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JOHN KING, USA

Interview With Texas Governor Rick Perry; Heat Intensifies on Herman Cain

Aired November 3, 2011 - 18:00   ET

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


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone.

Tonight, we're live from Johnston, Iowa, where just moments ago, we sat down for an exclusive interview with the Texas governor, Rick Perry. The governor responds to those who suggest he might have been drinking before delivering a New Hampshire speech that's now a YouTube sensation.

And get this. He says a President Perry would green-light an Israeli air strike on Iran if there is proof its nuclear program is making progress.

But, up first this evening, more breaking news in the sexual harassment saga now threatening to consume the Herman Cain presidential campaign, including a forceful response from Governor Perry to Mr. Cain's charge that the Perry campaign somehow orchestrated the smear.

Before we hear from the governor, there are several important new developments breaking in this drama.

Tonight, the Politico Web site reporting one of Cain's accusers received $45,000 a part of her cash settlement from the National Restaurant Association. That's much more than the two or three months pay Mr. Cain recalled earlier this week.

We'll have to wait at least another day to hear from one of Cain's accusers. She wants to issue a public statement, but her lawyer currently is negotiating with the Restaurant Association. Those talks expected to continue tomorrow.

And about an hour ago, Herman Cain told Sean Hannity on his radio program he never thought he'd be attacked based on, quote, "a planted story coming from another one of the campaigns." And Cain says if you, quote, "connect the dots," they lead to the Perry campaign.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

HERMAN CAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let's just say there aren't enough bread crumbs that we can lay down and connect that leads us anywhere else at this particular point in time. And we are moving on.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

KING: And here's Mr. Cain's message to a Tea Party town hall.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

CAIN: We've been able to trace it back to the Perry campaign that stirred this up in order to discredit me, my campaign and slow us down. The fingerprints are all over the Rick Perry campaign based upon our sources.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

KING: In blaming Team Perry, Cain specifically pointed at Curt Anderson, who worked on a Cain Senate race seven years ago and now advises Governor Perry.

Anderson told CNN today, he had nothing to do with it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CURT ANDERSON, PERRY CAMPAIGN ADVISER: One of the important things there is, you know, the -- the old saying, thou shalt not bear false witness. And you have a situation here where Mr. Cain is saying that people are falsely accusing him and so the last thing that he ought to do is falsely accuse somebody else.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We caught up with Governor Perry a couple of hours ago here in Iowa. And after a private conversation during the car ride out from Des Moines, we had an exclusive interview right here at a biotech seed company in Johnston.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Governor, thank you for your time.

GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You're very welcome, John.

KING: I want to start with what's driving the news right now, which is the Cain campaign and the candidate himself say that you and your campaign owe him an apology.

PERRY: Yes.

KING: Do you?

PERRY: No apology needed. We found out about this the same time that I suppose the rest of America found out about it, both on the -- the Internet or the next day in the news. So, you know, I don't know how to tell any other way except knew nothing about it, sir.

And --

KING: How did you handle that inside the campaign?

I know Curt Anderson has come out and said it never happened, I didn't leak anything, I didn't know about anything. He's the person, you know, Mr. Cain's campaign has pointed to specifically, that Herman Cain himself has pointed to.

But when -- when this happened, what did you do to find out, OK, somebody go ask around, make sure that we had no part in it?

PERRY: Well, I -- my folks at the campaign basically said, listen, this is what's going on out there, this is what's happening on the Internet. And we don't have any comment because we don't have anything to do with it.

KING: But when he accused your campaign, did you ask anybody to just check around and make sure?

PERRY: Well, I -- my people have already done that. I'm -- I can assure you. They didn't need to be asked if someone is out spreading those types of malicious rumors. So our campaign didn't have anything to do with it. And we're going on and talking about our tax plan and about how to get Americans back working.

KING: All right. You said nothing to do with it. And I don't -- I don't want to dwell on this, but if you ever found out somebody in your campaign did something like that, would you fire them --

PERRY: Out the door.

KING: Out the door?

You don't think it's -- is it fair game if -- if something like this happened or there were allegations when he was the head of an organization, is that fair game or, to you, is that still a --

PERRY: I just think you say, listen, if -- if you're passing on rumors that are that heinous, that bad, you don't need to be working with me. Gone.

KING: Do you think -- does Mr. Cain owe you an apology for --

PERRY: I'm not --

KING: -- for pointing the finger at your campaign?

PERRY: There are going to be -- there's going to be more stuff floating around out there in the campaigns, you know, again. So I tell people, this isn't my first rodeo. They're going to say all kinds of things about folks.

I'm going to stay focused on how does America get back to work?

And we've laid out a couple of really good plans, both on the energy side and the tax side, how to cut spending. And that's what Americans are interested in.

KING: It is what Americans are ins -- interested in. Unfortunately, as you know, it's not your first rodeo, campaigns sometimes do get distracted by these things. Just lastly on this point. There have been some in your campaign, when we call about this, who say it's not us, but maybe you want to look over at Romney land.

