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THE SITUATION ROOM

Gingrich Gambles on Immigration; GOP Candidates Come out Swinging on Airport Security; Candidates Spar Over Afghanistan; Political Analysts Review GOP National Security Debate

Aired November 23, 2011 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Newt Gingrich takes a huge gamble on immigration, separating himself from the GOP pack at this week's presidential debate.

And all of the candidates came out swinging at the TSA. How do they propose securing U.S. airports?

Plus, one of the view gaffs of the debate involving Herman Cain and me, the little guy.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in "The Situation Room."

It was the 11th major face-off among the candidates but this week's CNN Republican Presidential Debate focused in on national security. I moderated the contest at historic Constitution Hall right here in Washington, D.C. And among the many noteworthy exchanges was this one, in which Newt Gingrich, a front-runner right now, advocated what many conservatives clearly don't like -- amnesty.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH, (R), FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that we ought to have an H-1 visa that goes with every graduate degree in math, science and engineering so that people say here.

(APPLAUSE)

About five blocks down the street, you'll see a statue of Einstein. Einstein came here as an immigrant. So let's be clear how much the United States has drawn upon the world to be richer, better and more inclusive.

I think you have to deal about this as a comprehensive approach that starts with controlling the border, as the governor said. I believe ultimately you have to find some system of -- once you've put every piece in place, which includes a guest-worker program, you need something like a World War ii Selective Service Board that frankly reviews the people that are here. If you've come here recently, you have no ties to this country, you ought to go home, period. If you've been here 25 years, three kids and two grandkids, you've been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church, I don't think we're going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you out.

REP. MICHELLE BACHMANN, (R), MINNESOTA & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think we should make 11 million workers who are here illegally legal.

MITT ROMNEY, (R), FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Amnesty is a magnet. When we have had in the past programs that have said that if people that came illegally can stay legally for the rest of their life, that encourages more people to come here illegally. The right course for our immigration system is to say we welcome people who want to come here legally. We're going to have a system that makes that easier and more transparent. But to make sure we're able to bring in the best and brightest -- and by the way, I agree with the speaker in terms of -- I would staple a green card to the diploma to anybody that has a math, science, masters, PhD. We want those brains in the country. But in order to bring people legally we have to stop illegal immigration.

RICK PERRY, (R), GOVERNOR OF TEXAS & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The real issue is securing that border. This conversation is not ever going to end until we get the border secure.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: The Republican candidates revealing their divisions over illegal immigration. Let's take a closer look.

Joining us, our CNN chief political analyst, Gloria Borger; and our senior political analyst, Ron Brownstein.

I thought it took guts for Newt Gingrich, with a Republican group, with Republican caucuses and primaries only weeks away, to take a stand like that in favor of allowing some millions of illegal immigrations to say in the United States legally.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: He used the word humane and said serious people do not want to deport 12 million people who have been in this country for some time. Immigration, the question of immigration has been the quick sand for Republican political candidates. You saw it with Governor Perry, who called his colleagues heartless if they didn't agree with him on his version of the Dream Act.

BLITZER: And it hurt him.

BORGER: And it hurt him. I think Newt Gingrich -- I don't know if you agree -- was a little more artful. He didn't call his colleagues heartless but said it's humane to let people to stay here. How affects him in a state like Iowa remains to be seen.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: The big gamble for Gingrich in the primary, a big gamble for Mitt Romney in the way that he responded, further digging in if he gets to the general election. Gingrich last night reminded me of George W. Bush as a candidate in 2000. I remember one town hall meeting in South Carolina where he talked about moms and dads that come across the border to make a better life for their kids. Very different language than they hear now from Republican candidates. There is a question, the rise -- Gingrich's rise has primarily been fueled by Tea Party activists. That's where he's gained the most in the polls. These are voters who are unhappy with the pace of racial change in the country and also, in many cases, concerned about illegal immigration. There's a risk there. Romney took a risk too in terms of, if he gets a nomination, his ability to harvest economic discontent among Hispanics, which is real.

BORGER: Yes. And Michele Bachmann went after Newt Gingrich immediately saying it was amnesty, clearly trying to get his voters back.

When I asked Newt Gingrich after the debate about whether this has hurt the Republican Party with his panic voters, he said, absolutely, but with all immigrants not just Hispanics. This is a problem the Republican Party has.

BLITZER: It is clear to me, in a general election, what Newt Gingrich is saying, that you point out, that can help him.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

BORGER: Sure.

