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Coverage of Republican Presidential Debate. Aired 8:12-8:33p ET

Aired December 15, 2015 - 20:12   ET


[20:12:42] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: And good evening, everyone from Las Vegas.

The opening act of tonight's CNN debate now in the books. The main event just minutes away. Four candidates done for the night, nine more about to face off. The focus tonight national security. It could not be more timely with Paris, San Bernardino and just today a threat prompted officials to shut down the entire Los Angeles public school system. It appears it was a hoax. But it is also a powerful backdrop for the questioning this evening.

With me here to talk about the debate that just happened and the one about to take place, CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger, Jake Tapper, host of CNN's "THE LEAD" and "STATE OF THE UNION," and also CNN political commentators Amanda Carpenter, Jeffrey Lord and S.E. Cupp. Amanda served as communications director for Senator Ted Cruz. Jeffrey was a political director in the Reagan White House. S.E. is a conservative columnist. Appreciate you all being with us.

Gloria, let's start with you. Did you hear anything tonight that changes anything for the four men that were just on stage?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't think it changes anything. But what I heard tonight was an emotional Lindsey Graham. Somebody who said I have been talking about these issues this entire campaign and now the campaign is kind of caught up with me. And here I am at this undercard debate, right?

And it was a gloomy debate. It was reflected the fear and anxiety in this country, post-Paris and San Bernardino. And the most memorable line to me was Lindsey Graham saying I blame Obama for ISIL, not Bush. I miss George W. Bush.

COOPER: Jake, Lindsey Graham also having some very tough words for Donald Trump on his pledge to ban Muslims, at least temporarily from entering the United States.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: He apologized to the Muslim world on behalf of America for Donald Trump. Something that I have never heard Republican presidential candidate do during a debate. But I have to say, it is a rather unusual debate and a rather unusual time.

I don't think we have ever had a debate, I don't know if gloomy is the right word. But it certainly captures it. But also just worried, anxious, fearful. I don't think that we have had a debate quite like this in terms of what was expressed on the stage. Even in 2004, which was the next presidential election after 9/11. It really was remarkable that way. We heard a lot of people advocating for a national security state. We heard not a lot of pushback on the idea of what a lot of people consider to be conservative values. And I believe Amanda and S.E. do in terms of fearing too much government intrusion, surveillance. And we heard a lot of arguments in favor of sending troops, sending U.S. troops abroad which is, again, something that after the Iraq war you wouldn't necessarily expect.

[20:15:35] AMANDA CARPENTER, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR SEN. TED CRUZ: I don't think we can oversee the influence of Lindsay Graham in this debate. He had been leading, he has dominated the foreign policy discussion among Republican circles for a long time. And, really, I think the big question going forward in this debate and for the party is that are we going to learn the lessons from the Bush administration. Are we going to double down on their mistakes?

We are seeing a lot of false choices being presented. Either we're going to send thousands of ground troops into numerous countries or you're an isolationist. Either we are going to have a surveillance state or we are going to risk another domestic terror attack. I think that there is a third way that stands up for the constitution that stands up for the bill of rights and our right to privacy, freedom of speech and we don't have to start surveying mosques and churches and give up who we are in order to be safe. And I hope we flush this out more in the main debate.

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But to that point, you know, you gloomy, Jake, you say fearful. I would say honest. We had a very honest conversation tonight.


BORGER: I agree.

CUPP: And you know, where Democrats debate on foreign policy, they argue over just how great the current strategy is and how they would continue it. We heard a lot of difference between four different Republicans on how to keep this country safe. And some real honest acknowledgments. One from Lindsey Graham, he wishes Bush was still president. Others about our surveillance and our privacy and what, you know, we might need to reconcile with.

So I think on this debate and the debate that is coming up, I'm hoping that Americans watching this, millions of them are getting some real honest kind of conversation about the very difficult situation we are in right now. Which is why a majority want ground troops in Syria and Iraq right now.

BORGER: Say how long they would be, you know, aside from Lindsey Graham.

CUPP: As long as it takes, right.

BORGER: As long as it takes, everybody else was --

COOPER: Jeffrey, your candidate Donald Trump came in for heavy criticism for a number of people, particularly Lindsey Graham on that stage and also, Amanda, Ted Cruz, your former boss, also came in under criticism as an isolationist.

