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Inside Politics

Today: Trump Hits Campaign Trail In Virginia After CNN Debate; Biden's Poor Performance Overshadowing Trump's Lies; Biden's Debate Performance Sets Off Alarm Bells For Democrats; Undecided Voters Express Disappointment With Both Trump & Biden Performances At Debate. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired June 28, 2024 - 12:30   ET




KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: All right, welcome back. Donald Trump and his allies trying to keep up momentum after last night's debate. The former president will hold his first post-debate rally later today in Virginia, that's a state that Joe Biden won by 10 points in 2020.

Our Kristen Holmes is in Chesapeake, Virginia, following the president. Kristen, what are you hearing from the president's team in the wake of last night?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kasie, we've been talking about this since last night. They obviously see this as a win, whether or not that is indicated in the polls, whether or not voters view that Donald Trump won. Donald Trump himself views everything in the sense of winning and losing.

And when you talk to the people next to him, they believe that they, quote unquote, "won" last night's debate. It's not just about the fact that there have been all these questions about President Joe Biden and his mental fitness. It's also because Donald Trump did what they wanted him to do.

They wanted to get him out there on the stage for 90 minutes to limit the personal attacks and to stay on message without being too aggressive, continually interrupt Joe Biden, have a repeat of what we saw in 2020 when both Joe Biden and Donald Trump were on the debate stage.

Donald Trump himself has admitted he was too aggressive and now it is interesting. I've talked to a number of people here and of course the caveat is that I'm at a Trump rally. Everyone here is a supporter of Donald Trump. So that's what I want to point out first.

But there were a lot of people here who watched the debate last night and said that they felt even more confident that the former president was going to be able to win in November. Now, the big question today is how he actually handles what happened last night.

I talked to a number of allies who say they hope, yes, he takes the victory lap, but doesn't dwell too much on what actually happened in the debate. Instead, moves forward. But, obviously, we know Donald Trump, we know he's going to be in front of a crowd of rabid supporters. Usually this is the kind of time where he goes off message.

HUNT: Yes, we will be watching for that in the coming hours.

Kristen Holmes for us. Kristen, thank you very much.

So as Kristen pointed out, the Trump campaign clearly celebrating after last night's CNN presidential debate. But President Biden's poor performance doesn't necessarily mean that Trump gave a good one. The former president would not commit to accepting the election results and he lied over and over again.

Our fact-checker, Daniel Dale, tracked more than 30 blatant falsehoods. My friends and colleagues are back. Scott Jennings, the reality is there were a lot of falsehoods from Donald Trump and then there was this answer when he was asked, pressed, about whether or not he would accept the results of the election. Watch.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (R) AND CURRENT U.S. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (R): If it's a fair and legal and good election, absolutely. I would have much rather accepted these, but the fraud and everything else was ridiculous. And if you want, we'll have a news conference on it in a week, or we'll have another one of these in a week.

But I will absolutely, there's nothing I'd rather do. It would be much easier for me to do that. Then I'm running again. I would be very happy to be someplace else, in a nice location someplace. And again, no indictments, no political opponent stuff, because it's the only way he thinks he can win.


HUNT: May have gotten lost in everything we've seen from -- everything we saw from President Biden. But the end of the day -- and the question I think we should be clear was, after every legal challenge is exhausted, will you accept the results? And he could not say yes.


SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, he said, if it's a fair, legal challenge, he would. And I think that's about as good as you're going to get. And obviously he wants to go back to 2020. He wants to go back to 2020.

I just -- to me though, the report we just heard, this man's in Virginia today. Virginia, OK? Minnesota, New Mexico, Virginia, there's a bunch of other states on the map today. We could pick apart this debate. Look what's happening in this election right now. The math is getting bigger, not smaller, and it's getting bigger in his favor. DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Let me just say something on the issue of election denial. This is a guy who denied an election he won. After 2016, he impaneled -- you remember this -- a commission because Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 3 million votes, and he said those were all fraudulent votes. And he made poor Mike Pence head up a commission to try and find the missing votes and the fraudulent votes, and they finally petered out and said, well, we really couldn't find anything.

Then fast forward to 2020. He defines a fair and good election as one that he wins. There are only two outcomes for Donald Trump. Either he wins or the election is fraudulent. There is no possibility that Donald Trump can lose in his universe.

HUNT: And as we're looking at other ways in which were it not for the performance of President Biden, we might be considering the flaws in Donald Trump's performance more aggressively. He did display his kind of absorption with a media universe and a world of conspiracy theories that many who support him may live in, but a lot of the Americans, the millions of Americans tuning in for the first time are probably not familiar with.

