The scene inside the Milwaukee Theatre during the previous GOP debate, on Nov. 10.

The scene inside the Milwaukee Theatre during the previous GOP debate, on Nov. 10.

Nine Republican presidential candidates took to the stage last night in Las Vegas, Nevada for the fifth debate of the primary season. It was the last one of the year and comes just seven weeks before the first votes are cast in Iowa. Questions about terrorism and national security dominated the discussion, with the candidates sparring over who would be toughest on ISIS and protecting the homeland. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush sharply criticized frontrunner Donald Trump’s plan to block Muslims from entering the U.S. And Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who leads the GOP field in Iowa, sparred with Florida Senator Marco Rubio over immigration policy. Join us as Diane and guests discuss last night’s Republican debate.


  • Stuart Rothenberg Editor and publisher of the Rothenberg Political Report; columnist, Roll Call
  • Domenico Montanaro Lead political editor, NPR
  • Matthew Schlapp Principal and founder, Cove Strategies; chairman, The American Conservative Union
  • Kristen Soltis Anderson Republican pollster and co-founder, Echelon Insights; columnist, The Daily Beast and author of “The Selfie Vote: Where Millennials Are Leading America (And How Republicans Can Keep Up)”


  • 10:06:54

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Last night, nine Republican presidential candidates clashed on a debate stage in Las Vegas, Nevada. It's the last debate of the year and comes just seven weeks before the Iowa caucuses. Here to discuss what the GOP candidates said last night about the issues and what it all means for the upcoming presidential election, political analyst Stuart Rothenberg of the Rothenberg Political Report.

  • 10:07:28

    MS. DIANE REHMDomenico Montanaro of NPR News and Kristen Soltis Anderson, a Republican pollster. Joining us by phone from Las Vegas, Matthew Schlapp of The American Conservative Union, a political organization advocating conservative policies. I know you'll want to advise us of your own opinions. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send us your email to Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And thank you all for being here.

  • 10:08:12

    MS. KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSONThank you for having us.

  • 10:08:12


  • 10:08:12

    MR. STUART ROTHENBERGThanks for having us.

  • 10:08:14

    REHMDomenico, nine on the main stage, four on the so-called undercard. How were the decisions made this time?

  • 10:08:27

    MONTANAROWell, they raised the standard, actually, CNN, this time. You had to have an average of 3.5 percent in national polls, and average of 4 percent in Iowa and an average of 4 percent in New Hampshire or in one of those three. Previously, it had been about 1 percent nationally so they tried to raise the stakes, raise the bar. You only wound up with one less candidate on the stage. That just shows you how bunched together this field is.

  • 10:08:53

    REHMSo who was on the undercard?

  • 10:08:55

    MONTANAROWell, on the undercard, Lindsey Graham, last night, seemed to be the one who kind of really stood out. You had Rick Santorum, you know, George Pataki, who, you know, he is still running. He's still there. And Mike Huckabee, yeah.

  • 10:09:11

    REHMAnd Lindsey Graham said he should've been on that main stage.

  • 10:09:15

    MONTANAROWell, I mean, I think on his message, this message on ISIS, which is, you know, national security and terrorism has really taken over as the main issue, I think, across parties now. It had been a top issue for Republicans for almost a year since ISIS had, you know, started airing videos beheading journalists and other people. But Lindsey Graham, in particular, because of this issues, wants to be on that main debate stage.

  • 10:09:40

    MONTANAROHe's very, you know, hawkish when it comes to this. He has the, probably, the most hawkish stance. He wants to commit more troops. He even said last night that he misses George W. Bush and wishes that he were still president because if he were, this mess wouldn't be happening. So very different stances, certainly, that you heard from Lindsey Graham amongst other Republicans and certainly with Democrats.

  • 10:10:03

    REHMAnd Stu Rothenberg, the debate came on the day that Los Angeles closed down its schools. New York had the same message, but decided not to. So first and foremost, national security is in the minds of these candidates.

  • 10:10:25

    ROTHENBERGAbsolutely, absolutely, Diane. And for Republicans even more so. This is a party that has traditionally done well on issues of national security, terrorism, defense issues, foreign policy in general. The party wants to talk about that. They believe the president has a record of what they would describe as weakness and they'd much rather talk about these themes rather than climate change or the economy or the unemployment rate.

  • 10:10:57

    ROTHENBERGSo circumstances, I think, have helped the Republicans talk more focused about national security and defense and fortunately for them, that's what this debate was supposed to be about.

  • 10:11:08

    REHMAnd Kristen, before the debate, you had a question as to who might go after Donald Trump. Were you surprised it was Jeb Bush?

  • 10:11:21

    ANDERSONIt doesn't surprise me that Jeb Bush, at this point, is the candidate who feels he may have the most to gain by going after Donald Trump because he has been somewhat stagnate in the polls, you know, only a couple of percent. Meanwhile, all of the other folks, a Marco Rubio, a Ted Cruz, they've sort of seen that everyone who goes after Donald Trump with a frontal assault winds up sort of falling down in the polls after that fact.

  • 10:11:43

    ANDERSONNobody yet has fought Donald Trump and gained as a result of it over the long term. So both Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz sort of notably did not go after Donald Trump. Ted Cruz, going sort of extra lengths to be very nice to Donald Trump and prove how on the same page they were, which is, I think, a sort of interesting strategy considering that both Cruz and Trump are going to be fighting for some of the same voters there in Iowa here in a couple of weeks.