Is that fair?

PERRY: Look, I -- again, I'm focused on my campaign, on the issues that are important to the people. And I'm -- this is over. It's gone. It's done with. And I'm pressing on.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Much more of that exclusive conversation with Governor Perry to come.

But, first, let's discuss the new developments in the Cain sex harassment controversy with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, veteran Republican strategist Ed Rollins, and with me here in Iowa, the Iowa chairman of the Cain campaign, Steve Grubbs.

Steve, I want to start with you since you're on the receiving end. Iowa votes first.

What is your sense of the early impact? Is there negative impact from all of this? Do Cain supporters in the state have questions?

STEVE GRUBBS, HERMAN CAIN IOWA CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: Well, we measure the impact by what the voters are telling us. And what I know is, last week, we were signing up 25 to 30 precinct captains a day. Right now we're signing up 40 to 50. Fund-raising's up. The overnight Rasmussen poll says that Cain's still leading the pack.

Right now, the early indications are that Herman Cain is weathering the storm.

KING: Ed Rollins, when you hear something like that from a veteran of this state like Steve, what does it tell you? Does it surprise you? Or is that what you expect in the early days?

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, first of all, Steve's one of best guys in Iowa, and the fact that Mr. Cain has him on his side is a real tribute to him. The Cain campaign was slow getting started and putting Steve in charge is going to give him a big advantage.

You know, my sense is some people are going to basically want to see if there's another shoe to fall. At the same time, we're in 61 days to go to the caucus, a lot of work to be done, a lot of people working very, very hard on all sides. All the polls and all of the rest of it is irrelevant now. It's that hard work that Steve knows how to do and others on the other sides know how to do, and that's really what matters.

But I think to a certain extent, unfortunately for Mr. Cain, the issue is not over yet, and I think that he's got to still make it very clear what occurred, and when he does, we will move forward. KING: And, Gloria, Ed says the issue's not over. There are new details every day that are important as we try to find out exactly what happened.

And they are, of course, frustrating to the Cain campaign, new information from Politico tonight about the settlements. We expect tomorrow, perhaps, a statement from at least the attorney, if not one of the women who has accused Mr. Cain of this behavior. In terms of the information flow and new developments, where are we headed?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I guess we're going to head to some kind of ending in which we know the women's names or we don't know the women's names.

I think this is a story that is going to continue to dog Herman Cain. I mean, today, this aide to Perry came on and said to us, point-blank, I did not have the meeting at which Herman Cain told me about the sexual harassment charges that Herman Cain said he did.

So, you have a he said/he said situation in which Herman Cain's credibility is challenged, and you have a he said/she said situation in which he's against these women. At some point, the Restaurant Association has to decide whether they're going to release some of these records and perhaps Mr. Cain ought to ask for them to be released to clear the air.

KING: And as we wait for this, as someone who is on the ground here in Iowa trying to organize, you say so far not, you not only don't notice a negative impact, you have positive growth in the campaign.

GRUBBS: Sure.

KING: What about the information flow? As a reporter, I'll tell you, it's frustrating, the Cain campaign. It's a small operation, I get it. But also it's very hard to get information, responses from them to this information.

Are you having a hard time getting basic information? Because I assume, even if you're not having negative fallout yet, you do have a lot of people with questions.

GRUBBS: Sure. When I need information, the campaign's quick to get me information. And the bottom line is we're getting what we need, and the campaign in Iowa's moving on.

Our job here is, we have got to convince 30,000 people to go out on a subzero night in January, stop watching "American Idol" and actually go participate in this, and that's tough. And that's what we're focused on. And we have everything we need to get that done.

KING: Not your first rodeo here in the state of the Iowa.

GRUBBS: Not my first rodeo.

KING: In terms of -- let's set the substance of the allegations aside for a minute. In terms how the campaign has handled it, Mr. Cain's accounts have been somewhat inconsistent. First he said he was aware of no settlements.

Then he was actually describing conversations about the settlements. The campaign sort of shut down and gave no information at first, and then it sort of tried as the days go on. Does that frustrate you at all in just trying to manage the flow of the campaign information in the state?

GRUBBS: I watched his accounts, like everybody else did on TV that day, and what you guys saw is inconsistent accounts. I saw a guy who is not a politician, who is a real and authentic person trying to recount and recall what happened almost 15 years ago.

And it seemed authentic to me. I think as voters watched that, that's what they saw, authenticity. And if people want a politician -- in these campaigns, you know how it works. People get together. They say this is our story; we're going to stick to it no matter what.

Well, Herman Cain's not a politician. If people want that, there's plenty of those guys out there.

KING: So, Ed Rollins, a lot of the pros say they have not handled this well, that they should have all known this to begin with, with an opposition research internally in the campaign, they should have gotten their story straight from the beginning, get all the facts out in one day and handle it.

