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Inside Politics

Knives Out For Haley As 2024 Rivals Mostly Avoid Talking Trump; Trump At Court: Civil Fraud Trial Is A "Witch Hunt"; Iowa Caucuses Just 39 Days Away; Haley To GOP Rivals: "I Love The Attention, Fellas"; DeSantis, Ramaswamy Attack Haley As Christie Comes To Her Defense; House Votes To Censure Rep. Bowman Over Fire Alarm Incident; Ramaswamy Embraces A White Nationalist Conspiracy Theory. Aired 12- 12:30p ET

Aired December 07, 2023 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Today on INSIDE POLITICS, Nikki Haley's turn in the barrel. She was the target of attacks from the men around her on the debate stage last night. She says they're just jealous as she wants new endorsements and climbs in early state polls. But it's of course, all relative.

Haley may now be in second place in states like New Hampshire and South Carolina, but she is still 20 or 30 points behind Donald Trump. Trump, of course, was once again not on the debate stage. She was where you see him now in New York City, particularly in a courtroom in Manhattan. That is where he is as we speak.

Listen to what he said just before going into the courtroom, it's for a civil fraud trial threatening his business.


DONALD TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT: She is a witch hunt the likes of which probably nobody has ever seen. We have put on a case that is absolutely 100 percent where there is not a judge in the country that wouldn't have given us a total victory. But there's not a judge in the country that would have been taken this case because it is a witch hunt and it's a very corrupt trial.


BASH: CNN's Jeff Zeleny is still in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where I left you last night. Jeff, good to see you. As we mentioned, Trump, of course, once again, was not at the debate. What do you make of how he made out at that debate, given the fact that he certainly was the target of at least one of his opponents?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, things are a lot more calm than they were last night than when you were here at the debate. But look, I think you have to say that former President Donald Trump was a center point of the discussion, but really, there were no new attacks on him. But we are seeing again today, another example of the split screen moment where he'll be spending time in the courtroom as his rivals are on the campaign trail. But Chris Christie, clearly trying to make the case -- trying to shake Republican voters to think about the possibility of him next year as a convicted felon. Let's watch?


CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) 2024 GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: These three acting as if, the race is between the four of us. The fifth guy who doesn't have the guts to show up and stand here, he's the one who has you just put it his way ahead in the polls. And yet, I've got these three guys who are all seemingly to compete with, you know, Voldemort, he or shall not be named. They don't want to talk about it. Let me make it clear. His conduct is unacceptable. He's unfit.


ZELENY: So, Chris Christie, really the only one bluntly making that argument that he's unfit for office. He's being the former president, of course, in his view. He tried to sort of bring the Florida Governor Ron DeSantis into that conversation as well. But at the end of this series of debates, there is no doubt that Donald Trump's decision to skip them has not hurt him at all. In fact, it may have even helped him some, Dana.

BASH: Jeff, thank you. I want to ask also about Nikki Haley. She is responding this morning to the fact that she had all that incoming on the stage last night.

ZELENY: I mean, we watched her together, Dana, and she of course was biting her tongue at some points, perhaps unsure how to answer at other points, but clearly not wanting to get in the fray. But this morning in an interview, she pushed back and defended her conservative credentials.


NIKKI HALEY, (R) 2024 GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They know I'm tough on China. They saw the work that I did as governor. They know what I did at U.N. Last night it was very clear, we're surging in the polls. Every one of those guys sees it. And they showed it, but we're picking and choosing our battles.


ZELENY: Picking and choosing our battles, so that shows that it was a bit of strategy. Now it is in the hands of the voters. All the candidates making a beeline back to the campaign trail, particularly Florida Governor Ron DeSantis flying to Iowa, will have two events today. You can see the rest of the schedule that Vivek Ramaswamy also going to Iowa. He said more campaign events than any of his rivals. Nikki Haley arrives tomorrow. Chris Christie, of course, going to New Hampshire, and Donald Trump, of course in that courtroom in New York.

But I think one big takeaway from all of this, talking to some Republican operatives and even voters in Iowa, Dana. It was a strong night for Ron DeSantis. No doubt about it. It wasn't perhaps as slick as some other candidates we've seen over the years, but he really got a lot of his conservative record out there. And that of course, is music to the ears of Iowa. Social conservative so. Now look at, not a single vote has been cast. Voters have a few weeks to ruminate over this, the holidays as well, 39 days until the first votes of this campaign. Dana.


