Return to Transcripts main page


Who Won GOP National Security Debate; Dissecting the Debate; Trump Says No 3rd-Party Run, Defends Muslim Comments; Rand Paul Says No-Fly Zone Could Start World War III; Lindsey Graham Misses George W. Bush Presidency. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired December 16, 2015 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.


We are outside the Venetian in Las Vegas where it is the first morning after the last GOP debate of 2015. And you can still see the steam rising from the venue behind us. It was just that intense. Serious dust-ups between Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, serious smack-downs between Donald Trump and Jeb Bush, but serious restraint between the front- runners, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. Their bromance still in full bloom.

BOLDUAN: Oh, yes. The big focus of the night was national security. So who is leaving Las Vegas the big winner?

Let's discuss. Let's bring in CNN senior political reporter, Nia- Malika Henderson; CNN political commentator, Amanda Carpenter, a former communications director for Senator Ted Cruz; as well as Kevin Madden, GOP strategist and an adviser to Mitt Romney's presidential campaigns.

All right, guys, a lot happened last night. Let's distill it down to a lightning round of who was the biggest winner of the night.

Amanda, go.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Let's say Reince Priebus. This was a great debate for the entire party. It was substantive. They kept to the issues, which was remarkable given the big field. So I think everyone was very happy. Except for maybe the question -- sorry, Hugh Hewitt -- whether he'd be willing to kill civilians, go to war with is. That caused some heartburn among Republicans. Other than that, great night for the party.



NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: I think Jeb Bush. I was a little cold-hearted to him yesterday.

BOLDUAN: You were cold. HENDERSON: Sort of at his most relevant point. I think he wins most

improved award. I thought, you know, in terms of going after Donald Trump, he landed some of the biggest applause lines last night. I was in the auditorium. So people were very pleased to hear him go after Donald Trump. I think he turned Donald Trump into a punch line. The people I was sitting next to were really laughing at Trump and not with him.

BOLDUAN: Is that enough, though, for Jeb Bush? Don't ruin our lightning round yet.


BOLDUAN: Kevin, you.

KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: We're at that stage right now where momentum is really crucial. And I thought Ted Cruz had the best night because nobody did -- you know, we had this anticipated battle between him and Rubio.


MADDEN: And potentially him and Trump, which we didn't see a whole lot of. But I don't think anybody slowed his momentum right now. You're seeing 15, 20-point bumps in the polls in some of the early primary states that Cruz came out of there without any nicks I think was a good sign.

BERMAN: Let's drill down on the Ted Cruz phenomenon. One of the things people are talking about most from this debate was Ted Cruz versus Marco Rubio on a number of issues, metadata collection, national defense spending and you also had immigration. For the first time, a confrontation over Marco Rubio's position on immigration. Let's listen to what they said.


SEN. TED CRUZ, (R), TEXAS & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There was a time for choosing, as Reagan put it, where there was a battle over amnesty, and some chose, like Senator Rubio, to stand with Barack Obama and Chuck Schumer and support a massive amnesty plan.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO, (R), FLORIDA & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As far as Ted's record, I'm always puzzled by his attack on this issue. Ted, you support legalizing people who are in this country illegally.

CRUZ: He was fighting to grant amnesty and not to secure the border. I was fighting to secure the border.


BERMAN: So, Amanda, this was the third of three kinds of exchanges between these two candidates. I've heard people say that one person won, one person won the other. What did you think? Did Ted Cruz get what he wanted out of that? CARPENTER: Yeah, and there's been some criticism. There was a little

bit of inside baseball for the general election audience. But they needed to have this confrontation over immigration, over surveillance, and particularly over military intervention in order to set the stage for how this debate might move forward in the next couple months. This is the fight for the heart and soul of the party, where we go in terms of foreign policy. You'll see it debated in places like red state, "National Review," "Wall Street Journal." you see the establishment-type forces behind Rubio and sort of supporting the people that want the full extension of the patriot act and then you have Cruz saying maybe there's a third way. We don't have the full extent and we can still have a more targeted approach. And I think that's such a healthy debate to have and that's one of the reasons I credited the party of being a big winner of the night because this was all substance. And we really have to resolve these issues at some point.

BOLDUAN: Maybe they both win on that.

To Nia's point about being Bush most improved, here was one big moment of the night that Jeb Bush had in taking on Donald Trump, especially in light of how this has gone when he's gone on the attack in past debates. Listen here.


