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Gov. Sununu Hits Campaign Trail With Haley After Endorsing Her; Haley, Sununu Campaigning Together Today In New Hampshire; Haley Wins Big Endorsement From NH Gov. Chris Sununu; Haley On Trump: "We Can't Afford Four More Years Of Chaos"; Haley On Trump: "Rightly Or Wrongly, Chaos Follows Him"; Sununu On NH primary: It's A Race Between Haley And Trump; "Pro-life" Haley & "Pro-Choice" Sununu Speak Out On Abortion; Nikki Haley On Role Of The U.S. In Israel-Hamas War; Gov. Sununu Hits Campaign Trail With Haley After Endorsing Her. Aired 12- 12:30p ET
Aired December 13, 2023 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DANA BASH, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Today on Inside Politics, live from New Hampshire. Governor Chris Sununu is going all in on Nikki Haley weeks before his state's pivotal primary here. It's the endorsement every challenger to Donald Trump wanted. The big question now. Can it help Haley overcome Trump's commanding lead, not just here in New Hampshire, but in every early voting state?
I just finished speaking to both Haley and Sununu, right here inside the governor's mansion behind me. That interview is coming up. The first I want to get straight to CNN's Jeff Zeleny, who is also here in New Hampshire. Jeff, you are in Newport, where Haley and Sununu are going to be campaigning together this afternoon. What can we expect?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, we're about an hour or so west of you. And what we're going to see here is the beginning of the road show, the Sununu, Haley road show. And he is going to try and repeat what he did in four successful gubernatorial campaigns on her presidential campaign, through his organization, through his sheer popularity and making the case that he believes she's the candidate to turn the page. We got a glimpse of that last night in New Hampshire.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NIKKI HALEY (R) 2024 GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We've got the momentum on our side, but this just gave it a speed bump. So, we are excited about going and going fast. And we're just grateful to (Inaudible)
CHRIS CHRISTIE (R) 2024 GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What Nikki is been able to do and say, I'm not just going to tell you what not to vote for. I'm going to tell you what I bring to the table. I mean that's what you want in a candidate.
(END VIDEO CLIP) ZELENY: So, there's no doubt that six weeks from today, we will find out if this endorsement is successful. The governor says that this is a two-person race of course that is getting far ahead of things, other candidates in the race.
But Dana, one thing is clear. She's not only getting his name brand, which is a golden name and politics here in New Hampshire, as you well know. She's getting his organization and his work ethic. So, they're going to be campaigning around the state at events like this here behind me.
The crowd is just coming in now. They'll be continuing on with her throughout the day. Since you said every one of her rivals would have liked to have the endorsement. She has it. Now the hard work begins for the six final weeks of this campaign. Dana?
BASH: Well, we'll see that coming up this afternoon where you are Jeff. Thank you so much. Now to my interview with Nikki Haley and Chris Sununu.
I started with a simple question to Governor Sununu: Why Haley?
GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU (R-NH): Obviously, we have been friends for a long time.
And I have -- I, more than probably anybody else in the country, have been able to spend a lot of time with all the three top candidates, Chris, Ron and Nikki.
When it comes down to it, Nikki connects. And that's what I was really looking for. It isn't about just the policies. Policy can be easy. It isn't just about background, although the background is unmatched when you look at Ambassador Haley.
It's about who's really connecting with folks, listening, earning the trust, right, spending the time. That's how we do it here in New Hampshire.
And when I have seen her time and time again, whether it's in a diner, or in someone's living room, or in someone's backyard, not just talking at people -- a lot of people like to do that -- but saying, now, what's on your mind? What are your top priorities? What are your issues?
And I get excited about the opportunity to have a president that carries that philosophy into the White House, not just big government solutions. We have seen a lot of even Republicans try big government solutions. I know that's not what this is all about. It has to be about going in with the mind-set of, what's the individual looking for? How do I empower them to create their opportunities?
And I just -- it's working, and people are galvanizing. The numbers are moving. It's exciting.
NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look, I am just thrilled. I truly am.
