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Focus on Donald Trump in Debate; Interview with George Pataki; Should Republicans Be Winnowed from Debates; Debate Focuses on National Security Debate. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired December 15, 2015 - 13:30   ET



[13:33:15] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar. WE all live at the Venetian Hotel here in Las Vegas as the candidates have been doing the walk-throughs of the auditorium where the debates will take place tonight and trying to get the bearings ahead of what is a big night, talking about national security at a pivotal time in the world, and in our country.

Center stage tonight is going to be Donald Trump, and obviously, I think that there is going to be a lot of focus on him, both from the candidates who are next to him, as well as people who are watching at home, and here in the auditorium.

I want to bring in Katrina Pierson, a spokesperson for the Trump campaign.

Thanks so much for being with us.

What is the goal of Donald Trump tonight, and how specific will he get on national security?

KATRINA PIERSON, SPOKESPERSON, DONALD TRUMP CAMPAIGN: Well, the goal tonight is for Mr. Trump to continue leading on the issues that he is leading on since he entered the race, which is immigration, and national security and the economy. Mr. Trump has really been the one leading the narrative for all of the presidential candidates, including on the Democrat side, because we have issues in the country that have not been addressed for at least the last 15 years since 9/11 and we are finally having the honest discussion discussions.

KEILAR: I want to ask you about the "Washington Post"/NBC News poll and there is something startling what they found about how people would feel, and really, the comfort level with Donald Trump. 7 of 10 said they would feel anxious about Donald Trump as president, and 5 of 10 of them said they would feel strongly so. What do you say to that when you are hearing the numbers like that?

PIERSON: Well, I think they everyone is in the comfort zone. So for so long the general public has been conditioned not the talk about certain thing, and have a sense of the political correctness out there. So people are seeing somebody who is shaking up the paradigm, and so it is going to make people feel differently when we are talking about issues that we are not talking about issues that we have not talked about, but talking about the comfort level of leading, they still say Donald Trump.

[13:35:26] KEILAR: So you are saying that the discomfort with Donald Trump is not a bad thing?

PIERSON: No, not at all. I don't think it is a bad thing, and people are internalizing what is happening in the country. We have a choice now. We get to make a decision on where that goes because people are in a comfort zone that has been controlled by the political class and the media of the back-down mentally when it comes to American values.

KEILAR: Wouldn't you feel better if people were comfortable with the idea of him -- even if he his bringing something different, the idea of being comfortable with what he brings that is different?

PIERSON: Well, we'll get there. We have a long way to go. We still h have more debates. We have tonight, for example. And he will, when other candidates go out there to say this is my plan or talk about the things they want to do, which is really not in the best interest of the American citizen, they will be more comfortable with him, because what we have seen unfold after the last couple of weeks -- the policies he is putting in place are very much constitutional, are very much in favor of protecting the national sovereignty and the lives of the Americans, and people will realize that.

KEILAR: Some have questioned the constitutionally of the proposals and specifically this idea of a temporary ban of Muslims. Can you address that? You are here saying, no, this is constitutional and, yet, he is catching flack from informed observers who are saying it is not.

PIERSON: And other legal scholars have come out to identify the scope and the precedent for something like that. Title 8 gives the president of the United States the explicit authority to stop, pause, halt, any time he deems necessary, any class of alien citizen that he deems a threat to the United States. It is in Title 8 and in Code Section 11182. A lot of people throw in religious freedom and no religious test, but that is not in regards to immigration. That's only in regards to Article VI.

KEILAR: Let me address something else that we saw yesterday. We have seen protests from time to time at Donald Trump's rallies, but it seemed a lot of tension at the one he had last night in Las Vegas. And obviously, protesters were there to disrupt the rally, and they were taken out by security. It was unclear how involved the police were or the security at the event was, but there were a lot, and I will say several supporters yelling rather unsavory things that we can't repeat here on the air. What does that say sort of -- some people are looking at this and wonder if that is representative of the tenor of sort of what is happening and the anger that Donald Trump is tapping into.

PIERSON: Well, we also know that there's a lot of plants at some of the rallies to make it look as if there are supporters saying and doing bad things, so I will leave it there. But I will say --

KEILAR: And you actually think that some of the people yelling, you think that they were pretending to be supporters and misbehaving?

