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Meet the Press - November 29, 2015

CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday, campaign 2016 and this burning question: can anything stop Donald Trump, even the truth?

(BEGIN TAPE)

DONALD TRUMP:

I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, when thousands and thousands of people were cheering.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

We'll ask Donald Trump about that and other claims. Also, Ben Carson travels to Jordan to bone up on foreign policy. He joins me this morning with a report on his trip. Plus, there may be no bigger Republican endorsement than the one from the New Hampshire Union Leader. And this morning, surprising pick, could be a game changer in the Granite State.

And that attack in Colorado, Planned Parenthood says it was hateful rhetoric that has led to this kind of violence. Joining me this morning for insight and analysis are Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post, Molly Ball of The Atlantic Magazine, NBC's Andrea Mitchell, and radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt. Welcome to Sunday. It's Meet the Press.

CHUCK TODD:

Good Sunday morning. No leftovers for this show, I promise you. This is one of those moments in the presidential campaign where you realize everything is about to happen. In just the next few weeks, we'll see a Republican debate, two Democratic debates, the Christmas/New Year's break, and then, before you know it, Iowa and New Hampshire will be here in early February. But we begin with a question that has confounded the political class for months. Can anything stop Donald Trump, even the truth?

Hillary Clinton, Ben Carson, Chris Christie all have been called out for what Stephen Colbert once dubbed as "truthiness." But no one has had more controversial statements questioned than the man who will join us in just a moment, Donald Trump.

(BEGIN TAPE)

FEMALE DONALD TRUMP SUPPORTER:

Bends the truth. You know what? He's still going to get things done.

CHUCK TODD:

This week, Donald Trump appeared to do more than merely bend the truth.

DONALD TRUMP:

I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering.

CHUCK TODD:

That 9/11 claim was widely debunked by city officials, factcheck.org, and NBC News. PolitiFact gave Trump a Pants on Fire rating. Still, Trump doubled down.

DONALD TRUMP:

They were dancing in the street. And they were dancing on rooftops. I'm not makin' that up.

CHUCK TODD:

And fact checkers have not been able to stop Trump from saying this again and again.

DONALD TRUMP:

Now I hear we want to take in 200,000 Syrians. Right? And they could be-- listen, they could be ISIS.

DONALD TRUMP:

You know, with 200,000, that's like an army.

CHUCK TODD:

Actually, the Obama administration plans to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year. Do voters care?

MALE DONALD TRUMP SUPPORTER:

When the media asks questions about him bending the truth, what's going on in Washington right now? There's never been more truth bending in our lives.

CHUCK TODD:

Just 19% of Americans say they feel they can trust their government most or all of the time. And Trump supporters like his overall message, even if he strays from the facts. Trump is not the only candidate stretching the truth. Ben Carson said this on Syria.

DR. BEN CARSON:

We also must recognize that it's a very complex place. You know, the Chinese are there.

CHUCK TODD:

Later, Carson's campaign tried to clarify, saying he meant Chinese weapons and equipment were in Syria, not the Chinese military. Then, there's Hillary Clinton and her evolving explanations about her email server.

HILLARY CLINTON:

It was fully above board. The people in the government knew that I was using a personal account.

CHUCK TODD:

But many of those people, including the president, have said they did not know she used it exclusively for government business. Just 27% of all voters and 52% of Democratic primary voters give Clinton a good rating on being honest and straightforward. Despite their problems with the truth, Trump and Clinton remain their parties' frontrunners.

PETER HART:

If Diogenes were looking for that honest man, once they got past Bernie Sanders in the presidential election, they'd be looking for a long time. The voters can't find that honest person in 2016.

CHUCK TODD:

I'm joined on the phone by the Republican presidential front runner right now, Donald Trump. Mr. Trump, welcome back to Meet the Press.

DONALD TRUMP:

Good morning.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you about these claims this way. You demand and you've demanded of me pinpoint accuracy when I report on things about you, including, for instance, your net worth. Why shouldn't we demand the same pinpoint accuracy in the claims that you make? Isn't it hypocritical of you calling us out if we're not calling you out when you stray from the truth?

DONALD TRUMP:

Well, now people have got my net worth right. And they're saying what my real net worth is for a long time, you know. As a private company, they weren't doing that. But now they're doing it, largely I guess due to the big filing that I made with the federal government, with the F.C.C. As far as all of these claims, I believe that it's the Obamas' intention. They said 10,000 people, Syrians. We don't want them. Because we don't know who they are. And I love the idea of building a safe zone someplace in Syria.

But they said 10,000. And yet, the Democratic debate, they said 65,000, to the best of my recollection. Hillary said it, and so did Bernie Sanders. You're saying Bernie Sanders is so honest. I doubt that very much. But Bernie Sanders said it and Hillary said it. I think they were talking in the Democrat debate. I think they were talking about 65,000. I happened upon a certain amount of knowledge, I'm very friendly with a lot of people on both sides, that Obama's plan is 200,000 to 250,000.

So, he said 10,000. The debate said 65,000 already, before we even start. And I think what he really has in mind is 200,000 people and maybe even more than that coming into our country. And we can't have it. We don't know who these people are. They're undocumented totally. And by the way, even if it's 10,000, we can't have it. We can't have people coming in that we know nothing about. There is no paperwork, and for good reason. But there is no paperwork. And this is going to be, or has the potential to be, one big, fat Trojan horse. And we cannot have that, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Well, let's back up here a minute. Let's go to this Jersey City comment. You said you saw this. Nobody can find evidence of this. And, more importantly, the article that you tweeted out that's backed you up, that in itself, there were three or four different reports that month in New Jersey that said it was a myth that was spread, that it was a false rumor. F.B.I., you name it. Where did you see this?

