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CNN Live Event/Special
Haley, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), Ramaswamy And Christie Spar At Fourth GOP Debate; CNN Makes A Post Republican Presidential Candidates' Debate Analysis. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired December 06, 2023 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: With less than six weeks until the Iowa caucuses, four Republican hopefuls not named Trump try to set themselves apart from him and each other. Good evening from New York.
DANA BASH, CNN HOST: And, Anderson, hello from the spin room here on the campus of the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, site of the fourth primary debate of the election season 2024. It is just wrapping up.
Chris Christie, Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy, once again, the former president did not take part. Nikki Haley, who has, of course, been rising lately as a contender in some polls and in the eyes of some campaign watchers and certainly in the eyes of some big donors, she came in for -- she had a lot of criticism heading towards her tonight from DeSantis and Ramaswamy.
COOPER: Yes, no doubt that. I know you are going to be speaking, Dana, with some of the debaters tonight. I look forward to that.
CNN's Pamela Brown is checking the facts and what they said. CNN's Gary Tuchman is back with his focus group of voters in Iowa who watched tonight, also our political panel here.
But, first, a moment from the debate stage, a clash between Chris Christie and Vivek Ramaswamy with Nikki Haley at it in the middle.
CHRIS CHRISTIE, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You do this at every debate. No, no, don't interrupt me. I didn't interrupt you. You do this at every debate. You go out on the stump and say something. All of us see it on video. We confront you on the debate stage. You say you didn't say it and then you back away. And I want to say -- no, I'm not done yet. Now, look --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hold on, hold on.
CHRISTIE: Let me say something. This is the fourth debate, the fourth debate that you would be voted it in the first 20 minutes as the most obnoxious blowhard in America. We are now 25 minutes into this debate and he has insulted Nikki Haley's basic intelligence, not her positions, her basic intelligence. She doesn't know region. She wouldn't be able to find something on a map that his three-year-old could find.
Look, if you want to disagree on issues, that's fine, and Nikki and I disagree on some issue. But I'll tell you this, I have known for her 12 years, which is longer than he's even started to vote in the Republican primary, and while we disagree about some issues and we disagree about who should be the president of the United States, what we don't disagree in a smart accomplished woman. You should stop insulting her.
VIVEK RAMASWAMY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So, first of all, I think we just learned something from Chris Christie. We learned --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hold on, hold on, hold on.
RAMASWAMY: We learned three things right there. First of all, Chris Christie doesn't know what provinces in Eastern Ukraine, he actually want us to fight for it. Chris, your version of foreign policy experience was closing a bridge from New Jersey to New York. So, do everybody a favor. Just walk yourself up that stage, enjoy a nice meal and get the hell out of this race.
COOPER: One of several sharp clashes tonight.
Here to talk about it, CNN Newsnight Anchor Abby Phillips, CNN Political Commentator Van Jones, anchor of The Source, CNN's Kaitlan Collins, also CNN Political Commentators Alyssa Farah Griffin, David Urban and Scott Jennings, more people than were actually in the debate itself. That's good.
SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: More people than watched the debate.
COOPER: Yes. What stood out to you?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: I mean, I think with Nikki Haley, we saw the perils of emerging successfully in the last several debates. Every single candidate on that stage within the first several minutes was going after Nikki Haley pretty much the entire time.
There were moments where she was a little bit removed from the conversation. I think Governor DeSantis actually had a stronger debate than what we've seen him do in several of the last debates. But, I mean, a lot of it was just arguing on stage between all of them and Vivek Ramaswamy yelling at points.
And then I think the most notable point was Chris Christie at the end saying picture Election Day and saying Donald Trump will not be someone who's voting on that day because he is going to be a convicted felon.
VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I thought like Wonder Woman fighting off like a whole mob of like super villains. I mean, Nikki Haley had to defend herself every second of that debate performance. And she did well. She actually held up well. She was actually able to pull it off.
And even when Vivek was saying that she didn't know the provinces, she knew the provinces.
So, you know, Nikki Haley did a great job.
But I was very proud of Chris Christie. Chris Christie was a scholar and a gentleman tonight.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: Yes. I mean, I think Nikki Haley took a different strategy than we've seen from her. She actually kind of took a step back a little bit, which really underscored the fact that she's the frontrunner in the race right now.
She had a lot coming, coming at her. She didn't try to be in every moment. She had Chris Christie defending her. He probably did a better job defending her on the stage than doing anything necessarily for his own campaign.
And in some ways, I see why they pursued that strategy this time around, because you don't need to respond to every single thing. And just the fact, the eagerness of the DeSantis and the Ramaswamys to attack her only proved to the voters and to the audience she is the one that they think that they have to beat. And that's, I think, the message that they were trying to send tonight.
ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And Nikki Haley proved once again that she is a political heavyweight. She's arguably won all of the debates, or at least performed exceptionally well in them.
But the moment that stood out to me, and I don't want to read the tea leaves too much here, when Chris Christie was a gentleman and jumped in to defend her. He made a point to say, we disagree on some things, but that, to me, somebody who's run his whole campaign on stopping Donald Trump and has happened to lag in the polls, I could see a world in which he ends up endorsing a Nikki Haley.
He did draw that contrast. But the way that he described her, the relationship, her credibility, spoke as somebody who could end up backing her in short time.
DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And, look, Governor Christie was -- I mean, he kept pointing out time and time again, I'm the only one up here that didn't put my hand up here that said I would support Donald Trump if he was the nominee. He kept drawing distinctions, making the candidates answer questions better than the moderators did, right? He was really forcing the issue. I think he did a great job tonight. Unfortunately, his numbers haven't moved since day one.
And when you sit back, Scott and I -- we were talking about this earlier. We were watching the debate. From the first debate performance until today, the numbers really haven't moved. Trump has been in the high 50s, low 60s. DeSantis has been 13, 14. Nikki Haley has kind of come up a bunch, and Vivek Ramswamy has dropped, and Christie has kind of stayed the same.
