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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Republicans Debate in Florida

Aired September 12, 2011 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: It's 10:00 Eastern time. We're live with this special edition of A.C. 360. The Tea Party Republican debate just wrapped up in Tampa, Florida.

If you're just joining us, a lot to talk about, jobs, Social Security, health care, all the usual suspects, but some surprising moments as well, and very pointed and contentious moments. Tonight, we have analysis of all the candidates, all the key issues. And we will replay some of the key moments from the debate in case you missed it.

We're also taking a closer look at the facts that were thrown out in the heat of the debate to see whether there was, well, truth to them, or if there was stretching going on in Tampa tonight. We're "Keeping Them Honest."

But, first, a look at some memorable moments from tonight's debate. Take a look.


GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It has been called a Ponzi scheme by many people long before me. But no one's had the courage to stand up and say, here is how we're going to reform it.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The term Ponzi scheme, I think, is over the top and unnecessary, and frightful to many people. The question is, do you still believe that Social Security should be ended as a federal program, as you did six months ago, when your book came out, And returned to the states or do you want to retreat from that?

PERRY: I think we ought to have a conversation.

ROMNEY: We're having that right now, Governor. We're running for president.


PERRY: You called it a criminal -- you said if people did it in the private sector it would be called criminal. That's in your book.

ROMNEY: Yes. What I said was...

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not particularly worried about Governor Perry and Governor Romney frightening the American people when President Obama scares them every single day.


HERMAN CAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have been told by some people, well, you can't get that done. I say why? Well, because you don't know how Washington works. Yes, I do. It doesn't.

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is easy to turn around this economy. Just have the backbone to do it.

BLITZER: Does Governor Perry deserve any credit for all those jobs that were created in Texas?

ROMNEY: Oh, sure. Oh, sure.

BLITZER: Go ahead and tell him how much credit he deserves.


ROMNEY: Well, look, I think Governor Perry would agree with me that if you're dealt four aces that doesn't make you necessarily a great poker player.

BLITZER: Governor Perry, you were dealt four aces.

PERRY: Well, I was going to say, Mitt, you were doing pretty good until you got to talking poker.


BLITZER: Congressman Paul, you're from Texas. Does your governor deserve all that credit?



PAUL: I'm a taxpayer there. My taxes have gone up. Our taxes have doubled since he's been in office.

I don't want to offend the governor, because he might raise my taxes or something.


BACHMANN: The drug company gave thousands of dollars in political donations to the governor, and this is just flat-out wrong. The question is, is it about life, or was it about millions of dollars and potentially billions for a drug company?

PERRY: It was a $5,000 contribution that I had received from them. I raise about $30 million. And if you're saying that I can be bought for $5,000, I'm offended. (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BACHMANN: Well, I'm offended for all the little girls and the parents that didn't have a choice. That's what I'm offended for.



COOPER: You just heard Social Security emerge as a hot-button issue. Earlier in the debate, they were talking about vaccinations there right at the end. Rick Perry has made waves by calling Social Security a Ponzi scheme. The phrase came up again tonight as he and Mitt Romney went head to head, each accusing the other of scaring seniors.

Back with us live, "THE SITUATION ROOM"'s Wolf Blitzer, who moderated the debate, John King, host of "JOHN KING, USA," CNN senior political analyst David Gergen. Also with us, CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger, CNN contributor Erick Erickson, editor in chief of, CNN political contributor Paul Begala, Ari Fleischer, former White House press secretary for President George W. Bush, and CNN political analyst Roland Martin.

I don't know how many folks we have. I lost count.

We just talked to John King.

John, there was this one particular exchange on Social Security between Rick Perry and Mitt Romney that got a lot of people's attention. We heard a bit of it before, but I just want to play an extended version right now.


ROMNEY: But the question is, do you still believe that Social Security should be ended as a federal program as you did six months ago when your book came out and returned to the states or do you want to retreat from that?

PERRY: I think we ought to have a conversation.

ROMNEY: We're having that right now, governor. We're running for president.

PERRY: And I will finish this conversation. But the issue is, are there ways to move the states into Social Security for state employees or for retirees? We did in the state of Texas back in the 1980s. I think those types of thoughtful conversations with America, rather than trying to scare seniors like you're doing and other people, it's time to have a legitimate conversation in this country about how to fix that program where it's not bankrupt and our children actually know that there's going to be a retirement program there for them.

ROMNEY: Governor, the term Ponzi scheme is what scared seniors, number one. And number two, suggesting that Social Security should no longer be a federal program and returned to the states and unconstitutional is likewise frightening.

Look, there are a lot of bright people who agree with you. And that's your view. I happen to have a different one. I think that Social Security is an essential program that we should change the way we're funding it. You called it a criminal...

PERRY: You said if people did it in the private sector it would be called criminal. That's in your book.

ROMNEY: Yeah, what I said was...


