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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Sneak Peak at Deabet's Social Media Hub; Interview with Sarah Palin; Conservative Talk Radio Hosts Critical Of Trump; Candidates Preparing For Final 2015 Debate. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired December 15, 2015 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:01]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to keep a close eye on what you, the voters, are saying about the candidates and about debate topics in real time. All the interactive data will be monitored from our Facebook lounge.

And that's where we find CNN's Don Lemon, there to take us inside the Facebook lounge.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: Don, give us a sneak peek of the new and upgraded social media hub.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: As I like to call it, Jake, the center of the universe right now.

So, we're here at Facebook USA, and all kinds of gizmos here. I actually saw one of your videos up earlier from the Democratic debate. This was up live. We have been going live answering viewers' questions, a lot of CNN viewers live on Facebook, and that was our session just about -- maybe 30, 45 minutes ago.

And so you can go on to Facebook.com/CNN, and you can look at that. You can look at Jake's old video, and we will answer some of your questions live. Again, look how big this -- and you remember the one at Democratic debate was not this big. This is like a whole section of the auditorium that we have here.

I want to give you some information, though, Jake. You have been talking to -- and this is some of the information we will be giving you tonight -- you have been talking to -- let's see, Rand Paul. Right? This is our little data center here.

So, Rand Paul, you're talking about conversations. Rand Paul, Ben Carson, and you mentioned Jeb Bush. Is anybody talking about Jeb Bush. Here is Rand Paul. Who is up that back there? Oh, Ben Carson is behind me, by the way. Look. There he is right there. He's coming to the Facebook lounge.

So should we go over and talk to him? I don't have a microphone. You guys want to talk to him? TAPPER: Dr. Ben Carson has a huge Facebook presence.

LEMON: OK. Yes. So, anyway, this is Rand Paul. This is a conversation.

If you look at Rand Paul, the heat map. Right? So, Rand Paul, people talking -- the orange is really -- when it gets orange, that's when people are really talking. People are talking about Rand Paul, but as far as Ben Carson, here, a lot more people talking about him. And you mentioned Jeb Bush, right?

Jeb Bush, and you said -- Jeff Zeleny said not a lot of people. There you can see he's right. Not a lot of conversation happening around the country when it comes to Jeb Bush, especially in comparison to everyone. And there you go, Donald Trump -- back to you, Mr. Tapper.

TAPPER: My God, geez, look at that sea of orange.

LEMON: Yes. I know. It's crazy, right?

TAPPER: Thanks so much.

Washington outsiders have dominated the Republican race so far, despite getting little love from the GOP elite. There's somebody who knows exactly what that's like, a former Alaska governor. You might have heard of her, Sarah Palin. She's here in Vegas. Who she thinks will win the race and what it will take to grab hold of the nomination, she will tell us live right after this quick message.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:36:07]

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD live from Las Vegas.

We are T-minus 85 minutes from liftoff, the final Republican debates of 2015, here at the glitzy Venetian theater on the Vegas Strip. The stage is set for nine Republicans to battle it out on the main stage and four in the undercard.

But, right now, the fight for the Republican presidential nomination really seems to be narrowing to two men, Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz. The state of the race continues to perplex Republican establishment types, who like neither of those candidates. It leaves the GOP brass wondering why their base eats up whatever Trump and Cruz have to say, just like voters did, say, seven or eight years ago with another outsider.

I want to talk about Trump and Cruz with that outsider, former Alaska Governor and former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

Thanks so much joining us.

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: Thank you.

TAPPER: We should also note she's the author of a new book, "Sweet Freedom: A Devotional," which is a very nice read and a good Christmas present, stocking stuffer perhaps.

Believe, thanks so much for being here.

So, first of all, to the people out there, the majority of the American people who have yet to really learn about Ted Cruz or Donald Trump, even though they have heard something, what's the appeal? Because you like them both.

PALIN: Right.

Both of them seem to want to tend to go rogue. Trump certainly does that. With Cruz, it seems strange to characterize him as one who is extraordinary, when you consider what's extraordinary about him is, he's just fulfilling campaign promises.

He said that he -- you know, send me there to the Senate and I will do all that I can to stop Obama's transformation of America. And he's at least given it the old college try, even though he's met with some roadblocks, whereas too many politicians, they don't even try to fulfill campaign promises. That's an appeal of Cruz.