Here was a taste.


TRUMP: It was made up by him, just like Russia, Russia, Russia was made up, just like the 51 intelligence agents are made up, just like the new thing with the 16 economists are talking. It's the same thing. 51 intelligence agents said that the laptop was Russia disinformation. It wasn't. That came from his son, Hunter. It wasn't Russia disinformation.


HUNT: I mean, Nia, absent the president's kind of stare and et cetera, you're a little bit like, what?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I mean, this is inside the mind of Donald Trump, which is a scary place that's laden with conspiracy theories and lies and all bunch of made up malarkey. And you heard Joe Biden use that phrase at some points, kind of a throwback to how he handled Paul Ryan in 2012.

But Joe Biden wasn't prepared. Even though we --

HUNT: Because they would've loved to see that Joe Biden.

HENDERSON: We were all prepared for this Donald Trump. Joe Biden wasn't a repair -- you know prepared to counter him. You have Democrats saying, well, listen, the moderators should have fact checked. They should have jumped in. In truth, it was on Joe Biden, he shoulders to do that.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: But Donald Trump got a lot of exposure last night for what he said. So even though that -- you know, there's no doubt the headliners have been talking about was the alarming performance of Biden. But a window was shined onto what Trump still believes and that he is not pivoted at all.

So this was a big audience. And look, most people don't pay attention to Trump rallies. Most people don't pay attention to what he says and does. So this shined a big light on that. So a couple independent voters that I've been in touch with in Michigan for the last several months were alarmed by both candidates.

So, a, does this sort of change to, like, third parties? Do people, you know, watch it closely? So, I'm not sure that this was -- it was of course a win for Trump, but it was not a slam dunk for Trump.

JENNINGS: You said that being inside the mind of Donald Trump is scary. Do you think people watched that debate last night and said, well, being in the side of the mind of Joe Biden is correct?

HENDERSON: No, and I think this is --

AXELROD: No, no, no.


AXELROD: But the point Jeff's making is, this was a microcosm of why so many Americans are really bewildered and unhappy about this choice.

HUNT: His choices, yes.

AXELROD: And I would say it's not -- yes, Trump goes off on these flights of fancy, but more than anything. I think what people react to is gratuitous nastiness and his -- just his personality is what bothers people. And that's what you hear in focus groups.

You know, he's kind of a jerk.

ZELENY (?): Yes.

AXELROD: And he showed that at several moments last night, and I think he hurts himself when he does that.

HUNT: Yes, it's the character issues, right? That particularly Republicans, some Republicans in your party, Scott, had a problem with.

JENNINGS: What kind of character does it take, though, for the White House and the White House press secretary to repeatedly spin a yarn about Joe Biden's fitness and lucidity? Because that's what's happening. This is a scandal, OK?

What we've been told about him and what we saw last night --

AXELROD: Were you scandalized when they hid information about the president's COVID back in 2020? Were you -- did you lose sleep? Were you -- what did you say about night saying I worry about the president? JENNINGS: David Axe, do you believe what we saw last night matches what the White House has said Joe Biden's capacity is?


AXELROD: Yes. I think that -- I don't quibble with that. What I quibble with is your assessment that nothing that happens in that White House is as a result of what he does. I think that's overstated. And you can talk to people who've been involved with him on a variety of things who will tell you otherwise. I don't think they're lying.

That doesn't mean that he communicates well. He does not.

HUNT: Well, that was certainly on display in this, I think, conversation between the two of you is one we are going to be continuing to have in the weeks to come.

All right, coming up next, voters sound off after watching the debate. Will last night's performance change their vote?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm looking for somebody that I trust to be able to uphold policies that will protect me and are more concerned for the general well-being of everybody.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Biden seems to be very tired. Actually, I'm tired of both of them.




HUNT: All right, welcome back. For months, Joe Biden has made overtures to Nikki Haley voters, never Trumpers, and anti-Trump Republicans. But, of course, it's one thing to reject Trump and another to vote for Biden. Will that vote be a bridge too far for some after last night?

I asked Geoff Duncan that question today. He is the former lieutenant governor of Georgia and a Republican who has endorsed Biden. Here he was with me this morning.


GEOFF DUNCAN (R), FORMER GEORGIA LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR: We cannot afford Donald Trump to be back in the White House. And last night was difficult to watch, right? Joe Biden did not show up ready to go. And I think the folks in the middle like me that want anybody other than Donald Trump to be in charge of our country. I think the couch caucus got a little bit bigger last night.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HUNT: And joining us now is Sarah Longwell, the publisher of The Bulwark. And like Duncan, she is a leading anti-Trump Republican. Sarah, it's wonderful to see you. I just want to start with your feelings about last night's debate, your reaction to what Geoff Duncan said right now, and what are conversations among Republicans who really don't want to see Trump get reelected about what happened last night?

