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New Questions about Carson's Life Story; New Scrutiny of Rubio's Finances; The Presidential Debates. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired November 8, 2015 - 0830   ET


[08:30:18] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Character questions for Ben Carson as Republicans prepare for debate round four.


BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's got to be a scandal. They are getting desperate. But it's ok because I totally expect it.


KING: New scrutiny for Marco Rubio, too.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He doesn't know what he's talking about.


KING: Trump takes after Rubio's finances and also takes to the air waves.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let's face it, politicians are all talk no action.


KING: Plus, the Obama factor in 2016.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The time to act is now not later, not someday -- right here, right now.


KING: The President rejects the Keystone Pipeline and unemployment falls to 5 percent.

INSIDE POLITICS -- the biggest stories sourced by the best reporters now.

Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King.

Thanks for sharing your Sunday morning as we tee up a big week in presidential politics. The fourth Republican debate is Tuesday night then the second Democratic debate on Saturday.

With us to share their reporting and their insights: CNN Jeff Zeleny, Jackie Kucinich of the "Daily Beast", Jonathan Martin of the "New York Times", and Matt Viser of the "Boston Globe".

A ton to talk about this morning but let's start with a little fun.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The private swimming pool and cabanas are already completed.


TRUMP: Enrique.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I brought you the check for the wall.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's the American people, sir.

TRUMP: What?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're just sick of winning. They're winning so much. It's just too great, sir.


KING: That was Donald Trump, of course. His visit to "Saturday Night Live" was not without controversy. Some Latino groups organized a protest and the show -- well, the show tried to make light of that too.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're a racist.

TRUMP: Who the hell -- I knew this was going to happen.


LARRY DAVID, ACTOR: Trump's a racist. I heard if I yelled that they would give me $5,000.

TRUMP: As a businessman, I can fully respect that.


KING: Larry David having more fun on "Saturday Night Live".

The next big national stage for Trump is Tuesday in Milwaukee. GOP debate number four where the field's other surprising outsider faces a major test. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson now pushing back hard against a series of media reports in recent days suggesting he has exaggerated, if not fabricated, some of the more compelling episodes in his inspiring biography.


CARSON: My prediction is that all of you guys trying to pile on is actually going to help me. Because when I go out to these book signings and I see these thousands of people, they say don't let the media get you down. Don't let them disturb you please continue to fight for us. They understand that this is a witch hunt.


KING: Watching that it was interesting in the sense that being soft spoken, being laid back, being very calm has been a trademark. Carson flashes of anger there. Does he have a point or is this testing time?

MATT VISER, "BOSTON GLOBE": I think it's testing time. If it was any one of the things it would be an issue, but this has been repeated over and over again questions of his credibility. It was interesting he was feistier than he's been just about in the whole campaign on Friday, you know, in his press conference there. So it's clearly getting under his skin.

KING: He's not the first politician to face questions and to have people show that he has exaggerated, at least, added some hyperbole. And in some cases people are suggesting he has fabricated episodes in his live.

How important for this is Carson and is it more important in the sense that we don't have a voting record? We can't say Senator Carson did this or Governor Carson did that. Because he's not a politician, his biography is everything.

JONATHAN MARTIN, "NEW YORK TIMES": It takes the place of some of those votes. No, it's a great point. And also he's getting a reminder that the statements that you can away with when you're a celebrity in a different realm of public life are whole different than the statements you can make when you're running for office and the scrutiny is much more intense. And that West Point story is obviously a prime example of that.

Well, John, he wants to make it about the media. We've seen this movie before. The candidate gets caught with a statement that is at least exaggerated that they turn their glance back on the media, gain some short-term sympathy. Where does it look in ten days or two weeks?

KING: Right.

MARTIN: Because we've seen past examples where candidates make it about the media. The instinct, especially on the right, is to circle the wagons and defend the candidate. But does the air come out of the balloon in the polling that you see two weeks later based upon the coverage. That has been the trend in the past.

