CNN CNN


 

Return to Transcripts main page

JOHN KING, USA

Vice President Under Fire; Interview With David Axelrod; Gloves Come Off in GOP Debate

Aired October 19, 2011 - 18:00   ET

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


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Wolf.

And good evening, everyone.

We begin tonight with breaking news: a testy confrontation between the vice president, Joe Biden, and a reporter for a conservative newpaper, Human Events. At issue, remarks the vice president is making as he tries to rally support for the president's jobs bill, comments Republicans claim crossed the decency line.

Here's the exchange captured a short time ago on Capitol Hill by a CNN camera.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Do you regret using a rape reference to describe Republican opposition to...

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I didn't use -- no, no, no. What I said -- let's get it straight, guys. Don't screw around with me. Let's get it straight.

QUESTION: You didn't use a rape reference?

BIDEN: No, let me -- listen to me.

QUESTION: I'm listening.

BIDEN: I said rape was up three times in Flint. There are the numbers. Go look at the numbers. Murder's up, rape's up in (INAUDIBLE). That's exactly what I said.

QUESTION: And if the Republicans don't pass this bill, then rape will continue to rise?

BIDEN: Murder will continue to rise. Rape will continue to rise. All crimes will continue to rise.

QUESTION: Do you think it's appropriate for the vice president to use language in such...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We got to go.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Now, you heard the vice president there make a reference to Flint, as in Flint, Michigan. During a stop there last week, the vice president raised the specter of rising crime if Republicans keep blocking the president's plan to give states emergency aid, help keep teachers and first-responders like police and firefighters on the payrolls.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: In 2008, when Flint had 265 sworn officers on the police force, there were 35 murders and 91 rapes in the city. In 2010, when Flint had only 144 police officers, the murder rate climbed to 65, and rapes, just to pick two categories, climbed to 229.

In 2011, you now only have 125 shields. God only knows what the numbers will be this year for Flint if we don't rectify it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The vice president going through the statistics in Flint. That was a week ago. Republicans began complaining within minutes of that event. But yesterday in Philadelphia, the vice president escalated the rhetoric. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: The only thing I have heard from my friends who oppose this, this whole jobs bill, and this, that this is just temporary.

Well, let me tell you, it's not temporary when that 911 call comes in and a woman's being raped if a cop shows up in time to prevent the rape. It's not temporary to that woman. It's not temporary to the guy whose store is being held up and has a gun pointed at his head, if the cop shows up and he's not killed, that's not temporary to that store owner.

Give me a break, temporary. I wish these guys had as temporary -- I wish they had some notion what it's like to be on the other side of a gun or a 200-pound man standing over you telling you to submit. Folks, it matters. It matters.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It's that last part that's drawing outrage from Republicans. The Republican National Committee co-chairwoman Sharon Day taking offense, calling the vice president's remarks -- quote -- "irresponsible and mean-spirited."

Said the co-chair Day in a statement tonight -- quote -- "No victim of violent crime would ever wish that others were forced to experience the same trauma they went through, especially to make a brazen political point. So why would the sitting vice president of the United States?"

Joining us now, CNN White House correspondent Dan Lothian. Dan, at the White House, do they think the vice president is just making the statistical case and maybe it's emotional or do they think, as the Republicans are now complaining quite vociferously, that he crossed some line?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I did ask a senior administration official if in fact the vice president's language was appropriate and this official pointing out to me that the vice president has discussed this and that he has nothing more to add to this.

But I can tell you, we have seen over last several weeks a really ramped-up rhetoric from the president, certainly not like the words that we have heard from the vice president, but the president has been pointing the finger at Republicans saying they're playing political games, that they're picking partisan fights.

Why is the president doing this? Because there's a real sense of urgency here at the White House. There's a concern that if Congress doesn't act quickly enough that some of the progress that has been made in the current economic situation that we see now will be reversed, that things could get much worse. The president's big plan, his jobs acts, was defeated up on Capitol Hill. You have seen him over the last few days out on the road really pushing for pieces of his jobs plan, but even that does have its hurdles.

And there's a concern here that, again, if Congress doesn't act quickly, communities all around the country will be hurt.

KING: An important point. Dan Lothian at the White House.

As tempers fray, sometimes the rhetoric escalates. We will keep an eye on this one. Dan, thank you very much.

And turning now to presidential politics, and the fallout from a debate that opened a new and a more pointed and personal chapter in the Republican race for president. Early on, the surprising Herman Cain and his 999 tax plan, well, favorite targets.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Herman, I love you, brother, but let me tell you something, you don't have to have a big analysis to figure this thing out. Go to New Hampshire, where they don't have a sales tax, and you're fixing to give them one. They're not interested in 999. What they are interested in is flatter and fairer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: But attention quickly shifted from Mr. Cain to the national front-runner, Mitt Romney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You just don't have credibility, Mitt, when it comes to repealing Obamacare. You are -- you are -- your plan was the basis for Obamacare.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The most pointed and personal exchanges, though, they were between Governor Romney and the Texas governor, Rick Perry.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You lose all of your standing, from my perspective, because you hired illegals in your home and you knew about it for a year. And the idea that you stand here before us and talk about that you're strong on immigration is on its face the height of hypocrisy.