And I knew that, in order to earn his endorsement, we just needed to work. We just needed to work and show that we were willing to do it. And, I mean, how amazing is it to get the live free or die governor in a time where I think we need a live free or die country?
And he's the coolest governor in the country. And so to be able to do this, it's great, and now this partnership. I mean, you can feel the Granite State, the energy that we got with hundreds of people and continuing to see as we move through diners and all this.
People get it. And they feel it. And they know the responsibility that they have. And I think we're going to see magic here in the Granite State.
BASH: Governor DeSantis did a town hall with CNN in Iowa last night. And he was asked about this endorsement.
And he said: "Even a campaigner as good as Chris is not going to be able to paper over Nikki being an establishment candidate."
What do you say to that?
HALEY: You can say something, but it doesn't make it true.
I was a Tea Party candidate when I became governor. I was a strong conservative governor that brought an 11 percent unemployment down to 3 percent unemployment, that we went and we moved thousands of people from welfare to work. We reformed education. We did tort reform. We did voter I.D.
And then you saw me go to the U.N., and I took the "Kick me" sign off of our backs and America was respected again. Everything I have ever done has been strong. It's been economic freedom. It's been individual freedom. It's been making sure that I have made people proud along the way.
So, he can say establishment or whatever. I don't think labels matter. I think, at the end of the day, this is, we're fighting to save America. I truly believe that. And we're going to continue to do it. And Chris' endorsement has just really given us a big kick at a time that the momentum was building, and this is going to continue to take us where we need to go.
BASH: You wrote an op-ed along with this endorsement.
And you said -- in part of it, you said that New Hampshire likes to be independent, obviously, and that includes being independent from what Iowa does. And you said polls indicate that Donald Trump will win the Iowa caucuses.
First, do you think that's true?
HALEY: It might be true. I don't know. What I can tell you is, we're fighting just as much for Iowans as we are for the people here in the Granite State. And we think that that's really important. We just spent the week there last week, and the energy was good and the strength is high. They're paying attention now. And things are starting to move.
So we're going to do everything we can. Does he have a stronghold in Iowa? Of course he does. Do people support Trump? They do. But it's not about whether you support President Trump.
I think President Trump was the right president at the right time. I agree with a lot of his policies. But chaos follows him. Rightly or wrongly, chaos follows him. And now is a time where we have a country in disarray and a world on fire. We can't afford four more years of chaos and survive it. We just won't.
And I think the people in Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina are going to see that. It's a different question to say, do you support President Trump and appreciate what he did, as opposed to, what direction do you want the country to go? That's very different.
BASH: I want to come back to that in a second, but I first want to ask you, Governor, about what you intend to do, because Ambassador Haley is behind the former president here pretty significantly.
How do you plan to use your endorsement, to use your support to close that gap? Do you have a ground game? Do you have an organization that you tend to -- intend to employ?
SUNUNU: There's going to be a 40 -- we have about 40 days to go, and it's going to be a 40-day ground game. That's exactly what it's going to be, and engaging with voters.
And like the ambassador talked about, I have talked with folks. There was a gentleman I talked to at a manufacturing facility. And he said, look, I supported -- just like me and Nikki. We supported the president in 2016. We supported him in 2020.
But his thing was inflation. He said, inflation, it's killing my family. I can barely get to work. Something has to be done. And he said, I would support the former president, but he's going to be so distracted. I need someone that can give 120 percent of their time to the inflation crisis, or 120 percent of the time to the Israeli or the Ukrainian crisis, or the international issues that are bearing down on us, 120 percent of the time to the border.
He's not going to have it. He's going to have constant distraction. So it's not about whether you support him. It's about, we need a president that gets results. And when you have somebody, as a former governor, with the success she brought -- I mean, let's face it. South Carolina was in tough shape in 2010 when she came on board.
Turned that around, made that the envy of the Southern part of the country. And then you add the international experience. It's results- driven. And I think, in New Hampshire, people appreciate, we might have supported the former president before. We appreciate what he's going through. It might be political, but we need results.
