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CNN Live Event/Special

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) Blasts Haley, Trump In New Hampshire Town Hall; Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) Says, U.S. Has Had Challenges On Race In History; Trump Attacks Rivals In New Hampshire After Iowa Victory; Abby Phillip Talks Politics With Former HUD Secretary Ben Carson; Congressman Ralph Norman Says Nikki Haley Still Did Well In Iowa Caucus; Ron DeSantis Says He Is The Only One Running A Campaign That Is Not A Basement Campaign. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired January 16, 2024 - 22:00   ET


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Vaccine, passports, where you're discriminated against based on your status of whether you decided to take this shot or not.


Well, we hosted the Special Olympics one year, and lo and behold, the international bureaucracy that oversees that imposed a COVID vax mandate on the athletes. Well, one, that violated Florida law, but, two, I had families frantically coming to our office saying that their kids are not going to be able to participate in this. And that was wrong.

So, we said, we're going to enforce the law against you if you discriminate against these athletes. And we ended up getting all the athletes that wanted to, to be able to compete, and that had a huge impact on people's lives. This summer, I'm walking around the Iowa State Fair and I get a big hug from a family because we made sure their son, who had unique abilities, was able to compete in the Special Olympics.

That is how you use your position of authority to ensure that people are able to realize their dreams. They wanted to exclude those people based on these ridiculous mandates. I stood up and said, no, not on my watch. Everybody gets to compete.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We want to say thank you to Governor DeSantis and thank you to you in our audience here at New England College.

Please make sure to join us next Tuesday, January 23rd, at 4:00 P.M. Eastern for CNN's special live coverage of the New Hampshire primary.

Stay right here. Abby Phillip and Laura Coates have analysis of this town hall. That starts right now.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: Ron DeSantis, turning up the heat against his two main rivals at CNN's New Hampshire town hall tonight. I'm Abby Phillip in New York.

LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: And I'm Laura Coates in Washington, D.C. And, look, the race is on. Just seven days to go into the New Hampshire primary with 22 Republican delegates now at stake. And the GOP hopefuls are battling for each and every one of them, Abby, all are on the campaign trail in the state, including Ron DeSantis.

PHILLIP: Let's break down everything we just heard over the last hour with our political analysts who are here in New York with me at the table. I'll start with you, Scott Jennings. How did he do tonight? Did you hear anything or see anything from Ron DeSantis that would help him change the momentum going into New Hampshire?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I'm going to analyze his performance independent of the political realities that we live in post-Iowa and that he faces in New Hampshire. I mean, this is in New Hampshire. He's lagging there.

I think he has found his groove over the last couple of months. He has steadily improved. He's knocked all these town hall meetings in the last debate we did out of the park, every single question he gets about these issues, the answers are exactly what any conservative Republican would want to hear.

I mean, he is what Republicans have always said they want in a conservative president that knows how to use government to get results. At one point, he got asked, what would you do? And he gives off this long litany of things.

The question is, is that what Republicans want, or do they want the election to be about F Joe Biden, F the media, and let's get retribution for all the wrongs that occurred? And can you channel that energy?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think B given the election last night.

JENNINGS: That it's a vibe primary, and that's the vibe and who's got it and who doesn't, it's Trump, right?

PHILLIP: Yes. I mean, it's sort of like no participation trophies here in this one for Ron DeSantis, improvement, as Scott has been chronicling, but at the same time, he is still 30 points behind the actual frontrunner in this race.

AXELROD: Yes. I mean, right now he may be playing for two things. One is respectability in his future. He's only 45 years old, and he's closing this race strong. The fact is that he was an abysmal candidate for months and months and months. His strategy was off. His performance was uneven at best. And for the last several months, he's been much stronger.

I was really surprised by the entrance poll yesterday that said, of the people who decided in the last month, he and Haley were basically even, and there was the sense that Haley had this great momentum. Well, it turns out that DeSantis made a lot of progress in the last --

PHILLIP: He was able to blunt it pretty effectively. AXELROD: Yes, and you saw tonight why. 99 counties is good experience, and then he found his sea legs, and whether he succeeds here or not.

Now, the other thing, Abby, may be, and I'll move on, is there is this theory that people want to hang around just in case something happens to Trump, i.e. a conviction. And it may be that DeSantis is searching for a way to hang around and be that person.

ANA NAVARRO, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, the one question you asked is what did we hear?


