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Inside Politics

CNN Poll: Biden Trails Trump In Georgia & Michigan; New CNN Polls: Biden Struggling In Key Battleground States; New CNN Polls: Trump Leads Biden By 5 In Georgia, 10 In Michigan; GOP Sen. Vance: People Do Not Want Blanket Abortion Bans; Trump Reverses Course, Won't Testify In Court Today; Trump Cancels Plan To Testify Today In NY Civil Fraud Trial; New Poll: Trump's Overwhelming Lead In Iowa Is Growing; Haley And Trump Beat Biden In New WSJ Poll. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired December 11, 2023 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Today on Inside Politics, new warning signs for the White House. New CNN polls out today, show President Biden trailing Donald Trump in critical battleground states. Places Biden won in the last election and needs to win again.

Plus, taking on Trump, with just five weeks until the first votes are cast. Republican presidential hopefuls are stepping up their attacks, as a new poll in Iowa shows Donald Trump's lead is only getting bigger. And under pressure.

The president of the University of Pennsylvania is forced out and now calls are growing for Harvard's president to resign after her widely panned comments on the rise of antisemitism on campus. Many Jewish students at Harvard say, they don't feel safe.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It felt like a failed leadership. I was really expecting a clear statement of we're against antisemitism. And either here's our plan, or we need your help implementing this and that. Instead of this when hearing, the lack of response they attempt to evade it just made us feel like we're alone in this.


BASH: We start today with CNN's exclusive battleground state polls. Who else is here to break that town other than David Chalian? David, start with the basics -- the overview?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yeah. The overview of Biden versus Trump. If that is a rematch that we're headed for and it certainly looks like it is. In these two critical battleground states, Georgia and Michigan. In our new poll conducted by SSRS, Donald Trump has a lead in both. He's currently winning both states.

Now, as you noted, Joe Biden won them in 2020. They were two of five states, he flipped from red to blue. And that is how he got to the White House. 49 percent to 44 percent in Georgia Trump advantage there, and even larger advantage in Michigan 50 percent for Trump, 40 percent for Biden.

And I just want to show you in Michigan specifically, Dana. Look what happens when you add in these independent third-party kind of candidates. Biden's number goes -- Trump's number goes down too, but Biden's number goes down real low.

So, 39 percent for Trump, 31 percent for Biden, RFK Jr. pulling 20 percent Michigan, Cornel West getting 6 percent right now. That in addition to Donald Trump having some strength clearly, this is another threat coming to Joe Biden from another direction.

BASH: Yeah. I mean, just look at those two numbers. There's only an 11-percentage point difference between Joe Biden and RFK right now in Michigan.


BASH: Yes. I mean, that's right, a now snapshot as our all polls. Good point. Let's look at what would happen if one of the other Republican candidates were to match up against Joe Biden.

CHALIAN: So, we also tested both Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley. You'll see here in Michigan. Haley is walloping President Biden 50 percent to 38 percent. Trump, we noted he's at 50 percent to 40 percent, and DeSantis in Michigan has a seven-point lead 49 percent to 42 percent.

BASH: And we looked at the question -- the characteristics that people are looking for in their candidate.

CHALIAN: Yeah. You know, it's a bit of a goldilocks kind of question like exactly what you're looking for. And that's what we asked. We said, which candidate here exactly has the attributes that you want in a president? Now, nobody has exactly everything.

But take a look here on temperament. In Georgia, 20 percent of people say Biden has exactly the temperament they're looking for. Not too different from what Donald Trump has, 18 percent on temperament, which was one of Trumps weakest attributes tested.

Everything else, you see that Trump outperforms Biden. Understanding people like you, only 14 percent of Georgia voters say, Biden has that exactly. Trump better policy positions 13 percent, and only 7 percent of Georgia voters say that President Biden has the sharpness and stamina exactly as they are looking for the president. 31 percent of Georgia voters say that about Donald Trump.

BASH: Before we move on. I'm no mathematician, but none of these adds up to 100. Does that mean that number of people just don't like either of them?

CHALIAN: Correct. These attributes do not apply for either candidate in the exact way they want to see.


CHALIAN: But here Biden is underperforming Trump in most of them.

