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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
What to Expect in Tonight's GOP Debate; Interview with Fmr. Sen. Trent Lott; Pivit Prediction Market: Bush Crashes, Walker Burns. Aired 4:30-5p ET
Aired September 16, 2015 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Hugh, what are you looking for tonight?
HUGH HEWITT, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: A lot of fun.
The Republican red carpet amuses me, as we watch them come in.
HEWITT: And they're doing all the walk-through and they're having all the great fun talking to each other.
But I think they go back in their trailers and they figure out, what do we have to do tonight, much like an NFL head coach? What is the plan I'm going to execute?
Regardless of the question, I think our job is to make sure that the most important questions get an extended answer, so that a Republican primary viewer says, oh, OK, I like that one or that one.
COOPER: You got into a bit of a little bit of a tussle with Donald Trump. He accused you of gotcha questions because you happened to name Hassan Nasrallah, the Quds Force, the Kurds.
Has that influenced the way you're going about this?
HEWITT: No. No.
I have actually interviewed the candidates 40 times since the first debate, probably 500 questions, one of which was misheard. And that was not Donald Trump's fault. It's nobody's fault. You can mishear things.
But the question about Hamas, Hezbollah, that's not a gotcha question. That's a question which he pivoted to and answered in his own way. I don't think that is actually going to be an issue tonight. We have been working the questions pretty hard. They're all very hard. They're serious. They're right down the middle. They're not tricks.
COOPER: How much of something like this do you plan out in advance? It's a little bit like kind of three-dimensional chess, and you have to plan for that, some days, you know, days in advance. Do you change things on the fly? DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Days? Try weeks.
But do you change on the fly?
BASH: Yes. We have plans to change on the fly if the responses or the interactions warrant, for sure.
But, look, I mean, we have -- you know this, Anderson. You have done debates here. We have amazing research team, production team. And we have been locked in a room for a while.
HEWITT: I'm the outsider. I'm so impressed with CNN.
BASH: Not anymore.
HEWITT: It's remarkable.
COOPER: We have got to take a quick break.
Hugh Hewitt, Dana Bash, good luck to you. It's going to be fascinating.
BASH: Thank you.
COOPER: A lot ahead tonight.
Today's money lead ties into our debate countdown. If you don't own a TV or have cable, you will still be able to watch tonight's debate because CNN is live-streaming it for free. It will be front and center on CNN.com, also available on CNN apps and CNNgo, no cable subscription needed.
More candidates are arriving, getting familiar with their places on the stage.
More from the Reagan Library next.
COOPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Anderson Cooper, in for Jake Tapper, who is making final preparations for tonight's debate, which he is moderating.
The air here is electric, with so much on the line for so many of the candidates. All day, candidates have been arriving, poised to take each other on.
I want to talk to the Republican Senate majority leader of the Republicans, Senator from Mississippi Trent Lott.
Senator, thanks very much for being with us.
TRENT LOTT (R), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Glad to be with you, Anderson.
COOPER: You have endorsed John Kasich.
LOTT: That's correct.
COOPER: And is he somebody you have worked with extensively? And why do you think he's the man for the job?
LOTT: Well, I have known him 35 years or more.
We were in the House together. When I was majority leader, he was chairman of the budget committee in the House when we got the historic, I think, budget agreement that balanced the budget and led to a surplus when Clinton was president. Kasich was a key player in that.
COOPER: Well, in this age where it seems people want outsiders. Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson, even Bernie Sanders is doing very well.
LOTT: John Kasich has got it all. He was in the House, where he was a leader. He was on Armed Services. He understands defense and foreign policy.
But he was out in the private sector. He worked in the media. He's had that experience of being outside looking in at what happened. And now, most importantly, he's governor of a big, important state. And he's done the same thing there, with balancing the budget and showing compassion to people that do need help.
COOPER: I got to ask you about Donald Trump, since he's leading in the polls, and Dr. Ben Carson, who is right behind him.
Are you surprised at the staying power of Donald Trump and the power of Ben Carson?
LOTT: In a word, yes.