BLITZER: In a Republican contest, it probably won't necessary help him. Is it too far fetched to think, given the polls where he stands right now, Newt Gingrich, he's already looking ahead beyond the Republican contests?

BORGER: Maybe, but probably not. I don't think so.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: I don't think so.

BROWNSTEIN: This is classic, Newt.

BORGER: Yes.

BROWNSTEIN: One thing that's interesting about the debate, Wolf, is I think Americans today saw the Newt Gingrich we both covered in the '80s and '90s who was almost imperial in intellectual self-confidence and radiated the sense that he was the one who had the long-term vision. I see myself as transformative figure, he said back then. That's the moment when he in most in that expansive mode that he is the most likely to say something that is not pre programmed that can be rhetorically flamboyant. But I think he did a much better job, as you suggesting, of explaining his position than Rick Perry did. The "National Review" editorialized in favor of him after the debate. Even if you polled Republicans, most would say it's unrealistic to deport 12 million people and you have to make some decisions. BLITZER: I was surprised how tough and hard Mitt Romney came down on him, saying this is a magnet.

BORGER: Sure --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: You're going to just further encourage illegal immigration. You have to get rid of these so-called --

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Mitt Romney has to try to run to the right of Newt Gingrich. It is the conservatives that are most skeptical about Mitt Romney. Any time he has an opportunity to run to the right of Newt, he will do it, and to the right of Rick Perry. The interesting thing is Perry couldn't take on Newt Gingrich. Newt Gingrich is Newt Gingrich. He'll surprise you and you never know which Newt Gingrich is going to show up. Will it be the intellectual Newt Gingrich with lots of ideas, kind of unafraid, or will it be the sour, nastier Newt Gingrich that is not likeable. I think the first Newt Gingrich was at your debate last night.

BLITZER: Certainly, he surprised all of us, given where he was over the summer. Everyone though his campaign, as it was beginning, was already over. All of a sudden, new polls show he's right in the thick of things.

BROWNSTEIN: It's testament of the power of these debates --

BLITZER: Yes --

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN: -- and the way it's changing the way you run for president.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN: -- overwhelming everything else.

BLITZER: We'll see if this last debate winds up helping or hurting them.

Guys, don't go too far away. We have lots to discuss.

And the candidates were united in slamming the TSA. Some calling for profiling of Muslims?

Also, a sharp clash over the U.S. military position in Afghanistan.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The candidates were united in their criticism of the TSA at this week's CNN Republican presidential debate, but they had different proposals about what should be done to enhance airline security. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROMNEY: We can do a lot better than the TSA system. It will get better over time. We can use better technology. We can also identify people who are lower risk and allow them to go through the process more quickly than the current process.

PERRY: I would privatize it as soon as I could and get rid of those unions.

(APPLAUSE)

PERRY: It's working in Denver. They have a program where they are privatizing it. Airlines and other private-sector groups work together to do the security in our airports and it makes abundant good sense.

RICK SANTORUM, FORMER SENATOR & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think TSA is a good example. We should find the bomber not the bomb. Other countries have done it. Israel is probably the best example of that. But to put this enormous expense on the federal government and put the enormous expense on the traveling public for pat-downs and other intrusions, I think is too much money. I agree with Governor Perry. I voted when I -- when this bill came up, I voted to allow for privatization. I was not for this being a government function. I thought it could be a private function.

BLITZER: Who would be profiled?

SANTORUM: The folks that are most likely to be committing these crimes. Obviously, Muslims would be someone you look at. Absolutely. Those are folks who are radical Muslims would be someone you'd look at, absolutely. Those are the folks -- the radical Muslims are the people that are committing these crime, by and large, as well as younger males. These are things -- not exclusively. But these are things you profile to find your best, most likely candidate.

BLITZER: Congressman Paul?

REP. RON PAUL, (R), TEXAS & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's digging a --

(APPLAUSE)

PAUL: That's digging a hole for ourselves. What if they look like Timothy McVeigh? He was a pretty tough criminal. I think we're using too much carelessness in the use of words that we're at war. I don't remember voting on a declared declaration of war. Oh, war against terrorism.

HERMAN CAIN, (R), FORMER GODFATHER'S PIZZA CEO & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe we can do a lot better with TSA. I call it targeted identification.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: What does that mean?

CAIN: We can do -- targeted identification. If you take a look at the people who have tried to kill us, it would be easy to figure out exactly what that identification profile looks like. But I want to make sure I get to the Patriot Act. I believe we can do a whole lot better. The answer I believe also may be privatization.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, basically saying there should be religious profiling in this particular case. Muslims should get enhanced security pat-downs at airplanes as opposed to Christians, Jews or other religions.