To me, the interesting question is what did we not hear? We did not hear him wage war against Disney. We did not hear him wage war against drag queens. We didn't hear him wage war against A.P. black history or banning books.

And so, you know, I think he tried this cellist persona of being the conservative warrior. He took what Glenn Youngkin did in Virginia and increased it umpteenth, and it didn't work. He was mean-spirited. He sounded wacko. Frankly, he didn't sound very conservative. Going after the largest employer in your state is not very conservative. And by the time he corrected course, it was way too late.

PHILLIP: And he's also attacking Trump much more aggressively.

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, that's what I was going to say as far as what you didn't hear in addition to that. He's going after Trump But I was curious to see if coming off of Iowa in this landslide victory of Donald Trump's if he would be ratcheting up the attacks against him. And I think this showed very clearly, as we suspected, he's going to stick to the script which is, essentially, he's drama, he's chaos, I'm going to actually fulfill my promises, but nothing really beyond that.

And this is the -- even today He could have said today Donald Trump was in a New York courtroom while I was on the campaign trail, left that out of it. So, I think it's I'm very convinced it's the playing to be waiting in the wings if something happens to Trump.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. And if you look that, if you look at those dates, though, that court date, I believe, is March 4th. Super Tuesday is, March 5th.

AXELROD: At the earliest.

URBAN: Right? So, that game of trying to be that person, the last person standing, it's a long way between here and there.

And if you're Ron DeSantis, can you make it that long? Are you going to have enough money? Because that's what keeps these campaigns going is money. A performance like tonight, I would suggest, will fill his coffers a little bit. He can go to people and say, I had a strong performance, I kicked ass in Iowa, and here I am. AXELROD: I don't think he's running an ad in New Hampshire.

ASHLEY ALLISON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: To Ana's point, Ron DeSantis went over so many demographics that people have family members who are trans. We have family members that are LGBT people. There are black Republicans, and you don't want to teach part of their history in schools.

But tonight, he did take a different tone in two different ways. He mentioned having a big tent party and kind of leading towards the general election. He also talked about his strategy on how he could maybe get to Super Tuesday. He said, look, I did go to South Carolina. I'm not skipping over. People sleep in. We've had a tough caucus, you know, kind of saying like, I got on -- I started working. I'm not quitting. I'm playing in Nevada, South Carolina, and New Hampshire, which could tell a voter, I have a plan. And then he says, but Nikki Haley, she's not even in the caucus. She's not in Nevada.

So, you know, is she really trying to be the nominee or is she playing for vice president? And I thought it was an interesting way to go at both Trump and Nikki Haley while also telling voters I'm thinking towards the future.

NAVARRO: In addition to what he said to all of those issues, it's also his interaction, right? He's begun to resemble a human. I mean, it's taken him nine months of doing this to learn how to smile, to learn how to call somebody asking the question by their name, to start telling cute anecdotes about his childhood playing baseball and things like that. I mean, it's -- my gosh, the man has some --

PHILLIP: There's something to that.

URBAN: We did comment after the debate in Iowa, excuse me, after the debate that you had in Iowa with Anderson sat down with Ron DeSantis had this interview, we were around this table and said, wow, who was that guy? Where's that guy been, right?

PHILLIP: In multiple respects, both that he did the interview. A year ago, he probably would not have done that, but also his demeanor has totally changed.

I mean, Scott, if you're -- what do you think went on in the DeSantis campaign to get him to -- this is not an easy thing, because what you're doing is trying to --

JENNINGS: I know what happened. His consultants all got fired.

PHILLIP: When you're trying to ask a candidate to try to be genuine, which seems easy, but it's actually really hard.

JENNINGS: Yes. He's not a breezy guy. If you're looking for breeziness or entertainment, that's not his thing. He did ultimately find a looser demeanor than we had become used to.

I think there's actually some liberation in not being the leader. When you're the front runner or when you're experiencing an upswing, in sports they would say you get a little, squeeze the bat a little tighter. And I think that's actually what happened to Haley to some degree. Remember, at the beginning of this, she was the one who was the most polished politician on the stage. The better she started doing, she got a little tighter, she started having gaffes. DeSantis dips a little. The pressure comes off a little bit. It's a little liberating. It comes off the shoulders and all of a sudden, he's a likable guy.

