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Inside Politics

Trump Dominates National And Early-State GOP Primary Polls; New Poll: Haley Gains Momentum In New Hampshire Primary; Trump's Immigration Rhetoric Draws Comparisons To Nazi Germany; Trump: Migrants Are "Poisoning The Blood Of Our Country"; New poll: Haley Trails Trump By 15 Points In New Hampshire; Polls Show Trump On Top In Final Push To Iowa Caucuses; Schumer Kept Senate In Session This Week To Work On Deal; White House Senate Race To Reach A Border Deal Before Holidays. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired December 18, 2023 - 12:00   ET



JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: Today on Inside Politics, new poll show Donald Trump hanging on to his commanding leads in the GOP primary. His rivals are running out of time to catch up, but one of them is starting to see a narrow path to a major upset.

Let's make a deal. Senators are racing to find a way forward on new border security measures. President Biden is facing pressure on one of the toughest to solve problems in American politics. And Democrats have never been this nervous about Biden's chances in 2024. We'll ask the pollster who helped elect Bill Clinton. What the Biden campaign could be doing differently?

I'm Jim Acosta in for Dana Bash. Let's go behind the headlines in Inside Politics.

Four weeks from today, the first Republican voters will make their voices heard. The Iowa caucuses are just 28 days away. The New Hampshire primary comes a week after that, most of the major candidates where Chris crossing those states this weekend and are back at it today.

The ones not named Donald Trump still desperately hoping that a surprise finish in one of those states could stop the front runners march to the nomination. We got a lot of new polls this weekend. That will tell us what the challenges are for some of these GOP rivals.

CNN senior data reporter Harry Enten has been poring over all of the numbers. Harry, what are you seeing right now?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: I mean, Jim, you know, let's start nationally. We had a new Fox News poll that came out and it's the same old song. Donald Trump way out ahead. Look at this. He's at 69 percent. Ron DeSantis is the closest package. Well, that's a nearly 60-point margin. It's one of Donald Trump's best polls nationally that we've seen throughout this entire campaign. Nikki Haley package is 9 percent. Go to Iowa. You know, you mentioned we're just four weeks away. Again, the same old song. Look at this top choices for GOP nominee. Donald Trump well out ahead at 58 percent. Ron DeSantis in second place just to 22 percent nearly 40 points behind the leader. Nikki Haley, way back at just 13 percent and then Ramaswamy and Christie four and three percent, rounding out the top five. But that's Iowa and that is nationally.

Here is where the interesting numbers come into play. Let's take a look at New Hampshire. These are the top choices for the GOP nominee. Take a look here. This is CBS News/YouGov. Back in September, Donald Trump was at 50 percent. Look at where he is today. He's at 44 percent. The big number here though is Nikki Haley.

Look at where she was in September at just 11 percent. Now she's at 29 percent. Just 15 points behind the leader. And I will note that that 29 percent is the best percentage for a non-Trump candidate anywhere, anywhere New Hampshire, Iowa, national anywhere since June.

Here's the other key nugget I will point out here. Look who's in fourth place. Chris Christie at 10 percent. Why do I point out Chris Christie, obviously he staked his campaign on New Hampshire, but it's more than that. Because Nikki Haley wants to know whether or not she can in fact close that 15-point gap.

Now I want you to take a look back at our last poll that was conducted by UNH-CNN poll. That's not the CBS News/YouGov poll that came out yesterday. But I still think it's instructive. Because take a look at the second choice for Christie voters. Overwhelmingly, they say Nikki Haley.

Look at that gets the majority of them at 53 percent. Donald Trump just gets 11 percent of them. So, if Chris Christie for whatever reason decided to exit this race, this gap that Hailey has been able to close with Trump could in fact, close even more. Now. Here's I think the question. Why is it that Nikki Haley is doing much better in New Hampshire than she's doing in Iowa or nationally.

And this is why moderate share of the GOP electorate. Keep in mind this is the group that Donald Trump does worse with. It's the group that Nikki Haley does best with. Look at how much the share that moderates make up at the New Hampshire. GOP primary electorate 36 percent, nationally it's just 27 percent and in an Iowa it's just 17 percent.

So, I think one of the big questions, Jim, going forward in New Hampshire is those independent voters who can in fact vote in New Hampshire primaries, and of course made a big difference back in 2000 when John McCain crushed George W. Bush by a much wider than expected margin.

