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CNN Live Event/Special

CNN Estimate: Trump Takes Early Lead In Iowa Caucuses; CNN Projects Trump Wins Iowa Caucuses. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired January 15, 2024 - 20:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: If you look at Iowa in this state right here, number one, the state with a significant evangelical population, conservative Christians tend to vote. They're a driving force in the Republican Party, Cruz and Trump split them in 2016. Statewide, it's about 12.5% of the population. Some of those rural counties, it's higher. Big test. Does Trump run up the board with them or, Jake, is there a competition to somebody emerged as the alternative?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We are just moments away from the start of the Iowa Republican caucuses. And for the very first time, we will be able to reveal the top choice of voters as they went into caucus sites. Their choices could charge, of course, once they're inside the room and they cast this ballot.

Right now, we have this key race alert. And Donald Trump is the early leader in the Iowa Republican caucuses based on our entrance poll of caucus-goers. And our entrance poll shows Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley are in a tense fight for second place. Remember, this is all based on early results from our entrance poll of voters on the way into the caucuses. They could still change their minds once they get inside, so this might not reflect the ultimate winner, but it's a pretty good sense of what voters are thinking as they go to caucus.

Dana Bash, no surprise there, I suppose?

DANA BASH, CNN HOST: No, no surprise. The question is going to be what the margin is. And, again, I should just underscore that I am here, I should say, with Kasie Hunt and Chris Wallace. That is a poll of people talked to coming in.

Where we are right now, where our colleagues are all over Iowa are places where they're actually going to vote -- actual caucuses. And well, hasn't it been amazing to watch all these people come in in these frigid temperatures. I mean, there are hundreds of people here, signing up, getting ready to listen to people speak, and then cast their vote.

You've been doing this since 1980. I know, I want to say in a way that shows the reverence.

CHRIS WALLACE, CNN HOST: Oh, yes, reverence. Right, right, works for me.

BASH: An experience that you bring to this. And it's a lot. You've seen this many, many times.

WALLACE: Yes, I have, the first time was Teddy Kennedy against Jimmy Carter. I was covering the Kennedy campaign. It didn't go well for him.

You know, listening to these exit polls and hearing what David Chalian has to say, what becomes clear to me is this really is Donald Trump's party. I was talking to one of the top campaign operatives this afternoon, and he pointed out to me that the networks, cable news -- I don't know who did it first -- called the race for Ted Cruz in 2016 at 9:16 PM Central Time, 10:16 on the East Coast.

And he said, you know, we think that in the 8:00 o'clock hour -- 9:00 o'clock on the East Coast -- that somebody is -- they're calling this race for Donald Trump. And when I talked to him about how big the victory is going to be, and they are not sure about 50% or not, the most that anybody has ever gotten in a contested Republican primary in Iowa or in a caucus is 41% ...


WALLACE: ... by George W. Bush in 2000. They say, we'll absolutely beat that.

The biggest margin between the first and second place is 12.8% by Bob Dole in 1988, and they said we're going to crush that. So we don't know the numbers. We don't know what the margin is going to be, but they say it will be over 41%. It will be well over a dozen points. They laugh at that.

I said, well, what about Haley? What about DeSantis? This person said we call them losers.

KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: The reality here, I mean, everyone I've talked to says, okay, over/under 50% for Trump. You really hear from people and there is a huge segment of the Republican Party. They'll point out, well, if he's under 50%, that means that one and two Republican voters want someone other than Trump.

I do think that's a little bit of kind of wishful thinking on the part of the party that has been -- I mean, dish mean, you can call them Never Trumpers. I think, at this point, there's kind of an other than Trumper, you know, universe out there.

And I think the real question is -- and the thing I'm going to be looking for about the second piece of this race is really how long is it going to continue only because if Ron DeSantis comes in third place, I think it's likely -- and I've been talking to sources throughout the night -- you're going start to see his donors even though they were originally people who wanted somebody other than Donald Trump, that's why they were with DeSantis, skip over Nikki Haley, and go straight to Donald Trump. And really the only hope, I think, Haley has of continuing to snowball her momentum ...

BASH: Yes.

HUNT: ... is to come in second here.

Yes. And, listen, this is very, very -- was very, very close in 2016. Donald Trump lost to Ted Cruz by about 5,000 votes. The difference between then and now is vast, but when it comes to just to the organization of the campaign, it has been remarkable to see. I was here in 2016 to see the difference.


It's a real organization. Now, you would say, okay, he's a former president, he should have one. But it is something that will -- no question -- help him, particularly in the areas not like where we are right now, which is very crowded. It's a suburban area.

HUNT: The roads have been plowed. Lots of people have ATVs ...

BASH: The roads are plowed.

HUNT: ... the rural areas where it is very, very much Trump country. The question ...

WALLACE: The numbers that we have all learned right now that are very important today and will be utterly useless tomorrow, one of them is that there are 1,657 precincts in the state of Iowa.

BASH: Yes.

WALLACE: And the Trump campaign has what they call a caucus captain in a white hat ...

BASH: Yes.

WALLACE: ... with gold lettering not surprised ...

BASH: And I ...

WALLACE: ... in each one of the will precincts. And they are ready -- they are totally organized.

BASH: Okay. As we get ready for the actual votes to happen here, I want to go back to David Chalian who has more information from the entrance polls.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: That's right, Dana. Now that the doors have closed and the caucusing is beginning, we actually can start to see how people are dividing their votes by candidates. So are you part of the MAGA movement?

