Return to Transcripts main page


Republican Candidates for President Examined; Interview with Sarah Palin. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired December 19, 2015 - 09:00   ET



[09:00:35] MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Michael Smerconish.

And after spending the weekend at Las Vegas for the GOP Debate, here's what I'm wondering. Is this the year of the great experiment? Do we finally learn what happens when the Republican Party nominates a pure die hard conservative? Hey, Ted Cruz. Instead of someone more pragmatic whose politics don't check all the idealogical boxes like Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush, maybe even Donald Trump.

Now, the purest snow that the party's most decisive victories in the last 35 years have been with die hard conservatives, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. They say when the party nominates more establishment types like Bob Dole or John McCain, and Mitt Romney, those candidates lose at accounts compelling but there's an alternate history. One that begins not with Reagan but with the drubbing that a very conservative Barry Goldwater took in 1964. This school of thoughts says that today even Reagan himself couldn't get nominated in a party dominated by Tea Party Freedom Caucus types. McCain and Romney, they lose because they were insufficiently conservative but because of the contortions that were demanded of them by even angelical questions and other social conservatives in primary and caucuses.

Maybe if Romney had run as the reasonable Republican who governed the blue state of the nation instead of a severe conservative, he could have beaten Obama. Instead his many flip flops made him damaged goods in the general. So what's the answer? Probably that no experiment will finally settle the debate because neither side would accept the outcome. If Cruz is nominated and loses badly to Quentin, conservatives will blame the media and say, "Well, moderates took a walk." And if Trump, Rubio, Bush, Kasich or Christie gets nominated and loses, the retort will again be that they were insufficiently pure.

For the Republican Party, good is perceived as the enemy of the perfect. And as a result, victory it seems illusive. I've done a lot of voices to weigh in on politics today including Sarah Palin, Tom Ridge and the political powerhouse of Bob Beckel, Peter Wehner, and E.D Hill.

First of, I wanted to talk to somebody who's been seeing this rift opening up ever since the days of Richard Nixon for whom he worked.

Joining me now is Patrick Buchanan. Patrick, Merry Christmas. Thanks for coming back to the program.


SMERCHONISH: Will you respond to the argument that for a Republican to win the White House you've got to increase the non-white vote and you can't get that done with the pure conservative?

BUCHANAN: Well, I think there is no doubt about it that the Republican parties got increased its penetration and vote among minority voters that it did very badly but of course Barack Obama was exceptionally strong. African-Americans, he won on 24 to 1 I think in 2008. I agree with that, Michael, but you also need to get out to Republican base. In the entire Republican priority, you need to unite the party. And frankly if you look at what Donald Trump offers this year, there is an ex-factor (ph), Michael, this enormous excitement going on where you can get 15,000 people in a hanger and they say Arizona in December. At the same time, you take a look at the turn out for this debate. I mean 27 million or something like that for a Republican Debate. So something is going on out there that goes beyond the traditional demographic breakdown.

SMERCONISH: As I just mentioned in Vegas, I heard a lot of people saying maybe this is the year we run the experiment because there's this argument within the party. Do you go for a bridge builder or a so called pure conservative? You wrote a column recently about what happened with Goldwater in '64 and you seem to come down on the side that says, "You run the pure conservative and be damned for those moderates you might get in the way."

BUCHANAN: Well, Michael, the difference this year is let's take Goldwater is a pure conservative, say, and Ted Cruz. In June of the election year, Goldwater was down over 50 points. Cruz is now running within four or five points with Hillary Rodham Clinton. So it's a much closer natural race. But I do agree that demographically and given the blue wall the democrats have established with those 18 stage that have gone democratic six trade times. It is an uphill climb for a Republican to win that election. One thing that got going for him though is in that two years of Barack Obama and the demand for change in this country and you can see it over there with Bernie Sanders two million contribute -- contributors the demand for change in this country is extraordinary, Michael.

[09:05:22] SMERCONISH: I heard from some conservatives in Vegas and they said, "Look, we're not going to make the mistake that we made in '08 or 2012." McCain was not a real conservative. Romney was not a real conservative. And my response was to say, "They had to so contort themselves in the nomination process that they lost the credibility that they needed to win a general election against Obama. But you know how it is, Pat. Everybody likes to look at a cycle and say sit there, I told you maybe there's something in the cycle where we settle this once and for all.

BUCHANAN: Let me just talk about McCain. He was down eight points when I was out of the Denver Convention for the Democrats and I said Obama is going to win this thing and that was the next morning right after Obama's speech, what did McCain do? He picks Sarah Palin, all right. And she gave a stunning speech at that convention.

SMERCONISH: I remember.

