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Ramaswamy Fuels Feud With Haley, Mocks Her Maiden Name; Idalia Intensifies As It Roars Towards Florida Gulf; GOP Pollster: "Most Republicans Really Like Trump"; Iconic Political Figure "Joe The Plumber" Dead At 49. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired August 29, 2023 - 12:30   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST: -- to the attack, saying, "I'm not going to get into the childish name calling. He of all people should know better than that. But I've given up on him knowing better than anything at this point. We saw the childish, demeaning side of him on stage".

Let's discuss now. CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson is here. CNN's Kristen Holmes is still with us. And Heidi Przybyla of Politico is here. Thank you so much, one and all. Great to see you.

Nia, I'll start with you. What are your thoughts on this?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, it was kind of a surprisingly low. I think she used the word childish blow. Listen, progressives have sort of done this online too, with Nikki Haley suggesting that somehow she was ashamed of her Indian heritage.

I don't know what he's trying to do here other than kind of draw attention to himself and be an agent of chaos. That's who he was on the debate stage and that's who he is, I think, just generally in this field and, you know, he's able to get under the skin of people. But it certainly, I think, underscores their debate and the kind of fuel that was, I think, lit at that debate and that Nikki Haley is trying to go after him and prove that he is not ready for primetime.

And in some ways, this stunt, I don't know if it was a staffer, I don't know who did this on his webpage, but it kind of proves it's a little bit amateurish and a little immature.

HEIDI PRZYBYLA, NATIONAL INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: It's a legacy of Trumpism. You know, Trump wasn't anywhere there, but there he is using schoolyard taunts, what David Brooks calls narcissistic hucksterism. It is bizarre to see two people of the same ethnicity making an ethnocentric attack. But it may work for him, right?

Because if you look at the polling after the debate, Nikki Haley went up by a few points. He stayed kind of the same, but the consensus among GOP primary voters was that he won. And that's what we've seen with Trump. That was how he won in the debates.

BASH: You know who agrees with you? The conservative columnist George Will. He wrote, "Ramaswamy brings a Trumpian brazenness to denying the undeniable". Kristen?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think there is a niche audience for Trump. You were talking about how the progressives we've kind of talked about this with Nikki Haley. So have this conservative online community that is fueled by Donald Trump, OK? It is these conservative pundits, these hosts, if you will, that really do support the former president, but they also support Vivek Ramaswamy.

And it seems as though to me that the lane that he is running in is where these conservative commentators on Instagram and Twitter X are landing. It is these kind of niche group, fringe groups that do take this kind of thing and as you said, it's the product of Trumpism and are backing him on it.

And you're right, it is juvenile. But again, it's not that it's not working because as we have seen, his poll numbers have gone up as he has continued this rhetoric.

BASH: He's had the gift of gab or the understanding of a moment when you have the spotlight on him for quite some time it turns out. We are going to go back in the way back machine, October of 2003, when Al Sharpton was running for president.


VIVEK RAMASWAMY: Hello, I'm Vivek, and I want to ask you, last week on the show we had Senator Kerry and this week -- and the week before, we had Senator Edwards. And my question for you is, of all the Democratic candidates out there, why should I vote for the one with the least political experience?

AL SHARPTON: Well, you shouldn't because I have the most political experience.


SHARPTON: I got involved in the political movement when I was 12 years old.


BASH: And he -- Ramaswamy tweeted, it's funny how the tables have turned. Of course, now he is --


BASH: -- the person with the least experience one.

HENDERSON: That's right. And listen, I don't know if his answer is as good as Al Sharpton was back then, but we'll see what his answer is. But that's certainly, I think, how they're going to attack him. You saw that in the first debate. I think everyone.

Pence attacked him in that way, Chris attacked him in that way. And of course, Nikki Haley did say that he's a rookie. And listen, he's going to get the fire now from folks like you who, you know, of course, interviewed him. He was interviewed on so many Sunday shows and didn't do too well.

I think his poll numbers have gone up, but also his unfavorable numbers have gone up too among Republicans who saw that debate.

BASH: OK, everybody, stand by.

Up next, the latest update tracking the path of Hurricane Idalia. Also, they like him. They really like him. We're going to talk to a top Republican pollster about Trump's enduring popularity with the GOP voters, despite and maybe, let's say because of his legal woes.



BASH: This hour, Hurricane Idalia is hurtling towards Florida. The evacuation zone now spans 22 counties, meaning millions are in danger.

Let's go back to CNN's Derek Van Dam. Derek, what's the latest there?

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, Dana. We still have more information to pass along to you, but first I want to give you a perspective of what's happening well away from the center of Hurricane Idalia. And this is in the Key West area.

We're all familiar with this shot, and you can see the dark skies and also the waves getting choppy. What I wanted to point out is that this is roughly 150 to 200 miles away from the strongest part of this strengthening hurricane that we're talking about.