AXELROD: This is such an important point. I can tell you from my own experience, you know, Barack Obama, people think of him now as a very polished performer and so on. He himself would tell you he was a pretty bad candidate for the first few months of the campaign in part because the expectations of him were so large that it's like you can't take the play to New Haven or wherever.


You open on Broadway, all the critics are in the front row, the bright lights are on you, and you're expected to perform at peak level and you're not ready for it.

And that's sort of what happened to DeSantis. He had such ballyhoo going into this campaign, and people expected a lot from him. And he blinked under the bright lights, and then he went underground when people started discounting him, worked on his material, came back and was a much better candidate.

URBAN: Yes. It wasn't that set up by himself in terms of I ran this incredible campaign in the state of Florida, I put together a coalition. The problem is when you're in Tallahassee, the press corps is different than the press corps under the clean lights on a presidential campaign. That's the big deal.

ALLISON: I think that might play to it. but I will just say it wasn't just Ron DeSantis who put some wind in his sail. A lot of Republicans, after the '22 midterm elections, when you guys lost almost everything, and he was the only Republican that won, it was kind of like, he's our rising star, let's like hitch our horse to this guy and see if we can. And he just kind of --

GRIFFIN: And keep in mind, his political experience before was running against two pretty unpopular candidates in Florida. This isn't somebody who had a ton of experience. That's why you see him growing in real time.

AXELROD: Running for president is a really hard thing to do, and no previous experience prepares you for it. The level of intensity and scrutiny is so much greater.

URBAN: Maybe The Apprentice? I don't know.

NAVARRO: In Florida, I got a lot of pushback when I said this election night, the night he beat Charlie Crist. Charlie Crist was a corpse, and that was an insult to corpses. And he also -- Ron DeSantis did a lot of things to give him advantage, to give him playing advantage. He changed voting laws. He paraded felons. He paraded African-American felons around the streets. He created an election police. He did things that suppressed the vote in Florida, gave him an advantage and was running against probably the worst candidate I remember in Florida in my lifetime, and I've lived through Rick Scott.

PHILLIP: I want to talk about one of the other things that he was asked about today. Listen to how DeSantis responded to what Nikki Haley said to the question, is America a racist country? Listen.


DESANTIS: Well, the U.S. is not a racist country, and we've overcome things in our history. I think the founding fathers, they established a set of principles that are universal. Now, they may not have been universally applied at the time, but I think they understood what they were doing. They understood that those principles would be the engine for progress for generations to come. And that's what's happened.


JENNINGS: He actually gave a much longer answer to that and went on. I actually thought he was really good on this, and he's been good on it since Haley has been tripping up on it.

I think with Haley right now, this topic has now gotten in her head, and she's not handled any iteration of it very well. I mean, it's not difficult to say, yes, when we had the slavery, that was fundamentally racist. Then we got rid of it, thanks to a Republican president named Abraham Lincoln, and we've been improving as a nation ever since thanks to Republican Party principles.

These are not hard things to say, but it strikes me that this has gotten in her head, and I'm sure she's getting a lot of coaching on it. But I think every time DeSantis has handled it, it's been good.

NAVARRO: And the reason it's gotten in her head, I think, and the reason it strikes particularly hard coming from Haley is because, to state the obvious, she is a woman of color. So, to hear a woman of color who has lived in South Carolina, who was the governor who took down the confederate flag because she knows it's a racist symbol after nine people were killed at Mother Emanuel, to then say, oh, no, there's never been racism in this country, is incredibly offensive, tone deaf, stupid and repetitive. She keeps tripping up on this subject. It's awkward. And I think she does it because she is having a hard time talking about her own identity.

PHILLIP: Well, to be fair, even Vice President Harris said America is not a racist country, did she not?

ALLISON: Well, I think there's past tense and present tense.

URBAN: Exactly. That was what's missed here, right?

JENNINGS: And DeSantis was clear about that.

ALLISON: Yes. But I don't think DeSantis' answer tonight is sufficient. It's insufficient for me. I would have wanted him to go farther, but he's not, because he's Ron DeSantis, and he's not trying to get my vote. But I think that Nikki Haley, to Ana's point, is that I don't think she's clear on her ideology and who she is as a person of color in this country.

And she talks about, well, I have experience racism, when you go through those experiences, like most people of color have, you have to -- and you still love this country, you want to be able to tell the truth.


And Nikki Haley does not want to tell the truth right now because she's playing politics over talking to people.

