Face the Nation transcripts December 20, 2015: Rubio, Bush

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This is the transcript for the December 13 edition of Face the Nation. Guests included Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Anthony Salvanto, David Axelrod, Dan Balz, Jeffrey Goldberg and Peggy Noonan.

JOHN DICKERSON, HOST: Today on FACE THE NATION: With just six weeks to go before voting begins, we hit the campaign trail in Iowa and New Hampshire with two Republican presidential candidates.

After Tuesday's Republican presidential debate, new battle lines emerge between two sets of candidates. We caught up with Senator Marco Rubio in Iowa.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICKERSON: Is it about immigration, or are you making a larger charge about Ted Cruz and whether he's being honest and truthful?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There are multiple issues on which he's tried to do these sorts of things.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DICKERSON: And Jeb Bush seems to have found his voice by stepping up his attacks on Donald Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I got to get it off my chest. Donald Trump is a jerk.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DICKERSON: But will it be enough to revive his campaign? We talked to him in New Hampshire.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: He shouldn't take it personally, but someone needs to call him out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DICKERSON: And we will hear from focus group of Muslims about Donald Trump. Plus, we will have political analysis and new poll numbers from our Battleground Tracker. It's all ahead on FACE THE NATION.

Good morning, and welcome to FACE THE NATION. I'm John Dickerson.

Democrats held a spirited debate last night in New Hampshire and sparred on the issues of Wall Street reform, foreign policy and health care.

Our new CBS News Battleground Tracker shows that Hillary Clinton is 14 points behind Bernie Sanders in the state of New Hampshire. On the Republican side, it's Donald Trump who is on top with 32 percent. Ted Cruz follows with 14, Marco Rubio at 13, and Chris Christie has moved up into fourth place with 11 percent support. The rest of the field is in single digits.

Turning to Iowa, it's Senator Ted Cruz who has taken the lead with 40 percent support. Donald Trump is at 31. Marco Rubio is at 12, and Ben Carson has plummeted down to 6 percent. The rest of the field is at 2 percent or below.

Friday, we traveled to Iowa and met up with Marco Rubio. We asked him abut his escalating battle with Ted Cruz.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DICKERSON: Senator, what is this debate between you and Senator Cruz about on immigration?

RUBIO: Well, Ted was much -- was open and in fact was supporter of legalizing people that were in this country illegally. He was during the debate on the Senate bill and he was after the debate on the Senate bill. He made it clear on multiple occasions that he was against citizenship, but he was open to legalization.

And then for weeks now on the campaign trail, he's refused to answer that question, until the other night at the debate, when he said that he did not intend to legalize people, again, trying to find himself some wiggle room.

And so the bottom line is that that -- there isn't that big a difference between him and I on how to approach immigration. And that was the point I was trying to make. This is a serious issue and it needs to be fronted. And every Republican running for president has supported or supports legalization in some form or fashion of people that are in this country illegally, even Donald Trump. He just wants to make them leave the country first and then he will legalize them.

DICKERSON: Is it about immigration, or are you making a larger charge about Ted Cruz and whether he's being honest and truthful with people?

RUBIO: Well, I think Ted wanted to not talk about legalization during the primary and leave himself the option of being for it in a general election.

And, so, obviously, I don't think that is fair to the electorate. And it's not the first time. There are multiple issues on which he's tried to do these sorts of things. For example, when the free trade agreement was up, he wrote an opinion piece in "The Wall Street Journal." He wrote with it Paul Ryan. And just three days later, he flipped on it after -- I don't know why -- he got some pressure on the fast track authority.

He's done it on votes on farm issues, in fact, changed his vote on the floor of the Senate. So, there's always some of that, because new facts are presented, but I think my concern is that voters need to -- if you're going to attack someone on a policy issue, you need to be clear about where you stand on the issue and where you have stood in the past.

DICKERSON: So, when voters are making their decision on this, should they be thinking about, what does Ted Cruz think about immigration, or should they be making a larger question, what is -- is Ted Cruz being honest with...

(CROSSTALK)

RUBIO: Well, I think when you spend your whole time telling people that you're a clear talker, and you say what you mean, and everyone else is a sellout, but you're the only purist, I think it's fair to say, well, hold on a second. Here is where you have been in the past on some issues and here is where you are now.

The truth is everyone running on the Republican side supports strong conservative positions. We have some differences on some issues, and we should discuss those, like national security, for example.

But when you run by telling everybody you're the only purist in the field, you're the only one that's always consistent conservative, well, I think then your record is going to have light shone on it, and in this case has proven that, in fact, well after the immigration debate had ended, he was still talking how he was open to legalizing people and how important it was to bring people out of the shadows and so forth.

DICKERSON: How much of a national security issue do you think it is that there is now an open conversation in the Republican Party about banning Muslims from America and that a majority of the party agrees with that idea? Right now, do you think that is a national security problem?

RUBIO: Well, the statements that people have made, it's not a serious policy proposal. And so it was made for the purposes of recapturing the headlines.

Donald Trump had fallen out of the headlines, rightfully, because we had largest terrorist attack in American history since 9/11. He wanted to get back in the headlines. And he came up with something spectacular and outrageous so that people would respond to it and he could recapture the headlines.

It's not a serious proposal. Ultimately, I think that all of this will pass, and it will be the rhetoric and the policies of the next president that will determine whether we are safer or not.

