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Poll: Trump Expands Lead Over GOP Rivals; New Hampshire Gov: 2024 Race "Not Even Close" To Over; Poll: Trump Cements Support With GOP Voters; Source: McConnell Was Evaluated By Four Neurologists; Senator McConnell's Office Releases Health Update; First Lady Jill Biden Tests Positive For COVID; New CNN Poll Drills Down On Trump Indictments. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired September 05, 2023 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Today on Inside Politics, breaking right now a new CNN snapshot of the presidential contest. We have important insights on the hardening support for the frontrunner, the indictments and the giant gap between how they help Trump now but might hurt him in November of 2024.

Plus, no stroke, no seizure disorder, no Parkinson's. Senator Mitch McConnell gives more detail on explaining what did not happen when he froze on camera in front of reporters, but it is unclear if this new information will quiet questions about how long he should stay in his job.

And new exclusive reporting on the special counsel. Sources tell CNN, the Jack Smith is still asking questions before the grand jury about a Trump lawyer. Could we see yet another indictment?

I'm Dana Bash. Let's go behind the headlines at Inside Politics.

Up first, a brand-new read of what Americans are thinking at this early point in the presidential race. New CNN poll numbers are out right now. Let's get started with CNN's David Chalian, our political director at the magic wall. David, what are we seeing?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, Dana, we're seeing what is basically a one man race for the Republican presidential nomination. Take a look here. Our brand-new numbers in this poll conducted by SSRS among Republican and Republican-leaning voters. You have Donald Trump at 52 percent, majority support. Ron DeSantis is next in line. You're way back at 18 percent. Everyone else is in single digits. This is a one-man race.

And looking where we had it in June. And you see the movement here. Donald Trump is getting stronger as a frontrunner. He is up five percentage points compared to where he was in June. And look at Ron DeSantis, he is slipping. He's down eight percentage points from where he was in June. You see little margin of error movement except for Ramaswamy, who is also up five points since June, but he's still in mid-single digits here. So, right now you're seeing a Donald Trump dominated race and Donald Trump is getting stronger. BASH: And how locked in is Donald Trump's support?

CHALIAN: Well, look at this overall. We asked folks, are you with the person you're definitely going to support, or might you change your mind? This is among Republican and Republican-leaning voters. Nearly two thirds of Republicans, Dana, say, they're going to definitely support their first-choice person, a third 35 percent say they might change their mind.

I want to break out that 65 percent. 43 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning voters are definite Trump supporters. So, consider that 43 percent like a Trump floor of support, right. 20 percent say, they will definitely support candidates not named Donald Trump, again that 35 percent who say, they can change their mind.

Look here, Donald Trump's supporters and we've seen this throughout his time on the national stage. They are the stickiest supporters. 83 percent of Trump supporters are definitely going to support him. They say, they are with him, and locked in. 54 percent of DeSantis supporters say that. 37 percent of the supporters of other folks say they're locked in.

And then we asked the question, OK, you're supporting them now? Or would you consider supporting the candidate? We combine all of that up, again, among Republican and Republican-leaning independents, Donald Trump at 81 percent either support them now or would consider supporting him. DeSantis at 78 percent. Haley, Scott, Ramaswamy, sort of the next tier here.

But look down here, either half or less than half or fewer of these Republican, Republican-leaning independents would even consider supporting these candidates or with them. Look at that Chris Christie number, only a third of Republicans would support him now or consider supporting him, two thirds of Republicans won't even consider it.

BASH: These numbers are so interesting. The question that everybody asks that we ask all the time is why? Why is Donald Trump's support so sticky? And why is it so vast when it relates to everybody else in the field?

CHALIAN: One of the things we're seeing, and we tested a whole bunch of issues. He's dominant on everyone. Republicans think he would do best compared to his competitors across a whole range of issues. And that matters because we ask what's more important position on the issues or character and personal traits?

77 percent, three quarters of Republicans and Republican leaner say it's the position on the issues they're looking for to match up against. Only 14 percent of Republicans say character or personal traits are their major reason for support.


BASH: So interesting. It's almost irrelevant because the numbers are so high, the reason at this point. All right, standby. We're going to talk a lot more about this. But we also want to look at what is happening on the ground? This and David has said this, and we need to say it again. This is a national snapshot. We know that when it comes to nomination process, that's not how these candidates are actually nominated. It goes state by state.

