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CNN Live Event/Special

CNN Covers the First Republican Presidential Debate of the 2024 Election. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired August 23, 2023 - 23:00   ET




ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: The first republican primary debate is wrapping up in Milwaukee. Anderson Cooper and Dana Bash pick it up right now with special post-debate show. Anderson, a lot to unpack here in what just transpired on that stage. I'll join you in just a few moments for that.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: All right. Come on over, Abby. We'll see you in a second. Welcome to everyone just joining our special coverage. Eight Republican hopefuls tonight at the first presidential debate of campaign '24 trying to distinguish themselves from one another and from the GOP frontrunner who was not there. I'm here in New York along with Dana Bash at the debate site in Milwaukee.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, in our live coverage tonight, we are hoping to hear from the candidates themselves. We are also going to hear from their supporters. We're going to be joined by our team of political analysts, commentators, fact checkers, and veterans of the same kind of verbal clashes we saw on the debate stage right here in Milwaukee tonight.

COOPER: There were certainly a lot of those. Also, tonight, we'll be checking in with a group of Republicans, most of them undecided, who now have more information to help them weigh their choices.

Voters who watched the debate tonight saw comparatively little of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis early on. Instead, much of the initial focus and criticism was directed toward first-time candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, who also got considerable time to answer. There's a portion which seemed to set the tone Ramaswamy and former Vice President Pence.


MIKE PENCE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Vivek, you recently said a president can't do everything. Well, I got news for you, Vivek.


I've been in the hallway. I've been in the West Wing. A president in the United States has to confront every crisis facing America. I will put our nation back on the path to growth and prosperity, and restore fiscal responsibility.

VIVEK RAMASWAMY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This isn't that complicated, guys. Unlock American energy, drill, frack, burn coal, embrace nuclear.


Put people back to work by no longer paying them more to stay at home, reform the U.S. Fed, stabilize the U.S. dollar, and go to war. The only war that I will declare as U.S. president will be the war on the federal administrative state that is the source of those toxic regulations acting like a wet blanket on the economy.

So, I'm not sure I exactly understood Mike Pence's comment, but I'll let you all parse that out. For me, it's pretty simple. That's something a U.S. president can do with focus, and I'll deliver on it.

PENCE: Let me explain it to you. Let me explain it to you, Vivek. I'll go slower this time.

RAMASWAMY: You know, I sometimes struggle with the reading comprehension.

PENCE: I was -- I was a House conservative leader before. It was cool. I balanced budgets and cut taxes when I was governor. I mean, look, Joe Biden has weakened this country at home and abroad. Now is not the time for on-the-job training. We don't need to bring in a rookie. We don't need to bring in people without experience.

RAMASWAMY: Now that everybody has gotten their memorized pre-prepared slogans out of the way, we can actually have a real discussion now. The reality and the fact of the matter is --

PENCE: Is that one of yours?

RAMASWAMY: Not really, Mike. Actually, we're just going to have some fun tonight. And the reality is, you have a bunch of people, professional politicians, Super PAC puppets, following slogans handed over to them by their 400-page Super PACs last week. The real choice we face in this primary is this: Do you want a Super PAC puppet or do you want a patriot who speaks the truth?


Do you want incremental reform, which is what you're hearing about, or do you want revolution?

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Okay --

RAMASWAMY: And I stand on the side of the American revolution.


COOPER: Some of what the Republican candidates said tonight in Milwaukee. Joining me here is CNN senior political commentator David Axelrod, CNN's John King and Abby Phillip, also CNN political commentators Alyssa Farah Griffin, Scott Jennings, and David Urban.

Let's just go around a kind of first impressions. David Urban, let's start with you.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, you know, I think tonight proves that you don't need Donald Trump to be a debate, to have a shit show there, right? So, I mean, it was complete train wreck.


URBAN: I think the moderators -- it's cable. The moderators, I think, didn't do a great job controlling the crowd. I think, you know, a lot of the candidates were stepping on one another. You know, I don't remember which candidate said, like, American people don't want to hear this, they want to hear people argue, they want to hear policies, they want to hear ideas, this is a chance to put things forward.

I think a lot of the folks did a great disservice to their own candidacies by just, you know, talking too much about things that don't matter. They want to talk directly to the people. I think the big winner tonight was Vivek Ramaswamy, who kind of took up most of the time of the debate.

COOPER: Hmm. Scott?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think what surprised me most was Nikki Haley supplanting Chris Christie as the principal anti- Trump foil in this primary. I did not expect that.


But she came out. I think she was the first candidate to go after Trump. She went after him on a couple of issues. She's probably the most polished politician in the field and it showed. I mean, she was ready for the debate stage.

I thought DeSantis held his own --

COOPER: By the way, we're going to show -- we're going to show a lot of the debate --


COOPER: -- a lot of the clips and the exchanges. We will show that in a minute, but I will just quickly go around --

JENNINGS: I thought DeSantis held his own. I thought Ramaswamy had some interesting moments, although his act to me wore thin as the night wore on. I mean, everybody loves the 38-year-old rich guy who says, you know, it's not that complicated. I mean, of course, just being president of the free world. I mean, it's not that complicated.

I thought everybody else was honestly a non-factor. Chris Christie was flat. Tim Scott was a senator, which is not great in a debate format. Burgum and Asa, God bless them. I don't -- you know.

But, uh, but I think Haley and -- and oh, and Mike Pence far out kicked this coverage tonight.


ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: That was -- my sense was Nikki Haley was the winner of the night. I think if you're trying to pull for the sort of alternative to Trump who can get mainstream Republicans and win a general election, she did that. I think she really took Vivek to the woodshed on foreign policy and that it's not easy to be the leader of the free world.