(LAUGHTER)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Governor Romney?

ROMNEY: Rick, I don't think I have ever hired an illegal in my life. And so I'm afraid -- I'm looking forward to finding your facts on that, because that just doesn't...

PERRY: Well, I will tell you what the facts are.

ROMNEY: Rick, again -- Rick, I'm speaking.

PERRY: You had the -- your newspaper -- the newspaper --

ROMNEY: I'm speaking. I'm speaking. I'm speaking.

We hired a lawn company to mow our lawn, and they had illegal immigrants that were working there.

And when that was pointed out to us, we let them go. And we went to them and said...

PERRY: A year later?

ROMNEY: So we went to the company and we said, look, you can't have any illegals working on our property. I'm running for office, for Pete's sake. I can't have illegals.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: A lot of questions raised and some very important lessons learned.

Let's begin our extensive breakdown of the big Republican debate with the Democratic perspective.

David Axelrod is President Obama's top campaign adviser. He joins us from New York today.

David, let's start with a simple question. What was your biggest lesson from the big Republican debate?

DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR OBAMA CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST: Well, I think that the tape that you just ran, John, was probably some of the most revealing that we have seen through these nine debates.

That one comment of Mitt Romney's in which he told the gardening service that he can't have illegals because he's running for office, not because it's wrong, not because it's illegal, but because he's running for office, I thought was a great insight into him.

And, you know, it helps explain why he can shift so easily from position to position on fundamental things, like health care, like choice and like gay rights and almost anything you can put your finger on. Last year, he attacked the president for being too tough on China. And now he's a trade warrior.

And you get the sense that everything is in service of running for office. And so no position or principle is to great to abrogate in service of that goal.

KING: We saw a very different Rick Perry last night. The governor of Texas had some flat -- I'm being kind -- debates leading up to this one. He was pretty feisty last night. But what did you learn about him?

AXELROD: Well, obviously, what's apparent is that he's going to try and fight for this. He's not going to go out with a whimper. And he was more challenging. I didn't learn a whole lot about his views.

I mean, his principal economic argument is that we can drill our way to prosperity. I think people understand it's more complicated than that. But the one thing you would learn from a political standpoint is that you know, he seems willing and eager to step up his pace in terms of Governor Romney and his pursuit of the nomination.

KING: If we look back at all the rules -- and we have both been through a lot of campaigns -- most of the rules, most of the history says, Herman Cain, there's no way he can do what he's doing. But he has jumped up.

Listen to this exchange.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: Are you saying that the state sales tax will also go away?

CAIN: No, that's an apple.

ROMNEY: OK.

CAIN: We're replacing a bunch of oranges.

ROMNEY: OK.

(LAUGHTER)

ROMNEY: So, then Governor Perry was right that -- CAIN: No, he wasn't. He was mixing apples and oranges.

PERRY: I will bump plans with you, brother, and we'll see who has the best idea about how you get this country working again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The 999 plan has helped Herman Cain go from nowhere to near the top of the national Republican polls. He's moving up in a lot of the key primary and caucus early battleground states. What is it about him or that plan that's captivating people?

AXELROD: Well, I think there are a couple of things.

What is it about him is that he's not a politician, at a time when politicians are trading very low. That's why Mitt Romney, who has been running for office for almost 20 years, keeps repeating, I'm not a politician, I'm a businessman.

I think running for office for 20 years probably characterizes you as a politician. But Cain's benefited from that. He's an engaging personality. But I do think that, as you move up, people begin to scrutinize you more closely, as they did last night.

And that tax plan is a very, very insidious thing for middle-class people, poor people in this country, essentially, as has been now reported, a tax increase on 85 percent of Americans, with the 15 percent at the top getting a tax cut. That's precisely what we don't need at this time, and he got called on it last night.

KING: What does it teach you about the politics of the moment, again, that this guy can go from nowhere to the top of the Republican pack? He's a bit of Ross Perot. He has some Tea Party appeal. What's in the water? Because your guy's going to be running in this political climate.

AXELROD: Well, I think there are two things to take away from this.

One is that, as I said, I think there's a tremendous amount of jaundice about politics, generally, today. And that permeates all -- on both sides. I think you can sense that. People are very unhappy with Washington, unhappy with the political system because of the perception of gridlock in Congress and some of the positions that have been taken there.

But there's another takeaway, John, which is, we have had Romney and an un-Romney in a variety of iterations throughout this campaign. Michele Bachmann filled the role for a while. Rick Perry soared to the top, and when he came down to earth, Cain took his place.

Romney sits there at 23 percent, 24 percent of the vote in all these polls. And the question is, why aren't they buying Mitt Romney? And I think it goes back to this question that we raised earlier and that he raised himself last night with that unintended revealing comment. People don't know where his core is. They don't know what he believes and what principle he's actually fighting for, other than his own advancement politically.

