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Republicans Prepare for Second Debate; California Wildfires: 9,000 Homes Threatened by Wildfire; Putin Sending Weapons, Troops to Syria; Interview with Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. Aired 18- 19:00p ET

Aired September 15, 2015 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:15]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: Trump talks tough on this, the eve of CNN's Republican presidential debate, a speech on national security by the GOP front-runner. But a new poll shows Ben Carson surging right now, barely behind Donald Trump. Is the billionaire businessman losing his edge?

Fiery disaster, a devastating wildfire now threatening 9,000 homes after destroying almost 600, the flames burning out of control right now. Will the weather help crews get the upper hand?

Putin intrusion, the Russian president defiantly sending weapons to Syria, adding fuel to the country's deadly civil war. Are the Russians now building their own military base inside Syria?

And justice speaks out, my interview with the U.S. Supreme Court's Stephen Breyer, a candid conversation about controversial issues certain to come up in CNN's Republican presidential debate tomorrow night, including immigration and same-sex marriage. What does he make of the Kentucky clerk who defied the U.S. Supreme Court and refused to give marriage licenses to gay couples?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're only 24 hours away from the CNN Republican presidential debate tomorrow night right here at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. On the eve of this potentially game-changing face-off, Donald Trump is about to deliver a national security speech from the deck of a former battleship, the USS Iowa, now a museum here in Southern California, where he may test out some of the lines for tomorrow night's debate.

Now Trump is facing increased competition from the famed neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson, who surged in a new nationwide poll of Republicans. It shows him up from 6 percent to 23 percent, just four points behind Trump nationwide among Republicans, but the numbers for Jeb Bush are much more troubling. That same poll shows him far behind, tied for third place.

Now a super PAC backing the former Florida governor is spending $24 million on ads in key states hoping to boost Bush's ratings right now.

CNN's John Berman begins our coverage right now.

John, what's happening with the Republican candidates on this, the eve of this huge debate?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, last-second preparations, and from what I can tell, they are preparing for a fight.

A little while ago, I spoke to Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. He was pretty tough on Donald Trump in the first debate. He told me he wasn't tough enough. He is gearing up to go right after the Republican front-runner, Donald Trump, literally and figuratively the man in the middle.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The polls come out, and we're really killing it. We are killing it.

BERMAN (voice-over): Tonight, a new poll from CBS News and "The New York Times" shows Ben Carson closer than ever, with Jeb Bush drifting further and further back. Carson was polling at 6 percent just one month ago, while Bush has dropped seven points since August. So far, though, nothing and no one has managed to push Trump from his perch.

NARRATOR: What's Donald Trump say about the decision?

BERMAN: But when the going gets tough, the tough go negative. For the first time, an outside group, the conservative Club for Growth, opened its wallet.

NARRATOR: Trump, the worst kind of politician.

BERMAN: Announcing they will spend more than $1 million on two ads in Iowa bashing Trump for what they call his liberal economic ideas.

NARRATOR: He has a record, and it's very liberal. He's really just playing us for chumps.

BERMAN: Not to be out-anti-Trumped, Governor Bobby Jindal, polling at less than 1 percent, released a new video, too, attacking how Trump shapes his foreign policy views.

TRUMP: In all fairness, you know, what do I know?

BERMAN: Trump knows attacks are coming, but doesn't sound too concerned.

TRUMP: So, the debate. I hear they're all going after me. Whatever, whatever.

BERMAN: And despite recent dust-ups with Carson and Fiorina, not to mention Bush, Walker, Paul, and Pataki, Trump says he is willing to play Mr. Nice Guy, well, Mr. Nice Guy-ish.

TRUMP: I like Carly and I like Ben. I mean, many of these people are terrific people, but nobody's going to be able to do the job that I'm going to do, nobody.

BERMAN: Jeb Bush supporters beg to differ. A super PAC backing Bush is finally unleashing its vast war chest, spending $24 million on ads in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina...

[18:05:11]

NARRATOR: New charter schools.

BERMAN: ... to highlight achievements as governor of Florida.

NARRATOR: Proven conservative. Real results. Jeb.

BERMAN: Hoping something, if not spending, will make people listen.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: Now, it's no coincidence that big spending, these big ad buys happening right near this big debate. This is a pivot point, Wolf, for a lot of these candidates. If they don't turn things around now, there may not be much campaign for them going forward -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly right. Make or break for several of these Republican presidential candidates. John Berman, thanks very much.

Donald Trump is about to give what his aides are describing as a major speech on a subject he's taken some hits on, national security. The Republican presidential front-runner has chosen a very, very fitting backdrop, a former U.S. battleship named the USS Iowa.

