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Trump Attacks Prosecutors As Criminal Probes Speed up; Trump Played Footage Of Insurrection At Beginning Of Rally; Congress Grills TikTok CEO As Lawmakers Consider Ban; Bipartisan Calls to Ban TikTok Grow Because of China Ties; DeSantis Sinking in Early Polls as Trump Stays on Offense. Aired 11a-12pm ET

Aired March 26, 2023 - 11:00   ET



ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: Trump fights back.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The injustices being done will not stand and we're not going to stand for it.

PHILLIP: In his first 2024 rally, the ex-president warns of dark consequences if he's indicted.

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NJ): If he keeps it up, he's going to get someone killed.

PHILLIP: Plus, times up?

REP. CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS (R-WA): TikTok is a grave threat. Your platform should be banned.

PHILLIP: The CEO of TikTok endures a bipartisan pylon.

SHOU CHEW, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, TIKTOK: I have seen no evidence that the Chinese government has access to the data.

REP. ANNA ESHOO (D-CA): I find that actually preposterous.

PHILLIP: Will Congress ban Gen-Z's most popular app?

And low blows. Why is Kyrsten Sinema trashing her one-time Democratic allies? And what's her problem with America's favorite gelatinous dessert?

Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS Sunday. I'm Abby Philip. Thank you for joining us at our brand-new time. We will be right here at 11:00 A.M. Eastern time every Sunday.

But we begin today with the darkening legal clouds closing in on former president Donald Trump. Tomorrow morning, the Manhattan grand jury investigating the former president. They're expected to be back in session and an indictment in that case could come at any day.

Plus, Trump's own lawyers and advisors, they're being ordered to testify. And on top of that, federal probes into his hoarding of classified documents and his efforts to overturn the 2020 election are speeding up, all of which is clearly weighing on Trump, because it is their very first big rally of 2024 in Waco, Texas this Saturday. His legal troubles and grievances were front and center.


TRUMP: The Biden regime's weaponization of law enforcement against their political opponent is something straight out of the Stalinist Russian horror show.

This is really prosecutorial misconduct.

Our enemies are desperate to stop us because they know that we are the only ones who can stop them.

The thugs and criminals who are corrupting our justice system will be defeated, discredited, and totally disgraced. That's what's happening.

And people see it's bullshit.


PHILLIP: That rally came at the end of a week that included Trump spewing dangerous rhetoric on social media, warning of potential death and destruction if he is charged with crimes. Let's discuss all of this and more with former FBI deputy director, Andy McCabe, CNN crime and justice reporter, Katelyn Polantz, and CNN legal analyst, Elliot Williams.

Andrew, I just want to start with just a reaction to what we just played there from Trump in Waco, Texas, of all places, last night. This is really all kind of amounting to a grievance campaign. We saw people behind him with witch-hunt signs that were being passed around by the campaign. This is becoming central to his candidacy.

ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER FBI DEPUTY DIRECTOR: Well, he was given up any pretense of actually standing in front of people in arguing political theories or goals or aspirations to where he wants to take the country. It is becoming entirely about this narrative of personal grievance.

And while though that may be a politically advantageous line for him to put out in front of his most ardent supporters, even down to the selection of venue, right, Waco on the 30th anniversary of the -- of the tragedy of the Branch Davidian compound,.

This is -- we know this has an incendiary inflammatory effect on his most hardcore supporters. Cesar Sayoc proved that to us years ago now, embarking on his own campaign of sending IEDs out to folks in the media and in politics. And then of course, January 6. We know those words have an effect on his supporters in a -- in a way that can inspire them to be divided.

PHILLIP: And just take a look at this. I mean, this was the image that Trump tweeted out or not tweeted out, but he posted this week on his social media platform. It's Trump with a bat next to an image of Alvin Bragg. His campaign says it was inadvertent, it was later deleted. But it seems to be an escalation of the rhetoric.


MCCABE: There's nothing inadvertent about that. You don't mistakenly create that image and put it up on social media. Yes, that's an absolute signaling to people of what he would like to do, and i.e. what he might like them to do. So it's irresponsible, it's dangerous.

I think national political figures on both sides of the aisle will be reluctant to wade that deep into these very dangerous waters.