When Barack Obama became the first black president, one of the most powerful speeches he ever gave was on race. And some would argue that the reason why he was elected was because he had the courage to speak to the country's original sin of slavery and the consistent white institutional racism and white supremacy that still lives on. And we do fight every single day to be as good as our ideals but we cannot forget the history that our country is founded on just to win an election.

NAVARRO: Haley is facing racism right now. Donald Trump is using the same birtherism message that he did with Barack Obama on her and she should be denouncing that as racism.

PHILLIP: She's experiencing it. Vivek Ramaswamy also experienced it with voters in Iowa. It's not like it's gone away.

GRIFFIN: And not for nothing, not that the reason you should answer correctly is the strategy of it, but she is not going to get voters who are racist. They know that she is an Indian-American. They're not going to be with her.

I would hope surely on the moral judgment she wouldn't be catering for those votes, but it is incomprehensible why this is the third time she's had a chance to answer this and failed.

PHILLIP: Everyone stand by for us. Over to you, Laura, in Washington.

COATES: Are you kidding me? We're champing at the bit over here, Abby. We're all like, wait, we're going to weigh in, we're going to weigh in, we're going to weigh in right now.

PHILLIP: There's so much to talk about.

COATES: There is so much to digest. ShemMichael Singleton is here, Republican strategist, we got CNN Political Analyst, Laura Barron- Lopez, and a Laura, of course, on the panel, can't be wrong. Senior Political Analyst Gloria Borger is here as well.

Okay. First of all, I always have a very hard time with the idea that there is a level of arrogance about wanting to be named the leader of the so-called free world. So, if you have that level of arrogance, that level of like wherewithal to say, I want to be that person, and you can't ask -- you can't answer a question about whether there is racism in America, about slavery in the Civil War. I mean, how does this keep happening? How do they keep stepping on this rake?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think with Nikki Haley, what she's doing is she's self-editing. She doesn't want to make a mistake. She feels like she's done pretty well, and every time she self-edits, she screws up. And she's not quite sure what to say.

I remember this used to happen with Mitt Romney all the time. Sometimes you're asked an easy question, and the answer should be slavery. And something is going through your brain, like who am I going to offend if I say that? And so you edit yourself. Even though you believe you should be the leader of the free world, you want to get there, and you want to get those votes.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: This is the second time she's been asked about this.

COATES: Probably the third time.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Right. It's been multiple times, and her answer was not good. But I think that it's not just that she self-edits. I mean, DeSantis also self-edits, although his answer tonight was a lot more natural than Nikki Haley's, and he seemed a lot more comfortable with the question. Yes, but I think that they are also giving these specific answers strategically.

Because if you actually look at the data about the Republican base, you know, DeSantis said tonight that Republicans, you know, believe in colorblindness. He used the term colorblindness. Well, actually, the data suggests otherwise, because, you know, data from the Public Religion Research Institute found that 65 percent of Republicans say that discrimination against white Americans is just as big a problem as discrimination against black Americans. And 81 percent of Republicans disagree with the statement that generations of slavery and discrimination made it more difficult for black Americans to rise up from the lower class.

So, those are just the facts of like the sentiments of the Republican voters and the Republican base. And I'm pretty positive that Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley are aware that.

SHERMICHAEL SINGLETON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: But here's the problem. If you're running in a Republican primary, I understand this, but at some point, these candidates are going to have to run into general, if Nikki Haley wants to be the leader of the free world. And I find it very hard to believe that there are minorities out there who may be independents but they may lean somewhat to the right because of economic issues, the small business issues, et cetera, or willing to vote for a candidate who is afraid to acknowledge and recognize the history of the country.

It is okay, Nikki Haley. It is okay, Ron DeSantis, to say, hey, look, slavery was a big deal in the country. We have made a significant amount of progress. We still have some issues. And if I'm elected, I'm going to continue to work hard to improve things. How difficult is it? It shouldn't be hard, particularly for someone of color. As a black Republican, to be able to acknowledge and have a very real conversation with a party that struggled, Laura, for a very long time on this particular issue to say, look, we have some problems here, guys. We're not perceived very well by people of color. We have to improve that.

COATES: I expand this even beyond the race. I can already see people saying, well, they're only -- they're beating a dead horse.


Don't kill me, it's just a term or phrase when I say that. But the idea here when you talk about why this is problematic to me as a member of the electorate and people broader is that if you fail to acknowledge an obvious point, I will then think that's transferable in other areas.

