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Final Republican Debate For Year; Trump Pledges To Run Only As Republican; Cruz And Rubio Spar Over Immigration And NSA; Carson Quizzed On Being Commander In Chief; Reviewing the Republican Debate; Target During Debate. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired December 16, 2015 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 10:00 a.m. Las Vegas, 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 9:00 p.m. in Moscow. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

We start with the final Republican presidential debate of the year now in the books. Thirteen candidates sparred over national security issues in two separate debates. Here are some of the highlights from the prime time portion.


RAND PAUL (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Trump says we ought to close that Internet thing.

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald, you know, is great at the one-liners, but he's a chaos candidate.

CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And this is what's like to be on the floor of the United States Senate. Endless debates about how many angels on the head of a pin from people who have never make a consequential decision.

BUSH: Donald, you're not going to be able to insult your way to the presidency.

BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's actually merciful if you go ahead and finish the job rather than death by a thousand clicks.

HUGH HEWITT, CONSERVATIVE RADIO HOST: So, you are OK with the deaths of thousands of innocent children and civilians. It's like --

CARSON: You got it.

PAUL: So, when you ask yourself, whoever you are, you think you're going to support Donald Trump, think, do you believe in the constitution?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They can kill us, but we can't kill them. That's what you are saying?

CARLY FIORINA (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And if you want something talked about, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman. PAUL: Well, I think if you're in favor of World War III, you have

your candidate.

JOHN KASICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Frankly, it's time that we punch the Russians in the nose. They've gotten away with too much in this world.

TRUMP: Virtually, the entire early portion of the debate was Trump this, Trump that. In order to get ratings like that. So, I've gotten to know him over the last three or four days. He has a wonderful temperament. He's just fine. Don't worry about it.

MARCO RUBIO (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Ted, you support legalizing people who are in this country illegally.

TED CRUZ (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: -- that for Marco to suggest our record is the same is like suggesting the fireman and the arsonist have the same record, because they're both at the scene of the fire.

HEWITT: Are you ready to reassure Republicans tonight that you will run as a Republican and abide by the decisions of the Republicans?

TRUMP: I really am.


BLITZER: Right after the candidates left the stage, our Chris Cuomo spoke with Donald Trump to see if there was any wiggle room in his pledge to stay in the Republican race? Listen to this.


TRUMP: I've been in the party but I've been a contributor. I've been sort of a fair-haired boy. Now, all of the sudden, I'm a little bit different. But I've gotten to know so many of the people, including the many of the people on the stage. I have a lot of respect for a lot of the people on the stage.

And so, I just decided -- I didn't know that question was going to be asked. But when they asked it, I did not hesitate. I just decided to just say, yes, I'm a Republican. And I'm going to -- I'm going to be a Republican. I'm not going to be doing a third party.


TRUMP: No, not no matter what. I mean, look, if -- the way I --

CUOMO: Not no matter what or no matter what.

TRUMP: No matter what.


BLITZER: No matter what, that's what he said. Let's go back to Las Vegas. Sean Spicer is joining us. He's the communications director for the Republican National Committee. Sean, thanks very much for joining us. I see a nice, big smile on your face. Was there ever any serious fear inside of the RNC, the Republican National Committee, that Trump might run as an independent third-party candidate?

SEAN SPICER, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, RNC: No, no, there wasn't. You know, I think Donald Trump signed that pledge early this year. He gave his word. And I think he's a newcomer to the political scene and he said that he wanted to see that he was treated fairly. I think he's seen that that's how we, at the RNC and chairman Reince Priebus, treat all the candidates. And I was glad to hear him reaffirm his commitment last night so that we can continue to focus on the real prize which is defeating Hillary Clinton.

BLITZER: If Trump is the Republican presidential nominee, are you convinced that all of the other Republican candidates will support, endorse him, vote for him?

SPICER: Yes, absolutely. Look, every single person on that stage is united by one thing, at least, which is this, that Hillary Clinton would move the country in the wrong direction, that she doesn't have a plan to keep America safe. And that every one of those individuals on that stage last night would do a much better job of providing solutions to the problem our country faces and providing a vision for where we need to go.

BLITZER: So, Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz, they put that mini feud behind them. As you know, they faced a little criticism respectively. Is it over now? Is that bromance, as it's called, between these two Republican presidential candidates back on?

SPICER: I don't know. I really haven't been privy to that bromance. But I will say that I enjoy watching our candidates focus on talking about their solutions, their vision and focusing their attacks on Hillary Clinton.