PIERSON: But I am saying that I don't know, because we have seen it happen a number of times. Even in the grassroots movement of the Tea Parties, there would put slants in there to make the Tea Party look racist. They would hold up signs and people standing next to them would literally say, this guy is not with us. And we have experienced it over time in the grass roots movement.

But I will say that there is a point of contention in this country and, for the first time in a long time, we have opposition to the status quo. And I expect people to engage in the political process.

KEILAR: Can I talk to you about Ted Cruz?


KEILAR: It seems that at this point, especially after the audio that was revealed of Ted Cruz, saying he thinks that the Donald Trump campaign is going to peter out, and revealing of his strategy, he wants to be the guy who is there when it does. Donald Trump -- Donald Trump --

Actually, hold on just a minute, Katrina, standby with me, because I want to go to Jeff Zeleny, who is inside the Venetian where he has a candidate who is arriving.


GEORGE PATAKI, (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE & FORMER NEW YORK GOVERNOR: I feel great. I feel the stress for the country and seeing what happened with the L.A. schools today and knowing that too many Americans are frightened in their own communities because we have not confronted radical Islam like we should have. It is unfortunate. Democracy continues. And the debate will be fun and, hopefully, a lot of people will watch.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So much is focused on the top of the ticket, Donald Trump, obviously, and Ted Cruz, and is this a different moment for voters as we are six weeks out of the decision?

PATAKI: I do. We are getting to the point where they say, we understand the anger, and understand expressing that we dissatisfied, but we need somebody who can unite America and lead us, a strong leader who will bring us together to confront the problems like radical Islam. This is not the time for petty partisanship, and not the time for personal political aggrandizement, but it is time for us to come together and defeat a horrible threat that challenges us here.

[13:40:16] ZELENY: Governor, good luck tonight.

PATAKI: Thank you.

ZELENY: Thank you.

PATAKI: Appreciate it. KEILAR: Jeff Zeleny for us inside the Venetian.

Jeff, I hope that you can hear me. There you have former New York Governor George Pataki, and it is interesting, because he is someone who a lot of people are looking at him, and wondering is this campaign really going to be around that long. If you can address that? Also if you can address, we have heard some Republicans who have said that there are too many people on the stage, and too many people in the mix. Actually, they feel it's not giving advantage to some of the frontrunners, and they would like to see them actually be able to have a little bit more time. What do you think?

ZELENY: Sure, Brianna, and that is one of the central questions for George Pataki, why is he still in this race. But he got in the race in the first place to make sure someone was leading the conversation, an adult in the room, so to speak. He is an experienced governor. He said issues in substance only. And I think that George Pataki is not expecting to win the Iowa caucuses or the New Hampshire primary, and I don't expect him to be in this campaign for that much longer.

But it begs the question that, perhaps he is not crowding anyone else out here, he is not taking any support from anyone, but it does beg the question of how long we will have 13 candidates in the race. I think that after this debate going into the Iowa caucuses, would not be surprised at all if a couple of the candidates would see the writing on the wall and decide to sort of save face, if you will, and decide to drop out. We don't know if it is George Pataki or someone else.

On this point, he has nothing to lose, obviously, by staying in the race. But as we are closer to picking a president, as they say, some candidates are simply not moving up in the polls, and not gaining support, and that is a tough decision for all of them to make -- Brianna?

KEILAR: Certainly is. And we expect some of them will make it. Unclear who will go first, of course.

Jeff Zeleny there as he is monitoring candidates coming inside the Venetian on their way to their walk-through in the debate hall.

In the debate hall, we have Sara Murray, who is watching from the inside.

And, Sara, what are you seeing? But also the idea of the undercard debate that someone like Governor Pataki is a part of, the question is how much longer are these going to be going on? We have seen Chris Christie, who is at one point bumped down to the "kiddie table," and then able to get back on to the main stage, but is there a sense that anybody else can ascend in a way that Chris Christie have been able to do?

SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think that Lindsey Graham would hope that he is one of the candidates. Anybody on the stage in the undercard debate would hope to have a moment to bring them up to the main stage. But I do think that at a certain point, you lose the value of the undercard debate. I don't know if it happens before any state votes so that is why you will see George Pataki, and other candidates who want to stay in the race at least through Iowa and maybe even through New Hampshire, because they want to hear it from voters, whether or not they can get enough people to support their candidacy. They don't necessarily want it decided by a debate stage. Once you get through Iowa, that is the point where you will see more people looking at the campaigns, and saying, maybe we don't have the support here to keep on going.

