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CNN NewsNight with Abby Phillip

Maine's Top Election Official Removes Trump From 2024 Primary Ballot; Haley Has History Of Avoiding The Ugliness Of The Civil War; Host Abby Phillip Talks Politics With Guests McKinnon And Singleton; Senator John Fetterman Tells Democratic Strategist James Carville To Shut Up For Criticizing Biden's 2024 Chances. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired December 28, 2023 - 22:00   ET


HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: I'm not necessarily sure it is.


Yes, the general election will be easier skating --

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: But it's not clear that she'll become the nominee.

ENTEN: That's exactly right. And that's the problem here.

So, Lauren Boebert, maybe she might get back into Congress, but the fact is, based upon the numbers, we just don't know yet.

COLLINS: Harry Enten, I know you'll keep us updated.

ENTEN: I'm going to try to.

COLLINS: Thank you for that. And thank you all so much for joining us tonight. We'll be back here tomorrow night.

CNN NEWSNIGHT with Abby Phillips starts right now.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN ANCHOR: Maine follows Colorado's lead and saddles the Supreme Court with an election-defining choice. That's tonight on NEWSNIGHT.

Good evening. I'm Abby Phillip in Washington. And breaking tonight, Maine makes a decision that will reverberate across this nation. The state's top election official says that they will bar Donald Trump from the ballot.

The surprise decision cites the Constitution's insurrection clause and concludes that January 6th and Donald Trump's role in it does disqualify him from the highest office in the land.

Now, tonight, Maine's secretary of state on CNN defended her decision to scrub Trump's name from the ballot.


SEC. OF STATE SHENNA BELLOWS (D-ME): The U.S. Constitution does not tolerate an assault on our government, on the foundations of our government and the main election law and the Constitution required, indeed, obligated me to act.

These are decisions that are part of my obligations and part of my duty, and that is what I'm compelled to do by the Constitution.


PHILLIP: Now, this decision by Maine applies to the primary and it applies to the general election. It's a decision that the Trump campaign has already said that they plan to appeal. So, this won't be the final word on whether voters can actually check off Trump's name when they go to the polls.

The decision called democracy sacred, and then it cut to the heart of the matter here and how Maine's secretary of state says Trump broke that sacred covenant. She said the weight of the evidence makes clear that Mr. Trump was aware of the tinder laid by his multi-month effort to delegitimize a democratic election and then chose to light a match.

Now, this decision tonight lights another match. Likely on the other end of that fuse is the U.S. Supreme Court.

Now, joining us tonight is the chair of Maine's Republican Party, Joel Stetkis. Thank you for staying up late with us tonight.

I assume that your party is planning to appeal this decision. Can you tell us what do you intend to argue?

JOEL STETKIS, CHAIR, MAINE REPUBLICAN PARTY: Yes, ma'am. We've actually been working with RNC lawyers over the last couple of weeks in preparation for the possibility of this sort of thing happening. So, yes, there will be an appeal in the next several days to the Maine Supreme Court. That is the plan at this point in time.

PHILLIP: And what is the argument that's going to be made here to try to overturn this decision?

STETKIS: Well, that's something that we're working on right now with those lawyers. I'm not a lawyer, so we'll be talking with them on exactly what that's going to be.

PHILLIP: So, the secretary of state's decision says pretty plainly, quote, the events of January 6, 2021, constituted an insurrection. Do you dispute that?

STETKIS: I dispute the idea that a single political elite can disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Maine voters with one decision. Our voting rights, enshrined in the Constitution, are sacred to us. And to have one particular person remove really the top candidate from the ballot because she dislikes that person just smells of politics that so many Americans really hate now.

PHILLIP: But isn't it her job, according to Maine's laws, to actually make this decision? It's not anybody else's job at this particular stage but hers as the secretary of state. STETKIS: It is her job as secretary of state to make that decision. Now, I question the idea of exactly how she came up with that decision. And to be quite honest, because of her past public statements, she really should have recused herself from that situation.


I don't believe that she is approaching this fairly. And, ultimately, this should be left up to the voters.

A bunch of firsts going on today, for myself, personally, this is the first time probably in my life that I've ever agreed with Gavin Newsom. Gavin Newsom and many, many Democrats, including lawyers and judges, say that the people ought to decide, not individual political elites, like Shenna Bellow as the secretary of state of Maine.