That's the way the pros say to do. When you hear Steve say the way they're doing it actually is not hurting, what does that make you think?

ROLLINS: Well, there's two elements to every campaign.

First, you don't win a campaign without a great candidate. I think Herman Cain has proven that he's a very effective candidate. There is no campaign organization. It's been very slow. I'm sure Steve's the first to say this. There wasn't any organization or not much of an organization in Iowa. It's beginning. They have got a pro to run it.

But there's not much in anybody else. And I think to a certain extent, the dilemma that they face is they don't have a rapid response, they don't have all of the things, a big communications staff, they don't have a bunch of people in the national campaign that have been in a presidential campaign.

Obviously, someone like me that has been in nine campaigns, first thing I do is opposition research on my opponent. I ask them to answer all the questions. They may have done it. They may not have done it. But I think at the end of the day here, they're going do it slowly but surely, but it's going to get out there.

BORGER: OK.

And still to come: President Obama attends a high-stakes economic summit in Europe, and how the agenda in France affects your bottom line. John King will be back in a minute.

And a Rick Perry speech that now has a million views on YouTube, some suggest the candidate was drinking before he gave it. Hear what he tells John King about it next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're live tonight in Johnston, Iowa. You just heard Governor Rick Perry of Texas saying his campaign emphatically had nothing to do with Herman -- the leaks about Herman Cain.

We had an extended conversation here talking with Governor Perry about his economic plan, about the stakes here in Iowa, and about the fact that he has in recent days become a YouTube sensation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: As you try to press on and get some traction in the campaign, as you know, your speech up in New Hampshire Friday night got a lot of attention. And I just showed you this -- what -- I was stunned when I saw it on FOX News during -- sitting in my office yesterday, where their own banner says, New Hampshire man who hosted Rick Perry says he was sober.

What do you make of that?

PERRY: And -- and that was a fact.

KING: Jon Stewart making jokes about it. If you look at speech online, a million hits on YouTube.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PERRY: If they print any more money over there in Washington, the gold's going to be good.

Live free or die, victory or death, bring it.

Everybody's got a little slogan, right? Mine's cut, balance and grow.

Get that, yeah.

The ones that want to stay in the old system, pay the lawyers, pay the accountants all that money that's gone, or that!

You know, this is pretty easy math, subtract it, send it in. It's awesome.

(LAUGHTER)

PERRY: I love Herman. Is he the best?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PERRY: I had no idea how -- I haven't seen it. I know the speech that I gave and it was well-received, had an appropriate number of applause lines and standing ovation at the end of it. You know, such people as Dan Balz with "The Washington Post" was there, he was tweeting about it is my understanding, and said, you know, spot-on, he's hitting all of the right -- so I have no idea how these things get started, what have you.

So it was a good speech, well-received, and if I had the opportunity to do again, I would probably give it exactly like I gave it.

KING: Give it exactly like you gave it.

We're having a conversation in Iowa looking at some hybrid corn around us. You're spending a lot of time here this week. You're the first candidate to go up on television, you started here in this state. Hasn't been the best past month for you. How important Iowa? Is this a must-win state for you?

PERRY: Well, every state's a must-win as far as I'm concerned. We're not in it to come in second.

So we're talking to people what's important to the people of Iowa. And being a farm boy and a kid who grew up not unlike a lot of the people out here on the edges of the cities in Iowa, I have got a background that's pretty much right in line with them. Values that are the same, hard work, went to school at an ag school, got an agricultural degree, and then went back and farmed and ranched with my dad 13, 14 years. So there's a lot of similarities.

But the real issue that whether you're from Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, whichever one of states you're from, how are you going to get those country working. And as the governor of Texas over the last decade, we've created more jobs than any other state in the nation. I do know how to create jobs. I do know how to get government out of people's hair and to let the private sector have their go at it, and that's what people are begging for in this country.

KING: I want to talk about your plan to do that. I want to ask you, first, though, you've never lost an election. As someone who when you got into the race shot straight up to the top, what gets through your mind now that you've had the fall?

You've gone from near 30 percent in the national polls at the top of a lot of the early states or close to the top in places like this, and now if you look at our most recent Iowa poll, you're down there, you've got Cain, Romney, Newt, and that Ron Paul and Rick Perry. To what do you attribute that?

PERRY: Well, in 2009, I was 25 points behind running for my third term as governor of Texas behind a very well-known and respected United States senator. And we just kept doing our work, focused on the issues that were important to Texans in that case.

I'm going to stay focused on issues that are important to Americans and talk about how to get Americans working, how to get Washington from a regulatory side out of companies like Pioneer's business and get this country back on track, economically. That's what Americans are interested in. So, we will stay focused, we will stay on message, and the end of the day, it will all turn out just right.

KING: You saw it'll all turn out all right, but when you see a poll that shows Herman Cain tied with you in Texas, that a bit of a wake-up call?

