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Erin Burnett Outfront
Chris Christie Suspends Presidential Campaign; Tonight On CNN: Final GOP Debate Before Iowa Caucuses; CNN Goes Inside Gaza Tunnels Where IDF Says Hostages Were Held. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired January 10, 2024 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: And good evening, and welcome to a very special edition of OUTFRONT.
The breaking news, Chris Christie drops out, the bombshell coming just two hours before CNN's GOP debate, the last debate before the first votes of the 2024 election.
I'm Erin Burnett in New York and welcome to our viewers here and around the world.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: And I'm Anderson Cooper in Des Moines, Iowa.
Behind me, the stage is set for the debate tonight between Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis. And Christie's surprise announcement just raised the stakes here in a big way.
Here is Chris Christie in his own words.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's clear to me tonight that there isn't a path for me to win the nomination, which is why I'm suspending my campaign tonight for the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: The question of course is who will Christie endorsed. Conventional wisdom says Nikki Haley, but Christie was caught on a hot mic right before his announcement saying this about Nikki Haley.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: She's going to get smoked, and you and I both know it, she's not up to this.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BURNETT: Well, obviously, he said what he said. We don't know exactly what he was saying in the full context. But it's pretty clear there.
And what is clear is that Haley needs Christie's votes in New Hampshire, no matter how you cut it.
I mean, if you look, Anderson, at our new CNN poll from New Hampshire, you have Trump at 39, right, and you got Haley right behind with 32, and Christie has 12. So, obviously, you can't say that all 12 are going to go over to Haley, right? It wouldn't be fair, but you know most of those and you look at those, you don't need him all to pull ahead of Trump.
So let's get straight to Omar Jimenez, because he's in New Hampshire. He was there when Christie made that announcement and said both the onstage and offstage comments that Anderson just played.
So, Omar, nobody was expecting this announcement tonight. So why now?
OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's the real question here. And even just less than 24 hours ago, there were comments made on CNN by New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu insinuating that discussions were being had about Christie dropping out.
And Christie's campaign responded pretty forcefully, saying that those comments are misinformed. Christie even came out later in the night and went as far to call Governor Sununu a liar. And then here we are less than 24 hours later, Governor Christie making the announcement that he's suspending his campaign.
He did it to a roomful of supporters and voters in the town hall format, which is the way he kicked off this campaign. It's been a staple about how he's run this campaign, particularly here in New Hampshire. And as we heard tonight, it was how he ended his campaign.
And as we heard over the course of some of these comments, he really tried to paint the picture of the stakes for not only him being in the race, but for what's ahead in this race for president, especially when it comes to Donald Trump. Take a listen to some of what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: Imagine just for a moment if 9/11 had happened with Donald Trump behind the desk. The first thing he would've done was run to the bunker to protect himself. He would've put himself first, before this country. And anyone who is unwilling to say that he is unfit to be president of to be the United States is unfit themselves.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JIMENEZ: So, now, of course, the question is what happens next? Now, I talked to some folks in his campaign, and they told me they're going dark for the next few days. They don't have a plan to announce any sort of endorsement or anything like that.
You played some of the audio from that hot mic moment that was happening. Those comments were actually to a man named Wayne MacDonald, who heads Chris Christie's New Hampshire campaign here. And those comments were made essentially as he was informing them of what he was about to do and what at that point was just minutes. Now, how that reverberates into any potential endorsement in the
future, we will see. But just last month, I was sitting down with Chris Christie, literally looking at him face to face. I brought up some of the dynamics that are at play now about whether he and Nikki Haley coexist in this race.
And he point-blank told me, I am not going anywhere and come January 23rd, which is primary day here in New Hampshire, you're going to be shaking hands, I'm going to be shaking hands with voters until the polls close. And now, here we are with Christie officially suspending his campaign -- Anderson.
COOPER: Omar Jimenez -- Omar, thanks. I want to go to Jeff Zeleny now who is live from the ground floor here in the debate hall.
So, Jeff, the timing obviously of Christie's announcement is a surprise for the people waking up this morning, didn't expect it today. How are the other campaigns reacting?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, this is something that certainly is going to be on the minds of these candidates as they take the stage at the debate hall behind me, at Drake University. And really it's one of those things that shakes up the race in a way that has many crosscurrents. It's not clear exactly if this will be the focus of the debate tenor or mentioned it at all. But certainly it is on the minds of both of these candidates.
The media reaction from Nikki Haley is, she congratulated Chris Christie for running a hard-fought campaign. Now, those two served as governors basically at the same time, she in South Carolina, he in New Jersey, in an entirely different pre-Trump era of the party.
But you heard that hot mic moment there, and that is what Florida Governor Ron DeSantis seized upon. He says he agrees with Chris Christie's assessment there that she is going to get, quote, smoked.
So we will see if that dynamic sort of continues on stage tonight. But the reality is, Anderson, this does not affect the Iowa campaign that much, because Chris Christie was not competing in Iowa. But going into New Hampshire, which this race is going to do in less than a week's time, it certainly does.
So there have been behind the scenes reach-outs from both campaigns. I am told that Nikki Haley has not spoken to Chris Christie. We will see if that changes. She certainly is likely to get perhaps some of his votes. There's no doubt about that. But without an endorsement, it's unclear how many.