Do more of those independent voters. Those voters who may be more moderate decide in fact to vote in that Republican primary. If they do, they can be very beneficial to Nikki Haley. And in fact, to close that gap even more. But at this point, Jim, look, Iowa Donald Trump's running away with it, national Donald Trump's running away with it, but in New Hampshire Nikki Haley at this particular point is keeping Donald Trump under 50 percent and has an actual pathway to victory.


ACOSTA: All right, Harry Enten, some pretty daunting numbers for the other non-Trump candidates. Harry, thank you very much. Donald Trump, speaking of him spent this weekend campaigning and two of the first states to vote New Hampshire and Nevada. His rallies were typically Trumpian. And including comments about migrants that are drawing comparisons to rhetoric out of Nazi Germany.


DONALD TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT: They're poisoning the blood of our country. That's what they've done. They poison mental institutions and prisons all over the world, not just in South America, not just the three or four countries that we think about. But all over the world, they're coming into our country from Africa, from Asia, all over the world, they're pouring into our country.


ACOSTA: That wasn't the first time Trump has used language like that. Yesterday in Nevada, he promised a massive deportation operation.


TRUMP: It is only common sense that when I'm reelected, we will begin. And we have no choice, the largest deportation operation in America. We must use any and all resources needed to stop the invasion of our country, including moving thousands of troops currently stationed overseas in countries that don't like us.


ACOSTA: Trump also sing the praises of Kim Jeong Hoon and cited a quote from Vladimir Putin approvingly about the rottenness of American democracy. I want to bring in our panel on this. Happy holidays, guys, by the way. We have CNN's David Chalian, NPR's Ayesha Rascoe, and The Washington Post Marianne LeVine.

David, this is some dark stuff out on the campaign trail. We've never seen anything like this. This close to the Iowa caucuses, I suppose, you know, Trump was striking a lot of these themes back in 2015 and 2016. But it just feels a little darker, a little more apocalyptic this time. Is this what the base wants to hear? And if that's the case, going back to Harry Enten and the numbers that we heard earlier. Do these other non-Trump candidates really have a chance at this point?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, nobody's actually voted yet. So, we should probably wait for that to happen before we rule out anybody having chances at anything. But he's clearly a dominant frontrunner. There's no doubt about that. So obviously, what he's selling is having appeal. And you're right to note that it is a darker tone, perhaps even than the 2015, '16 campaign, though, there are a lot of similar themes. And I think what is clear here when you observe Donald Trump on the campaign trail. And what he's putting forth right now to voters, nobody will be surprised. Should he win the presidency again? What he's going to enact? He's not hiding the ball in any way. He is very clearly stating exactly what he tends to do, what his priorities are. His leanings away from democracy. That is all out for the voters to assess.

And so, if indeed, with all that information, Republicans in the Republican Party nominate him and then the country election next November, perhaps which he's in a very competitive general election right now with Joe Biden. They know what they're going to get.

ACOSTA: And are you sure? I mean, one of the things that we saw this weekend was really -- you know, some of these non-Trump candidates going after one another, more so than they're going after Donald Trump. Chris Christie accused Nikki Haley of enabling Trump. Let's listen to a bit of that.


CHRIS CHRISTIE (R) 2024 GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Nikki Haley, who this week said he is fit to be president. You're telling me that someone who says that immigrants are poisoning the blood of this country, someone who says Vladimir Putin is a character witness. He's fit to be president United States, was the right president at the right time, Nikki Haley should be ashamed of herself and she's part of the problem because she's enabling him.


ACOSTA: You already make of that?

AYESHA RASCOE, NPR HOST, "WEEKEND EDITION SUNDAY" AND "UP FIRST": Well, I mean, this has always been the thing that benefits Trump is that if everyone coalesced -- if all the non-Trump, but you know, candidates coalesced and said, we are going to have one person and we're going to try to beat them. Maybe they could put up a fight.

But you know, as long as they're divided like this, he can just kind of dominate the field, and he has. And the fact is, you know, I talked to experts who say that this is very authoritarian language, and that we should be very clear about that.

This isn't about Republican versus Democrat. This is about an authoritarian form of government versus democracy. But I mean, the concern is that maybe there are a lot of people in the base of the Republican base who don't mind if democracy is chipped away at. If they feel like the right people are going to be heard or the right people are going to face the wrath of Trump. They seem to be fine with this.


ACOSTA: Yeah. And Marianne, I mean, getting back to Nikki Haley, you know, that poll that Harry was showing us from CBS News that shows that she's really gained on Trump in the state of New Hampshire. You know we're showing it on screen right now. I mean it's difficult to say well she has a path to the nomination at this point. It's more of a backwoods trail that circles back maybe to the same log cabin in New Hampshire.

