows it. As Stuart was saying, Mitt Romney went out there and spoke his mind, period.

COOPER: John --

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Mitt Romney believed this three months ago. The KKK issue hadn't come up three months. But Romney believed this three months ago. When you called his friends two, three, four months ago, what do you think of Trump? They said he's not a real conservative.

He's a threat to the party. He's a fraud. He's a charlatan. They've been saying these things for months. Where were they? I'm not faulting Governor Romney.

I talked to some people today just like Dana and the short term this helps Trump because it's another establishment figure staying essentially challenging Trump voters saying you're stupid for supporting this guy.

Calling the voters stupid is a bad idea. However, in the long run, maybe, if you are trying to save Florida, Ohio, maybe Governor Romney who has a great fundraising operation and has some standing in the party can help them raise money for the states down the line.

There are five states this weekend and Michigan. You look at Louisiana, Kentucky, Maine, Kansas, and then you'll go into Michigan next week. That's another, what, 70, 80, 100 delegates for Donald Trump. It stretches the lead. Why did they wait so long is the question I keep asking every night?

COOPER: The same question could be asked are national security people. Michael Hayden has come forward and spoken about his feelings about Trump and his foreign policy. Some others have come forward, but again where were they?

[20:10:06]NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, I mean, they got this big list of foreign policy types, foreign policy (inaudible) who are coming out and speaking out against Trump.

I think one of the things about Mitt Romney, in some ways it was a little sad. It was him trying to assume the role of party elder for a party that has really moved on beyond him and in some ways wasn't that thrilled with him to be the nominee in 2012.

So, I mean, it was sort of him saying, well, what about me? What about me? And kind of, I think, a claim for relevance when I think most of the party, particularly these Trump voters, basically hear Charlie Brown's teacher when Mitt Romney talks.

COOPER: David, just in terms of delegates, I mean, even -- there's -- the only way any of these current candidates can try to stop Donald Trump really at this point is by doing something at the convention, right?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Unless there's some complete trajectory change where one of them wins everything going forward and that's not realistic. That was explicit in Mitt Romney's remarks today.

He wasn't trying to get behind one person and boost them to be the person to defeat Donald Trump. That ship has sailed. What he was trying to do is, hey, if you are in Florida, vote for Marco Rubio.

If you are in Ohio, vote for John Kasich and build up their delegates and spread the wealth to prevent Donald Trump from getting 1,237 so that this can be sorted out in Cleveland.

If you talk to a bunch of folks in the Republican Party right now, that seems to be the strategy that they are coalescing around. I don't know that it will be any more successful than just trying to defeat Donald Trump outright.

But the notion of one candidate defeating Donald Trump and getting the 51 percent delegates on their own two feet, I've not heard --

COOPER: Let me ask Stuart Stevens that. Stuart, you have been to the question of where were people earlier. You have been out there early on talking against Donald Trump for quite some time on Twitter a lot and on television as Donald Trump pointed out.

How do you see this working out in any way that Donald Trump does not get the nomination? What happens at the convention? I assume that's the only place where something can happen at this stage.

STEVENS: Yes, look, I think the reason that Governor Romney hadn't spoken out before is you would expect the candidates to be carrying this message. Frankly, I don't think that they've been doing as effective a job as they should have.

But the first time in the debate it was the last debate when Senator Rubio really challenged Donald Trump. And I think that that's the right way to go. It should have happened much sooner.

This is very simple. It's just a numbers game. He has to get 1,237 delegates to be the nominee. If he doesn't get those delegates and it goes to a second ballot, there's other options.

And I think that probably someone else in the race now could emerge as a winner. It's really not very complicated. You play by the rules, and those are the rules.

COOPER: But John, when they talk about other options, I mean, again, you are talking about -- it's all those Trump voters, you know, who expect their candidate to get the nomination. That convention is going to be --

KING: It depends. Look, we're talking about dream scenarios. All of us have covered politics. Where's my open convention. I wouldn't use the term brokered convention because that assumes there are guys who are going to a back room and broker a deal. Who's going to broker that deal with the Trump delegation?