I can see what people see in Trump and also in Dr. Carson. He's got a demeanor about him that's very likable. And let me just say, this is a great lineup of candidates. I have been good friends with several of them for a long time.
I'm big admirers of several of them, served in the Senate with Rick Santorum. I know Marco Rubio very well.
COOPER: Can you see Donald Trump being president of the United States?
LOTT: Not really.
I think we're going to wind up with John Kasich to be president of the United States. It's a long way from here to when the real primaries start, but I think, as people get to know John Kasich more and more, they're going to say, this is what we need. This is a man that knows how to get things done, not just talk about it, actually done it.
COOPER: Pundits all along have been saying Donald Trump's not going to get this far. He's been defying the pundits all along, saying he's kind of, in a way, rewriting the rules.
COOPER: What do you think will actually change, so that some of these more establishment candidates will start to get heard more?
LOTT: Well, somebody wrote a piece recently and said, look, when you look at what Trump is doing and what Bernie Sanders is doing, it tells you there's something stirring out there in America.
I believe people are really frustrated with how Washington is not working. The problem in Washington really is one word, one word: leadership. People are frustrated. They want people that give them hope and will change what goes on up there.
I agree with a lot of these people on policy. Where I disagree with them is on tactics. How do you actually get it done? That's why I settled on John Kasich, because I have seen him do what's necessary, both in Congress and as governor. So I think he can play it, play it both ways.
In the case of Trump, you know, he's out there. He's a media guy. He stirs them up. You have got to give him credit for that.
COOPER: What is your recommendation for candidates out there who want to get their message across tonight, for their strategy tonight? Do they go after Trump? Do they ignore him?
LOTT: I think some of them may go after him.
I would hope that Kasich would focus on telling the American people who he is, what he wants to do, what his vision is. I think it would be a mistake for him to engage in a brawl here at this debate.
But it probably will be feisty. CNN's going to want to see a little fireworks. But Kasich needs to stay on message, keep talking about what he wants to do. And, usually, if you have two candidates shooting each other, the third candidate benefits. Kasich could be the man.
COOPER: Senator Lott, always a pleasure.
LOTT: OK. Thank you.
COOPER: Thank you, sir. Appreciate it.
There is a lot ahead.
If you are away from your television, listen to the debate anywhere on the Salem Radio Network. To find it on the radio in your area, go to SalemMedia.com. It's the Republican national debate live from the Reagan National Library.
More from Simi Valley, California, next.
COOPER: Welcome back. It is CNN debate day. I'm Anderson Cooper, filling in for Jake Tapper, who is moderating tonight's debate, one hour and 15 minutes away from the start of the first debate, the so- called undercard debate.
The audience at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library is starting to filter into the debate hall. You see it there.
I want to talk about what we can expect from some of the candidates with the best political team on television.
Amanda Carpenter is joining us, Van Jones, S.E. Cupp. And Bill Burton may be joining us shortly.
Tonight, the stakes are sky-high. Just how high? CNN has partnered with Pivit to bring you a political prediction market.
And that data indicates the last debate produced a seismic shift in the odds from the day after the last debate, August 6th until right now, Donald Trump has picked up 12 points. Ben Carson is up 17 points. Carly Fiorina is up 11 points. Those are big gains.
The biggest decliners, Jeb Bush, his odds of winning the nomination have been chopped in half and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. S.E., I know you've been talking to Walker's team about their strategy tonight. What is it?
S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, well, they are sanguine. They are going to focus on his Wisconsin record. They do plan to get a little bit more aggressive, but don't expect any personal attacks. It's just not his style.
One thing that was particularly interesting, they are very aware that last time, the governor didn't use all of his allotted time and because there's so little of it, there are so many people, he plans to use more of his time tonight.
COOPER: Jeb Bush, Van, I mean, he's got a difficult road ahead of him.
VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, you know, he probably would be as good a president as either his brother or his father. But he has turned out to be a much worse candidate than either one. He has to show he can get on stage and stand out.
He is such a big guy and big record, but he looks small next to Donald Trump. Like I said oatmeal getting colder just standing up there talking about policy, he's got to connect and breakthrough today.