So, let's go to one of the most important states, New Hampshire, and that is where Jeff Zeleny is. Jeff, what are you seeing on the ground in the first in the nation primary state?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Dana, there is no question that the former president still has a commanding lead and command of this race overall. He's running circles around his opponents. At the same time, there are open minds from Republican voters and certainly all-important independent voters here in New Hampshire, who can vote in the Republican primary early next year.

Many voters we've been speaking with here who are watching the candidates' campaign yesterday on Labor Day, and here today, a former Vice President Mike Pence will be holding an event right here in just a short time. They have open minds. They are looking for alternatives.

So, the voters are essentially divided into two camps. You're either with Trump or you are looking for someone else. But New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu had this to say yesterday when we asked him about the state of the race.


ZELENY: You don't believe that this primary is effectively over?

GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU, (R) NEW HAMPSHIRE: Oh, God, no. My god, no, not even close. Not even close. Was it over when Clinton was leading Barack Obama by 20 points at this point back in 2008. No one could beat the Clinton machine, remember. This is politics. Things can move at a moment's notice. Political momentum is a real thing. In a place like New Hampshire and Iowa, what you do on the ground matters, and it translates.


ZELENY: So, the historical parallels there may end with the fact that Hillary Clinton, yes, was up some 20 points over Barack Obama that she was not a former president and did not have the base of support that Donald Trump currently has.

That said, again, many open minds here and this race is evolving. So, we will watch it as it evolves over these next several months here. National polls are not always a good predictor or indicator. But at this moment, no doubt even his rivals would agree, Donald Trump is in firm command of this race. Dana?

BASH: Thank you so much for that. Appreciate it, Jeff. And here with me to share their reporting, CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson, Jeff Mason of Reuters, and Jackie Kucinich of the Boston Globe. And we make sure that David Chalian can never leave. So, we've run him over here at the table. Thank you so much one at all. There is so many things that I that are sort of coming into my mind. Nevermind that Chris Sununu was almost giving an animal house reference, like John Belushi, was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor. But putting that aside, let's look in all seriousness at these numbers.

Because what Chris Sununu and others who don't want Donald Trump, will say over and over as well. If the field just consolidated, if they just got around a one clear opponent to Donald Trump, then that would be the way to beat Donald Trump. That is not true. If you look at these numbers, I mean, you see 52 percent. If you add up all the rest, that would not mean an alternative could be Donald Trump. That is what makes at this point in the race it different from 2016.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I mean, there is a lot of wishing and hoping among Republicans like Sununu and people who don't want to see Donald Trump be the nominee. I think it's morphed a lot of what we've seen, right? Some of it was wishing right that DeSantis was a Trump slayer. It seems like he might not be also wishing that the anti-Trump sentiment in the Republican Party was much wider and deeper than it actually is.

We see now that a majority, at least right now, Republican voters feel like they want Donald Trump to be their nominee. He's effectively running as a sort of non-incumbent, incumbent. And with that comes a lot of privileges.

They saw how he behaved as president, they liked it, by and large in terms of the economy, in terms of Supreme Court, in terms of his rhetoric and actions on any number of issues. And so, you know, the field is what it is now and no one's going to drop out at this point in some sort of joint pact to defeat Donald Trump.

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE BOSTON GLOBE: Another interesting thing about this poll, whether or not they asked whether or not voters were going to vote for Trump or the people that responded are going to vote for Trump. Do they think Trump is going to be the nominee? And the answer from a majority was, yes, they do.

So even if you're not supporting him, he's very close to having this inevitability that Republican voters whether or not they like him, I think they're going to have to live with them. And that's when that consolidation around him happens even with those who, you know, aren't don't really like him. And what that means for general. Probably not great for former President Trump, but you know, -- we don't know because I have no idea.


BASH: Yes. And Jeff, I want to just pull up a couple, but the numbers that David was talking about before. Starting with the question, will the person answering definitely support their first-choice candidate? That's where Donald Trump, I mean, look at that 83 percent of people who say they support Donald Trump now will support him, no matter what, and all the other shifts. I mean, as you see DeSantis is at 54 percent. All the others is at 37. What does that tell you? JEFF MASON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, REUTERS: Well, it tells me that David is right, and Jeff Zeleny is right and saying that it's largely a one-man race. I mean, the other thing that I was thinking as we were talking, we learned in 2016, we learned over the four years that President Trump was in office that the political rules don't really apply to him.