BROWNSTEIN: That whole discussion was fascinating because in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the divisions in the Republican Party were suppressed. You see them over time re-emerging with the Libertarian strain versus the national security strain versus the "we don't want the government expanding in any sphere" strain, which I guess Perry embodied.

On the one hand, advocates profiling will say, if you look where the threats have come from in terms of domestic terrorism, the predominant risks are Muslim Americans or radical Muslims in general. On the other hand, the vast, vast majority of Muslim Americans are not security threats. Any kind of attempt at profiling will involve a lot of people getting caught in a net that don't glove there.

Jon Huntsman made a point that probably resonates with a lot of Americans. He said, we have a brand around the world. If you start making distinctions along those lines, you'll put a shadow over that, especially in the Muslim world, which we are trying to reach out to.

BORGER: The debate we're used to hearing about national security versus civil liberties is in the Democratic Party.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. Yes.

BORGER: We heard that immediately in the aftermath of the Patriot Act, during the debate on the Patriot Act, post-9/11.

And now, Ron Paul again said we have to protect the rule of law. And he kept making that point over and over and over again. He said, I didn't vote for war. I don't see that this is a war. And everybody deserves their civil liberties. and you better be careful here. He could have been talking to a liberal Democratic constituency there and not the Republican Party.

BLITZER: It raises in my mind. I just want you to weigh in. Ron Paul, you know, he's got a strong fowling up. He always gets 10, maybe 15 percent of these Republican conservative voters out there. Most people don't think he's going to get the Republican nomination.

Is it possible, he said he's not interested right now that he would -- he's not running for re-election in Congress, he's giving that up -- that he would run as a third party candidate? BROWNSTEIN: That's a fascinating possibility. Look, I think -- I agree with you. Ron Paul is probably not going to be the nominee, but these debates have been fascinating, and he has been a very effective communicator of that libertarian strain (ph) of the Republican Party which, as I said, was very much suppressed after 9/11 and the Bush administration.

But with this forum, I'm guessing, he is enlarging that constituency in the Republican coalition. I mean, hearing these arguments presented as effectively as he's done so is probably, I think, widening the circle of people responsive to them. And so, there is, I think, if he wanted to go in that direction, there would be some people who's march along with him.

BLITZER: not just Republicans. Democrats would be happy to go along with them on defense cuts, for example.

BORGER: Sure. And when you --

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: But when you heard about him on the budget deficit and he said, actually, they'll tell you they're cutting, but they're not really cutting. That speaks directly to people in both parties who don't trust government. This is somebody -- his brand has been much more popular this time around with some Republicans, because he's isolationist.

And Republicans like that, because they don't want to spend money on defense. But also in terms of his civil libertarian stand, you know, sort of hands off with Democrats. He has a lot more appeal. He doesn't trust government, doesn't trust the Federal Reserve.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

BORGER: There's a lot of constituency for that right now. So, he would be a very interesting third party.

BLITZER: Yes. I don't think it will happen. It would be a wild card. He's still got a son, Rand Paul, who's a senator. I don't know how that would affect him, but it would be an intriguing moment in this campaign.

BORGER: He would draw from both parties actually.

BROWNSTEIN: You got record low approvals for both parties.

BORGER: Right.

BROWNSTEIN: You got Congress at nine percent, the president a low 40s. There is an opening there for someone, right, left or center, and maybe more than one someone. Absolutely.

BLITZER: Stand by, guys. More to discuss the candidates.

Also, clash over Afghanistan, how quickly should U.S. forces withdraw? How many should be coming home?

And Michele Bachmann weighs in on Pakistan. More highlights from this week's CNN Republican presidential debate.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The subject of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan brought some of the sharpest exchanges in this week's CNN Republican presidential debate.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We spent about 450 billion, so far. 1,700 or so service men and women have lost their lives there and many tens of thousands have been wounded. Our effort there is to keep Afghanistan from becoming a launching point for terror against United States.

NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You want to keep American troops in Afghanistan? You accept hot pursuit. You say no sanctuaries. You change the rules of engagement. You put the military in charge of military side. You overhaul the state department and AID so they get the job done.

And you do it for real and you do it intensely and you tell the Pakistanis help us or get out of the way but don't complain if we kill people you're not willing to go after on your territory where you have been protecting them.

RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are not fighting a war on terrorism. Terrorism is a tactic. We are fighting a war against radical Islam. And with radical Islam is telling all of the radical Islamist leaders are saying is that just wait America out. America is weak. They will not stand for the fight.

They cannot maintain this. They'll set time limits. Politics will interfere, and we will tell the people in Afghanistan, we will tell the people in Iraq and other places that we will be the strong force in the region.

JON HUNTSMAN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think we need to square with the American people about what we've achieved. We need an honest conversation in this country about the sacrifices that have been made over nearly ten years. We have dismantled the Taliban. We've run them out of Kabul.

We've had free elections in 2004. We've killed Osama Bin Laden. We've upended, dismantled al Queda. We have achieved some very important goals for the United States of America. Now, the fact that we have 100,000 troops nation building in Afghanistan. When this nation so desperately needs to be built, when on the ground, we do need intelligence gathering, no doubt about that.

We need a strong Special Forces presence. We need a drone presence, and we need some ongoing training of the Afghan national army, but we haven't done a very good job defining and articulating what the end point is in Afghanistan. I think the American people are getting very tired about where we find ourselves today.

ROMNEY: Are you suggesting, governor, that we just take all our troops out next week? What's your proposal.

HUNTSMAN: Did you hear what I just said? I said we should drawdown from 100,000. We don't need $100,000 troops. We don't need $100,000 troops. Many of whom have even crossed the wire. We need a presence on the ground that is more akin to 10,000 or 15,000. That will serve our interest in terms of intelligence gathering and special forced response capability.

And we need to prepare for a world not just in South Asia, but indeed, in every corner of the world in which counterterrorism is going to be in front of us for as far as the eye can see in the 21st century.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: On this issue, Gloria and Ron, on this issue of Afghanistan, Huntsman, Jon Huntsman, the former U.S. ambassador to China, former governor of Utah, someone who was appointed by President Obama, he takes a pretty strong stance, 100,000 troops, way too many. U.S. has got to get out. Stop nation building after ten years in Afghanistan.

BORGER: It reminded me of Joe Biden. He sounded exactly like Joe Biden to me when they were having the internal discussions about Afghanistan over the White House and whether to have a surge or not. I mean, what's interesting, generally about this republican debate, is nobody is saying we should send more troops into Afghanistan. Mitt Romney disagrees with the president on the timetable for withdrawal as do all of the candidates.

BLITZER: Only those surge troops.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, right.

BLITZER: The others are all staying through the end of 2014.

BORGER: December 2014. They are gone. So, we're talking about when is the right -- how is the right way to drawdown the troops but not whether or not to draw down the troops. So, it's a completely different discussion than we had ten years ago or even, by the way, four years ago.

BROWNSTEIN: You know, this, again, I think is a fascinating discussion. And in many ways, somewhat dynamic what we talked about in domestic security divisions in the Republican Party that were suppressed in the aftermath of 9/11 and under George W. Bush are re- emerging.

You have, obviously, a kind of dominant view in the party, remains, I think closer to the neoconservative view that he embodied, but you see in Huntsman kind of the emergence of a more realist view, and as well as what he said about Afghanistan. He also talked about making economics, the primary focus of our foreign policy.

And you have the libertarian strain which Ron Paul is, again, rather ably carrying the banner for. So, you see, in array of opinion, re- emerging in the Republican Party after almost a force consensus, I think, in the aftermath of 9/11 under George W. Bush.

BORGER: And there's a reality, of course, that we can't afford to be in Afghanistan forever. And these are fiscal conservatives who don't want to raise taxes to pay for anything. So, they're constrained.

BLITZER: Huntsman is putting all his eggs in New Hampshire in that basket. He's got to do well. I don't know if he can beat Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich in New Hampshire, but that is his goal right now. Is it doable?

BROWNSTEIN: Very difficult. But not -- you know, look, that is the electorate that's most favorable to him. Independent is going to vote. It's more upscale. Fewer of the evangelical Christians or both, you know, resistance and Mormonism in some cases, and also, he's less of a social activist and others.

So, it is the best audience for him, but he has had trouble establishing traction. And, you know, funny, listen to him last night. So many of the things he said, talking about third-party candidates, he sounded more like he was talking to unaligned voters, moderate independent voters than he was to kind of Republican --

BLITZER: I got a lot of tweets. I got a lot of reaction. A lot of people out there, they liked Huntsman. They thought he would do really well in a Democratic primary.