Remember, we said 53% of the overall electorate, according to these entrance poll say, yes, they are part of the MAGA movement. So how does that 53% split? Well, not surprisingly since the MAGA movement, overwhelmingly, they vote for Donald Trump -- 78% say they're intending to do so as they walk in, 10% for MAGA voters for DeSantis, 9% for Ramaswamy, and again probably not surprising, that Nikki Haley is down to 3% among this cohort in the electorate. Then we looked at the white evangelical vote. John King was just

talking about this Jake. It makes up about 51%, about half the electorate say they're white evangelical. That's actually a little bit down from what we saw eight years ago as an overall share.

But look at this, guys, 55% of white evangelical voters are voting for Donald Trump, according to these entrance polls that. That number from Donald Trump eight years ago was 21%. He is more than doubling his support among evangelicals. DeSantis who made the big push at 24%, Haley at 12%, Ramaswamy down at 8%.

Among the very conservative caucus-goers, again, this is about 51% of the overall electorate that identify as very conservative -- a larger share than eight years ago, and it's Donald Trump's cohort yet again, 62% of them are supporting Donald Trump. Remember, this is half the electorate, and he is winning nearly two-thirds of that half of the electorate.

DeSantis 24%, Ramaswamy at 10% with the very conservative voters. Haley, again, making a bigger play for moderates and independents, she's down at 5%.

And then look at how independents are playing here. They make up about 16% of the overall electorate. 16% of the overall electorate say they are independent. Donald Trump is winning independents. He's got 47, more than doubling Haley's total at 20%. She's basically tied with Ramaswamy there at 19%, and DeSantis is pulling in 14% of the independents, again, a small slice of the Republican caucus-going electorate are only 16%, but even Donald Trump is winning independents' bid.

MALE: Yes, absolutely dominant so far, David. Thanks so much. Let's check back in. Let's check knack with Kate Bolduan in Ames, Iowa.

Kate, who are you standing you with? Who are these lovely Iowans?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: These lovely Iowans, as Jake Tapper -- exactly lovely Iowans that I have now become best friends with, this is April (ph) and Isabelle, both Iowa State students, both born and raised in Iowa -- Ames born and raised Des Moines born and raised.

Now, tell me, this is your first caucus.

APRIL (ph), IOWA RESIDENT: Yes, it is.

BOLDUAN: And this is your first caucus as well?


BOLDUAN: Okay. So what -- why did you want to come out in caucus?

APRIL (ph): Because I want to make a difference and impact the world I live in. Isabelle ...

BOLDUAN: It's a secret ballot. I saw you guys checking in.

ISABELLE (ph): Yes.

BOLDUAN: Have you decided who you're going to be caucusing for this evening?

ISABELLE (ph): Yes, I have.

BOLDUAN: Would you like to tell me?

ISABELLE (ph): Sure, Ron DeSantis.

BOLDUAN: What is it about Ron DeSantis?

ISABELLE (ph): So actually I just listened to her family, and they tell me about who they are going to vote for. So they were telling me about him and ...

BOLDUAN: Are you going to caucus for DeSantis as well?

APRIL (ph): Yes, I am. That's my plan.

ISABELLE (ph): Yes.

BOLDUAN: Have you been decided and committed for quite some time or has this been a journey for you?

APRIL (ph): I haven't really had a ton of time to look into it, so I'm kind of depending on a lot of my parents' wisdom because they have been looking into it and I really trust them. But I really like how Ron DeSantis has communicated. And what he's done in Florida sounds pretty good, and I really appreciate how he is respectful and the way he treats people and interacts, I really respect that. And I want that in my leader.

BOLDUAN: April (ph) and Isabelle (ph), thank you both so much. Heading into the gymnasium right now as we're about to begin. Thank you so much. Back to you guys.

TAPPER: All right. Kate Bolduan, Go Cyclones. Appreciate it. Let's check back in with Boris Sanchez who's in Des Moines, Iowa. Boris, what are you seeing where you are?


BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Hey, Jake, the weather may have had an impact on the turnout that we're seeing here in Precinct 3 in Des Moines. In this room, we were expecting around 200 people. Right now, we've calculated roughly 40 -- between 40 and 50 caucus-goers.

And if I could ask the room, folks, if you can show me your hands, how many of you are caucusing for the first time? You see a handful, I'd say, maybe about 10 or so people caucusing for the first time. So they lost the shot. It went down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you guys for doing that, (inaudible) ...

TAPPER: So we can still hear you. Boris, we can still hear you if you can -- now? Okay, we're having some technical ...

SANCHEZ: Oh, hey, yes. So ...

TAPPER: ... we can't see you, but we can hear you. But we're going to wait for you guys to hopefully get the weather gremlins under control. And let's check back in with Dana Bash who is in Clive, Iowa. Dana, you there?

BASH: Yes, I'm here. I'm here with Kasie and with Chris Wallace. As we were talking about earlier, this is the biggest caucus site. And because of that, we are going to see -- forgive me, they were doing a prayer behind me, so I want to be respectful.

TAPPER: A prayer is going on. Usually, these caucuses start with both the Pledge of Allegiance and then a prayer, Iowa tradition.

John King, while we're waiting for the prayer to end, tell me what more are you looking for tonight.

KING: Our reporters are in the right places. Sometimes you just have bad timing, whether it's technical gremlins or respect for the flag and the prayer, we have to do that. So what are we looking for tonight?

Number one, you know, Boris Sanchez was talking to you from here and he said the turnout was down, anecdotal. I'm just saying it's based on experience. But if turnout is down here, that's bad for Nikki Haley and potentially for Ron DeSantis in the sense that the Des Moines area and the suburbs tend to be a Democratic.

You know, this county, in the general election is plus 15 points for the Democrats. It's one of the few blue spots in Iowa, but it is where you find moderates. It is who you find the dependents. It is a place for us Democrats like the gentleman who was with Kate earlier. Once you cross over, you would find it here. So shorter drives.