DONALD TRUMP:

Chuck, I saw it on television. So did many other people. And many--

CHUCK TODD:

In Jersey City--

DONALD TRUMP:

--many people. I said hundreds. In the area. I--

CHUCK TODD:

--you saw during Jersey City? Okay.

DONALD TRUMP:

--heard Patterson. Excuse me. I've heard Jersey City. I've heard Patterson. It was 14 years ago. But I saw it on television. I saw clips. And so did many other people. And many people saw it in person. I've had hundreds of phone calls to the Trump Organization saying, "We saw it. It was dancing in the streets." Now, by the way The Washington Post I tried to pull back, but the Washington Post reported tailgate parties and reports of tailgate parties.

Tailgate parties means, like, for a football game where you have hundreds and hundreds, and maybe even thousands, of people having tailgate parties. I saw it at the time. I stick by it. Hundreds of people have confirmed it.

CHUCK TODD:

This didn't happen in New Jersey. There were plenty of reports. And you're feeding that stereotype.

DONALD TRUMP:

Chuck, it did happen in New Jersey. I have hundreds of people that agree with me.

CHUCK TODD:

But they want to agree with you that doesn't make it true.

DONALD TRUMP:

Chuck, you have a huge Muslim population over there. And that's fine. But you have a huge Muslim population, between Patterson and different places and Jersey City, an unbelievable large population. If they're going to be doing it at soccer games, if they're going to be doing it all around the world, it was being done.

When the Trade Center came down, it was done all around the world. And you know that because that has been reported very strongly. Why wouldn't it have taken place? I've had hundreds of people call in and tweet in on Twitter, saying that they saw it and I was 100% right.

Now, the Washington Post alsowrote about tailgate parties. We're looking for other articles. And we're looking for other clips. And I wouldn't be surprised if we found them, Chuck. But for some reason, they're not that easy to come by. I saw it. So many people saw it, Chuck. And, so, why would I take it back? I'm not going to take it back.

CHUCK TODD:

Well just because somebody repeats something doesn't make it true. And I guess that's actually--

DONALD TRUMP:

Chuck, I've had hundreds. I don't mean I had two calls, Chuck. Even yesterday, I was in Sarasota, Florida. And people were saying they lived in Jersey, they--

CHUCK TODD:

People weren't saying. If I said people--

DONALD TRUMP:

--moved down to Florida because taxes are a lot lower in Florida. They told me there that they saw it.

CHUCK TODD:

Mr. Trump. If I said, "Well, people have said Mr. Trump's net worth is $10 billion," you would say that was crazy. You wouldn't make a business deal--

DONALD TRUMP:

But that's a very different. It's much different.

CHUCK TODD:

--based on re-tweets and based on hearsay. You're running for president of the United States. Your words matter. Truthfulness matters. Fact-based stuff matters.

DONALD TRUMP:

Take it easy, Chuck. Just play cool. This is people in this country that love our country that saw this, by the hundreds they're calling, and they're tweeting. And there's a lot of people. In Sarasota, people were telling me yesterday they used to live in New Jersey. They remember it vividly. They thought it was disgusting.

So, these are people that saw it, too. The Washington Post reported it. Many, many people have seen it. I have a very good memory, I'll tell you. I saw it somewhere on television many years ago. And I never forgot it. And it was on television, too.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you about your reaction to what happened in Colorado.

DONALD TRUMP:

Okay. I think it's terrible. I mean, terrible. It's more of the same. And I think it's a terrible thing. And he's a maniac! He's a maniac.

CHUCK TODD:

Now, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood is concerned that the heated rhetoric around the Planned Parenthood debate could've had an adverse effect, basically, on this mentally disturbed individual. Do you think the rhetoric got out of hand on Planned Parenthood?

DONALD TRUMP:

No. I think he's a sick person. And I think he was probably a person ready to go. We don't even know the purpose. I mean, he hasn't come out, to the best of my knowledge, with a statement as to why it happened to be at that location.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, we have reporting.

DONALD TRUMP:

Nobody knows. He lived in a different area.

CHUCK TODD:

We have reporting that he was talking about baby parts and things like that from law enforcement officials during his interview.

DONALD TRUMP:

Well, I will tell you there is a tremendous group of people that think it's terrible, all of the videos that they've seen with some of these people from Planned Parenthood talking about it like you're selling parts to a car. I mean, there are a lot of people that are very unhappy about that.

Now, I know some of the tapes were perhaps not pertinent. I know that a couple of people that were running for office or are running for office on the Republican side were commenting on tapes that weren't appropriate. But there were many tapes that are appropriate in terms of commenting on. And there are people that are extremely upset about it. It looks like you're talking about parts to some machine or something. And they're not happy about it.

CHUCK TODD:

Does that mean you're not surprised that someone might take an extreme reaction to it?

DONALD TRUMP:

Well, this was an extremist. And this was a man who obviously they said prior to this was mentally disturbed. So, he's a mentally disturbed person. There's no question about that.

CHUCK TODD:

But it does sound like you understand why people might react this way.