  • 10:12:09

    REHMMatt Schlapp, you were there at the debate. What was the mood in the room and among the candidates?

  • 10:12:18

    MR. MATTHEW SCHLAPPWell, Diane, it's always so interesting when you're at these debates because depending on the size of the venue, you have a very different crowd. So at the event that was at the Reagan Library, it was a very small crowd. This crowd was also kind of small to medium-sized, unlike Cleveland, which was a huge arena. So when it's smaller, guess what happens? You have a skew towards probably our wealthy donor set. And when the candidates were announced, you could tell by the crowd reaction, Marco Rubio was, by far away, favorite.

  • 10:12:49

    MR. MATTHEW SCHLAPPJeb Bush got a rousing reception. Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, not so much. So it was kind of interesting that that tone inside the room was set from the very beginning.

  • 10:12:59

    REHMYou know, I find myself wondering and indeed worrying about the crowd and its reaction and how that actually affects debates.

  • 10:13:12

    SCHLAPPWell, it does. And I don't know, you know, when you're in the room, you don't know how it's coming across on TV and on radio, but I think it's jarring for those candidates when they do get kind of catcalls or booed or hissed at while they're talking. And on the opposite side, if you're getting such a rousing response every time you talk, it must make you feel kind of like I'm on top of the world.

  • 10:13:36

    REHMYeah, exactly. Some people said this was going to be Jeb Bush's last stand. Do you think he managed to overcome that last in the room feeling?

  • 10:13:53

    SCHLAPPI think what I noticed last night with Jeb Bush is, for the very first time, he seemed relaxed. He seemed to actually be enjoying it. He seemed to be taking his opportunities and I think we all noticed less kind of start and stop uneasy talking. It was smoother. It seemed to be coming from heart. I think he understands these issues deeply. He believes in what he's saying passionately and it came across, I think, loud and clear so I think he had a great night.

  • 10:14:23

    REHMAnd Stu Rothenberg, a poll show a majority of Republicans support Trump's plan to ban Muslims from entering the United States. Do you think any minds were changed last night?

  • 10:14:41

    ROTHENBERGDiane, I can't imagine there were fundamental shifts in the electorate, in the Republican electorate. It seemed to me that if you were a Trump supporter, you liked what he said. You agreed with him. You thought the criticisms of him were unfair. If you're a Rubio person, you had the same kind of reaction about what Rubio said. If you were a Rand Paul person, you thought you was absolutely spot on. So I can't believe there was a fundamental shift.

  • 10:15:03

    ROTHENBERGNow, did a handful of people around the country and an even smaller handful of people in Iowa who were undecided kind of start to firm up their opinions, maybe. But I don't think there was a fundamental shift here. I don't think there was some huge winner and some loser. I agree that Jeb Bush did much better than he has in the past, but I don’t know whether that fundamentally changes his prospects, which over the last six to eight months have lessened dramatically.

  • 10:15:28


  • 10:15:29

    MONTANAROYeah. I mean, I think debates generally, especially as you get closer to actual voting, they help to crystallize whether -- how you feel. And it's one of the, you know, especially with fewer debates, these debates do tend to take on some more import. Now, I don't think that anybody really, you know, made any kind of fundamental change, like Stu is saying. I think that they're sort of like mazes, you know, where the new wall goes up and you say, okay, well, we're not going down that lane, but we'll take a left turn and maybe we'll go right or whatever.

  • 10:16:01

    MONTANAROBut, you know, it seemed Jeb Bush, though, did seem more relaxed, but it's often what happens when somebody has their back against the wall and has nothing to lose. You might as well just be yourself because what's the difference. I mean, the problem for him is, you know, it may be more than a case of, well, he could've done this a year ago or six months ago and more of a case of the party perhaps moving on from his message and the Bush message, you know, for the past decade.

  • 10:16:26

    REHMAnd Kristen, last night, you had Trump going into the debate with a commanding lead. Do you think he solidified that lead or even perhaps might increase it?

  • 10:16:42

    ANDERSONThe biggest threat to Donald Trump has always been that his name won't be in the headlines. So after previous debates when there have been good conflicts between other candidates, you maybe seen a tiny dip in Trump's poll numbers, but, of course, he rebounds and comes back stronger than ever. I don't think that Trump did anything last night that is going to hurt his standings and I think that he's one of the names that's in the headlines today after the debate.

  • 10:17:03

    ANDERSONI don't think that he did anything to bring serious question about his status as a frontrunner in Iowa. I think the bigger question is are these people who like Donald Trump really Republican primary voters or is Donald Trump building support from new people who are lower propensity, less likely to turn out in the caucuses? Is he trying to reshape what the electorate looks like in a place like Iowa to bring new people into the process?

  • 10:17:27

    REHMKristen Soltis Anderson, she's a Republican pollster. She's the author of "The Selfie Vote: Where Millennials Are Leading America And How Republicans Can Keep Up." We're going to take a short break here. When we come back, we'll add your comments to our discussion. Stay with us.

  • 10:20:04

    REHMWelcome back as we talk about last night's debate in Las Vegas. You had nine candidates on the major stages, you four on the so-called undercard. We're here to look at what happened, talk about who managed to do what, and sorting that out can be somewhat confusing.

