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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Republican Debate Winners; Is Trump's Strategy Working?; Aired 4-4:30 ET

Aired September 17, 2015 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:15]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Just hold on. Everyone, please stop shouting my name.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The politics lead, the CNN Republican debate, 23 million of you watched, Carly Fiorina turning it way, way up. Jeb Bush trying to drain some of Donald Trump's energy. Everything the candidates said last night, we kept track of it all. How will it change the race?

He says he wants his code name to be humble, but Donald Trump showed again last night he is anything but timid, talking for nearly 20 minutes, but while round two looks a lot like round one on tape, Trump's rivals did not seem intimidated, and now will Mr. Trump be humbled in the polls?

Also, did I mention that there were two debates last night? Four Republicans entered, but will anyone leave the minor leagues and make it to the majors?

Hello, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD.

Welcome to one last view of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, California, for our politics lead.

Oh, what a night; 23 million of you tuned in last night to watch the CNN Republican debate. That is more than have ever watched any CNN show ever. The last highest was the famous Ross Perot-Al Gore NAFTA debate in 1990. It's in the books.

Anyway, what happened last night is poised to rewrite a race that's already made history. Donald Trump was front and center on the debate stage, quite literally the man in the middle. But while much of this campaign has been about Trump dishing it out, last night, many tried to dish it back. We watched Trump's head on a constant swivel, turning left, turning right, as he answered attack after attack after attack.

CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash was in the thick of it all with me last night.

Dana, we saw a lot of the candidates mixing it up with the front- runner. DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

And, look, there were a lot of ways that this debate was different from the first one. The most obvious was that there was an extra person on the stage, and she made her presence known.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): A standout moment for the only woman on stage, saying so much without saying much at all.

TAPPER: Donald Trump said the following about you -- quote -- "Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that the face of our next president?"

CARLY FIORINA (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, it's interesting to me Mr. Trump said that he heard Mr. Bush very clearly and what Mr. Bush said. I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said.

(APPLAUSE)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think she's got a beautiful face. And I think she's a beautiful woman.

BASH: Carly Fiorina's reaction today?

FIORINA: It's only a woman whose appearance would be talked about while running for president, never a man.

BASH: On that note, it was her command of challenges America faces, especially national security, that has the political world buzzing today.

FIORINA: The reason it is so critically important that every one of us know General Suleimani's name is because Russia is in Syria right now, because the head of the Quds force traveled to Russia and talked Vladimir Putin into aligning themselves with Iran and Syria to prop up Bashar al- Assad.

BASH: That another swipe at Donald Trump, who last week stumbled on questions about names of key figures who threaten the U.S.

TRUMP: Arab name, Arab name, Arab name. And there are few people anywhere, anywhere that would have known those names.

BASH: Marco Rubio also used the billionaire as a foil after Trump gave vague answers about how to handle Russian President Vladimir Putin.

TRUMP: I will get along, I think, with Putin. And I will get along with others.

TAPPER: You've called Vladimir Putin a -- "gangster."

Why would President Rubio's approach be more effective than President Trump's?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, first of all, I have an understanding of exactly what it is Russia and Putin are doing, and it's pretty straightforward. He wants to reposition Russia, once again, as a geopolitical force.

BASH: Rubio's mentor, Jeb Bush, showed more fight than ever before.

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You could not take...

TRUMP: OK, more energy tonight. I like that.

BASH: Going after Trump for invoking his wife, Columba, on the trail.

(on camera): Did Mr. Trump go too far in invoking your wife?

BUSH: He did, he did. You're proud of your family, just as I am.

TRUMP: Correct.

BUSH: To subject my wife into the middle of a raucous political conversation was completely inappropriate, and I hope you apologize for that, Donald.

BASH (voice-over): Trump wouldn't apologize and this morning tweaked Bush for not trying harder to make him.

TRUMP: I thought he was going to push me harder to apologize to his wife.

BASH: And another candidate with a troubled campaign, Chris Christie, got himself back on the political map with moments like this.

[16:05:05]

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We don't want to hear about your careers, back and forth and volleying back and forth about who did well and who did poorly. You're both successful people. Congratulations. You know who's not successful? The middle class in this country who's getting plowed over.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: And that was the main debate, the top 11 Republican candidates in the polls. Four other candidates duked it out for an hour before that, the so-called undercard. There, South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham stood out by saying things he's not going to tell Americans things that they want to hear, but he can't deliver, and, of course Jake, as we remember, cracking many, many jokes, many of them at his own expense.

TAPPER: Yes, Lindsey Graham is funny.

Dana, stick around.

I want to bring in now Jonathan Martin and CNN's own Maeve Reston to the conversation.

