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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Republicans Debate in Florida

Aired January 26, 2012 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. It's 10:00 p.m. here on the East Coast.

For those of you just tuning in, welcome to a special edition of 360 live where the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, where the four remaining presidential candidates have just wrapped up their debate.

Two of them, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, traded verbal punches all night. Governor Romney has a new debate coach. Did it make a difference? You can decide for yourself in the hour ahead.

The most key moments, we will replay for you. Speaker Gingrich took another shot at the media. We will show you how that was received.

This is the final debate before Florida Republicans vote next week, high stakes for all the campaigns, no doubt about it.

As debate moderator Wolf Blitzer was right in the middle of it, we're going to talk with Wolf coming up very shortly. Gloria Borger is standing by, as are David Gergen, Donna Brazile, and Ari Fleischer.

Gloria Borger has Governor Romney.

Gloria, take it away.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Governor Romney, just one question. What kind of debate do you think you had tonight?

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I thought it was terrific,

I was delighted with the debate tonight. I think it was a big night for me and for people who supported me. You saw the response here in this audience. I think it was a big step forward. And I think it's going to give me the boost that I need going into the last very couple of days before the primary.

BORGER: You were pretty aggressive, I couldn't help but notice, in taking on Newt Gingrich. You seemed to turn -- you seemed to sort of turn every attack he made on you into an attack on him, particularly the attacks he's made on the campaign trail about your finances and...

ROMNEY: When I'm shot at, I will return fire. I'm no shrinking violet.

Thanks.

BORGER: OK.

(CROSSTALK)

ROMNEY: Back to you, Anderson.

COOPER: It certainly was perhaps a more energized Mitt Romney than we have seen in previous debates, though earlier this week in Florida, he also appeared to be energized. As we said, he does have a new debate coach.

How much of a role that played tonight, unclear, but he and Speaker Gingrich went back and forth on a number of issues, immigration, what was said in various campaign commercials, taxes, investments, and the like.

A lot to talk about in the hour ahead. We have a full panel who are joining us.

Let's check in with David Gergen, who is in the hall.

David, what did you make of the debate?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Anderson, a fascinating debate. Very exciting. I think a lot of people here are very pleased about it. I don't think there was a clear winner tonight. If anything, the surprise may have been how well Rick Santorum did.

He was unusually strong, second straight debate for him, but here is the point. I think that, if the momentum has shifted, as the polls suggest, and it seems to be true, then you have to say that Newt Gingrich needed a knockout punch tonight. He needed to reverse the momentum. He did not get that.

I believe that for Mitt Romney then, this was a good night, a night he could come out of here and say, I held my own against him. We went mano a mano. I did well tonight, very different from South Carolina.

I think the Romney people should be happy tonight coming out of this that they may be very close to securing Florida. And if they secure Florida, they're much closer to the nomination.

COOPER: I'm joined now by my colleague and debate moderator Wolf Blitzer.

Wolf, you did an excellent job, as always.

What did you make of the debate? What really stood out to you?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, I thought they all were on their game. I think they all did a good job. Ron Paul, obviously, we know where he stands on so many of these issues. And he was predictable, he was strong, he was good.

The exchanges, especially at the beginning, between Gingrich and Romney, they were pretty tough, pretty serious. There are differences between these two individuals. I thought Santorum did himself some favors today. A lot of people, if you look at the polls, have been writing him off, but maybe he will get a little bounce as a result of this debate.

COOPER: He clearly felt tonight was crucial, that he get his message across.

I want to also bring in Ari Fleischer.

Ari, from the Republican side, how did you see tonight?

ARI FLEISCHER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Anderson, I don't think you can say it any other way than this was a great night for Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney showed an aggressive side that I hadn't seen in him before.

He really took it to Newt Gingrich on several occasions. And I thought he did it in a cool manner, showing a bit of an alpha dog role as he did it. And Newt was a bit flat tonight. Newt didn't have the commanding night that he had in South Carolina. And that hurt him because for him to close the gap here in Florida, it's a close race, he needed another good, big night. Rick Santorum though was strong. You have got to give credit to Rick Santorum.

And I just thought Ron Paul was funny. He had the best lines of the night.

COOPER: John King is with former Senator Santorum. Let's go to him -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, I'm with Senator Santorum and his mother, who is now famous in social media.

Senator Santorum, it's good to see you. And you introduced your mom at the beginning of the program. All over Twitterverse -- I guess you're not on Twitter -- people are saying how amazing and remarkable. They say there's no way, no way you're 93 years young.

I want to ask you about your debate performance.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Ari Fleischer was just talking, Senator, that you had a strong performance tonight.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: The last couple of debates, you have gotten great reviews.

The question sometimes comes down to resources. As you know, in a state like Florida, you have decided not to run TV ads here.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Right.

KING: You have decided not to stay here on primary night because you're looking ahead. Is it a missed opportunity, perhaps?

SANTORUM: No, I don't think so.

Look, the people of Florida know I have been here, I have been here. I was the first person down here in Florida. I have been here many, many times before this past week. I'm here really through Monday.

And then I have found in the last two elections in New Hampshire and in South Carolina, they're sort of wasted days if you stay in the state because you really can't campaign. So our feeling was, let's take off and let's -- we have got Nevada just three days -- four days later, and we want to head out to Nevada and start working out there.

KING: You have been very consistent criticizing Governor Romney and Speaker Gingrich on the mandate for health care, both as longtime supporters.