ROMNEY: Governor Perry you've got to quote me correctly. You said it's criminal. What I said was congress taking money out of the Social Security trust fund is like criminal and that is and it's wrong.


COOPER: John, do you think Social Security has become at this point the key hot-button issue or something we will see coming up throughout the primary?

KING: Without a doubt, and here's why.

Number one, if you listen to these Tea Party voters in this room -- I was at a luncheon with a bunch of them today -- many of them agree with Governor Perry and especially with what Governor Perry wrote in his book "Fed Up" and said in interviews just after that.

They think Social Security is unconstitutional, and they would prefer a transition where 20 or 30 years from now, it was all returned back to the states. Now, Governor Perry did not answer yes or no when he was asked, is it unconstitutional? He had because of the political pressure to write an essay in the "USA Today" today and he said it here tonight that he wants to reform the program, but not touch anything for anyone who's in Social Security now or five or 10 years away from the program.

Governor Romney believes this is a vulnerability. The challenge is a lot of Republican primary voters, especially Tea Party voters, are more with Governor Perry's position on this. What Governor Romney is trying to prove, he's trying to make the case that this would make Governor Perry unelectable, that in a general election, a state like Florida, a state like Pennsylvania, even a small state, but a swing state like Iowa, where you have a higher population of senior voters, Governor Romney is trying to make the case to Republican voters, if you want a candidate with the best chance of beating Barack Obama, a candidate who can be viewed as someone who would abolish or someone who thinks Social Security is unconstitutional is not your guy.

Governor Perry standing by what he said. He says the issue now is reforming it, but look for this to continue on what he said in the book, not what he said in the essay, the fact that he thinks the founding fathers would turn in their graves, that Social Security shouldn't be there. Governor Perry now wants to talk about fixing it, not whether he would support it being there in the first place. This will continue.

COOPER: I want to bring in just kind of -- just a round-robin just to get initial impressions of what you heard tonight from all our panelists.

Erick Erickson, from your perspective, what are your headlines going to be on

ERICK ERICKSON, EDITOR IN CHIEF, REDSTATE.COM: Well, I think this may be the first debate where Mitt Romney didn't come out the clear winner.

Rick Perry came in strong, and really I think everyone held themselves until the end, and Perry needed to do well. I think he did well. I don't think that the Social Security exchange helps Mitt Romney at all in a Republican primary. I think he's foolish to continue it. He may want to go after Perry on immigration or HPV.

But this is an issue the Tea Party voters and I think the majority of Republican voters right now agree with Perry on. And for the life of me, I can't understand why Romney would go with this. Interesting Bachmann was going to make this a key point against Perry tonight and backed down from doing so.

COOPER: Roland Martin, your take.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: If you're a Latino voter, the last thing you wanted to hear was some of the stuff you heard tonight.

Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico will be critical states when it comes to November 2012. And the GOP did themselves no favors tonight in trying to curry favor with Latino voters. Also, amazing, education did not come up in this debate at all. So much emphasis -- you talk about Social Security, talking about a balanced budget.


COOPER: It came up, abolishing the Department of Education.

MARTIN: Well, right, right. That's the only moment it came up, but frankly if you're a parent trying to get your kid educated, frankly not a single candidate offered anything to speak to the crisis we have in this country when it comes to education. So a major failure in that not coming up.

COOPER: Gloria Borger.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think, Anderson, what we saw tonight is proof that this race is really far from over. I think there's an internal fight going on in the Republican Party about whether or not Social Security is unconstitutional.


BORGER: I don't think that question got answered by Governor Perry tonight. It's something he and Mitt Romney are going to engage on in the future.

And I think that Mitt Romney started chipping away at the economic miracle of the state of Texas. And it's clear he's going to continue to go back at that. He said, you know, when you're dealt four aces, it's easy to win the hand. And I remember that from...


COOPER: Ron Paul did that pretty effectively as well by saying, I live in Texas. My taxes have doubled.

BORGER: Yes. I remember that happened with Michael Dukakis, talking about the Massachusetts miracle, right? And they started chipping away at that, and that was a big problem for him.

So, again, I think we saw Perry really on the defensive, and everybody on the attack on him. He's going to get used to it.

COOPER: Paul Begala?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Remarkable study of contrast between Mitt and Rick. Mitt was cool. Rick was hot. Mitt was factual and Rick was a little more emotional.

It was really an interesting study in contrasts between the two of them. So, the real question is, which party, not who won, but which party? If this is still the party of investment bankers who carry a putter at the country club, well, then Mitt Romney wins. If it's the party though of people carrying a pitchfork to a Tea Party rally, then Rick Perry wins.

And certainly in the hall tonight -- I was watching on TV, of course, but in the hall, it sure sounded from the audience like a strikingly conservative, really almost radically conservative audience, which only helps Rick Perry.

COOPER: Although, Paul, wouldn't you say that Rick Perry certainly seemed to have stumbled on the HPV vaccine issue? Certainly, at least in the hall, his stance was not popular at all.

