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Gingrich Gambles on Immigration; Candidates on Airline Security; Candidates Spar Over Afghanistan; Deadly Clashes Explode in Syria; Putting Pressure on Syria; "Reports of My Death Were Premature"; Who is "Blitz?"

Aired November 26, 2011 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Newt Gingrich takes a huge gamble on immigration, separating himself from the GOP pack at this week's CNN presidential debate. And all the candidates came out swinging at the TSA. So how do they propose securing U.S. airports?

Plus, one of the few gaffes at the debate involving Herman Cain and me. There was a little gaffe.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

It's the 11th major face-off among the candidates. But this week's CNN Republican Presidential Debate focused in on national security. I moderated the contest at historic Constitution Hall right here in Washington, D.C. And among the many noteworthy exchanges was this one in which Newt Gingrich, a front-runner right now, advocated what many conservatives clearly don't like - amnesty.


NEWT GINGRICH (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that we ought to have each one a visa that goes with every graduate degree in math, science and engineering so that people stay here.

You know, about five blocks down the street you'll see a statue of Einstein. Einstein came here as an immigrant. So let's be clear how much the United States has - has drawn upon the world to be richer, better and more inclusive.

Well, I think you have to deal with this as a comprehensive approach. It starts with controlling the border, as the governor said. I believe ultimately you have to find some system of - once you put every piece in place, which includes a guest worker program, you need something like a World War II Selective Service Board that frankly reviews the people who are here.

If you're here - if you've come here recently, you have no ties to this country, you ought to go home, period. If you've been here 25 years and you have three kids and two grandkids, you've been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church, I don't think we're going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you out.

MICHELE BACHMANN (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't agree that we should make 11 million workers who are here illegally legal.

MITT ROMNEY (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Amnesty is a magnet. When we have had in the past programs that have said that people who come here illegally are going to get to stay illegally for the rest of their life, that's going to only encourage more people to come here illegally.

The right course for our immigration system is to say we welcome people who want to come here legally. We're going to have a system that makes that easier and more transparent. But to make sure we're able to bring in the best and brightest, and by the way, I agree with the speaker in terms of - I'd staple a green card to the diploma of anybody who's got a degree of math, science, Master's Degree, PhD, we want those brains in our country. But in order to bring people in legally, we've got to stop illegal immigration.

GOV. RICK PERRY (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The real issue is securing that border. And this conversation is not ever going to end until we get the border secure.


BLITZER: The Republican candidates revealing their divisions over illegal immigration. Let's take a closer look now.

Joining us, our CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger and our Senior Political Analyst Ron Bronstein.

I thought it took guts for Newt Gingrich before a Republican group with Republican caucuses and primaries only weeks away to take a stand like that in favor of allowing at least some of those millions of illegal immigrants to stay in the United States legally.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. And he used the word "humane" and he said serious people do not want to deport, you know, 12 million people who have been in this country for some time.

You know, immigration, the question of immigration has been the quicksand for Republican political candidates. You saw it with Governor Perry who called his colleagues heartless if they didn't agree with him on his version of the dream act.


BORGER: And it hurt him. I think Newt Gingrich, and I don't know if you agree, was a little bit more artful. He didn't - he didn't call his colleagues heartless. But he said, you know, it's only humane to allow these people to stay here. How that affects him in a state like Iowa really remains to be seen.

BROWNSTEIN: A big gamble for Gingrich in the primary. A big gamble for Mitt Romney and the way that he responded, further digging in if he gets to the general election.

Gingrich last night reminded me of George W. Bush as a candidate in 2000. I remembered one town hall meeting in South Carolina when he talked about moms and dads who come across the boarder to try and make a better life for their kids. Very different language than you hear now from Republican candidates.

So there is a question that Gingrich's rise is primarily have been fueled by Tea Party activists. And that's why he's gained the most in the polls. And these are voters who are unhappy with the kind of the pace of racial change in the country and also in many cases very concerned about illegal immigration. So there is a risk there.

But Romney took a risk, too, in terms of if he gets the nomination, his ability to harvest economic discontent among Hispanics which is very real.

BORGER: Yes. And Michele Bachmann went after Newt Gingrich immediately saying that it was - that it was amnesty, clearly trying to get his - his voters back.

But when I asked Newt Gingrich after the debate, Wolf, about whether this has hurt the Republican Party with Hispanic voters, he said absolutely. But with all immigrants, not just Hispanics. This is a problem the Republican Party has.

BLITZER: And it's clear to me that in a general election what Newt Gingrich is saying, as you point out that could help him.