BUCHANAN: And for a while, two weeks after that, McCain oddly was five points up. Now, and then of course you had the whole economy saying break them, McCain handled it badly, so he went down to defeat. But the point that it says that there's a correlation.

Now, Bush was in there for eight years, everybody wanted him gone. He's down of it lower than Nixon almost, when Nixon departed. And we got Obama and the people have had enough for that. And the demand for change is very dramatic, Michael. I agree with you if you got a normal saying, will you run the normal demography? Let's say we got a Bush-Clinton race. I think Clinton would be the favored and the Republicans were groovy (ph), you have to hold Ohio and all the rest of it, Florida. But this could be a dramatically different kind of race given what's going on in the United States and what's going on in Europe. Look at Poland, look at Hungary, look at what's happening in France and places. All of these places, the rise is really moving.

SMERCONISH: But Patrick, a subject you pay close attention to, the shifting demographic of this country. Papa Bush got 59 percent of the white vote in ADA, and it earned in 426 electoral votes. Mitt Romney got the exact same share of the white vote and it only yield him 206 electoral votes largely because the face of the country has changed. That's the message I don't think the Republican Party has yet quite understood.

BUCHANAN: Well, I've written about that in several books...


BUCHANAN:... Michael. And I will say this, the Republican Party is under a death sentence. There is no doubt about it. And I urged them back in 1990. Look, let's halt immigration, a moratorium on all immigration, assimilate, Americanize the folks who have come here who are poor as they come up and go through the working class, in middle class, lo and behold just like the Irish and the Italians, and the Jewish folks and the Poli folks. Suddenly under Nixon back in the mid '60s, we moved them all right into the Republican Party and Nixon won 49 states that hugely popular fall, Michael, 49 states.

Now, unless you have a time out on immigration and even for a long period, I think the Republican Party is under a sentence of death.

SMERCONISH: As I sat in Vegas at the Venetian listening to the applause lines from the nine candidates on stage, I continually said to myself, it wins these audience, I don't know that it wins the nation. And that's where I think the party could come up short. You got the final word on this.

BUCHANAN: I think you've got a very good point, Michael. I was very concerned when I heard this people telling tell him, just saying out loud, "We're going to start shooting down on Russian planes in Syria." In the Cold War, Eisenhower never did something like that. Trum (ph) -- I mean, Nixon didn't break and didn't -- then I remember when Poland's solidarity was crushed. I urged the president be tougher, be tougher (inaudible), why didn't do it. You know, he sent Xerox machines to solidarity.

I think the last thing the American people want is a war with a nuclear arm power like Russia over Syria or in Bashar Assad (ph). So I think the Republican Party is too far out in the neocon, hawkish position on this except frankly for Cruz and for Trump pursuing the one who get along with Mr. Putin..

SMERCONISH: And for Rand Paul. He may not be of the same league but I was...


BUCHANAN: ... Rand Paul had a great night.

SMERCONISH: Yeah, I was drove to have this voice on the stage because but for Rand Paul and to a lesser extent, Cruz and Trump, you are right. We wouldn't have heard that argument and the argument is we are not necessarily making ourselves safe every time we open the new base in response to ISIS.

BUCHANAN: Exactly. And then what they are saying is I think is their National Security can service if the vital interest of the United States were at stake and in care off. We got to be strong and tough and tell our addresses, but the IG and we're going to start shooting them Russian planes in Syria is madness.

[09:10:05] SMERCONISH: Patrick Buchanan, thank you as always.

BUCHANAN: Thank you, Michael, and again, Merry Christmas.

SMERCONISH: You too, sir.

This and so much more to get into this week. And joining me, former Mitt Romney advisor, Peter Wehner, now senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Conservative Analyst E.D. Hill and Democratic Consultant, Bob Beckel.

E.D., great to finally have you here.

E.D. HILL: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Beckel, you know I love you. Peter, I'm glad your son's soccer season is finally over so that I can get you on my program.

You're first Peter Wehner. React to what you just heard from the (inaudible) about the experiment. What happens if it's a pure conservative?

PETER WEHNER, ROMNEY CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: Well it depends on which the conservative how or who are the conservative are you taking about. Like Marco Rubio is a conservative. He's a product of the Tea Party. He is a person that is a traditional conservative.

I don't know that it is so much the -- where they come down on the issues because Cruz and Rubio are pretty close on each. So I think a lot of this has to do with this position temperament and I would say that Ted Cruz is a crusader and Marco Rubio is a persuader. I tend to break politicians down into two -- those two categories. And I think that when you are a Republican on the national state, the presidential election now where you've lost five in the last six presidential elections in the popular vote, you need to have somebody who is a persuader. I think that temperamentally, Ted Cruz is problematic.