DICKERSON: Because I was interested. Chairman Burr, Senate Intelligence chairman, said it actually does have a real danger right now. It can be used as a recruitment tool to terrorists. And, also, want do Muslims feel like who live in the United States, that it might alienate them, which, as you know, is the precursor for potential...

(CROSSTALK)

RUBIO: Well, ISIS -- the primary recruitment tool that ISIS uses is that they are recruiting people to join their apocalyptic cause that is going to have this final showdown in the city of Dabiq against the West. And it's going to trigger this new era in world history.

The second point is a valid one. We will need cooperation and work alongside the American Muslims -- Muslim Americans in this country to identify areas where people are being radicalized or things they may see in their community. We are going to need to work with them, and most certainly there are very patriotic Muslim Americans who love this country and would love to share information with us to prevent these attacks.

And so to the extent that rhetoric could prevent people from doing that or make them resistant to cooperating with law enforcement and intelligence agencies, that is problematic, of course.

DICKERSON: Another debate you had with Senator Cruz on foreign policy was overseas. He said -- quote -- "We need to focus on killing bad guys, not getting stuck in Middle Eastern civil wars that don't keep America safe."

What do you make of that critique?

RUBIO: Well, he's wrong, because civil wars in the Middle East have a direct impact on America. Take Syria for an example.

The Syrian civil war was not started by the United States. It was started by the Syrian people themselves, particularly Sunnis who wanted to remove Assad. My argument was, this thing is going to spiral out of control. If we don't empower the seculars, secular rebels on the ground, they're going to be killed or they're going to be forced into exile, and then a vacuum will be left, and it will be filled by radical jihadists, because that is who fills vacuums in the Middle East.

Well, that is precisely what has happened. And the argument that Assad, and we have no vested interest, and he's not an enemy of America is wrong. For example, Assad is the reason why there's a refugee crisis. Where are there hundreds of thousands of refugees destabilizing Europe, tens of thousands trying to come to America? Because Assad is conducting an attack of sectarian cleansing.

He is conducting a program of getting rid of all the Sunnis, and that is forcing hundreds of thousands of people to destabilize Europe and Jordan and trying to come into the United States.

DICKERSON: But people are so afraid of, you take Assad out, then we're committed to having to take care of what is left afterward, because, when we don't, it creates the kind of failed state...

RUBIO: Well, we're not going to take Assad out. The Syrian people are going to take Assad out. And I think the lesson of Libya is, if there is a civil war that's leading to this sort of vacuum, you want it to end as quickly as possible.

The longer it lasts, the harder it's going to be to govern that country afterwards.

DICKERSON: But the Powell rule, you break it, you bought it -- even if the Syrians are the ones who overthrow Assad, we're helping them. And by that little bit of help we give puts us on the hook. Also, afterwards, if it's a failed state, the United States on the hook.

RUBIO: But our involvement wouldn't have -- wouldn't have exacerbated the uncertainty.

Without America firing a single bullet or providing a single weapon, there was going to be a civil war in Syria that was going to destabilize Syria and create a vacuum. And so our choice was let it play out. If you let it play out, it leads to the vacuum, which leads to these ISIS fighters. Or do you do something to end it as quickly as possible so that vacuum isn't created?

And that is the choice we had three years ago. We didn't take it under this president.

DICKERSON: You have a new ad that is running. And in the ad, it says -- quote -- "All of us who feel out of place in our own country."

Do you feel out of place in your own country?

RUBIO: I think people feel out of place in their own country for a number of reasons.

Economically, we're in a country where you were told your whole life that if you go to school, and you get a degree, you're guaranteed the American dream or at least a shot at the American dream. And that's not happening.

You have a country where people are told, this is a country where you're going to be judged on your merits and on your hard work, and that is not happening. Increasingly, Americans feel out of place, because it seems like the people who have access to power and influence win. And everybody else is left on the outside looking in.

And then people that hold traditional values are often described as bigots and haters.

DICKERSON: Who calls them that?

RUBIO: Oh, my gosh, everybody on the left does.

For example, if you do not support their definition of marriage...

DICKERSON: But, I mean, the word bigots and haters, everybody...

RUBIO: Absolutely.

DICKERSON: So, the president? Who is calling them that?

RUBIO: Well, certainly, the president has on occasion said that people that don't support same-sex marriage are wrong. But in terms...

DICKERSON: But wrong is different than bigot.

RUBIO: Well, but in the broader left, I have been called a bigot for not supporting the definition of marriage.

DICKERSON: When you say, though, the "us" who feel out of place, are you including yourself in that ad?

RUBIO: From the traditional values, absolutely. I have been called that before.

In fact, this very week, I was called anti-Hispanic, anti-Latino by a group of, I don't know, obviously people from the left, funded from the left, who argue that unless we agree with them on everything, somehow, we have betrayed our community. This is standard operating practice from the left.

DICKERSON: Vladimir Putin says Donald Trump is a -- quote -- "outstanding and talented personality."

(LAUGHTER)

DICKERSON: Is that an endorsement you want?

RUBIO: No, I don't. I don't want Vladimir -- Vladimir Putin is a wily, cost-benefit-analysis political actor who is trying to have Russia recognized as a great global power on par with the United States and who wants the world to return to a sphere of influence system of politics.

DICKERSON: Donald Trump was -- seemed to be honored by the praise from Putin.

RUBIO: He shouldn't be.

Vladimir Putin is a person who has killed -- he's jailed and murdered journalists, political opponents. He bombed an apartment building as a pretext to attack the Chechens. He is responsible for the downing of that Malaysian airliner over Ukraine, because he provided the anti-aircraft weaponry that was used for that.