Our political reporter, Sara Murray, is on the scene for us down in the Los Angeles area.

So what's the latest? Set the scene for us on this big speech that Trump is about to deliver, Sara.

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you can see this stunning backdrop.

I think the question is, how far is he going to get into details on national security? He has been on the trail a lot this week, but every event so far has been very light on policy specifics. I think we're all wondering whether he's going to divulge a little more about his national security policies tonight.

So far, he's mainly been using his events to tweak some of his opponents. Last night, he took on Carly Fiorina.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: You know, one of the things that I'm really happy about, I'm surging, they said. Can you believe this one? I'm surging with women. Can you believe it?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: I have such respect for women. I cherish women. I'm going to take such good care of women's health care issues, you won't even believe it.

But I'm surging with women. One of the things coming out, I'm watching television, and they said, Trump is surging with women. I said, really? That's amazing. You know, it's incredible I make like statements, because Carly's given me a little bit of a hard time, even though her poll numbers are horrible. She's the one. She was another one.

She's surging. Ben is -- everybody's surging but me. Hillary's not surging. I will tell you that. They're not saying that. They're not saying...

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MURRAY: Now, I'm sure Trump will have tough words for his opponents again tonight. But the other thing they will be doing here tonight is raising money for the veterans group hosting Trump.

Tickets run anywhere from $100 to $1,000 if you want the premium seats. If you're a member of the military, however, you get in for free -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, this has been a major cause on Donald Trump's part, raising money for U.S. military veterans.

All right, Sara, we will stand by for his big speech on national security.

Let's get some more on what's going on.

Joining us now, the Republican National Committee's communications director, Sean Spicer.

Sean, thanks very much for joining us.

You can't help but smile. I saw you smiling during a lot of those clips we aired of Donald Trump and the others saying -- this has been pretty exciting so far, hasn't it?

SEAN SPICER, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Oh, it's going to be amazing.

I think this debate tomorrow night is going to be truly exciting. You see the level of enthusiasm building up for this. Just online, the number of tweets in the last five days, over two million people tweeting leading up to this debate, which is a huge increase over the last debate. I think the excitement continues to grow. The number of people

that are going to tune in, I expect, is going to be equal or around what we saw the last time, because people are really excited about what's happening in the Republican field. We have 15 really amazing candidates.

BLITZER: Twenty-four million people watched the last time. We will see what the number is tomorrow night.

What do you want to hear specifically from these candidates? You want to hear differences between them? You don't want to just hear some blah, blah, blah.

SPICER: Well, look, we have got probably the most diverse and historically qualified group of folks running for president of the United States. You have got a successful female business owner, the first Fortune 20, a successful businessman leading the pack, a successful retired neurosurgeon that accomplished amazing things, successful governors, senators, former senators.

This is truly a historic field. I hope that with this backdrop, that people embrace Reagan's 11th commandment, talk about their vision, what makes them the best candidate, and probably doing a little attack on Hillary Clinton wouldn't be bad either. But I really hope that what people talk about is why our party, our candidates have the better vision for America.

BLITZER: But you know some of the candidates, they're going to really go after Donald Trump. And he's not a shy guy, as you know. You hit him, he hits you right back.

SPICER: That's right.

Well, look, Wolf, politics is a contact sport. We expect obviously there will be some elbows thrown. But what I hope is that at the end of the day, where we really focus our efforts is on Hillary Clinton, is on talking about the vision for America, because, you know, yes, we have got to separate ourselves. That's what primaries are about, distinguishing yourself from the next individual.

[18:10:15]

But we have got great people up there. They have got great ideas. And I hope that's what the focus is.

BLITZER: You keep talking about Hillary Clinton. I don't know if you have seen these latest polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, where she's behind Bernie Sanders.

SPICER: We might need to lay off a little. I think that we're doing too good of a job. But if it ends up being Bernie Sanders, I'm even more excited about that.

BLITZER: What if it ends up being Joe Biden?

SPICER: I we would do just fine. I think Joe Biden has served this country tremendously. I think he's going through a tremendous, tremendous amount of suffering right now.

And the vice president has endured more tragedy than any individual should ever have to in his life. And I have a tremendous amount of respect for how he's overcome that. But at the end of the day, if he were to enter the race, it would be about his record. I feel very good about our chances against him.

BLITZER: Who would be a stronger Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden? Who are you more worried about?

SPICER: I will take any of them, honest to God.

BLITZER: Who would worry you the most?

SPICER: Huh?