DONALD TRUMP:

Well, there's tremendous dislike. I can say that. Because I go to rallies. And I have by far, and you will admit that I think, the biggest crowds, nobody even close. And that includes Bernie Sanders, by the way, whose crowds are going down, down, down like a rock ever since he gave Hillary a free pass on the email?. But I see a lot of anxiety and I see a lot of dislike for Planned Parenthood. There's no question about that.

CHUCK TODD:

Is there a way you could lose this nomination and feel as if you were treated fairly by the Republican Party?

DONALD TRUMP:

Yes, there is. And there's also a way I could lose the nomination and feel that I was treated unfairly by the Republican Party.

CHUCK TODD:

And right now, you feel the Republican Party is doing what?

DONALD TRUMP:

Right now, I have no opinion. I just know that I'm winning by a lot. I really have no opinion.

CHUCK TODD:

You haven't decided whether it's fair or not?

DONALD TRUMP:

But I'm winning by a lot. Yes, I have no opinion right now. I can say that many, many people think that I'm not being treated fairly, where these guys that are down at 1% and 2% want to take negative ads. I can say also FOX just came out with a poll where I'm easily beating Hillary Clinton, I'm beating her by a lot. And that just came out. So, you know, that's a good sign.

CHUCK TODD:

Alright.

DONALD TRUMP:

The mainstream media and, you know, Republicans, I have no real feeling as to whether or not I'm being treated fairly. But I promise you I will let you know at some point. I hope I'm being treated fairly. Because Chuck, that was my deal. My deal. I signed a pledge. My deal was that I would be treated fairly. And I hope that's going to be the case.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Well, we are long overdue for a face to face. I think we're putting it in the works, hopefully before Christmas. Mr. Trump, thanks for coming on.

DONALD TRUMP:

I look forward to it. Thank you very much, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

You bet.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, let's bring in the panel. Eugene Robinson, of course, columnist for the Washington Post. Molly Ball covers politics for The Atlantic Magazine. Andrea Mitchell is our chief foreign affairs correspondent who was all over the Clinton campaign. And, of course, Hugh Hewitt, radio talk show host who has been a must-stop for all the Republican candidates. I can't wait, though, until a couple of-- you and Hillary Clinton tussle.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

I have been looking forward to it.

CHUCK TODD:

I think she ought to do it. I think it'll be very interesting. Hugh, let me get your reaction to this. You saw it in the piece. Trump supporters don't care if he gets fact checked and don't care if the fact checks prove to be, you know, false.

HUGH HEWITT:

Trump supporters are like Lincoln Chafee: blocks of granite. And they are not moving easily. And they're not going to move over the 9/11 story. And fact checkers are themselves perceived to be agenda driven, in many respects. And they would like to see an equal amount of the time given to Hillary Clinton's claim to being under sniper fire in Bosnia or trying to join the Marine Corps or any of her, as are given to Donald Trump. But here's the key thing. Elizabeth Loftus is a professor at the University of California Irvine who has done a TED Talk on memory, which people have to watch. Because memory is different from facts. You cannot fact check memory.

CHUCK TODD:

No. And that's the thing, you can't crawl inside his head.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

But you can fact check events, though. The events he's talking about did not happen, other than the reporter whose work he cites, says they were unconfirmed reports. "Gee, I don't remember anything."

CHUCK TODD:

And by the way, three weeks later the The Newark Star-Ledger re-reported the rumors and started the vicious rumor that was started.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

And the then attorney general of New Jersey says, "No. We checked it out. It was a false report. It did not happen."

ANDREA MITCHELL:

But it's not only that that didn't happen. "200,000 Syrian refugees are coming." It's not only that the facts are wrong. It's that what he is saying is so emotionally and, you know, politically powerful. He is lighting fires. He is turning people against people. He is misstating the facts of what's happening domestically, what's happening with Muslims. The kinds of facts that he is misstating are so much.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Incendiary.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Incendiary.

MOLLY BALL:

But here's the political genius of Donald Trump, right. What he is doing is different. All politicians say things that are technically true but a little bit misleading or a lot misleading. They say whatever they can get away with. And if they're called on it, they'll walk it back a little bit. They'll trim their sails.

CHUCK TODD:

Truth is conditional. As we found out, mostly true, half true--

MOLLY BALL:

Yes. They'll just talk about the definition of "is." Donald Trump doesn't do that. He creates an entire alternate reality. And he does not back down.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Because he pays no price for it with his supporters.

MOLLY BALL:

And it is seductive to people because it is the world they want to live in, not the real world.

CHUCK TODD:

We contended this weekend, are we living in a post-truth world. What's interesting here, what do voters want? Do they want honesty? Or do they want something else? Let me put up two different comparisons that we did in our last poll about the honest and trustworthy question between Trump and Hillary Clinton, and the temperament question between Trump and Hillary Clinton.

And look at this. Donald Trump is seen as more honest and straightforward among all voters than Hillary Clinton is. That would be quite alarming if you're Hillary Clinton. Now, look at the temperament question. And this number is almost reverse. It's Hillary Clinton that is seen as viewed as having the better temperament versus Donald Trump. Peter Hart contends, Hugh, that it's better to be seen as having the right temperament than being the most honest and straightforward.

