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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Candidates Square Off in Second Republican Presidential Debate; Today: House Republicans to Hold Biden Impeachment Hearings; Record Heat Possible Across Central, Eastern U.S. This Week. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired September 28, 2023 - 05:00   ET




CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This guy has not only divided our party, he's divided families all over this country.


KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: No Trump, no problem. Some of his Republican rivals took shots at him anyway from the debate stage.

Plus, we are starting date, really the night if you're out in California -- good day to our viewers here in the United States and around the world, I'm Kasie Hunt. And it is Thursday, September 28th, 5:00 a.m. in the East, 2:00 a.m. out in Simi Valley, California.

Of course, out there still in the middle of the night, after the second Republican presidential debate, whereas we all know, the elephant was not in the room.

Donald Trump opting out once again, although didn't prevent some of his rivals he did show up from attacking the frontrunner by name this time.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump is missing in action. He should be on this stage tonight. He owes it to you to defend his record.

NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is where President Trump went wrong. He focused on trade with China, he didn't focus on the fact that they were buying up our farmland.

CHRISTIE: You're afraid of being on the stage and defending your record. You are ducking these things. You keep doing that, no one up here is going to call you Donald Trump anymore. We're going to call you Donald Duck.


HUNT: Thought a lot about that one. At that moment, Trump was firing back from a distance, specifically from Detroit. He mocked his rivals in a speech to union workers who were assembled at a nonunion auto parts company.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: They're all job candidates. They want to be in the -- they want to do anything, secretary of something. They even say VP, I don't know. Does anybody see any VP in the group? I don't think so.


HUNT: The main target for Trump and his rivals on the California debate stage, of course, President Biden. We will hear from President Biden just a few hours from now out in Arizona. He is delivering a speech in honor of the late John McCain and focus of the -- sustaining democracy.

Well, we have so much ground to cover. This debate just ended a couple of hours ago.

Let's bring in now: Alice Stewart, CNN political commentator and Republican strategist; Doug Heye, a Republican strategist and former RNC communications director; Margaret Talev, senior contributor at "Axios" and the director of Syracuse University's Democracy, Journalism and Citizenship Institute; and also Shelby Talcott, she's a politics reporter from "Semafor" and joins us from out in California, where she was in the spin room covering the debate throughout the night.

First of all, I want to thank all of you. It's been a late night for all of us quite frankly. There's probably some folks watching who never actually went to sleep.

And, Shelby, let me start with you, because it is the middle of the night out there. I want -- I want you to kind of give us a sense of what the takeaways were once those candidates got off the stage. You started hearing from their surrogates in the spin room about how the night went. I think we saw some interesting dynamics playing out on the stage. Vivek Ramaswamy who really came into a little bit of a pile-on.

So I'm interested kind of in the nitty-gritty of that and then also the big picture. How did these folks feel about the fact that there was no Donald Trump on the stage and they still are so far behind him in polls, whether or not any of this actually matters at the end of the day?

SHELBY TALCOTT, POLITICS REPORTER, SEMAFOR: Well, Kasie, good morning. I'm one of those people who has not gone to bed yet. But, as for the debate, afterwards, there was, you know, obviously, the spin room is designed for the campaigns to pitch why their candidate won.

And so we heard a lot of that tonight in the spin room after the debate. One of the big things was from team DeSantis who doubled down on his candidate's push against Donald Trump. They said, listen, Donald Trump should be here, he should be defending his positions and this is exactly what Ron DeSantis needs to do to win.

We heard from the Vivek Ramaswamy's team who said that they knew that they were going to get hits just like the first debate. We did see a little bit on the debate stage from Vivek. He kind of pulled back from his first debate in terms of going after other candidates.

And so, it was a really interesting dynamic. But the overarching theme afterwards was essentially all of these campaigns who are vying for a very far second place against Trump trying to convince the media and the public why they still have a chance in this primary race.


HUNT: Yeah. So, I want to show everyone who is kind of emerging as one of the top moments for the moment, and this was Nikki Haley taking on Ramaswamy over China and children on social media. Take a look.


HALEY: Honestly, every time I hear you, I feel a little dumber for what you say. Because I can't believe that --


RAMASWAMY: If I may --

HALEY: The TikTok situation, what they are doing is 150 million people are on TikTok. That means that they can get your contacts, your financial information, they can get your emails, they can get text messages.

