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Inside Politics

President Biden's Says Trump Poses an Existential Threat to U.S. Democracy; Biden in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania; Interview with Associated Press White House Reporter Seung Min Kim; Interview with Axios Senior Contributor Margaret Talev; Interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Washington Correspondent Tia Mitchell; Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley Escalating Their Attacks on Trump; Trump Needs Supporters to Show Up on Caucus Night; Trump Heads Back to Iowa. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired January 05, 2024 - 12:00   ET




DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Today on INSIDE POLITICS, democracies on the line. That's President Biden's message as he kicks off his 2024 campaign using the third anniversary of the Capitol insurrection to warn what's at stake if Donald Trump wins another term.

Plus, blasting the frontrunner, Ron DeSantis, escalated his attacks on Trump over both policy and personality with just days left to close the huge gap with the former president.

And don't sit back, the former president needs his supporters to show up on caucus night to win the dominating victory he says he's expecting. It's why he's headed back to Iowa today to try to get out the vote.

I'm Dana Bash. Let's go behind the headlines and inside politics.

We start near historic Valley Forge in Pennsylvania, where the George Washington troops were there for a very long time. And he was leading, of course, during the Revolutionary War, fighting against British tyranny. Today, it is where Joe Biden will make his re-election pitch that Donald Trump poses an existential threat to U.S. democracy.

CNN's Arlette Saenz is there. Arlette, what are you hearing from your sources inside the campaign about what we expect to hear from the president?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, President Biden's advisers really view this speech as an opportunity to lay out the foundational arguments of his campaign. President Biden is set to warn that democracy is under threat, and Former President Donald Trump is the major reason why.

They chose the anniversary of the January 6th insurrection because they believe that that was an event that continues to resonate with voters with one adviser telling us that they believe in the end voters will render judgment on January 6th when they head to the ballot box in November.

The president is expected to speak in very blunt terms about the insurrection as well as what he views as Former President Trump's role in that event. He is also expected to call out political violence in this country, saying that any candidate running for president should be able to say that political violence should not be tolerated.

The president is also expected to draw on the symbolism of the area. We're just a few miles away from Valley Forge, where George Washington and his troops prepared during a very long winter for a time of fighting. And the president will draw specifically from some of the words that Washington used himself to describe the mission and resolve of his troops. The president will say that the fundamental question of this election is whether democracy is still a "sacred cause" for this country.

He's also expected to draw a contrast between Washington, who willingly gave up power after two terms as president with Former President Donald Trump, who was refused to accept the results of the 2020 election. But this all comes as the Biden campaign has really been quite eager to start ramping up their contrast with the former president at a time when the Iowa caucuses, the Republican primary campaign is set to kick off formally in the coming weeks.

In the end, the campaign does believe that democracy is not a sideline issue, it is a central issue of the campaign. But one thing going forward is whether any other types of issues will really resonate and dominate voters' attention. But the president has argued that democracy, everything else flows from it, when you think about the economy and also abortion, and they are hoping that this speech today will really serve as the opening salvo of the campaign.

BASH: Yes. And even pre-January 6, of course, as you know, his aides are arguing that the soul of America was the whole crux of his campaign the first time around after Charlottesville. Arlette, thank you so much for that reporting.

Let's talk to our reporters here in the studio. Seung Min Kim of the Associated Press, Margaret Talev of Axios, and Tia Mitchell of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

First of all, I want to say that you two were actually at the Capitol.


BASH: You were not at the Capitol. You were at the Capitol on January 6th. So, I want to get to that in a minute. Let's focus first on the speech that President Biden is going to give today, and I just want to kind of condense some of the reporting we heard from our let and look at what we have in our story on The fundamental question that the president is going to pose is this, is democracy still a sacred cause in America? And his answer to that is yes.


And he believes that America's answer to that is yes. And he also believes that the election in 2024 is fundamentally about that question. What are you hearing from your sources at the White House?

KIM: Well, I think what -- if anyone who is close to Biden will tell you that this isn't just a political issue, this is sort of at the core of who he is as a human being. This is what he really fundamentally believes, which is why, as you mentioned, he launched his presidential campaign looking at what happened in Charlottesville, looking at -- arguing about the battle for the soul of the nation and really making that a core of his campaign, and then his advisers would tell you that they believe it just also happens to be good politics for him, which is why not only you're starting this year with this broad theme of democracy, but it's going to be a continual theme throughout the campaign.

And they feel, in terms of whether it's good politics, they will argue that it worked well for him when they had their detractors ahead of the midterm elections that voters really do care about the fundamentals of democracy and that Biden himself will - that his vow to protect that at all costs will really resonate with voters, especially when they see who's on the other side, which is Donald Trump, who did not willingly let go of this election, pushed efforts to fight it. And they feel that's a really effective contrast for them.