JEB BUSH, (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE & FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR: This is a tough business to run for president.



BUSH: It is.


BUSH: And we need to have a leader that is --


TRUMP: You're tough. You're real tough.

BUSH: You're never going to be president of the United States by insulting your way to the presidency.

TRUMP: Let's see, I'm at 42 and you're at 3. So, so far, I'm doing better.

BUSH: Doesn't matter. Doesn't matter.


TRUMP: So far, I'm doing better.


BOLDUAN: It doesn't matter, doesn't matter, doesn't matter.


Keep saying it, I guess. Did Jeb Bush do what he needed to do last night?

[11:05:00] MADDEN: Look, I think Jeb Bush helped himself last night. The big question for him is was that a fight that he needed to have three months ago and then have every day for three months in order to really start knocking down Donald Trump and consolidating some of that center-right lane which really does fear a Donald Trump ascending candidacy.

BERMAN: It's interesting. You could say that he helped himself, perhaps, but didn't hurt Donald Trump. I mean, I don't know that he's going to take anything out of Trump.


BERMAN: And then not only that, but it actually might help Trump in the end by boosting Jeb versus Christie and Rubio in New Hampshire, muddling up that race for the establishment lane again.

MADDEN: I think that's exactly right. The more that that lane becomes crowded, the easier it is for Trump and Cruz to try and whittle this down into a two-person race on the other side, which is the anti-establishment race. And if you look at the polls, that's probably 50 percent of the race right now. So it's a difficult task for Jeb to break through, I think, this late. But they'll tell you he's breaking through. The Jeb Bush people tell you he's breaking through just in time. So we'll see. We have 45 days, I guess, until Iowa.

BOLDUAN: And what's the alternative? Does the Bush campaign want another what's reviewed as not a good debate performance? Take what you're going to get, I guess.

OK. So, Nia, to you.

As Amanda was saying, she thinks Reince Priebus was the big winner, the party was the big winner maybe because what Amanda was talking about, though, maybe because they got Donald Trump to say definitively, very definitively, that he's a Republican and he's not running as an Independent. Here's a moment.


TRUMP: I am totally committed to the Republican Party. I feel very honored to be the front-runner.


And I think I'll do very well, if I'm chosen. If I'm so fortunate to be chosen, I think I'll do very well. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HENDERSON: Yeah. People clap. I think even Hugh Hewitt clapped at that moment. I think the problem here is this is Donald Trump saying that last night, who knows what Donald Trump is going to say two weeks from now, two days from now, two hours from now. But I think it's certainly a sigh of relief for Reince and the party, at least for now. I think it's still unlikely that he run --


BOLDUAN: Even before he said that.

HENDERSON: Yeah, even before he said that.

BERMAN: I was struck, frankly, by the way he said it. If you listen closely, there was almost a touch of humility.

HENDERSON: Yeah. He was accepting your hand in marriage or something.


MADDEN: He always makes these statements, though, in the afterglow of a debate where he thinks he did very well.

BOLDUAN: I love everybody.


MADDEN: In a week where he starts to get attacked again or he starts to drop in the polls where he changes his mind. Donald Trump has been known to do that.

CARPENTER: But there was another sign that Donald Trump is perhaps maybe maturing a little bit as a candidate. He's saying, you know, I'm not going to do this third-party bid. Honestly, that would have caused such fury and backlash among Republicans who are so desperate to win after being banned from the White House after the last two elections. Also, he chose not to attack Cruz. They essentially declared a truce and I think it's because he got burned by talk radio, by conservative activists when Trump decided to attack Cruz from the left. And so I think they're putting the weapons down. They're realizing we have to win. And we're getting into a more serious phase of the cycle.


HENDERSON: He can win.


BERMAN: That's why I thought that he may have said --


CARPENTER: That he wouldn't win as a third party. Getting valid access in all those states is such a high bar.


BERMAN: Can I bring up a surprise that hasn't been brought up more and that is Marco Rubio. I'm a little surprised here that no one said he had the best debate.

BOLDUAN: We've definitely heard that almost every debate. He's not necessarily the name everyone's talking about the next day, but if asked, everyone said he had a really strong debate.