Pence surprised me, and he shouldn't because I worked for Pence, and he's the most experienced in terms of debates on a debate stage against Tim Kaine, against Vice President Harris. I actually think that Vivek Ramaswamy's sort of smugness and sort of antagonistic approach brought out this righteous indignation in Pence that you don't always see. He can sometimes fall flat.

So, I would expect Ramaswamy --

COOPER: You definitely saw that in Mike Pence.

PHILLIP: He got under his skin.

GRIFFIN: He got under his skin. I think you'll see a bump for Vivek from the DeSantis supporters, but I think you'll see a bump for Nikki Haley.

PHILLIP: I thought that there was so much theatrics on the stage and some of that is intentional. It seems to me that so many of the candidates, including all the ones that we were just talking about, they needed to prove tonight that they were fighters.

And so, they had to pick someone to fight with. A lot of them picked Vivek Ramaswamy because he's sorts of the newbie and he does have this sort of smugness that apparently rubs Mike Pence really the wrong way.

But people without Trump on that stage really needed to show that they could put up a fight and give as good as they can take, and that seemed to me to be the big takeaway.

And I was also, like Alyssa said, a little bit surprised because Pence, that's not really his demeanor, but talking to his advisors coming into this debate, I could sense that they were preparing him to really take it to some folks, and I think we saw him do that.

COOPER: Mike Pence spent four years with somebody who said it's not complicated. And now, he's stuck on a stage next to somebody else.

PHILLIP: And maybe that's why he's so annoyed. I don't know.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, the biggest question is, can somebody take the party away from Donald Trump? He was not there tonight, but Donald Trump is the far away, far away, far away, far away, far away, I could go on, frontrunner. No frontrunner with a lead that he has right now has ever been beat. Now, anything can happen.

But I think the proof there, watching Ramaswamy, who is slogan after slogan after slogan, there's not a lot of depth there. Maybe he fills that in as the campaign goes on, give him the benefit of the doubt. But the establishment politicians were so frustrated by him, just like they were frustrated by Donald Trump in 2016.

He was essentially Trump's fill-in tonight in that stage. And the reaction in the room tells you it is going to be very difficult to take the party away from Donald Trump. That's what every one of those candidates is trying to do. Ramaswamy was his proxy tonight, and the crowd loved it.

AXELROD: Yeah, I agree with that. I would have to say that -- you know, people asked beforehand, was it a gamble for Trump not to be there? I don't think it was a gamble, but if it was a gamble, he won big tonight, I think, because of what John said. He is in control of this race and the only way that he can lose this race is if someone consolidates all the rest of the party behind them.

Ron DeSantis' whole candidacy was premised on that he was that guy, and he has been sliding consistently since he got into the race. This was supposed to be his chance to reignite his supporters. I think he had some, you know, energetic, well-rehearsed answers to some things. Whenever he got into sticky wickets, though, he looked weak and equivocating and like a politician. And, you know, one of the strengths of a Ramaswamy and a Trump is that they're not politicians.

So, I don't -- you know, I agree, Nikki Haley, I thought, had an excellent night.

COOPER: Let's --

AXELROD: -- strong. But I do think that for Trump's project, I think they come out of there, no -- less divided than they were before, and there's no one emerging as his principal opponent.

COOPER: Let's take a look at the Nikki Haley confrontation with Vivek Ramaswamy because that definitely got a lot of attention tonight.


NIKKI HALEY, FORMER SOUTH CAROLINA GOVERNOR, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS, 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The American president needs to have moral clarity. They need to know the difference between right and wrong. They need to know the difference between good and evil.

When you look at the situation with Russia and Ukraine, here you have a pro-American country that was invaded by a thug. So, when you want to talk about what has been given to Ukraine, less than three and a half percent of our defense budget has been given to Ukraine.

[23:10:01] If you look at the percentages per GDP, 11 of the European countries have given more than the U.S. Ukraine is the first line of defense for us. And the problem that Vivek doesn't understand is he wants to hand Ukraine to Russia, he wants to let China eat Taiwan, he wants to go and stop funding Israel. You don't do that to friends.

What you do, instead, is you have the backs of your friends. Ukraine is the front line of defense. Putin has said, if Russia -- once Russia takes Ukraine, Poland and the Baltics are next. That's a world war. We're trying to prevent war. Look at what Putin did today. He killed Prigozhin. When I was at the U.N., the Russian ambassador suddenly died. This guy is a murderer, and you are choosing a murder over a pro-American country.


RAMASWAMY: First of all --

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Mr. Ramaswamy, you have 30 seconds. Mr. DeSantis, you have 30 seconds.

RAMASWAMY: Nikki, I wish you well in your future career on the boards of Lockheed and Raytheon.

HALEY: No, I'm not on the boards of Lockheed and Raytheon.

RAMASWAMY: But the fact of the matter --

HALEY: You know, you've put down everyone on this stage.

RAMASWAMY: You've been pushing this lie. You've been pushing this lie all week, Nikki.

HALEY: But you want to go and defund Israel, you want to give Taiwan to China --

RAMASWAMY: Okay, let me address that. I'm glad you brought that up.

HALEY: -- you want to go and give Ukraine to Russia.

RAMASWAMY: I'm going to address each of those right now.


This is the false lies of a professional politician. There you have it.

HALEY: You will make America less safe. You have no foreign policy experience and it shows!

RAMASWAMY: And you know what?


The foreign policy experience --


COOPER: That was a moment.

PHILLIP: I mean, that was a real moment. And look, Nikki Haley's whole mantra is, I don't back down to bullies. And she had to show that in that moment, that she could come back at Vivek and frankly talk louder than him, which, you know --

COOPER: And fluster -- and actually fluster him.

