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Inside Politics

Axios: Trump Pollster Tells Donors DeSantis Electability Is A 'Myth'; 13 GOP Govs Sending Troops To Border; Poll: 69 Percent Of GOP Want Less Immigration; 2024: Race To The Right On Immigration; Jay Leno: Low Self-Esteem Is "Key To Success". Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired June 02, 2023 - 12:30   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST: By this time next week, there should be 10 declared candidates in the Republican presidential race. There are seven now. You can see them on your screen. Mike Pence, Chris Christie, and the North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum are poised to announce next week. New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu promises decisions soon as well. Donald Trump says he doesn't get it.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't know why people are doing it. They're at 1 percent, some are at zero. You really go after the one who's second. And I think the one who's second is going down so much and so rapidly that I don't think he's going to be second that much longer. I think he's going to be third or fourth.


KING: Our great reporters are back at the table. Let's start with the end of that from Donald Trump. The one who is second is the Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis. You have some reporting today. Look, they're going to compete in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. The voters will decide this.

But there's also an important competition to tell donors, influential Republicans who might deliver endorsements. And the DeSantis's team has made the case for months, we can beat Biden. Trump is toxic. Trump is damaged.


You have this reporting on Tony Fabrizio, who's now -- he used to be Trump's pollster, now he's at the Trump Super PAC pollster. DeSantis in a Super PAC of your survey showing he polls better than Trump against President Biden. Trump's team now pushing back on that argument. Fabrizio is polling the latest effort to convince donors and other prominent Republicans Trump can win.

This is sort of the inside game, right? You have to win the outside game with voters in these key states. But describe why this is important.

ALEX THOMPSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, AXIOS: Well, DeSantis has really relied on the fact that he can court sort of the Republican establishment and get part of the Trump base and sort of unite the two. And part of the way that he has courted donors is basically saying, Trump can't win. He said this in calls with private calls with donors. Trump can't win. I can win.

The only three people in this race that can win are him and Joe Biden. Now, what Tony Fabrizio has done is he's gone through polling and swing states. And he said, the only reason why DeSantis is winning is because people don't know him yet.

And after Democrats attack him on issues like Social Security, Medicare, you know, these issues with books in certain school, in certain school districts, taking them out of libraries, and his flat tax, you'll actually see that he's even less electable than Donald Trump. That, in fact, Donald Trump is the more electable Republican. And now this was laid out in a memo that we obtained that he sent to donors just yesterday afternoon to try to make this case.

KING: To try to argue that inside game. DeSantis getting a ton of attention this week, understandably so. It's his first big trip as an official candidate. He did Iowa. He did New Hampshire. Now he's in South Carolina, the first three states on the Republican calendar.

One interesting thing that pops up is -- and a lot of politicians do this, it's not unique to run DeSantis, is that you cater your message to where you are. But the New York Times noting in New Hampshire, DeSantis avoids talking about Florida's abortion ban. As he traversed socially conservative Iowa this week, the 2024 contender highlighted his state's six weeks ban. Now in more moderate New Hampshire, he's shying from the subject.

You could say it's smart politics, or you could say it's disingenuous? If you're running on your record, shouldn't you run in your record?

RHONDA COLVIN, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: You should. But we're also seeing the other candidates as well try to audience tune a little bit to wherever they are. That's what they're going to talk about. And, of course, the issue of abortion is one that a lot of them are steering clear from until they really have to say something. So it is an interesting strategy he's doing, but all the other ones as well are doing it.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's also interesting -- I mean, we'll see how the other candidates also decide what their strategy is against Trump. A lot of them have been focusing on DeSantis. Yes, this is his first week here because they want to try to become that Trump alternative. But really, no one else is really making the case against Trump the way DeSantis is. But that's really the way you have to get the nomination. You got to go to the front run.

KING: And DeSantis, he snapped at a reporter yesterday who asked him a pretty straightforward, pretty quick question. Everybody gets on the campaign trail, so we're learning a little bit about him. Our Kfile team had an interesting piece today, a little bit of then and now. Ron DeSantis on Anthony Fauci.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): From Dr. Birx, to Dr. Fauci, to the vice president who's worked very hard, the surgeon general, they are really doing a good job. It's a tough situation, but they're working hard.