KEILAR: It will be a tough decision for many of them.

And Sara Murray inside of the debate hall, thank you so much.

And we are going to continue covering the candidates coming in for the walk-through, getting the lay of the land ahead of this big debate tonight, moderated by our very own Wolf Blitzer. We'll have more live pictures for you from the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, after the break.


[13:47:18] KEILAR: I'm Brianna Keilar, and you are watching live coverage on CNN ahead of the Republican presidential debate, the CNN- hosted debate here at the Venetian here in Las Vegas.

And right now, you are watching live pictures of the former New York Governor George Pataki inside of the debate hall getting the lay of the land. And these are the walk-throughs that candidates do with the CNN folks who have been working for months and months on this debate. You can see that he is sort of looking out into the audience and getting a sense of, certainly, the countdown clock which is very, very important.

And of course, there are many important things to talk about ahead of the national security-focused debate. And here with us, we have CNN political commentator, Ana Navarro, who is also a Republican strategist and a supporter of Jeb Bush and an adviser to other candidates; and we have CNN senior political analyst and "National Journal" executive director, Ron Brownstein; and also Jennifer Granholm, former Michigan governor, now a senior adviser and surrogate to "Correct the Record," which is a pro Hillary Clinton pact; and we have CNN political commentator, Jeffrey Lord, who is a supporter of Donald Trump.

The tone of this debate, certainly, taking a big turn as we've seen events unfolding here in Los Angeles before the presidential debate. It's a debate focused on national security.

Who do you think, Ron, has the advantage when you're talking about this topic, you're talking about this point in time.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Clearly, it has benefited Trump, surprisingly in view of most of most republicans.

KEILAR: And a lot of people -- I think a lot of people --


KEILAR: -- are surprised by that. Why is that?

BROWNSTEIN: Because it is the nexus of immigration and terror that has benefited him, Trump. The core of Trump's rise, was the focus on immigration, and appealing to the Republican voters who are feeling economically and demographically threatened by the changes, but when you add to the addition al mix of the terror and the question of whether or not the world is bringing threats to the homeland, I think that is what is allowing him to take off, and you will see, I think that the other candidates are surprised by the reaction in the polling, for example, to his call for a Muslim ban, which is unpopular with the public overall, but popular with the Republican base.

KEILAR: Yes, his numbers are certainly not hurting from that. Come to us at the perspective of someone who supports Jeb Bush. And really, just I think that as a member of the Republican Party about when you are looking at the poll numbers jump for Donald Trump following this, what does it mean for the party and for candidates like Jeb Bush who are more moderate?

[12:49:54] ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I think that the reason that Donald Trump is and why he's so popular and why he's winning on this issue of national security when Republicans get polled is because of the frustration that Republicans have after seven years of President Obama, somebody that they see as meek, as weak, as mild, conciliatory language, deliberative, kind of vacillates on his strategy or lack thereof and Republicans are very frustrated, fed up, and frankly concerned with what's going on. They like the bluster, the leadership, the strength, the obnoxiousness, if you like, of Donald Trump.

What it means for the rest of the party, though, is they can't compete with that so they have to stick with what they know, which is specifics, which is policy. I think what you're going to see from Jeb Bush and some of the other candidates is pull out their record, pull out their proposals. Jeb Bush was the first one that came out with a proposal on how to fight is. I think you're going to hear him talk about all the endorsements he has from Medal of Honor winners, from flag officers. I think you'll see Marco Rubio talk about his experience in the foreign affairs committee. I think you'll hear Chris Christie talk about his experience as U.S. Attorney on 9/11. They'll all try to lay a claim to this. Trump has got to bluster because he's got no record, he's got no substance and bluster is working for him.

KEILAR: What is your candidate looking at this and thinking? Is she loving this? It sounds like a lot of Democrats say this is great, they love this fight that's going on.

JENNIFER GRANHOLM, (D), FORMER MICHIGAN GOVERNOR: First of all, she gave a speech earlier day --

KEILAR: Talking about ISIS.

