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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Interview with Rick Santorum; Interview with Ron Paul; Interview with Gov. Jan Brewer

Aired February 22, 2012 - 21:50   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: John, thanks. Good evening, everyone. It's Anderson Cooper. Welcome to special 360 coverage of tonight's big Republican debate in Mesa, Arizona.

Let's take you back on to that stage, to show you what's going on. There have been many, but perhaps none as important as this one. The four men competing for the GOP nomination. Mitt Romney is coming off three defeats, facing a stiff challenge in Arizona and Michigan next Tuesday from Rick Santorum.

A lot of pundits saying that if Governor Romney can't win Michigan, he can't win the nomination. Rick Santorum has been on a roll, since winning Colorado, Missouri, Minnesota. But the polls are, once again, tightening. Newt Gingrich looking to get some momentum back.

The stakes were high going in. And it showed tonight on the stage. As always, we're joined by our political panel. We're going to show you in a few minutes the key moments, the best moments, the most important moments, in kind of a recap, in case you missed them from the debate.

Chief political analyst Gloria Borger with us, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, Republican strategist Ari Fleischer, who was press secretary for President George W. Bush. Also senior political analyst David Gergen is in the hall. John King is there, Eric Erickson, editor in chief of RedState.com, a lot of people have talked to.

Ari Fleischer, let's start with you. Who do you think did particularly well tonight?

ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER PRESS SECRETARY TO GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, Anderson, I thought that it was a good night for both Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney. They, to me, had the best debating points. Newt was like the old Newt that we saw previously in the debates. He came out and was affable, was thoughtful, was deep.

And I thought that Romney was just regular, solid, steady. Hit doubles, Mitt Romney. Rick Santorum missed his chance tonight. He had a real opening. And I think he missed it.

COOPER: Donna Brazile, from the Democratic side, what did you see on that stage tonight? DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: You know, the city of Mesa is famous for Spring Training. And I have to tell you, I don't think Rick Santorum was ready for the big leagues tonight. The spotlight was on him because he's one of the front runners.

Mitt Romney had a terrific night. But Newt Gingrich is still the statesman in the party. And who knows what is going to happen next week. But Ron Paul had his funny gene. And he tried to make the best of a bad situation as well.

COOPER: Gloria Borger, standing by with Senator Rick Santorum. Gloria, take it.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi, Anderson. I'm standing here with part of team Santorum, who came here to cheer the senator on this evening. Let me ask you the first question, senator, which is how did it feel to be the center of attention tonight?

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It was great. I enjoyed it a lot. I mean, it was -- you know, you fight for that real estate. And now you have the opportunity. And you know, I felt like with Ron on one side and Mitt on the other, they were smacking back and forth a little bit.

But that's part of the process. I think we laid out our vision for the country and why we're the best to take on President Obama and the best person to make the kind of change that is necessary in Washington.

BORGER: I have to tell you, senator, that at a couple points, it got quite heated between you and Governor Romney, when you're talking about earmarks. And essentially, you seemed to be calling Governor Romney a hypocrite. Was a reading that right when it comes to earmarks?

SANTORUM: Well, when someone criticizes you for earmarks and then goes out and -- at the same time that I was earmarking, goes out and says I want those earmarks, and goes to Washington, D.C. and asks for them, and then says, we should have a process on how we spend money, and he describes the process about how we did actually do earmarks -- I think the governor is just misinformed.

And he's making points that just simply fall flat.

BORGER: So am I right, hypocrite?

SANTORUM: I don't like to call people names, but I think the governor's accusations are completely wrong, false.

BORGER: You also seemed to get some negative audience reaction here this evening when you suggested that Governor Romney would be incapable of taking on Barack Obama on the health care issue because of his health care reform plan in Massachusetts. You say that a lot in the campaign.

SANTORUM: I do. Usually get a very good reaction. This was -- I think this was a pretty favorable Romney crowd, from what I could tell, but that's OK. We're -- we're in a place that he's going to do very, very well, here in Mesa.

But look, I think it does take the issue of health care off the table. I mean, President Obama is going to turn around and say, what are you criticizing me for? I mean, this is your plan. In fact, in some respects, your plant is to the left of mine.

As I mentioned, Governor Romney's plan makes every small businesses of over 10 employees cover people with health care, as opposed to President Obama's, over 50. So, in some cases, his plan is actually more onerous on business.

BORGER: What do you say to those Republicans who say that you are spending way too much time talking about divisive cultural issues, that they don't want to get into a culture war, and that, if you're the nominee, this would doom you with women voters and in fact with independent voters?

And you know those voices are coming from pretty high places in Washington.

SANTORUM: Well, actually, the Gallup poll says we're leading among women and we're doing well.

People care about families. People care about what is happening to our society. But I do get these questions, as John King tried to do on contraception and other things, that are sort of outrageous types of questions, and then the next question from the reporter is, why are you talking so much about social issues?

So, they ask and then they say, oh, but you're talking about social issues all the time.

Look, I understand the game. And we're just going to go out and continue to stay on message about what we're going to do to make this country more prosperous, build up a strong foundation of our country, which clearly is -- as I talked about before, we have got to do something to help strengthen the American family. And I'm going to continue to talk about those things.

BORGER: OK, Senator, thanks very much.

SANTORUM: Thanks, Gloria.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Good to see...

SANTORUM: You can't shake hands.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: I have got the microphone here -- back to you, Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Chief national correspondent John King is on the stage with Ron Paul -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And, Anderson, to respond to Senator Santorum quickly there, I understand the game as well, and I don't think it's out of bounds to ask a presidential candidate about something they said during a presidential campaign, but that's how the process works.

