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DeSantis: Trump Indictments "Distorted" GOP Primary; Source: Average Of 9,600 Migrants Arrested At Border Every Day; Voters Remain Dissatisfied With Biden's Handling Economy; Biden Campaign To Focus On Democracy, Threat Of Trump. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired December 22, 2023 - 12:30   ET



MOLLY BALL, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: It's because the candidates who are ostensibly running against him have not used that as an occasion to make the case that they are disqualifying or that they represent some kind of reason that he might be a risky bet for the nomination.

But look, I mean, I thought Amy's analysis was spot on, but one thing that was kind of interesting was that it wasn't ideological, right? Trump represents an axis in this primary that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the level of conservatism that voters see themselves as having.

And that is another place where we've seen DeSantis and Haley make different bets, make different critiques of Trump and therefore appeal to different constituencies within the Republican Party that just as Amy was saying, may not be compatible, may not want to be in a room with one another, may not be amenable to this splitting of the difference.

So, you know, you have Haley who is appealed to more moderate to liberal Republican voters potentially political independence, which is a big voting bloc in New Hampshire and a big reason that she has a chance to do well there. You don't get those people in an Iowa or a South Carolina.

And that's part of the reason that DeSantis has instead run to the right, run to Trump's right, making the critique of Trump not a characterological critique like Haley has made, that it's about chaos and divisiveness and discourse, but instead saying that he didn't go far enough and he wasn't effective enough at pursuing these sort of very conservative policies.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: Astead, these are two candidates fighting to be number two that seem to be in different trajectories at the moment, and I think there's no question, there's been a rise with Nikki Haley. She got the endorsement in New Hampshire of the very popular governor, Chris Sununu, who keeps saying this is a two person race.

Chris Christie's in the race in New Hampshire, and he's polling. Like, he's got numbers. Does he have to get out for Nikki Haley to really have a chance in New Hampshire?

ASTEAD HERNDON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You would think so. And I think that's why you're seeing increasing calls for people on that front. I mean, if this is going to happen for Nikki Haley in New Hampshire, a couple things probably have to break her way. One, being Chris Christie kind of consolidating support or at least trying to get out the race.

The other, I would say, is she probably needs to finish above Ron DeSantis in Iowa, which is not something that looks really clear either. I think that the two person race argument that Governor Sununu is making will become more complicated if Ron DeSantis seems like he has consolidated more evangelical support or others in other parts of the country.

That is the argument which DeSantis is trying to make is that his ceiling is higher than hers. The problem is he has not been a candidate to really consolidate much of that support. And so Nikki Haley as an individual candidate has really outperformed him.

But I would actually say, you know, to the point that others have made the well -- the Republican electorate has been poisoned against Nikki Haley for years now. You know, what Donald Trump has done in this party exists outside of ideology to that point. He's really reoriented the focus.

So that a lot of Republican base voters are proud from the way they look different than the Bush years, are proud of the way they've kind of shunned corporations and the kind of kind of war axis that they talk about. And I think that is really what Nikki Haley is up against is a perception that she represents a kind of pre-2016 version of the Republican Party.

So there is ideological policy things that she could do here, but there's a brand that she's up against. And it's really one that Donald Trump imposed on the Republican electorate and base.

MATTINGLY: Yes, trying to get slices of the Republican electorate as part of a coalition to beat Trump is problematic when the coalition is Trump, to some degree coming up.


MATTINGLY: Guys, stay with us. We got a lot more to get into. CNN has brand new statistics about the unprecedented crisis at the southern border. Does the Biden administration have a plan to deal with it? Stay with us.



MATTINGLY: Well it's just in to CNN, new numbers that underscore the southern border is at a breaking point. Federal authorities are arresting an average of 9,600 migrants a day along the border. It's an unprecedented surge. CNN's Priscilla Alvarez is live for us in the North Lawn of the White House. This is her reporting. Priscilla, I think you can lose the thread here if you're just thinking about numbers. They are so large and so unprecedented. But the toll that this is having on people, it's having on resources, how bad is this?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, that's what makes it so difficult, Phil. The authorities are working with an immigration system that is just incredibly dated. And right now, that is trying to absorb record migration in the Western Hemisphere. So, the challenges that the White House faces here are real, and they're not easily solved. And they're both logistical and political.

In fact, a poll recently showed that there are 69 percent of voters disapprove of President Biden's handling of immigration. But what the White House is up against here is those numbers that you just mentioned. An average of 9,600 migrants a day in December. Compare that to November, when numbers were at 6,800.

And at the time, officials were already saying how under strain they were. And what's uniquely challenging about this particular moment is that migrants are crossing across the U.S. southern border. So multiple regions are being slammed. And that just makes it more difficult for the administration to respond and in a quick and an orderly way.

Now, again, the reason that this is happening is because of misinformation spread by smugglers, but also because of unprecedented mass migration across the Western Hemisphere that got even worse after the coronavirus pandemic.