RAMASWAMY: Let me just say --


HALEY: They can get text messages. They can get all of these things. China knows exactly what they're doing and what we've seen is you've gone and you've --


RAMASWAMY: This is important. This is very important for our party. You will -- excuse me. Excuse me.

HALEY: -- helped China make medicines in China, not America. You now want kids to go on social media that's dangerous for all of us. You are in business with the Chinese that gave Hunter Biden $5 million. We can't trust you.


HUNT: Margaret Talev, quite a moment there from Nikki Haley. She wasn't there for a lot of the beginning of the debate. I was a little -- I was interested in watching that. But, man, she came out swinging at him. MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: She found her moments. He

really is sort of the perfect foil, Kasie, for her and she used these moments not just to bat him down but to be able to call out really her policy views on China and some of these other things. I couldn't help but thinking -- I wondered if Donald Trump had been on that stage whether she could have handled him that way or whether it only works with Vivek Ramaswamy.

But I think she walked out of the night with a lot of sort of breakthrough moments like that. The fact that Donald Trump's campaign put out a release attacking Nikki Haley's record ten minutes before the end of the debate tells us that they were sort of watching her as the person who has been advancing also.

HUNT: Yeah, you know, I'm really glad you mentioned that. It stuck out to me too. And, Doug, I'm going to get in here in a second, but I want to ask Alice first about to that point Margaret was making -- sorry, you're not a woman, so, Alice, to Margaret's point, Nikki Haley taking on potentially Donald Trump. Still an open question whether we'll see Donald Trump on any of the future debate stages but we know how Trump has treated women on stage in the past. So, I realized he wasn't there.

But what do you make of Haley's performance and the sort of rise the fact that she's gotten noticed from the Trump's team?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I pity the fool who tries to take on Nikki Haley and thinks that she's just going to like cower, because she's really proven herself in a way where she's gone after the fellow candidates on policy, but done so in a way that brings about a takeaway line. And she did so during the last debate, first debate, where she basically schooled Vivek Ramaswamy on his foreign policy, and this time doing so on, again, as his support and using of TikTok and using that "I feel dumber" line. That's what people will be talking about.

And that is how you go about making a good policy contrast with these candidates. But you have to do so in a very practiced and rehearsed way so you do have the takeaway line. And she has been able to not just attack Vivek, but she also able to lob some attacks on Donald Trump on his debt and on abortion. And those are also going to be key takeaways and that's why it got under Donald Trump's skin.

HUNT: Yeah, no, it's very interesting. And honestly, it comes across I think from her as more authentic than we obviously heard, Doug Heye, Chris Christie called him Donald Duck. I'm not sure I've seen other candidates use nicknames as effectively as Donald Trump does.

But what did you make of Haley's performance, any other stand out moments? What do you think we're going to be talking about, not just the morning after but a couple of weeks from now?

DOUG HEYE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, one key takeaway and line right now is Alice quoting Mr. T. That's very, very well done for this early in the morning. Look, you know --

STEWART: Thank you very much.

HEYE: I think when we look at things like the Donald Duck line, I go back to 2004. I used that same canned line against an opponent in a Senate race who wouldn't debate and you have those moments where you try to use them. But ultimately, despite some applause in the audience, the Republican primary voters don't really care that Donald Trump wasn't there.

And so everything that we saw last night, some going after him, but on some policy, but we didn't see Republicans saying that you know what, maybe we shouldn't support somebody who calls for assassinating our own generals, maybe we shouldn't support somebody whose business record is declared an entire fraud.

So they go after Trump here and there, but they're not really doing anything to launch solid hits on Donald Trump regardless of whether or not we saw real life from Tim Scott last night, or Nikki Haley had some strong moments. She sure did.

But we use this in politics quite often of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. And last night, for all the bluster, I think we saw rearranging the deck chairs on a ship that's not leaving harbor.

HUNT: Right. And wait until you hear what Donald Trump had to say. We're going to talk about that coming up out of the next break.

But I am very much -- I'm glad that you raise that because this -- we can talk about what was said, but what wasn't said, no attacks on Donald Trump for being indicted, no focus on his record, although things you lay out, extremely important points.

Everybody, stick with us. When we come back, we're going to continue to break down all the action from last night with our panel.

