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Inside Politics

Stage Is Set For Historic CNN Presidential Debate. Aired 12:30- 1p ET

Aired June 27, 2024 - 12:30   ET




JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. Both candidates take the stage tonight looking to address their weak spots. Poll after poll after poll tells us most Americans wish they had different choices, and I can tell you from 10 months of talking to voters in battleground states, those polls are correct.

One major concern that comes up a lot about the incumbent is his age and his stamina. Is he up to four more years?


KIM CAVALIERE, GEORGIA VOTER: Like I said, my concern is his age. He's frail. Can he run a country for another four years?

PAT LEVIN, PENNSYLVANIA VOTER: I know a lot of younger people who are quite incompetent. I know a lot of older people who are very competent. And Joe Biden falls into that category for me.

SUMMER MATKIN, MICHIGAN VOTER: My thing is his age will always play a factor in the way I think about him. No matter how many Taylor Swift references you make, you'll never understand us.


KING: For Trump, it's character questions that dominate. Sometimes that means all his court cases. Sometimes voters say it's his tone. It's harsh. His behavior? Sometimes erratic.



LINDA ROONEY, PENNSYLVANIA VOTER: We were better off when he was president, but I don't like his personality. I don't like how you can't -- he's so unreliable in some ways.

BILL GOVIER, MICHIGAN VOTER: I think Trump did good for our economy, right? Like when you have a president, to me, what's the most important thing right now, to me right now is our economy. Really is our economy. It's either that or national security. I mean, Trump stuck his foot in his mouth how many times. We know that. That's probably the biggest thing he did wrong. They should have taken his social media away from him long ago.


KING: Even a lot of Trump voters say that part. They should have just found a way to comment on it.


KING: And Trump advisers.

COLLINS: And Trump family members.

KING: And Trump family members. Let's start with the president. You can't change the clock. It is what it is. And the polling shows that people, that, yes, the Biden campaign says, well, they're relatively close in age. True.

But the polling shows overwhelmingly that the American people have more concerns about the President than they do about Donald Trump. State of the Union might have helped a little bit, but it hasn't moved the numbers. What can you do, or is -- or do you just have to have a vigorous performance and just ignore it?

ASTEAD HERNDON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think it's that, because as we know, this is the top concern for people, and it's not going anywhere. These are people who already four years ago Biden was harmed by this problem in the 2020 primary, and he's only, you know, four years older. The prospect of an 86-year-old president at the end of his second term scares a lot of American voters.

However, Biden can do something to minimize that, which is put the focus on Donald Trump, make it a referendum on him and also kind of show an energy and consistency that we've seen him do a couple of times. If we think about the convention speeches, if we think about the state of the union, he's been distant from the caricature that a lot of Americans have ingested from him.

He's not as frail or as seemingly senile as TikTok will make him seem. And so I think tonight there's an ability for him to show a lot of people that. The issue for Donald Trump is he's often pretty close to that erratic caricature. And you hear that with him on the trail.

Can he kind of infuse a different set of personality, an image that in the American voter tonight by focusing on policy, by focusing on what President Biden's weakness is? I think that's the big question. Because I think we know that Biden won't be as bad as that low bar that's been created, and we've seen them do that a couple times.

KING: I want to show you an ad here that kind of gets at both things. Number one, the Trump campaign going straight at the age issue. Also doing something we know they're going to do in the general election. They're going to make the case a vote for Biden is a vote for Harris. And that's, she says, political issues in some parts of the country. The question is, is this effective or do people cringe at the tone?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you think about the Joe Biden you saw in the debate, ask yourself a question. Do you think the guy who was defeated by the stairs, got taken down by his bike, lost a fight with his jacket, and regularly gets lost makes it four more years in the White House? And you know who's waiting behind him, right?


KING: It's not how my parents, and I would guess everybody's parents here, told us to talk about the president. We don't live in that world anymore. We all know that. I'm not so naive. But does that go down -- do people find that funny? Does that -- is that effective in your view at saying, you know, from Trump's perspective, Biden's too old, or is it?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's the sort of thing where voters are already telling us they believe it, so you have to be careful not to be too mean spirited about it. That's what a little bit I'm getting from that ad, is the poking fun. And that's going to be, I think, a real potential challenge for Trump in the debate tonight.