We're so tired of Washington doing nothing and blaming other people. So, this is the opportunity we have to not just galvanize the Republican Party...
SUNUNU: ... but get the entire country excited about the prospects of the future.
BASH: Well, on that note, just one kind of process follow to that, because, last night, when you were together, Governor, you said that this is a race between two people.
But it's not a race between two people.
SUNUNU: It will be soon enough, yes. It's between Nikki Haley and Donald Trump at this point.
BASH: So are you saying that DeSantis, and, in particular, Chris Christie, who's playing hard here, should drop out?
SUNUNU: No, look, they have -- they will make that decision for themselves, of course. They're good governors. They're good candidates, right?
But here in New Hampshire, this is really coming down to Donald Trump and Nikki Haley. And this is where the rest of the country is going to go, oh, wait, it's not a fait accompli. Media and everyone has kind of assumed that this was just Donald Trump's race. We will see him at the convention.
That doesn't have to be the case. And the more folks get engaged -- we're going to have a record number of people voting in the state, from hardcore conservative Republicans, to the undeclared, even some conservative Democrats. Everyone's going to vote.
And if everyone that wants to vote and can vote gets out and votes, Nikki doesn't just win. She wins in a landslide, right? The former president, as a former president, he can't even hold 50 percent of his base? That's actually not a good number when you think of that.
Most former presidents would have 80 percent right now.
BASH: But he's still really far ahead.
SUNUNU: He is. And you know what? Hillary Clinton was really far ahead of Barack Obama at one point.
I mean, we have always seen these stories. In the last six to eight weeks....
BASH: So, you just don't believe it?
SUNUNU: No, you have to earn it.
BASH: Ambassador Haley, you were asked this week -- you mentioned Donald Trump, so I will just follow up with that -- if Donald Trump is fit to be president, and you responded: "It's not about fitness. I think he's fit to be president. It's, should he be president? I don't think he should be president."
I just want to clarify. You do think that Donald Trump at this stage, given everything that's happened, is fit to be president again, if that happens?
HALEY: I think he's fit to be president.
I mean, I think that he has the mental capacity, the physical capacity to do it. Do I like the idea of two 80-year-olds running for office for our country? No, I think there needs to be a new generational leader. I think the country wants to see a new generational leader.
But that's not what this is about. I think when you're looking at the fact that it is -- people feel what's happening in the economy. They feel it at the grocery store. They feel it at the gas station. They feel it in their insurance prices and their mortgage prices. They're really squeezed. And they're worried about the debt.
They feel the fact that they're worried only 31 percent of eighth graders in our country are proficient in reading. There's a lot of parents worried about that.
HALEY: We have got a border that's out of control, and we're acting like it's September 10. And we better remember what September 12 felt like.
And you have got a world on fire. People are nervous. And what they don't want is chaos. What they do want is someone who's going to calm in down and get things done and have government work for the people again.
BASH: So, when you say -- it's interesting, because -- so, when you say fit to be president, that he is, you're talking about his age and his mental capacity.
Other people, particularly people here in New Hampshire who are looking for somebody other than Donald Trump, don't think he's fit because of his approach, because of his personality, because of his policies.
Do you think, in those areas, he's fit to be president?
HALEY: I don't look at the personal side of things, as much as I look at the policy side. BASH: Well, what about the policy, like democracy?
HALEY: The reason that I'm running is because, after I saw the fall of Afghanistan, after I saw inflation going through the roof, after I saw us lose the midterms so terribly, that's when I said, we have to run.
When I look at the situation, the economy under Trump, was it good? Yes, but he put us at $8 trillion in debt to do it, and we're all paying the price for that. I look at the fact that I don't want a president who's going to praise dictators by saying Kim Jong-un is his friend, or praising the -- you know, celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party, or sitting there saying Hezbollah is smart, and hitting Netanyahu when his country's on its knees.
That's what I don't want.
BASH: So, in those areas, he's not fit to be president?
HALEY: Those things, I just think we need a new direction. We don't need -- with me, I have a different approach, no drama, no vendettas, no whining.