I think that makes people uncomfortable in the Republican primaries. I think it will make people uncomfortable should he be the nominee in a general election campaign.

KING: You're watching this all play out now. You're doing a lot of research and taking a lot of notes. If the president of the United States called you this morning and said, David, based on everything that you have learned so far, and the latest lessons you learned last night, which one of these guys or woman -- Congresswoman Bachmann is up there as well -- which one of these Republicans is best debater?

I'm not asking you to rate their policies. I'm not asking you to dig deep into the proposals. Which one of them do you think right now is the best debater?

AXELROD: Well, I think that Governor Romney's done very well. He's slipped a lot of punches. He's not been held accountable for a lot of conflicting statements that he's made over the years and conflicts with his record. And he's presented himself well.

And I think this is one of the advantages he has in this race. He's been running for president for six years. He's been around this track. And he's a more confident candidate now because he's had the experience of running once before. And it's shown up -- it's shown up in these debates.

KING: Let's talk about your side. You're obviously the chief advocate for the president of the United States. You're planning his campaign strategy.

He sat down with ABC's Jake Tapper yesterday. You like to say this will be not a referendum, but a choice. And Jake asked the president, well, grade yourself. Give yourself a grade, so the voters can get a sense of what you think of your performance.

And the president said he wouldn't do that. Then he said, at best, incomplete.

Hope and change was the motto four years ago. Can you campaign on, I need four more years to finish the class?

AXELROD: Well, I think there's no doubt that we do need four more years.

The president came in under really adverse circumstances for the country, and has been essentially an economic triage unit since he arrived there. But there are things that we need to do, not just to create more jobs in this country, but also to make sure that we create an economy, rebuild the economy in a way that work pays, that responsibility's rewarded, responsibility is held accountable and people can get ahead again.

That's going to take some time. It took a long time to get into the mess we're in. It's going to take some time to get out. So I do think that that is a factor. And he's right to give himself -- he's right to give himself an incomplete. We have got more work to do.

KING: I am fascinated by it, but I don't know what to make of it. And I'm talking about Occupy Wall Street. We have seen the large demonstrations. You're in New York City today. We have seen other demonstrations, some small, some medium, some relatively large in other cities across the country.

The question is, is this a protest movement? Will it become a big political movement? Again, in that conversation with Jake Tapper, here's the president's take.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I understand the frustrations that are being expressed in those protests. In some ways, they're not that different from some of the protests that we saw coming from the Tea Party.

Both on the left and the right, I think people feel separated from their government. They feel that their institutions aren't looking out for them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Some people say this could be the Tea Party of the left. Other people say, David Axelrod, take a walk through those parks and you will see fringe left radical elements that aren't really going to be a potent punch at the ballot box. Who are they?

AXELROD: I think the important thing to recognize is that some of the sentiments that have been expressed are much more broadly held than simply in a park in Lower Manhattan.

All around this country, around watercoolers and at kitchen tables, people are expressing some of those same frustrations, hardworking people, middle class people who have done everything right, met their responsibilities, and yet have seen their wages flatlined or fall, their expenses rise, their home values fall.

And some of it, a lot of it has to do with some of the things that happened in the last decade in places like Wall Street that plunged the economy into the mess that we're in, and, frankly, Washington wasn't doing its job in sufficiently policing the market so that things were transparent and aboveboard.

So these frustrations are widely held, John. And whatever the outcome of these protests, we shouldn't underestimate that sense of frustration and the pervasiveness of it. I think it's a very central theme in our country and in our politics right now.

KING: And do you worry that the frustration could well be directed at your guy? Number one, he's an incumbent, and sometimes when you're the incumbent, whether it's fair or unfair, you catch that harpoon.

Number two, your president did raise a lot of money on Wall Street and continues to solicit money on Wall Street. And, number three, a lot of the people around him, the chief of staff, Bill Daley was of course a senior official at J.P. Morgan Chase. Gene Sperling, one of his top economic advisers, has past ties to Wall Street and Goldman Sachs. Jack Lew, the budget director, again, has some past ties to Wall Street and Citigroup.

Do you worry at all that your guy could be a symbol, could be a target of their frustration?

AXELROD: Well, all I can tell you is that, if I hear the testimonials of people on Wall Street correctly, they don't agree with that.

There's a great deal of unhappiness amongst some quarters on Wall Street about the kind of financial reforms the president fought for and is administering to try and prevent the kind of crisis that we had before and to hold all these institutions accountable for what they do.

And so if people care about these issues, and if they're looking for a president who identifies with the struggles of everyday people and the struggle of the middle class and is working for an economy in which the middle class is growing and not shrinking, then we're going to do very well with those voters, and we should.

KING: David Axelrod, appreciate your time tonight.

AXELROD: It's good to be with you, John.

KING: Thank you.

