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CNN Flash Poll Results on Tonight's CNN Debate; Breaking Down the Debate Performance. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired June 28, 2024 - 00:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: It is midnight here in Atlanta. The start already of a new day, a long night, long days ahead of soul searching, coming for the Democratic Party.


The questions began just moments into the debate, first about President Biden's performance, and now within the party about his candidacy. Now that said, there is a lot we don't know about the impact of tonight.

And John King earlier tonight said Joe Biden lost the debate, but I don't know if Donald Trump won the debate. And it takes a little bit of time and perspective to start to look at that other side of the equation.

But we do have a first and very early first read. Things can change. First read of history. CNN political director David Chalian joins us now with the results of the flash polling tonight.

So walk us through it.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes. So Erin, I first want to just stress everyone. This is a poll of debate watchers. So this is not necessarily representative of the electorate overall, although I will say as a partisan makeup, these debate watchers do pretty much look like registered voters; maybe about four or five percentage points more Republican than the usual universe of registered voters. So just keep that in mind as you see these results. That little bit of shift won't make a difference here.

Look at the big question of the night. Who won the debate, we asked debate watchers in our instant poll. And the answer is a resounding Donald Trump did. Sixty-seven percent of debate watchers in our poll say Donald Trump won the debate tonight. Joe Biden, 33 percent say he won the debate tonight.

Now, this group of debate watchers, they told us who they thought would win the debate going into it before the debate. And take a look at how that changed over time. Fifty-five percent thought before the debate that Donald Trump would win the debate; 45 percent thought Joe Biden would win the debate.

Look at what the debate did to those expectations. That's when, you know, Donald Trump did much better than expected. Joe Biden did worse than expected among this group.

And compare this to these two men debating four years ago. That's not always a comparison we have, obviously. The rematch is pretty unique. And so take a look at the complete reversal.

Again, that top line and there's the debate tonight, 67 percent say Trump won, 33 percent said Biden.

The next line is the second debate in 2020, where Biden won there by about 14 percentage points, 53-39 in our instant poll that night.

This looks a little bit more like the first debate. Chris Wallace moderated. Sixty-six percent, Joe Biden won that debate that night, 28 percent said Donald Trump won the debate that night.

You can see how this night is a complete reversal of that one.

And then take a look at this question we asked. Do you have confidence in the candidate's ability to lead the country? Confidence in ability to lead the country. Fourteen percent said they have a lot of confidence in Biden; 36 percent of debate watchers say they have a lot of confidence in Trump.

Neither of those numbers are stellar, by the way.

You see 29 percent say some for Biden, 20 percent Trump.

But here, a majority of debate watchers, 57 percent, say no confidence in Joe Biden's ability to lead the country; 44 percent -- again, that is not a great number. That is a healthy plurality here in terms of Trump's numbers, say no ability to lead the country, no confidence in his ability to lead the coverage [SIC].

But again --


CHALIAN: -- look at that. A majority say Joe Biden, they're not confident he can lead the country.

BURNETT: I will say, when you look at the initial screen that David just shared with us, Trump won 67, Biden 33 percent, that's not what we're hearing out there. It's not what we're seeing on social media.


I mean, that's a resounding loss, but it's not 100 to zero, which is what.

AUDIE CORNISH: But remember we didn't go in--

BURNETT: -- we're hearing punditry.

LASTNAME: -- thinking about a high bar. We went in thinking about low bars. And in terms of, like, meeting expectations, exceeding expectations. In that scenario, the former president certainly earned a win.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, I mean, we came into this debate where President Biden and the White House knew this.

This is why he was at Camp David with his aides for the last week preparing for this. They knew he needed to be able to quiet concerns about his age and his ability to lead another four years.

It's not just that he's president right now. He's asking voters for another term. And that was how Dana phrased the question tonight, that you would be 86 at the end of a second term if he were reelected.

And instead, they're walking out of this with those questions only raised and being raised at the top levels of the Democratic Party.

And the vice president defending his performance to Anderson, acknowledging that, yes, it was a slow start, though it was also a pretty difficult end, as well, if you watched his closing statement, compared to his closing statement that he delivered during the Chris Wallace debate, which I watched truly this morning. It was a very strong closing statement.

In this one, he didn't even mention the word "abortion." And it makes all the talk of Republicans this week, including President Trump, saying that Biden was going to be on cocaine, and other Republicans claiming that he was going to be on performance-enhancing drugs seem quite quaint when -- when you look at what the conversation is now.