PERRY: Look, I told you I was 25 points behind, I was a sitting governor against a United States senator. So, it's just another poll. I really don't pay a lot attention to whether it's a YouTube spot or it's a poll. I know how to run an election, I know how to take the message to the people and that's what we going to keep doing, is talking to Americans about what they really care.

There are people sitting around the kitchen table today without a job. They don't have the dignity of taking care of their family. They're kids are coming home from school and they're still sitting there. That's the people I'm worried about and that's who I'm -- I'm talking to every day.

KING: Immigration is one of the issues that if you ask voters has hurt you a bit since you got into the race as they learn about your Texas record. We have governor Brewer of Arizona on the program last night and she said, when it comes to your views on the fence, that you can't have a fence everywhere, you think it's unrealistic, and your support for the in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, she thinks that will hurt you in the state of Arizona. In her words, what works in Texas won't work or sell in Arizona.

How would you answer that?

PERRY: Well, I think that's correct, and that's the reason we have 50 states and it's a reason I'm a big believer of the 10th Amendment, is that all states aren't alike.

What I do know is how to secure the border, and there's not anybody on that stage that's had to deal with this issue more than I have. The federal government's been abject failure in securing our border.

I do know how to secure the border, use the strategic fencing in the appropriate places, you have the boots on the ground, use technology and particularly the Predator drones and the aviation assets and you can shut the border down, you can secure it, you can stop the drug cartels from having easy access and the other terrorist groups. We know Hamas and Hezbollah are using Mexico as a base of operation.

Shut the border down. I know how to do it. I have had to deal with it. I have had Texas rangers, I have had our people there who have been harassed and shot out. Thank god none of them have been killed.

KING: I believe it was in an interview with Sean Hannity the other day, you said you could secure the border within a year.

PERRY: I think so.

KING: Is that -- is that realistic?

PERRY: Absolutely. I think you can secure that border within a year, but you've got to have a president that's committed to it.

You shift those aviation assets of which we have and put them on the border, we have a substantial number of aviation assets that could be used to download that real-time information to the local and the federal and the state law enforcement, and know exactly what's going on, on that border and be able to move very quickly to the place where you're having that type of action and shut that border down. I think you can do it in 12 months.

KING: But not a fence all the way across? You stand by...

(CROSSTALK)

PERRY: Well, the idea --

KING: -- unrealistic.

PERRY: Well, it'd take 10 to 15 years to build a fence.

KING: Right.

PERRY: I'm about securing this border now. There's places where a secure fence will work and that strategic type fencing will work, but the idea that people can easily just stand up and say, oh, let's build a fence and be done with it, wipe our hands, it's going to secure the border, that's not reality.

I have to deal with reality as a governor in the state of Texas, and the way that you secure that border the most quickly is by using the strategic fencing that you have, continue to be using it and putting it in place, but boots on the ground and those aviation assets and real-time information, that's how you secure the border.

KING: When you get criticized on the in-state tuition program, you've defended it and you've explained why you think you'd rather have them in school than sitting in the welfare line, rather have them in school than out committing crime on the streets somewhere, I would put that under the umbrella of what your predecessor as governor, President Bush, used to call compassionate conservatism.

What happened to that, especially in the Republican Party on the immigration issue? Why has the debate become so harsh?

PERRY: I put that in the category of being very wise economically. I mean, when you judge are you going to have taxpayers or tax wasters, and that's how Texans looked at it.

One thing you should have to keep in mind here, the reason we're having to deal with this is, again, because of the total failure of the federal government to secure that border. But beside that point, and whether it's Governor Brewer or governors in other states that have to deal with these issues, they're forced upon us. We don't get to sit on the sidelines. We have to make decisions on how we're going to deal with this.

Texans, by an overwhelming margin in the legislature, said we would rather have these young people moving towards getting their United States citizenship, be in our schools paying full in-state tuition and being taxpayers rather than kicking them over to the curb here, if you will, and having the state have to pick up the cost of this non-skilled, and in some cases, imprisoned individual.

KING: What does it mean, extend the definition of the conversation for me, when you say you oppose amnesty in any form? What does that mean for the millions of illegal immigrants who are here, some people say 20, some people say 10, some people say 8 million to 12 million, regardless of the number what does it mean for them? Does opposing amnesty mean round them up and kick them out?

PERRY: No. We've already had that conversation in this country. The idea that somehow we're going to round up 12 or however million people and ship them back to the country of origin is not reality.

KING: As you know, a lot of conservatives say that's the way do it, they don't want them to get any path to status, they say that's amnesty.

PERRY: And we're not talking about path to status here. We're talking about you're not going to pick up these folks.

But here what you do have to do, I think, is you have to identify them, you have to be able to give them some type of identification. Here's how they pay their taxes and they become a contributing part of the society instead of, as some people see them, just as a leech on society. That you can put a program into place of what these individuals can be identified and work visas and where they can move back and forth between countries, but not become United States citizens.

