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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Colorado Supreme Court Rules Trump Ineligible for 2024 Ballot; Trump Says His Anti-Immigrant Comments Haven't Echoed Hitler; Ja Morant Magnificent for Memphis in Return. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired December 20, 2023 - 05:30   ET



JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Thanks for getting up early with us. I'm John Avlon, in for Kasie Hunt.

Now, the Trump campaign already planning to appeal a ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court that the former president is ineligible to return to the Oval Office under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. The Colorado high court ordering Trump removed from the Republican primary ballot, saying that he engaged in insurrection on January 6th in violation of Section Three of the 14th Amendment.

Now, the justices put a hold on their ruling until January 4th, pending Trump's expected appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court.

The next day, January 5th, is the deadline for Colorado secretary of state to finalize that primary ballot. She says she'll file court orders whatever they are. Although, she has her own views


JENA GRISWOLD, COLORADO SECRETARY OF STATE: I believe the Donald Trump incited the insurrection. And that it's up to a court to determine whether that incitement disqualifies him from further holding office under the Constitution. This is exactly how Colorado law is set up. Every day voters can file a lawsuit to have a court weigh in.


AVLON: All right. Let's bring in "Axios" national political reporter, Alex Thompson.

Alex, great to see you. This is obviously a bombshell ruling, it's got the weight of history and the Constitution behind it. How much of this was a surprise to the Trump campaign? I want to talk about the reaction of the other Republican candidates.

ALEX THOMPSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Yeah, I feel that, when it comes to the Trump campaign, you know, they have had a lot of legal setbacks, if you will over the past year. So I feel that we're ready for another one. It was interesting to see that, you know, the other candidates who are

going against Donald Trump really rallied behind him in some ways or at least rallied against the Colorado's Supreme Court for doing this. Vivek Ramaswamy said that he would take his name off the ballot.

But the one thing they think that this ruling emphasizes, especially with its appeal to the Supreme Court, is that you are going to see, perhaps, the most legalistic election in at least recent history, but not all of American history. Because the Supreme Court now has at least two cases, and sort of two and a half cases that are going to have direct effects on the president. You have -- they are going to determine if he had legal immunity on January 6. You have this case, and there's another case with felony charges when it comes to January 6th. So the Supreme Court is going to have a very business busy election. I also bet you that Colorado is not the last state will have a case like this.

AVLON: No question about it, although presumably the Supreme Court's assessment of the constitutional implications will be the last word on the federal level. But it is, to your point, we are in deeply uncharted territory. The 14th Amendment exists right there in black and white. We will see if it applies to Donald Trump under these circumstances.

You mentioned the reaction of his GOP competitors. I think we've got some sound of how they are responding publicly.


CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I do not believe Donald Trump should be prevented from being president of the United States by any court, I think he should be prevented from being president of the United States by the voters of this country.

NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want to see this in the hands of the voters. We're going to win this the right way. We're going to do what we need to do, but the last thing that we want is for judges to tell us who can and can't be on the ballot.


AVLON: Now, what's interesting is, look, I mean, Nikki Haley and, especially Chris Christie have been vocal critics of ex-President Trump. But in private you sometimes see a lot of the candidates' campaigns distancing themselves from these kinds of decisions. But then making the point that these are just more examples of the chaos candidacy that will be brought on if Republicans re-nominate Trump.

Is that what you are hearing on the campaign trail?

THOMPSON: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, Nikki Haley is really emphasized this. You know, fairly or not, chaos follows him everywhere.

Now, I was -- you know, the one really did surprise me a little bit was Chris Christie, but I think the fact is that they are all responding this, way because there was an inflection point in this Republican primary. It was that first indictment against Donald Trump last May. Since, then he has never been within single digits of any other candidate.

And they know that. They know the fact is that this could have the effect of rallying the Republican base. In some ways, this ruling could end up ensuring that he gets the GOP nomination, which is why you're seeing them try to do this tricky dance, while they are criticizing the Supreme Court but also making this point about chaos following him.

AVLON: I want to switch over to the Biden campaign because you have phenomenal reporting yesterday inside the Biden White House in effect about how the first lady and the president's senior team deal with this persistent, not going away question about Biden's age.