Look, Reagan was a conservative and Goldwater was a conservative. But then a very, very different approach in terms of politics. Goldwater had serrated edges. He scared people. Reagan did not. He had the ability to bring people on board and there was a grace to him and a niece (ph) that he have.

SMERCONISH: So I'm hearing from Peter that it's really not the issues that it's temperament. Do you agree with that? I saw you shaking your head while Pat was speaking.

E.D HILL, CONSERVATIVE ANALYST: Yeah, I think that temperament is important. But I also think that because of that, people aren't looking. I do not think you're going to get some extreme conservative. I don't say that the nation...


HILL: Yeah.

SMERCONISH: You're not going to get Ted Cruz?

HILL: I don't believe so. We keep on focusing on the radical left and the radical right. When the majority of Americans, if we talk to them, they're in the middle, they're squished there in the middle. It can be a little, little that way. But they are right there. They are looking for somebody who gives voice to their frustration with Washington. And that's why nobody likes the Democratic Party right now or the Republicans. Look at Obama, it'll -- but look at any of the leadership.

SMERCONISH: I so agree with what you've just said and yet you've never know it to look at the media and I think people then falsely perceive because they've got talking heads on the far left and far right. They think well that's where the country is and they're not.

HILL: Yeah, because they make money creating argument.


HILL: That's how you do it. It is what media does. But the fact is that when you talk to people out there, you walk through an airport, you go to your fifth grade class coffee, "Who are they talking about?" Who are they -- Even sometimes grudgingly they are like Trump. That's it.

SMERCONISH: Bob, I want to show you a commercial because I find it very ironic that the two Hispanic candidates, actually Cuban-Americans to be more definitive on the Republican side of the aisle or the ones now duping it out on who is toughest on immigration. This is a Ted Cruz commercial that goes after Marco Rubio, rolling.


TED CRUZ: Securing our boarders and stopping illegal immigration is a matter of national security. That's why I fought so hard to defeat President Obama and the Republican Establishment's Gang of Eight amnesty plan. There are misguided plan would have given Obama the authority to admit Syrian refugees including ISIS terrorists. That's just wrong.

When it comes to radical Islamic terrorism, I think we need to rediscover Ronald Reagan's strategy. We win, they lose.

I'm Ted Cruz and I approve this message.


SMERCONISH: Beckel, react to that. The idea that the Cruz and Rubio are duping it out and frankly you'd think they are the two who should be most interested in expanding the tent to reach Hispanics.

BOB BECKEL, CNN COMMENTATOR: Yeah, exactly right. First of all, I just tell you so factually wrong. I mean that if Ronald Reagan was the last person that had amnesty in '86, 3 million were allowed to stay in this country.

And -- So, but listen, what the (inaudible) -- I've listened to Pat Buchanan, he's old friend of mine and he and I bargained (ph) the demographics for years. Here's the difference. Two cycles ago, 80 percent of the voters in this country who voted for the presidency will wait. This time around, they reach 70 percent. And for the Republican Party to alienate the largest going demographics which is the Hispanics, where George Bush got 44 percent and the other two in the low 30, you can't win the presidency when you do that.

And so, you know, you can -- and Ted Cruz can -- and be as tough as he wants to be and they could try to complete this with the ISIS which is (inaudible). And you could then say to them, "Well, are you going to -- you're going to have 31 to 32 percent." Rubio, I think could probably pick that number up and that's always what scares me. I mean that the Republicans finally wake up and realize that the Hispanics not a long a year crucial to their winning but they are very much aligned with the Republicans in certain things. Their religion, their family values, notary issues, but the Republican see they continually, for some reason, drive them away.

[09:15:12] SMERCONISH: Guys, I've got to move on because we've gone three minutes without talking about Donald Trump. So we need to fix that.

Peter Wehner, I want to talk about the bromance between Trump and Putin. Will you listen to what Trump said this week about Putin? Where will that take?

You know, talking (ph) about Putin, I think that he is a strong leader, who is a powerful leader, he has represented his country at that -- so where the country is being represented and he actually got popularity within his country. They respect him as a leader.

SMERCONISH: How does that play? What's the net net among Republican voters? What message do they take? Is it one of mutual respect among the two? What do you think?

WEHNER: Well, I know the message it should take which is that Donald Tump is an embarrassment. He has pretentious (ph) forces, he is unbelievable. I mean Putin is a brutal dictator and he is giving praise to Trump and Trump in return is putting lavish praise on him. And he even went on to Blame America. This is a classic Blame America first answer that Trump gave yesterday when he said, "Well, Americans kill people too."