And if I may, Wolf, I just -- I would say that I think you, Dana and Hugh did a phenomenal job last night of keeping the debate focused on the issues, of making sure that candidates, their time was allotted properly and that they didn't run over each other.

And I -- sort of, real kudos to CNN for the way that it handled that debate, because it gave the viewers an opportunity to really understand the differences that those candidates have with each other, and the vision that they have for taking this country forward.

[13:05:08] BLITZER: Thank you. Thanks very much for that, Sean. Our goal was -- it was a simple goal. We wanted to make sure Republicans out there who are going to have to vote, select a nominee. They're going to be a little bit more knowledgeable about a potential commander in chief after the debate than before the debate. Did the differences, the agreements were they crystallized for Republicans?

SPICER: Well, I think for the many of millions of folks that were watching at home, that they were able to sort of look at each one of those candidates and hear the tone or the plan or the tactics that they offered and make a decision, hopefully, as we approach these early primary and caucus states which candidate or candidates best fit their -- where they want to take the country.

So, hopefully tonight -- last night was one step closer for a lot of folks in deciding who will best carry the Republican banner going into the general election.

BLITZER: Going forward, the next presidential Republican presidential debates, and the RNC is obviously directly involved in authorizing, sanctioning those debates, do you think there's still going to be two debates, the undercard, as it's called, and then the prime time debate? Or are there just going to be one debate from now on?

SPICER: That's a great question. I think we've been evaluating these on the case-by-case basis. But what chairman Priebus said this morning was, look, if you look at the interest -- and we haven't seen the numbers just yet. But the numbers of that early debate are millions of folks that have an interest.

We have so many qualified candidates that, as we approach each of these debates, we'll make a decision. But I think right now, we've done a really good job of allowing each one of those individuals to get on stage and give them their voice to share with people what they want to do. And as you can see by the viewership, there's just tremendous interest and enthusiasm and intensity on our side.

And, frankly, as we head into the, what, second or the third Democratic debate this Saturday night, where they continue to bury these debates so that Hillary Clinton isn't exposed to viewers. You see much fewer viewers, much less intensity, because I think all the horsepower is, frankly, on the Republican side.

BLITZER: We just got the numbers, by the way, and I'm just looking at them right now, Sean. I don't know if you've seen them yet. Eighteen million people watched the prime time debate. And in the early debate, 5.7 million people. Almost 6 million in that earlier debate. Those are significant numbers, the third highest presidential debate ever after the first two Republican presidential debates. Eight million, that's a big number.

SPICER: That's a huge number. It's tremendous. Congratulations to CNN, to Salem radio, but also to the millions of viewers who got to tune in and see how great candidates the Republican Party this field. I mean, the level of qualified candidates that we're putting forward, the amount of diversity that our side offers is in stark contrast to what you see on the other side right now.

It's, frankly, just a coronation of the Democratic Party going through the motions for Hillary Clinton so that she can say that she had a primary. But, again, you're not going to see anything close to those kind of numbers come this Saturday night for the Democrats or, frankly, for the rest of the cycle for them.

BLITZER: Yes, 18 million in the prime time debate, 5.7 million in the earlier debate, 5.7 million. So, maybe you'll keep that so-called early second tier debate going. SPICER: I hope you're getting like a cut or -- right? Are you

getting like a cut, Wolf? I think, you know, there's a lot of views --

BLITZER: I'm just -- I just the political news -- I'm just the political news junkie like you, Sean. I love politics. I love seeing these kinds of debates and I was honored and thrilled to be the moderator yesterday with Dana and Hugh. Thanks so much for your nice words.

SPICER: Kudos to you and to Hugh and Dana.

BLITZER: Thank you.

SPICER: You bet.

BLITZER: Thank you very much. Sean Spicer of the RNC. Say hello to Reince for us as well.

One of the biggest battles during last night's debate was the back and forth between Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. They sparred on several topics, including surveillance and immigration. Here is the exchange about military spending and foreign policy.


RUBIO: Three times he voted against the Defense Authorization Act which is a bill that funds the troops. It also, by the way, runs the iron dome and other important programs. And I have to assume that if you vote against it in the Senate, you would also veto it as president. He has also supported, by the way, a budget that is called the Containment Budget. And it is a budget that would radically reduce the amount of money we spend on our military. You can't carpet bomb ISIS if you don't have planes and bombs to attack them with.

