Return to Transcripts main page
Republican Iowa Voters On Their Top 2024 Pick; Kennedy Claims No Vaccines Are Safe And Effective, Says Not Against All Vaccines; RFK Jr. Speaks To CNN's Kasie Hunt About Independent 2024 Bid; Melania Trump Speaks At Event Swearing In New U.S. Citizens. Aired 12:30-1p ET
Aired December 15, 2023 - 12:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Low rolling hills of Southwest Iowa, Shanen Ebersole's happy place.
SHANEN EBERSOLE, IOWA REPUBLICAN VOTER: I'll just sit out here with my cows and take a breath and everything goes back to the way that it should be.
KING (voice-over): A family cattle farmer for 25 years. A two-time Donald Trump voter.
EBERSOLE: I love what he did for small businesses. I love what he did for agriculture. I wish he could have done it a little bit quieter.
KING (voice-over): The loud part is why Ebersole has shop.
EBERSOLE: Because he wasn't as respectful as they think our president should be. Because he didn't bring us together.
KING (voice-over): Shopping for a conservative doesn't scare her liberal friends.
EBERSOLE: I would lean towards Haley. I think that in the face of people calling names, in the face of people yelling and screaming in front of her, she held her composure. I think that she has the demeanor and the life experience that is more connected to actual Americans.
KING (voice-over): Trump's support is deep here, especially in rural counties like Ringgold. But if there is to be an Iowa surprise, Republican women will power it.
This is Priscilla Forsythe making Christmas crafts with friends in Sioux City. Five months ago when we first spoke, she was leading Vivek Ramaswamy.
PRISCILLA FORSYTH, IOWA REPUBLICAN VOTER: I really got the feeling. He's brilliant. He's got energy. He's young. KING (voice-over): Now she urges friends to vote Haley.
FORSYTH: Usually to me the debates don't make a big difference, but they kind of did this time.
KING (voice-over): Forsyth caucus for Trump when he wants Sioux City back in 2016. Now she sees something else taking shape.
FORSYTH: I think they're underestimating the people who don't want the chaos anymore.
KING (voice-over): There's a lot of that in the Des Moines suburbs.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want to turn a chapter. We want to go to something new.
KING (voice-over): Betsy Sarcone hopes Iowa uses its first in the nation vote to elevate one strong Trump alternative. This is what she told us back in August.
BETSY SARCONE, IOWA REPUBLICAN VOTER: I do find -- I am pulled towards DeSantis.
KING (voice-over): And this is now.
SARCONE: I am likely, Nikki Haley caucuser.
KING (voice-over): Sarcone says her brother and parents are also leaning Haley. But she's not final just yet.
SARCONE: If people were going to consolidate, I would go with DeSantis. That's not what I'm seeing so far. The suburbs out here you're likely going to see a lot -- it's going to be DeSantis-Haley.
KING (on-camera): But if it's DeSantis-Haley, Trump wins, doesn't he?
SARCONE: He does. I mean, that's the question, right? How do you get people to consolidate?
KING (voice-over): Jaclyn Taylor is another mom and entrepreneur who hopes the suburbs send a message.
JACLYN TAYLOR, IOWA REPUBLICAN VOTER: I see Nikki Haley helping us identify back with what our culture is, what our vision is and what our mission is, as a United States, not a divided states.
KING (voice-over): But as Taylor tries to recruit friends, there's a lesson about Trump's resilience.
TAYLOR: And they say, oh, I really like Nikki Haley. I really like Ron DeSantis. But when it comes down to the voting in the primary, I'll probably just vote for Trump because he's going to get it anyways. And that just really frustrated me. The influence of the louder voices is how having an impact on people.
[20:40:01] KING (voice-over): This is Chris Mudd's big change. Midwest solar is growing and needed a new office. Same candidate though, same confidence.
CHRIS MUDD, IOWA REPUBLICAN VOTER: You know, you got to have thick skin to be for Trump today. And so I think those people that say their form are going to show up.
KING (on-camera): When you hear DeSantis say, you know, we got to stop losing or Haley say, no drama, no chaos, time for a new generation of leadership. You say?