COOPER: What would it look like?

KING: It really depends on how many votes people have, how many delegates people have coming in. If Donald Trump has 1,000 and the closest guy is at 500 and something, and you try to take it away from Donald Trump, you'll not have a floor fight. You'll have a bar fight.

If someone has 800 and 700 and 500 and nobody wins on the first ballot, then that's what a convention is actually for. That's what they were originally designed to sort things out. You put it to a vote.

Stuart knows the rules very well and now everybody including Governor Romney's team has the lawyers and strategists going through and double checking. They actually write the actual rules for the convention right before the convention.

It's a general template that they've bring from convention to convention to convention, but one of the things you'll start hearing from the Trump people if we get closer to the convention and he doesn't have a majority is they'll cook the books.

Because they write the actual day-to-day proceedings rules and the actual 2016 convention rules a week or so before the convention. So watch for that fight. You think this is interesting now. If we get to that point, heehaw.

COOPER: We're going to take a quick break and we are going to come back. We'll talk more to our commentators and bring them into this conversation.

Later tonight, the rivals who joined in the attack on Trump and the one who congratulated Governor Romney on his remarks, but is not going negative.

Also a closer look at where Trump may be vulnerable, although in fairness he has defied all conventional wisdom so far. No doubt about that.

Plus late word that the candidate who says he's self-funding may be changing his tune.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:18:42]

COOPER: If our reporting bears out and Romney forces are exploring ways of blocking Donald Trump at the convention in Cleveland, he certainly laid out a detailed case for the prosecution today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: Mr. Trump is directing our anger for less than noble purposes. He creates scapegoats of Muslims and Mexican immigrants. He calls for the use of torture. He calls for killing the innocent children and family members of terrorists. He cheers assaults on protesters. He applauds the prospect of twisting the constitution to limit first amendment freedom of the press. This is the very brand of anger that has led other nations into the abyss.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: It's also the kind of indictment that Trump supporters say will backfire warning that neither his two main rivals nor their surrogates seemed to be worrying about as Sara Murray reports tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER (voice-over): Tonight, Donald Trump's rivals are coming in locked and loaded.

ROMNEY: Here's what I know. Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud.

MURRAY: With Republican leaders in panic mode, the anti-Trump army is firing off anything it can to cast the GOP frontrunner as a scam artist, who stumbled through disavowing white supremacists and has something to hide.

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We choose Donald Trump as our nominee, he'll have carried out the most elaborate con job in the history of American politics.

[20:20:03]MURRAY: Hours before the debate, Trump ramped up his defense of his business record and his personal finances.

TRUMP: I have very low debt. I have tremendous cash flow. It's an unbelievable company that I have.

MURRAY: But he still refuses to release his tax return.

TRUMP: Romney talks about his tax returns. Why isn't he doing his taxes? You don't learn anything -- very little do you learn from taxes.

MURRAY: Meanwhile his rivals readied their jabs. Marco Rubio attacks Trump's failed business ventures and hammered him over Trump University. Now at the center of a fraud case.

RUBIO: Literally dozens of victims of that scam have come forward to contact them because of how angry they are about the fact he's trying to do to America what he did to them.

MURRAY: Today Trump downplayed the issue.

TRUMP: It's a very small case. It's a civil case. It's not a big deal.

MURRAY: The billionaire businessman has faced scrutiny over his business acumen before.

TRUMP: You wouldn't know anything about it because you are a lousy businessman. RUBIO: I don't know anything about bankrupting four companies.

MURRAY: But his rivals had no plans to let up. Ted Cruz is insisting Trump may still have something to hide, suggesting Trump played it fast and loose on his policy positions, talking tough on immigration in public, but saying something else behind closed doors.

TED CRUZ (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It was reported that earlier this year Donald had gone to New York to sit down with "The New York Times," and they have a secret tape recording of Donald saying, all this stuff I saying on immigration, I don't mean it.