  • 10:20:31

    REHMMatt Schlapp is on the line with us. He is chair of the American Conservative Union. That's a political organization advocating conservative policies. Kristin Soltis Anderson is a Republican pollster. Domenico Montanaro is lead political editor for NPR News, and Stu Rothenberg is a political analyst, editor and publisher of the Rothenberg Political Report. Matt Schlapp, it seemed last night as though Donald Trump, when push came to shove, literally, he sort of was very dismissive of the people who were challenging him. How did the crowd react to that?

  • 10:21:30

    SCHLAPPPoorly. The crowd -- he got some hisses, some catcalls. I think that crowd was not a pro-Trump crowd. And I also think the crowd worries about the fact that when Donald Trump so effectively and so aggressively takes on or dismisses, to use your word, the other candidates who are challenging him, that he does it in such an aggressive way that maybe it makes it hard to portray to those who are watching and listening that the Republicans are really all unified against Obama's policies and instead maybe are divided on their own policies.

  • 10:22:06


  • 10:22:06

    SCHLAPPAnd the question that he got the most favorable response on, Diane, was when he said that he was recommitting himself as a Republican, into running as a Republican. That's what the crowd wanted to hear.

  • 10:22:17

    REHMThat's interesting Domenico.

  • 10:22:20

    MONTANAROWell, what's fascinating is, you know, Trump even talked at the crowd. I mean, when the crowd started to boo him, when it came to talking about the Internet, which was a really kind of incomprehensible answer...

  • 10:22:30

    REHMSay what he was saying there.

  • 10:22:32

    MONTANAROWell, I'm not sure I know what he was saying exactly, but I think in general what he was trying to talk about was needing to do more to stop ISIS from getting out on social media and radicalizing people. Now there are no simple answers to that kind of thing, and, you know, he had floated something that sounded like, previously, like shutting down the Internet, which, you know, sends up signals for journalists of, you know, autocratic countries, where you have to, you know, like China or wherever else, where you can't get onto the Internet, and that I don't think is what he was talking about.

  • 10:23:03

    MONTANAROYou know, he was talking about trying to get smart people in Silicon Valley to go and, you know, see what ISIS members are doing, right.

  • 10:23:09

    REHMFigure it out, yeah.

  • 10:23:11

    MONTANAROBut it really came across in a really confusing way. I don't think it matters with his supporters because they'll say, oh, you know what he was talking about. But, you know, he taunted the crowd because the crowd said -- you know, they started booing when he said, you know, why -- what's wrong with you people? You don't want to know what people in -- you know, that ISIS members are doing? We need to keep the country safe.

  • 10:23:31


  • 10:23:32

    ROTHENBERGI think it's important to note that Donald Trump has the highest floor of the Republican candidates in the race and the lowest ceiling of the Republican candidates in the race, that is he is a controversial, polarizing figure. But polarizing doesn't mean everybody's against him. It means that that element of the party that is for him is so intensely for him, so committed to him that nothing will shake them.

  • 10:23:57

    ROTHENBERGBut on the other hand, as Matthew has suggested, and as we all have noted for the past few months, he -- Donald Trump also has the highest negatives. That is, you ask people what candidate wouldn't you support, actually two -- I believe two people stand out. Jeb Bush has very high negatives because of the last name, and Trump has very high negatives. They're the people that large elements of the party would not support under any circumstances. So you have this interesting situation of the guy that was the frontrunner in the race, but in a sense he's the frontrunner but not the favorite, I would argue. I know some people disagree, but that's the way I feel.

  • 10:24:28

    MONTANAROBut to put a data point to that, I mean, the NBC-Wall Street Journal poll that came out last week showed that he had a 47 percent very negative rating, not just negative. That means -- you know, he had a 59 percent overall negative.

  • 10:24:39

    REHMBut he doesn't believe in the polling.

  • 10:24:42

    MONTANARORight, but that -- it doesn't matter because...

  • 10:24:43

    ANDERSONHe believes the one where he's leading.

  • 10:24:44

    MONTANARORight, but that's a general election, you know, all Americans, right, and that's different than the people who support him.

  • 10:24:49


  • 10:24:50

    MONTANAROWho feel very strongly in support of him. But can you imagine, everybody in the country knows who you are, right, and when you ask their opinion on what they think of you, do you like him, are you neutral, do you not know, you know, somewhat negative, very negative, half the country, half the country says I really, really can't stand you.

  • 10:25:09

    REHMKristin, we have a treat -- a treat. A tweet saying, I found it quite telling that no one challenged Trump during the GOP debate. How will they deal with world leaders in a crisis?

  • 10:25:28

    ANDERSONI think the reason why they're not confront Trump is different than how they would confront a world leader in a crisis. I think the reason why they're not confronting Trump now is because they believe it is politically expedient not to do so, that they again, they've seen that Rick Perry was the first Republican candidate who really tried to take it to Donald Trump and shortly thereafter was out of the race. Bobby Jindal had tried to take it to Trump, was shortly out of the race.

  • 10:25:51

    ANDERSONBut Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson have sort of been targets of Trump's frustration. They are now sort of fading in the polls, as well. Their moment seems to have passed. So it makes sense that Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio would turn their fire on one another rather than focusing on Donald Trump because I don't think either of them wants to really get in Trump's firing line.

  • 10:26:11

    REHMSo Matt, what about Marco Rubio?