CRUZ: Well, the notion Marco is suggesting, that somehow he has also tossed more than a few insults this direction. Let's be absolutely clear, ISIS and radical Islamic terrorism will face no more determined foe than I will be. We will utterly destroy them by targeting the bad guys. And one of the problems with Marco's fought (ph) foreign policy is he has far too often supported Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

RUBIO: It is a fact that the cuts we are facing today and the cuts that Senator Cruz would have supported with leave us with an even smaller Air Force and a smaller Navy than the one we are going to be left with. And the final point that I would make is Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama strategy is to lead from behind. It sounds like what he's outlining is not to lead at all.


[13:10:10] BLITZER: All right, let's discuss what we just heard with Rick Wiley. He's Scott Walker's former campaign manager. Political Strategist Angela Rye and Republican Strategist and pollster, Kristen Soltis Anderson. Kristen, who won that round between these two senators? KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I don't think there

was a clear winner because this is one of those issues where there's no consensus within the Republican Party. I think the most interesting debates are the ones that really tease out the differences inside the Republican tent.

And in things like immigration and national security, there isn't a consensus. There is healthy, interesting debate to be had. I think both Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz scored a few points on one other. But I think this is a debate that's going to continue evolving as we move beyond even Iowa and New Hampshire as these two try to duke it out to be sort of a non-Trump frontrunner.

BLITZER: Is the major to Trump now these two senators, Cruz and Rubio or is Dr. Ben Carson still a significant challenge, Rick?

RICK WILEY, FORMER CAMPAIGN MANAGER FOR SCOTT WALKER: I think Chris Christie is as well. I really do. I think he had a strong debate last night. And you can't count out someone with $50 million in Jeb Bush either. So, I think we're far from winnowing a field, at this point. But it was a great debate last night. It was and substantive and a lot of good back and forth. And I think that's healthy.

BLITZER: And people, hopefully, got better appreciation of where these candidates stand on the most important issue. Any future commander in chief has to deal with those. That was our goal.

There's another exchange, Angela, that we had. This one on surveillance. Listen to this.


CRUZ: I am very proud to have joined with conservatives in both the Senate and the House to reform how we target bad guys. And what the USA Freedom Act did is it did two things. Number one, it ended the federal government's bulk collection of phone metadata of millions of law-abiding citizens.


RUBIO: He is and so are those who voted for it.

This is not just the most capable, it is the most sophisticated terror threat we have ever faced. We are now at a time where we need more tools not less tools. And that tool we lost, the metadata program, was a valuable tool that we no longer have at our disposal.

CRUZ: I would note that Marco knows what he's saying isn't true.

PAUL: So, Marco can't have it both ways. He thinks he wants to be this, oh, I'm great and strong on national defense. But he's the weakest of all the candidates on immigration. He is the one for an open border that is leading us defenseless. If we want to defend the country, we have to defend against who is coming in. And Marco has more of an allegiance to Chuck Schumer and to the liberals than he does to conservative policy.


BLITZER: Well, you had three senators there, three Republican senators going at it. Who do you think did best?

ANGELA RYE, POLITICAL STRATEGIST: So, here's the funny thing, I think, to your last point, Chris Christie won that exchange. And that -- of course, we didn't see that full clip but that's when he comes in and he's, like, this is what it's like to have a debate on the Senate floor. Like, you don't -- we don't understand what they're talking about or why this is even relevant.

I think, overall, Marco Rubio won on foreign policy in this debate. He continually demonstrates the fact that he has tremendous foreign policy knowledge and wherewithal. Great timing for him but, of course, unfortunately for the country and the world overall is the fact that where he stands on foreign policy is resonating, for the most part, with the GOP. He even sent out a fund-raising e-mail last night right after this debate, saying that the isolationist strategies of Rand Paul and Ted Cruz are not good for the country right now or for the world. So, I think he definitely not only won that exchange but he also won the debate overall on foreign policy.

ANDERSON: Rand Paul's foreign policy world view is a minority view within the Republican Party. And it's clear why Marco Rubio would want to associate Ted Cruz with that sort of world view. When we're coming on the heels of this tragic attack in San Bernardino, I mean, this is not a time when Americans -- when they're thinking about the balance between privacy and security, the pendulum is swinging towards security. And I think that puts more of a momentum on the side of Marco Rubio in these kinds of debates.

BLITZER: Is Cruz, Senator Cruz, closer to Rubio on these sensitive national security issues or closer to Marco Rubio on these sensitive national security issues?