You're right. Congressman Ron Paul is with me.

And, Congressman, at the end of the debate tonight, you said the greatest misconception was that people think maybe you can't win. You are the only candidate on the stage tonight who has yet to get a win. Came pretty close in Maine, but when you look at the arena, Arizona and Michigan next, Wyoming and Washington State, then 10 states on Super Tuesday, to prove your point, doesn't Congressman Paul need to get a win?

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It would be nice, but we haven't finished counting all those votes in Maine yet.

So, when we count up our delegates, I'm in second place, the absolute allocation of delegates. So the delegates is the name of the game. But I can expand on this whole thing about the polling. When I'm polled against the Democrats and the independents, I do better than the rest.

And the Republican Party claims they want somebody to win. And, of course, you understand why I have appeal to somebody outside of the Republican Party, because the foreign policy is different, I have concern about civil liberties, and I'm a fiscal conservative. So I have a broad base of appeal.

So that sort of goes by the way. And of course I have to fight to get that message out.

KING: What was your sense tonight from your perspective of the most interesting or the most significant policy disagreement or confrontation or discussion?

PAUL: Well, I think the most disagreement that is clear-cut is probably what you were able to point out.

Three guys here, they say they want to go and fight Iran and go into war. And I have a different position, which is very legitimate and very important, important to me. And some people sometimes kid me and they say, you know, Ron, if you change your foreign policy, you might get more support.

But the young people that come to see me, that's their biggest issue, is the war and the spending. And I work this in, the war and spending and overseas and the crisis that we have.

And I had a chance, you gave me a chance to mention that tonight. I think that's key. But it definitely is a different policy. But when I can further explain it, I can show where I am closer to Eisenhower, because he was restrained. He got rid of the war in Korea. He didn't get involved with troops in Vietnam. He didn't get involved in the Formosa Strait.

And I remember very well '56, he would not fight, go to war over the Suez Canal. So I really like it. And he was a military man. And I have been in the military, the others haven't. So I think in many ways, I would follow some of the advice of how Eisenhower, as well as our founders.

KING: Well, let me bring you back to the very first question of the debate, the gentlemen's concern about the debt, which is something you have talked about for some time.

As you know, there are even many of those who say debt and deficit reduction two different things, should be a big goal. At this moment, 8 percent unemployment, 8.7 percent in this state right now, many say, at this moment, though, take it easy and go more slowly because if you pull too much money back, you might hurt the economy too much.

You say cut a trillion dollars in your first year. Do you worry that could have a negative economic impact?

(CROSSTALK)

PAUL: No, because it's a myth to say that if the government doesn't spend the money, it won't get spent.

We're just talking about who should spend the money. When government spends the money, they make malinvestment and they take care of their friends. When the people get their trillion dollars back and they spend, they're going to spend it by making economic decisions.

After World War II, 10 million men and women came home and we cut the budget by 60 percent and we cut taxes by 30 percent, and the Depression finally ended, proving my point that the government shouldn't be spending money; the people should be spending the money.

KING: Congressman Paul, appreciate your time tonight. We will see you on the campaign in the days ahead.

And, Anderson, you hear a very consistent message from Congressman Ron Paul. He does make the point he is second in delegates right now. As we move on to a more crowded calendar, the big question before us is, can he win a state? And we will know much better on that front in 10 days or so, Anderson.

COOPER: And I believe consistent was the one word he used to describe himself, to answer your question, John, which you asked to all the candidates.

I want to bring in some of our other analyst who have been watching the debate along with everyone else. David Gergen is joining us.

David, your perceptions. Who won tonight, who did well? DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Anderson, this was a showdown between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, a very significant debate.

And Mitt Romney was the winner by a significant margin. He came in better prepared. He remained on offense all night, he knew his brief, he was able to go on attack against Santorum very, very well. I think he was a dominant figure in a hall that seemed to be dominated by pro-Romney supporters.

On the other hand, Rick Santorum, who has had some terrific debates leading up to this, seemed nervous tonight coming out of the gate, and he couldn't quite get into the groove on the economic issues, and in particular, it was interesting how Romney and then Ron Paul managed to make Santorum defend himself as a legislator and put him smack in the middle of Congress. I don't think that served him well.

And one last question, Anderson, though, I think this did help Romney in Michigan. I think it will help him on Super Tuesday, but did it help him looking toward November? I think that's a tougher question. There are a lot of women out there tonight on Twitter who believe the candidates really live in the past, that they're men who sort of don't understand the women's rights movement, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out.

COOPER: It will indeed.

Erick Erickson, let's check in, editor in chief of RedState.com.

Erick, you haven't been a fan of Romney all along. Do you think he did particularly well tonight?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think between Santorum and Romney, he did much better than Santorum, particularly in the first half.

Santorum seemed to find his footing in the second half of the debate, but in the first half, he stumbled a lot, he was nervous, I think anticipating the attacks, and the attacks game. Romney was very smart to get Rick Santorum to defend voting for Arlen Specter, something that won't go over very well with Tea Party groups.

At the same time though I think we saw the same dynamic we saw in Florida, and when Gingrich and Romney went after each other so negatively, Santorum and Ron Paul shined a little brighter in Florida. Tonight, I really think Gingrich probably shined a little brighter than the others. He came off as the statesman that we haven't seen in a while. He has some very good lines and he kept bringing everything back to Barack Obama. Is it enough for him on Super Tuesday? Probably not, but he may have just locked in Georgia and Tennessee, which is all I think he's really expecting on Super Tuesday.

COOPER: Donna Brazile, to David Gergen's point about a women problem, do you agree that that was shown on the stage tonight?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, absolutely.