And I think that is manifested in these figures as well. It doesn't matter that there are indictments. It doesn't matter that there are court cases. It doesn't matter that there's actually a field of Republican candidates that have a good chunk of people who can make a good argument as to why they should be president United States. He is established. He has this base. He has this group of supporters. They're not going away. They love him and all the stuff that normally would bring down another candidate continues to help him.

CHALIAN: Dana, just bring up those other numbers on your sheet there, that show 35 percent of the electorate may change their mind, right?

BASH: Yes. So, the question is strength of support among those with the first-choice candidate.

CHALIAN: So, 65 percent already say they're locked into their choice, which, by the way, so we call it early part of the race, but it's getting late here a bit because two thirds of Republicans are telling us they're sort of locked in. But of that third that might change their mind.

This is what I think is so important underscore about Donald Trump's dominance, nearly two thirds of them either support Trump or would consider supporting Trump. Yes, they may change their mind. But you can't read that number and think, oh, they're a non-Trump person. He has two thirds of that might change their mind universe, at least in terms of consideration.

BASH: I think the thing to keep in mind, and I mentioned this before, and we should say it again, this is a national snapshot of the mood of Republicans. And it doesn't say anything specifically about how people are going to caucus in Iowa, and they're going to vote in New Hampshire.

CHALIAN: We show that the polls and those -- tell the same story.

BASH: I love it. You just finished (Inaudible). No, no, no, that's exactly really. That's really, really key. And the other thing -- -

CHALIAN: Maybe not as dramatically, like, you know, where it's more engaged, but tells the same story. Yes.

BASH: But the exactly. The other thing I was going to say is that this is a snapshot of now. But it is, again, if you go back to just what it looked like in June, it's a bigger lead for Donald Trump. But it's still pretty consistent when you look at that dramatically that he has up against everybody else.

2012, this is not, where everyone kind of had their day in the sun, who were running for president. There was, you know, Santorum week and there was, you know, all the other people who ran. I don't know. (crosstalk)

KUCINICH: Everyone had a week in the sun. There is no sun. It is very cold. And it will remain cold for a lot of these content.

HENDERSON: Yes. And I think people thought, listen, going into debate, maybe folks would have breakout moments there. DeSantis did decently in the debate, or Ramaswamy sort of dominated, but the polls don't show any sort of lived here. Republicans have been looking at Donald Trump since 2015.

He has been in their lives since 2015, in all of our lives, for those many years, and they have become attached to them. To him, they have, you know, he's almost like a sort of messianic figure to them. They believe him over their pastors and their religious leaders. And so there, he is a stickiness factor of it is very, very hard to shake.

MASON: There was a little bit of good news in that poll, though, for some of the other candidates. If you're Nikki Haley, and you see that you're rising up to the level of Ron DeSantis. As an alternative, that's good news. It's not double digits.

The former president is still far above her and everybody else in those polls. But if you're seeing some movement in that direction like she did, there's a little bit of meat on the bones to her argument that she's making progress.

BASH: OK. Everybody, standby. Because coming up, we have breaking news from Capitol Hill on Senator Mitch McConnell and his health situation. What exactly happened when the Minority Leader froze in front of reporters last week. That of course, was the second time this summer. We're going to give you all the news and all the details, after a quick break.




BASH: Justin, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's office released an update on the senator's health. CNN chief congressional correspondent Manu Raju joins us. So, Manu, what is the Capitol physician saying?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. He says that Mitch McConnell did not suffer a seizure or stroke or suffered Parkinson's diseases in the aftermath of that moment last week, the second time in as many months where he froze before television cameras for roughly 30 seconds. Raising a number of concerns about the 81- year-old Republicans health and whether he can actually continue his job as a Republican leader, as he's served for the past 16 years, longer than any party leader in history. But for the first time, McConnell's office providing more details about those episodes, indicating that he has seen neurologist. I'm told by a source familiar with the matter that he had been evaluated by four neurologists. In addition to the Capitol Hill physician who said in this letter, that there is no evidence that you have a seizure disorder or that you experienced a stroke, TIA or movement disorder, such as Parkinson's disease.

The letter went on to say that he had a number of examinations, including an MRI test as well as other evaluations as well, such as monitoring electrical activity in the brain, and all this leading to the conclusion by the doctor that McConnell can continue on his schedule as he had planned.


And Dana, this coming of course at a critical time. The Senate back in session after five weeks. There are a lot of questions in the Capitol about McConnell. How long you can hang on to his job and whether you can continue to perform it this letter meant to alleviate those concerns, Dana?