There was a time when some of us remember we're conservatives who wanted the candidates, Republicans wanted the candidate would actually defend America and stand up to dictators. But this actually goes to a much deeper issue, which is Donald Trump is an incoherent candidate. There is no philosophy for him, he's all affect (ph), he is appealing to the dark impulses of the country

Now, that happens from time to time you get figures like that in American politics. What's troubling to me in a lot of other people is that it's got a lot of resonance with a lot of Republicans but this kind of stuff has got stopping it. People self-proclaimed conservatives can hear Donald Trump talk that way about who -- and talk that way about America and not stand up to, were not criticized and -- then that's really shameful.

SMERCONISH: I think, E.D., it's a different take. What is it?

HILL: I disagree. I don't think that -- I think Trump was putting a difficult decision. I think he handles it. Things he believes, "And OK, wait," but if you're (inaudible) Putin, its trust but verify. You -- If you're -- You're not going to get anywhere if you're just in this, you know, battle. But I also think that the establishment just doesn't get it. It's not even what Trump said. As much as the fact that you feel he's got the guts, just stay -- you're yelling at the TV screen or what the people around you might thinking and are too politically appropriate to what he say.

SMERCONISH: See, I wonder if you're around to something that among the core Republican constituency, they regard Obama as "feckless," right?

HILL: Right.

SMERCONISH: And perhaps then, they look at Trump and Putin and say, "Well, they'd be equals and even...

HILL: It's not all matter (ph).

SMERCONISH: And even Putin showing to Donald some respect, by the way, in which he's commenting on him right now. Is that your point?

HILL: You know, who knows what Putin is doing? He is certainly out for himself and that's it. And I think that you have to look at it that way. I think that Reagan was very pragmatic in that way. Why go out of your way to make people more angry at America or to you? Don't. Just get through it and then watch them very closely.

SMERCONISH: Bob Beckel, on the data breach, this whole Sanders- Clinton DNC issue, my understanding is the front door was left open and Bernie Sanders' folks walked in. Look, it's a campaign. Should they not have done that? And what am I missing?

BECKEL: Well, I mean, your other issues, the contract that you sign with the DNC, any campaign does that to grab hold of voters. Listen, voters who go after him and if we get him, we get him if they're not get done. But you don't go after the other person's file. But there is something appropriate about Trump and Putin.

Putin has gotten himself some popularity in Russia by being a Nationalist. A hardline Nationalist, mother Russia. And Trump reminds me of America first. That these are two guys or two piece in a pod. They now had a stirrup. Some very deep emotions among your certain segment of their countries. And -- So I'm not so sure that two of them are not -- I'm not suggesting that they are exactly alike but - I will put this way. Putin could build a draft course if he wanted to.

SMERCONISH: But my question is how does it play among Republicans, Bob? Do you think that they look at the two of them playing nice with one another and they actually like that because they think that Trump could be his equal where they believe Obama is not?

BECKEL: That -- I don't. I think Trump's reporters don't really care what he says. As long as he keeps saying about immigration and keep saying about making America great again and isolating the country are, that's what they're referring to. And I was out in Iowa and I'm telling you, I can't find the Trump organizer. I can't find Trump's supporters, but not organizers, but Cruz is rock solid in Iowa. So, it's got to be interesting.

SMERCONISH: E.D., 30 seconds left.

Tonight, Americans will be at Star Wars, the democrats will be debating. Well, it's deliberate, right?

HILL: Who picks this night?

SMERCONISH: Well, I mean deliberately, right? To protect her?

HILL: I believe so.

[09:20:00] SMERCONISH: And will it work?

HILL: Yes, it will. But I all think to anyone's really pain that much attention. There is not a big grief going on there.

SMERCONISH: I remember with no disrespect to Erie, Pennsylvania. I work for (inaudible) inspector. He would deliberately debate his opponents in Erie so that -- and it was less appealing to tune in. Sorry, Erie. To Erie, PA to watch the debate. HILL: I don't know if there is football or hockey going on.

SMERCONISH: Exactly, yes. Penn State football.

HILL: Yeah.

SMERCONISH: E.D. Hill, thank you. Peter Wehner, thank you, Bob Beckel, as always, we appreciate your being here. Now, it's your turn. And we've already covered that on the ground. What do you think, tweet me @Smerconish and I'll read some at the end of the program.

Coming up, at Putin side, former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin at the Vegas debate and ask what she think of this year's crop of candidates, what she said about Marco Rubio and Carly Fiorina may surprise you. And former Homeland Security head, Tom Ridge, criticized both Obama and Trump this week as being unpresidential in dealing with ISIS. I will talk to Ridge about this and Trump's bromance with Vladimir Putin.