BLITZER: In a Republican contest, it probably wouldn't necessarily help them. I guess is it too far fetch to think that given the polls where he stands right now, Newt Gingrich, he's already looking ahead beyond these Republican contests?

BORGER: Maybe, but probably not.



BORGER: I don't think so.

BROWNSTEIN: This is classic Newt.


BROWNSTEIN: I think I will - one thing that's really interesting about the debate, Wolf, is that I think Americans today saw the Newt Gingrich that we both covered in the '80s and '90s, who was almost imperial in his intellectual self confidence and kind of really kind of radiated the sense that he was the one who had the long term vision.

You know, I see myself as a transformative figure he said back then. And that is the moment. What he is most in that expansive mode that he is I think the most likely to kind of say something that is not preprogrammed, that it can be rhetorically flamboyant.

But I do think that he did a much better job as you suggested of explaining his position than Rick Perry did. The National Review editorialized in favor of him after the debate. And I think even if you polled Republicans, most would say it is unrealistic to deport 12 million people and you have to make some decisions.

BLITZER: Although I was surprised how tough, how hard Mitt Romney came down on him saying this is a magnet. You are going to just further encourage illegal immigration. You got to get rid of the so- called -

BORGER: You know, Mitt Romney, first of all, has to try and run to the right of Newt Gingrich. It's the conservatives that are the most skeptical about Mitt Romney. Any time he has an opportunity to run to the right of Newt, he will do it, and to the right of Rick Perry.

And the interesting thing is that Perry couldn't really take on Newt Gingrich. But Newt Gingrich is Newt Gingrich. He's always going to surprise you. And you never know which Newt Gingrich is going to show up. Will it be the intellectual Newt Gingrich with lots of ideas, kind of unafraid? Or will it be the sour, nastier Newt Gingrich that's not likeable? I think the first Newt Gingrich was at your debate last night.

BLITZER: Well, certainly he's surprised all of us, given where he was over the summer. Everyone thought his campaign as it was beginning was already over. All of a sudden, these new polls show he's right in the thick of things.

BROWNSTEIN: One of the testaments that power these debates in the way it's changing the way they run for president.

BLITZER: Those debates -

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: -- certainly helped him.

BROWNSTEIN: I mean they are overwhelming everything else.

BLITZER: We'll see if this last debate winds up helping him or hurting him.

Guys, don't go too far away. We have a lot to discuss.

And the candidates were united in slamming the TSA. Some calling for profiling of Muslims.

Also, a sharp clash over the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan.


BLITZER: The candidates reunited in their criticism of the TSA at this week's CNN Republican Presidential Debate. But they had different proposals about what should be done to enhance airline security.


ROMNEY: We can do a lot better than the TSA system. It's going to get better over time. We can use better technology. We can also identify people who are lower risk and - and allow them to go through the process more quickly than the current process.

PERRY: I would privatize it as soon as I could and get rid of those unions. It's working in Denver they have a program where they're privatizing it. And the airlines and other private sector groups work together to do the security in our airports, and it makes abundant good sense.

RICK SANTORUM (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think TSA is a good example of that. We should be trying to find the bomber, not the bomb. Other countries have done it. Israel is probably the best example of that.

But to put this enormous expense on the federal government, to put the enormous expense on traveling public for - for pat downs and other intrusions, I think is too much money. I agree with Governor Perry. I actually voted when I - when this bill came up. I voted to allow for privatization. I was not for this being a government function. I thought it could be a private function.

BLITZER: Who would be profiled?

SANTORUM: Well, the folks who are most likely to be committing these crimes. If you look at it, I mean obviously it was people - obviously Muslims would be - would be someone you look at. Absolutely. Those are the folks who the radical Muslims are the people that are committing these crimes, by and large as well as younger males.

So I mean these are things that not exclusively but these are things that you profile to - to find your - the most likely candidate.

BLITZER: Congressman Paul?

RON PAUL (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's digging - that's digging a hole for ourselves. What if they look like Timothy McVeigh. You know, he was a pretty tough criminal.

I think what you're saying there's too much carelessness in the use of words that we're at war. I don't remember voting on a - on a declared declaration of war or war against terrorism.

HERMAN CAIN (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe we can do a whole lot better with TSA, and I call it targeted identification.

BLITZER: What does that mean?

CAIN: We can do targeted identification. If you take a look at the people who have tried to kill us, it would be easy to figure out exactly what identification profile looks like. But I want to make sure that I get to the Patriot Act. So I believe we can do a whole lot better. The answer I believe also may be privatization.