ELLIOTT WILLIAMS, CNBN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. One important point on that, though, any other potential defendant in a criminal case, now, again, the president is not a defendant, he's free. Who posted an image like that in advance of being charged, if this were a gang violence situation where somebody posted a picture of the DA with a baseball bat, no one would bat an eye for a moment at saying this is actually -- if not an actionable threat, possibly concerning.

But I think because of the fact that it's a former president, I think we have a little bit more caution and talking about it in those terms.

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: It also looks very similar in some ways to what Roger Stone posted after he was charged in court for this and he was waiting his trial, and he had posted an image that showed the judge in his case with a crosshairs behind her it wasn't as explicit even. But it prompted them being putting a gag on.

PHILLIP: Well, what you're talking about, it probably explains why one of Trump's lawyers this morning, tried to kind of walk it back saying that it was basically a mistake.

MCCABE: And we know that it has resulted in elevated threat situation that the DA is now facing.

PHILLIP: And, Katelyn, can you bring us up to speed? I mean, last week Trump put out there, oh, I'm going to be arrested. It didn't happen. But the grand jury didn't meet on this case for two days. They're going to meet tomorrow. What can we expect?

POLANTZ: Yes. I mean, our expectation right now is that the -- there could be additional witnesses that still could be called and that the -- that the grand jury may be meeting on Monday. They have had a pattern of meetings on Mondays in the past.

But, you know, what exactly is going to happen here? The Manhattan DA has been very reticent to say, as he should be in an ongoing criminal investigation, and saying that what they're going to end up doing is what the law is going to require, and obviously any indictment that they would bring. If it does come this week, they would have to get it passed a grand jury, grand jurors that heard all the evidence and say, yes, this is chargeable. PHILLIP: This morning, James Comer, the Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, he's one of the Republicans basically saying to Alvin Bragg, they want to drag him in front of their committees to testify. They are warning him not to pursue this. They're even warning that they might pursue legislation to protect former presidents from state local investigations.

But just listen to Comer on "STATE OF THE UNION" with Jake Tapper a couple hours ago.


REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): He's investigating a presidential candidate, not to mention former president of the United States for a federal election crime that has no business being litigated in a local district attorney's office.

We are sick and tired of meddling in federal elections. And I don't believe that Bragg would be doing this if Donald Trump were not running for president.


PHILLIP: There are so many things in there -- in there. But I mean, just this idea that because he is a former president, there should not be any investigation or, you know, a prosecution for alleged crimes. It seems on its face to be that that's a non-starter in that country of laws.

WILLIAMS: Right. So there's a few things going on there, Abby, number one at the time, Donald Trump was a private citizen of the state of New York at the time, choosing to do business in the state of New York, therefore, subjecting himself to the laws of the state of New York. The people to resolve legal questions about Donald Trump in this context are voters or juries in the state of New York.

Now, I think these members of Congress and the two letters they've written didn't do themselves a lot of favors, because they might have had something or they really might have but they -- in both instances said, you know, this is a partisan political witch-hunt funded by George Soros, you know, and the left is trying to take the president down. It's a political argument that is not for Congress to make. It's -- it is, in effect, meddling in the state and local investigation.

PHILLIP: He also said, we think the statute of limitations is up on this. We don't think that this is even a state and local crime. But it seems to me that this is -- those are things to be determined by a jury.


POLANTZ: Or judge.

PHILLIP: Or a judge, in the state of New York -- of New York.

MCCABE: Or to be reviewed by the prosecutor in the county of New York who's deciding and has the -- has the prosecutorial discretion to make the decision as to whether or not to bring charges. He certainly knows what the facts are around the -- around the statute of limitations argument, which is pretty weak, according to everyone that you speak to, but nevertheless.

WILLIAMS: Or even -- or even to take it further if Alvin Bragg has truly exceeded the bounds of his job and really stepped in it and gone far.

The way to do it as the New York State Legislature can investigate him and impeach him if it's really that they did it to a governor or about to do it to a governor just a year and a half ago. So the idea that Congress in Washington is the party to do it is simply incorrect.


PHILLIP: And, Katelyn, there are a bunch of other legal developments involving Trump, but I think the bottom line, the thing that ties all of this together, it seems to me this week, the narrative is that the courts are saying that there is no sort of blanket privilege that is given to him. They are ordering his aid -- his former aides, his attorneys to cooperate with his investigations and to testify.