That wall I'm talking about, I ain't going to build it. Deporting illegals? I'm not going to do it. Donald, release the tape.

MURRAY: And his nearly 100 national security experts and even John McCain argue he's ill prepared to be commander-in-chief. Trump says he's in no hurry to unveil his national security advisers.

TRUMP: I've met and I've spoken to the team. I'm going to do it very shortly. I don't think there's any rush.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Sara Murray joins us now from Detroit. It looks like Trump could be changing course on another issue. You are hearing he may begin fundraising if he's the nominee. You can donate on his web page and he has received millions of dollars in donations already.

MURRAY: That's right, Anderson. He touts the idea of self-funding, but he has accepted donations through his website, and now in private discussions, Trump has told people he's acknowledged that he will have to fundraise in a general election.

That he and the RNC need to be well prepared to take on the Democrat, who they expect will likely be Hillary Clinton and have a very well- funded political organization. This could be another change of course.

The other thing I want to add is that the Trump campaign did put out a release tonight saying Senator Jeff Sessions would be chairman of their national security team. So it seems clear the Trump campaign is anticipating some attacks on that front -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Sara Murray, thanks very much.

Back with our panel. Let's turn to our commentators, Kayleigh, how concerned are you by Governor Romney's comments and other people that have come forward, this drum roll of people coming forward against Trump.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'm not concerned about Romney because I think he is a walking epitome of something that Mike Huckabee started pointing out in 2010.

The Republican Party is full of elitists, full of this country club mentality where they reject candidates like Christine O'Donnell and Sarah Palin and mike Huckabee.

They did the same to him back in 2008 and now Donald Trump. They reject anyone that doesn't have an Ivy League pedigree or doesn't fit the prospect of what they are looking for in a cookie cutter candidate.

Finally, the people are saying you'll not give me John McCain and force feed me Mitt Romney. We are choosing something else. Mitt Romney can't handle that. The RNC to a certain extent can't handle that.

The establishment can't handle it and this just feeds into the narrative that is fueling the base of Donald Trump's voters.

COOPER: Just reaction to that. It was voters who rejected Christine O'Donnell.

MCENANY: Yes, but the RNC rejected her from the get-go.

COOPER: Amanda, do you see something happening at the convention that actually could turn -- change the course of this?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I would prefer something to happen earlier.

COOPER: When you say something happen earlier, what could possibly happen earlier?

CARPENTER: There's a debate tonight. I think telling people to wait to a brokered convention to solve this problem is bad. Ted Cruz has to get out there and really make the case tonight saying, hey, listen, everyone says never Trump. We don't want Trump.

We need a way to unify the conservatives and the establishment against this kind of weird new third way of the Republican Party. Hi. Donald Trump has 300 some delegates. I have 226. I am the best vehicle to stop Donald Trump. What are you waiting for?

Because the reality is, it's not going to be Mitt Romney. It's going to be one of the four men on stage tonight. It's going to be Trump, Kasich, Rubio or Cruz. And Cruz has the best shot at that now.

And so I -- I'm comfortable with the fact that Mitt Romney gave a big speech saying Donald Trump is bad. OK, now what?

COOPER: John, I heard you mumbling, rumbling.

KING: Look, number one, to Ted Cruz. She's right about Ted Cruz has mathematically the high ground now to make the case, I'm closest to Donald Trump, circle around me.

[20:25:00]The problem is there are two states coming up right before us, Louisiana and Mississippi, that if you look at the map and demographics, Ted Cruz's history, Evangelical and Tea Party voters, he should be able to win those states. But if you look at the results so far from South Carolina to Georgia or Alabama or across, Donald Trump has been winning those states. If Ted Cruz can't win Louisiana and Mississippi, he loses that argument.

That's going to happen in the next couple of days. If you can't win states, how can you say I should be your nominee? That's part of it.