I think, look, Hillary Clinton's got a machine behind her that no one else does. So, from that standpoint, from a purely ground game standpoint, I think Hillary Clinton always will enter this race with an advantage. But I think where we are as a party, where Chairman Priebus has positioned this party since 2012 both in terms of our political ground game, our data infrastructure, whenever one of these 15 candidates emerges as a nominee, we are going to be ready to go.

We have been reaching out in the communities that we have never in the past, and we will coast to victory in November of 2016.

BLITZER: What do you think about the fact that some of these presidential candidates are refusing to say they would support Donald Trump -- he's the Republican front-runner right now nationally among Republicans, in all the early battleground states -- they're saying they would not vote for him because he's not qualified to be commander in chief.

When you hear that, I thought these guys all signed a pledge. What did that pledge say?

SPICER: They did. Look, it said that they would support the nominee of our party.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: So, when Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, refuses to say to me -- and I pressed him repeatedly -- would you support him, he says he's not going to get the -- he wouldn't say that.

SPICER: He didn't answer the question.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But George Pataki, the former governor of New York, says flatly he couldn't vote for Donald Trump because he's not qualified to be president. What do you say about those pledges that you asked them to sign?

SPICER: Look, their name -- they signed a pledge saying that they would. I take them at their word.

As you saw, Governor Jindal didn't say no. He just didn't answer the question. I believe that, when we have a nominee, our party will be unified. You saw it in 2008. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama went at it epically way into May and June. And yet that worked well for their party. Barack Obama ended up capturing the White House. They had a lot of excitement on their side.

I think you are seeing that on steroids this cycle for our side. It's not -- they had a high watermark of 11 million people watch a debate. We hit 30 in that last one with the two debates combined. I think we're going to see a similar level of enthusiasm and intensity and excitement tomorrow night for our party again.

And you are going to see that continue through the rest of the cycle. Look, primaries are tough. People say a lot of things. But at the end of the day, our party will always come together because the alternative is unacceptable.

BLITZER: Have you said anything to George Pataki, the former Republican governor? He signed that pledge, but he says he would not vote for Donald Trump.

SPICER: I'm going to take his signature at what it is. He signed a document saying he would support it.

I understand people have to say what they have to say, but I believe all of our candidates signed something. They said they'd commit. I believe at the end of this process, everybody will be on board with that nominee.

BLITZER: Has Reince Priebus, who is the chairman of the RNC, the Republican National Committee, had conversations with all of the campaigns asking them to tone it down tomorrow night?

SPICER: No.

BLITZER: What is his advice to them?

SPICER: Because I think we have publicly -- chairman Priebus has talked about what I just mentioned repeatedly. He's a big believer in Reagan's 11th commandment.

And we're here at the Reagan Library. There's no better place to echo that sentiment that Ronald Reagan espoused so beautifully about what our party should be for. The chairman has said that over and over and over again. I think some candidates are going to heed that. Others probably may not.

But at the end of the day, I think what's best for our party is what the chairman has said over and over again, is to stay focused on what makes us better and why they are not an acceptable alternative.

BLITZER: This Club for Growth ad attacking Donald Trump, this is a conservative group in Washington that spent a million dollars, what do you think of that? SPICER: Again, I would rather have all of the money on our side

focused on Hillary Clinton.

I understand that that's not realistic. But I think that we have a historic opportunity to retake this White House, to put a Republican president back in and to enact conservative principles up and down. And we should focus on that more than anything else.

BLITZER: It's a beautiful setting for a debate tomorrow night here at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

SPICER: It's absolutely gorgeous. Congratulations for being here. This is beautiful.

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Sean Spicer, the communications director for the RNC.

You're sticking around for it, right?

SPICER: I'm not -- I will be right here, not going anywhere.

BLITZER: You're not going anywhere. Thanks very much.

The Republican presidential candidates once again, they are now just one day away from their second debate right here at the Reagan Library. You can see it right here tomorrow night on CNN. You can also hear the debate across the country on the Salem Radio Network. To find the debate on your radio in your area, go to SalemMedia.com.

[18:15:10]

Up next, Ted Cruz down in the polls, but definitely not out. I will speak with a spokesman about his strategy going into the debate.

And the stakes could not be higher for tomorrow night's debate. What do the candidates need to do to break out of the GOP pack?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:20:17]

BLITZER: We're now less than 24 hours before the CNN Republican presidential debate right here at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.

The stakes are obviously very high all around, obviously for the candidates polling in single digits, including the Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

His national spokesman, Rick Tyler, is with me here on our set in Simi Valley, California, a beautiful setting for a debate.

RICK TYLER, TED CRUZ SPOKESMAN: It's great to be with you.