PHILLIP: She said earlier tonight in an interview on CNN that no secretary of state has had to make this decision based on Section 3 of the 14th amendment. But also no candidate has ever engaged in an insurrection as Trump has, according to what she found and what Colorado found as well. Is she wrong about that?

STETKIS: Again, like so many judges, so many lawyers, Democrats, Republicans, independents alike, this needs to be put in front of the people, not have an individual political elite, like herself and others, remove that right from the people.

I tell you what, she has kicked a serious hornet's nest. I've heard just in the last couple of hours from so many independents, Democrats and Republicans alike, some of them don't necessarily agree with the particular candidate.

This isn't about Donald Trump. This is about our constitutional rights and the ability of the American people to elect into leadership the people that they choose, not have somebody just arbitrarily make that decision for them. This is what happens in banana republics, not in a democratically-elected republic. And there's a lot on the line here. We're going to take this thing to -- well, to the highest court in the land if necessary.

PHILLIP: So, some Republican officials have said that they intend to pursue disqualifying Joe Biden from the ballot in response to all of that. Now that your state, Maine, has followed suit, but you disagree with that decision, I mean, do you think it's really wise to go down that road against President Biden?

STETKIS: No, I disagree with all that. This needs to be left to the American people. Our government is of, by and for the people. Playing these political games is not beneficial to our republic in any way.

PHILLIP: All right. Joel Stetkis, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

STETKIS: Thank you. Have a good night.

PHILLIP: Now, I want to bring in James Schultz, a former Trump White House lawyer, and Bradley Moss, a national security attorney.

Bradley, I want to start with you. Look, with all of these states making these different decisions on the same question, essentially, how urgent is it that the Supreme Court weigh in on this soon?

BRADLEY MOSS, NATIONAL SECURITY ATTORNEY: Well, it's going to become extremely urgent. And you already saw some of that in the proposed briefing schedule that one of the parties in the litigation before the Supreme Court from Colorado had proposed. They want oral arguments as soon as January 19th. And mind you, we're just dealing with primary ballots right now. We're not even talking about the general election ballots. But that's ultimately where this would go.

So, there's a very extreme urgency to resolve this so that secretaries of state and the election officials in all these various states can finalize their ballots because there's mail in balloting issues, there's overseas ballots for military personnel and Americans living overseas. That has to be done by a certain date so that those election officials can meet their deadlines and get this process started. This has to be resolved one way or the other. Whatever the decision is, it's going to be resolved by the Supreme Court hopefully sooner than later.

PHILLIP: And, James, look, the basic question, I think, that opponents of these kinds of decisions are making is, isn't this unfair to voters and candidates to have these decisions being made by a patchwork of states? Is that the basic question that SCOTUS will be looking at here?

JIM SCHULTZ, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE LAWYER: : No, it's not. I mean, they're going to look at the text of the 14th -- Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. They're going to make a determination of whether this even applies to the president of the United States. Is there a requirement that there's a factual determination or as a matter of law determination whether an insurrection occurred? There's going to be a lot of questions not based upon fairness, but at the end of the day, what was the purpose of that provision in the 14th Amendment? Does it apply to the president of the United States? It specifically lifts off a number of office holders that don't include the president of the United States.

So, I think in this instance, I think the Supreme Court is likely to go the other way. All of these, you have conflicting decisions in various jurisdictions. This really turns on federal law. This is appropriate to be before the United States Supreme Court, and they're going to be the ultimate arbiter of this issue.


PHILLIP: Bradley, when the secretary of state in Maine says that the 14th Amendment's Section 3 clause is self-executing, what does that mean? I mean, does that mean that it is, in her view, crystal clear how this is all supposed to be adjudicated by people in her position?

MOSS: No. What self-executing refers to there is the idea that Congress would have to pass some additional piece of law to actually enforce it in particular circumstances. The concept here is that once Article 14 was passed a century or so ago, it automatically was enforced. And that is what happened with various portions of Article 14, whether it was Section 1 and other parts of it were automatically started to get enforced by military and civil authorities, particularly in portions of the south, to protect civil rights.

So, this has not been addressed in the concept in terms of Section 3. That's part of this first impression. No one really knows how the Supreme Court will rule discussion, but that was her assertion. That's the same assertion as Colorado, is that it automatically is self- executing. We can enforce it. I don't need separate authority from Congress.

