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Inside Politics

Poll: Trump Leading Choice For Nominee At 53 Percent, DeSantis At 26 Percent; DeSantis Enters 2024 Race, As New Poll Shows He's Clear 2nd To Trump; Trump Super PAC Slams DeSantis In New Ad Ahead Of 2024 Bid; Pence: "Different Times Call For Different Leadership"; Haley video: DeSantis "An Echo" Of Trump; Trump Legal Team Requests Meeting With AG Garland; Trump Hush Money Trial Collides With 2024 GOP Primary. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired May 24, 2023 - 12:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN CO-ANCHOR NEWS CENTRAL: The market is dropping down now to 266 points that since Kevin McCarthy started speaking.

SARA SIDNER, CNN CO-ANCHOR NEWS CENTRAL: That's right. But he is sending the negotiators to with the other side and they're all going to get together. But again, you only have five days now because we need 72 hours to read that bill. You got to get this done in the next couple of days to make sure this gets finished for the American public. Thank you so much for joining us now. This has been CNN News Central. Inside Politics happening now.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Busy news day, thank you for your time. Releasing right now, a brand-new CNN snapshot of the Republican presidential race. Our new poll finds Donald Trump up big, but it's an important but. A broad number of GOP voters say yes, they are open to supporting Ron DeSantis, who officially presses start on his campaign tonight.

Plus, a big Trump legal team demand. The former president's lawyers want an audience with the attorney general to complain about the special counsel and his investigation. And just moments ago, the House speaker saying, he's sending negotiators over to the White House. He insists he's already conceded a lot. This happening as new CNN reporting pulls back the curtain on how the former Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows is steering hard right conservatives in this fight over whether United States to pay its bills.

We begin the hour though with a big day in the Republican 2024 nomination chase. The Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis officially enters the fray tonight, announcing his run in a conversation with the Twitter owner Elon Musk. It's a big play on the social media platform, critical to Donald Trump's rise.

And some brand-new CNN poll numbers we are releasing right now, tell us a ton about the current Republican mindset. DeSantis is a very distant second to Donald Trump, but he runs way ahead of anyone not named Trump. And when you dive deeper into the numbers, you do see a potential DeSantis pathway to the nomination. CNN's David Chalian, our political director with us now live to walk through these brand-new numbers. David, what do we know?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, John. Well, as you noted in that overall horse race on this day that Ron DeSantis is getting in. You're right, Donald Trump has this big substantial lead at 53 percent of Republican and Republican leaning independents first choice for the 2024 nomination Donald Trump.

This is a national poll conducted by SSRS for us. 26 percent say Ron DeSantis. That's far back. He's got about half the support of Donald Trump, but he's in a universe by himself. As you noted, everyone else is in single digits. Mike Pence and Nikki Haley next up at 6 percent support.

But your caveat is very important. We asked people in addition to your first choice, who would you be open to supporting in this race? And take a look. You see Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump are running even here with overwhelming majorities of Republicans and Republican leaners saying that they indeed, would or could support perhaps Ron DeSantis or Donald Trump.

That's good news for DeSantis. On his announcement day, it's also that you already have Republican and Republican leaners for Nikki Haley, Tim Scott and Mike Pence are open to supporting them, even though they're not necessarily their first choice in this race. This shows potential for growth for those candidates. We also ask the flip. So, this is a warning sign for some candidates. Who do you rule out right now? Who would you not support?

Well, among Republican and Republican leaners, 60 percent, six in 10 Republicans say Chris Christie is not an option for them. That's a rough place for New Jersey governor who's thinking about getting into this race. 55 percent say so for Asa Hutchinson and Chris Sununu, 47 percent for Larry Elder, Vivek Ramaswamy at 46 percent ruling out, and Mike Pence who we saw a slim majority say might consider him, 45 percent said they would not.