So, it's reshuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic here a little bit on this side of the aisle, but Nikki Haley had a solid performance tonight, and Chris Christie, I think, did very, very well.
JENNINGS: For the sake of this commentary, we'll assume that any of these people have a chance to beat Donald Trump. So, I think what we saw tonight, I saw alliances forming tonight. For the first time, we really saw alliances, the pre-Trump GOP, Christie and Haley, versus the post-Trump GOP, DeSantis and Ramaswamy, who were teaming up to attack Haley. As you pointed out, Alyssa, Christie came to Haley's defense. That is one thing that stuck out to me.
But as I was watching them, and I do agree that the narrative here is going to be that Haley was attacked, therefore, that means she must have momentum. DeSantis churns out solid Republican conservative content on virtually every question. He did not bobble a single question tonight. Ramaswamy once again hurt himself, just as he has in every single debate.
But the one thing that really dawns on me is there's not room enough in Iowa for both Haley and DeSantis, and there's not room enough in New Hampshire for both Haley and Christie. If any of them hopes to get close to Donald Trump, will this field ever consolidate? It doesn't feel like it's going to.
And, once again, fragmentation is Donald Trump's friend. And as you pointed out, since we started on August 23rd, he's gone from 55 to 61 in the national polling averages. It's hard to argue that his strategy of sitting this out has been anything but genius.
GRIFFIN: I would agree that sitting it out was wise. I'm not sure, I don't think the field consolidates. Listen, DeSantis isn't going anywhere, but it's very quickly becoming a race for number two between Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley. And there are a lot of important endorsements still sitting on the sidelines.
Now, endorsements don't mean what they used to, but I'm watching to see where Governor Sununu comes out in New Hampshire. He's consistently outperformed Donald Trump in his home state. If he backs Nikki Haley, that gives her momentum she needs. If she can rally more support within Iowa, that gives her momentum. She is head-to-head with Ron DeSantis. And Chris Christie, he does still pull about 5 percent in New Hampshire. That's a bit of support that she could pull off there.
So, I think we're at a place where it's head-to-head, and there's still a chance to take him on.
PHILLIP: I think it's today felt to me about a fight for momentum. And I think we do have to give DeSantis some credit. He had a very strong debate.
I mean, just in the last couple of days, some of his people, after that debate that he had with Gavin Newsom, they were really excited because he was sort of demonstrating a growth that they wanted to see from him. And I think it showed up tonight in a way that might help him. It has helped Nikki Haley to be on this debate stage and perform aggressively.
It will be really important for DeSantis if he can take that momentum and push it forward, because this is the moment.
There's no more time left before Iowa. Like this is the moment that he has to show that there's going to be a surge going into Iowa. Otherwise, it's hard to see what the path is.
JONES: So then good for that to happen to him tonight. And I just don't think that it did.
URBAN: It's too little too late, I think.
JONES: I mean, the thing about it is there's something about him that's just hard to like him. He comes out there, he lands all the points, he lands all the talking points. But his affect (ph), and I hate to say it, this is kind of petty and shallow. But his affect (ph), he looks uncomfortable, he doesn't like anybody there, he doesn't like him. And it makes it hard for people to connect.
So, I think that people are -- there's a reason that he's like a bottle of soda with losing the fizz. And he did not put the fizz back in that soda tonight, DeSantis.
COLLINS: I will say I was talking to Trump advisers, Trump allies, they still think it's a good -- that he has made a good move by not coming to any of these debates, not Trump, which Chris Christie knocked him for. But, politically speaking, they still think that he's come all fine.
And as Scott was entertaining this idea that anyone but Trump has a chance, Nikki Haley obviously, and what they were alluding to when it comes to Trump's potential criminal issues is maybe holding out hope that that is something that could ensnare him. That is something that could trip him up.
We don't actually know. I mean, the likelihood of that happening, it's anyone's guess. But they still seem to think that it was a wise choice that he didn't come. Though I will say not only Nikki Haley, DeSantis also hitting Trump tonight on the deficit.
COOPER: Let's play that exchange between Governor Christie and Governor DeSantis about whether Trump is fit for office.
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Father time is undefeated. The idea that we're going to put someone up there that's almost 80 and there's going to be no effects from that, we all know that that's not true. And so we have an opportunity to do a next generation of leaders and really be able to move this country forward.
We also need a president that can serve two terms. I don't think Donald Trump -- I think he's going to have a -- I don't he'll be able to get elected. The Democrats want him to be the nominee, we see that. They are going to turn the screws the minute, if he got the nomination, you're going to see it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But do you think he's mentally fit to be president?
DESANTIS: I think we need to have somebody younger.
CHRISTIE: The question was very direct. Is he fit to be president or isn't he? The rest of the speech is interesting but completely non- responsive. And if we were in a courtroom, they'd strike the answer and say, Governor DeSantis, you're a smart man.
DESANTIS: No, they wouldn't. They would say --
CHRISTIE: No, they would. They would strike the answer because you're not answering it.
Is he fit?
DESANTIS: You have your thing.
CHRISTIE: No, I don't have my thing. He's the thing.
DESANTIS: We do not want to do someone that's almost 80. It doesn't mean that somebody couldn't be elected.
CHRISTIE: Ron, is he fit?
DESANTIS: I think we have an opportunity to do somebody who is in the prime of their life. We don't have to worry about all this stuff. We can get it done and we'll do it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm going to come to you. Finish.
DESANTIS: Father time is undefeated. I don't know how he would score on a test, but I know this. We have an opportunity to nominate someone and elect someone for two terms who is going to be spitting nails on day one and for eight years deliver you big result.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, you do think he's fit? You do think?
DESANTIS: We should not nominate somebody who is almost 80 years old.
CHRISTIE: He won't answer. He's afraid to answer.
DESANTIS: No, I'm not.
CHRISTIE: No, you have to. Either you're afraid or you're not listening.
DESANTIS: No, it's not.
CHRISTIE: There's a simple question. Is he fit?
COOPER: And Dana Bash is standing by with Governor Christie. Dana?
BASH: Thanks Anderson, Governor. Thank you so much for being here.