SMERCONISH: If you watch the CNN National Security debate this week, you know that ISIS and the fear of terrorism will (inaudible). And the prevailing sentiment among the GOP candidates was that President Obama isn't doing enough or showing enough leadership.

In a former, former Homeland Security head Tom Ridge. But first, this week, Mr. Obama went on the offensive visiting the Pentagon and the National Counterterrorism Center and then yesterday at his end-of-the- year press conference, he delivered strong words albeit in a very measured tone. Listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF U.S.A: Squeezing ISIL's heart, its core in Syria and Iraq will make it harder for them to pump their terror and propaganda to the rest of the world.


SMERCONISH: Mr. Secretary, thanks for coming back. Respond to what the President had to say on Friday.

[09:24:57] TOM RIDGE, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Well, words have -- don't convince me. I don't believe we are squeezing ISIS harder. And the same so doesn't make it so. We're still not getting the requisite equipment promised to the courage (ph) or really primary boots on the ground along with 3,000 of soldiers. We still haven't engaged the countries in the neighborhood to deploy their military equipment and their soldiers and we still haven't engaged our friends in NATO.

So, the President may say they are squeezing ISIS but it certainly doesn't appear to me based on what happened in St. Bernardino and in Paris and in elsewhere that it's had very positive results. I mean I just -- it is just not aggressive enough (inaudible) you know, and everybody associated with that opportunity to try to not contain and believes they have to be defeated and we don't have a policy that leads to their ultimate defeat and destruction. We just don't.

SMERCONISH: Well, fear not because Donald Trump stands ready to fill that void.

RIDGE: With Donald Trump who just got the endorsement from Vladimir Putin and he was honored by (inaudible) just in disbelief that he was honored to be endorsed by the leader of the country that shut down an innocent commercial airline or the leader of the country that has invaded another country the first time in World War II, and the leader of that country that has embraced and welcomed Snowden.

So if he considers that an endorsement and he's got in a certainly different view of the value of that. And (inaudible), I don't think two million Americans are pretty excited about that Donald Trumb being giving all those wonderful sweet words from Vladimir Putin.

SMERCONISH: You've been saying and you've been writing that Trump actually plays right into the hands of ISIS. How so?

RIDGE: When he lumps (ph) all Muslim together as he did, and one time he was talking about making them all registered and now we could deny them all access but couple of things happen.

One, it embraces in ads plastered (ph) to the ISIS narrative, it's us against them because that sounds familiar like Donald Trump has said they're all (inaudible) and most of the world knows they're not. And the second thing that he has done, it is his conduct -- he has created a situation here in the United States where I believe he is part of heightening anxiety about the good law abiding peaceful Muslims in our community and he's kind of you know the reality in the first time in that he was.

SMERCONISH: When you say that through speech he presents this as an asperse as them on a religious basis, it reminds me of the President. And Governor, you and I both use the verbiage radical Islam. But the President says the reason he doesn't is because of the reason you just said with regard to Trump because then it sets up this false choice of Christianity versus Islam which is not the way the Obama administration wishes this to be cast.

RIDGE: My (inaudible), when the President had his Sunday evening address, I felt like he thought that my fellow Americans and I were bigots that we needed a lecture from the President of the United States that we cannot distinguish between those who bring their evil, their horn, their ideology to St. Bernardino, in Paris, and elsewhere. And from those Muslims that we all know are peaceful people, and this is a President who has failed to use his bully pulpit to calm the fears and the anxieties of the balance of American people.

Frankly like President Bush did quite some time ago, right after 9/11 and this is President who likes to drive redlines in the same -- let's then talk about those peaceful loving hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world and those that who have rapped themselves in this perverted sense of Islam to justify their evil.

SMERCONISH: Earlier in the week, the LA school system canceled school because of a threat that New York didn't take seriously. And then just yesterday in Virginia, 10,000 kids didn't have to go to school because there was a geography lesson that involved doing some type of a sketch relative to Islam that cause such blow back but the superintendent made the decision to cancel school for the day, I'm sure you followed those two cases.

RIDGE: I don't know if there is hypersensitivity, it's politically correct, I mean one of the challenges I think we have in this country is we don't understand the religion in of itself and then the notion that somehow a childhood lesson or an educator's lesson involving the geography of the Islam and where the -- where it's heavily concentrated has somehow is blown way out of proportion, it was just -- I looked at that and said I think people better just calm down, we need to learn a lot more about Islam.

SMERCONISH: And final subject area, you're a Jeb Bush guy...

RIDGE: Yup...

SMERCONISH: ... I think he turned in a solid performance, it's the first time that I've been able to say that about him in this week's debate. American Republicans are responding to Trump's tough talk, what makes you think that Jeb may have turned the corner given the terror seems to be the number one issue?