SANTORUM: Yes.

KING: Governor Romney, I believe -- correct me if you think I'm wrong -- turned in a pretty strong debate performance tonight. But the one time he seemed to be on defense a little bit was when you kept after him. He was defending his mandate.

He said at one point it's not anything to get angry about.

SANTORUM: Well, don't confusion passion with anger.

I'm very passionate about this, because people in this country don't want a government that can force them to engage in commercial activity, much less force them to do a whole host of other things like the cap and trade proposal that he had which is going to drive up utility costs, or the Wall Street bailout that taxpayers are paying hundreds of billions of dollars to bail out people on Wall Street, while people here in Florida suffer.

So the idea that Governor Romney thinks I get angry, I think there's a lot of people out here who are angry. When they say that government is going to force them to buy insurance as a condition of being a resident of a state, that's a step too far.

KING: I know it's a horse race question, but as the race goes on, people will say, where does Rick Santorum get a breakthrough?

You did win Iowa. But as we move on to these bigger states, you have to win somewhere to break back through in the race. Where does that come?

SANTORUM: Well, as you know, this is proportional, and the -- proportional allocation of delegates in most of the states coming up.

And we're running strong campaigns in several states right now. We now have the resources. We have raised over twice as much money in the last three weeks as we did in the first nine months. So we're now having resources to be able to spread our wings a little bit. And we're going to engage in this campaign.

And as we have seen here tonight, there's a lot of baggage, a lot of problems with the two -- quote -- "front-runners." And I think, as you saw tonight, we're going to start moving up again. But our time will come.

KING: I'm going to let you spend time with your most loyal Florida voter right now.

SANTORUM: She's great.

KING: Your mom is now famous all around the country.

And I agree with what everybody is saying. There's no way you're 93 years young. It's not happening, not at all.

Senator Santorum, please take care tonight -- Anderson, back to you.

SANTORUM: Thanks, John.

COOPER: John, thanks very much.

I want to check in with Erick Erickson, Erick, editor in chief of RedState.com.

Erick, you have not been a fan of Governor Romney in this campaign. How do you think he did tonight and how do you think Newt Gingrich did?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think they both did pretty badly.

I think Romney got the better of Newt overall. I think the winners were Santorum and Paul, largely because they stayed out of the fray. The petulance of the two front-runners really allowed Santorum and Paul to shine.

So many answers -- to many questions, to Wolf's credit, were on domestic policy issues and issues related to Florida, instead of the foreign policy issues where Ron Paul kind of goes off the Republican reservation. He gave very strong answers.

Rick Santorum, I thought, had the best night of any of the candidates on the stage.

COOPER: Donna Brazile, from a Democratic perspective, it certainly seems like this race is going to continue beyond Florida.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, there's no question, Anderson.

Florida is very important for Republicans. This is the last contest before the all-important Super Tuesday. There are a couple states in February, but with 50 delegates at stake, winner take all, Mitt Romney knew tonight that he had to come in, he had to look Newt Gingrich in the eye and stare him down.

He did very well, but Santorum probably did himself good tonight by, you know, not only standing his ground, but taking his fight to both Romney, as well as Newt Gingrich.

Newt Gingrich was flat tonight, but he's not out of it. He still has a lot of headwind going into the important Florida primary next week.

COOPER: Someone else who stood his ground, Wolf Blitzer, in the exchange with Gingrich, went really back and forth on the appropriateness of the question. I just want to show that exchange to our viewers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Earlier this week, you said Governor Romney, after he released his taxes, you said that you were satisfied with the level of transparency of his personal finances when it comes to this. And I just want to reiterate and ask you, are you satisfied right now with the level of transparency as far as his personal finances?

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Wolf, you and I have a great relationship, it goes back a long way. I'm with him. This is a nonsense question.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

GINGRICH: Look, how about if the four of us agree for the rest of the evening, we'll actually talk about issues that relate to governing America?

BLITZER: But, Mr. Speaker, you made an issue of this, this week, when you said that, "He lives in a world of Swiss bank and Cayman Island bank accounts." I didn't say that. You did.

GINGRICH: I did. And I'm perfectly happy to say that on an interview on some TV show. But this is a national debate, where you have a chance to get the four of us to talk about a whole range of issues.

BLITZER: But if you make a serious accusation against Governor Romney like that, you need to explain that.

GINGRICH: I simply suggested --

(BOOING)

GINGRICH: You want to try again? I mean --

ROMNEY: Wouldn't it be nice if people didn't make accusations somewhere else that they weren't willing to defend here?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: A really interesting exchange.

And I think it contributes to the idea that a lot of people felt Newt Gingrich was somewhat flat tonight.

BLITZER: You know, he was the one who raised that issue of the Cayman Islands, the Swiss bank accounts. He made a very serious allegation against Mitt Romney.

I thought it would be a good opportunity for him to clarify, explain what he meant by that. And he didn't want to talk about it. And then when I finally pressed him on it and didn't back down, he responded.

COOPER: There have been a number of allegations obviously made on the campaign trail that showed up tonight.

Ari Fleischer, one of the other things that the candidates were asked about was a campaign commercial that Mitt Romney is running in which he says that Newt Gingrich said that Spanish is the language of the ghetto. Newt Gingrich didn't actually say that word for word. He implied it several years ago. What did you make of that exchange?