  • 10:26:15

    SCHLAPPWell, let me just say one thing on this question on attacking Donald Trump and why Marco Rubio maybe decided not to attack him. There's a real problem in the sense that Stu explained how Donald Trump's numbers work. There is a passionate group of a cadre of supporters that he has. The big mistake Jeb Bush and others are making is that when they say Jeb Bush isn't serious, and they tried to kind of give him the back of the hand on his candidacy, it is offensive not just to Donald Trump but to the 41 percent of the Republicans who are saying they want to support him.

  • 10:26:50

    SCHLAPPWhat they need to do if they want to change this race up is attract the Trump supporters by talking about the policies that are important to them, not by making fun of them for supporting Donald Trump. When they attack Donald Trump, they're attacking his supporters, and that is a very dumb way to try to encourage those supporters to jump on your bandwagon.

  • 10:27:11


  • 10:27:12

    ANDERSONA lot of people don't realize that, I mean, Trump supporters, it's a very emotional thing. People like Trump because he's tapping into a sense of that America keeps losing, and they want to win again. They want to feel like America's winning again. And so just to dismiss him or to say, you know, I want you to apologize to my wife, or you're too offensive, those lines of attack haven't worked because they don't matter to Trump supporters.

  • 10:27:35

    ANDERSONThe thing that I think could be more of a vulnerability for Trump is if for whatever reason somebody begins attacking him on is he competent. Is he actually as much of a winner as he claims, or is he a pretty big exaggerator. I think that, much more so than trying to insult him or, as Matt mentioned, sort of insult the emotional desires of Trump supporters is the better plan.

  • 10:27:58

    REHMAnd Domenico, you had Ted Cruz going into the debate with big numbers coming out of Iowa, going into Iowa. So what did that mean last night?

  • 10:28:10

    MONTANAROWell, I really did think that, you know, everyone was setting up as a Trump-Cruz showdown, and I think really thought that Cruz-Rubio would wind up being something that could be more interesting because they have sharp divides on how they feel about things. Even though they both came in with some Tea Party support, Rubio more so, much more hawkish, and then Ted Cruz is Libertarian. So, you know, and that divide really emerged last night on things like immigration, on the NSA metadata collection program.

  • 10:28:40

    MONTANAROAnd, you know, and both of them, frankly, were misleading in their attacks on each other, and I think that that...

  • 10:28:47

    REHMHow so?

  • 10:28:47

    MONTANAROWell, I think that when it comes to immigration, for example, you know, Marco Rubio is trying to muddy the waters, as Ted Cruz said, because Marco Rubio had supported comprehensive immigration, been an author of that bill. He attacked Ted Cruz for saying, well, you're for a path to legal status, when Ted Cruz, what he maybe, you know, he shouldn't have done this maybe, but he was tactically trying to undercut Rubio's bill with an amendment that said I'll support legal status for X, Y, Z but not this path to citizenship.

  • 10:29:13

    MONTANAROSo it was a way to try to undercut Rubio's bill, and, you know, Rubio's people using this kernel of truth against him. You know, and Cruz attacking Rubio, it's -- it's an interesting dynamic. I heard one Trump supporter after the debate on CNN last night say, why would we attack Cruz when you've got Marco Rubio doing it for you.

  • 10:29:35

    REHMAnd Stu Rothenberg, you wrote a piece recently saying that Cruz should be the Republican (unintelligible) .

  • 10:29:42

    ROTHENBERGI wrote a piece saying, look, if the party is this angry, this frustrated, they won't be satisfied until they get somebody who is a consistent, card-carrying conservative. Otherwise they'll constantly blame the pragmatists, the moderates as they call them, the RINOs, Republicans in name only. So if the party is going to deal with this element of supporters, and it's a big part of the party, they're going to have to go with someone who really does have conservative credentials. I don't think that would be necessarily the best route for the party to go, but this is a deeply divided party, kind of culturally, intellectually, in terms of values and in terms of how pragmatic to be as a -- in terms of legislation, and they've got to deal with it.

  • 10:30:35

    ROTHENBERGThey need to get over this. If they continue to be divided election after election after election, that's just very dangerous for the party.

  • 10:30:42

    REHMWhat do you think?

  • 10:30:42

    ANDERSONThere's a big unresolved debate within the Republican Party about why we have lost the last two presidential elections. On the one hand, you have folks who say it's because we keep nominating people who tack too far to the right. We picked Sarah Palin. We -- Mitt Romney became a severe conservative in the primary. We've not yet been pragmatic enough in a general election, and we need to broaden who we speak to.

  • 10:31:03

    ANDERSONOn the other hand, there are conservatives who say we keep nominating moderates, and they keep failing to get the job done. And so they're not energizing conservatives enough. It's time for us to pick someone, as Stu mentioned, from the real sort of fiery base of our party. But I don't know that this election will actually resolve that regardless of who we choose because imagine Ted Cruz becomes the nominee. If he winds up losing very badly in a general election, he can always make the case that the establishment abandoned him, that it's not really his fault, that it's not that America's not conservative.

  • 10:31:32

    ANDERSONSo I actually don't even -- it may be depressing as a Republican. I'm not sure that this clash will get resolved unless Republicans win the White House.

  • 10:31:42

    REHMWhat's happened to Ben Carson, Matt Schlapp?