[09:30:02] RIDGE: Well, I think he basically called out to Donald Trump for what years in his -- he cannot insult his way to presidency, he has no strategic plan or vision to deal with ISIS, to deal with the economy, to deal with entitlement reform. The long range of very complex challenges this country faces.

His answer is -- well, I know a lot of smart people and I can build a lot of things and I'm really smart, and I'm really rich and I can take care of it.

SMERCONISH: One of the countries I have in my mind is, if and when he brings Trump down a couple of notches, is he helping Ted Cruz instead of helping himself?

RIDGE: Well, you know, that's a good question. And I don't know the answer to that.

The challenge I think we have as Republicans, and I think we really need to consider this, whoever we have at the top of the ticket will have enormous influence on Senate and congressional races. And we better be doggone careful as to who is at the top and what they represent, and what part of the party they represent.

We are all conservatives running. So, how far -- how deep a conservative do you want, and does that conservative have answers that may appeal to those independence and some Democrats, because if you have the wrong person at the top of the ticket, you will lose a Senate and you put the House in jeopardy. SMERCONISH: Congressman, Governor, and Secretary Ridge -- merry

Christmas. Thank you for being here.

RIDGE: Always nice to be with you, Michael. Thank you very much.

SMERCONISH: So I just heard Tom Ridge say that he thinks Donald Trump is playing right into the hands of ISIS. Do you agree with that? Tweet me @smerconish and I'll respond to some of them later in the program.

Coming up, she was on the governor ticket in 2008, and Trump has said that he would consider her for a cabinet post. What does Sarah Palin say about the contenders for the nomination in 2016?

And a brand-new poll out now shows Trump widening his lead. What do the money people think? I'm going to talk to a professional oddsmaker about who is really leading the GOP field.


[09:35:37] SMERCONISH: Sarah Palin is known as a political insurgent bent on shaking up the GOP establishment, and she's not shy about talking on those subjects. She is also not shy about sharing her thoughts on the benefits of faith. She has just published a new book titled "Sweet Freedom: A Devotional."

These days, she's pretty happy with the names at the top of the heap, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. The 2008 VP candidate and Tea Party darling has less enthusiasm for others, like Marco Rubio and Carly Fiorina.

I caught up with her at this week's debate in Las Vegas.


SMERCONISH: Did Donald trump take a page out of the Palin playbook? I mean, it seems to me you're the original maverick, right? Railing against the establishment, coming in from a people's perspective?

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: And that's because I didn't know any better. And, you know, I'm glad that I didn't know any better. That's been kind of the hallmark of my career, which is -- it's more than a couple decades old now from city council to mayor to commissioner to governor, it -- I've always taken on my own party, even, the GOP establishment, when I have known that they're not doing the people's will and they're underestimating the wisdom of the people.

So, you know, it's just kind of in my DNA to do such a thing. I don't know, I think it's in Trump's DNA too. He certainly is a heck of a lot smarter than one to try to emulate Sarah Palin.

SMERCONISH: The timing is everything in politics.


SMERCONISH: It seems to me like this is a Palin-type cycle.

PALIN: Oh, yes?

SMERCONISH: I mean, when you've got Donald Trump and when you got Ben Carson and when you got Ted Cruz, all these outsiders who are raising Cain. I'm just wondering, are you in Wasilla watching this play out on TV and saying, "Hey, Todd, I should be -- I should be in this mix"?

PALIN: No, but I'm saying, "Hey, Todd, how come these guys have so much defense at what their saying and no one defended us at the time"? But that's when I feel sorry for myself.

SMERCONISH: How are you going to make a decision? I think it's clear, and you've said so that both Trump and Cruz --

PALIN: I like them.

SMERCONISH: You like them?

PALIN: I like them both.

SMERCONISH: So in the end, how do you go about the calculus of deciding which one?

PALIN: Yes. Well, I like them both, but, you know, more than anyone being in this arena that a month or two months in the world of politics is a lifetime. So, anything can happen, including any of the other candidates, perhaps being able to rise to the top.

I certainly hope that in this debate, we can hear some discussion that leads to revelation of character. Direct questions to one another of the candidates -- hopefully, things like, hey, one candidate, why did it take you years and years to pay off your own personal debts when you're loaded? Or years and years to pay off campaign debts when you're loaded? You want to, you know, sweep other people's porch and manage their wallets when you can't your own?

Things like that --


SMERCONISH: Are you talking about Senator Rubio? I think.

PALIN: There's a couple of them in there that have campaign debts and expect other people to pay 'em off, or personal debt. Average Americans, we don't like to live like that.

SMERCONISH: Right. But he says that makes me like everybody else, if we're talking about the same guy.

PALIN: That's not everybody else.


