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GOP Debate Tonight; Trump and Cruz Showdown; Examining the Establishment Label; 34 Islamic Countries Vow to Wipe Out ISIS. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired December 15, 2015 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:03] JOSH HOLMES, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: "The Wall Street Journal" poll yesterday had 73 percent of all Americans say they want the next president to have a very different approach to foreign policy than the current president. And I think from a former secretary of state to the current president's position as an architect of his foreign policy, she's got a -- she's got a tough row to hoe on that. And so I expect the candidates to be very active on that tonight.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: On the other hand, I suspect, Robert, you might say that Hillary Clinton is the only candidate running for president that has experience on the global stage.

ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: More than having experience on the -- on the global stage. She also has an agenda she's put on the table that most military and foreign policy experts, in fact many leading Republican foreign policy experts speak highly of and think is practical. The problem the Republicans have is that the right hand doesn't know what the extreme right hand is doing. I mean Donald Trump alone has taken four different positions on fighting ISIS from saying, let Russia do it, to now saying, well, we'll just go into Iraq and bomb the oil fields and take over the oil. And our own military experts on CNN, and general -- generals like Ray Odierno, have made it clear, that's just not a realistic or logical approach, nor a successful strategy. In fact, Ted Cruz says he wants to make the sand glow. Well, nuclear weaponry in the Middle East is not going to be much of an answer for anything and it certainly threatens Israel and threatens our allies in the region. So that lack of having any realistic approach, any real plan to deal with ISIS by the Republicans is their greatest problem.

COSTELLO: Well, Josh, we tend to only talk about two candidates, and that would be Ted Cruz, at the moment, and Donald Trump. But Senator Marco Rubio has come out with a -- with a detailed plan about how to fight ISIS. Will he loudly express that tonight?

HOLMES: Yes, I mean, I think that the big thing to watch tonight is Donald Trump and how he goes after Ted Cruz. I mean he's been previewing for the last four days about a potential confrontation there and how Ted Cruz reacts to it is going to be really interesting. I think it will dictate a lot of what happens in this debate. Can he come across as authentic and funny when you know Trump is going to be pretty funny and always has a good way of engaging his opponents on it. And so, yes, in the national security context, look, I think Marco Rubio, at this point, has proven the most versatile candidate on that stage. Clearly has a lot of depth to it and probably wants to get into the details of that throughout.

ZIMMERMAN: The problem that -- the problem that I see on this stage tonight, and what makes this debate so significant, is that as you see all of the different Republican candidates try to match and actually outdo Donald Trump with rhetoric. In fact, Marco Rubio wants to not only close mosques, he wants to close cafes and diners now. That's his strategy.

The bigger -- the bigger problem is, they're advocating an agenda that plays to the Republican base, and we've seen that with three national polls this week, is totally out of touch with the mainstream of America. In fact, it's opposed in most polls by two-thirds of the American people. So I think that's the real issue to watch here.

HOLMES: Well, let me -- let me -- let me just jump in there. It's actually not true. I mean if you look at where the American people are right now, increasingly they're aligning with a Republican view. I mean we've had a -- a huge shift towards terrorism --

ZIMMERMAN: Sixty percent are opposing Donald Trump's plan to close the -- 60 percent are opposing Donald Trump's plans to, in fact, block -- a temporary ban from Muslims coming into the country.

COSTELLO: But -- but -- but, Robert, in fairness, Republicans don't feel that way. And these candidates are trying to win a Republican primary.

ZIMMERMAN: But the issue, Carol, is, are we going to have a group therapy session on the stage? Are they going to put out an agenda that speaks to the main stream of this country and try to build a winning coalition? That's their test.

COSTELLO: Josh, last word.

HOLMES: Well -- well, you know, I've got to say, the president's not talking about climate change every day and the latest poll has 3 percent of Americans concerned about that. So I think what the Republican candidates are talking about are actually much more in line with what most people are concerned about at the moment.

COSTELLO: All right, I have to leave it there. Josh Holmes, Robert Zimmerman, thanks to both of you.

ZIMMERMAN: Good to be with you.

COSTELLO: You can see the fifth GOP presidential debate on CNN. Wolf Blitzer is the moderator. It starts at 6:00 Eastern.


[09:37:18] COSTELLO: Republicans will soon take the stage in Las Vegas, facing off for the last time this year. The battle now zeroing in on frontrunner Donald Trump and Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Both candidates now playing offense ahead of tonight's showdown. More now from CNN's Jeff Zeleny.



JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Donald Trump still on top, but a new pecking order in the Republican race and a new line-up on the debate stage. Ted Cruz suddenly gaining ground national and in the key state of Iowa, even overtaking trump by 10 percentage points. The frontrunners will be standing next to each other. The first time they have come face to face since the personal attacks started. Trump giving CNN's "State of the Union" a preview.

TRUMP: Because I'm more capable, because I have a much better temperament, because I actually get along with people much better than he does.

ZELENY: He took it one step further on Fox News Sunday.

TRUMP: When you look at the way he's dealt with the Senate, where he goes in there like a -- you know, frankly like a little bit of a maniac, you're not -- you're never going to get things done that way.

ZELENY: That generated a must unusual response from Cruz, responding on Twitter with a 1980s flashback to "Flashdance." "In honor of my friend Donald Trump and good hearted maniacs everywhere."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): She's a maniac, maniac on the floor.

ZELENY: So far Cruz refuses to hit back publicly at Trump. But behind closed doors, he took the first swing.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: People are looking for, who is prepared to be a commander in chief. Now, that's a question of strength, but it's also a question of judgement. And I think that is a question that is a challenging question for both of them.

ZELENY: Cruz may be the top target and not just for Trump. Senator Marco Rubio is drawing attention to Cruz's voting record, accusing him of being weak on national security.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So I guess my point is, each time he's had to choose between strong national defense and some of the isolationist tendencies in American politics, he seems to sides with the isolationists.

ZELENY: Rubio is trailing Trump and Cruz in national and state polls. He hopes to convince voters he's more electable. In a hypothetical head-to-head match-up, Hillary Clinton crushes Trump, 50 to 40 percent. She's 48 to 45 over Cruz. But a different story for Marco Rubio. He leads her 48 to 45 percent.

ZELENY (on camera): And that is the underlying question in this entire campaign, which Republican is best positioned to beat Hillary Clinton or whichever Democrat happens to win the nomination? That's what worries some Republican leaders and the party establishment, is Donald Trump strong enough to take on Hillary Clinton in a general election? It's one of the questions that may be answered at the debate.

Jeff Zeleny, CNN, Las Vegas.


COSTELLO: Oh, but in this presidential campaign, it's dominated by political outsiders. And there is one word that is sending some Republican candidates running for the exits. That word would be "establishment." You can count Marco Rubio among those who are resisting that label.

[09:40:14] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are now viewed as the establishment favorite. How do you handle the word establishment?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I know that it's meant as a slight, and, quite frankly, I've had my share of (INAUDIBLE) --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You feel like that is an attack when people say establishment?

RUBIO: Well, look, I mean it -- I don't think it accurately reflects my history. I mean I didn't -- I wouldn't be in the Senate. The establishment didn't want me in the United States Senate. I have consistently voted against many of the things that some people who you would identify as the establishment are for. When I chose to get into this race, I had a lot of people come forward and tell me I shouldn't run, that it wasn't my turn. And by the way, if I was the establishment favorite, I would have raised a lot more than $6 million in the last quarter.


COSTELLO: Now, Donald Trump, whose name has become synonymous with the word "outsider" is getting slammed by one well-known conservative radio host who says Trump's attacks on Ted Cruz's inability to compromise is exactly what the establishment wants.


MARK LEVIN, HOST, "THE MARK LEVIN SHOW" (voice-over): There are things you can question Cruz about. His past position on immigration, his position on trade. Substantive positions you can question him about. This is not that. You and I rally around him and have because of the way he's taken on the establishment, the very establishment that Trump's taking on. So why -- why raise a stupid issue? Because you know Donald Trump, it's McConnell who's the maniac. It's McCain who's the maniac. It's Graham who's the maniac. It's not Cruz.


COSTELLO: Interesting, right? Joining me now to talk about this, CNN's senior political analyst and editorial director of "The National Journal," Ron Brownstein. Welcome, Ron.


So -- so in light of what Mark Levin said, do you think that Donald Trump will be calling Ted Cruz a maniac on stage?

BROWNSTEIN: You know, maybe not those words, but certainly Donald Trump has gone after everyone who has poked their head up to challenge him in the polls. I don't expect it to stop. I also don't expect Ted Cruz to take much of the bait. I think what you could see -- the more significant confrontation you could see is between Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio over the substance of Ted Cruz's national security and foreign policy positions. But, yes, I wouldn't be surprised if Donald Trump continues to raise questions about Cruz's temperament. Cruz does not seem to have any interest in that fight.