And coming up, we'll talk about this --


TRUMP: Shawn, endorse Trump and you can take a nice two-month vacation, come back, and you guys are going to be better than you ever were.


HUNT: Donald Trump promising a perk to a autoworkers union president, Shawn Fain, if Trump gets the UAW endorsement.

Plus, embattled Senator Bob Menendez will address his Democratic colleagues today as they call for his resignation.



TRUMP: It's like Ron Desanctimonious. You know, he tried to destroy Social Security. Now he's trying to backpedal a little bit. He want to bring the minimum age to 70. He want to destroy it.

You know, we're competing with the job candidates.


They are all running for a job. Now, they are all job candidates. They want to be in -- they want to do anything, secretary of something.

They even say VP. I don't know. Does anybody see any VP in the group? I don't think so.


HUNT: Donald Trump's notable absence from the debate stage obviously did not stop him from taking shots at his 2024 GOP rivals last night. In his counterprogramming bid, the former president did skip the debate to hold a campaign rally in front of striking autoworkers in Michigan. I think we should point out it was held at a nonunion facility.

Let's bring the panel back, Alice, Doug, Margaret, Shelby, still here with us.

And, Doug, I want to go to your first on this and go back to what Trump said there. He asked, you know, anyone seem like a VP? I don't think so. And that dismissive attitude has just pervaded the campaign and this is really a general election play.

HEYE: Well, he is certainly running a general election campaign. Look, he always punches down at anybody that he can. He did that in the general election, the last two.

But ultimately I think that Donald Trump raises a point here, is if you look at these candidates last night, why are they running? Are they running to beat Donald Trump or are they running for something else? With Vivek, we're going to see book sales or a TV show on Newsmax or something like this. With the other candidates, we could see a secretary of state or something.

And here's why that's important. If these candidates are running against Donald Trump, it appears that they are running against him in theory than in practice. Donald Trump is 30 points ahead in the polls and including a lot of the state polls. The nomination goes through Donalds Trump, not -- not around him.

And, Kasie, I know you're a Star Wars fan. We learned in Star Wars, Darth Vader had to be confronted by Luke Skywalker. Luke Skywalker couldn't sit back and hope that Hans Solo or the force would take care of things for him.

And that's what we've seen thus far from most of these Republican candidates. Even last night as they inch a little more to go after Donald Trump, they still don't go after him all day every day, especially on the indictments that they would in any other race against any other candidate. They treat Donald Trump differently and reinforce his messaging constantly. HUNT: Well, and, Alice, it does seem like all these candidates are

afraid like Luke Skywalker did of losing a hand, right? And they don't want to take that risk.

HEYE: But he got a new hand and a better hand.

HUNT: But he did. But, I mean, Alice, I think Doug is right here. They're not taking him on, and they're -- because they -- I get Republican primary voters seem to be punishing candidates who are willing to say the obvious about the flaws of former Donald Trump, if you look at the unfavorable numbers from Mike Pence and Chris Christie in New Hampshire, they tell the entire story. But the reality is that that is more than likely to leave your party with a deeply flawed general election nominee who lost to Joe Biden in 2020.

STEWART: That's the calculated strategy, here. It is not so much as, they don't want to piss off Donald Trump, they don't want to pass off his base. And they understand that if they are going to broaden the electorate and bring on -- win in this primary, they have to make the case against Donald Trump and show the voters why they are a better general election candidate. But the only way they do that is by getting some of the disaffected Trump voters on their side without them feeling as though they are attacking their guy. And they are attacking Donald Trump.

And that is specifically why we did not hear any of them talk about the indictments against Donald Trump, because that would also further the narrative that he is putting out there, that he is a victim of the weaponization of the DOJ. That is one issue that they did not want to attack him on.

They were fine with what he did with the debt, and what he is doing with abortion, and what he is doing with avoiding the debate stage, but they would not go after him on these indictments.

HEYE: And, Kasie, we did not hear that Donald Trump can't win, which we heard at some point in the first debate. They cannot make that argument anymore, because Donald Trump's neck and back in the polls. So, it makes it harder for them to make their core argument that only they can beat Donald Trump, Donald Trump's unelectable. We did not get that once last night.

HUNT: Well, and part of that, Margaret, was because the debate moderator did not ask about it. Fox News moderators got to it in some form, but they didn't -- they weren't asked, last night.