  • 10:31:45

    SCHLAPPYou know, he had a moment of silence last night in the debate, and I was afraid for a second it was a moment of silence for his campaign. What you've seen in a lot of these polls is he has -- there's been a shift, exactly what Stu said, a shift in Carson supporters, who love this man and his story, but they are -- they seem to be more comfortable with Ted Cruz because from A to Z he's with them no every issue, and he'll be a solid conservative on every issue, and he's doing a great job of attracting those voters.

  • 10:32:16

    SCHLAPPI think Ted Cruz has a chance to do that with Donald Trump. Now Donald Trump's a lot more feisty than Ben Carson. But that's the play that Ted Cruz has with the Trump supporters.

  • 10:32:25

    REHMJust so you all know, the House just passed a spending bill to avoid a shutdown at midnight tonight. The Senate is expected to clear the bill later today. And let's go to the phones, to Evan in Wheeling, West Virginia. You're on the air.

  • 10:32:50

    EVANGood morning, Diane.

  • 10:32:52


  • 10:32:53

    EVANI just want to state that I am really, really disturbed by the fact that a half an hour into your radio show with some very serious pundits, no one has even mentioned the fact at least one candidate of a major political party has advocated killing the families of suspected terrorists. He reaffirmed that he would do that on the debate last night, and no one has even brought this up, no one seems to be appalled by it. Why, even Bill O'Reilly and Charles Krauthammer were appalled by it last night.

  • 10:33:23

    REHMAll right, Kristin, do you want to comment?

  • 10:33:27

    ANDERSONI am appalled by it, as well, and I think you did have some folks on the stage last night who said that's not serious, that's not how we behave. I think that at this point the unfortunate reality is that Donald Trump has racked up so many different statements that are just so far beyond the pale that at this point it's as if nobody wants to even debate was this the thing that Donald Trump said that crossed the line because there's something new every 48 hours that kind of crosses the line out of Donald Trump.

  • 10:33:56

    MONTANAROWell, and to -- Matt made the point about Ben Carson's moment of silence. You know, he's a brain surgeon, right. As we all know, he was a brain surgeon. And made this kind of tortured analogy about how cutting people's heads open, people don't like it, but it's merciful and, you know, it's a similar thing to bombing ISIS fighters. It just sort of meandered in a way that you were kind of confused and I think was left -- you were left thinking I guess he agrees with Trump on that.

  • 10:34:25

    ROTHENBERGHey, Diane?

  • 10:34:29


  • 10:34:29

    MONTANAROYou know, one comment I'd make on this is of course Donald Trump has gone too far in that statement and of course his statement of saying that somehow Muslims should be prevented from coming to America. But the underlying point here is very interesting. There is a very big divide over how we handle jihadists overseas who want to destroy us, and the Obama policies have been this incredible use of drones, where you don't really take prisoners because you have all the problems associated with Gitmo, so you simply assassinate people.

  • 10:34:59

    MONTANAROAnd, you know, what's more humane, to take people as prisoners to try to interrogate them or to use drones to eliminate them? I think as a country, we have to have this discussion.

  • 10:35:08

    REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. How much of a possibility is that there could be a brokered convention, Stu?

  • 10:35:25

    ROTHENBERGWell, I suppose there's some chance when you have this many candidates in the race. I'm actually working on a column on where the race stands and where I think it's going, and, you know, in the foreseeable future, it looks like there are three distinct, I don't know, top-tier candidates at the moment, I would argue, Trump, who has the angry Tea Party crowd, the Republicans who are particularly frustrated and want strong leadership, Ted Cruz, who is the emerging candidate with Evangelicals, social conservatives and more broadly conservatives in general, and then and still to be announced a kind of pragmatic establishment candidate. For the moment the frontrunner appears to be Marco Rubio. I think he has -- will have opportunity to solidify that, but it's not done yet.

  • 10:36:12

    ROTHENBERGSo you have a three-way race. So automatically now you have a chance of delegates kind of distributing along three ways and nobody having the majority. I think many of us initially thought it was going to boil down to a two-person race right away, but it's not. And then you have, then you have, Diane, the increased reasonable argument for every other candidate, who then says, well, if there's going to be a deadlocked convention, I might as well stay in this race, collect delegates, be relevant, have a say.

  • 10:36:43

    ROTHENBERGAnd so, well, what do I think? I tend to think that sooner or later somebody will build up enough momentum to be nominated, but I think there is a reasonable chance of that not happening.

  • 10:36:54

    REHMWhat does reasonable mean?

  • 10:36:56

    ROTHENBERGOh, maybe one in -- one in five chance of that happening.

  • 10:36:58

    MONTANAROAnd it's increasingly likely because of this -- the historic number of candidates and because of the strength of Donald Trump's supporters, as well as the way the RNC rewrote the rules this, where they bind more of these delegates, where they have to vote for that candidate, more proportionality before March 15. I could go on and on about this and go into the history of it. I love this subject.

  • 10:37:23

    REHMAnd we have to go to a break. We'll take a very short one and be back with your calls, your comments. Stay with us.

  • 10:40:01

    REHMAnd welcome back. I want to open the phones and to go to one of the key states involved here in the discussion. Frank is in Bedford, New Hampshire. You're on the air.

  • 10:40:18

    FRANKGood morning, Diane.

  • 10:40:19

    REHMHi Frank.