I know the Republicans would like to make this an issue about religious liberty, but for many women in the country, those who are currently on birth control and those who have used birth control in the past, this is about access to reproductive health issues.

I think the Republicans came off tonight as being basically a blast from the past, not understanding this is a women's health issue and not a religious liberty issue.

COOPER: Ari, do you think that's how it came off? Or do you think there are many who say this is a religious liberty issue?

ARI FLEISCHER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No, I think this is one of those Republicans are from Venus, Democrats are from Mars and independents are from both, and that's going to be the jump ball of the general election.

There are valid arguments on both sides. If you look at this as just a birth control matter, you're going to disagree with Republicans. If you look at this as a religious freedom matter and a question of government being able to mandate to the private sector how much you can charge for a product and telling you that you have to give it out for free, you're going to look at it from a Republican point of view.

That's what campaigns are all about and both sides to have make their arguments to win the independents.

COOPER: Gloria Borger is standing by with Arizona Governor Jan Brewer -- Florida.

BORGER: Hi, Anderson.

Governor, thanks so much for being with us tonight, and thanks for having us in the state of Arizona.

Let me ask you. Earlier this evening, you spoke with our colleague John King, who moderated the debate. You said that if you were so inspired, you might actually endorse someone this evening. Can you tell us, were you so inspired?

GOV. JAN BREWER (R), ARIZONA: I was really inspired tonight. I thought this was a fabulous, fabulous debate, so much so that now maybe I'm a little bit even more confused. I thought they all did fabulous.

BORGER: But, now, you have met with each of the candidates, except for Ron Paul, I gather.

BREWER: Right. Yes.

BORGER: And can you share with us anything that they told you to try and tip the balance in their favor? I know you met with Mitt Romney just before this debate. BREWER: Well, I think that, you know, of course, I understand they come in and they want to tell you all about their positives and where they want to go.

And they were concerned about the things that I was concerned about in trying to make my decision. And so we discussed a lot of that back and forth. And, tonight, each and every one of the three at least that I met with satisfied that in some instances.

BORGER: But, obviously, immigration a huge issue here, a huge issue for you.

Is there anything that struck a chord with you this evening because there was a lot of discussion about building a fence, building a double fence, building a wall, strengthening immigration laws. Is there anyone in particular who you thought made the best case that would sell in the state of Arizona to the Republican Party?

BREWER: Well, to be perfectly candid, I liked exactly what Newt Gingrich has said about really working with the governors of those border states.

I think that's really, really important. But that doesn't mean that the other candidates won't do that. I think that we hear from all of them that they understand that that is a huge issue for America, and that they need to stand tall and to secure our borders, and that we're a nation of laws, and we believe in the rule of law.

BORGER: OK, thank you so much, Governor.

BREWER: Thank you.

BORGER: And tell us when you're going to endorse -- back to you, Anderson.

BREWER: I will. Thank you.

COOPER: And we will be waiting for that.

We're going to take a quick break.

When we come back, we will play you some of the key moments from the debate in case you missed any of that.

Let us know what you think. We're on Facebook, Google+. Add us to your circles. Let me know who you think did particularly well. I'm on Twitter right now @AndersonCooper.

Later, we will also pay tribute to a fallen colleague who snuck into Syria to expose to Assad regime's bombardment of civilians, Marie Colvin and a French photojournalist killed in the shelling. Marie did the last reporting of her life on this program. We interviewed last night just hours before she was killed. We will show the vital work, her life and her legacy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: Hey, we're back with special 360 coverage.

A contentious, potentially key Republican debate just wrapped up. We will bring back the political panel shortly.

First, though, some of the pivotal moments from tonight's debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Congressman Paul, you've questioned the conservative -- fiscal conservative credentials of all these gentlemen but particularly this week Senator Santorum. You have a new television ad that labels him a fake. Why?

PAUL: Because he's a fake.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(BOOING)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm real, John. I'm real.

PAUL: Congratulations.

SANTORUM: Thank you.

He's out there on television ads right now, unfortunately, attacking me for saying that I'm this great earmarker, when he not only asked for earmarks for the Salt Lake Olympics in the order of tens of millions of dollars, sought those earmarks and used them, and he did as the governor of Massachusetts, $300 million or $400 million.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I didn't follow all of that, but I can tell you this -- I would put a ban on earmarks.

Our Games were successful. But while I was fighting to save the Olympics, you were fighting to save the bridge to nowhere.

KING: Quickly.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

SANTORUM: You're misrepresenting the facts. You don't know what you're talking about.

What happened in the earmark process -- what happens in the earmark process was that members of Congress would ask, formally, publicly request these things, put them on paper, and have them allocated, and have them voted on a committee, have them voted on, on the floor of the Senate.

Congressman Paul -- Congressman...

ROMNEY: Attached to a bill? Attached to a bill?

SANTORUM: As part of the bill. Congressman Paul...

ROMNEY: And the president can't veto it?

SANTORUM: He can veto the bill.

ROMNEY: The whole bill, but he can't veto the earmark?

SANTORUM: Well, we tried to do that, by the way. I supported a line-item veto.

ROMNEY: That's what I support. That's what I support.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

SANTORUM: Hold on. Hold on.

KING: Since birth control is the latest hot topic, which candidate believes in birth control, and if not, why?

As you can see -- it's a -- it's a very popular question in the audience, as we can see.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But I just want to point out, you did not once in the 2008 campaign, not once did anybody in the elite media ask why Barack Obama voted in favor of legalizing infanticide. OK?

ROMNEY: You said that you personally opposed contraceptives but that you -- you said that you voted for Title X. You...

