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CNN Live Event/Special

Republican Presidential Debate Sparks Sharp Exchanges and Christie Takes Center Stage; Penn President Vows to Renew 'Genocide' Campus policy; GOP Faces Shrinking House Majority as McCarthy Retires. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired December 07, 2023 - 00:00   ET




ABBY PHILLIP, CNN ANCHOR AND SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Our special coverage of tonight's Republican presidential debate continues right now. I'm Abbey Phillip in New York.

LAURA COATES, ANCHOR AND CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: And I'm Laura Coates right here in Washington, D.C. Four Republicans who all want to be the president of the United States took the stage in Alabama tonight. They took a lot of pot shots at one another and everything from the Israel- Hamas war to immigration to the economy.

PHILLIP: But the candidate that you did not see on the stage was frontrunner Donald Trump, and he sparked the most explosive moments tonight.


CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIATE: We've had these three acting as if the race is between the four of us. The fifth guy who doesn't have the guts to show up and stand here, he's the one who, as you just put it, is way ahead in the polls. And yet I've got these three guys who are all seemingly to compete with, you know, Voldemort. He or shall not be named. They don't want to talk about it. The fact is that when you go and you say the truth about somebody who is a dictator, a bully, who has taken shots at everybody, who has given him great service or not over time, who dares to disagree with him, then I understand why the thieves three are timid to say anything about it. The fact of the matter is he is unfit to be president and there is no bigger issue in this race.


PHILLIP: I want to bring in our all-star political panel, political commentator Karen Finney, former Georgia Lieutenant Governor Jeff Duncan, former Congressman Adam Kinzinger, and CNN senior political analyst and anchor John Avlon.

What kind of debate would this have been without Chris Christie on that stage? It feels to me like he really added a little special sauce to the conversation, not just by putting Trump on the debate stage, but also forcing some of these candidates to actually answer some questions.

ADAM KINZINGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: This was Chris Christie's night, I think. I mean, he was on fire from the very beginning. He was telling the truth. When he gets booed, this is what I love about him. He's not intimidated to get booed. And I'll tell you, as a politician, we don't like to get booed. It's not a fun thing. He basically is like, hey, you can boo me all you want. I'm telling you the truth. And I think he did a service to the party. Most importantly, he did a service to the country. And I think he cleaned it up tonight. I think he did a great job. Will it make a difference? I don't know. But I think he did amazing.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST AND ANCHOR: I mean, there's the charisma of common sense. Or else he did a favor for the moderators, frankly, because a lot of times he called out and said, look, y'all, you're not answering the question. Hold on. It's not that hard.

COATES: Let me actually go ahead and play that bite of Christie.


CHRISTIE: Why didn't he just answer the question? The question was very direct. Is he fit to be president or isn't he? The rest of the speech is interesting, but completely nonresponsive. And if we were in a courtroom, they'd strike the answer and say, Governor DeSantis.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, they wouldn't. They would say that -


CHRISTIE: You're a smart man. No, they would.

DESANTIS: No, they wouldn't, Chris.

CHRISTIE: They would strike the answer.

DESANTIS: No, they wouldn't.

CHRISTIE: Because you're not answering it.

DESANTIS: You just don't like. You have -

CHRISTIE: Is he fit?

DESANTIS: You have your thing.

CHRISTIE: No. Is he fit or isn't he?

DESANTIS: You have your thing.

CHRISTIE: No, I don't have my thing. We don't. He's the thing. Is he fit or isn't he? DESANTIS: We do not want to do someone that's almost 80 -

CHRISTIE: You're talking about him being 80 years old. Ron, is he fit?

DESANTIS: It doesn't mean that somebody couldn't get elected. That's not the people that.

UNKNOWN: Governor DeSantis, Governor DeSantis, slow down.

CHRISTIE: RON, is he fit? Ron ,Ron, Ron --



AVLON: Real Lincoln-Douglas debate stuff there. I mean, look, I mean, you know, but again, he's calling him out for not answering the question, right? You know, if you're saying he's too old to be president, he's lost some on his fastball, just say it. And the problem is this tiptoeing around because, as Christie said, they're timid, they're playing politics rather than simply telling the truth.

PHILLIP: Yeah, it's a little euphoric. Lost his zip on his fastball is so euphemistic. Yeah. You might almost miss it. Yeah. And I think that there's something that Christie was trying to say here, which is just come out and say it. And you have a lot of folks who are claiming to be the anti-politician on the stage who are doing very politician things by putting a lot of, you know, talking points out there.


