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Inside Politics

Trump, DeSantis, Haley Qualify For CNN's GOP Debate In Iowa; DeSantis, Haley Pummel Each Other While Trump Dominates The Field; Ramaswamy, Christie Fail To Meet Requirements For CNN Debate; Trump Earning Endorsements From Previously Neutral GOP Lawmakers; Former Trump Adviser: Haley Must Be Rejected As VP Candidate; Today: Trump Expected To Appeal Co & Maine Ballot Removals; Rep. Raskin: Trump's Immunity Claim Is Un-American; Biden Campaign Plots 2024 Strategy Focused On Contrast With Trump. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired January 02, 2024 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Today on Inside Politics, campaign crunch time. 2024 is here and the first presidential votes are 13 days away. Donald Trump's rivals are ratcheting up their attacks on each other, hoping to be the last Republican standing to take him on.

Plus, fighting back. Any moment now Donald Trump is expected to appeal two decisions that kicked him off the ballots in Colorado and Maine. The Supreme Court will likely have the final word. And less about Biden, more about Trump. Sources tell CNN that's President Biden's reelection strategy. And we're going to bring you brand new reporting from inside the campaign.

I'm Dana Bash. Let's go behind the headlines at Inside Politics.

We start today with breaking news on who qualified for CNN's Iowa debate next week, the last before the caucuses. The deadline to meet the polling threshold just passed. And our Political Director David Chalian joins me now. David, who made the cut?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well Dana, as you noted, the deadline just passed. It actually the window of qualification started way back on October 15. And we now know that for the CNN January 10 debate, the three candidates who have qualified are former President Donald Trump, Nikki Haley, and Ron DeSantis.

We also know that Donald Trump has not participated in any debate yet this cycle, and he doesn't intend on participating at the CNN debate on January 10. That leaves Haley and DeSantis on the stage. And that would be of course, the smallest debate stage that we've seen to date.

That means that they were the only candidates to hit 10 percent support in three polls combination of Iowa polls and national polls. Going back, like I said to October 15, no other candidate hit the 10 percent mark in any single poll of the 15 polls, Dana, that fit into the qualification window. BASH: Very interesting and very exciting. Thank you so much, David Chalian. Appreciate that. And Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis are spending millions in ads to pummel each other right now, rather than attack the guy leading them by more than 30 points in Iowa. That's where CNN's Steve Contorno is in Des Moines, following all the campaign development. Steve?

STEVE CONTORNO, CNN REPORTER: Dana, it's right. If you look at watch TV here over the last several months really, all you will see are ads attacking Ron DeSantis from Nikki Haley side, some from Donald Trump's side and ads attacking Nikki Haley, but you won't see any attacking the frontrunner in this race. And that is because these candidates are exiting 2023, having failed to establish themselves as the sole alternative to Trump.

And now their mission in the final days before the January 15 caucuses to push one of each other out of this race. And if you take a look at these ads that are airing now in Iowa where we received DeSantis and Haley Super PACs going head-to-head over the issue of China.


DeSantis will be in Iowa tomorrow and the days leading up to our Thursday townhall. And he will stay in Iowa all throughout the weekend. Haley meanwhile is in New Hampshire. Her campaign has put a lot more emphasis into that state.

DeSantis really needs to have a strong showing in Iowa to prove that he remains a viable contender going forward. His campaign has put so much time money and energy into this state. It would be very difficult for him to move on from the state if he doesn't finish within striking distance of Donald Trump.

However, Nikki Haley, she just wants to come out of the state, looking like she has some wind at her back. And she has put a lot more effort into New Hampshire where her allies there are now trying to convince Chris Christie to get off -- get out of the race and give her a real chance to surge into Donald Trump's lead there.

BASH: Yeah, they sure are. We're going to talk a little bit more about that later in the show. Thanks for that reporting from Iowa, Steve. Let's bring it here into the studio with our panel of fantastic political reporter CNN's Jeff Zeleny, The Washington Post's Leigh Ann Caldwell and Ramesh Ponnuru of the National Review. Hello, everybody. First, Inside Politics of the new year of 2024. Here we go.


Jeff Zeleny, you've been out in Iowa a lot. What do you make of the fact that -- just kind of as we just laid out the two who are kind of right under Donald Trump are still mostly going after each other and not the guy who's so far ahead?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Because the guy who's so far ahead has a core base of supporters and no TV ad or no new argument is going to pry most of those supporters away. But the available voters are the people who have made the decision to move on from Trump.