MUDD: There are 30, 35, 40 points behind Trump. I would say that they're the chaos and that they should stand down and support Trump.
KING (voice-over): Mudd doesn't care about polls showing Haley run stronger against President Biden. He doesn't care Trump could be both the Republican nominee and a convicted felon by summer.
MUDD: I think Trump has been pushed into a corner. I think he's got lots of targets on him. And I think he's doing a great job of deflecting every one of them.
KING (voice-over): Dozens see January 6 as disqualifying to the contrary.
MUDD: You know, why did Nancy Pelosi have the National Guard there?
KING (on-camera): That's a separate question, though, isn't it?
MUDD: No, it's not.
KING (on-camera): That's a legitimate -- it's a legitimate question. But just because there weren't enough cops there, does that give people the right to blow through those barricades to beat those -- in some cases beat those officers?
MUDD: No, it doesn't. But the people that were there were negligent from stopping it from happening. They wanted it to happen because they wanted Trump to not be eligible to run again. I think it was set up to end Trump.
KING (voice-over): There is zero evidence to support that and it is talk like that, that is a big reason Shanen Ebersole says enough.
EBERSOLE: Inflammatory acts did not happen by President Trump, but he inflamed a lot of people to do a lot of crazy things that I don't think Americans -- I don't think that's really who we are.
KING (voice-over): The cows are still here because the freeze is late, but they will soon have to move and Ebersole knows that means time is running short for Republicans like her who hope Iowa sends a message -- it is time to move on.
DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: John is back from Iowa with me at his other favorite place, sort of.
KING: Sort of.
BASH: The magic wall.
KING: It depends on the day. So I really -- there's so many interesting moments that you've captured and feelings that you captured from voters there. First of all, the switch among some, especially women to Nikki Haley. But the default that shoulder shrug, Donald Trump's probably going to win anyway.
KING: And look, fights about Trump ruin relationships at home, at work, in life. And so you pick it up, you hear it, that, you know, I might be for DeSantis, I might be for Haley. But you know, what? If Trump's going to win and win big, why bother, right? It's a secret ballot at the caucus. But the campaigns do have representatives that stand up and give speeches first.
And so you have to stand there and listen to it. So that's the thing. You see these women, especially playing chess. I'm for Haley, but if I see that eight of my friends are for DeSantis, I'll go over and help you because they want to be Trump. But we know that the data is overwhelming. Trump has a huge lead.
Some of them actually think the Haley support is she can pull this off in 30 days. I'd be very skeptical about that. The question is, can somebody? Nikki Haley or Ron DeSantis consolidated enough of the anti- Trump vote to come in a strong second. It convinced people, oh, Trump's actually vulnerable.
BASH: So this is where things stood at the end of the 2020 campaign. Obviously, Donald Trump did very well. It used to be a swing state, Iowa, and show us where you were actually during that piece.
KING: Yes. Part of the magic for me doing this project is this is my 10th campaign, right. So the farm I was at, right, we just saw Shanen Ebersole there. It's Ringgold County down there. It's a tiny. It's the second smallest county in Iowa by population. Donald Trump got 73 percent of the vote there.
This is my first campaign in 1988. Michael Dukakis --
KING: -- got only 60 percent of the vote there. Pull out the map, right. Iowa was one of the 10 states Dukakis won. That's the shift in American politics, rural people, blue collar people, people who work with their hands used to vote for the Democrats, right?
Priscilla Forsyth this year in Sioux City was closer but to caucus got half of the vote there, right? He won that county. Now you come back to 2020 and Donald Trump gets nearly 60 percent there. So part of it listening to voters, the reason you keep doing this is the data says Trump's going to win.
But think about 2008, 2016, we have been surprised -- 2020, Biden was dead after the first few contests, right? The volatility and the surprise was just why you keep coming back. The data tells you Trump's going to win but there's -- the half of the party doesn't him, he's trying to figure this out.
BASH: Love these pieces. Also it was beautifully shot. Really, really quite --
KING: A fantastic crew.
KING: This -- yes, artists matter.