BASH: OK. Let's talk about the issue, the economy.

CHALIAN: Take a look. This I think is one of the biggest warning signs in the poll for Joe Biden because in both Georgia and Michigan, Dana, a majority of voters 54 percent in Georgia, 56 percent in Michigan, say Biden's policies have worsened economic conditions for them. OK. Only a quarter in each state say that economic conditions have improved under Joe Biden. This is the perception we see day in day out the White House trying to change, it just isn't yet working.


BASH: Yeah. And they are trying very, very hard. Warning sign is a very important term, I think to use particularly for that top one. David, thank you. Nice to see you as always. And while voters in these key states say that Joe Biden's economic policies aren't working, as David just showed us. The president is sticking to his message. Listen?


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: They started off making fun of it, calling it Bidenomics. Well, guess what? It is Bidenomics. We have a lot more to do to put our plan is already paying off. We've created 14 million jobs since I took office, more than any president has created in all four years of a term. Wages are up more than inflation. The economy grew by five percent this last quarter. Today, the supply chains are strong.

We have more to do to bring down inflation beyond the two thirds we've brought it down. America has had the strongest growth and now has the lowest inflation of any major economy in the world but there's more to do.


BASH: I want to bring in our excellent reporters on our panel today, CNN's Jeff Zeleny, CNN's Eva McKend, and Josh Dawsey of The Washington Post. Nice to see you all. You both were in Iowa a lot, but most recently this weekend. So, we're going to talk about that in a minute.

But let's just talk about first, the national picture. And, of course, what we just saw in CNN's new polling. Starting with kind of the feeling Jeff Zeleny, inside the Biden campaign. Whether or not, they see these polls, particularly this -- excuse me, the CNN state polls in Georgia and Michigan, two important states, and how worried they are.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Look, I mean, there's no doubt that this is not really coming as a surprise to the White House or the Biden campaign. They responded this morning saying, voters vote, polls don't vote, and of course, all that is true. But the question is why? And why is the economy voters in Michigan and Georgia simply have not responded to the president's policies.

BASH: And as you're talking, I want to put back up the economy numbers in Georgia.

ZELENY: And these are so stark -- as you were saying. I mean, it's a majority of voters do not approve of the policies of the Biden administration. If we can look at those Michigan and Georgia numbers, and that is what is a central challenge.

So, look, a lot of numbers here today with polls, a lot of numbers on our screen here right now improved conditions, only a quarter of voters had no effect. And these are -- you know, some of these voters are driving on new roads that the Biden administration is paying for flying in new airports.

A lot of things have been done, yet they don't feel it. This is a classic case of an incumbent president. You know, there's a malaise out there. Now, they will argue once this becomes a choice, a contest with Donald Trump or another Republican candidate, this will level out a little bit more. That may be the case. But for now, it's not good.

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: I mean, this is why investments in various coalitions over the coming months is going to be so key. I was speaking to Georgia based organizer traveling the country right now, training college students to register voters. You know that work. You always hear from these progressive groups. They need funding.

I think when you see numbers like this -- those calls become all the more dire. They are going to have to do all that they can to make decisions that really motivate and wake up the base and not depress those voters.

BASH: Josh, what are you hearing from your sources about the state of play right now?

JOSH DAWSEY, POLITICAL INVESTIGATIONS REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, folks in president -- former President Trump's orbit are quite happy that he's dominating the polls in Iowa. That he's dominating in other states. And you saw the Iowa poll today came out. He's up 32 points over DeSantis. The sort of view that he's leading Biden in a one of these (Inaudible) as the main argument against former President Trump from a lot of Republicans have been just not electable.

You know, you might like this guy. But you saw the Koch brothers tried this. Club for Growth drive this, off his well pocketed groups. We're trying to make the argument with Republican voters. You might like this guy, but he's just not electable. You see what these polls are showing.

And what we're seeing throughout other states, is it sort of undercuts that argument that maybe he's not electable. And then a lot of his arguments just are not working against him. So, on the Republican side, I think the other folks are flailing but former President Trump's team feels pretty confident where they are in this moment. BASH: And we have another national snapshot or another. In addition to the state polls, we have a national snapshot from the Wall Street Journal. And it goes through the issues that are the most important. You see there. You just look at the blue and the red, the economy red, that's Trump, inflation red Trump crime, red Trump border security, Israel, Hamas. The things that are different and that flipped to Democrats are abortion and tone in politics.