BORGER: Yes, he would do well in a Democratic primary.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Well, but in New Hampshire, you point out, independents can vote. But I still believe if you look at his polling in New Hampshire, he's nowhere.

BROWNSTEIN: Right.

BORGER: And you've got Mitt Romney in some polls up at 40 percent. It'd be very, very difficult for him to catch Mitt Romney. If he came in a very close second --

BROWNSTEIN: He could go on in Florida. That's the kind of scenario.

BORGER: Right, he could go on in Florida, but, other than that, I think he'd have to reassess.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Right. And he wouldn't be able to raise money.

BROWNSTEIN: Gingrich is not only a Tea Party candidate. Gingrich is drawing strength from the more modern elements of the party as well where Huntsman would have to grow.

BORGER: Because of immigration. BLITZER: Stand by, guys. We got more to discuss, including more highlights from CNN's Republican presidential debate, including what the candidates think about the deadly violence exploding in Syria.

And Pakistan, one candidate calls it, and I'm quoting now, "a concern that ought to keep everyone up at night."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Another huge, huge issue that came in at the CNN Republican presidential debate -- Pakistan. It's a security issue. The candidates didn't necessarily agree on what the United States needs to do. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON HUNTSMAN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Pakistan is a concern. That's a country that might keep people up at night. You have not President Zardari in charge but General Kayani over the military, which is also responsible for ISI. You have the youngest demographic on 160 million people in Pakistan. You have madrassa movement. You have over 100 nuclear weapons. You've got trouble on the border.

You've got a nation state that is a candidate for failure. And I say it's a haven for bad behavior. It's a haven for training the People who seek to do us harm. And an expanded drone program is something that would serve our national interest. I think it must be done and I think it must be consistent with recognizing the reality on the ground.

MICHELE BACHMANN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Pakistan has been the epicenter of dealing with terrorism. They are, as Governor Huntsman said, there are Al Qaeda training grounds there and the Haqqani Network that can be trained there as well. And they also are one of the most violent, unstable nations that there is.

We have to recognize that 15 of the sites, nuclear sites are available -- or potentially penetrable by jihadists. Six attempts have already been made on nuclear sites. This is more than an existential threat.

We have to take this seriously. A nation that lies, who does everything imaginable wrong, at the same time they share intelligence data with us regarding Al Qaeda. We need to demand more. The money that we are sending right now is primarily intelligence money to Pakistan. It is helping the United States. Whatever our action is, it must ultimately be about helping the United States and our sovereignty, our safety and our security.

RICK PERRY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They've showed us time after time that they can't be trusted. And until Pakistan clearly shows that they have America's best interest in mind, I would not send them one penny, period.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Also, we didn't play that clip, but you heard Michele Bachmann's ideas on Pakistan very or highly naive.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Pakistan is sort of in the role that China usually plays in presidential campaign where the out party always promises to be tougher, and you're seeing that. What was interesting about last was Michele Bachmann, who is often at the vanguard of whatever issue, positioned herself more as the voice of reason, saying, look, there are limits. This is a frustrating relationship. But completely severing it and completely cutting off aid would not be in the U.S. interest.

So it was fascinating to watch that kind of dynamic play out in a debate where the entire incentive is to just simply say I'm going be tougher.

BLITZER: She's a member of the intelligence committee in the house. She knows the subject matter.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It shows. And she also had the line Pakistan is too nuclear to fail. And it says it all, which is we cannot allow them to fail. We have to not write blank checks as Perry said. And she said later on when we interviewed her, she said we're not writing blank checks, we are getting something for our money. It's easy to say, OK, Pakistan forget it.

BLITZER: She reminded everyone that Pakistan has a nuclear arsenal. She said 15 nuclear weapons sites and six of them, and I don't know if this is true --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: -- that six of them have attempted to be penetrated. That's pretty scary.

BROWNSTEIN: It was overshadowed but what he said about immigration, but had he not said that, Newt Gingrich's comments about Pakistan may have been a big headline out of the debate when he was talking about essentially unlimited a hot pursuit regardless of the view of the Pakistani government. I think if he did become the nominee and certainly the president, that would be a position that would be one of extraordinary tension that you would bring into a relationship that has a lot of tension to begin with. Incentive is always to be tougher as the out party. The problem is once you become president there are usually other considerations.

BORGER: And the irony is I think one of the questioners raised the point that as a result of getting Osama bin Laden, a good thing, our relationship with Pakistan has gotten worse, which is not a good thing. Gingrich said, it should be bad, because if I were president, I would be angry at Pakistanis, the implication being that they knew where Osama bin Laden was.

