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CNN Live Event/Special

Trump Urges Iowans To Caucus Even If They're Sick; GOP Candidates Face First Test Of Primary Season In Iowa; How The Iowa Caucus Process Works. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired January 15, 2024 - 14:30   ET




ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Donald Trump is putting pressure on his Iowa supporters to show up tonight as a brutal sub-zero Arctic blast bears down. The contests start at 7:00 p.m. Central Time.

The former president directing caucus goers to arrive no later than 6:30. But made it even worse.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So if you want to save America from Crooked Joe Biden, you must not miss the caucus tomorrow. You cannot sit home.


TRUMP: If you are as sick as a dog, you have to take a breath. Even if you vote and then pass away, it is worth it, remember.


TRUMP: But if you are sick, or you're just so sick you can't tolerate, don't think it. Get up. Get up. We get up and vote. Yes, because ultimately we know who calls the shots, right?


COOPER: That was the former president in Iowa yesterday.

Here in New York, we have John Avlon, Margaret Hoover, Karen Finney, Doug Heye.

Turnout is the question. Who has the better ground game and who will get their folks to the polls.

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: There is enthusiasm behind Donald Trump.

Donald Trump, I think it is probably good for him and his team that he got nervous. He had to cancel a couple of flights and realized he could not get there and the polls were tightening, he started swiping at Vivek Ramaswamy.


HOOVER: There is little editorial based on the Republican side.


HOOVER: The enthusiasm behind Donald Trump when you look at his numbers.

I am still part of the Republican Party that believes the party could be regenerated by a fresh face who represents a new generation who is historic.

I really hope Nikki Haley over performs expectations and really brings back a robust two-party system to the country.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST & ANCHOR: What's so striking to me is obviously about turnout but we are talking about such a small percent of the Iowa population having a potentially determinant impact on the election, on the nomination really on the first caucus contest.

So the highest total, John Beman told us, 187,000 folks participating in the caucus. And 1.6 million participate in the general election. Evangelicals make up 12 percent of the population of Iowa. They make up 65 percent of the caucus.

The reason this matters is we have a representative election. Nikki Haley really struck me in an interview talking about would it not be good to have a Republican who could win the majority of votes.

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Wouldn't it be good to have a Republican Party that sets up a system that would represent Republicans across the nation that could win the nomination.

AVLON: So the inside baseball on that one is that RNC results seems to be winner take all rather than apportionment.

You rarely hear Republicans talk about the importance of winning the majority of votes in the general election. Instead you are opposite. Speaker Mike Johnson and Senator Mike Lee talking about we don't want to engage in majoritarian democracy.

That's a very different message than we're hearing. It is notable she is making this closing argument.

Not just electability but we need someone who can build the build the biggest tent. Which, frankly, it would be good for democracy having both parties campaign for the majority of votes.

FINNEY: But again, this is part of why the delegate count matters, the rules matter, the fact that Donald Trump controls the Republican Party and was able to get the rule changes so it is winner take all.

So that as much as how tonight goes and what the closing numbers are really interesting and important. At the end of the day, it is about the delicate count.


And I will keep saying this, Donald Trump wants to accrue enough delegates that it is impossible to overtake him by Super Tuesday when who knows what could happen in his legal case.

COOPER: I mean, by South Carolina, are they going to have the same three candidates?

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Iowa is not necessarily about the wins. Obviously, Donald Trump gets attention for everything and should be a bigger winner tonight. We'll see how big.

But it is about who emerges. That question comes to -- I think what John was speaking to about the evangelicals, does Ron DeSantis emerge or not? If he does not, effectively this is a two-person race.

Asa Hutchinson could stay in but who cares. So if it's a new race, then it does go to South Carolina where Nikki Haley could make things interesting.

But she could lose her home state. And at that point, we have two ways this race goes. It's effectively over at that point with Donald Trump and then there's the delegate map that Karen talks about where it's the official part of it being over.

This could be a very short process. Part of it is because, if we do start with the winner take all, it's not dramatically different from what Republicans have done in the past. This is how the RNC did things in 2020 and certainly in 2016 by and large as well.

FINNEY: John, to your point talking about Iowa and the percentage of people participating, this is a big part of why the DNC changed the process.

