Return to Transcripts main page

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Kentucky Senator Rand Paul; Republicans Prepare for Second Debate; . Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired September 15, 2015 - 16:00   ET

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


JOHN BERMAN, CNN GUEST HOST: One day to go until the Super Bowl of politics. How many flags will be thrown for unnecessary roughness?

I'm John Berman, and this is THE LEAD.

The politics lead, 'twas the night before debate-mas, and, rhyme, rhyme, rhyme, the podiums built by CNN with care, as Jake Tapper preps questions that are all firm, but fair. But will the candidates play naughty or nice? Just about 26 hours until we all find out.

He took on Trump and slipped in the polls, so what is Rand Paul's strategy tomorrow? And is he ready to roll the dice and shut down the government again in the middle of an election? I will ask the senator when he joins me live.

[16:00:07]

Also in politics, da Bears, they have their super fans, and so do the candidates, from wearing nothing but Donald Trump to the guy with the Jeb tattoo. Will he regret that the way I regret my Margaret Thatcher ink?

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm John Berman live in Simi Valley, California, from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, where we are hours away from the CNN Republican debate. The seating chart around the debate stage is mapped out. There will be tough questions, there will be revealing answers and you can expect sparks will fly.

It has been the election of outsiders so far, but now will those outsiders try to outlast other outsiders? Will the insiders, candidates chalked up by most voters as establishment, try to get the inside track among those rivals? Or will everyone single out the man in the middle of the stage and gang up on Donald Trump?

Now, I know what you're thinking as you're watching THE LEAD right now. You're not Jake Tapper. That's right, because he is.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: I want to get to the man right now who is moderating the CNN debate right here in Simi Valley, CNN's chief Washington correspondent, the anchor of THE LEAD, "STATE OF THE UNION," Jake Tapper, who has been shut behind closed doors preparing for this momentous occasion.

Jake, what is the first question tomorrow night?

(LAUGHTER)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: First of all, let me apologize to staff and to viewers for being so absent. I promise to return Thursday, ready for action back to THE LEAD.

But we have been involved in intense debate preparation, going over questions, trying to figure out the best way to phrase them, to make sure that everyone gets a fair amount of questions and that we really prompt debate as much as possible, that it's not just a series of 11 interview questions, or 15, as the case may be, if you include the undercard debate, that it's not a forum where they all can extrapolate and give their talking points.

We want debate about policy, about politics, about leadership, about the different things they bring, the different things they have said about each other. We have been very, very hard at work, me and the team, who are incredible.

BERMAN: You have asked for questions from everyone on Twitter. You have a sense of what most people want to hear?

TAPPER: No, because we have actually heard from literally tens of thousands of people and there are questions as varied as one from a very passionate woman who feels very strongly the candidates should be doing more to make sure that people at football games when they get an evacuation notice on their cell phones should not believe it, and she's really against the potential stampeding that could happen. This is a woman who is very active on that.

Then there's questions about NATO, questions about abortion, questions about government shutdowns, jobs, I mean, everything. The sky's the limit. We're not going to be able to get to all of the questions, but we're going to try to really have as many as possible on a varied amount of topics.

BERMAN: You have heard a lot of the candidates, from Chris Christie, to Ben Carson, to Scott Walker say they're not going to sit around and wait like they did last time. They're going to make sure that their voice is heard. But that's not all allowed here, necessarily, is it? Where's the line?

TAPPER: Well, I mean, we have questions and we have order. I mean, we're not -- this is a debate, and we do want people to bring some sort of spontaneity to it. If they want to weigh in on a topic and I haven't called on them, you know, we will see what happens. But generally speaking, we do have an order.

Everybody's going to be called on in every block. That's the hope, in any case. And we're going to have as much engagement as possible. Now, I will say that the candidates who want to take the debate and use it as an opportunity to pivot and recite their seven talking points, I think will, as they did in the last debate, kind of vanish.

The ones who actually engage in debate and have exchanges with -- not with me, but with their fellow candidates who I will be asking them to address, I think those will be the ones that voters hear because it will be, A, authentic, which is something that people are listening for, and, B, a debate, which is also something people want.

BERMAN: Jake Tapper, you're tough booking here on THE LEAD. Thanks so much for being with us. I know you're going to kill tomorrow. Good luck, my friend.

TAPPER: Thank you for taking care of my baby and my wonderful viewers. Really appreciate it.

BERMAN: Good luck, man.

TAPPER: Thanks.

BERMAN: All right, right now, our cup runneth over with anticipation for the candidates to stride on to the big stage here in Simi Valley. Seriously, look how cool this debate stage is.

But in the 48 hours leading up to the debate, Donald Trump has been doing his best to find even bigger stages. Last night, Trump played to 18,000 people packed inside a Dallas arena and drove home this message, that the U.S. is a dumping ground, he says, for the rest of the world, and their tired and their poor that they don't want.

