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Haley Expected To Say She Will Not Drop Out Of Race; Haley Delivers "State Of The Race" Speech In SC. Haley: Trump Has Been A "Disaster"; Haley: "I Have No Fear Of Trump's Retribution"; Haley: I'll Campaign Until The Last Person Votes; Biden Directs Campaign Aides To Get More Aggressive On Trump. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired February 20, 2024 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Today on Inside Politics. Can Nikki Haley bring her campaign back to life? Any minute now, the candidate will take the stage in South Carolina for what her campaign is billing as a major speech. We expect her to make the case for while she'll stay in the race even if she loses her home state.

Plus, contrasting the crazy. New CNN reporting reveals the president's orders to his senior most campaign staff ramp up how much they're spotlighting the quote "crazy," let's say stuff, that comes out of Donald Trump's mouth.

And Bill Bradley, former Democratic senator, NBA star,h e hasn't run a campaign since the year 2000. And he is younger than Joe Biden. Does that matter? Should it matter to voters? I'll talk to him about that in more in minutes.

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

First up, Nikki Haley says she can still write her own story. The former ambassador in South Carolina governor will take the stage shortly in her home state, which holds its pivotal primary in just four days. Her task is to convince donors and voters, she still has a path to victory. That's a scenario that seems more and more unlikely by the day.

CNN's Kylie Atwood is covering the Haley campaign for us is in South Carolina. Kylie?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, what we've heard from Nikki Haley over the last few days is her continuing to beat this drum of determination on the campaign trail. Even though we've seen many polls, including a poll out today that show her -- behind former President Trump here in her home state of South Carolina by 30, 35 points.

She is continuing to say that she is in this that she is not going anywhere. She's also not casting the results of South Carolina primary as a life or death for her campaign. She has said that it is important for her to do well. She has encouraged South Carolinians to get out and vote for her on Saturday. But in the same breath, she has been telling voters here in South Carolina that she's heading to Michigan. The next day that she's going to compete in those Super Tuesday seats states, really a defiant Nikki Haley that we have seen over the course of the last few days. As she is preparing to deliver this speech on what her campaign says is the state of the race.

Now, as she is going to do this, former President Trump's campaign is out with a campaign memo today. Trying to, oh, it looks like Nikki Haley is going to be coming on in just a second year but trying to undercut her message.

What they are saying is that her campaign is effectively over. They are laying out the delegate math for how former President Trump is going to clinch the delegates that he needs to win the nomination by March 12 or March 19. And we're going to listen to what Nikki Haley has to say here if she'll get into any of that delegate math at all.

BASH: OK. Thank you so much, Kylie. I hear they're announcing that she is coming on the stage momentarily. As soon as she does get on the stage, we will take her remarks. In the meantime, I want to bring in my panel of reporters. Actually, let's go to her right now.

NIKKI HALEY (R) 2024 GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you all for being here. It's another great day in South Carolina. And we're hoping for an even better day on Saturday. Early voting is underway. I have a quick reminder to all South Carolinians. In a general election, you're given a choice. In a primary, you make your choice.

Make sure you make the right choice. Make your voices heard today, tomorrow and on Saturday. Some of you, perhaps a few of you in the media, came here today to see if I'm dropping out of the race. Well, I'm not.


Far from it and I'm here to tell you why. I'm running for president because we have a country to save. Since the start of my campaign, I've been focused on the real issues our country faces. The ones that determine whether America will thrive or spiral out. I'm talking about the millions of students who don't know how to read or do basic math.

The family who can't afford groceries, much less a first home. the total lawlessness on our southern border. I'm talking about the murders in our cities, the fentanyl on our streets, the children who've been killed in their mom's car by stray bullets.

And I'm talking about the American weakness that led to wars in Europe and the Middle East, and the urgent need to restore our strength before war spreads and draws America further in. These are the challenges I'm here to tackle.

But instead of focusing on how to make America stronger tomorrow, some people want to know if I'm going to cave today. We've all heard the calls for me to drop out. We all know where they're coming from. The political elite, the party bosses, the cheerleaders in the commentator world, the argument is familiar.

They say I haven't want to stay that my path to victory is slim. They point to the primary polls and say, I'm only delaying the inevitable. Why keep fighting when the battle was apparently over after Iowa?