COOPER: This is in fact I think long term, strategically, the real Achilles' heel for Governor Perry, and that is where Michele Bachmann took it. She took it to crony capitalism.

She didn't simply say this was anathema to Christian conservatives, although it is. She didn't say it's anathema to small- government conservatives, although it is. She suggested, she implied, she directly said -- I want to quote her -- she said, "This was because the governor's chief of staff was the chief lobbyist for this drug company."

So, in other words, she's trying to suggest that Rick Perry will depart from conservative values if there is money to be made by a lobbyist.

COOPER: Paul, Rick Perry is speaking just right now to a Tea Party group. Let's just listen in for a little bit.


PERRY: ... EPA that we don't need you monkeying around and fiddling around and getting in our business on every kind of regulation that you can dream up.

You're doing nothing more than killing jobs. It is a cemetery for jobs at the EPA. And Mr. Cain hit the spot tonight. He said you need to put somebody in there that's going to be pro-jobs, pro- American administrator, and tell them every day this is going to be about creating jobs in America. And then we need to have a little conversation about taxes and how we're going to lower the tax burden on the job creators out there, both the corporate side and the personal income tax side.

COOPER: So, Paul -- Paul, I just want to let you finish up what you were going to say and then move on.

BEGALA: Well, just if this notion begins to take hold that Perry while very conservatives might sell out those conservative principles because he's connected to a lobbyist, then Mrs. Bachmann may be able to get back into the race, and Mr. Romney I think may start to press this argument.

When I talk to people back in Texas, they think Perry's greatest vulnerability is not ideology and certainly not talent -- we can see he's got that in abundance -- it's this question of crony capitalism and pay to play in Austin.

COOPER: And, Ari Fleischer, your thoughts quickly before we go to break.

ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER GEORGE W. BUSH WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, Anderson, I think that Republicans have to be a little careful here that Social Security does not become the defining issue that divides them in this primary. They have got to remember in these debates to bring it back to Barack Obama, to jobs, to debt and to deficits.

This is the core strength that has made Republicans so strong in this cycle. And it will come back to the Social Security debate. The Romney people love it and the Perry people want to engage in it. It's a given. But that bigger perspective cannot be lost as these candidates move forward in this debate.

COOPER: We're going to have more from all our panelists in just a moment. We're going to be coming back to them throughout the hour.

Let us know what you think about what happened tonight. We're on Facebook. Follow me on Twitter @AndersonCooper. A lot of people talking about it already. I will try to join in the conversation online on Twitter @AndersonCooper. Tonight, Rick Perry said President Obama's $800 billion stimulus package created zero jobs. Next, we're checking the facts on that, "Keeping Them Honest."

Also, you can't have a Republican debate with the name Obama coming up a few times. Ari was saying the focus should have been more on Obama. We're going to take a look at how the presidential hopefuls blasted the president tonight, particularly over his health care plan.

DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz is in Tampa tonight. We will get her reaction as well.


COOPER: Well, candidates for office on both sides of the political aisle sometimes of oftentimes say things that are not factually correct. Maybe it's a case of stretching the truth or sometimes they make statements that are just flat-out wrong. And a debate is the perfect setting to test the accuracy of what candidates say on a variety of issues.

So, "Keeping Them Honest" tonight, Tom Foreman monitored the debate to see if any of the candidates played fast and loose with the facts.

Tom, what at this point have you looked at?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, we have looked at a lot of things. We will have a lot of them over the next 24 hours and on looking at many, many things here.

One big one though that we wanted to point out came fairly early on, when all the candidates were going after the president over jobs. Listen to what Rick Perry said.


PERRY: He had $800 billion worth of stimulus in the first round of stimulus. It created zero jobs -- $400-plus billion dollars in this package. And I can do the math on that one. Half of zero jobs is going to be zero jobs.



FOREMAN: That was the kind of red meat out there that got people very excited.

So, in a nutshell, what the governor is saying is that the stimulus created zero jobs. But the Congressional Budget Office, which is very trusted here, says that's just not the case. They say it's between 1.4 and 3.3 million jobs were either created or saved by the stimulus program.

I realize that sounds squishy, because it's a very broad range. But many independent economists also say there's no question that jobs work was created or protected by the stimulus spending. So as much as the governor would like to say his statement is true, when we look at it, we have to say, no, that is flat-out false. The stimulus did create some jobs, maybe not as many as they wanted, but it did create jobs.

You also heard all of the governors out here, Anderson, talking about the jobs created in their state under their governorship. Important fact to look at there, look at the national trends while they were governors, because in fact some of them created jobs, but sometimes a whole national trend was for creating jobs.

Or maybe they lagged behind the federal government. It gets very squishy in those numbers -- Anderson.

COOPER: Tom, we will continue to check in with you. And as we said, we will be doing this over the next 24 hours, checking the facts of what the candidates said. The candidates took President Obama to task tonight on everything from jobs to health care.