GEOFF DUNCAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Chris Christie had a great night, and I applaud him for what he did tonight, but also what he's done to this point. He's done important work. He's laid the groundwork for what really needs to truly be the direction of the Republican Party. We have to call balls and strikes to stay on the baseball theme here, I think, but he's playing to something that is really flawed with Republicans right now. We keep allowing ourselves to get tricked with what we want to hear, and then somebody doesn't actually follow through with reality, and they allow us to have half-truths like this.

What Ron DeSantis did was not answer the question. He honestly doesn't believe Donald Trump's fit, but he doesn't want to say it, and that's not being honest with himself. It's not being honest with the voters, and it certainly doesn't put us in a good position with, even if he was the nominee and he goes head-to-head with Joe Biden, he hasn't answered that question authentically, and that's what, to me, that's what we're missing as Republicans. I applaud Chris Christie for his efforts.

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I have to say, watching it, it was a very good night for Democrats, because when you heard Chris Christie being booed for telling the truth, I kept thinking, that's an ad right there. The base of the Republican Party was booing Chris Christie for saying the truth. Two of the candidates, I mean, he was like a fourth moderator, basically, and he was clearly trying to give Ramaswamy the Marco Rubio treatment a couple of times and getting him, trying to get him to, you know, sort of implode, which he didn't quite do, but he just looked like such a buffoon, and he really looked like he did not belong on the stage.

It seemed to be Chris Christie's other goal there, was to kind of try to swipe him to the side and keep it focused. The other thing Christie did that I thought was interesting, when he kind of tried to defend Nikki Haley, I want to say, she did not need him to do that, because I think she's held her own quite beautifully, but that was a nice play for moderate Republican women, actually.

PHILLIP: I mean, what do we make of how Nikki Haley handled herself tonight? She has been very aggressive in pretty much every debate. It has gotten her to this point. Tonight, it seemed to me that she was perhaps a little less so, but she was taking so much incoming. How do you think she did?

KINZINGER: I think she did fine. I don't think, if you would put her debate performance, kind of mix them up and say, you know, which one was the best, this probably wouldn't be the best, but I think she did a really good service to herself by refusing to engage Vivek in the one, whatever he hit her on. She's like, it's not even worth my time. She obviously took the jabs coming her way well. So nothing, in my mind, nothing stood out. So, I don't know if you're going to see a massive Nikki surge from tonight. I mean, nobody's going to surge from tonight. It's Donald Trump. He's in the lead. But I think she didn't do herself any harm, and she certainly did look like she was a front- runner up there.

AVLON: Yeah, and then she was taking the incoming, and she refused to take the bait, and I think there's something presidential about that. I think it also puts Vivek in a bit of a box, right? You know, he's going after her with a canned, you know, sign that he'd written, and she just said, no, I'm not going to play ball with this.

FINNEY: And she did. I think for tonight. She didn't actually need to get more points on the board. She needed to not damage herself, right? Because clearly, she has some momentum with donors. She's doing -- she has some momentum in the polls, and she actually had a couple of really good, solid answers. Once the fellows were done kind of interrupting each other and insulting each other, she kind of took, you know, she did make good use of her time. And, you know, one of the things we have to think, I've been sort of fascinated.

As a woman candidate, you know, women have to demonstrate toughness and compassion in very different ways than male candidates. And they are punished for it by voters in very different ways. And she continued to do a very good job of, she was talking tough on China. She was, and she made some good comments from her time at the UN. She made, you know, good use of that expertise. But she also spoke with compassion where it was appropriate. So, again, I think she has threaded this needle much better than the men have.

PHILLIP: On the Ramaswamy of it all, Jeff, I am curious, just as someone who's really focused. As you both are, on the future of the Republican Party, he is young. He's trying to mold himself in the mold of Donald Trump. What do you make of what he was doing and saying tonight? The 9-11 conspiracy theories, the January 6th conspiracy theories, the great replacement theory. I mean, there's so much there.

DUNCAN: What he is saying right now is taking us in the wrong direction. It's dangerous. It's reckless. And to me, it's selfish. It felt like he was. Trying to try out to be Donald Trump's press secretary if Donald Trump, you know, wins the White House again. It just, it's reckless. And it is populism at its worst. And to watch him flip-flop positions over his lifetime and to watch him get called out like Chris Christie did. But it is so disingenuous to watch this. But it's tricking the Republican voters. There are people who walk away from that thinking that he won that debate because he was, he owned the libs or he threw enough barbs.

