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Graham: Trump is "Misjudging" Vladimir Putin; Trump's 2020 "Dream" Opponent; GOP Women Candidates Navigating the Trump Era; RNC Meets to Vote on 2020 Convention Site. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired July 19, 2018 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: -- Graham calling candidate Trump a clown not a real Republican, nowhere ready to be president. Even after Trump won, Graham was an early critic or at least a voice of caution raising questions about Trump foreign policy and insisting the president back off and let the Special Counsel Robert Mueller do his job.

Then came Graham as presidential golf buddy face and the South Carolina senator's words turned quite positive. A big evolution. An evolution tested again in the past 72 hours or so. He criticized the president's summer performance. Then thanked him for being more critical of Vladimir Putin post-Helsinki. He was appalled that the president's claim yesterday that Russia is no longer meddling in U.S. politics. Then said, oh, never mind the White House staff had assured him it was all a misunderstanding.

And this morning, well, put Senator Graham back in the disappointed column.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think when it comes to Russia it's been a bad week and I think it's imperative that he understand that he's misjudging Putin. I don't think he was prepared as well as he should have been.

I don't mind him dealing with Russia. I just want to deal with Russia from a position of strength. As I said, this was a missed opportunity. We reinforced narrative that's bad for us as a nation. It came across weak.


RACHAEL BADE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Hill Republicans have, obviously, figured out since Trump was inaugurated that a carrot works better with the president than a stick, right. When you attack the president he attacks back. He hunkers down and he's not going to listen to anything you say.

So you might as well try to make friends with him and become influential that way. And I think that's you see Graham sort of trying to figure out how to do this to push back on the president but also get the president to listen to him and then reward him with applause when he does changes his tune. Another thing, this poll we just saw this morning, 68 percent of Republicans said Trump's Russia press conference was a success, they approved of it. While 21 percent of Republicans did not approve. So Republicans are looking at these numbers and even though they're concerned about the president, the president's position on Russia they are not going to attack him personally, they're going to try to do it in a way that they don't alienate their base and the president.

KING: And we're watching Russia now, let's just take a pause and let's go back through again, I called it tortured. Lindsey Graham used to hang out with John McCain. They were the mavericks, they weren't afraid to speak their mind. But let's do a little hear then and now with Lindsey Graham and Donald Trump.


GRAHAM: I just don't believe Donald Trump is a reliable conservative Republican. Good luck with Paul Ryan trying to find a conservative agenda with this guy. And I don't think he has (INAUDIBLE) judgment to be commander-in-chief.

Donald Trump convinced North Korea and China, he was serious about bringing about change. We're not there yet. But if this happens, President Trump deserves the Nobel Peace prize.

He lost (INAUDIBLE) when he accused George W. Bush of lying to the American people about the Iraq war. And he thinks Putin is a good guy. So, I just can't go there.

The president does now finally believe that the Russians stole the e- mails from the DNC and hacked Clinton.

You know how to make America great again? Tell Donald Trump to go to hell.

I mean, he beat us, the Trump movement is real. I'm trying to work with him to harmonize the party. He will be our nominee. I'm confident of that and I will support him.


KING: Try to pick on Senator Graham but he is a particularly -- because he the likes media and he's out there all the time, he's a particularly there you go example of trying to navigate this.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's pretty good case study. And you have to wonder what does all of this get these Republicans in the end. It's not necessarily going to save Lindsey Graham from a primary fight the next time.

I guess in the short term if you're on the ballot this year, you know you have to be with the president and his base. President Trump is the leader of the Republican Party, something we never thought we would see in this respect. He's controlling it. His base believes what he said. That's why you said the CBS poll this morning I believe 68 percent Republicans believe him because the president told them that it was a good performance.

But once these things seep through a little bit more, we'll see if this is a different moment. I'm not sure that it is or not but we'll see if it is.

KING: Here's one piece of evidence that the Republicans are at least nervous about the moment. At 1:45 this afternoon, our Phil Mattingly now reporting the Senate will vote on a resolution related to Putin's proposal that Trump should allow him to interview Mike McFaul, the former ambassador, maybe Bill Browder, former investment guy. Putin critics who are now on American soil, the president probably doesn't have the legal authority to do this. You might be in a takeaway diplomatic community.

But the fact that the Senate is going to vote on a resolution that essentially says, you know, go away, no way to Vladimir Putin, tells you the leadership is going to allow it. The Senate majority leader has (INAUDIBLE) forward. The Democrats have been clamoring for it.

Is that they want to get on the record saying that we don't want any part of this.

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: Well -- right. I think the real test in real-time would be the midterm elections to be perfectly honest. I think right now Trump is sort of operating in a world without consequences.

[12:35:00] There hasn't been any sort of, you know, instant karma to what he says and what he does. Now, should Republicans lose the House, should the Republicans lose the Senate, will he blame someone else? Sure he will.

But, I think internally, there will be more soul searching than say, you know, a resolution, something that's nonbinding which is what the Senate has been super good at lately.