And I think that's where both McCain, that's where Romney, that's where even Bush went wrong when they talked about the issue of we're going to give amnesty to these individuals and people just said, no we're not.

KING: If you let them stay at all, though, and let them have those visas, some conservatives will say that's a form of amnesty. Because they came in illegally, they should not be able to get any benefits.

PERRY: Well, I disagree with the concept that somehow or other we're going to pack up 10 to 12 to 15 million people and ship them back to the country of origin. That's not going to happen. So we need to have -- reality has to be part of our conversation, and then you need to have a strategy to deal with it.

And that is what I think we will have, but first you have to secure that border. If you do not secure the border then there's no use in having conversations about how are you going to deal with these individuals.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: More of that conversation with Governor Rick Perry to come.

You will not want to miss his message to Iran if it continues to move ahead with its nuclear program.

Plus, congressional Republicans follow through on a promise -- the White House calls it a threat -- to subpoena documents in that Solyndra clean energy case.

Plus, tonight's "Truth": Can Herman Cain manage a crisis?

More ahead as we continue our live broadcast from Johnston, Iowa.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. We're live tonight in Johnston, Iowa.

Here's the latest news you need to know right now.

Despite the smiles, President Obama and world leaders at the G20 summit in France anxiously urged Europe's top officials to solve the continent's debt and banking crisis confidence once and for all.

In a possible breakthrough, Greece's prime minister today appeared to back away from holding a referendum that could result in public rejection of a bailout deal. The prime minister faces a no- confidence vote tomorrow.

Encouraged by today's news from Europe, investors pushed the Dow industrials up 208 points. The Nasdaq and S&P 500 posted 2 percent gains.

A congressional committee today voted to subpoena White House documents about the Solyndra energy firm. Its bankruptcy has taxpayers -- that's you -- on the hook for more than a half-billion dollars. Republicans want to know if Solyndra received government guaranteed loans because of political pressure from the Obama administration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. FRED UPTON (R), MICHIGAN: With the Solyndra loan, we smelled a rat from the start. And the investigation proved that we were on the right track.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: It becomes a fishing expedition. It intrudes on the prerogatives of the presidency.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Closing arguments now under way in the involuntary manslaughter trial of Michael Jackson's personal physician, Dr. Conrad Murray. | We're live tonight here in Johnston, Iowa, where we had an exclusive conversation a short time ago with the Texas governor, Rick Perry. He's trying to get his campaign back on track, trying to get it back on track here in Iowa, where evangelical voters are critical. Mr. Perry is a proud social conservative, anti-abortion, anti-same-sex marriage. I asked him -- he has criticized the former Massachusetts, governor, Mitt Romney, on abortion. What about a man who leads him right here right now among evangelicals, Herman Cain?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KING: You questioned Governor Romney's sincerity, the sincerity of his change of heart on the abortion issue. What about Mr. Cain. This state right now, he leads you, well ahead of you among evangelical voters. He said the other day in Washington yes, he would sign a federal law banning abortions, and life begins at conception, period.

But just 10 days before that or 12 days before that, in an interview with my colleague Piers Morgan, he said that, if a woman became pregnant during a rape, it was up to her. It was her choice to decide whether to terminate the presidency. And he said the government should stay out of people's lives, especially on social issues like this.

GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I think that we obviously disagree on the statement of government needs to stay out of people's lives.

When you're talking about innocent unborn children, there needs to be somebody to stand up for them. I'm going to stand up for them. For people at the end of their lives for government to come in and say, "You know what? You're no longer useful, so we think that you don't really deserve any treatment or help, we're going to let you die," I don't -- I don't -- I mean, that's not in my soul.

I believe in life from conception until death, and government doesn't need to interfere with that and come in and say that "You know what? Your life's not important enough. And for the rest of us, we're going to let you die."

KING: The economy, obviously, will be the defining issue among the Republicans, and certainly between the Republican nominee and President Obama. You were talking about your flat tax plan with John Harwood from CNBC the other day. And he presented an analysis to you that said the wealthy get a bigger tax break under the flat tax than the working or the middle class. And you said, quote, "I don't care about that."

Now, you went on to explain it, and I get what you mean. Your argument was you put that money back into the hands of those people. They'll invest in new companies. They'll create new jobs, and everybody will benefit. But can't you imagine an Obama campaign ad that says the middle class has suffered in this recession, and Rick Perry, I don't care about that. You worried about that?

PERRY: This president talking about caring about the middle class, this president talking about caring about 14 million Americans that are out of work, this president talking about 2.5 million people that have lost jobs while he's been the president of the United States, overseeing an absolute disastrous economy, now that is the height of hypocrisy in my opinion.

So my tax plan, everyone gets a tax cut, everyone, and every sphere out there gets a tax cut. So the idea that we're going to give incentives to individuals, no matter where they might be, to invest their money to create jobs.