CHRIS WALLACE, CNN ANCHOR: I also don't think that you can make too much of the fact that 33 percent said Biden won the debate. There's a certain number of people who just either like Biden or hate Trump, and they're never going to say that Trump won the debate. So I think that's a kind of just -- I don't think that's a reflection of the way they viewed the debate. It's a reflection --

BURNETT: What their vote is.

WALLACE: -- of what they feel about the two candidates.

BURNETT: OK. What about the other point, though? What David just laid out. So when you look at the first debate in 2020, that it literally is exactly what we saw, but -- but different in terms of who was on top.

So 60 percent say Biden won; 28 percent said Trump. So this time its 67 percent Trump, 33 percent Biden.

OK, so those numbers do look the same. So then there's some Democrats who may seize on that, Chris, and say, well, another debate could turn this around.

But this is a different situation, right? Because it's about age.

WALLACE: Age and competence and acuity and the ability to do the job and the ability to do the job for four and a half more years. I mean, this speaks to the biggest question that people have about Joe Biden. And --




WALLACE: All of the Republicans are together.

BURNETT: They're all going behind you.

COLLINS: The second debate's not until the end of September, and it's not even guaranteed that it'll happen.

I think, obviously, the Biden team will certainly want another crack at this. As you heard Kate Bedingfield earlier, and the vice president saying it was a onetime performance talking about, you know, what every single day looks like. I think it's an open question for the Trump campaign.

And also, it's three months away. I mean, this is going to be the lasting impression in voters' minds for at least the next three months.

BURNETT: So David, how does this play into the decision of the next debate? What I thought was interesting, just talking to Senator Rubio, you would've thought it would've been in his interest to say, OK, we're done. We don't need more debates. Certainly in Trump's.

It's not what he said. He actually said he wants there to be another debate. There is scheduled to be another debate.

CHALIAN: Yes. So I think we should -- it is already accepted. It's an accepted invitation. So for President Biden to pull out of that debate -- and again, he's got a summer to get through --

BURNETT: Or Trump could pull out of it, say I don't need it.

CHALIAN: Well, I -- I highly doubt that. I think Trump's -- I think Trump will walk away thinking tonight served them well. He wanted more debates than the two that they agreed to. So I don't see any -- necessarily any change from Trump coming.

He enjoys the ability to get that -- command that kind of attention.

I do -- I do think, though, the notion that Joe Biden may not want to participate in a second debate tonight becomes trickier and a part of this larger conversation of the path forward for the Biden candidacy from here. They have a summer to get through.

They're now going to have weeks of Democratic hand-wringing and concern that we've been talking about and hearing about. Then they're going to have to get through the convention, should he stay, indeed, as the nominee. And there's no reason at this moment to think that he's not. We'll see what happens there.

And then, on the other side of still yet another test for him, his convention speech and the like, that this will be a conversation piece. And then head into that debate to kick off the voting season.

Remember, that debate on September 10, that is right up against when people --

BURNETT: Early voting, yes.

CHALIAN: Early voting. And so that that would be a big, big move, if he's going to remain the nominee, to pull out of a debate then.

BURNETT: All right. All stay with us. Next, we're going to go to the battleground state of Michigan, where a focus group of voters watched the debate, is standing by with our Laura Coates. They started the night undecided. So let's see what they're telling Laura about how they feel now.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: However this election plays out, like the last one, it will be decided in just a handful of swing states. Right now, a quick look at what undecided voters in one of those states, Michigan, thought of what they saw and heard tonight.

CNN's Laura Coates watched the debate with them; joins us now from Warren, Michigan. Laura, how was it?

LAURA COATES, CNN ANCHOR: Anderson, we're right outside of Detroit in Macomb County at Macomb Community College. It's a really important moment, because as you well know, this is a very important swing state. It went for Trump. Then it went for Biden.

But here in Macomb County, there -- the votes actually went for Trump. And we were sitting with undecided voters to figure out what they were thinking. We got the reactions in real time. And there were some very consequential moments here.

I want to begin, though, with everyone by giving a show of hands. I want to ask the people who are with me here today, many of you came in undecided. In fact, most of you, by watching this debate, a show of hands. How many of you have now made up your mind?


This is unbelievable to think about, how impactful, influential this very moment was. I want to get a sense from all of you. We were all watching the appearance of the two candidates.

What did you make of how they both performed and the way that they they were appearing in the camera and beyond? Who had a strong reaction, especially to the age component?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would have to say, after watching the debate and watching how Biden handled himself in answering the questions, it reassured me of my -- his own assurance (ph) to be able to lead our country.

I'm concerned he was hesitant, very not cognitive. Seemed like his data, he was missing his numbers. So very concerning. That's somebody I don't think that needs to lead our country.

COATES: Does anyone share that same opinion? A couple of you. Who does not?