Now I just want to show you where this race has gone over time in these top two (audio blip) Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis. You remember back in our March poll, they were running neck and neck with each other, Trump still out in front there. But look how much that lead has widened for former President Trump to now.

This is what the last several months have been for Ron DeSantis, as he is not yet an official candidate. And Trump has been hammering away at him. This is what occurred today, Ron DeSantis tries to change this equation. John?

KING: David Chalian, appreciate you kicking it off. You can come join us at the table. Also. with me here in studio to share their reporting and their insights CNN's Dana Bash, CNN's Phil Mattingly, and Tia Mitchell of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

So, as DeSantis couldn't say, I guess the question is, you know, it's the glass half full or half empty in the sense that he is by far away in this polling, the leading alternative to Trump. He is just not where he was at the beginning of the year where he was just off reelection. People were still blaming Trump in the rearview mirror. Trump had not been indicted in New York, which caused a rally around the present. So, on launch day, where are we?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Glass is half full and half empty, if possible.



BASH: Ron DeSantis has been absolutely pounded as David just mentioned by the former president. The money that he has had, the money that he has spent in ads, the way that he has Donald Trump has attacked Ron DeSantis on social media and in other opportunities that he has had even on the stump. That has been largely met with crickets from Ron DeSantis.

First of all, because he wasn't a actual candidate, but also because at least until right this moment, it's been unclear how DeSantis is going to handle the Trump factor. And that has been sort of back and forth. Sometimes he's kind of ignored him. Other times he's leaned into responding to or criticizing Donald Trump. That's all going to change, presumably tonight, when he actually makes a formal announcement.

And I frame it that way because it matters in this kind of race that David just showed where right now, it is a two-person race is very fluid. Others have had room to run and to run up in the polls. But right now, it is between those two,

KING: And you can go back and study these things. And then ask yourself the question, do the old rules apply? Normally, you see a front runner this far ahead, you say well, but then you also see some weakness in the front runner. But if you just look at the 85 percent, will Republican voters, are they open to DeSantis even though right now more than half of them nationally?

Remember, we pick presidents state by state, even nominees state by state. But that's pretty interesting that Ron DeSantis poll is equal, you could say ahead, but margin of error to Donald Trump in terms of all Republicans open. Then you do see a drop, again striking Mike Pence, former governor, former member of the House, Donald Trump's vice president, running behind these other people because of his conflicts there. But so, Trump, far away front runner, but I guess he's on DeSantis launch day.

MATTINGLY: And but, Ron DeSantis has a ton of money and a legislative record, and people are open to him. And that means there's an opportunity. There's no question. Obviously, he wasn't -- he's not as hot as he was six months ago, right? And to Dana's point, he has been attacked repeatedly with the significant amount of money and somebody with the biggest platform in the Republican Party for several months, that's about to change. And his posture now is going to define a lot of what happens next. But if you've got money, and you've got a record, and people are willing to vote for you, that's you can't ask for a better opening as a new candidate. The flip side of that is and I think everybody's starting to telegraph this, Trump's not going to be the only one who's attacking him. He's going to be attacked by literally every other Republican in the race.

And I think, so if there's a glass half full and a glass half empty, the half full is you got money, a record and a real opportunity. Glass half empty is Donald Trump's not going to be the only person going after him. Everybody else on that stage is and frankly, we've seen this movie before, when everybody attacks the number two or number three or number four and not Trump.

KING: My biggest question is, what do we look forward to see if DeSantis and his team have learned the lessons of the past couple of months? They thought the Florida legislative session would help them, not so much, at least as yet. Maybe they can take that record and run on it and remind voters of it as they go through early primary states. But in terms of you look at these numbers, and again, if you're DeSantis, you're thinking, well, I'm not where I was in December, but I'm doing a hell of a lot better than everybody else, not named Trump.

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE ATLANTA JOURNAL- CONSTITUTION: Yes. I think what DeSantis's team is banking on is that now he can actually run as a candidate. He can push back. He can declare himself and try to get more support from elected officials and donors in ways that yes, he was doing behind the scenes, but he couldn't officially do as not an official candidate.