ZELENY: Right. I mean abortion -- obviously abortion rights have been a driving force for Democratic voters ever since the Dobbs decision. So, they are hoping for that again, but there are also Democrats out there who, you know, would have worried that that cannot be overly relied on.

But to Josh's point, there's sort of -- you know, the meta-argument and the big picture of this all is, Joe Biden's weakness has strengthened Donald Trump. And it's taken away the argument for other Republicans who are saying that Trump's not electable. So that is really the concentric circle here. That is a challenge for Nikki Haley or DeSantis.

They had been hoping to make the argument, Donald Trump can't win. If these polls show that, well, maybe he can, that sort of erodes their support. So that is their burden here. Five weeks from tonight, the Iowa caucuses open this contest. And if this lead by the former president holds, it's pretty much lights out.

DAWSEY: What's interesting to me about -- sorry, what's interesting to me about the polls, how durable they've been out of the states. Now consistently Trump (Inaudible), and these various groups, you know, billionaire donors, all sorts of constituencies that wanted to knock him off, have tried all sorts of messages and they haven't worked.

Candidates have tried all sorts of messages, and they haven't worked. So far, what we've seen on the Republican side is that he seemingly almost untouchable. I mean -- I guess, I could -- like a change when folks aren't voting. I mean, you never want to be too predictive here. But it's sort of remarkable that the efforts on the anti-Trump efforts in the Republican Party have failed so spectacularly over the last six months. They've gained no traction.

If anything, he's stronger in the states that he was before. And I think there's some soul searching among those who dislike former President Trump who have wanted not him to be the nominee again, of why that is.

BASH: Let's drill down on one of the issues that came up well -- it's obviously coming up all over the place. But that was notable in this Wall Street Journal poll that is different from all the other numbers. That gives Joe Biden an advantage. And that is the issue of abortion. Republicans know this. And I was really struck by what Republican Senator J. D. Vance of Ohio, who was a big Trump supporter, very conservative, said to Jake Tapper about this issue.


SEN. J. D. VANCE (R-OH): We have to accept that people do not want blanket abortion bans, they just don't. I say this as a person who wants to protect as many unborn babies as possible. We have to provide exceptions for the life of the mother for rape, and so forth. That is just a basic necessity. If people see Republicans not as the party that's trying to make it easier to have babies, but it's just trying to take people's rights away that we're going to lose.


MCKEND: Yeah. I mean, he is pretty clear eyed and practical about this. I remember being in Pennsylvania last year, talking to young Democrats who were otherwise not really engaged, not really happy with the job that Democrats were doing. But we're really concerned about reproductive rights. And it is a hugely motivating issue. It's an issue that also wakes up independents and Republicans realize that they have to change course on this from a messaging standpoint.

BASH: And that's clearly what he was trying to do there. And he -- it's one of the issues that Donald Trump has been kind of different from the other Republicans on because he's trying to take the national, the long-term general election, I should say, perspective, which is ironic -- which is a whole another conversation.

But you mentioned Iowa and you mentioned the new poll out there. We're going to drill down on that when we come back. The Republican presidential candidates are barnstorming Iowa, of course ahead of next month caucuses. The new poll we were talking about does showed Donald Trump with a commanding lead. So, the question is are there still enough voters to stop him like this.


JAN BOON, IOWA VOTER: And controversy follows him as not that he is not intelligent. He just creates controversy and that slows everything down. It's just not helpful.





BASH: And 11th hour reversal from Donald Trump. He cancelled his planned testimony today at his civil fraud trial in New York. Trump made the announcement on warehouse social media. He said, I have already testified to everything and have nothing more to say other than this is a complete and total election interference Biden campaign, witch hunt that will do nothing but keep businesses out of New York.

CNN's Kristen Holmes has been all over this. Kristen, what are you hearing from your sources about the reason the former president decided not to go?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, I just got off the phone with a senior advisor who told me that ultimately Trump came to this decision after meetings with his legal team, with some outside allies that essentially there was nothing to gain from actually going through with that testimony.