It's about work for me. It's about results for the American people. They deserve it, and we're going to work hard to earn it.
BASH: Governor, when I spoke to you in June, and you announced that you were not going to run for president, you told me that you would be vocal with people afraid to take on the former President Donald Trump.
Do you think Ambassador Haley is doing enough to take on Donald Trump?
SUNUNU: Oh, sure.
Well, look, let's face it. If you're running against the former president, you're making it pretty clear that you -- that you -- not just you have the chops to be president, but we're not going to support him, as most of the Republican Party is not going to support the former president right now.
So, yes, I -- and what I love about Nikki is, she doesn't focus on platitudes. She doesn't focus on just sound bites. She really gets into details to talk about what she's about, what she's going to bring to the table in the future, not litigating the past, not whining about all the other stuff that we hear from the former president.
She's talking about what she's bringing and her -- her experience. That's what people want to know, because, at the end of the day, individuals want to know there's accountability in government, which there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of it in Washington right now.
And that's exciting, especially at the top of the tier, someone kind of showing that leadership, leading by example, with accountability, saying, the buck stops here.
HALEY: Let me just say this. Anti-Trumpers don't think I hate Trump enough.
BASH: Yes. That's true.
HALEY: Pro-Trumpers don't think I love Trump enough. What you see is what you get. I just call it like I see it.
And wouldn't it be nice if you weren't gauged on whether you love or hate somebody, and instead where you think the country should go? So, the media loves to sit there and say, but you're not hating him enough or you're not loving him enough.
Look, at the end of the day, I look at it policy by policy.
HALEY: I don't look at the personal side. I don't look at the political side.
BASH: Ahead, more of my interview, including what Ambassador Nikki Haley thinks of a controversial Texas abortion ruling this week.
BASH: Welcome back to INSIDE POLITICS.
We are here in New Hampshire, where I spoke with Governor Chris Sununu and his choice for president, former Ambassador Nikki Haley.
Here's more of the interview, where we discuss one of the trickiest issues for Republicans, abortion.
BASH: Let's talk about a couple -- let's talk about a couple of policy issues.
You call yourself pro-choice on abortion. You call yourself pro-life. Was that an issue that gave you pause at all, your difference on that, before endorsing?
I have to tell you, I think, when it comes to the abortion issue, no one has answered the question as well as Nikki Haley, I mean, unquestionably. In fact, it's one of the number one positives I hear from both pro-choice and pro-life people, that she's exactly where it needs to be. She's pro-life, and that's great.
But, at the end of the day, this is going to be a states' issue, as the court has said. That's the way it's going to play out. So the idea that you're going to try to claim, well, that Washington's going to fix this and Washington's going to fix that on the abortion issue, I think that Governor Haley understands this is a states' issue now, and states are going to have to -- and the voters are going to have more say in that process, as they should.
BASH: I want to talk to you a little bit about what is happening in Texas with a 31-year-old. Her name is Kate Cox. She's a mother of two.
She was -- she's pregnant. She's told that her fetus has a fatal issue, a congenital issue, and, if she carried the baby to term, the baby would likely die, and she might not be able to have children in the future. And she would -- it would be a potential health risk.
You say that politicians need to humanize this issue more. If you were governor of the state of Texas, or if this was happening on your watch, how would you make it more human to let Kate Cox deal with this? She had to leave the state.
HALEY: I don't know the exact details of the Texas law, but what I do know is, one, my heart breaks for her. As someone who struggled to have children, my heart absolutely breaks for her.
But this is what I'm talking about. When I say we need to have compassion, this is exactly what I'm talking about. When you look at someone's experience, we should never want to see someone with a rare condition who has to deliver a baby, any more than we should want to see a mom have an abortion at 37, 38, 39 weeks.
BASH: So, how do you turn that compassion you talk about, humanizing, into policy?
BASH: Because, like, just, for example, if you have states' rights, which I understand you both believe in on this issue, what do you say to a woman in a state like that who -- she was able to leave -- who doesn't have the means to leave?