Plus, he's so doggone intelligent. And then Trump, of course, it goes without saying, that candidness, that directive -- and direct answer to questions, people find that very refreshing. It's the antithesis of the status quo in the political arena today. And we like that.

TAPPER: And I have tried to get you to say who you like better and who -- but you won't do it. So, just so people know, I did try, although your daughter said she likes Donald Trump.

PALIN: Oh, yes, yes. Willow has been...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Willow is a big Trump -- OK.

PALIN: Yes.

And maybe that's reflective of that younger generation also appreciating those who aren't just the typical old politician.

TAPPER: Well, there's nothing typical about Donald Trump. That's for sure.

PALIN: True.

TAPPER: Rush Limbaugh, who obviously is revered by much of the Republican conservative base, he took issue with the way that Donald Trump talked about Ted Cruz.

Here's what Limbaugh had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW")

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: My questioning here about the way Trump has gone off Cruz here, calling him a maniac, refusing to work with people in the Senate, it's -- the reason I'm focusing on that, folks, because that's so unlike Trump.

That's that's a huge mistake for any of you who are holding out hope that Trump is a genuine conservative. Genuine conservative, even in the Republican field, would not go after Cruz this way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: The issue is -- the issue is -- because we had some audio problem on our side -- is that Donald Trump criticizing Ted Cruz for being a little bit of a maniac for taking on the Republican establishment and not playing well with others, Rush Limbaugh says, that's not a conservative critique of Ted Cruz. We like that.

Where do you come down on this debate?

PALIN: Maybe that was a one-off comment or issue that Trump wanted to bring up, because, yes, I agree with Rush that obeying old Reagan rule is, you save your ammunition for who the real enemy at the end of the day is going to be, and that's the opponent on the other side of the aisle.

And don't get personal with your fellow Republicans.

TAPPER: Donald Trump has violated that commandment a million times.

[16:40:02]

PALIN: You know what, though? Does he draw first blood, though, or does he defend himself, like he expects a leader to defend themselves?

So, that's something that needs to be considered. Is he picking fights or is he just bold enough, gutsy enough to come back and set the record straight?

TAPPER: But you do agree that he shouldn't -- you don't like the critique of Ted Cruz being as a maniac with the Republican leaders in Congress because you like that about Ted Cruz?

PALIN: Well, yes. So, you see I'm partial about that.

Now, had he said that about somebody that isn't in my top tier, I probably wouldn't take issue with it. So, I'm biased there.

TAPPER: Limbaugh also said this about Donald Trump. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW")

LIMBAUGH: He's decided to go after Cruz here in the way the establishment Republicans go after Cruz, in the way the media goes after Cruz, in the way the Democrats go after Cruz.

He's essentially put on his John McCain hat here, say, I'm Donald McCain, and I'm the guy that can cross the aisle of work with the other side. Ted Cruz can't.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: That puts you in a tough spot, because I know you revere John McCain.

PALIN: I really respect him, because he had really good judgment back there in '08.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: But he didn't -- you don't like the way that John McCain has talked about Donald Trump or Donald Trump's supporters or Ted Cruz.

PALIN: I just know there's a better way for us to get our point across when we need to stay focused on what the real threats and the real problems are in this nation.

And the real threat and the real problem is not the GOP lineup who have the guts to be in the arena duking it out in that battle of ideas.

TAPPER: You told me last night, when we did a Politics on Tap event here on the Vegas Strip, that it's going to take independence from big money to win the White House.

PALIN: Oh, yes.

TAPPER: And you don't like these super PACs that are out there.

PALIN: No.

TAPPER: Well, they're funding not only Jeb Bush, but Ted Cruz is getting a lot of support from them.

PALIN: Well, you know, I think that it's -- it's not a good thing for any candidate to feel that they must be beholden to even the system of the big donors.

And then I think it's just inherent, it's human nature that if you're collecting from them, there is a bit of a string attached. And normal Americans, we don't like that.

But, now, a debate tonight, hopefully, that's going to reveal some of those issues, like the big donor moneys and what the expectation would be. I just hope tonight that there are candid enough discussions that will reveal character and priorities with each candidate.

I hope one candidate will ask other candidates, for instance, hey, what took you so long to, say, pay off your own personal debts when you're loaded? Why did it take you years to pay off campaign debts off when you're loaded? You can't even manage your own wallet, but you want to manage the rest of our dollars?

I like issues like that that will reveal character.