MADDEN: I would have prefaced my remarks about Ted Cruz being the big winner with Marco Rubio being the other winner. He showed as much command as anybody on that stage on the issues that matter. And I think he also makes all of those national security debates very relevant to the average voter that's watching at home. In a way that, as he continues to make slow and steady progress, that he will quickly be the one candidate, that establishment center-right lane begins to look to as the best candidate to post up against the Cruz and Trump side of this particular -- the primary.

HENDERSON: And Hillary Clinton as well, right?

MADDEN: And that's the one thing. You talk to any Democrat, they will tell you, they are terrified of the prospect of going against Marco Rubio in a general election. They think he represents the toughest obstacle for Hillary Clinton winning the White House.

BOLDUAN: And the last thing they're going to say that on cable TV because they don't want to give Marco Rubio what he wants to hear is that boost in the primary.

Amanda, Nia, Kevin, great to see you guys. Thanks for joining us.

BERMAN: Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, you heard the back-and-forth between them. We're going to dissect that a little bit more. Did Jeb really win each of those exchanges? And did Donald Trump make the right call not going after Ted Cruz?

[11:09:54] BOLDUAN: Also ahead for us, we're going to be following some breaking news on the investigation into the San Bernardino attacks, the terrorists behind the attack. Hear at the FBI director is just now revealing about the couple's communications. That's ahead.

And any moment, we could get a verdict in the trial of the Baltimore police officer accused in Freddie Gray's death. The jury deadlocked just 24 hours ago. Will they make a decision?

This is CNN's special coverage live from Las Vegas. We'll be right back.


BOLDUAN: We're live from the Venetian in Las Vegas, site of last night's Republican presidential debate. Are the candidates flying out this morning with a bit of a hangover or are they still buzzing from the fiery debate?

BERMAN: Let's ask our panel, Mike Shields, former chief of staff for the Republican National Committee; Lou Gargiulo, the Rockingham, New Jersey, co-chair for Donald Trump; and Ana Navarro, CNN political commentator, and a good friend of Marco Rubio, but a supporter of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

And, Ana, in past debates you have admitted to being glum, chum, after Jeb's performances. But today, it might be a different story because of exchanges like this. Let's listen.


DONALD TRUMP, (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE & CEO, TRUMP ORGANIZATION: He's a very nice person, but we need tough people. We need toughness. We need intelligence and we need tough. Jeb says when they come across the southern border, they come as an act he of love.

BUSH: You said on September 30th that I that ISIS was not a --


TRUMP: Am I talking or are you talking, Jeb?

BUSH: I'm talking right now. I'm talking.

TRUMP: You can go back. You're not talking.


TRUMP: You interrupted me, Jeb.


BUSH: September 30th, you said --

TRUMP: Are you going to apologize, Jeb? No.

Am I allowed to finish?


Go ahead, Mr. Trump.

TRUMP: Excuse me, am I allowed to finish?

So --


BUSH: A little of your own medicine there.

BLITZER: Governor, please. One at a time.


TRUMP: I know you're trying to build up your energy, Jeb, but it's not working very well.



[11:15:00] BERMAN: So what you saw there was Jeb this time going toe to toe with Donald Trump. There were actually about three exchanges like that. And they all ended essentially the same way, with both of them, you know, saying I win, I win, I win. But it was a little different Jeb Bush than we saw before. Is this, Ana, at long last the candidate you wanted to see on stage?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Look, I think we did see a different Jeb Bush. If I had any athletic ability, I would be doing cartwheels and maybe if it wasn't 35 degrees in Vegas right now. I think Jeb has understood that performing, theaters, making memorable lines, having memorable moments is part of what this debate process is and that it matters. And he's done it. He's done it well.

Yesterday, the day before, we were not talking about Jeb Bush. He was, you know, a little snippet here and there. Today he has been at the center of all the media narrative as one of the winners of last night's debate. He performed very well, best debate he's had of the entire season. Five debates now. And you saw it today. I ran into him this morning at the "New Day" set. This was a pumped-up, relaxed, confident, happy Jeb Bush. Not hung over. I think the only thing he could do now better is maybe a little cussing in a debate I think could go a long way, Jeb. We can work on that the next time. Maybe we can do it in Spanish if it's not an FCC violation.

Look, I think it's a turnaround campaign. Yesterday was an important part of that turnaround for Jeb. He's now heading straight for New Hampshire. They've got something called Project New Hampshire starting. He's going to be laser focused on New Hampshire. You know, I think this guy showed yesterday that he wants it. He's got the energy. He's got the commitment. And that he's still in the hunt.