We chose freedom over Fauciism, and the state of Florida is better off as a result of doing that.


KING: Now, to be fair to Governor DeSantis, when he praised Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx, that was March 2020. It was very beginning of the pandemic. We were literally just trying to figure out what the hell was going on, what was going. But when you run for president, everything you have said in your past comes up in your present.

THOMPSON: That's right. And those on camera remarks, they undermine one of his biggest arguments about Trump, which is that Trump handed the country over to Fauci during COVID and I would have fired Fauci.

KING: Watch as the campaign plays out. And again, we get two, maybe three new entries next week.

Up next for us, border crossings are down. Yet a baker's dozen of Republican governors sending additional National Guard troops to the border. Is that policy or maybe politics?



KING: At least 13 Republican governors now pledging to send National Guard troops to the southern border. The list includes presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis, Virginia's Glenn Youngkin, another likely 2024 contender, Doug Burgum of North Dakota, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice, who's running for Senate, Joe Manchin seat, and the Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders. These governors say they are responding to a plea from their Texas colleague, Greg Abbott.

Our great reporters are back at the table. Governor Abbott does have this operation underway. He says it will reinforce the border. The Border Patrol says there's a 70 percent drop. 3,500 migrants a day now being encountered. That's down 70 percent from May right before the expiration of Title 42.

So I guess the question is, are these Republican governors doing this for some policy reason? Does Greg Abbott really need the help? Is it even his responsibility? Or is this politics?

COLVIN: It looks a lot like politics, especially when you look at the list of those governors and it appears that many of them have ambitions further than, you know, being the executive of their state. So it is a little bit of politics. And, of course, the border is one of the easiest things to talk about when you discuss vulnerabilities for the Democrats right now.

So you're seeing them in concert, come together and send troops there. This highlights the issues at the border. It's going to be a problem for Biden to combat.

RAJU: Yes, I mean, this is definitely an issue that the President is going to have to deal with and confront in a more head on way. Democrats themselves want him to be more aggressive on it. And you're seeing some of the fractures within the Democratic Party on how to deal with border politics as well.

And so, when Title 42 expired, there was division about whether to continue to extend that authority outside of the pandemic. People like, you know, Sherrod Brown, the Ohio Democrat up for reelection, a liberal Democrat, supporting the idea of maintaining that authority to expel migrants at the border.


That is something the White House needs to understand can be a potent issue in the election. And Democrats want him to be more assertive on this. And, you know, he has left it to his administration to deal with it, but he has not been outspoken himself on it.

KING: If you look at Gallup polling, and this is actually quite striking. If you look at partisan trends, desire for less immigration into the United States. So people who want less immigration into United States, if you look at that Republican number on the right, right, the parties were closely aligned if you want to go back, you know, 20 years or so.

But now you have this giant Republican number. Your colleagues in Axios writing about this this morning, saying that nearly eight years after former President Trump launched his first campaign by demanding strict immigration policies, ambitious Republicans often seem like they're trying to outdo one another in cracking down. It has become sort of a calling card among Republicans.

THOMPSON: Yes, I mean, you can see it. Basically, Donald Trump was alone saying build the wall. Now every single Republican running for president has their own build the wall mantra. DeSantis is saying he's going to finish the wall.

You know, he just recently signed a bill in Florida which restricts social services for undocumented immigrants. He sent 1,100 National Guard troops to the border. He's also done, you know, sort of the Martha's Vineyard stunt by sending migrants up there.

The fact is that the politics on the Republican side have just drastically changed. And part of the reason is because there are legitimate issues at the border which some Democrats have been criticizing the President. RAJU: It is really remarkable. I mean, after the 2012 election, remember how bad things went for the Republicans. They had a whole autopsy. One thing was to be more -- to be open to a comprehensive immigration policy, deal with things such as the 11 million people who are illegally talk about these issues.

There was bipartisan support for the bill to legalize, create a pathway to citizenship for these undocumented immigrants here in the United States. That had Republican support as well. It didn't go anywhere in the House, but the politics were saying so dramatically on the right.