AVLON: This was like, I mean, as someone who lived through 9-11 up close, I was Rudy Giuliani's chief speech right at the time. I was downtown, you know, three blocks from the towers and they fell.


To hear him resuscitate 9-11 trutherism conspiracy theories and then segue to January 6th and then segue to the great replacement theory and then segue to 2020 election lies was so disgusting. It was pandering. It was pathetic and it was disqualifying. That's all we ever need to hear from Ramaswamy ever again.

KINZINGER: Can I add on that real quick? The January 6th stuff, they throw this stuff on the wall. It's like, oh, the police were opening the doors for the rioters. I was there. The police were trying to settle the situation down because they had to retreat into the Capitol while DC Metro would defend the outside. And they were trying to deescalate. And they take these little snippets of some police officer opening a door and say it's a conspiracy. It's a discerning.

DUNCAN: The same thing they're doing to that January 6th video is the same thing they did to the state farm video in Atlanta with the votes. Yeah. Where they took bits and pieces of it.

PHILLIP: A little kernel of truth becomes the seed for conspiracy.

DUNCAN: That's exactly right.

PHILLIP: Everyone stick around for us. Laura, man, tons that happened in that debate tonight.

COATES: I mean, so much happened. You think about the kernels of truth and then you think about the explosion of all the things that were just plain wrong. Forget the term misinformation, just wrong. You know, Karen mentioned that moment with Christie and Ramaswamy. I want everyone to listen to really understand that particular defense.


CHRISTIE: 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. You should stop insulting her.


COATES: I want to bring in my panel, Mike Leon, host of the Can We Please Talk podcast, CNN political analyst Laura Barron-Lopez and CNN contributor Jane COASTON and political commentator, Kristen Soltis Anderson. Okay, call me maybe cynical in this world, but whenever I see somebody defend another in a context like this, I have to wonder, is Chris Christie defending Nikki Haley? Does that help Nikki Haley? Does that help Chris Christie? What was the goal?

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it felt like a genuine moment.

COATES: Ooh, the optimist on the table.

BARRON- LOPEZ: Maybe I'm naive, I don't know. Look, sure. Maybe. Of course. There's always motives behind any moment like that. It did feel a bit genuine, though. He has known her, as he said, for a long time. And clearly, he was very frustrated by Vivek Ramaswamy and what he felt like were unjustified attacks and someone who, like he said, has not always voted consistently in election cycles, has not voted consistently in a Republican primary and is now trying to run for the presidency. So, you know, whether or not, look, they're all running for second place right now. This is not -- they're not anywhere near. They're double digits behind the frontrunner right now. So, this is not going to make some substantial impact in Christie's ability.

JANE COASTON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: These are four people who all have something in common with all of us, which is that they're not going to be president of the United States. But I think it was also a moment in which you saw a clear divide in who people were trying to talk to. Vivek Ramaswamy is not a populist. He's online. He is talking to an online audience that uses words like based and responded to his great replacement theory mention, by getting super excited that someone said it, someone brought it on. He's not talking about industrial policy. He's not talking about the working poor. He's talking to an online audience.

Chris Christie and Nikki Haley are at least talking to people who are not online, people who respect them for having gubernatorial experience. And I think that that was a moment of solidarity, looking at someone who is representative of a non-real coalition.

COATES: Yeah, but then where is the party going? I mean, is it the anti-establishment? Is it the online? Is it the people who be? Is it the people who are receptive to what Haley and Christie said?

MIKE LEON, HOST "CAN WE PLEASE TALK" PODCAST: Well, first off, it's ladies' night here. I don't know how I got into the studio. So that's first. But Laura was just mentioning this, and Jane, too, as well, about second place. I felt like I was watching an NBA preseason game. Star is not playing in the game. I've got some backups. I've got some subs in there. I've got a rookie who doesn't know anything in Vivek. And he clearly showed that throughout this entire debate. And by the way, in the preseason analogy, I'm waiting for the regular season, which is January 15th in the hour primary.

Because Vivek, to me, tonight, showed that he did not understand how private companies work in the technology space with law enforcement. You know this, Laura, better than anybody. He showed to me that you don't know what people do after they leave public office, which is they either join TV, they write a book, they teach at a law school or a professor or something like that. Like, he had no basic understanding of what people do after they leave D.C. And for him to attack Nikki Haley for some of these wars that she's been on, there was a Washington Post article about how transparent she's been with the money that she's gotten. And she's disclosed all of this stuff.