This debate is going to be a long, long affair. Biden may slip. He may have moments that we trace some of that weakness where Trump may think it's time to pounce. But knowing how to calibrate that properly is going to be, I think, a real challenge. If he comes across as a bully, that's bad news.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Every time President Biden has been asked this, about his age, he has one answer. He says, watch me. So tonight, tens of millions of Americans are indeed going to be watching him and judging that. When -- even when you talk to some Republicans and people who aren't sure the tone of that, I think, we will see how much that's repeated.

But one thing that former President Donald Trump rarely if ever talks about is Vice President Kamala Harris. His campaign is doing that now. So will he do that tonight? We're not. And is that something to draw a link to? But the watch me thing is something that people are going to take him up on that.

KING: And so let's flip it to the Trump character questions in the time we have left in the sense that you know the president's going to -- President Biden is going to bring up January 6th. You know he's going to bring up -- he's going to be standing next to a convicted felon never before in our history.

Trump voters out there think, you know, it's just case never should have been brought, whatever. He's a convicted felon when he stands there. What happens when President Biden turns to President Trump and say, you say at all your rallies, you're going to pardon the January 6 defenders. Tell the American people that. COLLINS: He's going to try to qualify it or deflect on it some I think. Trump always speaks to the room that he's in. When he always talks about this, it's always at a rally where they have the January 6 choir perform and how he handles that. He always calibrates to the room.

He's into the audience. He's in every reporter who's covered him and ever sat down with him knows that. I do think it's a real question of how he'll respond tonight to President Biden calling him a convicted felon if he goes there to referencing that, because that is the one trigger for Donald Trump that he doesn't have a sustained message on that if you still look at what he's posting on social media that he goes off about.


I was watching the 2020 debate and they were at that first debate. They were asked, you know, final messages to voters about the election and Joe Biden looked at the camera, told people to go vote, referenced a website where they could register to vote, told him to vote early. Trump went off on a tangent about Obama spying on his campaign and the efforts by the deep state to go after him and was talking about people going after him.

And watching it now, you see that moment and it's something that really does bother him. Can he control that message when it comes to the convictions, to the January 6th, to the other indictments tonight? It's a big question even for this team.

KING: And to the other second glaring vulnerability for Trump, especially here. He's going to be standing in Fulton County, Georgia, where he is a criminal defendant in a case saying he tried to illegally steal an election. When the President turns to him and says, here of all places, Mr. Trump, will you honor the results of the election? What does he say?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR & CHIEF DOMESTIC CORRESPONDENT: We've talked about how does -- is Trump disciplined? Who -- which version of him shows up? What can the President do to kind of needle him out into those moments? Those will be the key points where you're watching to say, however he handles this is going to define how he's viewed and how he operates during this debate.

I think to pull back a little bit, this is baked in. Like, we know all of these things. Everyone in America knows everything about these two candidates. And the question of tonight and why we say the stakes are so high, it's not hyperbolic, why we say this is so critically important, it is not hyperbolic, is there's a subset of Americans in seven states that don't know which way they're going to go despite the fact they know everything about these two individuals.

And this may be the only moment, the only 90 minutes or 15 minutes or 30 minutes or 60 minutes that they really key in on this because they are normal people with real lives --

KING: Yes. MATTINGLY: -- and how they take away the performances of these two may decide the election.

HERNDON: There was a sense of disbelief that these would even be the two nominees.

KING: Right.

HERNDON: And so I think tonight we'll be setting in for a lot of people that these are your options and so these judgments will be fresh.

COLLINS: Or that they'd even debate.

KING: Yes.

COLLINS: We didn't even know that we would be here.

KING: Well, there's a lot of talk that if one candidate comes out of tonight thinking they support a big win, that there won't be a second debate.


KING: We'll see what happens as it plays out. Those are the questions for tomorrow. The debate is tonight. It's a busy day for all of you. I'm really grateful you came in. A special treat for me to be here.

We're not done yet. When we come back, it's a privilege that comes with enormous pressure. Few people know what it's like to moderate a presidential debate. Next, one of them, right here, live with us.



KING: Just hours away now from a historic presidential debate right here at CNN's world headquarters in Atlanta. The last time Joe Biden and Donald Trump debated each other, well, that was four years ago. And I'm joined now by a colleague and a great journalist who refereed one of their slugfests, Chris Wallace.