They believe it's a good idea to have a new face of the Republican Party. And those are largely people who were either still open minded but looking at Nikki Haley or Ron DeSantis. So, this race for second place is actually really fascinating. It has so many layers to it.

A couple of things that I'm watching as we head out to back to Iowa later this week, tomorrow. In fact, Nikki Haley, she's starting off much later in terms of organization and ground game. But a couple of voters I was texting with over the holidays, they are still trying to decide between Haley or DeSantis. That's what these commercials are designed to do, mentioning China, mentioning this or that.

So that's why Trump is sort of getting a free pass if you will. So, it's sort of been this just the snowball effect of Trump is in a race all to himself and Haley and DeSantis are in this fight for second place. But you know, they're not able to affect the probable frontrunner.

BASH: And as we just heard from Steve, and we've been talking about every day on this show. Nikki Haley is playing. I mean, not that Ron DeSantis isn't playing in New Hampshire. But Nikki Haley sees a much better path for herself in New Hampshire than she does in Iowa, which means that Iowa is even more important for Ron DeSantis. I don't want to say Iowa robust, but it's pretty close for DeSantis.

I want you to listen to what one of his final arguments -- closing arguments is on TV in an ad.


I mean, that could very well be a Donald Trump ad. The messages are identical.

RAMESH PONNURU, EDITOR, NATIONAL REVIEW: Well, it's not an accident, right? I mean, DeSantis' calculation throughout has been that there's a lot that Republican voters like about Donald Trump, but there might be a fraction of them who liked those things but don't want to be led by him personally anymore.

That's been his entire strategy. And he has maintained, you know, for all the other problems of his campaign, a fair amount of discipline in pursuing that strategy. The problem is, so far, the evidence that it's working is pretty thin. This is not the place that DeSantis wanted to be at this stage of the campaign.

LEIGH ANN CALDWELL, EARLY 202 CO-AUTHOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Absolutely right. It was my colleagues in the Washington Post had a really fascinating story today about the rise of Donald Trump over the past year and how he's the clear frontrunner. And one of the most fascinating things that was in that story is all the internal polling that has been done with other candidates and outside groups and focus groups about how nothing sticks against Donald Trump.

That it was impossible to move any Trump supporters away from him to the point that Club for Growth who's been anti-Trump is not going to challenge him because they have been unable to find an argument to do so.

And so, what DeSantis and Haley are doing in this race for second place is they're also splitting the non-Trump voters, which is going to make it very difficult for either one of them to ever topple the frontrunner.

BASH: Yeah, that's so interesting. It is so true that you are seeing -- I mean, not a total consolidation. But even here in Washington Politico has a story out today about the U.S. Congress and Republicans in Congress, saying its leader has no relationship with the former president, but Senate Republicans are peeling off to endorse him on the eve of the Iowa caucuses.

ZELENY: A handful have sure and the ones who haven't are saying that they're likely to support him or they will support him if he's the nominee and put Mitch McConnell in that category. We've known for a long time that that Leader McConnell would have preferred virtually any other Republican. But Trump, but on the verge of -- if he becomes the nominee, of course, they're going to get behind him.

One thing that we'll also be talking about a lot for the rest of the year is the fight for control of the Senate and Republicans can smell a majority in the Senate is so close. So that's why they're not getting crossways with Donald Trump.

PONNURU: But their chances of getting the Senate are probably a little bit lower with Trump as the nominee. You know, when the interesting things going on here is that Trump in the nomination contest gets the benefit both of being the establishment candidate and being the populist insurgent. And that's one of the reasons it's so hard to overcome him.


BASH: Yeah. Wow. That's pretty tough to do. But you're right, I never thought of it that way. Another thing that really caught our attention is something that is brewing inside Donald Trump's orbit and that is -- I believe this was after some reporting, including by our Kristen Holmes about Trump just kind of waxing about who his VP pick would be assuming that he is the nominee.

And mentioning Nikki Haley's name. And the pushback from people extreme close to him, including Donald Trump Jr. and Steve Bannon going after Nikki Haley. Well, there's Donald Trump Jr. His tweet, December 23. Let me be clear, we are not letting the swamp keep the status quo. And this Hail Mary isn't happening. Then he said that he was going to talk live about it. Listen to what Steve Bannon said on a podcast about this.


STEVE BANNON, HOST, WAR ROOM PODCAST: One of the fights we're going to have, a big fight will take place in the spring will be, they're going to try to force Nikki on the ticket to say Trump needs a woman. Nikki on the ticket. She balanced this thing. If Nikki Haley is in this administration, in any capacity it will fail. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now, I just want to be clear. She says, I'm not playing for second. She is very much still a candidate for president. It doesn't mean that these other conversations are not happening. What do you make of this push back?