BLITZER: What's his strategy, your guy's strategy for tomorrow night? TYLER: Well, I think what Senator Cruz needs to do is to get

people to understand and sort of project forward. Look at all the candidates and where do you see the country in four years?

And so many people are upset, Wolf, with the base of this party. So when you have so many people upset with the base of the party, you see the rise of people who are nonpoliticians. Senator Cruz has only been elected two-and-a-half years, but he's already demonstrated that he will do what he says he is going to do. There's only one way to judge whether someone will do what they say they're going to do, and that's by what they have done.

Senator Cruz has taken a leadership role. He's taken a leadership role on Planned Parenthood, on Obamacare, on the debt, so many things. And he's gone against the establishment and somehow hasn't drunk the Kool-Aid of the power structure of Washington, D.C.

BLITZER: Why hasn't -- because he's obviously a very smart guy. He's a talented politician. He speaks very, very fiercely, tough on his issues. He hasn't yet resonated, like, let's say, Ben Carson or Donald Trump.

TYLER: Well, I think in a way the last debate, 24 million people -- hopefully, CNN will get at least that many viewers.

I have to imagine tens of millions of people never really knew much about Senator Cruz or only through the lens of the media. They got to hear from him himself. Our support actually doubled after the last debate. And I hope that happens again, because they will see that Senator Cruz is the most prepared to be president.

And if you look at everybody, ask yourself, who is the most prepared to be president? And with Senator Cruz's experience, he's been a solicitor general, he's argued nine cases before the Supreme Court, he's actually worked in the Bush administration, has been a senator for two years, and he's worked hard to represent the Tea Party and Tea Party and conservative values in the U.S. Senate.

BLITZER: You saw these new numbers that CBS and "The New York Times" put out comparing their numbers in August vs. now. Trump went from 24 percent in August to 27 percent now, Dr. Ben Carson from 6 percent, he jumped to 23 percent.

Look at how close it is. Ted Cruz, he was at 6 percent in August. He's at 5 percent now. He needs to be more assertive, maybe even more aggressive. He's got to stand out tomorrow night. So you have gone through with him what he needs to do. Talk a little bit about what we can expect.

TYLER: Well, I think what you can expect is for Senator -- let me tell you what I think I expect in the whole camp.

I think you are going to see a lot of food fighting. I think you're going to see a lot of people attack each other. Some of the candidates have said that they need to attack Trump, and a lot of that's going to go on. Jake Tapper, who is moderating the debate, has said he wants to pit one candidate against the other.

And that's fine. And I think where there's differences in policy, Senator Cruz will make those divisions, because he's the only one who has stood up on so many issues, like amnesty and had a consistent position on it, like raising the debt ceiling, and had a consistent position on it, like fighting Obamacare and still is fighting Obamacare.

He will have an opportunity to show his leadership on those issues. And I don't think he's going to engage in any kind of food fight.

BLITZER: There's been no food fight between Senator Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.

TYLER: Oh, quite the opposite.

BLITZER: These two guys obviously like each other.

TYLER: They do.

BLITZER: Cruz has refused to go after Trump. Trump doesn't go after Cruz.

TYLER: Last night, he mentioned his name.

BLITZER: In fact, at that anti-Iran nuclear -- at that anti- nuclear deal with Iran, the two of them were sort of co-hosting it at the Capitol rally. They were hugging each other at one point. Some are saying this is a bromance.

TYLER: And last night at the -- he was in Dallas, our state, and he mentioned Senator Cruz's name to cheers.

So, yes, Senator Cruz has said that he likes Donald Trump. He likes Donald Trump to be in the race. And one of the races he likes him being in the race is because he has actually focused the media and focused people's attention on the issues like immigration.

So when Donald Trump gets the media talking about immigration, Senator Cruz has a great record on immigration. So we get to talk about those issues. He draws media attention to those issues. And Senator Cruz's record on those issues has been terrific.

BLITZER: Because you have heard the talk about a Trump/Cruz ticket. You have heard that talk, right?

TYLER: Cruz/Trump, you mean.

BLITZER: Well, I have heard Trump/Cruz. What do you think?

TYLER: Cruz/Trump.

BLITZER: Right now, Trump is ahead of Cruz, though, right? Would Cruz be interested in being Donald Trump's running mate?

TYLER: Look, it's a long way to go.

Senator Cruz is running for president of the United States. He's definitely not running for vice president of the United States.

BLITZER: So, he's not ruling it out necessarily?

TYLER: He's the most prepared to be president of the United States. And we're going to get to the nomination. We will have the delegates, and we will be the nominee. I'm confident of that.