But to your other point, if we get to an open convention, if they deny Donald Trump, Rubio has to win Florida, Kasich has to win New Hampshire Somebody else has to win Michigan or keep the margins so close they split the delegates and then you move on.

It's very hard for me to see if Donald Trump has the largest pool of delegates. You convincing those delegates under any circumstances to support the guys who came in behind him who are now saying he's a con man.

He has small hands, he cheats. His university is a fraud. I have a really hard time seeing the loyal Trump delegates who will think they are getting the shaft at the convention --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Notice Paul Ryan hasn't said those things.

BORGER: Unless someone comes out from behind the curtain -- Paul Ryan.

COOPER: Stu, do you agree it would have to be somebody new, somebody coming forward, and is Mitt Romney that person or somebody else?

STEVENS: No, I actually believe that it would be one of the candidates running. And, look, this is just -- we look at this in the wrong way. You have to get certain number of delegates. If you don't have those delegates on the first ballot and it goes to a second ballot, then you don't need Trump delegates.

What will happen most likely is two people running together will join together and form some sort of ticket. This point about Ted Cruz and Mississippi and Louisiana is absolutely right.

And the tragedy here is we watch for months and months where Ted Cruz cozied up to Donald Trump because he thought it was in his best political interest. And now all of a sudden, we have a terrible crisis because we're facing Donald Trump.

I mean, it really is a shame that these candidates didn't stand up to Donald Trump earlier. You can't outsource your courage to someone else. They should have fought to win these races instead of this crazy idea of who was going to come in second and third.

They fought over that. Now they're fighting over who is going to come in second and third again. It's not the way to run a campaign. They need to stand up and try to win.

COOPER: Amanda, what's about that? Ted Cruz turned it on the media saying it's the mainstream media wants to pit us against each other. I'm not going to do that. He's a fine man. He's certainly singing a difference tune.

CARPENTER: That was so long ago. I have to say it drives me crazy --

COOPER: Wasn't that the time to actually stand up?

CARPENTER: But there was a time, if he would have done it, it would have defined his candidacy versus Donald Trump. Ted Cruz is number two right now because he didn't get in the mud with him that early and Ted Cruz has been attacking him for months.

I don't buy this. It's very news everyone jumping in now trying to find someone to blame for the rise of Donald Trump. It's not Ted Cruz who is coming close to beating him.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think a couple of things. I'm a Democrat so I see it somewhat differently. First, it could be the case that Mitt Romney made some strategic blunder and all this kind of stuff. I just want to say, sometimes you just have to say what you believe. Sometimes you answer to your own conscience.

And I think that if people actually believe as many people do that Donald Trump would be a danger to the country, they have a responsibility not only to speak out but if they can find some rules that might get in the way, you have a moral responsibility to do that.

Now they may be wrong. History may prove he's the greatest president we ever had. If you don't, I think he deserves more credit. The other thing is simply this. I think there's a messenger problem.

It could not -- it should not be impossible to find people screwed over by Donald Trump and have them unmask him. I don't understand. Speak your heart. It's good. But that's not a good strategy.

His whole thing is I am a strong business winner on your side. If you want to make the case and know you are a business loser out for yourself, find a human being to say that.

COOPER: What's interesting, you hear Marco Rubio saying we've been contacted by all these people.

JONES: Where are they?

MCENANY: Has anyone considered that maybe those people aren't there?

COOPER: They there are. They are suing him.

MCENANY: There are three. That judge whittled down the plaintiffs to very few because 98 percent voted for approval of Trump University. If there were a long line saying he discriminated against me. He was a bad boss, et cetera, where are they.

COOPER: OK, we got to take a break. We're going to have more with our panel in a moment.

Just ahead we talked about Marco Rubio in the strategic context of blocking Donald Trump. Is there any path to the nomination for Marco Rubio any more, even if he wins his home state of Florida? Can he make the math work?