Take a look.


GINGRICH: I'm not particularly worried about Governor Perry and Governor Romney frightening the American people when President Obama scares them every single day.


BACHMANN: It's unconstitutional...


BACHMANN: ... whether it's the state government or whether it's the federal government. The only way to eradicate Obamacare is to pull it out by the root and branch to fully repeal it. It's the only way we're going to get rid of it.

PERRY: This president does not understand how to free up the small businessmen and women or for that matter Wall Street.

ROMNEY: What the president did was simply wrong. It is the wrong course for America.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Some people say that Barack Obama's economy is a disaster. My feeling is, it would have to make a dramatic improvement just to be a disaster.


COOPER: Well, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, joins us now live from Tampa.

Congresswoman, you heard those attacks on the president. But the criticisms aren't just coming from Republicans. A majority of Americans right now disapprove of how President Obama is handling his job -- or his -- I should say disapproval of how he's handling the economy.

Is 2012 becoming an increasingly difficult race for Democrats, do you think?

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D), FLORIDA: Well, anyone listening to the debate tonight, Anderson, watched the Republican candidates as expected worship at the altar with the Tea Party.

As a Floridian, I know my constituents were looking for their candidates to talk about what they would do to create jobs, what they would do to get the economy turned around, how would they help the middle class, how would they help small business owners. None of that, just more of the same doubling down on proposals like repealing Wall Street reform, and then for good measure saying, well, let's invest Social Security and privatize it, put it in the stock market, so give those same Wall Street folks the money that is supposed to be the safety net for retirees and let them gamble it away in the stock market.

That's not acceptable when it comes to Floridians.


COOPER: They do say repealing Obamacare, what they call Obamacare, would save jobs.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Oh, really? Well, I find that interesting.

What repealing health care reform would do, especially to seniors in Florida, is it would eliminate the closure of the doughnut hole, and it would cost seniors about $3,000 in more money, in additional prescription drug costs. It would get rid of the wellness visit that is now free. It would get rid of preventative screenings that don't have co-pays.

So the list goes on. It would leave people with preexisting conditions, like I have, twisting in the wind because insurance companies could drop us or deny us coverage again. The Republicans demonstrated tonight just how out of touch they are.

And then at the end, for more good measure, when Ron Paul was asked a question about whether or not a 30-year-old without health care coverage, if he was sick for six months, should be allowed to die, people in the audience from -- Tea Partiers yelled out yes. That's how out of touch this crew is.

COOPER: Michele Bachmann said tonight that President Obama -- and I quote -- "stole over $500 billion out of Medicare to spend on his federal health reform package."

Your response to that?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Health care reform added eight years of solvency to Medicare, according to CBO. That's how many years were added to the solvency of Medicare.

What we did is we made sure that we cracked down on waste, fraud and abuse, and we made sure that we took the subsidies that were being given to health insurance companies that weren't giving anything in benefits back to seniors who are on Medicare and made sure that we put it into direct health care benefits for them. That was an important reform for them as well.

COOPER: Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, I appreciate your time tonight. Thanks for being with us.


COOPER: We're back now live with Wolf Blitzer, John King, Gloria Borger, and David Gergen, among others.

David, what do you make of what Representative Wasserman Schultz just said?

GERGEN: Oh, I think that she made a point that resonated back home with a lot of people on the question of the 30-year-old who was dying being allowed to die and the kind of response in the hall.

You will recall in that last debate Governor Perry made this point about executions in Texas and there was this big applause and it got a lot of commentary. My sense is that that exchange also will get some comment out there, Anderson, because what I find so interesting is that people in this hall really did groove on much of what they heard.

This is what they wanted to hear from these candidates. There are a lot of people around the country who are just like the folks in this room. And yet there are a huge number of people, an equal number of people who I think were horrified by what they heard in this room.

I was getting notes about they ought to keep this people locked up and not let them out. Don't let them do anything to the country.

So, this race is increasingly I think bringing to light and once again how divided and how splintered we are and how hard it's going to be for anybody to govern when this is over.

COOPER: It was interesting, John. Of all the candidates, it seemed that Newt Gingrich was the one who probably got the most zingers in at the president. I just want to play something else that he had to say.


GINGRICH: I think trying to raise the tax on working Americans in the middle of the Obama depression is a destructive policy. So I don't want to have any tax increase at any level for anyone.


COOPER: John, it does seem as if he's trying to with each answer get as much attention as he can, kind of have -- get as much traction as he can. But is it really working, I mean, in terms of his overall campaign?

KING: He has had back-to-back-to-back strong debate performances. He is an ideas person. He draws strong contrast.

I think the problem the former speaker has had is that you have a Republican Party looking for new leadership, and he's viewed as the last generation, by some Republicans unfavorably, by other Republicans favorably.