(CROSSTALK)

ROMNEY: But you used that as an argument, saying this is something I did proactively. You didn't say this is something I was opposed to; it wasn't something I would have done. You said this -- you said this in a positive light, "I voted for Title X."

(LAUGHTER)

SANTORUM: I think it's -- I think I was making it clear that, while I have a personal moral objection to it, even though I don't support it, that I voted for bills that included it. And I made it very clear in subsequent interviews that I don't -- I don't support that...

(BOOING)

SANTORUM: ... I have never supported it, and -- and have -- and on an individual basis have voted against it.

Yes, Governor, you balanced the budget for four years. You have a constitutional requirement to balance the budget for four years. No great shakes. I'm all for -- I would like to see it federally. But don't go around bragging about something you have to do.

Michael Dukakis balanced the budget for 10 years. Does that make him qualified to be president of the United States? I don't think so.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Let's bring back the panel, John King, Ari Fleischer, Donna Brazile, Erick Erickson, David Gergen, and Gloria Borger.

Ari, what do you make of Newt Gingrich's comment about President Obama supporting infanticide?

FLEISCHER: Well, I don't know if the transcript would show if you go back to whether reporters asked questions like this, but I really think do think is a case when, in a race like this, the mainstream media does focus on Republican social vulnerabilities, what they perceive as those questions.

And I would fascinated to go back and see what hardball questions they asked of the Democratic candidates when they debated to see if it was just as vigorous on their alleged weak points. That was the point Newt was making, and I thought he was going to give the stem-winder again back to the media, and he kind of pulled the punch on it and let it hang out there.

COOPER: Donna Brazile?

BRAZILE: I just -- I'm a little bit sad that we didn't talk about Satan tonight, because I would have had my best evening.

(LAUGHTER)

ERICKSON: Santorum brought him up once.

BRAZILE: Well, it wasn't enough. He should just leave it behind.

FLEISCHER: Embrace it.

BRAZILE: But the truth is, is that during the 2008 contest, we had a lot of discussion about these issues on the Democratic side, not as much as perhaps Republicans like.

But, remember, in a Democratic base, our base tends to focus on health care, access to all, equality, justice issues. And of course we had a big conversation about the war in Iraq and other important national security issues as well.

ERICKSON: Anderson, if I can jump in on this one, this reminds of something, and it finally hit me tonight.

In 2010, you had a lot of Democratic analysts and pundits and a lot of reporters even, even some of the top echelons of the Republican Party fretting that the Republicans were becoming the party of no, and it was going to hurt them in 2010. We're seeing this now with the contraception issue, that it's going to drive women to vote for the Democrats.

You have reporters fretting about it. You have Democrats fretting about it. You have the top of the Republicans fretting about it. In 2010, the party of no, it didn't hurt the Republicans. I'm not quite convinced that the contraception issue 11 months from now, 10 months from now is going to be hurting the Republican Party.

BORGER: I think it could. I disagree with you there. I think these are issues that are really important to women, and women don't forget these things.

I thought, however, that Santorum handled it well tonight, because when he was asked about it, you know, he said just because I'm against something doesn't mean that I'm going to legislate against it, which means that he may personally oppose contraception, but it doesn't mean he's going to pass federal legislation that opposes contraception.

But I do believe that this could if it continues become a serious, real issue. And there already is a gender gap. So that's a problem.

(CROSSTALK)

GERGEN: I want to go back to that. There has been a gender gap now for some years, as you well know.

And that's because many women have moved into a position of thinking as Donna is arguing that this is about reproductive rights. I thought when this argument first started about the church, that the Republicans were in a very strong position, because it did look like the Obama administration was forcing the Catholic Church into taking positions that were really contrary to their beliefs.

But then it has now sort of morphed out of that. Once Obama found his compromise, it has morphed out of that. And it's been a more general conversation about contraception, and even tonight about culture when Rick Santorum got into what is happening to families.

And for a lot of women, it's sounds like four white guys who are up there telling them here is how we're going to tell your life.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Before you guys continue, I just want to play some of the exchange between Romney and Santorum on contraception. Let's play that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: Senator, I just saw a YouTube clip of you being interviewed where you said that you personally opposed contraceptives but that you -- you said that you voted for Title X. You...

(CROSSTALK)

ROMNEY: But you used that as an argument, saying this is something I did proactively. You didn't say this is something I was opposed to; it wasn't something I would have done. You said this -- you said this in a positive light, "I voted for Title X."

(LAUGHTER)

SANTORUM: I think it's -- I think I was making it clear that, while I have a personal more objection to it; even though I don't support it, that I voted for bills that included it. And I made it very clear in subsequent interviews that I don't -- I don't support that...

(BOOING)

SANTORUM: ... I have never supported it, and -- and have -- and on an individual basis have voted against it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: I think this was one of the points, as someone on the panel earlier said, that Romney was able to put Santorum squarely in the center of Washington politics.

BORGER: Right, and I think that's a problem for Rick Santorum because the more that Mitt Romney makes Rick Santorum look like an earmarker, look like an insider, look like, oh, OK, you supported Arlen Specter over a true conservative because of the team, the inside Washington team, you know, that's trouble for Rick Santorum, particularly with Tea Party voters with whom he's strong with right now, Anderson.

GERGEN: Anderson, just to add to it, any time a candidate in a national debate starts talking about Title X, tries to distinguish it from Title XX, and is trying to defend himself on that, he's got problems.

KING: Well, there's a reason that governors are more successful, historically, in presidential elections. They're chief executives of their states. They haven't cast hundreds if not thousands of votes, and they don't learn for better or worse when they get to Washington the language where Senator Santorum is trying to describe some of the votes.