So, I thought that Christie stood up for her. I like that he did that. Christie had a bunch of tempered responses from the crowd, if you heard, when he called Trump the dictator and people were booing him in the crowd, oh, they're all playing for second place.


We're all watching something that I don't know if it means anything. And I want it to mean something. And, Kristen, I think you want it to mean something as well.

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And the shame of it all, of it feeling like they're all fighting for second place, is there were moments where actually there, it was about 90 minutes in, Ron DeSantis had this relatively incisive sort of explanation of why me and why not Donald Trump. And in Nikki Haley's closing remarks, she had a great case for why me and why not Donald Trump. The problem is, that was the first question they were asked. They could have got that out in the first five minutes of that debate, and instead they waited for the last quarter of it, when people had already tuned out. And this needed to have been the message they were delivering from day one with strength, because at this point, you've almost run out of time.


LEON: Not who's your favorite president.

COATES: Yeah, I got to quote Talladega Nights, because why not? There's that famous thing where he says, you know what second place is? The first to lose. And that was my accent bringing it in. Well, but there is a second place when talking about politics. There's a vice presidency. Are you suggesting that Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy, Chris Christie, or Ron DeSantis are vying to be the vice president? Because I can tell you, part of them will never be. I don't know who might be.

BARRON-LOPEZ: I think half of them on the stage, DeSantis and Ramaswamy, would be more likely to potentially be Trump's vice president. Nikki Haley has, maybe not so much at this debate, but in prior debates, has very directly gone after Trump, has called him the most unpopular politician in America. COATES: He called her birdbrain in response.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Right. And Chris Christie has, at this debate and at the prior debates, made very clear that he is no longer in line with the Republican Party that has been molded under Trump, has called him a liar, has called him a dictator tonight, has said that he is a threat to this country and to the Constitution. So, no, I think maybe two out of the four on that stage might be looking at a VP place.

COATES: So what's the value of second place?

COASTON: I mean, I think the value of second place is that we all know who these people are. We all know Vivek Ramaswamy. We all know who this person is. And I just keep being struck by how much the Republican Party has changed. In that it has been a contest from Vivek and from DeSantis and from others to sound like Trump, but better than Trump, but still like Trump. Because everybody likes Trump, but why can't Trump be president if everyone likes Trump?

It's this endless question that they seem unable to answer, that if you want to sound like Trump and you think that Trump was a great president, then why shouldn't they just vote for him? It's like trying to explain why you want caffeine-free Coke. No one wants caffeine-free Coke.

LEON: And, you know, to that point, on our latest episode, Can We Please Talk podcast, check it out, wherever you get your pods. I have to throw that in.

COATES: Well you have caffeinated Coke available for people as well.

LEON: That's right. We do some Coke Zero in there.

COATES: There you go.

LEON: But we had a Washington Post national politics reporter, Sabrina Rodriguez, and both of us went to the third debate in Miami. I've got family members. I'm Cuban. I live around the Trump flags and the Let's Go Brandon T-shirts. And you could tell from her reporting and what she did with voters and some of the stuff that I've done with just internal focus groups of my own family, yeah, we like DeSantis, but Trump's here. He's not going anywhere. Oh, yeah, I could get convinced for Nikki Haley, but Trump's here. So, they're all doing the, I could, I could. Yeah, but it's Trump is still here. He's still here.

He's still not going anywhere. And Mitch McConnell had a chance to wipe this all out. We all know. And he didn't do it. And now we're dealing with this. And it's way different than 2015. I disagree with Laura. I don't think any of these folks are vying for any cabinet positions or anything with Donald Trump because, well, Vivek, maybe. Okay, fine, I'll give you half of one.

COATES: I think he's already in the cabinet.

LEON: Yeah, I think he may be already in the cabinet. Or he's at my old employer down the street.

BARRON -LOPEZ: You think DeSantis wouldn't take a cabinet post? He would if he was offered one, but.

LEON: So, you think, oh, you think he would grab a cabinet post?