But you know, we're showing it on screen right now. I mean, it's difficult to say, well, she has a path to the nomination at this point. It's more of a backwoods trail that circles back maybe to the same log cabin in New Hampshire. But, you know, there's a chance something's happening in New Hampshire, what's going on?

MARIANNE LEVINE, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: I mean, it seems like Haley is appealing to an independent faction of the population in New Hampshire. And it seems like, you know, she's obviously gotten the endorsement of Governor Chris Sununu, which is a big win for her. But Nikki Haley needs a lot of things to happen for her to win New Hampshire.

She probably needs Chris Christie to drop out. She needs to consolidate more voters and she probably does need to attract some Trump voters to her. And I think that's going to be challenging. And, of course, the question is, if she does do well in New Hampshire, where does she go from there? The next state is South Carolina. And she is former governor of that state.

ACOSTA: Is she going to beat Trump in South Carolina?

LEVINE: I mean, it's hard. It seems like Trump is very much in the lead there. He has the endorsement of H.R. McMaster, the governor there. And so, even if she does do well in New Hampshire, the question is, what is her path ahead?

ACOSTA: Yeah. Go ahead.

LEVINE: So, we talk about a President McCain for a reason, like he was able to do very well in New Hampshire. But at you know, it didn't mean anything in the end.

ACOSTA: I remember when he made that comeback in New Hampshire. And I'm sure David Chalian does well. David, let me ask you this because -- you know, Nikki Haley has been sort of tiptoeing through the Trump tulips a little bit. She was sort of having and hang around some questions about Donald Trump this week. And let's play a little bit of that and talk about on the other side.


NIKKI HALEY (R) 2024 GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When President Trump had the opportunity to stop it? When he had the opportunity to say it, the bully pulpit matters, people listen, he did. And I hate that for the people that were there supporting him. I hate that for those of us that were watching it. But what I do know is he was the right president at the right time.


ACOSTA: So, she was questioning his actions around January 6 -- on January 6, but at the very end of that comment, she praises Trump.

CHALIAN: Yeah. I mean, in large part and we've seen this from -- I think nearly every Republican candidate not named Chris Christie or Asa Hutchinson in this race. The calculation that they're making is that Republican voters in all these surveys, Jim, constantly say, even those that are supporting candidates not named Trump, they don't want to hear a lot of hating on Donald Trump. He's still a supremely popular figure inside the Republican Party.

And so obviously, Chris Christie has made a different calculation here to run completely against it. But and you heard him, you know, sort of go after Haley for this tiptoeing around the Trump issue. You would noted Nikki Haley may need Chris Christie to drop out in order to actually propel more in New Hampshire. That's certainly true in the numbers.

But I would argue even the notion of consolidation is hard to get behind. Because when you look at -- second, if you support Ron DeSantis, a lot of people whose second choice if you're Ron DeSantis supporter is Donald Trump.

ACOSTA: Let's look at the some of the numbers here. We can put some of this on screen and talk about this, David. You're absolutely right about this. I mean, New Hampshire might be the exception to the rule. If we add up all the non-Trump candidates, you're right around maybe 50-50 with Donald Trump, that is not the case in these other states.

And David, I mean, Ron DeSantis just seems to have one problem after another. We saw Jeff Rowe over at the Super PAC bowing out over the weekend. I mean, it just seems to be a drip, drip, drip, more bad news for Ron DeSantis. And you just have to wonder at some point, you know, do they have to have this kind of conversation in some of these other campaigns that are not named Donald Trump and Nikki Haley?

CHALIAN: It's hard to imagine what in the next four weeks before voters weigh in would cause a candidate at this point to get out other than money dries up and they don't have the ability to move around. And I don't see that happening with the remaining candidates necessarily. But I do think your point, though, about Ron DeSantis's Super PAC and his campaign. This has now been the story of the DeSantis operation in 2023. Over some of his campaign and then into the fall with the Super PAC, it's just been inside turmoil in these organizations.

ACOSTA: Yeah. Marianne, I mean, Ron DeSantis at one point was supposed to be the main non-Trump rival and it just hasn't happened.

LEVINE: Yeah. I mean, I think one thing that DeSantis bet on was that the party was willing to move on from Trump and that he could take on this mantle of being the next generation of Trump. But I mean, the challenge he and frankly, all the other candidates have faced is that when Trump is actually in the race, it's much harder to take on the mantle when the original guys there.

And so that speaks to some of the issues that he is having. But certainly, the drama with the Super PAC and the fact that his allies created another Super PAC has significant -- has definitely distracted from his campaign in Iowa and other states.