The president is always talking about how youthful he feels. But the first family seems try to contain his actions.

How are they navigating this?

THOMPSON: Yeah, there is a very delicate campaign going on inside the White House, from the first lady and senior aides to get him more rest, to make sure that he is at the tiptop shape going into 2024.

And there is a little bit of denialism with the president about his physical limitations at 81 years old. That he cannot do as much as he did 10 to 15 years ago. But he really believes that, you know, he tells people all the time that he feels so much younger than 81 years old. And so, that sort of the delicate dance, as a result aides sort of see this vicious cycle of times in which he will over commit to doing things, and then he'll end up exhausting himself, or fatiguing itself.

And even though he's doing more things on camera, he appears even more fatigue, and that exacerbates concerns about his age.

AVLON: Yeah.

THOMPSON: So, that is sort of the push pull. You are seeing him make concessions and accommodations to make sure that he is. It's not that he's completely refusing. It's just a little bit of an internal tug- of-war on this issue in particular.

AVLON: Yeah. Well, look, and it's an issue that has sort of baking the cake, but it's unlikely to get better in the second term.

I want to ask you about the persistently negative polling that I know has been frustrating the campaign in the White House. You've got positive economic news, you know, policies inactive, and yet the president 's approval ratings keep hitting new lows.

Do you get the sense that the campaign is in a bit of denial about this? Or is their preternatural calm rooted in something resembling reality?

THOMPSON: You know, the campaign is really of two minds. I think there is a core contingent of Biden people that are not in denial, but at least have a serene confidence.


THOMPSON: And given the fact that they feel that they have been underestimated basically going back to 2019 when he first got in the race. He was underestimated in that primary, he was underestimated in the midterms, and the freak out over polling is exactly, that freak out.

That being said, there are significant number of people inside the administration, and very close allies of the White House that are freaking out. And not just, you know, David Axelrods that, you know, are some of the loudest voices, but serious Democrats the don't get the sense that there is any serious plan to change these numbers.

Now, there are things at the, edges obviously he's been joking about his age more. You see some changes to the economic messaging which they are trying to look forward, rather than -- and also acknowledging the pain out there a little bit, more rather than just boasting about what they've done. But these are small changes at the edges according to some of these Democrats.

But also the truth is that, you know, Biden has been underestimated before, and, you know, maybe they're right.

AVLON: That seems like a thin read to hold a campaign on, but, Alex, I appreciate your reporting, you're doing great work this cycle. Thanks a lot for joining us this early.

All right. Meanwhile, fake bomb threats targeting hundreds of Jewish organizations in the U.S. What if the FBI has uncovered about these hoaxes? We're going to have that information for you up next.



AVLON: Donald Trump doubled down on his anti-immigrant rhetoric last night at a campaign rally in Iowa, repeating that immigrants are, quote, destroying the blood of our country. He explicitly denying accusations his words echoed language from Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf".


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: They don't like it when I said that -- and I never read "Mein Kampf". They said, oh, Hitler said that in a much different way.


AVLON: All right. Let's bring in CNN political analyst Coleman Hughes. He's also the host of the podcast "Conversations with Coleman", and a contributor at the Free Press.

Coleman, you know, I appreciate your work. You've got an upcoming book by the way called "The End of Race Politics: Arguments for a Color Blind America".

I wonder how you hear Trump's ramped up attacks on immigrants, poisoning the blood of America, from the perspective of working towards a color blind America.

COLEMAN HUGHES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah. So, like a lot of people, I hear this and it sounds nasty to me. It sounds like the kind of language no one should use when talking about immigration.

At the same time, I think that, you know, Trump has been speaking this way long enough that we should -- you know, we should know what his modus operandi is, right? He -- he doesn't prepare his comments. He says the first thing that comes through his mind, and he often uses rhetoric that is -- really just extreme rhetoric that is more shocking than the policies he actually wants to implement.

So, at the same time, I'm not going to make the mistake that I feel I've made in the past of assuming the worst, though it is quite nasty.

AVLON: All right. So, I appreciate that.

I mean, in this context in this campaign, he's got policies about, you know, mass deportations of millions of people, putting migrants in camps. I mean, the policies that he is proposing are, you know, not out of tune with the rhetoric he's using.