PALIN: Because everybody else, I would say, put forth great effort to prioritize their own budget, to make sure that things that really matter are taken care of first. Before we get out there and act --

SMERCONISH: And buy (ph) the vote?

PALIN: And act holier than thou and tell other people to do it, right?

SMERCONISH: And buy the vote? I want to hear you say it. I'm reading you, right?

PALIN: Well, I just want priorities to be rebuilt, and a lot of people's -- the way they manage their own finances has a lot to do with that.

SMERCONISH: Governor, do you worry that this incarnation of the GOP is out of touch with the American people, more than half agree with Donald Trump saying, whoa, let's put a halt on Muslim immigration. But two-thirds of Americans are not cool with that.

PALIN: Well, I think the two-thirds of Americans who aren't cool with it, the majority of that two-thirds, then, aren't understanding that we must be able to vet those who are trying to get into our country. Because there are nefarious characters wanting to harm, wanting to destroy America.

And first and foremost, the federal government, their responsibility is the security of this nation and the security of our borders. When we let all that atrophy, when we just let it all go away, then we know the feds aren't doing their job. And we know that we need leadership that is committed to making sure that America is put first.

So, that other two-thirds, I think a lot of them, Michael, maybe are buying into the rhetoric that perhaps they hear on TV.

[09:40:04] SMERCONISH: Could Ronald Reagan get nominated by this Republican Party?

PALIN: Yes, because Ronald Reagan, you know --

SMERCONISH: Could he compete on that stage?

PALIN: He could, because Michael, he had that perfect combination of the charisma, the wisdom. He was a combination of, say, Ben Carson's control, and, you know, a lot of that intellect and certain arenas that are needed today. He had the humor that sometimes Trump is able to really exude. He has had also some of that control and debate skill of Cruz's.

He had just a great combination. Once in a lifetime, though, once in a century was a Ronald Reagan.

SMERCONISH: You have written a brand-new book.


SMERCONISH: It's a daily devotional. I'm halfway through. It's a pretty -- PALIN: Bless your heart.

SMERCONISH: It's a pretty political devotional, right?

PALIN: I know, I know.

SMERCONISH: Intertwining of faith and politics.

PALIN: Real world stuff. Yes. Yes.

I think it's very important that people of faith or atheists, anybody who would be looking for answers today, the best place to go to look for answers that deal with personal problems and political problems that our world, certainly that our nation is facing, it's already spelled out for us, the answers in the Old and New Testament.

So I just wanted to direct people to where they can look, find that answer, and then be at peace and be able to live life vibrantly without worrying so much about what's going on.

SMERCONISH: OK, final question. This is the gotcha question.

PALIN: All right. All right.

SMERCONISH: So, I'm warning you.

PALIN: All right.

SMERCONISH: Could Sarah Palin, could Governor Palin, vote for an atheist who you believe had a moral compass? Maybe not a moral compass grounded in Scripture, but a person who said, "Look, I'm a straight arrow, I lead my life according to a moral code. It just doesn't have to be biblically based."

PALIN: Well, you know, I -- gosh. If -- if it all came down to that versus someone who believed in a religion that was hell-bent on destroying those who didn't agree with their religion, who would literally want to kill those, the infidels who would not say, OK, I'll go along with you, you know, then I would. Which means anybody who is -- in any way sympathetic to what's going on today with Muslim terrorists, who would crucify children and behead women, and stop at nothing to try to destroy us, and Israel, and our allies -- I'd choose an atheist over that.

SMERCONISH: OK, you're voting for an atheist over an ISIS supporter.

PALIN: OK, gosh.

SMERCONISH: I got to get that far.

PALIN: Darn it, you made it too simple and -- yes.

SMERCONISH: Governor, thanks.

PALIN: Thank you so much.

SMERCONISH: Nice to be with you.

PALIN: Thank you. You too. >


SMERCONISH: So tell me what you thought of what Governor Palin had to say. Tweet me @smerconish.

Up next, a new poll just out shows Trump's leading in the polls. His supporters more than double that of the second-place finisher, Ted Cruz. But smart money says he won't win.

And when we come back, you'll learn what professional bookies make of the chances -- Trump, Rubio, Cruz and the others. And the answer is going to surprise you.



[19:46:57] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am your brother, and you must help me let you get out of here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You want to help me get out?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, money talks and bull shit walks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How can bull shit walk?


SMERCONISH: The presidential race keeps reminding me of that classic scene from "Twins".

For Donald Trump, it's always been about the money, his net worth. He hasn't even had to spend that much, and yet he's leading in the polls.

But there's another way that money predicts success, and that's the wagering on the outcome of the presidential race. Although it's illegal in America, it's fair game overseas.