COOPER: Amanda, how does he do that? AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think he has to talk about his record, but also show the willingness to fight. The punches that Donald Trump has landed on him about not being up for the job, not having enough energy, that has gained traction.
So he has to show that he has the guts for the job. It's not a talking point. It's more of a personality question at this point. And, you know, Van is so right. He sort of has been tagged with having, you know, all of the family baggage of the bushes but none of the charisma.
JONES: One of the things that he does have going for him which I hope he shows some courage, his position on immigration is actually a very attractive position on immigration before he started trying to figure out how to be a part of the Trump wave.
There is a part of the Republican Party that needs to be spoken for and spoken to that is that old compassionate conservative Republicanism, which you thought he was going to bring.
And somehow we're talking about anchor babies and all kind of other crazy stuff in the primaries. He should stand up to that.
CUPP: Here in California at the Reagan Library it is a great backdrop to do that and contrast himself with Trump at the same time.
COOPER: But Donald Trump has done very well on immigration issues in terms of in the polls. If you look at the polls it's been a winning issue for him.
CARPENTER: I think it's because the Bush approach trying to do something early has already lost. I mean, if you look at what Republicans particularly in Congress wanted to do, a lot of the so- called moderates were saying we have to do something on immigration before the election so we can take this away.
Nothing happened because they couldn't make that deal happen because they were so insistent on giving some version of amnesty as part of that deal. I think that has given rise to Trump and rise to an approach that the Republican base is demanding that we must do border security first.
Don't do this big grand deal. This is not the way we're going to go and we will never support a candidate as the nominee who takes that approach.
COOPER: Dr. Ben Carson, he's second in the polls. There's a lot riding on him. He doesn't quite have the organization to maybe move forward as quickly as he would like.
CARSON: I have been completely stumped and bewildered. Listen, after Ben Carson's debate performance, except for his kind of very nice closing I thought to myself there's one person that will not be on that stage next time, it's Ben Carson. He seemed out of his depth.
And this guy takes off like a rocket. So I don't know what he's going - to do now. He will probably come under more fire for the first time. He's going to get asked I think tough questions.
But I think if you had sat here two or three weeks ago and said it would be Ben Carson standing next to Donald Trump, nobody would believe you.
CUPP: He's tapped into the Evangelical vote in ways I think Ted Cruz has tried to as well. And to some success they've sort of shared that group. But I think Van is right there's more scrutiny of Ben Carson comes to light we're going to see he's just not a very serious candidate.
COOPER: We got to take a break. We'll have more with this panel. We're just getting started on this debate night more from Simi Valley, California here on CNN in a moment.
COOPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Anderson Cooper sitting in for Jake Tapper, who is moderating tonight's debate. It is debate day here in Simi Valley. We only have one hour and 5 minutes to go until the candidates stride on to the stage for the first debate.
All candidates are here with one notable exception the man who will be in the center of the main stage at the main debate, Donald Trump. We're back with Amanda Carpenter, Van Jones, S.E. Cupp, and Bill Burton from Priorities USA Action. Bill --
BILL BURTON, MANAGING DIRECTOR, SKDKNICKERBOCKER: Well, I think what will be interesting is who can take on Donald Trump in a way that's actually going to get some traction. Can Donald Trump talk about his campaign in a way that isn't just about the process and the polls and numbers and things like that?
And can Jeb Bush show not energy but strength tonight in a debate where he hasn't really been able to show a lot of strength and I think has revealed his major weakness should he be the nominee.
COOPER: When you have 11 candidates though on the main stage, you don't have a lot of time for each candidate. It does play to the strength of perhaps a Donald Trump who may not be going into policy specifics.
[16:55:11] JONES: Part of the thing I think that's happened is that this is a different era now of politics. This is -- you've got somebody like Trump this is a reality TV era. It's a social media era and he understands that, and none of the rest of them do.
JFK understood television. FDR understood radio. Obama understood the internet. This guy understands social media. He understands reality TV.