Let me ask you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One of the big things that a lot of people forget, when we are typically speaking in day-to-day life, we tend to stutter, as well.

So sometimes, it will take time to be able to think about what you're going to say. But regardless, when it comes to a strong leader and what we're looking for in a leader, I'm looking for somebody that I trust to be able to uphold policies that will protect me and are more concerned for the general well-being of everybody in the United States, which I got more from Biden, considering he did a lot more talking about policies, what he's done, and what he plans to do.

Whereas on the other side from Trump, all I really heard was I've done this, and it was the best ever. But I never heard what it was. Or I heard that Biden was the worst ever, but I never heard why.

So there was a lot that was left unclear for me. So while he may have appeared like a stronger candidate, on paper, there was a lot missing in terms of actual debate.

COATES: You're nodding along, Victor (ph). Why do you say so?

VICTOR (ph), VOTER: I would agree with that, and the rules of the debate were you could not bring notes or any written materials. So I'd defy anybody to try to speak for 90 minutes and not forget some facts.

And the fact that, you know, he struggled with that, he's always had a stuttering problem. But like she said, I think the leadership qualities are there.

COATES: There was a very big moment, as well, in terms of a conversation about the felony convictions. As you know, there are 34 counts out of Manhattan for the former president of the United States. That was actually addressed today. I want to play for you all again and remind you of that moment.


DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT, 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He could be a convicted felon as soon as he gets out of office. Joe could be a convicted felon with all of the things that he's done. He's done horrible things.

All of the death caused at the border. Telling the Ukrainian people that we're going to want $1 billion or you change the prosecutor. Otherwise, you're not getting $1 billion. If I ever said that, that's quid pro quo.


COATES: How many of you heard that conversation between Trump and, of course, the debaters, talking about the so-called weaponization of the government? Who believes and agrees with Trump here that he was only targeted because he was a political opponent of Biden? A show of hands.

Wendy, you kind of grimaced for a second as to that agreement. Why?

WENDY, VOTER: I definitely think that was a political move with the timing of how the charges were brought forward. And even the charges themselves.

I'm sure there's many corporations who employ -- have employees who take care of the financial documents that write down a legal expense. And you just pay the bill. I mean, I don't -- I wouldn't question every legal expense on a report. But that's a felony.

COATES: Let me ask you, Steve, as well, on this point. You seem to be nodding along. What's your reaction?

STEVE, VOTER: I think that the -- it's not so much the crime. It's the process or the process leading up. They're trying to use up his time so he can't campaign, use his money, his resources to pay for legal fees so we can't compete with -- with Biden.

I think that his mental acuity is a lot better than Biden's. Biden seems to be very tired. Actually, I'm tired of both of them, because they just keep going back and forth, back and forth. We just need to get some younger people in there that have clean records, that -- and start over.

COATES: Well, there was a moment I want to get to, talking about sort of clean records or the tit-for-tat you're talking about. There was an exchange happening this time, mentioning the convicted felonies; also the accusations or the allegations of having sex with a person who is a porn star. The allegations we've heard time and time again.

There was a moment that our audience here, our focus group of people and undecided voters had some pretty strong reactions to. And you're going to see on the bottom of the screen how they were reacting, how they were divided in different moments, and reacting in real time.

Listen to that moment.



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The crimes that you are still charged with and think of all the civil penalties you've got. How many billions of dollars do you owe in civil penalties for -- for molesting a woman of public, for doing a whole range of things, of having sex with a porn star on the night -- while your wife was pregnant.

I mean, what were you talking about? You have the morals of an alley cat.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Take a minute, sir?

TRUMP: I didn't have sex with a porn star.


COATES: I mean, talking about the morals of an alley cat, for many of you, that was a visceral moment. What was your reaction?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The entire time I'm thinking of the fact that I have three teenage boys that are sitting back, and they're watching this presidential debate. And when I was growing up, we would have never been talking about molestation, rape, and having sex with porn stars. But here we are.

So what kind of example am I setting for these three teenage boys who are watching both of these guys squabble on in this -- this way?

COATES: Which one of you, any of you were satisfied by the debate in terms of their performance to make a decision tonight, if you had to vote?

Would you know who to vote for tonight? Can I ask you who you thought won, Biden or Trump? Biden, show of hands if you think he won the debate.

Who thinks that Trump won that debate?

Who's undecided?

It's a really telling time, particularly in an area just like this, where those candidates are focused on an audience just like this. Could they persuade them? Could they make them decide?

Tonight, many have already made up their mind as a result of what we saw -- Anderson.

COOPER: Laura Coates, thanks. And thanks to all your group. Really appreciate them watching it with us.

Back with the panel here in Atlanta. I'm not sure where to go tonight, but --


VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But you had a great point about Kamala Harris right after she -- she talked. I just wanted to make sure people got a chance to hear from you on it. I thought it was really well put.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN ANCHOR: Look, we -- right. I think it's worth debriefing on that, as well, because the conversation right now is also about her.


PHILLIP: And I thought her interview with you, Anderson, was one of the best times I've seen her in an interview with anyone. And she clearly understood the moment, the challenge. She -- she needed to defend the president, but she needed to defend herself, as well.

And I think that the -- one of the things that people always want to see more from her is her personality. A little bit more fire, a little bit more -- more quickness in responding even to things that are challenging. And she showed that tonight.

And there's probably no more time in the -- the three years that she's been vice president that that has been more important than right now.

Whether or not all this chatter about what happens with Joe Biden means anything or not, voters need to understand who she is and whether she has what it takes to be the second -- second in line to the president.

JONES: The reason I think it's so important is because I think, if people had seen that Kamala Harris and the kind of confidence I think that she brought out in a lot last night.

I mean, tonight, a lot of Democrats took heart in Kamala Harris. She was on our air and other places, and the people are feeling confident in her.

Had that level of confidence existed in a broader way earlier, people would have less concern about Joe Biden. Part of the concern about Joe Biden's age has been people not having that conference in Kamala. So it's a kind of double thing.

So I just -- I do think -- I'm just trying to track what's going on here. I do think Kamala Harris did herself some good tonight, which ultimately --

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Where's she been? No one's kept her under wraps.

JONES: That's not my job.

URBAN: No one's locked her in the closet.

JONES: I'm just saying she did good tonight.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's vice president of the United States.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Hubert Humphrey once said, the two biggest clubs in the world are the would've club and the should've club, and neither are worth belonging to. It really doesn't matter now. What does matter is what application does it have now? And I'll say

one thing. She has been doing a lot better lately. And she did, I think, tonight.

If there's a vice -- you know, for all of the caricaturing of her, if -- I would not want to be the person sitting across from her in a vice-presidential debate, and there's supposed to be one. But we'll see if it happens.

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Listen, there are very real concerns tonight and conversations that are being held -- had, hand-wringing about what is going to happen. What the Biden team is obviously going to do is wait the next couple of weeks, see if the polls shift.

But I expect that you're going to see not just the vice president out more, you're going to see Gretchen Whitmer out more. You're going to see Gavin Newsom. And they're going to be campaigning for Biden, but they're also showing the chops that they have.

Because there is a non-zero chance after the performance tonight that a change has to be made if the president were to step aside. And there is a bench. Dems actually have a very strong bench.

COOPER: The --

GRIFFIN: But not the strongest person at the top of the ticket.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: This conversation about here, I mean, listen. First of all, this was not a good interview. She couldn't answer a simple question about what's Joe Biden like on a day-to-day basis.

Because the honest answer is not acceptable. That's No. 1.

No. 2, listen to what you're saying. The -- the sitting president of the United States is so out of it and infirm that you're now turning to the vice president of the United States to carry your ticket and your party when they are currently in office, supposedly running the country.


JENNINGS: This is -- this is a scandal. The White House press secretary, this last few days, have been telling us, oh, the videos you've seen of Joe Biden aren't real. They're fakes.

The U.S. government right now has a president, and none of us are quite sure what goes on, on a day-to-day basis. And you're putting all your hopes and dreams into the V.P.

KATE BEDINGFIELD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: OK. That is not -- that is not true. As somebody who left the White House about a year-and-a- half ago, I can tell you --

JENNINGS: Year and a half?

BEDINGFIELD: I can tell you that he is -- he is somebody who is very direct in meetings.

JENNINGS: Behind closed doors, he's great.

BEDINGFIELD: He's -- Well, you know, he had a bad night tonight on the debate stage. I'm not disputing that.

But I can tell you he is -- he drives the -- he drives the ship in the White House. He's the person who makes the decisions. He -- you sit in meetings with him. He's asking you for details. He's always asking you for the dang thing you don't have.


BEDINGFIELD: But not for nothing. And so I understand. I understand what you're saying, but to say that Kamala Harris was lying about Joe Biden, about how Joe Biden --

JENNINGS: I said she didn't answer.

BEDINGFIELD: But she did, though. But by the way, world leaders --


AXELROD: I should point out that Scott -- what Scott is doing right now is what the -- he's doing the Republican Party line there. This is what Republicans are going to be saying and off of this debate that, you know, now it's clear that Biden is functioning as president.

He's not a great communicator. That's pretty obvious.


JENNINGS: They're coming to get you. Yes. How is he -- how is it clear that he's functioning as -- how is it clear?

AXELROD: Well, I mean, the fact is that he -- he's talking to foreign leaders all the time. He's traveling.

BEDINGFIELD: He just came back.

JONES: Just came back overseas.


GRIFFIN: OK, but world leaders are bracing for a Trump presidency. Our European allies are bracing for Trump to win. The Arab state leaders are all bracing for Trump to win.

PHILLIP: All I'm saying is when you honestly -- look, Scott, maybe -- maybe it is a bit overstating it that Joe Biden is not -- not there at all in the White House. But when you talk to regular people, most people, they take a glance, a passing glance at what happened tonight, and they roll their eyes. And they say, why are we -- why is this our choice?

And it confirms to them their view that this is basically something they don't need to pay attention to, because they have nothing but bad choices. That is a very, very bad thing for Democrats.

I don't think a lot of people are sitting here analyzing it to the degree that we are. But for most regular people, they're just saying --

AXELROD: Fair. Fair, but --

PHILLIP: -- it confirms what they have already believed about Joe Biden, about whether he can do four more years, about whether he is doing a great job today in the presidency.

I mean, let's not forget his approval rating right now is partially because a lot of Americans don't believe that right now he is doing a job that they like.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And if you just think about 2020 all over again, Joe Biden cannot afford to lose much. So the third-party candidates matter more at the moment, the president has a motivational energy issue, enthusiasm issue with his base.

He did not help himself tonight. He likely hurt himself tonight. It's June, so maybe this all passes. The conversation among Democrats is going to try to figure that out.

But remember, Georgia, where we are, 11,779 votes. But, you know, Wisconsin 25,000 votes. Pennsylvania, 40,000 votes. Arizona, what, 10,000 votes. So I don't have all the math in my head. So he can't afford to lose much.

Trump voters are going to come out. We know that.

So the question is, he was already struggling. Biden came into this debate, not a ton behind, but enough behind for it to cause worry among Democrats. The reason to worry among Democrats has turned from worry into, I would say, panic or at least lowercase "P" panic. It's because they were worried coming in. They were already worried coming in?

That, look, he's vastly outspent Trump on television in the battleground states, and it hasn't moved the numbers much.

Now, you could also argue, if you want to do the half glass -- half full or half empty argument, he's at 38 percent approval rating, and he's still very close to Donald Trump. That tells you America doesn't want Trump either.


KING: America does not want Trump either. And so -- but the president hurt himself tonight. There's no question about that.

The question is, do the Democrats vent tonight and get over it? Or is this someone -- is there a more sustained conversation about what else do we do?

COOPER: I've got to -- I've got to take a break. Stay. Everyone, stay here. Just ahead, we have more new numbers from our CNN flash poll on tonight's debate. We'll have that in a moment.




BURNETT: President Biden just moments ago at a Waffle House on the way to the airport here in Atlanta, talking to people there, picking up food for the flight home. And he said, according to reporters there, that "I think we did well" in terms of the performance tonight.

Our political director, David Chalian, is here. He's got more results from our post-debate flash polls. So what do you have now?

CHALIAN: Yes. And just a reminder, again, this is a poll of debate watchers. It's not necessarily representative of the overall registered voter population. Perhaps just a touch more Republican.

This poll of debate watchers, though, we asked people their favorable opinions of Joe Biden and Donald Trump prior to debate. So before the debate, Biden was at 37 percent favorable; Trump was at 40 percent favorable, about the same.

You see, there isn't a ton of movement there for Trump, well within the margin of error. He's at 43 percent favorable after the debate.

And Biden is just a tick down at 31 percent. It's about a five-and-a- half percent margin of error.

So he -- definitely some movement there, less favorable view of Biden after the debate. This slightly more favorable view of Trump after the debate, but not a huge movement there.

We asked who better addressed concerns about ability to handle the presidency? Forty-eight percent said Donald Trump better addressed those concerns of his ability to handle the job.


Only 23 percent of debate watchers said that of Joe Biden.

And 22 percent said neither of them better addressed the ability to do the job.

Here's a critical question. Did the debate affect your presidential choice in this election? Among these debate watchers, only 5 percent say that their mind is changed; 14 percent say they are reconsidering their presidential choice.

But the overwhelming majority of these debate watchers, eight in ten, said the debate had no effect whatsoever on their presidential choice. And the final question here that we asked is, after the debate, would

you consider voting for Trump or Biden or neither? Forty-eight percent of debate watchers said, after the debate, they would only consider voting for Donald Trump. Slightly less, only 40 percent of debate watchers said that they would only consider voting for Joe Biden.