If you live in an urban area, a suburban area, it's a shorter trip you're preaching. It's still dangerous. It's still nuts out there, but you're not driving 25, 30 minutes like you might be in some of these rural counties.

So if that holds up, he's in one spot. Maybe it's not like that the next precinct over. But if that holds up, that's bad news for the non- Trump candidates because this is where you would find your non-Trump voters.

One of our voters from All Over the Map Project, Chris Love (ph) was just texting me. He's here in Black Hawk County in Cedar Falls. He sent me some pictures. They got a pretty good turnout at his precinct. There are several precincts. It's a big county -- the fifth largest of the 99 counties.

Again, in the fall, this is likely to be a Democratic county, but there are a lot of rural areas where he's a Trump voter and loyal Trump voters. You have a lot of Trump voters out here. But again, you have a suburban area here where Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis. If they're going to cut into Trump, this is one of the places they need to do it. He texted me a photo first of the crowd showing up and then a Nikki Haley supporter giving a speech.

The Iowans, he's a firm Trump voter. He's not going anywhere. they love this process, and so he's being respectful. He sent me a picture of the Nikki Haley vote. If that tells, what does it tell you? It tells you pretty soon you'll be over here and we'll be watching the map fill in. If the candidates are giving their speeches, once they're done with that then they actually get about the process of voting.

And so our reporters are in the right places. (Inaudible) is out here as we talked to him earlier right on the Nebraska border, southwest Iowa. This is conservative Trump country. Trump doesn't run it up, if we don't see big Trump votes, then that's a sign we've got something to watch. If he does run it up here, then the question is if Trump is doing what we've watched him do every time he's on the ballot, run it up in rural America, the question is how is he doing when you get into suburban America.

And that's the test tonight. If Trump can do the rural area and then do fairly well in the suburbs, that's a big win. If they can get to him in the suburbs and DeSantis and maybe Haley can compete, a little bit of Ramaswamy in the rural areas, then we got down. We're about to find out.

TAPPER: All right. Fascinating stuff. There's much more ahead as we follow the action inside caucus sites to try to track the votes when they come in. Will there be any surprises? You'll find out soon live on CNN. Back after this quick break.



TAPPER: As the Iowa caucuses are getting underway, CNN estimates that Donald Trump is the early leader based on our entrance poll of caucus- goers into the caucuses. Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley in a fight for second place. We are standing by for the first official results. But let's dip in and listen to Nikki Haley as she talks to Iowa voters.

NIKKI HALEY, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: (Inaudible), shouldn't we be willing to fight for America here? Because we have a country to save.


But in order to save her, it's going take a lot of courage -- courage from every Iowan, courage from everyone here, courage from me and Ron, and courage for everyone. You know, don't complain about what happens in a general election if you don't really focus on what we do in this caucus.

Someone asked me when I announced why I was running, I said my mother came here 50 years ago to America that was strong, and proud, and full of opportunities. I want them to know that country again. I'm doing this for ... TAPPER: We're -- that was just Nikki Haley talking in Des Moines as

the caucuses are underway. She and other candidates, including Donald Trump, including Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy and Asa Hutchinson, they're all out there making their pitches at caucus sites.

Let's go to our correspondents at caucus sites right now. Sara Sidner is in Cedar Rapids in eastern Iowa. Sara, tell us what are you seeing?

SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: We're seeing people come with generations of family members, which is pretty amazing. I'm going to let you meet -- we like to call them the Allens. There are three Allens here. You've got pop, you got son, and you got grandson. They are all here taking part in the caucus.


I am going to start with you. You're Allen Ray (ph), correct?


SIDNER: All right. Is this your first caucus?

ALLEN RAY (PH): It is.

SIDNER: Why did you come? It's cold as heck outside. I know you're an Iowan. I know you've been through this, but it is dangerous to drive around in these roads. Why did you come? Why was it so important to come?

ALLEN RAY (PH): Well, I think it's important to listen to the different candidates, delegate, representatives to see what the different candidates bring to the table. I think it's important that if you have an opportunity to come in, and listen, and make an effort to make an informed decision on who you wanted to vote for and why, I think it's important rather than just showing up and just scratching a name.

SIDNER: Okay. So we've got Allen (ph) here, we've got Allen Blake (ph), and we've got Alexander. Your first caucus as well, so you've all come together as a family. Why bring your son while you're here?

ALLEN BLAKE (PH), IOWA RESIDENT: My son is learning. He's young. He's learning. We stick together as a family, and it's our -- we're just trying to be supportive and hopefully make America great again. That's what we need.

SIDNER: All right. I can tell by your hat who you're probably going to vote for, right? Is everybody here a Trump family?


SIDNER: All right. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Allens (ph). We appreciate you all for coming and talking to us. We appreciate you. And it's about to start, right? The county has got to start.

Jake, back to you. TAPPER: All right, Sarah. Thanks so much. Donald Trump is visiting a

caucus site in Clive, Iowa. Let's skip in and listen to that.


We've got china to take $28 billion to the farmers of our country because they took advantage of politicians that were doing a very poor job and, frankly, they took advantage of our great farmers. and that's not going to happen, and it will never happen with me. I stood up for ethanol like nobody has ever stood up for it.


(Inaudible) has a big impact on Iowa and some other places, but in particular, you. And we did a job like, frankly, nobody has done in a long, long time. We didn't have terrorists. We didn't have people pouring into our country. We didn't have an invasion where people are pouring in and coming in from prisons all over the world, from mental institutions and insane asylums all over the world.

We have terrorists coming in now. In 19 -- in 2019, you probably saw the same chart, it was actually a little hard to believe even for me. They had zero terrorists coming into our country captured. And as soon as we had an unfortunate event, even though we got more votes last time than any sitting president in the history of the country.