  • 10:40:21

    FRANKI have a question and a comment. Jeb Bush really -- we get six, eight, 10 calls a week at our house here, usually during dinner. Survey calls from Republican candidates. And I see Jeb Bush as the Teflon talker. He is -- he's really following Republican pollster Frank Luntz's philosophy. Luntz says, we use words to get stupid people, our Republican voters, to get, to vote against their own best interests. And Bush is doing this. He has two main campaign points up here in New Hampshire. Number one, he says President Obama pulled the American troops out of Iraq too soon.

  • 10:40:59

    FRANKThe Iraq government collapsed, it's Obama's fault. The reality is that President George W. Bush signed a status of forces agreement December 14th, 2008, which promised that all US forces would be withdrawn from Iraqi territory by December 31st, 2011. Jeb never mentions his brother pulled the troops out, not President Obama. The other thing Jeb says up here in New Hampshire is that Obama is responsible for the creation of ISIS. Everybody I know and all the analysts I've read that said that the 2003 Iraqi war of choice, the greatest foreign policy disaster in US history, removed Saddam Hussein from power.

  • 10:41:40

    FRANKWe all know that he was a monster, but he did keep the lid on the craziness of the Middle East.

  • 10:41:46

    REHMAll right. Let's stop right there. Stu Rothenberg, do you want to comment?

  • 10:41:52

    ROTHENBERGI guess my reaction is that Frank goes to the heart of one of Jeb Bush's problems. And it's the last name, and it's -- he is, in part, defined by his brother and his family and his longevity in politics and the family's longevity in politics. Just leaving aside the details of the argument, I think this is a big problem for Jeb Bush. And I think when those of us that handicap, when we start, we look at certain technical things, Diane. We look, where do they start in the polls? What's their name recognition, how much money can they raise?

  • 10:42:24

    ROTHENBERGWho are the insiders for? And all those numbers are pointed to Jeb. But little by little, over the last six, eight months, we've been seeing all the negatives emerge and what it means to be a Bush. It's still helpful among some people in the party, but on people like Frank, I think it's a big liability.

  • 10:42:43

    MONTANAROOne of the difficulties that we'd found, and Don Gonyea, who I work with at NPR, had gone out to Iowa, had talked to some voters about Jeb Bush and what they thought of him, and while on one end, he has this problem with his last name, the problem he had with some voters there was they said, we liked George H.W. Bush. We liked George W. Bush. He just doesn't seem Bush enough.

  • 10:43:06

    ANDERSONThe Republican Party does not have sort of a unified foreign policy vision at this point. Which is part of what made last night's debate so interesting. You have people on both sides of the issue of what should we do about surveillance. You have both people on a variety of different positions on what should we do about the border and immigration. But you also had a debate last night about what should we have done in places like Libya with Muammar Gaddafi. What should we do when there is somebody who is a strongman dictator who's done things that are bad for the United States.

  • 10:43:35

    ANDERSONBut the removal of them could possibly lead to an even worse outcome. This is a debate you saw hashed out on the stage. This is one of those things where you have a Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio divide. It's why I think these foreign policy debates on the right are so interesting. And they're especially now at the forefront, with the rise of ISIS being the top of the polls.

  • 10:43:52

    REHMHere's an email from Tom in Maryland. He says, when I look for a presidential candidate, I look for leadership, optimism, determination, command of the facts. I saw very little of any of those things. What I saw was fear. Fear of ISIS, fear of immigrants, fear of blacks, fear of change, even fear of progress. Matt, how do you respond?

  • 10:44:25

    SCHLAPPWell, I mean, I have a little trouble with the criticism on the fear of blacks. I mean, we have an African American candidate. We have a woman running for President. We had an Indian American governor running for President. We have two Hispanics running for President, so I don't know if I'd go along with that one. On the question of fear and the question of anger, which Carly Fiorina, who I think, by the way, had a great debate. She always has a great debate and I think she has the characteristics that you just described.

  • 10:44:55

    SCHLAPPYou know, she talked about the fact that Republicans are angry. I don't know if I agree with that. I think what they are is they're worried, because Diane, both from a national security standpoint where they wonder about what America's role is in the globe. We used to know that we were a superpower and we were a leader. And now, they wonder if we still are. And then, when they look at our, the economic insecurity and the fact that wages haven't risen and people can't seem to do more with the money that they make.

  • 10:45:21

    SCHLAPPAnd they see overseas competition, and they say wow, America's really losing its place. Can any of us really, on this show, blame Americans, including Republicans voting in primaries, for being darn worried about where America stacks up on these questions?

  • 10:45:36


  • 10:45:36

    ROTHENBERGI want to agree and disagree at the same time with Tom. Of course Americans are looking, in a Presidential campaign, look for leadership and optimism and command of the facts. Tom is absolutely right. But if he doesn't think fear is involved in every campaign, he's not watching the campaigns I'm watching. You look at the Democratic side. When they're running, when they're trying to knock off an incumbent Republican president. They talk about how the Republicans are going to take away choice.

  • 10:46:02

    ROTHENBERGHow they're going to get us in another war, how it's all about the rich and the fat cats are going to do well, but the poor people and the little guys are going to get the short end of the stick. Fear is always a significant part of these races. And that's a reality for both parties.

  • 10:46:15

    MONTANAROWhen it comes down to it, fear is a tremendous motivator to get to the polls.

  • 10:46:18


  • 10:46:19

    REHMAll right. To Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Gary, you're on the air.