But I think the thing that binds all Republicans together, at least so far, if you look at his standing in the polls, is they like his ideas, they like when he draws contrasts, but they think they need a new generation of leadership. That's how I see his challenge.

To the point you were just having with David, Anderson, we're at a fascinating moment in our politics, because everybody's placing a bet. Debbie Wasserman Schultz was just placing a bet that the American people are going to go back in 2012 to somewhere near where they were in 2008, when they elected a left-of-center president and independent support of the Democrats.

If you listen to the conversation up here tonight, there's also a bet. Rick Perry's making a bet the Tea Party will be just as strong in 2012 as it was in 2010 and that he can go right, he can say Social Security should perhaps be returned to the states. Mitt Romney is making a bet that the establishment Republican Party -- it used to be -- now we talk about the Tea Party.

It used to be the evangelicals decide Iowa, New Hampshire is a mix of independents and libertarians. It's a little different. And then you get to states like South Carolina, where you have establishment -- I don't mean this in a pejorative way -- the old label was the country club Republican Party. The establishment Republican Party kicks in from South Carolina on. South Carolina usually has a huge impact on the race.

Nobody knows if the old rules apply, because the Tea Party was such an anomaly, a new force -- 2008 was such a force when you see Obama beating Clinton. We don't know. And so all of these candidates have to make a bet. What will the electorate be like? For the Republicans it's in a few months in Iowa, in New Hampshire and South Carolina. And for the Democrats it's in November 2012. As they attack the Republicans, what will the electorate look like? We don't know.

BORGER: Anderson, I also think what you're seeing is that this fight within the Republican Party, I couldn't help but watch the debate. And you saw Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney, and they looked like the old-time establishment Republican candidates struggling to kind of say, OK, this is the way we're going to take the party. Mitt Romney, it's his turn to be nominated. He ran last time.

And then you saw the other candidates there saying, wait a minute, wait a minute, we're not going to go along with you, and then you saw Rick Perry essentially trying to walk both sides of that, saying, you know what, yes, we passed the DREAM Act in my state. Yes, I ordered this vaccine for young women, something that Tea Party folks do not like, conservative Republicans don't like, but trying to walk both sides of that, and come across as somebody who can appeal to independent voters, while also appealing to Tea Party Republicans.

That's very difficult, but that's what I think we saw Rick Perry try to do, and we're going to continue to see him try and do that as he has to look at the general election.

COOPER: Erick Erickson, to David Gergen's earlier point to how it played in the hall to conservative Tea Party audience and how it maybe played to other Republicans out there or independents, do you think there is that split between how it played in the hall and how it may have played to others maybe who are not so conservative?

ERICKSON: Yes, probably so.

I don't think that Ron Paul answering a question on letting the guy die played as well in the hall as some think. I didn't hear the applause as loudly as many. I do think though that there's issue that Tea Party activists have to be reminded of, that how the rest of the nation sees them. And to a degree they have to care.

I do think John King is right. There's a great gamble going on, and my gamble is that Perry is probably right. You had the president in 2008 make some sort of mocking reference to people clinging bitterly to their guns and religion. And I think 2012 is going to be the year those people probably replace him.

COOPER: We have got to take a short break.

We will be back with our panelists, a lot more ahead. As we look back, we will also play you other key moments from the debate that just occurred on CNN. We will be right back.


COOPER: Today President Obama spent -- sent his jobs package to Capitol Hill. We want to show you some of the GOP candidates tonight talking about why they are best suited to bring jobs back to America. Listen.


JON HUNTSMAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This country needs more workers. And we're not going to get more workers until we actually have an economic plan led by someone who has actually done it before.

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Repeal Dodd-Frank. Repeal Obama care. It really isn't that tough if you try. It's easy to turn around this economy; just have the backbone to do it.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I spent my life in the private sector. I've competed with companies around the world. I've learned something about how it is that economies grow. It's not just simple wave a wand and everything gets better. No, you have to make some structural changes.

GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He had $800 billion worth of stimulus in the first round of stimulus. It created zero jobs. Four hundred plus billion dollars in this package, and I can do the math on that one. Half of zero jobs is going to be zero jobs.


COOPER: Back with us again, Paul Begala, Ari Fleischer, Roland Martin and Dana Loesch now joining the conversation, as well.

Dana, we haven't heard from you before, so as a Tea Party supporter, A, what did you think? Who was the standout for you tonight? And on jobs, who do you believe more?

DANA LOESCH, TEA PARTY SUPPORTER: Well, I think the overall standout, I have to say that I think Romney and Perry, they -- they really went at each other, and I think that they kind of perhaps shot each other in each other's foot.

But I think Bachmann ultimately, she had some of those solid -- the most solid answers of the night. And I was really hoping that she was going to come out aggressive. If she expected to stay in or be in the top tier of candidates in this primary, she needed to be aggressive. She needed to have hard-hitting answers. She needed to go after other candidates. That's exactly what she did. I thought she performed well. And overall, I would have to say that I would give it to -- I would give it to Bachmann.