Because we felt that -- when I was at the DNC, after the 2004 election and obviously they completed the process last year to move South Carolina up so we could have a more representative -- I know everyone likes to talk about Joe Biden.

But there have been strong feelings in our party for a long time that we need to have an earlier contest that actually represented the diversity of our party and our country. Which is why you saw South Carolina and Nevada have done that.

HOOVER: Any party who was not on suicide watch that really wanted


HOOVER: -- to win, they wanted to win. That's the way the majority of American votes are.

I don't mean just New York and California. I mean, when the majority of people in the majority of the states and the Electoral College would recognize what Nikki Haley said, the Republican Party has won one out of the last six popular votes in the elections.

In the autopsy of 2012, the Republican Party said the same thing. Mainstream Republicans understand this.

But mainstream Republicans are not your average primary participants in Iowa, in South Carolina or in any primary states that will be in the Sunshine Belt coming up.

You've got New Hampshire --

COOPER: Where are the mainstream Republicans hiding?



HOOVER: There are some on CNN and a couple of cable networks. They do not participate enthusiastically in the primary process.

They show up every four years and not every cycle. That is their lower propensity voters. It happens on the Democratic side as well. But the ones that are key in a general election are not activated right now.

AVLON: It's due to their convictions. A lot of election leaders in the Republican Party who know better sort of fall in line. That careerism and cowardice combination.

I think the main issue is representative elections have representative results. Democracy is underlined with polarization and hyper- partisanship. It is easier to hijack a polarized relatively small system.

So you want both parties competing for the majority of Americans, but that requires Republican standing up and speaking out showing their muscle and they have not been.

COOPER: Let's get some new sound from Nikki Haley responding to some of the things that DeSantis said about her not being conservative enough. Let's listen.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Earlier today, Governor DeSantis said you cannot beat Trump because you do not have the support of core conservatives. How do you respond to that?

NIKKI HALEY, (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE & FORMER SOUTH CAROLINA GOVERNOR: I am not going to respond. I mean, I was a two-party governor. I was a strong U.N. ambassador.

We have had I don't even know how many town halls. We have a lot of support and momentum is going up. I don't know how he can say that.

Our polls are going up and his are going down. That's just the facts.

We will continue because people want a new generational leader. They don't want the chaos. They don't want the drama.


COOPER: Interesting, she did not really answer the question. There is an argument she could have made.

AVLON: Well, I think she makes an important point. She was elected in the Tea Party wave. She was a Trump appointee at the U.N. It shows how skewed our frame of center is.

She is very conservative. She just has not kiss the ring like so many other Republicans have. And --

FINNEY: She has kissed the ring. She served in the Trump administration. And frankly, she's the one with the most political dexterity because she was able to leave the administration without having a tweet slam on the way out.

HOOVER: But she also handled -- again, I will go back to this. This is how women handle these -- you have the somewhat take on the attack but you somewhat dismiss it.

So she did not really engage it because it is a way to belittle him. I'm not going to talk about that, let me just tell you about me. It was a smart response, actually.


Everyone, standby.

What does Iowa historically tell us about the overall win of the White House? We will look at that and we will discuss with our presidential historian.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: Iowa Republicans have a questionable track record when it comes to picking future presidential nominees.

In three of the past four elections, the candidate who won the Iowa caucuses did not go on to win the Republican nomination.

Donald Trump won both in 2020 but in 2016, of course, remember, Iowan Republicans picked Ted Cruz. In 2012, it was Rick Santorum. And 2008, Mike Huckabee. None of the three went on to win the GOP nomination.


CNN presidential historian, Tim Naftali, joins me now.

Tim, glad to have you.

Given that history of the Iowa caucuses and what we're looking at tonight, how much stock are you putting in tonight's results?

TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Kaitlan, James Baker, who was George Herbert Walker Bush's campaign manager, said politics is beating expectations.

Even though Iowa has not had a great track record in king making, it can still change our set of expectations about what will happen in New Hampshire. And that's what people are looking at today.

That is why people care about the margin of Trump's victory. That's why they care about who comes in second.

I just want to put this out there. The "Des Moines Register" poll in 2016 overestimated Trump's vote and underestimated Cruz's vote. Now all pollsters have changed the way they approach polling since 2016.