CHRISTIE: Glad to be here, Dana.
BASH: As we were just watching that moment, I was saying to you as almost as if you were the fourth moderator in that debate.
CHRISTIE: Well, it's not a role I want to play, but I'm sick and tired of being at these debates and watching the other three folks who are on the stage not willing to answer the questions. The voters who are watching deserve to hear an answer.
And especially on something like that, Ron is trying to play both sides to the middle, and so is Nikki. They don't want to say he's unfit because they don't want to offend anyone. Well, you have no business being the president of the United States if you don't have the principles to stand up for what you believe in, even if it might offend some people, and even if it might make them boo you, which I got tonight and I don't care.
BASH: You've gotten it a lot every time you mention Trump's name.
CHRISTIE: That's fine.
BASH: Wherever you are.
CHRISTIE: You know what they're offended by? You know what they're booing? They're booing the truth. They're booing the truth because they're in denial. He is going to be convicted felon come this spring. And what I said in my closing statement is absolutely true. He will be a candidate. If he's our nominee, he won't be able to vote for himself. Why would anybody else vote for him?
BASH: You mentioned Nikki Haley. I want to play part of you coming to her defense pretty aggressively in this debate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: He has insulted Nikki Haley's basic intelligence, not her positions, her basic intelligence.
If you want to disagree on issues, that's fine. And Nikki and I disagree on some issues. But I'll tell you this, I've known her for 12 years, which is longer than he's even started to vote in a Republican primary.
And while we disagree about some issues and we disagree about who should be president of the United States, what we don't disagree on is this is a smart, accomplished woman and you should stop insulting her.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: Where did that come from?
CHRISTIE: I mean, look, I'm a truth teller, Dana. And, look, Nikki and I disagree. I don't think Nikki should be president of the United States. But I'll tell you this, she's a smart woman and she's an accomplished woman. And she's worked incredibly hard, both in South Carolina and in the U.N.
And I think Vivek does have a woman problem. I do think he insults women's basic intelligence. He's done it over and over and over again.
And I guess tonight, I just had had enough. I had enough of listening to his garbage. And as I said, his smart ass Harvard mouth, because that's what it is. When he's dictating to me and Nikki Haley, who have committed ourselves to public service, while he's been off stealing from seniors to make his fortune, yes, I'm not going to put up with him anymore.
BASH: So, you call yourself a truth teller, but you're also a very savvy politician.
CHRISTIE: Thank you.
BASH: You're welcome.
And the wind up there is about New Hampshire. And it was very interesting to watch you and Nikki Haley, certainly, as you said, you disagree about a lot of things, but it seemed as though you were forming a bit of an alliance with her.
BASH: In a place like -- no?
CHRISTIE: No. Look, I'm a truth teller, Dana. And I'm going to tell the truth if someone is insulting Nikki Haley in a way that was personal. It was nothing about issues. He was saying she's not smart enough to know where things are on the map that somehow his three- year-old son is smarter than a woman who served as a two-term governor and a U.N. ambassador. He's a jackass.
And if that happens -- it's not me, you know, forming an alliance with Nikki Haley. Wait until you see what's going to happen over the next seven weeks.
BASH: What's going to happen?
CHRISTIE: We're going to be competing against each other hard to try to win New Hampshire, I suspect. And I have a lot of problems.
Look, I've said tonight she's unwilling to take on Donald Trump. She didn't do it again tonight. She's not willing to say he's unfit. She's not willing to lower that hand that she raised in August to say that even if he was a convicted felon, she would support him. We should have a higher standard and she fails on that front.
But you know, at the end of the day, if someone's being unfair to somebody else who I've had a 12-year relationship with, I'm not going to let him beat her up like that. The moderators didn't step in and ask for any decorum. So, let me tell you something, whether it was Vivek or Ron tonight, they want to fight with somebody, fight with a guy from Jersey. You know what that's like, Dana.
BASH: I do know what that's like, but I think she also -- well, I want to ask about more about Donald Trump and the fact that you said multiple times, as you've said, really since the beginning of your candidacy here, that they're not going after the big person in the race, the person who's very far and away, the frontrunner. Let's listen to part of that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: So, do I think he was kidding when he said he was a dictator? All you have to do is look at the history. And that's why failing to speak out against him, making excuses for him, pretending that somehow he's a victim, empowers him.
You want to know why those poll numbers are where they are? Because folks like these three guys on the stage make it seem like his conduct is acceptable. Let me make it clear. His conduct is unacceptable. He's unfit.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: That is kind of your mantra on this --
CHRISTIE: One of them.
BASH: One of the mantras on this campaign. And, obviously, you had an opportunity to do it to your three remaining opponents on the stage there. Do you really think that they're going to all of a sudden start to go after Donald Trump?
CHRISTIE: If they want to win, they'd better. Because look at the strategy they've been pursuing. The strategy they've been pursuing is consigned to failure. You want to know how I know? Because I did the same thing eight years ago. I ignored him. So did Jeb Bush. So did John Kasich. And when -- and Marco Rubio. And you know what happened? We all lost. We all lost because we wouldn't call him out on the fact that he was never going to get Mexico to pay for a wall. We wouldn't call him out on the fact that he wasn't going to balance the budget in four years. We wouldn't call him out on his Muslim ban garbage. You know, we figured he was just going to go away.
Well, hope is not a strategy. And that's why Ron DeSantis has gone from the mid-30s to single digits. That's why Nikki Haley is 30 points behind him in her own home state. I'm telling you this. People are going to wake up. They're going to wake up to this message. And when they do, there's only going to be one person on the stage who is telling the truth, and it was me.
BASH: You obviously knew what you wanted to accomplish tonight. Did anything on that stage, any comment from any of your opponents surprise you?
CHRISTIE: No. It's the same stuff over and over again, Ron DeSantis' memorized answers, Nikki Haley trying to have it both ways, and Vivek, who is the drunk driver of the debate stage.
You never know where he's going or what he's going to hit. So, no, nothing surprised me.
BASH: Anything that you didn't get to?