The Democrats are getting hit over the head multiple times a day because they wouldn't use the word crisis when it came to the border, even though it was the idea when you were seeing and the floodgates opening up, where there's discussions about any number of topics. If you're not able to recognize a problem and you're running on the opportunity to change something, doesn't that really undercut everything else you say?

BORGER: Well, the solution, of course, that DeSantis turned to immediately was DEI. And he said, you know, that's why I'm for getting rid of all these phony labels. And that's why I'm -- you know, he didn't use the word woke, thank goodness, but, you know, he, he turned it around a little bit and said, you know, the Republican Party stands for color blindness, and that's why I'm against DEI, and that's why I've gotten rid of it in the state of Florida. So, he's turning it into something Republicans can support.

SINGLETON: Yes. I understand that, again, in a primary, you want to be careful. I've worked on enough campaigns to get that. But you have to run in a general election. And if you're Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis or Donald Trump, it is very clear that there is a substantial amount of people in this country who are completely turned off by that type of rhetoric.

If I want a campaign as a black Republican and I have to go out and speak to other African-Americans or other communities of color in general to try to advocate in advance for a Republican message or the Republican candidate, and they're asking me that all of these ideas sound great, but you have a candidate who can't acknowledge the history of the country, how in the world am I supposed to articulate that message to our community, Laura? It's impossible. You're laughed out of the barbershop, to use the phrase as an example.

And so I think candidates have to get around this issue of race and be honest about the past and talk about the present to make the future better.

COATES: Again, I look at this, as Laura talked more about this, I look at this as a broader issue than just the issues of race, which are quite broad in and of itself. But if you're asking to run and lead a nation, there are going to be a number of nuance issues. They're going to have to require you to confront in a difficult truth, a hard conversation and be able to do something about it. That's what the people are asking in this whole campaign, no matter who you are.

Everyone stick around. Ahead, a Nikki Haley surrogate will join me live on the two comments she's taking heat for tonight. We'll ask his thoughts.

Plus, a former Trump Cabinet member, Ben Carson, is standing by on Trump's strategy going into New Hampshire. I'm going to ask him if he is being asked about being a V.P. pick. So, get ready, Mr. Carson, Dr. Carson.

This is a CNN special live coverage.



PHILLIP: Today, Donald Trump wants Republican voters to believe that he landed a first round knockout of his Iowa route. The president parachuted into New Hampshire and he says that Iowa is now evidence that Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis are essentially zombie candidates.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Nikki Haley in particular is counting on the Democrats and liberals to infiltrate your Republican primary. You know that. That's what's happening.

We have these two people. We really got to get back on to Biden and beating the Democrats and not wasting a lot of time with these two.


PHILLIP: Joining us tonight is Ben Carson, the former secretary of Housing and Urban Development under Donald Trump. Secretary Carson, thanks for joining us.

So, Donald Trump has not agreed to a single debate in this cycle. If he is such a dominant candidate in this race, what is he so afraid of?

DR. BEN CARSON, FORMER HUD SECRETARY: Well, there's no advantage for him to do a debate because he's so far ahead and probably is using the same philosophy that Joe Biden is using.

PHILLIP: But Nikki Haley is now set to have a strong performance in New Hampshire after she finished third, a close third in Iowa. How is that not a race, a real threat to Trump's quest for the nomination? It's so early in this process.

CARSON: Well, if you want to look at something that's interesting, look historically at Iowa. No one has ever had more than 50 percent of the vote. In fact, the largest margin before has been 12 percent. So, this is an incredible statement by the people in Iowa. And you find the same kind of sentiment all over the country. The people are ready to move to a place where we can actually compare the thoughts and the philosophies of the progressive parties with the conservative parties, look at the history of how they have worked and make a decision.

PHILLIP: But I'll ask you again, I mean, why would Trump not just get on the debate stage, put his ideas up against the other candidates who are running against him, and have the voters decide based on that rather than dodging these debates? You mentioned Joe Biden. Joe Biden participated in presidential-dominating contests as well.

CARSON: I didn't see him in this cycle participating in any debates. If it's not advantageous to you, there's no particular reason to do it.

PHILLIP: So, should Nikki Haley then, if Trump is, in your eyes, inevitably going to be the nominee, do you think that she should be considered on the shortlist for vice president?

CARSON: I think the president has the right to consider anyone who he thinks will be beneficial to the cause.