HUGH HEWITT:

And I think both of those are going to be eclipsed by who can deliver safety. I think after Paris the axis of the race shifted and people are looking for who will make them safe. And we mentioned in the green room, there is a New York Times piece today on Libya by David Kirkpatrick and Eric Schmitt about the fact that Libya has become ISIS 2.0. And there will be another terrorist attack. And if there is one in the United States like Paris, whoever promises safety, regardless of their trustworthiness, regardless of anything else, and can deliver wins.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

In fact, two weeks ago here, right after Paris, I posited that Trump was going to benefit more than anyone else. Because he is big and strong. And it was counterintuitive, and I was a little nervous about saying it, but look at the numbers and the way Carson has slid, which we can talk about.

But the fact is that Trump is positing that he can take care of people. And raising people's fears, as you said, is incendiary. And I think that the fact of truthfulness doesn't matter, especially when people like us are doing the fact checking.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, it's funny you talk about this. Look, PolitiFact put this up. And I gotta to show you on this. On the candidates that have had the mostly false to false ratings, three have had a majority of the facts that have been fact checked by PolitiFact have been treated as false or mostly false.

And it's the top three candidates in the Republican side. So, it's Carson, Trump, and Cruz. Eugene, basically it goes to Hugh's point. The fact checkers are viewed as having an agenda. So, the more they say, "You're wrong," the more their supporters say, "They're right."

EUGENE ROBINSON:

I know. And by the way, the fact checkers did fact check Hillary Clinton on her under-fire claims. You know, I mean, it's not as if they haven't done all this stuff.

HUGH HEWITT:

Just intensity Eugene, just intensity of coverage.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Well, but there's a Republican campaign going on now. So, who are you going to fact check if you're going to fact check the Republican candidates? But, you know, I think you are right that safety and strength are the theme for this phase of the campaign. I am not sure that one can say right now that they are indeed the main themes of the entire campaign.

HUGH HEWITT:

When Hillary Clinton says, "The reset button worked because Medvedev was in power," that's just palpably false. Everyone knows Putin was running it. That doesn't get fact checked, every time she tries to explain it with a reset button. That's why Republicans don't trust fact checkers. Because they allow her to slide with something like the reset button. It worked.

CHUCK TODD:

Selectively, but the whole point of it, it's about the facts, period. Right? And I think that that's ultimately what I think we're wondering why the voters aren't demanding that.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And it's because the media are less credible as fact checkers.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah, and the government. All right. We're going to pause here. I'd like to think we've got some credibility left. Back in a moment with the man who until recently was leading in most Iowa polls. It's Ben Carson and he's joining us from Amman, Jordan.

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. It's fair to say no candidate has been hurt more by the focus on foreign policy after Paris than Ben Carson. He has already slipped from first place in two Iowa polls, but to bolster his foreign policy credentials, he is visiting Syrian refugee camps in Jordan. And this weekend his campaign released this online video.

(BEGIN TAPE)

BEN CARSON: President Obama attacked me for not wanting Syrian refugees to enter our country. We need leaders who stop whining and start winning.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

And I'm pleased to say Dr. Carson joins me now from the Jordanian capital of Amman. Dr. Carson, let me just start with a basic question. What did you learn on this trip?

DR. BEN CARSON:

Well, you know, it is always wonderful to see things firsthand and to have an opportunity to actually go to the refugee camps and to some of the medical facilities and actually talk to the people, not only to the Jordanians, who are incredibly generous in terms of their support of refugees, and that's been the case for decades now, but also to the Syrian refugees themselves to find out what they think about the whole situation. What are their wants and desires?

The Syrians want to be in Syria. They want to be repatriated in their own country and they are looking for a mechanism to get there. But in the meantime the facilities that have been offered to them here in Jordan have been very satisfactory. When I asked them what Americans could do and they said if Americans could support those facilities to a greater degree because they have much more capacity here in Jordan and I suspect in other countries as well.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me just play something here. Here's how you described the Syrian refugee crisis, some might say in an inartful way, a couple weeks ago. Here it is.

(BEGIN TAPE)

DR. BEN CARSON :

If there's a rabid dog running around in your neighborhood, you're probably not going to assume something good about that dog. And you're probably going to put your children out of the way. It doesn't mean that you hate all dogs.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Given-- after meeting the Syrian refugees, do you regret that language?

DR. BEN CARSON:

Well, you know, here's the interesting thing, Chuck. The Syrians and the people here completely understood what I was saying. It's only the news media in our country that thinks that you're calling Syrians dogs. They understand here that we're talking about the jihadists, the Islamic terrorists. And it's very obvious to most of them. The reception is quite warm. So, maybe they can teach us a little bit about how to interpret language.

CHUCK TODD:

You said something else in your Facebook post. You said, "We must find a political end to this conflict," meaning you don't think there is a military solution to the Syria situation.

DR. BEN CARSON:

Well, I think the military solution, obviously, is to try to exterminate ISIS and the other radical jihadists who will not allow peace to occur under any circumstances until they achieve their goals. But in terms of a place like Syria, you have to recognize that the likelihood of an Assad regime maintaining peaceful control is extremely small. And the likelihood of, you know, El Masrah or any of the anti-Assad factions maintaining control is also very small. So, you need to be working on some type of mechanism to keep it from being in perpetual turmoil.

CHUCK TODD:

So, it sounds like you think this strategy is the right one. You would keep pursuing it. Does it mean you would speed it up? Intensify it? Just, help me out here.

DR. BEN CARSON:

I think the most compassionate thing when you're fighting a war is to do it quickly. The longer you drag it out, the more people are hurt. And I think we need to work in close conjunction with our Department of Defense, with our Pentagon, with our experts. Ask them, "What do you need in order to accomplish this?" And then, let's make a decision. Are we going to give that to them? Or are we going to keep, you know, sort of giving them things, you know, piecemeal?