JACKIE KUCINICH, "DAILY BEAST": And people like him because he's truthful. People like him because of his credibility. And if that starts to erodes. I mean that's why we're seeing him push back so hard. If that starts to whittle away at why people like Ben Carson, that's going to be a problem.

KING: The question is how much of it is a factor at the debate. You have to assume it's going to be an issue at the debate because it's been everywhere. It's been in the "Wall Street Journal" which whether it's his relationship with the drug company, the supplement company. And now, the stories about he said he got a full right off for a full scholarship offer to West Point.

[08:35:10] You could say, you know, that he's trying to remember something 45 years ago but he says it repeatedly, it's in the books. CNN tried to investigate some of these he episodes where he says, you know, he was involved in violence as a youth. The campaign says this weekend they'll bring people forward.

And you know, we honestly hope they do. If these people exist bring them forward. But when our reporters went and asked gave them weeks to confront them they didn't, how much does this become an issue in the debates? Mr. Trump with Bill O'Reilly the other night used the word "pathological".

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: I think it will become an issue in the debates. We saw how fast some of his rivals, Donald Trump in particular, was commenting. I mean like in real time this week as all these Ben Carson sort of incidents were coming up Donald Trump was loving this. I think he will use this as an opportunity and Ted Cruz just might as well.

That is the interesting dynamic that is happening in Iowa.

KING: That would be fascinating.

ZELENY: Ted Cruz, Ben Carson dynamic. But and he also may not because Senator Cruz has run a very smart campaign.

MARTIN: And he hates taking a ride (ph), too.


ZELENY: Right. And he may sit back and watch. But look, I do think it is overall an issue for Ben Carson. You can't write your own biography when you're a presidential candidate and expect that no one else is going to look into it. The spotlight is more searing than anything else.

So in the short term, it's probably fine. But we do not yet see him stand up to the scrutiny. We'll see if he's tested or not. But I think this debate this week is an interesting moment. I think that people will go after him.

KING: Another interesting moment will be has Marco Rubio put to rest questions about his finances. When he was a rising star in the Florida State legislature, the Republican Party said we want to take advantage of this guy, help him raise -- he would help us raise money, he'll help us recruit candidates.

So he had an American Express card from the party. And he put on it over a course of several years 73 of 1,300 charges essentially were personal -- about $22,000 out of $182,000. For a long time these records were not public.

The campaign put that out yesterday and said yes sure, he probably shouldn't have done this. Yes use, he essentially got a temporary month-long loan from the state party for a couple of personal things, used the wrong card a couple of times.

But their point is he paid the bill. There were some late fees involved but he paid the bill. There's no hanky-panky here. Is this done?

VISER: There were -- I think it does play into the narrative of him struggling financially in his own personal finances. But the issue with the credit card, there was nothing scandalous it doesn't appear, in these charges. It sort of raised the question why the campaign has waited so long for these to come out.

KING: That's the biggest one for me.

MARTIN: He was asked that question John in New Hampshire last week when he was filing his papers to be on the state ballot. And he said basically, well, this was a private matter. This is not a big deal. But he didn't have any answer for the basic question of why would you, knowing you're running for president, wait until you have a nice little bump in the polls in November to put this information out?

As Matt says, it appears to be sort of not much there but it does raise the question of why not put this out last year or two years ago. It's puzzling.


VISER: In talking to the campaign they were saying -- they were saying, their argument at least is that it didn't come up -- in 2010 he was leading in the polls. He was not really in a position where he felt like he needed to release these other two years. And lately the media scrutiny has just reached a level where they felt like they need to do it.

ZELENY: The campaign was trying to spotlight on the fact that there is anything there. The bigger issue is his retirement accounts I think -- his financial wisdom of cashing out some of these retirement accounts and things.

MARTIN: But if that's all there is John --

ZELENY: Is he living beyond his means?

MARTIN: -- if Jeb Bush's campaign or the broader field -- if this is all they have to use against Rubio, then they're going to have to keep looking.

KUCINICH: And it looks --

MARTIN: It is pretty thin.

KUCINICH: -- it also makes him more relatable in a lot of ways for, you know, your average every day American.