BLITZER: Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, basically they're both saying there should be religious profiling in this particular case Muslims should be - should get enhanced security patdowns or whatever at airports as opposed to Christians or Jews or other religions.

BROWNSTEIN: You know, first of all, the whole discussion was fascinating because the immediate aftermath if 9/11, the divisions in the Republican Party were suppressed. But you really see them overtime re-emerging with the libertarian strain versus the national security strain verse the we don't really want the government expanding in any sphere strain, which I guess Perry embodied.

Look, I mean, on the one hand, the advocates of profiling will say if you look at where the threats have come from in terms of domestic terrorism, the predominant - the predominant risks are Muslim- Americans or radical Muslims in general. On the other hand, the vast, vast majority of Muslim-Americans are not security threats.

So, you know, any kind of attempted profiling inexorably will involve a lot of people getting caught in a net that don't belong there.

And Jon Huntsman I think made a very pertinent point that probably resonates to a lot of Americans that we have a brand around the world. And if you start making distinctions along those lines, you will be I think creating - putting some shadows over that brand, especially in the Muslim world which we're trying to reach out to.

BORGER: It's that the debate we're used to hearing about national security versus civil liberties is in the Democratic Party. And we heard that immediately in the aftermath of the Patriot Act during the debate on Patriot Act, post 9/11.

And now Ron Paul, again, said, you know, we have to protect the rule of law. And he kept making that point over and over and over again. He said I didn't vote for war. I don't see that this is a war. And everybody deserves their civil liberties and you better be careful here. He could have been talking to a liberal Democratic constituency there, and not the Republican Party.

BLITZER: But it raises certainly in my mind, I just want you to weigh in. Ron Paul.


BLITZER: You know, he's got a strong following out there. He's always got 10 - maybe 15 percent of these Republican conservative voters out there. Most people don't think he's going to get the Republican nomination.

Is it possible, he says he's not interested right now, that he would - he's not running for re-election in Congress, He's given that up, that he would run as a third party candidate? BROWNSTEIN: That is a fascinating possibility. Look, I think - I agree with you, Ron Paul is probably not going to be the nominee. But these debates have been fascinating. And he has been a very effective communicator of that libertarian strain in the Republican Party, which as I said, was very much suppressed after 9/11 in the Bush administration.

But with this forum, I'm guessing he is enlarging that constituency in the Republican coalition. I mean, hearing these arguments presented as effectively as he has done so is probably I think widening the circle of people who are responsive to them. And so there is I think, if he wanted to go in that direction, there would be some people would march along with him.

BLITZER: Not just Republicans, the Democrats would be happy to go along with him on defense cuts, for example.

BORGER: Sure. And when you have -

BROWNSTEIN: That's (INAUDIBLE) domestic -

BLITZER: Yes. But closing -

BORGER: Yes. You know, when you heard about him on the - on the budget deficit and he said actually they'll tell you they're cutting but they're not really cutting, that speaks directly to - to people in both parties who don't trust government.

This is somebody - his brand has been much more popular this time around with some Republicans because he's isolationist and Republicans like that because they don't want to spend money on defense. But also in terms of his civil libertarian stand, you know, sort of hands off with Democrats. He has a lot more appeal. He doesn't trust government. He doesn't trust the Federal Reserve. There's a lot of constituency for that right now. So he would be a very interesting third party candidate.

BLITZER: Yes. I don't think it will happen. It will be a wild card. He's still got a son, Ran Paul, who is a senator. I don't know how that would affect him, but it would be an intriguing moment in this campaign.

BORGER: It would draw from both parties, actually.

BROWNSTEIN: You got record low approvals for both parties. You've got Congress at nine percent. The president in the low 40s. There is an opening there for someone right, left, or center -

BORGER: For both.

BROWNSTEIN: -- or maybe more than one someone. Absolutely.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: Stand by, guys. More to discuss.

The candidates also clashed over Afghanistan. How quickly should U.S. forces withdraw? How many should be coming home?

And Michele Bachmann weighs in on Pakistan.

More highlights from this week's CNN Republican Presidential Debate.


BLITZER: The subject of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan brought some of the sharpest exchanges at this week's CNN Republican Presidential Debate.


ROMNEY: We spent about $450 billion so far, 1,700 or so servicemen and women lost their lives there and many tens of thousands have been wounded. Our effort there is to keep Afghanistan from becoming a launching point for terror against United States.