He had talked extensively about it, saying that he wanted to finish some of the thoughts, some of the testimony that he didn't feel like he got to when he was being questioned by the prosecution. But there really wasn't -- there was more risk than reward for him to get back on that stage. And he was ultimately convinced that essentially, he had given testimony, that he had gone through all of those facts.

So, now where we are with this case is that it is wrapping up this week. We expect another expert witness tomorrow to finish up his testimony. But one thing to note here is that these are just the beginning of Donald Trump's legal problems.

And when I'm talking to his team, they are still figuring out how they're going to navigate all of these upcoming trials with him running a presidential campaign in 2024. And as you've been talking about, I mean, especially with this giant lead in the polls that they're seeing, you know, they have to figure out if he is the nominee, which obviously seems like he is inching towards that. What exactly is that going to look like in the next year?


BASH: And what's next in the case, Kristen?

HOLMES: So, they do expect the case to wrap this week. There's another expert -- testimonial he had started out last Friday. He will finish tomorrow. But we aren't expecting any results or any ruling on this until early next year. Those are kind of the next steps right now. So, there'll be sitting on that.

And the important thing to note, which we have often pointed out, this case is very, very, very important to Donald Trump. He did not have to appear a number of times and he did. This is about the future of whether or not he'll be doing business in New York. It's also goes to the core of his identity. This idea that he inflated his wealth that all of this was just for tax purposes, but it wasn't actually who he was that made up.

And that is part of something that has really bothered him. And obviously, we've seen that as he has gone out and repeatedly stepped to the cameras at the courthouse to talk about how the numbers -- the inflation is wrong, also attacking those who are involved in this case.

BASH: Yes, he has. And it's hard to believe, but you said next year, that's like in a couple of weeks, which is wild that we're almost in 2024. And thank you, Kristen, and speaking of that, just five weeks to go until the Iowa caucuses, and Donald Trump does appear to be getting stronger in the Hawkeye State. According to a new poll just this morning from the Des Moines Register. 51 percent of likely Republican Iowa caucus goers, say he's their first choice. That is a staggering. 32 points ahead of Ron DeSantis, 35 points ahead of Nikki Haley. The former president is up eight points since October, DeSantis and Haley remains statistically stagnant. Plus, the pool of persuadable voters is getting smaller. 49 percent say their mind is made up, that includes a whopping 70 percent of Trump supporters making it even harder to see anybody catching up with him.

Our great panel is back with us. Jeff Zeleny, you are a former political reporter for the Des Moines Register. This is a poll that the candidates this time of year are waiting to see. And it certainly doesn't look good for anybody except Donald Trump, according to the poll, that caucus process might make for a few surprises. But what are you hearing?

ZELENY: Sure. And we've seen a lot of surprises in the history of the Iowa caucuses. But time is running short for those surprises to emerge. A lot of the rivals you've been speaking to them as well as I have their campaigns. They were hoping to see some movement, particularly Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. He has the big endorsement from a very popular figure Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds and other evangelical leaders. And he ticked up a touch but is at 19 percent.

So, the bottom line is Donald Trump is driving this conversation. One number I saw in the poll that I think underscores an important point. The Trump campaign has been running a really strong campaign in Iowa. He's not just going there to speak willy nilly.

BASH: Is this first-time caucus goers? Let's put this up, while you talk about that ---

ZELENY: And why this is important. Take a look at these numbers. 63 percent of for some caucus goers say they are supporting Donald Trump. Only 12 for DeSantis, 11 for Nikki Haley. So, there are the matters is this because they are potentially expanding the caucus electorate. And that means the Trump campaign is doing work on the ground that they didn't do eight years ago.

I remember in the end of 2015, early parts of 2016. A lot of Trump supporters -- he had a lot of support out there. They didn't know what a caucus was. And we should say what that is it's a neighborhood meeting, there are thousands of them held across the state Monday night 7 pm exact same time. You have to get your supporters to this location. They didn't -- were not organized. This year they are organized.

BASH: And he still came close to Ted Cruz.