JEFFREY LORD, FORMER REAGAN WHITE HOUSE POLITICAL DIRECTOR: You know, when you talk about strength, which is basically what they are talking about here and you're looking at these polling numbers where you get in the internals and they say who do you think in essence can keep us safe. And Donald Trump is running away with the field. That really speaks to both the anxiety and that in the public mind, he, for their own reasons, represents that, represents that strength. And the rest of the folks - and I understand the importance of having this kind of conversation. This really was important. You know, the last time I said I didn't think there was a president of the United States on this stage. I still don't think there is one. But I do think that what they had to say tonight is being listened to in a way that was not the case before Paris and before San Bernardino.

COOPER: And certainly the polls reflect that. I mean, now people saying this is the number one issue where previously it wasn't.

CARPENTER: But I have to say, I'm frankly, very worried watching this debate because we need to have a discussion about how to balance security concerns and our individual freedoms. We don't have to give up one to have the other. And I'm afraid, everyone on that stage that we just saw was willing to give up freedom for security. And that is a very slippery slope where we go.

TAPPER: And can I say something? I also never heard on a presidential debate stage a religion, a religion be as criticized as I heard tonight. It was not -- both Senator Santorum and Governor Huckabee described Islam as different --

COOPER: Not just a religion --

TAPPER: It's not just, yes. And so, therefore, constitutional protections do not apply, I believe, Senator Santorum said. I never heard that. Now, that will likely be popular with the Republican Party, with Republican voters. Not all of them. But perhaps a majority of them or plurality. That is a tough message for the general.

COOPER: But it was interesting just as you said Lindsey Graham apologizing or explaining to sort of the rest of the world a pleading tone to him to the GOP itself saying do not go down this road.

CUPP: He was angry and passionate. And I think, you know, I get his frustration. I share it. When you hear people talking about banning an entire religion. And then you see Lindsey Graham saying your faith is not the enemy. I got his emotion. I'm with him. I don't like this, this new trend coming out of Donald Trump and Ben Carson and some others. It doesn't represent conservative values.

[20:20:00] COOPER: We have to take a quick break. When we come back, Donald Trump's growing national lead in the polls which Jeffrey referred to and how the other candidates tonight may try to cut into that. Perhaps cut him down to size, if that's possible. If any of them can do that. A quick break first as we countdown to the main event here in Las Vegas.


[20:23:13] COOPER: And welcome back. Getting close to the debate here in Las Vegas. Just a few moments, Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus will make a few remarks welcoming people to the debate hall behind me here in the Venetian hotel. It is the same audience who was here earlier for the undercard debate. Many of them are still milling around and being asked to get back into their seats as the clock is ticking.

Among them the two recent poll leaders, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. Senator Cruz leading in a recent Iowa poll. Mr. Trump widening his lead significantly nationwide clearly painting himself as the one to beat tonight.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And they are all coming after me. I heard today, I'm watching, man, this is like crazy. Who is going to attack Trump first? Yes, I would say bring them on. Who cares? But I would say it won't be -- this will not be like an evening in paradise for me. Do we agree?


COOPER: We shall see about that. Donald Trump about to arrive, we are told here at the Venetian. I understand most of the, if not all of the other candidates are already here. That is Donald Trump's, his vehicles coming there. Obviously, he has secret service protection, as does Dr. Ben Carson.

We're also here with our panel. Gloria Borger, we continue to watch the arrival of Trump. Gloria Borger, Jake Tapper, Amanda carpenter, Jeffrey Lord, and S.E. Cupp.

As we watched Donald Trump come in, let's talk a little bit about what he faces tonight. What he plans to do and how the other candidates. I mean, clearly, we heard a lot of questions from Wolf Blitzer and there is the competent himself. We heard a lot of questions from Wolf Blitzer about Trump's plan. Let's listen in.


TRUMP: I just feel excellent and I think it's going to be a good debate. I've done, you know, every one of them I've enjoyed and this should be no different. We have a lot of problems in our country and we'll get them solved. Thank you.


[20:25:05] COOPER: As I said, all the other candidates set to be there. Donald Trump. There's his wife, as well, accompanying him.