FLEISCHER: Well, I thought, on so many of the exchanges tonight, Mitt Romney was the one taking it to Newt, but one that one, it was just confusion.

I think most viewers, unless they're armed with PolitiFact and know how to fact check because they get every tweet telling them things, I most viewers got lost on that one. It was too much in the -- of a he said/she said.

COOPER: We have got a lot to talk about in the hour ahead. We're going to take a quick break.

Let us know what you think. We're on Facebook, Google+. Add us to your circles. Follow me on Twitter right now @AndersonCooper. I will be tweeting tonight.

Up next: a roundtable of the key moments of tonight. We will replay those moments, the ones voters may base their decisions on.

Also, we're going to show you the moments when Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney traded very direct attacks over the advertising war that each is waging.

And later, the war that big-named Republicans launched today to stop Newt Gingrich, who is behind it? How coordinated is it? We will talk about that ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Hey, we're back in Jacksonville, Florida. What a really exciting debate you have just witnessed, moments after the debate, just days before the crucial Florida primary.

We're going to check in with our full panel shortly.

But, first, I just want to show you some of the key moment from this evening, in case you missed any of them, plenty for voters to consider. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Ladies and gentlemen, the Republican candidates for president of the United States.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

SANTORUM: I'm here with a North Florida resident who lives right down the beach from Jacksonville, my mom, who is 93 years old, who is with me here tonight.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think we spend way too much time worrying about the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Use some of those resources on our own border.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BLITZER: Is he still the most anti-immigrant candidate?

GINGRICH: I think, of the four of us, yes.

ROMNEY: Mr. Speaker, I'm not anti-immigrant. My father was born in Mexico. My wife's father was born in Wales. They came to this country. The idea that I'm anti-immigrant is repulsive.

NEWT GINGRICH: All I want to do is to allow the grandmother to be here legally with some rights to have residency, but not citizenship, so that he or she can finish their life with dignity within the law.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ROMNEY: There are not 11 million -- you know, our problem is not 11 million grandmothers. Our problem is -- all right.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

GINGRICH: Governor Romney owns shares of both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Governor Romney made a million dollars off of selling some of that. Governor Romney owns shares and has an investment in Goldman Sachs, which is today foreclosing on Floridians.

ROMNEY: But have you checked your own investments? You also have investments through mutual funds that also invest in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) BLITZER: It seems they both acknowledge they both made money from Fannie and Freddie. Should they return that money?

PAUL: That -- that subject really doesn't interest me a whole lot.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

SANTORUM: The bigger issue here is, these two gentlemen, who are out distracting from the most important issues we have by playing petty personal politics.

Can we set aside that Newt was a member of Congress and used the skills that he developed as a member of Congress to go out and advise companies -- and that's not the worst thing in the world -- and that Mitt Romney is a wealthy guy because he worked hard and he's going out and working hard?

And you guys should leave that alone and focus on the issues.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

GINGRICH: How about if the four of us agree for the rest of the evening we'll actually talk about issues that relate to governing America?

BLITZER: But, Mr. Speaker, you made an issue of this, this week, when you said that, "He lives in a world of Swiss bank and Cayman Island bank accounts."

I didn't say that. You did.

ROMNEY: Look, let's put behind this idea of attacking me because of my investments or my money, and let's get Republicans to say, you know what? What you've accomplished in your life shouldn't be seen as a detriment. It should be seen as an asset to help America.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

PAUL: I'm willing to challenge any of these gentlemen up here to a 25- mile bike ride any time of the day in the heat of Texas.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

GINGRICH: I do not want to be the country that having gotten to the moon first, turned around and said, it doesn't really matter, let the Chinese dominate space, what do we care? I think that is a path of national decline.

ROMNEY: This idea of going state to state and promising what people want to hear, promising billions, hundreds of billions of dollars to make people happy, that's what got us into the trouble we're in now. We've got to say no to this kind of spending.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

SANTORUM: Wolf, what Governor Romney said is just factually incorrect.

Your mandate is no different than Barack Obama's mandate. It is the same mandate. He takes over...

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BLITZER: All right. All right.

SANTORUM: You take over 100 percent, just like he takes over 100 percent, requires the mandate. The same fines that you put in place in Massachusetts are fines that he puts in place in the federal level.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: There's no doubt about it, the stakes were high tonight, the pressure was intense.

We will bring you more key moments throughout this hour, throughout this night, talking about what they add up to.

Our panel is all here, chief national correspondent John King, host of "JOHN KING, USA" and moderator of the CNN debate in South Carolina, also political analyst Gloria Borger, David Gergen, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, former Bush Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. And RedState.com editor Erick Erickson joins us by remote.

Ari, it surprised me that Newt Gingrich, who has been lobbing these attacks against Governor Romney on his investments in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, seemed unaware or not prepared for Governor Romney to say, you know what, you have invested in them, too.

FLEISCHER: Well, I think when you look at opposition research and having a campaign structure underneath you, Romney has got a good one and a big one, and Newt is Newt. Newt really runs his own coverage. He really doesn't have anybody, not many people, helping him.

So, I think that was a surprise. Romney took him by surprise. That's what I meant about Romney had a good night, stepping up his game, going after Newt, jab, jab, jab, jab. Newt throws haymakers, and he didn't get a chance to connect on any of his haymakers tonight. He was flat.

BORGER: And Romney demanded an apology from Newt Gingrich about the language he used concerning immigration, calling him anti- immigration, said it was repulsive.