COSTELLO: Going back to Marco Rubio for just a second and what he told --


COSTELLO: What he told MSNBC, right? He said he wasn't an establishment candidate, but his mentor was Jeb Bush.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. Yes, no, look, I think that is a -- a great reflection of the strategic muddle that Marco Rubio faces. I mean Rubio has been trying to position himself as the most conservative candidate possibly still acceptable to the center right. And as I think, you know, he is not fully taking advantage and clearly doesn't seem to really want to fully take advantage of the vacuum that has been left by the inability of Jeb Bush, John Kasich and to a large extent Chris Christie to kind of fill that center right lane. That is the most obvious opening in the field for him. There's a lot of competition over on the right with Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. But Rubio, you know, doesn't seem to be -- his theory of the case is not that he can get there simply by filling that lane and so he kind of constantly kind of stretches as far to the right as he can get with -- while still being acceptable to those voters and you saw in his resistance that he seemed as the establishment candidate a kind of a reflection of that approach.

COSTELLO: OK, I just want to focus a little bit on -- on Chris Christie because what would he be considered, establishment, outsider, what?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. Yes. Well, you know, I am less in the establishment/outsider way of looking at it. I mean I think that what you got here are three distinct pools of support that are emerging. You have Donald Trump who, as the frontrunner, is competitive everywhere, but is dominant among the blue collar side of the party, what we used to call Reagan Democrats, should serve him well across the -- the Midwestern states. Then you've got Ted Cruz and Ben Carson with Cruz passing Carson really as the champion of Evangelical Christians in particular. That's what's allowing him to rise up in Iowa. And Cruz's challenge will be to go beyond that because that is not enough by itself to win.

And then you have this third big bucket, which is kind of the white collar, center right, more economically focused, less social values focused voters that Christie, Kasich, Bush and Rubio are largely in competition for. And New Hampshire, historically, has been the place that sorts out the candidate who emerges as the champion of that lane. That's a big muddle at the moment with all four of them kind of clumped together. That could allow Trump to win and could really produce heartburn in the establishment because as you could imagine a world very easily where Cruz wins Iowa, Trump wins New Hampshire, and it is unclear who the establishment or center right favorite is even at that moment.

[09:45:02] COSTELLO: OK, so I'm going to read you something that sets up what you've just said very nicely. It's from "The Blaze", which is Glenn Beck's "The Blaze". This is a recent column from that publication online.

Quote, "Without the GOP establishment, we wouldn't have Trump." Says in part, "all that was needed for an outright revolt against the party establishment was a perceived outsider willing to toss a match onto the tinderbox of a decade of pent-up conservative frustration and resentment so personified in Jeb's run for office. Donald Trump brought a flamethrower. If Donald Trump is the Republican self- created monster, then Jeb Bush, their man, is his Doctor Frankenstein."

The writer goes on to say there's this disconnect within the GOP. So should we expect to see more Trumps or Trump-like candidates in the future? Is this the new normal?

BROWNSTEIN: That's a great question. I think Trump is a one of a kind. We haven't seen anything really like it since Ross Perot, and he's a more extreme version of that. The independent business guy with that persona.

Look, I think part of this is a revolt against the GOP establishment, but I don't really think that's the core of the Trump phenomenon. I mean, the core of the Trump phenomenon is how much of the Republican base is deeply unsettled and antagonistic I think toward the culture and demographic change remaking America. If you look, Trump voters overwhelmingly believe immigrants are a negative force in American society. They are overwhelmingly likely to believe that Islam is incompatible with American values. And I think that -- he has been willing to say things publicly that no Republican since Pat Buchanan, and arguably no candidate in either party since George Wallace in 1968, has given voice to.

And what Republicans are learning I think, much to their discomfort in their establishment, is how big a chunk of their base responds to that message. And that -- once that genie is out of the bottle I think it's going to be very hard for them to get it under control, even if a more center-right candidate like Rubio ultimately emerges in the spring. How do they tamp down the emotions that Donald Trump has let loose? Which are ultimately a challenge in a general election in a diversifying country. Don't forget we could reach in 2016 for the first time ever 30 percent of the general election voters being minorities. And a Republican Party positioned in the way that Donald Trump is pointing them, as the Nevada senator Dean Heller pointed out last night, is heading for a very difficult reckoning with that changing American electorate once you get past the primaries.

COSTELLO: Should be a fascinating night. Ron Brownstein, thanks to you.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, terrorism a top concern among voters, but who has the most to prove tonight when it comes to national security?