HALEY: I think what you're going to see happen in Texas is what you're going to see in some other states that went on the pro-life side is, they're going to go and look at, OK, when you have the exceptions of rape, incest, life of the mother, medical conditions, like Texas had the medical side of it, is, they're going to get more detailed on it.
They're going to go and say, OK, how can we make sure...
BASH: And should they?
HALEY: They should. They should look at when the situation between the doctor and the woman sees something that's dangerous that might prevent her from having more babies or might be damaging to her body or something. I think you're going to see the medical board make a decision on, where is that line? I think you're going to see that play out. Look, when you do something in a state, it's never perfect right off the bat. You learn how to tweak it. And I think all of these states need to tweak it in a way that our number one goal is, how do you save as many babies as possible and support as many moms as possible?
BASH: I want to ask a foreign policy question.
You saw yesterday the most contentious back-and-forth between Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Biden over the question of who governs Gaza when this war is over. The president wants it to be the Palestinian Authority. Bibi Netanyahu says, no, we don't want that.
If you were president right now, how would you solve that?
HALEY: Well, first of all, the Palestinian Authority has done a terrible job at leading. We have seen that.
And you look at Gaza, and the people that live in Gaza have had to live under the oppression of Hamas, which is a terrorist organization that has ruined that area. Israel doesn't want Gaza. That's not the issue. But Israel doesn't want terrorists on their doorstep either.
We need to support Israel being comfortable with who's going to be their neighbors. And you need to make sure that the people of Gaza -- the best way to help the people of Gaza is to eliminate Hamas.
BASH: So, if not the P.A., obviously not Hamas, then who? How do you do that?
HALEY: I mean, we're going to have to figure this out, right?
But I don't think America has to figure this out. I think Israel needs to decide what they want their neighbors to look like. And it's not just Israel. Look at the Arab countries. There's a reason Egypt doesn't want to take any of the people from Gaza, because they don't know which ones are terrorists and which ones aren't.
Where are all the pro-Hamas countries? Where is Qatar? Where is Iran? Where are Turkey? Why aren't they taking the people of Gaza? Because they all know the threats of Iran and the threats of their proxies. But every country deserves to know that they can have a secure border and not have terrorists living on there.
So it's going to take Israel a while to figure out how they're going to get the Palestinians to find good leadership. But the Palestinian Authority has not been good to the people at all. And they haven't proven worthy.
BASH: I know that you decided to endorse Ambassador Haley because you think she's the best person for the job.
But the fact that she is a woman, was that a factor?
SUNUNU: No, not the fact that she's a woman, but I -- maybe the fact that she's a mom. She gets the connection better than most folks.
BASH: I mean, the fact that she would be the first female president, was that a factor?
SUNUNU: Yes, no, not -- I mean, that's -- look, that's a nice -- a nice line, I suppose.
But, at the end of the day, it's her connection that I'm watching. And it's the feedback I'm getting about that connection that -- I mean, she uses the word humanism, right? She really connects with folks on what their -- what their background is, not just what's your policy? Do you agree with my policy, where that -- like I said, that's peripheral stuff.
She wants to know, what's going on in your family? What are the barriers? Where has the system broken down? And people -- that's a connection. And she looks you in the eye. She takes that time to listen.
And, as I have said, she took the time and has earned the trust of the voters here. And that's exactly how I do it. That's kind of the brand that I try to support here. All the solutions don't happen in the corner office or just in the White House. The opportunity for those solutions happened by spending time with people.
So, I don't know. Maybe the fact that she's a wife and a mom, and she's connected, and she has this amazing background just allows that connection to be a little more solid than maybe with some of the other candidates. But it's there. And it's real. And it's palpable, which is why her numbers -- even before my endorsement, her numbers are skyrocketing here.
BASH: You know he's going to be out of a job in a year, right?
HALEY: I do.
BASH: I mean, you guys are both Gen X'ers. You seem to have good chemistry.
You don't want him to...
SUNUNU: Oh, I don't want a job. Thank you, though.
BASH: You didn't even let me finish my sentence. You knew?