So this hangs over the race in one bigger way, that it is really winnowing even before the voting begins, this is much different than eight years ago in the 2016 campaign, when there were nearly a dozen candidates still left in. These two podiums on the debate stage behind me, so indicative here of this races, small, of course, the person a hanging over all of this is Donald Trump. And he is not here, Erin. COOPER: All right. Jeff Zeleny, of course, on that debate stage, where
Anderson is as well.
And our New York team here with me.
So, Alyssa, Christie dropping out, unexpectedly in terms of the timing. And the timing matters, because now you've got right hours before the debate and before Iowa itself. How significant could it be?
ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Significant, about 60 percent of voters who say they were supporting Christie, Nikki Haley is their second choice. Christie has been getting pressure for a number of weeks now to back out. People been saying, close advisers, say you could potentially be a spoiler by Donald Trump by keeping those votes who could've gone to someone like Nikki Haley.
But I don't think he's to endorse. I interviewed him last week and he seemed very clear. I think he carries a lot of guilt for his support for Trump. And what he does not want to do is put his full weight behind someone who might end up being Trump's VP or might end up endorsing Trump.
So I think this is kind of his mea culpa. I'm going to step out, and I'm going to let the votes go where they may.
BURNETT: All right. So he has made it clear, he just posted on X, you know, he will do anything. He won't do anything to help Trump. Well, except for he might have done something pretty significant before he actually went on the stage, David. And let me just play more of what Christie said about Haley on that hot mic, because it was a little bit more of time. Here it is.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: She's going to get smoked. And you and I both know it, she's not up to this.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And she hasn't even challenged.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's still 20 points behind Trump in New Hampshire, right?
CHRISTIE: Yeah, oh, yeah.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And he's still going to carry Iowa, right?
CHRISTIE: Yes, oh, he's -- I talked to -- DeSantis called me, petrified that I would --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's probably getting out after Iowa.
CHRISTIE: Well, he's --
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BURNETT: We don't know who the conversation's with. Was DeSantis petrified that he be endorsing Haley? We don't know, there's unfinished sentences. But I will tell you one thing, I don't need context to interpret.
BURNETT: She's going to get smoked.
DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah, that does not sound like a guy on the verge of endorsing Nikki Haley right there.
URBAN: And coming out and throwing his full-throated support behind Nikki Haley.
And plus, you know, during his concession speech, or, you know, his suspension speech there, he kind of poke a little fun at her on the civil war piece. He said I don't have to tell you slavery was the cause of the civil war. He kind of took another jab at her. So, I don't think he's going to come out.
But, you know, be mindful that he doesn't own those voters. Those aren't his -- the people don't owe him anything. He's not on the ballot. Those folks are free to do whatever they want and they are going to vote for presumably Nikki Haley.
So he doesn't have to release them. They're not pledged him as a delegate.
BURNETT: Right. So how much does an endorsement matter?
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: I don't think it's going to matter at all. Christie voters are anti-Trump voters. So where are they going to go? They are going to go to Nikki Haley.
As Alyssa said, 62 percent, it's the -- it's the second choice. The other thing is we saw Chris Christie, if you will, go Liz Cheney tonight. He took down the Republican Party. He took down every candidate who is supporting Trump.
And my sources close to the campaign say do not expect an endorsement of Nikki Haley unless all of a sudden Nikki Haley becomes a never Trumper. I don't think --
BURNETT: No, and she's being very careful. Even the other day in the town hall chaos, follows him on whether to directly say he created the chaos or followed him, she's very careful.
AUDIE CORNISH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He did more than that, because not only did he name names, people that he felt enabled the president, but he used the term enabled. He said this thing that I did followed me. And I could never get away from it, the supporting of this president. And he also used the idea and the theme, overall, this is not on the
hot mic, that ambition had taken over his goals, over everything else. So he's actually calling out the very value system that he thinks is at play in the party right now. And I think that that is actually pretty profound and does feel different from what we've seen from Liz Cheney and others.
BURNETT: What's the impact of it, though? And obviously, you look at Iowa, where it's much less significant, he wasn't a player at all in Iowa, Kristen. But momentum matters, right? And if Haley can't seize this momentum and excitement now, that does seem to impact her significantly.
KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Chris Christie getting out of the race was unnecessary but not sufficient condition for her to win New Hampshire. If he had stayed in, it was hard to see a path for her to consolidate enough votes. With him out of the way, it's possible.
I'm inclined to agree that the doesn't have to be an endorsement that the 60 percent or so in polls say they will go from Christie to Haley, that's not contingent on him giving them their blessing. But that other 40 percent I typically see, they say I don't know who I would pick or maybe I will stay home.
And that's what I think could, if there was going to be any benefit to an interest meant, would be permission for those folks to think, oh, a Republican primary, I don't know if I want to bother. It's cold, do I want to go through this?
If they think Nikki Haley doesn't have a shot, or, oh, she's just come to wind up being a Trump sycophant in the end, maybe they stay home. And that's the fine line she's got to walk.
BURNETT: Jamal, when you look at this, though, the significance of it, as you come into this debate tonight, right, and Haley is talking to Iowa voters, to the base that you want to get a vote from, but she's also talking to the independents. She's talking to people who would actually deliver her to the White House.
When you look at "The Wall Street Journal" poll, Haley beats Biden by 17 points. Now, this is just one poll, but it is -- look at how much Trump beat Biden in the same poll, four.
JAMAL SIMMONS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: In the before times, Nikki Haley would be the Republican nominee for president, and she might even be the next president of the United States, right? She's talking about a new generation of leadership, she is trying to be forward- leaning, she is the best of what I consider to be a mediocre bunch of Republicans who are running. But she is the best out of the group in terms of her television performance.