GINGRICH: You want to keep American troops in Afghanistan? You accept hot pursuit. You say no sanctuaries. You change the rules of engagement. You put the military in charge of the military side. You overhaul the State Department and NIDC (ph) to get the job done. And you do it for real and you do it intensely and you tell the Pakistanis help us or get out of the way. But don't complain if we kill people you're not willing to go after on your territory where you have been protecting them.

SANTORUM: We're not fighting a war on terrorism. Terrorism is a tactic. We're fighting a war against radical Islam. And what radical Islam is telling all the radical Islamist leaders are saying is to just wait America out. America is weak. They will not stand for the fight. They cannot - they cannot maintain this. They'll set time limits. Politics will interfere. And we will tell the people in Afghanistan, we'll tell the people in Iraq and other place that we will be the strong horse in the region.

JON HUNTSMAN (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think we need to square with the American people about what we have achieved. We need an honest conversation in this country about the sacrifices that have been made over nearly 10 years.

We have - we have dismantled the Taliban. We've run them out of Kabul. We've had free elections in 2004. We've killed Osama Bin Laden. We've upended, dismantled al Qaeda. We have achieved some very important goals for the United States of America.

Now the fact that we have 100,000 troops nation building in Afghanistan, when this nation so desperately needs to be built, when on the ground we do need intelligence gathering, no doubt about that. We need a strong special forces presence. We need a drone presence and we need some ongoing training of the Afghan National Army, but we haven't done a very good job defining and articulating what the end point is in Afghanistan. I think the American people are getting very tired about where we find ourselves today.

ROMNEY: Are you suggesting, Governor, that we just take all our troops out next week? Or what's your -

HUNTSMAN: I just said, I said we should draw down from 100,000. We don't need 100,000 troops. We don't need 100,000 troops. Many of them even cross the wire.

We need a presence on the ground that is more akin to 10,000 or 15,000. That will serve our interest in term of intelligence gathering and Special Forces response capability. And we need to prepare for a world not just in South Asia but indeed in every corner of the world in which counter-terrorism is going to be in front of us for as far as the eye can see in the 21st Century.


BLITZER: On this issue, Gloria and Ron, on this issue of Afghanistan, Huntsman - Jon Huntsman, the former U.S. Ambassador to China, former Governor of Utah, someone who was appointed by President Obama, he takes a pretty strong stance. Hundred thousand troops, way too many. The U.S. has to get out and stop nation building after 10 years in Afghanistan.

BORGER: It reminded me of Joe Biden.


BORGER: He sounded exactly like Joe Biden to me when they were having the internal discussions about Afghanistan over at the White House and whether to - to have a surge or not.

I mean what's interesting generally about this Republican debate is nobody is sending - is saying we should send more troops into Afghanistan. Mitt Romney disagrees with the president on the timetable for withdrawal as do all of the candidates.

BLITZER: Only the surge troops.


BLITZER: And the others are all staying through the end of 2014.

BORGER: December 2014 they're gone.

So we're talking about when is the right - how is the right way to draw down the troops? But not whether or not to draw down the troops. So it's a completely different discussion than we had 10 years ago or even by the way four years ago.

BROWNSTEIN: You know, this, again, I think a fascinating discussion. And in many ways it's more somewhat dynamic what we talked about in domestic securities. Divisions in the Republican Party that was suppressed in the aftermath of 9/11 and under George W. Bush are reemerging. You have obviously the dominant - kind of the dominant view in the party remains, I think, closer to the neoconservative view that he embodied.

But you see in Huntsman the kind of re-emergence of a more realist view and as well as what he said about Afghanistan. He also talked about making economics, the primary focus of our foreign policy. And then you have the libertarian strain, which Ron Paul is again rather ably carrying the banner for us.

So you see an array of opinion re-emerging in the Republican Party after almost a forced consensus, I think, in the aftermath of 9/11 and under George W. Bush.

BORGER: And there's a reality, of course, that we can't afford to be in Afghanistan forever. And these are fiscal conservatives who don't want to raise taxes to pay for anything. So they're constrained.

BLITZER: Huntsman is putting all his eggs in New Hampshire in that basket. He's got to do well. I don't know if he can beat Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich in New Hampshire for that matter. But that is his - that is his goal right now. Is it doable?

BROWNSTEIN: Very difficult, but not - you know, look, that is - that is the electorate that is most favorable to him. Independents can vote. It's more upscale. Fewer of the evangelical Christians or both, you know, resistant to Mormonism in some cases. And also he's less of a social activist than others.

So it is the best audience for him. But he has had trouble establishing traction. And, you know, funny, listening to him last night, so many of the things he said, talk about third party candidates, he sounded more like he was talking to unaligned voters, moderate independent voters than he was to kind of Republican voters (ph).