CHUCK TODD:

And let me just ask you a quick domestic issue. I know you've been traveling. There was this shooting in Colorado Springs. And overnight, there's now been reports that the shooter was yelling about baby parts. Planned Parenthood put out this statement, "We've seen an alarming increase in hateful rhetoric and smear campaigns against abortion providers and patients over the last few months. That environment breeds acts of violence. Americans reject the hatred and vitriol that fueled this tragedy." That was, again, from a Planned Parenthood Rocky Mountain spokesperson. Do you believe that the rhetoric got too heated on Planned Parenthood? And are you concerned that it may have motivated a mentally disturbed individual?

BEN CARSON:

I think any hateful rhetoric directed at anyone from any source is too much. It's something that we need to get away from. We have to stop allowing ourselves to be pushed into different corners and then throwing hateful barbs at each other, you know. All you have to do is go to the internet and read any article. And you go to the comments section, you don't get five comments down before people are calling each other idiots and all kinds of names, you know. When did we become so immature? We must somehow manage to regain the high ground and understand that we're not each other's enemies, even though we may have some differences of opinions about things. Let's stop trying to destroy each other. And let's work constructively. Let's put things on the table. Let's have a conversation about the rationale for our approaches.

CHUCK TODD:

That's a good way to end things. Dr. Carson, appreciate you coming on Meet the Press. And travel home safely, sir.

DR. BEN CARSON:

Thank you.

DR. BEN CARSON:

You got it. Coming up, more on whether it was hateful rhetoric that led to that attack in Colorado. As I told you, Planned Parenthood indicates yes. But first, there are 63 countries in the coalition taking on ISIS. But why does it seem as if no one is actually helping the United States? We'll ask the former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates right after this.

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. The ISIS Paris terrorist attacks have increased the urgency of efforts to build a meaningful coalition to defeat this terror group. And there was some encouraging news on Thursday when Russia's Vladimir Putin seemed to signal that he was open to cooperating with a U.S. led coalition. However, this came two days after a Russian jet had been shot down by an American ally, Turkey, for allegedly violating Turkish airspace which of course, complicates efforts by the U.S. and others to coordinate a common international approach to taking on ISIS.

I caught up with Robert Gates, who of course served as Secretary of Defense under both Presidents Bush and Obama and I started by asking for his reaction to the downing of that Russian jet.

(BEGIN TAPE)

ROBERT GATES:

I think that the biggest concern is, really, the overall relationship between Russia and Turkey, and what this says about the prospects for a broader coalition in the region. I think the Russians were embarrassed, frankly, by their plane getting shot down. It's been a long time since a Russian fire combat aircraft was shot down by hostile fire. And especially by a different country.

And so I think it is going to complicate coordination in Syria. Maybe it will accelerate it, who knows? But I do worry that the overall relationship between Russia and Turkey has turned so sour. And neither of these strongmen, Putin or Erdogan, willing to back down.

CHUCK TODD:

We've heard a lot from the administration about this coalition. If you ask them, they tell you there's 63 members of the coalition. We've been able to come up with 14 countries that have, in some form or another, contributed to air strikes. And it's a loose definition of contributed. It doesn't seem as if this coalition is anything more than a name only. Am I being too cynical?

ROBERT GATES:

I think to a little degree. The truth is it's better to have dozens and dozens of countries supporting what you're trying to do, even if it's only diplomatic support. You know, we have 38, I think, countries in the coalition for the first Gulf War. And, the truth is, only four or five of them actually ever did any fighting.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

ROBERT GATES:

So it is important, from a diplomatic and a political standpoint, to have a large number. But the reality is, I mean, the truth is if you had all 60 in there trying to do something militarily, you would have chaos on your hands. So in some ways having four or five or six that have real military capabilities being involved makes it easier to manage.

CHUCK TODD:

Can we make any progress against ISIS if Turkey and Saudi Arabia are not, sort of, following the U.S. strategic goal here?

ROBERT GATES:

Well, I think that those two really do have to be onboard or we have to be onboard with them in terms of priorities. And I think we need to look at what they are trying to accomplish. What their goals are. As I said, most of these countries have another agenda. The Saudis are mostly worried about Iran. The Turks more about the Kurds, and so on.

But they both are united in the fact that Assad has to go before you can make any real progress against ISIS. I think we need to listen to them if we want them to be active and aggressive members of the coalition. But the reality is, you know, you hear people talk about sending combat formations from Arab nations into Iraq to fight ISIS. That's just not going to happen.

First, they are not going to send their troops, not willing to send their troops. But second, the Iraqis probably wouldn't allow them to come anyway. You've got an Iranian influenced government in Baghdad, and the notion that they would invite Saudi or Gulf State troops into their country to fight what is an internal fight in their eyes, I think, is very unrealistic.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, whether you realize it or not or maybe it's only what I'm hearing, but you seem to be painting a picture that inevitably says, well, the U.S. is going to have no choice but to, if not totally go it alone, go it to the point of they might as well be going it alone. Because the other countries aren't going to be all fully in on our priorities.

ROBERT GATES:

No, I don't think we have to go it alone. We obviously have some strong allies like France. But what we do need is to have some allies in the region where we're on the same page and where we have the same strategy. And I get it about the negotiations in Vienna and so on, but we need to understand who is going to be critical to what is happening in Syria, itself.