KING: It's fascinating because there's no question Trump, this mood already existed. It started after 9/11. You had a lot more nativist forces, anti-immigration forces in politics, but Trump put it on steroids. He says he would close the border on day one if he's reelected. To which Ron DeSantis and DeSantis isn't doing a lot of this, saying, you're promising that now, but dude, you were president.


DESANTIS: After years and years of discussion and Republicans complaining about it, we will finally be the administration to bring this border issue to a conclusion. We are going to shut the border down. We are going to build the border wall.


KING: That's the most interesting thing to me about DeSantis's campaign strategy, which is he's trying to tell Republican voters, who largely like Donald Trump, he was president and he failed a lot of these things. Now he's promising you again, don't believe him.

COLVIN: Yes, you're probably going to see a lot more of that, especially when we get into primary season, where you're going to see the GOP candidates point fingers at each other. Are you strong enough on the board? I am. And here's how you failed.

So even though this is a right and left issue, I think in primary season, we're going to see a lot of pointed fingers at each other.

KING: That's your idealism coming out. When we get to primary season, we're there. Whether we want to be or not, it is here for us.

Everybody, thanks for coming in. Have a great weekend.

Coming up next for us, I'm talking to Chris Wallace about his fascinating conversation with Jay Leno.



KING: Jay Leno tells Chris Wallace he has a brand new ear. That, of course, after the garage fire last year. It's all part of a new episode of "Who's Talking to Chris Wallace?" and Chris is with me at the table now.

And let's listen. I love Jay Leno. He's from Andover, Massachusetts, started in standup comedy in my hometown of Boston. Let's listen.


CHRIS WALLACE, CNN HOST, "WHO'S TALKING TO CHRIS WALLACE?": You come off as a regular guy, but you have been fabulously successful and occasionally very controversial. And how do you explain the ups and downs of Jay Leno's career?

JAY LENO, COMEDIAN: How do you explain -- you know, to me, I don't believe the good stuff nor do I believe the bad stuff. Well, thank you, people. I thought the show is terrible. Well, thank you. I appreciate it. Hey, you were the best ever. No, I'm not, but well, thank you for that. It's very nice too.

You know, that's how you sort of keep a level head. You know, I'm a huge believer in low self-esteem. I think it's the key to success. If you don't think you're the smartest person in the room, you shut up and you listen.

WALLACE: Do you still go to a comedy club in Hermosa Beach?

LENO: Yes. I've been there every Sunday since 1978.

WALLACE: So Jay Leno, the host of "The Tonight Show", is in this comedy club in Hermosa Beach. Why?

LENO: Well, that's how you find out if it's any good or not. That's how you find out something's funny.

WALLACE" And is it true that you sometimes tell a joke badly on purpose?

LENO: Oh, yes. No. What I usually do is when I go to a club, I'll say, here's some jokes -- I'm going to try out for the monologues. And I'd read them as flat and as dull as possible to see if the joke was funny.

If the joke gets the laugh, then add the loud voice, you know, whatever, the funny characterization, whatever, to make it funnier. But when you rely on just the er, it's not enough, you know. So you get up there and you read a joke flat. That kind of laugh, OK.

Now you act it out and you find out that's how it works.


KING: One of the best in the business, describing there how hard he works at his craft.

WALLACE: Absolutely. He actually got that tip from Johnny Carson, and it's a fascinating interview. He's very funny, much more so than there. He talks at one point where the principal says to his mother, you know, Mrs. Leno, education isn't for everyone. [12:55:07]

And it -- but a lot of insight into what drove him and made him such an enormous success, we talk about the Late-Night Wars with David Letterman. And also we have an interview with Dr. Phil where he talks about the mental health crisis because of social media that you see a lot of young kids, boys and girls, going through right now. Interesting show tonight.

KING: That's the coolest part about your job. You get Jay Leno and Dr. Phil. That's both ends of the thing.

Chris Wallace, glad you're here with us. And again, watch the full episode, please. The full interview with Jay Leno tonight. And Chris, just as he notes, with Dr. Phil, too. That's right here, CNN 10:00 p.m. Eastern. Don't miss it.

Thanks for your time on Inside Politics today. Hope you have a fantastic weekend. CNN News Central starts after a quick break.