Today on CNN’s Reliable Sources, two GOP presidential hopefuls, Dr. Ben Carson and former Governor Jim Gilmore (R-VA), joined host Brian Stelter. Both candidates discussed why they feel the current FOX News debate qualifying criterion is unfair and proposed their solutions to designing what they feel would be a more fair debate platform. Dr. Carson spoke about his own vision for America and why he feels Trump's poll numbers are so high.
Reliable Sources airs Sundays, 11 a.m. to noon (ET).
Video & Text highlights and a full transcript from the show are available below.
MANDATORY CREDIT for reference and usage: “CNN’s RELIABLE SOURCES”
Ben Carson on his GOP debate prep
Gilmore: Fox debate format is "improper"
Carson’s critiques of the FOX News debate criterion & what he would change: “…I am on record as wishing that perhaps more thought could be put into ways to include everybody. You know, I just don't see why everybody can't be – provided an equal platform on which to explain their vision for America. …if I were in charge, I would probably break it into two days, and put half the candidates on one day and half on the other day. And I would randomly select who was in each day.”
Gilmore’s critiques of the FOX News debate criterion & how it’s unfair: “…the fact is that this limitation by the RNC is improper. The RNC should never have put themselves in that kind of position. …The decision about who is going to be president of the United States doesn't belong with a Washington establishment or the news media and certainly not with the RNC. It belongs with the people of the United States, and every candidate ought to have a chance to give their views to the people of this country. …it could have been done any number of ways. You could have simply done two sessions, and done a random pick, and every candidate could have had the opportunity to get their views out.”
Carson on whether he believes Trump’s surge in the polls may affect his personal numbers: “Whether they are or not, I think, is irrelevant. This is a marathon and not a sprint. Numbers are going to go up and down. Things are going to change with time, and particularly as people have an opportunity to delve more deeply, not only into people's past, but into their solutions for the future. So, as it gets more serious, that's the time when I think we should pay much closer attention to the numbers.”
Carson on how he expects Trump to act at the FOX debate: “I actually think that Donald Trump is not going to be nearly as wild as people think he is. You know, he's a reasonable guy. He is not going to try to out-talk everybody else. I - that's my prediction. I don't think he will try to do it.”
Carson on what he would say to voters who don’t know who he is: “I would say listen carefully, because you need to get to hear what I have to say, as opposed to what other people have said that I say.”
THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: The first Republican presidential primary debate is four days away, and yet we still don't know what polls FOX News will be using to decide who is on the main stage. It's the top 10 candidates who will get invited to the prime-time debate on Thursday. And then there is an afternoon debate for the rest, sort of a consolation prize for them. So, if the debate were held today, here is what CNN's poll of polls shows.
These 10 candidates would be on stage, while seven others would be invited to the afternoon event. This morning, we're hearing more and more criticism of this debate criteria, including from Ben Carson, a Washington outsider and a world-famous neurosurgeon. He is set to be on the stage. He is polling pretty well. But he is concerned about some of his rivals whose voices won't be heard as loudly.
And he's joining me now to talk about that. Dr. Carson, thanks for being here.
BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
STELTER: Tell me what it's like to be a candidate in the days leading up to the first debate. Are you checking and rechecking the polls every day, making sure you're still in the top 10 that will be invited to the prime-time debate on Thursday?
CARSON: I have plenty of people who are doing that, so I don't have to do it, quite frankly. (LAUGHTER) But, you know, I'm not obsessing over it excessively. Everybody tells me, you're going to be there, so not to worry about it.
STELTER: And it looks like it. CNN poll of polls has you with five percent support, firmly in the middle of the pack. But I wonder is how you feel about the debate criteria, which suggests that six or seven of your counterparts, your competitors, will not be invited to the prime-time debate?
CARSON: Well, I am on record as wishing that perhaps more thought could be put into ways to include everybody. You know, I just don't see why everybody can't be, you know, provided an equal platform on which to explain their vision for America.
STELTER: You would rather see a debate stage of 16 or 17 podiums?
CARSON: Well, what I would - if I were in charge, I would probably break it into two days, and put half the candidates on one day and half on the other day. And I would randomly select who was in each day.