I think also they're hoping that he can sell his conservative record and present himself as someone who can out Trump. Trump who can be justice conservative, justice hard right, but without the controversies of Trump. So, one of the questions is also going to be how much will DeSantis go directly after Trump?

Now that he's officially a candidate, he's kind of dipped his toe into criticizing Trump, but then we've also seen him retreat from that at times. Can he go full steam ahead, knowing that Trump is not holding back, will DeSantis stop holding back?

KING: And to that point of the Trump not holding back. I want to bring in CNN's Kristen Holmes because we have this just in from team Trump. It's a brand-new ad, giving Ron DeSantis, guess what? A not so warm welcome to the 24-hour race. Kristen let's listen to a little bit.


So, Kristen Holmes, explained this for me. We just put out the poll numbers. Donald Trump is double Ron DeSantis in the polls. And yet, and yet he sees him as a threat, doesn't he?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he absolutely does, John. And so, to all of his allies, they know that this isn't over yet. These polls had been conducted before DeSantis was even in the race. And I do want to point out one thing about that ad. While the ad itself does see more discipline than some of the others we've seen from the Super PAC, I don't know one.


Perhaps you might remember with that showed DeSantis eating pudding with his bare hands. Or should DeSantis look like excuse me, they are getting pretty petty with this ad. They are going to have it playing on a box truck, circling around the Four Seasons in Miami where that donor meeting is happening. And they're also going to intersperse those recent poll numbers that show Trump leading the field.

And this is just part of a concerted coordinated effort that Trump's campaign and Trump's allies are doing to up end the media narrative around DeSantis as announcement. And it is -- one of the things that Donald Trump does best, which is take all of the oxygen out of the room.

So, in addition to this ad being launched by the Super PAC, you also have a Trump who will be releasing a video later, will he address this directly, you're also going to see a social media blitz. And this is something that I've talked about before, the effort that Trump's advisors have put into really courting these conservative commentators who have a huge social media presence.

You're going to see them tap into that network today. They have been bringing them down to Mar-a-Lago, having them fly on the plane with the former president trying to get them to back him and all of that is going to come into effect today around when DeSantis announces.

KING: Kristen Holmes, appreciate that as always. Trump is very transparent when he turns his attention on you, it's for a reason. He sees you as a threat. Let's bring the conversation back into the room and David Chalian is at the table with us. I want to bring in. This is a question, the former vice president United States Mike Pence asked about, what do you think, Ron DeSantis is about to get in the race along with you, Donald Trump and others.


MIKE PENCE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES: I was proud to run with President Trump. Not once but twice. I'm not sure anyone could have defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 other than Donald Trump. But I do think that different times call for different leadership.


KING: That is Pence's take. We're waiting for his official announcement as well. But when you look at this poll, Donald Trump 53, Ron DeSantis 26, Mike Pence 6 percent. Donald Trump's loyal vice president for four years. The governor of Indiana before that a prominent conservative in the House before that. The numbers are tough for DeSantis, but as you smartly noted, there's a path. Is there for Pence?

CHALIAN: Well, it's much harder to see what that path is. Mike Pence obviously got crosswise with Donald Trump's Republican Party. Donald Trump made sure in the aftermath of January 6 that Mike Pence got crosswise with Donald Trump's Republican Party. And you see the results of that here and you see it. I think when we ask -- when we ask folks, well, would you be willing to consider this person even if they're not your first choice?

Mike Pence is in that slim majority category of yes. I mean, only five candidates in the field are in that place. But he's also pretty high up in the other category of rolling them out, 45 percent, so nearly half. So, there's this split decision among Republican and Republican leaners in this poll about Mike Pence, a slim majority would consider him but also nearly half would just rule them out and get go. That's a tough place to start.