TAPPER: One of those was definitely a reference to Carly Fiorina, the one about campaign debt. Was the other one about Marco Rubio? PALIN: It's probably a few of them, because the average American, we work our butts off to make sure that we're not in debt, so that we don't leave that burden to our children and our grandchildren.

And look at these movers and shakers, even in the GOP, certainly on the left, in the Democrat Party, though, who have been contributing to the bankruptcy of America. And we don't do that personally in our lives. So those who can't manage their own wallets, I have a hard time trusting them that they would get us out of the debt that we're in as a nation.

And, of course, that's -- that debt, I don't know what the magic number is before candidates will really start taking it seriously, $20 trillion, $22 trillion, before they say, oh, OK, a bankrupt nation, we can't afford national security. We can't afford to get out there and beat ISIS, when we know we must.

TAPPER: One other thing that you and I talked about yesterday that I thought was so interesting is when -- there is this tension between Donald Trump and the Republican National Committee. And Trump has said he's going to stay a Republican as long as the party treats him fairly.

But he does hold out this prospect of leaving the Republican Party and running as an independent if he's not treated fairly. And you said shame on the GOP if that happens.

PALIN: Yes. They will have created that scenario that must be considered then.

So, certainly, on that, I'm on Trump's side. I say, come on, GOP establishment. Don't blow it. Don't marginalize Trump supporters, because if Trump does feel and if it's legit that he's treated unfairly, his supporters are going to leave with him.

So, GOP, if you really want to win this thing -- and we must win this thing in order to undo what Obama has done in his transformation of America -- if we want to restore what's great about America, we have to win this thing.

So, shame on the GOP establishment if they essentially boot a top-tier candidate out.

TAPPER: All right. Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, thank you so much.

PALIN: Thank you.

TAPPER: And please say hi to Todd and the rest of the family for us. We appreciate it.

PALIN: I sure will. Thank you.

TAPPER: Stay on topic or go after the competition? What strategy should the candidates use to gain some traction after tonight's debate? I have a team joining me next who once advised some of the candidates that you will see on stage tonight. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. We are continuing now with our debate countdown live from the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas.

Let's bring in our political panel, Republican strategist and Jeb Bush supporter, Ana Navarro, Katrina Pierson, the national spokesman for the Trump campaign, Amanda Carpenter, a former communications director for Senator Ted Cruz, and CNN political commentator, S.E. Cupp.

Ladies, thanks one in all for being here. Katrina, you heard Sarah Palin, a huge fan of Donald Trump. But she agrees with Rush Limbaugh and Mark Lavin that the criticism that Trump levied against Ted Cruz, he's a little bit of a maniac for the way he goes after the Republican establishment, she doesn't care for that, thinks that wrong, as Lavin, Limbaugh. Is he going to continue that line of attack?

KATRINA PIERSON, NATIONAL SPOKESWOMAN, TRUMP CAMPAIGN: We have to see. Senator Cruz criticized Mr. Trump behind closed door which isn't courageous, and I think Mr. Trump responded accordingly. He obviously felt like you know he had a decent relationship with Mr. Cruz that he could criticize size him openly instead of behind closed doors. His response to that was his own personal objective opinion, and he's never been shy about hiding that.

[16:50:00]TAPPER: That is true. Let me ask you. David Axelrod said if he were advising Donald Trump, I asked him, what would you do, he said, go after Ted Cruz for being a politician, for saying one thing in public, another in private, which would hurt his brand and not this other attack that Donald Trump is doing about like you're a bit of a maniac --

AMANDA CARPENTER, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR SENATOR TED CRUZ: That's a hard charge to land. Saying that Donald Trump doesn't have the best judgment is probably the most benign thing you can say about Donald Trump. I do think Donald Trump made a mistake by attacking Cruz from the left. That is what started to turn talk radio against Donald Trump, which is a huge, huge problem for him going forward.

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: This is a very sort of sordid love triangle, Ted Cruz, Rush Limbaugh, Donald Trump, all on the right. It's put Donald Trump in a very tough position because, frankly, as loyal as Trump's folks are, Rush's supporters are a thousand times more loyal.

So if Rush is communicating Trump is playing a dangerous game, attacking Ted Cruz, and saying no genuine conservative would attack Ted Cruz in this way, that's putting a huge group of the same kind of people in the position to have to make a choice.