BLITZER: So, when you say there's going to be a food fight tomorrow night, it won't be between Cruz and Trump, but it could be among some of the others. Like, for example, who do you think?

[18:25:03]

TYLER: Well, Jeb Bush has been taking on senator -- Mr. Trump, and Carly Fiorina has been taking on Mr. Trump. Ben Carson, to some extent, has been taking on -- but he seemed to back away from that, so we will see if he does that.

But, look, there's a lot of people who have a lot at stake in this particular debate, because they're getting further on the wings, where the other people are getting closer toward the center. They don't want to be on the wings. They want to be in the center. Their balance is going to be, how do I get attention without looking like I'm getting too much attention?

Remember, Wolf, in the last debate, the people who got the most attention actually went down in the polls.

BLITZER: Right.

TYLER: And Senator Cruz got double because -- and he was the most Googled debate -- in the beginning of the debate, because people, I think, said, you know what? I like what he says. And I don't know enough about him. And I want to find out more about him.

BLITZER: Just clarify quickly because we're almost out of time. When Senator Cruz and former Governor Mike Huckabee, they were in Kentucky to support Kim Davis, the county clerk who refused to sign same-sex marriages, there was a little controversy over the fact that he was not allowed up on the stage, Senator Cruz, when Huckabee was there making that presentation supporting Kim Davis.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: What happened there? Was he pushed aside by Governor Huckabee?

TYLER: No. Thanks for asking.

He was -- we never intended to go on the stage. We never asked to be on the stage and we weren't invited on the stage. What happened was is, we had come out of visiting Kim Davis. And Kim Davis was very appreciative, almost -- a very emotional meeting between Senator Cruz and Kim Davis.

And he came out of the meeting, and the media called him over to give a few words. But the governor had already arranged that press conference, and so they asked us not to -- they asked him not to address the media at that point. And so he stepped aside.

But he was never forced or kept from talking to anybody. But he was never invited on the stage.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Why didn't they invite him to come up on the stage? He was there, a United States senator, a presidential candidate, showing his support for Kim Davis together with Governor Huckabee. Why wouldn't they invite him on the stage?

TYLER: You would have to ask Governor Huckabee.

BLITZER: Well, you were upset about that?

TYLER: No, I understood. That was their event. And they didn't invite us. That's just the way it goes.

And I don't -- we don't invite people to all our great events, except maybe the Iran rally. We invited Donald Trump. So...

BLITZER: And you were happy with that rally?

TYLER: Very happy.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much for that.

Rick Tyler is the national spokesman for Cruz for president of the United States.

TYLER: Great to be with you.

BLITZER: We will continue these conversations.

TYLER: Good to be with you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

And you can see the Republican presidential debate tomorrow night right here on CNN. Stay with us for that.

For some candidates, by the way, it could be a make-or-break night. What do they need to do to keep their campaigns alive?

Plus, the deadly wildfire burning out of control in Northern California right now, the flames are threatening 9,000 homes. We will go there live. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're counting down to tomorrow night's CNN Republican presidential debate here at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. The latest polls showing Donald Trump the candidate to beat, but Dr. Ben Carson now a very close second after a major surge.

[18:32:36] Let's get some more with our CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger; our senior political analyst Ron Brownstein -- he's the editorial director of "The National Journal"; also, our CNN political commentator and the host of CNN's "Smerconish," Michael Smerconish; and CNN senior political reporter, Nia-Malika Henderson. Guys, thanks very much for joining us.

Michael, you made an excellent point when you said the dynamics of this debate, as opposed to the first debate, could be impacted by the setting, the venue. This is a much smaller room than that huge basketball auditorium in Cleveland.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I was really struck by the intimacy in that hangar, only 500 seats. Donald Trump feeds off of crowds. This won't be there for him.

And Wolf, I remember you asking a question of Ron Paul in the 2012 cycle in Tampa where you posed a hypothetical about a patient who had no insurance and needed medical treatment. There was elicited from the audience a cry of, you know, "It's OK if they die." There won't be this element in this arena.

BLITZER: It's a different setting, you agree, Gloria.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, yes, it's small. It's like a New Hampshire town hall in a way. It may benefit somebody like a Jeb Bush, who has been out there in New Hampshire. John Kasich's been out there in New Hampshire in those small settings. You know, as Michael points out, Trump plays to a larger audience and loves that.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That audience is right there on him. They are right there on top of them. This is going to be -- you say intimate; it's almost cloistered.