ZELENY: Look, I think they're trying to diminish her first and foremost as a serious presidential candidate. So, it's one way of doing that. The pushback is pretty extraordinary because she was one of the few who navigated the very complicated obstacle, of course of leaving the Trump administration really -- she probably emerged stronger than she arrived, which most of his nominees that did not, some were indicted, others were, you know, sort of down on their luck, et cetera.

So, I think that it's a little surprising, but really this is pushed back against people who are supporting Nikki Haley, the Wall Street donors, the Koch network, et cetera. So other people who she's now being led by and associated with that too Steve Bannon is talking about.

CALDWELL: Yeah, exactly. That's exactly what I was going to say, she does not represent the MAGA wing of the Republican Party, and that would go against a little bit what Trump says that he is for, but or says what his -- what he is. But Nikki Haley has effectively run as kind of a more old school traditional Republican candidate in many instances.

And so, I don't know if Steve Bannon has his pulse on the party as much as -- is to say that it would be unsuccessful if she was the nominee because I think that she would actually maybe bring in a lot of independent voters.

BASH: No, its personal.

PONNURU: Yeah. The thing that makes Haley possible as a veep nominee is that she has basically refrained from sharply attacking Trump during this contest, while at the same time carving out an independent group of voters who like her, but don't always like Trump.

The problem is for these people who want to veto her is if it gets to a point where it looks as though Trump has the nomination, and putting Haley on the ticket makes him a stronger candidate in a general election. What is Steve Bannon going to do about. As Bannon going to say, I'm not going to support Trump. At that point that just feels like a bluff.

BASH: Yeah. But it's interesting that this is the time that they're deciding to do this. Everybody standby. Before we go to break. We want to make sure that, you know, that before our debate next week that we talked about at the top of the show.

Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley are going to take questions directly from Iowa voters and back-to-back town halls. The CNN Republican presidential town halls will be moderated by Kaitlan Collins and Erin Burnett, and they will be this Thursday, starting at 9 pm eastern.

Now it is a very busy day for Donald Trump's legal team. The former president is expected to file appeals to keep his name on the Republican primary ballots in Colorado and Maine. We'll talk about that after a quick break.




BASH: We are awaiting an expected appeal from Donald Trump's legal team as they fight the decisions in Colorado and Maine to remove Trump from the 2024 primary ballot. And the clock is ticking for the Supreme Court to decide whether to act.


JENA GRISWOLD, (D) COLORADO SECRETARY OF STATE: I certified the names onto the ballot for the presidential primary this Friday. And so, we do hope that the court understands that presidential primaries are rapidly approaching and gives us a definitive answer.


BASH: CNN's chief legal affairs correspondent Paula Reid and former federal prosecutor Shan Wu join me now. Nice to see you both. Happy New Year. The question is -- let's start with well, Colorado. And then of course it has to do with others as well.

You just heard the secretary of state in Colorado saying like, times are ticking guys. We need to print these ballots by Friday. First question is, based on your reporting, when do you expect the Trump team to actually file the appeal on this?

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Emphasis on expect, we expect them to appeal today both in Colorado and Maine. And we expect that Colorado appeal will go to the Supreme Court. But the Republican Party of Colorado has already appealed the decision to remove Trump. So that decision is now on hold because of that prior appeal.

We still expect the former president will appeal in Colorado. And then in Maine who will appeal to the main court system, because the first stop for questions of valid eligibility in that state as the secretary of state. If you don't like the decision, then you go to the court system.

BASH: And so, for those maybe just dialing into this question, we should maybe just give a quick background check on this. And that is that we'll use -- if we can put up a map of some of the states where there have been either appeals that have been struck down where Trump remains on the ballot or in Oregon it's pending. And then Colorado and Maine, which Paula was just talking about. It is TBD. And what the people who are saying, he should not be on the ballot are saying is that because of the Fourteenth Amendment, which says that if a person engaged in an insurrection -- not convicted but engaged in an insurrection that they are not qualified to hold elected office.


SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Right. And it's very much important to remind everyone that we're talking about disqualification. And that's important because disqualification isn't a punishment, it's not a sanction. And that really defeats a lot of the questions about, for example, you must have a conviction first. It's not a criminal case and it's not a punishment for having done something wrong. It just goes to qualifications like age, place of birth. And that's an important point.