So, this is a person who has done some horrifying things on the global stage. From a geopolitical realistic level, we have to deal with him, because he's leader of an important country that, between them and us, control over 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons. But he's not someone who is going to go down in history as a great leader.

DICKERSON: And Donald Trump, when he mentioned those journalist killings, he said, well, I think our country does plenty of killing also.

RUBIO: Well, that -- I haven't heard him make that statement. If he did, of course it's outrageous. I don't know of a single documented instance in which the president of the United States has ever ordered assassination of journalists who issued bad coverage of them or who have taken a different political line.

We have entered a portion of this politics where nothing surprises me anymore, whether it's from Donald or some of the people watching.

DICKERSON: All right, Senator Rubio, thank you so much. RUBIO: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DICKERSON: From Iowa, we traveled to the first-in-the-nation primary state, New Hampshire, where we met up with Jeb Bush. We will have that interview in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DICKERSON: Another escalating feud among Republican contenders is the one between front-runner Donald Trump and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

We sat down with Jeb Bush in New Hampshire yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DICKERSON: Governor Bush, you, in a rally here in New Hampshire, said that Donald Trump is a jerk. You said he's the chaos candidate. You said he's not serious and he can't insult his way to the presidency.

But aren't those all insults? Are you trying to insult your way to the presidency?

BUSH: No, I'm trying to point out that he's not a serious candidate.

His answer about the nuclear triad, for example, was mind- blowing. I mean, not having any knowledge about what the subject is, where you have this exclusive responsibility of the president of the United States, as commander in chief of the armed forces, to know when and how to use our nuclear deterrent. And he no knowledge about this stuff.

He thought -- he now has come out saying that Putin is a strong man and a great guy, when he's trying to destabilize our relationship with our allies. He's not a serious candidate.

DICKERSON: Why is the nuclear triad so important, for people who don't understand what that is, in a world of -- where Islamic jihad is something people are so concerned about?

BUSH: It's important because it's been part of the security arrangement that has kept us safe since the post-World War II era. And we have seen a lack of investment in it. And we have seen we need to refurbish it and strengthen it.

And the fact that he wouldn't know what it is, is kind of -- that's one of those questions that I think you have to answer in a thoughtful way if you're running for president of the United States. But it's not just that. He said that ISIS is not a threat two months ago. He gets his news from the shows. I know that warms your heart, that he wakes up in the morning and gets his foreign policy and military advice from people that go on your show. But that's not a serious man.

And I don't take -- look, when he insults me personally, I don't take it personally. And he shouldn't take it personally either. But someone needs to call him out.

DICKERSON: One of his policies that he's put forward is this idea of banning Muslims from the United States.

BUSH: Yes.

DICKERSON: You said that was a -- he was unhinged when he offered that.

But there is support, majority support, the polls show, in the Republican Party. So, what does it say about those voters who are appealed to by that policy?

BUSH: Well, it says a lot about Donald Trump that he would say these things, knowing that it might have popular support. But that will wane when people realize that that will make it harder for us to do what we need to do, which is to destroy ISIS.

You can't do it by banning Muslims into our country. It's just ridiculous. But, look, people are scared, and when they hear someone that advocates a big position, they -- I can see why people would be -- migrate towards that, but that doesn't mean it's the right thing to do.

DICKERSON: Putin. You said that Donald Trump liked what Vladimir Putin said about him.

BUSH: Yes.

DICKERSON: Explain to people why that is a problem.

BUSH: Well, Putin is organized to challenge the United States across the world now.

He views his success by pushing us back. We're losing influence around the world, and Putin is gaining influence. He's not an ally. He's a dictator. He's a bully. He has nothing to do, nothing to admire with him, other than fact that he's strong. And we can admire that. We can respect that. But it's -- but he admires strength, too.

We need a president that actually will stand up for American interests, whether it's in Europe or in the Middle East. And that's how you create a better relationship with Putin. You don't brag about how great a guy he is. He's not. He kills journalists. He -- anybody that opposes him ultimately is pushed away.

DICKERSON: Some of the people who are supporting you and who have been wondering about your campaign say that, in this recent mode where you have been more vocal about Donald Trump, that you have found your voice. Do you see it that way?

BUSH: You know, I'm not -- I'm in the here and now. I'm fighting the fight.

To a certain extent, it is a little liberating to be able to post up against a guy who is not qualified to be president and to share your vision about the better way. But you know what I really like? I really like having a town hall meeting where his name doesn't come up, and where we get to talk about how you fix our health care system and how we destroy ISIS and how we reengage with the world.

DICKERSON: Let's talk about ISIS.

In the debate, you said that the United States must destroy ISIS before it destroys us. Do you really think that that is the level of this strength, that it can destroy the United States?

BUSH: It can stop Los Angeles school district from opening for two days because of a random e-mail from Germany. It can change our way of life. It can hurt our prospects economically. It can destabilize our country for sure.

Will there be an army invading the United States? No. We are still capable of defending the homeland from that kind of threat. But are we capable of defending against people that are energized by this radical Islamic terrorism? That's the challenge that we face right now.

DICKERSON: You talk about fighting ISIS overseas. When you laid out your plans for doing this, you said two things. You said, one, get the lawyers out of the way.

BUSH: Yes.

DICKERSON: Too much concern about collateral damage. The lawyers are getting in the way of the people trying to prosecute the war.