BASH: But who is counting? Wait, we are. I agree with you about Ron DeSantis and we both heard from his team that they were quite happy. Obviously, it was the spin room, but it was a little bit more than spin at last night. Thank you so much, Jeff. See you soon. And we're talking about Ron DeSantis. He is continuing today to attack Nikki Haley. Here's what he said on Fox.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL) 2024 GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They're spending millions of dollars trying to attack me. So of course, we're going to fight back. The surge is more of a media thing. You're not seeing it on the ground with conservative voters. In fact, conservative voters don't support her. I mean, that's just the reality. But notice, she was really bragging about these liberal Wall Street donors who are now supported. These are people that supported Hillary Clinton. These are people that have opposed Donald Trump in the past.


BASH: Let's talk more about this with our great panel, CNN's David Chalian, CNN's Eva McKend, and Jonah Goldberg of the Dispatch. Hi, everybody. Had a little nap last night. Nice to be back. David Chalian, what was your overall takeaway of the debate?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, just picking up on what you just played there from DeSantis. One of the things when I watched the debate stage last night that I kept asking myself was, DeSantis was unloading the opposition research book onto Nikki Haley. And he was trying to get out every single piece of research they had on her, which a, shows they see her as a real threat in this moment of the campaign.

And b, my question myself was, I wonder if he's going to continue to press that on the campaign trail in a way that we really haven't seen as much or is he's just going to leave that to this high-profile moment in the debate stage.

We'll see in Iowa. He obviously continued in the Fox News interview. Notice, he said, he loves to tie the donors' thing, the fact that she has some Wall Street donors and the Koch network, to some people who had previously supported Hillary Clinton. This is also while one of the Super PACs supporting him is up with an ad tying Nikki Haley to Hillary Clinton. And as he did last night, he is trying to make her not one of us, meaning conservative and tried and true conservative the way that the base is in Iowa, that's going to show up to the caucuses. And that I think is going to be his mission for these next several weeks to sort of other her as something that is establishment, more Democratic leaning, and not really one of us. And I thought that was just an interesting approach last night as he put it all together.

BASH: And he had some help last night from Vivek Ramaswamy. Let's listen to a bit more of the dynamic that you're talking about.


VIVEK RAMASWAMY, (R) 2024 GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The only person more fascist than the Biden regime now is Nikki Haley. She should come nowhere near the levers of power, let alone the White House. Nikki, I don't have a woman problem. You have a corruption problem. And I think that that's what people need to know. Nikki is corrupt.

HALEY: It's not worth my time to respond to him.

RAMASWAMY: Nikki Haley, she caves anytime the left comes after and she will cave to the donor. She will not stand up for you.

HALEY: But I love all the attention, fellas. Thank you for that.


BASH: Jonah?

JONAH GOLDBERG, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah. I agree with David on almost all of that. I think you can make a case that with the exception of Vivek Ramaswamy, unless he was like going into it to be even more reviled. Or make a claim to have him one last night. Nicky had a worst performance of any of these debates but that's from a high bar. And it's also -- she also last night was clearly the frontrunner, which is a good place to be on any debate stage.

Chris Christie dominated the stage, which is always a good place to be. And Ron DeSantis had his best performance so far. So, you know, how that all matters. I don't know how many persuadable voters were watching last night. And so even though, I think Vivek Ramaswamy's attacks were reasonable and grotesque and deranged. I don't think they matter that much. Because no one's going to be replaying them a lot, except in the context of -- look at what a jerk this guy was.

And look how well Nicky handled it. So, the only other takeaway I would have -- and this is true, of all of these debates, if you take Ramaswamy out. When you don't have Trump on the stage, this is still pretty a Reaganite party. The arguments I mean, Nicky and DeSantis don't actually disagree on very much. They just say the other one is lying about what they say their positions are. And here's some oppo research to prove it. But on the actual things that are campaigning on, there's not a lot of daylight between them.

BASH: No, that's such an interesting point. So, we did see Chris Christie, you said he dominated the stage. I said to him afterwards, it was like you were a fourth moderator in that debate. Let's listen to what he did to defend Nikki Haley.


CHRISTIE: He has insulted Nikki Haley's basic intelligence. If you want to disagree on issues that's fine. While we disagree about some issues, and we disagree about who should be president United States. Well, we don't disagree on this, this is a smart accomplished woman that you should stop insulting.


BASH: Eva?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: I mean, it seemed like he was on the verge of an endorsement right then in there. But listen, Governor Christie, he knows his audience. He is really competing for the New Hampshire voters. And he knows that though that's a more moderate electorate that they like them both. And so, I think that there was some political strategy there as well.

I was texting with a pastor earlier this morning. And he shared with me that he was really disappointed in how personal the attacks were on that stage last night. So, Chris Christie is speaking directly to that and trying to hone-in on that. I do think that as we get closer to New Hampshire, if he's still in this game, he's going to be more aggressive with her.

