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Haley Suspends Campaign But Doesn't Immediately Endorse Trump; Haley: It's Up To Trump To "Earn" The Votes Of My Supporters; Trump Slams Haley But Invites Her Supporting To Join His Movement; Exit Poll: Just 19 Percent Of Haley Voters "Satisfied" With Trump; McConnell Endorses Trump After Haley Drops Out; Top Republicans Set Aside Past Concerns To Rally Behind Trump; Biden Praises Haley, Appeals To Her Supporters To Join Him; Biden Campaign: Trump Is "Wounded, Dangerous, And Unpopular". Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired March 06, 2024 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Today on Inside Politics, welcome to the general election. The two parties' choices whether you like it or not, are Joe Biden and Donald Trump. The 2020 rematch is now effectively a done deal after Nikki Haley made this announcement this morning.


NIKKI HALEY (R) 2024 GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The time has now come to suspend my campaign. I said I wanted Americans to have their voices heard. I have done that. I have no regrets. And although, I will no longer be a candidate. I will not stop using my voice for the things I believe in.


BASH: The question now where will Haley voters go? Both Biden and Trump are making a play for their support with very different strategies. I'm Dana Bash. Let's go behind the headlines at Inside Politics.

First up, today is day one of what will likely be a bitter and grueling 244-day general election. An 81-year-old incumbent president versus his 77-year-old predecessor. Donald Trump was able to secure his spot as the presumptive Republican nominee for the third time in a row, just 51 days after the first votes were cast. And now he's one step closer to pulling up something that hasn't happened in 130 years. Grover Cleveland was the only president to win non-consecutive terms.

CNN's Kylie Atwood is in Charleston, South Carolina, where Nikki Haley just announced that she was suspending her presidential campaign. Kylie, you've been doing amazing reporting on what has been going on behind the scenes. What can you tell us now?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN, CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, Nikki Haley said that she has no regrets. She's full of gratitude. And she said that she is suspending her campaign. Although, she feels good about what she was able to do here. It's important to note that she has ramped up her criticism of former President Trump over the course of the final stretch here of this campaign. At one point calling him toxic, at another point saying that he wasn't qualified to be president because she wouldn't trust him to protect U.S. service members overseas.

So, it's not altogether surprising that when she came out and announced the end of her campaign today. She also did not come out and endorse former President Trump today. She left the door open to potentially endorsing him ahead of the general election in November. But she essentially said the onus is on him to make the case to the voters who have supported her. Listen to what she said.


HALEY: It is now up to Donald Trump to earn the votes of those in our party and beyond it who did not support him. And I hope he does that. At its best politics is about bringing people into your cause, not turning them away. And our conservative cause badly needs more people. This is now his time for choosing.


ATWOOD: Now, Nikki Haley only won two states as part of the primary process, Washington D.C., and last night Vermont. But her campaign has repeatedly pointed out that there is a faction of the electorate that is siding with her and her vision. And she is trying to now play up the leverage that she has on those voters, putting herself into a position of power, even though she is stepping down and ending her candidacy today.

And it's important to note, Dana, that she very clearly said that even though she is no longer going to be running for president, she is going to continue to use her voice for the issues that she cares about. One of them she said was the need to stand with U.S. allies, calling that just incredibly important. Dana?

BASH: And such a classic issue that really does show a deep divide in the Trump Republican Party and the more traditional party that Nikki Haley espouses. Thank you so much, Kylie. And this is the message that the Trump campaign put out after Nikki Haley's announcement. It said, it was a hard-fought race. But now it's time for us to unite as a party and defeat Joe Biden. Donald Trump, the person his own message was, shall we say off message?

CNN's Kristen Holmes is in Palm Beach, Florida. Kristen, there -- I mean, this is sort of rinse and repeat. There's the campaign and then there's the candidate.


KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. It's not surprising what we heard from the former president, particularly as Kylie just laid out, he had been tapped by Nikki Haley. He was on offense. And we were told going into this speech that Nikki Haley was not going to endorse him. And I was told by advisers that they believed she was going to go out there and trash him.

But before she even got through her speech, in which she asked Donald Trump to earn the votes of Republicans that didn't support him. He posted this on social media. He said, Nikki Haley got trounced last night in record setting fashion, despite the fact that Democrats for reasons unknown are allowed to vote in Vermont, and various other Republican primaries. Much of her money came from Radical Left Democrats, as did many of her voters, almost 50 percent according to the polls.

