Return to Transcripts main page
GOP Battle Moves To NH After Trump's Dominant Iowa Win; Majority Of Iowa GOP Caucus Goers Say Trump Still Fit To Be President If Convicted Of A Crime; Trump Back In Court For Defamation Case. Aired 12:30-1p ET
Aired January 16, 2024 - 12:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have a country to say.
DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Yes. And Governor, what you've seen -- you're both governor -- Governor Sununu, what you've seen is that these court cases have in the short term, at least benefited him with Republican caucus goers, with Republican primary voters, at least in polls. So that's part of the reason why he plays it up, and he goes to this hearing today that he doesn't have to be at.
GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: Look, obviously he plays the victim every time. I'll say this, on the court cases, the average American voter, it's massively confusing, they're not following him. And they're not going to the ballot box saying, but I'm going to vote because of that case and that potential outcome. That's not really part of the equation.
People want to know how you're going to save their social security. They want to know how they -- you're going to get inflation down. They want to know, my goodness, I could have an accountant in the White House that actually has fiscal responsibility and treats my hard working dollar with the respect that it deserves.
Trump never did that. Trump borrowed $7 trillion. That's inflation, everybody. Inflation comes from one thing, overspending and overprinting money in Washington. He has to be held accountable. Biden's made it 10 times worse, there's no question. But as a Republican, he didn't fulfill on the mission that a lot of us sent him to Washington --
BASH: One final question. As you've been describing, New Hampshire is a little bit different, a lot different when it comes to the demographics. Independents can vote here, for example. It's different from all the other context -- contests going forward. Are you confident that even if you do well here, you'll have the staying power, particularly in a Republican electorate that voted the way it did for Donald Trump so overwhelmingly?
HALEY: Are you talking about South Carolina?
BASH: I'm talking about South -- well, let's start with South Carolina. HALEY: Yes, no, because, I mean, what I can tell you is, this is -- South Carolina is the state that elected the first female minority governor in history. So I know -- South Carolina knows what I did. We turned that state around, and they're very grateful.
But South Carolinians are tough. They want you to earn it. They want you to fight for it. They're watching what I did in Iowa. They're going to watch what happens in New Hampshire. And if we can be strong in New Hampshire, we're going to end up, we're going to be even stronger in South Carolina. It's state by state.
This is a marathon. It's not a sprint. But it's one that I'm going to continue to be in. We continue to move up in the polls. Everybody else is going down and we're going to end up saving this country. We have to.
BASH: Governor Haley, Governor Sununu, thank you so much. Thanks for your time. Appreciate it.
HALEY: Thanks so much.
BASH: Thank you.
Coming up, the inside scoop on how to win over New Hampshire voters with a veteran Republican strategist. Stay with us.
BASH: With the New Hampshire primary just one week away, I want to welcome an expert in all things New Hampshire. Jim Merrill was a campaign strategist for Marco Rubio in 2016 and Mitt Romney in 2012 here. Nice to see you.
JIM MERRILL, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Hey, Dana.
BASH: Thanks for being here. I know you just heard the governors --
BASH: -- the candidate, in particular, Nikki Haley. Was there anything that you think that she said that will particularly resonate or not resonate in this really important state?
MERRILL: Yes, listen, I think that we've got a week left here and what she telegraphed us now is she's committed to New Hampshire. And she made a commitment early on to New Hampshire that I think has distinguished her from the field and what gave her the foundation of support she needed to be in position here.
She said, you know, she's in shouting distance of Trump here. This is a race and she's committed to working at, you know, over the last, you know, seven days here. So that energy, I think, is what is going to be the takeaway for New Hampshire voters. BASH: And of course, we can't lose sight of the fact that Donald Trump didn't just win in Iowa. He crushed everyone else. It was a historic win in 98 of the 99 counties, doing well in almost -- not just doing well -- winning in almost every demographic, including those that he almost never does well in.