You know, we're all cynical about politics, so shouldn't we compliment a politician, give him a big hooray when he's honest? Well, up next, a "Truth" from Mitt Romney that could prove quite painful.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: There won't be many days when the top Obama brain trust and Texas Governor Rick Perry's inner circle are in complete agreement. But today they are. Both camps see this as the signature moment of our big Republican presidential debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: So we went to the company and we said, look, you can't have any illegals working on our property. I'm running for office, for Pete's sake. I can't have illegals.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, you might remember this controversy back from the 2008 campaign. "The Boston Globe" reported then the lawn care company hired to take care of Romney's Massachusetts home employed illegal immigrants. After the newspaper brought the matter to the governor's attention, he says he told the company to clean up its act.

A year later, "The Globe" reported the company was still employing illegal immigrants, and when it told Romney, he fired them. Now, people make mistakes and voters are forgiving. So, as Romney noted in the debate, it's also pretty hard to keep track of what your contractors are doing.

So, while embarrassing, just the fact that Romney's lawn care company hires illegal immigrants probably wouldn't cost the candidate that many votes.

But here's tonight's "Truth." It's not just spin from the Perry and the Obama camps. Governor Romney's explanation in last night's debate is damning and potentially damaging. Here it is one more time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I'm running for office, for Pete's sake. I can't have illegals.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, for starters, it's supposed to be a question of right and wrong, legal or illegal, not a question of political viability.

In a vacuum, Governor Romney could own up to giving a lousy answer and perhaps move on. The problem is the "I'm running for office explanation" is a perfect foil for those who say Romney is a chronic chameleon.

Back to last night's debate and a telling exchange on health care.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: And I said, no, this is something that was crafted for Massachusetts. It would be wrong to adopt this as a nation.

SANTORUM: That's not what you said.

ROMNEY: You're -- you're shaking -- you're shaking your head.

SANTORUM: Governor, no, that's not what you said.

ROMNEY: That happens -- to happens to be...

(CROSSTALK)

SANTORUM: It was in your book that it should be for everybody.

ROMNEY: Guys...

PERRY: You took it out of your book.

SANTORUM: You took it out of your book, Mitt. Let's be honest.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The truth is, in the hardcover version of Romney's "No Apology," the governor writes this of the Massachusetts health care plan -- quote -- "We can accomplish the same thing for everyone in the country, and it can be done without letting government take over health care."

In the paperback version, published this year, that is edited down to this -- quote -- "And it was done without government taking over health care."

Now, Governor Romney says it was a harmless edit for space. Critics see it as an edit inspired by the Tea Party and its opposition to Obamacare.

And then, of course, there's this, on abortion, back in 2002, running for governor of left-leaning Massachusetts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: And I have been very clear on that. I will preserve and protect a woman's right to choose and I'm devoted and dedicating to honoring my word in that regard.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: In 2007, courting conservatives, running for president:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I will be a pro-life president. I will appoint...

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ROMNEY: ... just like I have been a pro-life governor.

And you don't have to take my word for it on this. You can look at my report as governor. On every piece of legislation, I came down on the side of life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, Governor Romney says he had a genuine change of heart on the abortion question.

But critics now have fresh evidence to suggest, a la the landscaping controversy, he was perhaps motivated by something else.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I'm running for office, for Pete's sake.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, one advantage of a long campaign is that we get to know what makes a candidate tick, who they are, not just what he or she proposes.

And the hard truth for Governor Romney tonight is that his own words about political calculations handed his rivals a gift, and could feed voter doubts about his sincerity.

Up next here: other important questions uncovered by the big Republican debate. Is Rick Perry mean-spirited? Is Governor Romney thin-skinned? And some say Herman Cain has peaked.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: In one night, actually in just the span of a few minutes, the Republican race for the White House went from sleepy to slugfest, especially when Mitt Romney and Rick Perry took on the subject of illegal immigration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

Perry And, Governor Perry, you say you have got the experience. It's a bit like saying that, you know, the college coach that has lost 40 games in a row has the experience to go to the NFL.

But the truth is, California -- I will say it again, California and Florida have both had no increase in illegal immigration and yours is up 60 percent...

COOPER: Time.

ROMNEY: ... over the last 10 years.

COOPER: Governor Perry, 30 seconds to respond.

PERRY: Well, the bottom line is that we have a federal government that has failed. There is a clear problem here. And he hit the nail on the head a while ago. He said there was a magnet of people that will hire illegals. And you are number one on that list, sir.

And people need to understand that. You're one of the problems, Mitt.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Joining us from Texas, Ken Herman. He's a columnist for "The Austin American-Statesman," here in Washington, "New York Times" national political correspondent Jeff Zeleny, and CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

Mr. Jeff, you were in Vegas. You just flew back, as Gloria and I did. The point of the issue immigration is part of it. But what struck me, and I talked to both Governor Romney and Governor Perry after the debate, was if you watched closely on television their eyes in the exchange, this was an, OK, here we go.

Governor Perry decided to play last night, and they both have millions of dollars, they both have an infrastructure for the long haul. This is getting personal and nasty.