A lot of questions from Wolf Blitzer about Donald Trump's policy on Muslims on not allowing them at least temporarily into the United States. We heard some very clear disagreement on the stage tonight, particularly from Lindsey Graham. Do you expect the other candidates tonight who spoken out against Trump on the trail to confront him about this on the stage?

LORD: Absolutely.


LORD: Absolutely I do.

You know, one of the things I found interesting is there were some words from Eric Posner, who I believe is the University of Chicago law professor and a very well-known one. He had decidedly not a Trump fan. But he says that what Donald Trump is proposing is definitely not constitutional. And he supplies all the legal precedence and says in the Supreme Court doesn't like to get between the president and the Congress on these issues. There's been a history, the Chinese exclusion act in the early 1900s and the Supreme Court let it stand. There are plenty of grounds, he says, for this to be constitutional.

CARPENTER: But I think it's what I was talking about earlier. I think there is a lot of false choices being presented on national security. Have Donald Trump at on one hand saying we have to ban all Muslims from coming into the country or we risk a national security attack.

Well, you know, there is a third wave, Ted Cruz has talked about it. He said, well, maybe we should look at just refugees coming from countries that have a lot of terrorist population. That is a practical response to the terrors that we face. We don't have to go wholesale ban the Muslim. We can have a smart-target approach that still allows Muslim refugees from other countries to be welcomed.

COOPER: We are going to talk about this more ahead. We do have to take another quick break. I want to get this break in quickly before the event begins. Some thought before the main event from all of you when we return. We'll be right back.


[20:29:37] COOPER: And welcome back. We are just about three minutes away from RNC Reince Priebus speaking to the crowd here and then the nine candidates taking the stage for the main event.

Here back with our panel. Gloria, is there anyone here you are particularly interested in hearing from tonight? Obviously, besides Donald Trump. I mean, there are a lot of talk about Cruz and Rubio and how are they are going to relate to each other.

BORGER: I want to see how everybody relates to Ted Cruz. Ted Cruz is sort of the man of the moment. Polls in Iowa show that he is leading. Donald Trump is now got from fears about Ted Cruz encroaching on his lead overall. And Marco Rubio is looking at Ted Cruz and saying how can I take him down on this national security debate? So, I'm watching how Ted Cruz handles all of this, because I do believe he is going to come under some attack this evening, and I've been told by the Cruz people that he's not going to attack Trump first. That if Trump goes after him, he'll go after him back. But as we saw earlier this week when Trump went after Cruz, Cruz kind of deflected it with humor, et cetera. We'll have to see how he behaves tonight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The bear hug maneuver.

BORGER: The bear hug maneuver. Let's see if he does it again.

COOPER: Keep Donald Trump close.

BORGER: We'll see if he does it again. I mean, we don't know. There is a lot at stake for Cruz tonight.

COOPER: There's also a lot at stake for Marco Rubio, a lot at stake for Chris Christie, who is back on the main stage.


TAPPER: There's a real opportunity here for somebody to do what Lindsey Graham did, which was say that what Donald Trump has proposed about Muslims actually makes the American people less safe. And, you know, one of the first people that came out against Donald Trump's proposal was Vice President Dick Cheney, who I think very few people would consider to be a bleeding heart liberal. This was a guy who was in favor of enhanced interrogation techniques to keep Americans safe. He said it went against everything that the American republic stands for. And very conservative national security experts that I know say this actually would make us less safe. And the question is, is anybody on that stage going to embrace that? Is a Chris Christie, is a Marco Rubio, is a Jeb Bush, is a Ted Cruz going to say, what you are proposing - look, I oppose everything that Obama is doing and I think he's feckless and I think he has made us less safe, but what you're proposing is the same thing on the other side.

COOPER: And Ted Cruz certainly wanted to try to pick up any Donald Trump supporters who decide to leave Donald Trump. So he hasn't really wanted to do that, if in fact, he does disagree with him.

CUPP: Yes, and he's staked out a very interesting territory on foreign policy. He's talked about people like -- go ahead, yeah. I hear.

COOPER: Let's listen in to Reince Priebus, RNC chairman. Reince Priebus is about to speak. Let's go to him.