BASH: And we are here at the caucus site in Clive, Iowa, where former President Trump is speaking, trying to get anybody here who is undecided or maybe people who have come here and thought maybe they were going to support somebody else to be on his side.

And, you know, this sounds so basic, but listening to him, it's crystallizing in my mind that all the other candidates are saying what they would do. He gets to say what he did do.


BASH: And he's going through a litany of all of the things that he did when he was president, that people in this room love on issues from immigration to international security. He even talked about the trade war that sparked with China, and he helped ...

HUNT: Economy.

BASH: ... to give $28 billion to farmers, many of whom were helped in this state.

WALLACE: Well, first of all, when he walked in the room, the reaction was ...

BASH: Yes.

WALLACE: ... electric -- everybody. There may be people here for a lot of other candidates. There was genuine excitement. Everybody stood up, gave him a standing ovation.

I completely agree with you. And it's interesting, he's not -- at least the part that we heard so far he's not talking about 2020. He's not talking grievance ...

BASH: Oh, I just heard somebody scream you didn't lose. Continue.

WALLACE: (Inaudible) help the audience. But I mean, he was exactly saying how much better the country was when he was president than it is now. And I think you're going to see, I'm told, an increasing focus on Biden and a general election in a sense that, assuming that he does well tonight that, you know, let's get nomination over with and unite and fight Joe Biden.

HUNT: Yes, I mean, I think, you know, the thing that we can't lose sight of is that this really is a race between two incumbents for all intense and purposes in Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Donald Trump is one of the most famous men on the entire planet, right? It makes sense that he has been the front-runner all along. And I think what really has driven that dynamic is that no other candidate has made a convincing argument against him or shown the country that they can stand up and become ...


BASH: Yes.

HUNT: ... or be a bigger deal than he is.

BASH: You know, it's so true. And what you said about the way that this room changed when he walked in and the people here realized that he was here, it's a reminder that one of the main reasons that people love him and people don't love him, but in this case it's the people who love him is because of not just what he says, but how they make him -- how he makes them feel.

It is his -- the reason why he has been so incredibly successful with the people who are so incredibly stuck to him and would walk through fire for him. And I've met a lot of people like that here in Iowa. Not to say that he'll get everybody in this room. He won't, but the passion that he drives in people. Have you ever seen anything like that?

WALLACE: No. I mean, you know, to see the willful denial of reality and the percentage of people who don't think that Joe Biden is the legitimate president or say, you know, I don't care if he's convicted, I would still vote for him. I mean, it's beyond any political movement I've ever seen.

People sometimes call it a cult. But what you certainly have to say is there -- the people are genuinely devoted and committed to this guy and are going to follow him. It's a movement unlike any other I've ever seen before.

HUNT: I mean, I think it also just underscores why people who are on the fence about Trump are willing to kind of go along with him, right, because that's going to make the difference for him. He doesn't have enough of this hardcore crawl over broken glass people to even necessarily top 50% in a primary, certainly not to win a general election. But there is just this kind of sense that and as long as he can stay -- listen, just listen ...

BASH: Yes.

HUNT: ... right? No other candidate gets this.

BASH: No, it's true.

And, Jake, as you see, the former president leaving the stage, I should tell you that right before he spoke Asa Hutchison was here, and you could hear a pin drop. And while he's speaking, Vivek Ramaswamy is also here getting ready to speak. He's been here for a while, but the former president trumped him when it comes to the speaking spot.

TAPPER: All right. Dana Bash in Clive, Iowa. Donald Trump behind her.

And we have -- let's go to Brian Todd right now who's in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Brian, tell me what you're seeing where you are.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, this is what an overcapacity caucus looks like. I've got speak in a bit of a hushed tone because I don't want to talk over Mary Ann Hanusa who's the organizer of this and her husband Charlie Johnson. He's the gentleman in the purple sweater there who is the caucus chair.

It's so overcapacity that they have called up to these people and said that they can't hear them so they've had to rustle up a bullhorn. And now they've got the bullhorn out and they're talking to the crowd about the procedures that are going to be going on.

The surrogates for the campaigns will be speaking in just minutes. There are three of them. And they've just had the Pledge of Allegiance and the prayer.

Just to kind of illustrate the family affair nature of this, people are bringing out their little kids. Look at these adorable little kids. The baby was squeamish a minute ago, but she's got him under control. And they are ready to caucus here, Jake, and we'll be bringing it to you in real-time.

TAPPER: All right. Brian Todd, thanks so much. And let me bring you a key race alert right now because we have actual votes that have come in. Let's take a look.

Right now in Iowa, Donald Trump is leading with 74.6% of the vote. Ron DeSantis in second place with 15.4%. Nikki Haley in third with 5.3%. Pulling up the rear, Vivek Ramaswamy 4.1%, and Asa Hutchison with no votes as of now. This is very early.

But right now, Donald Trump has 238 votes, which is almost three- quarters of the total. Fascinating stuff.

Let's go to John King at the magic wall. John, where are these votes coming from?

KING: Jake, five of the 99 counties have reported votes. As you see, some of the caucuses, especially in smaller population centers, but some we have from the Des Moines area. Some of them wrapped up pretty quickly. Some of them take a little bit long especially when the candidates are speaking like you just saw the former president.

But let's look. Five -- one, two, three, four, five counties have reported votes so far from the southeast corner to the northwest corner. So let's just walk through and take a look at what we have here.

This is Des Moines County, not to be confused with the city of Des Moines. This is in southeast Iowa -- 16 of the 99 counties. It's about 1.2% of the statewide population.