CHRISTIE: Yes. And I think they were -- like, look, I didn't get to talk about the border. The moderators, they gave me a chance to talk about the border, which I really would have liked to have had an opportunity to do.
And there were two questions right at the end, I think, of the second segment, where they went to the other three and never came to me. So -- but, you know, we got time. I got a sense there will be more debates here after the first of the year, hopefully in Iowa and New Hampshire. And I also think there's going to be plenty of time for me as I'm campaigning to make sure I continue to emphasize those points. But those are the things that I didn't get to because they just didn't give me a chance.
If they -- as you saw tonight, Donna, if they would have asked, I would have answered.
BASH: Yes, I definitely know that. Governor, thank you so much.
CHRISTIE: Dana, thanks for the time. Thanks for being here in Tuscaloosa. Roll Tide.
BASH: Roll Tide, there you go. Kaitlan Collins, that's for you. Anderson?
COOPER: The drunk driver on the debate stage. And I think that is --
URBAN: That was great. That's the best line of the night.
JENNINGS: Christie, for the first time in this whole debate season, felt -- it seemed like he felt comfortable. Maybe the smaller stage benefited him. For the audience he's trying to appeal to in New Hampshire, his attitude tonight, so that straight talk kind of thing, went after DeSantis a little bit on the Trump stuff, defended Haley, he was funny there, he helped himself tonight.
Now, he's not going to help himself in the national polls, but the narrow thing he's got to get done is independents and Democrats in New Hampshire coming out and casting an anti-Trump vote. And again, though, Haley and him being in the race together at the same time in New Hampshire, trying to take on Trump is problematic. But I thought this might have been Christie's best night of the four so far.
COLLINS: My question is also what women thought of this debate. I mean, watching that, and Nikki Haley used that to her advantage while saying -- you know, she was getting a lot of the attention from the fellows, as she put it, I mean, she knew that she was going to be a target of the attacks.
And you hear Chris Christie there telling Dana, he thinks that Vivek Ramaswamy has a woman problem because he was going after her, not just over policy disagreements but insulting her, telling her that she couldn't find those places on a map. It reminded me of Secretary Pompeo, who did that whenever he was secretary of state.
But if you listen to the debate tonight, there was nothing on abortion that I heard or any of that topic that was such an energizing issue that we saw in November. I know it's a Republican primary debate, but this is obviously something that even Republican women voters care about as well. And it was not something that we heard any of these candidates talk about.
PHILLIP: Well, I thought the audience -- I was a little surprised by this, but the audience booed Ramaswamy multiple times, cheered Christie when he was defending Haley. It was pretty clear where the audience ended up on some of these more contentious exchanges, especially the ones where basically Ramaswamy was attacking Haley for identity politics, saying that she does it better than Kamala Harris.
So, if that's any indication, I assume these are Republicans in that audience, that's not really a good sign for how those kinds of attacks against Nikki Haley would play not just with women but just with Republican voters in general. Maybe they don't agree with everything that she said, but it seems like they didn't take well to the way that the attacks were --
JENNINGS: I don't think they thought the attacks were fair.
JENNINGS: And they're also coming from someone who they don't like and who has time and again proven himself to be a charlatan on a number of -- I mean, tonight, he got asked about January the 6th. I mean, he basically said it was an inside job.
COLLINS: He did say it was an inside job, take out basically.
JENNINGS: in his book in his book, he said January the 6th was a deplorable and disgraceful assault on our democratic process by misguided rioters. Tonight, it's an inside job. How many issues have we discussed at this table where he has done that and people by now, the Republicans know it? And so if you're going to level attacks the way he's doing it, which, by the way, he's just taking cues from Trump, you know he called her what Trump called her a bird brain, he's trying to like ape that a little bit.
But they know Vivek is a fraud and a charlatan. And so when you level those kind of personal attacks, they don't like it. And so I thought Christie had a good moment defending it.
COLLINS: He also was totally alone when it came to a really important issue, which is what's happening with Israel and what he would do as president when it came to going to rescue the American hostages. That was a really notable part of the debate where he was isolated from where the rest of the three of them stood on what their response would look like.
GRIFFIN: The more these debates have gone on, it just shows the intellectual shallowness and the policy shallowness of Vivek Ramaswamy. I don't think we're going to have to see him on a debate stage in any near future.
He was asked about arming the Taiwanese people and it was pointed out that that's against their own Constitution in their you know efforts against China, so just an unseriousness there.
COOPER: We're going to take a quick break. We're going to have a fact check on the line that Scott was talking about, the January 6th that Scott mentioned, when our special debate night coverage continues in a moment.
COOPER: As always, the candidates tonight made plenty of promises about what they do as president and made plenty of claims, not just about their records or their opponent's records either, some also offered their own take on decisive moments for the country, including, as Scott Jennings mentioned before the break, January 6th.
CNN's Pamela Brown joins us now with a fact-check on that and Vivek Ramswamy's claim about it. Pam?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Anderson.
Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy has a history of peddling disinformation about January 6th and has ran tonight against the so-called deep state sparking the insurrection. It's just the latest example of that. Here's what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAMASWAMY: Why am I the only person on the stage at least who can say that January 6th now does look like it was an inside job, that the government lied to us for 20 years about Saudi Arabia's involvement in 9/11, that the great replacement theory is not some grand right-wing conspiracy theory but a basic statement of the Democratic Party's platform, that the 2020 election was indeed stolen by big tech, that the 2016 election, the one that Trump won for sure, was also one that was stolen from him by the national security establishment --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Okay, thank you.
RAMASWAMY: -- that actually put out the Trump-Russia collusion hoax that they knew was false.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: All right. So, much of that rant consists of debunked conspiracy theory. So, on the specific claim that the January 6th insurrection was an inside job, this is a flat-out lie that is detached from reality and unsupported by concrete evidence.
This false and self-serving narrative, Anderson, from Trump supporters came about in the summer of 2021 from right-wing news outlets claiming the U.S. government orchestrated the U.S. Capitol attack and sent undercover FBI agents to trigger violence as a way to frame Trump.