We haven't heard that out of Mitt Romney. We have heard that out of his surrogates, but this was Mitt Romney taking it directly to Newt Gingrich.

COOPER: Mitt Romney knew tonight was critical for him.

BORGER: Oh, yes.

GERGEN: Everybody knew that tonight was critical. The person who won this debate tonight was very likely to win the primary. This is Newt's last chance. I think Newt came in -- that moment on the taxes was, I think, symbolic of the whole evening. And that is, he threw his punch, he thought he had a really solid point, and Romney was ready for him and surprised him.

I think that was absolutely right. And then along comes Santorum and said, would you guys stop being so trivial and going after each other? And he looked bigger on the stage and he had a really good night.

KING: Santorum has had several strong performances in a row.

The question is, does he have the resources and the psychology of the election? Republican voters, if you look at the polling, view this as a two-man race. It's very hard to reassert yourself when the voters think that. We will see if he can do this further on.

But I think Governor Romney was more assertive tonight. On that immigration answer, he both went after Gingrich and at the same time softened his own position a little bit, saying we're not going to throw grandmothers out of the country. So he got to soften.

And he was much, much, much less defensive tonight about his wealth. And that has been -- his staff has been pushing him for months. They say he's private, he doesn't like to talk about it. He was much less defensive about it tonight and actually turned it -- tried to turn it to his advantage, say, hey, look, I made a lot of money, yes, I did. I paid my taxes, yes, I did.

What's the issue, Mr. Speaker?

COOPER: We have the SOT about the grandmother that you're talking about. Let's just quickly play that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I'm not going to go find grandmothers and take them out of their homes and deport them. Those are your words, not my words. And to use that rhetoric suggests to people that somehow, if you're not willing to keep people here who violated the law, that you're anti-immigrant. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am pro- immigrant.

GINGRICH: You're accepting the fact that, you know, a family is going to take care of their grandmother or their grandfather.

The idea that you are going to push them out in some form by simply saying they can't go get a job -- I think the grandmother is still going to be here. All I want to do is to allow the grandmother to be here legally.

ROMNEY: Our problem is not 11 million grandmothers. Our problem is -- all right.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) (END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: That line got a huge applause in this auditorium.

Erick Erickson, to John's point about Rick Santorum, though he clearly had a strong night on the stage and received a lot of applause on the stage for some of his lines, does he have the staying power? Clearly, his strategy has been hoping that Newt Gingrich would somehow implode and that he would be the conservative candidate to go against Romney. Is that a strategy that is still viable?

ERICKSON: I don't know that it is.

He got the big endorsement from evangelicals, and it didn't do him any good. And most polls suggest that his voters, if he were to drop out, would go to Gingrich. I wouldn't be surprised if there's some effort to try to keep him in to continue hurting Gingrich.

But on the other issue, Anderson, on that question tonight on immigration, I have to say that I thought that Gingrich and Romney really hurt each other in the debate, but then that moment came with Wolf Blitzer that you played, where Gingrich all of a sudden, all of these things blowing up in his face, he says, hey, let's stop.

And he had the crowd turn against Wolf. And then, suddenly, because of Romney's response, Romney so got the better of him, the crowd turned on Gingrich. You live by the debate, you die by the debate. And I think Gingrich lost Florida tonight because of it.

COOPER: You want crowd response, you certainly got crowd response tonight.

BORGER: What was interesting was, I think Romney goaded Newt Gingrich into answering these questions and getting more involved, because, you know, as Erick pointed out, Gingrich said, OK, let's just stop this, and then Romney turned on him and said, you know what, you ought to be able to answer on the stage what you have been saying at your rallies about me to my face.

BRAZILE: There were two debates this week, and Newt Gingrich had an opportunity with all of the momentum coming out of South Carolina to really put Mitt Romney on the defensive, not just on his money, on his taxes, on his stance on immigration.

There were so many issues. But he decided to hold back, and I think that hurt him. Santorum was clever. He was strong. He managed to combine the anti-Mitt, the liberal health care with the anti-Newt, the Washington insider. So, overall, he had a great night.

But you know what, conservatives, they want electability, somebody who can beat Obama. And the question is, can Santorum rise strong enough to beat the other two top-tier candidates?

GERGEN: I thought there were two debates in a different sense, and that was that Romney was going up against Gingrich, and I think he got the better end of that. But, indirectly, this was also starting a debate with Barack Obama. And I thought, on that issue -- Donna, I'm curious about your view on this -- but, on that issue, I did not think he came across so well.

There's a likability question about him as time goes on that I think he has to face up to. I'm not sure he's somebody who people really want in their living rooms a lot.

BORGER: But his answer on his wife was fabulous.

GERGEN: It was a nice answer on that.

Near-term, I think he helped himself, but on the longer-term questions, I...

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Well, I think your point is very well-taken, but the point is that you can see now in Governor Romney, if we go back six months, he wasn't worried about the near-term. He thought he was the nominee. Now he's worried about the near-term. He will worry about Barack Obama later.

I thought the interesting point, when he criticized Gingrich on space. That's Romney trying to take away some of the Tea Party vote. They're not sure we can afford this right now. And Romney has been getting tanked by Gingrich in the Tea Party. There's a big Tea Party vote here. Say that.

The only mistake I think Governor Romney made tonight, when he turned to Senator Santorum and said it's not worth getting angry about, the conversation about the health care mandate. A lot of Tea Party voters are angry about it.