So my point being is that impacts will be felt well outside of the center, where this eventually makes landfall. 85 mile per hour winds sustained, gusts over 100. This storm continues to strengthen, and there is explicit language from the National Hurricane Center that they anticipate rapid intensification because it is feeding off of the warm waters that you see behind me.

This is a live look at the radar, and you can see some of the rain bands making its way into Key West, the Florida Keys, the west coast of the Florida Peninsula. We're about an hour, maybe 45 minutes away from our first tropical storm. Rain bands anticipate those gusts to start to pick up here.

Why is this coast so vulnerable? Well, it has to do with the storm surge. And they've just upped these numbers 10 feet to 15 feet across the Big Bend. Many areas still at play. Apalachicola all the way to Cedar Key, Tampa Bay, 4 feet to 7 feet for you.

BASH: Wow, that's pretty scary stuff. Thank you so much for that, Derek. Appreciate it.

Now we're going to go back to the campaign trail, and here's the thing. "Most Republicans Really Like Trump", that is the title of a New York Times op ed from GOP strategist and pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson, who writes, "GOP voters see Mr. Biden as eminently beatable, and they think most Americans see him as they do. Given that, most Republicans aren't looking to be rescued from Donald Trump. The fact is, they really do like him. And at this point, they think he's their best shot".

Joining our conversation is the woman who wrote that and also a CNN Political Commentator, Kristen Soltis Anderson. This is such a fascinating thing because if you talk to anybody who is on the Democratic side, and even some almost -- they obviously cringe. They can't even conceive of the concept of liking Donald Trump.

And then according to what you wrote, and we just know based on everything that we've seen, it's the opposite when it comes to Trump's supporters. They don't support him begrudgingly. They genuinely really like him.

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And it's not a surprise that Republican voters like Donald Trump. We've seen poll after poll after poll that he is far out in front, at least in national polls, in the GOP primary. But what is surprising is that it's not that they like him, despite worrying that he might struggle in a general election against Biden, it's that in some ways, they think he's their best shot against Biden.

Polling from CBS News showed that 61 percent of Republican voters think that Donald Trump would be a sure bet to beat Biden, because exactly how you describe Democrats and independents think of Trump, oh, I can't believe anyone would like him. That's exactly how Republicans view Biden. They can't imagine anyone would vote for him.

And so they think, sure, Donald Trump versus Joe Biden. Trump's more energetic, he's the one that would win.

BASH: This is part of one of the focus groups that you did. Quote, "All the participants thought that President Biden would lose to the eventual Republican nominee, regardless of who it is. The fear that if we nominate Trump, Biden wins again was not present, a fact that clarifies why contenders like Mr. DeSantis haven't gained traction from electability arguments".

SOLTIS ANDERSON: There has been this real push all along from folks who are not Donald Trump to say, hey, if you like Trump's policies, that's great. We'll do most of that too. But if you vote for me, I'm going to be more likely to beat Joe Biden. That's why DeSantis is always talking about I'm a winner, look at the wins I put up in Florida.

And there was a point in time early on in the presidential primary where DeSantis and Trump were closer to evenly matched. That has faded as the memory of the midterms have gone away. And now all of these contenders, you saw Nikki Haley try to make this argument in the debate, Donald Trump's not well liked. I can win in a general. Republican voters don't think Trump is a risk in a general quite yet.

BASH: And Heidi, you're seeing on the screen exactly what Kristen is talking about, the fact that they were closer early on and now it's not even close.

PRZYBYLA: And I thought you really astutely pointed out that the break when that happened, when, you know, at one point DeSantis was the future according to the Murdoch, the break at that point was the Bragg indictment. And I think that also underscores the extent to which the liking of Trump is also grievance based and that, you know, it's human nature.

If we see someone who we honestly believed in life has been wrong, we want to see that person rise and have him kind of avenge himself. And I think that when you talk to Trump supporters and you see the passion out there that has kind of taken root since the Bragg indictment, you know, even Democrats thought, oh, maybe this isn't good that we went first with the Bragg indictment, it really riled them up.

BASH: That is one side of it. But you know this, Kristen, because you talk to Trump sources all the time. They actually saw a shift when the former president went to East Palestine, Ohio. And so it was the concern of about -- or the people like the idea that they want to root for him because he's under attack. But also he went back to where he started, which is, I'm the guy for you in Middle America and working class Americans.


HOLMES: So this actually goes back to what I was saying about Vivek Ramaswamy, which I think is really interesting. One of the things that Trump and his team have been doing is -- and they've been doing this since he announced, is that they have these dinners at their -- first at Mar-a-Lago, now Bedminster, with these social media influencers on the conservative side.

And they get feedback from them on what the biggest issues are that are riling up the far right, the right community. This is like the Charlie Kirk's of the world, and there are a lot of them. And that dinner and that trip to East Palestine stemmed from one of those.