SUNUNU: I'm not even going to let you get there. No.
SUNUNU: No. No. I -- look, I want to be helpful.
(CROSSTALK) BASH: Would you want -- if he wanted to do it, would you consider him as a running mate?
HALEY: I think he would be great at anything. He's proven that, honestly.
He is -- he's been great for the state of New Hampshire. I mean, they're better off. He didn't do it by raising taxes. He didn't do it by taking away any of their freedoms. He didn't do it by having government mandates come down. He did it by just allowing economic freedom to grow and listening to the people.
And, look, he is...
BASH: And he likes Motley Crue.
HALEY: And he likes Motley Crue and Guns N' Roses, at that.
HALEY: So, I mean, look, I think at the end of the day, do I want a younger generation leading in Washington? Absolutely, because the next eight years are going to be tough. We need energy. We need people who are at the top of their game. We need people who are results-driven.
And we need fighters. More than anything, we need fighters for the American people, not fighters for government. That's the difference. So, yes, if he wanted to be involved in service, I would love to have him in some capacity.
SUNUNU: Look, I just got to say, it's a full package of a candidate, with the background, with the connectivity, the -- I think the ideals and the principles that Republicans and a lot of the independents even in this state really want to see.
And that momentum, that opportunity to kind of show a big win here and really set -- it really would press the reset button on the entire election when Nikki wins here. And then all bets are off, and it's a one-on-one race, Trump's on his heels, then here comes Super Tuesday.
And next thing you know -- political momentum's a real thing. I mean, we have both experienced it.
You were told you couldn't win. No one knew you. No one...
HALEY: Multiple times.
SUNUNU: Multiple times.
She's always been told she can't win. She always been told it's an impossible feat, forget it. That's why this is such a perfect, not just a story, but a perfect venue for Nikki to really make her drive to the White House.
BASH: If he started singing Joan Jett, then you would be -- you would be -- you would have to...
SUNUNU: I'm just going to tell the story. Should I tell you?
So I'm walking out last night, and I'm coming out to "Welcome to the Jungle" by Guns N' Roses, and just as I'm about to go out on stage to introduce Nikki and then give her my endorsement, I hear: "Oh, yes, they were playing this right -- they opened right before Motley Crue at my first concert."
And I went, I knew I made the right decision.
SUNUNU: Right there, I knew I had made the right decision.
BASH: Thank you, Ambassador, Governor.
HALEY: Thanks so much.
BASH: Thank you so much.
SUNUNU: Thank you.
BASH: I want to get back to CNN's Jeff Zeleny, who is in Newport, New Hampshire. Jeff, Nikki Haley and Chris Sununu have left here. They're headed towards you to campaign there this afternoon. What's your takeaway from what they were talking about with me here?
ZELENY: Well, Dana, as you sat in front of them, I think the biggest takeaway initially is optics. As you well know, Governor Sununu 49 years old, Nikki Haley 51 years old. They do represent a new generation. And that is the argument that they are making to voters of all ages.
And it really is striking when you talk to voters of all ages. Some of the oldest voters we talked to also are looking for a new generation to turn the page. So that, of course is the central argument here, but so many things to break down in there from abortion politics to foreign policy.
But I think when Nikki Haley told you, Dana, that she's never going to be anti-Trump enough for those who don't like the former president, she'll never be pro-Trump enough for those who do. That is really the centerpiece of all of this and the centerpiece of their challenge.
Yes, he's very popular, but he has been really railing against the former president for years. So, their challenges to pry away some Trump voters as well as winning over some independent and moderate voters. But as you see people taking their seats here, there is a new level of interest in her. He will accelerate that. The question now is, can they overcome the true giant in this race? And that remains Donald Trump. Dana?
BASH: And Jeff, you and I are both Gen Xers as well. So, the Motley Crue, Guns and Roses reference. We also got that. Everybody else, hopefully you got it too. Thank you so much, Jeff. Appreciate it.
And tonight, Republican presidential hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy joins our Abby Phillip for a CNN presidential town hall live from Iowa