BASH: It sure is. And just for the record, this is good news that all of these major health situations are not out there for him and when it comes to diagnoses. Thank you so much. Appreciate it, Manu.

I want to bring in our own neurologist, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. He is also CNN chief medical correspondent. Sanjay, when you read this very brief letter from the Capitol physician, knowing what you know very well, because it's your life's work about how the brain works. What does it show you? And what does it tell you about what is happening?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the letter does hit a lot of the important notes here, Dana. I mean, clearly, there was a level of concern. I think this goes back to August 30 at that second episode, where he, I mean, the level of concern is that we're going to get a brain MRI. We're going to get an EEG, and we're going to have consultations with four different neurologists.

Think about that. That's a, you know, that's a high level of concern to go from saying, hey, look, we think this is just lightheadedness, we're going to chase this all down. It shows the level of concern, and that's good. I think, to your point, you want to make sure you're trying to figure out what exactly is causing this.

So, what was happening, these freezing episodes warranted enough concern, it sounds like to say, let's look at the possibility or the some sort of TIAs, which are many strokes. Is this a seizure of some sort? Is this a movement disorder? Medicine often works from the sort of mantra of prepare for the worst, hope for the best. So, you want to rule out if you will, the worst things first. And those are the things that would be sort of the worst possibilities to be causing these freezing episodes.

I think what is still challenging, again Dana, to your point is that if you look at the timeline of what has happened with Senator McConnell over the last year, it was back in March that he had that fall that was really significant. He was hospitalized, had a concussion, broken ribs.

What they seem to be saying in this letter, again, very briefly, is that that concussion is what led to these episodes of lightheadedness, and it is lightheadedness, that is leading to freezing. And I think that that is still a -- those are the difficult dots to connect.

Dana, I mean, I take care of a lot of patients who have brain injuries, which is what concussions are. And they can have all sorts of different symptoms. But these are very unusual. And they obviously thought so too, which is why they've chased down this with a level of detail that they seem to have chased it down.

BASH: Yes. So interesting. You're referring to the last line in this letter from the Capitol physician saying, there are no changes, recommended and treatment protocols. As you continue your recovery from your march 2023 fall, suggesting without saying point blank, that what you're seeing are the ramifications of that fall back in March, which you alluded to. Sanjay, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

GUPTA: You got it. Thank you.

BASH: And now to another health story. First Lady Jill Biden has COVID. The White House says she is experiencing mild symptoms and that President Biden tested negative and is still planning to go to India just two days from now for a high stakes G20 Summit with world leaders. CNN's Arlette Saenz is live at the White House. So, Arlette, what precautions is the president taking right now?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, the White House says President Biden will maintain a regular testing cadence and also monitor for symptoms after his wife First Lady Jill Biden tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday evening. But so far, the White House has been detailed any other precautions that he might be taking in this moment.

We do expect the White House press secretary to brief at around one o'clock. And we could see for ourselves when President Biden appears at a Medal of Honor ceremony in the three o'clock hour a bit later this afternoon.

But this comes after the first lady had spent the weekend with the president. They had traveled down to Florida to survey the damage after Hurricane Idalia, before then traveling on to their home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

Now the first lady's office has said, she's only experiencing mild symptoms and she will stay in Rehoboth Beach for the time being. They said that the White House medical team will be monitoring her, and they also will ultimately determine when she should travel back to the White House.

But this all comes at an incredibly busy week for the 80-year-old president. Just yesterday, he had traveled to Philadelphia for a Labor Day speech. Today he's hosting that Medal of Honor ceremony and he's set to travel to India for the G20 Summit on Thursday, and from there to travel on to Vietnam.

So, their questions do remain about whether he will ultimately be able to keep up the schedule. But for the time being he has tested negative for COVID-19. And ask for the first lady, it's also attended some of her plans. She was set to start teaching at the community college near here in Washington D.C. today, but instead that she's working with the school to find a substitute teacher for this first week of classes.


BASH: All right. The first lady to keep up her outside job while in the White House. We're going to have a little bit of a sub there. Thank you so much. Appreciate it, Arlette. Ahead more data from our exclusive CNN poll, and the Trump of it all. How concerned are Republican voters about the former president's legal problems? And what does it mean for 2024 brand new numbers, in a minute.


BASH: And now more from our brand-new CNN poll and the story of contrasts inside the numbers. A gap that suggests Donald Trump may face a steep climb in the general election. CNN political director David Chalian is back with us. Here we are. What did we find when it comes to this question?