KING: And also, at 6 percent with Mike Pence, he's the former governor of South Carolina. Trump's former ambassador to the United Nations. Nikki Haley, who watched this video here. She's trying to ask Republican voters, this a big ask, right? Republican voters like Donald Trump, even voters who don't plan to support for him have an affinity for Donald Trump. She's trying to say, Trump-DeSantis are the same. You want something different.


It's catchy, but what's the audience? Is there an audience in -- remember, you know, you have to win the Republican nomination first. Most of those are closed primaries. If 85 percent are open to voting for DeSantis, 84 percent are open for Trump, 61 percent say yes, they're open to voting for Nikki Haley. But they like DeSantis and Trump, and she's essentially saying, forget about them.

BASH: That's right. It is a very clever ad. Right now, the people in the Trump campaign fundamentally believe that anybody, sort of running against both of them, including Ron DeSantis, only helps Donald Trump because as much as he can -- he wants to separate himself from that.

And the idea the theory inside the Trump campaign is that if Nikki Haley rises in the polls, she's not going to be taking votes from Donald Trump. She's going to be taking votes from the person right behind him, which is Ron DeSantis. Unclear if that is going to survive that that theory is going to sort of live to see actual votes when the caucuses and primaries start. But right now, that's their thinking.

KING: I guess, part of the question to that theory is and we don't know the answer to this. A, we're waiting for a few more to get in. But do they all make it? Do they all stay in to Iowa and New Hampshire? Or do they look at 6 percent, 2 percent and get out beforehand and consolidate the field Trump hopes not, Trump hopes they stay but do they get out and consolidate beforehand? More to be answered.


David, thank you for breaking down the numbers and joining us from the beginning. Everyone else is my hostage for the rest of the hour. Up next, Donald Trump's legal team complains about the special counsel and asked to meet with the Attorney General Merrick Garland. Plus, a trial date set for the New York felony case against Trump. And guess what, smack dab in the middle of presidential primary season.


KING: Donald Trump's legal team is asking for a meeting with the Attorney General Merrick Garland to complain about the special counsel investigations. In a letter to the attorney general, Trump's lawyers say this. "No president of the United States has ever in the history of our country, been basically investigated in such an outrageous and unlawful fashion. We request a meeting at your earliest convenience to discuss the ongoing injustice that is being perpetrated by your special counsel and his prosecutors."


Let's get some insights and reporting from CNN's Paula Reid and the former state and federal prosecutor Elie Honig. Paula Reid, to you first and just before I say, I just want to say he's the former president of the United States. And there's nothing on the table. There's no evidence that any of these investigations are unlawful or any of the things they say, but they want a meeting with the attorney general, Jack Smith works for the attorney general, but the attorney general has stayed at arm's length. What's the point here?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: And he will likely continue to do so. But if you read this letter, this is not a lawyerly request. There are no specifics about misdeeds by Jack Smith. And the language sounds very familiar, almost verbatim with a former president has said before almost every time he's investigated, right, that this is a superlative in terms of unfairness.

Now, according to our reporting, the former president and his attorneys have not received any indication that there is any indictment coming anytime soon. We have reported that the special counsel appears to be in the final phase of this investigation. But we also know they have more work to do. In fact, they're expected to potentially get more evidence today.

The problem though, for the Justice Department, is that in the past few weeks, they have granted a meeting like this, a two attorneys for Hunter Biden. There was again, no signal that there was an indictment coming. They allowed them to come in and make the case as to why he shouldn't be indicted. And to the average American, it's not going to be clear why if Hunter Biden's attorney say hey, I want to speak to the manager, and they get to go in and have a meeting.

Why former President Trump's attorneys do not. They're different investigations. They have a different structure. But DOJ is going to be under pressure here optically to come up with some way to accommodate this.