PHILLIP: What about yourself? Would you consider being Trump's V.P.?

CARSON: You know, right now, my concentration is on getting into place the kind of leader who can quell some of the chaos that's going on in many aspects of our society. And until such time as that, as far as I'm concerned, it's a distraction.

PHILLIP: Was that a no, you don't to be vice president ever, no, you're not considering it right now?


CARSON: That's a no. Let's move on to get the person in place. And when that person is in place, then we can talk about that.

PHILLIP: So, Nikki Haley today said that the United States has never been a racist country. Do you agree with that?

CARSON: There certainly has been a lot of racism in the United States. There's no question about that. And we have made enormous progress. But you must recognize that while there were people who were engaged in racist activities, there have also been a large number of people who were just the opposite.

During the time of slavery, there were a large number of abolitionists. There were people of good faith and kind individuals. So, would you take those individuals and say, United States is a kind country because they existed? You could just acknowledge the fact that there were many different types of people, including some very racist people who had very racist policies.

PHILLIP: Would you say though, what she said, which is that America has never been a racist country? CARSON: I will say that there has never been a time when there hadn't

been evil people and racist people in the country, including currently.

PHILLIP: Since Trump, as we've been discussing, has avoided all debates so far, and frankly, a lot of serious policy questions like Ron DeSantis, for example, answered tonight in his town hall, I wonder if you could answer a yes or no to just a few questions here.

Just -- the question here is, would you support Trump doing the following things in his administration if he's elected? So, I'll start with this. A self-pardon for January 6th crimes. Would you support Trump doing that?

CARSON: I think that might be very reasonable.

PHILLIP: And what about internment camps for migrants?

CARSON: I think we need to get to a place where we don't have policies that invite the migrants in and then we don't have to deal with the concept of internment camps, which obviously is not very palatable.

PHILLIP: But Trump has said that he would do that. Would you support his decision to make camps for migrants?

CARSON: Well, they have to have some place to stay. But again, the key thing is to make sure that we have policies in place that don't bring millions of people into our country, jeopardize not only our economy, but our safety because there might be terrorists among them.

PHILLIP: And what about pulling out of NATO? Would you support that?

CARSON: Well, let's put it this way. I think the formation of NATO was a very good idea, and I think it has helped to stem the tide on warfare, particularly in Europe. I think the policies that were put in place, including two percent of your GDP for defense, should be enforced. And if they are not enforced, and if we're expected to carry the entire load ourselves, then we need to look at all possibilities.

PHILLIP: And last one, Dr. Carson, should Trump or would you support Trump prosecuting President Biden?

CARSON: I think in his speech yesterday or the day before that he took a more conciliatory tone and recognizes that the problems that face us right now are enormous and we could spend a lot of time going after people or we could address those problems. I think we've already seen that President Trump is not a highly vindictive individual and that he didn't go after Hillary after he was elected in 2016.

PHILLIP: President Trump -- you're saying President Trump is not a highly vindictive people. He's literally pledged to prosecute his -- to Joe Biden. He said he would do that. He said he would go after people who wronged him.

CARSON: I always have a tendency to look and see what people do, not so much what they say, particularly in the heat of a political environment.

PHILLIP: Trump, Dr. Carson, talks about getting revenge almost every day on social media. I mean, really, just days ago. I mean, should voters not take that seriously? Should voters have to wait until he's actually President to find out if that's going to happen?

CARSON: Most recently, you have heard him say that the things that face us right now are so pressing that he's not going to have time to be vindictive.


PHILLIP: He said he's not going to have time to be a dictator, which is an interesting thing to say. Dr. Ben Carson, thank you.

CARSON: I said to be vindictive.

PHILLIP: To be vindictive, as well. Dr. Ben Carson, thank you very much. And up next, we will speak with a Nikki Haley surrogate, Congressman Ralph Norman, about the next steps in her campaign, as well as the comments that she has made that has made some headlines.



BRIAN KILMEADE, FOX NEWS HOST: Are you a racist party? Are you involved in a racist party?

NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No. We're not a racist country, Brian. We've never been a racist country. Our goal is to make sure that today is better than yesterday. Are we perfect? No. But our goal is to always make sure we try and be more perfect if -- every day that we can.


COATES: Nikki Haley raising some eyebrows after claiming the U.S. has never been a racist country. Her campaign letter affirming her statement later on also saying in part, quote, "America has always had racism, but America has never been a racist country," unquote.