BASH: Thank you.
Next on the record, independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. sat down with CNN's Kasie Hunt. You're going to want to see some of this. Stay with us.
BASH: Today, independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. sat down with our very own Kasie Hunt. He centered his pitch on the middle class, a pitch that is polling higher than any other third party candidate. In fact, any in 30 years that of course, amid a likely rematch between Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR. (I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm the only candidate who's talking about what's happening to the middle class in this country. And, you know, this idea that if you work hard, and you play by the rules, that you ought to be able to make a decent living, you ought to be able to afford a home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: So that is just part of his message. Another part of his message has been the fact that he is anti-vax. And those that conspiracy theories a lot on that issue and others. He's also made comments that are widely seen as antisemitic.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KASIE HUNT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Over the summer, in an interview, you said, quote, "There's no vaccine that is, you know, safe and effective."
KENNEDY: I never said --
HUNT: So stop me. We have the clip. KENNEDY: No, I would be against mandates at all.
HUNT: For any vaccines?
KENNEDY: For any vaccine.
KENNEDY: I can understand why people were disturbed by those remarks. They certainly weren't antisemitic.
HUNT: They were not?
KENNEDY: No, of course not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: My panel is back with us. Kasie, what's your take away?
HUNT: So when I was looking at this interview, first of all, he is polling in this very significant way, 20 percent something. There are clearly some people that are attracted to his candidacy, obviously, as a very famous name in American politics as well. There are likely some people that are drawn to that.
He has gone into this conspiracy theory space in many ways around antisemitism. I talked to him today about the 2020 election and about January 6, and conspiracy theories that he would not immediately refute about FBI agents and law enforcement being involved. It's a whole universe of things.
And Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has spent a lot of time saying things on podcasts where the audience is more receptive to those things, where he knows he's speaking to people who are sympathetic to the way he views the world. And it's clear if you watch some of the videos, the clips and interviews he's done in more mainstream outlets, that he tries to revise what he says --
HUNT: -- in those platforms and in those forums as he is now trying to appeal to a wider audience and run for president. And I thought it was very important to try to figure out, OK, what does he actually -- what is actually he going to be if he were to be elected president? Is it the guy on the podcast or is it this new version?
And I think it was very clear from the interview that he really does -- he doubled down frankly on all the comments I asked him about that have been problematic or seen as problematic from some of these things. I mean he said you sort of stack them together there, but he claimed that he had not said that no vaccine is safe and effective, when in fact, we were able to show him the video of him saying that on a podcast.
[12:45:14] And he did go on to say, again, that there is no vaccine that is safe and effective. And he also said that there should be no mandates for public school children to get vaccines, any vaccines --
HUNT: -- at all. And he also talked about the comments that he made where he compared the Holocaust to COVID lockdowns.
BASH: OK, I want to play some of that because this was one of the many important parts of your interview.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KENNEDY: Even in Hitler's Germany, you could cross the Alps, Switzerland, you can hide in an attic, like Anne Frank did. Today, the mechanisms are being put in place that will make it so none of us can run and none of us can hide.
HUNT: So your wife Cheryl Hines put out a tweet that called those remarks reprehensible and insensitive. Is she right?
KENNEDY: No, she's not right. But it was something that needed to be said at that time because CNN, particularly Jake Tapper, I know is very, very closely to you, took those remarks and misinterpreted, mischaracterized. I mean --
HUNT: Well, I mean --
KENNEDY: -- you put it up there --
HUNT: -- it looks like you are comparing it -- you're comparing COVID to what happened in Hitler's Germany --
KENNEDY: No, I never did that.
HUNT: -- during Holocaust.
KENNEDY: You show the whole clip. That's not what I --
HUNT: Let's --play that again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: And he said, no, we don't have to play it again. I just want to say for the record that Jake didn't misinterpret or mischaracterize what RFK Jr. said. He said what he said, and we just played it and you were willing to play it again for him. And it's -- it is a consistent point of view, when you look at conspiracies, because antisemitism is the oldest conspiracy of civilization. It goes back thousands and thousands of years.