PHILLIP: Sometimes -- I can say that as a woman, dometimes, that is not always the easiest thing to do. But she's raising something about the policy here that is really an issue for Ramaswamy, which is that he is putting on the table policies that even in this sort of America First Republican Party, there is not a lot of support for.

This idea that she raised about kind of pulling back from support for Israel is not popular among Republican voters. And sometimes, it seems like he puts those things on the table just to say, well, I'm going to throw out the idea that no one is going to talk about, but on the debate stage, that's when you get called out for things like that.

JENNINGS: Trump did this in '16.


JENNINGS: I mean, we went -- we watched him time and again throw out things that were not party orthodoxy. And we all said, oh, he's saying things that no Republican could support. But it -- what we learned later was it wasn't about the policy as much as it was about the attention.

COOPER: Well, I mean, Ramaswamy is saying he's going to eliminate the teachers' union.


COOPER: That has not necessarily empowered the president.

JENNINGS: And there was a lot of --

KING: On this Ukraine question, on this Ukraine question, Nikki Haley is arguing Ronald Reagan's position, she's arguing John McCain's position, she's arguing George W. Bush's position, she's arguing Marco Rubio's position, but she is losing. That is not the winning position with the base of the party right now.

When I was out in Iowa, I was struck by so many Republicans. It's not so much about Putin. It's not about ideology. It's not even about America's leadership in the world. It's that they feel that they are getting screwed by Washington, and yet Washington keeps sending money to other places, not them. That's more what it's about. It's like we have been ignored, and we keep sending our money in other places.

So, she's trying to have an American leadership in the world against the communists, against a murder, against a thug. On the fact, she's right, but it rings hollow with a lot of Republican voters who just think you're another politician. What about my community?

AXELROD: Yeah. Absolutely.

URBAN: The song that I referenced at the beginning of this, you know, I said before this debate started, I said, I wonder when the first reference to "Rich Men North of Richmond" is going to take place. And I didn't realize that Fox was going to raise it.

But the point John is making, you know, a lot of Americans feel that way. That's why that song was so wildly popular. And I think that's what was reflected in the Ramaswamy position in a lot of this, and why, you know, Nikki Haley may do well in the Des Moines suburbs, but she's not going to win an Iowa jet overall.

GRIFFIN: Well, and of course, in all of this, Donald Trump is the clear and far away frontrunner. But if we're analyzing tonight, I think Nikki Haley saw a pivot in strategy. It did seem like she was playing to college-educated women, voters, women in the suburbs. There was a toning down of some of the anti-woke, some of the more -- that kind of rhetoric. She let someone else fill that lane.

I think she was kind of signaling to, frankly, donors who may be souring on a DeSantis or someone else, I can be the normal, steadfast, Reaganesque Republican. She's litigating the case for Ukraine, which there's a core constituency. It may not be the majority of the base within the Republican Party who will reject anyone and think it is disqualifying if they don't support Ukraine. So, it's this weird kind of fissure that we're facing.

JENNINGS: I thought Pence in Iowa --

URBAN: Yeah.

JENNINGS: -- was clear tonight. I mean, he was all in on playing to the Christian, evangelical Christian base in Iowa, pro-life, mentioned his faith a number of times. For him, it's Iowa. Robust.


JENNINGS: And, you know, there are other candidates up there and principally Trump who wasn't there who were doing well among evangelicals. But for Pence, to turn this into something, he's got to come bouncing out of this and see if any of these evangelicals saw in him what he sees in himself as the most authentic Christian --

AXELROD: The person nobody here has mentioned is the one who many in the republican establishment thought might be the alternative if DeSantis failed, and that's Tim Scott. I guess you mentioned him briefly. I thought he had a very sort of lackluster night. He didn't have any big moments.

The whole goal in these things is to -- is to have message-laden moments that can go viral. Haley did that. She distinguished herself from the group. I think that a number of these other candidates were background noise. And for Tim Scott, that's particularly damaging because there are high hopes for him. People like him. His numbers among Republicans are good. But the question is, does he fill the role? And he did not step up tonight and sort of take control of moments.

PHILLIP: I mean, there is at this stage in a lot of these campaigns such a thing as peaking too early. And I do wonder if the Ramaswamy sort of moment might happen at a slightly too early point. And if you're a Tim Scott and you're already, you know, in third place in some of these places, you keep a relatively low profile and wait for your moment a little bit down the road.

AXELROD: I know. It is a -- normally, these races break late, and that's the argument. First of all, let's -- Ramaswamy is not going to be the nominee of the Republican Party.


AXELROD: And one of the things that happens, and you saw some of it tonight, I said to John, the late Mario Cuomo used to say, the only place people shoot backwards is in cowboy movies.

The reason people were going after him -- I mean, Pence initiated the first attack on Ramaswamy. Former vice president of the United States going after the youngest guy on the stage because he is moving up in polls. He's moving up in polls in Iowa. He's moving up in polls in New Hampshire.

But presidential races are like pole vaulting. Every time you clear a bar, the bar gets raised and it gets harder, and you get scrutinized more closely. We began to see that this week in the media, including in Kaitlan -- with Kaitlan's interview of Ramaswamy on some of his comments. It's not going to get easier for him. He's also trying to occupy space that Trump largely occupies.

So, he's not the issue, but someone is going to become the principal or try to become the principal alternative to Trump, and I think Haley had a better claim to it tonight than Tim Scott did.

COOPER: Let's actually show kind of Ramaswamy's introductory statement because I can't even remember what the question he was asked was, but he just completely ignored it and went with what was clearly his pre- prepared statement. Let's take a look at this.


RAMASWAMY: Let me just address a question that is on everybody's mind at home tonight. Who the heck is this skinny guy with a funny last name and what the heck is he doing in the middle of this debate stage?

