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Trump's Headline Surrender Blots Out GOP Debate; Post-Debate Poll: DeSantis, Ramaswamy Get Good Reviews; One-On-One With Member Of House Freedom Caucus; Iowa Voters Shift Favorites After GOP Debate. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired August 25, 2023 - 12:30   ET



DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Last night, Ron DeSantis engineered an Iowa nice moment throwing batting practice to his kids at the iconic Field of Dreams.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you think about this split screen of you here in the Field of Dreams and former President Trump being arrested in Georgia?

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I'm glad I'm at the Field of Dreams. I'm happy to be here.


BASH: That hope that the split of the party's attention may be as much fantasy as the legendary baseball players emerging from the corn. Mark Leibovich wrote in The Atlantic this morning that any notion there ever was a split screen is actually off base. He wrote, "The conceit that this would be a split screen week for the Republican campaign was spectacularly amiss from the start. One screen this week would blot out all of the rest".

Our panel is back with us. You're nodding your head, Amy.

AMY WALTER, PUBLISHER & EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, COOK POLITICAL REPORT: Yes. We knew it. The minute that he said, I'm surrendering on Thursday, he said, well, there we go. All the talk about the debate is going to be overlaid by Donald Trump. He's going to blot it all out. And I think the debate itself also gave us another example of how challenging it is to beat Donald Trump.

When you look at that field of candidates and some of the polling that's come out since then, it's still a -- it may not be a split screen, but it's a split field. There's not one consensus non-Trump candidate. And so whether -- you could say Ramaswamy and DeSantis and Haley all helped themselves, but that's nothing but helpful for Donald Trump to have three people --

BASH: Yes. WALTER: -- taking the not-Trump.

BASH: Let's live for a minute in the reality that isn't here, the fantasy land, I guess, of the stage that we saw the other night, the people on the debate stage and where things stand for them. And I want to show our viewers sort of a snap poll from The Washington Post 538, and this is of potential GOP voters who watched the debate.

Who won the debate, Ron DeSantis, 29 percent, Ramaswamy, 26, Nikki Haley, 15, and then it goes down from there.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes. So to Amy's point, DeSantis, Ramaswamy, Haley seem to be the ones that benefit the most from this one data point that we have here. Though I do think it is also true -- it's Donald Trump and everyone else. Now, you said in a fantasy land, I would just note, nearly 13 million people watched that debate on Fox News. That's not nothing.

I mean, that is a sizable audience who knew Donald Trump was not going to be at that debate and still tuned in to watch it. That's why it was a valuable opportunity. Yes, it doesn't get the free media pickup it would because Donald Trump blots out the sun. There's no doubt that these candidates a day after who they're putting out how much they raised in the 24 hours after the debate, it may not be as much as they otherwise would have. All of that may be true.

But nearly 13 million people watched that. Mostly Republicans, no doubt, on Fox, and were able to see what their options are, not name Trump, and that is valuable for them.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: And they were able to see some candidates at least talk about Donald Trump, not as a demigod. And particularly to me, Nikki Haley, I mean, coming out there talking about the debt that Donald Trump ran up, talking about Ukraine, differentiating herself from DeSantis on Ukraine, talking, you know, talking about abortion and what the party has to do, and I think people got to see a different part of the Republican Party, which they don't get to see that much because it's all about Donald Trump.

And even though, you know, he still got most everyone's support so you could say he came out doing just fine, right? But in the end, people were looking and, you know, there are some other thought leaders out there in the Republican Party.

DANIEL STRAUSS, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: You know, I think it's telling also that in that poll, the two biggest beneficiaries were -- two of the three biggest beneficiaries of that debate were Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley who are both Trump alternatives. I wouldn't say that they are anti-Trump, but they are definitely offering that move on vision.

And then Ramaswamy clearly benefited from the talent he has on a debate stage, but it is telling that of -- that there was a good showing viewing this debate and the viewers responded to the candidates who want to move on and that is their pitch.

BASH: Yes, you mentioned Ramaswamy, who is not in the category that you were mentioning, Gloria.


BASH: And you know who noticed that? Donald Trump. Let's listen to what he said about Vivek Ramaswamy.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I thought Vivek, as we say, did very well -- actually, Vivek, like cake -- but I thought he was very good. I especially like where he said I was the greatest president in his lifetime and long beyond. That's pretty good. I said, are you sure he's running against me?



BORGER: That's a good question.

WALTER: That's exactly right.

BASH: Yes. And while we're at it, let's play what Vivek Ramaswamy said about the former president.


VIVEK RAMASWAMY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump and I are both America first candidates. There are some small differences. I would go further with some elements of the America First agenda. Use the military on the southern border, not just build the wall, shut down the Department of Education, not just put Betsy DeVos, a good person on top and tell her to reform it.

So in many ways, I think I am going further, but that's not the real difference. I'm from a different generation. I'm 38 years old.