COOPER: It was also interesting. I think it was Governor Romney who used something that Gingrich has done very successfully in past primaries, which is talking about local issues.

We saw that in South Carolina, where he talked about the port. I think it was Mitt Romney or Santorum who used that against him, saying he's going around state by state promising...

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: That was Romney.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: We have got to take a quick break.

We will have Ari Fleischer, all of the entire panel when we come back, a lot more to talk about, a fascinating night ahead. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well, tonight's debate here in Jacksonville, Florida, was sponsored in part by the Florida Hispanic Network. It has just wrapped up, but the multimillion-dollar, multilingual advertising war goes on in this state.

It did become an issue tonight, with Governor Romney taking strong exception to a Spanish-language ad from the Gingrich campaign calling Mitt Romney the most anti-immigrant candidate running.

Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I just want to make sure I understand. Is he still the most anti-immigrant candidate?

GINGRICH: I think, of the four of us, yes.

ROMNEY: Senator Marco Rubio came to my defense and said that ad was inexcusable and inflammatory and inappropriate.

Mr. Speaker, I'm not anti-immigrant. My father was born in Mexico. My wife's father was born in Wales. They came to this country. The idea that I'm anti-immigrant is repulsive.

I'm glad that Marco Rubio called you out on it. I'm glad you withdrew it. I think you should apologize for it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, the moderator, Wolf Blitzer, then pointed out that Governor Romney is running a Spanish ad of his own accusing Speaker Gingrich of calling Spanish the language of the ghetto.

In fact, Speaker Gingrich was talking about replacing bilingual education with English emergence. He didn't mention Spanish by name, though he did talk about bilingual education.

Governor Romney tonight said he wasn't aware of the ad, of his own ad. A few minutes later, Wolf set the record straight. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We did double-check, just now, Governor, that ad that we talked about, where I quoted you as saying that Speaker Gingrich called Spanish "the language of the ghetto" -- we just double-checked. It was one of your ads. It's running here in Florida in -- on the radio. And at the end you say, "I'm Mitt Romney and I approved this ad."

So, it is -- it is here.

(BOOING)

ROMNEY: Let me ask -- let me ask a question. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Then he asked whether or not Gingrich, in fact, did say that, and he said, we should check the record. And we did.

John King, Gloria Borger, David Gergen, Donna Brazile, Ari Fleischer join us, and Erick Erickson.

What did you make of that exchange?

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: I thought it was smart. Governor Romney, he was caught. He was caught. It is a Spanish language radio. Now a reminder: this is the first big diverse state. The Latino vote matters, whether it's Cuban-Americans, Puerto Ricans, Mexican immigrants, the first time it matters. They both have pretty harsh Spanish language. Most of that's being done on the radio.

So Governor Romney got caught. Wolf corrected the record: "Governor, that is your ad." He could have just stood there and said, "OK." Instead, he still at least turned and brought Gingrich in and said, did you say it? A smart debate tactic.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. He defended it, essentially, and even though Newt Gingrich didn't specifically say Spanish.

COOPER: He was implying Spanish.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: But there's a certain degree to which Mitt Romney needs to start taking responsibility as opposed to saying, "Well, my investment guy did it. I had a blind trust. Oh, my PAC did this. have no responsibility for that. Somebody else did this. I didn't know." I mean, at a certain point, I think people expect you to take personal responsibility.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And on that one, David, when you don't know what the ad says, you don't know what the ad says.

GERGEN: It does have him saying, "I'm Mitt Romney and I approve this ad, you know."

FLEISCHER: We know how the ads get produced. And the candidates don't know.

GERGEN: I think...

FLEISCHER: I agree with taking more responsibility. When he said my trustee, that part stuck out at me. My trustee? How many people have trustees?

GERGEN: Exactly.

BORGER: Blind trust, while you're at it. Right?

BRAZILE: He said he never voted for a Democrat, when in fact, he has. He voted for the late Paul Tsongas, so the late Paul Tsongas. So I don't know, I mean. Every now and then...

COOPER: He said he always voted for a Republican when a Republican was on the ballot.

BRAZILE: Well, I believe that we're going to find out tomorrow morning that Mitt Romney did not come forth and tell on immigration. And you know, two weeks ago, in Iowa, he was against, you know, he had a different policy. So tonight, I'm sitting here looking at all of the things he said. I'm like, you know, immigration, on never voting for a Democrat, on his taxes, his money. You know, Democrats are going to have a hay day tomorrow fact checking Mitt Romney.

COOPER: Erick Erickson, did you agree with that about some of the things that were said?

ERICKSON: I do. You know, back to David and Ari's exchange, I think, you know, we're in politics. We know that candidates, they send out a lot of ads on the campaign. The candidates don't all see them. But when the public sees the ad and at the end hears, "I'm Mitt Romney and I approve the message" or "I'm Newt Gingrich and I approve this message" or whoever, they do connect it to the candidate.

And when he's there tonight and says that he didn't know about the ad, even though it ended with "I approve the message," it makes you wonder. He's running on his management skills as a CEO. At the same time, that was his weakest moment of the night. Gingrich's moments that were weak were historic to a degree.