I'll tell you, I'm not a politician, Brett. You're right about that. I'm an entrepreneur. My parents came to this country with no money 40 years ago. I have gone on to found multi-billion-dollar companies. I did it while marrying my wife, Apoorva, raising our two sons, following our faith in God. That is the American dream. And I am genuinely worried that that American dream will not exist for our two sons and their generation unless we do something about it.

And I do think Brett is going to take an outsider, because for a long time, we have professional politicians in the Republican Party who have been running from something. Now is our moment to start running to something, to our vision of what it means to be an American today.


If you have a broken car, you don't turn over the keys to the people who broke it again. You hand it over to a new generation to actually fix the problem. That's why I'm in this race and we're just getting warmed up.


URBAN: It's pretty good, right? I mean, when you watch that, it's good stuff. It's red meat for the base, right? Like you said, like John said earlier, someone is going to have --

COOPER: Does it read as authentic to you?

URBAN: I think people -- I think, yeah. I mean, he's -- that's why he's gaining market share, right? That's why he has continued --

AXELROD: It's hilarious when he starts up by saying, I'm not a politician --

URBAN: Right. But --

AXELROD: That's the classic politician thing and doesn't answer the question that he was asked, but answers the one he wants to answer.

URBAN: But I think it does ring as authentic. Otherwise, you know -- I mean, I think it's -- look at how he's moving in the polls. That's why you know it's ringing authentic. He keeps eating market share.

JENNINGS: Yes, he has moved up incrementally in the polls and there was a lot of crosstalk, but Haley had it down. I mean, he's flirting with 9/11 trutherism (ph). He wants to turn Ukraine over to the Russians and Taiwan over to the Chinese. He wants to downgrade our relationship with Israel and apparently wants to impose a massive inheritance tax.


I recognize that saying outrageous things sounds like a good idea in the moment, but eventually, eventually, these things catch up with you, I think.

AXELROD: I mean, I'm not trying to be provocative, but sort of welcome to your new party, brother.

[23:20:01] (LAUGHTER)

Because that stuff sells. I mean, that's one of the reasons why Trump has the --

URBAN: Exactly.

AXELROD: -- commanding lead he has.

COOPER: Let's check in with Dana Bash at the debate hall. Dana?

BASH: Thanks, Anderson. And I'm here with one of the participants in the debate tonight, candidate for president. Governor Asa Hutchinson, thank you so much for joining me. What were your impressions being on the stage? How did it feel? And how did you feel that, frankly, that you did?

ASA HUTCHINSON, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Actually, I was very pleased with the subsidy discussions from education to the border security to foreign policy. And that's exactly what America needs to hear from our Republican candidates. Not a Trump fiasco, but a really serious discussion about the future of our country. I think we did that.

I was very pleased. One, I made sure that we made the case for my vision for America. I distinguished myself in terms of my service, in terms of my experience that fits the needs of our country today, from border security to balancing the budget as governor, leaving a surplus. Those are things that nobody else can replace.

I thought the rule of law question is so critical when I indicated that, you know, we've got to make sure the rule of law is enforced on both sides of the border.

BASH: Another way that you stood out from most of the other candidates is you were very critical of the former president who, of course, was not here. And the audience didn't really seem to like that. I want to play for our viewers that moment.


HUTCHINSON: Whenever you look at the underlying challenge of America, though, no one likes to see an America with smash and grab in our inner cities. As president of the United States, that will stop.

It starts at the top with respect for our justice system that a former president, who's under indictment, has undermined by attacking judges, by attacking prosecutors, by attacking the system and saying he's aggrieved.

And so, we have to have respect for our justice system and the rule of law, and it starts at the top with the President of the United States.


BASH: So, my first question, I've asked you this before, but now, given your experience on this debate stage, that was the kind of statement that would have made sense when I first started covering you in politics maybe a couple of decades ago. But is that the Republican Party that you're running in right now? Are you out of sync with them?

HUTCHINSON: That was a good moment. That was an important message. I had the courage to make that case and other candidates should as well. It is about President Trump and how he has undermined our institutions.

And I also raised the question as to whether he's even eligible as a candidate under our Constitution and, you know, our Amendment 14. That has been raised by constitutional scholars. I was the only one who raised that day. Republicans need to be aware of that because this could put us in a terrible position if he continues in the lead into next year.

BASH: Well, I was going to ask you about that as well. Talk a little bit more about that. You are also an attorney. You said that you've been reading constitutional scholars. You really think that if he is convicted, that he is not eligible? Because there definitely is a different school of thought on something that has obviously never been tested before.

HUTCHINSON: I think the main point is that it is something that's going to wind up in the courts. His eligibility will be challenged under the Constitution. I think, obviously, it's a very serious legal question. The Constitution says under the Amendment 14 that anybody who -- a public official that has committed acts of insurrection is ineligible for office. And so, he would be ineligible if that theory is correct.

And there's, obviously, a lot of substance to it. That would be handled by a secretary of state that refuses to certify him on the ballot because he's ineligible, doesn't meet the constitutional requirements, and then it's going to wind up in courts. This is not good for the Republican Party. It's not good for the voters when they have to be in this position.

BASH: Vivek Ramaswamy was at the center there with Governor DeSantis, but it was Mr. Ramaswamy who really took a lot of the incoming. We were talking before coming on about the fact that he was trying to distinguish himself as a non-politician, saying that politicians, you are one of them, elected politicians, are bought and sold, and that's how they got there. You took issue with that.

HUTCHINSON: Well, I did. I mean, he basically said everybody on the podium was corrupted except for him that was bought and paid for. And so, yeah, he's standing out with some very harsh statements, policy positions that are not workable. And I think it showed tonight in that, you know, inexperience and his inability to bring people together to solve problems for our country.