At this point, I hope she stays in the race and fights it out until the end. I'd like to thank my family, friends and the great Republican Party for helping me produce by far. The most successful Super Tuesday in history and would further like to invite all of the Haley supporters to join the greatest movement in the history of our nation. Biden is the enemy. He's destroying our country, make America great again.

So, he starts by saying that Haley's supporters and donors are Democrats. He's also said that anybody who donates to Haley was not somebody who he wants to donate to him. And then he ends was saying, if Nikki supporter -- Nikki Haley supporters want to support him, he welcomes them. This was then sent out by the campaign. This is why I'm pointing this out.

In a note that said Donald Trump's statement before Haley's speech, which indicates to me there might be something else coming because this was not sent out before Haley's speech. This was sent out in the middle of his speech, and I am told that he was watching this speech. I knew it was happening at the time.

But I think we might see something else another turn of the wheel here because, Dana, as we have said, time and time again. Both Biden and Trump going into this -- every single vote is going to count a general election. And that includes those Nikki Haley supporters.

Yeah, the turn of the wheel will probably go about 180 degrees is my sense. Kristen, thank you so much for that reporting. There's so much to discuss today. And here with me is an all-star panel. CNN and Bloomberg Nia-Malika Henderson, CNN's Jeff Zeleny and Amy Walter, of The Cook Political Report.

I told you all, I want you to sort of just kind of open up your brains and spill out the most -- sort of the biggest takeaway. Our viewers have been listening to this and we'll get into some of the nitty gritty in a second. But kind of the big picture of what this means in the body politic going forward.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN, CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, now we're serious. The rematch really is on starting today. And 244-some odd days until the final election day the voting comes earlier. But look, I think the biggest sort of thing I'm struck by as you look at all the maps of the primaries are the coalitions.

There's work to do on both sides in terms of rebuilding their frame Coalition on the Biden side. That is clear as we see the uncommitted votes in Minnesota again last night, joining Michigan last week in other places, that's just one slice of the coalition he has to rebuild. But he has to do the same with progressives, young voters, Latino voters, black voters, others, but Donald Trump also has to rebuild his coalition, the Republican coalition.

I talked to so many voters out there this year who voted for him once twice, some may do it a third time, others simply don't know. So, I think that is what we'll have our eye on going forward for the next eight months. What about those people who don't know? We call them Nikki Haley voters now. They're not all Nikki Haley voters and she doesn't own them. They'll do different things.

But some said they're going to vote third party, some said they're not going to vote. Others have to be sort of wooed in. So, her comments are this morning, that was a time for his choosing. The burden is on him. It's not her burden.

AMY WALTER, PUBLISHER & EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, COOK POLITICAL REPORT: That's a very, very good point. Look, you mentioned in the open. This is the third time Donald Trump now has a presumptive nominee, but he enters this race in stronger shape than he's ever been in his political career.

You know, think back where he was in 2016. He didn't win a majority in any of those states. In the primaries or in the caucuses, the party was deeply divided. 2020 he came into that race behind Joe Biden. At this point in 2020, he was trailing by about four or five points. Today, he's got a party behind him clearly.

And yes, I do agree with Jeff that those Haley voters are going to be important. But there are far fewer of them than there were in 2016, who are really debating this. And Joe Biden is a much weaker candidate than he was in 2020. So, this race starts in a very different place than the rematch and then it did in 2020. The rematch looks very different.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah. At this point, I think voters are really ready for this reality, right? It had been sort of ---


HENDERSON: And they got to be ready, right? At this point, they don't have a choice. This is what -- this is what has been presented over the last couple of months as the likelihood. So, this is what's going to happen. They have seen these candidates. I mean, I was telling Amy in the greenroom, she said like we've been covering this, certainly Donald Trump since 2015. So this is going to be one of the most expensive -- the most expensive presidential campaign that we've ever seen.


And I think one big question is, are we sort of in the middle of a great resorting of the parties, right? This great sort of realignment where more downscale sort of working-class voters are more likely to vote Republican. And that's across demographics.

And Dana, sort of assorting to the Democratic side of more upscale voters, suburban white voters, college educated voters, and those are sort of I think, the Nikki Haley voters, and we'll see what happens with that. But this is going to be a down and dirty erase. So much money is going to be flooded. These, you know, a handful of states, right, these swing states. And we'll see if Donald Trump can flip them or if Biden will keep them in his column.