How does that play here, or does that bode either for or against him or others here? Meaning, how much of a mirror is it?
MERRILL: Right. Well, I mean, as you know, Dana, I mean, the states are very different. The electorate is very different. The process is very different. So, you know, I think everyone knew going into Iowa, we all knew what the result was going to be. He was going to win and win handily and he did.
New Hampshire is an open primary, the undeclareds or independents, as you call them, have a chance to participate here. That's a different demographic. The issue set is different here as well. And so, I think that, you know, Iowa was an important race for Donald Trump. He did very well here.
Give him credit to there. Give him credit where it's due. But in New Hampshire, Nikki Haley has laid the groundwork to succeed. She's in striking distance. I saw a new survey today that had it tied up at 40. You know, we'll see. And plus, you know, you just saw with Governor Sununu, she's got a heck of a home run hitter to be with her these last seven days.
BASH: Well, you know, one of the things that made Donald Trump's victory so strong wasn't just who he is and why they like him, but it's that unlike 2016, he had a really --
BASH: -- serious organization and ground game there. How much is Nikki Haley going to be helped with Chris Sununu? I mean, he's a lame duck governor. They know they have to run every two years, but does his ground game exist, and will that help her? Does he have the infrastructure to help her?
MERRILL: Well, I think, first of all, she has that infrastructure. She's really made an investment in New Hampshire over the last 11 months that we've seen here. You know, we saw her beginning to take off here before she had strong debate performances, before Governor Sununu's endorsement.
So lay over top of that AFP's support. As we know, AFP has been supporting her here. And they've got a really impressive ground game in place now for Nikki Haley. And overlay that with Chris Sununu, who's the most popular Republican of his generation.
And I think she's going to have the grassroots resources she needs to, you know, to hopefully pull this thing out from her perspective.
[12:40:02] BASH: Because AFP was on the ground for her and Iowan didn't seem to help much. I mean, who knows? I shouldn't say that. Maybe she would have done --
MERRILL: Well, I think it probably did help, Dana --
MERRILL: -- in the sense that, you know, no one expected her to do well there. I mean, look, Ron DeSantis made a strategic decision a few months ago to put his eggs in the Iowa basket. That was a tough result for them last night. I don't think anyone expected Nikki Haley to do too well there.
BASH: I want to go back to your experience that I mentioned introducing you. You did work on Rubio's campaign here.
MERRILL: I did.
BASH: And in Iowa, we were looking at the Rubio counties, the counties where Rubio won in or did well in 2016, because that could be potentially where Nikki Haley would do well. Do you see similarity in terms of the kind of voters she's going for? And if so, what did you learn working in the Marco Rubio campaign when He didn't do well here --
BASH: -- against Donald Trump that she could learn a lesson from?
MERRILL: Yes, I think that, you know, her focus is going to be on, you know, Hillsborough, Rockingham County, really Concord South. That's where the lion's share of the Republican vote is. And there are a lot of suburban communities there that are, you know, really strong Republican towns.
Most of the top 20 Republican towns in the state are Concord South. So that's Manchester, Nashville, then out towards the seacoast. And so I think she has an opportunity to do well in those communities that, you know, suburban voters that resonate with her.
BASH: I just want to show one piece of data from last night, and I want to get your take on it. The entrance poll showed 65 percent of Republican caucusgoers said, yes, Donald Trump is fit for presidency, even if he is convicted of a crime. 31 percent said no. To you, which is the most significant, impactful figure, the yes or the no?
MERRILL: I think the yes. I think the yes, which, you know, suggests that, you know, Donald Trump has a lot of support. You know, it's a little bit lesser here in New Hampshire, but look, he still has a really high floor. He's been in the low to mid-40s all the way through, so there's a lot baked in with Donald Trump people, you know, like him.