HUNT: Yes, it does. And it comes out in many, frankly, grotesque ways. And it is a touchstone for many of the people who are kind of swept up in a universe that often incorporates a number of these conspiracy theories. And I just will note, if you go on to -- listen to more, I pressed him and said, you know, is this something that you would say again, and he basically said, yes.
BASH: Yes. Jackie, it just seems as though people who are drawn to conspiracy theories, drawn to the anti-vax, antisemitism, anti a lot of things are not going to care whether he was consistent or not. And that is part of what is so, frankly, alarming about our political discourse right now.
JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It is, and that -- but that is only -- that's a small, relatively group of people. I think what -- more so, once voters who gets to know him a little bit better, there are people who are -- who want to support him because of his famous name. But --
HUNT: I would say they're Kennedy curious.
KUCINICH: But -- yes, they're Kennedy curious, exactly. And -- but they don't know all the ins and outs and he has done a good job in some ways of papering over some of these things that he has made a career out of what he said, tying -- incorrectly tying vaccines --
KUCINICH: -- to autism. He had -- that has been -- he's clear.
BASH: That's sure.
KUCINICH: So he's trying --
BASH: Before he ran for office.
KUCINICH: Before he ran for office.
KUCINICH: So he's trying to paper over this. We'll see how long that lasts when the other candidates, mainly for President Trump, and President Biden start seeing him eat into their totals.
BASH: We're going to have to leave it there. Thank you. Thank you for bringing us --
HUNT: Thanks very much for showing up --
BASH: -- and for being a dogged reporter as you always are.
HUNT: I appreciate it.
BASH: Up next, Melania Trump makes a rare public appearance to swear in 25 New American citizens.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MELANIA TRUMP, FORMER FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: Be proud of yourself. Stand your ground and embrace the opportunities that lie ahead. You are American. Congratulations again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: This morning, former First Lady Melania Trump swore in 25 people from 25 countries to become new American citizens and did it at the National Archives. It's a ceremony she knows well having gone through the same process herself when she became a U.S. citizen in 2006. Today was a rare public appearance for the former first lady.
CNNs Kristen Holmes is here with me. Kristen?
KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it was very interesting -- hold on, I can't hear myself so I'm just going to take that out. So she was personally invited to do this event by the new archivist at the National Archives Colleen Shogan, who used to work at the White House Historical Society. She became friends -- they became friends when Melania Trump was in the White House. They worked on a series of events together.
But what's most striking about this event really goes to the heart of Donald Trump's current campaign is which is hear him almost every time he's out there talking about pledging that if he was reelected to office, he would expand on those hardline immigration policies and that includes making it harder to become a U.S. citizen.
I want you to listen to what she said about this during the event.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: My personal experience of traversing the challenges of the immigration process opened my eyes to the harsh realities people face including you who to try to become U.S. citizens.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOLMES: And one thing to notice that I have just started covering Melania Trump. I have been covering Trump for a long time. But I did speak to our former colleague and friend Kate Bennett, who wrote a book on this and she did remind me that Melania Trump is often out of step with her husband when her husband --
BASH: Intentionally so.
HOLMES: Intentionally so, yes. And when her husband was talking about the border and his child separation policies, she was going down to the border. She issued a statement supporting LeBron James after Trump attacked LeBron James. So she's often again out of step.
But the other part of this that as ironic is the fact that the archives are really the reason behind why Trump was indicted in one of these special counsel probes. They asked the Justice Department to investigate Donald Trump's handling of classified documents or presidential documents after he left office, which led to the investigation, which led to an indictment and charges with a trial set in May. So just the location itself speaks virally. And then of course, you add the component about immigration.
BASH: Yes. I mean, it's a wonderful moment to see anybody who has wanted to be a U.S. citizen --
HOLMES: Of course.
BASH: -- and become a U.S. citizen in the fact that she participated. And she hasn't been out --
BASH: -- in a very long time. Certainly not on the campaign trail is interesting.
Thanks. Good to see you, Kristen.
Thank you for joining INSIDE POLITICS today. "CNN NEWS CENTRAL" starts after the break.