We thought he was leaving reality television and coming into politics. He has pulled politics into reality television and we're living in his world. The rest of them don't know what to do with it.
CUPP: He only wins if he has a winning moment with another candidate. If they all kind of just leave him alone, he's not going to win on policy. He's not going to win on substance. If they all just kind of ignore him, stick to their scripts, maybe engage with everyone else and each other, I don't know if he has a winning headline coming out.
COOPER: Some of these candidates are going to go after him. Look at Rand Paul. He went after him during the first debate. Didn't really work out for him, but he's talking about going after him even harder this debate. Some of these politicians on the fringe and either side low in the poll numbers have nothing to lose and it kind of gets them some attention.
CARPENTER: I think this is a mistake to spend your time talking about Trump. You have to use your time wisely to frame the debate in the way you want to go. I'm a former Cruz person and I really like the ad they used. This is a good move they used to put the focus on radical Islamic terrorism.
It depicts a scorpion in the desert which harkens back to the famous Reagan ad of a bear in the woods. Nice echo of peace through strength while we're at the Reagan Library without saying Reagan, Reagan, Reagan, like so many other candidates do.
BURTON: The problem for some of these second tier candidates though is that the only feel like they can get any attention is that they take on Trump. Not only elevates Trump, but you have Rand Paul and Chris Christie and all these other folks try to get their best shot in there because that's how they think they're going to get on television.
JONES: I think we've talked too little bit -- too little about Rubio. I think Rubio is playing this brilliantly. He's taking your advice. He's not going after Trump. Jindal jumps up and down for a day and a half saying I don't like Trump and now you're not talking about him anymore.
Rubio I think is the guy -- whoever can hold their breath long enough while Donald Trump has all the oxygen and survive with their reputation in tact is going to be formidable.
COOPER: And some money in the banks.
JONES: And some money in the banks.
CUPP: Carly might be the only person on that stage, who can go after Trump and actually not incur his wrath. It's really hard to go after a woman if you're Donald Trump. It won't stop him. But it's hard to come away looking good after that.
So I've talked to her campaign. She says that she's been handling Trump pretty well so far. So I think we should expect to see a line from her tonight against him.
CARPENTER: But Van's point about Marco Rubio, I think he is playing it safe, but perhaps too safe almost as if he's jockeying for the V.P. pick rather than the presidential that he's given up his Senate seat at this time.
COOPER: Or is he playing along game just hoping that Donald Trump --
CARPENTER: But there's not enough time. I hear so many candidates saying we have a long time. No, you don't. After this there are only four more debates and we're going into the holiday season. Those primaries start on February 1st. There is not enough time to change the dynamics of this debate. Trump's lead at 30 percent is solidifying. If you want to shake that up you have to make it happen now.
BURTON: I remember in 2007 people were saying the same thing about Barack Obama. We were getting beat up nationally. In Iowa we were losing and the leader of the campaign said we're going to keep our head down and focus on Iowa and that's how we're going to win this thing. You didn't see any move in the numbers until the Jefferson Jackson dinner in Des Moines in November 2007.
CARPENTER: Ask Tim Pawlenty is he thinks he should have stuck around just a little bit -- someone with this many candidates running and Trump has 30 percent, it's a totally different dynamic.
COOPER: You know, Carly Fiorina, you've debated her.
JONES: I've had the misfortune and I'm still in therapy, for some reason CNN put me against her in debate. I'll say it before and say it again. Her mind is so sharp it should be registered as a weapon. Listen, she's quick. I'm telling you.
COOPER: I want to find a tape of that debate.
JONES: Listen, it wasn't just me. There were four of us. She mowed us all down. She's a force of nature. You've got to have two CEOs on that stage and that's never happened before not just a woman, two CEOs. Let's see it.
COOPER: I want to thank all our panelists. I want to thank everybody for watching. We're going to talk to everybody throughout the evening. One hour until the first debate.
We're coming up just one hour until the start of the Republican debate right here on CNN. Jake tapper will be your moderator. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Anderson Cooper. Turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM" live here from Simi Valley, California.