BASH: Assuming he gets the nomination.

KIM: Assuming he gets a nomination. Big caveat.

BASH: You know, I was talking to somebody in Biden world before coming on the air who said just a little bit of color that I thought was interesting that they view this as such an important speech that there was kind of a message that went out, don't schedule any meetings during the speech. Like we all really want to watch this, not to say that they don't all say that they watch the president no matter when he speaks, but this is one of those, and we all know covering the White House, having covered the White House with those moments are and that is certainly how they view this.

The other thing that's interesting is that they're kind of hoping that they -- that this a trap, that there's bait in this speech for Donald Trump and that he takes the bait and starts to push more and more. We're going to play in a second that he has been talking about January 6th, but he starts to play more and more on the Biden sort of political battlefield.

MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR, AXIOS: Right. I mean, I think, Dana, for months now, the question has been, do voters want to hear about January 6th anymore? They care more about the economy. I think it would be a mistake to take that and say, voters don't ever want to I'm not sure if I want to respond to questions about American democracy again.

The issue is that they don't only want Joe Biden focused on January 6 when they want to know that he's doing something on the economy.

Having said that, it would be like political malpractice for Joe Biden to stop talking about this thing that happened, which is the biggest -- forget about political, the biggest, a political argument against Donald Trump is that he refused to acknowledge the election results. He got a lot of Americans misinformed and whipped up. Some of them acted violently that day, and there were multiple efforts on the ground as well as beforehand to block or overturn the election results.

So, that is a core to Joe Biden's argument. Not only for why he should be re-elected, but for why Donald Trump shouldn't serve as president again. So, of course, he's going to talk about it. The trick for him beyond today is how he balances that with showing Americans that he's focused on the economy, that he's focused on protecting the border, that he's dealing with crime and all these other issues.

BASH: Yes. And you were there on January 6th. I'm sure it's hard to -- and we all watched it from the outside in. You and some of our colleagues here, of course, at CNN were inside and experiencing it. So, it must be still sort of odd to hear just only three years hence that, never mind that Joe Biden and Democrats and even some of Donald Trump's Republican opponents have to keep reminding people that this was a very dangerous time for democracy, but in some cases convincing people that this actually happened.


BASH: Right. Which is still --

MITCHELL: And again, as someone who was there, I can say, you know, there were people who were trying to break into the chambers when Congress was in session to disrupt that session. And there were people who died. And I know a lot on the right, they like to talk about Ashli Babbitt, she did die that day. She died because a police officer thought he was protecting members of Congress from a mob. But she wasn't the only person who died that day. There were people trampled by the crowds. There were people who had medical emergencies.

So, I just think it's been whitewashed in a way that's very problematic. And that's why I think a lot of members of Congress, a lot of elected officials will come back to this anniversary year after year because a thing happened that was very, very serious, and we shouldn't allow people who have an agenda to undermine that.


BASH: So, Margaret, you mentioned -- or one of you guys mentioned the notion that democracy isn't necessarily high on the list when pollsters ask people about it, and we'll just show one example, Gallup poll, last month, election/democracy was only at 5 percent.

One interesting note that I heard from a Biden source this morning was to look at it a different way, which is right track, wrong track, which we're going to pull up from a different poll. This the Wall Street Journal in December.

And I mean, look. Historically, if you're a political strategist and you see that, you say, uh-oh, this really bad news for Joe Biden. What the Biden campaign says is that part of that people worried about the wrong track is people concerned about the notion of another Trump presidency, and that's what they're trying to play into here, and it's nuanced, but it's a critical factor that Biden camp believes and how people feel right.

KIM: Right. And it also goes to their theory that 2024 is not necessarily going to be a referendum on Joe Biden, the incumbent president, that it is going to be a contrast between Joe Biden and presumably Donald Trump as a Republican candidate.

It is a little bit more challenging, certainly compared to 2020 when Joe Biden is the incumbent in the White House. He does have a record that voters and also the media and the public are scrutinizing, but it is -- it sort of goes to their case that once we make that effective contrast with Trump, we're confident that voters will vote with us.

BASH: We're almost out of time in the segment, but I do want to quickly play for our viewers, because I think it's important, you don't hear it that much, what Donald Trump has been saying recently on the campaign trail about January 6th.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (R) AND CURRENT U.S. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (R): I've never spoken to a crowd as large as this, and that was because they thought the election was rigged. And they were there proud. They were there with love in their heart. That was an unbelievable and it was a beautiful day.

If you remember in Minnesota, Minneapolis, where they took over the police station, they took it over and they burned it down. By the way, what happened to those people? Are those people in jail with the J six hostages? What happened to those people? Come to think of it. They're not in jail with the J six hostage. I don't call them prisoners. I call them hostages. They're hostages.