BLITZER: The thought she's saying Pakistan is too nuclear to fail, what she was basically saying is that this could be what you fear in Iran if Iran would get a nuclear bomb, you would have a disaster. But Pakistan already has dozens of nuclear bombs, and if the Islamists or Al Qaeda elements, Taliban elements were to take over, the Haqqani Network you would have a nuclear threat.

BORGER: And you could have the same conversation about Iran, which is, are you doing enough? Should we sanction the central bank? You spoke about that. Or should we get involved in any military action if Israel decides --

BLITZER: That's why she said you have to have a nuanced policy towards Pakistan. You can't let it get into the hands completely of the bad guys.

BROWNSTEIN: My colleagues Mark Amador and Jeffery Goldberg wrote a piece a few weeks ago which was really chilling on the degree to which the hold over the nuclear weapon is already fraying. And this is a problem -- there are many problems in the world for which is there is not a simple -- perhaps any solution. There are problem you manage instead of solve. Pakistan may be one of those. China may be one of those. The Arab-Israeli conflict may be one of those. And presidential debates are usually about I have a solution. In fact, the best you can do is manage the problem and avoid the worst rather than achieve the best.

BLITZER: All right, guy, stand by. More to discuss from the CNN Republican presidential debate, including what the candidates think should be done about the brutal government crackdown unfolding right now in Syria.

Also, Gloria's interview with Newt Gingrich just moments after the debate. What does he think about his recent surge to the front of the pack?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The deadly violence is exploding in Syria according to the United Nations. More than 3,500 people, mostly peaceful protesters, have been killed in recent months. So what do the candidates think should be done with the situation in Syria?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HERMAN CAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would work with our allies in the region, to put pressure to be able to get our allies and other nations to stop by oil from Syria. That would be one thing that I would do. But I would not support a no-fly zone.

PERRY: That's one of a multitude of sanctions and actions that I think work very well from the standpoint of being able to pressure that regime, overt, covert, economic sanctions. I mean, I think there are a number of ways.

But when you put the no-fly zone above Syria, it obviously gives those dissidents and gives the military an opportunity to maybe disband, want to get out of the situation that they are in in Syria as well.

So I think if we're serious about Iran, and that's what we're really talking about here. We're talking about Syria is a partner with Iran, in exporting terrorism all across that part of the world and around the globe. So if we're serious about Iran, then we have to be serious about Syria as well. So I think a no-fly zone is an option, one of a multitude of options that we should be using, and we should put them in place if we're serious about Iran not getting the nuclear weapon.

RON PAUL, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you have a no-fly zone over serious, that's an act of war. If what if we had China but a no-fly zone over our territory? I don't think we would like that.

And I think we should practice a policy of goodwill to other people. What about saying that we don't do anything to any other country that we don't have them do to us? When we have a no-fly zone over Iraq, it was meant to be a regime change, evidently for someone to have regime change. But what is our business? Why should we spend more moneys or lies to get involved in another war?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Once again the two Texans strongly disagreeing, Rick Perry and Ron Paul. Rick Perry, he's the governor of Texas. He's never lost an election in his life. He got millions and millions of dollars in campaign money. He's doing a lot of ads. He's not doing well in the polls.

BROWNSTEIN: You never get a second chance to make a first impression. And part of the problem Rick Perry has is that Texas has been a one- party state throughout his career at the state level. Democrats have not won a state office since 1994. He really had not had to face a lot of major league pitching in his political career.

And when he came out and announced for president, he immediately had to do three presidential debates roughly within the same month. If he was first covering politics he would have months of coffee shops without anybody watching him getting his sea legs. The poll suggests a big chunk of the Republican Party saying look, we can't envision this guy carrying the banner into November. And changing that impression after it is initially made is very hard. Ask Dan Quayle, for instance.

BLITZER: There were no major gaffes on his part in this debate.

BORGER: Yes, but that's not the standard. That's kind of a low bar, and the bar was low for him, because he had done so badly during these debates. But, you know, the thing about Rick Perry is, he seemed to me to be somebody that consultants were available. They wanted them to run for president. They thought in theory he would look terrific up against Mitt Romney.

But here was a candidate that had no set ideas that was catapulting him to the presidency. He hadn't been thinking about attorney policy for years and years, the vision for the country or where he wanted to take the country. And I'm sort of olds fashioned. I believe when you run for president, you want to have those things in place before you say I want to run. You don't get the ideas after.