BLITZER: I got a lot of tweets. I got a lot of reaction. A lot of people out there they liked Huntsman. They thought he would do really well in a Democratic primary.

BORGER: Yes. He would do well on a Democratic primary. And -

BROWNSTEIN: Or if any candidate (INAUDIBLE) again -

BORGER: -- as an independent. Well, but in New Hampshire, as you point out, independents can vote. But I still believe if you look at his polling in New Hampshire, he's nowhere. And you've got Mitt Romney in some polls up at 40 percent. Be very, very difficult for him to catch Mitt Romney. If he came in a very close second -

BROWNSTEIN: Go on to Florida. That's the kind of scenario.

BORGER: Right. He could go on to Florida, but other than that, I think he'd have to reassess after New Hampshire. And he exactly wouldn't raise -

BROWNSTEIN: And even if there's an emergence it makes it even tougher.

BORGER: Right. And he wouldn't be able to raise money.

BROWNSTEIN: Gingrich is not only a Tea Party candidate. Gingrich is drawing strength from the more moderate elements of the party as well where Huntsman would have to grow.

BLITZER: Stand by, guys.

BORGER: And immigration, yes.

BLITZER: We've got more to discuss, including more highlights from CNN's Republican Presidential Debate including what the candidates think about the deadly violence exploding in Syria and Pakistan.

One candidate calls it - I'm quoting now, "a concern that ought to keep everyone up at night."


BLITZER: Another huge, huge issue that came in at the CNN Republican presidential debate -- Pakistan. It's a security issue. The candidates didn't necessarily agree on what the United States needs to do. Listen to this.


JON HUNTSMAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Pakistan is a concern. That's the country that ought to keep everybody up at night. You have presidents in charge and general over the military, which also is responsible for ISI.

You've got the youngest demographic of 160 million people in Pakistan. You've got a movement. You have over 100 nuclear weapons. You've got trouble on the border. You've got a nation state that is a candidate for failure.

And I say it's a haven for bad behavior. It's a haven for training. The people who seek to do us harm and expand the drone program is something that would serve our national interests. I think it must be done. I think it must be consistent with recognizing the reality on the ground.

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Pakistan has been the epicenter of dealing with terrorism. They are as Governor Huntsman said, there are al Qaeda training grounds there and there's also the Hakani network that it can be trained there as well.

They also are one of the most violent, unstable nations that there is. We have to recognize that 15 of the sites, nuclear sites, are available or potentially penetrable by Jihadists. Six attempts have already been made on nuclear sites.

This is more than an existential threat. We have to take this very seriously. A nation that lies, that does everything possibly that can you imagine wrong, at the same time they do share intelligence data with us regarding al Qaeda.

We need to demand more. The money that we are sending right now is primarily intelligence money to Pakistan. It is helping the United States. Whatever our action is, it must ultimately be about helping the United States and our sovereignty, our safety and our security. GOV. RICK PERRY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They showed us time after time that they can't be trusted. And until Pakistan clearly shows that they have America's best interests in mind, I would not send them one penny, period.


BLITZER: Also we didn't play that clip, but you heard Michelle Bachmann call Perry's ideas on Pakistan very or highly naive.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, Pakistan sort of in a role that China usually plays in presidential campaigns where the out party always promises to be tougher. You're seeing that.

What was interesting about last night was that Michele Bachmann who is often at the vanguard of whatever issue, kind of positioned herself more as the voice of reason. Saying, look, there are limits. This is a very frustrating relationship.

But completely severing it and cutting off aid would not be in the U.S. national interest. So it was fascinating to watch that kind of dynamic play out in a debate where the entire incentive is just simply to say I'm going to be tougher. I'm going to crack the party.

BLITZER: She's a member of the intelligence committee in the House and she knows the subject.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It shows and she also had the line that Pakistan was too nuclear to fail. That says it all, which is we cannot allow them to fail.

We have to not write blank checks as Perry said. And she said later on when we interviewed, she said we're not writing blank checks. We're getting something for our money. But it's very easy to say OK, Pakistan, forget it. But we can't do that and --

BLITZER: That Pakistan has a nuclear arsenal. She says 15 nuclear weapons sites and six of them, she says, I don't know if this is true.

BORGER: Is that classified?

BLITZER: I have no idea. Six of them have attempted to be penetrated.

BROWNSTEIN: That was striking. You know, it was overshadowed by what he said about immigration. If he didn't say that, Newt Gingrich's comments about Pakistan may have been a big headline.