TALEV: Right. That's insane. So -- and what's going to happen between Joe Biden's speech, the president's speech in the November general election if trump ends up being the nominee, is ads with image after image after image after image and sound and sound and image and sound and testimonials of what happened, what actually happened that day and how it impacted the country and individual people.

BASH: All right. We've got to take a quick break. We are sticking, of course, with the big story here on INSIDE POLITICS, the 2024 campaign.

And a frenzy of activity in Iowa just days before the caucus is there. Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley are escalating their attacks on the frontrunner. Is there still time though to chip away at what looks like a pretty big lead? We'll talk about that next.


BASH: Just 10 days to go until the Iowa caucuses. Donald Trump, Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy, they're all in the Hawkeye State today trying to win over those last-minute undecided voters.

Haley's first event of the day is over. DeSantis is still going on. Both, of course, participated in last night's CNN Town Hall in Des Moines. That's where our Jeff Zeleny is. He's actually right outside of Des Moines in Cumming, Iowa.

Jeff, it doesn't look as cold now as it did earlier in the day when I saw you, but what are we hearing from the candidates so far today?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, it's really a continuation of the argument that they made last night on stage at Grandview University. And those arguments were considerably sharper and aimed at Former President Donald Trump.

Obviously, one of the reasons is time is running short for them to draw those distinctions. Of course, distinctions that are very familiar, but they haven't always been articulated by some of these Republican rivals. But this morning, just a few moments ago, the Florida governor, again, urging Republicans to consider what Donald Trump did and didn't do in office.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), U.S. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He didn't do it the first four years. Now, what kind of confidence do we have to know you're going to do? And I look at the border and how bad that is. And yes, you know, the blame goes on Biden's shoulders. But let's just be clear, if Trump had built the wall like he promised, Biden would not have been able to bring in 8 million people. That's the whole point of a wall. It prevents an invasion of your country.


ZELENY: So, immigration, of course, one of the biggest flashpoints in American politics at the moment. DeSantis there sort of doing a one, two punch or trying to blaming Donald Trump for not building the wall. Then of course, blaming the Biden administration for the current crisis at the border.

Nikki Haley, for her part, is really urging voters to think about electability. Last night, she said, Americans don't want another nail biter election. They want to move on to a new generation of leaders. Here's what she said this morning in Des Moines.


NIKKI HALEY (R), U.S. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I get it. I mean, you look at the situation in our country and whether you think Joe Biden is a nice man or not, you feel it everywhere. It's Democrat chaos, whether it's the economy, whether it's education, whether it's the border, there's a reason 75 percent of Americans don't want to Trump- Biden rematch. They're tired. They want to see something go forward.

And what I am telling you is, I'm not talking about just Republicans, I'm talking about winning the majority of Americans, because if we're going to save our country, we've got to stop all the division and the fighting.


ZELENY: So, new television ads also are on the air heading into this second to last weekend of campaigning, Nikki Haley's Super PAC, which now has spent more than any other entity in Iowa, which is extraordinary when you think about it, because a year ago she didn't have a Super PAC like this. And they are making the electability argument as well.


So, Dana, when we kind of exhale here and think about the final 10 days of this Iowa caucus campaign, it's ending in an entirely different way than it started. Ron DeSantis, he was the leading rival to Donald Trump. He came into Iowa with so much promise. Of course, he has struggled throughout the year, but his advisers believe that he is closing stronger. And I think we saw that improved and changed performance last night on the town hall stage. He is looking forward to a one-on-one debate next week with Nikki Haley to really draw those distinctions.

We should also point out though, Donald Trump arrives in just a few hours. He's trying to keep his supporters all on board and fired up as well. Dana.

BASH: Yes. He sure is. I'm just -- I'm still stuck on you saying we're exhaling. I'm still very much inhaling, but I'll take your word for it. Maybe it'll feel different when I get to the -- get to that great State of Iowa. See you soon. Thank you so much, Jeff. Appreciate it.

ZELENY: And bring your earmuffs. It's -- it will next week.

BASH: I will. I'm going to have a lot more than that. Back with our panel here. So, I want to go back to what Jeff was just talking about and -- this morning you heard DeSantis, we just played it, really stepping up, I would say, kind of finally, when it comes to Donald Trump, he started it last night. What we just heard was about the border. It was about a lot more than the border when he was with Kaitlan Collins at our town hall last night.


DESANTIS: I think a 2024 election where the Democrats get to run against a candidate that is going through all this stuff, that is going to give the Democrats an advantage. You don't want it to be a referendum on Trump and the past, you want it to be a referendum on Biden's failures.

Donald Trump's not willing to show up on the debate stage. Has he come to communities and answered questions?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: Do you think Donald Trump is not prolife?

DESANTIS: Of course not. I mean, when you're saying that prolife protections are a terrible thing, by definition, you are not prolife.