TALEV: I mean, it was like 10 or 15 minutes before the end of the debate when kind of the Donald Trump question you want to hear happened, but not really. And I just think that the debate was a train wreck of people yelling at each other, and the moderators did not have any control over the questions, and the format moved so fast that one person could have a question and they switched topics.

It just completely validated Donald Trump's strategy of having a counterprogramming like Trump and Biden for the big winners from last night. Also, just wanted to say that when you have a tight, head on shot of Donald Trump at a rally at a non-union plant, talking about unions for Trump, just because someone is holding a sign that says, union worker for Trump, does not mean they are in the union. It does not mean they are in the UAW.

The whole thing was just a perfectly orchestrated show that allowed him to ride completely above the fray of all the people who were supposedly trying to knock him out of the way to become the nominee, and staying away benefited him completely last night. I am not sure it helped anyone else in the room.

HUNT: Yeah, and much different counterprogramming than with the first debate where he sat down with Tucker Carlson and was talking to people in his own party. This was really a play to talk to people that he'll need if he actually wants to get reelected.

All right. We're going to have much more ahead with our panel. Thank you all for continuing to stay awake, in Shelby's case, all night long.

Just ahead, Donald Trump attempting to oust the judge from his 2020 election interference case. We'll tell you what happened there.


HUNT: All right. Quick hits across America now, where there were other things happening besides the debate.

The judge overseeing Donald Trump's election interference case in Washington refused a defense bid to recuse herself. Trump's lawyers said Judge Tanya Chutkan made comments referencing their client during sentencing for two January 6th defendants.

And, the American army private who crossed into North Korea in July is back in the U.S. after Pyongyang expelled him. Officials say that Travis King landed at Joint Base San Antonio earlier this morning it was taken to an army medical center.

And, House Republicans will hold an impeachment inquiry hearing this morning into President Biden. They say they plan to review constitutional and legal questions at ten a.m. today, and that they could subpoena the president's son and brother later this week.


All right, let's go now to weather. We can see record heated parts of the country over the next few days. Let's go to the weatherman, Derek Van Dam.

Derek, great to see you this morning. What do we got?

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS CERTIFIED METEOROLOGSIT: Kasie, you know what it is -- I think it is because I ordered my first pumpkin spice latte yesterday. That is the problem. I jinxed it, right?

HUNT: I can't do pumpkin spice, but yes you did. You absolutely jinxed it.

VAN DAM: This is like the nature, of trying to come back and say, hey, look, you think you can -- you can predict the weather, but this is the problem, here. We will bring you back that warmth that you don't like so much. Well, that is the case, right? Like that's not just here in Atlanta, the Deep South, you're going to warm up, and so will the east coast for next week.

But check this out, the middle parts of the country, that's where we are focusing today. We are talking temperatures 10-20 degrees above average for this time of year. It is all being driven by a warm front lifting north.

By the way, if you strong thunderstorms possible once again today, across Kentucky and into the Tennessee River Valley. Here is a look at those temperatures. We will see the average highs reached the 80- degree mark as far north as the U.S. and Canadian border for the weekend.

Look at Friday and Saturday for Minneapolis, and even further south, temperatures in the middle 90s. We should be about 75 for Omaha, so we are running 15-20 degrees above average for this time of year.

But check out where the heat goes. To the East Coast, the Great Lakes for next week, which, by the way happens to be this weatherman's birthday. So, I guess people take the warmth.

Chicago, your daytime high will reach the lower 80s by the weekend, and look at that. Tuesday, 83 degrees. So, the general team here is that summer, late summer not quite done yet, Kasie, and I think a lot of people will enjoy that while it lasts because we know the cold weather is coming.

HUNT: I got to tell you, I'm a fall girl myself, but hey, happy early birthday. Does that make you a Virgo?

VAN DAM: Libra.

HUNT: Libra, all right. I will have to learn more about you based on that.

Derek, thank you. It's wonderful to see you as always. We'll see you tomorrow.

VAN DAM: All right.

HUNT: All right. Just ahead here, Republican contenders for president hammer each other and their absent front runner. And there's a lot of chaos on that debate stage. We'll break it all down.

Plus, a former U.S. ambassador's savage burn against Vivek Ramaswamy.


HALEY: Honestly, every time I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber.