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CNN Live Event/Special

Trump's Landslide Win in Iowa Caucus, DeSantis at Second and Haley Third; Evangelicals Gives Support to Trump; Iran Launches Missile Strikes on Iraq and Syria; U.S. Owned Ship Hit by Houthi Missile; Nikki Haley Attacks Trump and Biden Heading to New Hampshire; Good Economy Not Felt by Everyone; Fani Willis Undeterred by Controversy; Lawsuits and More Trials Not New for Donald Trump in 2024; Vivek Ramaswamy Gave Up His Presidential Bid. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired January 16, 2024 - 03:00   ET




LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: Well, rumors of Donald Trump's dominance are not greatly exaggerated. Turns out the polls were spot on. And Iowa really, really likes the former president. You're watching CNN special live coverage of the Iowa caucuses. I'm Laura Coates in New York.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: And I'm Abby Phillip in Washington. And it does turn out that the politics of vengeance apparently sells. Just this weekend, Trump told Iowa that 2024 is their chance at victory over all of the liars, cheaters, thugs, fraud and crooks. On Monday night, though, Iowa rewarded him with a record win, despite record low temperatures in that state.

Trump has now put Iowa in the win column, the first of this primary season, and eight years after Ted Cruz beat him there. His win also, again, puts a giant slash in the sails of Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley. DeSantis finished a distant second. Haley, a more distant third. Now both say that they're going to continue on, but neither of them will head to New Hampshire and South Carolina with the wind at their backs.

COATES: Well, Harry Enten is here at the magic wall with more on now the evangelical vote. It's 3:00 a.m. Do you know where the evangelical vote really was?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR WRITER AND ANALYST: So, let's go back in time to 2016, right? And what did we see back then? We saw that in the state of Iowa, this was a huge block for Ted Cruz. My goodness gracious. Donald Trump came in with just 21 percent, this is back in 2016, just 21 percent of that evangelical vote. It was what powered Ted Cruz to victory back in 2016. That was why he won the state of Iowa, is because he did so well with evangelical voters. It was a big reason that Donald Trump failed in the state of Iowa. Let's jump forward to 2024 though. Last night.

COATES: Wow. ENTEN: Hello. Look at this. Look at Donald Trump. Absolutely

cruising. with white evangelicals in the state, easily defeating Ron DeSantis, who of course had the backing of Bob Vander Plaats, right, who's supposed to be this massive get out the vote guy among white evangelicals. Didn't happen, didn't happen. Donald Trump easily won in this block.

And this to me, Laura, is one of the massive changes that we have seen in Donald Trump's base. Back in 2016, his base tended to be, let's say, not evangelical. It was more secular, more in the middle of the party. What we've seen now is that Donald Trump's base has flipped. And what we're seeing now is that Donald Trump is doing much better among the religious right. He did it last night in Iowa and this is something we've seen in national polls throughout.

COATES: Not just that. I mean, look at the other one from 2016. He has higher than even the highest person, 51 percent then, now 53 percent. Does that mean there's a bigger turnout of voters at that point for him?

ENTEN: Yeah. I mean, what we are seeing is that Donald Trump is just crushing.


ENTEN: He's getting a majority, right? This isn't something whereby you're seeing, oh, that vote is split. No, this vote ain't split. This vote is behind Donald Trump. And that is something that has worked for him so well during this campaign. It's something that I think we're going to see going forward. Perhaps not in New Hampshire. Evangelicals aren't that large of a percentage of the vote. But going forward, you know, we talk about South Carolina, where these folks want to go going forward. This is going to be a big block for him there.

COATES: All right, then show me for non-evangelicals because if that's the case, say, in New Hampshire, I wonder if this is going to flip a different direction.

ENTEN: Yeah. So, you know, back in 2016, if you go to the state of Iowa, Donald Trump won among non-evangelicals. He won barely. He got 29 percent of that vote. Marco Rubio came in second place with 26 percent. Ted Cruz, one of the big reasons why Ted Cruz did not succeed outside, really, of the state of Iowa was because he could not do well with non-evangelical voters. And that's, of course, a big chunk of the vote in New Hampshire.

Now, look at what happened in 2024. Donald Trump, 48 percent. So, you know, if you're talking about trying to find a hole in Donald Trump's support, non-evangelicals, this ain't gonna work because if you look at evangelicals, right, he's doing ridiculously well in that block. He's getting 53 percent. If you're looking at non-evangelicals, he's getting 48 percent of the vote in that block.

So, the fact of the matter is, Laura, it doesn't matter where you look on the religious or the non-religious side of the Republican Party, Donald Trump is doing quite well. [03:04:54]

So, if you're trying to find a hole in Donald Trump's support going forward, I'm not exactly sure where you exactly find it because if he's doing well with evangelicals and he's doing well with non- evangelicals, even when the race goes to New Hampshire, even if he's going to face perhaps a tighter race there, he's still likely to do pretty gosh darn well in New Hampshire, a less religious state, more secular than the state of Iowa.

COATES: Well, you know, if you're Nikki Haley, if you're Ron DeSantis, you want to find those holes. But remember, both of them campaigned very heavily in Iowa. I mean, Trump wasn't really running as much as he was walking for president in Iowa compared to them. And look at the numbers nonetheless. That's just surprising.

ENTEN: I think this is the real question going forward as we're looking at the future of the Iowa caucus. If all of a sudden, you're rewarding a candidate like Donald Trump getting basically uniform support, evangelicals, non-evangelicals.

COATES: Right.

ENTEN: And you're not rewarding, say, a candidate like Vivek Ramaswamy, who visited the state pretty much more than anybody else, but could not break through, and now has to drop out of the race.

COATES: Right.

ENTEN: This is no longer 1972 with George McGovern on the Democratic side. It's no longer 1976 with Jimmy Carter on the Democratic side. It turns out going to Iowa doesn't get rewarded by those caucus goers. They were in Donald Trump's camp from the beginning of this campaign, to the middle of this campaign, to the end of this campaign, and you saw that with pretty much uniform support throughout the state of Iowa, no matter you're looking at non-evangelicals or the evangelicals that Iowa is so well known for in its caucuses.

COATES: Imagine all of the fried food they had to eat in Iowa and all for naught.

ENTEN: All for naught, but the truth is Trump likes to get his fried food from KFC and McDonald's anyway, and you can get that pretty much throughout this entire country.

COATES: Well, the Minnesota State Fair is a better food anyway. That's fine. We'll talk about (inaudible). Harry, thank you so much. Go back to Abby. Abby, what are you thinking?

PHILLIPS: Yeah, I mean, look, so many interesting things in there. And maybe you guys hit on the most important thing about it, which is that Trump is doing well with a lot of groups of voters, evangelicals, non-evangelicals, college-educated voters, non-college-educated voters. But when we think about Iowa, the dynamic in Iowa is supposed to be, you know, unique and small and boutique, almost, in a way that it's kind of reveal things about the candidates. Well, what did it really reveal?

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it revealed that the Republican Party and the Republican base is just still very much behind Trump. And I think that's what we expect the other states to reveal. I mean, Iowa for Republicans and the caucus for Republicans is very different than Iowa for Democrats. You know, this, and Kristen, you were just talking about this in the break, and I may take a little bit of it, but basically it is true, though, that Iowa is reflective of the Republican base.

I mean, the voters there, the evangelical voters, non-evangelical voters, all of them, and that is the way the vote -- the base is gonna look when you go to New Hampshire and the way it's still gonna look when you go to South Carolina and Nevada. Democrats have a very different coalition and that's why, you know, the states play out differently for them in the primary and why they also switched their primary around to be more reflective of their base.

KRISTEN SOLTIS-ANDERSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah, I mean, if you look at how many people participated in the Iowa caucuses on the Republican side this time around, it's gonna be just a little over 100,000, which is low, and it's definitely low if you consider that over 900,000 people voted for Donald Trump in the state of Iowa in the general election. So, there are a lot of people, even in the state of Iowa, who might be Republican or Republican-leaning, who nevertheless did not go out in sub-zero temperatures to participate in this.

So, you could argue, okay, well, it's not very representative, right? It's a sliver of a sliver of a sliver, and frankly, presidents Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, and Ted Cruz would all beg to differ that Iowa matters a lot. But the fact of the matter is that Donald Trump's win is so large, and it is so cross-cutting, that it is, in this case, maybe more indicative than it would have been in years past.

And it also is a reason why somebody like a Nikki Haley or Ron DeSantis has to be looking at these cross tabs and thinking, what is my path moving forward? It is much less clear.

PHILLIPS: So, the -- Bob Vander Plaats, the head of the Iowa Family Leader, he came on the show many times and was convinced that evangelicals were looking for an alternative, that they wanted to go somewhere else other than Donald Trump, that there was this fervor. And he, look, he would know, but that didn't happen. So, what is happening with evangelical voters in this?

JANE COASTON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think that there are so many pieces to this, even using the word evangelical. What are we talking about? Because right now, we're actually talking about a cultural group rather than a religious group.


COASTON: You're not hearing people who are evangelical, even sharing the same basic concepts of faith. You're seeing the polling showing that a lot of evangelical, self-described evangelical voters don't go to church very often. And even some of the very precepts of evangelicalism, the idea of evangelizing unto all the nations, that's not what they're there for. I think the great writer Tim Alberta just wrote a great book on his experiences with the evangelical movement in America.


And now he sees it as kind of cultural revanchism. And that is why Trump is so appealing because Trump's appeal is saying there used to be something better and everything is terrible now and he's got a whole host of voters who are saying, we agree.

And so, I'm always struck, I remember back in about 2016, 2017, we heard the same thing from people who were running the Heritage Foundation, running any number of conservative organizations saying, well, we don't understand why people, you know, we think that we understand the people who are underneath us. We think that we understand the people who vote for us or come to our events. And they didn't.

And I feel like this is what we're seeing once again, is that you might think that you know the people who are coming to your church events or even the people who you're surrounded by, but they're not voting for who you think they should be voting for.

PHILLIPS: And this is obviously a warning sign, Mark, for Ron DeSantis, who in the last couple of weeks I noticed he was talking about the family, restoring family values, et cetera, trying to take this endorsement from the evangelicals and make it into something. Is it going to work after Iowa now that he's had the result he had tonight?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think it even goes beyond Ron DeSantis, because I do think that the Republican Party at this time, at this point in time, we're talking eight years now of Trump, and you could argue that Trump really came in 2012 because he kind of toyed with running for president and would show up at these big political rallies. There would be a big buzz around him.

But you got to wonder at this point, do the likes of Ron DeSantis or Nikki Haley or anybody who potentially could be a traditional Republican is really better off running in a Republican primary and allowing this MAGA party to break off because I just don't know how the Republican Party survives going forward in the next decade without having this incredible influence from MAGA.

And you've got to figure that a third of Republicans don't like Donald Trump. I mean, like, you know, they tend to be a little bit more moderate, perhaps a little bit more liberal, perhaps come from urban areas. But you've just got to wonder, can this party survive?

BARRON-LOPEZ: If I could just add something on the evangelical voters. One thing that was striking is that, yes, like you said Abby, though evangelical leaders in Iowa backed Ron DeSantis, but the evangelical voters didn't follow those leaders and didn't -- they went for Trump. And I was talking to this evangelical pastor in Texas just a few weeks

ago who said that he's really fearful because more and more his congregation is becoming radicalized. They're believing in conspiracy theories more. They're scaring off young pastors. They can't keep young pastors working because they don't want to be -- they feel like they can't actually have a strong dialogue with their congregants anymore.

And that congregants are now telling their pastors that they want them to take political stances when they're up there giving sermons and worshipping. And that these pastors are like, this is not the way I've led my church for so long. And so, you're seeing, as Jane said, this big cultural shift amongst evangelical voters.

PHILLIPS: Yeah, evangelicalism and Trumpism in some ways merging in some corners of the Republican Party. I want to introduce now my next guest, Sabine Martin. She's the executive editor of the Daily Iowan at the University of Iowa, and they have been covering this election on the ground all night long. So Sabine, what did you guys see tonight on your campus and this result that we all saw, a blowout wins for Donald Trump? Is it what you expected?

SABINE MARTIN, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE DAILY IOWAN: Yeah, I think that we definitely expected Trump to win tonight. We had our reporters ready knowing that. But on campus, it was pretty quiet today because of the winter storms and classes being canceled tomorrow. We really didn't see the kind of buzz that we've seen in previous elections and even in previous caucuses.

PHILLIPS: How did that affect the result at the caucuses that were on your campus? The students who did show up, who were they caucusing for?

MARTIN: We definitely saw mostly Republican students who were there, many who were there for, as Trump's precinct captains, and they were there for volunteering purposes. But even that, we just -- a reporter who was there saw about 15 students in our memorial, in our student union today. So, definitely fewer students than we expected. And it was really interesting to see play out. And I think we expected that because of the weather issues, definitely.

PHILLIPS: Yeah, that's interesting to suggest perhaps the Trump campaign was kind of organized enough to get their precinct captains out there. So, our entrance polls tonight showed that Donald Trump actually improved his performance this cycle among college educated voters compared to 2016.


What do you think the campaign did differently? Did you notice anything on campuses that suggests that their ground game improved as well?

MARTIN: Yeah, I mean, Trump appeared at our football games this semester. He appeared in towns next to our campus. And I think that overall, his personality and messaging is super appealing to conservative young voters. And I think that, you know, there were some other conservative candidates who definitely piqued interest and did college campus tours this semester. But I think overall, most of the conservative voters still are sticking to Trump and it obviously showed in the results tonight.

PHILLIPS: So, you're in Johnson County. That's that one county that we were just showing the map. All of Iowa is running except for Johnson County. Nikki Haley did pretty well there that night, even if it's only by one vote as of a few hours ago. What did the voters tell you about perhaps why she was so appealing to them?

MARTIN: Yeah, we had one voter tell one of our reporters tonight that they just really like her energy and they're wanting something different than what Trump offers. Granted, many of the people who still voted for or caucused for Haley tonight, they still said that they plan on voting for Trump in the presidential election.

So, I think that this was an attempt to try to see if they could vote someone in that is new or get an idea if that's possible. But I think the people who voted for Nikki Haley are still, you know, strong Trump supporters as well.

PHILLIPS: That's an interesting observation there. Sabine Martin, thank you very much for joining us bright in early in the morning or late at night, whichever one you want to describe it.

MARTIN: Thank you. Thank you so much.

PHILLIPS: And up next, on to New Hampshire. See how Nikki Haley is already going after Trump and Biden simultaneously.

Plus, noteworthy comments about the economy from the Bank of America CEO. CNN's special live coverage continues.

ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN HOST: Hello everyone. I'm Rosemary Church. We will get back to CNN's live coverage of the Iowa caucuses in just a moment. But first we do want to get you caught up on some international headlines. Kurdish officials in northern Iraq reported at least four people have been killed by Iranian missile strikes.

This happened in the city of Erbil, where Iran claims are targeted and destroyed a spy base for Israel's Mossad. Iran also fired missiles or terror groups in northern Syria, which it says were involved in the recent bombings in Kerman near the grave of slain commander, Qasem Soleimani.

Meantime, Houthi militants in Yemen as sending a clear warning to anyone planning to launch an attack on the country. It comes after they claimed responsibility for attacking an American vessel in the Gulf of Aden on Monday. U.S. officials say an anti-ship ballistic missiles struck a bulk carrier causing minor damage. CNN's Paula Hancocks joins me now. So, Paula, what more you learning about this?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Rosemary, this is certainly concerning those in the region that this could spark that widening conflict that we have talked about frequently. So once again, we are seeing attacks in Iraq, which Iraqi officials are saying blatantly violates their sovereignty. This time though it was the Iranian Revolutionary Guard which launched the missile against what they claim was one of the main espionages at headquarters of Israel in Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous region, Kurdistan region.

Now, we have asked the Israeli prime minister's office about this. We have not had any response at this point, but the Iranian side does say that this was in retaliation to what they had seen, which was attacks by Israelis against Iranian Revolutionary Guard commanders. Now also, there was another attack overnight by around this time, as you say, in Syria. This one, we understand from the Iranian side was targeting anti-Iran terror groups.

And they say specifically it was related to those deadly twin bombings which took place in Kerman just a couple of weeks ago. Dozens of people were killed in those attacks. They were claimed by ISIS at the time. And then in another area we are of the Middle East, which is raising concerns of increased tensions. This time the Houthi rebel groups say that they did launched more missiles into the Red Sea and we understand that a U.S. owned vessel was hit at this point.


As far as we know, this is the first time that a U.S. owned or a U.S. operated vessel has been hit in the Red Sea. We understand there were no casualties, some damage to the ship itself. But the Houthi forces have vowed future attacks as well against the U.S. and U.K. assets. Rosemary?

CHURCH: All right, our thanks to Paula Hancocks for that live report. And thank you for watching. I'm Rosemary Church. We return now to our live coverage of the Iowa caucuses.

COATES: Well, Nikki Haley is out with a new ad with her sight set on New Hampshire after her third-place finish in Iowa. She is turning up the heat against both President Biden and Donald Trump.


UNKNOWN: The two most disliked politicians in America, Trump and Biden, both are consumed by chaos, negativity and grievances of the past. The better choice for a better America, Nikki Haley.


COATES: Let's talk to our panel now. She didn't, of course, go at Trump that hard during the primary, I mean, before the Iowa caucuses. Now she's trying to lump them both together. Is this the right strategy?

GEOFF DUNCAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, this should have been the strategy right out of the gates, right? I mean, I think the two things that all Republicans agree on, or at least the one thing, is Joe Biden is not the right president for this country. Seventy percent of Americans don't want either one, Joe Biden or Donald Trump. And so that should have been the strategy right out of the gates. I worry -- COATES: But why wasn't it?

DUNCAN: Well, I think it was a fundamental mistake. It's Republicans' problem going on right now, is nobody wants to call honest balls and strikes on Donald Trump. They feel like they don't want to walk in a room and be booed. Chris Christie did it, and we saw what that shelf life looked like, right? There was a very low ceiling. I do think we missed our chance. We knew what we were going to get when we broke apart and had multiple candidates trying to raise money and throw mud at each other.

If we would have been more disciplined and got behind one, maybe two candidates or at least stay focused on Joe Biden as the message and figure out who has enough lightning in a bottle, we would be in a much better shape than we are right now.

COATES: Who has lightning in a bottle?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Donald Trump. Donald Trump has a lot of lightning in the bottle. And look, he is going to use that heading into New Hampshire. Look, I will say this for Nikki Haley, she's got two words in her favor in New Hampshire, Governor Sununu. He has been a tremendous surrogate for her. He has been out there advocating for her and the fact that he did not support Donald Trump speaks volumes on obviously what he thinks about Trump.

And he's going to position her in New Hampshire as someone that is really representative of the live free or die state that is about limited government, individual responsibility, reducing taxes. So, he's going to put her in a good position to do well in New Hampshire. I think clearly, it's not a bad play for her to lump Trump and Biden together and going after them, but for her to come out of the Iowa caucus and say, right now, does the head-to-head matchup with Donald Trump, that's a little wishful thinking.

But I think in terms of messaging moving forward, it's not bad to lump Trump and Biden together and use her message of positive, optimistic vision for the future against them because they're not popular. People don't want a rematch.

COATES: I mean, she spent so much time, though, before this talking about DeSantis, as if he, you know, was the person that she had to beat more than Trump. And now it's Trump and Biden. What do you think?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, I think she just grabbed the wrong speech when she was giving it tonight. She was like, yeah, there are two tickets out. I was like, uh, Governor, you didn't come in second place. Let's slow down.

COATES: But she had that one yellow spot on the red map.

SELLERS: Yeah, well --

COATES: That was it.

SELLERS: -- by one vote, yeah. No, I think that -- Geoff and I were talking about this earlier. I think, I don't even know if the cameras were rolling, we were talking about it, some of the best conversations happen when they're not. But the way to attack Donald Trump is not necessarily policy driven. It's definitely not abortion like Ron DeSantis. I mean, you can't attack the person who eliminated Roe v. Wade, you know, in a full-frontal attack.

I think the way to attack him is a lot like Barack Obama did. Hillary Clinton and others in 2008. It's not a policy-specific attack, but it's larger thematically. And that's what this ad does. It's a change type of election. Nobody's figured out how to attack Donald Trump. The attack is what she's doing in this ad. It is, let's change the direction of this country, change the direction of the party.

If you're going to have any hope to beat him, you're not going to beat him on immigration. You're not going to beat him on being more racist or xenophobic or whatever it is. You're not going to out abortion him.


You have to have these larger thematic issues. And that's finally what she's doing with this ad, lumping them in with Joe Biden, having black and white screens, having these scowls on their face, making them look 85 years old, both of them, and saying, look --

DUNCAN: They're not?

SELLERS: Do not be ageist.

COATES: Well, she did mention his age today in her speech, by the way. And also, I mean, this is now saying, aren't you guys tired of this? It's the status quo argument. Is that enough when you're trying to be the president of the United States?

ASHLEY ALLISON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Maybe. I guess it takes a long time for a message to get traction. New Hampshire is now in a week. You need a little longer than a week for a message against Donald Trump to really take root. And so, they tried the strategy of not attacking Donald Trump this whole campaign.

After, I don't know, when you announced eight months ago, 10 months ago, after like your third month when you're still like being pummeled by 30 points, that's when you change a message strategy. Not five days after you've just come in third place. That's playing to lose. And they can -- Ron DeSantis is playing to lose and Nikki Haley is playing to lose in this election cycle.

I think there is something to be said about whether or not they are also perhaps playing to win in four years because it was a foregone conclusion, almost no one could beat Donald Trump. The only -- I'll give them a little bit of a pass is, it's also really hard, I mean, like you said, Geoff, Chris Christie tried the attack. It's really hard when you're the only person attacking.

The whole party has to attack Donald Trump, but none of them will, instead they just fall in line because they are being cowards.

SELLERS: I don't like this Asa Hutchinson erasure going on tonight. We have not discussed Asa Hutchinson one time.

UNKNOWN: Oh, but --

COATES: Okay, let's discuss Asa Hutchinson.

SELLERS: Harry has -- Harry had him on the magic board over there. He had zero, but he was still there. He fought a good fight, guys. And he did a full-frontal attack.

ALLISON: He did.

COATES: He's still in the race, by the way. He hasn't actually said he's not in the race. But I mean, to your point, though, you're asking to be the president of the United States. Are you really that afraid of getting booed in a room when you walk in? Is that the way the criteria to say, you know what, oops, I don't want that to happen? I mean, I would think if you're going to ask me the quote, unquote, as we call the person, "the leader of the free world," shouldn't one have thick enough skin to take that?

STEWART: Well, and I think we got an interesting cross tab out of the entry poll tonight where we had six or seven in 10 of the base Republican voters think that Donald Trump would be fit for president even if he were convicted. That means about 32 percent of base Republican voters do not think he would be fit to run for office if convicted, which means the larger field of independent and soft Republican or Democrat voters would really think that the president would not be fit for office if he were convicted.

I think that is a message that they could take to the bank in terms of Trump is not a good general election candidate based on that cross tab alone.

ALLISON: But it's too late. Don't you think?

STEWART: I mean, here's the thing is she's got -- she's got plenty of money.

COATES: Too late for who?

ALLISON: Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis.

STEWART: -- got plenty of money and it's clearly a message that can resonate. Maybe too late, but it's certainly one that we're learning as a way to reach out to Republicans and those independent voters.

DUNCAN: She still has the best chance to beat Donald Trump, although that chance got exponentially harder. The winning strategy would have been for us to sing the same chorus, and whoever was the best singer was the one to go. And the course should have been Donald Trump is not fit to be president --


DUNCAN: Even as a Republican.

COATES: Well, Bakari Sellers has the best voice here. So, do you want to do a couple notes right now?

SELLERS: Change.

COATES: Oh my god.

SELLERS: What? I was --

COATES: Keep going. No, no, no.

SELLERS: No, I mean, this is (inaudible). Thank you. A little doo-wop back there.

COATES: I mean, if you'd like to.

SELLERS: I was going to sing a change is going to come.


SELLERS: So, don't worry, we'll do it on the next one.

COATES: All right, we got some Sam Cooke happening. Oh, okay. He has to clear his throat.

SELLERS: That's a little chilly.

COATES: It's a little bit chilly in the studio that's why Bakari can't sing right now. Okay, next, as voters in Iowa say the economy is a top issue in this election, interesting comments tonight from the head of Bank of America. We'll talk about it.



PHILLIP: And welcome back to CNN special coverage of the Iowa caucuses. And if you're just joining us, Donald Trump has won the Iowa caucuses, breaking 50 percent.

CNN is also projecting that Ron DeSantis will be second place. Nikki Haley is not far behind him in third.

Meantime, the Bank of America CEO is praising the strength of the United States' economy tonight. Brian Moynihan telling our Richard Quest at the World Economic Forum in Davos that Americans are making a lot of money and unemployment is low. However, Moynihan, he did acknowledge that inflation is still an issue hitting Americans' pocketbooks.

Now, CNN's election poll, entrance poll tonight, shows that 38 percent of Iowa caucus voters say that it's the economy that is the most important issue to them in the country today.

For Republican voters, certainly, not only is the economy important, but they are pretty convinced that the economy is not what Brian Moynihan says. They're convinced that the economy is terrible. KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, and it's not

just Republican voters that are convinced the economy is terrible. This is one of the big rationales for, hey, let's go with Donald Trump, is that there is a belief that he is probably the best among all of the Republican candidates to handle the economy.

And there's a belief among voters in the center, the economy is not doing well. And when you have something like, a CEO at Davos who probably arrived there on a private jet. This is like catnip for a very populist Republican Party to say, yes, I'm sure you think the economy is good, sir, but I don't feel that way and voters don't feel that way.

And for all that economists for the last couple of months have been saying, hey, we're not going to have a recession. Hey, it's looking better. We have not yet begun to see big shifts in polls showing that voters are in agreement.

Could change by November, but right now that's not what they're feeling.


JANE COASTON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: But what I keep thinking about is if Donald Trump were president right now, he would be blaring in big letters that Bank of America thinks that the economy is really good.

Do you remember how he used to tweet all the time about the stock market as if he were like personally in charge of the make stocks go up button? Like it seems to me that if Republicans were in charge of the White House right now, they would be talking about how the economy is awesome. And why is everybody complaining so much?

PHILLIP: Well, you know what? The economy is doing actually pretty well.


PHILLIP: Look, people are not feeling it, but the numbers are what he says they are.


PHILLIP: Unemployment is low, inflation is coming down, people's wages are going up, and also, the numbers show us partisanship is part of this equation too.

BARRON-LOPEZ: That is. And also, I mean, we may this year see interest rates start to go down. Also, about a year or so ago, everyone was screaming that we were going to enter a recession, and so far, we haven't entered a recession. And so, of course, President Biden is hoping that there's a soft landing there, all the way up to the election.

Now, when I talk to Democrats, look, they say that they are worried about voters' perceptions, and right now, for some reason, they don't really understand why. But Democratic voters, in addition to voters in the middle, are not connecting these good economic indicators or even the wages that they're seeing increase with President Biden. They're not seeing it with his actions.

And specifically, even on things like insulin prices for Medicare recipients have gone down. Seniors are a huge swath of the coalition for Biden that are pretty key to him in certain battleground states.

And for some reason, Biden is not getting the credit for it. Now they do think though, Democrats think that there is enough time between now and November, especially as the Republican nominee is determined and they are betting that it's going to be Trump, that they can show voters, look at what was done and the economy is better than you were feeling.

PHILLIP: So, Trump recently, Mark said, that he hopes that if there is an economic crash that happens before he's president so that he doesn't get blamed for it, or whatever he means by that. But it also strikes me that if Trump were president, you know, the day, the day that he becomes president and the economy is effectively the same as it is right now, what would he be doing?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You're talking about how great it is at the Bank of America. A gentleman, which, Davos, was just saying some really, really nice things.

You know, I don't think we're taking into consideration, right, the pent-up anger over the past few years where we are at this point and people aren't feeling it. You're right, inflation is going down, but it's not trickling down fast enough.

PHILLIP: And prices are still actually high.

PRESTON: And prices are so high right now. I mean, it shocks me to go out to the grocery store and look at the prices sometimes. And I just think to myself, wow, there are people struggling right now to decide about how they're going to be able to feed their children.

So I think there are some tangible, there's some real tangible belief that the economy is not getting better and folks are really feeling it. And then I do think there's pent-up anger from folks who aren't necessarily feeling it. But they want to be angry about it. And they want to be angry at Washington. And it's kind of understandable why they're angry at Washington. But, yet, they don't want to embrace the truth. And again, that brings us right back to MAGA win.

ANDERSON: And it's so hard to message your way out of this, right? Because on the one hand, you don't want to tell voters, I know you feel bad, but you're wrong.


ANDERSON: That's not a good message. But also, I know you feel bad. And yes, it's bad. I feel your pain. That's also a very perilous message for an incumbent. So, the reality is, people have to feel it. Now, if they do feel it, this is the real gamble Republicans are

taking by nominating Donald Trump, is that he's got so much other baggage. The one thing he has going for him is that voters in the middle are like, yes, he's bad in all these ways, but I think he might be good on the economy. If suddenly the economy is less salient because people feel like it's good, that is lights out for us.

PRESTON: Well, and right now he has 10 points. He has a 10-point advantage over Joe Biden on the economy.

PHILLIP: Yes. That's going to be a problem and the White House knows it. Everyone, stick around for us. We're going to talk about Fani Willis defending her record as Trump and his co-defendants attack her alleged romantic relationship with one of her prosecutors.

This is CNN's special live coverage.



LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: Well, Donald Trump's very busy calendar is only going to get a whole lot busier in the next few weeks. Why? Not just on the campaign trail, but also all the courtroom action.

Harry Enten has more on this conflict. Look at this schedule. It's coming up for the former president of the United States.

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER AND ANALYST: This schedule is jam-packed. Donald Trump is not going to have a boring 2024. And I don't think the folks covering him are going to have one either. I mean, look, where are we right now? We're on the 16th. We have the E. Jean Carroll defamation trial.

But let's take a look at the actual crimes Trump may have committed, and those trials are coming up. The election subversion trial set to begin on March 4th, that is right before Super Tuesday. There is no way that any of these trials, whether it be that one, whether it be the classified documents, whether it be the Fulton County prosecutors, whether it be the Stormy Daniel hush money trial starts, none of these are going to be completed by the time we actually get to the end of this Republican cycle.

Because the fact is Trump has already won in Iowa, he may win in New Hampshire, he's likely to win in South Carolina, and in Super Tuesday, this race may already be over, Laura, but here's the thing to keep in mind, right? We have spoken about this before. This, I think, is the massive takeaway. I'm not even sure it would matter in Republican primary because Trump fit for the presidency if he's convicted of a crime.


This was among the Iowa caucus goers. Look at that, 63 percent said yes, he would still be fit for the presidency. One little nugget though that I will note, that is among the general electorate in swing state polling, Trump was leading Biden by three points.

But if you look at that same polling and you said, OK, if Trump is convicted by a crime, you know how much Biden leads by? Biden leads by nine. So just because something is holding on the Republican side of the aisle, it doesn't mean it's going to hold to the general electorate.

Trump may be golden in Republicans, but turning to those in the middle, he might not be given these trials coming up.

COATES: Really important to look at all this. I mean, just thinking about all the things that are going to collide. And of course, that's the Supreme Court has to weigh in on immunity, issues surrounding whether he, in fact, I wonder if Nikki Haley and Governor Ron DeSantis are actually going to have a bit of a side, what's his phrase? Waiting in the wings to figure out if they're actually going to be able to go and become the president if somehow, he goes to prison, which is a really big if.

Thank you so much. I think far less than a denial though. From the woman who is in charge of prosecuting Donald Trump in the state of Georgia. Fulton County D.A. Fani Willis chose a historic black church as the setting to fend off accusations.

The crux of what she's saying? Well, some say that she made a mistake by hiring a man by the name of Nathan Wade, an outside lawyer, to lead the racketeering case against the former president.


FANI WILLIS, DISTRICT ATTORNEY, FULTON COUNTY: I appointed three special counsels as is my right to do, pay them all the same hourly rate. They only attack one. Is it that some will never see a black man as qualified, no matter his achievements? What more can one achieve? The other two have never been judges, but no one questions their credentials.


COATES: Now, what was left unsaid there is that she and Wade are alleged to have been involved in a now years-long romantic affair.

Let's talk to our panel right now, because of course, as you know, this is but one of the many trials he's facing. The Georgia case is a unpardonable offense at the federal level, obviously, as a state-run case. This is really kind of a lot of scrutiny on an already magnified case. What do you make of this?

GEOFF DUNCAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I can't believe a pulpit is the best place to have that conversation with the public, but so be it. It happened. I think for me, it's not, I was listening for what she said. It's what she didn't say. She didn't really walk away from and deny the overall story to it.