If they choose Ted Cruz going into Iowa where he's already surging and now leading Donald Trump, that puts him in a tough spot going ahead. ANA NAVARRO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: You know, it's also -- it's the first time this happens to Donald Trump. He's gone after Marco Rubio. He's gone after Jeb Bush. He's gone after everybody. He's gone after Megyn Kelly, he's gone after POWs, and never had to pay a price with right wing media.

The right wing media is coalescing behind Ted Cruz as the Evangelicals. He's got to tread carefully with his attacks on Ted Cruz because not only will he get the backlash.

And I think Ted Cruz is very able and can use humor, can deflect him like a flea without going into a real battle with Donald Trump, which Ted Cruz wants to avoid because ultimately he wants to inherit those supporters.

TAPPER: He wants those voters. That is an interesting part of this dynamic, Katrina, the idea that so many of the candidates want Trump supporters. So that changes how they go after him whether it's the bear hug that Ted Cruz gives or even people like Chris Christie, who I think, if you put sodium pentothal in him would have harsher words about Donald Trump.

We don't have to revisit that, but Chris Christie would be harsher if he didn't want that in the latest Monmouth national poll, 41 percent of the Republican voters.

PIERSON: That's a big part of the base and they're solid. We spend so much time stalking about the response that Donald Trump gives. We don't want to talk about the attack that was waged. Ted Cruz attacked Donald Trump the exact same way the establishment attacked Reagan, the bad judgment, can't trust him with the finger on the button. Of course, he was going to respond in kind. We're talking about his response.

CARPENTER: Talking about a ten-second sound bite I mean this is hardly -- the same criticism of Ben Carson.

TAPPER: In Donald Trump's defense, this is something that -- I seldom say that, but in Donald Trump's defense, this is something that he said privately that was recorded illicitly and something he wouldn't say publicly.

CARPENTER: To talk about Donald Trump, this is a blanket cookie cutter criticism that you can make of any candidate.

TAPPER: Doesn't it undermine Ted Cruz.

CARPENTER: Absolutely not. Somebody runs for president because they think they have the best judgment. No one can say that as a candidate.

TAPPER: It was harsher than that I think.

CARPENTER: Of all of the things you can talk Donald Trump for --

NAVARRO: The middle of a Republican primary, you say somebody doesn't have a judgment is a harsh attack.

CARPENTER: You want to see an attack --

NAVARRO: Surely you jest.

CUPP: The move Donald Trump said after I like Ted Cruz but he's an Evangelical and I don't know a lot of Evangelicals coming from Cuba was a strange non-sequitur I think meant to dog whistle that Ted Cruz is somehow, some kind of foreigner.

NAVARRO: Let me just say, coming from Miami, a lot of Evangelicals coming out of Cuba, a lot of Evangelical leaders who are Cuban- American.

TAPPER: Before we have -- run out of time, Ana, Jeb Bush, this is the commander-in-chief debate, that's his whole pitch. He is the one who will be steady, the one prepared to be commander-in-chief, unlike young senators, unlike ignore ant outsiders -- that's Jeb Bush, not me.

NAVARRO: Sounded good to me.

TAPPER: What's he going to do?

[16:55:03]NAVARRO: I think he needs to stand up there. Not only talk about his policy which he has, he was the first guy that came out on a proposal on how to fight ISIS. He also needs to win this stylistically, make good points.

I think he needs to say look where we are right now, this with ISIS the national security threat is where we separate the men from the boys. And you know, he needs to make that point --

TAPPER: You should go up on stage and make that point. I liked it when Ana said it.

CUPP: For Jeb, expectations are low. If he has a great -- one good sound bite, I think he walks away from the debate in a better position.

PIERSON: Jeb Bush said Donald Trump would be in decline today.

TAPPER: He said by this day, by this day, December 15th, Donald Trump would be in decline, and I think it's fair to say Donald Trump is only ascended.

NAVARRO: Look at all of us. With the exception of you, but you know, most people who don't partake of Kool-Aid have been making that prediction for a very long time.

TAPPER: All right, S.E. Cupp, Amanda Carpenter, Katrina Pierson, and Ana Navarro, thanks so much. We'll be watching with you. Reminder, you can see tonight's Republican presidential debate right here on CNN, the undercard debate starts at 6:00 p.m. Eastern followed by prime time debate at 8:30 p.m. Eastern. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter, @jaketapper, tweet the show @theleadcnn. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I turn you over now to one Mr. Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

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