BASH: One of the factors -- one of the many factors, but maybe the most important factors that Donald Trump is facing this time around that he wasn't in the other two races is a criminal charges and court case after court case that he's facing. And it was striking in the exit polls that we saw last night.

These are questions that were asked of Nikki Haley's voters, specifically about whether or not they're satisfied -- they would be satisfied as Trump is the nominee, only 19 percent said yes. Believe Trump is fit to serve if convicted 17 percent. Now that might look like a pretty low percentage.

But if you think about what that could mean in -- let's just take North Carolina and Virginia, particularly Virginia, for example. Well, I think North Carolina is probably the better example. If those people don't show up for Donald Trump, Joe Biden could win a state like North Carolina.

ZELENY: Sure, he could. I think a couple of caveats in there. Could he be convicted? I mean, we have no idea if any of these court cases are ever going to get to that point. If I was a betting person as an old courthouse reporter, I would say no. I mean, that seems to be where it's going.

But you mentioned wildcards. Boy, I cannot think of a presidential race with more wildcards from the third-party candidates to the individual health and sort of stature of both candidates to all of the criminal cases. So, we're going to reset, have to take our breath and see how this shakes out. But I do think it's an important opening here for the Biden campaign and they're going to try and seize upon it.

I mean, they have a lot of vulnerabilities. But their biggest task above all, of course, is to try and make this not about Joe Biden, but to make it about Donald Trump about his negatives. And there's a lot that helps him -- them in that respect. But again, the criminal charges has helped Donald Trump consolidate the Republican base unlike we've ever seen in his two other races as at this point.

BASH: Right. And it's a very different frame in a general election. It's consolidating the base and then there's getting people who don't like that and other things about Donald Trump, which is why the Biden campaign -- I mean, they had basically their finger on the send button, the minute she started to speak.

This is a statement. Donald Trump made it clear he doesn't want Nikki Haley supporters. I want to be clear. There is a place for them in my campaign. I know that Democrats and Republicans and Independents disagree on many issues and hold strong convictions. That's a good thing. That's what America stands for. And then he went on to say, this is what makes me love America and vote Biden.

WALTER: You know, Nai put her finger on it when talking about the sort of realignment of the coalitions, but it doesn't take a big realignment. It literally takes like 5000 voters and a handful of state kind of realignment. And so, every single one of these voters who fits into that category in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, and Arizona matters a lot and a lot more than what we'll see maybe at the national level.

Look, this has been Donald Trump's challenge as a candidate and it still looks -- even as I said, he's coming in in better shape than ever. Like his continued challenge, which is his hard ceiling. Even in the swing state polls where he's ahead. He is getting basically the exact same percent of the vote he got in 2020. Or he got in 2016. He has never been interested in expanding his coalition. But again, if you're going to win into these states ---

BASH: This time around, they say they're trying African American votes.


WALTER: Yeah, that's right. It won't be the Haley type voters. It'd be a different type of voters.

HENDERSON: And I think part of Donald Trump's problem is the way he treats Nikki Haley reminds these Haley voters of why they don't like Donald Trump. It's about his character. And that's one of the reasons why she said listen, it's a time of your choosing Donald Trump. Are you going to try -- are you going to choose to behave differently going forward, doubtful?

BASH: All right. Coming up, despite years of political disagreements and Donald Trump's personal and racist attacks on his wife. Mitch McConnell endorsed Donald Trump. Today we have some new reporting about how and why it happened after a quick break.



BASH: Today's Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell endorsed Donald Trump for president, saying in part. It is abundantly clear that former President Trump has earned the requisite support of the Republican voters to be our nominee for president of the United States. It's the latest turn in the complicated relationship between the two men. They haven't spoken since McConnell publicly blamed Trump for the January 6 insurrection.

CNN's Manu Raju joins me now from the Hill. Manu, I mean you could almost see the imagery of him putting this to paper through gritted teeth. I know you've been doing reporting on this. My understanding is that this came after months of discussions between Josh Holmes who's a longtime confidant of Mitch McConnell, Chris LaCivita top Trump aide. And discussing not just their communications, but also most important Leader Mitch McConnell at this point how they're going to work together to get Republicans elected to the Senate.


MANU RAJU, CNN, CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. And actually, Dana, they still have not spoken despite this endorsement. Remember the last time that they spoke McConnell and Trump was in December of 2020. That's when the electoral college certified Joe Biden's victory. Mitch McConnell went to the floor declared Joe Biden the victory that did not go over well with Donald Trump. And of course, January 6 happened.