He's a little bit of a bomb thrower on policy issues. BASH: Last question, you worked hard to get on the debate stage tonight. The threshold is going to be tougher for the next debate. You feel comfortable you'll be on the next debate stage?

HUTCHINSON: I really do. Obviously, being on this debate stage helps you get on the next one. It's always up to the people, your listeners, as to whether they come on board and support us as we go down the road. I think -- I promise that I would tell the truth of Donald Trump, I did that tonight, and you can expect me to continue to do that.

BASH: Governor, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

HUTCHINSON: Thank you.

BASH: Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: Dana, thanks very much. You know, when you think about the former president -- I mean, his name was not spoken much on that stage. Asa Hutchinson was one of the few who had sort of brought it up on his own.

GRIFFIN: I was very surprised that Nikki Haley also, unprompted, took some digs at the former president. Again, she showed up like she came to play to actually run against Donald Trump.

What I thought was interesting, though, we were talking about Vivek Ramaswamy, I wouldn't be surprised if you see among some of the America First diehard Trump crowd an effort to draft him as a potential V.P. kind of pick. Do I think it's strategically wise? Absolutely not, a failing general election ticket, but there's a lot of alignment there.

And to John's point, like, he showed up basically to fill the proxy of Donald Trump. I think there's a lot of overlap.

PHILLIP: Trump loves that, by the way. I mean, he has been boosting Vivek. He has been praising him. And he's -- Ramaswamy has been helping Trump put a damper on DeSantis. Every time Ramaswamy goes up, DeSantis goes down a little bit, and that has been good for Trump.

AXELROD: I mean, he called him one of the greatest presidents of all time tonight. So, I would -- I'd be kind to him, too.


I mean, he's kind of doing --

GRIFFIN: He hasn't voted much, so we have to take that into account.

COOPER: We'll take a quick break. Up next, former Vice President Pence joins us. Also, ahead, what a group of Republican voters made up tonight. More candidates joining us as well in a fact check of what we saw as our coverage of the first republican debate continues.


COOPER: We're back to the special coverage of tonight's first republican debate. Dana Bash is in Milwaukee with former Vice President Mike Pence. Dana?

BASH: Thank you so much. Mr. Vice President, thank you very much for being here. I want to --


BASH: Because this was on another network, I want to play for our viewers one of the exchanges that you had, one of the very animated exchanges, this one with the former governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley.

PENCE: Okay.


HALEY: When it comes to a federal ban, let's be honest with the American people and say it will take 60 Senate votes, it will take a majority of the House. So, in order to do that, let's find consensus. Can't we all agree that we should ban late-term abortions?


Can't we all agree that we should encourage adoptions? Can't we all agree that doctors and nurses who don't believe in abortions shouldn't have to perform them? Can't we all agree that contraception should be available? And can't we all agree that we are not going to put a woman in jail or give her the death penalty if she gets an abortion. Let's treat this like a respectful issue that it is and humanize the situation and stop demonizing the situation.

PENCE: To be honest with you, Nikki, you're my friend, but consensus is the opposite of leadership. When the Supreme Court returned this question to the American people, they didn't just send it to the states only. It's not a state's only issue, it's a moral issue. And I promise you, as president of the United States, the American people will have a champion for life in the Oval Office.

Can't we have a minimum standard in every state in the nation that says when a baby is capable of feeling pain, an abortion cannot be allowed? A 15-week ban is an idea whose time has come. It's supported by 70% of the American people. But it's going to take unapologetic leadership --


Leadership that stands on principle and expresses compassion for women --

HALEY: I want to --

PENCE: -- in crisis pregnancies. I will do that as president of the United States.

HALEY: Be honest with the American people.

PENCE: I am being honest.

HALEY: We haven't had 45 pro-life senators in over 100 years, so no Republican president can ban abortions any more than a Democrat president can ban all those state laws. Don't make women feel like they have to decide on this issue when you know we don't have 60 Senate votes in the House.


BASH: Mr. Vice President, that was a fascinating exchange for a couple of reasons. One is, one of the questions came after Governor DeSantis was asked about abortion. He talked about the fact that you cannot basically tell places like New York and California how to deal with abortion in the same way you can do red states like Indiana, for example. But you got into it there with Nikki Haley. What was your impression of that exchange in the moment?

PENCE: Well, I thought it was a good, vigorous exchange, but whether it be with Governor DeSantis or Nikki Haley or others on stage, frankly, most of the candidates running, including the one that didn't show up tonight, are all trying to relegate the question of abortion as a state's only issue. As I said, it's not a state's only issue. It's a moral issue.

And when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, they returned the issue of abortion to the states and the American people. The American people elect state legislators and governors, but they also elect presidents and senators and congressmen. And that's why I said, if I'm president of the United States, I'm going to -- I'm going to champion pro-life protection in every state in the country with principle and with compassion for women in crisis pregnancies.

But I'm also going to call for and lead for a minimum national standard of 15 weeks. I was glad to see at least one other candidate on the stage endorse that. But to see so many others, whether it be Vivek, whether it be Ron DeSantis, whether it be Nikki Haley, walking away from this principle, relegating it to the states, I think was disappointing to me. It was probably disappointing to millions of Americans.


BASH: And you are, I'm sure, well aware that part of the reason why some of your competitors aren't going there on the national ban that you're talking about is because they think that that is a losing argument in a national -- excuse me, in a general election.

PENCE: Well, I get that. But honestly, I think when we talk about the right to life with unapologetic principle but also with deep compassion for women who are struggling with crisis pregnancies, that we advance adoption reform, that we show we care as much about newborn children as unborn children, I think we can make incredible progress. But on this issue of a 15-week minimum ban, Dana, 72% of the American public supports a minimum standard at the national level. This is once a baby in the womb can feel pain, that we ought to limit abortion after that period of time. To me, there's not a consensus in Washington, that's why it needs new pro-life leadership.