The other issue is that there are actually many other potential cases pending. There is something like 14, other is going on in other states. And so, the Supreme Court has real challenge here. I mean, there's great temptation and push for them to do something that just universally answers the question.

But realistically, there's only a couple of very narrow constitutional questions for them to consider. And the states have such different laws, like for example, in Maine, secretary of state gets the first cut. Colorado went through the court system.

The court -- the Supreme Court needs to really respect the different processes in the state court systems. There's nothing wrong in my view of there being a lot of different decisions in different states as long as the major constitutional questions get answered.

BASH: Well, so yes. Respecting the states is certainly a key part of what the Supreme Court is supposed to do, certainly based on what the justices who are currently sitting on the Supreme Court argue in many cases. But because this is unprecedented when it comes to a former president. The question is whether they will choose to give a blanket decision on this, assume that they even take the cases which I assume that they will.

REID: Yeah. I think that's a safe bet that they will take the case because this is what they're designed to do, clarify constitutional questions and settle disputes among the states. And the Colorado GOP laid this out pretty well in their brief.

The first question is whether the Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment applies to presidents. We've seen even within the state of Colorado. The courts were split on this because that office is not explicitly mentioned. The next question is, OK. If the Fourteenth Amendment applies to presidents.

If there is a question about someone being, you know, disqualified from the ballot is it up to the states or is there a role for Congress? That's the second question going before the Supreme Court. That's where they might have some room to actually take some power away from the states, which way they'll go, we'll see. BASH: The other question that we're looking for in the short-term with regard to Donald Trump and his legal situation is whether or not he will be successful in claiming immunity that he cannot be prosecuted for crimes because he was president.

There was a court filing over the weekend. The Special Counsel Jack Smith said, rather than vindicating our constitutional framework, the defendants sweeping immunity claim threatens to license presidents to commit crimes to remain in office.

And I want you to listen to what Jamie Raskin, Congressman from Maryland, also constitutional expert and a top Democrat on the January 6 investigation told me about this claim.


REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): It's hard to think of a more un-American or anti-constitutional argument than the idea that the president can commit crimes while in office with impunity, murder, rape, insurrection, conspiracy, to sabotage the election, overthrow the government. I mean, it's just completely antithetical to the idea of having the rule of law in a constitutional democracy. It's also explicitly rejected by the text of the constitution.


BASH: What do you make of that change?

WU: Well, I think that's exactly right. And it's the same reason why prosecutors are very loath to give broad immunity grants to people because it may create an incentive for people to commit crimes illegally. I think it's very weak footing to argue. There's going to be an absolute immunity for presidents. I don't think that that's going to fly with the Supreme Court. His real immunity is the delay in the case.


REID: Yeah. His former lawyer Tim Parlatore told me this weekend like he's not going to win on the merits of immunity. But the strategy here is delay, delay, and he put it at 50-50 that this case will go before the election.

BASH: Fascinating. OK. Thanks guys. Appreciate it. Up next. Inside President Biden's 2024 reelection plan to beat Donald Trump, assuming he is the GOP nominee. We have brand new reporting, and we'll bring it to you next.




BASH: Now new CNN reporting on the Biden reelection strategy and how the campaign plans to make the race less about the current president and more about the former one. A big question, how quickly to ratchet up attacks on Trump's talk of being a dictator? And how he'd wield power if he wins back the White House?

CNN's Isaac Dovere is the man behind this great new reporting. And he joins our panel now. Nice to see you. I'm going to just read one of the really fascinating sorst of nuggets in this. And you write.

The campaign so far, these aides believe referring to Biden aids has essentially been Biden running against himself and losing with his approval ratings under 40 percent, anxiety about his age and the Democratic divide over his handling of the war -- the Israel-Hamas war. But they see the next few weeks in the Republican primary campaigns as an opportunity to persuade influencers and media into thinking about the race on their terms.

EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE, CNN SENIOR REPORTER: Yeah. Look, this is a beginning of the year in a lot of ways. But it's also the beginning of the time when many people are going to start tuning in to politics, more than those of us around this table and most of the people watching happen.

And what they see is that in these couple of weeks, Trump will be trying to shore up his claim on the nomination. It seems like he is continuing to leave the polls, but he needs to make sure he actually wins those primaries. In that process, they believe that they can -- the Biden campaign believes that they can make people focus on what Trump has actually been saying.

And that this isn't just entertaining, and this isn't just -- oh, can you believe Donald Trump's running again. And they can also make people focus on what the other candidates have been saying to try to compete with Donald Trump.