I'll speak with the Rubio campaign spokeswoman about that and whether we can expect him to be as aggressive in tonight's debate as he was in the last.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:34:02] COOPER: When it comes to delegate count, Senator Marco Rubio is third trailing behind Donald Trump and Ted Cruz after winning only one state so far, Minnesota.

Rubio's home state of Florida is going to be voting March 15th. But even if he wins there, the math does not look great for a path to the nomination, short of a contested convention. Rubio has recently stepped up his attacks on Trump obviously in the last debate and the days following.

Joining me now is Rubio Campaign Spokeswoman, Caitlin Conant. Good to have you with us.

So, Senator Rubio obviously focusing on Florida hoping for a win there. The latest Quinnipiac poll has Trump with a sizable 16-point lead over Rubio. If your candidate does not win in Florida, does he drop out?

CAITLIN CONANT, RUBIO CAMPAIGN SPOKESWOMAN: Marco Rubio is going to win Florida on March 15th.

Look, the polls last week had Donald Trump beating us by double digits in Virginia and Marco ended up giving him a run for his money. So we feel really good. It's his home state. He's won there as an underdog before. He beat Charlie Crist. He knows the state better than anyone else and we're going to bring home a win on the 15th. And we'll have the momentum and the money ...

[21:35:01]COOPER: If he does not win there though is he out?

CONANT: He's going to win and we're going to have momentum and money and a more favorable map on our side. Ted Cruz has supposed to have best night of his campaign.

COOPER: Right. I've heard that but I'm just wondering -- right. I'm just wondering if he doesn't win though is that -- I mean is it a must-win for him?

CONANT: He's going to win, and he's also ready to compete in all 50 states.

He does not think that Donald Trump can be our nominee and he's prepared to stay in this for as long as it takes to make sure that this con artist doesn't take over the party of Lincoln and Reagan.

COOPER: OK. I want to try for the fourth time. In terms of the delegate count, the math doesn't look good for Senator Rubio. I mean, he's only taken one state so far, even if he wins in Florida, you know, he says, he's going to be in this race as long as it takes, that's what you say. But if Cruz and Kasich don't drop out, how does he start to win more states? How does he beat Donald Trump other than at a convention with some sort of a deal?

CONANT: You know, I think you need to ask that same question to the Cruz camp and to the Trump camp. No one as close enough to securing this nomination and getting the 1237 delegates that they need.

Well what Marco is prepared to do is to keep reminding people that Donald Trump is a con artist. And he should not lead the party. And we're going to do that by having another night tonight where he talks about serious policy solutions to address the serious issues we face as a nation. And Donald Trump simply doesn't have the ability to do that. He can only insult people and throw names. But he really can't describe a plan to, you know, replace Obamacare or to fight ISIS.

And Marco Rubio can do that and he's going to remind people of that tonight.

COOPER: There have been reports that it was one in "Politico" I think today, that your campaign is preparing for some sort of fight at the convention. Can you talk about that?

CONANT: So, we expect this to be over before we get to July. We expect Marco to have the nomination before that. But we're going to be prepared for anything, you know. We're the one candidate who has establishment in all 50 states. We've got state chairs there, we have a good organization. So, we're prepared to get to the long haul.

Marco said himself, you know, he's willing to drive around in his pickup truck until this thing is over. But he wants to stop ...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Just how do you expect it to be done before the convention? I mean, OK, he wins Florida. Where else? He wins every other place?

CONANT: So, Ted Cruz is supposed to have an awesome night last Tuesday. He ended up winning his home state and two other states, but he did not sweep the SCP primary like he said he was going to. And that night was the most favorable, environment that he's ever going to have and it's the best map for him.

And we're going into a bunch of states, Florida and after that that look a lot more like Virginia and Minnesota where Marco won.

So, the map's in our favor and after Florida, we're going to get more money, we're going to have momentum and the map's going to be on our side. So, we feel really good.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: OK. But he didn't win in Virginia? He didn't win in Virginia. I mean, I know, you're spinning it as a win, but it wasn't a win.