But I am starting to hear these questions about, her these things about how she is campaigning that raise questions. She's doing events, but she's not taking questions from the audience. So that tells me they are playing this a little bit too cautiously. She needs to be running like -- she has 30 points behind, but she has been running like that. And that means being aggressive and taking chances and doing things advisers would tell you not to do, because they say it's going to put things at risk.
All you have is risk? What are you just sitting on your, you know --
BURNETT: Right now, she's much more cautious.
By the way, when you say before times, I'm like, you got before Trump, and after Donald. I mean, I could just go ahead and go with the full analogy here.
CORNISH: I'm glad you brought up the idea staying home, because I think this is talked about so much with the Biden White House and their concerns about enthusiasm that we are -- we have a tendency to maybe ignore that part of the Republican Party that may just throw their hands up in the air and not show up. And that is meaningful as well in the general election.
SIMMONS: But, Erin, what we don't know is -- we don't know -- maybe you guys, Republicans and pollsters at the table do know, is if there is a cohort of voters out there who are just simply waiting around to see if there is a another horse that they can get on that will take them against Trump. Maybe they're Trump voters, but they would prefer not to have all the theatrical going along with Trump.
So Trump's big numbered that he's talking about sitting on, that may be solid, or maybe a number waiting to crack as soon as somebody else looks like that's a car that's leaving the station.
BURNETT: Which is why it's so important what happened tonight and whether she can take this moment tonight and really stand out.
GRIFFIN: Well, I do want to take issue with something Christie said. And first off, I applaud him for being the person in the race most unequivocally telling the truth about Donald Trump and having that moral clarity. I think it was important.
But to say she's is going to get smoke, the numbers do not bear that out. She is competitive in New Hampshire. If she's able to turn out independents and moderates, she does have a pathway. Her team is creating a ground game in South Carolina.
It is a tremendous uphill battle. But Chris Christie also said something last week, which is if it's Trump versus Biden, Biden is going to sweep the floor with him. The numbers don't bear that out.
So I think he is taking a gamble here rather than the more pragmatic decision of trying to support someone in the primary who could stop Trump, because he's putting all his money on Biden. And that's just not what the polls show.
BURNETT: All right --
CORNISH: One last thing --
URBAN: The good news is -- the good news is we find out next Monday.
URBAN: We don't have to wait that long.
SIMMONS: We will find out something.
BURNETT: We find out a whole lot in the next two hours, as this debate kicks off, I mean, because this now colors the entire situation. There's so much pressure, the biggest debate so far, of course, ahead of these first votes.
And next, we are following the breaking news of Chris Christie dropping out of the race, the impact, because he was Trump's fiercest critic. So is Trump actually worried about Christie dropping out or not?
And then, evangelical voters, so crucial for this debate tonight. And in Iowa, they supported Trump in 2016. Will they back him again?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Do you see him as a man of faith?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, indeed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't see him as -- Trump as a messianic figure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: But, first OUTFRONT, Nic Robertson, tonight going deep inside a Hamas tunnel and what he found that you will see for the first time is chilling.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: This tunnel we're going in here is one with some of the hostages were held.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: And welcome back to the special edition of OUTFRONT. You are looking at live pictures out of Iowa, where in less than two hours, Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley are going to be on that CNN debate stage that you are looking at right now. And we are following the big breaking news that impacts this crucial debate.
And that is the loudest critic of Trump in the race, Chris Christie, just announcing he is dropping out, very surprised -- surprising in terms of the timing. [19:20:04]
Now, Trump is celebrating Christie's exit. Kristen Holmes is, of course, talking to her Trump sources.
And so, Kristen, what is the real reaction here? I mean, Trump was quick to post on social media and seize on the hot mic moment that Christie had there. But what's he really thinking?
KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, you know, when it comes to Donald Trump, usually, there are multiple things that can be true at once. When it comes to celebrating, there is some glee among the former president and his allies, that a candidate whose sole platform was attacking Donald Trump could not only not survive in a primary, but not even make it until the first vote was cast.
And that gives him a little bit of an edge, they feel. They can say this is where the Republican Party currently stands. But there is a larger issue of concern around Nikki Haley that was happening even before Christie drop out. Now, of course, as we noted, as your panel noted, we cannot say where Chris Christie's votes are going to go. If they would go to Nikki Haley, but it does appear that would be the obvious choice.
And Trump's team had already been deeply concerned about the rise they had seen in her poll numbers. They are spending a combined, campaign and super PAC, $4.5 million on attack ads on Haley, on immigration in New Hampshire. They believe immigration is one of the top issues in the granite state. They are also sending 1.3 million dollars alone, the super PAC, hitting Nikki Haley in New Hampshire.
Just to give you an idea of how much money that is, they have pulled back all spending on ads attacking Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
Now, they are expressing confidence, I was told by one senior advisor that sure, it will impact some undecided voters, but it's not enough to change the trajectory of the race. We also got a memo put out, they said it was a confidential memo written by their pollster to the campaign heads, put out by the campaign, that said this is not going to impact Trump winning in the state.
But again, as we know, they have been concerned about Nikki Haley. They are watching those numbers carefully. They are looking at the tabs in every single poll and as we have reported, Erin, the team that is around him right now is one of the most disciplined to date, which means they are analyzing data looking through this. And there is a reason they are spending so much money going after Nikki Haley. So it's certainly not all a celebration tonight -- Anderson.