Look, I get it. In politics, the herd mentality is enormously strong. A lot of Republican politicians have surrendered to it. The pressure on them was way too much. They didn't want to be left out of the club. Of course, many of the same politicians who now publicly embrace Trump, privately dread him.

They know what a disaster he's been and will continue to be for our party. They're just too afraid to say it out loud. Well, I'm not afraid to say the hard truth out loud. I feel no need to kiss the ring. I have no fear of Trump's retribution. I'm not looking for anything from him. My own political future is of zero concern.

So, I hear what the political class says. But I hear from the American people too. I've heard from a retired army medic who looked evil in the eye. When he says we're headed towards disaster, that American lives are on the line. He knows what he's talking about. He knows we can afford more of the same. That's why he told me to give them hell.

I've heard from a mom who promised to email me every day and she does. She just wants a return to normalcy. She wants me to keep running for the sake of her four-year-old son. She hopes he'll see the quote, America she grew up in, and America that strong and proud and united in purpose.

And I've heard from a high school student who just last week came to hear me speak. She asked me to sign a note to her teacher explaining her absence. After growing up amid the chaos and anger of the last few years, she finally has hope that America will make it, if we make the right choice.

I'm constantly hearing from Americans like these. Hundreds a day, thousands a week, and hundreds of thousands since I declared my candidacy. They see the same polls as me. But more importantly, they have the same belief as me.

They believe in America. They believe America can do so much better that we must do better. And they know when the country's future is on the line. You don't drop out. You keep fighting. In fact, you fight harder than ever. That's why I refuse to quit. South Carolina will vote on Saturday. But on Sunday, I'll still be running for president. I'm not going anywhere.


I'm campaigning every day until the last person votes. Because I believe in a better America and a brighter future for our kids. Nothing good in life comes easy. I'm willing to take the cuts, the bruises, and the name calling. Because the only way you get to the blessing is by going through the pain.

Dropping out would be the easy route. I've never taken the easy route. I've been the underdog in every race I've ever run. I've always been David taking on Goliath. And like David, I'm not just fighting someone bigger than me. I'm fighting for something bigger than myself. I'm used to people questioning my intentions.

So, I'll make a few things clear. Some people used to say I was running because I really wanted to be vice president. I think I've pretty well settled that question. Other people say I'm trying to set up a future presidential run. How does that even work?

If I was running for a bogus reason, I would have dropped out a long time ago. The rest of the fellas already did that. They have their own plans. I don't judge them. But I'm still here. I'm fighting for what I know is right. And I don't care what the party leaders and political elites want. I'll keep fighting until the American people close the door. That day is not today. And it won't be on Saturday, not by a longshot.

The presidential primaries have barely begun. Just three states have voted. Three, that's it. After this weekend, we'll be at four. That's not a lot. In the 10 days after South Carolina, another 21 states and territories will vote. People have a right to have their voices heard. And they deserve a real choice, not a soviet style election where there's only one candidate, and he gets 99 percent of the vote.

We don't anoint kings in this country. We have elections. And Donald Trump of all people should know, we don't rig elections. Americans have every belief and background are tired of our national mess. They don't want more chaos and craziness. They worry about a national collapse.

If I weren't in the race, we'd be reading the exact same storyline every day until November 5. There would be widespread reports of Americans suffering from a bad case of Biden, Trump fatigue, and it would be true. A stunning 70 percent of the country doesn't want a Biden-Trump rematch. The majority of Americans don't just dislike one candidate. They dislike both.

As a country we've never seen such dissatisfaction with the leading candidates. We've never had so many Americans mired in pessimism and division. We still have a chance to restore their faith. I will fight as long as that chance exists.

Now I know what Donald Trump is saying. He wants an election with no opponent. But that's not what the voters are saying. Despite being a de facto incumbent, Donald Trump lost 49 percent of the vote in Iowa. In New Hampshire, Trump lost 46 percent of the vote. That's not good. We're talking about almost ---


BASH: OK. We've been listening to Nikki Haley, Republican presidential candidate and giving what her campaign dubbed as a major speech in her home state of South Carolina. A state that is going to the polls for an important primary in just four days on Saturday. So, the intro to this speech was about how she's not dropping out. And first of all, I just want to bring in our panel -- number of orders, Nia-Malika Henderson of Bloomberg and CNN, Laura Barron-Lopez of the PBS NewsHour, and NPR's Ayesha Rascoe. So back to wrapping up the gist of her speech, which was I refuse to quit I'm not dropping out.