POLANTZ: Yes. So Donald Trump has been really effective over the past many years of using the courts to his advantage, even if his governance in the executive branch was chaotic, he knew how to put disinformation in courts, he knew how to use the courts to slow things down. And he also has been very good about surrounding himself with attorneys, who then have become witnesses in these cases. Michael Cohen, Evan Corcoran are the two attorneys that have worked for Donald Trump that we're talking about who are major witnesses, both in New York and in this federal investigation around classified records.

But when you step back and you watch what's happening, at least in federal court in D.C., in the classified documents case, the January 6 investigation, that shield of the court system has fallen, the courts are moving quickly to respond to investigators.

And whether or not there's a charge there, whether one would arise against him or others in January 6, or the Mar-a-Lago case, at very least, they're going to be able to get answers. And that's the thing that not -- none of the other investigations have been able to get.

PHILLIP: Yes. And this seems to me there's all of it. It's a big test for the judicial system, for the -- for the law enforcement system in this country, to deal with that really just unprecedented circumstances involving the former president.

MCCABE: It's a huge test. And I think what he's realizing now is these tactics that you've just laid out that were successful in him holding back the Congress, holding back the January 6 Committee and those subpoenas. They don't work as well when you're facing down -- looking down the barrel of a federal criminal investigation. The law is clear on this that things like executive privilege takes a backseat once there is a grand -- you know, a criminal grand jury investigation ongoing.

So, you know, having to sit there and watch his own lawyer in the federal documents case, essentially testify against him in front of a federal grand jury on Friday, that is a stunning development and one that should be really getting his attention.

PHILLIP: Yes. I think it very much is. I mean, he claims that this is -- I mean, he claims everything is a witch hunt, but he certainly seemed to be focused on it last night.

Thank you all for coming in this morning for us.

And coming up next, Trump is selling sinister forces and final battles, but is that really what the 2024 GOP voters want to buy? That's next.



PHILLIP: If Republican voters were hoping to hear and uplifting forward-looking message from the former president at his rally last night, they were sorely disappointed. Along with a seemingly endless list of grievances, his remarks also included some of the most extreme rhetoric that we've heard in his political career.


TRUMP: For seven years, you and I have been taking on the corrupt, rotten, and sinister forces trying to destroy America.

And 2024 is the final battle, that's going to be the big one.

Our enemies are desperate to stop us because they know that we are the only ones who can stop them.

All of the hatred, rage, and contempt, the radical left has for you and your values and this nation, has been very much directed on me.

Either the deep state destroys America or we destroy the deep state.

They're not coming after me, they're coming after you, and I'm just standing in their way.


PHILLIP: Let's discuss all of this and more with our great political panel, CNN's Jeremy Diamond, the Washington Post's, Rhonda Colvin, Margaret Talev of Axios, and Jonah Goldberg of The Dispatch.

I have to say, the one thing -- the thing I can't really get past is starting the rally with a song that he co-stars in with January 6 rioters who are currently in prison for their crimes. And these images of him standing in front of literal video and pictures of the riots happening. I mean, what is going on? JONAH GOLDBERG, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE DISPATCH: Yes. So I have two points to make. One is I think he was disappointed by how many people said they weren't going to go protest in New York. And so he's amping the rhetoric to give people more worked up to prove that he still got the juice, in a way.

But also, I just -- it's important to take a step back. We've heard for years now that he didn't mean to incite the January 6 rioters. Violence was the furthest thing from his mind. And let's say that that's true. Wouldn't you be extra careful not to incite any violence now, but instead, he's leaning the other way with the baseball bat and the death and destruction stuff.

He knows what he's doing and it makes his defense of January 6 look pretty terrible and pretty pre-textual because it's obvious that he has no problem fomenting or encouraging, you know, violence, at least among some of his supporters.

PHILLIP: I mean, his defense of January 6 is indefensible. OK. It's not -- it's not defensible. It was -- it was violence. I mean, he's showing images of it. It's not like, I'm lying to people. You can see it at Trump's rally.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No. And it's startling to see, despite the fact that it is perfectly within the vein of what we have seen from Trump, it is a natural evolution of what we've seen, but it's still startling to see.