MARTIN: He had a very Bill Clinton line the other day when he was asked about this in New Hampshire. He was talking about this issue and he said I'm more worried about the country's financial future than my financial past.

KING: Thinking about you not about me.

MARTIN: Exactly.

KING: Right. If he can turn to -- most of these candidates are wealthy. Most of them are wealthy -- he can turn to them and say "I'm sorry I don't have your money, Mr. Trump." Or "I don't have your money, Governor."

We'll see how it plays out. We'll see if there are more questions.

You two at the end here, I think, I don't know about you two there -- sorry, but we're in New Hampshire this week. You spent some time with Jeb Bush. And the big question about Jeb Bush is, you know, where did you go? You were the early favorite and now you're in dismal shape nationally.

I love this line in your story. "I can outwork a mule" -- he better get to it. And "I can outsmart most people if I'm focused on it. And I've got a proven record to go share. I just have to learn to toot my horn a little better."

VISER: It is an interesting moment for Jeb Bush totally recalibrating a John McCain-like campaign now in New Hampshire. The other interesting about Bush was I asked him about his debate preparation. He has this next debate coming up. What are you doing any differently? He said the thing I'm doing differently is I'm not preparing that much. We're not doing debate prep.

He almost feels like a slugger who is in a big slump and he needs to get away from the game for a little bit hoping when he returns he's able to hit the ball again.

KUCINICH: But isn't the problem he was out of the game for so long?

MARTIN: Big Papi Jeb.

[08:40:01] KING: Singles, singles. He needs some singles.

All right. Everybody sit tight.

Up next, Hillary Clinton has the momentum heading into round two of the Democrats' debate but Bernie Sanders seems to be taking sharper aim.

First though, "Politicians say the darndest things". Senator Sanders it seems -- Jeff Zucker watch out -- a back up plan.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dream job that you would like to have right now if you could not be a politician?




[08:45:05] KING: Welcome back.

One important lesson of 2015 is to use Snap Chat or the old school equivalent, a pencil, when making political predictions so that they disappear or at least, pretty easy to erase. The voters are clearly in a mood to surprise us so we should be careful about what we predict.

But looking through all the state and national polls available right now, it's not too crazy to say the Democratic race could, could be over pretty quickly while the Republican race drags on for months, which is why the second Democratic debate Saturday night is so important for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

It is in Des Moines and our brand new CNN/ORC numbers show a clear Clinton Iowa advantage: 55 percent for Secretary Clinton, 37 percent for Senator Sanders, just 3 percent for the former Maryland governor, Martin O'Malley. Those three Democrats will be on stage Saturday. Worth nothing -- there will be eight in the primetime Republican debate -- that's a change -- eight. And then you have undercard debate -- Governor Christie and Governor Huckabee falling to the undercard.

But Jeff Zeleny, you have these three Democrats. If you're Hillary Clinton, you love those poll numbers. People are starting to use that "inevitable" word again --

ZELENY: Right.

KING: -- which you probably don't like because you remember that from 2007 to 2008. But if you're Bernie Sanders, you have to change the dynamic of this race, do you not?

ZELENY: You do, absolutely. I mean the early states were always going to be the strong part for Bernie Sanders. The Clinton campaign was talking about, you know, the fire wall for the Super Tuesday states. Now, they're looking really strong in Iowa and even better in New Hampshire.

So Bernie Sanders does need to mix it up a little bit. The question is, if he's willing to do that or not. And are there enough Democrats who are -- who sort of see him as a presidential (inaudible) here.

I was out in Iowa with Hillary Clinton this past week. And I was struck by in Iowa City, a very liberal part of the state. There were people who, a couple of months ago, would have been Bernie Sanders supporters. They are now consolidating around her. And boy she's is campaigning harder and in a different sense than she did in '08. She stayed for nearly 90 minutes at this town hall meeting -- took every question possible. She seems to me like she is intent on not repeating the mistakes of 2008 and her campaign is better.

But as you said, sometimes voters surprise us. Sometimes those New Hampshire voters surprise us. So it's far too early to say this is over. But it's certainly heading in that direction.