COOPER: Kristen, thanks very much.
With me here now in the debate hall is David Axelrod and Scott Jennings.
David, if the former president is publicly crowing about the departure of Chris Christie, should he be concerned? DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think there
are two things that could be going on here. There is no doubt that he is a very, very happy, wanted to see Christie humiliated for taking him on and all of that. But in the short run, this is a problem for them. It does make Haley more competitive in New Hampshire. There's no question about it.
Now, I have some doubt as to every -- I don't think there's a street conversion. I heard Kristen Soltis Anderson say this a bit earlier, I think there are people who will say, I may just skip this one. You heard Christie, he gave a blistering speech, and it was not just about Donald Trump, but about the other candidates who are afraid to take him on. And that was very much Haley as well as DeSantis.
So it could be that some of his supporters just decided so. But in the bulk of them will, I think, will got to -- go to -- Haley. I think that's something that the Trump team has to worry about.
COOPER: Do you see Christie endorsing somebody before Iowa?
SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, did not sound like a tonight, at least not in a hot mic moment. He was caught backstage saying she is going to get smoked. We all know that. How do you say that and then gets publicized around the world, and then you go out and enjoy somebody?
COOPER: We don't have the context of exactly where she is going to get smoked. But she's figure (ph) out that.
JENNINGS: Sure. And then to Ax's point, you know, the speech tonight was as much about as opponents as it was about Trump, his non-Trump opponents. So I don't know it did not seem like it. I heard Kristen reporting on the memo that the Trump campaign issued, I tend to agree with them. I do think a few people are going to flow towards Haley.
But a lot of his people were looking for a pure anti-Trump campaign. Well, she's not giving them. I mean, she's out promising to pardon Donald Trump.
And so, if you are someone all in on the Chris Christie message of we have to sweep Trump aside, there's no equivocating, you can't play footsie with this, why would you show up with someone who at least recently has been playing some amount of footsie with it?
COOPER: I want to play some of the things that Chris Christie played with the former president. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: Donald Trump is not fit to be president of the United States or fit to be the nominee of the Republican Party.
He will sell the soul of this country.
He is angry, he is bitter.
He is such a spoiled baby, completely self-centered, completely self- consumed, and doesn't give a damn about the American people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: It's going to be interesting tonight how much either of these candidates actually get aggressive against the former president. Because, I mean, basically it seems like they've just been shooting each other.
AXELROD: Well, I think, look, there's another message of Christie going out of the race, which it doesn't really pay in the Republican Party to go straight at Donald Trump. And that's a lesson they've clearly internalized. You know, they tiptoed around him. DeSantis was a little more aggressive in his town hall on CNN last week. But generally, their attitude is I don't want to antagonize Trump's base, which is quite large. So it creates a big strategic problem for them.
But one other thing I want to say about this, there is no doubt that Nikki Haley is going to leave the state and go to New Hampshire and she is going to be the principal opponent to Donald Trump. There is a lot of question as to whether Ron DeSantis it is going to leave this state at all. And so, a lot of the pressure tonight is on him.
And I suspect he is going to save most of his attacks for Nikki Haley and not Donald Trump.
JENNINGS: And that would be a departure from what we saw last week in the CNN town halls. They did not engage each other much at all. They do get more aggressive with Trump.
But if you look at the pre-debate video that the DeSantis campaign has issued against Nikki Haley, showing her saying things and then denying that she had said them, flip-flopping on various issues, I took that as a foreshadowing that he is going to come out here and be as aggressive with her as we've ever seen, and not have any other candidates on the stage to interrupt that flow.
COOPER: We also have not seen her -- we saw DeSantis debated Gavin Newsom, so he's had one-on-one experience, but we have not seen Nikki Haley one on one with somebody --
AXELROD: It will be interesting to see how she handles these attacks because if I was advising her, I would not be the aggressor relative to DeSantis. Because at this, point it's going to look like punching down, even though -- even though she -- they have a competition going on for second place here. But I think the opportunity to attack him will come in the counter punches, when he attacks her. And I expect she'll be -- she'll be pretty strong in that regard.
JENNINGS: I mean, they both have to make a case there is a viable path for either them. You mentioned Iowa could be the Alamo for Ron DeSantis, and New Hampshire for Haley. But to the Republican voters at large, not just here but everywhere, you're trying to motivate them to show up Monday night, motivate them to show up in New Hampshire. It's going to be super cold here, and ultimately, you are trying to
get people to do something for you, because they believe, they believe that their vote is going to put you on a path to actually winning this election. And that is one thing I think the Trump campaign has done extremely well, keep the narrative of inevitability alive. And a big margin of victory here in Iowa on Monday, say, north a 12 point, 15, 20 points, would keep the ball bouncing for Trump.
COOPER: Before you talk about Ron DeSantis, what he needs to do in Iowa, what is -- something he's not winning --
AXELROD: By the way, we should point out when he began his campaign, the presumption was he was going to win here in Iowa. And he's crafted his whole campaign with that in mind. He's run way to the right. He's emphasized these socially conservative issues, which has -- and his numbers in New Hampshire have gone down commensurately. But I think he clearly has to finish second. And he would probably like to finish second with some margin, and as close to Trump as he can get.
COOPER: A very distant second, is that good enough?
AXELROD: Well, I think it may be good enough to go one more round. But, you know, he's at 6 percent -- he's at 6 percent in New Hampshire. So he may stumble into New Hampshire. But if this isn't his Alamo, then Manchester could be.
JENNINGS: And remember, Trump has some chance he could pull here. At some, point Ramaswamy is going to drop and probably go to Trump. If DeSantis were to drop, you would assume he would head towards Trump. Tim Scott is laying around their out there somewhere, hasn't endorsed anyone yet.
So for all the momentum that Haley is trying to get into New Hampshire, Trump is not without some reinforcements here. And the campaign is systematically rolling them out. They've been very disciplined about it.
COOPER: OUTFRONT next, the all-important evangelical vote. Trump working overtime to keep the support of evangelicals. We'll take a look at whether that is paying off.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: God puts people over us in office. And I believe God put Donald Trump there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: And Israel's war in Gaza is sure to be a major topic in tonight's debate. It comes as we are getting new footage, first on OUTFRONT, of the Hamas tunnel network in Khan Younis, where some of the Hamas hostages were just held.
[19:33:28] COOPER: We are covering the breaking news tonight, the special edition of OUTFRONT. You're looking at live pictures of our CNN debate hall, where more is on the line for Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley after Chris Christie dropped on the race a short time ago. The group of voters that DeSantis and Haley will be focusing on here in Iowa, because neither can win without their support, is evangelicals. They are still firmly in Trump's camp in much of the nation. The question is what about in this state?
Jeff Zeleny has the latest in our voters OUTFRONT series.
MIKE DEMASTUS, PASTOR, FORT DES MOINES CHURCH OF CHRIST: The evangelical vote is the pathway to victory in Iowa.
ZELENY (voice-over): Five days before the Iowa caucuses, one of the most burning questions is whether Donald Trump still holds evangelical voters in the palm of his hand.
DEMASTUS: Many of us are very happy with things he accomplished while he was in the White House. But who he is, his character, also is problematic.
ZELENY: Pastor Mike Demastus said that balance between Trump's record and rhetoric, his policy and personally rest at the heart of what many Iowa evangelicals have been weighing.
TRUMP: We will pray with God and we will be with God.
ZELENY: The strength of Trump support among Christian conservatives could solidify or slow his march to the Republican nomination. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has been fiercely trying to peel away that's support, questioning Trump's commitment to the anti-abortion movement.
DESANTIS: For pro-life Trump voters in Iowa, Donald Trump is taking positions that are way different than what he professed to believe when he first ran for president in 2016.
ZELENY: He's talking about Trump's attack on Florida's six-week abortion ban.
TRUMP: I think what he did is a terrible thing and a terrible mistake.
ZELENY: On this, Pastor Charles Hundley agrees with DeSantis. He, too, bristled when Trump made those comments. But he's still planning to vote for the former president.
CHARLES HUNDLEY, PASTOR, FIRST CHURCH OF GOD DES MOINES: If President Trump was right here, I would say sometimes your comments may irritate all of us at one time or another. But in the end, it's not the way he does that, it's really what he says and/or in how he carries that out. He is a person of policy. ZELENY: In 2016, Iowa's evangelicals made up nearly two thirds of Republican caucus attendees and help lift Ted Cruz to victory over Trump. DeSantis and Nikki Haley are striving for a similar. Hundley did not support Trump then, but he does now because of the appointments to the supreme court and his belief in a more limited government.
Did you seem as a man of faith?
HUNDLEY: Yes, I do. Yes. He's not perfect. He's imperfect, just like the rest of us.
ZELENY: Trump's campaign is focused intently on building its faith outreach for those who go to church and those who don't. Every rally opens with a prayer.
DARIN STURTZ, PASTOR: Jesus I pray favor for Trump to be the trumpet and also be the wrecking ball to dismantle the corrupt government.
ZELENY: It is fostered a deep Trump loyalty that remains strong.
DEBBIE HELDT, IOWA RESIDENT: I want President Trump back in the worst way, because life was better than.
ZELENY: Debbie Heldt, who sent letters admiration for Trump with her Christmas card, told she's never considered anyone other candidate.
HELDT: Good puts people over us in office, and I believe God put Donald Trump there and I want him back in there.
ZELENY: When we first met Demastus last fall at the Fort Des Moines Church of Christ, Trump was one of his options.
DEMASTUS: There's a loyalty with Trump and people that follow him.
ZELENY: Now, he's narrowed his choice to DeSantis or Vivek Ramaswamy. He said he and other evangelicals were offended by a recent video Trump shared on social media suggesting he was the messiah.
ANNOUNCER: So God made Trump.
DEMASTUS: It was offensive to us because we don't see him as -- Trump as a messianic figure.
ZELENY: Demastus has met most all of the Republican candidates. He does not tell members of his congregation for whom to vote, but implores them to make faith a part of their vote.
DEMASTUS: As a pastor, it is my role to guide them and remind them, to let them know God is with you, even in the voting booth.
COOPER: How important are evangelicals in the state?
ZELENY: I mean, very important. If Donald Trump is really going to have a slingshot to the nomination, he is going to need the fulsome support from evangelicals. But they are also key for Governor DeSantis. He has been working them and really pushing that pro-life message in his view. I expect he will do so again tonight on stage.
But the evangelical vote is hardly monolith. I mean, the voters we talked to throughout the year, some support Haley, some support DeSantis, but a lot still to support Trump. And it all goes back to the Supreme Court. It really -- person after person really hold him responsible and thank him for the three justices that helped overturn Roe versus Wade.
But there are also many independent thinkers out there. Some said they're eager to move on. So, that will be a key question on Monday night, how strong that evangelical vote is for Donald Trump. That could determine how strong Ron DeSantis is also on Monday night.
COOPER: Yeah. Jeff Zeleny, thanks very much.
Erin, back to you.
COOPER: All right. I mean, just fascinating to hear that whole conversation.
So everyone is back with me.
So, Kristen, you know these voters and you heard the pastor tell Jeff Zeleny evangelical voters is the pathway to victory in Iowa, right? That God is with you even in the voting booth. So how important is it in Iowa now because I know there's been a lot of shifts and changes in that block, as Jeff says, not monolithic.
ANDERSON: That's right, if you look back at the past couple of Republican primaries in Iowa, you have Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Ted Cruz, all elevated to winning the Iowa caucuses because of their strength in the sport in the evangelical community.
But what's different now as you would've thought ten, 20 years ago, the issues animating that community is being things like abortion or cultural issues, saying God and guns. And that has changed a little bit now to where it's more folks like DeSantis talk about what woke corporations or, you know, LGBT issues, the role of gender in society and what that looks like. And those are the sort of things that have shifted what evangelicals care about, which is why Trump does particularly well with evangelical voters who don't go to church every Sunday.
If you say you are someone who is a born again Christian, but maybe you don't report going to church on Sunday and bible study on Wednesday, you are exactly the type of voter that really finds Donald Trump's message --
BURNETT: Which I guess in some -- in some sense could make sense, right, Jamie?
GANGEL: So, I -- that pastor said that this ad that Trump had put up, god made Trump, was offensive. I would beg to say that Trump knows his audience and that he is confident in these evangelical voters.
They do not care. They have looked past all of his personal foibles. And at the end of the day, I actually think I may personally know all the never Trump Christian evangelicals. I can count them on one hand. They are people I have known for many years. This group has stayed loyal to him, and I think they are going to stay loyal.
BURNETT: And when you talk about that ad --
CORNISH: Underscore that issue about the church evangelical vote, which is white and culturally identifying as Christian. Pew Research has shown between 2016 and 2020 you had a number of white Christians who began identifying as evangelical who were supporters of Trump.
So the Iowa voter you are talking about who was organized by organized religion and its political supporters, those aren't the same people that Trump is courting. And quite frankly, they may be the people that Ron DeSantis is kind of missing in pursuit of the old school endorsements from the kind of religious right, as we knew it out of the '80s.
BURNETT: Also, when you go on social media put an ad out like Trump did, the pastor saying that offended him, but Jamie's point, that Trump knows his audience.
CORNISH: Yeah, not for him.
BURNETT: Right, not for him, and maybe not for anyone that Jeff was speaking for that piece, but nonetheless maybe some of what they said made sure why that may have resonated. Let me play again what some of those voters said to Jeff.
(BEGIN VIDEO LCIP)
DEBBIE HELDT, IOWA RESIDENT: God puts people over us in office. And I believe God put Donald Trump there. And I want him back in again.
HUNDLEY: He has got Godly principles, and I saw those outwork when U.S. president. And I would like to give him that chance again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: He says it really does resonate. God put people over us in office and I believe God put Donald Trump there.
URBAN: None of those people are quitting Donald Trump anytime soon, right? And we saw that way back in 2016 in October 7th or 8th, days after the first "Access Hollywood" tape. You know, people thought that the campaign was going to collapse and just blew away like dust in the wind, and not so.
People showed up, and it kept showing up. And they are not going to quick that they like the fact that Donald Trump is a fighter. And you will hear this again and again, he fights for us. Republicans think that the Democrats thought dirty for all these years. And Bush and the kind of Mitt Romney played by Marcus of Queensbury rules. They weren't dirty, and Trump is a dirty fighter, they like that, and they're going to stick with him.
BURNETT: So, Alyssa, here's one thing that I think it's fastening in all of this. When you talk about women, people know what Trump is on his personal level. Last time around, Trump had 22 percent of the evangelical vote in Iowa. The latest poll a month evangelicals in Iowa is he's at 51.
GRIFFIN: I mean, it's incredible.
BURNETT: He's nearly doubled his support.
GRIFFIN: He has more or less, the evangelical community has made a bit of a deal with the devil with Donald Trump. They look at the policy outcomes, and they can forgive any number of personal failings. He is the president that for 30 years evangelical church want to take down Roe, he appointed the three justices.
That will get them to overlook anything he does or says. And one thing I do want to know in terms of tonight's debate, this underscores why Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis, frankly, have a delicate dance to do. DeSantis is playing for Iowa. Nikki Haley needs to be able to do well in more independent, moderate-leaning New Hampshire. While at the same time not of putting voters in Iowa.
This is Major League politics here, so she's going to throw some red meat to this crowd, but also cannot risk alienating the debate what's next.
SIMMONS: We have to talk about the separation from the evangelical community, separation from people who are looking for someone who's kind of an upstanding, forthright person, to now being a political evangelical.
BURNETT: And you grew up as an evangelical?
SIMMONS: I grew up in evangelical church, so I kind of -- you know, I go -- I haven't been in a long time, but my mother, who is going for a long time, and you go to services in the 2000s, and they'll be playing videos about George Bush right before service started and how he was a man of faith.
But here's the problem that I have. You have Barack Obama, right, who's married to and got two children, they go to church, they're like good people. You've got Joe Biden, who goes to church every Sunday. He's won the most devout Catholics we ever have had that we can think of. But no one seems to think that is okay.
The reason why, you look at Iowa, according to the "Des Moines Register" poll, 80 percent of people who show up in caucus are pro- life, right? And as Alyssa just said, Donald Trump gave them the end of Roe. So they may help him in a primary. In a general election, it's going to be very tough for him to get past that number. BURNETT: And, Jamie, that's the line that Nikki Haley has to walk
because her appeal was among independents who do not as a group share that pro-life belief that the base -- evangelical base in Iowa may.
GANGEL: Correct, no question, she has a balancing act and she is looking at New Hampshire, she does not want to go after him.
I just want to talk about something for a minute, generally, when people see a winner, or someone they perceive to be a winner, they also tend to go get on board. It is a fact of politics. And Donald Trump has been by far the president the winner, leader in this race.
I hear a lot of people who originally were saying DeSantis, they would be interested in. Well, that didn't work out, they're back with Trump.
URBAN: Quickly, let's not overlook Israel in terms of Israel. Christians united for Israel, huge, huge portion of the evangelical base, Trump --
SIMMONS: But Biden supports Israel --
URBAN: Moving the embassy to Jerusalem all this kind of things, they love Trump for that.
BURNETT: All right. And we're going to have much more on that coming up. It was interesting, Nikki Haley last week saying the U.S. needs more Israel than the Israel needs the U.S., which was an interesting argument to make.
Next, Chris Christie shaking things up just hours before this debate in Iowa, we are coming up on that. The hot mic moment overshadowing the actual announcement.
So, the latest developing, story more information out of that campaign and the others, but also first OUTFRONT as I said, Israel, the IDF giving our Nic Robertson a rare look deep inside the tunnels of Khan Younis, where they believe hostages were held actually in one of these tunnels, and close to where they say other hostages actually still remain.
COOPER: So, breaking news, we are back with our special edition of OUTFRONT just about an hour away to CNN's debate with Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley. This as the race narrows with Chris Christie's surprised announcement tonight that he is ending his campaign for president.
Jeff Angelo is with me now. He's interviewed many of the GOP candidates on his conservative radio show "Need to Know with Jeff Angelo". He's also a former Iowa state senator, who has his finger on the pulse of Iowa politics.
So how big a deal is Christie dropping out?
JEFF ANGELO, CONSERVATIVE RADIO HOST: It makes this debate really crucial. It's an amazing timing by him, because it is a race for second in Iowa and so, tonight, DeSantis and Haley have to say to Iowans, I am the legitimate alternative to Donald Trump if you want to vote against Trump.
COOPER: Chris Christie was not doing well in Iowa, but still will be of interest to Iowans do you think?
ANGELO: Exactly right, yeah, that he's out and that this becomes the way more important debate tonight and the decision whether you're going to call for DeSantis or Haley, you really have to think who will be the legitimate best general election candidate. You are voting against Trump because you think he's going to lose the general election. So, you're looking for somebody else. So, is DeSantis the person? Is Haley the person who do better in the general election? That's what the debate tonight is all about.
COOPER: Would a Christie endorsement -- it seems unlikely he will endorse anybody before the Iowa caucus, but if he did, would that make any difference here?
ANGELO: Not really in Iowa, because Iowans really pride themselves, mostly Iowans are going to caucus Monday night, Anderson. They've gone to event with candidates. They've actually asked them a question. So, they're very proud of the fact that they make their decision independently and so, endorsements don't really matter all that match to them.
COOPER: Is the weather going to be a factor? You're going talking Monday night, it is supposed to be bone-chilling cold.
ANGELO: That's right. So, we're going to get double digit wind chills probably Monday night, and it does affect the outcome of the Iowa caucus. It depends on the enthusiasm level of your supporters. Trump supporters they walk through the last two caucuses for Trump. I think DeSantis supporters are pretty solid.
I think Haley has to worry. I think her support is a little bit suspect that this particular point. That's the kind of voting that I will say I will just stay in and just CNN tonight. It's too cold for me to go to caucus.
COOPER: What do you expect DeSantis and Haley tonight to try to do on the stage?
ANGELO: I think that they try to create doubts in the voter's mind, that they're best issues match for Iowans. First of all, you create doubts about the issues match you have with individual candidates. Then you have to show that you are the candidate that is the best against Joe Biden in the general election.
Ironically, probably very little mention of Trump tonight, which I think it's just absolutely fascinating.
COOPER: In what way?
ANGELO: I think it is fascinating because he is the front runner, and Iowans are predisposed to support him. So you have to tell people why not to support him.
COOPER: You think it has been a mistake not to speak more about him?
ANGELO: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I was watching a media interview with DeSantis, where he said, you know all, it's the media, wanting to get personal. And I do not rule like that. Why do you think people are voting against Donald Trump? It is not that they disagree with his issues, they think as a person, his personal foibles will lose some of the next election.
You do have to talk about his personal problems, because that is what people think might lose the general election. These candidates refused to do that.
COOPER: Yeah. Jeff Angelo, good to hear from you, thank you very much.
ANGELO: Yeah, great to talk to you.
COOPER: Appreciate it.
Erin, back to you.
BURNETT: All right, Anderson.
And, you know, another thing as we are very clear here short to be a topic in the debate is Israel. How much support the United States is willing to give Israel specifically and how conditional is that support?