Speaker Gingrich tends to avoid this better than most congressional candidates for office, but even he occasionally starts to describe the process. And whether you agree or disagree with the answer, it gets into Washington gobbledygook. It's one of the things that was such a problem for Bob Dole if you go back...

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Ari will remember, right?

FLEISCHER: Rick Santorum came into tonight with lots of momentum and excitement and he didn't take advantage of it.

He got bogged down in legislatese and senatorialese. It was almost as if he didn't have a strategy coming into tonight. His strategy should have been to make the case that Mitt Romney is an inauthentic conservative who changes his views, and I will always speak from the heart. I'm the authentic conservative. And whether you agree with me or disagree with me, you will always know where I stand.

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: He missed that chance tonight.

BORGER: In all of these debates, when we watch the candidate claw their way up and they finally get to that -- and they're great -- Santorum had two terrific debates before this debate. Then you get to that middle hot seat, and you're under attack, then they seem to have problems because they're not used to it.

FLEISCHER: But not Newt. Newt had another strong night tonight.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: But he was not in the center seat.

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: That's a good point. And I don't think it's going to help Newt win any elections, but he had a good night tonight.

(CROSSTALK)

GERGEN: He had a very good night.

BRAZILE: But given the volatility on the Republican side, I wouldn't be surprised if Newt Gingrich can find a way back to being a front-runner again in a couple of weeks.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: We have to take a quick break.

When we come back, we will play some more of the things that Gingrich said, particularly about President Obama, saying he's I believe he said among the most -- probably the most dangerous president in U.S. history. We will play you the exact sound bite, so you can hear for yourself. We will have our panel talk about that.

Our coverage continues of the Republican debate again ahead. We will be back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH: Everybody who serves in the fire department, in the police department, not just the first responders, but our National Guard, whoever is going to respond, all of us are more at risk today, men and women, boys and girls, than at any time in the history of this country. And we need to understand that's the context in which we're going to have to move forward in understanding the nature of modern combat.

I think this is a very sober period, and I believe this is the most dangerous president on national security grounds in American history.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Pretty bold statement by Newt Gingrich there.

Let's talk to the panel about that.

Debate moderator John King is with us, Ari Fleischer, Donna Brazile, Erick Erickson, David Gergen, Gloria Borger.

Erick Erickson, do you believe that's an argument that can win for Republicans in the general election, that Obama is the most dangerous president on national security grounds?

ERICKSON: Oh, I'm totally partisan on the issue and freely admit it.

Yes, I think this president has been a disaster on national security grounds. Yes, he may have gotten Osama bin Laden, something George W. Bush didn't do, but it seems like he spends more time apologizing for our allies that he does for our enemies.

Our South America policy under Bush and Obama, by the way, has not been very good, and we don't seem to have a comprehensive policy on Mexico when they're, in effect, in a civil war. We don't know what we're doing with Iran. We want to keep talking. On North Korea, we want to keep talking. On China, it seems like they're our friend, except when they're not our friend.

Yes, I don't think this president really has a comprehensive vision on foreign policies, playing hit and miss.

GERGEN: David Gergen, do you buy that?

GERGEN: No.

(LAUGHTER)

GERGEN: I will say this.

From my perspective, Barack Obama is very vulnerable on a range of domestic issues, starting with the economy, but his strength, his surprising strength has been in international affairs. He's not only gotten Osama bin Laden, but he didn't get us into a war in Iraq that most Americans oppose. He's getting us out of the war in Iraq. He's getting us out of Afghanistan, most of America now. Whether he does it sloppily or not is another question.

But I think he's handling -- these sanctions against Iran appear to be making headway now. We may have -- we have slowed Iran down. There are many different reasons I think why it can be argued that Barack Obama is a much more successful foreign policy president than he is a domestic president.

Has he gotten everything right? No, but I think, in terms of the arguments in November, I think he will have the better arguments on foreign policy than he has on domestic.

BORGER: Well, and the big question out there is Syria. And I didn't hear any definitive solutions tonight to what we should do in terms of what is going on in Syria.

And I also remember that Newt Gingrich during this campaign was back and forth and back and forth on the question of Libya and whether we should go in unilaterally or whether we shouldn't or whether should be a part of a no-fly zone. And so I don't think there's the advantage there.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Ari Fleischer, can the White House also run on the expanded use of Predator drone strikes, which have been very effective in eliminating the top leadership of al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan.

FLEISCHER: Yes. Frankly, I think it's a mixed verdict. I think you do have to give the president credit for what he did with getting Osama bin Laden. And I think you also have to give him credit for flip-flopping and continuing the George Bush policies of indefinite detention, warrantless wire taps, Guantanamo, keeping it open, and the drone strikes, which he's increased, in fact.

I just wish he didn't say George Bush violated the Constitution when he did it, because now Barack Obama's doing the same.

But the worst thing he's done on the other side on foreign policy is Iran. He really missed a chance when he stayed silent when the Iranian people took to the streets to protest the stolen election, to send a signal America stands with the people of Iran to see if the Iranians would take control of their own future. He sat silent; he sat timid. That was a huge missed opportunity. And now Iran is stronger, and it looks like they're going to go nuclear.

BRAZILE: They're not stronger. Iran in fact -- go ahead.

COOPER: Donna, weren't there -- there were many people in Iran at the time in the green movement who did not want the U.S. to visibly...

BRAZILE: That's right.

COOPER: ... be siding with them, because they didn't want it to play into Iranian government hands, if I'm not mistaken.