PERRY BACON, SENIOR WRITER, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: What is again is Trump policy, tax cuts, Brett Kavanaugh, judges. The reason I would argue the Republicans have change their view about Trump is if Trump has moved towards them. He is a more official Republican on most issues minus Russia, minus trade --

KUCINICH: But trade is a big deal. That is -- in some states, that's going to negate the tax cuts because of the jobs that are going to be lost.

KING: I think that's why the tension is back.

BACON: You're right.


KING: Or they're getting what they want. Judges.

BACON: Judges.

KING: Everything else.

BACON: Judges are lifetime (INAUDIBLE) is right about that.

KING: Well, as we count the days to the 2018 midterms, the president also revealing his dream opponent for 2020. Any guess?


[12:40:28] KING: Topping our political radar today, the latest installment of will he or won't he. President Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani telling CNN's Dana Bash the president might be coming around to the idea that he should resist sitting down for a wide ranging interview with the Special Counsel Robert Mueller. As you know, the president said he'd like to sit down with Mueller but his lawyers have long pushed back against that plan. The president's legal team has been in discussions for months about the scope of a potential interview.

House Democrats rolling out a new three word slogan ahead of the November midterms, quote, for the people. They hope that message will help convince voters Democrats are fighting for them as they cast President Trump and Republicans catering to special interests.

The Daily Call are among those pointing out for the people also happens to be the slogan for a leading personal injury law firm and for a well-known Texas car dealership.

And President Trump in that CBS interview sounding confident about his chances of winning re-election in 2020, especially the president says if former Vice President Joe Biden emerges as the Democratic nominee.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who do you think your Democratic opponent will be? Joe Biden says he'll make a decision by January. Is he a tough opponent?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I dream about Biden. That's a dream. Look, Joe Biden ran three times. He never got more than one percent and President Obama took him out of the garbage heap and everybody was shocked that he did.

I'd love to have it be Biden. I think I'd like to have any one of those people that we're talking about, you know, there's probably the group of seven or eight right now. I'd really like to run against any one of them.


KING: No response yet from the former vice president. By the way 838 days.

ZELENY: I mean, one thing --

KING: -- you're counting them, right?


ZELENY: The president is thinking about it. President Trump did not answer, say no, no, you know, I have work to do here. He was thinking about it, I dream about Biden. So he's already deeply underway.

One of the reasons he has all these campaign rallies. So he's -- you know, he hears all this, you know, sort of re-election chatter. He cannot wait for that.

KUCINICH: Though, I remember when we thought Biden was a gaffe machine. And I just don't know that he's kind of off the cuff comments would really have the same impact as they did in the past. The other thing about Joe Biden is he really does talk to a lot of the same people that Trump does. These are like Democrats for example that didn't love Hillary Clinton. They were sending Joe Biden to those areas. I'm not saying it's going to happen, but I don't know if it would be a complete --

BACON: He only ran twice. Biden only ran twice not three times. But he did lose both times. It is correct, the president --


KING: Thank you for that very important -- yes, the right number, same results.

All right. Up next for us, praise for the president or run from him. How female Republican candidates are navigating 2018 in the Trump era.


[12:47:38] KING: Welcome back. We talk a lot this midterm election season about the year of the women in Democratic politics. But what about women on the Republican side. Listen to this from the retiring Florida Republican congresswoman, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, quote, the base is with Donald Trump and he can do no wrong, Ros-Lehtinen told Politico. He is going to be hanging on you like an albatross around your neck. Ugh! It is a real knot for female candidates.

Tough. Let's explore some numbers behind that before we discuss that eye-popping content. Let's take a look, first, these are recent fox news poll, overall the president, the public split 51 percent disapprove, 46 percent approve of the president's job performance. But what we have seen consistently throughout the Trump presidency is this gender gap.

Men approve, women by a bigger margin disapprove of the president's job performance. Then you come to the question of what about the 2018 midterms. Who do you going to vote for? Well, 48 percent for Democrats, 40 percent in this new Fox poll, recent Fox poll. You see the split there but again you see the big gender gap.

Men evenly divided on that question. Who should control Congress? Women lopsided in favor of the Democrats.

So what if you're a Republican woman running in a competitive area. You heard Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, she's retiring, her district in Florida would be quite competitive probably hard to win if she run.

Another Republican woman who said to navigate this, Congresswoman Martha Roby, Republican of Alabama, harshly critical of candidate Donald Trump after the "Access Hollywood" tape. Thankful that the president these past weeks supported her in a Republican runoff.


REP. MARTHA ROBY (R), ALABAMA: This disgusting behavior, this boasting and admittance of grabbing women's private parts was enough for me. I cannot look my children in the eye, Margaret and George and justify a vote for a man who promotes and boasts about sexually assaulting women.

Yes, President Trump's endorsement was certainly helpful and I appreciate the vice president's willingness engage in this race. It's important because we have a shared conservative agenda that we're working together to get these policies across the finish line.


KING: Rachel Bade, you write about this in Politico today. That's where the Ileana Ros-Lehtinen quote came from about how difficult it is for many Republican women but some who don't really want to talk about it as a gender issue. And by the way, happy birthday.