CHUCK TODD:

The President's strategy. Should he speed it up? Speed up the implementation of the strategy? Or completely change it? Because there seems to be-- that seems to be among the debates. Well, the strategy, the right strategy, it just needs to be sped up.

ROBERT GATES:

Well, I think it does need to be sped up and intensified. I think that while ISIS is a long-term problem for us, we have near-term issues associated with it. All you have to do is look at the downing of the Russian airliner and the attack in Paris and the attacks in Beirut and so on. So we have a near-term problem that needs to be addressed, or a near-term challenge from ISIS that needs to be addressed.

But then I hear people talk about a completely different strategy. I don't know what that is. You know, putting tens of thousands of U.S. troops in there is not a near-term solution. It would take months and months, even if you decided you wanted to do it, to put the logistics in place, get the troops trained, and so on. And then I'm not sure they don't aggravate the problem.

You're not going to have combat formations coming out of Raqqa wearing ISIS uniforms to confront American troops. They're going to melt into a population of several hundred thousand people or more broadly. So I don't see what a totally different kind of strategy, what kind of totally different strategy, would actually work in those circumstances.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Robert Gates, the former secretary of defense to Presidents Bush and Obama. Coming up, it may be the biggest political endorsement of the Republican primary season. And it's the one that comes from the New Hampshire Union Leader. And today, it went to Chris Christie. You may be surprised. Will it be a game changer in New Hampshire? The publisher of the Union Leader joins me next.

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. In just about every presidential election the biggest issue for voters is of course, the economy. But whose economy? It turns out Democrats and Republicans are faring very differently. And that may explain the deepening political divide in this country.

Let me show you something here. With the help from our friends at the American Communities Project we looked at the employment data in counties that are predominantly Democratic, which is mostly big cities and urban suburbs, and those that are mostly Republican in rural America, and wait until you see these differences.

Almost half of the democratic primary electorate, 49 percent, live in big cities and urban suburbs. And in both of these types of communities, more people have joined the workforce than left it, and guess what? This group is relatively optimistic about the economy going forward.

Now, let's look at the other side of things. About a third, 31 percent of the Republican electorate lives in rural and faith-driven America. And there, more people have left the workforce than joined it since 2000. And not surprisingly, this group is more likely to be pessimistic about where the economy is headed in the next month.

So, what does all of this mean? These numbers, I think can help explain why Democrats and Republicans view this presidential race so differently. If you're a democrat, you're happy with the economy, you're probably not very likely to want to see a change in leadership. If you're a Republican in a more depressed part of the country, you're more depressed about the economy and this may be one more reason you're eager to see a change at the top.

In other words, the political divide in this country is being matched and even driven by an economic divide, and they've now fallen into red/blue patterns. That helps explain why Democrats and Republicans want very different things from their candidates. And it also explains why we're so polarized and why we're not looking like we can get a lot of things done, because we can't even agree on what the problems are. It all depends on what part of America you represent.

Coming up next, new indication that the shooting at the Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic was politically motivated. How will that play in the campaign going forward?

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. I want you to take a look at the front page of the New Hampshire Union Leader. And it's some big news for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. He has secured perhaps the most important newspaper endorsement in the Republican primary season. The question now, will that endorsement give Christie, who has been struggling in low single digits in the polls, the momentum to launch a real challenge in the Granite State nationally, and as well as nationally.

Joining me the now is the publisher of the New Hampshire Union Leader and the writer of that editorial Joe McQuaid. The panel is also here. So, Joe, Chris Christie. First of all, tell us how you cut the field to get to the point where you decided to pick Chris Christie. He was among a group of how many that you were seriously considering for the endorsement?

JOE MCQUAID:

I think we were really looking just at the governors. And I think after the experience of the past eight years, freshmen senators without a lot of experience are not good.

CHUCK TODD:

You punish Cruz and Rubio for basically having the same resume as Barack Obama?

JOE MCQUAID:

Yes. Punishment is kind of a harsh word for the Union Leader.

CHUCK TODD:

Fair enough.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

It's bold, perhaps.

JOE MCQUAID:

Disparage, things of that nature. So, it was the governors. And Walker didn't last long enough to really be under consideration. I'm not sure why Governor Perry didn't get any traction. But it was left with Kasich, Bush, and Christie. And from that, myself and my editorial writer and some people that I respect in the community, we looked. And Christie is the guy who can take the fight to Trump, Hillary, ISIS.

CHUCK TODD:

It's interesting. You said-- seemed to say when we were talking earlier Christie is the most Trump like, and that was an asset in some ways?

JOE MCQUAID:

It really is. Because Americans seem to be fed up with Washington. And they looking for somebody who speaks with the "bark off," as we say in New Hampshire. And I think Christie does that. But as we said in the editorial, he does that knowing what he's talking about, as opposed to some others who don't.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, why Christie over Jeb Bush? Jeb Bush you could argue had a more successful tenure as governor. You know, Chris Christie had a lot of downgrades. The economic leadership in that state is, at best, at a standstill.

JOE MCQUAID:

Worst state going in. Jeb Bush had one of the better states going in. Jeb Bush has not been a U.S. Attorney, which I think is also a key in these troubled times. And Jeb Bush doesn't look like he wants it. And the public senses that. So, I'm looking for somebody who can get the nomination. And I don't think either Bush or Kasich can do so.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Is it fair to exclude Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, though? I know the analogy to a freshman senator. But Ted Cruz doing well in Iowa now and showing his experience, showing he's got a lot of legal experience, he's highly educated. Why not someone like Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio?

