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Inside Politics

How The Biden Campaign Hopes To Make 2024 Less About Biden And More About Contrast With Trump; Top Christie Ally In New Hampshire Now Backing Haley; NH Gov.: Only Person Who Wants Christie To Stay In Race Is Trump; Polls Shows Haley Within Striking Distance Of Trump In NH; Congress Barreling Toward Another Shutdown Showdown. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired January 02, 2024 - 12:30   ET



EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE, CNN SENIOR REPORTER: 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 and to start pressing the case.

This is a really extreme vision of the presidency that would be there under Trump. It would be -- he's talked about being a dictator, if only for one day, all of those sorts of things that so far have been part of the political scuttle, but not really on the top of people's minds.

DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Let me just read you another quote from Isaac's piece, and I'm going to put this in context as soon as I read it. "As some of the younger aides on Biden's reelection campaign have been grimly joking, it's about when to go full Hitler."

Now, what they mean by that is the idea that Donald Trump has been using terminology that Adolf Hitler used, and that that is something that the Biden campaign is going to play up. And in fact, we have some quotes here about, excuse me, about things like, we will root out my political opponents that live like vermin, that was Trump, and Hitler said, pests and vermin, immigrants are poisoning the blood of the country. Hitler contamination of the blood and inferior race will lead to the fall of Germany.

RAMESH PONNURU, EDITOR, NATIONAL REVIEW: Right. And Trump's defense here is that he doesn't -- he's not consciously quoting Hitler. He has just spontaneously recreated the rhetoric on his own, which may not be the most reassuring defense. I think that the -- you know, look, the Biden campaign is realizing, is that this has to be, you know, a choice election, not a referendum election.

If it's a referendum on Biden, Biden's going to lose. But that's also the same realization that George W. Bush had in 2004, that Barack Obama had in 2012. Every successful incumbent reelection has been based on framing this as a choice. You know, as Biden says, it's not me against the almighty. It's me against the alternative.

BASH: Yes.

LEIGH ANN CALDWELL, EARLY 202 CO-AUTHOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, what's interesting is that it -- like you said, it's a new political year, it's a big year now. But that the Biden campaign and the president haven't been doing this already. They have all often said Biden campaign people and people -- Democrats that once Trump becomes more of a focus, then voters will remember what it was like back then when he was in power.

But Biden has been -- has not said that much that often about Trump. Yes, he hits him every now and then, but he has not been pounding that message, and it's interesting that it's taken them so long to come to it.

DOVERE: Well, that's part of their fear that they have, is that if they had gone fully into this by the fall of last year, that by -- it risks getting to be background noise and people getting dulled to it. And part of what they say about this is that as we get into the spring, you're going to hear more and more of it.

By the summer, this will be really bringing back things from Trump's record in his time as president to say, look what he did when he was president. And also, look what he said he was going to do that he didn't do. And look at that record.

And if they'd started doing it in, let's say, September, October, when a lot of the political chattering class was talking about why aren't they doing it more, that it just would have become part of what was in the ether. And look, we'll see if they're proved right on this, but that's their theory on this.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we'll see if it works. That's the question. I mean, of course, it's probably the right theory, but this reminds me of when President Biden said, I need to get out in the country more and sell my plans more. You know, and presidents are always hemmed in. And they're very, you know, it's difficult for them to get out of their bubble as much.

So it's definitely the strategy. It's probably the only winning strategy has -- as Ramesh was just saying there that it's what Bush did, it's what Obama did. Obviously, it's what Reagan did, but I still think that it overlooks the challenges of Biden really consolidating his own base and his own party.

But one thing that when I have conversation with Biden advisers, they say they're looking forward to the primary process being over. So people actually see that Biden is the nominee as well. Because there's still this conversation out there that --

BASH: Yes.

ZELENY: -- Biden, he's not really going to be running. It might be Vice President Harris or someone else. So once it gets to the realization that, no, he's running, then people also may get behind him.