PHILLIP: Yes. And that's obviously going to be something that -- I mean, people are disputing that. That's the central issue here.

So, James, look, the Trump campaign is already trying to get the Maine secretary of state removed from this case. You heard the GOP chair there saying that she should have recused herself. They're raising comments that she's made in tweets about January 6th, about Trump's role in it. Do you think that that will, in fact, be a problem upon appeal?

SCHULTZ: Look, I don't think whether she should have recused herself or shouldn't have recused herself. This issue is going to come up in a number of different states. This one is going to move to the Supreme Court of Maine and then on to the Supreme Court of the United States. The issues aren't going to be whether she recuses herself or not.

The interesting thing in Maine is the secretary of state is not elected by the people. The secretary of state is elected by the legislature. And the legislature, as we know in Maine, is overwhelmingly Democratic.

So, this is really -- at the end of the day, she has -- it's within the authority of her office to make decisions regarding who goes on the ballot. The validity of that decision is what's going to be questioned and make its way to the Maine Supreme Court and then ultimately to the Supreme Court of the United States.

PHILLIP: James Schultz, Bradley Moss, thank you both very much.

MOSS: Anytime.

PHILLIP: And next, will the decision in Maine give Trump even more momentum in this Republican primary? We'll discuss that.

Plus, one of Nikki Haley's opponents is calling her comments on the Civil War a word salad. And her cleanup attempt today is adding even more dressing to that salad.



PHILLIP: Back with more on our breaking news, former President Trump kicked off yet another state's 2024 ballot. This time, Maine's secretary of state, a Democrat, issuing a decision that bars Trump from the state's ballot, citing the 14th Amendment's insurrectionist ban.

Now, this decision is paused, pending an appeal in the state court.

So, let's dive in with Mark McKinnon, former media advisor to George W. Bush, and also with us, Republican Strategist Shermichael Singleton.

Mark, your reaction to the Maine secretary of state's decision and this snowballing effect that we could be seeing here.

MARK MCKINNON, FORMER MEDIA ADVISER TO GEORGE W. BUSH AND JOHN MCCAIN: Well, listen, I think that there's no greater threat to our democracy than Donald Trump. But what worries me is that these judicial decisions only make him more of a martyr. I think in order to beat Donald Trump, you've got to beat him at the ballot box. And all these judicial decisions are simply going to inflame his base. It's going to make a lot of people, including independents, even some conservative Democrats, say, no, wait a minute, this is ridiculous. People should have the decision. People should be able to decide this ultimately.

So, listen, I'm not a lawyer, and maybe the merits of the case are okay. But whether they are or not, I think it's going to be good for Trump and bad for democracy if this goes through. But I think the Supreme Court is going to knock it down anyway.

PHILLIP: Yes, Shermichael, do you think that this is good for Trump?

SHERMICHAEL SINGLETON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes. I mean, I think that absolutely is. I think Mark is correct from the perspective of many Republicans, including those who may not necessarily be open to voting for Trump will certainly have pause.

I mean, I think in the eyes of the average voter, this is the appearance of thwarting their ability to participate in the electoral process, which has been the belief that anyone of legal age is entitled to one vote of a candidate of their choice. It certainly doesn't appear to be the case here.

And this isn't in regards to the merits of what Trump did or didn't do. This isn't in defense of him or against him. But I do believe that most people look at this and say, well, shouldn't we have a choice to say who we want to vote for? The guy received 74 million votes, Abby. How do you just dismiss all of those Americans merely because some individuals believe he acted in an illegal way?

PHILLIP: Mark, I mean, we saw some Democrats voicing some of the same concerns that you did about the effect that this will all have. Now, we have another ruling in May. Do you think you'll hear more Democrats speaking out about what they think the consequences of this could be? And I should remind folks, this is not just happening by osmosis. There are groups bringing these challenges to the courts and forcing this issue. MCKINNON: Well, yes. And I think that they are realizing increasingly that what is likely to happen if this ball keeps rolling down the hill that you're going to have Republicans in red states using the courts there to try and get Biden knocked off the ballot.