JMar, first of all, just to start with Donald Trump refusing to apologize Columba Bush for bringing her in, and then this dinging Governor BUSH: this morning for not pressing harder.

JONATHAN MARTIN, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Here I thought he was going to pivot today to Medicare, Jake. I'm shocked about this.

But, look, on Twitter though that would be called a sort of troll move, right? That's some real trolling there. He looks for the weaknesses, the vulnerabilities of his opponents and he preys on them. Now, he realizes I think now that in doing so when it comes to Carly Fiorina, it sort of hit back on him a little bit last night, because he went after her looks and obviously that did not go so well last night.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: For the record, he says he was...

MARTIN: Yes, he does for the record.

So, look, he's going to keep sort of baiting Jeb, because he really wants to sort of get in Jeb's head and he's obviously done that during the course of the summer. But last night, seeing the Jeb campaign reaction in the spin room down here, they were pretty pumped up.

And they felt like he had a good night against Trump. And most importantly, they showed their donors that he was willing to get in the ring and throw a couple of punches. That was key for Jeb last night, proving to his big money guys, hang in there, the polls aren't great, but this guy's got some real heart and he's got some fire.

TAPPER: In fact, Dana, I want to bring in this exchange when we were talking about big money and whether or not Jeb Bush was a puppet for his big donors. Jeb Bush said no. And then there was this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: The one guy that had some special interests that I know of that tried to get me to change my views on something -- that was generous and gave me money -- was Donald Trump. He wanted casino gambling in Florida --

TRUMP: I didn't --

BUSH: Yes, you did.

TRUMP: Totally false.

BUSH: You wanted it and you didn't get it because I was opposed to --

TRUMP: I would have gotten it.

BUSH: -- casino gambling before --

TRUMP: I promise I would have gotten it.

BUSH: ... during and after. And that's not -- I'm not going to be bought by anybody.

TRUMP: I promise if I wanted it, I would have gotten it.

BUSH: No way. Believe me.

TRUMP: I know my people.

BUSH: Not even possible.

TRUMP: I know my people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Fact-checkers say that Governor Bush is right on this one. Is that the kind of moment that Jeb Bush's donor base wanted to see more of?

BASH: A thousand percent.

First of all, it's been money well spent, because that's his opposition research team digging up that information and the candidate actually using it. But aside from that, just to echo what Jon was saying, I definitely think that this was a moment that they needed, because the money probably would have really started to dry up.

Now, I know they already have a lot in their coffers, but that matters when you're someone like Jeb Bush. And just to kind of give a little bit of a behind the scenes, when we were talking about the question that I asked that elicited the apology or no apology about his wife, we weren't sure which way he was going to go.

We thought maybe he was just going to fall back and talk about his immigration plan and sort of take a pass on the whole idea of defending his wife. And he didn't. He stepped it up.

TAPPER: No, he didn't. He stepped it up.

Maeve, I haven't called on you yet. Does it hurt?

(LAUGHTER)

MAEVE RESTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No. No. No.

TAPPER: How are you doing?

RESTON: Good. Do you want me to yell your name a couple times?

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: The reason I ask is because, obviously, I didn't call on the candidates equally last night. It usually happens that way.

RESTON: That would have been so boring. TAPPER: And some of the candidates are making lemonade out of lemons

talking about their best moments. And some of them are taking to the airwaves and complaining that they weren't called on enough. Does that ever work?

RESTON: No, not really.

I mean, you can try as hard as you want to work the refs, but for them the most important thing right now is to actually have connected with voters in those good moments and be moving forward out onto the campaign trail. There were obviously a lot of kind of breakout moments last night for a couple of candidates like Carly Fiorina, Marco Rubio doing really well.

So moving on would probably be a good strategy for them.

TAPPER: Tell me why you thought Rubio had a good moment, because in terms of numbers, it went Trump, Jeb, Fiorina and then pretty much just like a scrum of everybody else. Why do you think Rubio popped from the scrum?

RESTON: Well, Rubio you know does such a good job of turning every question to his advantage, steering it right back to his personal biography, that compelling narrative that he thinks really connects with voters. And he had some strong moments on foreign policy, in the foreign policy arena.

[16:10:00]

That's obviously an area he's been working really hard to show voters that he's really studied up, that he can make it to that level of gravitas that people are looking for in their president. And he just had a very smooth performance that I thought stood out last night.

TAPPER: Do you think the expertise that we saw from Rubio and some of the others on foreign policy hurt anybody who maybe didn't have that same kind of expertise?

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: Yes.

Look, I think if you are a reasonably informed Republican voter and you want somebody who has got a sophisticated awareness of these issues, or if you're a donor with kind of the same outlook, you like what you saw from Rubio last night and from candidates like Jeb, and you may have been concerned about Ben Carson and Donald Trump.