And I think, you know, Donald Trump is really taking these politics of personal grievance to new levels, new heights. And one of the biggest differences for me, you know, I covered the 2016 campaign, when I look back at that versus now, I see Trump back then presenting himself as kind of a savior for the grievances of the everyman in the country and him being the person to fix that.

PHILLIP: He is talking about trade. He used to talk about all of that stuff, and now it's about him.

DIAMOND: Right. Now, he is embodying his personal grievances, but the grievances of all these people who are in this MAGA movement who felt wronged by the characterization of the January 6 insurrection. He is embodying those grievances in new ways and potentially dangerous ways, as we look forward to the future of this movement.


PHILLIP: We should note, and this was discussed a little earlier, he had this rally in Waco, Texas and folks went to great lengths to explain why this was not at all a, you know, a dog whistle to the violent right.

But here is the co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, explaining the significance of Waco. Waco was hugely symbolic on the far right. There is not really another place in the U.S. where you could pick that would tap into these deep veins of anti-government hatred, Christian nationalist skepticism of that government. And I find it hard to believe that Trump doesn't know that Waco represents all of these things.

MARGARET TALEV, AXIOS SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. And the timing is no coincidence. And I've heard this explanation that it's in the center of the state. There's other ways to get to the center of the state like -- this is a big college station, you know, you'd have to go to Waco for that central location on the 30th anniversary.

Waco, guess what, is changing and has changed over the course of the last 30 years. Twenty years ago is 60 percent white. Now it's about 40 percent white. It's about a third Hispanic and about 20 percent African-American.

Guess what else, the major employers in Waco rely heavily and take advantage of federal subsidies and the federal government. And you're talking about everything from the independent school district to, you know, the benefits bestowed on companies there that are getting federal assistance to build things.

So I think there is the symbolism of Waco and what it means to a movement in America. And there's a reality of what's going on, on the ground in Waco and the demographic changes that are taking place there just like everywhere else in the country.

PHILLIP: And on the politics of all of this. I mean, these investigations converging on Trump seems to -- look, he doesn't want to be indicted, right? Nobody wants to be indicted, but he's using it as much as he can. And the results have been that he is surging in the Republican polls, especially vis-a-vis Ron DeSantis.

Look at this Monmouth poll. Trump is up, from 26 percent in December to 41 percent now in March. DeSantis down to 27 percent. And he would not let DeSantis forget that this weekend. But Trump, he's trying to solidify this as early as he can.

RHONDA COLVIN, WASHINGTON POST CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: He's trying to use all of this, all of the culmination of the investigations, a potential indictment for his advantage. You even seen the clips that we showed of the rally last night, if you saw the signs behind him, they said witch-hunt. So that is something that he is planning on campaigning on using to his advantage. We've seen it before.

And because all of these investigations are happening somewhat at the same time, you know, the indictment in New York, there's also the Fulton County grand jury, there's declassified documents investigation with Grand Jury here in D.C., all of these things are happening at the same time. That may be an opportunity for him to say, look, I'm just an embattled president or former president helped me, and that may be very effective with his base.

PHILLIP: It may be very effective with his base, but Republicans -- that all of us talk to, they know that a general election is not going to hinge on a twice impeached former president who, if he's indicted would be an indicted former president. No Republican I talked to wants to run on that.

But coming up, will TikTok be banned? The fate of the world's fastest growing app was the hottest ticket in D.C. this week.


VITUS SPEHAR, TIKTOK USER: OK. I'm here at the hearing for TikTok show to just spoke to the press. There are hundreds of people clamoring to get into this hearing. We've got some of your favorite TikTokers here.




PHILLIP: So is the most popular social media app in the United States on its way out? TikTok's future is now more uncertain than ever after its CEO faced off with lawmakers in a truly combative hearing over concerns that TikTok, and its Chinese ownership poses a serious national security threat.

And let's just say committee members on both sides of the aisle, they didn't hold back.


CHEW: I don't believe what we collect this morning --

REP. FRANK PALLONE (D-NJ): See, my problem here is you're trying to give the impression that you're going to move away from Beijing and the Communist Party. You're trying to give the impression that you're a good actor.

RODGERS: I will remind you that making false or misleading statements to Congress is a federal crime.

CHEW: I understand. Again, you can go on a platform, you will find --

REP. KAT CAMMACK (R-FL): Why, if you had nothing to hide, would you need to downplay the association with ByteDance in China?