BASH: You and I were joking when you came up here that before the debate, you going at it with Vivek Ramaswamy, the way that you did, over and over on various issues tonight, was not on my bingo card.


I want to play for our viewers some of the sparring that you did with him.


RAMASWAMY: I'm not sure I exactly understood Mike Pence's comment, but I'll let you all parse that out. For me, it's pretty simple. That's something a U.S. president can do with focus, and I'll deliver on it.

PENCE: Let me explain it to you. Let me explain it to you, Vivek. I'll go slower this time.

RAMASWAMY: You know, I sometimes struggle with the reading comprehension.

PENCE: I was -- I was a House conservative leader before. It was cool. I balanced budgets and cut taxes when I was governor. I mean, look, Joe Biden has weakened this country at home and abroad. Now is not the time for on-the-job training. We don't need to bring in a rookie. We don't need to bring in people without experience.

RAMASWAMY: Now that everybody has gotten their memorized pre-prepared slogans out of the way, we can actually have a real discussion now. The reality and the fact of the matter is --

PENCE: Is that one of yours?


BASH: You are prepared for this. Do you see him as a threat?

PENCE: No. I was prepared to make the case for the conservative agenda.

BASH: But you were specific with him.

PENCE: Well, look --

BASH: Rookie and the fact that he was not ready.

PENCE: I believe, and I say this with great humility, you've known me a long time, because I was a conservative leader in Congress for 12 years, because I led Indiana as a conservative governor, because I was vice president in a consequential conservative administration, I think without a doubt, I am the most qualified, most tested, and most ready candidate for president of the United States in this field. And as I said, whether it be Vivek or others, no one can match that experience.

But my argument with him had more to do with values. When I hear him saying that America needs a new national identity, the American people have an identity. It's a faith-filled country. We love freedom. Unfailingly generous.

I mean, the American people are the best people on earth. As I said, we just got to have government as good as our people. That and on foreign policy. I just had to call him out as somebody that believes America is the leader of the free world.

BASH: Your former boss, obviously, was not here. You were very clearly trying to make the point about January 6, about what you did. You wanted to make sure that your competitors had an answer for whether or not they believed that you did the right thing. Are you hoping that the former president was watching tonight and heard what you said?

PENCE: Well, I'm hoping the American people are watching.

BASH: But what about him?

PENCE: Because for the last two and a half years, the president and many of his allies have been out, saying something just didn't sell. I mean, under the Constitution of the United States, states certify elections. There were regularities, Dana, but once those were reviewed in the courts, once state certified the elections, objections could be heard in the Congress.

But my duty under the Constitution was to preside over a joint session of Congress where votes would be open and counted. No more no less. I frankly was gratified to see the moderators of tonight's debate really asked every single one of those candidates whether or not we kept our oath to the Constitution of the United States.

So, I didn't have an audience of one on this one. My hope is that the American people who have been misled about my responsibilities under the Constitution know that on that day, the president asked me to put him over my oath to the Constitution. I chose the Constitution, and I always will.

BASH: Sir, thank you so much. I appreciate you joining us.

PENCE: Thank you, Dana.

BASH: Thank you. Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: Dana, thanks very much. Back with the team here in New York. I mean, what is the consensus? That Mike Pence had a good night?

JENNINGS: Oh, yeah.

URBAN: Yeah. I think the one point where Mike Pence really shined is when the other seven candidates had to praise Mike Pence when they asked him, did he do the right thing on January 6th? And everyone had, you know --

JENNINGS: That was surprising. I thought they might come for him.


But they didn't. I thought that was a good moment.

COOPER: Although they quickly pivoted and we'll show it shortly to the weaponization of government argument.


URBAN: Of course. But they still gave him credit when I thought it was -- you know, it was pretty notable.

COOPER: Although the moderators did have to drag it out of some of them and repeatedly go back.

GRIFFIN: Ron DeSantis needed a little bit of coaching on that one.

URBAN: But, I mean, Tim Scott and Chris Christie -- I mean, there were almost a few sitting there praising for him (ph).

AXELROD: More than that, I think his -- we are just talking about this. The vice presidency is diminishing in many ways, but no more so than under Donald Trump. And he -- and Pence was diminished in that role.

And the one thing that he seems to be doing here is recapturing his own identity in a way that we haven't seen in a long time. I don't think that it will get him to where he wants to go because the -- you know, his negatives are almost 50% among Republicans. I think there's a group of Republicans, including in the evangelical community, which is his base, who will never forgive him for what they viewed was a betrayal.

But there's no doubt that he was a presence on that stage tonight in a way that I think a lot of people wouldn't have expected even though he was good in two vice presidential debates.

GRIFFIN: What I do think was notable, especially because this is a Fox News audience, is that nearly everyone on that stage with the exception of DeSantis and I believe Vivek Ramaswamy, they said that Pence did the right thing. That's something that audience doesn't hear very often.

And I wonder if that starts to move the needle because I've always said that the reason, you know, nearly 60% on the GOP thinks the election was stolen, thinks, you know, January 6 was a hoax or whatever, is because their elected leaders aren't telling them the truth about it. So, I think that's actually a pretty significant moment.

JENNINGS: DeSantis actually had an interesting pivot out of that. He finally said, I've got no beef with what Mike Pence did.


URBAN: Literally.

JENNINGS: Which was an interesting turn of phrase. But he then said, if this entire election is us relitigating what happened in 2020, we're going to lose to the Democrats. That was almost verbatim, what he said. And I took that as a swipe at Trump as well, basically saying to Republicans, if we spend our entire time relitigating who did what and who's at fault here, that's what Biden wants us to do.