FBI Director Christopher Wray, a lifelong Republican appointed by former President Trump, has repeatedly rejected that claim. And it's worth-remembering about 850 rioters have been convicted of crimes, stemming from January 6th, according to the Justice Department, most of them pleaded guilty and many acknowledged that they were at the Capitol because they supported Trump. None of the people convicted were active FBI agents. Anderson.
COOPER: Pamela, thanks very much. We'll have more with you throughout the night. Before the break, we heard Chris Christie going after Donald Trump and Nikki Haley did take a dig at the former president. Let's listen to that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NIKKI HALEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is where Trump went wrong. Trump was good on trade but that's all he was with China because here he allowed fentanyl to continue to come over. He continued to allow them to take -- he would give them technology that would build up their military and hurt us.
He allowed the Chinese infiltration for them to buy up farmland, to put money in our universities, and to continue to do things that were harmful for America. We now have a spy base in Cuba and police stations, and Trump didn't do anything about it.
MODERATOR: Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Back now with the panel. How much tougher has Nikki Haley gotten on the former president than she was earlier, do you think?
GRIFFIN: From a policy perspective, I think she's really leaned into going after him. She hit him on not securing the border. Ron DeSantis, to his credit, also attacked him on the fact that he said, secure the border, Mexico will pay for it.
I think that the candidates in the field now feel like they can go after him on policy, but other than Chris Christie, nobody is touching the question of fitness. And while I think Ron DeSantis actually had his best performance yet, he looked incredibly weak when Chris Christie had to basically jump in and moderate and say, just answer the question, is Donald Trump fit or unfit? It made him look waffling and just not ready for leadership.
URBAN: Look, I mean, we talked about this earlier. I think at the end of the day, Donald Trump was still the winner tonight again, right? This is debate number, what is it? Five, four, three. I don't even remember, I lost track, right?
But each time we try to pick winners and losers in the debates, and the guy on the stage who was not on the stage is the winner each time. Nobody advanced the ball. The numbers, as Scott talked about, right, we've talked about earlier, the numbers don't move. They haven't moved one bit. And they're all jockeying who's going to be second and third.
Like now, the big debate is who's going to come in second and third in Iowa, and who's going to come in second and third in New Hampshire, and who's going to be second and third. And what, to make it to Super Tuesday, maybe? Where's the money going to come from? How is it going to work?
JENNINGS: It's just a play for momentum. You know, I mean, if you're Haley right now, you're presumed to be a little behind DeSantis in Iowa.
What if you, you know, jump into second place at the last minute and you try to slingshot that over to New Hampshire and you convince Chris -- you know, it's all sort of a play to build momentum. But it's like the old commercials, off the backboard, off the bleachers, off the ceiling.
URBAN: Game of horse.
JENNINGS: It would take that kind of a shot. And where's the money --
GRIFFIN: It's giving the sense that they're all waiting that something is going to come down the pipeline that's going to take Donald Trump out. It's like they don't want to take him out themselves. And that the calendar just does not show us that that's going to happen.
That's what I'm completely struck by in this entire primary process is that no one other than Chris Christie is just directly going after Trump's fitness because he will at this juncture likely be the nominee statistically.
URBAN: Absolutely. I mean, statistically, he's going to be the nominee. Tell me how it's not going to happen.
COOPER: How long -- on Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis given their financial backing they have to stay in.
JENNINGS: If DeSantis doesn't come close to Trump in Iowa, or if he finishes third or is 20th, I don't know how you move forward because he's not going to do as well in New Hampshire. Haley's the one who's trying for the slingshot. I think the DeSantis strategy has to be get within range, at least, of Trump in Iowa, and then you make an argument to move forward as the one opponent. But for him, it's Iowa.
For Haley and for Christie, it's really more New Hampshire. And for Christie, if this is the last debate, you know, December 6th, New Hampshire is January 23rd. We got a long way to go. And I'm wondering for his strategy, how is he going to stay fresh and in the news and have moments where he can keep a little momentum going out there?
PHILLIP: I don't think the issue for Haley, maybe even DeSantis -- I don't think money is the issue. I think the donors are ready to move on from Trump. They're backing Haley, they're backing DeSantis. The issue remains, as it has always been -- the voters. The voters are not ready to move on, and that's ultimately going to be the problem.
I mean, what we've seen over the last few weeks with the, you know, the Jamie Dimons of the world and the Black Rocks of the world, which was a huge topic of discussion tonight, consolidating behind Haley is that there are people with really deep pockets who are willing to be there, but there is a disconnect.
There has been, since 2016, there is a disconnect between the elite -- the elites, the moneyed class, and the voters. And until that changes, we're not talking about anything other than that.
URBAN: It actually works against you, right? Because if you get the money, this is some -- I can't remember who made this point here in the debate. Vivek makes the point like, great, take the money. Because that's exactly -- you're exactly the person we don't want, right?
JONES: And I do think that was an important development in terms of trying to punish Nikki Haley for being successful. Nikki Haley is climbing. She's rising. She can handle all these attacks. And now the donors are moving toward her.
So, the people who are falling, who are collapsing, who are failing, try to turn that strength into a weakness. And so you saw the vague saying, you are now corrupt. You are corrupting. You're beholden to these folks.
Now, obviously, none of those people would turn down any of those checks. But part of why this is important, you say, well, why is the debate important if Trump's going to win anyway?
You're shaping the future of this party tonight. You're shaping the landscape of debate and if what you begin to say is anybody who's -- who can get support from respectable quarters is suspect, anybody who can get support from successful business people is suspect, you saw a switch now where a DeSantis was essentially saying, I'm going to use the power of the government against corporations.
That used to be the liberals. The liberals used to say, we're going to use the government, and the conservatives were saying we're for free enterprise and corporations.
URBAN: It sounds like a lot of pushback in that regard, as well.
JONES: But that side of the table, to your point, that side of the -- those two allies were trying to make, turn the victory, the success, the rise, the consolidation of Nikki's support against her. And I think that's a bad sign for this party going forward. If that is the rising wing of this party, you're saying you're going to be an anti- establishment party even when corporations support some of your best leaders.