Again, look at the small number of votes. We have a long way to go in the count, but Donald Trump 95 votes, 78%. That's an early lead for the former president as we're seeing across the board here.

Let's just move straight across, Keokuk County here, central, southeastern but starting to move towards Central Iowa. Again, this is a smaller, more rural county, 78% of the vote if you round up. Governor DeSantis running second here. Ambassador -- Governor Haley running third with just two votes. But remember, again, you're talking about very early.


This, let's take a look. This is your population center. And yet, and yet, we're looking at 13 votes. And then let's just go a little bit lower and look down. Yes, so 13 votes so far.

So let's not make too much of this. It's just nice to get the first votes of the cycle. The 2024 election cycle is underway that we are counting votes. This is Polk County, the largest county of the state. So that's just a smattering.

Let's just move up. This should be Trump country, all right? Hancock County, you're in the rural band across the top of the state to the Far East. You're in Illinois, you're closer to Minnesota, right down below here. You move over there, you get to South Dakota and Nebraska, very rural country. Trump at 70 percent in Hancock County so far. Governor DeSantis running second, Jake, but a lot of counties still to do.

TAPPER: All right, John King, we can now make a very important projection.

CNN projects that Donald Trump will win the Iowa caucuses. CNN can make this projection based on his overwhelming lead in our entrance poll of Iowa caucusgoers and some initial votes that are coming in. The former president pulling off a huge early victory in his bid to return to the White House.

Trump easily defeating his top opponents, DeSantis and Nikki Haley, who are now in a high stakes fight for second place. Let's go to Erin Burnett at the panel. Erin, not a surprise, but still, this is the earliest I can remember ever calling such a thing.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Exactly. Both things are true. Not a surprise. And yet, it is 8:30 Eastern. Those caucus doors opened 30 minutes ago. And here we are, Kaitlan, with a projection. And you could see it in those entrance polls, but I mean, it is very decisive.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. And the question for Trump's team really here is how big is this victory going to be? They expected for him to win. Obviously, he didn't. It would be like a meteor striking the earth in their world.

Their question is, what is that margin going to look like? And you can see, they've -- Donald Trump is speaking. His sons are speaking. He has allies and operatives fanned out at every precinct, making his case to everyone who is at these caucuses. And it just speaks to the moment that we are in.

I mean, Donald Trump eight years ago left Iowa with a loss to Ted Cruz. And not only did he not accept that loss, he claimed that they should nullify the results and went on to New Hampshire. What he's planning to do now we've now just learned, is tonight he's going to New York and tomorrow he'll attend the opening arguments of the E. Jean Carroll trial where the jury is going to determine how much he owes and damages and that.

And then he'll be going to New Hampshire tomorrow night after that. And it just speaks to how he is really balancing the campaign trail and the courthouse here in these moments. And so we will likely hear from him tonight. But it goes to what this campaign and what this primary is being defined by, and it's Donald Trump's legal troubles. But also really decisive victories and a strong hold on the Republican Party.

BURNETT: I mean, you see -- yes, go ahead.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, he's really made over the Republican Party, really, which, what you've seen from these interim polls is just that, the way that the voters identify themselves. You know, the very conservative voters, the moderate, the other conservative voters leaning towards Trump.

But also just the fact that they identify themselves overwhelmingly as part of the MAGA movement. That they falsely believe that the 2020 election, Joe Biden did not win that legitimately. And if he were convicted of a crime, still a vast majority of these voters would still vote for Donald Trump.

The question is going to be how much, as you said, the margin. And it's a warning sign for Nikki Haley in particular. If you saw some of those entrance polls, unless it changes, moderate and independent and more liberal voters who may vote in the GOP caucuses, they represent a sliver, a tiny, tiny sliver of this electorate based on the entrance polls. Real concerns for her and for Ron DeSantis was simply not cut in enough as he needed to do an evangelical support.

BURNETT: I mean, we talk so much about this race for second, OK. But you also have to take a step back and be honest that this is really taking the wind out of your sails if you're Haley or DeSantis right now, right? I mean, this is 8:30, the doors open 30 minutes ago and you have a very clean call.

And yes, there's still a fight for second, but that is not the kind of night that they had hoped they would have even in a fight for second.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is still a hope against hope, that any candidate not named Donald Trump, is going to be the Republican nominee. That's just the reality of the situation. There's not a clear path for other candidates yet. And tonight doesn't really change anything it seems.

When you look at just to pull out one of the numbers, Manu, was just talking about, almost 70 percent of caucusgoers, according to our entrance polls, believe that Joe Biden was not legitimately elected president of the United States. If that is not a Donald Trump Republican Party, I don't know what is.

This is not an electorate that is particularly interested in taking a different course. That's what Ron DeSantis is selling, that's what Nikki Haley is selling. They don't want to go another way. They want to go back to Trump in so many ways. They've been saying that. These candidates have been hoping that maybe they could change their minds.

We will see what the real numbers look like, but the task for Haley and DeSantis will be to fundamentally shift the thinking of a large swath of this party. That is a -- we just have to be honest with folks. That is a very heavy lift in Iowa.


It's still a heavy lift even in New Hampshire. And then as you get beyond that on the calendar, it gets harder and harder and harder.

COLLINS: The only other thought that I would add to that is that what Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley are hoping for is that there is a stumble, that something does happen with Trump's legal issues to where they would be there in the wings.

The issue for people like Ron DeSantis especially is money. You can't stay in the race very long if you don't have a lot of money. And his campaign and Super PACs have been burning through it. And so that is a question of the longevity of their campaigns, depending on how they do tonight. But they're hoping to be that Trump alternative.