BRAZILE: And it would have consolidated the people of Iran behind the Iranian government at a time where we're trying to -- to help strengthen those who are on the street.

I think the president made the right decision with regard to Iran, and I think he made the right decision with regard to Israel in making sure that they have what they need to protect themselves against any future attack from Iran. And that's why the White House is working closely with Israel at this time, and helping them prepare.

There are no good options in Syria, and yet tonight, what we heard was just a lot of saber rattling. And on many of these foreign policy issues, I have to tell you, I agree with Ron Paul.

KING: I think it's important to remember, Anderson, at such an uncertain time in the Republican race, they're competing for conservative votes, No. 1.

No. 2, David's point about Osama bin Laden is a fair one. This is an election that is going to be, by and large, barring some big change, some big global event or global crisis, an election about the economy, an election about the role of government, an election about taxes and spending, perhaps the reach of government when it comes to health care.

However, I do think these Republican candidates, and if you talk to anybody in the Obama White House, they get this, too, the giant question mark in our foreign policy right now, front and center, is the question of Iran, the IAEA inspectors told to leave without being able to see the nuclear facilities, the price of gas rising every day here in the United States in part because of this confrontation and the uncertainty. T

So that is a giant question mark as we head deeper and deeper into the election season. We can't, as we speak tonight, have any idea whether it will be a big issue in November, and if it is, how it will play.

COOPER: So the question, of course, is tonight who scored highest among conservatives. We'll ask that to our panel when we come back. A lot more to talk about. Also, we look back at the life and legacy of Marie Colvin, killed in Syria yesterday, just a few hours after talking with us on this program last night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: We're back with special coverage of tonight's Republican debate in Mesa, Arizona. The candidates traded punches on a range of issues. Some of the hardest punches were on earmarks. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SANTORUM: Congress has a role of allocating resources when they think the administration has it wrong. I defended that at the time. I'm proud I defended at the time, because I think they did make mistakes. I do believe there was abuse, and I said we should stop it. And as president, I would impose earmarks.

Governor?

ROMNEY: I didn't follow all of that, but I can tell you this. I would put a ban on earmarks. I think it opens the door to excessive spending. Congress wants to vote in favor of a bill. They should take that bill, bring it forward with committees, have people say -- vote it up or down in the floor of the House and the Senate, have the president say yes or no and move it forward.

You mentioned coming to -- the Olympics coming to the United States Congress, asking for support. No question about it. That's the nature of what it is when you lead an organization or a state. You come to Congress and you say, "These are the things that we need." I was fighting for those things. Our games were successful.

But while I was fighting to save the Olympics, you were fighting to save the Bridge to Nowhere.

SANTORUM: It's really interesting, Governor, because the process you just described of an open process, where members of Congress put forth their -- their suggestions on how to spend money, have it voted on individually, is exactly how the process works.

So what you're just suggesting as to how earmarks should work in the future is exactly how they worked in the past.

ROMNEY: I'm sorry. The 6,000 earmarks that were put in place under the speaker's term, for instance, were oftentimes tagged onto other bills.

SANTORUM: You're entitled to your opinions, Mitt. You're not entitled to -- to misrepresenting the facts, and you're misrepresenting the facts. You don't know what you're talking about.

What happened in the earmark process, what happens in the earmark process was that members of Congress would ask formally, publicly request these things, put them on paper, and have them -- have them allocated and have them voted on the committee, have them voted on in the floor of the Senate. Congressman Paul...

ROMNEY: Attached to a bill?

SANTORUM: As part of the bill. As part of the bill.

ROMNEY: And the president can't veto it?

SANTORUM: He can veto the bill.

ROMNEY: The whole bill, but he can't veto the earmark?

SANTORUM: Well, we tried to do that, by the way. I supported the line item veto.

ROMNEY: That's what I support.

SANTORUM: Hold on. Hold on.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: We're back with our panel again. Who do you think appealed to conservatives the most tonight?

FLEISCHER: Newt Gingrich. You know, I think Newt had one of those nights -- and this is why debates don't always drive voter behavior, although in this cycle, they increasingly have -- but I don't think this one will for Newt.

But Newt had that commonsensical appeal, and Newt had the more thoughtful appeal. And he approached it with a good conservative point of view, especially when we talked about energy production in this country. He made some points.

Rick Santorum spoke -- anytime you talk about the committee and the floor, you're losing. You're talking Washington inside process. And that's what hurt Rick Santorum tonight.

KING: Well, Anderson, this earmark debate has become definitional in the Romney/Santorum tug of war. Now, as I said in the question, it's a defining piece of the federal budget, but this is a litmus test to the Tea Party.

They look at what happened in Congress, but they believe, whether it's right or wrong, that this is the gateway to corruption in Congress, and so it's become a big issue in the race.

And Governor Romney has decided to push it, despite the fact if you took away all the earmarks for the last ten years, you wouldn't do a huge role in cutting the debt of the country. But it has become -- politics is about math. Senator Santorum has been growing, in part because he's picking up Tea Party support. He's new in terms of as being the candidate at the center of the stage.

This is part of Governor Romney's effort to tell the Tea Party voters around the country, especially in Michigan right now, which happens to vote on Tuesday, "Take another look at this guy. He's not who you think."

ERICKSON: I would to a degree disagree with that and from the Tea Party's perspective, Anderson. Congressman Jeff Flake of Arizona, Senator Tom Coburn from Oklahoma, they call earmarks the gateway drug to the federal government.