JENNINGS: Yeah, it's a continuation of this moving away of corporate America, of the Republicans, towards a more, you know, populist, working class party. Two of the biggest flows, I think, right now could be this movement away from corporate America.
But also, what are Jewish Americans doing right now? They voted about 70 percent for Joe Biden in the last election. I have a feeling they're looking at the world right now and maybe saying, we might be headed back the other way towards the Republican Party, even as some college-educated suburban people have started to flow away from the Republicans towards the Democrats.
The point is -- yeah, right -- we may be living through these real tectonic shifts in what we have thought of as the coalitions of the two parties. It happens every so often, every 100 years or so, and we may be living through it right now. How it's going to manifest itself a year from now, I don't know, but it strikes me that the conditions, Van, are in place to cause really massive flows.
URBAN: But in the Northeast, we've seen that a long time ago. I used to work for Ireland's specter, remember? He was a Northeast Republican. How many Northeast Republicans do you think exist anymore? Look in the Congress, look in the Senate. They don't exist.
So, that slide has started a while ago and you continue to see that trend, right? The country club kind of liberals who used to be Republicans have switched to the Democratic Party and the working class people from Pittsburgh that I grew up with who were Democrats are now Republicans. So, that's kind of, that's been taking place over time.
COLLINS: Well, and that's why the debates matter because Trump's not on the stage, but Trumpism is, and you see how it's shifting and shaping. I don't think it's also a completely ruled out that a Nikki Haley or Ron DeSantis would serve in a Trump administration. It's not totally clear to me. Vivek Ramaswamy has said that he won't, but I mean --
COOPER: No, well. His job on the scale -- Donald Trump --
UNKNOWN: He's already serving in it.
COOPER: There's an exchange between Haley and DeSantis. I want to talk about China, which also involved donors. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RON DESANTIS, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is rich because when she was governor of South Carolina, she was the number one ranked governor of bringing the CCP into her state. She wrote a love letter to the Chinese ambassador saying how great a friend China is. You can look at it.
We put it on our website, rondesantis.com. There's also a video of her as governor standing in front of a Chinese flag with a Chinese business saying that she now works for them, talking about this Chinese company. So she's been very weak on China. Now here's the problem.
The rhetoric is different, but her donors -- these "Wall Street" liberal donors, they make money in China. They are not going to let her be tough on China and she will cave to the donor. She will not stand up for you.
MODERATOR: Fifteen seconds.
HALEY: First of all, he's mad because those "Wall Street" donors used to support him and now they support me. The second thing is, he has a company, a Chinese company, YouGas, that he just did a rally there last year.
They have given you $340,000 in campaign donations --
DESANTIS: It's an American company.
HALEY: -- between them and their employees. They are tied to the --
DESANTIS: It's an American company.
HALEY: -- JNCO Solar is another one. They went and expanded, you gave $2 million in subsidies.
DESANTIS: I banned China from buying land in the state of Florida.
HALEY: And the Department of Homeland --
DESANTIS: I ejected the Confucius institute. Nikki Haley brought Confucius institutes to the universities in South Carolina.
HALEY: That is not true.
DESANTIS: I ejected them. So, I have a record of standing up and do what's right and here's the thing. HALEY: You have a record of lying.
DESANTIS: She's trying to say things like that. Even the liberal media groups that usually if I say the sky is blue they'll fact check me and say that's wrong. They looked at her charges. They said it was totally false that they could not find one instance of me recruiting a Chinese business coming to Florida.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PHILLIP: To me this was -- putting the substance aside for just a second -- just those dynamics there -- this was an example of Haley receding a little bit in a way that I don't think really helped her. I mean in the last debate they had a huge blow up. Haley, DeSantis, and Ramaswamy over China, and she was really in the mix. I think DeSantis did well there and really kind of outshined her on this issue.
COOPER: Why do you think she was receding?
PHILLIP: It's hard. It's -- honestly, it's hard to say. It's hard to say. Look, some of this stuff is really in the weeds. I've heard them talk about this stuff multiple times. It is unclear to me what the point is of all of this and what it has to do with actual United States policy toward China.
They're trying to signal toughness by saying, we're going to kick China out of the United States, kick out the Confucius Institutes. It's not really linked to real policy. However, when it comes to signaling to the Republican base on China, I think DeSantis probably did a better job than Hailey there in that moment.
GRIFFIN: That exchange fell flat to me on both ends because while China matters, it's our, you know, biggest geopolitical adversary, no one tied it back to why this matters for the average voter. I was waiting. It was like one of the most lengthy exchanges that went on that night.
How does this affect you? It was, I think, kind of implicitly there in China's pocket, but it was naming institutes that the average American wouldn't know of. And it was stunning to me, especially considering how long that went on, and then the major policy areas that weren't touched tonight, including abortion.
JENNINGS: She -- she -- both of them felt contrived. It just feels like normal campaign tit for tat. Where she actually thought she scored on China was when she was going through her recitation on the college anti-Semitism that we're seeing. She again said, and we got to ban TikTok. That to me, when you're Republican voters -- when they hear that, that's a message about China as much as anything.
COLLINS: But also, saying it versus doing it is one thing. I mean, Donald Trump was president, he said he was banning it, and it's still --
PHILLIP: It's Republicans in Congress said they were going to ban it, and then they completely dropped the issue. So, it's --
COLLINS: Chris Christie also brought up a good point on China, which also made sense, I think, to voters who were in the audience and watching at home, which was, Haley has praised Trump's policy on China, his trade policy, and he asked her why she thought it was a good policy, talking about the only thing that Trump really did on China that was tough was, put the tariffs on Chinese goods that obviously raised prices for Americans.
COOPER: Everybody sit right there. Gary Tuchman next with Voters in Iowa and shortly Vivek Ramaswamy joins Dana.