CHEW: Congresswoman, I have not seen this memo.

CAMMACK: You can't answer that question?

CHEW: I have seen no evidence that the Chinese government has access to that data. They have never asked us. We have not provided. I've asked that question.

ESHOO: You know what, I find that - I find that actually preposterous.


PHILLIP: So it's one of those moments in Washington where you see Democrats and Republicans kind of exactly on the same page. It's really rare. And it's also -- it was a little surprising as someone I've been following this for a while. Democrats weren't quite there until now. And now they have the same amount of skepticism and even anger directed at TikTok. I mean, you were in the room. What was it like in there?

COLVIN: Yes, I was in the room. And this was a very lengthy hearing. It lasted about five hours. And it seemed as if all lawmakers, on both sides of the aisle, they were kind of united. They showed the united front with a lot of tough questions.

In fact, from what I saw before the hearing even started, lawmakers were prepared to make this a bit contentious. They're already prepping legislation in the Senate that would have given the Commerce Secretary the power to ban the app. It just seemed like a foregone conclusion that this would be a very contentious hearing.

And what struck me the most is that they did have a diversity in the questions that they asked Mr. Chew. Some lawmakers asked about misinformation among the Spanish speaking community of TikTok was doing that. Some asks about fentanyl and border issues. So there -- it kind of ran the gamut, and that's not something you usually see when they're doing tech hearings. Usually, they don't quite, know what to ask, but this is when they were very prepared and ready to go ahead with the ban.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN ANCHOR: And just this morning, Kevin McCarthy, the House Speaker, says they're prepping legislation on TikTok. And when I talked to two lawmakers, the Chair and Ranking Member of the China Committee, both said that they believed that this year you could see a bipartisan bill to ban the app. But the question remains, there was a lot of evasiveness right at this hearing. I think that's undeniable. But the question remains, where is the actual evidence? And Jake Tapper posed that to Cathy McMorris Rodgers this morning on State of the Union.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Have you seen any evidence that any data from TikTok -- TikTok has been accessed by any officials of the Chinese government?

CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS, (R) CHAIRWOMAN, ENERGY AND COMMERCE COMMITTEE: What the hearing made clear to me was that TikTok should be banned in the United States of America.

TAPPER: Is there clear evidence? And maybe it's classified or maybe it doesn't exist, I don't know, that Chinese government officials themselves have accessed any data?

MCMORRIS RODGERS: Well, what we do have evidence of, Jake, is that TikTok cannot be trusted, that they have repeatedly lied.


PHILLIP: And that's what makes this really tough, is that it is true ByteDance is a Chinese company. It's governed by China's laws. There are members -- there are members of the Chinese Communist Party within the larger company. But there is not concrete evidence that any of these incursions have happened. And I think that that's been a tough argument to make to voters? JONAH GOLDBERG, THE DISPATCH EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: Yeah, I mean I'm not particularly vexed about this. I think we should get rid of it. We should force the sale of it. I think that at the end of the day, the fact is, the Communist Party of China, if it wants access to the data, can have it. And all I need to know, really, is that -- first of all, they ban it for their own people. India has banned it. The British Parliament is banning members of Parliament from going into, having it on any government phones. I have lots of friends in the intel community who tell me it's a real, real problem. I don't think the First Amendment issues are as strong as they are, but politically it's a hot mess, and it's particularly a hot mess, I think, for Democrats who need the younger voters who are low propensity voters.

PHILLIP: Speaking of, listen to AOC on this issue.


REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ, (D) NEW YORK: If we want to make a decision as significant as banning TikTok, and we believe, or someone believes, that there's really important information that the public deserves to know about why such a decision would be justified, that information should be shared with the public as well.


PHILLIP: She and Jamaal Bowman of New York also are kind of alone here on the Democratic side.

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah, I mean, there is a progressive argument that there's xenophobia, there's a xenophobic threat here and all that. I think there's a few things that are going on. There is going to be a First Amendment argument if this gets to the courtroom stage, if there's really an effort to ban it. And that's the difference between the United States and a lot of other countries, including China, is that all the protections that we enjoy as the public, as people have a right to express our views as journalists, are also, you know, the flip side of that is that the First Amendment protections allow some bad actors if bad actors are what's really going on here.