  • 10:46:24

    GARYGood morning. I could be the most open minded person, a non-partisan, swing voter in history, and I could easily vote for Bernie Sanders, Hillary, John Kasich. And now, as of last night, watching the debate and afterwards, I could throw my lot in with Donald Trump. The -- when he talks about the corruption of the system, that's about the only thing he does get right. And I've had, and I was telling your screener, I've had personal experience with this. I've been a candidate quite frequently. A gadfly type candidate, if you will, in New Jersey.

  • 10:47:00

    GARYAnd the system is totally corrupt. The ballot in New Jersey is completely rigged. Down here in Florida, where I intend to get on the ballot once more, for Congress, the ballot's fair and it's fair everywhere else in the country except New Jersey. But I've sued in court over the election ballot, had to represent myself, the last time against an Assistant Attorney General of New Jersey.

  • 10:47:20

    REHMOkay, I'm going to stop you right there. The question of, you know, watching last night, he's determined about for Trump.

  • 10:47:30

    ANDERSONHis point about being frustrated with the system is the one that I think really resonates with voters across parties. That there's a great deal of anger toward Washington, anger toward the establishment, anger toward the way we run campaigns. There's a great deal of frustration and disappointment among voters of sort of all stripes. And that's part of why someone like Donald Trump, who, for all that he says things that any other political candidate would absolutely be sunk if they said them, because he just represents something completely different, people find it refreshing.

  • 10:48:05

    REHMMatt Schlapp, did Trump help or hurt his cause last night?

  • 10:48:12

    SCHLAPPHe helped his cause by not hurting it. And in all these debates, he just seems to do his thing, which is, you know, his opening is exactly, almost exactly the same, his closing's almost exactly the same. He basically appeals to people who think that America's losing its place and its way and he's just steady as he goes. And let me tell you something else, Diane. I was in the spin room after the debate, where all the press is assembled, and Donald Trump was the last candidate to leave. He did absolutely, he did local stations, he did Hardball with Chris Matthews.

  • 10:48:43

    SCHLAPPHe did every, he did Fox, he did everything in the room and people couldn't get enough of it. Candidates who make themselves available to the media, guess what, the media actually appreciates that.

  • 10:48:52

    MONTANAROWell, that's true. But also, Trump doesn't spend any money on TV ads, so he needs all the earned free media that he could possibly get. So, he sticks around, he has to stay in the headlines as Kristen had mentioned. He's not spending any of his own money on TV, so he's got to do the earned media. You know, the interesting thing that the caller brings up, you know, Trump is all over the place. If you're somebody who's sort of looking for something to feel connected to, you know, if you want infrastructure plans to help build airports, he got you that last night.

  • 10:49:22

    MONTANAROYou know, it's not a traditional Republican line. If you wanted to bomb the expletive out of ISIS, as he likes to say, you got that last night, too. So, it's almost like if Donald Trump did focus groups, you would think that he's, you know, messaging to those focus group, to that message.

  • 10:49:39

    REHMExcept that, Kristen, nearly half of Republican leaning voters say they are worried about Trump.

  • 10:49:49

    ANDERSONI completely understand why, and in part, it's because I think a lot of Republicans, first and foremost, would like to defeat either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders in the election next November. And they see polls -- the NBC Wall Street Journal poll that came out last week showed Trump was the worst of the major Republican contenders against Hillary Clinton, down by 10 points. That wouldn't be, you know, a 50 state sweep, but that would be -- there are a lot of states that are swing states that just have no chance of ever voting for Donald Trump. And I think that's what causes a great deal of concern among Republicans.

  • 10:50:22

    REHMSo, how do you feel about that, Matt?

  • 10:50:25

    SCHLAPPLook, he's the unsafe candidate. And what Republicans think will happen is they can pick someone who's in the zone of safe, they will win. And I wonder if that's really the right way to approach this. The fact is is this. Donald Trump is a minus and a plus. There's a lot of people that don't like his style. They think he goes too far. But there's a lot of Republicans, including one of the callers into your show today, who my guess is not a very steady Republican primary voter, who might be attracted over in the general. So, there's pluses and minuses associated with his candidacy.

  • 10:50:57

    REHMAll right, to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Sid, you're on the air.

  • 10:51:03

    SIDThank you. Wonderful show, Diane.

  • 10:51:05


  • 10:51:05

    SIDI have a question and a comment. The question I'd like to start with is Governor Kasich. You know, I'm kind of a moderate liberal and I have found that his, the past few debates that I've watched with him, he's kind of the one that draws me. I would actually consider voting for a guy like that. And I think that he would actually appeal to a lot of the coveted undecided or the moderate voters. But last night, I noticed a shift with him. He started talking more about military, more about boots on the ground, going after ISIS. He actually talked about refugees in Ohio that he apparently had to throw out of the state or something like that.

  • 10:51:39

    SIDAnd I'm just curious what your guests feel about his change. And is this all talk with him? Is he trying to garner up some more votes? The other comment is Jeb. I do admire Jeb. I never thought I'd agree with a Bush, but I'm agreeing with his position last night and how he went after Trump in pointing out that this is a man who calls people maniacs. But he himself is a bit of a maniac, and I'm not sure I would want somebody like that in the White House.

  • 10:52:03

    REHMAll right. Kristen, how about Kasich?