BURNETT: All right. And, you know, as we watch these votes still coming in, obviously, we've made the projection. The votes are still coming in. Anderson, I'll say one thing, you know, Sara Sidner talking to the Allens, kind of stood out, right? I mean, he had his Trump hat on, he was very clear he was voting for, but it was interesting that they were saying they were first time caucusgoers.


BURNETT: Right. So Trump supporters, and they wanted to have that turnout, wanted to have that voice, and maybe that's what we're seeing here in these early results.

COOPER: Yes, it is -- it's an extraordinary -- not surprising, but still extraordinary, so early. Alyssa?

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Donald Trump's literally broken every rule of politics. He campaigned the least of anyone, any of the top tier of candidates in Iowa, showing up the least, frankly, because he's been in court quite a bit. Yet he is -- has won, and it's going to be likely a question now of how big of a margin.

His team thinks it may be as much as 50 percent. We're going to see kind of a taste of what the general will look like very quickly. Because tomorrow, as Kaitlan said, he's going to be in New York for his defamation trial. Then he's going to go to New Hampshire. Then he's going to have to jump back here for a number of other cases that he has coming up.

So he's broken the rules. It's worked in a primary because he is kind of the dominant force running as almost an incumbent. But that's a lot tougher in a general election.

COOPER: For anybody thinking that this race goes on for Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis, it's very difficult when they don't even go after the front runner. I mean, at this stage, how can you make any in road on the front runner if you don't really discuss the front runner?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, and also, you know, the idea that finishing second here so far back is any momentum. It's not a race for second. It's a race for relevancy and everyone's losing except for Donald Trump. And, you know, if you look at the entrance polling we've done, if you look at the expected results here, this Republican Party wants to give Donald Trump one more shot to prove them all wrong, that everything was a witch hunt, that the election was rigged, that his legal issues are, you know, his just opponent.

I mean, all the things that they're mad about, they want one more -- it's obvious -- they want one more shot at it. It's in the national polling and we're seeing it show up at these caucus sites.


DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: There's one significant demographic that Trump has a real advantage in and it's called Republicans. When you -- I mean, the others are relying on independence on Democrats and that's why New Hampshire is more competitive because New Hampshire invites independents and it's easy for independents to participate and they've -- they generally do it. But even -- you know, I mean, this is a Republican primary, most of these primaries don't invite independents in. I mean, it's -- this has been a steep climb to begin with and we're learning that tonight again.

BEDINGFIELD: Well, and two of the demographics in the entrance polls that I think are the most troubling for anybody not named Donald Trump is you have Donald Trump winning college caucusgoers, you have Donald Trump winning independents. I mean, these are historically groups -- I say historically -- within the context of this race that, you know, should have gone to Nikki Haley.

And here you see --

AUDIE CORNISH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What about the candidate who campaigned for them, Vivek Ramaswamy?

BEDINGFIELD: Well, right, exactly.

CORNISH: And how much more effort can you put in there?

BEDINGFIELD: Exactly. And so, you know, if you're looking -- if you're Haley or Ramaswamy or DeSantis, and you're looking for your path forward, and you're looking at these numbers, you're not saying a lot also.

CORNISH: There's some ways we have to acknowledge how the Republican electorate has changed when there are more people who actually began identifying as evangelical during the time that Trump was president. It evolved into -- this is from Pew Research. I see your eyebrows. I'll send a link. But it means that it's becoming a political identity.

So the idea that you can go around and genuflect at a variety of Sunday sermons and think that those endorsements necessarily translated to votes, I think, is an old political way of thinking. And that's the kind of thing that I think when we look at this data, we can't overlay on it, our political ideas from 2012.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, you know, to your point, Audie, politics is a new religion, right? So, the narrative that's going to come out of here tonight, if Trump busts 50, he's at 51, 52, and, you know, Haley and DeSantis are still in the middling in the teens, it's going to be overwhelming, right? The Trump ground game is going to be just continuing to chug along and eat up.

You know, delegates in all these states like Pacman --


URBAN: -- it'd be amazing.

COOPER: Jake, back to you.

[20:40:00] TAPPER: We are projecting a win for Donald Trump. But remember, the caucuses are still underway. People are still casting their ballots. They'll still arguing with each other. Every vote counts. And that heated fight for second place is still unfolding.

So let's go back to see a little democracy in action. Boris Sanchez is at the caucus site in Des Moines. Boris, tell us what's happening there.

SANCHEZ: Jake, so we're watching a window -- this is a window into democracy. We're watching the ballots being counted literally as we speak. These caucusgoers have just sorted all the ballots and now they're in the process of counting them.

Notably, there are campaign representatives here who gave speeches for several of the candidates, notably not one speech for Donald Trump yet. This is not a district that he was expected to perform well. And this is a precinct that Ted Cruz won back in 2016.

As we watch the count, I've spoken with folks aligned with the Trump campaign who tell me that they are hoping he does well here because it will represent a boost for him among suburban moms. Something that I've heard John King referred to as his kryptonite in previous elections.

And right now, it looks like they are trying to decipher handwriting to figure out who folks voted for. It looks like Vivek Ramaswamy got five votes here in Precinct number 3. They're counting through Trump votes right now.

We just want to give you a quick sound -- a check of what it sounds like during this count.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nine, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15.

SANCHEZ: Just from what I'm seeing here, Jake, it looks like there are only a handful of votes for Nikki Haley. Predominantly, the two candidates that have performed well here are Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis. They both have very large stacks of paper right now.

The initial count, Jake, from Precinct 3, 22 votes for Ron DeSantis, 24 for former President Donald Trump. Again, this is a precinct that Ted Cruz won back in 2016. And here we have the former president at 42.9 percent. Ron DeSantis is 39.3 percent.