So, is he going to win other places other than Florida? CONANT: He's going to win in Florida and then we're going to go from there. I think we're going to have the nomination and we just feel really good about the state of things.

And look, last Tuesday wasn't our best night. And he's the first to admit that, but the map is on our side and we feel really good.

COOPER: OK. Catlin Conant, thanks very much.

Let's see how outside groups are turning up the attack ads on Donald Trump in Florida, the mud is flying. Question is, will it stick?

Randi Kaye talked to voters. Let you hear what some of them told her.

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[20:42:18] COOPER: We've been talking tonight about Mitt Romney, the GOP's last nominee morphing into Donald Trump's would be terminator. His blistery and very public attack today comes as outside groups are also starting to pile on. Case in point, Florida, where a wave of attack ads are airing. Whether they hit home, that is an open question. Randi Kaye reports (inaudible).

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Donald Trump talks tough about China and Mexico. But who has Trump ever actually taken on?

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A multimillion-dollar ad buy aimed at bringing down Donald Trump.

This ad by the conservative nonprofit Club For Growth began targeting Florida voters Thursday morning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He hides behind bankruptcy loss, to dock paying his bills and kill American jobs.

KAYE: Less than two weeks before the state's republican primary. What's your reaction to that?

LYNN COSTA, TRUMP SUPPORTER: It's a lie.

KAYE: Why?

COSTA: It's an out and out lie. Anyone that has lived in New York, which is where I come from, knows that's as falsehood. That he's as -- you know, he's very fair. He's opinionated and we like that.

KAYE: We showed another Trump supporter more of the same ad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He even tried to kick an elderly widow out of her home through eminent domain.

KAYE: You were chuckling during that. What made you chuckle?

MORT WITTLIN, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Well, the idea that he was trying to steal some lady's home. Eminent domain, we wouldn't have bridges, we wouldn't have roads.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trump picks on workers and widows. He won't do a thing to China and Mexico.

KAYE: When you watch an ad like this, does it have any impact on whether or not, you would vote for Donald Trump?

WITTLIN: Yes, it makes me want to vote twice.

KAYE: For Donald Trump?

WITTLIN: For Donald Trump.

KAYE: There are also other attack ads aimed at bringing down the frontrunner airing in Florida. The conservative nonprofit group, American Future Fund, designed these ads to make Trump look like a scam artist.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was scammed because I believed in Donald Trump. He can make people believe practically, anything.

KAYE: The ads feature people who say, they were scammed by Trump University. Instead of learning Trump's real estate secrets, they say they got nothing.

SHERRI, SINGLE MOM, TRUMP UNIVERSITY VICTIM: I made a huge mistake trusting him, paying 35,000, actually more than 35,000. It was all supposedly supervised by Donald Trump.

KEVIN, TRUMP UNIVERSITY VICTIM: Trump is just a fraud, a misrepresentation, a BS artist.

America, don't make the same mistake I made with Donald Trump.

WITTLIN: It's a bluff. The whole ad is a bluff.

KAYE: So, painting him as being involved with fraud. You don't buy that?

WITTLIN: I don't buy that one. I won't.

KEVIN: Trump University, they promised everything from start to finish, their expertise, their knowledge, their input, the financing. They didn't really deliver on anything.

KAYE: When you see this, "We can't trust Donald Trump", does that have an impact?

[20:45:02] COSTA: None. None. No bearing whatsoever.

KAYE: Even this undecided voter who is not a fan of Donald Trump's thinks all of these attack ads are ridiculous.

When you watch an ad like this, how does it make you feel?

BECKY PRADA, UNDECIDED FLORIDA VOTER: It trust -- really it seems like a reality show. It doesn't even seem like politics anymore. It's just, people are just making fun and laughing. It looks more like an "SNL" parody.

