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GOP Candidates to Face Off in Second Debate; Interview with California Governor Jerry Brown. Aired 5-6:00p ET

Aired September 16, 2015 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, fight night. The battle is on as GOP candidates gather for their big debate right here on CNN. It all starts just an hour from now.

[17:00:24] The time is quickly running out for some White House hopefuls. They'll be trading punches with Donald Trump. And not everyone will be left standing.

Catching Trump. Dr. Ben Carson is almost neck and neck with the billionaire in the latest polls. But everyone else is back in the pack. Tonight's CNN debate is a chance to stand out from the crowd.

And conservative credentials. The GOP hopefuls will be trying to show they can be the heir to Ronald Reagan as their party is ripped apart by ideological and personal coils and they rip each other apart with insults. Who can prove they're ready to lead?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

I'm Wolf Blitzer, live from inside the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Just an hour away, an extraordinary Republican showdown begins right here on CNN. We're coming to you live from inside the debate hall at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, where 15 candidates are gathering for the GOP presidential debate. For some it's a battle for political survival. For others a chance to thump Donald Trump.

The billionaire leads the latest national polls just barely over fellow outsider Dr. Ben Carson. And polls show Carson is now gaining ground significantly in New Hampshire. Carly Fiorina, she's also moved into third place in the latest New Hampshire poll.

All the others, including the earliest establishment favorite Jeb Bush, they're back in the pack, stuck in double digits. It will be a make or break moment right here, a chance to stand out from the crowd and prove they have what it takes to become the commander in chief.

The candidates have been arriving all day here where the spirit of Ronald Reagan looms very, very large. He's revered by Republicans who see his two landslide victories marking a golden age for conservatism in the United States. But today's GOP is fractured and feuding. We may learn tonight

if one of these candidates is really able to take the torch and emerge as a new leader of the United States.

I'll speak with the Republican Party chairman, Reince Priebus, and our correspondents, analysts, and guests. They are here inside the debate hall and inside the spin room, as well.

We've deployed all of our resources to bring you this important event as only CNN can.

Let's begin with CNN's John Berman. He's down there on the debate stage. Set the scene for us, John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, what an interesting view we're getting right now, literally the last second touches happening here on the center stage. They're vacuuming the rug right in front of us right now. They just removed seven lectures. Remember, the first debate, which begins in less than an hour, just four candidates. Those four candidates polling at the bottom of the polls right now. Four lecterns left for them when they get here.

A few things I want to point out to you about the lecterns, just 20 inches apart at the top. That's close. Much closer than the first debate. Could be rather touchy for some of those candidates up there during the question-and-answer session.

Look at the audience right now. They're starting to file in here. Five hundred seats in this arena right here. This small intimate gathering, not the big stadium-like basketball game setting we had for the first debate. Could make for -- think of an uncomfortable family dinner when you're all gathered around a table. The tension there, you might be able to cut it with a knife.

One other thing: the back and forth at the debate itself. Less back and forth with the moderator and the panelists, more back and forth among the candidates themselves. They want a discussion this time, a real-life debate, not just simply question and answer and talking points.

Wolf, should be very, very interesting.

BLITZER: All right. We're all getting very excited. John Berman, thank you. We expect Donald Trump, by the way, to arrive here at the Reagan Library any time now. All of the other candidates have come by to walk through the complicated yet rather intimate setup for tonight's debate.

Unlike the first debate, which was at a huge basketball arena in Cleveland, there won't be a huge audience to cheer Trump or anyone else on tonight. Trump knows his opponents will be going after him, but he needs to do more than just play defense.

Let's go to our political reporter, Sara Murray. She has more on the frontrunner's strategy. What are you hearing, Sara? SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Sure. Well, I'm in

the area where candidates are arriving. Governor Pataki showed up just behind me. These are the trailers where they will wait for the debate.

Now, we are still waiting on Donald Trump. He was supposed to do a walk through, but it turns out one of his aides is doing that before. So yet again, Donald Trump shedding the trappings of a traditional candidate, not doing this debate walk-through.

[17:05:08] And look, we're at a really interesting point for the Donald Trump candidacy. It seems to be setting into him that this is real. He is really running for president. And there is a lot at stake. And I think tonight he's going to try to walk this line of appearing more presidential, of being a little bit more disciplined and sort of teasing some of these policy specifics while still being himself.

You know, there's a certain Trump flare, Trump straight talk that has gotten him as high as he is in the polls. And he still wants to be true to that while also making people think of him as the Republican nominee as a general election candidate, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Sara, don't go too far away. Let's bring in the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, who's with us, as well. By the way, do you have any indication whether or not Nancy Reagan will be here at tonight's event?

