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Trump Advisers Celebrate His Debate Performance; Biden's Shaky Performance Raises Alarms For Democrats; Today: Donald Trump Campaigns In Virginia. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired June 28, 2024 - 05:30   ET




KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: Just after 5:30 a.m. here on the East Coast.

It was a historic debate last night -- one that could change the course of the 2024 election.

Democrats are panicking after President Biden's softspoken performance that really puts it mildly, according to them, were a number of moments where he mumbled or seemed to freeze. Some Democrats are privately questioning whether he should remain at the top of their ticket.

Donald Trump's advisers, meanwhile, are celebrating his performance. CNN reporting that one adviser specifically pointed to this moment where Trump avoided responsibility -- or tried, I should say, to avoid responsibility for the January 6 riot.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And let me tell you about January 6. On January 6 we had a great border -- nobody coming through -- very few. On January 6 we were energy independent. On January 6 we had the lowest taxes ever. We had the lowest regulations ever. On January 6 we were respected all over the world. All over the world we were respected.

And then he comes in and we're now laughed at. We're like a bunch of stupid people.


HUNT: So Trump reportedly crafted and practiced that response during his debate preparation. I thought he wasn't doing debate prep.

All right. Here to discuss last night's debate, former lieutenant -- Georgia lieutenant governor Geoff Duncan. He joins us alongside our panel.


Look, you have been out front as someone who has been arguing in no small part because of what we saw there -- the January 6 issue -- but, of course, also the 11,000 votes he was hunting for here in Georgia -- about the dangers of another Trump presidency.

You have said that you are supporting Joe Biden. Are you still supporting him after the performance we saw last night?

DUNCAN: You know, I'm one of those folks that I'm against Donald Trump because of -- because of facts and details. You just mentioned them -- him trying to bully his way here and lie, and conspiracy theories.

My family has received death threats. My wife and kids have received death threats.

I've watched him operate. I've watched him stoke the fires of January 6.

We cannot afford Donald Trump to be back in the White House.


And last night was difficult to watch, right? Joe Biden did not show up ready to go. Mentally and physically, he needed to cross a bar that was relatively low, and he didn't do it. I think he picks up additional headwinds from his own party.

And I think the folks in the middle, like me, that want anybody other than Donald Trump to be in charge of our country -- I think the couch caucus got a little bit bigger last night. I think we're still trying to figure out how can we justify not voting for a Republican and figure out how we can vote for a Democrat.

Joe Biden's got work to do.

HUNT: It's a really interesting way to think about it.

Do you think Democrats should try to put someone else at the top of their ticket?

DUNCAN: You know, I've said this from the get-go. I mean, I've literally tried to do everything I possibly can do. I've written a book called "GOP 2.0." I think our party should have had a different candidate to start with -- a different nominee.

I think Democrats, in a perfect world, would have somebody that's a lot younger than Joe Biden -- a lot more vibrant. They would have a different looking ticket. But that -- this is -- this is the menu that we've been dealt, and we've got to work through it.

I don't claim to be a subject matter expert on convention technicalities and how that all works, but Republicans have got Donald Trump and Democrats have got Joe Biden, and "Battle Royale" it is. Last night was hard. There's time to overcome it but certainly, it was


HUNT: It does seem as though if, in fact, any of this chatter that we are -- I mean, it's very clearly happening. These conversations are very clearly happening. If it were to become real, it would take Joe Biden making a decision to step back and say I recognize that it's time for someone else.

Do you think he should do that?

DUNCAN: Well, I'm certainly not in the room with him. And I think his family and his inner circle should take into account the good of the country. And if they are seeing something that's less than -- less than workable then I think they need to step up and talk to him about it. But I'm certainly not one of those people in that inner circle to make that call.

HUNT: Do you feel like the Biden team has been dishonest with the country in trying to present President Biden as 100 percent capable? I mean, they are out there consistently saying this is not the man we see in private. He is 100 percent capable of doing the job. I mean, do you feel misled at all?

DUNCAN: You know, I don't see it that way. I mean, what I watched play out last night was Donald Trump -- his delivery was spot on, right? He delivered well. He seemed composed, really for the first time I've ever really seen Donald Trump with a camera and a microphone in his face seem composed. But --

HUNT: Which was basically the only bar that he had.

DUNCAN: It was the only bar he had.

HUNT: Yeah.

DUNCAN: But his content was still just juxtaposed to reality, right? If you -- if you fact-checked Donald Trump, he still was the same liar that he's been for decades.