When he was talking about essentially unlimited hot pursuit regardless of the view of the Pakistani government, I think if he, you know, if he did become the nominee and certainly became the president, I mean that would be a position that would be one of extraordinary tension.

Bringing into a relationship that has a lot of tension to begin with, but the incentive is always to be tougher as the out party. The problem is once become president, there are usually other considerations.

BORGER: And the irony is, I think one of the questioners raised the point that as a result of getting Osama Bin Laden, a good thing, our relationship with Pakistan has gotten worse which is not so much a good thing.

And Gingrich said, yes, I'd be really mad. Gingrich said well, it should be bad. You know what? If I were president, I'd be angry at the Pakistanis because the implication being that they knew where Osama Bin Laden was.

BLITZER: And the thought that she is saying when Pakistan is too nuclear to fail, what she was basically saying is that this could be what you fear in Iran if Iran were to get a nuclear bomb.

You would have a disaster, but Pakistan already has dozens of nuclear bombs. And if the Islamists or the al Qaeda elements, Taliban elements were to take over the Hakani network, you would have a nuclear threat.

BORGER: And you would have the same conversation about Iran, which is, are you doing enough? Are the sanctions strong enough? Should we sanction the central bank? You spoke about that or should we get involved in any military action if Israel decides to --

BLITZER: And there is a nuance policy towards Pakistan. You can't get let it get into hands completely of the bad guys.

BROWNSTEIN: My colleague wrote a piece a few weeks ago, which was really chilling on the degree to which the hold of the nuclear weapons is already fraying.

And, you know, this is a problem that -- there are many problems in the world for which there is not any solution. There are problems that you manage instead of solve. Pakistan may be one of those. China may be one of those.

The Arab-Israeli conflict may be one of those and presidential debates are usually about I have a solution. In fact, you know, the best can you often do is manage the problem and avoid the worst rather than achieve the best.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by. More to discuss from the CNN Republican presidential debate including what the candidates think should be done about the brutal government crackdown unfolding in Syria right now.

Also, Gloria's interview with Newt Gingrich just moments after the debate. What does he by this the recent surge to the -- his recent surge to the front of the pack?


BLITZER: The deadly violence is exploding in Syria according to the United Nations. More than 3,500 people, mostly peaceful protesters have been killed in recent months. But what do the candidates think should be done about the situation in Syria?


HERMAN CAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would work with our allies in the region to put pressure, to be able to try and get our allies and other nations to stop buying oil from Syria. That would be one thing that I would do, but I would not support a no-fly zone.

PERRY: That's one of a multitude of sanctions and actions that I think work very well from the standpoint of being able to pressure that regime overt, covert, and economic sanctions, I mean, I think there are a number of ways.

But when you put the no-fly zone above Syria, it obviously gives those dissidents and gives the military the opportunity to maybe disband and want to get out of the situation that they're in, in Syria as well.

So I think if we're serious about Iran, and that's what we're really talking about here, we're talking about Syria is a partner with Iran in exporting terrorism all across that part of the world and around the globe.

So if we're serious about Iran, then we have to be serious about Syria as well. So I think a no-fly zone is an option of one of a multitude of options that we should be using. And we should put them in place if we're serious about Iran not getting the nuclear weapons.

REP. RON PAUL (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you have a no-fly zone over Syria, that's an act of war. What if we had China put a no fly zone over our territory? I don't think he would like that.

I think we should practice a policy of good will to other people. What about saying that we don't do anything to any other country that we don't have them do to us?

When we have a no-fly zone over Iraq, it was meant to be a regime change and evidently someone to have regime change. But what is our business? Why should we spend more money and more lives to get involved in another war?


BLITZER: Once again the two Texans strongly disagreeing, Rick Perry and Ron Paul. Rick Perry is the governor of Texas. He's never lost an election in his life. He has millions and millions of dollars in campaign money. He is doing a lot of ads, but he's not doing well in the polls.

BROWNSTEIN: He never got a second chance to make a first impressin and part of the problem that Rick Perry has is that Texas has been a one party state almost throughout his career at the state level. Democrats have not won a state-wide office since 1994.

He really had not had to face a lot of major league pitching in his political career. When he came out and announced for president, he immediately had to do three presidential debates roughly within the same month.

If this was 20 years ago when we started covering politics, he would have had months of going to coffee shops and living rooms without anybody watching, get his sea legs under him.

The problem he's got is I think the polls suggest that a big chunk of the Republican Party said, look, we just can't envision this guy carrying the banner into November and changing that impression after its initially made is very hard. Ask Dan Quayle, for instance.