SARAH LONGWELL, PUBLISHER, THE BULWARK: Well, obviously I agree with Geoff Duncan. Look, I'm in the business of defeating Donald Trump. And last night made that harder. There's just no two ways about it. But obviously the other thing that I do when I'm, you know, trying to understand and make sense of politics is I immediately do a focus group.

And so, we did a focus group this morning with two-time Trump voters who were out on Trump, people who did not want to vote for him again. And some of them had been leaning Biden prior to last night's debate. But after the debate this morning, they told us that they just didn't think they could get there on Biden again.

Again, I will say, though, they were very clear about Trump still. You know, one of the things you heard from all the voters in the focus group is that Trump is a liar. Trump is a bad person. They don't want to vote for Trump. There was nothing about last night in Trump's performance that brought these voters who don't like Trump back to him.

The problem is, is that those voters needed to be persuaded to vote for Joe Biden, not just against Trump. And that didn't happen last night. That's what we heard.

HUNT: We actually have a little bit of some of these focus groups that you did last night. In particular, you were talking about, you know, people who were not wanting to vote for Trump. We also -- you spoke to the so-called double haters, who really don't like either one.

I suppose it's the same category of people, but let's just watch a little bit of what they had to say.


MELANIE, KANSAS VOTER: It's like watching a trainwreck. I don't like either of the candidates. It's like which one's worse? Biden is cognitive stuff is just it's evident. And then Trump is just a horrible human.

KAREN, MASSACHUSETTS VOTER: It is shameful that this country has these two candidates to pick from. We have a felon and a gentleman who has certainly done his best in his mind for his country, but it's time for him to step away.


HUNT: So one time to step away the other a horrible human. I mean that sort of encapsulates it. LONGWELL: Yes, that's it. Look, the double haters of always or the double doubters or however we want to talk about them, but people who don't like either candidate, they've always sounded like this. But for a lot of them, I would always say, like, look, the thing is, they don't hate Joe Biden actually. They just think he's too old.

They do hate Donald Trump. They think he's a bad person of bad character. And so, that Joe Biden had to show up last night and convince those people that he could do the job because they don't hate him. Like they say, you hear them, and they talk like this all the time, these swing voters. They think Joe Biden's a nice person.

And so, for them, it's just showing them that he can do it. And because that didn't happen last night, you just heard a lot of people talking about being embarrassed, feeling like this, you know, is this the only thing we could -- the best we can do in this country?

And at the end of the day, even though people had been leading -- leaning Biden, some of them in that group, now, everybody in that group nobody was going to vote for Biden. A lot of people were third party curious and a lot of people were talking about either staying home or leaving the top of the ticket blank, which, you know, is one of the things that for Biden is so necessary.

You have -- people have to be willing to come out, right? You can't have this enthusiasm gap because Donald Trump has a committed base that will show up for him. And so these persuadables are really important and last night just didn't get them where they needed to be.

HUNT: Yes. And, you know, you mentioned the third party curious people.


There was at least one woman who said that technically my vote for Kennedy is a vote for Trump, and she was wondering what she was going to do there. I mean, do you think this is going to juice Kennedy's numbers somehow?

LONGWELL: You know, here's what will happen, I think, is that when these voters find themselves in kind of a pox on both their houses mentality, which is where they are right now, they take a hard look at the third party options.

I do think, though, that one of the things that happens with these Kennedy curious voters oftentimes is that when they look at Kennedy, then they say, oh, no, that guy's crazy. And so, I think you're going to have a lot of voters right now. And we heard this in the group saying, like, is there another option? Like, is there something that could be done?

You heard a lot of the voters in this group asking why Democrats can't come up with another option. And I think you're going to hear more of that from voters for a while now.

HUNT: I think the question is going to be, are there enough of those voters that it's going to be made clear to the people around the president that something perhaps changes.

Sarah Longwell. Sarah, thank you very much. I really appreciate it.

We will be right back.



HUNT: All right, any minute now, President Biden will host his first post-debate rally. He is in the great state of North Carolina. We're going to catch up with that as soon as he comes to that podium. Stay right here on CNN for that.

And do join Dana Bash on Sunday morning for State of the Union. Close Biden ally, Congressman James Clyburn will be Dana's guest. Watch this Sunday at 9:00 a.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

But for now, don't go anywhere. CNN News Central starts after a quick break.