So, I just think it's a very dangerous judicial corkscrew we're heading down that's just going to claw our way to the bottom. And, ultimately, I, you know, listen, we're going to, we're going to get into the nitty-gritty of all of this, but, ultimately, I think the Supreme Court will decide against it and that Trump will be on the ballot, which I think is a good thing. Because, again, I just think if he's denied ballot access, he will become the ultimate martyr. And what that will do for him or the Trump movement could be, you know, could be really powerful in a way that helps Trump electorally.

PHILLIP: And, Shermichael, I mean, if you're a Republican candidate trying to run against Trump right now, all the attention continues to be on him.


Do they stand a chance to get some oxygen in this room?

SINGLETON: No. I mean, at this point, this is a one man's show, and I think everyone can expect a rematch between the former president and the sitting president. Nikki Haley just received the endorsement of New Hampshire's Governor Sununu. No one is really talking about that. Maybe she got one day of news coverage, if that.

But, look, Abby, thinking about this from a political perspective and not a legal one, as a practitioner of electoral politics, does removing Donald Trump from the ballot maximize utility of the average voter? I don't think it does. Leaving him on the ballot certainly doesn't take the utility away from those who are against him but it certainly preserves the utility for individuals who want to vote for them, if that is indeed their choice.

And I will just add quickly here, many of these states Donald Trump likely wouldn't have won anyway electorally. So, it wouldn't have made a difference mathematically.

PHILLIP: All right. Guys, stick around. There's more to discuss with both of you.

Up next for us, Nikki Haley trying to clarify what she said last night about the civil war, but the cleanup is just as messy as her original comments.

Plus, why Senator John Fetterman is telling Democrat James Carville to, quote, shut the F up.



PHILLIP: It's a question that is on the U.S. citizenship test. It's straightforward. There's no trickery, no nuance, and yet, Nikki Haley managed to complicate what is uncomplicated.


NIKKI HALEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I mean, I think the cause of the Civil War was basically how government was going to run, the freedoms and what people could and couldn't do.

I mean, I think it always comes down to the role of government and what the rights of the people are. And we -- I will always stand by the fact that I think government was intended to secure the rights and freedoms of the people. It was never meant to be all things to all people.

What do you want me to say about slavery?


PHILLIP: Now, the word you did not hear there in the initial part of the answer is slavery. So, this morning, Nikki Haley dusted herself off and she tried again and still did not succeed.


HALEY: Of course, the Civil War was about slavery. We know that. That's the easy part of it. What I was saying was what does it mean to us today.

Our goal is to make sure, no, we never go back to the stain of slavery, but what's the lesson in all of that?


PHILLIP: Where attempt number two fell flat, so did attempt number three.


HALEY: Of course, the Civil War was about slavery. We know that. That's unquestioned, always the case. We know the Civil War was about slavery. But it was also more than that. It was about the freedoms of every individual. It was about the role of government.


PHILLIP: So, when Haley wasn't busy going, yes, but, she was busy blaming the question or the questioner in this case.


HALEY: It was definitely a Democrat plant. That's why I said, what does it mean to you? And if you notice, he didn't answer anything. The same reason he didn't tell the reporters what his name was. We see these guys when they come in. We know what they're doing.


PHILLIP: Now, it made for a pretty low-hanging fruit for her rivals in this race.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Not that difficult to identify and acknowledge the role slavery played in the Civil War.

CHRIS CHRISTIE, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'll make it easy for you. If someone asked me what the cause of the Civil War was, it's easy. It's slavery.


PHILLIP: But for Haley, a two-term governor from South Carolina, this is actually not a new question at all. Journey back to us to 2010, when she got nearly an identical question.


HALEY: I think you had one side of Civil War that was fighting for tradition and I think you had another side of civil war that was fighting for change. You know, at the end of the day, what I think we need to remember is that, you know, everyone is supposed to have their rights. Everyone's supposed to be free. Everyone's supposed to have the same freedoms as anyone else. So, you know, I think it was tradition versus change is the way I see it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tradition versus change on what?

HALEY: On individual rights and liberty of people.


PHILLIP: Tradition versus change. But, again, slavery is the word that is conspicuously absent from that answer, when it obviously should not be.

163 years after South Carolina seceded from the union, there is no debate that slavery sparked that war. There was no debate in 1860 when South Carolina decided to secede and cited increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding states to the institution of slavery.

Now, history here is settled, but Haley has a history herself of doing most anything that she can to avoid the ugliness of this particular issue. Take her ever-evolving, shape-shifting on the Confederate flag. Now, Haley says that her 2015 decision to take that flag down shows political backbone.


HALEY: We turned away from fear, toward God, and the values that still make our country the freest and greatest in the world.


PHILLIP: But since 2015, when Haley banished the stars and bars from the South Carolina Capitol grounds, she swayed like palmetto tree in a stiff breeze on what the flag actually means.



HALEY: We are here in a moment of unity in our state, without ill will, to say it's time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds. The Confederate flag is coming off the grounds of the South Carolina State House.

I think it should be in those places of historical settings, not in places that represent all people. You know, if someone wants to travel to see it, that's one thing. But it shouldn't be in front of someone's face to where they have to feel it. Here is this guy that comes out with his manifesto holding the Confederate flag and had just hijacked everything that people thought of. We don't have hateful people in South Carolina.

There's always the small minority that's always going to be there. But, you know, people saw it as service and sacrifice and heritage. After that horrific tragedy, we didn't turn against each other. We came together, black and white, Democrat and Republican. Together, we made the hard choices needed to heal and removed a divisive symbol.


PHILLIP: Now and forever, all politics is local of course and when the locals want this --


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They're poisoning the blood of our country. That's what they've done. They poisoned the mental institutions and prisons all over the world.


PHILLIP: Maybe that explains at least partly why Hailey hems and haws on something that is so simple and ultimately so clear. Back with us is Shermichael Singleton and Mark McKinnon. Mark, what's fascinating is that three tries is what it takes, it seems for her to get to a better place on this issue. I'm not even sure if it was all that much better to be honest. What went wrong here?

MCKINNON: Well, this could have been a John McCain moment and instead it became a Sarah Palin moment. It's very unfortunate timing for Haley, who's got so much momentum and attention right now. So, at a maximum time for exposure, she made one of the greatest mistakes of the campaign.

And listen, I think that it was -- I think she just got in her head and she was thinking about the questioner. And by the way, that shouldn't matter who the questioner is. I've seen Donald Trump take -- you know, hundreds of questions from very unfriendly reporters, and he does it -- he does happily. So, the question of the questioner shouldn't matter, what should have

mattered was the answer, and it was an obvious one. And I think it just got in her head. And listen, she is a woman of color from South Carolina, of immigrant parents who took down the Confederate flag, which I think was a very difficult thing to do, for which I think she should get some credit.

So, I don't think she's racist. I think she's -- I think she tried to play it too cute by half by trying to avoid taking it head on, which is unfortunate because I think that, I suspect that given the position she took on the Confederate flag that, I mean, as she said, like I said, I think she was in her head and she just didn't say the obvious thing, which is labor. I don't think she's afraid to say it. I think she just, she booted it.

And listen, I think her clean-up was, I mean, it was clear to me what she was saying. It was about freedom and freedom for slaves and for all Americans. So, I thought -- I thought the clean-up was fine. But listen, the question -- it's a distraction at a very critical time in the campaign for her.

PHILLIP: I mean, Shermichael, do Republican voters actually care about this? Clearly, she's given this answer for over a decade now. It's worked for her.

SINGLETON: I mean it has. I think there's a certain sector of Republican voters that may be very fond of her answer but as an African American who happens to be a conservative, I thought her answer was quite despicable and embarrassing.

It was a simple answer. As Governor Chris Christie stated, she could have easily have given the answer. She presided over the state during the Charleston massacre where multiple African-Americans were literally murdered by a racist individual while in church, of all places.

She -- whatever bump Nikki Haley could have received out of the endorsement from Sununu, whatever bumps she could have received out of the momentum we have seen over the past several weeks now, I think that's all gone. I think it's over for her. You have a presidential candidate who is unable to answer very complicated questions because they're attempting to placate to a base who, in my opinion, Abby, wouldn't vote for her anyway.

So, why be so uncomfortable with just telling the truth? It was about slavery and whatever comparisons one would like to make about traditions or limited government is odious in my personal opinion. This is a disqualifying issue to me. If you cannot be factual about history, I question your ability to make sound judgments about the present that will ultimately shape the future.

PHILLIP: I mean, Mark, if this had happened before South Carolina, as opposed to before New Hampshire, do you think that we would be having a different conversation here about Nikki Haley and the effect that this all has?