BADE: Thank you. That made me blush.

[12:50:01] OK, three things, I would say. First one -- first reason that it's difficult for female Republicans, one is Trump. As you talked about, if you come out and you blast him like Martha Roby did in that clip, she had to do a total 180 because she was about to lose her seat. There were a lot of Republicans in her district who were going to punish her for calling out the president for the "Access Hollywood" video.

But if you're not strong enough on the president when it comes to women's issues, you repel those independent female voters, which is a key block that they need to keep the House. Second thing, I heard a lot of female Republicans talk about feeling that the women's movement was becoming too political and that they were not -- what they had done for women was sort of discounted, they felt, because they were Republican women with a more conservative mind then.

And the last thing actually has nothing to do with Trump or the women's movement. There is a small sliver, and I will say small, some men in the Republican Party who would rather vote for a male Democrat than a female Republican. And I talked to some Republican women who were concerned about that.

Kristi Noem is running to be governor in South Dakota, and she said that she's really having a real struggle with this, with men in her district who were OK to elect her to Congress but not OK with her being the governor. So that's a challenge there.

(INAUDIBLE) KING: That's interesting. You also quote Diane Black, who's trying to leave the House to run for governor as well. And she says, "I've never run as a female candidate. I think for me, I've always felt it was best to just run as a good candidate, to let my credentials speak instead of anything about my gender."

Great, that's the way voters should look at it to begin with. She's running statewide though. That's a different calculation.

KUCINICH: That's a much -- that actually is a much more -- I feel like the kind of traditional Republican woman answer. The gender politics, the identity politics. I've had similar conversations with Marsha Blackburn over and over again and who's running for Senate (INAUDIBLE). Yes, exactly.

And so that I feel like is much more old school than we're seeing the trend to sort of embrace the gender and say, you know, I do view certain things as a woman. That is -- that's a much newer strain, I feel like, of Republican female candidates.

ZELENY: And one thing we don't know, this is in the era of Me Too. This is the first midterm election, the first real election, you know, after all of these coming. How will that affect it? I'm not sure we know the answer too.

BADE: I was going to say very quickly, Diane Black and Marsha Blackburn, two Tennessee Republicans, both go by congressman, not congresswoman or chairman not chairwoman.

KING: Interesting.

BACON: This issue is pre-Trump in some ways. Like about a third of the members of Congress who are Democrats are female, about one-tenth on the GOP side. This is not just a Trump issue. This has been a problem for Republican women in Congress way before last couple decades.

(INAUDIBLE) the Democratic side is nothing like in the Republican side like Jackie said. The Republicans not only believe (INAUDIBLE) at that level and so there's this much, much smaller or, you know, (INAUDIBLE). So in that sense, I think there's a huge gap because of the way the Republicans view kind of identity politics as Jackie is (INAUDIBLE).

KING: Let's see if there's a dent, shall we say, in that ceiling in 2018. It's very important point.

Up next, the Republican National Committee huddling in Austin today. One big decision on their plate, where should the 2020 re-nominating convention be? Be right back.


[12:52:50] KING: Welcome back. Two big, big numbers this week from the Republican National Committee in this debate. Do they matter in this midterm election season? The first, $13.9 million. That's how much the RNC raised just in June. its biggest monthly cash grab ever in a non-presidential year.

The next number, $213 million, wow. The total RNC haul so far this cycle. It's the fastest the Republican group has hit the $200 million milestone during a midterm election season.

Now the RNC is meeting today in Austin, Texas, in part to decide where to hold the 2020 nominating convention. CNN's Rebecca Berg is live in Austin now. Do they have a final decision, Rebecca? What's the buzz there?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, almost, John. They will have a final, final decision tomorrow, but all signs point to Republicans picking Charlotte as the site of their 2020 national convention. There aren't many examples of President Trump following in President Obama's footsteps, John, but this is one of them.

Republicans will have their national convention in 2020 in the same city that hosted President Obama in 2012 ahead of his re-election fight. And that was part of Charlotte's pitch to Republicans. They did it before in 2012. They said we can do it again for Republicans.

Now, that means that Charlotte edged out Las Vegas which was the runner-up in this process. Las Vegas was pitching itself as something new, something fresh, something on brand with President Trump and his flashy, unconventional persona. Ultimately, Republicans went with the safer choice, though, deciding that Charlotte would be up to the logistical challenge of hosting a national convention.

But of course Republicans first have to get through 2018. And you mentioned those bunkers fundraising numbers for Republicans. Historic fundraising for them, surpassing 200 million for the first time at this point in the election cycle. They say that reflects the enthusiasm among Republican voters and activists.

Of course, Democrats still edging out Republicans consistently in the generic ballot though, John.

KING: Big challenge, Rebecca Berg, to use that money well in a year when they know the wind is in their face. Appreciate that. Rebecca Berg live for us in Austin, Texas.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS today. Hope to see you back here this time tomorrow. We're following President Trump's call now for a second meeting with president Vladimir Putin. Really?

Wolf brings you that. He starts the coverage right now.