GRANHOLM: -- about Homeland Security and how to rout it out at home. She's given speeches at the Brookings Institute and Council on Foreign Relations. It's the reason she beats Donald Trump and Ted Cruz by nine points on who would you rather have in charge on defeating is. People trust that she's got a plan. What kills me about this is the bluster of Donald Trump, is not only is it dangerous because it makes him the key recruiter as everybody has said, but he is going after Muslims in a way that prevents him or anybody from being able to effectively recruit our allies. You can't be dissing the whole Muslim population and then expect our Arab allies to be enlisted with us in the fight. So he's making it dangerous in recruiting and he's making it impossible to make sure that we have good allies who have boots on the ground.

KEILAR: Let me ask you about this, though, because there certainly is -- there's a lot of angst I think in the country when it comes to where foreign policy is right now, where national security is. There's a lot of dissatisfaction with President Obama, rhetorically, substantively, as well. I was at the speech Hillary Clinton gave at Brookings on the Iran deal. Certainly, she has this experience, but she's going to get hammered at this debate tonight. She's not on the stage but she's going to be someone that Republicans are really taking aim at.


KEILAR: Inevitably, she will be seen as somewhat of an extension of President Obama on foreign policy and --


GRANHOLM: But here's the kicker on this. They all want to see more air strikes. What's President Obama doing? More air strikes, 9,000 last month. She supports that too. Many of them want to see a no-fly zone, not all of them. She supports that. Many of them want safe zones. She supports that. There's very -- the biggest differences between what she has put on the table and what the Republican field has put on the table is that most of them want to put boots on the ground and she has said that would be counterproductive because you need to have allies on the ground. And they have alienated the Muslim population, and that's counterproductive. So you saw Jeb Bush -- some of you saw Jeb Bush after he was -- after she was interviewed on another channel on Sunday and he was asked, what is he going to put on the table that's different than what she has. He couldn't come up with anything.

KEILAR: I do want to get Jeffrey in here before we wrap this up.

Your guy, center stage tonight.


KEILAR: Is he going to be about the rhetoric? Is he going to be about the substance? A lot of folks have taken aim at Donald Trump and said he's not delivering on specifics.

LORD: He'll be about the message. I think all too often --


KEILAR: What is the message?


KEILAR: What does that mean?

LORD: I think the message is strength and decisiveness in dealing with ISIS and national security issues. This is, I think --


KEILAR: How will he set himself apart from what we heard President Obama outlining yesterday on the Pentagon.

LORD: By standing on the stage. I think Ana is correct. Here is President Obama in terms of perception and here is the perception of Donald Trump over here. It is 100 percent different. It is based to a large degree on not only his own persona, but the weaknesses of President Obama for the last eight years. And the fact that he seems to be meandering around and can't quite get a grip on this.


GRANHOLM: But it's all just words and bluster.

NAVARRO: You're not going to hear substance or policy from Donald Trump but it hasn't harmed him in the past.


[13:55:05] LORD: Jennifer, I mean I would point out this was not only said about Ronald Reagan when he was running for president, this was said about Ronald Reagan after he was president for four years. They were saying this. What is the policy? He doesn't understand substance. He doesn't know arms control. He doesn't know this. He ended the Cold War, for heaven sakes, because he had a strong message. He left the details to others. He knew how to make choices --


GRANHOLM: Donald Trump is no Ronald Reagan.


BROWNSTEIN: What makes this really complicated is to game out how --


LORD: Hillary Clinton is no Margaret Thatcher.

BROWNSTEIN: There we go.

GRANHOLM: I'm not sure she's shooting for that either.

(LAUGHTER) BROWNSTEIN: What makes this complicated how it may game out in a general election, most Americans do believe President Obama's approach to the Mideast to Islamic terrorism is not working. But they also felt that way about George W. Bush's approach. The velvet glove hasn't worked, the iron fist hasn't worked. So each side doesn't have a lot to fall back on in terms of generating confidence, that they have an answer to a problem that Americans increasingly wonder anyone has an answer to.

KEILAR: I do think we're going to be seeing a very exciting debate tonight and a very important debate tonight on national security.

Ana, Ron, Governor, Jeffrey, thank you so much to all of you.


KEILAR: That is it for me.

For our international viewers, "Amanpour" is next.

For our viewers in North America, NEWSROOM with Brooke Baldwin starts right after this.