But we get so wrapped up in that, but there are a lot of people out there who vote in this primary who just like Donald Trump and they like Ben Carson because of their identity and because of what they represent and the fact they are not part of the political establishment. And just because they're not super fluent on some of these issues doesn't necessarily hurt them with those kinds of voters.

RESTON: But... MARTIN: Please.

RESTON: But don't you think as we get closer to the caucuses and the primaries, that's when voters really start to look for those cues. How comfortable do they feel with this person as their president?

I don't think that voters are looking for that right now. It's much more about the appeal in the moment, these jabs. But as we get closer to -- in New Hampshire, half the people change their mind at the last minute -- I think that's when that will really matter. And so setting a tone now, showing that you can get to that place is important for a lot of these candidates.

TAPPER: And look at that. You got screwed out of the time.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: Maeve asserted herself. She took a question. Then she did another question.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: I just want to say, I'm going to go rogue here. I was actually the on the stage with you. I watched what you had to deal with.

And you were letting the candidates debate, as we had discussed beforehand. And the reason why you kept going to the candidates who were trying to get in is because most of them were trying aggressively to get in.

TAPPER: Oh, yes.

MARTIN: Exactly.

BASH: And they got it. They got it. Like, oh, this is how this is going to go. If I want to get in, I got to actually assert myself. And so you allowed them to speak.

MARTIN: You had a half-dozen candidates who felt an urgency to do just that last night, because in the first debate, they all thought -- not all of them, but lots of them thought they were too sleepy, they were too reluctant.

And so they came in and wanted to really go out there and sort of butt in line. And they did that.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Stop it. Stop it. We're doing a good imitation of the successful candidates.

MARTIN: Exactly.

TAPPER: Thank you so much. JMar, Maeve, Dana Bash, really appreciate it, thank you so much. Donald Trump sat at the top of the polls going into last night's

debate, as you all know, but what about now? From foreign policy to immigration, did he say enough to maintain his front-runner status? Is it now time to rethink his approach?

We will talk to Donald Trump's campaign manager coming up next.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Obviously, I'm doing pretty well. I'm number one in every polls by a lot.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[16:17:05] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Senator Paul --

CARLY FIORINA (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You would stipulate, Mr. Trump, that not everyone agrees with you.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's true.

Excuse me. One second.

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, the simple fact is, Donald --

TRUMP: More energy tonight. I like that.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R-WI), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, no, we talk about --

TRUMP: In Wisconsin, you're losing $2.2 billion right now.

WALKER: You're using the talking points of the Democrats.

BUSH: He wanted casino gambling in Florida. Yes, you did.

TRUMP: Totally false.

BUSH: You wanted it and you didn't get it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper, coming to you once again live from the Ronald Reagan museum and library here in Simi Valley, California, where last night, of course, Republican candidates squared off laying out their cases for what makes them most qualified to be president of the United States.

It was a sparring match filled with memorable moments. CNN has partnered with Pivit, a political prediction market, to track just how those odds are changing throughout this election including during last night's debate. You can see all the details at CNN.com/predict.

The three big winners from last night, Marco Rubio who shot up 8 percent, Carly Fiorina who gained 5 percent and Jeb Bush up 4 percent, according to this new way of analyzing.

The three biggest decliners: John Kasich lost 5 percent, Dr. Ben Carson 7 percent and Donald Trump who lost 9 percent.

The Republican front runner seemed to have toned down his rhetoric a tad, but the shift in strategy could cost the real estate mogul some ground perhaps.

I'm joined now by Mr. Trump's campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski.

Corey, good to have you on. Thanks for joining us.

COREY LEWANDOWSKI, TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Thanks for having me.

TAPPER: So I know you're rather bullish on Mr. Trump. So at the risk of asking a question I think I know what you're going to say as a response, how do you think he did last night? Do you think that the odds are better or worse that he'll be the nominee?

LEWANDOWSKI: I think Mr. Trump had a great debate last night. If you look empirically at the numbers coming out of the debate, it was a huge audience obviously. People tuned in to see what Mr. Trump was going to say.

I think his message resonates with the American people and if you look at the post-debate polls whether it's "Time" magazine or it's Newsmax or it's the Drudge Report, all of those polls have been clear that the people who watched that debate believe that Mr. Trump was a clear winner last night. So, we're very happy with his performance.

TAPPER: There are pundits out there who say that they think Carly Fiorina won the debate and that Mr. Trump might have not had the best night of his career. I want to play a little clip from a focus group of voters in Iowa that my colleague Randi Kaye hosted last night. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Why do you think Carly did such a good job?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think she took on Donald Trump. He did not impress me as much as he has in the past.