WILEY: I think he's closer to Marco, I really do. And I think, you know, they -- you have two candidates in Marco and Ted who are -- who are both rising in the polls. I mean, Ted had the huge bump in Des Moines -- the "Des Moines Register" poll. So, you're going to see them both go at one another. And I think there are differences. They're going to sort them out. We have a great -- we have a great stretch toward Iowa going right now. And I think Republicans, overall, should be happy where we are.

BLITZER: I want to play another clip by Dr. Ben Carson who had been doing really, really well. He's been sliding a bit over these past few weeks. He had this exchange when he was asked about bombing women and children in Syria.


HEWITT: Could you order air strikes that would kill innocent children by not the scores but the hundreds and the thousands? Could you wage war as a commander in chief?

CARSON: Well, interestingly enough, you should see the eyes of some of those children when I say to them, we're going to have to open up your head and take out this tumor. They're not happy about it,

[13:15:00] believe me, and they don't like me very much at that point, but later on they love me.


BLITZER: Angela, how is he doing right now?

ANGELA RYE, POLITICAL STRATEGIST: If it's based on that one exchange, I would say he's not listening. He's not listening to his foreign policy advisers. And I don't even understand what that analogy had to do with the question. I really think overall Ben Carson struggled in that debate and he's demonstrated exactly why his numbers continue to drop. He is not sharp on foreign policy, and his analogies are just -- they just seem to be just out of touch. All of the exchange on Twitter last night had everything to do with what planet is he on? Is he awake? Is he paying attention to the questions? And just from that one example, I think that was the biggest example of that.

BLITZER: Do you agree, Kristen?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST AND POLLSTER: Ben Carson has incredibly strong favorable. People really like him. But over the last few weeks, as the tenor of this debate has shift, can he be commander in chief I think is a question where he's falling short. So he still does reasonably well in the polls because people still like him. They think he's a good guy. But I think in this moment, where people are very concerned about our place in the world and national security, that's not an environment that favors Ben Carson.


RICK WILEY, FORMER SCOTT WALKER CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I think at the end of the day, these things are decided on the ground. Debate performances matter and we've seen that, but at the same time, you have to be organized on the ground. So I -- you can't count Ben Carson out because of maybe some missteps on a -- on the debate stage because you look on the ground in Iowa, in other places like that, he has strong performances there. So we have a long way to go still.

BLITZER: All right, I want to hold you. We have a long way to go on this show as well, so don't go too far away. We're going to continue our conversation.

Coming up, determined to take on Donald Trump, Jeb Bush had his best debate showing yet. That's what a lot of analysts are suggesting. Though, was it enough? Was it too little too late?

Plus, the FBI director says he has no doubt that a recent mass shooting in Tennessee was, in fact, inspired by terrorist propaganda. New information coming up. We'll share it with you.


[13:20:11] BLITZER: Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama were popular subjects last night in the last Republican presidential debate of the year, often being used by the GOP candidates to attack each other.

Joining us now from Capitol Hill is Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. She's the chair of the Democratic National Committee.

Congresswoman, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: Let's talk about that debate a little bit last night. First of all, I assume you watched all of it, right?

SCHULTZ: I did. Every last painful bit of it.

BLITZER: All right, good. So the Republican candidates, they kept mentioning Hillary Clinton almost every time they mentioned President Obama. They assume she's going to be the Democratic presidential nominee. As you know, the president has taken a lot of heat over his strategy to fight ISIS. Can -- do you know where Hillary Clinton would differ with the president's current strategy?

SCHULTZ: You know, Wolf, what I was struck by last night was, in thinking that if I had been watching and listening to this debate with my eyes closed, you would -- you would not have known that these were candidates for the presidency of the United States of America. It was more like a debate about the presidency of some authoritarian regime because each and every one of these candidates has taken Donald Trump's playbook and tried to make off with it and do everything they can to emulate and worship his agenda and his proposals and make sure that they can earn the support of his supporters, anticipating probably incorrectly that eventually he is going to nose-dive.

And, you know, as you know, Wolf, as the chair of the Democratic National Committee, I am neutral in the primaries. So when it comes to our candidates, you know, all three of them, any one of them would make sure that we continued to focus on defeating ISIL, on building the coalition of nation partners that President Obama has successfully put together, more than 60 nations now in that coalition, you know, engaged in the air strikes that we are engaging in, and the special operations force that are on the ground.