Today, all hands are on deck for a speech by Trump aboard the USS Iowa. That is a battleship with actual cannons, as opposed to the verbal ones we have been hearing from Donald Trump.

[16:05:05]

But as Trump locks and loads for tomorrow night, all of a sudden, his lead in the polls might be getting a little smaller.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN (voice-over): The stage is built, but the tension still building. The CNN debate just hours away and front-runner Donald Trump literally and figuratively in the middle of it all.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The polls come out and we're really killing it. We are killing it.

BERMAN: Tonight, a new poll from CBS News and "The New York Times" shows Ben Carson closer than ever, with Jeb Bush drifting further and further back. Carson was polling at 6 percent just one month ago, while Bush has dropped seven points since August.

So far, though, nothing and no one has managed to push Trump from his perch.

NARRATOR: What's Donald Trump say about the decision?

BERMAN: But when the going gets tough, the tough go negative. For the first time, an outside group, the conservative Club for Growth, opened its wallet. NARRATOR: Trump, the worst kind of politician.

BERMAN: Announcing they will spend more than $1 million on two ads in Iowa bashing Trump for what they call his liberal economic ideas.

NARRATOR: He has a record, and it's very liberal. He's really just playing us for chumps.

BERMAN: Not to be out-anti-Trumped, Governor Bobby Jindal, polling at less than 1 percent, released a new video, too, attacking how Trump shapes his foreign policy views.

TRUMP: In all fairness, you know, what do I know?

BERMAN: Trump knows attacks are coming, but doesn't sound too concerned.

TRUMP: So, the debate. I hear they're all going after me. Whatever, whatever.

BERMAN: And despite recent dust-ups with Carson and Fiorina, not to mention Bush, Walker, Paul, and Pataki, Trump says he is willing to play Mr. Nice Guy, well, Mr. Nice Guy-ish.

TRUMP: Many of these people are terrific people, but nobody's going to be able to do the job that I'm going to do, nobody.

BERMAN: Jeb Bush supporters beg to differ. A super PAC backing Bush is finally unleashing its vast war chest, spending $24 million on ads in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina...

NARRATOR: New charter schools.

BERMAN: ... to highlight achievements as governor of Florida.

NARRATOR: Proven conservative. Real results. Jeb.

BERMAN: Hoping something, if not spending, will make people listen.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: While Republicans prepare for battle here, Hillary Clinton is coping with slippage. A new poll from Monmouth University out today shows Bernie Sanders now seven points up on Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire. There's a key caveat here. This is among likely primary voters. It includes some independents. When you narrow the sample to just Democrats likely to vote in February, Clinton actually holds a slim edge, 43-39.

CNN senior political correspondent Brianna Keilar in Washington with us.

And, Brianna, you know, you still don't hear Bernie Sanders' name coming from Clinton's mouth on the campaign trail. But might we be hearing it from the super PAC supporting her soon? BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, it

appears that we have, John, although it seems it may have been inadvertent.

Hillary Clinton, you really notice this out on the trail, she hasn't really thrown an elbow at Bernie Sanders, who is really challenging her in the polls. She prefers to take on Republicans more than her Democratic opponents. But she has a number of super PACs that are supporting her, big super PACs.

One of them called Correct the Record provided some opposition research, oppo, as it's called in political circles, about Bernie Sanders to The Huffington Post, and it paints Sanders as really extreme. It links him to the new British Labor leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who is a socialist. The Huffington Post reports that it notes Sanders' support for a deal with Venezuela and Hugo Chavez to provide heating oil to low-income New Englanders several years ago.

As I understand it -- I mentioned this -- the PAC really didn't expect for this to become public and link back to them. I think they will be trying to operate behind the scenes, as they have done, but this did kind of come back to bite them. And it comes as Hillary Clinton, while not taking Sanders on directly, has said that she admits she's a moderate, the understanding there, John, which is unsaid, is that Sanders is not.

And now Bernie Sanders fund-raising off of all of this, saying it's really what he'd expect from the Koch brothers, not from Hillary Clinton.

BERMAN: So, Clinton herself seems pretty squarely focused on her potential opponents across the aisle, including Donald Trump.

KEILAR: Yes, that's right. And this may be as she sort of operates in this general election sphere. She's also seeing in the polls she's lost her edge in these hypothetical head-to-head matchups with Republicans, not just Donald Trump, but also Jeb Bush and Ben Carson.

And you see her taking on the Republican front-runner. She did it in Iowa with a little bit of an impersonation. Here was her shot at that.

[16:10:03]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have to admit, Donald Trump is entertaining, I have to tell you. I really do.

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON: I really do find it entertaining.