COATES: That was very definitive. There's somewhere, there's a blind -- the blind taste test somewhere in all of this. Coke Zero, Dr. Pepper, I don't know. It's coming around. Everyone stick around, though, because up next, pollster Frank Luntz watched this debate with college students hear what they thought. Plus, university presidents are under intense pressure tonight over anti-Semitism on campuses across the country. And by the way, some of their own testimony. As Republican candidates, go after them. This is CNN's special live coverage.



COATES: Well, tonight, candidates are making their final pitch at Leeds, the American people before the primary season officially begins. Our next guest watching tonight's debate with a few university students. And Frank Luntz joins us now. Frank, good to see you. I'm wondering, what are some of the students that were with you saying about what they heard tonight?

FRANK LUNTZ, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: Well, first, they thought that it was a little bit rougher. They were entertained. They thought the exchanges were a little bit rougher than what they were hoping for in a presidential contest. Second, they felt that there was too many sound bites, which is obvious for those of us political consultants who help in situations like this, and not enough of policies. They thought that Chris Christie won.

And the reason why is that they felt that he was the most direct. They answered the questions honestly and candidly, and that he held other candidates' feet to the fire. We've been waiting for this performance for some time. Chris Christie proved that he is not just a brilliant debater, but he knows how to hold the other candidates accountable.

PHILLIP: That is a perfect segue for what I was just about to ask you about. I want to play, actually, one of those examples. It's actually an example of two things. One, Christie answering a direct question, but also calling out his opponents for not answering the question. Listen.


UNKNOWN: So, would you send American troops in to rescue those hostages?

CHRISTIE: I would absolutely, absolutely. If they had a plan which showed me that we could get them out safely, you're damn right I'd send the American army in there to get our people home and get them home now. And I'll answer that question directly. (END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIP: What did you and your students think? What did your students think about that moment, both from a policy perspective and also the style of it all?


LUNTZ: Well, they thought that it's important that a question like, when do you send troops, is not esoteric. That if you're talking to students from a military academy, for example, that this is a decision that means their life or death. And so, they take it very seriously. And they appreciated the fact that Chris Christie looked straight in the camera and answered it clearly. And they were annoyed at Governor DeSantis for not doing the same, particularly as Christie challenged him. And there's a lesson for candidates. When you take people on and you ask them a direct question, you're going to hurt yourself with the debate audience if you don't give a direct answer.

COATES: Frank, you got to have yes or no answer, especially if you are going to be the decisive commander in chief and head of the executive branch. I'll give everyone that. But taking a step back in the big picture here. Will this race produce an establishment alternative to Trump? Or are they just vying for the elusive second place that might not translate to anything?

LUNTZ: That's an important question. At this point, let's give Donald Trump his due. His lead is significant. It may be insurmountable. And it's in every state. It's not just Iowa, not just New Hampshire, not just South Carolina, but across the country. That said, we've seen situations. We've seen situations where candidates who are frontrunners suffer a surprise in either Iowa or New Hampshire.

What will need to happen is that one of these candidates will have to hold Trump to a victory of less than double digits. And if they can't in these first two states, it will be Donald Trump's to lose. I want to make one point that the people watching were so disappointed that they actually thought that Joe Biden might have been the winner simply by not participating, by not participating in the race. And I think that's a very, very important part of this because it did not reflect well on the Republican Party.

PHILLIP: Joe Biden may have been the winner. Some people have said Trump may have been a winner, too, by not being on that debate stage. Frank Luntz, thank you as always for joining us.

LUNTZ: Thank you.

PHILLIP: The president of the University of Pennsylvania walking back remarks after comments that she and other Ivy League presidents made about campus anti-Semitism sparked outrage. More on that next.


COATES: Well tonight, urgent damage control from the president of the University of Pennsylvania. Testifying before Congress, yesterday, Liz Magill told some pretty shocked lawmakers that a call for the genocide of Jewish people would violate Penn's code of conduct, depending on its context.


Tonight, in a video posted to X, he's trying to clarify her remarks.


LIZ MAGILL, PRESIDENT, PENN UNIVERSITY: I was not focused on, but I should have been, the irrefutable fact that a call for genocide of Jewish people is a call for some of the most terrible violence human beings can perpetrate. It's evil. Plain and simple.

I want to be clear: a call for genocide of Jewish people is threatening, deeply so. It is intentionally meant to terrify a people who have been subjected to pogroms and hatred for centuries, and were the victims of mass genocide in the Holocaust. In my view, it would be harassment or intimidation.


COATES: In tonight's Republican debate, Nikki Haley blasted the testimony of Magill, and by the way, the presidents of Harvard and also MIT.


NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It was disgusting to see what happened. You know, if this had been the KKK that was doing protests on those campuses, every one of those college presidents would have been up in arms. This is just as bad.

The idea that they would go and allow that kind of pro-Hamas protest, or agree with the genocide of Jews, and try and say that they needed context on that? There is no context to that.


COATES: Back at the table on this one, this was a pretty clear fumble by the university presidents and, in addition to the Penn University taking out that video, there was also a statement from Harvard's president, basically walking back her comments and saying that calls for genocide against the Jewish people have no place in Hartford, which she did not say in her testimony. Why? Why is this happening?

AVLON: Why did they give the answers they gave at the testimony? This wasn't a problem of tough questions, or grilled, or being under fire.

You know, being asked if you think that calls for genocide against the Jewish people violates your campus's code of harassment and bullying, come on! It isn't even a free speech question. It's a campus code.

And, you know, for all the amount of energy that college administrations place on microaggressions, I'd say the call for genocide is a macroaggression. It's not a tough call. It shouldn't be required to be cleaned up. We've got to clean it up. But it's frankly too little, too late.

FINNEY: But I think that's the important point, because, unfortunately, I have personally been shocked at how poorly college campuses and administrations have handled this situation from the beginning.

Your first job, actually, is to keep the students on your campus safe and to ensure that the freedom of speech is not infringing on people's ability to feel safe and to feel like they could go to class safely, to feel like they can live their lives safely and to be paying attention to the tone and the tenor and the language that is being used.

So I think the problem started on, you know, right after the horrendous events of October 7th, when you saw college administrators who are scrambling to figure out, you know, again, I think if they would've come out with an affirmative, here's what we stand, for here's our values, and tried to set a baseline, at least, that might have -- and then you've got a place to go back to. Now they're all trying to catch up.

PHILLIP: But they can't do that, it seems, in part because of the students.

The students are -- the young people on these campuses are so far to the left on this issue. Backed up by some of their professors and faculty. It is -- it's hard.

FINNEY: That's why I lean to a false choice, because it is not a false choice to say that we are against Hamas, that you are for the Palestinian people. That you are for the people of Israel and for -- and against antisemitism, and against Islamophobia. That should not be hard.

AVLON: In the wake of the horrific terror attack.

FINNEY: Right.

DUNCAN: This is a complicated scenario, but an easy answer. And it just amazes me how many important, smart people continue to bumble this and not -- not do the right thing.

Just because the students may be supportive or left-leaning or left- wing on this issue doesn't mean you don't do the right thing in that position. You've got to lead.

I think Nikki's example she used during the debate was -- was an incredibly sobering level set. If that was the KKK, this is -- this is an absolute no-brainer, if they're in there. Nobody would even -- even remotely split hairs on the issue. They would be straightforward, upfront, on their toes, at the steps of their office making that statement.

KINZINGER: There is something deeply, deeply broken in the campuses around this country that, first off, campus presidents would even feel pressure to show sympathy to Hamas or to allow antisemitism. That means there is a failure. It's supposed to be colleges and universities that helped shape young people.

I get it. We all want to go there. We all want to be free and come up with our own -- whatever. We all did that when we were in college.

But it's a college's job, it's a school's job to help shape a populist to be good citizens. What they're shaping right now are antisemites and people that have no idea how evil Hamas is, I hope, because I'd hate to think that they know how evil Hamas is and they still sympathize with them over a religion that has been persecuted from the beginning of time.

PHILLIP: You know, one of the things that I hear, the reason I asked the question about the students is because you hear, on the left, that your -- when you demand that I condemn Hamas, that is -- that is racist. Because I don't answer for Hamas.

And I think they feel like these university presidents, when they are -- they're being forced to condemn, you know, Hamas, it is sort of like feeding into this idea that Palestinians are Hamas. I'm just giving you -- this is the argument that I hear from them, and I think that is what the university presidents are responding to.

AVLON: But I think that that conflation of Palestinians and Hamas is itself, of course, fundamentally wrong and insulting and dehumanizing.

But the context that they gave rise to these protests is a Hamas terrorist attack, so horrific in its details that -- that for people to, for people to say, Well, I can't defend, I'm not going to -- being asked to condemn terrorists is somehow putting me in -- in a defensive crouch is actually showing your cards. It's in the wake of a terrorist attack. No one's equating Hamas and the Palestinian people.