Only 2 percent would consider voting for both of them. And 11 percent after the debate said they would not consider voting for either one.

BURNETT: I guess you see that, the dissatisfaction with the choices.

Interesting, Kaitlan, when you look at this, though. No -- no impact at all, 81 percent. But 5 percent of people being willing to reconsider their vote or to change their vote. I'm sorry, or 14 percent reconsidering. The margins we're looking at now, those are significant numbers.

COLLINS: The margins are everything. That's what's going to be what decides the election come November.

And so that is -- you're not going even if you don't see a rapid amount of movement, it's the small margins here that are going to make the big difference come November.

And what Donald Trump was able to do tonight, marginally, because President Biden was not, you know, correcting him or, you know, pushing back on on his lies, was to make his case to voters.

And they've also had four years of distance from a Donald Trump presidency. And so that is how they're approaching this as they're looking at this.

I think one of the most stunning things that happened in that debate tonight that has kind of gone unnoticed, is that Trump did not commit to accepting the results of the 2024 election. He didn't in the town hall with us last year. And he was asked by Dana three times tonight about that.

And finally, at the end, he said he would if it was a free and fair election. And that may sound different coming from anyone else, but for Donald Trump, it was a free and fair election in 2020. And he still did not accept the results from that.

CHALIAN: We should just note, this is the third time that Donald Trump has been the Republican nominee, the presumptive Republican nominee. And this is the third election in a row that he's been asked this question and said he wouldn't accept the results of the election.

He said it in a debate with Hillary Clinton. He made it clear in 2020 that he wasn't ruling out and just saying flatly, yes. And tonight, again, you are totally right to note --

WALLACE: I was the one who asked him the question in 2016 and 2020.

You know, in a way, it's almost impossible for him to say, Yes, I will accept it, because to do that would be to, in effect, say, All of the concerns that I expressed in 2016 and especially over the last four years weren't serious.

I have to say, one of the joys of having done this for a long time -- and I have -- is that I -- this reminds me of the 1984 debate, the first debate between Reagan and Mondale.

And age was not a big concern with Reagan, but he had an extremely bad debate against Mondale. And suddenly, age became an issue. I'll never forget, Richard Threlkeld of ABC began his piece the next day, talking about the motorcade, leaving Reagan's motorcade, leaving Louisville and saying, with voters now questioning is he OK?

And that's -- actually, I think it's more than that. I think people have some serious doubts now about the competence, more than questions.

And it took -- there was really quite a firestorm until the second debate when Reagan did much better, and of course, had that great line about, I'm not going to exploit my opponent's youth and inexperience for political purposes.

Age is a big issue. And Reagan was a lot younger then than Biden is now.

BURNETT: Margin of favorability in that flash poll went from a three- point margin to a 13-point margin. It's a huge swing.

But yet, the drop for Biden, as David just pointed out, within the margin of error. It just seems odd when we look at this, we don't yet know how this is going to settle on people.

CORNISH: Yes, I would probably defer to David, because you know, a flash poll is like a flash flood. Like, it's --

BURNETT: It's a moment in time.

CORNISH: It's a moment in time. And I think the thing I'm going to be looking forward in the next five days is like what are the mitigation plans, right?

The Waffle House is not the big mitigation plan. I think we saw a glimmer of it in the vice president's response, being very aggressive around Anderson and diving right into some of the more difficult questions he was asking.

So what -- it's not just about surrogates. Putting out her particularly, is supposed to, in our minds, help us understand that there is someone there that you trust. Right?

And this has been a question the whole time. So I'm mostly interested now in how does the party reckon with this woman?

COLLINS: And the country? I mean, what the polls have also shown consistently, not just flash polls after drake, is that candidate -- voters don't want either of these candidates. They're not thrilled with either choice.


And I'm not sure either, when you look at the big takeaway of tonight, had voters walking away saying, I really learned a lot about policy or about what that second term --

BURNETT: Here -- here --

COLLINS: Because they have two --

BURNETT: That's the president -- the president is boarding Air Force One. First lady Jill Biden was right ahead of him there.

CORNISH: People have experiences with both their records. And voters have months and months before they really have to pull the lever.

But the parties, whatever they're doing in the next couple of months, they have got to move.

BURNETT: So can I ask you, David, to this point about polling and trying to understand what voters think, I understand the -- the freaking out and the navel-gazing going on among leadership in the Democratic Party right now. OK?

But what are they looking at to determine how serious this is, how severe it is? What -- what makes a decision here?

CHALIAN: Well, tonight, those leaders were just watching the debate.

BURNETT: So that was there.