Keep in mind, this is just one precinct inside one county. It doesn't give you a picture of what we've seen across the board. But as you noted, Donald Trump, the former president, projected to win the state of Iowa. And this is just one snapshot of what it looks like on the ground, Jake.

TAPPER: Thanks, Boris. John King, obviously, I don't expect you to know Precinct 3 history, but in general, this area of Iowa, Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis doing better. Does that surprise you?

KING: It's bad news for Nikki Haley. Does it surprise me? No, in the sense that, again, what we are seeing from the early projection, there's so much of the statewide map, one county right now where Nikki Haley is leading. We'll get to that in a minute.

But as you watch these counties come in, and you see, again, it's very early in the vote, but a very early convincing early lead, we know from our entrance polls, we know from our key precincts, we're able to make that projection, this is evidence with votes of what we've seen in the polling data and other data. My travels, political reporters travels, this is more and more Trump's party, especially if he is doing well in urban and close in suburban areas.

That has been his weakest link from the beginning. He did OK in the suburbs in 2016. But as the Trump presidency repulsed the suburbs 2018, 2020, 2022. So if he is -- if in his comeback, he not only keeps the fervent mega base, but makes inroads here and Democrats are saying, oh, they're just Republicans tonight. Maybe true, maybe true.

But to win back the suburbs first, you have to get the suburban Republicans back. And then you have to reach out beyond that to be a general election candidate. So this is the first contest. We have a long way to go, but we're looking for clues. We're looking for clues. How strong is Donald Trump?

If he has a formidable grip, an inevitable grip on the Republican Party, how strong is he? Or is his march to the nomination, does it end up being a march to losing in November? If he's doing well here in Polk County, this is one of the most democratic counties in the state, a lot of Republicans out in the burbs and stuff, but again, we're very early, that's 10 votes, 2 votes.

Boris -- the place where Boris is, is not fed into the system yet, right? He's getting live results on the ground, in a precinct, they get reported to the state party, then you see them here. So we haven't seen those results come in here just yet. But if Donald Trump is doing well, here, here, here and in here where Haley's leading there, even if Donald Trump's a strong second, you can do well and not win everywhere.

And here, if Donald Trump's doing well, where you see the city names, then Donald Trump is going to win. And we know he's going to win, but he's going to win big. And that's going to tell us some things. We're going to learn some lessons there. It's going to tell us some things about his strength, the depth of his strength and who that is, who the people are maybe coming back to him.

It's also going to tell us as we move on. You can't match this county to another state, but you can make some reasonable, smart, informed decisions about how strong is Nikki Haley heading into New Hampshire. Does Ron DeSantis have enough legs to go anywhere else where there are conservative voters?


That's what we're going to learn as the rest of this map gets filled in. So let's just take a look, because she is leading in one county. This is Johnson County. This is the fourth largest county in the state. So by Iowa standards, it's, you know, you're not talking about Pennsylvania or Michigan or anything, it's a relatively small state.

But 40 percent of the vote to 29 percent of the vote. Let's just go back in time. Johnson County 2024, Johnson County 2016. So this is one of the things you're looking for. Does Nikki Haley win where Marco Rubio won?

Now how much of that Republican Party still exists? How strong is that Republican Party? The pre-Trump Republican Party that Marco Rubio thought he was the heir to George W. Bush, that kind of a Republican. Obviously, Donald Trump has dramatically changed that party.

The question is in the tug of war, those remaining who want to pull it back, how strong are they? So we watch Nikki Haley in Johnson County tonight and we come back out. Let's come back to the live results here tonight. But, you know, one county, two counties now.

And again, this is where Kate Bolduan is. Jake, I'm going to get back to you. But this is Story County, College Town. Kate was just there. Again, this should be Nikki Haley country if she is relatively strong coming out of Iowa. We'll know that when we get more votes, what that -- how to define that relatively.

But this is filling in. If this continues, if she keeps those, OK, but you see that, it's overwhelming.

TAPPER: Sara Sidner is over here in Cedar Rapids. Let's check in with Sara right now. Sara, what are you seeing where you are?

SIDNER: The counting is happening right now. The GOP chair of Linn County is almost done with the count, and so I'm going to let you there. They're checking in every time he looks at one of the ballots and pulls one out. So let's listen in a little bit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 06, Ramaswamy. 03, DeSantis. 03, DeSantis. 03, DeSantis. 07, Donald Trump. 07, Donald Trump. 03, DeSantis. 07, Donald Trump. 07, Donald Trump.

SIDNER: OK, so what you're hearing, I just want to give you some sense of where we are right now here. 52 percent Donald Trump so far. 28 percent -- sorry, 26 percent DeSantis so far. Ramaswamy, 18 percent and 3.7 percent Haley. Right now, DeSantis is a huge number two.

Let's listen in to the last few ballots that he has.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 04, Nikki Haley. 04, Nikki Haley. 07, Donald Trump. 03, DeSantis. 07, Donald Trump, 07, Donald Trump, 07, Donald Trump, 03, DeSantis, 07, Donald Trump.

OK, are we still in sync?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Number 3 is 9, number 4 is 3, number 6 is 6, and 21 percent.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, OK. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 07, Donald Trump. 03, DeSantis. 06, Ramaswamy.

TAPPER: John King, interpret what's going on here. 03, 07, those are precincts? Those are individual precincts?

KING: That's what we assume they are, precincts within some of these counties. You come to a big site, different precincts break off into different rooms. They do their voting. And obviously, all the ballots have been put in a bag, and you have the precinct captain counting the votes.

And you see representatives at the table keeping count. Important to note, especially after listening to those disappointing entrance polls early on, people from each of the campaigns are there to watch this. All right, to watch the count, to make sure it's done right.