JOE MCQUAID:

Well, fairness in politics you know not fair to exclude. But I take your point. But I don't think either one of these fine young guys has the administrative experience and knows how the buttons are pushed in Washington, in the government circles.

HUGH HEWITT:

He knows how to push buttons on bridges. And as a Republican primary voter, Bridgegate and the Second Amendment, how did you deal with those two issues?

JOE MCQUAID:

Well, Second Amendment Christie sort of waltzed around and came to a position which we could agree with, which is the Second Amendment rules. Bridgegate, I was astonished when I asked him what, if anything, he'd learned from this. And he said he learned not to be so trusting.

And I said, "You were a U.S. attorney. You trust people?" But I think it shows that it's a big state and he's weathered that. There are a couple who were under indictment. Nothing has tied Governor Christie to Bridgegate. I asked him when this trial is likely to happen. He said it's supposed to be in the spring. He suspects, for some reason, it will be in the fall. But I don't think they're going to lay a glove on Christie. Because I don't think he had anything to do with it.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

You know, Chris Christie has been moving up in New Hampshire. He's not leading, however, in New Hampshire. Are the voters or New Hampshire looking for something different this time? Are they looking for Donald Trump? Are you in tuned, this very powerful guy and your endorsement is very powerful in New Hampshire. But is this what the voters want?

JOE MCQUAID:

We will see on February 9th if Secretary of State Gardner has the primary on that day. And all this business about polls and leading in the polls and poll driven, I think, has been damaging to elections of the United States. It used to be that people in Iowa and New Hampshire got to pick. Now, it's Fox and the other networks saying, "We'll determine who gets on the stage."

CHUCK TODD:

Let's look at the state of the race here, and then let's broaden the conversation out. Joe, we won't keep you on the hot seat. You just to get play panelist, like with the rest of us. I want to shift to Ted Cruz, who is having a moment. You brought up Ted Cruz here. I joked with you, Joe, that the previous writers of the Union Leader, the late Loebs, they probably would be Cruz people.

JOE MCQUAID:

Well, Nackey would still be going for Pat Buchanan.

CHUCK TODD:

She'd be going for Pat. But they'd probably be Cruz people. But Cruz is moving. And Gene I wonder, and Molly, I wonder. He seems to be moving at the expense of Carson.

MOLLY BALL:

I think that's true. I think it's also-- I was at a Trump rally in South Carolina this week and almost literally every single person I talked to--these are all Trump supporters--and if they had a second choice, a lot of them are Trump or nothing, but if they had a second choice, it was Ted Cruz. And a lot of them what a Trump/Cruz or a Cruz/Trump ticket. And that was not the case a month or two ago. So there was not that buzz. So Trump is gaining mind share among the Republican primary voters. Carson is losing it partly because of the questions about his foreign policy acumen and the events overseas, people don't see him as tough enough. But he's a healer, he's a uniter, he doesn't have that machismo that Trump has and that Cruz has to some extent.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, Hugh, tomorrow bulk data collection of the N.S.A. ends. Okay, it totally ends. It's totally changed. Ted Cruz is on one side of that issue, Marco Rubio on the other. Marco Rubio supporters, a super PAC, a 501(c)(4), have hit Cruz on this. Is Cruz vulnerable?

HUGH HEWITT:

Yes, he is. And the debate on the 15th on which I'm a panelist, that will come up. If I have any hope to turn that towards the national security focus, that is a major deal. Because the French, with the best homeland security in Europe, were not able to follow the terrorist attack, Paris, and the collection of metadata will matter. I don't know if, Joe, it mattered in New Hampshire. People don't much like that stuff.

CHUCK TODD:

I was going to say, "Live free or die" state, Libertarian.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Libertarian is part of the Republican Party.

JOE MCQUAID:

It's all about security now, though. And I think Governor Christie is on the right side of that issue.

CHUCK TODD:

And you think Cruz is on the wrong side of it?

JOE MCQUAID:

Oh, yes. I don't think Cruz is going to do well. But that's for the voters to decide.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

The one thing about Ted Cruz that has caused a lot of criticism in Washington is that he doesn't play nice, he doesn't get along, he criticizes his leaders. That's what's helping him out on campaign trail. In fact, he shares, Molly, those qualities with Donald Trump. He's a bomb thrower. He wants to blow it all up.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, and it's with Joe wanted with Christie?

JOE MCQUAID:

It is indeed, I think.

CHUCK TODD:

We see a pattern here.

JOE MCQUAID:

Christie is, if there's an insider who's an outsider, it's Christie. He's a Jersey guy who shoots from the lip, but he knows what he's talking about. And I think people are going to buy that.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, Joe, stick around. We're going to take a quick break. Back in 45 seconds with our End Game segment and the aftermath of that shooting in Colorado. Can our political leaders handle a debate that combines guns and abortion?

**COMMERCIAL BREAK**

CHUCK TODD:

End Game time and the panel is here. I want to talk about Colorado here, Molly. Look, we're now getting reporters from law enforcement officials, it may have been politically motivated. We heard what Planned Parenthood said. Democrats have been on one side of quickly coming out in support of Planned Parenthood. Republicans have been very hesitant about what they have said.