BASH: I want to talk about one other part, and you guys just kind of touched on this, of your great reporting and that is the question of how much to lean into not only what the president has done in his first term, but the question of how much he has to talk about what he would do in a second term, which generally speaking is what incumbents like to do with this is why you should hire me again for four more years.

DOVERE: Right. Look, and part of what makes this different from the other incumbent reelections is that we've got a former president with a record. It's not just a challenger say, here's what I would. So that's a challenge that Biden has to do in that part. But he does have to talk about what he wants to do. Not just say, finished the job, or here's what I did.


And when I talk to a lot of Democrats in Congress elsewhere about it, they say, I don't really know. What is it -- well, we've got a lot to talk about what we've done already. The Biden team in Wilmington and the campaign office is doing a lot of the work that we've been talking about.

But in the White House, one of the things that they're really focused on is the state of the union. What we're going to have over the course of the next couple of weeks is this ramp up to always the biggest nationally televised address. The president has big audience and he is going to talk things that he wants to do on health care, on taxing millionaires and billionaires more, on cutting costs and fighting inflation, those sorts of things.

And he's also going to talk about this thing that Biden calls the unity agenda that he's talked about in the last two state of the union addresses, tackling the fentanyl crisis, doing things to help veterans, looking for a cure for cancer. And try to say things to Republicans in Congress, but also really to the country, why aren't these people working with me to solve these problems?

That's what I want to do. Why can't we do more of it? That's what I want to do if I have four more years.

BASH: Yes --

ZELENY: Let's see if there's a government shutdown in the middle of all this.

DOVERE: That's right.

BASH: No, we'll that's true. Yes, good point.

State of the Union addresses in a -- an election year for an incumbent president who's running for reelection. It's always kind of the opening --

CALDWELL: Yes. BASH: -- years. Here's what my platform is. Not just for the year, but for the next four years if you reelect me.

CALDWELL: Yes, one of the problems of the Biden campaign, which you kind of mentioned in your story is that the message is not translated to voters very well. You talked about Bidenomics and how there are some people are trying to do away with that term.

It's funny talking to members of Congress before the break about Bidenomics and they say, oh, we talk about it all the time in our districts. We try to talk, you know, tell people about it. What it means is like, but do you use the word? And they're like, no.

People don't know what that means. And so they are having this messaging gap that they're trying to remind people about prescription drug prices, about infrastructure, where shovels are just now getting into the ground. So they have a pretty big task ahead.

BASH: It's really fascinating. I encourage everybody to check out Isaac's piece on Thanks for coming on.

Coming up, a defection in the Granite State, why a former member of Chris Christie's steering committee says he's now on team Haley.



BASH: Now to New Hampshire, where a top Chris Christie ally and former member of his steering committee is defecting to Nikki Haley's campaign three weeks before voters go to the polls.


TOM BOUCHER, FORMER CHRIS CHRISTIE NH STEERING COMMITTEE MEMBER: I was a Christie supporter up until recently. I love Chris Christie. He did a great job in his campaign, but Nikki Haley is the way to beat Trump. The independent voter is going to make this decision. And I think -- the American people are going to be quite surprised to see Donald Trump did not win the New Hampshire primary.


BASH: CNN's Eva McKend is in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Eva, you've been spending a lot of time up there in the Granite State recently. What are you hearing from voters about this question, this dynamic?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, Chris Christie really resisting those calls, and that's because he has a base of support here. You can hear it on the ground from his supporters. And you hear Governor Sununu, for instance, also calling for Christie to step aside. This is really all an indication that voters are trying to consolidate around an anti-Trump alternative.

You might hear in some circles that former president Donald Trump is going to walk away with this nomination. Well, not if the voters in New Hampshire have something to say about it. Many of them who are looking for someone else, including this woman that we met just recently in Lebanon. Take a listen.


SUSAN LOCKE, NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: Let's just say I've lived in the state for 40 years. I attend most all of the primary opportunities we have. I think she's the strongest candidate I've ever seen. She's sane. She's rational. She's a problem solver. And she's absolutely direct and she's earnest. There's no drama.