Joe Biden's delivery was not good, but his content was heartfelt and American-based and America-centric. He wasn't calling us out and look -- making us look weaker. That's the juxtapose. It certainly wasn't the debate I thought --

I will say this. Huge kudos to CNN. This format that played out last night I think will become the gold standard for debates for decades to come. I really do think. And Dana and Jake did a tremendous job.

HUNT: So let's do a little bit of the fact-checking, as you mentioned, because while the president's performance has generated all these headlines, the back half of the debate, in particular, we did see a lot of the president -- the former president saying things that are just not true.

Now, we played a little bit about what he had said on January 6. Clearly, a rehearsed answer. I just want to remind everyone what Donald Trump actually said in January ahead of what happened at the Capitol. Let's watch.


TRUMP: We fight. We fight like hell. And if you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore.


HUNT: He also, of course, said that while people should peacefully -- he didn't use the word peacefully, but that they should go to the Capitol.

Alex Thompson, I actually want to put this to you. How did you see what Trump did, especially on the January 6 question, in terms of the level truth or lack thereof with the American people?

ALEX THOMPSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, AXIOS: I mean, there was a lot of lack thereof, you know. I mean, he basically --


THOMPSON: Yeah. I mean, he basically said that it was this big crowd and they asked me to speak, and I just went up there. And then just a small number of them went to the Capitol and a few of them got out of hand. And then Joe Biden came along and over-prosecuted them.

That is not in alignment with reality. Donald Trump called those people there. He incited them. He whipped them up. He also suggested that he was going to go and go with them to the Capitol, if you remember. Now, we can debate about the whole -- you know, is he with the Secret Service and everything else, but he said that. And so it wasn't in alignment with reality.

ENTEN: Why couldn't Joe Biden just have said what Alex said right now last night? Donald Trump consistently, over and over and over again, gave Joe Biden plenty of opportunities for Joe Biden to call him out and show that Trump was not telling the truth or that Trump had positions out of line with the American public. And Joe Biden, simply put, couldn't do it.

I can assure you that the Joe Biden that I knew growing up would have had a field day with the Donald Trump that showed up last night. But the Joe Biden that showed up last night, simply put, couldn't do it.


SHERMICHAEL SINGLETON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I mean, it was Donald -- it was Joe Biden's job to articulate wherever he thought Donald Trump was not being truthful --


SINGLETON: -- or his claims --


SINGLETON: -- weren't in reality. He should have attacked those things. He did not. I don't know if he was capable. Who knows what occurred?

But I think Trump did the right thing by pivoting. This was always an issue where Donald Trump really has never had a good answer on -- he's never had a good answer on the abortion issue. So to go back to things that voters actually care about I think was smart.

HUNT: Yeah. So let's talk about abortion, actually, and I'm just going to kind of jump to one of the sound bites that we heard from President Biden, actually, right off of the top. Because this is another thing that gave Democrats pause, which is that very early in the debate Joe Biden had an opportunity to take an issue where Democrats feel very confident about where they stand and use it against former President Donald Trump who has bragged about putting justices on the court that ultimately overturned Roe versus Wade.

But this answer -- there was a question that was asked of Joe Biden about whether he would support any restrictions on abortion. It's one we've heard asked of Democrats for decades, particularly before Roe fell. They have been able to handle it much more easily in the time since the Dobbs decision.

But this is what we saw from President Biden. He was walking through trimesters yesterday night on stage.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I support Roe v. Wade, which had three trimesters. The first time is between a woman and a doctor. The second time is between a doctor and an extreme situation. The third time is between the doctor -- I mean, between the woman and the state.

The idea that the politicians -- that the founders wanted the politicians to be the ones making decisions about women's health is ridiculous. That's the last -- no politician should be making that decision. A doctor should be making those decisions.


HUNT: I mean, Shermichael --

SINGLETON: That is -- that's incoherent. It was an incoherent response regardless of where you may fall on this issue. I mean, this should be a five-alarm fire for Democrats. They really have to figure it out considering how close this election is going to be in November.

There were a sliver of voters in the middle -- let's say four, five, six percent in some of those close battleground states where the differences were between 11,000, 10,000, 22,000 votes. Those voters saw this debate last night and they're either going to stay home or some of them who were kind of looking at Trump again and thinking well, you know what, I remember the first two years where the economy was great. I do remember that he was good on immigration. I do remember that we weren't on the risk of potentially getting ourselves involved in expensive protractive foreign conflicts. I think I'm going to cast my vote for Trump. That is a big issue for Democrats.