JEFF ZELENY, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Without a question.

And Governor Perry had some pent-up anger. He's been wanting to do this for a long time. He's sort of quiet during these last four debates until last night. So, I think he was getting out a lot of venom that he's really been trying to express, but having a hard time doing it.

But he fundamentally doesn't like Mitt Romney, at least in the political sense, because he think that he underestimates him and that he doesn't think that he's sort of ready for the job. So, I was fascinated by their eye contact, their hand movement, when they touched one another like that. It was Violating Personal Space 101. So it definitely foreshadows things to come for the next two months.

KING: In a brief conversation...

BORGER: Jeff, you're wrong.

KING: In a brief conversation, as the Romneys were coming off stage, I was trying to engage the governor on this. Do you think this will continue, does it personally? He actually chatted with Governor Perry for just a minute or so. And I was asking, "Did you guys talk about that?" And Ann Romney, the governor's wife, said you're asking about the animosity. She brought up the animosity.

BORGER: Sure.

KING: Is it likely to continue? Without a doubt. Perry has to make up some ground. He has to convince conservatives he's in for the fight.

BORGER: You know, you don't go to a knife fight one day and then say, "Oh, never mind" the next day. You know, this was a moment when Perry really went on the attack on Romney, and Romney attacked back, as you saw in that clip.

I mean, Mitt Romney was trying to play a game where he was above the fray. He was going to talk about Barack Obama. Let all these other people fight each other. But suddenly, Romney was the target.

By the way, when those candidates attacked Herman Cain, they were much nicer. They kind of embraced him first and then attacked his plan later. Not so much with Mitt Romney.

KING: Republican voters like him. Republican voters like him. Ken Herman, you've known Rick Perry and covered Rick Perry longer -- you've known him better and covered him longer than any of us.

I want you to listen to one more bit of the exchange last night, because I'm really interested in your take. If you talk to the Romney people today, they say, "Well, sure, Rick Perry landed some blows, but this exposed him as mean-spirited." Here's Anderson Cooper trying to get the governor of Texas to answer a question about the 14th Amendment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Let me ask a question of Governor Perry. Governor Perry, the 14th Amendment allows anybody, a child of illegal immigrants, who's born here is automatically an American citizen. Should that change?

GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let me address Herman's issue...

KING: I'd rather you ask the question -- answer that question.

PERRY: I understand that. You get to ask the questions, and I get to answer like I want to. And Herman, Herman talked about...

COOPER: That's actually a response. That's not an answer, but go ahead.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Ken Herman, what did you see in Governor Perry last night? Anything new or is this a familiar governor?

KEN HERMAN, COLUMNIST, "AUSTIN AMERICAN STATESMAN": No, it's a familiar governor. He's combative, you know, and people have asked me, is Rick Perry mean? And I guess the question is, which Rick Perry? The Rick Perry I've known professionally and casually for 25 years I wouldn't say is mean. He's tough. He's aggressive. He's a cold-blooded politician, and many of the best ones have that in them. As you know, politicians are almost like regular people, and they react sometimes.

Is the -- is the candidate some people saw on the stage yesterday, might someone think that looked mean? Yes, if you're sitting in Wisconsin and you don't know much about this man, and this is your first, second, third, maybe fourth or fifth exposure to him on a debate, not only might that -- might someone like that think he looked mean but might also say, having watched the previous debates, who woke him up?

I think he sort of overcorrected for what was a little bit of sleepwalking before, and I think it was a little jarring. But, you know, again, this is such eye-of-the-beholder stuff. People might look at that and say, 'This guy's tough, and I like it."

KING: But when you say overcorrected, though, what do his people say about that? Was this him making this calculation, pushing him to be more aggressive in the past? Is it just finally getting comfortable, being up on the same stage with these guys after a few times and saying, "OK, I'm ready"?

HERMAN: Yes, I think it's getting comfortable. And he -- a lot of people know he's not done many debates down here. He hasn't had to. He's like an overwhelming favorite in his candidacies. He can pick and choose what he wanted to do.

And as he said, it's not his strong suit. And you know, I think he -- in the early debates, the theory might have been, less might have been better than more, which could have had giant gaffes or mistakes, so you just sort of sit it out. But the time has come for him to mix it up and make for good television. KING: Another thing that made for interesting television was listening to Herman Cain try to deflect the criticism of his 9-9-9 plan by suggesting his rivals were mixing apples and oranges, and we were contributing to the fruit economy, I'd say.

Listen to this one exchange here where Herman Cain is essentially saying, you're going to see a lot of analysis. Maybe different liberal groups, maybe they're from conservative groups. And a lot of them are out there saying his 9-9-9 tax plan would hurt, especially working class, middle-class Americans. Herman Cain saying, "Don't believe any of that. Just believe me."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HERMAN CAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The thing that I would encourage people to do, before they engage in this knee-jerk reaction is read our analysis. It is available at HermanCain.com. It was performed by fiscal associates. And all of the claims that are made against it, it is a jobs plan. It is revenue neutral. It does not raise taxes on those that are making the least. All of those are simply not true.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Jeff, if you say that, you know, the state sales tax would stay in place, I guess that's an orange. And if you say that 9-9 -- I wasn't quite -- he's very good. He's very good. But did he make his case or was he too defensive?