CHALIAN: And it was like we were watching in real time a live text chain of what was going on with a lot of Democrats tonight.

What they will be watching are real polls now, not just the -- not just the focus groups of watching a debate or a poll of debate watchers. But in the couple of weeks ahead of us, what -- does this -- what has been a very stable race, do we start seeing the next round of polls come out in a week or two weeks that shows the race has fundamentally changed because of this debate? That will inform conversations.

BURNETT: OK. So then let me ask you a question. So let's just play something out. People want -- they (ph) want this. So let's say in two weeks it looks bad, really bad. So then what?

When we talk about the time -- time left, time to switch, time to figure this out.

WALLACE: Well --

BURNETT: What happens?

WALLACE: -- the first question is whether Joe Biden is going to drop out. That makes it much easier for the party if Joe Biden is convinced. Either he and Jill together or with pressure from either close allies, big donors. That's the first question. Because it's a lot easier to transition from here to a new candidate

if he just drops out of the race. I honestly don't know, because this is all just happening, how hard it would be for the Democratic Party and all these pledged delegates. Maybe, David, you know, how hard would it be for delegates who were elected in primaries, right, to represent Joe Biden, could -- I mean --

CHALIAN: The convention itself could -- this could happen at the convention itself. Because the pledged delegates, it's not clear like how pledged they really are.

You are right, though, Chris, I think if were talking about Joe Biden not being the nominee of the party. I don't think it's because it's going to be ripped away from him at the convention. It would have to be him stepping down as the nominee and leaving the race.

And the idea of that, I just think we -- we are so not there yet.


CHALIAN: But I really want to just take a breath here. Like Joe Biden, who has spent his entire life seeking to get to this moment, who's fortified by his family, even with this conversation. And there will be pressure. This will be a real conversation. It really will happen.

I just think before we take the leap that, yes, he's just going to step down and not be the nominee, and that's going to be the path out of here, that is just such an enormous place to get to from where we are.

COLLINS: And also, when you when you look at, when you know President Biden and how he makes decisions, there is no Gretchen Whitmer pressure. There is no Gavin Newsom pressure. There is no Pete Buttigieg pressure.

The only two people on this planet who could potentially convince him to do something that serious -- And I agree with David, we're not near there yet, despite some panic from people as they were reading Twitter tonight, I'm watching this -- is Jill Biden, the first lady, who just walked up those stairs with him, and his sister, Valerie. Those are the only two people who have --

CHALIAN: Maybe the grandkids.

COLLINS: -- in any chance, counsel him and to do that. And I agree with David --

CORNISH: It takes the conversation out of where it was before, which is, oh, maybe this pundit's kind of disgruntled. Or maybe this person is just trying to get attention. There was a lot of sort of shooing and dismissing of those concerns.

And tonight was just a moment sort of laying it bare that maybe that conversation at least needs to be taken seriously in a way that it wasn't before.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you all.

And coming up, Anderson's panel has some final thoughts on this momentous night and a look ahead of where we actually go from here.



COOPER: Before getting some final thoughts from the group here, I just want to take another quick look at the -- some of the highlights from our post-debate CNN flash poll.

The top line, by a wide margin, more than two to one, people thought the former president won the debate. That said, a full 81 percent said that watching this debate had no effect, none, on their choice for president.

Back here with the team in New York, and any more thoughts?

PHILLIP: I -- I was just texting with a Democratic operative who is just now hearing from the Biden campaign, they've convened their outside surrogates. And no discussion of what we've been talking about, what the whole world is talking about all night, which is whether or not he's going to be the nominee.

They're focusing on the policy, what they consider the policy wins. They're focusing on the idea that Trump lied his way through the debate. They're focusing on the idea that, you know, what the vice president told you, which is that he was off to a slow start.

But the thing is the reaction to that from this operative who was on the call was, like, that is not helpful.


PHILLIP: And I think that tomorrow, it will be interesting to see if that is how they address this. They're going to have to calm the waters among their own surrogates.

These are people who have to go out and defend the president. And they are -- they don't have enough ammunition. And that is what I'm hearing.

AXELROD: People were looking for this debate to calm nerves, to reassure people, as the State of the Union did earlier in the year. He did not do that.


I think that -- I said before, I'll say it again. I think Trump had a great night either, and that's sort of reflected in the numbers and the fact that very little moved.

I suspect you're going to see that in polling. But if it's still where it was before this thing began, that's still a problem for Biden. And this was an opportunity to try and move some things. So I believe, knowing him as I do -- and Kate knows him much better. I

think the idea that he would walk away from this is pretty remote.

But I think his job became just a little bit harder tonight.