I think we saw with Chris Christie. You know, he took a frontal assault on Donald Trump every day here, got him 12 percent in a retirement, effectively. So, I think it's been difficult for the non- Trump candidates to find a message that really resonates there. But that's 65 percent in Iowa. I think it'd be less in New Hampshire, but it's still significant.
BASH: Jim Merrill, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
MERRILL: Thanks, Dana.
BASH: And ahead, fresh off his big win in Iowa, as I was talking about with Governor Haley. Donald Trump is back in court today. A jury is set to determine how much he will pay in damages for defaming columnist E. Jean Carroll, who's accused him of sexual assault. Stay with us.
BASH: Right now, Donald Trump is back in court for a second defamation case against him. A jury will decide how much he must pay for defaming columnist E. Jean Carroll, who's accused Trump of sexual assault. It is a very different scene from last night's victory address in Iowa.
I want to bring in CNN Senior Legal Analyst Elie Honig. So, Elie, just to be clear, because obviously there's a lot swirling and this is a bit complicated because it's a civil trial. He was found liable for abusing E. Jean Carroll. And now the question, among others, is what the damages will be. And that's part of what is happening in the court, correct? In the hearing today, I should say.
ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Right, Dana. Yes. So this is actually a second trial. And here's why. Donald Trump made two separate sets of defamatory comments about E. Jean Carroll. The first was while he was president in 2019. The second set of comments happened after he was president.
Now, the trial that happened last year had to do with that second set after he was president. The trial that's happening now has to do with the first set, why -- which happened while he was president. And the reason that one's been held up is that Donald Trump was arguing that he was immune from civil lawsuit because it happened while he was president and he argued it was within the scope of the presidency. The appeals courts rejected that argument, but that caused a couple of year delay, which is why we're now having this second trial.
BASH: And he continues to attack E. Jean Carroll on his website, on his social media platform, called her a whack job. He said the trial was a rigged deal. More recently, on January 6th, while campaigning in Iowa, he said that E. Jean Carroll had faked her story. How does that play into his case?
HONIG: Well, it hurts his case. It's self-destructive by Donald Trump. And the judge has told him this. The judge has said that all these comments that he makes every day, they're all fair play for the jury. And this jury, Dana, the only issue they're deciding is how much money Donald Trump has to pay E. Jean Carroll, how much Donald Trump's comments have damaged E. Jean Carroll. So every time he piles on more commentary, he could be piling onto this damages award.
BASH: As I mentioned at the beginning, this is not a criminal case, this is a civil case. And you tell me what that means when it comes to the requirement or not for him to be sitting there as he is today.
HONIG: Yes, so big difference. In a criminal case, the defendant has to be physically present in the courtroom. We will see that play out later when Donald Trump goes on trial for his criminal cases. But in a civil case, it's voluntary. It's up to the parties. Now the parties, plaintiffs or defendants, often do choose to be in court. It makes an impression on the judge and the jury.
But to be clear, it seems quite clear that Donald Trump's motivation here is political and PR. The best way to tell that is that when they had the first trial, where E. Jean Carroll sued Donald Trump, he didn't step foot in or near the courtroom or the courthouse, and now he's choosing to do this. So, I think there's clearly a political thought behind it.
BASH: I think that's probably very, very fair to say. More than one political thought behind this. And much of the other moves that he's making when it comes to his legal troubles.
Thank you so much, Elie. I appreciate your insight.
HONIG: Thanks, Dana.
BASH: And we are live from New Hampshire. Thank you. This is Inside Politics and we will be right back.
BASH: We want to thank this restaurant where we are, Chez Vachon, in Manchester, New Hampshire, for hosting us today for a very lively show. It's great to be here. A quick reminder, tonight, presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis will make his case and take questions directly from voters. CNN's Wolf Blitzer is moderating a CNN presidential town hall from New Hampshire tonight. It starts at 9 p. m. Eastern, right here on CNN.
Thank you so much for joining me today here on Inside Politics from New Hampshire. CNN News Central starts after the break.