And so the White House is asking Congress to give them more funds for border security, but Republicans in exchange want more border policy changes, more stricter border measures to get those funds to unlock that money. And so all of this is converging in this very difficult moment for the White House on the cusp of a 2024 presidential election, when inevitably immigration is going to be a key issue that Republicans seize on.

And so right now, the challenge for the White House is to try to stem the flow and they're going to start to do that or they're attempting to by sending senior U.S. officials to Mexico next week to work with their Mexican counterparts to try to manage the border as best as they can.

MATTINGLY: Yes. Critical meetings for Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his team. Priscilla Alvarez, thanks so much.

Amy Walter is back with me right now. Amy, on the issue of immigration, look, you can -- you could spend hours tracking back the last several decades of who's to blame and why this is broken and different migration patterns. All of it would be factual. From a purely political context, how much is this going to matter in the months ahead for a general election? AMY WALTER, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, COOK, POLITICAL REPORT: It's absolutely critical and I think your framing of that is right, Phil, which is the bottom line is you could go back 20 years and point fingers at a lot of different politicians and things that have fallen apart. But the reality is, when you're the president, the buck stops with you and your job as president is to solve problems. That's what voters put you there to do.

So, I think beyond the fact that there are real -- there's a real legislative log jam obviously on this issue. What are the sorts of things that the president, the administration can do from an executive perch to make some changes on the border that are not necessarily going to require Congress signing off on either more funding or the kinds of changes to the law.

And I think that's probably where the administration is going to have to spend a great deal of time early in the new year, trying to make those changes and show the American public that they have some control of this.

MATTINGLY: Yes, it's certainly the primary reason that the Secretary of State is heading down to Mexico. I do want to ask, Amy, you -- there are new race ratings from Cook Political Report, which is kind of the gospel for everybody in Washington, shifting two states in the Republican direction from at least where they were. Walk through the why and what this means.

WALTER: Yes, sure. So, Phil, as, you know, there are just a handful of states that are going to be critical in the 2024 election that will determine who the next president United States is and Michigan and Nevada just a little bit to the left in the sense that they've been pretty consistently good for Democrats, with the exception, of course, 2016 in Michigan, 10,000 votes, the difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Donald Trump, of course, winning the state.

But what we've seen in these last couple of weeks here are some really fundamental changes I think that that make it harder to believe that those two states, Democrats should feel as confident in those two states as they might have been earlier in the year.

And I think you've got the war in Gaza. We know Michigan is a state that has the highest number of Arab Americans in terms of population. That is a significant factor in a state where every vote is going to matter. We know the President's low approval ratings. They are across the board.

It's not just in red states or in true purple states, but in even in some Democratic leaning states, like Michigan, where the top candidate for the Senate in that state threading that she will be dragged down in Michigan by the President's low approval rating numbers.

And finally, of course, Nevada big state for Latino voters. Democrats have been draining support or Democrat support from those voters has been drained since 2016 and we're not seeing a bounce back at least nationally from Latino voters to Biden or to Democrats. So all of those factors Phil combined to say, you know what, these belong in the same category as Arizona and Georgia and Wisconsin and Pennsylvania states that Biden carried, but by less than 50 percent of the vote. He did win Michigan and Nevada by 50 percent in the last election.

MATTINGLY: Yes. And you would think after 2022, Michigan was starting to move completely away back into the blue wall firmly and it just, you know, you make a great point. Read the Cook Political Report, yours and Dave Wasserman and Jessica Taylor's questions to -- that you have for 2024 is most excellent.

Amy Walter, appreciate it. Thank you.

WALTER: Thank you.


MATTINGLY: And next with 10 months to go, what does the Biden campaign need to do that it isn't already? We're going to ask veterans of the Clinton and Obama White House. Stay with us.


MATTINGLY: Well, today, there are more signs of an economy that's strong and actually getting stronger. An important measure of inflation fell last month. I'm not going to bore you with the technical aspects. I would love to actually bore you with the technical aspects, but they won't let me.


But this report the Fed looks at very, very closely. It is a critical report. It also comes at the same time consumer confidence is up. The University of Michigan found the consumer sentiment is up nearly 14 percent from November. And yet there's always the but, every poll out there shows voters aren't giving Biden credit for any of this.

President Biden doesn't seem to be getting credit for any of it all. Six in 10 disapprove of how he handles the economy. So why is there a disconnect? It is the critical question and one that certainly will define the year ahead.

To discuss, I'm joined by Democratic Strategist Paul Begala, who's a White House adviser to President Clinton, and Sarah Feinberg, an alumna from the Obama White House. You guys have know a thing or two about being in an administration, being in an administration that's running for re-election.