BASH: That, Margaret, to me, was among the most interesting answers that he gave, because it is true that Donald Trump, for most of his life, was very openly prochoice in his words.


BASH: He changed --

TALEV: And then, he became a Republican candidate.

BASH: And he changed. And he provided the Supreme Court that overturned Roe. So, it's like the -- on the one hand, he might not be wrong about he's true feelings, but these voters might say, who cares what his true feelings are? He --

TALEV: The person who --

BASH: -- finally did what we wanted to do.

TALEV: Yes. All of these arguments are arguments that when you listen to, you're like, yes, that seems like something that someone who wanted to unseat Donald Trump and take over as the nominee of a party would say in August or the summer before. It's like a week until the caucuses. And now, you're starting to -- the beginning of the ramping up of the attacks on Donald Trump, it's very interesting.

But I will say this, Iowa caucuses are different than primaries in other places. And polls are imperfect. They're kind of the best thing we have to try to study what large groups of people think about different issues. But what happens in caucuses is turnout is more important. Then in any other kind of contest and that people are persuadable right up until the moment when they have chosen which part of the room they want to stand in, basically.

And so, that has been one of the big questions, and Jeff has been alluding to it is, what is Donald Trump's ground game? Does he really have Iowa locked down? Do Iowans feel that he's taken them for granted? What's the deal with the evangelical vote? You know, there is a lot more possibility to move things at the last minute, but in no time in Iowa history has anything moved that much.

BASH: Well, you know, you mentioned that the caucuses are different. They are very different for a lot of reasons. What Nikki Haley said this morning about the fact that she wants Democrats and independents to re-register and cross over to go and caucus for her, I mean, she's trying to appeal above and beyond the Republican base, the Trump base. And the question is whether that's going to work, it is a message, again, that she's stepping up when it comes to the far and away frontrunner Donald Trump. She started that. Well, she didn't start that, but she added to that last night with Erin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: You said rightly or wrongly, chaos follows him. Is it rightly or wrongly? Is he the one who causes that chaos or is he just the unwitting victim?

HALEY: It's both. I mean, you see a lot of these cases they've brought against him are political in nature. And there's no basis on it. And then you see some that he's going to have to answer for. I used to tell him he's his own worst enemy.

And so, I think at the end of the day, we don't need anyone who's getting in their feelings. We don't need anyone that's getting personal about anything. We have a country to save.


BASH: I loved her question, is it rightly or wrongly?

MITCHELL: Yes. And I think, you know, Nikki Haley's answer was interesting because there are a lot of people, Democrats, and I would guess some independents, who don't think these court cases are politically motivated. They think that Donald Trump is finally being held accountable for some of the things he's done.

And so, again, this kind of saying, well, it's both, this bothsidesism can once again put Nikki Haley in a position where her answer pleases no one, because there are other people on -- maybe on the right who want her to be more defensive of Donald Trump who don't -- who thinks he's the victim in all of this. But I -- she's making the electability case but she's still that distant second going into Iowa. And I don't know if this closing message is really able to shift much.

KIM: Right, right. I think electability has really been kind of her focus for a while because if you do look at some of the horse race polling that's out there, putting up the various Republican candidates up against Joe Biden, she does do better than the other people in the race. But because of whether -- the way that she's tried to dance around Trump. And I would argue that DeSantis has actually gone a little bit harder against Trump than Haley and in the last, you know, day or so.

I think she's still not really going to get that -- you know, get the voter -- she's not really going to please anyone. You know, they're going to -- people who will say, you're not going hard enough against Trump, and then the people who are, you know, pro Trump, they're saying, I don't really like what she's saying here either.

BASH: And before we move on from this conversation, we played a little bit of DeSantis. We don't have time to play more, but hopefully everybody out there watched the Town Hall last night. Did he seem different to you? I mean, he's -- the Town Hall format, it's kind of what we talked about before, is that, you know, it's like they're like athletes, politicians, or like anybody who is trying to perfect their craft. If you do it over and over and over, you tend to get better at it, and he has been out there over and over again, and he seemed more comfortable. TALEV: I do. I think Haley, I think, is still passive in her criticism of Trump. She'll sort of dance with an act of criticism, but it's mostly passive. You see DeSantis much more active in saying Donald Trump is the problem. It's just so late in the game, and comes after so much pummeling, and after his money is running out, his momentum has stalled, you just -- it gives you a glimpse into the interior sort of dialogue of candidates as they have thought all these months, how do we play this without alienating? How do we change the dynamic without turning off a big chunk of the Republican electorate? And he's still struggling with it and changing strategies right up until the final.

BASH: OK. Up next, we are going to talk about the expectations game because Donald Trump is back in Iowa today promising a caucus night blowout. The bar is very high. He's setting it there. So, could he lose even if he wins?