It is not outside the realm of possibility that the "Des Moines Register" poll putting Trump at 48 percent has exaggerated the amount of support that he will get tonight.


NAFTALI: It is all about expectations.

COLLINS: Even if it is exaggerated, he is still far and away above any of the other candidates. And we talk about this race for second place.

But I wonder if you think this is a primary that people are paying close attention to when it does see that Donald Trump is far ahead. We will see what the voters decide tonight, of course.

Or if this is a primary that could be more dictated by his criminal cases and the trials that he is facing.

NAFTALI: What always has been interesting about Iowa is the argument that the voters make. It goes right back to when the Iowa caucus got put on the political map by Jimmy Carter.

Iowans said we need to get to know you, we are not part of a national campaign, we want to meet you.

For the longest time, Iowans were -- rewarded candidates who came in and went to as many as the 99 counties as they could.

Donald Trump's campaign this time around is very peculiar. He basically is flipping on his head and turning Iowa into a national campaign. Wasn't there physically very often.

And counting on the fact that he is the first former president to run on a primary, to allow him to break the rules of the Iowa caucus. And tonight, we'll see if he's going to get away with it.

I mean, the rules of the Iowa caucus used to be we need you to be here if you expect us to be there for you on caucus night.

COLLINS: He has spent less time in Iowa than Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley or Vivek Ramaswamy when you look at events. I know I could hear a Trump spokesperson calling and saying he has bigger events and he does not have to go as to as many of them, is their argument. If he does win tonight, does it mean that the end of the kind of

retail campaigning to Iowa is known for is over, that this has become nationalized, like you said?

NAFTALI: Our country goes through these cycles and our political culture changes. Right now, we are at a moment where everything seems nationalized.

Yes, that would mean it's true. But it does not mean it will last forever.

Yes, it would mean that Iowa, like most every other state in the union, is caught in a national campaign and retail politics does not matter as much.

But I would not predict that to be true, for example, 10 or 15 years from now, but certainly it would be true tonight.

COLLINS: We will be watching closely.

Tim Naftali, thank you so much.

NAFTALI: Thank you, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: How does the caucuses actually work? It feels like something you remember every four years and you forget it. Why are they first? Why is it significant?

We will take a closer look to prepare you for what to expect tonight in just a moment.



COOPER: As we wait for Iowans to gather for the contest's first primary caucuses, many of you may wonder how this process works.

CNN's John Berman joins us and is going to walk us through what will unfold this evening -- John?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Anderson, this is what the Iowa voting looks like right now. All gray because no votes have been cast and they won't be cast until Iowans show up at caucus site at 7:00 Central Time, 8:00 Eastern Time.

By the way, our leader board, because there are no votes casts, alphabetical, which is why Asa Hutchinson is still here. This might be the best moment in the entire campaign for Asa Hutchinson. But it is alphabetical. Donald Trump is down there.

So 7:00 Central Time tonight, Iowans show up at their caucus sites, number one.

When they get there, a representative from each campaign will give a short speech. That is either a campaign official or someone from the local community who tries to convince their friends to vote for the candidate of their choice.

After that, step number two, the voting. The caucus goers, they write their choice. Write it on a piece of paper and you hand it in. This is a simple process. Remember, there is more than 1000 caucus sites. Some are quite small and it's quite homey.

Step number three is the counting of the votes. The ballots are counted, recorded, then they are sent to the state party organization where they are tabulated.

During this step, CNN has got some of the best reporters in the country at some of these caucus sites. We may get a sense of some of the counting before they submit the ballots. But this is what we find out how each candidate is doing.

Now, I should note, what we get tonight is a vote count of all the ballots that are cast. But it's really just the first step in the delegate selection process.


Iowa has 40 delegates that they are going to send to the Republican National Convention.

This is choosing the precinct-level delegates to go, I think, it's to the district convention. And then they go to the county convention, Anderson. Then they go to the state convention.

It is a long process to select 40 delegates to go to the Republican National Convention. But what it really is for us tonight is taking a gauge of support for each candidate.

COOPER: All right, John Berman. John, thanks very much.

Just over five hours to go. Candidates are making their closing arguments. The caucuses will give us the first real look at who has the edge in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.

We are going to take a look at what is at stake and what each candidate needs after a quick break.