PHILLIP: You can condemn terrorism --


PHILLIP: -- but also say that you want fewer civilians to die in Gaza. I mean, those two things can absolutely exist.

FINNEY: In the early days, some of these folks had gotten out there and said, again, an affirmation of values; we are for protecting innocent human life. What we saw on October 7th was disgusting, despicable, all of that.

And I'll just say it, because I know some people think we're not saying it enough. The use of rape as a weapon of war is disgusting.


FINNEY: And we do have to stand up and speak out about it. It is also hard to see what's been happening to the Palestinian people. Those two things can be true. And to your point, just as we denounced ISIS, we can denounce Hamas. That is not racist. That is not.

Because the Palestinian people, I don't look at the Palestinian people and think Hamas. I don't want people looking at me and thinking that I'm, you know, some kind of uber revolutionary just because my skin is dark. I don't want to -- I don't look at white people and say, Oh, you must be a Klansman just because you're -- I mean, we have to -- but you know, the last thing I'm saying is part of the problem in this country, we don't have these hard conversations. We shy away from these conversations.

And we are divided around all kinds of, you know, lines and instead of having those conversations, we try. We just --

KINZINGER: Yes. And we don't understand warfare, by the way.

PHILLIP: Well, that's a whole -- that is a whole other -- that's a word. Very important conversation. But a whole other conversation.

Everyone, stick around for us.

Former Speaker Kevin McCarthy announcing that he's leaving Congress at the end of the year, which means a shrinking majority in the House for Republicans. We'll discuss that.



PHILLIP: House Republicans are now in a very precarious position tonight as their grip on power is shrinking. Kevin McCarthy announcing that he's retiring, joining a long list of other members of Congress.

CNN senior data reporter, Harry Enten, has more on all of this -- Harry.

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA CORRESPONDENT: Abby, the House GOP come January will leave no margin for error. Their majority will be just seven seats. That is their smallest majority since 1954. That's the shape Kevin McCarthy has left them in.

Now, in terms of their exact margin for error, how many defections can they have and still pass bills if all the Democrats vote against them? Just three. Three defections, assuming all members vote.

Get this, though. If one, just one, GOP member is absent they could afford just two defections. Just two defections.

And this part of what's going on here is why -- why Republicans have had such a tough time passing bills. So bills and resolutions that have become law this Congress, just 22. That is the lowest. The lowest in any Congress through this point in the Congress in the last 50 years.


One thing that is really driving this is the divisiveness within the GOP caucus. So I decided to take a look at the House GOP -- GOP caucus and their voting records.

And get this: the House GOP caucus is the most ideologically diverse since 1992. You've got folks in the center like Mike Waller, and you've got folks on the far-right like Matt Gaetz.

And that just makes it extremely difficult for Republicans. And that's only going to become more difficult come January when the margin for error will be quite small.

Abby, back to you.

PHILLIP: It certainly will be. Harry Enten, thank you -- Laura.

COATES: Really important data points. My panel is back with me right now.

I want to take a step back, because you heard what he had to say. You've got this one-two punch coming. You've got the presidential election in 300-some days away. You've got a slimming majority that's really almost obsolete in terms of majority now.

They're going to have to toe the line to hold onto their place and also get a president in the Oval Office who's a Republican. Can they do it?

ANDERSON: So the irony is that we're in this enormously polarized moment, right? Where we think that everybody is in either Camp Red or Camp Blue.

And, you know, when Harry said that last little factoid there was so interesting and I think explains a lot about the angst that we are seeing as we head toward this presidential election.

The idea that Republicans are not actually all unified, or all in lockstep, and as we've seen over the last few weeks, with the flare- ups around Israel versus Hamas, the Democrats are not all unified either.

But we have, in our country, you could argue five, six different parties all living under the surface of this two-party system. And so that's how we're having these primaries where we're going to wind up with this Trump-Biden rematch that most Americans go, Ugh, I can't believe this is who we're stuck with.

But our system is such a strange fit for the incredible ideological diversity we actually have in this country.

LEON: You know, I just want to mention one thing, because echoed, as you are saying that, in my head, is Representative Chip Roy a few weeks ago in the House floor, yelling profusely, and we played it at the top of our show recently, about, Give me one thing that we have passed legislatively that I can take back to my district. We all remember that.

And if you think about that, that soundbite is resonating. There's 26 seats that are, potentially, in play. But Mike Lawler has mentioned this a bunch to Manu Raju and other congressional folks. He's like, Hey, I'm in a swing district. Like, I've got to go back.