BLITZER: All right.

SCHULTZ: By the way, none of the Republican candidates posed anything differently last night.

BLITZER: So let me -- let me interrupt. Congresswoman -- congresswoman, where does Hillary Clinton differ with the president's strategy as you just outlined it?

SCHULTZ: You know, as I said, I am the chair of the DNC, so it's not for me to be outlining one of our candidates' positions. All three of our candidates, like all of the Republican candidates last night by the way, none of whom articulated any difference in the way they would prosecute defeating ISIL. That they all talked, or many of them talked about building a coalition and making sure -- and none of them, mind you, said, you know, we're going to send out ground troops and do things really any differently than Barack Obama. They -- what they didn't say though --

BLITZER: Well, they were -- they were -- I don't want to get into a whole issue of that, but several of them, for example, do support a no-fly zone over Syria. The president opposes a no-fly zone. You heard Lindsey Graham, the Republican candidate, say he wants 10,000 U.S. troops in Syria, 10,000 in Iraq.

SCHULTZ: Right. I --

BLITZER: The president clearly opposes that.

SCHULTZ: I mean we're --

BLITZER: But we don't have to go through that. The only --

SCHULTZ: We're talking about the undercard now and --

BLITZER: The only question I was -- I was trying to get a sense is, that when the Republicans attack Hillary Clinton, who's the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, say, you like the president's strategy of ISIS, vote for Hillary Clinton, because you're going to get more of that, are they right or wrong?

SCHULTZ: Well, you know, because all of them virtually last night -- no one carved out really a significant difference from the president's proposals and policies on how he is prosecuting defeating ISIL, I would say that -- that all of the candidates line up pretty similarly. But the bottom line is, where our candidates differ is in not suggesting that we ban all Muslims from entering the country like Donald Trump has said and all of the Republican candidates still have pledged to support him if he's the nominee.

Ben Carson, for example, doesn't seem to realize that where ISIL actually is, where the capital is, that they're not out in the desert on an island somewhere, you know, alone, ready to be carpet bombed. Ted Cruz, the same thing. So, I mean, you listen to all of those Republican candidates and they doubled down on extremism, on un- American policies that would take us back to the McCarthy era. And our candidates, when they debate on Saturday night, will talk about national security, economic security and making sure we can continue to move our country forward and sustain American values in the process

BLITZER: I don't know if you heard my interview at the top of the hour with Sean Spicer, the communications director for the Republican National Committee.

SCHULTZ: No, I didn't.

BLITZER: He -- like other Republicans, he keeps saying that you, as the chair of the DNC, he didn't mention you by name, but he said the Democrats, they try to bury these Democratic presidential debates on a Saturday night when people aren't even home watching television, because they really don't want Hillary Clinton to have much of a challenge. What's your response to that assertion?

[13:25:10] SCHULTZ: I'll point out that the RNC has all of their broadcast network debates on a Saturday night as well. So, you know, the bottom line is, these -- these network debates, we -- we have -- we had our CNN debate and then all of our other debates are on broadcast networks. Those schedules are quite a bit less flexible. And through our candidate forums and our debates, we are garnering large audiences and our candidates are also out on the campaign trail making sure that we can spread our message and draw the contrast between Democrats who want to help Americans build the cornerstones of the middle class life, and Republicans, all of whom want to take that away and go back to policies that got us into the worst economic cries since the Great Depression, and who want to roll up the ability for anyone to come to the country, shut the -- shut the United States down as a refuge that we have traditionally been to people fleeing persecution. The xenophobia and the un-American policies that have come out of the Republican field, I am sure will continue. As a result, in large part, from their extremism, the Democratic nominee eventually will be the president of the United States

BLITZER: We're out of time, but very quickly, are you adding any more Democratic presidential debates or are the limited number you have now, is that set in concretes?

SCHULTZ: We have a combination of candidate forums and debates and we are continuing to add candidate forums to our schedule and we have out six debates that are scheduled already.

BLITZER: So no more debates, but just candidate forums where the individuals are interviewed one-on-one, but there's no real debate between the candidates, you're going to stick with that format.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

SCHULTZ: We're giving them a variety of opportunities to see our candidates, while preserving their ability to be out on the campaign trail so that they can get up close and personal with the voters.

BLITZER: Thanks so much for joining us.

SCHULTZ: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, Jeb Bush on the attack, calling Trump the chaos candidate in last night's debate. How Trump hit back. That's coming up.