BROWNSTEIN: Although in the last few weeks, ironically, he has put together an agenda that would have a lot of appeal to the faction of the party that he's most appealing to.

BLITZER: Like what, for example?

BROWNSTEIN: Flat tax? The idea of a part-time legislature, cut their pay and send them home. The hardline on foreign policy -- he consistent took the hardline in that debate on Pakistan, on Syria. He is kind of pulling together a kind of approach -- eliminating the EPA.

BORGER: It's ad hoc.

BROWNSTEIN: I think it's consistently the most conservative, the most 10th Amendment. The problem is again the credibility threshold that he suffered. He fell below the threshold of the early debates. And it's not clear people are listening in the same way they might have if this had rolled out in a smoother way.

BORGER: I think it's sort of ad hoc agenda. When you don't own your agenda and there are a bunch of other people's ideas thrown at you and you say I like that, you don't internalize it so you can't remember which three cabinet post us want to cut because it wasn't really your idea and you hadn't been talking about it for years, right?

BROWNSTEIN: There's an underlying theme where he is trying to position himself the candidate most determined to roll back Washington on the most fronts. And you're right, the specifics get away from him. But that common theme is there. There was a -- it kind of made sense, there is an audience in the Republican Party that resists Mitt Romney. But he has just struggled after an initially very positive reaction. He kind of fell below the credibility threshold, and t's not clear he can get a second hearing --

BLITZER: Unlike the other Republican candidates, you can't accuse him of being an Washington insider because never really been a Washington insider.

BORGER: That's Herman Cain's calling card too, right?

BLITZER: He was of the National Restaurant Association, a Washington lobbying group, and he was president, as you well remember.

BORGER: OK.

BLITZER: Don't go away yet. More to discuss. Newt Gingrich speaks to our own Gloria about the debate only minutes after the debate. You're going to find out what he thinks about the recent surge to the front of the pack.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Only minutes after the debate this week at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. our own Gloria Borger had a chance to speak with the speaker, Newt Gingrich.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think somebody up there is going to be president. And I think they hope it will be me, but one of us is going to be. It's important for us to unify the country by having an honest conversation, not just a series of slogans.

BORGER: And can you respect on this? Here you are saying I think it's going to be me. Last summer, if I recall, your campaign was imploding and your staff was leaving you, and here you are. Can you sort of reflect upon that for a minute about what's happened?

GINGRICH: It's a little bit like Mark Twain. I think the reports of my death are premature, which is what he said when someone wrote an obituary before he died. All of our core staff stayed. Calista and I had a team over the years, and all stayed except for one person. The professional politicians all left because I don't run a traditional campaign. I run a very idea oriented, very positive campaign.

BORGER: What happened?

GINGRICH: Now?

BORGER: Yes. Why are you where you are?

GINGRICH: I think what's happened people want substance. They want the exact conversation you and I had, exactly what this debate was like. They really know the country is in trouble and they really want to have a serious person willing to talk through at a level of detail that's real and not just political slogans.

BORGER: One last question. Looking at folks around you on the podium tonight, who is it going to come down to, you and who else, do you think?

GINGRICH: I always think that Governor Romney will be one of the two finalists. He's got the money, he's run before, he's got a tremendous base in New Hampshire. If it comes down to two people, I hope I'm one of the two, but I'm absolutely certain the other one will be Mitt Romney, because he just has five years of campaigning and that gives you an enormous base.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: It was interesting, Gloria, I got the impression, I spoke to him off camera, you spoke to him on camera -- in his own mind, his he really beginning to think he could potentially be the Republican nominee?

BORGER: I think he's beginning to but he's trying not to because I think when Newt Gingrich in his political career, we were talking about this, gets to that sort of point of success, he often tends to shoot himself in the foot. So he would rather not do that.

But I think he's beginning to think that he's hit his stride, that the public does want the substance that he offers. But don't forget, he also understands he comes with an awful lot of baggage in his personal life, in his lobbying life, in his political history, and that those things clearly, once you reach that top of the top tier, those things tend to get relived. BLITZER: All of that stuff has been widely discusses over the years, and unless there's more surprises there hasn't been discounted?

BROWNSTEIN: I don't know if everybody in the current political electorate knows all of the history of Newt Gingrich. First of all, this is an incredible personal story. He quoted Mark Twain. Let me quote F. Scott Fitzgerald who said there are no second acts in American life, the most famous wrong thing ever said about America.