If so, I'm not an attorney, I don't know what's legal and ethical and whatnot in between it, but it just doesn't seem right. And for me, it really brings concern because there's a lot of really serious questions that have to be contemplated in this Fulton County case.

There's a lot of people's lives that have been train wrecked. There's a lot of people being bankrupted with their legal fees, maybe rightfully so. Maybe they were -- justice needs to be served. But this all seems to be a side issue. And for me, that's just unfortunate.

If you give Donald Trump an inch, he takes a mile. And this is like giving him a foot to put his, to just sow seeds of doubt.

ASHLEY ALLISON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I mean, when you look at the calendar, if this primary race even goes to Super Tuesday, what we have seen is that the court cases really do give Donald Trump a second platform to campaign on.

And if this is, if the Republican primary is over, let's say after South Carolina, before it gets to Super Tuesday, all the cases that come up will just be Donald Trump saying, crooked Joe Biden and his Department of Justice, they're attacking me and use as like fodder to really rile up his base, which will be an important part for him to win, to be able to win in the general election.

I don't know all the specifics of the Fani Willis case in terms of hiring the special counsel. But you don't want to have unforced errors, and this seems to be bringing unnecessary attention to a case that is already complicated and is super important.

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think one of the things about Jack Smith that people are having some trouble with is that he doesn't speak.


SELLERS: Like, Jack Smith is doing things, he's letting his filing speak, he's letting the four corners of documents speak, some stronger than others. He is using the court to be his megaphone.

And what we have in Atlanta, first of all, I've said this, Atlanta is not a real place. And so this chaos that's surrounding this investigation is, sounds like Atlanta. But I don't think it has anything to do with the charges that undergird the indictment.

That doesn't mean that it's not going to cloud it. That doesn't mean that it's not an unforced error. That doesn't mean that it's something that neither of them should have done.

I don't know the facts of the case, but what I will say is that when you're doing something like this, particularly as, and I know what she was saying in the pulpit, but particularly as a black person --

ALLISON: That's right.

SELLERS: -- and a black woman, you can't even give the hint of impropriety, right? Because it's going to be scrutinized even that much more and you can't play in the gray area, which I'm afraid they may have done. With all that being said, we saw how long it took for them in Georgia

to bring Young Thug to trial, right, in YSL, it took them eight months, nine months to pick a jury. This isn't going to happen before the election. I know they're trying to do August, but this cannot happen before the election.


And so, Jack Smith is going to get his day in court and Donald Trump likely, Jeff will be casting his ballot for Donald Trump and he'll be guilty.

UNKNOWN: I made that pretty public.

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think to say this might have a hint of impropriety is pretty unlikely. And we've talked about this before. The Atlanta Journal Constitution has an opinion piece on this, talking about this case, he says, boy, this one stinks like fish left out for hours in the car trunk in July.

Talking about the questions of impropriety with regard to this case here. And look, what this does, this just further plays into Donald Trump's hands that there are prosecutors and there are liberal justices and there are people in the judicial system and the legal system that are out to get him.

They have conflicts of interest. There are questions of their character, questions of impropriety. This just plays into Donald Trump's hands, having all of this. And what this does is actually says, he is using all of these court cases and these legal opportunities to continue to campaign as a victim.

And at least in the Republican primary, people are buying into it. They're saying, Donald Trump is a victim of overzealous prosecution. He is being, there's a criminalization of the justice system. And thankfully, he is out there taking it because if they weren't going after him, they would go after me.

That's what his people believe. That's what he's telling them. It's going to be a different story. We're going to get to the general election if he were to be the one. But right now, it doesn't hurt him in the primary.

COATES: Well, I got to tell you, as a trial attorney, the concern you have is whether your jury thinks less of the prosecutor bringing the case or not. Is your jury going to look at this and say, this is somebody that I can't trust, or will they give the benefit out that the government has enough in their arsenal to go after the people at the other end of Georgia versus.

That's where it comes into play. Whether it impacts that, we'll have to wait and see. The public opinion, though, will speak very loudly.

Next, CNN was in a room full of New Hampshire voters as the Iowa results came in. We'll see what happens.



PHILLIP: Vivek Ramaswamy dropping out of the race tonight and immediately endorsing Donald Trump for the White House.


VIVEK RAMASWAMY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Earlier tonight, I called Donald Trump to tell him that I congratulated him on his victory. And now going forward, he will have my full endorsement for the presidency. And I think we're going to do the right thing for this country.


PHILLIP: Now keep in mind, Ramaswamy clung closely to Trump throughout this campaign, vowing to support him. Even if he was convicted of felonies. But two days before the Iowa caucuses, Trump's campaign turned on him, calling Ramaswamy a fraud and telling voters to reject him at the caucuses.

And next, President Biden responds to Donald Trump's win in Iowa, including a big hint on a strategy for the general election.