BOLDUAN: And the guy who is taking on most of the night, Lou, was your guy, Donald Trump. Donald Trump unapologetic, with a very strong defense of his controversial proposal, banning Muslims from entering the United States. Listen to hear his explanation last night for that.


TRUMP: We are not talking about isolation. We're talking about security. We're not talking about religion. We're talking about security. Our country is out of control. People are pouring across the southern border. I will build a wall. It will be a great wall. People will not come in unless they come in legally.


BOLDUAN: Still, the party, people inside and outside the party, have condemned that proposal, though, Lou. And I want to ask you for your reaction to how he did in this context. Because he also said last night very definitively that he is a Republican. He will not be running as an Independent. But when you see the Donald Trump on that stage taking folks on, are you a little sad that he kind of took the Independent run that off of the table?

LOU GARGIULO, THE ROCKINGHAM, NEW JERSEY, CO-CHAIR FOR DONALD TRUMP CAMPAIGN: No, not at all. I think that he has said privately, and he has said also publicly that he was going to continue as a Republican. And I think just restating it last night only solidified his position both in New Hampshire and across the country.

And I think it's only going to help him. I think overall, he had a great night last night. I think that he articulated his concerns about immigration and about the issues with is. And I think it's on the forefront of a lot of people. And I think the polls demonstrate that. Looking at the overnight result results, he's in excellent shape. People are very concerned about the attacks that took place in California and in Paris. I think people are laser focused on it. And they're looking for someone with leadership skills. And Mr. Trump has certainly demonstrated he's a leader. He says things that are not popular. But he says what's on his mind, and that's what people want to hear.

BERMAN: He certainly went into the debate out in front.

You know, Mike, it is interesting -- and Lou touched on it right there -- this was a national security debate. And we saw a serious policy discussion and some serious policy division. I want to play a bite between Chris Christie and Rand Paul that kind of symbolizes that.


CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R), NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We would shoot down the planes of Russian pilots if, in fact, they were stupid enough to think that this president was the same feckless weakling that the president we have in the Oval Office is right now.


SEN. RAND PAUL, (R), KENTUCKY & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think if you're in favor of World War III, you have your candidate.


BERMAN: You know, it was interesting, talking about no-fly zones in Syria, obviously, Christie in favor of them, Paul, not at all, saying that Christie wanted to start World War III.

My question, Mike, it's interesting to hear this discussion, but does anyone win in a debate like that? It seems to me that you probably are already convinced on what side you are going in.

[11:19:49] MIKE SHIELDS, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: A couple things. First of all, I think a big winner last night was the RNC and CNN. You think back to Boulder and how poorly it was handled. We've had debates where the moderator stayed on topic. Everything was about foreign policy last night. I think there's two key words that come out of this, knowledge and strength.

So these candidates are trying to display their knowledge on the issues, but they're also trying to display strength. I think that's one of the things Governor Bush got right last night. He's a good policy person. Last night, he was showing his strength. It looked like he wanted to do it. He tried to mix it up a little bit and this isn't very comfortable. Last night he was, like, I really want to punch here. That came across with a lot of the candidates last night, how much strength can they show. That's really sort of what's going on in the primary in general.


SHIELDS: How much strength can you show is sort of Trumping how much knowledge you might know about a lot of these specifications. You saw Christie there. He's combining a strength of a policy position, but he's delivering it in a way that proves I'm really strong here. And I'm willing to go toe to toe with Putin, I'm willing to fight. That's really playing out in the Republican primary. They're showing strength to the electorate. And compare that to what's going on in the White House. You heard over and over last night we're so upset with how weak the president's being. We want a strong candidate coming through.


NAVARRO: I think the real winner last night, frankly, were Republican voters. You know, we got to see a substantive debate about a national security, you know, policy differences. We saw a spectrum of diversity of thought amongst the candidates on some of these very important issues. We saw candidates who knew their stuff. We saw some who didn't. I think we began to see yesterday the whittling down of this field. We saw the narrative come out of Rubio versus Cruz. We saw, you know, Chris Christie come out strong. We saw Jeb Bush, you know, resurrect and say, I'm getting back into this fight. And we saw Donald Trump be Donald Trump.

BERMAN: We are going to talk more about the possibility of whittling down coming up.