MCKINNON: Well, now listen, I think if she said this anytime during the campaign, it'd be getting just as much attention as it is right now. I think it's a very controversial thing that's happened. I think it's very unfortunate the timing was bad, but it would have been bad if it were in South Carolina.

I mean, she'd be getting more attention there, presumably, if she'd done well in New Hampshire. I think it's a very unfortunate thing at a very unfortunate time. And as Shermichael was saying, you know, this -- she needed to be perfect right now. And you go ask and it was far from perfect.

PHILLIP: Was it a fatal mistake, Mark?

MCKINNON: Listen, I don't know. We'll see in the next couple of days. I hold out a hope. Listen, my bottom line is I don't want Donald Trump to be re-elected. I think the only, the last best chance in the Republican primary for that to happen, as slim as it is, is Nikki Haley.

So, in my view, I think that there'll be Republicans out there who understand that Trump is a threat and will look to Haley. And I think that's a new -- new endorsement, it will be very helpful. And listen, I've won and lost in New Hampshire, so I know what it's like, and I think she's got a shot.

PHILLIP: Michael -- Shermichael.

SINGLETON: Abby, if I could just say really quickly, look, my rebuke of Nikki Haley isn't because I dislike her. I'm very fond of her. She's a talented politician. She has the experience.

And my hope is that she will, indeed, do well before a lot of African American conservatives that I've spoken to who were hoping to continue to see her rise were thinking, why do this now when you know your room for mistakes, your room for error is so small? Why make this mistake over such a sensitive issue? She didn't have to, Abby.

PHILLIP: I mean, she didn't, but she's done it before, so maybe that's the answer for the why of it all. Shermichael, Mark, thank you both very much. Have a great weekend.

SINGLETON: Thanks, Abby, happy holidays.

PHILLIP: It is certainly not the first time that the cause of the Civil War has become a lightning rod in politics. What's behind all of this revisionist history? We'll discuss that part next.




PHILLIP: It's complicated. That's how one could describe parts of America's history. The Civil War might be considered among them, but one thing that is not complicated about it, at least to most Americans, is that the war happened because of one major issue -- slavery. But GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley doesn't think that it's that simple at all. At least not according to her response last night to a voter's question about what caused the Civil War.

So, how exactly did we get here, and what does it say about where we are right now in our society. I want to bring in F. Michael Higginbotham, Professor of Law at the University of Baltimore and the author of Ghosts of Jim Crow, along with Van Lathan, media personality and host of the Higher Learning podcast.

Michael, I'll start with you. Nikki Haley is the former governor of the state of South Carolina. It's a state that has a pretty specific role in the Confederacy. And when it was succeeding, it actually noted that increasing hostility on the part of non-slaveholding states to the institution of slavery is the reason that it wanted to leave the union. What does it say to you that she attempted to deny that that was a fact?

F. MICHAEL HIGGINBOTHAM, PROFESSOR OF CONSTITUTIONAL LAW, UNIVERSITY OF BALTIMORE: Well, it says to me that Governor Haley has had trouble determining whether she wants to embrace revisionist history or whether she wants to embrace an accurate and truthful and comprehensive examination of history. That seems to be the difficulty.

And as President Biden noted yesterday and as Governor Haley has subsequently recognized, the question of the Civil War was all about slavery. That was the issue. And seems like Governor Haley is questioning whether she wants to embrace this revisionist history that somehow the Civil War was based on economics or states' rights rather than the question of slavery.

PHILLIP: And Van, we are in a time where we're seeing just this big push to paper over to erase the bad parts of this country's history. Is this just kind of a prominent example of what that actually looks like in practice?

VAN LATHAN, HOST, "HIGHER LEARNING PODCAST" ON THE RINGER: Yeah, it's an example of how it's worked. I mean, Nikki Haley and the rest of her ilk, I mean, she's essentially brainwashed herself, right? Like now when a question is asked and the answer is crystal clear and sitting right there and backed up by historical fact, like any eighth grader should be able to tell you what the Civil War was fought over.

She's brainwashed herself into not being able to conjure the answer. And it speaks to the fact that there is this huge antipathy to like reconciling any of the past transgressions against black people that America is responsible for and they'd rather pretend like they never even happened.