And of course, the sort of predictable the media says, I should drop out which -- I just want to lay the groundwork here for our conversation, which is that going into the speech. I don't think anybody thought she was going to drop out. She and her campaign made extremely clear that she was going to stay in -- at least through South Carolina and even beyond, as she reiterated in this speech.

But there clearly is a reason why she gave this speech today. She wants to kind of reframe the discussion, reframe the narrative around her campaign for it not to be the fact that she is so far behind Donald Trump, and she wants to -- let met sort of get other headlines out there. She also wants to continue to raise money.

So, I think a big audience for this speech is the donor class, which so far given where she is, you know, and the fact that she doesn't have that many delegates that she doesn't have a lot of hope for beating Donald Trump. The fact that she still is able to raise any money. Says a lot about some of the concern about Donald Trump as small as it is, particularly in the donor class.

Nia, what are your thoughts, especially as a South Carolina native.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, listen, -- you know, she wanted attention today and she got it. And you know, the donors will be listening and maybe they'll give her a little more runway to continue this thing. Nikki Haley was there saying, she likes hard truths. Well, one hard truth is her path to defeating Donald Trump is incredibly difficult.

She sort of makes it -- seem like she has a beef with the GOP a lead and the political press. The beef should be with the voters, right, who aren't really buying her message. At this point, I mean in South Carolina, she is going to lose by a landslide. She was a two-time governor. They're fairly popular on the way out, but people aren't just -- people aren't liking her. They liked Donald Trump much better.

And so, listen. I think she lives to see another day. It's sort of a pre buttle to her defeat in South Carolina. But again, it just seems like another day of this campaign that will end at some point.

BASH: When I -- you know, I mentioned the fact that this was a speech saying that I'm not dropping out. Nobody necessarily thought she would drop out in recent days and weeks. Rewind to Iowa and New Hampshire, particularly after New Hampshire, there certainly was a question about whether she wanted to face voters in our home state and potentially lose by a landslide.

But given the fact that she's young, and whether that would hurt her brand long term. My own political future is of zero concern. That was a notable line that helps answer -- I mean ---- HENDERSON: It is untruth too.

BASH: Take it -- take it for what it -- took for what it is. But she was attempting to answer that question with that line.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah. I mean, look, I think that all of us can agree that she definitely has ambitions beyond this presidential election cycle. I mean, she's likely looking to 2028 and establishing herself as someone who didn't kiss the ring necessarily.

Although, I thought that that was a funny line considering that, you know, recently she still said -- even though she's been going after the former president more aggressively lately. She still said that she would pardon him if she were elected president. And I'm not sure if she's answered more recently, whether or not, she would vote for him still or support him as a nominee.

BASH: She did. She said that she -- I tried to ask her last week and she didn't answer, but she did say even if he's a convicted criminal, she will still support.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Which is astonishing if he's a convicted criminal, but it's also just striking, considering that she's attempting to make this argument to voters that he is not fit for the presidency. She has called him on hinge.

She has said that he is willing to hand over, you know, NATO territories to Russia and establish herself as not an isolationist in the Republican Party, and that he represents a threat but then still says she'd be willing to vote for him. So, I think that that's making it harder for her to establish this lane where she can win over a lot of voters.

BASH: So, let's just kind of look ahead. She mentioned that only three states have voted that is true. The fourth will be this weekend, her home state of South Carolina. Let's look at Super Tuesday, which is the big pot of delegates -- the biggest pot of delegates by far. We're just going to look at the 384 delegates that will be awarded winner take all. So, 50 percent of the states that are voting on Super Tuesday -- that's March 5 -- will be winner take all.


Meaning if she loses, presumably she won't win Alabama, you know, a lot of these dates, maybe even most of these dates, she gets no delegates. She will get some if she wins, just some percentages and other states. But this is a huge number of delegates. 384, when you're looking at the total, that a Republican needs to get the nomination which is 12115.