Mitch McConnell voted to acquit Donald Trump in that impeachment trial, but then went to the floor and absolutely eviscerated Donald Trump, calling him morally and practically responsible for the events of that day. And then we have seen everything that happened since then Trump attacking McConnell, Trump going after Mitch McConnell's wife, Elaine Chao.

And really rather racist terms attacking -- McConnell rarely even says Trump's name. I asked him regularly about Trump, the campaign trail. He doesn't even want to discuss any of it. But he had said for some time that he would ultimately endorse the nominee and that's what he said in that statement today. I'm here to endorse the nominee.

Now Dana, this is not just McConnell falling in line. This is the Republican Party establishment falling line including McConnell's potential successors. John Thune and John Cornyn, both of them are running to replace Mitch McConnell in the next Congress.

I caught up with both of them today. Both of them had expressed concerns about Trump's viability in the election -- in the past about how he can appeal to voters in the suburbs. I asked him if they still have those concerns, and they made clear they're willing to look past them.


RAJU: Are you still concerned about Trump's viability in the suburbs -- in the impact down ticket as your candidate?

SEN. JOHN THUNE (R-SD): I think we got a -- we're going to have a united ticket going into the fall, and we'll go out and I'll help aggressively win those people in suburban areas, independent voters. It's now, you know, it's a straight up one-on-one.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX): Right. I think President Trump is cleaning Joe Biden's clock as we speak. And I don't see anything changing. Most Democrats are -- have -- are not enthusiastic about Joe Biden's presidency because they realize he's not the man he once was. And they're concerned about the policies that he's had to lead to things like ---


RAJU: But not everyone is there in the Senate GOP, some members still not endorsing Donald Trump. One of them Senator Todd Young of Indiana. Who just told me moments ago, he's still where he was, which is not with a Trump endorsement.

But nevertheless, you are seeing the party leadership fall in line and just so remarkable, Dana, about Mitch McConnell, this evolution with Donald Trump. His work with them to confirm those key three Supreme Court justices, the fallout in the aftermath of January 6, and now the endorsement.

BASH: I mean, you could spill so much ink on the relationship, both political and of course personal or lack thereof between these two -- these two men. There's a lot of drama there, many, many subplots. Manu, thank you so much for just bringing us what's most important today which is falling in line between the -- behind the presumptive nominee. Appreciate it.

And coming up, the Biden campaign acts fast to reach out to Nikki Haley's voters. We're going to give you a live report from the White House and how they are gearing up for this 2020 rematch. Stay with us.




BASH: The Biden campaign is wasting no time, making a direct appeal to Nikki Haley supporter. She was barely done. Speaking this morning when a statement hit our inboxes and the president praised her courage in standing up to Trump. CNN's Arlette Saenz is at the White House.

So, Arlette, we were talking here earlier in the program about the fact that they were very quick in the Biden campaign. Not only that, they were quick to react to what Donald Trump did as Nikki Haley was speaking and continuing to attack her.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Dana. The Biden campaign and President Biden are really trying to use this moment as a way to appeal directly to those Nikki Haley voters. There's a belief -- then the campaign that they have a lot of room to try to peel off some of those Nikki Haley supporters who are frustrated and turned off by the idea of a second Trump term.

The president did this in his statement where he praised Nikki Haley for her ability to call out Trump during the 2024 campaign. And also made this direct request to voters, saying that there's a place for them in his campaign. The president was also quite explicit in his social media posts where he wrote quote, you don't have to agree with me on everything to know MAGA extremism is a threat to this country. We need everyone on board. Join our campaign.

And if you take a look down there, they specifically highlighted a previous post from the former president, where he called Nikki Haley a name where he said that the people who contribute to her campaign would not be welcome in the MAGA movement. The Biden campaign really believes that there is a possibility a universe of Haley supporters that they could peel off in November also donors who they could try to hit up for more money heading into the 2024 matchup in November. Those donors who might not want to see Trump seeking a second term and it comes on the heels of those Super Tuesday results.

Biden's campaign has long believed that this is the moment that the race will really crystallize in voters mind between being -- between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. In a memo they painted Trump as a dangerous and unpopular president. And this is also setting up the president's state of the union tomorrow, making this an even more high stakes moment as he is preparing to present his vision for a second term and convince voters that he needs another four years in office.