STELTER: I wonder if you think it's fair that a sitting governor is likely to be excluded, whether it's Chris Christie or John Kasich or Rick Perry, one of them likely to not be on stage with you on Thursday?
CARSON: Well, it would be - it would be, as I said, very nice to be able to hear everybody. And, fortunately, there are other mechanisms to get heard. You know, I have taken advantage of social media to a very significant degree.
STELTER: I wanted to play this video you produced this week with IJ Review, this operation video, such an unusual thing to see from a presidential candidate. But I am guessing the thinking behind it was, it's a nontraditional way to reach people who might not see you otherwise.
STELTER: Was this something where they came to you and asked you to do this? How did it come about?
CARSON: Yes. They just - they said, this is going to be fun. Would you mind doing this? (LAUGHTER) And, believe it or not, I actually do have a sense of humor. And I think it's good to see other parts of people.
CARSON: Maybe one day, they will demonstrate me playing pool.
STELTER: Let me ask you about the state of the race. I am a fellow Marylander. I know your resume well. You would be the outsider in this race, but Donald Trump has kind of taken up that identity. He is the one that is getting so much cable news attention. Do you feel your numbers are being deflated by Trump's surge in the race?
CARSON: Whether they are or not, I think, is irrelevant. This is a marathon and not a sprint. Numbers are going to go up and down. Things are going to change with time, and particularly as people have an opportunity to delve more deeply, not only into people's past, but into their solutions for the future. So, as it gets more serious, that's the time when I think we should pay much closer attention to the numbers.
STELTER: Last week on this program, Sean Spicer of the RNC said no more name-calling. Obviously, Trump has been insulting some of your - some of your rivals on the campaign trail. Do you agree with that call for no name-calling, invoking Reagan's 11th commandment?
CARSON: Well, certainly, that is my philosophy. I don't engage in that, because, you know, the problems that we face as a nation are so severe. There are several things that really threaten to destroy us. And if we get distracted with, you know, third-grade playground tactics, then we're going to get third-grade playground results. We can and we must do better.
STELTER: Well, I bring that up because...
CARSON: This is a very serious time.
STELTER: I bring that up because I have a feeling, with Trump at the center of that debate stage you're going to be on, that it's going to affect the whole debate, if he is insulting people or if he is using third-grade tactics, as you have said.
CARSON: Well, I actually think that Donald Trump is not going to be nearly as wild as people think he is. You know, he's a reasonable guy. He is not going to try to out-talk everybody else. I - that's my prediction. I don't think he will try to do it.
STELTER: So, we will see on Thursday. Let me show a poll statistic that I thought was very revealing. It's from a CNN/ORC poll. It shows that 53 percent of registered voters don't know who you are. Now, to me, that suggests this FOX debate is incredibly important for you, because it's a chance to reintroduce yourself to people who otherwise don't know who you are. What do you want to say to those people who haven't heard of you before or who don't know what you stand for?
CARSON: I would say listen carefully, because you need to get to hear what I have to say, as opposed to what other people have said that I say. I find it pretty amazing. You know, for instance, there are people who say, Carson thinks all welfare programs should be withdrawn and all safety nets, even though he perhaps benefited from those things. Where do they get this crap from? But at least people will have an opportunity to hear from me specifically what I think and how I think we ought to fix the system, so that people have the opportunity to climb up from a state of dependency and become part of the fabric that made America into a strong country.
STELTER: You asked, where do they get this stuff from? But where do they get it from? What's your impression? Is it sort of the Internet age, where anything Google-able is out there, even if it's not true?
CARSON: Yes. Well, I believe that certain people have a narrative. And, you know, people like me who grew up in dire poverty, without much in the way of sustenance, are not supposed to be able to make it without a lot of assistance from other people. And so they don't want that narrative out there. And they're going to fight it with every fiber they have. But the fact of the matter is, America is a can-do nation. We rose from nothing to the pinnacle of the world faster than anyone else, and to a higher pinnacle than anyone else has gotten. And we have to bring back some of those principles. Those principles include hard work, personal responsibility, and compassion for your fellow man.
STELTER: Dr. Carson, thank you for being here this morning. I appreciate it.