BLITZER: I walked through there this morning. And Nia, only 500 attendees. This may be the hottest ticket out here in California right now. And these are special people who received invitations?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I mean, these are invitations sent out by the Reagan Library. Some RNC folks sent out invitations, too. The candidates obviously had some invitations to send out, as well. This is more like a golf clapping kind of crowd and not so much like a raucous basketball arena kind of crowd that we saw last time. And I think that will play into this debate. They won't be able to feed off of this crowd, as you all said, but I think ultimately in some ways the television audience will see that.

If you saw in Ohio, Kasich was able to play to that home crowd, and it almost looked like he won the debate, because the crowd was there. They're not going to be able to pack the stands in the way that they have been in other debates. BLITZER: The fact that it's here, Michael, at the Reagan

Presidential Library, for so many people this is almost hallowed ground.

[18:35:00] SMERCONISH: Well, each and every one of them invoke Ronald Reagan as often as they can. The true heir to the Reagan throne is Michael Reagan, his eldest son. I asked him on CNN last weekend which among them is the heir apparent. He said probably Rick Perry, the guy who just got out. He said, "I'll tell you the least Trump-like -- the least Reagan-like is Donald Trump."

BROWNSTEIN: Reagan would have a lot of different problems in this kind of electorate.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Talk about that.

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I mean, you know, Reagan in 1986 signed the law that it was viewed as an amnesty on immigration. And immigration has been one of the issues that...

BLITZER: Some of these pro-immigration groups now using Ronald Reagan as sort of a backdrop to going after Donald Trump.

BROWNSTEIN: Right. Well, you know, that's fascinating. Because I mean, I think the immigration issue, what we're seeing already emerge in the Republican race is a very clear class divide. You look at that ABC/"Washington Post" poll that was out this week, Donald Trump was 40 percent among Republicans without a college degree. In a 15-person field, he was at 40 percent. No one was half at that level.

Among college-educated Republicans, though, it was much closer. That kind of upscale/downscale divide.

Immigration is one of the issues that divide those. Many more blue-collar than white-collar Republicans support the kind of immigration positions we've been hearing from Donald Trump, as well as his views on things like entitlements, trade and taxes. He's developing a blue-collar populism in the changing party. Whether it's big enough to win is the question.

BORGER: And some of the other candidates, particularly Jeb, because he's got a web video -- his super PAC has a web video out today. They're going to try to contrast their own optimism with Donald Trump's, as Jeb's web video calls it, you know, darkness. And you know, this question of is it morning in America? Do you want to make America great again?

And so I think you're going to see that from Jeb Bush, not only contrasting his record as a conservative but also contrasting his optimism. And Kasich is another candidate, I think, who'll be talking some optimism...

BLITZER: John Kasich, the Ohio governor, who's very popular in Ohio. Nia, the fact that this pro-Jeb Bush super PAC is now going to

spend 25 percent of their $100 million dollars, $25 million at this early stage. They would have loved to have kept that money for down the road, but they're going to spend it now. What does that say?

HENDERSON: I mean, some people say, "Listen, maybe they should have been spending little by little all along. But this is a quarter of what they've got in the bank. They didn't have such a great August after that huge haul that they had in previous cycles. It's not a great sign of the messages that he's the real conservative in this race and talking about -- talking about his record going against teachers' unions. Whether or not that resonates with this crowd...

BLITZER: He's really, Michael, Jeb Bush, in this debate tomorrow night, he's really got to excel.

SMERCONISH: Absolutely. There are some candidates among those 11 who can play long ball. Marco Rubio would be at the top of my list. I think he's -- he's everybody's choice for vice president.

BLITZER: John Kasich, as well.

SMERCONISH: John Kasich is another. They can lie back; they can hang in. There's pressure on Jeb, because the expectations were here, and thus far, he hasn't come through.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Scott Walker -- Scott Walker was supposed to win Iowa. Now single digits.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, yes.

BORGER: Having a lot of trouble getting any traction in this campaign. He's got to distinguish himself in some way tomorrow night.

BROWNSTEIN: You know, with that Bush 25 percent, I feel like we're in Vegas. Somebody was making this motion right now, putting all the chips on the table.

But look, Bush is the natural inheritor of those upscale Republicans who are more skeptical of Trump, who are less in line with the agenda, less likely to see him as having the personal qualities it takes to succeed as president, but Bush simply is not connecting with those voters. And to the extent they are connecting, it's been Carson who's doing better.

BORGER: I just think there are two debates going on. One is the outsider lane debate, and the other is the establishment or experienced lane. And those guys are competing to be the alternative to the outsider.

BLITZER: All right. We're getting excited. Less than 24 hours until the debates here at the Reagan Library. Guy, thanks very much.