COOPER: There has been a fascinating war of words from other surrogates in the last couple days. When we come back, we want to talk about establishment Republicans, basically this sort of "stop Gingrich" movement against establishment Republicans that we've been witnessing. Their effort to head off the GOP meltdown if Gingrich wins Florida. That's from a GOP observer. He said it would make Three Mile Island look like a marshmallow roast. We'll explain ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH: It's increasingly interesting to watch the Romney attack machine coordinate this, and all of a sudden today, there are four different articles from four different people that randomly show up. Those of us in the trenches fighting in the '80s, it would be nice to be recognized for what we actually did and not to have orchestrated attacks try to distort the history of that period.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Newt Gingrich talking about the heat that he's feeling from the right. Here's what Bob Dole, former senator and the 1996 presidential nominee and supporter of Romney, wrote in a statement to conservatives that was posted by the "National Review."

Quote, "If Gingrich is the nominee, it will have an adverse impact on Republican candidates running for county, state, and federal offices. Hardly anyone who served with Newt in Congress has endorsed him, and that fact speaks for itself."

And Elliott Abrams, who served as assistant secretary of state under Ronald Reagan, was just as blunt. He said, quote, "Mr. Gingrich voted with the president regularly but equally often spewed insulting rhetoric at Reagan, his top aides and his policies to defeat communism. Gingrich was voluble and certain in predicting that Reagan's policies would fail, and in all of this, he was dead wrong."

Abrams continue, "Newt Gingrich in retrospect seems less the visionary than the politician who refused the party leader's loyal support on grounds that history has proved were simply wrong."

Let's bring in our panel. What do you make of this? I mean, clearly, it is an organized -- is it organized, sustained assault?

BORGER: Totally. Totally organized. Yes.

FLEISCHER: This is what well-run campaigns do. Get together and you hone in on one day on one moment and you attack.

BORGER: I was at -- I was at a Gingrich event today where there were Republican members of Congress from Utah, from California, who are supporting Romney. And who were there to give an availability to the press to rebut Newt Gingrich at his own event. So this is very organized, and this is not happenstance.

COOPER: By the way, Alex Castellanos is joining us, Republican strategist -- Alex.

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you can't discount also the power of the North Star. Sometimes there is something that unites everybody in addition to organization. And that is that tonight Republican candidates are going to be on the ballot in 2012 are sleeping restlessly because they fear Newt Gingrich at the top of the ticket, losing independence in swing states and losing the House and the Senate and returning to the first two years of the Obama administration when they had a full House and ran everything.

COOPER: You've done a lot of ads for people that you worked with. What do you make of Mitt Romney saying, "I'm unaware of this ad"?

CASTELLANOS: Most of the time, they don't see them. Most of the time the candidates don't see them. Now, we tape a disclaimer, and we put them on the ads. I paid for it, you know, "I'm Mitt Romney and I approve this commercial." They usually don't see the ads.

BORGER: Anderson, I got an e-mail from someone in the Romney campaign during the break about the ad thing, and it says, "We," meaning the Romney campaign, "have developed 85 ads. We can't have total recall of every one."

COOPER: Fair point, David?

GERGEN: When you go on, just as Erick said, when you go on and put your name and say, "I approve of it," you do take personal responsibility. You may not read it, but you're still responsible. You're president of the United States, you put out a statement under your name, you can't say, "Oh, my speechwriters wrote that." You're responsible at the end of the day.

I just -- I do want to note for the record that Alex has cleaned up his act. Earlier tonight -- earlier tonight, he said Republicans all over the country were peeing in their beds. Late night with Anderson, he cleaned it up.

CASTELLANOS: I was chastised by the bed-wetting Republicans.

One of the things -- one of the things we do teach candidates in debates like this is look for the MOS, the moment of strength. These -- as a president, you never know what issue the president you pick is going to face. Is he strong enough to handle them? These debates, I think, as David said tonight, the alpha male usually wins.

COOPER: And who, for you, had the most moments tonight?

CASTELLANOS: Who had them tonight? I thought when Romney looked at Gingrich and said, "Do you know what's in your investments?" Beat, beat. Dramatic pause, "No, you don't." That was a moment of strength. And that seemed to set Gingrich back tonight.

FLEISCHER: Several of them, and also stylistically, one thing I've noticed in all these debates, when Mitt Romney takes you on, he looks at you. When Newt goes after people, he never looks them in the eye. And I think it's disconcerting for viewers because it doesn't convey strength. It doesn't convey that "I'm willing -- I believe it so much, I'm going to look right at you and say it."

COOPER: Let's play the moment Alex just talked about, for those who didn't see it, talking about Newt Gingrich's investments. Let's watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH: We discovered to our shock, Governor Romney owns shares of both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Governor Romney made a million dollars off of selling some of that. Maybe Governor Romney in the spirit of openness should tell us how much money he's made off of how many households that have been foreclosed by his investments.

ROMNEY: My investments for the last ten years have in a blind trust, managed by a trustee.

Secondly, the investments that they've made, we've learned about this as we made our financial disclosure, have been in mutual funds and bonds. I don't own stock in either Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.

Mr. Speaker, I know that sounds like an enormous revelation. But have you checked your own investments? You also have investments through mutual funds that also invest in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Ouch.

CASTELLANOS: He got punked.

COOPER: Got punked.

BORGER: Yes.

CASTELLANOS: One thing we've also learned about Newt Gingrich, I think, is is he a good debater or is he, in fact, a good brawler? Is he a little bit of a one-trick pony? Does he only have -- he goes after the media. And if that doesn't work, there really isn't a reservoir of warmth there or other appeal to the voters.