If you look at every major controversial piece of legislation that's been passed in the past few years, it has required the president or the Congress and the appropriators to add earmarks to get particular votes. So if you got rid of earmarks, and we've seen, it's become inordinately more difficult to pass certain pieces of legislation in Congress. That's why -- that's why they were posted. Let me tell you, I talked to a good conservative friend of mine today who doesn't like Mitt Romney. He doesn't like Gingrich. It's not me, by the way. And he doesn't care for Santorum. And he said Santorum is the guy where his heart is, but every time he hears Santorum hiding behind Jim DeMint on earmarks, which is what I've been saying, as well, it makes him diminish Santorum a little bit.

BORGER: What was kind of interesting tonight was Santorum made the point, what's the difference between asking for earmarks and approving earmarks? Because you, Mitt Romney, asked for earmarks for the Salt Lake City Olympics, which of course, gave Ron Paul an opening to say this is what's wrong with Washington. There is no difference. And Gingrich had a great line.

GERGEN: But Anderson, I want to come back to a more general point. And that is, how these debates fit into a narrative of the whole year. And I have to say, when you have candidates in their final debate spending so much time on earmarks, as opposed to talking about Barack Obama's record and putting him on trial, in effect, through these debates, I think that that's a net negative for Republicans.

ERICKSON: They really got into the weeds tonight.

KING: But isn't that because, Eric, isn't that because the reason we have the volatility, the reason we've had so many leaders in the race -- I won't use the term front runner any more. I don't think we have one at the moment -- is because there is this trust issue. Boils down to conservatives around the country saying, "Who can we trust?"

ERICKSON: Absolutely. And the earmark debate is part of that trust.

(CROSSTALK)

GERGEN: Here's the thing. I think the more -- the harder the time they have getting the conservatives to trust them, they have to play more and more to the conservative base. And that's fine for getting the nomination.

But in terms of winning the election, you've got to have far more than the conservative base. And they have driven so far over to the right in order to convince the conservatives, I think they're paying a price in terms of their positioning for the general election.

BRAZILE: Well, think about it. Mitt Romney tonight, I believe, John, said that Arizona immigration law -- SB-1070 -- is a model for the country. That's going to come back to hurt him in the fall when he tries to go out and tell the rest of the country why the Arizona law is good for the country.

Again, he's pandering to the choir, but he has forgotten that he has to tell it to the congregation in the fall.

ERICKSON: That's why, actually, I agree with Ari that I really think that Newt Gingrich probably did himself the most help tonight, because Romney and Santorum did battle each other into the weeds, trying to prove you could out-conservative each other, and Gingrich really kept trying to bring the fight back to Barack Obama.

But I've got to really tell you: I was disappointed. No offense to John, but I was really expecting the final four to fly to the moon to battle each other over contraceptives.

BORGER: But you know, I think they actually all did what they came to do. I mean, Mitt -- Mitt Romney had to make Rick Santorum look like an insider and a big spender; at the same time, looking presidential.

Ron Paul had to be candid and be anti-Washington.

And Newt Gingrich had to look like the visionary who was above it all. And I think they each played to type to a degree.

FLEISCHER: All three except for Rick Santorum, because I think Rick Santorum did miss that chance tonight. He was on the ascendancy the last couple weeks. It's been all about Rick Santorum.

And tonight, he didn't continue that momentum. If anything, he gave Romney a chance back into Michigan. It has been close.

KING: And at these moments where candidates have risen up, it's whether you grab that opportunity. And everyone has had a bad debate in this cycle. The question is, for Santorum, if you're right and he had a bad day -- bad debate tonight, excuse me -- will he get another chance? There's none on the books.

GERGEN: Right.

COOPER: And already, the numbers in Michigan, were getting a little bit -- were getting a little bit closer for Mitt Romney. He was coming up again in the polls after having fallen to Rick Santorum. We'll see if tonight moves the needle any direction in Michigan and elsewhere.

We're going to have more from our coverage. We'll be right back.

Also, more on the death of Marie Colvin from -- in Syria yesterday.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Final thoughts from our panel in just a moment. First, Ron Paul taking a direct shot tonight at Rick Santorum.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KING: You have a new television ad that labels him a fake. Why?

PAUL: Because he's a fake.

SANTORUM: I'm real, Ron. I'm real. PAUL: Congratulations.

SANTORUM: I'm real.

PAUL: No, I find it really fascinating that, when people are running for office, they're really fiscally conservative. When they're in office, they do something different, and then when they explain themselves, they say, "Oh, I want to repeal that."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: And let's get back to the final thoughts with our panel. I'm just now hearing Mitt Romney's top aide tonight is now predicting a win in Michigan. They say they're going to spend the next two days in Michigan. They're going to be there every single day, based on that day they're all in. Do you think tonight is going to make a difference for Mitt Romney in Michigan?

FLEISCHER: Yes. I think there's no question it will. I think that's the history of the debates this cycle. They've had an inordinate role in the next state that votes.

And if Mitt Romney does win Arizona and Michigan, it sort of resets the table. And it gives him a chance at the upper hand again on somewhat Super Tuesday.

If Santorum takes Michigan and he's got the momentum, and he'll take it into Super Tuesday.

BRAZILE: Well, manage bankruptcy. Tell that to those workers, those union workers, who are now with a job, one million of them, because of the bailout that saved Chrysler and General Motors.

ERICKSON: I think the devil's in the details. Pun intended. If Mitt Romney wins Michigan, but the vote comes in less than it did last time again, and he gets less votes this time than he did last time again, you're still going to have a lot of Republicans say the votes aren't sold.

GERGEN: If Rick Santorum had won tonight, this would be a very different race. He would have probably won Michigan and not going to do very well on Super Tuesday. I think all of that has changed now. Mitt Romney is in a much stronger position heading into the next contests. Right?