MCKEND: So, you heard there from that Nikki Haley supporter and from her comments, it seems like the attacks that Governor DeSantis has waged, of course, Christie has raves -- waged, Vivek Ramaswamy, that Haley is too evasive when she answers questions, that she's sort of moving target on policy positions.

That isn't landing in every corner of the state because as you can see, she still has a lot of support here. Listen, she's going to be campaigning tonight in nearby Rye, New Hampshire. And she'll have a slew of stops tomorrow in the state as well, and she'll be joined on all of those stops by Governor Sununu, Dana.

BASH: Eva, thank you so much for that reporting.

And if Donald Trump wins Iowa, as the polls suggest is likely as of this moment, it is going to be the Granite State and voters there who could be the last thing standing in the way of Donald Trump winning the nomination.

I want to go back to New Hampshire. Josh Rogers is the senior political reporter for New Hampshire Public Radio and joins me now. Josh, thank you so much for being here. I want to start with what your Governor Chris Sununu told me on Sunday -- who of course, I should say, Chris Sununu is a Hailey backer. He endorsed her a few weeks ago -- what he said about Chris Christie.


GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: Chris Christie's a friend, but his race is at an absolute dead end. He's going to say anything he can. This is a two person race, right? It's between Trump and Nikki Haley. Everyone understands that. He knows his voters who want to see Trump defeated are all coming over to Nikki Haley. In fact, the only person that wants Chris Christie to stay in the race is Donald Trump.


BASH: Strongly suggesting Christie needs to get out of the race. What are you hearing from your sources and more importantly from voters in New Hampshire?

JOSH ROGERS, SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER & EDITOR, NEW HAMPSHIRE PUBLIC RADIO: Well, when you attend a Chris Christie event, there are people here who like his anti-Trump message. But to Governor Sununu's point, the math may not be there for Nikki Haley if all non-Trump candidates and non-Haley candidates get out of the race.


And so, you know, there's an effort to consolidate these voters. You know, independent voters do make up the bulk of the electorate here. They are not a monolith. And, you know, while Christie has been, you know, obviously very forthright and sort of being sort of fully frontally against Donald Trump, that's not exactly what you hear from Nikki Haley, and they're trying to cobble together a coalition.

And, you know, we'll see. I mean, you know, Christie supporters would tell you he's standing on principle and is the only one who's being sufficiently forthright in condemning Donald Trump as the potential leader of the Republican Party. And so we'll see. I mean, but, you know, for Nikki Haley to make this competitive in New Hampshire, according to all the polling, you know, the other candidates are going to have to get out, and their supporters are going to have to flow to Haley.

BASH: Yes.

ROGERS: And it's an open question whether all that of support would.

BASH: As you said, Chris Christie is despite what we saw today, that one defection from his campaign to Nikki Haley, in response to Chris Sununu and in every other forum, he's saying, I'm not going anywhere. In fact, he is spending money in New Hampshire, a fair amount, and he released a new ad over the weekend, which we debuted on CNN.

Let's play a little bit of it.


CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The country I choose, one with love in our hearts for every American. Our differences are a strength, not a weakness. Where the president cares more about you than he does about himself. Donald Trump, he will sell the soul of this country. I'm not perfect. I've made mistakes. But I will always tell you the truth. New Hampshire, it's up to you.


BASH: What do you think?

ROGERS: Well, I mean, for Chris Christie and Nikki Haley, that may be the case. But you attend a Christie event and the crowds aren't getting bigger. And, you know, Chris Christie predicated his 2016 campaign here on doing well in New Hampshire.

And, you know, he came in -- I think he came in 5th or 6th place. And so, you know, voters here are familiar with him, a certain slug of them like him, but he doesn't seem to be picking up steam, but he may be attracting, you know, there's a strong slug of the electorate here that does not, Republican voters who don't want Donald Trump in there. BASH: Yes.