ZELENY: I don't think he made his case. We have a smoothie there. There's no doubt this is mixed.

I think that his plan -- he didn't expect that he was going to get all this scrutiny for his plan. It, quite frankly, was a back-of-the- envelope plan; it's catchy. But I think he sounded defensive.

But I said Gloria was right before that how the other candidates reacted to him was interesting, because they want him on his side.

BORGER: Right.

ZELENY: They want his vote. He's eminently likable. He's the non- politician on stage. And he still may be able to be the beneficiary of this, as a lot of people were certainly turned off by the animosity at the debate, and he could come through as the shiny ambassador.

KING: Romney wants him to fall from the high 20s to the teens and stay right there, so Perry doesn't get all his votes back, right?

BORGER: This is fine with Romney, so they -- so they split that. But we're going to hear from Rick Perry, a simple tax plan that he's intending on coming out with a flat tax. Last time we heard about that was Steve Forbes' campaign. So he is emulating Cain to a certain degree, because they want something that's anti-Romney. Romney has a 59-point plan. And it's not 60, I don't know. But -- but they want... KING: Stay tuned.

And Governor Perry says he'll have his in just a few days. Ken Herman in Austin, Jeff and Gloria, who are with me, thank you so much.

Next, today's bizarre hunt for lions, tigers and, yes, bears in Ohio.

And later, presidential candidate Herman Cain opens up in a revealing personal interview about surviving four -- stage four cancer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PIERS MORGAN, CNN ANCHOR: As a God-fearing man, what went through your mind?

CAIN: What went through my mind was, "OK, Lord, if this is it, thank you for this wonderful life."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. Here's the latest news you need to know right now.

In Ohio tonight, searches have accounted for all but one of the 51 missing animals after a man released his exotic menagerie and killed himself. The one missing animal, a monkey, may have been eaten by a tiger. Authorities killed most of the animals as they were found, including 18 tigers, 17 lions, and 8 bears.

Ignoring a general strike in a crowd of about 100,000 protesters, some of whom turned violent, the Greek parliament temporarily approved new austerity measures designed to avoid a government default.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Kabul today for an unannounced visit to Afghanistan. And finally, proof that people are increasingly focusing on the race for president. Almost 5.5 million viewers tuned in for our big debate. Republican presidential debate last night, the rest of the Republican debate right here on CNN.

And that brings us to tonight's "Number," which is also debate related: 3,981. That's page "likes" for Herman Cain's Facebook page since last night's debate, after the debate last night. Now, how does that rank Herman Cain when it comes to Facebook fans?

Well, total fans, Mr. Cain still down here, about 289,000, as we came on the air tonight. Governor Romney's the leader, followed by Congressman Paul, Congresswoman Bachmann, Governor Perry down here.

If you believe in this kind of democracy, social media democracy, here's an important lesson. Just after the debate last night, Mr. Cain up, Congressman Paul up, Governor Romney up. Again if you believe in this kind of democracy, not so good news for Governor Perry and Congresswoman Bachmann after the debate last night.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" coming up at the top of the hour. Erin joins us now with a preview. Erin, the fun and feisty debate.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: It was a fun and feisty debate. And really enjoyed watching it. And also then, the whole parlor game of how do you get not just an electable but a likable Republican ticket? I guess that's the holy grail.

There's a market out there that actually speculates, John, on who might be the V.P. candidate, and one of the people on it is Bob McDonnell, Republican governor of Virginia. He's going to be our guest tonight on "OUTFRONT."

And we're also going to tackle the issue of the flat tax. You heard Rick Perry talk about it today. How does it work? Will it work? Does it disproportionately affect the poor? Or is it a tax whose time has come? We'll get to the bottom line on that, on "OUTFRONT."

Back to you.

KING: Very much looking forward to it, Erin. See you in just a few minutes.

BURNETT: Thank you, John.

KING: And next, what the candidates' body language revealed during last night's debate.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: If you're watching last night's big Republican debate, one of the most remarkable things, I'm sure, that got you is the body language: Mitt Romney reaching out to touch Rick Perry and both did, well, plenty of finger pointing. Take a peek.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'll tell you what the facts are.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Rick, I'm speaking. I'm speaking. I'm speaking.

PERRY: Time for you to tell the truth.

ROMNEY: You get 30 seconds. This is the way rules work here. Is that I get 60 seconds, and you get 30 seconds to respond. Right?

PERRY: And they want...

ROMNEY: Anderson...

PERRY: You knew you had illegals working.

ROMNEY: Would you please wait? Are you just going to keep talking? Or are you going to let me finish with my -- what I have to say?

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Entertaining, not necessarily enlightening. Joining us, CNN contributor Erick Erickson; Democratic pollster Peter Hart; and body language expert Patty Wood.