Paul, I want to start with what we've been seeing. This isn't happening in isolation. This is day after day of positive economic news. It seems to be getting at some of the most critical difficulties on the economy, the Biden administration has been facing, and yet not getting credit. Why is that?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Because he's not doing it right. He's bragging when he should be bashing. You know, when two- thirds of Americans think you're moving in the wrong direction, they're not in the mood to vote saying, thank you. They're in a mood to say, screw you.

And he needs to introduce a threat. This is something President Clinton did. He said that Dole and Gingrich, Dole, Gingrich, he called them every day, were a threat to Medicare, Medicaid, education, environment. Every day. I still remember that mnemonic, MMEE, Medicare, Medicaid, education, environment.

He needs to say Trump is a threat. He's a threat to your job, your healthcare, your social security, your abortion rights, your constitution. Instead, he's saying, I did a great job, didn't I? Give me a gold star. It's a completely wrong approach. He has got to be fighting, and he's got to introduce an element of threat to his -- and that's how he'll get credit for his accomplishments if it's -- what economists call loss aversion. If you say you could lose this, people all of a sudden say, well, I kind of like it.

MATTINGLY: But I think it's such a fascinating point because I also think this is a debate inside the White House and I think to some degree I've heard the President's sides with Paul on some of these issues.

Sarah, you know, it seems like they're trying to do all of it. Is there a way to thread this needle to kind of get at what Paul's doing if you're on the campaign trail?

SARAH FEINBERG, FORMER OBAMA WHITE HOUSE AIDE: Yes, and I think part of the problem is trying to do all of it, right? I think we need to see a little bit more discipline about messaging. So, you know, let's stop looking in the rearview mirror. Look at everything I've done. Look forward and say, you know what? The economy is improving. All the numbers are great, but I'm not going to talk to you about that because that doesn't mean anything to you.

What I'm going to talk to you about is how I'm going to continue to improve things. Some real like meat on the bones about how he's going to improve Americans lives. What he's going to do about health care costs. So not, they're just going to take your Obamacare and your healthcare, but, like, I know you want it, I get it, and here's how we're going to make it better. Like, give them something to look forward to.

MATTINGLY: Paul, on the issue of democracy, obviously, this is kind of the animating feature of President Biden's 2020 campaign, of his presidency, he's still very keen to talk about it now. Some Democrats say don't focus entirely on that. Where do you think that lands in the scheme of what you should be talking about right now?

BEGALA: I think it's vitally important. But it's part and parcel with the economic threat, the abortion rights threat, and the democracy threat. You know, I think Democrats have a much better midterm than they would have otherwise because President Biden and Vice President Harris got out there and raised the stakes on the democracy.

But it's a pretty simple formula, Phil. And they got to do seven things. And here's a mnemonic. I put them in alphabetical order so they can remember it. Attack, attack, attack, attack, attack, attack, attack. That's it.

MATTINGLY: That's helpful. That was clarity. But to that point, Sarah, one of the things that I've been trying to think, you see when Trump talks about repealing Obamacare, going back to that, which is a massive political loser for Republicans in 2018. And you see him, just a couple of days ago, talking to a bunch of very wealthy people and saying I'm going to give you tax cuts.

You know, President Obama just lit up the Romney campaign on the 47 percent comment, on things like that. And I think the question is, do those things still resonate and matter in a political environment where Trump exists?

FEINBERG: I think they still matter, but you got to shine a bright light on it. I mean, to Paul's point, you know, you can't talk about everything under the sun. You got to pick and choose what you're going to talk about, and you got to shine a bright light on it so that if there's one thing Americans are clear on going into the next 10 months, it's, that guy's going to give more money to the wealthy, that guy's going to take away my healthcare, the other guy, the guy in the White House right now is going to improve my healthcare.

He's going to make people pay their fair share. People aren't going to get away with not paying taxes anymore. You know, I'm paying, why isn't anybody else paying? Like you got to be, you know, we've heard this over and over again. Repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat.


People start to remember it after seven times, seven -- 30 times, I mean, you got to just keep going.

MATTINGLY: Yes. Paul seems to have the repetitive part. And real quick, a very quick answer from both of you. We only got about a minute left. Is the Biden campaign capable of turning their numbers around in the next 11 months?

FEINBERG: Oh, 100 percent.

BEGALA: Oh yes.

FEINBERG: Absolutely.

BEGALA: Oh yes.

MATTINGLY: All right. That was -- there is agreement. It's a long road to go but --

BEGALA: If they listen to Sarah Feinberg, they will. They should listen to Sarah. She's right about it.

MATTINGLY: And apparently if they, just let me check my notes real quick, Paul, attack I think is what also they need to do.

Sarah Feinberg --

BEGALA: You got it.

MATTINGLY: -- Paul Begala, as always --

BEGALA: That's all I want for Christmas is a vicious negative campaign against Donald Trump. That's all I want.

MATTINGLY: I think knowing their team, they're capable of it. That's for sure. Paul, Sarah, thanks guys. Have a wonderful Christmas.

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