So, I thought it was subtle, and the trouble with subtlety in politics is that not everyone gets it. But I thought it was a subtle hint that there's a future here where we nominate Trump, we relitigate '20, and we lose to a guy that we shouldn't be losing to. I thought it was interesting.

PHILLIP: It's subtle, but I don't think --

COOPER: That's a real frontal assault to the former president by Ron DeSantis.

PHILLIP: Yeah. I mean --

AXELROD: He went right for the capillary.

PHILLIP: I don't think Republican voters hear that and they're like, he's really taking it to Trump.


I mean, it's actually quite the opposite. They hear that and they're like, oh, yeah, yeah, we agree, but we're going to go vote for Trump anyway. And this is why DeSantis hasn't been able to break through. These subtle criticisms are getting him exactly nowhere.

On the other hand, with Pence, the problem for Pence is that Donald Trump could have disagreed with Pence about whether he should like chocolate ice cream and not vanilla ice cream, and Republican voters will take Donald Trump's side. It almost doesn't matter what the thing is.

COOPER: Let's go back to Dana with another candidate. Dana?

BASH: Thank you so much. I have Vivek Ramaswamy here with me. Thank you so much for being here.

RAMASWAMY: It's good to see you, Dana.

BASH: Were you expecting the incoming that you got tonight?

RAMASWAMY: You know, it was an honor. I took it as a badge of honor as the 38-year-old outsider in this race who has never been in a political debate to be at center stage and see a lot of establishment politicians that threatened by my rise. I am thrilled that it actually gave me an opportunity to introduce myself to the people of this country. We're just getting warmed up, and I'm really thrilled with how it went.

BASH: I want to play for our viewers a moment that you had with Nikki Haley about foreign policy.



HALEY: You were choosing a murder over a pro-American country.


RAMASWAMY: First of all --

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Mr. Ramaswamy, you have 30 seconds. Mr. DeSantis, you have 30 seconds.

RAMASWAMY: Nikki, I wish you well in your future career on the boards of Lockheed and Raytheon.

HALEY: No, I'm not on the boards of Lockheed and Raytheon.

RAMASWAMY: But the fact of the matter --

HALEY: You know, you've put down everyone on this stage.

RAMASWAMY: You've been pushing this lie. You've been pushing this lie all week, Nikki.

HALEY: But you want to go and defund Israel, you want to give Taiwan to China --

RAMASWAMY: Okay, let me address that. I'm glad you brought that up.

HALEY: -- you want to go and give Ukraine to Russia.

RAMASWAMY: I'm going to address each of those right now.


This is the false lies of a professional politician. There you have it.

HALEY: You will make America less safe. You have no foreign policy experience and it shows!

RAMASWAMY: And you know what?


The foreign policy experience --


BASH: You don't have foreign policy experience and it shows. RAMASWAMY: Well, the reality is the people who have foreign policy experience, it shows what a disaster it has been from the Iraq war on down to other pointless wars, no-win wars that these administrations from foreign policy establishments in both parties having led us into. I think the results speak for themselves. They've been disastrous.

And so, I do think that I am the only person bringing clear strategic vision to our foreign policy rather than just going through the talking points memorized in 1990.

BASH: So, that might be there have been mistakes made in both administrations on the -- on the world stage. But let's just say you're in the Oval Office --



BASH: -- and you are as the president of the United States part of NATO --


BASH: -- and you see what's happening in Ukraine and Russia, just for example. And Russia moves on to a NATO ally.

RAMASWAMY: We will always honor our treaty commitments. But under my watch, Russia will not move on a NATO ally because we will --

BASH: How can you be so sure?

RAMASWAMY: Because I will do a deal that ends the Ukraine war on terms that are backstop by U.S. interests. The deal I would do would be to freeze the current lines of control and make a commitment that NATO will not admit Ukraine to NATO. But we get more in return by requiring Putin to exit his military alliance with Xi Jinping. China is the top threat we face. That's what we actually need to remember.

And everybody in that foreign policy establishment, you saw it from Mike Pence today, too. I had to remind him, the USSR does not exist anymore.

BASH: But you would be president of the United States --


BASH: -- not president of Ukraine. And --

RAMASWAMY: Of course.

BASH: -- President Zelenskyy --

RAMASWAMY: Ukraine is the client state of the United States because we're paying the bills of their government employees.

BASH: President Zelenskyy wouldn't necessarily agree to what you would say about the lines and the boundaries of this country.

RAMASWAMY: I have two things to say on that. I think when the U.S. stops funding Ukraine, that settles exactly where that goes. But I also think this would be a better deal for Ukraine because it comes out with its sovereignty intact. The spring offensive that became the summer offense that became the offensive that never was, this is not on track to end well for Ukraine either.

And so, I think this is good for Ukraine. It will be a certain concession to Putin, but we win in return, and that's what I'm focused on, America winning.

BASH: You are the only candidate who says, and you've said for some time, that you would pardon Donald Trump.


BASH: The argument that Mike Pence, I believe it was Mike Pence, made was, why are you saying that before he is even convicted and before he even shows remorse?

RAMASWAMY: Well, the reality is we are in the middle of a presidential election and we have seen indictments. I read each of those indictments cover to cover before issuing my statement on each of them. And the reality is, and you know this, in law enforcement, every case of a prosecutor, the most damning version of the facts and the law are in the indictments. So, if there's something far different that's not in the indictments --

BASH: That's not always true.

RAMASWAMY: -- that's nearly always true in anyone in law. The legal practice would tell you. It's a fair assumption to make. And I said at the time, assuming that these are the worst statement of the facts from the standpoint of the prosecution, yes, I would pardon Donald Trump on each of those facts because I think it's a politicized persecution.