One of the arguments I think we're going to see emerging is that there should be an effort to regulate all social media. That you can't just look at TikTok and that there's misinformation can so be misused on other platforms anyway, that this has to be the rationale for a broader effort that's much more likely to fail, much more like to come under, that's --


PHILLIP: Look, I mean, I think that if you believe that there is a privacy concern with TikTok that should be applied across the board. We took a look at some of the apps in the Apple Store, the top ten apps. Four of them are Chinese owned, two of them TikTok, and another one called CapCut are owned by the same parent company, ByteDance. It's just a real question of whether Congress really even has the ability to deal with this broader issue. JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, and to me what's

been interesting is two things. The first is the rapid coalescing around this position, both Republicans and Democrats, that TikTok represents national security concern despite what AOC is saying there, where she also said in that video that Congress hasn't actually received a classified briefing on the issue. But the second thing is the fact that you do see folks like AOC and Jamaal Bowman is appearing to pump the brakes.

And one thing that I also know from my reporting is that TikTok lobbyists on Capitol Hill have been making this case to Democrats about the youth vote in 2024, reminding them of the disproportionate impact that it's going to have on Democratic candidates.

The question is, what will Biden do? Because even if one of these laws passes this Warner-Thune bill, for example, which would give him the authority to ban this app, would he actually go that far?


DIAMOND: That is something that a number of sources I've been talking to have said is a real question mark at this point. Even if he has that authority, it's possible that it could be a

process once again that drags on past the next election, kick the can down the road.


PHILLIP: Yeah, no one seems to be able to explain how you actually put the genie back in the bottle with 150 million users of an app, that just seems a little bit more dubious than just saying you're going to ban an app.

But coming up next for us, the Florida Governor may be losing momentum after weeks of vicious attack from the GOP frontrunner. So is DeSantis deflated? That's coming up.


PHILLIP: So as bad as Donald Trump's last few weeks have been legally, Ron DeSantis may have just been as bad politically. These brutal headlines are just from the last 48 hours. The Florida governor's less than stellar media blitz last week has left a lot of Republicans asking the question, is he really ready to take on Trump?

And here he is when he's asked about how he differs from the man that he'll need to beat in order to become the nominee.



GOVERNOR RON DESANTIS, (R) FLORIDA: I would have fired somebody like Fauci. I think that he got way too big for his britches and I think he did a lot of damage. I also think just in terms of my approach to leadership, the way we run the government, I think, is no daily drama. Focus on the big picture and put points on the board. And I think that that's something that's very important.


PHILLIP: No drama, but also pretty tame stuff and for a lot of conservatives his reluctance swipes at Trump, hint at a lack of grit necessary to really take the former president on. Here's Trump, by contrast, at his rally last night, describing how he remembers DeSantis asking for his endorsement for governor back in 2018.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: So he came and he really wanted I said, you can't win, can you? How do you -- can win. Sir, if you endorse me, I'll win. Please, please, sir, endorse me. I said, let's give it a shot, Ron. And I endorsed him and he became like a rocket ship. Within one day, the race was over.


PHILLIP: A sir story, which, if you've been following this show here, is usually a sign that Trump is adding a little something to the narrative.

TALEV: Slight embellishment, yeah.

PHILLIP: Slight embellishment here. But I think the broader point is that DeSantis is kind of getting raked over the cold by conservatives actually, this week about how he's handled this conflict with Trump and how he seems to not really have his heart in attacking Trump, thinking that maybe he can just wait a little bit longer.

TALEV: Yeah, I mean, I think this has been sort of the soft pre announcement period where you can sort of soft test different things without -- being a candidate. The problem is everyone already assumes you're a candidate, so you are a candidate.

And I went back and was looking at polling from early 2015, which if I'm doing my math right, I think is the comparable time in the cycle. And this is like back in June of 2015. At that time, Jeb Bush was actually leading the Republican nominating contest with about 20% of the vote. And Donald Trump was in the clear number two spot, but it was a somewhat distant number two spots but -- and then, of course, everything changed. Trump is not Jeb Bush. A lot of different things have happened, yada, yada, I get it.

But all I'm saying is this is still actually very early in the nominating contest. And while this shows you some of the contours of the challenges that someone like Ron DeSantis would have running against Donald Trump, I don't think that in March of 2023, you can say, Trump's locked up the nomination and it's over. This is very early stages.