GERGEN: Alex, did you say today that -- that Mitt Romney has gotten a new debate coach, he got somebody else to help him?

COOPER: A man named O'Donnell, right?

CASTELLANOS: O'Donnell, who was formerly with Michele Bachmann. He's a former debate coach, I think, at Liberty University, and if I'm correct, and he's a pro. He's very good. But he's -- he's very good at working with people to let them be themselves, to get the best out of them. The hardest thing to do on this stage is to relax and look confident and look like you're having fun.

BORGER: I don't think Romney was relaxed. Honestly, I think...

CASTELLANOS: He was better than he was, better than he's been in the past few debates.

BORGER: I think Romney knew everything was on the line for him tonight. And he wasn't relaxed, but he was prepared. He had the opposition research that we were talking about earlier. He knew about...

COOPER: I think it was also critical that -- and Erick, I'd like to hear your point on this. Is that he really did -- I think someone said earlier, he really turned the whole question of his wealth to -- back to being a strength. I mean, he's not running from it anymore. And he, in fact, said that. He said, "I'm not going to -- I'm not ashamed of it. You know, I'm not ashamed of my success." We'll play that sound.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I have a trustee that manages my investments in a blind trust. That was so that I would avoid any conflicts of interest. That trustee indicated last week, when he was asked about this, he said he wanted to diversify the investments that I had, and for a while, he had money in a Swiss account, reported in the U.S., full taxes paid on it, U.S. taxes. There's nothing wrong with that. And I know that there may be some would try and make a deal of it, as you have publicly.

But look, I think it's important for people to make sure that we don't castigate individuals who have been successful and try and, by innuendo, suggest there's something wrong with being successful and having investments and having a return on those investments.

Speaker, you've indicated that somehow I don't earn that money. I have earned the money that I have. I didn't inherit it. I take risks. I make investments. Those investments lead to jobs being created in America.

I'm proud of being successful. I'm proud of being in the free enterprise system that creates jobs for other people. I'm not going to run from that. I'm proud of the taxes I pay. My classes plus my charitable contributions this year, 2011, will be about 40 percent.

So let's put behind this idea of attacking me because of my investments or my money, and let's get Republicans to say, "You know what? What you've accomplished in your life shouldn't be seen as a detriment. It should be seen as an asset to help America."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Erick Erickson, we talked about candidates becoming stronger through a grueling campaign. I could hear him saying that to President Obama in a debate.

ERICKSON: Right. You know, there are a number of issues that bothered me about Mitt Romney. This has been the nagging one for the last several weeks. He sounded so apologetic for the last several weeks about his wealth, very defensive of it.

Tonight is finally the answer he needed to be giving all along, the answer that probably, had he given it at the CNN debate in South Carolina, or the FOX debate in South Carolina, he probably wouldn't have ended so far behind Newt Gingrich, if at all behind Newt Gingrich. This is the sort of answer he's going to have to give.

We know the selection is going to be about a defense of the various views of capitalism between Democrats and Republicans, the left and the right. He can't sound apologetic going into that fight. And tonight, he really shined in that moment. This is a moment where a lot of people who have questioned Mitt Romney on sounding apologetic will finally start to say, maybe he's turned the corner.

COOPER: We've got to take a quick break. More with our panel, a lot more ahead.

Also when we come back, another moment, another key moment from the debate that observers say Mitt Romney got rattled on. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'll be happy to give you the study. Five times the rate it's gone up. Why? Because people are ready to pay a cheaper fine and then be able to sign up for insurance which are now guaranteed under Romney care than pay high- cost insurance which is what's happened as a result of Romney care. ROMNEY: First of all, it's not worth getting angry about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: It did happen to be one of the few times tonight that observers say Governor Romney got rattled. John King thought it was a key moment. He's back, along with the panel.

Why did you think that was a key moment?

KING: Because Alex makes the point that he was talking about, you know, we all have some differences on health care, but they're not so great. It's not worth getting angry about. If that's the context of what Governor Romney meant, not a big deal, right?

If you're a Tea Party voter out there and you're listening, you have that snippet, it's not worth getting angry about. Well, a lot of Tea Party people, a lot of conservatives, Governor Romney says it's at the state level; it's up to each state. But what the Tea Party can say, "That's a government mandate, and I do get angry about government mandates, or I do get passionate about government mandates."

So if you take that one sentence, there's a better way to say it.

BRAZILE: For years, Mitt Romney has touted, as you know, what they did in Massachusetts as a national model. And now, tonight, he said, "No, no, no. It's up to individual states to come up with their own model."

FLEISCHER: Let's talk for a second about Rick Santorum, who began that exchange. He had a very strong night tonight, because he took it to Mitt Romney in health care on a way that no other candidate has done. On a lot of substantive detail. Here's what's wrong with what you did in Massachusetts. "You really are no different from Barack Obama. It's a mandate."

And Rick Santorum did that on several other occasions tonight. The problem Rick Santorum has is nobody thinks that he's a finalist. And so he's...

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: ... but he doesn't have the credibility that...

BORGER: I don't know.

CASTELLANOS: After tonight -- after tonight, if Newt Gingrich has a problem with female voters, if it's beginning -- and we talked last week that it usually takes a few days for an attack like Gingrich suffered last week when his wife Marianne went on TV. And it usually takes a few days for that to bite. First thing people do is freeze in place and say, "Is that true? Can I believe that?" Then they look around and see what their friends and peers are doing. How is everybody else handling this?