If anybody sees anything there, ask a question. You do it politely. You recount if you have to. That's the way democracy is supposed to work.

TAPPER: And there are representatives from each campaign at the tables.

KING: Right. Right at the table so that everybody's watching this transparently, as obviously, the reporters are allowed to watch too. This is transparent democracy at work. One of the reasons you can get so frustrated at the distrust out there is that these are honest, hardworking Americans who are for different candidates.


We're seeing they're counting the votes tonight. Whether they're for their candidate or somebody else's candidate, they're doing the right, they're writing it down. Then they're all going to look at each other and say, we good? And they're going to report the results.

Hardworking Americans who are for different candidates who are sitting in their county to vote tonight. Whether they're for their candidate or somebody else's candidate, they're doing the right, they're writing it down. And then they're all going to look at each other and say, we good? And they're going to report the results.

I ask -- I do the look at themselves and say, good part, because we're showing you this. It's the value of our reporters on the ground in these valuable places is that we see this here. If you pull up this county, this is Linn County, Cedar Rapids right here. We don't have those votes yet because the process is they count them at the site.

They all look around, double check, triple check, make sure we're good, then they report them to the Republican Party of Iowa, and then the party releases them. And then, only then, when they're official results, do we see them here. That's the way the process is supposed to work.

So having our great reporters on the ground, and this access, is almost a preview of what's to come later here, as we count the votes in the map and in the wall. But, significant, again, as we listen here, and it has to be certified. But as we listen to the count, and Sara's reporting, about Trump running strong here, again, this is Linn County, right here, this is Linn County, if you go back in time, this was a Ted Cruz county in 2016, where Donald Trump came in third with 20 percent of the vote.

One of our questions tonight, we projected Donald Trump the winner. The question is, how strong is he in his comeback bid? How has he -- how many of the Republicans who were not with him at the beginning, he was president for four years, but how many of the Republicans who were not with him at the beginning are with him now.

And if you see him winning a place, we'll see what it comes out to when we get there, but if he's winning or running strong in a place like this, then that is a sign that the Donald Trump taking this first step, which he believes will be an inevitable path to renomination, has remarkable resilience and maybe some surprising new strength.

TAPPER: Yes, and it's worth reminding people that in 2016 when Ted Cruz won Iowa, Donald Trump also falsely said that that state was stolen from him during the Iowa caucuses. This is what he does. It wasn't true then. It's not true now.

We're getting deeper into the Iowa caucuses, tracking the margin of Donald Trump's projected victory, which seems overwhelming. And the still undecided fight for second place. We're standing by for more votes after this break.



TAPPER: And we have another key race alert for you now. Let's check in with the actual votes coming in from the Iowa caucuses. It's only 1 percent of the estimated vote that's come in, but Donald Trump with the commanding lead, 57.4 percent of the vote. In second place, Nikki Haley, 18.5 percent of the vote. Ron DeSantis in third, 15.7 percent of the vote.

Pulling up the rear, Vivek Ramaswamy with 7.7 percent of the vote. And Asa Hutchinson has one vote, which is still 0 percent of the vote when you look at the aggregate.

Brian Todd is in Council Bluffs. Brian, tell us what you're seeing there.

TODD: All right, Jake, here in Council Bluffs, the votes have been put into the popcorn buckets. They've got them out now, and they're starting to count. So I'm going to let them do it, and you'll hear it live.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ramaswamy. Trump. Haley. Haley. Trump. Trump. Trump. DeSantis. Trump. Trump. Trump. DeSantis.

TODD: And our viewers can see the tabulation on the left side of the screen as we tabulate with them. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trump. DeSantis. Oops, sorry. DeSantis. Haley. DeSantis. DeSantis. Trump. Haley. Trump. Trump. Trump. Sorry. DeSantis. DeSantis. Trump. Trump. Haley. Trump.

BURNETT: All right, you're watching the vote count right now in Council Bluffs, Iowa. So, John, you hear, obviously, we had a Vivek Ramaswamy vote, several Nikki Haley votes, that they're pulling out of those popcorn containers and reading them off as we watch Democracy in action. But tell us more about the specific location and what we're hearing means.

KING: It's old school, but it's just fascinating to watch. I could watch all night. It's good citizens counting votes and different people for different candidates counting them honestly as we go through it. So we're watching. You see, as Brian Tod noted, you see on the screen right there, that's the count from this particular count you're hearing right now live on television.

It is not yet reflected. This is where he is. He's in Pottawatomie County. Pottawatomie County, southwestern Iowa. Nebraska is just to the left of you there. This is conservative country. Trump won this in 2016. Trump won it overwhelmingly in both general elections in 2016 and 2020.

So this is conservative country. So this is where we were before these votes were coming in live. We had these votes from here beforehand. The very first votes counted in the county had Trump ahead with 65 percent. So you're watching here, this particular precinct, if you watch the left side of your screen there, Trump's at 43. We're not done with the count yet, but as the count comes through, he's a little lower than that here. That's part of the challenge tonight.

Donald Trump is going to win Iowa tonight. The question is, does he stay above 50 percent? How does he perform in places where he was strong in 2016? How does he perform in places he was strong in general elections as well? Are there any doubts about Donald Trump? That's what we're looking for. Or is it quite the contrary?

And there is a lot of confidence and excitement about Donald Trump in the places he needs to win in November to be -- to have a chance to be reelected as president. So you're watching these votes come in here. Again, this is Pottawatomie County here in the southwest part of the state.

I want to just pull out statewide so you can see where we are. As you watch the map fill in right now, we know Donald Trump's going to win. We know that from our projection, which is based on the exit poll -- entrance poll, excuse me, which is based on key precincts.