If the wealthy have money that they feel confident, that they can go create jobs, and they will in turn get a return on their investment, God bless them. That's what America's all about.

I hope we can give confidence to people all across this country, not only those sitting around the coffee table at home tonight watching and going, who is it out there who really has a plan that can get us back to work. But those who have wealth, who are not going to invest it because this administration is being confiscatory in how they've dealt with taxes and the regulatory side has been absolutely monstrous from the standpoint of job creation in this country.

KING: Let me close by getting a quick sense of your world view. The president of the United States right now is at the G-20 summit in France. The European debt crisis is the overwhelming topic and, as you know full well, what's happening there is affecting us here.

If a President Perry were on that trip, not President Obama, what would be your single, most important demand of the Europeans?

PERRY: Well, it wouldn't be a demand. It would be watch what we're doing. We need a president who reflects the philosophy of "we're going to cut our spending, we're going to do things that we have to do to get our country back working," and President Obama can't do that.

Because what he has done is following the Greece model. And if we don't get our spending under control, if we don't reduce the tax burden on our job creators, we're going to end up just like Greece.

So President Perry is going to be over there and saying, "Listen, we've made the hard decisions over here. We put our house in order. We have the transparency in our Federal Reserve. We have things going on that have to occur to get our country back going, and you all need to do the same thing.

Lastly, Israel in recent days has tested a ballistic missile with the capability of reaching Iran. There's an International Atomic Energy report due out on Tuesday on the Iranian nuclear program.

If that report says Iran is progressing, moving closer to having a nuclear weapon, there's a lot of talk in the region that Israel might take preemptive action. Would a President Perry say, "Go ahead, Mr. Prime Minister, green light that"?

PERRY: Obviously, we are going to support Israel, and I've said that we will support Israel in every way that we can, whether it's diplomatic, whether it's economic sanctions, whether it's overt or covert operations up to and including military action. We cannot afford to allow that mad man in Iran to get his hands on nuclear weapons, period.

KING: Even if it started a war in the region?

PERRY: We cannot allow that mad man to get his hands on a nuclear weapon, because we know what he would do with it.

KING: Governor, thank you for your time.

PERRY: You're welcome, John.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Let's discuss the Perry interview with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger; Republican strategist Ed Rollins also back with us, as well as senior political analyst and former presidential advisor, David Gergen.

David, I want to start with you and I want to start where we ended with Governor Perry, those very tough words, and saying essentially he would green light, give the nod, if the Israeli prime minister wanted to launch a preemptive strike on Iran, if that IAEA report says it's advancing its nuclear program. The world could be having this very conversation early next week. What did you make of the governor's tough comments?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I was surprised. It goes far beyond what American political leaders have generally said. President Obama's nowhere near that. Most military leaders in the United States want to tell Israel, "Don't do it. We will work with you if we think there's an existential threat to Israel. We'll work with you to help eliminate that. But in the meantime, you must not hit them, and we must not green light it."

I think it would be -- I think it could be a very, very tough choice for the next president. Governor Perry, as he's often done, has taken a view that's a really hard-line view.

KING: Ed Rollins, when you listen to the governor -- I spent some time privately with him, too, on the car ride over here. You just saw some pictures of us, talking before he got in the car ride. He's very comfortable in his skin. He's a very confident man. Does he get a second chance in this state? And do you think he's doing the right things? He came in so high, and then he fell so low.

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: That was an extraordinary interview, and if Iowans can see him in the mode he was in today -- and I agree with David. He was a hard line in the end, but he's very conversation. He's very competent, and very articulate, you know. I think he can get back in this race.

I've often thought what if he would have waited until today to jump in this race? He could have raised $20 million, $30 million, he'd be at 35 percent of the polls. He wouldn't have had those four debates that basically did him in. You know, he basically took Bachmann out by jumping in after the straw poll.

But he's still a viable candidate. He's still got $20 million. He still knows how to run campaigns, and as you saw today, this was a confident man. And I think if he ends up doing well on this in Iowa, he'll be in this race all the way.

KING: A confident man, Gloria Borger, but a man who, when he got in the race, was right there as the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. Now if you view this as a horse race, and Romney's up front. So is Herman Cain. In this state, Ron Paul is ahead of him. Newt Gingrich is ahead of him. He's got to pass some other horses before he gets back to that showdown with Romney.

BORGER: Yes, he does. But you know, I kept thinking as I was watching this interview, where is this candidate at the presidential debates? This is a very different person. He's more relaxed. He's more conversational. And actually, he took on Herman Cain very well on the issue of abortion, clearly making a play for evangelical voters.

I also think that he described his immigration policy more sensibly than I've heard him at any of the debates. If this presidential candidate could somehow show up at the debates, I think their campaign would be a lot better off.

KING: And, David Gergen, to Gloria's point, abortion's a big issue here. Immigration is a big issue here. When Governor Perry defends the in-state tuition to the children of illegal immigrants, can he sell that to today's Republican Party?