And you also said we want to build alliances with Arab nations.

BUSH: Yes.

DICKERSON: Can't those be in conflict, though? Isn't it the collateral damage that creates an atmosphere that makes it hard for those Arab nations to ally with the United States?

BUSH: Well, first of all, we have to be have to be -- we have to apply the international norms of warfare, for sure.

But this president has added additional features. There's way too much involvement. We send leaflets out to the truck drivers that are sending illicit diesel fuel across the border in Turkey, saying, well, if you keep doing it, we're going to bomb you.

Well, I think we can assume that they're part of the ISIS network if they're doing that. Those things would send a signal to the Arab world that we're serious. That would be what we need to do. They need to understand that we're not viewing this as a law enforcement exercise. It doesn't mean that you're going to automatically just carpet- bomb Mosul, like one of the candidates had a hard time explaining why he would carpet-bomb anything.

DICKERSON: Was that a mistake for...

BUSH: Yes.

DICKERSON: You're talking about Senator Ted Cruz -- to say carpet-bomb? Why is that a mistake for him to say that?

BUSH: Well, because there are 800,000 people who live in Mosul. There's probably 5,000 Islamic terrorists that control the place. We're going to destroy 800,000 lives with a carpet-bombing activity?

This is foolish. It is absolutely foolish. And he had to back away from it. It was kind of clumsy. He's a gifted speaker. It was a little unusual to see him stumble a bit. But that's what we need to avoid. If you want to develop the coalition, as you asked, you can't talk about carpet-bombing Mosul or carpet-bombing a held territory by ISIS that brings huge collateral damage.

DICKERSON: You say that, in the campaign, people are either not saying what they believe or they're running away from what they believed in the past...

BUSH: Yes.

DICKERSON: ... because of the environment of the campaign. Has it made it...

BUSH: Yes, sure. That's only -- why else would someone change their views? And all of them have.

And, look, we're running for president of the United States. You got to have a heart for people. You got to understand why people are frustrated. You have to have a mind to be able to come up with creative solutions to fix the things that need to be fixed.

And you got to have a spine. You got to have a backbone. Look, this is a tough job. You think it's hard to deal with angry people about immigration in a town hall meeting? Yes, it's not the easiest thing to do. But it's a lot harder dealing with Putin or President Xi and the ambitions of China or doing with the stagnant economy that we face.

There are great challenges out here. And you need someone whose compass points north who is willing to persuade people towards their cause, rather than back away whenever there is any pressure.

DICKERSON: Let's talk about politics at the end here.

Six months ago, people thought you were the front-runner.

BUSH: Yes.

DICKERSON: Your campaign is...

(CROSSTALK)

BUSH: I hated that.

DICKERSON: You hated being a front-runner?

BUSH: Yes. I feel much better back here.

DICKERSON: Why did you hate being the front-runner?

BUSH: Well, because I have always thought that there was going to be a high expectation for me. And I totally get it.

DICKERSON: Because?

BUSH: Because I have a brother that was president and a father that was president.

And that higher expectation was important to realize. And so being the front-runner made me feel like that people are going to begin to say, well, the guy is just dancing right through this.

I have to go earn it. I have higher expectations on me than people have of me. So, it doesn't bother me a bit that the expectations are high. And I want to win, which means that you garner momentum when it matters. And so I feel good about where we are right now.

DICKERSON: You don't have an expectations problem now.

BUSH: Right.

DICKERSON: You have to fight. So, what are you going to do to fix it?

BUSH: I'm going to campaign my heart out here in New Hampshire and in Iowa and in South Carolina. And I'm going to show who I am and give people ideas that we can fix these things and give them some sense that the future is going to be brighter.

I mean, this is how you win, all in. And that's what we're going to do.

DICKERSON: All right, Governor Bush, thanks so much.

BUSH: Thanks.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DICKERSON: We will be back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DICKERSON: Last week, we brought you some thoughts from voters who supported Donald Trump. This week, CBS news contributor and Republican strategist Frank Luntz talk to Muslims about their thoughts about what is going on in America following the San Bernardino terror attack and Donald Trump's call to ban Muslims from entering the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Any time that there is some kind of an attack in this country, every time there is any kind of a crime, I am literally praying. And I'm sure that everyone else is literally playing that it's not a Muslim, before -- before facts are gone through.

We're literally praying that it's not a Muslim. And when it is, I know exactly what is going to happen. We have seen this for decades. This isn't anything new, as many of my peers have said.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, it's exactly that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I actually did a call out to Muslim parents across the country to not watch the Republican debate in front of their children, because I knew that that -- subjecting our children to hear the hateful stereotyping and the lumping of Muslims with terrorism in front of our children is actually something that psychologically impacts them. So, that's how deep this is for us.

FRANK LUNTZ, CBS NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: But don't you want the kids to know the challenges that they face?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't want my children to be subjected to racism and the vilification of their faith. I will explain to my kids in my own way and the way that I can speak to them. And I will not allow Donald Trump to tell my kids how they should feel about being Muslims.

LUNTZ: I want a word or phrase to describe Donald Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Exploitive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Worse than Voldemort.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Psychopath.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bigoted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A blessing in disguise for us.

LUNTZ: I want to go at your response. Why?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's why we're here, Frank. I would not be sitting here right now if this wasn't happening. A lot of our voices would not be out here because of him.