KING: The big question over the next week is -- look, the Democrats are in a panic tonight, you have all these conversations going on -- is how does it sink in? I think the reaction of the president himself and his team is question No. 1.

But what's going to happen over the next few weeks is, you know, does this subside at all? How will we know the answer to that question? The Democrats who are running either in very tough Senate races in red states, --if you're Jon Tester, or Sherrod Brown tonight, you are having a holy shit moment.

URBAN: Bob Casey.

KING: I'm sorry, Bob Casey in Pennsylvania is another one. If you are -- the current thinking was, you know, who knows who's going to win a competitive presidential race? Republicans are favored to win the Senate. And Democrats will probably eke out and get the House back.

Tonight, there's a lot of Democrats saying, Well, wait a minute about that. And so all those Democrats who are in tough districts or tough states are going to get their pollsters and get their teams together. And they're going to say, did this hurt me? Does this hurt me?

And that's the conversation that's going to trickle on for the next week or so.

So when we're having -- when we're sitting at a table like this a week from now, we'll have a much better sense of what it means for whether the -- whether the in your face to the Biden White House will continue.

Or will Democrats say that was horrible, but there's nothing we can do about it. We've got to try to find a way to fix it.

URBAN: I have a prediction. Tomorrow, the Trump fundraising numbers will break the record of the post-conviction fundraising numbers. It's going to be a huge day.

GRIFFIN: Well, listen, the theme of this cycle is unprecedented. And I think we have to view things from this vantage point.

It sounds crazy to be saying, oh, maybe there'll be a change at the convention. It would never happen.

But if Democrats truly believe what they've been running on, which is that Donald Trump is an existential threat to democracy, he'd fundamentally under - undermine our country as we know it, then they need to wake up to what happened today.

Because what the history books are going to look back and it's going to be one of two things happen after this. They swapped him out and had a fighting chance against Trump, or this was the glide path to his victory.

JENNINGS: I -- I think one thing Republicans and all Americans should think about what we saw tonight is, if you're a partisan Republican, this is not a time for glee. There's no gloating tonight.

What we learned in 90 minutes on television is that the president of the United States at least appeared somewhat unwell. And I know we're out here analyzing the politics of it and the machinations of all of it. But he did not look good. He did not sound good. He did not acquit himself well politically, or as the leader of the most important country on the face of the planet.

We have seven months to go in his term. We have a shorter period left in this election.

I do think he walked into this thing tonight up to about right here in the quicksand. And now he's up to here. And I don't know how you get out of it when it's this high and your job approval is 38 percent. And you already, as Abby pointed out correctly earlier, having trouble with your own base. And now they're in a total panic.

How do you get out of this morass with so little time to go?


JONES: I don't have a good answer. I don't -- I don't think you're overstating it much, though, a little bit. But there is a fightback that's begun. And it's coming from very interesting places.

Do you have people who feel like their -- their butt is on the line when it comes to women's right to choose. Their butt is on the line when it comes to the fundamental ability of them to go. And there's no other bus for them. There's no other boat for them.

And you're seeing a fight back online, frankly, against us saying, will you guys quit freaking out? Because we're going to have to fight this thing out.

And so --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're sending them a lifeline.

COOPER: We're running out of time.

AXELROD: I have an answer. I have an answer. I have an answer for you. You know the old joke about the two guys who come up to the bear. They meet a bear in the woods.


AXELROD: One guy gets frozen. And the other guy throws down his backpack and takes out some gym shoes and puts some on.

First guys says, what are you doing? You can't outrun that bear. And he says, I don't have to outrun the bear. I just have to outrun you.

The Donald Trump that was on that stage does not appear to me, and I think -- if you look at these focus groups -- like a world leader there. So -- that's the answer.

BEDINGFIELD: That's important, too. I mean, look at the way the focus groups absorbed the night. They didn't absorb it in quite as stark terms, as we -- as we did.

And so I think we've got to see how people absorb it. They have a lot of misgivings about Trump. He put a lot of those on display. He couldn't definitively say he would accept the results of the election. He didn't criticize, even really criticize January 6.


I mean, he said a lot of things that are going to continue to be problematic for the voters he has to win over in order to win. So I think let's -- let's see how --


COOPER: Abby can probably get --

PHILLIP: Urban, you'll appreciate this. The other comparison that I'm hearing from people is with John Fetterman, when he had that disastrous debate after revealing a major health issue.

And then he went on to win that campaign. So I think a lot of Democrats are looking at that and saying --

URBAN: Now it's your --

PHILLIP: -- you guys are peeing the bed a little too soon.

COOPER: I want to thank everybody. We've got to take a break.

Up next, an encore presentation of tonight's unprecedented CNN debate.