PHILLIP: Michael, Haley had a couple of attempts at clarifying her remarks today. Here's part of what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HALEY: Of course, the Civil War was about slavery. We know that. That's the easy part of it. What I was saying was, what does it mean to us today? What it means to us today is about freedom. That's what that was all about. It was about individual freedom. It was about economic freedom. It was about individual rights.


PHILLIP: She also said in another appearance that it was bigger than just about the issue of slavery. Michael, what do you make of that framing of this issue?


HIGGINBOTHAM: I don't like the framing because I think what's going on is -- the question -- the revisionist history is dealing with the cultural battles we're having today, particularly over abortion rights, over affirmative action. And history is just so critical to these debates.

And the reason why is because the question is, what is the remedy for the problems that we have had? And if you say, hey, look. The Civil War wasn't about race-based slavery. It was about some sort of states' rights or economics. The remedies today are going to be very different.

And so, that's what it seems like Governor Haley is grappling with, whether she wants to acknowledge and recognize that we have a long history of race-based discrimination, starting with slavery, going through Jim Crow. And today, there are many people that want to erase that history. They want to ignore and deny that history.

And so, when you start to look at banning of books, when you start to look at limiting discussions of race in classrooms today, that's what it's all about. And Governor Haley needs to be clear about whether she wants to embrace an accurate depiction of our history and deal with the cultural battles today, or whether she wants to ignore it and deny it and embrace a revisionist history, which is what I refer to as a birth of the nation, gone with the wind version of our history, which is totally inaccurate and problematic.

PHILLIP: So, Ron DeSantis, Van, has been calling out Nikki Haley for her comments. He says that this was obviously about slavery, but what do you make of the fact that it's Ron DeSantis who has been waging this anti-woke campaign? He himself actually defended in his state some, a scholar saying that some slaves benefited with skills from slavery. I mean, what do you make of that?

LATHAM: Yeah. So, it's difficult for a slave to have benefited from slavery using their skills because you can't do anything with those skills. So, let's say you were a slave on an indigo plantation and you were the best and dopest indigo planter, helper to whomever that there was, well, then, how are you going to take that skill and then go ply your own trade with it when you don't have the freedom to do so.

So, that right there shows a fundamental misunderstanding of history, too. This whole thing is just absurdly hilarious. Nikki Haley just said that it was about more than slavery. Well, of course it was to her, like her ancestors weren't slaves. I'm in Louisiana right now. I went to visit my father's grave earlier. By the time I start at the front of my family's grave site, our cemetery, by the time I get to the end of it, there are slaves buried there.

And I look around in Marengo, Louisiana where my father's from and in North Baton Rouge and see the legacy of that slavery all the time. I still see it. It's starting to become a little frustrating to have people tell us what's important and what's not important to us as far as our legacy and our condition is concerned.

I think if these Republicans want to reach out to African-American voters, if they want to be viable with them, they at least have to tell the truth to them and not pretend like us or anybody else that can read an eighth grade textbook is stupid.

So, at this part, the things that we're discussing are absurd and the way that they're being like rolled out to American people is disrespectful.

PHILLIP: F. Michael Higginbotham, Van Lathan, thank you both for your perspective on that. And up next, Senator John Fetterman is telling Democratic strategist James Carville to quote, "Shut the F up for criticizing Biden's 2024 chances." James Carville, he's here to respond. That's next.




PHILLIP: Dwindling poll numbers, coupled with growing concern over his age, has many Democrats questioning how strong of a candidate President Biden is going into 2024. And that includes longtime political strategist James Carville. He's been pessimistic about Biden's re-election prospects. And Carville's condemnation garnered swift blowback from Democratic Senator John Fetterman.

In a new interview with "Politico", Fetterman said, "I'll use this as another opportunity to tell James Carville to shut the F up. Like I said, my man hasn't been relevant since grunge was a thing, and I don't know why he believes it's helpful to say these kinds of things about an incredibly difficult circumstance with an incredibly strong and decent and excellent President. I'll never understand that."

With me now is James Carville himself. James, I'll give you an opportunity to defend yourself. What's your response here to Senator Fetterman?

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I don't know -- defend anything. Poll numbers are poll numbers. I can't wait. But it won't be due. Come on here and lie. What I see, I talk about. I'm sorry. I don't think being dishonest with people is ever a good policy. PHILLIP: That's fair enough. I think the argument -- it sounds like

he's making is why beat a man when he's down? Essentially, we're four days away from the election year beginning. There's no real serious contender who's taking on President Biden, who has the chance, it seems at the moment, at the nomination. Is your criticism simply damaging Democrats' chances at this point?