GERGEN: Not very well. He's going to have to have other issues that transcend, and jobs is clearly one of them. But I do think, John, to echo both Gloria and Ed Rollins, if Herman Cain continues to implode, and his numbers start going down, those voters are going to go somewhere. And if Perry's got two months to begin picking up and bringing back into his fold those voters. And if he can make the kind of appearances he made tonight on your show and in Iowa, he is going to be a stronger candidate. He could become the alternative. There are a couple of others like Newt Gingrich who could seemingly become the alternative to Romney. But I think he acquitted himself rather well in the overall scheme of things today. And I think it's really important what's happened to Cain.

BORGER: You know, John, it's interesting. The initial campaign strategy was to keep him away from interviews like the one you just did and put him in those debates. I think now by putting him out there, the voters are going to get a different view of this candidate that they didn't see at the debates, and that could be very good for Rick Perry. He's a great retail politician. Once again, 25 years he's never lost an election. His point about beating Kay Bailey Hutchison, 21 points ahead of him, you turn him loose for eight, nine weeks here, he'll get back in this race.

KING: Well, he's camping out in Iowa this week. We'll see how the comeback strategy works. David Gergen, Ed Rollins, Gloria Borger, thank you.

And when we come back tonight's "Number." It is on the mind of every Iowa Republican. And when we get to that number, well, it will be cold.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: You can tell by looking around at the colors here. Thanksgiving, three weeks from today. But for Republican presidential candidates, well, today's "Number" is the only one that really matters here in Iowa.

The number, 61. That's right, just 61 days until the Iowa caucuses. That's Tuesday, January 3. So the next 61 days then absolutely critical. They're some candidates hope for political survival, and they know it. They're crisscrossing the state of Iowa, trying to connect with potential supporters. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If there's anything I know about Iowans, it's never been about ourselves. It's always been about this next generation. That's what I remember growing up here in Iowa.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You've done a great job of getting Iowa back on track again. If Washington were doing as well as you're doing, we'd all be at 4 percent unemployment and happy as we could be.

PERRY: Some think we can fix Washington with a pair of tweezers, middling around the edges, if you will. I happen to think we need to take a sledgehammer to it.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm running the kind of campaign that I always say, for Iowa, for eastern Iowa in particular, running a "Field of Dreams" campaign, which is, if you build it, they will come. And we're building it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So what is the state of the race here? A top Iowa conservative activist and a top Iowa political reporter give us the pulse, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" coming up at top of the hour. Let's check in with Erin for a preview.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, there, John.

Well, you've been talking to Rick Perry, talking about the whole Herman Cain situation. We're going to continue to follow up on that. And, well, we're excited about our guest. Spencer Wiggins has known Herman Cain for 27 years, worked for him for 10 years, intimately involved with the human resources departments at Burger King and Godfather's Pizza.

And he's going to come talk about the Herman Cain he knew because as, of course, you know this comes down to questions of character. We're going to try to get to the bottom of that. That's our special guest coming up at the top of the hour.

Back to you.

KING: Important interview, because questions of character, questions voters in Iowa here are asking. Erin, thank you. We'll see you in a few minutes.

And let's have a conversation about what's happening here, including the Cain follow up with Becky Beech. She's an Iowa conservative activist and a Republican. And Jennifer Jacobs, the chief political correspondent for "The Des Moines Register."

Let's start with that question. Are people asking character questions about Herman Cain? Do they believe or at least have some suspicions about these allegations? If you look at the polling, and I just talked to Steve Gross (ph), who says he's doing fine. Do you believe it?

BECKY BEACH, IOWA CONSERVATIVE ACTIVIST: I do believe it. I think Iowans think that it's another kind of "I Gotcha" sort of a move. If it begins to not be forthcoming, or he doesn't have answers, I think he'll have some trouble but right now I don't see any trouble for him.

KING: You did some reporting on this last week when all this surfaced. You've seen our poll. You've seen your poll, Herman Cain right at the top. Is that holding?

JENNIFER JACOBS, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "DES MOINES REGISTER": They're sticking with him, but they're definitely watching the news and watching every little detail that comes out. I think most of them have said if the harassment borders on the physical kind of harassment, and that proves to be true, then that's where they draw the line. Verbal, they don't mind so much. I mean, they think that's egregious, too. But they're not sure what's true. But I think if it turns out to be some physical harassment, they're not going to be happy.

KING: You are undecided at the moment.

BEACH: I am. KING: One of the -- one of the people who understands what it takes to organize in a caucus state like Iowa. Does Herman Cain have the infrastructure? If he can sustain the support, does he have the infrastructure, or does he fade?

BEACH: No, I think he does have the infrastructure. He's been working very hard for a very long time. So I do think he has the infrastructure unless some of the accusations start to stick.