Patty, I want to start with you. We usually start with the political folks in this block. But when you watched that play out, the finger pointing, the eye to -- eyeball to eyeball contact, Governor Romney reaching over and touching Governor Perry at one point, what does it tell you about these guys?

PATTY WOOD, BODY LANGUAGE EXPERT: A couple of things. First of all, breaking debate ritual by facing off towards each other. Actually, Romney going away from his own podium to reach out and strike down and point out weapon-like. Really unusual.

Also interesting that Romney looks good when he's angry. He even can smile when he's angry. That worked as an edge for him in the debates. Perry doesn't look good when he's mad. His face goes downward, points against him.

KING: Erick, everybody was wondering, because Perry had been MIA for a bunch of debates, when you saw the more feisty Perry and you saw -- you did, as Patty noted, a more combative Romney, as well, what went through your mind?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Where's this guy been? I mean, this was a fun debate. John, I'm surprised you don't have a black eye coming out of there. This debate was a debate we've all been waiting for. We knew it was going to happen. We knew Perry and Romney were going to try to go after each other. Perry tried in the last couple of debates and flubbed it. This time, he actually got Romney to get into an unguarded moment where he made that line about "I called the lawn service and told them I'm running for office, for Pete's sake. I can't have illegal aliens."

KING: And Peter Hart, you know, Governor Romney did initiate the contact last night to be fair. We like to be fair. It could have been payback. If you look at this photo, Rick Perry actually touched Governor Romney back at our September debate, therefore a pat on the back. That was an "attaboy," I guess. I don't think it was a supportive "attaboy," but so when you see this play out between candidates, you're not only a great pollster. You do a lot of focus groups. You see interaction between people. What does it tell you?

PETER HART, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: Well, it tells you that, look, Romney had one objective, and that was to say, "I'm tough, and I can hold my own against anybody." He took on Gingrich. He took on Governor Perry. He took on Santorum. He took on everybody that was on the stage. He had a tactical objective, and that was in part controlling everybody, and he did it well.

KING: You think he did it well. Another big test, and Patti, Herman Cain, he's run for office before, but he's never held elective office. And he's on the national stage for the first time. He rises in the polls, and the 9-9-9 plan comes under attack. And he's getting it from all sides the beginning of the debate. And you start to see it in his eyes. I think when we show some pictures, he starts to blink a lot.

WOOD: Right.

KING: Santorum's criticizing him. You see him looking from side to side. The eyes start blinking quite a bit. What does that tell you about what Herman Cain is thinking?

WOOD: It's actually called the Nixon Effect for Nixon's eye behavior during the Watergate testimony. It's a sign of high anxiety. Cain doesn't do well when he's silent. He doesn't do well in that great posture that a lot of candidates can take on when somebody's saying something negative against him. He doesn't have that down yet. He needs to learn how to -- how to do it.

KING: Erick, were you impressed with Mr. Cain holding his own, or did you sense a little jitters there? I thought that went on a little bit longer. I was actually hoping that went on just a little bit longer. I was waiting to see if he could continue to defend it.

ERICKSON: Yes. You know, you could tell that he was starting to get his dander up. He was getting a little frustrated. Herman -- Herman's a guy who smiles through combat. I mean, he survived stage four cancer. He's a happy warrior. That, by the way, is why I think he's in first place right now in the polls, is this guy under fire from the others, he's still the happy warrior.

KING: He is a happy warrior. Were you impressed with Herman Cain?

HART: Last night, he did one thing exceptionally well. He connected with voters in terms of talking about human emotions in a way in which they can relate to. So he wasn't good on 9-9-9, but on everything else he was connecting. And I thought he did well last night on that part of the debate.

KING: I want us to look at the Texas governor a little bit. I was struck when he walked in. He has this kind of stance to him. And it's Texas. George W. Bush had a bit of a swagger. People talked about the smirk. I want you to look at this picture right here. Governor Perry comes out. He's got this wide stance, his chest kind of puffed out a little bit. I'm hoping we can show it here.

Patty, what does that tell you when you see him there? He's trying to exude confidence. Is it stiffness or is it confidence?

WOOD: There is too much stiffness right (ph) in this posture. You can tell he's been coached to have more gestures, except most of his gestures are not gravity defined. They don't go upwards, bringing his energy up. They're downwards. So stiff here, needs to bring up his gestures here.

KING: Needs to bring up his gestures here. All right. Patty, we're going to let you go. When we come back, we're going to talk to you about politics. We'll spare you for that, but we'll bring you back after another debate. Excellent insights. We appreciate that. Erick and Peter are going to stand by. Next, today's developments on the campaign trail, including Rick Perry's swat at shape-shifting politicians. Who might he be thinking of?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: I talked to Governor Perry on his way off the debate stage last night. He said it was a lot of fun and had a good time. Today, he tried to build his momentum. To conservatives and Tea Party activists who might have drifted away after some shaky debate performances, Governor Perry says, "Give me another look."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PERRY: The American people are not going to trim around the edges when it comes to 2012. They're going to turn Washington inside-out. And let me share with you one thing: I am not the candidate of the establishment. You won't hear a lot of shape-shifting nuance from me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Still with us to dissect the shape-shifting nuances of the Republican race, Erick Erickson and Peter Hart.