PHILLIP: For sure, although the trajectory is not what one would want if you were on.

DIAMOND: Yeah. And at the same time, you can also make that analogy, but with DeSantis by looking at the fact that DeSantis is this like, you know, at this point the -- you know, he's not establishment, but he's like the establishment non-Trump choice. He's the leading non- Trump choice. And you look at Scott Walker or you look at Jeb Bush and the fact that they were viewed as these favorite heavyweights heading into this race, and then they withered away, and the same could potentially happen to DeSantis.

I think the thing is, DeSantis has to run a much tougher race than Trump does, right? DeSantis has to not only appeal to the Trump base just as much as Trump is appealing to his base, but he also then has to make sure that he still maintains some establishment non-Trump support. And we saw that over these comments with Ukraine, for example, where DeSantis had to walk them back in a way that Trump would never have to.

PHILLIP: Yeah, it's such a --

TALEV: And never would.

PHILLIP: It's such an important point. He has to be on both sides of this. And one of the interesting things this week is that the Trump campaign really worked very hard to draw DeSantis into the fight and forced DeSantis to respond to this issue of the Stormy Daniels hush money payment.


DESANTIS: I don't know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair. I just -- I can't speak to that.


PHILLIP: And now Q, the Trump response in his social media post, he basically accuses he accuses DeSantis of things without any evidence. He says if you're attacked by a woman, even classmates that are, "underage or possibly a man, I'm sure he would want to fight these misfits just like I do." I mean, this is Trump bringing a bazooka gun to a knife fight with Ron DeSantis, but that is what he can expect.

GOLDBERG: Yeah, I think part of the mismatch that DeSantis is learning how to deal with is that DeSantis is like from earth in the sense that he thinks that politics is about making arguments, stringing together propositions, make proposing policies. And Trump is this sort of data istic impression, you know, like emotion machine that arouses, that pings people's lizard brains in all sorts of interesting ways and it's just an apples and hand grenades kind of comparison. At the same time, look, we show those polls earlier about how Trump is doing better in DeSantis and DeSantis is falling. I think DeSantis people are right to be worried about that. But at the same time, I think a lot of that has to do with this sort of time-honored thing in Republican primaries and Republican base of rallying around Trump when the establishment is going after him. We saw that with the first Mar-a-Lago raid. It peters off after a while.

[11:45:12] And I just find it hard to believe that Trump is adding any new voters to his column with any of this. He's reinforcing his old voters.

PHILLIP: Yeah, but that is definitely true I think in a general, in the Republican primary.

GOLDBERG: He different.

PHILLIP: He is consolidating his voters. OK, I got to get this in because this was really flabbergasting to me this week. Ron DeSantis went on Piers Morgan, did an interview. He defended himself and his ability to engage with regular voters, but he also defended himself against accusations that he ate pudding with three fingers. Listen.


PIERS MORGAN: Have you ever eaten a chocolate pudding with three fingers?

DESANTIS: I don't remember ever doing that. I'm telling you. Maybe when I was a kid. But it's interesting, you know, there's a lot of people when you're -- they go at you, sometimes they have, like, really good ammunition, like, you're a crook. You did this, you did that. For me, they're talking about pudding. Like, is that really the best you got? OK, bring it on.


PHILLIP: I just have to say, I had to make sure that that was not satire that actually happened in the United States of America.

But coming up next for us, Kyrsten Sinema's jabs about Jell-O and why her Democratic colleagues are finding them so off putting.



PHILLIP: Old dudes eating Jell-O. Those four words shook the halls of Congress this week after Politico's Jonathan Martin revealed the special kind of snark Kyrsten Sinema hurls at her fellow or former fellow Democrats behind closed doors and to groups of Republican donors and lobbyists, no less.

So for just a sampling of some of the choice words that she's had about her one-time allies, this is how she describes the democratic caucus weekly lunches that she didn't really go to. She says, old dudes are eating Jell-O, everyone is talking about how great they are. I don't really need to be there for that. That's an hour and a half, twice a week that I could get back. The Northerners and the Westerners put cool whip on their Jell-O, and the Southerners, they put cottage cheese." Really disgusting. But yeah, YOLO. I mean, she just really is done.