We are now in the public spotlight. Let's use this to talk about who we really are. All right? Let's use this to be like, hey, America, we're Americans. Don't fear us, OK? Fear your crazy politicians who are trying to buy your votes. And I think this gives us a great chance.

LUNTZ: What percent of the Muslim community do you think could potentially be a physical threat to the country?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In America, maybe less than 1 percent.

LUNTZ: So, you all agree?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If Trump keeps doing what he's doing and if he's elected president, that number, whatever it may be, will skyrocket.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think that is fair.

LUNTZ: So, you're saying that Trump could actually...

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, that's not fair.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Guys, let me explain, let me explain, let me explain.

He's being irresponsible. The American people need to understand that. The national security agencies have said that his comments might be used as a poster for ISIS. He's driving and fueling anger amongst Americans and abroad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DICKERSON: We will be right back. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) DICKERSON: Some of our stations are leaving us now, but, for most of you, we will be right back.

And if you want to see our full interviews with Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, go to our Web site, facethenation.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) DICKERSON: Welcome back to Face the Nation. I'm John Dickerson.

CBS news elections director Anthony Salvanto joins us with new battleground tracker poll results.

All right, Anthony, let's start in Iowa. Ted Cruz is on the rise. What's behind that?

ANTHONY SALVANTO, CBS NEWS ELECTIONS DIRECTOR: It's a really direct transfer from Ben Carson's voters to Ted Cruz. You might recall earlier this fall, Ben Carson was really up there. In fact he was tied with Donald Trump at one point. Well, as his voters have fallen away, they have moved to Ted Cruz in much larger numbers than anybody else. In fact, we actually reinterviewed those same voters and they told us that in larger numbers, they were choosing Cruz. Some of them went to Trump some went to Rubio. But Cruz has gotten the lion's share there.

And you know, it looks like evangelical voters really asserting themselves here as they do in Iowa. They make up the bulk of the Republican caucus goers.

And if you look at what people say is their number one issue. Well, for most it's terrorism, and there's a lot that say the economy. But for those voters who say that faith and values and religious matters are number one, that's where Cruz really has an enormous lead over Trump, that's the difference.

DICKERSON: So, if Cruz is pulling from evangelical taking them away from Ben Carson. What is happening to the Trump vote is he pretty staying solid?

SALVANTO: It's rock steady. And you look at those same individuals again reinterviewed they stay with Donald Trump. And you know his...

DICKERSON: And you've been interviewing them over a period of time. In other words, there's been challenge after challenge to Donald Trump that could knock them off but no they're sticking with him.

SALVANTO: They stick with him. As you see in your focus groups and others, everybody says, oh, Donald Trump says something controversial, he must go down. Surely Donald Trump will go down. Well, he doesn't go down and his voters stay with him. And in fact Republicans say that in general they are glad he says the things that he says.

They think, even if they don't agree, although many do, that they're glad these things are out there being discussed.

DICKERSON: So, and that's happening with him in New Hampshire as well as Iowa. It's pretty much the case with Donald Trump everywhere.

What else are you seeing in New Hampshire?

SALVANTO: Ah, New Hampshire, Donald Trump still at number one, still holding steady. You do see another move there a little bit to Cruz from Carson, but you've got Rubio then in contention -- he's in in double digits there. He's in double digits everywhere. And now, Chris Christie. He has doubled his support from last time in New Hampshire. So he's in that second tier there now. A little bit of evidence that retail politics is helping him, people who say they like seeing the candidates in person, but also he, along with Donald Trump, seen as effective that's how they describe him. That's different from saying Marco Rubio his calling card there in New Hampshire looks likes electability.

That's different from effective is that's a little bit of how you define mainstream In that, as voters start to play political consultant, and they look ahead to that general election, they're looking for somebody who is electable. Whereas that disaffected group of Republicans who think that government doesn't work any more, that's where you go for the effective candidate, they think they can get conservative things done.

DICKERSON: Although, I wonder if in an age of jitteriness and fright that we've seen in response to these terror attacks whether effectiveness is also about who is going to keep me safe as opposed to who can get elected.

SALVANTO: It certainly is. And there's some numbers that really jumped out here, where nine in ten Republicans say that they feel the U.S. is becoming more dangerous and insecure. I mean, we just don't see those kinds of overwhelming numbers almost no matter what ask you. So, it speaks to your point about that anxiety.

But also that's layered on top of economic insecurity, too, which has been throughout this whole campaign.

Again, eight, nine, ten of these Republican voters say they feel the U.S. economic system doesn't help them. And when you think that the system doesn't work, it's not just that things are going in the wrong direction, that's where you to go a candidate that might say, change the whole system. Blow it all up.

DICKERSON: All right. So, if that is what is happening on Republican side, let's now switch over to Democratic side. They had a debate last night. And what do the numbers show for those three folks running for the Democratic nomination?

SALVANTO: Well, Hillary Clinton stays up in Iowa, Berry Sanders stays up fairly large in New Hampshire, OK.

Now, in Iowa what you see is, Bernie Sanders having a really hard time getting traction. And you know I think that that will probably mean that Hillary Clinton will end up getting the lion's share of delegates there if it stays the same.

But what is interesting about this whole race, John, is that Democrats are happy with the tone and tenor of it. They don't necessarily want the see these two candidates go at each other any more than they already are. We asked them, do you want to see Bernie Sanders be more critical of Hillary Clinton and his voters say, no, just fine with that.

In fact, you ask Bernie Sanders how do you feel about Hillary Clinton, they like her, they say they just like Bernie Sanders better.