CARVILLE: Well, I don't know how telling people the truth damages anything. But okay, so President Biden has an approval rating of 56, and he's eight points up in the multi-candidate bill for the President.


Does that make you feel better? Does that make me like a loyal guy to just look right in this camera and lie right, right through my mouth? No. Now, if you want to talk about things that can do, can improve the situation, hopefully, you know, Trump's not having great numbers himself and you know, if it's -- we keep some steam in this economy, things should get better, but I'm not going to sit here in -- in order to be relevant in somebody's eyes, sit in this camera and lie to you and tell you something that's not true.

PHILLIP: So, what do you think should happen here? Should President Biden step aside? Is there anything that he can actually do to fix this at this point?

CARVILLE: That's his choice. He made that choice not to. So, I'm just echoing what the voters say. It's not what I think. Do I think his numbers are bad? Well, the numbers are not very good. And I know some people would prefer me to go out and make up stuff, but I think most people will come up to me, at least, when I run into them and say, you know, thank God you're telling us where we are.

At least we know where we start from. And I've always believed in politics. I would, I dare say I've been involved in campaigns in 22 different countries and I don't know how many campaigns in the United States. And I always wanted to know where we were and how do we move from there.

But I never wanted to be lied to. I never wanted our situation to be denied. And apparently that's what some people are asking me to do. And you do better talking to a wall than asking me to make up numbers on television.

PHILLIP: So, the argument that you hear from Biden supporters is that he's done this once, he beat Trump when Trump was an incumbent president. Trump is now facing multiple indictments. We're just discussing he's now facing the risk of not even being on the ballot in 2024. The argument they make is, what makes you think that Biden can't do it again?

CARVILLE: I don't know that he can't do it again. I know that right now, it's a challenging situation. But how can I tell you what's going to happen in November? I don't. But I know that we have some underlying problems that people are unhappy about. And it looks like they're trying to address some of the problems on the southern board and do some things like that. And that's great.

But I'm sitting here telling you what the situation is today. And it's not particularly favorable. And I'm not to gain the approval of somebody I'm not going to come on here and lie to you. If other people want to lie, then that's him.

But yes, he's right. He did win the nomination and won the presidency in 2020. That's undeniable. But why do we -- why do we as Democrats, why do we want to be Republicans and go out and BS people when it's not going to do us any good at all?

PHILLIP: That's an interesting question that I think you'd have to ask your Democratic colleagues. Look, James, before you go, I want to ask you -- I want to ask you about something that is really getting a lot of attention this week. Republican candidate Nikki Haley, she is playing damage control, to put it lightly, tonight, to clarify what she meant and why she didn't say slavery when she was asked about the cause of the Civil War. Listen to what she's been saying.


HALEY: Of course, the Civil War was about slavery. We know that. That's unquestioned, always the case. We know the Civil War was about slavery. But it was also more than that. It was about the freedoms of every individual. It was about the role of government.


PHILLIP: That's a clean-up, but I mean, do you think that this actually is going to have an impact on where she stands in the race right now?

CARVILLE: Well, it's not standing very good to start with. I think it's an ultimately political calculation. There's a lot of Republican voters don't want to hear that. And she sits there with a straight face and talks about the freedom of people and you're talking about four million southerners -- slavery.

How much less freedom can you possibly have than being human chattel? And she just has a hard time of just getting it out of her mouth. Yes, that is primarily by every historian worth his or her weight and salt, the primary drive of the Civil War.

And if it's about people's freedom, well, I think it was four million Southerners, but I think some historians could check me, a large number of the people in slave-owning states had no freedom.

I don't understand where she's coming from, but she thinks that that's politically popular to say that. It's -- can I use the word asinine on television? I guess there's some tape so you can cut it out if you want to.


But it's kind of ludicrous to say about people's freedoms. I don't mean to laugh. I'm not saying that slavery is a laughing matter. I'm telling her -- her answer is a laughing matter. There's a difference between the two.

PHILLIP: James Carville. True to form as always, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

CARVILLE: I'm not going to lie to you. Slavery was not a good thing.