ACOSTA: Yeah. And we're looking at Ron DeSantis. Right now, he's doing some campaigning in Iowa. And David, you and I've been around long enough to have seen candidates at the very end of these Iowa caucuses. I mean just sort of creep up out of nowhere Rick Santorum back in 2016, I mean -- or 2012, 2012 it was, in 2016 it was Ted Cruz. So, I mean, stranger things have happened as to your point earlier. We have to see them cast some votes and caucus before we make some final conclusions here.

A great discussion guys. We'll have more just a moment. Coming up. Well, the Senate see a Christmas miracle this week. That may be what it takes to cut a deal on border security. We'll talk about just a few moments. How close are they. That's next.


ACOSTA: Right now, lawmakers are racing to push through a critical aid package before they leave for the holidays and negotiators tried and failed again to reach a border security deal over the weekend. CNN's Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill with the latest.


MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Jim, the prospects on Capitol Hill of getting an immigration deal passed in the United States Senate by the end of this week are growing increasingly grim. Even though negotiators work through the weekend, a handful of Democrats -- handful of the senators.

You had Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who's an independent, Senator Chris Murphy, who's a Democrat, Senator James Lankford, who's a Republican had played along with the administration tried to hammer out a deal for more restrictive policies at the border, dealing with the influx of migrants, coming in from the southern border.

But this is a complicated negotiation. Just on the policy but also in trying to get members on board behind any sort of deal that can be reached in an already fresh warnings from some Republicans, including the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee that he is saying that he will not be jammed by these negotiations and is demanding this get punt until January.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): The bottom line here is, we feel like we're being jammed. We're not anywhere close to deal. It will go into next year.


RAJU: And Lindsey Graham is not alone. In fact, he joined a group of 15 Republican senators who are calling for these talks to be extended until January. They say at that point, the House will be back in session. And they can have more discussions in the weeks ahead. But there's also the problems of the actual mechanics, the process of putting together a bill.

Even if a deal was reached in principle among these handful of negotiators. They got to turn it into legislative tags, and they have to circulate it between the House and the Senate get enough buy in. And you've already seen pushback from a number of members. Some people on the left believe the president is giving far too much to more restrictive border policies, including expulsion of migrants more than detention facilities as well as a changes to asylum rules.

And then there are folks on the right who believe that they want to stick to the hardline position that came out of the GOP House earlier this year. So, it is going to be difficult to pass anything, but the first order of business is trying to get a deal among the negotiators. That deal so far is elusive. Jim?

ACOSTA: Thank you. Manu. I want to bring back our political panel on all of this. CNN's MJ Lee joins us at the table. MJ what is happening inside the White House? How involved is the president's team in these negotiations? Because I mean, as much as we've talked about aid to Israel, aid to Ukraine.

It really seems like all of this is coming down to boiling down to can they find some sort of compromise on the one issue that has been just so difficult to find a compromise on for years now here in Washington, border security.

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. I mean, I think the White House and President Biden certainly they have felt increasing pressure to get more involved to show that they're more involved to get some kind of deal through, particularly because they have talked for so long about how much they need this Ukraine aid.

You saw that last week with President Zelenskyy visiting Washington, D.C. I mean, I think what is so telling from the last couple of days is the real sense of -- you know, optimism, if you can call it that any sort of real urgency, you're really seeing come from the Democrats rather than the Republicans or Republicans for the most part have been saying, you know, we're OK, leaving town. We're going to go -- you know, continue on with our holiday plans. Let's resume this when we come back in January.

And I think in some ways that's really revealing about which party almost need this more right now. I mean, the Democrats, they very much recognize that the border is a problem. The issue is that some of these policies that they are considering and talking about, they're quite unpalatable politically up, particularly the ones that sort of, you know, resemble some of these former Trump era policies. So, I think the juggling act for Democrats right now is that they sort of want the thing that they publicly say or have said, they're not for.

ACOSTA: Yeah. And there was talk coming out of the White House that the president was open to some significant compromises. I think that was some of the language surrounding this on the border issue that did not come to pass before lawmakers left town. Ayesha, but to what MJ was saying a few moments ago, it sounds almost as though Republicans would rather have an issue to run on in the upcoming campaign cycle rather than get together with Democrats will find some sort of compromise.

RASCOE: I mean, if you have to look at Congress. if Congress has the option of punting something down the road, I would bet they're probably going to put it down the road. And like the fact is, like this for Republicans, they really are not pressed because they can use the border, it's a very effective issue to beat Biden over the head with -- you know, to use little phrase, right?