MOLLY BALL:

Well, and that seems obvious to me, right. This is an event that plays right into two major issues for the Democrats. And I think what it illustrates is the extent to which this election is, again, going to be a culture war on domestic issues. You have the Democrats really leaning into these issues that they used to be afraid of, being very strongly pro-abortion rights, standing with Planned Parenthood. That was a talking point, you know, long before this happened. But also, really leaning into these Second Amendment issues that Democrats have been so afraid of forever because they're so alienating to a lot of rural voters. Now, you have the Democrats feeling like the demographics are on their side, the culture is on their side. I don't know if that's true. But that is the--

CHUCK TODD:

Right. The politics that got raised on is totally what you said. Republicans went on the culture wars, Democrats lose. Now, Democrats are the ones that want a culture war.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Exactly. And we don't know this homicidal man. We don't know his mental state and what really prompted him, although there are some indicators. But the Second Amendment issue, the gun issue, is where Democrats really are coming together.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Well, we know he had a gun.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

We know he had a gun. And you had Donald Trump saying after Paris, after Chattanooga, "They should have been armed." Well, that is a completely different response than you're getting from Democrats.

CHUCK TODD:

Joe, I'm curious. In New Hampshire, you know, it used to be Democrats were always a little bit cautious on gun issues, particularly Democratic nominees for president, because they wanted to continue to carry places that were rural populations, Iowa, New Hampshire, where the Democrats are more pro-gun rights. Have things shifted in New Hampshire where it's really now polarized?

JOE MCQUAID:

I don't think so. And I think it's awful early to be criticizing Republicans for not jumping on the issue in Colorado until you see the specifics of the issue. But as far as guns in New Hampshire, if Hillary Clinton, who won eight years ago, and I expect she would win this time, not Bernie Sanders, she's going to have to waltz on the gun issue. Bernie Sanders is a gun guy from next door in Vermont. So, I don't think it's going to play the way it may play in other districts.

HUGH HEWITT:

You know Chuck, you said to Mr. Trump, "Words matter when you're running for president." In 2012, a domestic terrorist, Floyd Corkins, attacked the Family Research Council because they were against same-sex marriage. It was a terrorist attack. This was another terrorist attack. Words do matter. But they can't back people away from these issues.

CHUCK TODD:

Shouldn't we be describing-- It's interesting you say that. These are domestic terror attacks?

JOE MCQUAID:

Absolutely.

HUGH HEWITT:

Yes. Absolutely.

CHUCK TODD:

And we should be using that language?

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Absolutely. We should be. And you're right, just like that earlier incident and this incident. They're both domestic terrorism incidents. And we need to use that word, you know. It's a scary word for a lot of people. But that's what it is. It's violence to achieve political lengths.

HUGH HEWITT:

And a lot of crazy people out there are impacted by rhetoric, and so when you--

CHUCK TODD:

Well, that's what I'm thinking here. I'm, like, wondering. It's like, we call it this. But you're right. I mean, the mentally disturbed are the ones that are looking to create a rationalization for themselves.

JOE MCQUAID:

Well, what was the impact in the 1970s when the rate of domestic terrorism in this country was far from what it is now, much, much higher with bombings? And these were people with political ends. They weren't terror---

HUGH HEWITT:

Well, the rhetoric of the SD did have an impact on Weathermen. And they did kill people. And that's why rhetoric matters. But at the same time, we can't sanitize an issue. I will talk about the Planned Parenthood practices. They were selling baby parts. I will be happy to engage people. But I think we do have to recognize there are disturbed people on both ends of the spectrum who can be impacted by this language.

ANDREA MITCHELL: What was fascinating was to see the internal video, the live camera security that Planned Parenthood now has, which is how the police were able to document in real time where he was, where the hostages were, how to save people, the security that they have now.

HUGH HEWITT:

Officer Swasey, who gave his life, should be remembered this morning.

MOLLY BALL:

An extraordinary man.

HUGH HEWITT:

A pro-life pastor.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me move a little bit and close it with ISIS. You've heard Secretary Gates, Gene. And I thought what was interesting there is that he keeps coming back to, and it looks like to me the subtle advice he was giving the president, which is this: "You need to align your interests with the Saudis and the Turks. You have no choice." Which means, "You need to get rid of Assad first." And he kept coming back to it.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Yes. Right. He said, you know, "You have to do that. Because you need them."

CHUCK TODD:

Basically, ignore the Russians.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

You need that all in. Ignore the Russians, number one. Number two, he dismissed all this talk of huge numbers of U.S. troops and other troops. He said, you know, the basic plan is the right plan.

CHUCK TODD:

Right and--

ANDREA MITCHELL:

You can't ignore the Russians. You can't ignore the Iranians. You've got to come up with some sort of timetable. Because Russia is now, we've permitted Russia to become a major player here. It's interesting that the Arab members of this coalition have not flown any missions. Because the Saudis are so focused on Yemen, more than Assad. The Saudis are now completely embroiled in Yemen.

CHUCK TODD:

And as we know the Turks with the Kurds. Anyway, I'm going to have it there. Joe, we know when the Union Leader endorses. And they don't just do it on one day.

JOE MCQUAID:

No. We tend to --

CHUCK TODD:

So, Chris Christie's going to get a run here.

JOE MCQUAID:

We enforce it and the other guys might get some more unfair references.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, there you have it. I will leave it there. Joe McQuaid, good to see you. Thank you to a great panel. We'll be back next week. Because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

* * *END OF TRANSCRIPT* * *