WALTER: Right. So he's giving -- what's interesting about when you think to that poll or who was -- either the people who responded to the poll or who was watching that debate, it's likely that there were people who were looking to move on from Donald Trump already. If you're in the Donald Trump camp, you don't really care about any of these other candidates. You're committed to him.

What Ramaswamy is offering is Trump just a different generation. It's not Trump without the Trump. It's absolutely Trump, but just somebody who happens to be a lot younger than that. And Donald Trump is exactly right. It was perfect to have Ramaswamy there because, once again, he took away the momentum that Ron DeSantis was hoping to get from this debate, where everybody said this was going to be about Ron DeSantis and how well he holds up. Instead, we're talking much more about Ramaswamy.

BORGER: Very quickly. I also think with Ramaswamy, it was so beneficial for Mike Pence because I've never seen him as animated in my entire life. And he treated him like a little gnat on his shoulder to go away. You have no experience. You don't know what you're talking about. I've never seen Pence like that.

BASH: All right, everybody, stand by.

Up next, we have a conservative Republican congressman and former federal prosecutor to weigh in on the historic fourth indictment of Donald Trump. Stay with us.



BASH: Donald Trump is set to face a trial, as are 18 others in Georgia, but he, of course, is the only former president and current candidate, which is a complicating factor legally and politically across the board.

Joining me now is Republican Congressman and a member of the House Freedom Caucus, Republican Ken Buck of Colorado. Thank you so much for coming on. It's been quite a week. I want to start with just that. We're closing out a week where a former president in your party arrested four times.

Now, I'm sure you've heard, he has a mugshot. 18 of his co-defendants also arrested. It's pretty easy to kind of lose sight of the magnitude of the moment because we have had so much incoming when it pertains to news about Donald Trump legally. Did you ever expect in your lifetime we would see anything like this?

REP. KEN BUCK (R), FREEDOM CAUCUS: I did not, Dana. Actually, my first trip to D.C. professionally was to work on the Iran-Contra affair. And it had everything to do with whether President Reagan had violated the Constitution and could be impeached. It had nothing to do with any criminal charges against President Reagan or anybody else.

And so, ultimately, obviously, Colonel North and Admiral Poindexter and others were charged in that case. But it really is unique and something that most people didn't think we would get to in this country because we see it in third world countries. You see it in other countries. We never thought we would be charging a former president with a criminal case.

BASH: And you mentioned third world countries, it sounds to me like you're saying not necessarily because you think that the prosecutions are wrong headed, but because of the magnitude of the allegations?

BUCK: Well, not just that. I think that our system is so strong that we survived January 6, it was terrible. I was in that House chamber. It was a horrible day, but we survived, and we kept going. It wasn't as if we shut down, you know, the various branches of government.

It was significant. But our country is so strong that we can survive something like that and continue to thrive. And I think that charging this president -- we'll see whether he's convicted or not -- but charging the president is another really significant act in our history.

BASH: The mugshot, which we've been discussing and seeing a lot, Donald Trump is already in full tilt fundraising off of it, using it to further paint himself as a victim. Do you believe that that is appropriate, or is it just inevitable?

BUCK: I think it's politics, honestly. I think that the Democrats are fundraising off of the fact that Donald Trump has been charged four times in four different cases. I think Republicans, not just Donald Trump, but other presidential candidates, other candidates for Senate House are fundraising off of this event. I think politics.

BASH: Yes.

BASH: Anything you can fundraise off of, you're going to fundraise off of.

BASH: Yes, absolutely. I spoke with former Maryland Governor Larry Hogan yesterday on the show, and I asked him about that moment in this week's debate where candidates were asked if they would support Donald Trump for president if he is actually convicted of a crime. All but two of the candidates on that stage raised their hand and said that they would.

Governor Hogan said that this was an embarrassment. He said he was gusted by that moment. Were you?


BUCK: Well, I've mentioned before on your show, Dana, that I would not support a convicted felon for president. So I was --

BASH: What does it tell you that some of his -- most of his competitors said they would?

BUCK: Yes, I'm very surprised by that. But at the same time, they all signed a pledge to support whoever won. So some of them may have been thinking, am I going to get kicked off the stage next time because I don't raise my hand? So I don't know what was going through their minds, but it certainly isn't a high water mark in that debate.

BASH: You know Mark Meadows, the former president's former chief of staff very well. He was a colleague of yours in the House, and you call him a friend. What goes through your mind when you look at his mugshot?

BUCK: Yes, I think it's really unfortunate. One, I think that the case in Georgia is over broad. But two, I think that there are so many people who have been drawn into these criminal cases who otherwise were trying to do their job and trying to support the person who had hired them.

And I think we're -- you know, I have no idea what the ultimate outcome in a case with Mark Meadows will be, but it's unfortunate that really a lot of people were drawn in. Some of them absolutely deserve to be. Some of the rhetoric that was going on during that time frame scary.