COOPER: And welcome to our post-debate analysis with the Iowa caucuses fast approaching knowing what voters they're made of tonight matters as he has been for all four debates so far. CNN's Gary Tuchman is in Nevada, Iowa for us. Gary.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, you're right, with just 40 days left until the first of the nation Iowa caucuses. And we've come back to Iowa for the fourth time in the last three and a half months, specifically the same place, Story County, Iowa.
The reason we want to do that, we want to talk to loyal Republicans after each and every debate to see if things have changed regarding the perceptions of the candidates or if things have stayed the same. It is wonderful to be back with our friends from Story County. Good to see all of you.
First thing I want to talk to you about, the three other debates we were here. The first debate, this group said Ramaswamy did the best. The second debate, DeSantis. The third debate, Haley. Looks like we're going to break the tie unless you pick Christie today.
So, let me ask you, and there's some laughter there, so maybe it won't be Christie. But just to be honest with our viewers, I haven't asked these people yet who they thought won this debate. We're all going to find it together for the first time. So I'm going to ask in alphabetical order, who thinks Christie won the debate?
Zero of the eight. Who thinks DeSantis won the debate? One of the eight. Who thinks Haley won the debate? One, two, three, four, five, six. Who thinks Ramaswamy won the debate? Zero. One person didn't vote, that's Jim in the upper left. How come you're not voting there, Jim?
JIM: I think Trump won.
TUCHMAN: And my guess is you think Trump won because he wasn't here.
UNKNOWN: That's right. It looked so orchestrated and so chaotic.
TUCHMAN: Well, either way though. We have six people here who've picked Haley. So, that's the second time Haley's won a commanding victory this time in the four debates we've been here. Let me ask why you think Haley won. We'll start with the mayor of Nevada, Brett Barker. Why do you think Haley won?
BRETT BARKER, MAYOR OF NEVADA: Well, clearly lately she's been the one with the momentum. So I expected her to take a lot of hits tonight. And the debate started with them coming after her. And I think she handled it really well. I think she also just as strong on policy and she just as strong in these debates. And I think that's been a consistent part of her momentum is she's been a strong debater.
JUDY: I agree with Brett that she had to dodge a lot of bullets tonight, and she stood up to each one of them.
TUCHMAN: What do you think, Ray?
RAY: I think people shoot arrows at the people that are winning. And I think she's winning.
TREY: Yeah, I think that every hit that she took, she had a response back. And one of the big things that they hit her on was being on the Boeing board. And quite frankly, I don't care that she was on the Boeing board. I don't care. She has great experience in foreign policy and domestic policy.
TUCHMAN: Megan, what do you think?
MEGAN: I agree with everyone else that everyone was after her tonight in the debate.
And I think she handled that with grace and charisma. And it was the most level headed and stuck to her guns. And I think she just explained factually why she believed everything and stayed steady, which was good.
TUCHMAN: And Jeff, what's your opinion?
JEFF: Well, like everybody else, she weathered the storm. It was obvious they were coming after her, because she's got an edge on the polls of at least of that group. And again, her foreign policy experience really shown through strong tonight.
And the fact that, you know, she's been a governor, too, so she's got that legislative experience working with, you know, legislators in South Carolina. So, I think she shined among them all.
TUCHMAN: Okay, you said like everyone else, but we do have someone here in the front row, Deborah, who says DeSantis won. Why do you think DeSantis won?
DEBORAH: I think he's got executive experience and a record of winning. And that's going to be the most important thing in a primary and then in a general election. We have to beat Joe Biden. That's the most important imperative that we need to get done. And I think DeSantis is the best one to get us there. And he's convincing us with policy and a record. And that's what's convincing to me.
TUCHMAN: Do all of you agree that you have to beat Joe Biden?
TUCHMAN: Okay, no one's thinking of going Democrat here.
UNKNOWN: No. No.
TUCHMAN: Okay. You never know. I mean, in this world, you never have the choice to do whatever you want. Now, I do want to point out something. And that is most of the people here who we've seen in your county in the last three and a half months were undecided about who they would caucus for on January 15th.
Most of you were undecided. I want to know out of the eight of you, how many of you have made a decision about who you will caucus for? Please raise your hand if you have. So four of you have now decided. I know Jim, I know your answer is going to be Trump because you just said you thought he won the debate. And from day one you were a Trump man, nothing's changed your mind.
TUCHMAN: Okay. And tell me why nothing's changed your mind.
JIM: Because he's demonstrated. I mean, he hasn't said, well, I did this in Florida or when I was governor, he has done it. He has been the president. He has made the tough decisions and we didn't have a war and we had a good economy and I'm a farmer and so I liked his policies.
TUCHMAN: Okay. Now, who have you decided to caucus for?
BARKER: I'll be caucusing for Nikki Haley.
TUCHMAN: And why did you decide on Haley?
BARKER: Like Jeff said, she hits it out of the park on policy in general. And what Deborah was talking about, the importance of winning, I think, is really important. And you have somebody who runs strong in second place in all the early states.
It's in a really good position in the primary, but also would beat Joe Biden by the largest margins in every poll we've seen. And she would really bring together a coalition that would have Reagan-esque type margins that we haven't seen in 40 years as a party.
TUCHMAN: You thought DeSantis won this debate. Is that who you're going to caucus for?
TUCHMAN: And have you decided that based on his debate performance?
UNKNOWN: Probably more on his record and his interactions with voters that I've seen personally. I think he's doing well actually when he interacts personally with voters.
TUCHMAN: Okay. What we need to do, Ramaswamy is about to talk to Anderson Cooper. So I could ask you guys about an hour's worth of questions, but I have to go back to the studio right now. So Anderson, you hear what's happening here. Nikki Haley has won her second debate in a row according to this group. Back to you.
COOPER: It's always great to hear from the same people each time. Gary, thank you and thank them for us. I want to go to Dana, who's standing by with Vivek Ramaswamy.
BASH: Thanks, Anderson. Thank you so much for being here. First, you were listening to some of that. One person said Donald Trump won.
VIVEK RAMASWAMY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yeah.
BASH: Others were kind of in favor of the woman who you went after pretty hard -- Nikki Haley.