Newt Gingrich's recovery is not only from last summer when his campaign cratered, but from 1998 when he resigned in disgrace after losing House seats over the backlash against the impeachment of Bill Clinton and just a general frustration over the way he was running the House.

So this is an extraordinary testament to his tenacity and diligence in returning to be a major voice in the Republican Party for the fifth different decade. This is a guy who started in the 1970s with the Conservative Opportunity Society. So it's extraordinary that way.

But there that issue that Gloria said. This is a guy who has not been disciplined in the past, who has said things that hurt him at critical moments, like in the budget negotiations with Bill Clinton in 1996 that led to the crybaby front page cover in "The Daily News." so there's a lot there, but there's no doubt that these debates have allowed him to showcase his greatest strength, which is a command of a lot of ideas.

BLITZER: Can you imagine, Gloria, a debate between Newt Gingrich and Barack Obama?

BORGER: I could. I think it would be interesting, too. Newt Gingrich has called for Lincoln-Douglas style debases where you travel around the country.

BROWNSTEIN: Didn't he do with Bill Clinton in 1995 in New Hampshire? They went up together.

BORGER: I don't whether -- I don't know whether President Obama would do it, but it's something that he really excels at. He's a professor. He's an academic. He's an intellectual. He loves to have the time to talk about his ideas. The problem is even his friends will tell you, for every 100 ideas he has, 10 may be good and the rest may not be so.

BROWNSTEIN: And we have not really debated yet any of his ideas -- 15 percent flat tax, eliminate the capital gains are, convert Medicare into a premium supporter voucher system with conventional Medicare as an option, create private accounts under Social Security as George W. Bush did. Most of those are ideas that Mitt Romney has opposed in the past, especially the in the flat tax, it will be interesting to see if Romney feels like he has to engage hip on those fronts or solely using this opening that Gingrich provided on immigration.

BLITZER: We've got a little dessert coming up guys. Guys, stand by.

Up next, one of the evening's few, shall we call them, gaffes, a little gaffe, that involved Herman Cain and me.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: One funny moment when Herman Cain had this to say about me. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAIN: No, Blitz, that's oversimplifying it. I happen to believe that if you allow our intelligence agencies to do their job, they can come up with an approach -- I'm sorry, Blitz, I meant Wolf, OK?

(LAUGHTER)

Blitz, Wolf. Since we are on a blitz debate, I apologize, Wolf.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: No need to apologize. I've been called a lot worse. That was funny.

BORGER: It was funny. And you called him Cain, which was funnier.

BLITZER: He laughed. I laughed. Afterwards we spoke.

BROWNSTEIN: Maybe he confused you with Dick Butkus, Lawrence Taylor? You could be a professional linebacker. You have that speed and power combination.

BLITZER: In junior high I was a blitzing linebacker. That was a long time ago.

All right, I introduced everybody. I pointed out -- I pointed out that my real name, everybody knows this by now, my real name is Wolf Blitzer. Listen to what Mitt Romney had to say after I pointed out I'm really Wolf Blitzer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer, and, yes, that's my real name.

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm Mitt Romney, yes, Wolf, that's also my first name.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Maybe not necessarily.

BORGER: Willard.

BLITZER: Willard.

BORGER: Yes.

BLITZER: Willard. Mitt is his middle name. But Willard is his real first name. BORGER: He was nervous.

BROWNSTEIN: A guy facing credibility changes on changing positions might want to be rock solid on their name.

BORGER: Do you forget your real name?

BLITZER: No. On a scale of things I give him a pass.

BROWNSTEIN: A good night for all of them.

BLITZER: A good night for all of them, good night for CNN, good night for voters out there. I think they gained a little bit of knowledge going into the voting booth.

BROWNSTEIN: More light than heat, a rarity in these debates.

BLITZER: We'll keep it up. Guys, thanks very much.

I want to leave now with this holiday footnote. An estimated 45 million turkeys will be cooking inside ovens across the United States tomorrow. But two turkeys received a nontraditional presidential pardon over at the White House today. President Obama noted his recent moves bypassing Congress as he granted the pardon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some of you may know that, recently I've been taking a series of executive actions that don't require congressional approval. Here's another one. We can't wait to pardon these turkeys, literally. Otherwise, they'd end up next to the mashed potatoes and stuffing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Named Liberty and Peace, the turkeys weigh 45 pounds each. They'll live long and happy lives at George Washington's home in Mount Vernon just outside Washington D.C.