BORGER: And let me throw this out there. If Mitt Romney were to win Michigan and Arizona, maybe that sets the table, to use Ari's phrase, for a comeback for Newt Gingrich. You never know.

KING: I would add -- I would add this in closing, Anderson. Look backwards as we look forward. This has been a volatile, unpredictable race. If Mitt Romney can win Michigan and Arizona, people will say, "Aha! He's the front runner again."

I would say but he's been the front runner before. We've still got a lot of twists and turns here. Let's let the people vote. COOPER: John King, you did a great job tonight. Gloria, all of our panelists, thank you.

Coming up next, our tribute to journalist Marie Colvin, killed in Syria last night. She put her life on the line repeatedly to tell the story of suffering of other people. She talked to us hours before she was killed. We'll hear some of her last interview.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: We're ending the program tonight with heavy hearts in a tribute to an incredibly brave journalist who gave voice to so many people suffering, a reporter who repeatedly risked her own life to tell other people's stories in some of the most dangerous parts of the world. A woman whose own life has now been cut short.

We got the sad news early this morning that Marie Colvin, foreign affairs correspondent for the "Sunday Times of London," was killed in Homs where the Syrian government has unleashed an all-out assault on its citizens.

An award-winning French war photographer, Remy Ochlik, was also killed. He was just 28 years old.

I spoke with Marie Colvin just yesterday. Last night on this program, she talked about a little boy who died after being hit by shrapnel. Marie said his story could make people wonder why no one is stopping the murder that's happening every day in Homs. It's that sense of purpose that drove Marie Colvin's career, her life, and a sentiment we honor tonight as we pay tribute to her.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): This is what's left of the building where Marie Colvin was killed. Obliterated by artillery fire, it's a jumble of concrete and debris. It was where she and other reporters were taking refuge, where she had been working to bear witness to the atrocities committed by Syrian government forces against the people of Homs.

Under constant threat, under daily barrage, talking to us just hours before she was killed, her voice was cool and direct.

MARIE COLVIN, REPORTER, "SUNDAY TIMES OF LONDON" (via phone): It's a complete and utter lie that they're only going after terrorists. There are rockets, shells -- tank shells, anti-aircraft being fired in a parallel line into the city. The Syrian army is shelling the city of cold, starving civilians.

COOPER: It's a cliche to say she died doing what she loved, that she died doing what she felt driven to do. Dedicating her life to giving a voice to those who had been silenced.

COLVIN: What more is that happens to people and no one wants it. But you tried to bear witness to that makes you think you sometimes can make a difference, attempt to, anyway. COOPER: Marie Colvin made a difference year after year, story after story. Even if the world didn't always listen, Marie Colvin still insisted on speaking.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: She had this passion to do the right thing, to do what this extreme profession demands, and that is to report the truth and to humanize these terrible conflicts and these terrible wars.

COOPER: Among war journalists, she was a legend. Raised in Long Island, she made her name as a foreign correspondent for "The Sunday Times of London." Her reporting took her to war zones across the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I was always quite star struck by her. She was the kind of person who had a standard of journalism that many of us strive to achieve, and it was only in this last time period where I was in Babaram (ph) that she was there, as well, that we were really able to spend time together.

COOPER: While covering the civil war in Sri Lanka in 2001, Colvin was ambushed. A soldier launched a grenade at her. She lost her left eye to shrapnel and had to wear an eye patch. It didn't seem to slow her down.

Last year, she was among a select group of journalists to interview Libyan dictator Muammar Gadhafi. Later, she slipped into the besieged city of Misrata and reported to us all she saw and learned about the slaughter and the mass rapes that were occurring there.

COLVIN (via phone): The direct evidence that I have is talking to one of Gadhafi's soldiers who is a prisoner here, and repentant. And he said his two officers entered this house -- this is a different house -- there's about 1,000 rapes.

COOPER: A thousand rapes?

COLVIN: Entered this house -- about 1,000 rapes across Misrata over a two-month period.

COOPER: She may have questioned her impact at times -- all war reporters do -- but she continued to travel to the front lines. She believed it was important, as she told a group of young journalists in the Georgian Republic.

COLVIN: Many of you may be asking yourselves, is it worth the cost, and in lives, in pain, not just for us, but also, too, for family and friends? And my answer is then and now, is it is worth it, I believe.

COOPER: She believed it was worth it to sneak into the besieged city of Homs. She had been under threat before. She'd had her life in danger countless times, but she told us hours before she died that being in Syria felt different.

Marie, I mean, you have covered a lot of conflicts over a long time. How does this compare?

COLVIN (via phone): This is the worst, Anderson, for many reasons. The last -- I think the last time we talked when I was in Misrata. It's probably personal safety, I guess. There's nowhere to run. The Syrian army is holding the perimeter. And there's just far more ordnance being poured into the city and no way of predicting where it's going to land.

COOPER: As other western journalists left Homs for safer ground, Marie Colvin chose to stay. Now her mother hopes she will finally come home.

ROSEMARIE COLVIN, MARIE'S MOTHER: We're going to miss her so much. And I just hope we can bring her home. One more time.

COOPER: Marie Colvin saw each war, each death, with an open eye, an open heart. She died hoping the rest of the world might see it that way, as well.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: A lot of people today were calling her fearless, and I didn't know her well, but I don't think she was fearless. I'm sure she did feel fear. But I think what makes a great war correspondent like her is that, despite feeling that fear, she continues to go to the front lines; she continues to put herself in danger. She doesn't allow fear to stop her from bearing witness. And we salute her for that on this program tonight.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: That's it for us. We replay the Republican debate, starting now.