You know, I kind of wish I had that same sort of mentality, like, oh, listen, I don't need to tell you anything. When I get there, peace will be breaking out every where, prosperity will be reigning down upon you. We will have the new age.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: You can see, John, that Donald Trump has become a bit of a device for Hillary Clinton to really get Democratic voters excited, and judging by that crowd there in Iowa, it does seem to be working.

BERMAN: All right. Brianna Keilar for us in Washington, thank you so much.

With debate day tomorrow for the Republicans, right now, it's like cramming for a final exam. Millions of people across the country will get to see the final answers. So, what plan of action will the candidates use to try to get their point across on stage tomorrow night?

I will ask one of the men on that stage, a GOP contender, coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[16:15:39] DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My whole life is preparation for a debate.

CARLY FIORINA (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look at this face.

BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'll be center stage this time, so it will be more difficult for them to ignore me.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R-WI), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think we're going to step it up and be more aggressive this time.

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Damn right I'm going to fight back. I hope you would, too.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Uh-oh, he's going to go nuclear now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The candidates there raising the bar all on their way here, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, in beautiful Simi Valley, California, right now just hours away from finding out which Republicans can pole vault their way to the top of field. Get it pole vault.

CNN Republican debate begins tomorrow night 6:00 p.m. Eastern. The main stage 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

This is THE LEAD. I'm John Berman, filling in for Jake Tapper, who was literally behind the door over there, getting ready for this debate.

I'm joined here by S.E. Cupp, Dan Pfeiffer, and Michael Smerconish. We're all here to break down the practice film and discuss what we can expect from the debate tomorrow night.

But first, we want to get a preview from someone who will be on that stage in a shade under 26 hours, Republican presidential candidate and senator from Kentucky, Rand Paul, joins us now by phone.

Senator, I suppose you're a longtime listener, first time caller, thanks for joining us.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (via telephone): Thank you, John. Thanks for having me.

BERMAN: So in the last debate, you clashed with Donald Trump. You were the first in a way to speak up. I want to play a small bit of what you said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL: He buys and sells politicians of all stripes. He's already -- hey, look, look, he's already hedging his bet on the Clintons, OK? So if he doesn't run as a Republican, maybe he supports Clinton or maybe he runs as an independent, but I'd say he's already hedging his bets because he's used to buying politicians.

TRUMP: Well, I've given you plenty of money.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So since that happened, since that debate, Senator, you have slipped some in the polls. So, will you change tactics tomorrow night?

PAUL: I think that was a little easy on him. I think he deserves every bit he gets. I would say that I will make sure that everybody in the country knows that he's a fake conservative, and there's nothing conservative about Donald Trump other than that he wants the Trump brand to be out there.

I don't think he has a vision for limited government, balanced budget, low taxes -- any of the things that conservatives have fought for for decades. He's been on the other side of every one of those issues and voters deserve to know that.

BERMAN: So, just to be clear, the problem wasn't that you went after Donald Trump, you think the problem was you didn't go after him hard enough?

PAUL: Absolutely. You know, the thing is, not enough people yet know that Donald Trump is a big believer in using big government to take property from private property owners, small private property owners, and give it to big corporations, often his own big corporations.

And there are really no conservatives in our party who supported the Supreme Court decision that allowed this, the Kelo decision. In fact, this is something that has so motivated the conservative base that whole movements have sprung up to defend private property rights. It's really the foundation or the building block for capitalism. And the fact that Donald Trump has used eminent domain and the bully

force of government it take private property that he supports the practice, is a big fan of that Kelo decision, I think Americans know that, when conservatives know that, they're going to run away with their hair on fire. They're going to say, oh my goodness, I didn't really realize that Donald Trump was a fake conservative.

BERMAN: Hair's not on fire, at least not yet. You have said --

PAUL: Not yet.

BERMAN: -- that the level of discourse in this campaign right now, you said the level of discourse in the campaign right now is like junior high. But you know, you've been standing toe to toe with Donald Trump, you certainly stood toe to toe with Chris Christie.

So, are you guilty of being a seventh grader here as well?

PAUL: I think talking about the issues is absolutely legitimate and talked about Donald Trump being for single payer system, for Obamacare, for President Obama's government stimulus, but I really haven't called him ugly. I haven't been calling other candidates ugly.

And I think his words, particularly with Carly Fiorina, probably is the end. People are going to finally decide, you know what, do we really want someone in charge of our nuclear arsenal who goes around basically using the insults of a junior high or a sophomore in high school?

[16:15:09] So I think really there is a time where viewers say, that's not the kind of person we want to be practicing the diplomacy of the United States.

BERMAN: You absolutely have not called him ugly.