THOMPSON: Well, and that answer gets at something that I've heard some -- already some internal finger-pointing within the Biden orbit -- within the Biden White House over how they prepared him for this debate -- going to Camp David. And basically, they felt he was overprepared. Basically, he was well-versed in minutia.

But when all that really mattered was what happened at the State of the Union, which is it was his vitality. And instead, he was prepared for the minutia. That answer is something -- a version that he's given a million times. But he was -- he was deep in the weeds.

DUNCAN: The 10 percent in the middle didn't get anything last night. The 10 percent in the middle didn't get answers to January 6 or any of the other big question marks around Donald Trump. And they certainly are even more confused as to where Joe Biden's positions are on a lot of these issues. And so, the 10 percent is still up for grabs, but the vitality issue is I think a huge part of --

ENTEN: The 10 percent is just disgusted. That's what they are. It's a record high number of folks who say they dislike both candidates. I'm dealing (PH) from right here.

HUNT: Hold on. Give me a wide shot. Do that again.

DUNCAN: (Raising hand). The ayes have it.

ENTEN: There it is. He is emblematic of what we've seen in the polling over and over and over again. And you know what? Joe Biden's best hope is that this debate was the earliest debate on record by three months.

Can something happen in the next one, two, three, four months until the general election to change? Because if voters' lasting impression is of Joe Biden -- what they say last night, this campaign is over. But fortunately for Joe Biden, the election isn't tomorrow. It's in November.

HUNT: Well, for Democrats, he's also still just the presumptive nominee.


HUNT: There is that.

All right. Coming up next here, the morning after. Donald Trump is waking up in Virginia. How he is celebrating what his campaign is calling, for reasons we've been discussing this morning, a clear win.

Plus, President Biden goes after Donald Trump for his response to Charlottesville.



SEN. J.D. VANCE (R-OH): Obviously, I'm a little bit biased. But I think what they saw is a guy who is in command of the facts. Who has a good sense of humor. Who is not, you know, nearly the sort of threat to democracy the Democrats say that he is. And importantly, shows compassion.


HUNT: All right. Donald Trump waking up this morning at Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Virginia ahead of a rally planned this afternoon in Chesapeake that he is hosting alongside his ally, Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia. Trump, of course, lost Virginia in the last two elections.

CNN's Alayna Treene is live for us in Sterling, Virginia. Alayna, good morning. It's wonderful to see you. What do you expect to see from former President Trump today, and what are you hearing from his camp this morning?

ALAYNA TREENE, CNN REPORTER: Well, look, it's -- he's clearly going to be taking a victory lap, Kasie, at this rally later today. And you're right. I mean, you mentioned that Virginia is a state that Donald Trump and his campaign privately and publicly have been saying they think that he can be competitive in. They think that this state is more purple even though it has gone more Democratic in past elections.


And when I talked to his advisers last night, they said they are feeling very much buoyed by Donald Trump's performance at the debate last night.

And as for what I am hearing -- I mean, we've seen the reports. Your panel has been discussing all morning Joe Biden's performance. When I talked to Trump's campaign, they have been relishing some of the panic we've seen from Democrats on social media, on TV -- their commentary about Joe Biden's poor performance at the debate. And so, they are very much celebrating behind the scenes.

And part of the reason, too -- I just want to, like, break down a couple of things. So what you hear is that they actually did go into yesterday pretty nervous about the debate. We had talked for the past several days about how they were trying to raise the expectations for Joe Biden. They weren't sure what type of Joe Biden would show up. They actually had been potentially anticipating that he would have a very strong performance on the debate stage.

And so, they had extensively prepped Donald Trump on a series of issues, including something that they argued was a big priority for him instead of substance. They actually thought his performance and the optics and his visuals -- the way his facial reaction was -- was going to be a key part of his performance. And they walked away last night thinking that Donald Trump did exactly what he needed to do.

They argue that he was much more reserved than you've seen at his rallies. I would arguably agree with that. And that he didn't veer into some of the aggressive personal attacks, particularly on Joe Biden, that they were fearing he might do. Of course, we did hear Donald Trump bring up Hunter Biden, Joe Biden's son, and his recent felony conviction.

But by and large, Donald Trump tried to stay more reserved I would say, in comparison to what we know Donald Trump has been in the past. And so, those are wins in their book for how he did -- Kasie.

HUNT: All right, Alayna Treene for us. Alayna, thank you very much.

So, President Biden, last night, reiterating it was the 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia and Trump's response to that deadly event that inspired him to run for the White House four years ago.


BIDEN: I said I wasn't going to run again until I saw what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia. People coming out of the woods carrying swastikas on torches -- torches and singing the same antisemitic bile they sang when -- back in Germany. They asked him -- they said, what do you think of those people -- the people who -- the one who got killed -- the one who tried to stop it? And the one, he said, I think they are fine people on both sides.

TRUMP: Both of you know that story has been totally wiped out. Because when you see the sentence, it said, "100 percent exoneration" on that. So he just keeps it going.


HUNT: All right. So he was claiming 100 percent exoneration there -- Donald Trump.

Let's play the whole clip from 2017 just to make sure. You can see it for yourselves and decide which man you think is telling the truth. Let's watch it.


REPORTER: They showed up in Charlottesville --

TRUMP: Excuse me.

REPORTER: -- to protest --

TRUMP: Excuse me. They didn't put themselves down as (INAUDIBLE). And you had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people on both sides.

You're changing history. You're changing culture. And you had people -- and I'm not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists because they should be condemned totally. But you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists.


HUNT: Harry Enten?

ENTEN: I mean, look, the polling consistently after that press conference he had that now feels like eons ago, the majority of folks said when asked "Do you believe that Donald Trump is racist?" They said yes, he was.

Last night, again, though, when it came between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, Joe Biden articulated that case considerably better four years ago than he did last night.

Look, everybody knows who Donald Trump is. Sometimes they need to be reminded of it. And last night, Joe Biden couldn't remind people who Donald Trump was. Donald Trump was able to paint the image that he wanted to and now it's going to be up to the voters to decide which image they want to actually believe.

THOMPSON: Well, you know, to add to his point, the thing that was so striking about that sort of halting answer is this should be the ultimate --


THOMPSON: -- Joe Biden answer.

HUNT: Yeah.

THOMPSON: It was in his first ad when he declared his candidacy four years ago. This is the story he tells all the time. But slowly but surely you have seen him deliver more halting answers.

I still remember there was a fundraiser. It wasn't on camera but there was a fundraiser sometime last year where he basically repeated the exact same story almost word for word twice in a row, a few minutes apart. I don't know if you remember, guys, that. And you can see sort of, like, he's struggling to make the case -- the original case he made when he declared.

DUNCAN: This is the frustrating thing for us level-headed conservatives is Donald Trump, with every answer -- like, you watch this January 6 answer. It wasn't really an answer. The Charlottesville answer, it wasn't really an answer. Is he going to consider the vote -- or the election legal? It's not an answer.


We allow this guy to have wiggle room in every answer and sow seeds of doubt so he can come back at a later point in time and then -- and then redirect himself and change what his actual -- his words were.

That's the problem with this. We give this guy flexibility to just continue to somewhat say the truth instead of fully telling the truth, and that's where we're at. And we just keep giving him hall pass after hall pass after hall pass. And then a year later, two years later, three years later he gets to wiggle his way out of it.

ENTEN: I just want to know very quickly, Alayna pointed out that the Trump team believes that they can play in Virginia. If you believe the polling -- the public polling, they absolutely can. And at this particular point, if the election were held today, I'd make the case that Virginia would be closer than the supposed swing state we're in right now of Georgia.

SINGLETON: I mean, Kasie, I'm just --

HUNT: Last point.

SINGLETON: -- convinced that this argument that the president is attempting to make on race he has a substantial amount of standing on. Because I've talked to a lot of Black men who are becoming more open to the idea of potentially voting for Trump.

HUNT: Yeah.

SINGLETON: They think about some of Joe Biden's past records and statements about African Americans -- specifically, Black men. And so, while that may have had resonance four years ago, I don't think that resonance remains the same today.

HUNT: All right. Shermichael Singleton, Harry Enten, thank you both very much for joining us this morning.

All right. In our next hour, right here on CNN THIS MORNING --


BIDEN: Look, if -- we finally beat Medicare.

JAKE TAPPER, MODERATOR, CNN PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE: Thank you, President Biden. President Trump?

TRUMP: Oh, he's right. He did beat Medicare. He beat it to death. He's destroying Medicare.


HUNT: President Biden's performance at the debate raising alarm bells for Democrats who are now considering a once unthinkable question.

Plus, abortion, immigration, and golf. One of the most heated moments of the night revolved around the candidates' golf swings.