This is why he voted for the Santos expulsion. He's like, I have to go back. What am I taking back to them?

Harry's piece just showed the 22 pieces of legislation, the lowest amount. Again, what are we taking back? And this is why maybe the debate matters a little bit, because this is going to have a trickle effect on down.

COATES: Some people are actually taking back the district themselves, like Kevin McCarthy, who's saying, Look, I'm out at the end of the year.

And there are other -- McHenry's out now, as well. The majority is slimming. And not just people who are sort of the unknown. I mean, these are very consequential figures in Washington, D.C. That says a lot.

BARRON-LOPEZ: And what's concerning (ph) is they are in the majority. This -- they have the majority in the House. And normally, the party that's in the majority doesn't see this many people saying, I'm going to pack it in; I'm going to resign. I'm not going to actually finish my full term.

But, look, McCarthy is upset that he got ousted. And I think that this speaks to what we've seen since he became Speaker, and then was subsequently ousted, which is -- and you hear it from Republicans, House Republicans, over and over again.

Which is that they say that they're not governable, and that they're not interested in governing. And I think that they have demonstrated that this year, with their inability to pass any type of -- or unwillingness to even want to get on board and pass bipartisan bills.

And when some of them do, then they decide to oust their speaker. McCarthy was ousted because he put a bill on the floor that got bipartisan support. And --

COATES: Clutch your pearls. That was like the biggest -- the worst thing in the world.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Right. It got more Democratic support than Republican support but did get a significant number of Republicans, and he got ousted for that.

And now, we may not even be able to see any type of national security supplemental package reach the floor that would send more money to Ukraine, or to Israel, or even to border security, because Republicans can't come to a consensus on this.

COASTON: Right. When I spoke with Representative Don Bacon, he compared members of his own party to the Know-Nothings Party of the 1840s. These are people he's supposed to be working with.

He's talking about how, when he sees Matt Gaetz, he avoids him. He doesn't want to talk to them. Again, these are people who are supposedly, per your point, they are technically in the same party; and they are not able to get along on anything. Especially because, I think, that they have become so stuck on the

idea of politics is the point. Politics is actually not the point of what they do. Politics is how they get it done. But they are supposed to be governing.

But there are a lot of people who are part of this caucus who don't want to govern. They want to get a lot of attention. They want to get on TV. They want you to know their names, but they don't actually care if anything gets passed.


And then you have a bunch of representatives, who we don't know their names, who are in swing districts, who are like, Hey, my district is asking, hey, can we get some, like, flood insurance? Can we do something about infrastructure? Can we do something about actual issues? And they're like, Ha-ha, no. No, we can't. We can't get anything done in this Congress.

COATES: Because the attention economy (ph); as you mentioned, a really important point.

Everyone stick around. I loved having this conversation with all of you, particularly tonight.

Donald Trump may not have attended the debate, but he'll attend a court trial tomorrow. That's next.



CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want you all to kind of picture in your minds election day. You'll all be heading to the polls to vote. And that's something that Donald Trump will not be able to do, because he will be convicted of felonies before then, and his right to vote will be taken away.



PHILLIP: Chris Christie, not mincing words, as he often did tonight. And this debate is actually just happening hours before Trump is supposed to attend his civil fraud trial. Now, that one, Laura, is not about, you know, criminal penalties. But the other cases are.

And now we as a system, we've got to contemplate what might happen if there is a convicted felon on the ballot.

COATES: It's true. You know, the Constitution is not saying disqualifying things about someone who might have charges against them, as we very well know.

But you're right, New York, that's the civil fraud trial, Abby. The criminal ones haven't even begun yet. And people are already trying to take him off the ballot in places like Colorado, and Michigan and beyond. They have not been successful.

But this nuance of Florida law, for you to even vote if you have been convicted of a felony, if you actually complete your sentence. Even if you're trying to appeal it, you still have to actually go through all of it to be eligible.

And there are some philosophies that maybe you can't even be on the ballot and have people vote for you. So all of this is really coming into focus in a very novel way. We've never been here. Talk about uncharted territory.

PHILLIP: For sure. I mean, we'll have to contemplate it all.

Thank you all so much for watching our special live coverage tonight of the Republican primary debate.

COATES: We're going to see you all tomorrow night at 10 and 11. More post-debate analysis is next.