I want to move on to policy right now, because I know you would like to talk about a lot of what's going on in the country right now, more than you want to talk about Donald Trump. You sent an e-mail around to 100,000 pastors asking to pledge their support help defund Planned Parenthood. You cited the videos that show officials discussing what sounds like the sale of fetal tissue.

Are you willing to shut down government in the middle of a campaign for this issue?

PAUL: I think the opposite question ought to be asked. I think Congress has an obligation to control the power of the purse. It is our obligation and our duty to decide how the money is spent, and really we've been looking at this the wrong way.

Because people get stuck in Washington so long, they say, oh, it takes 60 votes to defund something, it's the opposite of the truth. When the money runs out, it should take 60 votes to fund anything, and not only Planned Parenthood but a thousand different items that all have restrictions and have instructions on how the money is spent. Every regulation that President Obama has passed without congressional authority should be funded or not funded by Congress and it should affirmatively take 60 votes.

If the Democrats choose to shut down government over any instructions we give the president, then so be it. But it's not Republicans or me trying to shut down government. It's me saying that Congress should not abdicate its duties, that we should actually control the power of the purse.

BERMAN: Senator, last question as you head this way for the debate. Any special preparation you do, any stretching exercises to get ready for the debate stage?

PAUL: I typically will stand on my head for two hours, you know, before the debate. I think with all of the blood rushes to your brain, that's a good idea.

All right. That's a joke. That's a joke.

(LAUGHTER)

PAUL: Anyway --

BERMAN: Senator Rand Paul, glad to have your sense of humor. Go ahead.

PAUL: Thank you, John. Actually I will be out shooting target practice in the morning. I'll be shooting the tax code with some friends tomorrow morning and that will be my preparation.

BERMAN: All right, Senator. Good luck with the training. Good luck with the debate tomorrow night. We look forward to seeing you here.

PAUL: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right. Some interview. Rand Paul getting ready to go after Donald Trump.

Clearly the panel here, I think chomping at the bit to discuss what we just heard. We'll hear from them right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[16:27:14] WALKER: Ronald Reagan is something special. Ronald Reagan helped shape my view of the world.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDAT: Ronald Reagan, the Reagan revolution with American people at his back, stood up to the Washington cartel.

TRUMP: I've evolved on many issues over the years and you know who else has is Ronald Reagan.

BUSH: That's the party I believe in -- Reagan and Bush. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: All right. Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm John Berman, coming to you live from the Ronald Reagan Library here in Simi Valley, California. Just 25 hours to go until the CNN Republican debate.

The stakes could not be higher, make or break, for sure, for at least a few of the candidates.

Here to talk about what we can expect: Republican strategist and CNN political commentator, S.E. Cupp, Michael Smerconish, host of "SMERCONISH" right here on CNN, and Dan Pfeiffer, CNN political commentator and former senior adviser to President Obama.

Michael, you know, in terms of what we can expect, we just talked to Senator Rand Paul from Kentucky. I think he gave us a healthy dose of what we can expect. I asked him, you know, he went after Donald Trump in the first debate. He fell in the polls. Will they change tactics? He essentially said, no, I'm going to go after him even harder.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST, "SMERCONISH": I don't think it benefits him, though. What if he's successful in landing a blow against Donald Trump? Is Rand Paul going to be the beneficiary? I think Carly Fiorina would be the beneficiary. I think Ben Carson would be the beneficiary.

I think he'd be better served punching within his own weight class which is probably more of the establishment candidates.

BERMAN: Talk about establishment versus outsiders.

SMERCONISH: Right.

BERMAN: New poll from CBS and "New York Times" shows Donald Trump in front, Ben Carson rising against him. But the striking thing to me is where everyone else is, which is nowhere. I mean, the other guys are way, way back. So, you see the outsiders, Trump and Carson, together at 50 percent, and everyone else just so far down.

It just seems when these establishment candidates, when they lose support, they're not going to the other establishment people, S.E. They're going to Donald Trump. They're going to Ben Carson.

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Anyone else, yes. Yes. I think if you're someone, you know, like Marco Rubio, Marco Rubio's been kind of keeping his head down. I think he's playing a long game just waiting it out, either someone's going to run out of money, either someone's going to deflate.

I think when someone like Ben Carson gets more scrutiny, he might not do as well. I guess they're looking for the ultimate Trump gaffe that finally brings him down. But they're also very aware that if you go after Trump early and you spend a lot of money early, you might be wasting your capital like Rick Perry did. So, I think you either have to really go after him or kind of just wait this out. BERMAN: I want to talk about what I think is really significant

development this week in the campaign, which was the Club for Growth, spending $1 million in Iowa on two commercials, directly going after Donald Trump.

I want to play a small clip of one of the ads right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CLUB FOR GROWTH)

AD ANNOUNCER: Which presidential candidate supports higher taxes, national health care and the Wall Street bailout?

It's Donald Trump.