ZELENY: For sure. So that's one of the challenges. But we should also point out that 49 percent say their minds are made up. That means half are not Trump supporters are sticky as we know. But there is still a sense out there either. You know, you are talking to voters as well. Pretty easy to find Republicans who want to move on. BASH: And Eva, before you jump in, I want to show our viewers some of the work that you've been doing out on the road in Iowa. First, let me just kind of set the table with this Wall Street Journal poll. This is national, it's not Iowa. But it gives you a sense of the argument that you say that Nikki Haley is making on the trail, which is electability. I mean, nationally if you look at that poll, she can make the argument that she is electable versus Joe Biden.

Now I want our viewers to hear what Nikki Haley said on the stump about that.


NIKKI HALEY (R) 2024 GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Don't complain about what happens in a general election. If you don't play in this caucus, it matters. If you look at any general election poll, Biden and Trump are head-to-head. On a good day, there're two points. Wall Street Journal today, Trump is up by four points. That's the margin of error. In every one of those same polls, I'm up by 10 to 13 points.


BASH: And here's what some voters that you spoke with in Iowa said about that argument.


MARY UBER, IOWA VOTER: I just been really finding her to be more appealing. Each time I see her on the debate stage, I like what she's saying. I like that she is a strong woman that doesn't back now.


NATHAN SCHMIDT, IOWA VOTER: My belief is she's the only one that can probably reach that independent vote and truly secure the presidency. I wouldn't be here if I didn't believe that she had a very good chance of winning it. I think Donald Trump is very beatable.


BASH: Eva?

MCKEND: Yeah. I mean, this is central to her argument in the closing weeks that she is a more competitive person to go up against President Biden next fall. I don't know how many Iowans she can convince of that in just five weeks. But there certainly is an appetite for this argument. And in that poll, above 40 percent of Iowans say they could still be persuaded, right?

There's still a market for this argument. What you're seeing are people show up to her rallies, who they voted for Trump in 2016. They voted for Biden in 2020. And now they're supporting her. So, she really is speaking directly to the swing voters.

BASH: And then there's Ron DeSantis. And it's Iowa bust, basically for Ron DeSantis. Let's listen to a little bit of him on the trail in Iowa over the weekend.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL) 2024 GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's his own worst enemy by not being able to control his mouth. And that has consequences for governance and us being able to get things done. You can't have Hawkeye Haley here saying, she's conservative. And then more nuanced Nikki appealing to independents and liberals in New Hampshire. That doesn't work. You got to have the same message everywhere.


BASH: Josh?

DAWSEY: Yeah. Well, Ron DeSantis is certainly banking at all on Iowa. And I mean, he's finishing 99 counties. He got the endorsement, as Jeff said, from Kim Reynolds to popular governor. He's, you know, visiting all these churches and these towns and really barnstorming the state doesn't seem to be working. I mean, it doesn't seem to be working. This campaign is sort of in turmoil was outside group never backed down as lost all of their top officials or one of their top officials, at least in the past few weeks. His numbers have not gone up. In fact, most of the polls that either stayed stagnant or gone down, and he's doing this traditional legwork that is viewed as sort of a prerequisite to compete in Iowa. But it doesn't seem that people were liking what they're seeing so far.

BASH: I was communicating with the DeSantis source this morning. Who said, well, we're taking so much incoming in Iowa from both Trump and Nikki Haley. I'm surprised we didn't do worse. You know, I mean, take that for what it's worth.

ZELENY: I mean, they really thought they would do better. I mean, but we should also point out this poll was taken right before the debate. So, there is still -- there are still voters making up their minds here. But challenges as we've talked about before, the other campaigns Dems and others trying to convince Republicans that it's still a race.

MCKEND: I mean, one man told me in frustration, he just wishes Republicans in Iowa to come to their senses and rally around Ambassador Haley. So, there are some voters out there who are practical, they're principally concerned about winning. They're thinking about electability, their true conservatives, and they want to actually win in a general election. And so those voters at least are still up for grabs.

BASH: Well, CNN is in Iowa this week. Be sure to tune in on Tuesday and Wednesday for CNN's town halls with Governor Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy. The candidates will take questions live in Iowa. Coming up mission impossible. The Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy is coming to Washington, hoping to convince Republicans in Congress to send him more aid.