Gingrich, I think, always does well, but Gingrich has been doing this for an incredibly long time.

In terms of jobs, who I believe the most, I have to say that whenever Herman Cain spoke, every single time he spoke, he also backed it up with a plan that he's already published on his Web site and sent out to various media and bloggers. And so that was really interesting to see that, too.

Romney, of course, Romney I thought, despite his record in Massachusetts during his four years of governor -- as governor, I thought he had some pretty -- he had some pretty solid answers when it came down to jobs. Perry, I thought, did, too. But most of the time they spent going back and forth with each other, and it was a little bit of a distraction from -- from what they would actually do.

COOPER: And to Dana's point, I want to play some of Mitt Romney/Rick Perry's sparring over job creation. Let's listen.


ROMNEY: I think Governor Perry would agree with me, that if you're dealt four aces, that doesn't make you necessarily a great poker player. And -- and four aces, and the four aces that are terrific aces, the aces you should learn from, were the ones I described. Zero income tax, low regulation, right-to-work state, oil in the ground and a Republican legislature. Those things are terrific.

PERRY: Well, I was going to say, Mitt, you were doing pretty good until you got to talking poker.

But the fact is, the state of Texas has led the nation. While the current resident of the White House is overseeing the loss of 2.5 million jobs, Texas has, during my period as governor, created over a million jobs. And we did that during some pretty tough economic periods.


COOPER: So Roland, can -- can Rick Perry take credit for job creation in Texas?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He can take credit for it, but as Ron Paul said, he is going to have to deal with a lot of those jobs being government jobs.

Also, Wolf Blitzer asked him the question, when that came out, when it came to tax cuts in the president's jobs bill. Here's what's interesting. Politifact lays it out. Governor Perry used the stimulus bill, the first one, in order to balance the Texas budget. And you can't stand on stage and condemn a bill that you -- that you used money to help balance your own budget.

Also, when you talk about the question of tax cuts, you can't stand there and talk about "As a Republican, as a state's righter, I love tax cuts." But you can't even own up to the fact that 40 percent of the stimulus bill was tax cuts.

A lot of the proposals the president put forth last Thursday: tax cuts. At least own up to it versus avoid the question. That was a failure on many of the candidates to own up to tax cuts in the president's plan.

COOPER: Ari, does -- is Rick Perry talking out of both sides of his mouth on jobs, which is basically what Roland is suggesting?

ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think when it comes to jobs, everybody in elected office in both parties tries to claim credit for things they didn't do. Much of the jobs are created -- they did also talk about by the private sector.

Anderson, let me get to what I think is the deeper dynamic underplay that's the fundamental split in the Republican Party being tested right now on this Social Security debate.

And that's where Rick Perry, wisely, is trying to make Social Security a broader issue than just Social Security and then to character, because Republicans are also asking themselves, "If I vote for you, which one of you can I trust to really go to Washington and make the biggest, most fundamental conservative change, particularly in economics?"

Perry's gamble is that the American people really do want to push for greater change in entitlement programs, that they're ready for something fundamental.

Mitt Romney's gamble is that they don't want to do anything bigger fundamental. They really just want an expert to go in and change things around the edges and make some smart reforms.

This is the big test, and this is where John King's point before is very valid. Who is going to be in the ascendancy? Will it be the Tea Party movement to really change Washington or will it be the more conventional traditional Republican? Keep what's there, make it a little better, a little more cost-efficient. This is the dynamic that's in play right now in the Republican Party.

COOPER: Paul -- Paul, is that what you see as the dynamic, as well?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I do. God help me for agreeing with Fleischer. I must be wrong, because I agree with him.

But I looked up some poll numbers during the commercial break in our last -- this is the August CNN poll. I don't know if we have a newer one. The Republican Party's favorable rating was 33.

Now, the Republican Party is 157 years old. It took them that long to get down to 33. Democrats about 47. Not great, but somewhat better.

But the Tea Party, we asked in the CNN poll. The Tea Party's favorable is 31. And it's negative is 51. I think this is what David Gergen was alluding to earlier in your broadcast, when he talked about how independents and even some traditional Republicans could be frightened by some of that fervor and that conservative activism.

By the way, 31 favorable, 51 negative is exactly the same in our poll as Nancy Pelosi's. We saw Nancy Pelosi in ad after ad, demonizing Democrats for being affiliated with Nancy Pelosi. I think Democrats ought to link these Republicans to the Tea Party. The Republicans seem to want to be linked to the Tea Party, but it's very unpopular with mainstream America.

COOPER: We've got to take a quick break. We'll have more with all our panelists. We're going to check back with all of them throughout the program.

Also tonight, tonight another look at the candidates and the facts, "Keeping Them Honest." We'll be right back.


COOPER: In the "Keeping Them Honest" report tonight, did any of the candidates in the debate get their facts wrong? Tom Foreman is back with us tonight.