TALEV: I mean there -- obviously there's a lot of intrigue around what rule she's going to play in the Arizona Senate race, whether she could play a role where she ends up ushering in Kari Lake or, you know, the opposite kind of role or even if she runs again or all that stuff.

But I think even nearer term, you're seeing Kyrsten Sinema play a role right now in politics. The decision of President Biden's FAA nominee to withdraw was due in part to her efforts to scuttle one of those hearings around him. So she's making waves in real time as well as kind of in future time.

PHILLIP: They can't ignore her. You know, Chuck Schumer was the target of a lot of the criticism in this story. And --

GOLDBERG: Non-Jell-O eater.

PHILLIP: Non-Jell-O eater, Chuck Schumer, and he basically was like, I'm not saying anything negative about her. However, Senator Tina Smith did tweet out this photo of, you guessed it, Jell-O. And -- but the funny thing was, Kyrsten Sinema replies with a laughing emoji. And it's hard to know, I mean, it's hard to know I mean I she -- it's hard to know what's really going on there. But it seems like she's kind of gloating over the stories in this piece.

GOLDBERG: Yeah, I think the stories are great for her. I mean, I honestly do. I think, I mean, we were talking before about how some of the politicians seem out of touch on things like TikTok and all that. She's kind of branding herself as somebody who's not part of this establishment stuff without being crazy, without being, you know, angry about it. I think it's good branding. I think she's probably taking over the John McCain lane on the center left in Arizona as the sort of person who doesn't play well with others necessarily, but wants to get things done.

PHILLIP: I don't know. I have to say, I mean, with McCain, it wasn't quite so snarky. OK, I have to give us one more thing to chew on here. Sinema said she told an aide that there was no need to fret because the vote would be bipartisan. Then she revealed who the aide was saying that was Klain, and she quickly flashed her middle finger in the air to demonstrate that she -- what she thinks of the powerful, now departed White House Chief of Staff, which is awkward, to say the least.

DIAMOND: Yeah, I can tell you there's no love lost between a lot of White House officials and Kyrsten Sinema. But this is kind of the irony of Kyrsten Sinema is that on the one hand, she has gotten so under the skin of a lot of folks at the White House, a lot of top Senate Democrats. At the same time, she has been pivotal to a lot of this bipartisan legislation. She has been very closely involved in a number of these bills, including the IRA, the infrastructure law and -- but the difference is, the White House handles her and Manchin very differently. Two of these pivotal votes, right?

On the one hand with Manchin, not only do they know they have to work with him, but they also would like him to run for reelection and get re-elected. Sinema now throws a different dynamic into the air by becoming an independent, where the White House isn't quite sure what's going to happen with her reelection bid, whether or not she's going to be a spoiler or how they're going to approach.

PHILLIP: She will even run at all.

DIAMOND: Or if she leaves.

PHILLIP: Because I mean, it is still kind of difficult to see what the lane here is. She's being challenged on the left and on the right. The right wing in Arizona is not where she is. It's where Kari Lake is.

COLVIN: Right, and she's keeping both parties on their toes. She's this unknown quantity for Democrats and Republicans where they just don't know which way she's going to go just yet. It's still kind of early in this term of the Senate for her to kind of show which way she's going to lean. So that's why you have Congressional Republicans in the Senate wondering what to do with her.


But this may help her in any attempts to calculate how-to run-in Arizona. Specifically if the Republicans are able to recruit a harder right Arizona Republican to run against her. She may be more appealing to folks in the middle. But she is keeping everyone on their toes right now.

PHILLIP: Yeah, I mean, for sure. And you know who does love Kyrsten Sinema? Mitch McConnell. Mitch McConnell, who has praised her effusively whenever he's given a chance.

But that's it for us here on Inside Politics Sunday. Thank you for joining us. Stay here on CNN. Up next is State of the Union with Jake Tapper and Dana Bash. Jake's guests include the Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman, Mark Warner and the House Oversight Committee Chairman, James Comer.

And tonight, Adam Sandler and his very funny friends are coming to CNN. The Kennedy Center presents the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, celebrating Adam Sandler tonight at 08:00 p.m. Eastern time. Trust me, it will be very funny.

Thank you again for sharing your Sunday morning with us. Have a great rest of your day.