Do you think that's the case this time around?


HUGHES: You know, again, the last time around, he proposed, or he appeared to propose policies that seemed absolutely crazy, and certainly over my personal lines. But what he ended up doing is, you know, trying to, quote/unquote, build a wall, which now has become a bipartisan consensus that there should be a barrier.

So, again, I think that Trump is -- he's not really like a normal candidate in the way he speaks. He says things that he thinks tap into a feeling. And my assumption is that that's what he's trying to do now.

And let's remember, really, one of the issues that made him popular was the very fact that he would say these over the line things about immigration, right? So, these things, as nasty as the sound to me, and as much as I think no one should ever speak about immigration, and in particular immigrants using that kind of language, this could -- this could -- this could work for him.

AVLON: Well, look, I think the politics of this, you know, we've seen, and CNN has polling about, you know, how, for example with Hispanic vote, Biden's only barely ahead of Donald Trump. Again, snapshot in time, we'll see how things go, but he has been increasing his margins, Trump has, certainly 16 to 20, among African American men in particular. Again, not -- this is a percentage increase, not -- he did not win that demographic, and Hispanics.

And I wonder, because you've done such important work and you're a (INAUDIBLE) thinker which I appreciate about you -- about the dangers of identity politics. It seems to me that one of the things that Trump represents is what happens when identity politics starts to get real power. In this case, it's white identity politics.

So you've got these twin threads where, I think folks don't understand, or appreciate how he's gaining support among certain minority communities given this rhetoric. And then the weaponization of identity politics that he represents, parse that format.

HUGHES: Yeah. So, I think one of the dynamics that has been going on in the past few decades, and especially since social media, 2012, 2013, and there's lots of data on this, is that there was a huge upswing, at that time of black and Hispanic identity politics. I think part of the appeal of Trump is a kind of pendulum swinging the other direction. It is a feeling on the part of many white Republicans, white moderates, that look, if identity is the name of the game, then I'm going to go with my identity, right? I think that's a part of what Trump has appealed to.

AVLON: Interest.

HUGHES: Now, with respect to the fact that his popularity among Hispanics and Blacks appears to be going up, that's always -- that's very interesting, too. I have a part in my book where I look at the polling surrounding affirmative action in 2018, 2019, 2020.

What you find is that when you -- when you phrase it about being about race, do you think people should consider race? The majority of Americans of all races actually say no, right? At least they certainly did at that time, which is surprising to think about because, you think the majority of Black people, the majority of Hispanics would take the position that, that sort of identity politics dictates that they would take.

The reality is that a lot of voters like what Donald Trump is selling, or they are dissatisfied with what Biden is selling. And he can -- he can actually make gains on those communities.

AVLON: And that -- and that, you know, people can't be reduced to their categories. I mean, I think that's part of the fundamental pushback that you make that just reflects the lived reality that we sometimes forget with the rush to our respected ramparts.

I want to touch on something else before you go. I was struck that this year, Harvard saw a 17 percent drop in the number of students applying for early admission in the fall. Now, you've written a lot about the broader scandal of the college presidents congressional testimony. But do you see this as a rebuke, about they and other colleges of have handled the rise of antisemitism out of college campuses right now? HUGHES: It's certainly a rebuke of something. My guess is the number

one cause is the handling of antisemitism. For, you know, over a decade now, we've seen that colleges, elite colleges and universities, are very quick to pull the trigger on any speaker coming to campus, who is seen as potentially offending the black student population, the Hispanic population and so forth.

So I think when Hamas attacked on October 7th, Jewish students expected, or at minimum hoped that some of that administrative DEI, words are violence, safety apparatus would come to their protection, and were surprised to find that none of it did.


And that -- this could be a referendum on that. It could be a referendum on Claudine Gay's emerging plagiarism scandal. We'll see at the end of the day what this is about. But, it certainly doesn't reflect well on what we consider our flagship college.

AVLON: Well, you make -- you make a number of important points. It struck me with all this fixation on micro-aggressions that, calling for genocide would qualify as a macro aggression. So something has to give there.