So much of that war still being waged below ground, and now, it is important how this debate, CNN has an incredible access for the first time, going deep inside capturing Hamas tunnels. In fact, the first Western television crew allowed to go inside Khan Younis was our Nic Robertson. He got a rare look at where hostages were held underground.
As part of this access which they come from the IDF, it is important you know that CNN did agree to report from Gaza under IDF escort as all-times, as a condition for journalists to join the embed with the IDF, media outlets must submit footage filmed in Gaza to the IDF for security review.
Now CNN did not submit its final report to the IDF and retain editorial control. We want to be very transparent with you
Nic Robertson is OUTFRONT with this incredible report you will see first OUTFRONT
ROBERTSON (voice-over): Khan Younis, a gunner's view, driving in, scouring the landscape for threats. A problem for these IDF troops, the enemy is mostly hiding in tunnels, they say.
DAN GOLDFUS, IDF DIVISION COMMANDER: The biggest issue is the fact that we are actually maneuvering above ground, underground --
ROBERTSON: Goldfus, who commands Israel's biggest military division ever is adapting.
GOLDFUS: So you use all the senses that you have. Use your vision sensor, you use your feel sensor, your smell sensor.
ROBERTSON: He has invited CNN to go deep into the tunnels. We are told this is the heart of Khan Younis, and the hostages are likely underground nearby. Some were held here.
This tunnel we are going in here, is one where some of the hostages were held. That first round of hostage releases, some of them came out from down here.
So how deep does this tunnel go?
Our first time to get up close to what is shaping this war.
GOLDFUS: We are moving underground, we are maneuvering underground, we will reach each and every militant, each and very terrorist underground here.
ROBERTSON: Your modern army has had to fight above ground and underground like this before, how is that, to do it?
GOLDFUS: It's difficult. It is just going to be a very, very hard long fight.
ROBERTSON: To see just how hard, he takes us deeper.
So we came down a medal ladder come down on one flight of stairs and a second flight of stairs here, a double flight looks like. And down here, command and control, running all the way down. It is a deep system.
How deep are we underground you think right now?
GOLDFUS: At the moment, we are more or less between 10 to 15 meters underground.
ROBERTSON: Ten to 15 meters.
ROBERTSON: And now we are going down another level, down more steps. We are about to go down again another level. It's so low my head keeps banging. What are we looking at here?
GOLDFUS: This is a small room.
ROBERTSON: It's an air ventilation system?
GOLDFUS: Yeah, an air ventilation system going up.
ROBERTSON: Metal frame around the door.
GOLDFUS: These metal frames, this can be as much as this is a small, room this is how the different cages that they put the kidnapped --
ROBERTSON: Sort of held in cages.
GOLDFUS: In cages, yeah.
ROBERTSON: Hidden, and utterly cut off.
Down here, you really can't hear anything what is going on in the outside world. Now we must be 20 or 30 meters down?
GOLDFUS: Almost 20.
ROBERTSON: Almost 20.
ROBERTSON: So they have tunnels three times as deep as this?
What's clear here, the money, planning, and preparation invested for a long siege.
We're 20 meters underground here, 20 meters. There is a fully flush toilet. It is even painted and has a place for a light, bulb and left switches, tiled.
The labyrinth keeps going. Now it is so low, we are getting down an hour needs to get through it. Goldfus pauses, lays out his path to victory.
GOLDFUS: Underground is Hamas, and we have to reach this Hamas core, to finish them off.
ROBERTSON: But those Palestinian people aboveground are also dying still.
GOLDFUS: I understand that. I understand. And that is what we are trying to do as fast as we can. Yesterday, there were mortars and rockets fired from northern Gaza.
ROBERTSON: So, the civilian --
GOLDFUS: -- into the civilian part of Israel.
ROBERTSON: So as long as those rockets are coming out of northern Gaza, those people who have moved to the south can't come back to the north.
GOLDFUS: As long as we haven't carried out a mission all the way, we haven't finished this mission, I don't think we leave here. ROBERTSON: We had back half an hour underground. We have seen only a
fraction of this war-changing labyrinth. Goldfus' challenge: find all the others.
BURNETT: Nick, 65 feet underground where you are, just to even comprehend that, you are head hitting the ceiling, it is amazing you were able to withstand, that to experience that yourself.
But when you are down there, how is it that the IDF says, or knows they are so close to Hamas hostages in those tunnels or totals next to them, and yet isn't able to get them out?
ROBERTSON: That is a difficult thing. How do you find the battle when you are fighting in several dimensions. You know, I started normally in a model you would outflank your enemy, you get around the side of him, but down there, he said we don't even know we could be standing on top of them, they could be underneath us. So we have to try to fight all these different dimensions.
But they do have good intelligence. That is part of the picture. In that tunnel at, least they were able to extract DNA evidence, blood, hair of the hostages that actually had been held down there. So, there's a lot of technical equipment used as well.
BURNETT: Well, absolutely, all right, and obviously, Israel, a crucial topic in this debate coming up in the next hour.
Nic Robertson, thank you so much from Tel Aviv,
And finally tonight, of course, don't miss it, because the CNN GOP primary debate live from Iowa begins soon. Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis, head to head. This is the final push before the first votes which are in Iowa. Jake Tapper and Dana Bash moderate tonight at nine.
And I'll be back with Anderson for a special hour of "AC360" starting now.