RAMASWAMY: Well, I think because of a deep ideological divide in the GOP. But one of the things I see coming up in the Iowa caucus, if we're right about this, this actually going to change the dynamic of this race is many of my voters, many of the people coming to our events.
And if you look at our events it does not match the mainstream media narrative of what you're hearing about in terms of just the sheer numbers were drawing are younger people who have never been in a caucus before people who are not polled. Many of them have Rand Paul shirts or otherwise when they show up.
If those people come to our caucus -- come to caucus on January 15th, we are going to deliver a major shock to the system and a lot of those people do want to see somebody is going to be unvarnished, unshackled. And I think that that's who I am and if that's what the voters want, that's what we're going to give them.
BASH: Let's turn back to what happened here tonight at the debate. I want to play for our viewers some of what you did on the debate stage.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAMASWAMY: Your version of foreign policy experience was closing a bridge from New Jersey to New York. So, do everybody a favor, just walk yourself off that stage, enjoy a nice meal, and get the hell out of this race. The only person more fascist than the Biden regime now is Nikki Haley, who thinks the government should identify every one of those individuals with an I.D.
That is not freedom, that is fascism, and she should come nowhere near the levers of power, let alone the White House. Nikki is corrupt.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: That Nikki is corrupt there. We saw you come in at the beginning of the debate and with your Sharpie, write something with very big letters on that pad, and then we saw what it was.
But that plus the rest of what we played in, much, much more that we didn't have time to play, you were really aggressive back to how you were a couple of debates ago. And I guess the question is, why do you consider that a form of leadership that people are looking for right now?
RAMASWAMY: Look, I think that one of my policies that goes beyond partisanship is ending corruption in government. And I think it's fundamentally wrong if you've done deals, I said on the stage, whether you're the FDA and then joining the board of Pfizer, whether you're doing special deals with Boeing for years as a governor of South Carolina only to go join their board afterwards.
Use your connections to start a military contractor the changes your financial incentives. I'm very critical of Biden and the Hunter Biden payments that were allegedly made and otherwise. Well, I can't apply that standard of the Democrats if we're not applying at home in our own party, as well.
So, for me, it's going to take people at least from the outside who aren't captured by those same interests. I think it is telling that Rita Hoffman, one of the largest donors to pro-democratic causes, to the efforts to keep Trump off the ballot is now a quarter million dollar plus donor to Nikki Haley.
I think it's evidence of a kind of financial corruption that has not been exposed. And I think the media has been playing with kid gloves on Nikki which has been helping her. There's reasons for that. But I do think that that's fundamentally a job to expose in an open debate for the American people.
BASH: One person that you didn't touch at all with kid gloves or other otherwise is Ron DeSantis. Why is that? Do you have some kind of alliance? I wouldn't say so. I want to say that I probably -- you just saw the debate. So, whether it was this debate or prior debates --
BASH: It wasn't intentional.
RAMASWAMY: -- no. It was definitely not intentional that I think that I've gone after plenty for some of our disagreements and take our disagreements on free speech, he believes that we should we should actually ban Students for Justice in Palestine on campuses. I've been very open.
I don't know if that was the last debate certainly on my other comments or otherwise trying to get plenty of policy contrast with Ron DeSantis but I was responding to questions as they were asked.
Yeah, Ron, I think I did say he was a good governor and I stand by that. I think he could be a good attorney general for the country in my administration. You know, I think somebody like that could be a reasonable candidate, but there wasn't anything specific that is playing nice with Ron.
BASH: Okay. You said your three rivals on the stage tonight are looking Trump's boots.
RAMASWAMY: Were. For years.
BASH: Were looking Trumps boots. Thank you. But you also said that you would support Donald Trump even if he's a convicted felon. Isn't that by definition licking his boots?
RAMASWAMY: No, I'm saying for years these people have been doing that. Now that they're a candidate against him and they are Monday morning quarterbacking some decision he made, Ron DeSantis begged for his endorsement was reading his child on the televised ahead. Right?
A book about Donald Trump and put that on TV. Nikki Haley, not that much different of a story. Even Chris Christie. The reinvention is fascinating. The guy who was helping Trump with his debate prep all the way to even lobbying him for Coronavirus aid money.
BASH: Or because of January 6th.
RAMASWAMY: Yeah, well, I think that's a narrative that doesn't match even what he says on the debate stage. But either way, I think, you know for political convenience I want to comment on it.
Now, my view is this though. I actually haven't been doing that for Trump years. I've been in politics. I've been building businesses. But I do think on principle, many of those prosecutions, all those prosecutions of ready indictments, I don't believe it is appropriate to use novel legal theories that have never been tested in a first- time prosecution.
Many of which, I think if you read through them, they're absolutely politically motivated and we don't have to do that here but start with the New York one. You could have argued the election laws either way they would have gotten got going or coming.
I don't think that's good for the country. I don't think it's such a good precedent. And so, that's why I am a little bit different than the other candidates in being vocal about the fact that I would pardon him if I'm elected. And I stand by that.
BASH: There was another moment that I want to play for our viewers where you went full conspiracy theory and endorsing a lot of conspiracy theories. I want you to listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAMASWAMY: If you want somebody who's going to speak truth to power, then vote for somebody who's going to speak the truth to you. Why am I the only person on the stage at least who can say that January 6th now does look like it was an inside job?
That the government lied to us for 20 years about Saudi Arabia's involvement in 9-11, that the Great Replacement Theory is not some grand right-wing conspiracy theory, but a basic statement of the Democratic Party's platform, that the 2020 election was indeed stolen by Big Tech.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: Let's just take two of those. Let's start with January 6th.
RAMASWAMY: Okay, sure.
BASH: There is no evidence that it is inside job. It was a fringe conspiracy theory that the Trump-appointed FBI Director Christopher Wray has said explicitly over and over is just not true.
RAMASWAMY: So, let me, yeah, I appreciate the opportunity to address it. I was an anti-woke crusader leaving the business world and if you'd asked me three years ago, is there some chance January 6th is an inside job, I would have said that was crazy talk.