This was a news story that they believed the right was all rallying around in Ohio and now a really red state. And that was really not getting a lot of attention from the left and from other candidates. They decided to go to East Palestine then.

The reason I bring that up is because I do think that there is a strategy there. And I thought the most interesting part of your piece was after the midterms, when essentially people were telling me they thought Donald Trump was going to lose. It was sad. I was at Mar-a- Lago, it was like a depressing scene. We thought he was going to come over. He just walked out.

I mean, it was really probably one of the lowest moments, but it goes to, one, the fact that he's always been able to bounce back. But two, they have this strategy in place where they're reaching out to these conservatives and tapping into what they care about and then acting on it.

BASH: Right. HENDERSON: Yes. And I think the other thing is, I think his competitors have proven to be not so great --

BASH: Right.

HOLMES: Yes, yes.

HENDERSON: -- politicians as well.



BASH: We've something to discuss after a break, and that is a man who became a symbol for the working man in Middle America in 2008.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's your name?




BASH: He became known as Joe the Plumber, and he died and left a legacy that, frankly, he stumbled on in American politics. We're going to talk about it after a quick break.




OBAMA: Good to see you, Joe.

WURZELBACHER: I'm getting ready to buy a company --


WURZELBACHER: -- that makes 200 -- about $250,000, $270,000, $280,000 a year.

OBAMA: All right.

WURZELBACHER: Your new tax plan is going to tax me more, isn't it?

OBAMA: Nobody likes high taxes, right?


OBAMA: Of course not. So -- but what's happened is is that we end up -- we've cut taxes a lot for folks like me who make a lot more than 250. We haven't given a break to folks who make less. I think when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody.


BASH: After that moment, he was nicknamed, "Joe the Plumber". Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher passed away yesterday from complications from pancreatic cancer. In 2008, he emerged as the face of the struggling middle class after a chance meeting that you just saw with Barack Obama on the campaign trail.

The moniker, "Joe the Plumber" was used more than 20 times during the final 2008 presidential debate between Barack Obama and John McCain.


OBAMA: I'm happy to talk to you, Joe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People like "Joe the Plumber". Joe, I want to tell you. Hey, Joe, you're rich.

OBAMA: That includes you, Joe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want Joe, you to do the job.

OBAMA: The conversation I had with "Joe the Plumber."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What Joe wanted to do, Joe was trying to realize the American Dream. What you want to do to "Joe the Plumber".


BASH: Our panel is back with us. You were at that debate, weren't you?

HENDERSON: Yes. I was at that debate. And listen, this was a time when John McCain and Republicans, more broadly, they were trying to really attract white working class voters, right And if you think about the way Barack Obama did in that 2008 election, in some ways, a high watermark for Democratic presidential candidates. He won Ohio. He won Indiana, for goodness sakes, which is really hard to believe and hard to fathom given where we are now.

But this was kind of the emergence, I think, of what we see now, the sort of grievance politics, the white identity politics, and this idea that white working class, particularly men, I think, are sort of the victims of Democratic policies. And you see Republican candidates really going after them.

BASH: And Heidi, we covered the McCain campaign back in 2008. "Joe the Plumber" wasn't just talked about at that debate. He was on the trail, a lot with McCain.

PRZYBYLA: Which your period of the campaign and it was, I think really the seed of a branding opportunity in the Republican Party that Donald Trump fully realized in The Forgotten Man.

BASH: Yes. PRZYBYLA: What needs to happen now from Biden's perspective is he needs a "Joe the Plumber" because Joe confronted Barack Obama about taxes there. But what's happened since then is that when Trump got in, one of his first policies was to cut taxes in a way that primarily benefited corporate stock buybacks.

Whereas Joe Biden's done this policy of like hard hat proposals like infrastructure. And yet, somehow the Democratic Party really struggles with this segment of the population that really believes that they're aggrieved and that the economic policies of the Democratic Party has hurt them for the worse, when in fact, you have this huge accomplishment, for instance, with infrastructure. That's just a lost opportunity.

BASH: Yes, I mean, it really is the example of the shift in where the parties are and who they are appealing to. And we saw with Hillary Clinton the number of working class, even union households go down when it came to her support.


It crept back up a bit because, Joe the Biden was on the ballot. The question, of course, is what's going to happen this year?

HOLMES: Yes, and it does seem as though Trump still has a grip on this white working class demographic, particularly in the Rust Belt when talk about Ohio and Pennsylvania. I mean, I even spoke to GOP operative in Pennsylvania yesterday who is not a Trump fan, but said that they believe if he is the nominee, there's a really real chance that he could win. So it's interesting that he still happens to have this grip.

BASH: All right, everybody, thank you so much.

Thank you for joining Inside Politics. CNN News Central starts after a quick break.