Mike Shields, Ana Navarro, Lou Gargiulo, thank you so much.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.


BERMAN: This was a serious policy debate about national security. You heard a lot of Republicans calling for perhaps more military force. You heard one candidate say he misses George W. Bush. We'll discuss that. Plus --


BERMAN: It wasn't Jeb.

(LAUGHTER) Interestingly, it was not his brother.


BOLDUAN: Ana. Ana.

BERMAN: What do they do next? How do they solidify the gains they think they made here in Las Vegas?

BOLDUAN: Also, more on our breaking news. Brand-new details about how the shooters, the attackers in the San Bernardino massacre, how they communicated with each other and pledged allegiance to jihad.


[11:26:44] BERMAN: It was fight night here in Las Vegas. And the political showdown did not disappoint, not at all. There was some heated jabs, a rekindled bromance. You know, one performance that a lot of people are talking about today coming from the undercard debate.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

Here to give us his take on the performances last night is renowned debate coach, Brett O'Donnell. He's the president of O'Donnell & Associates, a political consulting firm. He is also advising the Lindsey Graham campaign this time around.

Brett, it's great to see you.

You were here yesterday kind of giving your expectations. I guess we should call it give them your grades. One of the big takeaways from last night is the back-and-forth on different topics and the engagement in the fight between Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. And everyone kind of left wondering, as we have been already this morning, who won in that fight? Who do you think won?

BRETT O'DONNELL, PRESIDENT, O'DONNELL & ASSOCIATES & POLITICAL DEBATE COACH: Well, in my opinion, Marco Rubio got the better of Ted Cruz last night. Here's the reason why. These things aren't just about line-by-line pure debating. Ted Cruz still has too much of his college debating days in him. And he thinks it's all about the aggression and all about being the alpha person. I think that's important, but voters vote for three reasons. One of which is you're competent. The second is they think that you share their values. And the third is they like you. And Marco Rubio just comes across more likeable in his exchanges. He's smoother, seems to understand when to counterpunch. Ted Cruz always counterpunches, always aggressive. And I don't think that comes off very well for voters.

BERMAN: It's interesting, talking about Cruz and likability. In past Republican debates, it's been somewhat popular --


BERMAN: -- to perhaps go after the moderator. It's been somewhat popular occasionally to just seize time and take over the moment on stage no matter what the rules. Ted Cruz tried it last night, and it didn't seem to go over as well. Let's play that.


BLITZER: Senator, Senator, we're going to get to you. Wait your turn. We have two hours to debate. We'll have plenty of time. Let Hugh ask his question.

CRUZ: But let me explain. The focus should be on defeating our enemies.

BLITZER: Senator, please.

CRUZ: So, for example, the regime --


BLITZER: Senator, you'll have plenty of opportunity.

CRUZ: -- is Iran because Iran --

BLITZER: Go ahead, Hugh.

CRUZ: -- has declared war on us. But we shouldn't be toppling regimes --


CRUZ: -- that are fighting radical Islamic terrorism that are helping --


BLITZER: These are the rules all of you agreed to.

Hugh, go ahead with your question.


BERMAN: They were booing the Princeton debate champ.

O'DONNELL: Yeah, I think there's a difference between commanding the stage and seizing the stage. And Ted Cruz last night went way over the line, not just in that instance but a couple of times where he was overrunning the moderators, but even overrunning his fellow competitors. At a certain point, that just appears rude, and it's another kind of stocking in the -- feather in the cap of not being very likeable.

BOLDUAN: I do, though, think that Ted Cruz supporters, they like that about him. That he is that fighter. That he is that. Of course, it's always kind of what lens you're kind of looking through, I guess.

O'DONNELL: But the interesting thing is, he did that with the moderators and with Marco, but not with the person he really need to, Donald Trump.

BERMAN: Not at all. And that was clearly a conscious decision.

O'DONNELL: Absolutely. And I think it's a bad decision on his part because Donald just co-opted him last night. Yeah, I've changed my mind. I like him. He's fine. Because Donald's out in the front. And Ted has to go after him. Cruz has to go after him.

BOLDUAN: I've got to ask you real quick. You're advising the Lindsey Graham campaign. He is the guy everybody was talking about from the undercard debate. He is known for his one-liners and is quick-witted. But what struck a lot of people is how emotionally he talked during the debate. Listen here to a little bit.