Tom, what are you looking at right now?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're looking now at all the attacks on the Health Care Reform Act. Nobody seemed to go after that harder than Michele Bachmann. Listen.


BACHMANN: We know that President Obama stole over $500 billion out of Medicare to switch it over to Obama care. We also know that Medicare hospital trust fund will be bankrupt within nine years. These are programs that need to be saved to serve people, and in their current form, they can't.


FOREMAN: That's a hot statement when you think about it, Anderson. The president stole over $500 million from Medicare to pay for the Obama program, as they like to call it, Obama care.

First of all, no, he didn't steal it. This was legislation. This is what happens in the government. When it's passed, it's passed. You may not like it, but it's not theft.

This was about one quarter -- when she talks about the program going bankrupt, that's one quarter of what's going on with Medicare. It's not the whole thing. That's another part you have to bear in mind.

But also, when you talk about this money, this program was designed to contain the growth of costs, particularly to hospitals and doctors, over the next ten years. So this was not a cut in benefits, which would be easily taken to thought if you heard all this. You might think that's what she's talking about. That's not really the case.

So when you consider what the reality was of this program, and what she said, it's very easy to think that she wants to be true, but it was certainly misleading, even though there was a kernel of truth to it -- Anderson.

COOPER: Tom, appreciate it. "Keeping Them Honest."

Back with us again, David Gergen, Paul Begala, Ari Fleischer, Roland Martin and Dana Loesch.

I want to play some of Michele Bachmann's back and forth with Rick Perry over his 2007 decision regarding the HPV vaccine, which played, obviously, very well in this hall. Let's watch.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Governor Perry, as you well know, you signed an executive order requiring little girls, 11- and 12-year-old girls, to get a vaccine to deal with a sexually transmitted disease that could lead to cervical cancer. Was that a mistake? PERRY: It was. Indeed. I -- if I had it to do over again, I would have done it differently. I would have gone to the legislature, worked with them. But what was driving me was, obviously, making a difference about young people's lives.

Cervical cancer is a horrible way to die.

BACHMANN: I just wanted to add that we cannot forget that, in the midst of this executive order, there is a big drug company that made millions of dollars because of this mandate. We can't -- we can't deny that.

BLITZER: What are you suggesting?

BACHMANN: What I'm saying is that it's wrong for a drug company, because the governor's former chief of staff was the chief lobbyist for this drug company. The drug company gave thousands of dollars in political donations to the governor, and this is just flat-out wrong.

The question is, is it about life or was it about millions of dollars and potentially billions for a drug company?

BLITZER: All right. I'll let -- Senator Santorum, hold off for a second. You've got to respond to that.

PERRY: Yes, sir. The company was Merck, and it was a $5,000 contribution that I had received from them. I raise about $30 million, and if you're saying that I can be bought for 5,000, I'm offended.

BACHMANN: I'm offended for all the little girls and the parents that didn't have a choice. That's what I'm offended about.


COOPER: Roland Martin, obviously, that played very well to a very conservative crowd. How do you think it played to maybe independents?

MARTIN: Well, look, here you have a governor who is saying -- first of all, he said that, if he had to do it again, he wouldn't do it. I think one of the mistakes that he made was trying to keep coming back and defending it.

Once you've made clear, "Look, I would not have done it. I would have gone to the legislature," you leave it there. Sometimes you have to take a hit, when you know it's there. So trying to explain it is not a really good idea.

But look, I still don't think -- you know, they can spend as much time as they want talking about this vaccine and this whole notion of a mandate. This election, though, when you appeal to independents, will still come down to the issue of the economy.

When they spend so much time on these issues, and then you're not really dealing with the whole notion of what is your specific jobs plan, what is your point when it comes to education, what are you dealing with the poor, those who are impoverished? Guess what? That's what's going to drive this economy, not a vaccine in Texas.

COOPER: But Paul Begala, clearly Michele Bachmann, just from what she said to John King earlier this evening on the program after the debate, she clearly sees this as an issue that she can get at Rick Perry on?

BEGALA: Right, and I think it's got a lot of different aspects to it. There's the question, it is an issue for Christian conservatives, this HPV vaccine. It's strongly supported by many public health experts, I'll say in Governor Perry's defense.

But Christian conservatives don't like it, because it's inoculating against a sexually transmitted disease. Limited government conservatives don't like it, because there was a mandate.

But reformers of all stripes, I think, are troubled by this allegation Mrs. Bachmann made of the close nexus between the governor and the chief lobbyist at the time for Merck. And more and more, I think you're going to see people pulling on that string.

It turns out maybe the Texas economy wasn't as great for working people in Texas, but Rick Perry's time in public office has been awfully good to Rick Perry. And I think that that may become a thread that maybe Mrs. Bachmann or others that are trying to get back in this race and slow that frontrunner down may begin to adopt.