AYESHA RASCOE, NPR HOST, "WEEKEND EDITION SUNDAY" AND "UP FIRST": Yeah. I mean, I think that, you know, what stood out to me about what she was saying today, is she was saying that she hasn't given into the herd mentality. But when I think about democracy, and when I think about voters, isn't it the herd that wins, right, like -- so it's like, well, how is this going to work? And when I looked at, you know, when you -- she does have some donors. I guess, the Koch group Americans for Prosperity. They are doing some spending in the, you know, the Super Tuesday states, but there's never like really a plan to show what state is she going to win? Like, how is this going to work? It seems like what is keeping her afloat. Is there are donors who are willing to give, who really don't expect much of a return on the investment?

BASH: No. Well, and on that note, let's just look at South Carolina ad spending. So far, this is the pro-Haley spending $14.8 million, pro - Trump $1.3 million. I mean, wow, that's a lot of money. In particularly in South Carolina, which is not like a hugely expensive place to buy ads, but just look at the difference. I mean, 14 to 1 million.

HENDERSON: Listen, as much as she likes to say she's not a creature of the elites. She is a creature of the elites. I mean, they are the ones who are keeping this afloat. There is no real groundswell of support for her. Even in her own state of South Carolina right.

Before New Hampshire, I was talking to some folks on the ground there, they thought maybe she could get 45, 47 percent. If she did well in New Hampshire. She didn't do that well in New Hampshire. And so, it looks like she's going to go there and really kind of have an embarrassing defeat. She doesn't think it's embarrassing. I think it goes to the fact that if you can't win in South Carolina, what other states can you win?

BASH: We're going to take a quick break. But I want to just get one other point that she made, which is that America doesn't want the Trump, Biden rematch. And that's another reason why she's staying in the race. As I heard her say that I was wondering, because she doesn't look like she's going to gobble up that many delegates. Isn't that conversation happening about Trump versus Biden, whether she's in or not?

BARRON-LOPEZ: Yeah, it is. I mean, voters I talked to are talking about those two candidates and Democrats are focused on President Biden, you know, not really anticipating any shake up there. And I think more and more voters are starting to realize that Trump has the nomination, so no.

BASH: Yeah. Even though she says she's going to campaign until the last person votes. That's like the spring. OK, up next. New CNN reporting on direct orders from the president of the United States to his campaign. The bottom line, let Trump be Trump and then make sure voters know all about it.




BASH: President Biden is ordering his campaign to get far more aggressive when it comes to his likely opponent. This brand-new reporting from CNN's MJ Lee is that Biden personally instructed his top campaign aides recently to spend even more time painting Trump is on the hinge and calling out his inflammatory rhetoric.

Two Sources tell MJ that the thrust of Biden's instruction was to significantly ramp up the campaign's efforts to highlight the crazy 'S' that Trump says in public. CNN's MJ Lee is at the White House. I guess I can say the 'S' word, but maybe too early on the west coast at least. MJ?

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Dana. You know, I think this reporting gives us some interesting insight into how the president himself personally views his campaign strategy. What I was told by sources is, as you said, President Biden instructing personally some of his top campaign aides to essentially be even more aggressive in highlighting some of Trump's most inflammatory and wild comments.

You know, it's not a secret at all, obviously, that the Biden campaign believes it is critical to draw these black and white contrast between Biden and Trump as they see it when it comes to even their temperament, their worldviews, their policies.

But as the Biden campaign makes this full pivot to the general election, it's clear that Biden himself believes that it is critical to paint the former president as being unhinged and simply unfit for office.

And I think we've seen the Biden campaign and the president himself take those opportunities more aggressively in recent weeks. When it comes to -- for example, going after the former president's comments about NATO or going after his mocking of Nikki Haley's husband, who is currently serving abroad.

And when I reached out to the campaign for comment for this story. This is a part of what the campaign's rapid response director said in a statement to us. He said Donald Trump is the polar opposite of everything President Biden stands for and has accomplished since he took office. And the campaign's top priority over the next nine months will be laying out that stark choice for voters.

One bit of context, Dana, that I do think is important is that Biden campaign advisors have been concerned that so many voters seem to have sort of forgotten about some of the moments from the Trump presidency that they see as sort of outrageous and unacceptable. This is sort of the rose-colored glasses effect that they are concerned about, and they are determined to try to fix that heading into member by highlighting all of these examples.

BASH: Forgotten or maybe become numb too. Thank you so much, MJ. Great reporting.