BASH: I actually asked the former New Jersey governor about whether or not he was -- I didn't use the word endorsement, but pretty close. Let's listen to our conversation.


BASH: It seemed as though you were forming a bit of an alliance with her.

CHRISTIE: No, it's not me, you know, forming an alliance with Nikki Haley. Wait till you see what's going to happen over the next seven weeks.

BASH: What's going to happen?

CHRISTIE: We're going to be competing against each other hard to try to win New Hampshire, I suspect.


BASH: David Chalian, you speak New Jersey. Can you translate?

CHALIAN: I do. Probably so. You can expect that there's going to be an aggressive campaign from Chris Christie against Nikki Haley. First of all, to in his point, he's put all his eggs in that New Hampshire basket. That's his launchpad, if he's actually going to have any kind of staying power in this race. You know, the initial question that Christie got in this debate from Megyn Kelly last night was like, why are you still here if Republicans don't like you? Right.

GOLDBERG: Which is a good question.

CHALIAN: No, no, totally fair question about his political standing in the race. But the answer is, I'm trying to carve out a possibility here in New Hampshire where independents can vote in the race. What is he doing today, he's launching a college tour in New Hampshire and trying to get to some young voters.

He's trying to piece together a potential coalition in the New Hampshire Republican primary electorate, where you can overtake Nikki Haley stance there, and perhaps stand one-on-one with Trump, not for the -- I don't mean the duration, but on that night as the results come in. And that will change the calculus for people of their understanding of him in this race.

Obviously, he has a long shot for the nomination. But he's not somebody who's just -- it apparently going to like, go and acknowledge the reality of the polls. He's going to fight this out for what he's committed to doing. And that means taking Nikki Haley down a peg in New Hampshire.

BASH: You agree?

GOLDBERG: No, I agree with that. And I'm interested more broadly about his debate to performance last night. I'm pretty passionate that what our politics doesn't need is more lawyers. But one of the things that Christie does better than anybody else in politics is in what he did to Marco Rubio. He kind of breaks the fourth wall with the audience. And he said -- because he actually does this thing that only trial lawyers who have to listen to hostile witnesses can do.

He listens to what the other people says, and says to the audience, see what he did there. He was reading from a script. He wasn't actually being honest with you. And he could repeat back what the question was. And I think that's very effective and kind of meta in a way that you don't see on presidential debates.

BASH: That's such a good way to put it. You definitely can feel it, but I couldn't sort of articulate it until you just did so well. I have to ask before we take a quick break. I've been thinking about this since last night, the way that Nikki Haley uses her femininity, the fact that she is the only woman up there. It's very intentional. And it's very -- it's subtle, but it's not so subtle.

MCKEND: It isn't. And you know, she uses it to her benefit. She, I think says that she's not interested in engaging in identity politics, but she definitely plays off the fact that she's the only woman on that stage.

BASH: Calling everybody fellows.

MCKEND: Yes. And what we saw from her really, I think -- you know, some people say, well, this wasn't her strongest, but I think that we saw from her a quiet confidence that really illustrated that she knows she's winning. She didn't have to engage in some of these tit for tat fights because she's doing well. So why even get in the gutter?

BASH: Yeah. It's kind of a mom move, I think.

CHALIAN: Meaning that amongst the four on the state.


BASH: Yeah. OK. Very, very good point. Everybody, we have some breaking news on Capitol Hill. The House just voted to censure Democratic Congressman Jamaal Bowman for triggering the fire alarm in a congressional office building when there was not an emergency.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Adoption of House resolution 914, the House has resolved. That the House of Representatives censures, Jamaal Bowman, Representative from the 16th Congressional District of New York. That Representative Jamaal Bowman forthwith present himself in the well of the House of Representatives for their pronouncement of censure. And that Representative Jamaal Bowman be censured with the public reading of this resolution by the speaker.



BASH: The GOP-led censure resolution passed by a vote of 214 to 191. Up next, Vivek Ramaswamy unleashes conspiracy theories on the stage. Here how he responded when I talked to him about it after the debate.


BASH: Vivek Ramaswamy was viewing some dangerous conspiracy theories on the debate stage last night. He claimed the horrifying January 6 insurrection was an inside job and pushed the white nationalist great replacement theory. I spoke to him about it after the debate.


BASH: But when you use this term great replacement theory that is ---


RAMASWAMY: That is exactly what that ---

BASH: But you understand that term is something that evokes antisemitism, and it is ---

RAMASWAMY: Evokes piece of this. I'm against antisemitism, and I've spoken accordingly.