KAYE: A parody or just politics in 2016. Randi Kaye, CNN, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: As Randi just said, Florida's primary is less than two weeks away. Winner take all state, 99 delegates up for grabs. Back with the panel. I mean, John it's interesting those -- you know, two voters' reactions to the Trump, or three, but clearly attack ads do work over time, otherwise I assume candidates wouldn't spend so much money on America.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR, INSIDE POLITICS: And I think some of these candidates, to Stuart's point earlier, and to the conversation we've had many, many nights over the last several weeks is they probably should have started this in the debates and on television a lot earlier. People kept thinking Donald Trump was going to implode. No offense to Former President George W. Bush intended ,but it is a mistake to constantly misunderestimate your opponent. That's a bad strategery.

And they just misunderestimated Trump forever and now that, let's see them. You know, if you look, in fact, the Michigan polling, there was a poll out by a reputable firm that had Trump at like 29 percent. Well that means he's leading, but he's gettable. The Florida numbers are stronger for Trump. It's hard to bring somebody down. Well if they -- if that poll is right and he's cracked 40, in a crowded field, this is going to -- and some of these other names are still on the ballot, remember, even if they aren't in the race anymore.

It's hard to bring somebody down I mean, so that's point. You try to get an answer out of Catlin and you know, it's a tough job, a spokesman for a candidate, it's a tough job. But of course, Rubio has to win Florida. And the evidence they understand that is they've canceled events tomorrow in Louisiana and in Kentucky.

Two states that come up first. Two states where, you know, Louisiana is not great terrain for Marco Rubio but he maybe get some delegates. Kentucky is a state, if you look at recent history, it's a tougher one but the suburbs in Lexington, the suburbs in Louisville, there are areas for Rubio to get some votes there. But they just decided we need to marshal our resources and go home and win Florida.

COOPER: Stu Stevens, do you believe it's too late for some of these ads or for any of these ads?

STUART STEVENS, FORMER ROMNEY PRESIDENTIAL CAMPANIGN STRATEGIST: Listen, I think the way to win a fight is to get in the fight and the reality is that these campaigns haven't been fighting Donald Trump for very long.

It's very rare that you show people attack ad and they go, "Wow, that really changed my vote." And no one likes to admit that they're being manipulated by what they see on television.

I -- we've seen before in campaigns big swings. I mean, Mitt Romney was, I think, 15, 20 points behind 10 days out in the Florida primary and ended up winning by 12 or so. It doesn't really matter where Marco Rubio is, as far as what his strategy is. He just has to wake up every morning and fight and hopefully if you are in a position I am that you want someone other than Donald Trump, hopefully Marco Rubio will win.

(CROSSTALK)

AMANDA CARPENTER, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR SEN. TED CRUZ: And it's just going to be one point about the attack ads. I mean, (inaudible) a little bit for the Club for Growth, who created those ads. They were running those ads back in October in Iowa, conservatives have been criticizing Trump for a long time. He had the national review big cover coming out.

COOPER: So they -- basically you said that they couldn't get a lot of money after Iowa. They thought it was effective in Iowa but afterwards there was not a lot of interest.

CARPENTER: And here's the problem, the establishment guys like Mitt Romney who are complaining and panicking now and planning for a brokered convention, all their money has been on the sidelines. Where is Karl Rove? The Koch brothers are sitting out of this. Jeb Bush stepped up $100 million...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: I guess, you know, if I'm like Kayleigh, if I was a Trump supporter, and I'm not taking sides in any of this, but if I'm a supporter of Donald Trump, I would be offended that you have all these people piling on, and if anything, it would make me want to support this candidate more vigorously.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CONSERVATIVE COLUMNIST: Precisely, and that's exactly why focus groups (inaudible) focus groups have found them when they feed Trump supporters negative ads for two hours, it only serves to embolden their support. And some of the undecided voters are even pushed over to the other side.

COOPER: Exactly.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's a known quantity. This is what...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: It's hard to redefine him.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: We do have to take a quick break, we're going to be right back with more of our panel, more to discuss. Well, I don't know where I am, but let's go to break.