KING: She has an interesting reason -- a very good reason, politically, to want to wrap this up as early as possible. If you look at the polling, she's rebounded in New Hampshire. She has that big lead in Iowa. When you move to places where you get into the non- white Democratic electorate, which Bernie Sanders just by nature being from Vermont has no experience with, we look at the South Carolina polls, look at the south -- Hillary Clinton blows him away among African-American and Latino voters.

It might change. Bernie Sanders gets a couple of wins -- sometimes that helps to change it. But if you look at the national polls right now: Quinnipiac this past week had -- this is -- we'll show you this graphic: Clinton versus the top four Republicans. She loses to Ben Carson nationally by ten points. It's very early. These national polls are premature but just look at the numbers.

She loses the women's vote to Ben Carson right now. She beats Donald Trump. Donald Trump of the top four is the weakest general election candidate for the Republicans. You see the big gender gap for Hillary Clinton who would be the first female president there.

But look at this -- Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz -- statistically that's essentially a dead heat. But Hillary Clinton, you see women voters there, especially white women -- white working class women she has a problem with. She also has a problem with independent voters.

So what she hopes is lock this up and then address your weaknesses.

VISTER: Yes. I think that she's got some issues, you know, as we're seeing for the general election. I'm also interested sort of in the next debate with Bernie. If you talk to his people, he was a little bit nervous, I think, in that first debate. He's never been on a stage that big. He had done Vermont public access debates for the Senate in a state of 600,000. Now he's on a big national stage --

ZELENY: The difference is 15 million people.

VISER: Yes. So I think for this next debate looking to that is whether he can land any punches on Hillary Clinton and change those numbers a little bit.

KUCINICH: And I think one of the -- we've said this from the beginning Hillary Clinton can only beat herself. And I think that still remains very true.

And the interesting thing, I watched Bernie Sanders being interviewed by Rachel Maddow on Friday. And one of the interesting things he still can't stick the landing on the gun question. And when you're talking about the Democratic base, they care about the gun question and gun control. Bernie Sanders hasn't gotten a good answer about, you know, that he's, yes, from a rural state. Yes, he voted against the Brady Bill. That's not going to be good enough for progressive voters. It's just not.

MARTIN: The fact is, that we can try to infuse the race with drama, but if Hillary Clinton wins Iowa it's hard to see how she's not going to be the Democratic nominee. And that is because even if she has a problem in New Hampshire, she can chalk up that to a regional issue because Bernie is from next door, New Hampshire is quirky, Independents can vote.

And then you're on to Nevada and South Carolina. It's just hard to see where she would slip. Iowa, which broke her heart last time, this time could really deliver her the campaign.

KING: Might the biggest number in presidential politics this week be five -- meaning the unemployment rate dropping to 5 percent?

MARTIN: Absolutely.

KING: And the country is -- the people still say the country is on the wrong track but the whole Republican argument is you don't want a third Obama term. If the unemployment rate is below 5 percent does it not make it a hell of a lot harder for Republicans to say you don't want another -- no matter who that Democrat is?

[08:50:06] ZELENY: That's about it, I mean. And she always says she's not running for Barack Obama's third term.

MARTIN: Sure she is.

ZELENY: She'll be happy to run for his -- his third economic term. And the reality here is it might be below 5 percent by then because that's how it's heading here.

But this is such good news for her if the economy is improving, adding so many things to it. But I still think the problem for her long-term is her likability and her trust has been frozen. So her issue is the general election.

But, you know, first things first, just win the primary first. And if she locks it up early, as you said, this is so huge for her.

KING: The question is the people, we have the people here -- two- thirds of people think the country is on the wrong track right now. We have 5 percent unemployment. Will those numbers, you know, will somehow -- will the better economic news start to translate or do the people see longer term problems on the horizon and the short term unemployment rate isn't moving them?

VISER: Yes. And that's the big question for the campaign.