And so as long as they can do that, why give him this deal when they can run and say, look, everything is out of control, vote for Republicans. It's an election year coming up. That is always going to be on their minds and like, why give Biden a win? What's in it for them?

CHALIAN: And I think the politics of this are so fascinating because it's not clear that it would instantly hit Biden a winner. It's a win perhaps in the fall, right? So, when Biden said his lowest approval ratings now, right, he's got some of his lowest poll numbers that we've seen to date. This issue particularly is one of his worst.


So, what is a mission critical? If you're a politician with very low poll numbers, your first order of business is to rally your own natural allies back to your cause. So, the pieces of his coalition that have drifted away, he would want to bring back right now and that would give a little bit of a boost to his numbers in this moment in time. And the campaign would hope and the narrative right now that he's in this disastrous spiral but here's the reality.

Those natural allies are not interested in this deal. And so, what is really -- what this deal would do potentially is give him a win, but a win to woo independents or some other folks that he needs come the general election in the fall, not necessarily the base of Democrats, which are the people right now that could boost his numbers most easily. In the short term. It's a weird, diametrically opposed imperative in front of the president.

ACOSTA: Yeah. And David, let's run through some of those numbers you just mentioned. I mean, here's a Monmouth poll that just came out. Take a look at some of these numbers. We can put it up on screen. It's pretty remarkable. If you look at Biden policy approval on infrastructure, jobs, climate change, inflation, all of that, not that great, inflation below 30 percent. But immigration, look at that at the bottom 26 percent approved, 69 percent disapprove.

David, it is difficult to get things done when you're the president when you have those kinds of approval numbers. And you have Republicans who look at those numbers and say, OK, yeah, this works well for us. But here's a question I have, David, and that is you and I know, presidents have come, and presidents have gone. Who have gone after do nothing, Congress's do nothing, Houses and so on. Why hasn't the president adopted that tactic? When you have lawmakers in the House leaving town before the holidays without working out a deal?

CHALIAN: He has at times in his presidency actually tried to employ that. Why he's not doing that right now? I'm not sure that it's going to fall on listening years at the moment. I mean, what the president and his team are encountering right now is a country broadly disenchanted with Biden's leadership, largely due to inflation but then add in this conversation around his weakest issue to date.

The burden is more on Biden -- just in a similar way that he is unsuccessfully trying to sell by Bidenomics and that people aren't hearing that right now. Because they're not necessarily feeling it. Here, too. I'm not sure do nothing. Congress is going to take him out of this moment and bring him to the promised land.

LEE: And I think one of the things that -- one of the reasons that the immigration issue is so challenging to state the obvious for Democrats in this White House is that, it's so visually evocative, right? I mean, you have the scenes of migrants that are going through these dire circumstances, to get to the border -- to cross the border. And I think Democrats very much recognize that I think we've seen over the last year or so how incredibly challenging this issue has been for this White House.

I mean, you look at, you know, Title 42, as such a great example of a piece of policy that Democrats for so long had said was inhumane. I didn't treat people well. It was something that they detested and was completely, you know, a Trump era policy. But then when the time came for that policy to expire, you saw what a difficult time Democrats had with -- you know, confronting the reality that it was going to expire because they had become dependent on that kind of policy to keep things under control.

So now, when you have this influx of migrants, they do need something. But what they want to maintain is this idea that they are the party that supports humane policies that they are compassionate. But I think getting to those policies is sort of like the existential question that is so, so challenging for Democrats.

ACOSTA: And Ayesha, I mean, Biden is feeling pressure from the left as well. Let's listen to Congresswoman Jayapal on this.


REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-WA): We have to put together a coalition that is the same coalition we delivered in 2020 for him to win the White House, for us to win the Senate and for us to take back the House. And that coalition involves a lot of young voters, it involves a lot of immigrant voters involves a lot of folks of color, and this issue of immigration is critically important to them.



RASCOE: Well, and that's the problem that he faces, right. Because that dissatisfaction when it comes to immigration, it's not just coming from moderates, it's going to come from the left who feel like that Biden has been too accommodating of the right and has been ---

ACOSTA: They don't want to go back to those Trump's policy.

RASCOE: Yeah. And it has been too harsh. But then he's also dealing with an influx of migrants coming into the country and trying to figure out what to do with it. So that's the juggling act that he's trying to do and it's not really working for him.

ACOSTA: Yeah. All right. Up next, we're going to be talking about somebody who might be able to help the White House with some tips on all of this. This is grim. That is what one top Democratic pollster says about the numbers he sings for President Biden. So how could president turn things around? That's next.