Erick, there were a lot of questions for Governor Perry going into this debate. I assume if he had been flat again, the right blogosphere would be thinking, "Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Oh, my God." What is it today? What is his challenge now after he had a debate? Some say maybe he overdid it. Some say maybe he was a little too mean, but he certainly showed he was ready to fight and play. Now what's the challenge?

ERICKSON: Know when you see the message. Last night, in the debate, yet again he doesn't have an economic plan. He says it's coming at the end of this week. There's a lot of buzz starting to come out. It's going to be a flat tax, probably optional. And he's going to need their reset the clock on Rick Perry. He's going to need to come out now, focus on his energy and jobs, Bill, focus on this tax plan, try to get the media spotlight that is favorable towards his ideas and less focused on how awful of a debater he's been.

KING: Does it matter how awful a debater you are? You're the Democrat in the room here. But you know, Republicans, the primaries are about ideology. So they're thinking, "Where are you on this issue? Where are you on this issue?" I the back of their mind, I have to think the Democratic president's pretty vulnerable. I need somebody a year from now that can hold his own in a debate.

HART: Yes. I think that's one element. The problem is, people knew nothing about Rick Perry. They all flocked to him. And then, like anything else, if your first exposure is a bad exposure, you rush away. He will have a time over the period of December to re-establish that. But he's not coming from a neutral position. A lot of people have moved to the negative side, and that's going to be a challenge for him. KING: And the Romney campaign, Erick, they claimed they did fine in the debate last night. They didn't love every moment. They concede to a few missteps, going in. I talked to Romney, who said the biggest challenge is you can't hit a thousand. You're not going to be perfect in every debate. They put up a Web ad today, a Web video, I should say. They're not putting a lot of money into it. They're trying to make the point that maybe Governor Perry had one decent night, but he's still a lousy debater. Let's listen to it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PERRY: Was it was before -- he was before the social programs from the standpoint of he was for.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do or die for him.

PERRY: It's not whether or not we're going to have this policy or that policy.

We don't need any plan...

BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Perry really did throw up all over himself in the debate.

PERRY: But the fact is Americans understand faith.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Rick Perry plunging in the polls, rolling the dice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If he would just calm down. He seemed very agitated.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: You know, I guess on the one hand you could say that's fun or maybe it's piling on. My question for the Romney campaign today is, you know, why not something positive? Why do you think you need to beat up on this guy? Am I wrong?

ERICKSON: No. You know, I really think last night was the first debate we've had so far, I guess the seventh or eighth debate where Mitt Romney came out of the debate hurt. This was the first debate there was a pile-on. He had an unguarded moment after the pile-on with Santorum and Gingrich where he said that he didn't get the job done in Massachusetts, lowering health-care costs. Unguarded moment with Perry, where he said, "I'm running for office. I can't have illegals."

So he's got to turn it now to Perry's attention, because otherwise I think people might focus on this. This was probably the first one where he didn't do terrible, but he didn't come out of it without a little flesh wound.

KING: How do you escape -- Erick calls it a flesh wound in this environment, where one of the reasons Herman Cain is doing so well is people don't like politicians, period. And if you're viewed as a politician who's a chameleon, that you change position with the times, and you were pro-choice running against Senator Kennedy or ran for governor. Now you're pro-life. And maybe it's an honest-to-goodness change of heart on such an emotional issue.

But then you go through the -- well, I call them you can't have illegal immigrants working for you, because I'm running for office. How do you escape that?

HART: I don't think that you do. I think he's going to have to face it, and he's going to go through it in all the southern primaries and I think a lot of the other primaries. I think the problem is people are trying to get a sense of his mettle. They're trying to get a sense of who he is. And at this stage, he has to be beyond that patrician politician, that person who seems to have the perfect smile. That's what he's trying to establish.

KING: People are questioning the policies of Herman Cain, whether he's presidential, whether he's ready to be commander in chief. One thing you cannot question is his personal courage. Listen to this exchange with Piers Morgan about confronting stage four cancer?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN: What goes through your mind when you have such a life- threatening thing, where the odds are you're not going to make it?

CAIN: Right.

MORGAN: As a God-fearing man, what went through your mind?

CAIN: What went through my mind was, "OK, Lord, if this is it, thank you for this wonderful life. I just pray that I don't suffer." That's what went through my mind.

But when she told me I had a 30 percent chance of survival, I had to start thinking, "Well, maybe this is it." But because of my faith, I wasn't afraid.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: I can't let you guys in on that one. We're about out of time. It's a remarkable personal testimony, whether you're for him or against him politically.

Erick and Peter, thank you.

That's all from us tonight. See you tomorrow.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now. Take it away, Erin.