REINCE PRIEBUS, RNC CHAIRMAN: I thought it was pretty possible she would be here. And I heard that she may be...

BLITZER: I guess we're just getting a shot of her right now. Nancy Reagan, the first lady obviously. Let's see if we can show that to our viewers. She's wearing a green sweater. She's 94 years old. And everybody who says they're in close touch with her says she's really in very, very good shape right now.


BLITZER: So Nancy Reagan is here. That's obviously, Reince, very, very exciting.

Yes. It's really now the place that our party comes to connect with Ronald Reagan again. And there's the ranch up the road here a ways, but this is a place where a lot of our party faithful, the grassroots organizers, the -- all of the leadership can come and pay tribute to a great president. And tonight's going to be a special night.

BLITZER: So what can we expect tonight? What do you think?

PRIEBUS: Well, I mean, I think it's going to be a continuation of a really lot of interesting time for our party. I think, you know, listen to the intro, I think there is a lot of drama. There is a lot of intrigue. But with the drama and intrigue come a lot of interest from

people across this country. And I think what our party's been able to do is that we've been able to break through a cultural barrier that's been tough for us to break through as a party. But we're doing it now.

But the challenge is, of course, that we have to contain the drama and the intrigue so that we put forward our best foot as we move through this year and next year, get a nominee and then join our nominee with a party back together again.

BLITZER: There you see Nancy Reagan being seated in the audience. About 500 guests including guests from the RNC, from the Reagan Library. They are here already. Some of the campaigns, obviously, they have special invitees, as well. But it's so exciting to see Nancy Reagan, 94 years old, and she's here. She'll be enjoying this evening, I'm sure.

PRIEBUS: Well, it's fantastic. She's going to be obviously not just the person spearheading all of this tonight but be here in person is very special for our party and special for the country.

BLITZER: You expect these 15 Republican candidates to be on their best behavior in this -- for Republicans this is almost hallowed ground right now.

PRIEBUS: Well, look, I'm going to turn the tables on you a little bit. What we're not talking about is really what's going to happen with the moderators. And I think there's going to be -- it's a huge challenge. I think Jake Tapper's really going to be -- have to be on his toes tonight, because there's a lot of candidates that want to break through tonight.

And I think the undiscussed issue is how are the moderators going to be able to contain 11 candidates that do want to have a breakthrough moment but yet give everyone a fair amount of time to get this thing done? And I think that's a huge issue.

BLITZER: Because some of these Republican presidential candidates, they've made no secret of their disdain for Donald Trump, as you well know. Some of them are even hinting broadly they don't even want -- they don't even think he's qualified to be commander in chief.

PRIEBUS: Well, some of them have said that. But look, I think that everyone has to proceed with their own agenda and with their own tactics. And, you know, sometimes they work, and sometimes they don't. So, I mean, it's up to them. And it's up to them and it's up to me to make sure we have a party that has its act together when we get a nominee.

BLITZER: Is this food fight -- it's likely to be out there, is that good for the Republican Party or bad for the Republican Party?

PRIEBUS: Like I said before, I think drama and intrigue is great for the party, as long as you don't get to a place where you can't contain that drama and intrigue. So obviously, it's a balance. I think all in all for our party to have at the last debate between the two debates 30 million people. I think tonight's going to be a huge night, too. I think that's an opportunity for our party, not a threat. But we have to make sure that we do a good job of keeping this thing together.

BLITZER: Reince Priebus, congratulations. We'll look forward to an excellent debate tonight. All of us are excited.

PRIEBUS: It will be great.

BLITZER: You're going to go down there and sit beside, right?

PRIEBUS: You guys have done a good job.

BLITZER: You got a good seat?

PRIEBUS: You bet.

BLITZER: OK. Reince, thanks very much.

PRIEBUS: See you.

BLITZER: All of Donald Trump's opponents have a common goal: get enough of the spotlight tonight to keep their campaigns alive and move up in the polls.

Let's go to our senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, with a closer look at the different ways Trump's opponents plan to do just that. What are you hearing, Jeff?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I can tell you that three candidates who really have their eye on Donald Trump, competing with Donald Trump, let's start with Ben Carson. He's been closing in on Donald Trump in these nationwide polls and in Iowa and in New Hampshire. He's been coming on strong against Donald Trump, so he is going to -- he is going to try and show that he is a kinder and gentler type of outsider.

[17:10:02] He's, of course, very different in demeanor than Donald Trump is. He also will be emphasizing his evangelical strength.