And this is also part of what I mentioned to Christie on stage. There's a difference between making a bad judgment and committing a crime. And I think if we start conflating the two, that's a dangerous slippery slope in this country. I'll remind you, and this is coming from me now, polling at second in many of the national polls, it would be a lot easier for me if Donald Trump were not in this race.

But that is not how I want to win. I want to win by convincing the people of this country that we can actually reunite our nation and lead us forward. And it will make my job as the next president that much more difficult if Donald Trump is behind bars or under indictment, especially under novel legal theories used for the first time.

BASH: Vivek Ramaswamy, thank you so much.

RAMASWAMY: Dana, good to see you.

BASH: Appreciate it.

RAMASWAMY: Thank you.

BASH: Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: Thanks very much, Dana. We're going to take a short break. More candidates join us. Also, CNN's Daniel Dale with the fact check of Governor DeSantis's statements tonight about his record on COVID.



BASH: Tonight's first GOP debate of the 2024 campaign is now history. I have with me another member of the republican field, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum. Thank you so much for being here.

GOV. DOUG BURGUM (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yeah, great to be with you.

BASH: How did it feel out there?

BURGUM: Well, it was a -- I felt very good. And, of course, first debate for me, but it was an opportunity for us to introduce ourselves. We're in a little different starting position. We're probably the least well known of anybody on the stage. So, for us to have an opportunity to talk about the economy, energy, national security issues that mattered all Americans, that was great for us.

BASH: You really differentiated yourself on the issue of abortion, saying that it should not be a national discussion. It shouldn't be something -- even for elected officials in Congress, it should be a state's issue.

BURGUM: Well, absolutely. The 10th Amendment, the Constitution is very specific, and it actually says that there are certain duties that are delegated to the federal government. Not designated, delegated, because the states created the federal government, not the other way around. And those not delegated to the federal government are reserved exclusively for the states or to the people.

So, as Republicans, you know, it wasn't that long ago in the Tea Party movement, everybody is like 10th Amendment, 10th Amendment, and then everybody fights for 50 years to get Roe v. Wade back to the states. It goes back to the states. And then the next day, some of the same people are like, oh no, we need a federal, we need federal.

We have so much overreach of the federal government in every part of everybody's lives. This is one of the last areas that we need to have more federal overreach. So, it should be left to the states, and that's where it is right now. And what's going to work for New York will never work for North Dakota.

And so, again, I'd say we've got to -- again, as president, I will be focusing on the things that is actually is the job description for the president. That includes the economy, that includes energy, and that includes national security.

BASH: I have to ask you about -- what happened to your ankle, your Achilles? You went to the doctor today after you hurt it yesterday playing basketball with your staff. It wasn't just a tear, was it? What did you find out today?

BURGUM: Well, staff. My son was there, too.

BASH: Yeah.

BURGUM: We were having a great time. When I -- I thought it was a tear when I saw you earlier, but I did get a chance to get in and see the Milwaukee Bucks orthopedic surgeon today. And after a quick exam, he's like, no, you've got a complete rupture.

BASH: You ruptured your Achilles?


BASH: And you just did an entire debate.

BURGUM: Yes. But we have a thing in North Dakota. That's called Cowboy Up. And when I think about law enforcement, when I think about military, I think about the sacrifices that those people make. There was no way that I was going to miss being on this stage tonight, even if a man standing on one leg for two hours.

BASH: Governor, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

BURGUM: Thank you, Dana.

BASH: Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: All right, Dana, thanks so much. I'm joined by CNN's Daniel Dale, who's got a fact check on some of what we and Republican voters heard tonight.


So, I want to start, Daniel, with Governor DeSantis on his record in Florida during the pandemic. Let's take a look.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): Why are we in this mess? Part of it and a major reason is because how this federal government handed COVID-19 by locking down this economy.


It was a mistake. It should have never happened. And in Florida, we let the country out of lockdown. We kept our state free and open.


COOPER: What did you find, Daniel? DANIEL DALE, CNN SENIOR REPORTER: I found, Anderson, that the claim that we kept our state free and open is misleading at best. And that's because Governor DeSantis is omitting a bunch of important information about what he did early in the pandemic.

Here is the reality. He certainly did eventually open up Florida, certainly was faster than some other governors in doing so, but he did not keep it open from the start. In fact, he imposed significant restrictions at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020 on Florida's people, its businesses, and other entities.

Here are some of the things he did in March 2020 and April 2020. He closed Florida schools for the rest of the school year. He banned most visits to nursing homes. He ordered bars and nightclubs to close and restaurants to operate at 50% capacity. He shut down beaches in two big counties.

He limited gatherings to a maximum of 10 people staying six feet apart on other beaches. He prohibited -- quote -- "medically unnecessary non-urgent or non-emergency medical procedures." He ordered 14-day isolation or quarantine, a possible penalty of jail for people flying in from New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and then Louisiana.

And then, Anderson, this was the big one. In early April 2020, he imposed a statewide stay-home order that temporarily required people in Florida to limit their movements and personal interactions outside of their home to only those necessary to obtain or provide essential services or conduct essential activities.

Now, beginning in May 2020, the month after, the state switched to a reopening plan. The stay-at-home went away. These other restrictions were phased out over time. But even that reopening was not immediate. He described it himself. Governor DeSantis described it as very slow and methodical approach -- that's a direct quote -- with capacity limits for businesses and the like. And that nursing home visitation restriction did not go away until September 2020.

So, the governor is free to argue, Anderson, that he allowed more freedom than lots of other states, but claiming he kept it free and open from the start as he suggested tonight, just not the case.

COOPER: All right. Daniel Dale, we'll have more of our debate coverage as well ahead, including impressions of Republican voters in Iowa who watched it tonight.