But before -- before we go, because there is a lot of talk in our politics I think as there should be about the rise of the far right and the need for the center right to police its extremes, difficult to do in certain circumstances. There hasn't been as much, but I think in the wake of some of these protesters, there is more about the need for the left, the Democratic Party to police its extremes.

How do you see reconciling those two things, because a lot of folks particularly in the wake of October 7th, felt that there are deep divisions that are emerging, that seem illiberal, inconsistent with liberal values.

HUGHES: Yeah. Well, I think history shows that the far-right and the far left are not opposites so much as partners, in the sense that the rhetoric and action taken by extremists on both sides is what the other extremists used as justification for what they do.

AVLON: Yeah.

HUGHES: So, I think the real adult responsibility of everyone, people in the media, but also citizens in general, is to not only try to criticize the other side, whichever side you're on, but to also try to enforce the boundaries on your own side. Democrats should say, this is where the left goes too far, just like Republicans should, say this is where the right goes too far. If we had more of that, our politics would be a whole lot healthier.

AVLON: They sure would.

Coleman Hughes, I appreciate you. Thanks for getting up early for us. Take care. All right. Coming up on CNN this morning, a historic decision in Colorado that could keep Donald Trump of the state ballot. We'll hear what some voters are saying about it. That's next.



AVLON: Grizzly star Ja Morant coming up big in his long-awaited return to the basketball court.

Carolyn Manno has this morning's "Bleacher Report".

Caroline, good to see you.

CAROLYN MANNO, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Good to see you, too.

Morant made his season debut against the Pelicans last night after serving a 25-game suspension for being involved in multiple social media post that included firearms. It was a very big deal. And, in his first game back, he looked incredible. It was like he had never left. I mean, in top form.

The two-time all-star carried his team on his back, leading Memphis to a 24-point comeback. He scored 34 points, capped off by a game-winning lay in at the buzzer, as the Grizzlies beat the Pelicans by two. No player in NBA history had ever returned from an absence, as long as 25 games and scored as many points.

He spoke to TNT right afterwards.


JA MORANT, MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES GUARD: I've been putting work in, man. I ain't play a game in eight months. Had a lot of time to learn myself. A lot of hard days, you know, where I went through it. But, you know, basketball is, you know, my life, what I love, therapeutic for me. And I'm just, you know, excited to be back.


MANNO: It seems like his teammates are glad to have him back as well.

The Warriors hosting the Celtics in a rematch of the 2022 NBA finals. This one had the intensity of a playoff game. Golden State overcoming 11-point 4th quarter deficit to force overtime here and that has been Steph Curry just started to cook. He scored 7 of his game high 33 points in the extra period. The biggest shot being a 3 with 11 seconds left. It turned out to be the absolute dagger. Curry breaking out his signature night, night celebration as the warriors go on to win 132- 126.

And it doesn't sound as though we'll see Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers on this field this season despite an attempt to return from a torn Achilles. The 4-time league MVP seemingly ending that speculation, during an appearance on "The Pat McAfee Show" yesterday.


AARON RODGERS, NEW YORK JETS QUARTERBACK: If I was 100 percent, today, I would be definitely pushed into play. But, the fact is I'm not. I've been working hard to get closer to that, but I am still, you know, 14 weeks tomorrow from my surgery. And you know, being medically cleared as 100 percent healed is just not realistic in 14 weeks.


MANNO: The 40-year-old went on to say he does intend to play at least another two season, with this year being what he called a loss year. The Jets eliminated from playoff contention on Sunday.

And, finally, for you this morning, Tiger Woods is delivering some holiday cheer, along with this fellow golf stars in a new Christmas spot from TaylorMade. Check out the return of Mac Daddy Santa.

So Santa Tiger's team of elves includes Roy McIlroy, Scottie Scheffler, Tommy Fleetwood and Collin Morikawa. This has become something of a tradition, John, where TaylorMade puts out this spot.

And Tiger Woods says this kids love it. They love Mack Daddy Santa. He tweeted on his Instagram and social media channels as well. It's catchy.

AVLON: I mean, 'tis the season. Who doesn't love Mack Daddy Santa? Come on now.

MANNO: Yeah, 'tis the season for good traditions.

All right. Carolyn, thank you so much. Great highlights there.

And thanks all of you for joining us early. I'm John Avlon.

CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.