Wolf, I can tell you so many voters in Iowa, social Christian conservatives, are keen on his candidacy. So they'll be watching him tonight.

Also, Jeb Bush. All eyes on Jeb Bush. Most people at this point thought he would be the front runner in this race. Of course he struggled to prove himself as a -- in a very outside year. But he's going to show that he's Oval Office ready, I'm told.

One of his advisors said he's going to show that he has presidential leadership. He'll be interspersing policy proposals throughout his speech tonight, and of course, he's going to show that he's fired up and ready to take on Donald Trump. Finally, Carly Fiorina. Carly Fiorina will be on the big stage

for the first time. She will be showing that she is able to confront Trump. We saw that when she came into the hall today. She said she's ready to take him on. It's one of the things she'll be doing.

She also will be saying that she's a responsible outsider, that she is ready for this. She is so up on policy. We've heard her give interview after interview. She's steeped in all of these issues here. So she will be trying to show that she is different from Donald Trump and Ben Carson; and she is looking to shine tonight in her first debate on the big stage -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jeff, thanks very much.

Let's talk about all of this and more. Joining us here inside the arena where this is taking place, the Reagan Library, our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger; our chief national correspondent, the host of "Inside Politics," John King; and our senior political commentator, the former Obama senior adviser, David Axelrod.

David, you all remember you prepared Barack Obama as a junior senator for these kinds of debates in 2007, 2008. So what should Donald Trump's strategy be tonight?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think it is as Sara stated. He needs to maintain that edge, that irreverence that has gotten him to this place. But he also has to show the kind of temperament that people associate with being president. It's a tough balance to strike.

BLITZER: Gloria, what do you think?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think, first of all, Donald Trump is going to do whatever he wants. No matter what we say, that's what he's going to do. He has to act more presidential, I would say, and a little less negative.

Here we are at the Reagan Library. Ronald Reagan is known. One of the many things he's known for is his optimistic vision for America. I think a little bit of optimism would help Donald Trump tonight.

BLITZER: But you know that some of these candidates, John, who are going to be on this stage, like Senator Rand Paul, for example, they're going to go directly after Donald Trump.

I spoke with Rand Paul earlier today. And he basically doesn't think Donald Trump is qualified to be the nation's commander in chief. Once he says that -- presumably he goes after him tonight -- how do you think Donald Trump is going to respond?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Trump in part has signaled how he'll respond by essentially turning to anyone who holds elective office and saying, "You're part of the problem." Essentially you don't have the standing to make that case against me, because you're part of the broken system. You're the reason voters are disgusted, because you people get elected. You don't do what you promise to do and look where the country is.

And he can make that point, but then to keep his supporters. The challenge for Donald Trump is he's at 30 percent in the national polls. He's leading the key state polls in Iowa and New Hampshire. Can he grow or does he start to drop at some point?

To continue to grow, I think to David's point show a little bit more presidential temperament. He said himself in a Christian broadcasting interview, he thinks he should tone it down a little bit. So how does he take issue with his critics without calling them stupid? Take issue with them and pivot back to say this is about leadership.

He said last night in his speech, "I have the instinct to make the deals. The others don't have that." In the house of Reagan, try to be big and show you're a leader.

BORGER: This is a small group setting, Wolf, relatively small. Donald Trump plays to a large audience really well. This audience is really not much to his advantage.

And also he's right next door, just as tight as I am to John King and to you. He's looking at his opponents. In the last debate, I noticed there wasn't a lot of eye contact between Donald Trump and his opponents. It's hard to avoid that on this stage tonight.

BLITZER: All right, guys, hold your thought, because we're only just getting started.

By the way, we want to apologize to our viewers. We thought we saw Nancy Reagan here in the hall. We are now told that was not Nancy Reagan. We're going to find out what exactly happened, but that's an apology from all of us here.

Meanwhile, it's an especially big night for Carly Fiorina, about to go face-to-face with Donald Trump for the first time since his controversial remarks about her. So what's her strategy for taking on the GOP frontrunner? We're going to talk about that when we come back.


[17:18:17] BLITZER: We're less than one hour away from the first round of tonight's Republican presidential debate here at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.

Most of the candidates have come through the debate hall. Dr. Ben Carson also visited the debate spin room. Kate Bolduan is there for us. Just had a chance to speak with him. How did that go, Kate?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know what? A little preview of the spin room never can hurt a candidate, Wolf. This is the spin room. And this is what we call the calm before the storm. You know this well, but for all of our viewers you know this well, as this is where everyone comes. After the debate they're going to flood the candidates, the surrogates. The campaigns -- the candidates, as I mentioned, even themselves,

will come into this room, flooding it, to essentially influence the debate coverage, highlight the highs, downplay the lows. This is where the action is the moment the debate ends.

And as you mentioned, Wolf, some of them get a little preview of the spin room just to maybe get the lay of the land.

Dr. Ben Carson, he just walked through here. We were able to stop and talk to him at length about how he was feeling. And I asked him, Wolf, if he's feeling the pressure now. That he's skyrocketed in the polls, he's standing right next to Donald Trump nearly center stage in our debate. Here's what he said.


BOLDUAN: Do you feel the pressure?

DR. BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't. I don't feel any pressure at all. You know, being who I am is what got me here. And I will continue to be who I am. Will not try to make changes, you know. I do find it a little hilarious when you look at some of the so-called experts and say, "Carson needs to do this and Carson needs to do that." Hey, Carson needs to be Carson.


BOLDUAN: And he's going to bide by that tonight. Carson needs to be Carson.

I also asked him what he's preparing in terms of standing right next to Donald Trump, Wolf. And he says that he is going to treat Donald Trump like everyone else on the stage, and he expects Donald Trump to return the favor.

In terms of a pre-game for Ben Carson, he said he played a little pool, he got a haircut and he went to see his dentist, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. That's interesting what he did today. All right, Kate, thanks very, very much.

Let's get some more with our political commentators who are joining me, the Republican strategist Kevin Madden and Ana Navarro along with S.E. Cupp.

Ana, you're a good friend of Marco Rubio. You're a supporter of Jeb Bush. What is an insider -- that's what he is, Jeb Bush, former Florida governor, need to do against the ultimate outsider, namely Donald Trump?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The first thing he needs to do and they all need to do is Jeb needs to be Jeb. Marco needs to be Marco. Carson is right. Carson needs to be Carson. I'm very glad his teeth are not going to be aching. Any pain he may be feeling may be caused by Trump. In Jeb's, you know, particular case, he has got to get the policy

right. He doesn't get to do a Donald Trump. If he has an oops moment, that will not be forgiven like it is for Donald Trump. But he also needs to fight back.

Donald Trump is going to be a foot and a half away, well within Jeb's wingspan. And if he wants to pick a fight, Jeb needs to hit back.

BLITZER: So do you think Trump really effectively will set the tone, the pace for tonight's debate? What are you expecting to see?

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Trump is very effective at not answering the question but instead answering the topic. He wants to talk about any terms, whether it's national security, the economy, on -- any of those issues on his terms. And then make all of the other candidates, all the other candidates, react to him.

And when he's doing that, he's setting the pace. He's setting the tone of this debate. He's actually in control. And that's what Donald Trump likes, right? He likes to be in control.

BLITZER: You had a chance, S.E., to speak to some of Carly Fiorina's strategists, if you will. What are you hearing about what she's planning to do tonight?

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: With regard to Trump, her response is that she's handled some pretty well so far. So she's not planning anything, per se, but I think she's probably the only candidate on the stage that could go after him and win.

Another thing that she's planning to do is ignore all the hype. She's got big expectations for tonight. You don't claw your way onto the big stage and then don't show that you deserve to be there.

She's ignoring the hype. She says they don't set these expectations; other people do. She feels really well prepared. The other thing they think they have going for them is that Carly's name I.D. is still relatively low. Hard to imagine since we talk about her a lot and we've been following her for a long time, but it is. She's got one of the lowest name ids of all the candidates. They think this is an opportunity to introduce her to the country in a really big way. And they think once she has her night tonight people will really like what they hear.

NAVARRO: Yes, but I bet you Carly has something planned. Because if she's shown anything to now is that she can deliver a line like an Oscar-winning actress.

CUPP: I bet she will. I bet she will.

BLITZER: Jeb Bush, if he comes out too forceful, too assertive, does he risk the possibility that he's not looking natural, that he's forcing it, if you will? Is that an issue for him?

NAVARRO: It's like Goldilocks, right? The debate is like Goldilocks It can't be too big, can't be too little. It's got to be just right.

And so I think -- I think that he has to be who he is. And I think you're going to see that.

But I do think that this is a second debate for all of these guys. A lot of them have not debated in a long time. In Jeb's case, he had not debated in ten years, and he certainly had never debated with nine other people. It's now going to be ten on a stage, including some gigantic egos and personalities.

So I think, you know, he got the hang of it. I think he heard the feedback. And I think you're going to see Jeb Bush incorporate that and show that.

BLITZER: The outsiders, Kevin, they're doing well whether Trump, whether Carly Fiorina, Dr. Ben Carson. Do they start going after each other directly, do you think, tonight?

MADDEN: That's a big question. So we do, we see in these polls the candidates that are ascending are the ones who don't have a resume that's focused in -- or that's centered in Washington.

So as they start to grow in the polls and they start to realize they're in each other's space, does a Carly Fiorina go after a Donald Trump in an effort to post up against him? And, you know, there's a lot of risk in that. As S.E. pointed out, this is an opportunity to introduce Carly Fiorina to millions of new voters. Do you want to do that through the lens of a debate with Donald Trump?

CUPP: Right.

MADDEN: So I think if we see that, it will be risky, but it also could be high reward.

NAVARRO: That's one of the things that Carly has done is that she has shown she is the only woman, but she can fight. and she can fight hard. at first with Hillary and now with Trump.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by. We have a lot more to assess as we're getting ready for this Republican presidential debate.

Coming up, Rand Paul takes to social media, opening fire on an unusual target. We'll take a closer look at the candidate's tweets, vines and much more on this critical night.


[17:28:40] BLITZER: Just an hour away from tonight's Republican debate. Basically, half an hour or so here at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.

Lots of excitement going on right now. For Republicans, this is hallowed ground. The memories of Ronald Reagan's victories, they seem to be everywhere at this presidential library. The presidential jet Air Force One looms behind one of the most complex stages in the history of presidential debates. Eleven candidates will be shoulder to shoulder for the main

debate, moments from now. Some of the contenders will be onstage for the first round debate.

CNN's Kate Bolduan, once again, she's inside the debate spin room, as it's called.

Are you getting a chance to speak to some of those candidates, aren't you, Kate?

BOLDUAN: Absolutely, Wolf. As you said, 30 minutes from now, four presidential contenders will be taking the stage, and their goal, essentially, is they need to make some moves. They need to follow in Carly Fiorina's footsteps and make a statement to boost their standing in the polls with Republican voters to try and make it to that main event.

I caught up with one of those contenders, Senator Lindsey Graham. He says he does not think it is make-or-break tonight for him. He calls it the first inning in a nine-inning game.

But he also did say the key thing, the burden of proof is on Donald Trump, and you can expect that's going to be his target for attack tonight. Listen to this.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think the burden is on him to prove to the American people, quite frankly, that he has a foreign policy that makes sense. Last night I listened to that, and it was just -- I don't know what you would describe that speech on the USS Iowa, but not a foreign policy speech.


[17:30:14] BOLDUAN: Also learning from insiders in his campaign that we can expect one line of attack from Lindsey Graham to play off of the fact, they say, of Donald Trump has said it was to "Meet the Press," that he said that, in terms of where he gets his foreign policy from, he watches the shows. You can expect watching TV, that to be a line of attack.

Also other contenders within the Santorum campaign, you can expect they're also to pose questions in this first debate in order to hopefully get that question asked in the main event. Kind of saying, Wolf, well here's a question I would have for those who aren't here right now. You could expect you might see some of that coming up in a half an hour.

BLITZER: All right. We'll be watching together with you, Kate. Thank you.

Let's get some more. Joining us our CNN politics senior digital correspondent, Chris Moody; our senior political reporter, Nia-Malika Henderson; and our senior political analyst, Ron Brownstein, the editorial director of "The National Journal." Chris, we saw Kate Bolduan in the spin room. Dan Pfeiffer was a

top aide to President Obama. He says Twitter is the new spin room. What do you say about that?

CHRIS MOODY, CNN POLITICS SENIOR DIGITAL CORRESPONDENT: What we know today about spin rooms are things that are involved in a very different media age. Twenty years ago there was no Twitter. There was nothing like this on live. Everything was on television, on print or on radio.

But now candidates can respond in real time or their staffs can send e-mails to their supporters, even fundraising ones, and respond on Twitter very quickly. And we already know how they're going to frame the debate before it's even over.

BLITZER: Do you have any sense, Nia, who's going to break through tonight? Because all of them are prepared. They know the stakes are enormous.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they certainly want to breakthrough. Before on this stage, just in a few minutes or so in that under card debate -- some people sort of derisively called it the kiddie table -- they want to break out, make it into that main stage. We talked to Lindsey Graham, and he was of course, was just on air.

He said he wants to emerge as sort of a truth teller. He's someone who's very much a hawk hawk. He wants to send 20,000 troops to Syria, to Iraq, to beat back the ISIS threat. That is his plan tonight, to really give a reality check to foreign policy.

Jindal, I think, he's sort of emerging now as what Fiorina was doing before, and that is really going after Donald Trump. We saw Rick Perry do that, as well. But we also know that Rick Perry won't be on that stage tonight, because it's very risky to go after Donald Trump.

But I think you'll look for him to do that as a way to break through.

BLITZER: This is a much more intimate setting, Ron, than the first Republican debate in the huge basketball arena in Cleveland. How is that going to impact what's going to happen?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. First of all, Chris, 20 years ago the big technological breakthrough was blast facts. That was the big campaign innovation. But what this debate is, is remarkable in how close the candidates are not just to each other but also to the audience. I mean, it really has a feel of everybody being on top of each other.

We remember for debates going back to the '80s when Walter Mondale, Jesse Jackson, and Gary Hart were around a table, how much that changed the dynamic of a debate.

I think having them all this close is going to introduce an unpredictable element at a moment when all of the candidates, as you say, have a lot at stake. We saw from that first debate how much the impressions can change. That's a reminder the impressions are pretty shallow at this point but also how much these events matter.

BLITZER: Take us through a little bit, Chris, the social media chatter of the day to explain how the candidates may be getting ready for this debate.

MOODY: Right. Speaking of social media, this is an opportunity for people to tell -- the candidates to tell people what they've been up to all day.

Rand Paul actually here in Simi Valley went to a shooting range. And he took a copy of the U.S. tax code and took an AR-15. He posted a little bit of it on social media. Take a look.




MOODY: Also a little bit quieter Jeb Bush went for a jog, kind of clears the mind. He posted that on Instagram.

We also saw Rick Santorum showing off his debate boots, a pair of black cowboy boots, which reminds me a little bit of another candidate. Ted Cruz has lucky debate boots, as well. And Scott Walker posted a few things on Snapchat.

So you see them using these different mediums to kind of communicate with their audience, especially before the times when they're using paid ads in the campaigns. This is an opportunity to test out their message to get it straight to the people. And it costs them very little.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Stand by, because we're getting ready for this second Republican presidential debate. The contest is getting closer and closer. The CNN Republican presidential debate will be here shortly right here in the Reagan Library. We're standing by for tonight's critical showdown in the 2016 race for the White House.


[17:38:36] BLITZER: Stage is now set; the candidates are ready. We're counting down to the start of the CNN Republican presidential debate right here at the Ronald Reagan Library in beautiful Simi Valley, California.

Standing by with us, our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger; our chief national correspondent John King; our senior political commentator, the former Obama senior advisor, David Axelrod.

You've been talking to a lot of the campaigns, Gloria. What are you hearing about their strategy in approaching Donald Trump tonight? BORGER: I think they're all saying, if attacked, they will

attack back. None of them really believes Donald Trump is going to go after them frontally like he does on the campaign trail.

I think particularly Jeb Bush, in talking to his advisors, it's clear they want to establish a contrast with Donald Trump, just like he's been doing on the campaign trail. And the contrast will be "I'm a reformer. I know how to get things done. That's my kind of experience. I'm optimistic, and you're negative. I know what I'm doing, and basically you don't."

BLITZER: How do you really prepare, John, for a Donald Trump being part of a debate like this? You and I, we've moderated Republican presidential debates, Democratic presidential debates. Donald Trump is extraordinary.

KING: He is extraordinary. He is the reality TV star. He understands this genre, the television performance mode, better than any of his rivals. Plus, there are 11 of them on the stage, so you know your opportunity is going to be limited.

I think that's what makes it frustrating. David said earlier in the day that Trump is clearly under the skin of most of the other candidates. Jeb Bush clearly has Donald Trump under his skin. That affects you, because you're looking to make a point against Donald Trump when remember, with the limited opportunity you get, you need to reassure your own donors. You need to reassure your own voters. You need to try to reach new ones by having some moment.

If you're coming in saying, "I have to get to Trump, because he said this about me, he calls me low energy, he says I'm stupid" or whatever, and then you get out there and the debate's going in some way you don't know, you sort of lose your direction because you come in looking to attack, as opposed to making your case.

AXELROD: But having a moment at Donald Trump's expense is a very dangerous proposition, because if you miss, he will kill you. And so you have to be very sure about what you're going to do and how you're going to do it.

BLITZER: How do you make sure, David, you don't miss?

AXELROD: Well, I think you -- I'm sure they've all been running through moments and rehearsing the lines. I think humor may be the best way to deal with Trump. If you go at him with righteous indignation, he comes right back at you.

I think humor is very disarming. I'll be interested to see how Carly Fiorina handles it, because she's been trash talking all week about this debate and Donald Trump. He, of course, to her, as well. So it seems to me she's poised to take him on and has something, perhaps, to gain from it.

BLITZER: Do you think, Gloria, each candidate will walk on this stage with what -- let's call it a to-do list, what they really want to accomplish during the course of this debate? BORGER: I think their staff has this to-do list in front of

them, and they've been going through mock debates with them. And look, they all have to -- each one of these people wants to establish themselves as the alternative to those outsiders.

So you have the outsider lane. And, you know, you've got Donald Trump leading it. And you've got Ben Carson right behind. Then you have everybody else, maybe Carly Fiorina, I guess I'd put in the outsider lane, saying, "Look, I need to be the one that Republicans look to when these folks are no longer around." And so what that means if you have to tell people who you are, what you stand for and how you're different from Donald Trump.

AXELROD: And land a line that will be memorable.

BORGER: Exactly.

AXELROD: And you've got ten minutes to do it. My guess is every single one of them gets up there and jots notes down to themselves when they get to those podiums to remind them of the lines that they want to hit and the moments they want to create.

BLITZER: As you know, John, tens of millions of people presumably will be watching the debate tonight. But really at stake in Iowa and New Hampshire are tens of thousands of people who will actually show up at the caucuses and show up at the polling booth.

KING: I think because we are so involved and there is such great drama and a field like nothing we've never seen, I think we sometimes forget this is the second debate. Yes, the candidates are spending a lot of time in Iowa. Yes, they're spending a lot of time in New Hampshire. There's four months until anybody votes.

This is a still getting to know you phase. It's not an introduction, but it's still a getting to know you phase.

Now, they know Trump better than anybody else, again, because of the TV experience, because he has been a celebrity for so long.

Dr. Carson, I think, has a high bar tonight, because he's going up right now, and he needs to convince people, "I'm not just interesting. I'm presidential."

If you're Jeb Bush or Scott Walker, and in the spring you were the front runners in this race, again nobody votes for four months; but you have to do some business. But this is not make or break for those guys. It could be make or break for some of these guys in the first debate and for the guys on the end tonight.

For the guys who know have the money, and the resources, and the organization to go longer, your strategy is more chess. It's checkers for some of these guys who could get jumped tonight and be gone.

AXELROD: If you're thinking Iowa, the social conservatives are very, very powerful in those Iowa caucuses. And I think you'll see perhaps some jousting between Carson, Huckabee, Cruz, some of those candidates who are really counting on social conservative votes in Iowa to move forward.

BORGER: When you look at our polling, what -- what we don't talk about a lot is the fact that over 60 percent of the people that we poll, even in the early states, are undecided. So there's a lot of room to maneuver.

And if you look back to the last debate for breakout moments, Carly Fiorina had one. John Kasich's another one I would watch on the stage tonight, because he positions himself as an outsider who's a governor who did things differently, with a broader appeal. So he's looking to kind of move into the Jeb Bush lane and crowd him out.

AXELROD: Absolutely right.

BLITZER: Iowa's a critically important state for Republicans.


BLITZER: Obviously. Quickly, to Democratic presidential campaigns -- hold that thought for a moment. We're going to discuss what Democratic campaigns are looking at, whether Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, maybe Joe Biden -- he doesn't have a campaign yet -- what they're going to be looking for tonight.

Much more coming up.

The California governor, Jerry Brown, calls out Dr. Ben Carson on climate change. Did Dr. Carson respond? I'll ask Governor Brown. He's joining us live. That's coming up.

And the countdown continues. CNN's Republican presidential debate set to begin shortly, right here at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.


[17:48:18] BLITZER: A critical night in the 2016 campaign is about to get under way right here at the Reagan Library in California. The CNN Republican Presidential Debate. The candidates, they're now making their final preparations for a war of words that could reshape the landscape of this White House race.

Let's get some more on what's going on. The California governor Jerry Brown, he's a former Democratic presidential candidate, he's joining us now.

It's all happening in your home state, Governor. Give us a little sense -- are you going to be watching first of all this Republican debate tonight? And if you are what will you be looking for?

GOV. JERRY BROWN (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, interesting, although not particularly informative. What I'll look for, number one, authenticity. But number two, a sense of gravity about what faces America and faces the world. This is a campaign for president, you know, not a governor or a

senator or a mayor. And the issues, whether it'd be climate change, the buildup of nuclear arsenals in many countries or the proliferation that is still possible, or financial system is leaving the average American 7 percent poorer than he or she was seven years ago.

We got to get to the big issues, not the hot button stuff or the political cliches as is represented by Congress where they all vote against the Iranian deal even though Germany and France and China and Russia are all together with this on that whole embargo, and therefore have to come along with what the president's saying. So I'm going to look for someone who can stand out from kind of the Republican blather that I don't think is impressing the undecided or the swing voters that are out there in the country.

[17:50:06] BLITZER: Governor Brown, you wrote a letter to Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson who is now second in the national polls among Republicans. You tweeted a picture of it saying, and I'm reading it now, to climate science denier at real Ben Carson, "Climate change is much bigger than partisan politics."

Did you get a response from him?

BROWN: Well, I heard he made some comment, not to me but to the press and he continues in his denial. Climate change is real. The fire season in California is expanding. We know it's intensified by the climate change, but the science about rising sea levels, disruptive storms, this stuff is global. It's a profound threat to the long-term wellbeing of the world and the president -- the next president has to stand up and really take some leadership.

So I think Mr. Carson totally failed the fundamental test of leadership and that is to speak sensibly on big issues.

BLITZER: California, as you point out, facing harsh wildfires right now. Hundreds of homes already have been burned. Is there any sense these fires are easing right now? What's the impact on your state?

BROWN: Fires are easing at this moment, but that doesn't give us any confidence for a couple of days from now because the heat is going to turn up. We are experiencing elevated temperatures, the hottest since records were kept, and then when you combine that with a drought, things were so dry that the fire spreads, goes in every direction and it's more threatening than anything else we've ever seen before and at the national level, I was just speaking to the president a few moments ago, and their funding is running short.

So the Congress has to take seriously these threats, both the flooding but certainly the fires that are costing a billion dollars a year and probably going to cost more. So we've got a lot to do and these presidential candidates ought to face that.

BLITZER: You say you just spoke with the president of the United States. He gave you a commitment how much he's going to help California right now deal with these wildfires? BROWN: Well, the president and the federal government, of

course, has been helping with fire engines, with hand crews, helicopters, planes. We got 15,000 people fighting these fires. We're not anywhere near the end of fire season. So the president has certainly been there and I believe he'll be there when we need him over the next couple of months and wherever else in the country because the climate is changing.

We have these big threats and we've got to rise up to the occasion of these significant issues that affect our quality of life. I do hope, getting back to our event tonight, that these candidates can get beyond some of the Republican bromines and talk to where real people are and what they are concerned about going forward.

BLITZER: Have you endorsed any of the Democratic presidential candidates yet like Hillary Clinton for example?

BROWN: No, I haven't endorsed anybody. I will say, though, about the Clintons with some experience, they are very formidable and I would not underestimate Hillary Clinton.

BLITZER: What are you waiting for? What do you want to see, Joe Biden jump into the race?

BROWN: Well, I'm not as hasty as I was as a younger candidate or a younger elected official, so I'm enjoying the luxury of being on the sidelines, watching these shows tonight, watching the parade, and where I can be helpful I'll jump in at the appropriate time.

BLITZER: Well, would you like to see Vice President Joe Biden, a man you know well for many years, would you like to see him become a Democratic presidential candidate?

BROWN: Well, somebody asked me that question on another show and I kind of muse on what I would do if I were Joe Biden. So since I'm not, I'm not going to give any advice tonight.

BLITZER: You don't have to give advice but do you think he will run?

BROWN: I can't tell. That show on "Colbert" seemed to indicate he's definitely pondering it but with some reservation, so, you know, we don't -- we don't know the future. I don't want to prognosticate. I would say, though, it early, as you said earlier. This is at the end of the game and you can have a lot of big surprises, a lot of action between now and the first Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary.

Lots going to happen in the Republican primary and I think some things could happen on the Democratic side, as well.

BLITZER: I think you're right, lots could happen. What about Donald Trump? Do you think he's qualified to be commander-in-chief?

BROWN: Well, I would have to say based on what he said so far, I would not recommend him as our commander-in-chief. Might be an interesting time --


[17:55:04] BLITZER: You know him. You've met him -- I assume you have met him over the years, right?

BROWN: I have met him, yes. Definitely --

BLITZER: What do you think?

BROWN: Well, I think he has certain talents that are very useful in campaigns, but as a man to lead our country, the full spectrum of a polarized nation, I would think he's a little too hot for the kind of role that the president of the United States has to play in the next four years.

BLITZER: Governor Jerry Brown, the governor of California. Good luck with the fires. Good luck with the other problems you have here in California.

Governor Brown, thanks very much for joining us.

BROWN: Good, and we're glad you're out here in our state.

BLITZER: We're glad to be out here, as well.

We're only minutes away from the big Republican showdown right here on CNN, so debate night here in America. Debate night battle as the candidates fight to carry the GOP flag in this race for the White House. Can any of them get past the frontrunner, Donald Trump?