And please be sure to join us tomorrow night as the candidates face off right here at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in this, the second Republican presidential debate. You will see it only here on CNN.

Just ahead, thousands and thousands of people fleeing a massive wildfire, advancing, threatening 9,000 homes.

Plus my interview with the United States Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer speaking candidly about same-sex marriage and that Kentucky clerk who defied the United States Supreme Court.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We're live here at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. We're counting down to the Republican candidates' debate right here on CNN.

But we're also following other major stories, as well, including almost eight -- 600 homes already destroyed, 67,000 acres charred and the Valley Fire in Northern California is still burning out of control. Right now crews are fighting to save 9,000 homes being threatened by the flames.

CNN's Stephanie Elam is in Middletown, one of the hardest hit communities. She's joining us now live. What's the latest, Stephanie, on this fire?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, when you take a look at it, you can see where I am. This has been a total loss for the people who lived here in Middletown. But that doesn't mean the battle to stop this Valley Fire is over.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[18:45:06] ELAM (voice-over): Raging fires sweeping across California. The Valley Fire devouring 600 homes and threatening another 9,000. Now, the first death, a 72-year-old woman with multiple sclerosis unable to get out of her house.

DON LOPEZ, MIDDLETOWN FIREFIGHTER: I'm just driving around, I'm in shock. And I'm a fireman. What do you do? You have to keep working.

ELAM: Sixty-seven thousand acres scorched so far, in this fire west of Sacramento, which sent 13,000 people looking for shelter.

East of the city, the Butte Fire has scorched 71,000 acres, forcing another 11,000 residents to flee. That fire has destroyed more than 160 homes.

TAMMY MOORE, RESIDENT: This is my street. Make a left. And there's nothing there. So my house was right there.

ELAM: Heading back home to check on her family's property, Tammy Moore isn't prepared for what she sees.

(on camera): What is it like to actually see it with your own eyes?

MOORE: So much worse than I thought. Even though I expected it to be bad, I didn't expect to see everything gone.

ELAM (voice-over): As more crews race toward the fires, some progress is being made, but it's slow. Containment is only at 15 percent for the valley fire and about a third for the Butte Fire.

JOYCE REIM, RESIDENT: There's fire everywhere. And our house, our neighbors' house, friends' houses, everybody's houses are burning up. It's awful.

ELAM: And firefighters are bracing for a long battle. As the fire season could rage on for months.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ELAM: And if you take a look behind us, Wolf, you can see that there's a plume of smoke that's rising up here from this Valley Fire. And that is threatening a lot of people who live out in the mountain communities here. They are fighting this fire from the sky again.

And speaking of help coming from the sky, there may be more tomorrow as rain is in the forecast -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That would be great. All right, Stephanie, thanks very, very much.

There's some disturbing new developments in Syria right now where the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, is now openly sending weapons and troops in a move certain to complicate Syria's deadly civil war.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. She's working the story for us.

What are you finding out, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, here at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Ash Carter is actually laying low about all of this, deferring to the Secretary of State John Kerry.

A lot of people in the administration, however, very concerned about Russia's military moves.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): Russian President Vladimir Putin now openly defiant in sending Russian weapons and troops into Syria to prop up President Bashar al Assad.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We have provided and will provide all the necessary military and technical support.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are going to be engaging Russia to let them know that you can't continue to double down on a strategy that's doomed to failure.

STARR: The U.S. looking for a way to stop a Soviet-style intervention by Putin.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: What we would prefer to see from the Russians is a more constructive engagement with the 60-member coalition that's led by the United States that's focused on degrading and ultimately destroying ISIL.

STARR: But more than a dozen flights of large Russian transport planes have flown from southern Russia across Iran and Iraq into Syria, carrying half a dozen tanks, large artillery pieces and some three dozen armored personnel carriers, as well as some equipment for up to 1,500 troops.

It's all going here to a coastal airfield at Latakia, where commercial satellite imagery has captured airfield construction and improvements. The Pentagon believes all of this will become a Russian operating base.

Secretary of State John Kerry talking again today to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. No indication the Russians are changing their minds.

A new grim assessment from the head of U.S. military intelligence suggesting both Iraq and Syria may be gone as countries the world once knew.

LT. GEN. VINCENT STEWART, DIRECTOR, DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: I can see a time in the future when Syria's fractured into probably two or three parts. Again, not the ideal because that comes with some unknowns. That's going to be a tough one to put back together, in my view, long term.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: All of this could explode into the political arena tomorrow. The Senate Armed Services Committee calling top Pentagon and military officials in for public hearing about all of this -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara, thank you.