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[20:52:50] COOPER: There's another Republican debate tonight. We'll have complete analysis on after the debate. So I hope you join us for that here, starting 11:00 Eastern Time.

It comes just hours after Mitt Romney called Donald Trump saying he is playing the American public for suckers. Of course, Trump hit back today and may do it again tonight.

Let's talk more to our panel. Kayleigh, I mean, A, do you expect Marco Rubio to continue being as aggressive as we saw him in the last debate against Trump? And do you think Trump -- well I guess Trump will have to bring up Mitt Romney if the moderators don't.

MCENANY: Sure. And that -- what's so interesting to me is, will Marco Rubio attach himself to Mitt Romney? Because if we think Mitt Romney is that bad of a thing, it's something that can help Trump, do we see Marco Rubio attach himself to the establishment movement? For his sake, I hope that he doesn't.

But I do think he will see Marco Rubio attack simply because he doesn't have any other strategy. Maybe that's what moved the numbers in Virginia. Maybe it's not. There's really no other plan. So that's just ...

COOPER: Amanda, you would agree with that that, I mean, they have to continue what the campaign against him?

CARPENTER: Yeah. I mean, I really --I don't know what Marco Rubio's paths is. We have difficulty getting that from his campaign. He's got to keep attacking, you know, Trump to make a dent.

But, you know, in this all never Trump, are we going down on the Trump path fight, someone has to be -- in order to defeat Trump, somebody has to coalesce everyone else. It'll either be Marco Rubio or that'll be Ted Cruz.

I think that is the best thing to accomplish tonight and say, "I am that guy." But if Rubio just wants to attack Trump, he won't do that.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yeah. I mean Marco's got to make a case for why he should be president and why he should be the one ...

VAN JONES, FORMER OBAMA ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Look, I seriously doubt if they'll all going to come out there and suddenly be nice to Trump. So it's going to be as hard as it was before.

But I think we -- let's not forget, Romney has put on the table now officially an alternative strategy, which is not to coalesce, just to deny. And that's a new development tonight.

KING: They can all beat up on Trump but the way to break through if you're going to break through is to make the case that you'll change Washington like Trump has said and what you're going to do about the economy. Trump's message on trade, Trump's message on jobs is one of the reasons he's succeeding and change Washington. The other candidates have not met that test.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, the other interesting thing to watch tonight is whether Cruz and Rubio continue to just leave each other alone. If they're in this great contest against each other and that one day, somebody thinks like Stuart Steven said, they're going to become Crubio as we were saying the other night, that what are they going to do?

(CROSSTALK)

[20:55:07] DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: ...March 15th. That is almost for Marco Rubio.

BORGER: That's right.

CHALIAN: Like whether or not Marco Rubio wins Florida determines if there's a battle that continues between Cruz and Rubio.

BORGER: Between Cruz and Rubio.

CHALIAN: Exactly.

HENDERSON: Yeah. And there's Kasich, you know, still playing Mr. Nice Guy and Mr. Rogers and doesn't attack anybody but tries to, you know, have a kind of third way around Cruz and Rubio or Crubio.

MCENANY: Maybe he'll give Trump a hug.

COOPER: We'll be right back for more coverage ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well, that does it for us for this hour. Thanks very much for watching.

A reminder, I'll be moderating the Democratic Debate on Sunday night in Flint, Michigan. Michigan's primary of course is on Tuesday.

Mitt Romney, a child of Michigan is setting the GOP stage today, slamming Donald Trump in no uncertain terms. That debate is at 8:00 p.m. Eastern on Sunday night in a town where they don't have much faith in elected officials as you can imagine.

We also tonight hope you'll join us at 11:00 p.m. Eastern for a complete analysis of tonight's GOP debate. We'll show you the best moments, all the most important moments from the debate in case you don't watch it. You'll hear from the candidates, our reporters and political commentators. Again, all the key moments, starting at 11:00 p.m. Eastern tonight.

"Anthony Bourdain, Parts Unknown," starts now.