KING: I just had a conversation with Governor Perry who has had some very rough debates. If you look at the poll, he's gone from the top to the middle of the pack, yet he seems to think this is the place where he turns it around and gets a win. Do you see that?

JACOBS: We're not seeing a whole lot of signs of traction yet. He hasn't had the distractions some of the other campaigns have had. He's been able to really stay on message and roll out some policy proposals. And it sounds like his campaign is going to keep doing that in the next few weeks, but he's had some struggles with immigration in Iowa.

And he's -- a lot of say they just want a really fearless president and he did have those problems in the debate. People said we don't want a president -- I just talked to a lot of Republicans who say they don't want a president who trips over his own tongue, who doesn't look confident in front of a live camera. So he's got some difficulties here.

KING: You're nodding your head at that.

BEACH: Well, I am, because I think that what people will think that what they say on "Saturday Night Live" is the real person. And it's not the case, but a lot of people will start to believe.

KING: Governor Romney will be back out here on Monday. He invested so heavily in this state in 2007, 2008. He got burnt by Mike Huckabee. A lot of people in his campaign are tempted. They say, boy, if you look at the polls, he's right there. If he could win Iowa somehow and then win New Hampshire, this is over, 60 or 70 days from now.

BEACH: I don't think he has to win.

KING: Should he come here?

BEACH: I think he should and I think he will, and I don't think he has to win here. A second, third place, I think, would be fine for him. He does have a solid infrastructure here in people that support him.

KING: Becky Beach, Jennifer Jacobs, we're going to keep in touch with both of you as we come back, a lot of the next 61 days. Can you believe that?

JACOBS: I know.

KING: It will be snowy by the time they vote.

JACOBS: Thank you.

KING: Thank you.

And next, the truth about what you might call trickle-down explanations.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: The effectiveness of trickle-down economics has been a flashpoint in our politics for more than a quarter century. But there is no debate about trickle-down explanations. They don't work. Tonight's "Truth" is that Herman Cain is so far failing what could be a critical test of his leadership.

He is angry at the emergence of sexual harassment allegations from his days as a restaurant industry lobbyist back in the late 1990s. He insists he did nothing wrong and that the cash settlements the National Restaurant Association paid to women did not concede any wrongdoing. While the allegations are serious, we have not heard directly from any of the alleged victims.

So on the substance I would argue Mr. Cain deserves the benefit of the doubt or at least the same right he would have in a court of law: innocence until proven guilty. But in the court of public opinion, Cain and his team are failing, and the truth is that matters, whether or not the harassment allegations have any merit. The first response was to say almost nothing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Cain, did you engage in unwanted sexual advances toward members of the Restaurant Association? Mr. Cain, can you answer the questions, though, please? Did you ever engage in innuendo with any members of the Restaurant Association?

HERMAN CAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Then Cain did acknowledge being aware of the allegations, but he flatly denied any knowledge of the settlements.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAIN: As far as a settlement, I am unaware of any sort of settlement. I hope it wasn't for much, because I didn't do anything.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: A few hours later he was discussing in varied detail -- in detail the very settlements he said he knew nothing about.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CAIN: We ended up settling for what would have been a termination settlement, quite frankly.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What would that be about?

CAIN: Maybe about three months' salary or something like that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Cain later explained he wasn't trying to hide or be misleading. He said he simply couldn't recall some important details.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAIN: I can't recall. She was younger than I was, I do know that. But I really can't recall.

Other than that, I can't even recall what some of the other things were, and as I mentioned, they were all found to be baseless.

Remember, you know, in 12 years, a lot of stuff can go through your head. This wasn't exactly something that I had top of mine, where I was trying to recall every little detail that went on 12 years ago.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: But his evolving explanations don't pass the sniff test. Mr. Cain's own words here are telling. Cain told Forbes.com on Wednesday that, quote, "I told my wife about this in 1999, and I've got nothing to hide. When I sat down with my general campaign consultant, Curt Anderson, in a private room in our campaign office in 2003, we discussed opposition research on me. It was a typical campaign conversation. I told him there was only one case, one set of charges, one woman while I was at the National Restaurant Association."

Sounds like he could recall some very specific details of that meeting, and, remember, that was eight years ago. He also called the meeting with Anderson routine. And that's right. Smart campaigners sit their candidate down and wander through any potential embarrassments.

If Cain and his team were smart enough do that running for Senate back in 1999, then they should have been smart enough do that now running for the presidency.

Regardless of whether these character questions are fair to Mr. Cain, presidential politics is a rough-and-tumble business, and the presidency is a very rough-and-tumble and unpredictable job. Incomplete and inconsistent accounts raise questions about just what happened, but they also answer important questions about how a candidate and his team handle pressure, handle crisis.

"Truth" is, in that regard, this is hardly candidate Cain and team Cain's finest hour. That's all from us tonight. Tomorrow, live interviews here with presidential candidates in this key state. Now, though, "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

BURNETT: Thanks, John.