And to hear the real odds of who is going to get the GOP nomination, I've invited one of the largest online bookmakers in Great Britain and Ireland. That would be Rory Scott of Paddy Power.

Rory Scott, thank you so much for being here.

A brand-new poll has just come out, it's a FOX News poll taken after our most recent debate. It shows Donald Trump 39 percent of the vote. Ted Cruz, his next near competitor, with 18, then Marco Rubio at 11, Ben Carson at 9.

And yet that does not comport with the way in which the wagering is taking place. Explain. RORY SCOTT, PADDY POWER (via telephone): No, that's not. We have

Rubio as our favorite to win the Republican nomination. We've got an odds of 6-4. That represents about a 37 percent chance that he's going to -- that he's going to win the ticket. And that's quite a detachment from his current polling.

But, you know, we just feel Trump is going to run out of steam soon enough. We have been saying that since the summer and we feel like every time he opens his mouth and says something silly or seemingly silly -- obviously, it's a shrewd, calculated move, we think he's going to collapse.

We have seen it before in December, you know, a strong lead in the polls. You can quickly run out of steam by the time Iowa comes around. We think Rubio has got the real staying power. And we think it's going to come down to him and Cruz, the final two.

SMERCONISH: I'm putting on the screen -- I'm putting on the screen your odds right now for the Republican presidential nomination. Not the general election.

Can we put those up?

You've got Marco Rubio at a 6-4 shot. That means a 30 percent chance, right?

SCOTT: Yes, a little more, about 37 percent chance.

SMERCONISH: Oh, I'm sorry. OK.

And then Donald Trump is a 9-4 shot, followed by Ted Cruz, and then people can see at home the remaining competitors.

Here's my question: are those odds determined by the wagering? In other words, does the market set the relative wager, or is that you and others sitting back and saying, here's the way we think it's going to go?

SCOTT: Well, we start off, you know, setting the market, as we feel it should lie. So that's based on media reports, polling, you know, our traders' opinions. And then generally, the market takes over. So, Trump is a great example. So, he's currently 9-4, which represents nearly a 30 percent chance.

In reality, if we were setting the odds, he would probably be a 6, maybe even a 10-1 shot.

[09:50:00] We don't really see that he's got the legs to carry this through. So, that just the money dictating.

Punters are taking him at any price. It's extraordinary. You know, we're laying him and punters are taking him at any price, as I say.

Ted Cruz is the interesting one. Since October, he's come in from about 10-1 to 3-1. So, again, the punters are beginning to, you know, look elsewhere. Bush has fallen away. Cruz has kind of, you know, filled that space. So, yes, money talks. Money really, really talks.

SMERCONISH: Rory, let me put up the general election, and keep this on the screen, please, so that it sinks in and people can take it in at home.

Hillary Clinton is the favorite. She is an 8/11 shot followed by Rubio, followed by Trump. This is for the general election. Who wins it all? Quickly speak to that.

SCOTT: Yes, that's right. So, Hillary is about 8/11, representing about a 55 percent chance.

SMERCONISH: Fifty-five?

SCOTT: Fifty-five percent chance for a long, long time. In terms of the party that is going to win it, we've actually got the Democrats, 8-13, which is a 60 percent chance. And that as I say has been -- you know, pretty much stable for the last couple of years.

And the Republican -- the GOP, about 6-5, which represents a 45 percent chance. At the moment, you know, we fancy the Democrats to retain power next year.

SMERCONISH: Rory Scott, thank you so much for being here.

Is it fair to say the betting is heavier than you've seen in previous elections?

SCOTT: It is, very much so. Yes. We are expecting this to be the biggest political --


SCOTT: -- possibly even the biggest non-sporting in our history.

SMERCONISH: Holy smokes.

We appreciate your expertise. Thank you, sir.

Everybody else, stick around, because when we come back, I've got to read some of the best tweets of the week like this one.


[09:55:34] SMERCONISH: You can follow me on Twitter if you can spell Smerconish.

Here's some of what just came in. I love this about Tom Ridge, "He should have or should be president. A great moral moderate conservative."

Hey, the guy grew up in public house, went to Harvard, fought for his country in Vietnam, congressman, governor, secretary of homeland security. You betcha.

This also came in, @smerconish from Joe. "You know the GOP is on the wrong path when even Pat Buchanan says they've gone too far." A great observation and Pat did say that.

And then there was this from Norma. Could be my favorite tweet of 2015. "Smerconish, did you really just call Obama/Clinton feckless? Feck you, Smerconish."

No, I didn't I said this is the word choice that gets used by Republican critics. But I love that tweet anyway.

Have a merry Christmas! I'll see you all in 2016. Thanks for watching.