ROGERS: And he's being most upright in making that case.

BASH: Yes, he --

ROGERS: And so he's appealing to them.

BASH: Yes, he definitely is. And he's visibly sort of palpably frustrated that the other non-Trump candidates are not more aggressively going after Trump because he is so far ahead in all of the polls. Do you think -- how much is that playing into what voters are thinking about and looking for, meaning issues of personality and character? Or are there issues that really stand out when you talk to voters up there that they are looking for that will determine their vote?

ROGERS: Well, a lot of voters are talking about their -- they're concerned about affordability of things. Housing is a big issue here. You hear plenty of voters at a Haley event, for example, who will tell you that they like her foreign policy views. There are a lot of people who -- Republican voters here who have is for more traditional notions of U.S. engagement abroad than some in the contemporary Republican Party do.

You know, there -- it's worth remembering that a lot of the Republican electorate primary voters here. It's an open primary. They are also supportive of abortion rights, and some will say that while Nikki Haley will say she's unapologetically pro-life, they like her tone that she's not going to demonize the issue but a lot of the discussion comes down to a referendum on Trump.

And a lot of voters I talk to will say, you know, I'm looking for an alternative to Trump, or the fact that it's looking if -- as if the next four years are going to be four more years of Joe Biden or four more years of Donald Trump, and why can't we have something different. But, you know, mobilizing voters the sort of coalition that Nikki Haley or really any non-Trump candidate appears to need, a lot of these voters are not the, you know, engaged New Hampshire voter that, you know, people in New Hampshire and, you know, in D.C. like to tell you that decide the primary here.

There's a lot of these people are -- people who are just getting up to speed, who, you know, can't tell you particulars of a stump speech and haven't been to many campaign events. And that's one challenge for Haley's campaign is, you know, how do you mobilize those people?

BASH: Yes. And, you know, it doesn't seem like there's a lot of time, but 20, what, 21 days in New Hampshire politics time is actually quite a bit.

ROGERS: It's going to be a long time.

BASH: It is a long time.

ROGERS: But, you know -- yes, but it's worth remembering that while Governor Sununu is out there and, you know, he, you know, he's hoping to replicate the kind of coalition that delivers --

BASH: Right.

ROGERS: -- in beats wins in New Hampshire, but that may not be what's going to turn out on primary day.

BASH: Yes, yes, for sure. Thank you so much. I appreciate you coming on, Josh. Thanks for your insights.

ROGERS: You're welcome.


BASH: And up next, Congress is back this week with just days to go to stop a government shutdown. But some Republicans are focused on something else -- impeaching President Biden.


BASH: Congress is facing a long to-do list after punting a lot to this New Year. Luckily, CNN's Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill and back covering all of it. Manu, what do we expect?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's going to be a mess, Dana. In large part because Congress essentially punted all these major issues, consequential issues into the new year instead of these huge deadlines that they have to avoid potential catastrophe, including a government shutdown by January 19th, even though the House and the Senate are still out of session.

They don't return until next week, and there is nowhere near an agreement on keeping the government open even for a short period of time because of a disagreement or funding levels, and perhaps even more significantly what to do about Aid to Ukraine, aid to Israel, which is now tied up in negotiations over how to secure the southern border with Mexico.


Over the last several weeks, a bipartisan group of senators have been meeting virtually. They plan to meet in person as soon as today, Dana, that could potentially unlock aid to Ukraine and Israel. But finding a deal on that to get passage of those major issues remains a huge questions as they confront these major issues when they return next week. Dana?

BASH: Yes. And that's not even including the notion of an impeachment process for President Biden, which I know you are all over and could come extremely, extremely quickly.

Manu, thank you so much. Nice to see you.

RAJU: Thank you.

BASH: Buckle in, huh?

RAJU: That's right. I'm ready.

BASH: OK. Always.

Thank you so much for joining Inside Politics. CNN News Central starts after the break.