But Carly was there. She was steadfast.

[16:20:00] She was intelligent. She just really came across as someone that thought things through more than, you know, spoke off the cuff.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: What's your response, Corey?

LEWANDOWSKI: Well, I think my response would be that, you know, 40 percent of the questions that were asked last night by you were either directed to Mr. Trump or about things that Mr. Trump has said. As a clear front runner in this race, it was the desire of all of the other candidates on that stage to draw a distinction between them and Mr. Trump and to try and do something to increase their poll numbers.

He has consistently been the leader in this race for the last seven weeks. So, I think what you found on that debate stage was a number of candidates who wanted to take a shot at Mr. Trump on a series of issues to raise their own profile. I think Mr. Trump was a clear leader, the clear winner and the post polling clearly indicates that.

TAPPER: There was an exchange obviously about that remark that Mr. Trump now says was about Carly Fiorina's persona. We don't have to go into all of that. But I do want to note that Hillary Clinton tweeted at Mr. Trump during the debate saying he should, quote, "stop complementing women." He said Carly Fiorina was gorgeous during the debate, "and start respecting them."

At this point, it seems clear that opponents of Mr. Trump, whether Carly Fiorina or Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton are suggesting he has a problem with women. Whether it's with Carly Fiorina or with Megyn Kelly or with whomever. How do you respond to that?

LEWANDOWSKI: Well, I think Mr. Trump has a long record 30 years of a business executive who has had a number of women in senior positions in his company, still does today. As you know, he has been someone who has been a steadfast supporter of women in his business. He has put women in senior positions long before many other companies did.

And so I think he has a proven track record of supporting women. It's not just a gender issue. He has a proven track record of supporting people who are best for the job. So I think that's been clear and consistent over the last 30 years of him in a business executive position.

TAPPER: Last night, there was an exchange between Jeb Bush and Donald Trump in which Governor Bush suggested, told Mr. Trump that he owed his wife an apology for mentioning her in a tweet. Donald Trump this morning told MSNBC that he was surprised that Jeb didn't insist on that apology more. He initially -- Mr. Trump initially refused and Jeb Bush kind of just let the matter drop.

What would have happened if Jeb had kept pressing? Would Donald Trump have -- would he have ultimately apologized?

LEWANDOWSKI: Well, let me be clear, I don't speak for Mr. Trump. Only Mr. Trump speaks for Mr. Trump, but I think he was very clear last night when Jeb asked him to apologize. He said he didn't say anything wrong and he wasn't going to apologize. And he stands by that.

So, I think that's been very clear.

TAPPER: Corey Lewandowski, thank you so much. Appreciate you're making the time for us today.

LEWANDOWSKI: Thanks for having me.

TAPPER: Will last night set a new tone in this race? Lindsey Graham seemed determine to make foreign policy a topic of conversation. Coming up, I'll talk to him about how he thinks he differs from his competition.

Plus, the world lead: $44 million spent and only four or five people left to fight ISIS. The Pentagon's plan to rethink the current strategy, next.

But first, this programming note, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton will be a guest on "THE SITUATION ROOM" with Wolf Blitzer. And you can see that in the next hour at 5:00 Eastern.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:28:04] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper, coming to you live from the Ronald Reagan presidential library and museum where last night I asked 15 Republican presidential candidates about their plans for the war on ISIS, which brings us to our world lead today.

The Obama administration had a plan to train and arm Syrian rebels to fight ISIS. The goal, thousands of Syrian rebel fighters on the battlefield taking on ISIS. The reality: there are just four or five trained fighters on the battlefield fighting ISIS. That's what a top U.S. general told the U.S. Senate yesterday. Now, the Pentagon is planning to overhaul the program.

Let's get right to CNN's Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

Barbara, what are you learning about this?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, overhaul the program, yes, but the problems for this war are mounting.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): A shocking admission by the U.S. general running the war against ISIS, how few U.S.-trained Syrian rebels are left.

GEN. LLOYD AUSTIN, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: It's a small number. The ones that are in the fight is we're talking four or five.

SEN. KELLY AYOTTE (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: As I see it right now, these four or five U.S.-trained fighters, let's not kid ourselves that's a joke.

(GUNFIRE)

STARR: It was supposed to be the showcase of the U.S. effort in Syria, a $500 million program to train 3,000 rebels this year alone. AUSTIN: Well, we certainly won't at the pace we're going we won't

reach the goal that we had initially established for ourselves.

STARR: Austin also acknowledging his own intelligence director under investigation for altering intelligence reports. The White House for the first time asked if the president still has confidence in his commander.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: General Austin to his credit sat before that congressional committee, took the oath, faced the cameras and delivered some hard news.