Joining us now, Congressman Ralph Northam of South Carolina.


He has endorsed Nikki Haley for President. Congressman, thank you so much for being here this evening. Of course, this particular statement that has been made is catching a lot of attention. There's been a number of comments made about race and history for the former governor of South Carolina. Here it comes again. Do you believe that the U.S. has never been a racist country?

REP. RALPH NORMAN (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: First of all, it's Norman, Ralph Norman. I've been -- Northam is, I think he's in Virginia. COATES: Oh, I -- you know what, my diction may have been off. My

father's name is Norman. I'm sure I said it right. But maybe it didn't translate there. But I certainly know your name. Go ahead and answer my question. Thank you so much.

NORMAN: Well, no Laura, Nikki is exactly right. Look, in the Declaration of Independence, the preamble, which said, we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal. They are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.

The Civil War was fought 74 years after the Constitution was ratified in 1787. So, there was a faction of Southerners, Southern states that had slaves, but the country as a whole has never been -- racism or never had, you've heard, had certain parts of it, but the Civil War was fought because the Southerners had slaves, and Abraham Lincoln as a country wanted to hold it together based on the Declaration of Independence. So, she is exactly right on that.

COATES: Well, historians and likely all of them would disagree with the assertion that you've made about this being a singular reason for Lincoln's motivation in the Civil War. Some have looked at it for the economic reasons. Others looked at it obviously for the fact that the economic labor force was in fact a people in servitude.

But let me ask you a broader question here, because this question continues to come up and I think it's because the conversation has not yet led to a definitive statement that acknowledges on the one hand, historical truth, on the other hand, a way to address it in contemporary times.

When you look at the reason people are asking the question, it's not for a gotcha, Congressman. It's because I think they're trying to understand what policies would be in play to address some of the historical wrongs. What policies ought there to be?

NORMAN: Look, Laura, you know, you and the media want to try to -- you all beat this horse over so many times to focus on something that happened. You know, like I said, the Civil War was fought 74 years after the Constitution. That group were racist -- that particular group. But you can't cast a country as that.

So, I would take issue with the fact that historically, I'm wrong. I think I'm right. Plus, Nikki Haley, as she's often said, growing up she wasn't black, she wasn't white. And if anybody could say if there was racism, she could say that she was a victim of it, but it wasn't. We're a great country with great people that love freedom.

And the press can try to parse her words all-day long. She's going to take this stance, as well as most Americans are worried about the economy, they're worried about a border that's out of control, crime, and so many other things that she is addressing. Not to beat up something that happened, you know, 160 years ago. It's not right and it's not productive.

COATES: Well, certainly, just as a point of reference, that question that she was answering came from a Fox News host. I know you're talking about the broader media, but naturally, many of the things that have happened in contemporary times, our reflection of historical practice is whether it be aspects of labor or the account economy or housing or immigration or any number of different factors. So, I think it's right to probe into historical context of these things.

But let me ask you about, again, my question was in terms of why you're supporting Nikki Haley and the policies she's putting forth, do you have concerns about her inability to address something that needs to be discussed openly and discussed with a productive, I think the word you used, nature. Are you concerned about her ability to resolve the concerns of those who keep asking the questions?

NORMAN: You know, you can keep asking them -- you can keep focusing on it. It's kind of like the abortion issue that the liberals have always used as a divisive issue. And when the Dobbs decision was rendered, you saw all the ads that said, you know, abortion was done away with. No, it wasn't. It was just taken to the states and let the states decide.

But look, here's why I support Nikki Haley. Number one, she is the only candidate that beats Joe Biden, who has shipwrecked, trainwrecked this economy in double digits. Secondly, you look at what she's focusing on, fixing the problems this country has.


Look, I'm in Congress, I hear it every day, people are worried about their paychecks, they're worried about inflation, they're worried about crime, they're worried about out of control criminals that are coming into this country. They're worried about what's happening in Israel.

And so, that's why I'm supporting Nikki Haley. She's got -- she's looking forward. She's not looking backward. And everyone knows she is a hardworking American who loves this country, and that's what her focus is going to be.

COATES: It's important to point out every aspect you just raised. The American polling all suggests that all the issues you have identified are top of mind. I do wonder, you obviously support her. Iowa, she did not do as strongly as I'm sure her campaign hoped she would do. She came in third. She did later talk about this definitively now being a two-person race, but Governor DeSantis came in second, not her.