BASH: OK. But people who have looked at that ---

RAMASWAMY: But I think we also have to admit the truth of what's happening, Dana. This is coming through Biden's own words ---

BASH: But this is being -- this is being used ---

RAMASWAMY: -- over the course of 10 years ago.

BASH: -- for killings in Buffalo, for killings in Poway, California.

RAMASWAMY: If it was a Republican saying the same things that Biden said 10 years ago ---

BASH: You understand how dangerous it is?

RAMASWAMY: -- somehow you call it a conspiracy theory.

BASH: It's not even just a conspiracy theory. It's dangerous because ---

RAMASWAMY: I disagree. I think what's dangerous is the suppression of open dialogue. Well look, I think that we need to have more open dialogue in this country.


BASH: Our great reporters are back with us. Jonah Goldberg, I'm going to start with you on this.

GOLDBERG: Yeah. So, look, I really -- it's very difficult for me to exaggerate the lowest theme I have for Vivek Ramaswamy. He knows what he's doing. Your question is absolutely appropriate, great replacement theory as a phrase, references in large part, the sort of antisemitic conspiracy theories that says Jews want to replace white Christians with, you know, third world errs and whatnot.

It has its roots in France. It can be -- I think it's incredibly dumb. It's incredibly stupid. It's incredibly paranoid. He knows that's how it rings and when he's -- so it's sort of like, you know, the sort of the Hamas militant type who speaks about peace in English to the west, and then at home talks about murders. He knows his audience that he's trying to get support from, understand that term for what it is.

And then they love to hear him sort of play this. Oh, you're crazy for even thinking it's antisemitic game. Everyone knows what it is. He does the same thing with the January 6 stuff. Whether he knows better or not, what he is doing is he's trying to essentially monetize -- it's sort of a Roger Stone strategy. The sort of the dregs of -- the sort of, you know, very online Alex Jones crowd. That's a constituency now for parts of the right. And he wants to be their standard bearer.

BASH: Well, it is a constituency for parts of the right. And I think that's why it's important to call it out because it has for a long time lived on the fringe online in particular in recent years that has become part of the Manifesto of the shooter, the mass shooter in New Zealand, and of course, here in Buffalo, in Poway, California, as I mentioned to him. It is not just antisemitic, it's racist.

MCKEND: It is. But I wonder how we engage with this in a real way because when you speak to some voters, he's speaking directly to the anxieties of some white conservatives who truly do feel as though the Democrats are on a mission through voters of color to replace them, who truly feel as though that many of the January 6 defendants were set up or overcharged.

So, Vivek Ramaswamy is representing some of what you hear from Republican voters. And so, for as much admonishment as he's getting today, we can't forget that those voices exist, and those voters exists. And I don't know how we grappled with that.

BASH: No, I mean, such an important, interesting, very difficult conversation, unfortunately, one that he brought into the mainstream. I do want to turn back to the guy who's a frontrunner in this race, that Donald Trump. And what Ron DeSantis said last night, about what Trump said this past week about the notion of being a dictator.


DESANTIS: The media is making a big deal about what he said about some of his comments. I would just remind people that is not how we govern. He didn't even fire Dr. Fauci. He didn't fire Christopher Wray. He didn't clean up the swamp. He said he was going to drain it. He did not drain it. He said he was going to build a wall and have Mexico pay for it. We don't have the wall. I will go in and wreak havoc on this bureaucracy. You will see people fight.


BASH: David?

CHALIAN: Well, he's leaving out a piece of this governing record. I think what he says is that every governor because at the end of his term of governing, he attempted to overturn a legitimate election. That sounds pretty dictatorial to me. You know, but I think this whole conversation about the dictator comments is whether he was offering some dark perverse joke and like talking about the issues of drilling and energy and the like.

He refused to rule out when asked by the friendliest question on Sean Hannity multiple times, whether or not he would abuse the power of his office. He refused to rule out the notion that he possibly could. That to me end of story there. I mean, so it's really an indefensible position. But DeSantis, of course, sees that an opportunity to hit the media here, an opportunity to make an argument against Trump. That is based on not being Trumpy enough. And that to me is part of the failure thus far of his salesmanship of his position in this race.


BASH: Yeah. And is what, one of the things that sent Chris Christie through the roof because he wasn't answering the question about his failure to say, I will not abuse my power if I'm in office again. OK, everybody standby. Up next, instead of spending today on the campaign trail, the man we were just talking about Donald Trump is back inside a New York City courtroom. He says he's not happy about it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BASH: Donald Trump spoke on his way into a New York courtroom today, calling that $250 million civil fraud trial against his Trump organization a witch hunt.