The other part with Bernie is he has a new tag line in his ads which is "a leader you can trust". He's starting to implicitly suggest that Hillary Clinton is not trustworthy. But the question for the next debate is can he deliver that on a debate stage?

KING: That's right. Can he do it himself? We'll see.

Up next our reporters share from their notebooks including New Hampshire's impact on the Bush family history.


[08:55:58] KING: Let's head around the INSIDE POLITICS table and ask our great reporters to help get you out ahead of the big political news just ahead.

Jeff Zeleny.

ZELENY: John -- a key week for Bernie Sanders. We've seen this kind of debate going on between Bernie Sanders and his advisers. His advisers are more aggressive let's say against the chief Democratic rival, on of Hillary Clinton than Bernie Sanders has been. But this week is a key moment for him to see if he'll step it up. Because, of course, the debate on Saturday is a really -- not a last opportunity but a key opportunity for Sanders to show that he is going to call her out on some of these issues.

He's been kind of hot and cold on distinguishing himself. He does not seem comfortable sort of playing the role of the hard guy here. But she certainly is. But we'll see who wins this internal fight -- his advisers who want him to be harder or Bernie Sanders who's kind of a nice guys.

KING: Maybe his advisers will send in Larry David.

ZELENY: They could.

KING: Jackie.

KUCINICH: Well, we're seeing Twitter become increasingly -- have a bigger role in this election. A couple of months ago, they launched the ability to donate through Twitter to the different candidates. Now three-fourths of the candidates are using that at this point and next week at the Democratic debate, they're going to be taking questions from Twitter users much like you've seen with Facebook. So that'll be interesting to see, you know, what the Twitter users want to know from the candidates.

KING: In 140 characters or less.

Mr. Martin.

MARTIN: Is New Hampshire still New Hampshire -- John? John Kasich, Chris Christie, and Jeb Bush are all running the traditional New Hampshire playbook -- time on the ground, retail politics, organize- organize-organize. It's not yet paying off in the polls.

I'm curious to see the surveys coming out of that state in the next week to ten days. Are they going to start reflecting the investment from the candidates who are running the usual way?

John Kasich last week told me he thinks these debates amount to "American Idol". Chris Christie told me that they're offering sugar highs or candidates. Their wager is that the debates matter but the old ways of New Hampshire matter more. It's going to be perhaps the most revealing part of this primary not just who comes out of New Hampshire but do the old ways of New Hampshire still count?

KING: That's a great point.


VISER: Watch for the Republican Super PACs. They're starting to mobilize a lot more against Hillary Clinton, which is reflective of the nature of the Republican primary now where the candidates, there's a lot of intra-party squabbling now the Super PACs are coming up out of the woodwork and some well moneyed ones and starting to take out national ads against Hillary Clinton targeting her in the early states.

And we'll see two things from this. One: can it stifle Hillary Clinton's awfully good several weeks; and two: what types of attacks are really going to work and stick against her?

KING: Early laboratory there.


KING: I'll close with this -- a bit of a follow up to what J Martin was just talking about. Family history has to give Jeb Bush more than a little pause as he stakes his comeback hopes on the New Hampshire primary. His father, then president, won the first-in-the-nation primary back in 1992, but I remember I was there a strong 37 percent showing by the conservative Pat Buchanan underscored conservative anger at President Bush over his breaking of his famous no new taxes pledge.

Then in 2000 John McCain New Hampshire win stunned the George W. Bush campaign thought the Texas governor then did go on to secure the GOP nomination and the presidency.

As we've discussed, Jeb Bush now looking to New Hampshire at a time his national poll numbers are frankly, miserable. And most of the national media accounts are about his fall from early favorite to a campaign on life support.

But, but -- don't write the Jeb obit just yet. Several strategies from rival campaigns concede Bush had a decent few days in New Hampshire. One of them notes the state does have a history including John McCain in 2000 and again 2008 of throwing a lifeline to candidates who appear to be teetering. A little skeptical but we'll see. Keep an eye on Jeb. That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. Again, thanks for sharing your Sunday morning. We'll see you soon.

"STATE OF THE UNION with Jake Tapper starts right now.