BLITZER: He's no major gaffes in this debate.

BORGER: Yes. But that is not the standard, right? That is the low bar and the bar was low for him because he had done so badly during these debates. But, you know, the thing about Rick Perry is that he seemed to me to be somebody that consultants were available.

They wanted him to run for president. They thought in theory he would look terrific up against Mitt Romney. But here was a candidate that had no set of ideas that was catapulting him to the presidency.

He hadn't been thinking about foreign policy for years and years. He didn't have a vision for the country or where he wanted to take the country. And I'm sort of old fashioned. I believe when you run for president, you want to have those things in place before you say, you know what? I want to run. You don't get the ideas after.

BROWNSTEIN: Although, he did say in the last few weeks ironically he's put together an agenda that probably would have a lot of appeal to the faction of the party that he is most appealing to.

BLITZER: Like what for example?

BROWNSTEIN: The flat tax, the idea of a part time legislature, echoing what Lamar Alexander said, the hard line of foreign policy. He consistently took the hard line in that debate on Pakistan, on Syria. I mean he is kind of pulling together a kind of approach, eliminating EPA.

I think it is consistently the most conservative, the most tenth amendment. The problem is that, again, the credibility threshold that he has suffered. He's kind of fell below that credibility threshold in those early debates.

It's not clear that people are listening in the same way they might have if this rolled out in a smoother way.

BORGER: Whether you don't own your ideas, you have others sent to you. Don't internalize. You can't remember which three cabinet posts you would want to cut because you know what? It wasn't really your idea and you hadn't been talking about it for years.

BROWNSTEIN: But this is the underlying theme where he is trying to envision himself as the candidate most determine to roll back Washington on the most fronts. You're right. This is not something he spent years thinking about. The specifics get away from him, but that common theme is there. There was a made sense. There was an -- there is an audience for that party that resists Mitt Romney, but he has struggled after an initially very positive reaction. He fell below the credibility threshold. It's not clear he can get a second hearing.

BLITZERN: Unlike the other Republican candidates, you can't accuse him of being a Washington insider because he's never been a Washington insider.

BORGER: That is Herman Cain's calling card, too, right?

BLITZER: He was part of the restaurant association.

BORGER: He is a businessman.

BLITZER: All right, don't go away yet. More to discuss. Newt Gingrich speaks to our own Gloria Borger about the debate only minutes after the debate. You're going to find out what he thinks about his recent surge to the front of the pack.

And why Herman Cain decided to call me "Blitz." Stay with us.


BLITZER: Only minutes after the debate this week at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., our own Gloria Borger had a chance to speak with the speaker, Newt Gingrich.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think somebody up here is going to be president. And I think that they hopefully is going to be me. Well, one of us is going to be. It's important for us to unify the country by having an honest conversation not just a series of slogans.

BORGER: And can you reflect on this? Here you are standing, saying I think it's going to be me, but last --

GINGRICH: I said I hope it's going to be me.

BORGER: Your campaign was imploding and your staff was leaving you and here you are. And can you sort of reflect upon that for a minute about what happened?

GINGRICH: It's a little bit like Mark Twain. I think the reports of my death were premature, which what he said when somebody wrote an obituary before he died.

All of our core staff stayed and we had a team we assembled. They all stayed except for one person. The professional politicians all left. I don't run a traditional campaign. I run a very idea oriented, very positive campaign.

BORGER: So what happened? GINGRICH: Now?

BORGER: Yes. Why are you where you are?

GINGRICH: I think people want substance. They want to exact the conversation you and I had exactly what this debate was like. They really know the country is in trouble. And they really want to have a serious person who is willing to talk through at a level of detail that is real and not just political slogans.

BORGER: One last question. Looking at the folks around you on the podium tonight, who is it going to come down to you and who else do you think?

GINGRICH: Look, I always think that Governor Romney will be one of the two finalists. He has the money. He's run before. He's got a tremendous base in New Hampshire.

So if it does come down to two people, I hope I'm one of the two. But I absolutely certain the other one will be Mitt Romney. He has five years of campaigning. And that gives you an enormous base.


BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Gloria, I got the impression, I spoke to him off camera a little bit. You spoke to him on camera. Is he really beginning to think he could potentially be the Republican nominee?

BORGER: I think he's beginning to, but he's trying not to because I think when Newt Gingrich in his political career, we were talking about this, gets to that sort of point of success, he often tend to shoot himself in the foot.

So he would rather not do that, but I think he's beginning to think that has hit his stride. That the public does want the substance the he offers.