CARSON: It has been a pleasure. Thank you.
STELTER: Now, so that's the view of a candidate who will be on the prime-time debate stage on Thursday.
STELTER: And welcome back to the debate about the debates, because, of course, the first GOP primary debate is this Thursday. And the candidates that don't make the cut for the prime-time stage will be invited to an afternoon event. One candidate that's in that situation is former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore. He is the latest Republican to enter the field. And he joins me now from Richmond, Virginia. Governor, thanks for being here.
JIM GILMORE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you, Brian.
STELTER: You just entered the race a couple of days ago. But will you be at the afternoon debate this Thursday? Do you know how this is going to work?
GILMORE: Well, if I am invited by FOX, then I will probably go to Cleveland and participate, to the extent that I am permitted. But the fact is that this limitation by the RNC is improper. The RNC should never have put themselves in that kind of position. That's not their job and not their role. They shouldn't be doing that. The decision about who is going to be president of the United States doesn't belong with a Washington establishment or the news media and certainly not with the RNC. It belongs with the people of the United States, and every candidate ought to have a chance to give their views to the people of this country.
STELTER: And you used to be a chairman of the RNC, so you have personal feelings about this. You're saying it's improper. But what would you have done differently? How else could it have gone?
GILMORE: Oh, it could have been done any number of ways. You could have simply done two sessions, and done a random pick, and every candidate could have had the opportunity to get their views out. But the most important matter is not to talk to you, Brian, about the process. It's to talk to you about what we're going to do for the people of the United States. The country is in decline. I have the credentials and the experience to reverse that decline, and to focus on the challenges that we face with our national security, which is very much in danger, and the economy of this country, where people are not working anywhere near to the extent that they need to be.
STELTER: Some people suggested actually that the afternoon debate will be a better forum for those kind of conversations. There will be fewer people.
STELTER: And there won't be a guy named Donald Trump on stage.
GILMORE: Well, you know, all I care about is getting my ideas out there for the people of the United States. We need to have a more vigorous economy. There are too many people right now that want jobs that can't get them. There are too many people that are working part-time that want full-time jobs. There are too many young people that want to start careers. And it's dangerous to the national security of this country when you have a declining economy like this. And we have to focus on the national security of this country, the threats from Russia, from Iran, from China, from the dissolution of the Middle East, from ISIS. These are the challenges that have to be faced. And I think I am entitled to offer my credentials, experience and the ideas that I have got for this country, but probably won't be in that first group that they want to try to limit the debate to.
STELTER: The owner of FOX weighed in this morning on Twitter. Rupert Murdoch, he wrote that "Thursday's debate is vital for all our candidates," sort of part of the hype machine now for this debate. Have you been in touch with FOX about this arrangement? What have they said to you about how you will be able to qualify for at least the afternoon event?
GILMORE: Well, they haven't been specific, but they have begun to reach out to me, and I'm pretty happy about that. But I'm not going to second-guess what they want to do. It's up to them to issue the appropriate invitations. But I'm just saddened that the people of the United States are not going to get to see some of the additional ideas that I can offer, because I'm focused on what's wrong with the country.
STELTER: They say that viewers will be able to see it, but at 5:00 p.m., instead of 9:00 p.m. CNN is doing something similar in September. We have two tiers, a lower tier and a higher tier. They will both be on in prime time, but there will still be a division.
GILMORE: Well, then maybe there will be an opportunity with CNN to address the decline of this country and what we need to do to reverse that decline. But that's the key. The key is not to worry about the debate process, who is on - you know, what the RNC or somebody like that is picking. It's the concerns that face the country today. It's the decline of this country that's been caused by the Obama/Clinton policies that need to be completely aired out. It's the solutions that I can offer with the experience that I have had as a United States Army veteran, as a person who chaired the National Commission on Terrorism for the United States for five years. These are credentials and experiences that I think can address these concerns. And I hope that an opportunity through one debate or the other will come to pass. But there will be other vehicles for talking about it, too, as the people begin to focus on these challenges.
STELTER: Yes, there sure will. Governor Gilmore, thank you for being here this morning. Appreciate it.
GILMORE: Thank you, Brian.