Up next, my 101 interview with the United States Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. We talk about some of the biggest hot-button issues of the 2016 campaign.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:54:31] BLITZER: Same-sex marriage, immigration, the death penalty, all very controversial issues likely to come up in tomorrow night's CNN Republican presidential debate right here at the Reagan Library in California.

I talked about all of those issues with the United States Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. He's written a brand-new very important book entitled "The Court and the World," reflecting on his two decades on the court and the global context for his rulings.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JSUTICE STEPHEN BREYER, SUPREME COURT: My reaction when I see it, the same Justice Brennan had years ago.

[18:55:02] He said when there are difficult cases that come up with be particularly when they involve a federal issue, they'll come to us eventually.

BLITZER: You think this is not settled law necessarily and eventually this question of whether same-sex marriage should be authorized all over the country is once again going to come before the justices of the Supreme Court.

BREYER: What is settled law is what we wrote and how these issues play out on the margin is something I don't yet know. But I know there's a chance. They might be coming out in various ways.

BLITZER: Some of the Republican presidential candidates are making a major issue out of this right now and that this Republican presidential debate that is about to take place, when they go ahead and say, you know what? These are just five lawyers who are making this decision and they can't -- they can't write laws, they can't make laws, they're going beyond the Constitution. When you hear that kind of talk, what do you say?

BREYER: Every judge knows that many of the decisions that we make will be unpopular. We also know, absolutely, that since we are only human, there are often -- perhaps not too often, we hope -- that may be wrong. If they're 5-4, somebody may be wrong.

But eventually, a country, whether it is the United States or some other country, decides, well, the benefits of a rule of law are worth it.

BLITZER: Some of the rhetoric though right now, in Kentucky the other day, there were signs equating the Supreme Court with ISIS as a result of the decision authorizing, allowing same-sex marriage to go forward throughout the country.

Is this extraordinary right now what's going on?

BREYER: There have been plenty of times in history where the court has been the subject of very strong criticism. Is that criticism protected? The First Amendment, Congress shall pass no law abridging the freedom of speech. People are entitled to their opinion.

BLITZER: All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof are citizens of the United States and the state wherein they reside.

You're familiar with those words.

BREYER: That's the 14th Amendment. BLITZER: When you hear some like Donald Trump and others say,

you know what? That can changed. That some people, children who are born in the United States, should not be citizens automatically citizens of the United States.

What's your understanding? Your interpretation?

BREYER: That the First Amendment says Congress shall pass no law abridging freedom of speech. Everyone has freedom of speech.

But judges, do they have freedom of speech? They have to be very, very, very careful when they make a remark that could be interpreted politically.

BLITZER: But is it your understanding that if they want to change the wording, it has to be changed with a constitutional amendment or statute?

BREYER: You're talking about something a candidate for president said?

BLITZER: Yes.

BREYER: And my reaction as a judge is to stay as far away from that as I possibly can.

BLITZER: Do you question whether the court should revisit the constitutionality of the death penalty?

BREYER: I put together this evidence and say, this is not what people expected when they wrote the cases upholding the death penalty for more than 40 years ago. Therefore, I think it is time to revisit the issue.

BLITZER (voice-over): In his new book, "The Court and the World," Justice Breyer suggests that now because the world is so interdependent, the Supreme Court is considering complex cases, on national security, human rights, copyright, that involve other countries and their laws. He says the court must be willing to look beyond U.S. borders, even if it seems controversial.

BREYER: It is the world that has changed, and if we do not participate through even institutions like the Supreme Court, the world will get on without us and we will have a world that has a less humane, decent rule of law than we advocate here in the United States.

BLITZER: Breyer knows some of his fellow justices might disagree with his views, and he admits recent rulings, including decisions on same sex marriage and Obamacare have led to fierce disagreements with the justices on the bench. But he says those disagreements have never become personal.

(on camera): Do you guys have dinner together? Do you talk together? Do you have parties together?

BREYER: It is not sort of slap on the back, "let's go out for a drink" all the time, as is more of the relationship on the court of appeals. But it is not hostile, we are friends and we do have dinner together. And I have never in 21 years heard in that conference room heard a voice raised in anger, never, and I have never heard one justice in that room say something insulting about another, sliding not even really as a joke.

Personally, we get on well. It's very professional. You decide the cases seriously and thoroughly. And then there is no reason we can't be friends. But there's no reason that human beings cannot differ civilly -- civilly -- on matters of great importance.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Justice Stephen Breyer, thank you.

That's it for me. I'm Wolf Blitzer.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.