KING: So, Elie Honig, what is that way if they are under some pressure, whether it's legally, whether it's politically, the attorney general did not meet with Hunter Biden's lawyers, but the team investigating leaders of the team did. What's their response here? ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, John, some of the former presidents' teams request is completely normal. And parts of it are not at all normal. It is completely common and good practice, frankly, for defense lawyers to request and be given an audience with prosecutors. Usually, you're in touch with defense lawyers as a prosecutor.

And when you're getting towards the end of the case, you say, hey, if you want to come in and give us what we call a reverse proffer. If you want to come in and explain to us why there's a problem with our case, why we should not charge, let's do it.

Those meetings happen all the time, nothing wrong or unusual. What is strange about this case, is first of all the letter reads like a truth social post, under legal letterhead, you do not demand a meeting directly with the attorney general. And as Paula said, Jack Smith is the one who's leading this investigation.

So, I imagine the response from DOJ is going to be something along the lines of, you're not meeting with Merrick Garland. If you'd like to meet with the special counsel team and discuss the merits of this case, fine. But if you're going to come in here and just claim that it's all unfair, and the Biden's that we're not doing that.

KING: We're not doing that. So, as we wait to watch this play out, we also know there was a big hearing yesterday. Trump appeared virtually in the New York criminal case, part of this to lay out what he can and cannot say, what he can or cannot see between now and the trial.

Paula Reid, Trump posting after just had New York County Supreme Court hearing, where I believe my First Amendment rights, freedom of speech, have been violated and they forced upon us a trial date of March 25 right in the middle of primary season. Number one, do we expect that trial date to hold? And number two, what is he talking about his first amendment rights? There was a back and forth over what he can and cannot say between now and the trial?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS, CORRESPONDENT: Oh, sorry, the First Amendment right. Clearly, he's expressing his First Amendment right. He's exercising it onto social, talking about the merits of this investigation. But the judge has put in a protective order limiting the extent to which he can share confidential evidence that is shared in this case.

So, there are some limits on what he can say. But there he is able to sort of, you know, complain about scheduling and things like that he is able to defend himself in the court of public opinion, as the judge noted yesterday, there is no gag order.

In terms of the timing for that trial, usually initial trial dates, I'm sure Elie would agree, they don't always stick. Yesterday the judge really made a point of saying, look, everybody clear calendars. I don't want to hear about any conflicts. It appeared that the judge was trying to get this out of the way well before the election that this judge may or may not be aware of all the primaries that are happening around that time. It will be interesting to see if this sticks,

KING: So, Elie, A, do you think it will stick? Trump is known for delaying things when he doesn't want to go through it. Then the question is, though, legally, do you want to delay it because you need more time, but politically, you could make the argument. I know it's upside down-argument. You can make the argument it helps Donald Trump to do this in the middle of the primary season because we've seen now his base rallies around him.

HONIG: Yes. So, the poll is right. The judge went out of his way yesterday to say, I don't want to hear your all your excuses. I don't want your last second request for a German, we are going to do this in late March. There is a chance. Let's remember though, Trump has a motion to move his case over to federal court. There is a chance, an outside chance that the federal courts intercede here and say hold on, you need to push this off or even we're going to take it as federal courts.

The timing is bizarre here because it's right in the middle of the election season. That could help Donald Trump, that could hurt him, that can make life more difficult for prosecutors, because now you got to get a jury unanimously to convict former president for the first time in history, but also somebody who could be the party's front runner or even presumptive nominee by that point.


KING: Bizarre, you used the word bizarre in the middle of that just about everything we get rid of it in the many layers of this had something bizarre, interesting or unfair. Paula Reid, Elie Honig, appreciate the insights. Up next for us, some brand new CNN reporting on the former Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. He is behind the scenes mentor and adviser to conservative House Republicans, even as his efforts to help Trump overturn the 2020 election still remain of high interest to prosecutors.


KING: Right now, negotiators are at the White House, trying again to prevent a historic, what would be a historic default next week. Last hour the House Speaker Kevin McCarthy are getting out ahead in the messaging game.