[09:51:22] COSTELLO: 34 Islamic countries are vowing to wipe out ISIS. Saudi Arabia has announced the formation of a new anti-terror alliance, calling Islamic extremism a disease. Notably absent from the coalition, Iraq, Syria, and Iran. The joint operation center, though, will be based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Of course, this news comes as U.S. national security and Donald Trump's talk of a Muslim ban takes center stage at tonight's CNN debate.

Bobby Ghosh joins me now. He's a CNN global affairs analyst and managing editor of "Quartz". Welcome, Bobby.


COSTELLO: So is Saudi Arabia serious about wiping out ISIS?

GHOSH: It's a little hard to take it seriously. I mean, when you announce a major initiative like this, 34 countries, you want to see 34 heads of state lining up in a show of sincerity and urgency. Or you want to see 34 defense ministers or 34 foreign ministers. You don't want to just hear from the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, who's fighting a really complicated, internal political game, wants to be the next king. He's second in line. He's fighting -- he's responsible for Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen, which is going very badly. Very embarrassing for the Saudis. Especially embarrassing for him.

This seems very much like he's trying to find something else, some other flag to fly, to strengthen his case to be the next king. It's hard to take this seriously.

COSTELLO: I think for many Americans it's hard to wrap our heads around the idea that countries in the Middle East don't want to wipe out ISIS. Why don't they all come together and do it?

GHOSH: Well, let's understand that people in the Middle East want to wipe out ISIS very, very badly because they are the No. 1 victims of ISIS. Societies, individuals, society groups are fighting very hard. Regimes, and usually these kingdoms, these regimes that are not answerable to their people, they feel very differently. They talk the walk, but don't want to walk the walk. I think if you want to hold fire to the feet of anyone, it should be

to these regimes, and you should start with Saudi Arabia because, after all, a lot of people would characterize what you've heard today from Saudi Arabia as the attempt by the poacher to turn into the gamekeeper. Saudi Arabia, it's a good thing that they're describing ISIS and ISIS's ideology as a disease, but a lot of people will point out that Saudi Arabia is where this disease first took root. As I said, it's a good thing that they want to do something.

COSTELLO: OK. Well, let me ask you this, because on the stage tonight, supposedly there will be many answers to the problem of ISIS. And I think that some of those candidates will say that countries in the Middle East have to do more to wipe out ISIS. So, give me a credible idea of how that an happen.

GHOSH: Should they be doing -- should governments be doing more? Should government match the zeal of their citizens in fighting ISIS more? Absolutely, they should. Will they? Chances aren't good.

If we sit back and say they should do more and it's not our job to do more, then we'll see things like Paris and like San Bernardino. We'll see those things. It's not like this is a disease that is isolated and exists only in the Middle East. It's a copout for us, for the rest of the world, to say it's their problem, they should fix it.

We've seen that their regimes in that part of the world don't want to fix it, are unable to fix it. We need to put more pressure on them to do so. But at the same time, we can't just sit back and say that's all we're going to do. There has got to be more that we have to do. And I'd like to hear more of that from the stage. But unfortunately, too many of the Republican candidates leading up to tonight have been saying it's other people's problems. And I'd like to see somebody take ownership of it and give us some explanation as to, well, if they're not going to fix it, what can we do?

[09:55:06] COSTELLO: Bobby Ghosh, thanks so much.

GHOSH: Any time.

COSTELLO: I'll be right back.


COSTELLO: Checking some stop top stories for you at 58 minutes past. Chicago police officers who dragged a handcuffed man out of his cell and down a hallway used excessive force and are liable for damages. That's according to a federal judge. Three years ago, Percy Coleman was dragged out of his cell in cuffs and he later died at a hospital due to a drug reaction. The judge says the officer used excessive force and his supervisor did not stop him. A jury trial will now decide how much the two officers should pay.

Bill Cosby is striking back at a handful of his accusers, counter- suing them for hurting his reputation. More than 40 women have come forward to accuse Cosby of sexual assault. He's denied the accusations. And in the lawsuit, he also says they have caused him emotional distress.

The next hour of CNN NEWSROOM starts now. .


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

COSTELLO: All right, and good morning. I'm Carol Costello. I do have some breaking news to pass along to you. The Los Angeles Police Department says LASUD, which is a school district there consisting of 648,000 students, has received a threat of some sort.

[10:00:05] I don't know any of the specifics. But out of abundant caution, the superintendent shut down schools for the entire day.