And you ask her voters what they think of Bernie Sanders' message, they like it. They just happen to like Hillary better.

So, there's not a sense of, hey, let's be more combative here. Hey, let's -- it's a family squabble, but it still seems like there's a lot left between the two...

DICKERSON: Right, so they can squabble on the issues, but is all a hug at the end of the debate, which is essentially what we saw. All right, Anthony Salvanto, thanks so much.

SALVANTO: Thank you, John.

DICKERSON: We'll be back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DICKERSON: Joining us now for political analysis is Wall Street Journal columnist and CBS News contributor Peggy Nnoonan, Democratic strategist and CNN senior political commentator David Axelrod, chief correspondent of the Washington Post Dan Balz, and The Atlantic's national correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg. Welcome to all of you.

We had two debates this week on both sides. Let's start with the Republican debate. Now, Dan, we have two debates within a Republican debate. Let's start with Cruz-Rubio. What is that about?

DAN BALZ, WASHINGTON POST: Two things, John. One I think each of them and each of their campaigns believes that they are going to be in a final showdown with the other. And so they have been preparing for this, they have done all the opposition research on one another. And it's now coming out.

The second is, that Cruz's strategy to consolidate a broader piece of the conservative part of the Republican Party, the most conservative part, than anybody's ever been able to do. And Rubio is trying to crowd into some of that territory.

So Rubio is trying to suggest that Cruz is not as conservative say on immigration as he claims. And Cruz is trying to hold the line and put down a firmer and firmer conservative position on that.

So, the dynamic of that is what we've seen play out this week.

DICKERSON: Yeah, Peggy, it seems to me that Cruz -- just taking a look at the Cruz strategy here, which is to tie Marco Rubio to his support for the gang of eight, the comprehensive immigration reform that passed in the senate to just lock him to that.

How damaging do you think that is in the Republican side to be associated with comprehensive immigration reform? PEGGY NOONAN, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, we'll see. It's not where the base is. I think if we've learned anything this year, it is that the base of the Republican Party is against illegal immigration, wants something done. The establishment elites, the top, if you will, has for 15 years not been so anti-illegal immigration.

There's a difference. And if you're a candidate right now you're trying to talk to the base of the party.

I've think part of what is going on with Cruz and Rubio is that by the end of New Hampshire, say, there's going to be Trump and there's going to be two viable non-Trumps and each of them, Cruz and Rubio, is trying to be the top viable non-Trump. I sort of think that is going on.

I also think Cruz -- sorry, Rubio is trying very hard to paint Ted Cruz as someone who simply isn't trustworthy. He doesn't tell you the truth. I think that's what's going on there.

DICKERSON: That's the bigger message what he's doing.

David, when you look at this, it seems like what happened is Marco Rubio how has to own his sponsorship of the gang of eight comprehensive immigration reform. And as Dan said, Ted Cruz has now gone from for whatever reason flirting with the idea of legalization, he says it was strategic move he was doing it at the time, Marco Rubio says it showed his true intent, whatever, his view now, Cruz, no path to anything no how for anybody illegal.

Which of those positions would do better in a general election context?

AXELROD: Well, obviously, the more severe a position you take against immigration reform, the more difficult it is. We saw Mitt Romney struggled with this in 2012. He ended up with 27 percent of the Hispanic vote, which was really crippling for him. George W. Bush was the latest Republican to win. He won 44 percent. And we're becoming a more diverse country with each election.

But the interesting thing to me about the fight between these two, Rubio is clearly trying to obviate what he sees as a vulnerability. I think it's a larger vulnerability within the party than the issue itself.

Notice, Cruz always calls it the Schumer-Rubio bill. It's the notion that he was complicit with Democrats and the base of the Republican Party is tired of Republicans being complicit with Democrats. They're frustrated. They want more purity.

And Ted Cruz has played to that. Ted Cruz understands where his base is. Marco Rubio has tried to please every faction of the Republican Party. And he may just end up as everybody's second choice.

DICKERSON: That's right. Well, Jeffrey, in an ad that Ted Cruz is running, there's -- you know, if you can get a picture of Schumer and Rubio in the same frame, it makes the point that David is making, whereas the Rubio case against Cruz is one that -- that is more -- you have to kind of follow what he used to say and...

GOLDBERG: Right.

DICKERSON: And you get into a kind of a back and forth.

GOLDBERG: Right. Right. Well, no, but I mean going to -- to -- to Peggy's point, it's about trustworthiness. And if Marco Rubio can -- can convince the -- some of the Republican base that Ted Cruz is no different than the Washington politicians he claims to hate more than anyone else in -- in the race then -- then Rubio feels that he's -- he's getting somewhere.

But I would just -- I would go back -- and this is the -- the worry if you're Rubio, just to -- to add onto something David was saying. The worry that you're -- you're Rubio is that you're everyone's fallback date, you know. And he could be extraordinarily popular and come in second or third everywhere.

And -- and I think that's -- my sense from talking to people over the last week is that -- is that the Rubio campaign is now seized by this concern.

DICKERSON: Well, what -- what's the -- what is Rubio's path, Dan?

I -- I spent some time this week talking to folks in Iowa and they thought, well, it's not happening here. Ted Cruz is on the rise. And they want to find a path for Marco Rubio, but they didn't see it.

BALZ: It is hard to find. You know, it -- Iowa is not his best state, by far. New Hampshire is a muddle right now. Donald Trump stands above everybody else, but they're -- that state is in flux and you can see from the new polling numbers that you all have this morning how much dynamism there is in that race.