And looks like he's beginning to have a little gender gap problem in Florida. If that's the case, if the debate performance tonight for Newt was flat, if he begins to dip, then Romney won two ways tonight. One by having a good debate, and then two, by having Santorum have his best debate yet.

FLEISCHER: Then Santorum could come in second place or first place in Florida.

CASTELLANOS: Well, he's not -- he's going to contend for second.

BORGER: And he'll continue. He'll continue.

CASTELLANOS: He's going to contend for second. I would bet you $10,000, but it's been done.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: ... get about 10, 12 percent of the polls right now. Senator Santorum, he said in the final days of South Carolina, he was buying TV time in Florida. He has not bought a dime, as of this morning. They decided -- they decided that Gingrich had momentum coming out. He may get more because of his performance (ph) here.

CASTELLANOS: How many eyeballs did Santorum get tonight watching this debate?

COOPER: I also want -- I also want to talk about Ron Paul. But Erick, you wanted to make a point about Santorum?

ERICKSON: There's a point here with Santorum's exchange with Mitt Romney that also is relevant to the prior conversation, Elliott Abrams and Bob Dole. The Tea Party has largely been absent in this primary season. They've been divided among candidates who really probably weren't viable, Herman Cain and others, largely because of their lack of experience at this level.

But I think the Santorum exchange on health care and these attacks by people a lot of the Tea Party activists look at as Republicans who are as much to blame for the problems in Washington as Democrats. They may start to wake up, and then they start looking at Santorum and Gingrich and then they at least say, "We need to drag this out longer. Let's rally to a candidate just to make sure Mitt Romney doesn't have it in the bag." That's a problem for Romney.

COOPER: Ron Paul has not really been campaigning in Florida, but he has been in the two debates and had, you know, supporters in the field. He had a strong performance tonight, really by staying kind of above the fray, and he had a couple very good lines, kind of distancing himself from the drama between Gingrich and Romney.

CASTELLANOS: There's no question, the most likable candidate on the stage tonight was Ron Paul. You know, very grandfatherly. He should have been wearing a sweater. He was easy to take.

BORGER: Funny.

CASTELLANOS: He was funny tonight. He was able to laugh at himself. The problem is, of course, you know, he comes to Florida where Cuban voters and Hispanic voters are 30 percent of the vote in a Republican primary, and he says, "Let's do business with Fidel Castro." And those things are tough and place him out of the Republican mainstream.

COOPER: Although I do think his line about Raul Castro: what would you say if Raul -- if you were talking to Raul Castro in the White House, he would say, "Why are you calling?"

KING: He was funny all night. He challenged them to a 25-mile bike ride in the Texas heat, and nobody took him up on that one.

BORGER: Paul was funny. Santorum really did the attacking for Gingrich against Romney. And was the most effective, I think, attack person.

COOPER: We've got to take a break. We're going to have more about Ron Paul after the break. And after tonight's debate, who do you predict will win Florida's primary on Tuesday? We'll ask our panel when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RON PAUL (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We don't have a well- managed border, so I think we need more resources and I think most of the other candidates would agree we need more resources. But where are the resources going to come from?

I have a suggestion: I think we spend way too much time worrying about the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Use some of those resources on our own border.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: That was Ron Paul talking about border security and also the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Predictions for what's going to happen here and final thoughts for tonight?

GERGEN: I'm mystified by Newt Gingrich. Charles (ph) said he didn't show up in Jacksonville. But as to what's going to happen, it's interesting. InTrade before the debate, had 82 percent chance of Romney winning the nomination. After the debate, 89 percent. Chance to win Florida, 91 percent. That's about it.

BORGER: And there's something else that came out this evening that's very important, which is a "Wall Street Journal" poll. And it's very clear from that poll that independent voters don't like what they've been seeing at these debates, and in a matchup between Barack Obama and Newt Gingrich, Barack Obama wins by double digits.

KING: Team Romney is very confident, Anderson. They say it was breaking their way before the debate. They're very confident after the debate. They believe Mitt Romney will win the Florida primary. That doesn't mean it's over. When Newt Gingrich loses, that's when he gets more aggressive. This tug of war for the Republicans' soul will go on.

BRAZILE: I believe Barack Obama will eventually win Florida. And what do I know? I ran Al Gore's campaign. I can't win.

COOPER: All right. Ari.

FLEISCHER: What propelled Newt in South Carolina was the debate performances. We all knew it when the debate as in the middle of the debate, Newt was going to win. Tonight, you don't get that sense of surge. I think Romney takes Florida, and this is the easiest prediction of them all, we all know it, the Giants beat the Patriots.

COOPER: Erick Erickson.

ERICKSON: You know, I think Romney does win Florida. I think this locked it in. If you're Newt, you live by the debate and you die by the debate.

I do think, though, that to Gloria's point, these debates overall make it more problematic for the Republicans in November. If the economy improves, Barack Obama, they're going to have a very hard time beating him with either Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney.

COOPER: And so you think all these candidates continue on past Florida?

ERICKSON: I think so.

COOPER: Fascinating. We've got to go. Gloria Borger, David Gergen, Donna Brazile, Ari Fleischer, Erick Erickson -- I think I got everybody. That's it. Thanks for watching. If you missed any of tonight's debate, you can see it in its entirety, starting right now.