COOPER: We're going to have more from all our panelists coming up. We're also going to play the one time front-runner Rick Perry, who was actually booed tonight, and a look at how tonight's debate may have reshuffled the Republican playing field. Who's up? Who's down? And who may be dropping out next when we continue?


COOPER: Eight Republican candidates took the stage tonight. Who can take the fight all the way to the nomination, that of course, is the bottom-line question. For many going into the debate tonight, the money was on front-runner Rick Perry. The Texas governor took more than one hit tonight. Listen to this Tea Party audience as Perry justifies his state's DREAM Act, a law allowing in-state tuition for illegal immigrants attending college.


PERRY: If you've been in the state of Texas for three years, if you're working towards your college degree, and if you are working and pursuing citizenship in the state of Texas, you pay in-state tuition there.

And the bottom line is, it doesn't make any difference what the sound of your last name is. That is the American way. No matter how you got into that state, from the standpoint of your parents brought you there, or what have you, and that's what we've done in the state of Texas. And I'm proud that we are having those individuals be contributing members of our society rather than telling them, "You go be on the government dole."


COOPER: Want to get quick final thoughts from our entire panelists. We have so many it's like a "Brady Bunch" box of panelists tonight. Let's start with Dana Loesch. Dana, final thought: what do you think, as you wake up tomorrow, are you kind of going to think back on tonight?

LOESCH: Rick Perry, I think, needs to get better at defense, and I can't believe that he allowed Mitt Romney do a slick move, as making Perry care a bigger deal than Romney care. Because while I didn't agree with Perry care, the HPV, it at least had an opt-out. Romney care did not. That's a huge difference. That was completely overlooked in this debate. And somehow, Perry allowed Romney to turn this into a pile on him. He's got to get better at being defensive and giving good defensive answers.

COOPER: OK, Paul Begala, quickly? The importance of tonight?

BEGALA: You know, I think tonight we saw that the Tea Party may be, as George W. Bush might say, a double-edged six shooter. Lots of energy, lots of excitement, lots of enthusiasm, but kind of some extreme positions that could hurt them with mainstream voters.

COOPER: Roland Martin?

MARTIN: It's amazing what you heard, Governor Rick Perry's answer when it came to illegal immigrants. It was the right answer. It was the correct answer.

And I'm surprised all those Tea Party people forgot that Ronald Reagan signed a deal allowing three million illegal immigrants in terms of amnesty. And so they tend to forget conservative history. Smart move to attract Latino voters in important states in 2012.

COOPER: Wolf Blitzer, you were moderating the whole event.

BLITZER: I was impressed that -- that Governor Perry did not back away from any of those substantive issues, even some of them that were not popular with Tea Party supporters, like that immigration issue, allowing kids who are children of illegal immigrants in the United State to get that in-state tuition.

On the vaccine, he didn't really back away from that. On Social Security. When he takes a position, he's willing to stand up for it. And I thought that was -- that was fascinating, that he wasn't willing to back away from any of that.

COOPER: John King, the importance of this tonight?

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: This debate is going to help us understand, Anderson, in a very important way, just what Republican voters are working for.

Governor Perry's answer you just played there, the boos on immigration, his position on HPV, which he says he wouldn't do again. Out of step, especially with Tea Party states rights voters.

Is that enough to chip away his lead in the polls? Do they think, "He's out of step with us on conservative issues?" Or do they view him as the best candidate to go up against President Obama, and, therefore, they're willing to forgive or forget some policy differences?

COOPER: Interesting stuff. Ari Fleischer?

FLEISCHER: This is still an extraordinarily fluid Republican primary that's built on shifting sands. At any one moment, any strong candidate could emerge to move on top.

It's also going to help Perry and Romney. They both did well tonight. They both are going to have more money than their opponents, and they've got the best organizations in different states.

One point on Jon Huntsman, who I still believe has a shot because he sort of fits the New Hampshire maverick model. He has got to look like he's having more fun at these debates. He reminded me tonight of a schoolteacher whose classes you want to cut. He's got to have a little more fun out there.

COOPER: Ouch. Gloria Borger.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, very briefly, I want to follow up on Wolf's point. I think Rick Perry wants to be the truth teller among all of these candidates. That's what he was doing tonight. Not backing down off his positions.

He also wants to convince Republicans that he's the person to take the fight to Barack Obama and by not backing down on what he believes, his campaign thinks that's going to help him.

COOPER: David Gergen, we have about 30 seconds or so.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Anderson, the big story of the Republican nomination fight right now is the way Rick Perry has burst on to the scene like this bright star seizing the lead. I think the question becomes, does he flame out? And we don't know yet. Does he say things that get him in trouble or, as Paul Begala keeps suggesting, are there things in his background that will get him in trouble? We'll have to wait and see.

COOPER: Fascinating night. Fascinating analysis. My thanks to all our panelists. Still ahead tonight, the CNN Tea Party Republican presidential debate in its entirety. You can see it from the beginning at the top of the hour.