There is some momentum, we understand, for New Hampshire, and of course, she'll go to your state after that. Do you have concerns about how she performed in Iowa as an indication of how she might do more broadly against, say, Trump or even Biden if that comes to it?

NORMAN: Laura, in Iowa, she did great. Two points -- two points separated first and second. We had a cold weather. I was out there. I was on the ground.

COATES: But 30 separated first, right? Thirty separated first place from second and third. You have to admit that. NORMAN: That's right. That's exactly right. But the fact is she did

very well. DeSantis pretty well put everything into Iowa, spent $34 million and Nikki Haley is conservative money. She's going to New Hampshire. She's going to South Carolina. You know DeSantis I think has run through his money and one thing Nikki has not done is waste her money.

There is one candidate and you have to admit this that's been on a steady rise -- that's been Nikki Haley. The people like what they see, she connects with people and she's addressing each and every problem that this country's facing now and they're serious. People are scared. And so, Nikki Haley represents our best chance of curing the problems and she can beat Joe Biden as she shows in the polls.

Now, Donald Trump, he is leading. He did -- he did win and she congratulated him. But this is a marathon. It is not a sprint. This is the first, you know, first real test. And I think she did real well. We'll move on to New Hampshire. I think she'll do very well. South Carolina, the same way.

COATES: Well, we will see. Now, I'm going to say this next part very carefully so you don't think I got it wrong. Congressman Ralph Norman, thank you so much for joining me this evening. I appreciate it.

NORMAN: My pleasure. Thank you.

COATES: Thank you. Ahead, a fact-check on the DeSantis town hall.



COATES: Now, you watch what the Governor had to say at his town hall with Wolf Blitzer tonight. Tom Foreman is live with a fact-check for us on what Governor DeSantis had to say this evening. Tom, what did you make of it?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: One of the standard parts of his stump speech is to say that when the pandemic came along, Florida charted a course unlike anybody else. And he said that again tonight.


RON DESANTIS, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We in Florida dragged this country out of lockdown. We made sure schools were open. We made sure businesses were open.


FOREMAN: Like many other states, Florida was trying to chart its course early on in this process, and it came under some criticism for being too lax. But the truth is, under DeSantis, they imposed significant restrictions across the state to stop the spread of COVID on individual businesses, schools, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, nursing homes, and public beaches. Yes, eventually they opened everything up again, but to suggest they never did, that is simply not true. They had restrictions like many other states. They followed the health officials like many other states.

A few days ago, something else happened in New York that seems to be a gift to many people on the conservative right. What they saw was-- what they thought was a case of liberals catering to undocumented immigrants. Look.


DESANTIS: New York City had to close a school. You literally have kids told, don't go to school because they commandeered the school to be able to house illegal aliens. Talk about putting the American people last.


FOREMAN: Well, that sounds like a pretty explosive claim, but here's what happened. Last week, as a big storm approached, they had a camp of undocumented immigrants, a couple thousand of them living in tents. They were worried about the impact of the storm. So, they moved them into a school and they had the students study from home for one day.

Yes, this made a lot of parents angry. People complained about it. But the next day, the immigrants were back in the tents and the students were back in the classroom. For him to imply somehow that the school was taken over and this was some sort of permanent situation is at very least misleading. Laura.

COATES: Very interesting. Tom Foreman, as always, thank you so much for all of that. Now up next, you got a big endorsement from Ted Cruz, who once called Donald Trump a, what was the quote? "A sniveling coward." That's the quote.



COATES: Well tonight, Ron DeSantis tries to use a CNN town hall to do well as the Bee Gees saying, "Stay Alive". Well, actually, "Staying Alive", but that's another story. Good evening, I'm Laura Coates in Washington, D.C.

PHILLIP: And I'm Abby Phillip in New York. Right here on CNN, Ron DeSantis just forcefully went after his two Republican rivals, Nikki Haley and Donald Trump. Now, the former Florida governor says that he is the only one running a campaign that is not a basement campaign. And he calmly and pretty clearly said without qualifications that a vote for Donald Trump in this Republican primary is a vote for a Democrat in the White House in November.


DESANTIS: If Donald Trump is the nominee, the election will revolve around all these legal issues, his trials, perhaps convictions if he goes to trial and loses there and about things like January 6th. We're going to lose if that's the decision that voters are making based on that. We don't want it to be a referendum on those issues.