But don't forget, he also understands, he comes with an awful lot of baggage in his personal life, in his lobbying life, in his political history. And that those things clearly, once you reach that top of the top tier, those things tend to get relived.

BLITZER: Alll that stuff has been widely discussed, though, over the years. Unless there are more surprises out there, hasn't it all been discounted already?

BROWNSTEIN: I don't know if everybody in the current political electorate knows all the history of Newt Gingrich that goes back to 1970s. First of all, this is an incredible personal story. You know, he quoted Mark Twain., let me quote F. Scott Fitzgerald who said there are no second acts in American lives.

Te most famous wrong thing ever said about America. Newt Gingrich's recovery is not only from last summer when his campaign cratered, but from 1998 when he resigned in disgrace after losing House seats over the backlash against the impeachment of Bill Clinton and general frustration over the way he was running the House.

So this is an extraordinary testament to his tenacity and diligence in kind of returning to be a major voice in the Republican Party for the fifth different decade. I mean, this is a guy who started in the 1970s with a conservative opportunity society.

It's extraordinary that way, but there is that issue that Gloria said. I mean, this is a guy who has not been disciplined in the past, who has said things that have hurt him in critical moments like in budget negotiations with Bill Clinton in 1996 that led to the cry baby front page cover in the "Daily News."

So there is a lot there, but there is no doubt that he is -- these debates have allowed him to show his greatest strength, which is a command of a lot of different --

BLITZER: Can you imagine, Gloria, a debate between Newt Gingrich and Barack Obama?

BORGER: I could. I could. I think it will be interesting too. Don't forget Newt Gingrich has called for Lincoln Douglas style debates where you travel around the country --

BROWNSTEIN: He could do one with Bill Clinton in 1995 in New Hampshire. They went up together.

BORGER: I don't know whether if he's were the nominee, I don't know whether President Obama would do it. But it's something that he really excels at.

He's a professor. He's an academic. He's an intellectual. He loves to have the time to talk about his ideas. The problem is, as even his friends will tell you, for every 100 ideas he has, 10 may be good. And the rest may not be so good.

BROWNSTEIN: We have not really debated yet any of his ideas, 15 percent flat tax, eliminate the capital gains tax, convert Medicare into a premium voucher system with conventional Medicare as an option.

Create private accounts under Social Security as George W. Bush did. Most of those are ideas that Mitt Romney has opposed in the past. It will be interesting to see if Romney feels like he has to engage in some of those fronts or solely using this opening that Gingrich provided on immigration.

BLITZER: We have a little dessert coming up, guys. Stand by for this. Up next, one of the evening's few, shall we call them gaffes, a little gaffe that involved Herman Cain and me.


BLITZER: There was one funny moment when Herman Cain had this so say about me. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CAIN: No, Blitz, that's oversimplifying it. I happen to believe that if you allow our intelligence agencies to do their job, they can come up with an approach. I'm sorry, Blitz, I meant Wolf, OK? Blitz, Wolf, since we're on a blitz debate -- I apologize, Wolf.


BLITZER: No need to apologize. I've been called a lot worse. That was funny.

BORGER: It was funny and you called him Cain, which I thought was funnier.

BLITZER: He laughed. I laughed. Afterwards, we spoke.

BROWNSTEIN: Maybe he confused with you Dick Bachuss, Lawrence Taylor? You know? It could be. It could be a professional linebacker. You have that kind of speed and power combination.

BLITZER: I was a blitzing linebacker. I introduced everybody. I pointed out -- I pointed out that my real name, everybody knows this by now, my real name is Wolf Blitzer. Listen to what Mitt Romney had to say after I pointed out that I'm really Wolf Blitzer.


BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer, and, yes, that's my real name.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm Mitt Romney and, yes, Wolf, that is also my first name.


BLITZER: Maybe not necessarily.

BORGER: Willard? Willard. Credibility.

BLITZER: Willard Mitt is his middle name. Willard is his first name.

BORGER: He was nervous.

BROWNSTEIN: He is facing credibility challenges. He might want to be rock solid on his own name.

BLITZER: But everybody calls him Mitt.

BORGER: Don't you always forget your real name?

BLITZER: I give him a pass.

BROWNSTEIN: Good night for all of them.

BLITZER: Good night for all of them. Good night for CNN. Good night for voters out there. I think they gained a little bit of knowledge going into that voting booth. Hopefully they have a better appreciation. Keep it up. Thanks very much. That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer. Join us week days in THE SITUATION ROOM from 4 to 6 p.m. Eastern, every Saturday at 6 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN and at this time every weekend on CNN International. The news continues next on CNN.