South Carolina, at this point, doesn't look particularly good for Rubio. There are some Rubio people who think it ultimately could be.

It leaves you with Nevada. And as we've talked before, of the first four states, Nevada is the fifth in -- in importance. It just doesn't have the kind of weight that the other three have.

So he has to figure out a way to be high up in all of those states and hope that that's enough to keep him moving.

DICKERSON: Because that goes back to your point, Peggy, about a non-Trump candidate. I mean the way people...

NOONAN: Yes.

DICKERSON: -- I was talking to were talking about it this week is they put Trump and Cruz in the same basket. So they're looking for a mainstream candidate. And they were hoping that Rubio would come out of this debate not -- being that...

NOONAN: Yes.

DICKERSON: -- and he didn't. And the field is split. There are several non-Trump candidates.

NOONAN: Yes, and there's the sense that -- that Cruz is on the upalator in some way and Rubio is on the downalator.

I want to mention something that I think the Republicans are making a mistake on. The cumulative effect of what they say at their debates. I love it that they're fighting and hitting each other over the head and occasionally addressing serious issues in a serious way.

But the cumulative effect of the sort of harshness and even unlovingness of their rhetoric on immigration is going to, in the end, hurt them.

I also think the sort of severity and drama of their language on ISIS makes them look radical, do you know what I mean, as opposed to people...

GOLDBERG: Panicky?

NOONAN: -- take...

GOLDBERG: Like panicky?

NOONAN: Not panicky, Jeffrey, but extreme.

DICKERSON: Does it (INAUDIBLE)...

NOONAN: Do you know what I mean?

So that...

BALZ: There's a belligerence to the -- to the talk.

NOONAN: Yes, there is.

BALZ: Well, if it goes beyond...

NOONAN: That's actually the word...

BALZ: -- muscularity to...

NOONAN: And it's...

BALZ: -- to belligerence.

NOONAN: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

NOONAN: And you don't have to be...

GOLDBERG: Well, carpet bombing.

NOONAN: -- to be belligerent...

GOLDBERG: I mean, you know, when you start talking about carpet bombing whole cities...

NOONAN: Yes. And...

GOLDBERG: -- you know, in response to a...

NOONAN: -- and turning desserts to glass...

GOLDBERG: -- a number.

NOONAN: -- and stuff like that, you can be very strong, very definitive, very seriousness, but not use this harsh, severe over the top...

AXELROD: Except the...

NOONAN: -- rhetoric. It's un -- misunderstanding their own base, I think.

AXELROD: The reality, though, is -- and Jeff's written about this -- there are no easy answers to the situation that we face there. And so the substitute for a coherent answer is bellicosity, let's be as ro...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

AXELROD: -- let's be as strong -- because I think people are tired of the complexity of the situation and they're responding to strength. And -- and that's how -- that translates into the kind of language that you're talking about.

NOONAN: They do want strength. They don't want braggadocio and carelessness.

AXELROD: Yes, I don't agree with you.

GOLDBERG: Well, but they seem to want that.

I mean what is Donald Trump giving them but braggadocio and -- and carelessness. And he remains -- no matter what he system, he maintains his numbers. So...

NOONAN: But heavily...

(CROSSTALK)

NOONAN: -- on ISIS, he doesn't talk much.

BALZ: Christie, too, in the debate.

AXELROD: But I -- I'm sorry.

BALZ: Oh, was -- was -- I mean just -- almost reflexively...

(CROSSTALK)

BALZ: -- talking about shooting down Russian planes. You know, this is...

(CROSSTALK)

AXELROD: But we are two countries and let's remember that there's a primary electorate and then there's a general election. And I agree with you, in the general electorate, that kind of rhetoric can be crippling.

But in the primary and given the sort of red hot nature of the Republican base, you know, you get the effect that you see with Trump, where people are responding. He is the anti-Obama. I always believed that the incumbent sets the terms of the debate. And people never choose the replica of what they have, particularly in the other party.

They choose the remedy. And there's no one more anti -- so -- there's no more of an antithesis to Barack Obama than Donald Trump.

NOONAN: Yes.

DICKERSON: Jeffrey, give us your read on -- let's stick on the Republican side here for the moment. The foreign policy critique of the president.

What -- were there some proposals where you -- where you said that is a distinction from the president that represents a clear break in vision that people could rally behind if they...

GOLDBERG: Well, the guy with the most original concept is polling at 0 right now, Lindsey Graham, who actually talks about ground troops. I mean the thing that -- that's really noticeable, obviously, among the Republicans, but the Republican debate has this unreal quality to it, because they're talking as if President Obama is not doing the things that he's doing and they're talking about -- and, again, we've talked about this in the past. There's this kind of pick one from Column A, pick one from Column B approach. Everyone has their little idea that no-fly zone, a safe zone, a -- a Sunni army materializing out of nowhere and -- and these are all things that President Obama is trying to some degree or another not the safe zone yet and not the -- not the no-fly zone, but they're -- they're proposing tactics and they're suggesting that a war is not actually taking place already.

There's nothing very original that I'm hearing yet from most of these Republican candidates. It's -- that's the sample truth of it.

DICKERSON: All right, and we'll take a break right there.