  • 10:52:05

    ANDERSONPrevious debates have focused a little bit more on economic issues, and that's where John Kasich has this more kind of centrist approach. But on foreign policy, again, this field is a little more all over the place, because there isn't, you know, a consensus or a clear even right/left spectrum on what foreign policy looks like. I think for John Kasich, you know, Iowa's not really going to be his state. I think his play at this point is in New Hampshire, can he pull a second or third place finish that makes people take a second look. That shows that he could be an establishment figure, but that also kind of maybe has a little bit of blue collar appeal. Or has a little bit of plain spokenness that maybe some other candidates don't have.

  • 10:52:41

    REHMAnd you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. So, let's establish, in your own minds, various scenarios. Let's say Cruz comes out of Iowa winning. Suppose he also wins New Hampshire. Any possibility?

  • 10:53:00

    ROTHENBERGI can't imagine him winning New Hampshire, but what he has is terrific opportunity on March 1 primaries. There are a number of New England, but mostly in the south, southeast, I think Georgia, Arkansas, Alabama. Those sorts of states. And Ted Cruz has been mining that territory. He has been building up support. There are a lot of social conservatives. So, I do expect him, actually, to win Iowa, to not to do nearly that well in New Hampshire. But then to have a good March 1st. And I think that will solidify him as a major contender for the nomination.

  • 10:53:29


  • 10:53:30

    MONTANAROYeah, the path is really important. I mean, when we talk about Marco Rubio, a lot of us sit there and say, you know, what is his path? Where does he win? I think that he probably wins Nevada right now, is where you look at, but it doesn't get as much media attention as some of the other states. And then you leave open New Hampshire. What happens, right? And I think that there's a big question. If Donald Trump loses Iowa, after he had been leading for so long, if he loses New Hampshire, right, all of a sudden, New Hampshire now becomes a must win state for Donald Trump.

  • 10:53:57

    MONTANAROBecause he's gonna move on to the southern primaries. He's got a lot of strength in places like Alabama and Tennessee and Oklahoma. But he has to do well in those two states Iowa and New Hampshire, somewhat, to have the kind of momentum to move on to those states. Otherwise, if Ted Cruz wins in Iowa, maybe wins South Carolina, suddenly the, you know, the fickle voter will look to Ted Cruz will look to Ted Cruz as somebody who, you know, has more of a chance. And then Marco Rubio, he's gotta hope someone like John Kasich or Jeb Bush don't wind up propelling themselves in a place like New Hampshire, because they will bleed off delegates from him.

  • 10:54:31

    REHMMatt, let's hear your scenario.

  • 10:54:34

    SCHLAPPIf Donald Trump loses Iowa, which I think it looks like he's going to, I think that's going to be a very tough spot for him. Because he's a winner and he's been the national leader in all these polls, and when the race starts off with a loss, I think that's going to be a very interesting point. And I think if it comes down to a question of a bit of a is Cruz or Rubio that person who takes him on, I would put my money on Ted Cruz. Ted Cruz appeals to conservatives and it is a conservative party.

  • 10:55:02

    REHMAre you suggesting that you think Donald Trump would drop out if he loses Iowa?

  • 10:55:11

    SCHLAPPYou know, I don't know. It's a great question. It's almost a psychological question. We should put him on the couch, Diane. How is he going to handle losing? I don't know the answer to that. My guess is that he's scrappy and competitive and he stays in the whole way. And why not?

  • 10:55:24

    REHMKristen. Your scenario.

  • 10:55:26

    ANDERSONIf Donald Trump loses in Iowa, I think he'll have to win New Hampshire, or else, again, sort of the air gets...

  • 10:55:32

    REHMBut how likely is it he would win New Hampshire?

  • 10:55:35

    ANDERSONAt the moment, he's very far ahead in the polls. And it's, in part, because that establishment vote is very fractured between different candidates. The problem for Marco Rubio is that it's very hard for me to think of a state that Marco Rubio wins. Marco Rubio, I can see him coming in second or third almost everywhere. But where does he win? The challenge he faces is that almost anyone could be a Marco Rubio voter. He doesn't just draw his support from one particular chunk of the party. That could be a positive, but it could also be a negative.

  • 10:56:03


  • 10:56:03

    ROTHENBERGI agree with Kristen, except for this. That Marco Rubio isn't running against the field. And in a sense, he's not running against Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. He's running against Bush, Christie, Kasich, to emerge as a pragmatic conservative establishment alternative to the conservatives. And so, one of those candidates may simply hang around, I mean, it's the hang around strategy for pragmatic conservatives. Until Florida, and then after that, when you hit Ohio and a number of the larger states and some of the bluer states, they emerge. Well, somebody emerges as the pragmatic alternative.

  • 10:56:41

    ANDERSONAll right, so last quick question. Kristen, who do you think's going to emerge as the candidate?

  • 10:56:49

    ANDERSONAt this point, I feel like Ted Cruz is probably the favorite.

  • 10:56:53

    REHMHow about you, Matt?

  • 10:56:55

    SCHLAPPYou know, I'm (unintelligible) neutral in the race, but I have to say Ted Cruz is really gaining momentum.

  • 10:56:59

    REHMAll right, we're going to leave it at that. Matt Schlapp, Kristen Soltis Anderson, Domenico Montanaro and Stu Rothenberg.

  • 10:57:12

    MONTANAROAlways a pleasure.

  • 10:57:12

    ROTHENBERGThank you.

  • 10:57:12

    ANDERSONThank you.

  • 10:57:13

    REHMThank you. And thanks all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

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