But Mark Meadows is a professional trying to serve the president. President asked him to set up a phone call. President asked him to do certain things. He did those professionally. And I think it is an overbroad indictment. And I think Mark will end up his integrity, will end up being intact when this is all said and done.

BASH: Interesting take there. I want to talk to you more about that when we have more time. Congressman, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

BUCK: Thank you.

BASH: And did President Trump's arrest steal the spotlight from the primary field after this week's debate? CNN spoke to voters who say they may be restacking their 2024 Republican favorites. John King joins us next.



BASH: First there was the GOP debate, then came Donald Trump's arrest. Now the candidates who were on the debate stage earlier this week, they're still chasing his double-digit lead. But CNN's John King has been talking with voters in Iowa who say seeing the candidates on the stage without Donald Trump has them rethinking their political deck.


BETSY SARCONE, IOWA VOTER: I think there are people that are, you know, they paint it as Trump is so far ahead, but I think there's -- there are a lot of people that just aren't as vocal, that are sitting back and waiting and watching and seeing what happens.

SUSAN SANDERS, IOWA VOTERS: But I think with the news in the last week being about the rapid rise of Ramaswamy in the polls, people might have tuned in curious. And I -- my suspicion is that that was not a positive for him.


BASH: You're going to see the entirety of John's piece tonight on AC 360 at 08:00 p.m. Eastern. John is here now to talk about this. What was your takeaway from the voters you talked to originally last month or earlier this month and --

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Earlier in the month.

BASH: -- and now you went back.

KING: The idea of the project is to keep going back to track them through their experiences. The debate was a big experience. So a couple of takeaways. Number one, those are suburban voters. That's Betsy Sarcone. She's in our voted group. And that was her mom you saw in the piece there. She watched the debate with her mom and dad. They did not like Vivek Ramaswamy. They found him abrasive. We have a son who watches the WWE. Think of Donald Trump as the WWE. Vivek Ramaswamy is the NXT. That's the minor leagues, if you will. Trump voters love him. They're not going to leave Trump to go to Vivek Ramaswamy, but they like him because he's different, because he's not a politician, because he repeats Trump's mega views.

In the suburbs, though, he's toxic, just like Trump is in the suburbs. So when you talk to the suburban voters, we don't want Trump, we don't want Ramaswamy. We hope to come to a consensus around one person, one Trump alternative by January.

But, Dana, that's the other big takeaway. The split over Ramaswamy is very much like the split over Trump in the party. But -- so you're saying you have all those candidates on stage. Will one emerge? There's no evidence of that yet, which is a win for Trump.

Betsy Sarcone, when we went out there at the beginning of the month, she was leaning DeSantis. She loved Governor Haley in the debate the other night, and she, you know, that -- you know, she's not there yet. She wants to -- she's thinking, can she beat Trump, right? Can she be viable?

Another suburban mom, Jocelyn Taylor, who lives a few miles away, they don't know each other. When we went out there, she was eh on DeSantis. In our piece, she was like, there's a lot of negative around him. She watched, especially the first answer when he said America is in decline, I will but the economy. Now she's leading DeSantis' way.

So that's what we're trying to figure out in the months, four months plus to the Iowa caucuses. What sways people back and forth, and then where do they land? And the suburbs are growing so fast around Des Moines. There is a mathematical potential there for somebody, but it has to be one somebody, and right now it's not.

BASH: Well, that's really the key. First of all, I just think going back to the way you were describing these voters, having one impression before seeing them on the debate stage, and some of them opening their mind and opening their eyes to a different candidate, I mean, that's what these debates are all about.

KING: Yes. And there's a big generational thing with Ramaswamy as well. If you watch Gary Tuchman on Debate Night, he was with a group of voters, and the younger voters there loved Vivek Ramaswamy. And again, they're Trump like voters.

Out in Sioux City in western Iowa, we met an attorney on our first trip, Priscilla Forsyth, who voted for Trump twice, caucus for him in 2016. She doesn't want Trump any more. She thinks it's time to move on. Too much baggage. Why is he can't win?


She -- when we met -- when we saw her at the beginning of the month, she had just gone to a Ramaswamy event. She said, he's young, he's brilliant, he's energetic. She watched the debate, she said, no. He is not ready. He's inexperienced. And it showed he's not ready to be president. He thinks he's Trump, but he's not, was her take.

So as these candidates get more exposure, another debate in a month. The voters go back and forth, and that's what we're trying to track.

BASH: Yes. And, of course, they're watching on the debate stage in a place like Iowa. Their expectation is also to meet them over and over again.

KING: Yes, it is.

BASH: And they probably will.

KING: They will shop and shop and shop.

BASH: Exactly. Thank you. This is such a great project. Thank you, John.

KING: Thank you.

BASH: And join me for a special two-hour State of the Union on Sunday. Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy is going to be on our program, along with Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. I hope to see you this Sunday, 09:00 a.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

For now, thank you for joining INSIDE POLITICS. "CNN NEWS CENTRAL" starts after a quick break.