I want your thoughts on this because it's an enormous privilege, but it's incredibly difficult and it comes with a lot of pressure. Let's just remind people. You were the moderator when these two candidates well, went their own way.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You would have been much later, Joe.

CHRIS WALLACE, CNN HOST, "THE CHRIS WALLACE SHOW": Mr. President, Mr. President, Mr. President.

TRUMP: You're talking about 2 million people. JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You're not --

WALLACE: Mr. President, as a moderator, you have spent the last --

TRUMP: Because they want to give good health care.

WALLACE: If I may ask my question, sir. Mr. President, I'm the moderator of this debate, and I would like you to let me ask my question, and then you can answer.

TRUMP: Go ahead.

BIDEN: Will you shut up, man?

TRUMP: Listen, who is on your list, Joe? Who's on your list?

BIDEN: This is so (INAUDIBLE).

WALLACE: Gentlemen, I think we've ended this --

BIDEN: This is so unprecedented.



KING: What's it like? What are your tips?

WALLACE: Well, you just hope that Donald Trump is going to behave himself. He certainly didn't in that debate. And I actually think he may well have lost the election by his misbehavior in that debate. He dropped about four or five points in the polls, and he never recovered.

I'd say about three things. One, be as invisible as possible. I wasn't as much there because I had to get involved.

KING: You had to do your job. Yes.

WALLACE: But the fact is a perfect moderating job. When it's over, people will say, that was a great debate. Was there even a moderator there? It's like two prize fighters with the referee. Nobody came to see the referee.

Two, you got to be even handed. I had Jim Lehrer who did 12 of these debates, presidential debates said, if you're going to ask one guy an Apple question, you got to ask the other guy an Apple question. Meaning, you got to be equally tough, equally persistent, and I'm going to say something controversial here.

I would not fact check this debate. I know a lot of people disagree, and particularly with Donald Trump, he's going to say that he won the election or something about that. You got Joe Biden right next door. You want to ask do fact checking? Let the President fact check him.

Make it a debate about them. If people are talking about the moderators the day after, that's a problem.

KING: We met in my first campaign in 1988. This is my 10th presidential election. You've got one or two more than me --

WALLACE: Or three.

KING: Yes. Any comparison this race to any others?

WALLACE: No, I mean, first of all, you've got two --

KING: Two former presidents. Yes.

WALLACE: -- presidents and Donald Trump is sui generis. I mean, there has not in my lifetime -- I don't know about Teddy Roosevelt, but there's never been a president in our lifetime, like him, and you got two former president, a current president and a former president against each other.

Trump, his behavior, his conduct is a total wild card. No, Jake and Dana are going to have their hands full.


It's a tough job, and you're exactly right. It is a high stress job. There were times when I would have the pressure waves of anxiety roll over me. It's tough, but it's a privilege.

KING: It is a privilege and you handled it fabulously.

Up next for us, the debate stakes state by state. A quick look at the map, the path to 270 electoral votes and how tonight's showdown just might change things.


KING: Wouldn't be right to come back for a day and not spend at least a little bit of time with my friend here, the magic wall. Let's take a look at the stakes in tonight's debate. This is the map from 2020. Joe Biden with a convincing win, despite what Donald Trump says any day, including today. A convincing win. But where is the state of the race right now?


So let's just look -- excuse me for turning my back. Just want to bring this up quickly for you. If you look at the national poll of polls, the CNN average of polls, this is a very close race, right? Very slight advantage for Donald Trump. It's been pretty static. That is where we are right now.

But, but if you look more closely at the battleground states and you go through them, slight Trump advantage here, here, here, here, here and here. Why do I say those advantages matter? Well, if those advantages stuck, we would be back in something like this, where Donald Trump wins, wins the race like that. So this is an incredibly close race right now. I would argue for you, the most important thing for the president of the United States, he's an incumbent president. His approval rating is at 38 percent. Incumbents can't win if they're below 40. They need to get up to 43, 45.

So as you watch the debate tonight, a week from now, two weeks from now, three weeks from now, see if that number has moved at all for the president of the United States.

Great treat for me to be back today. Thank you for joining Inside Politics. Stay tuned with CNN tonight for the big debate.

And stay tuned right now. CNN News Central starts after a quick break.