We'll be right back with more from our panel.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DICKERSON: -- and Trump's sanguine approach to this -- or actually his pleasure at this seems without precedent and I thought, OK, this is the moment when the Republican base, which is pro-America and anti-Russia, might say hmmm, maybe this guy is off his rocker, I don't know. But it seems as if we're just gliding right past this crossed line. The whole point of this campaign seems to be to cross lines. And I can't remember -- not since World War II have we felt so warmly about -- seen a candidate feel so warmly about a Russian leader.

Although George W. Bush did say he looked into his soul and saw that he was a good person --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not the greatest moment in George W. Bush's --

(CROSSTALK)

AXELROD: -- apparently doesn't agree with -- but, no, listen, Trump, we've -- you say that you think he's crossed the line, maybe people say he's off his rocker. They have had ample opportunity to make this judgment along the way and they've rejected it. He seems to be at least, with his base, impervious to that; the question is --

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's one thing to be bigoted against --

AXELROD: -- can you grow?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- one thing to be bigoted against Mexicans at it's a terrible thing, but I understand in the politics of the -- of an immigration debate.

To talk about an adversary, our foremost adversary, as someone worthy of praise and worthy of receiving praise.

AXELROD: He seems to enjoy flattering.

BALZ: I was just going to say there's a curious quality about him. I mean, we think of him as the insult candidate and yet when somebody or something is nice to him, whether it's a new poll or Vladimir Putin, he embraces that. And he gives it back. And so --

(CROSSTALK)

BALZ: -- just the nature of his personality, that he seeks to be liked.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What they have done --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not arguing that.

(CROSSTALK)

DICKERSON: Going back to the conversation about strength and strength above all, he said he's strong and he's a leader.

Peggy, when challenged on this and told that Vladimir Putin kills journalists, he said, well, we kill -- America kills people, too.

PEGGY NOONAN, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Yes, that was an unusual answer -- I'm not totally sure what it meant actually, what he was referring to.

He doesn't mean --

DICKERSON: But he means in wars. He means, in wars, America kills people and so he was drawing an equivalent there.

NOONAN: All right. I'm not sure what he meant. But I think part of the Putin-Trump story is that people understand that Putin loves to make mischief. He has a mischievous side.

I think a number of people interpreted Putin's praise of Trump to be an implicit criticism of Obama, who he has been asked about in the past and who he has damned with faint praise.

Do you know what I mean?

This is showing, I don't like Obama, I like even this guy better. I think a number of people saw it a little bit like that.

DICKERSON: David, Donald Trump is also accepting praise and there's an affection and warm relationship with Ted Cruz. They are close in Iowa, what do you make -- well, yes, most of the time. But in the debate in particular they chose to be allies.

What do you make of that?

AXELROD: I was kind of surprised by that, because I thought that Trump -- I think Cruz is a real threat to Trump. And you can see it in these Iowa numbers, Cruz had said some unkind things about Trump in private. He was asked about it.

Trump had the opportunity to do what Rubio was trying to do and say, you know what, that's what politicians in Washington do. They say one thing in a room to their donors and they say another thing in public. And he said I don't play that game. I tell you what I think.

And, Ted, you should speak up here and say to me what you said to those donors in the room.

But going to Dan's point, you know, the truth is he's never really confronted -- confrontational in that way unless someone attacks him.

DICKERSON: Right.

AXELROD: And Cruz has figured that out. And Cruz has, as he said in that room, he's hugging him because if he hugs him then Trump won't turn his guns on him.

DICKERSON: What do you make, Dan, of Bush's decision to go after Trump?

Pretty much every time he speaks now, he's got a shot at Trump.

Is this going to work for him?

BALZ: I don't know if it's going to work, John. I mean, he's got so many other problems, as the polling indicates, and as we've known for many months, that I don't know whether this will move him into a really competitive position.

But he's clearly been liberated in some way, as he suggested to you, to really take on Trump. It's clear that he dislikes Trump, he thinks Trump is not, as he said, a serious candidate for president. It offends him. I mean, he is the son and brother of former presidents. He knows what a president ought to look like.

And Trump doesn't fit that model. And so he's decided to go after him. Partly, I think to just kind of get it off his chest and then they'll see where they go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Also freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And it's liberating to be so down low in the polls.

(CROSSTALK)

AXELROD: He needed a foil. He needed something to define his candidacy and he's found it in Trump.

The question is, whether there's time and whether ultimately the right guy for these times.

DICKERSON: Is he standing up for something larger, though?

He seems to claim that he is. In other words, somebody has got to stand up for sort of a sense of principles and rules. And this is what the Republican Party is about, not just --

NOONAN: And Bush has an opening here. You can be liberated by losing. You know what I mean? All of a sudden, you're not fighting to hold on to number one or number two; you're way back in the pack. It's not working, then have a good time and get serious.

Bush's opportunity here is not to go and say, Trump is a jerk. It's to do a serious speech and serious statements about what's wrong with Trumpism and Trump. Be serious and thoughtful about it.

BALZ: But people have tried that with little success. Beginning with Rick Perry, who gave a very strong speech last July and -- (CROSSTALK)

NOONAN: That's true, but timing is everything.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The broader public service here is for Bush to say, if you don't know what the nuclear triad is, you shouldn't be president. And you shouldn't be running for president.

DICKERSON: All right. That's the last word, Jeffrey (ph). Thanks, all of you, we'll be right back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DICKERSON: That's it for us today. Next week we'll be looking back at 2015 with Stephen Colbert.

And we'll talk to NASA commander Scott Kelly from space. Be sure to join us. For FACE THE NATION I'm John Dickerson.