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State of the Race with Kasie Hunt
Police: 10 Killed, 30 Wounded In Prague University Shooting; Trump Asks Supreme Court To Stay Out Of Immunity Dispute; Trump Team Vows To Appeal Colorado Ballot Ruling. Aired 11a-12p ET
Aired December 21, 2023 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN AVLON, CNN HOST: Delay, delay, delay, Donald Trump's team is turning to a familiar legal tactic, as they urge the Supreme Court not to weigh in
on whether he is immune from federal prosecution because, hey, what's the rush? Right? Plus, lawmakers are now heading home for the holidays, but
they're going to have a heap of a mess waiting for him in the New Year with urgent deadlines approaching. And some third-party candidates this year are
showing strong results in the polls. How could these X factors impact the presidential race and who would benefit?
Good day, everyone. I'm John Avlon to our viewers watching in the United States and around the world. It's 11 a.m. in New York on Thursday, December
21. There are just 25 days until the Iowa caucuses, and 319 days until the election. This is today's State of the Race.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
AVLON: But first, we are following breaking news from Prague where there has been a shooting at the Czech Republic's largest university. Police now
saying the shooter at Charles University has been eliminated. But, according to emergency services there, there are at least 10 people dead
and many injured. The shooting took place at the school's, philosophy building. We're monitoring the story and we'll bring you updates as we get
Joining us now is CNN Senior Producer Ivana Kottasova, joining us now.
IVANA KOTTASOVA, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER (VIA TELEPHONE): Hi John.
AVLON: Ivana, what can you tell us is the latest from the ground? This is a horrific scenes we're seeing in a beautiful city.
KOTTASOVA (VIA TELEPHONE): It is indeed horrific scene, and very, very unusual in the Czech Republic. We do not have mass shooting or school
shootings in the Czech Republic. So, the state is in absolute shock right now. All the top officials have canceled their programs and are heading
straight to Prague. And it is really important to know that this is -- the scene of the attack is in the very center, in the heart of Prague of the
historical center. This is a very popular area for tourists. This is very frequented place for students as well. The college has not broken out for
Christmas yet. So, classes were in session during the shooting.
What we know is that 10 people have been killed, and the shooter is also dead. That's according to the police. So, they said that the immediate
danger is over, but they're still evacuating the building because some of the students have locked themselves in different classrooms during the
shooting. So, it is very much still an active situation in the sense that people are still hiding. They don't know what's happening. It's very fluid.
The whole area is cordoned off by police. No one can get in or out. And it's a big shock.
AVLON: And this is you say is so not typical for the Czech Republic, in such a historic University. Ivana Kottasova --
KOTTASOVA (VIA TELEPHONE): Absolutely.
AVLON: -- thank you. We're going to bring you more on that story as we know more. Be safe.
Now, the Supreme Court in the United States could have a major impact on next year's presidential election. Right now, Donald Trump's legal team is
asking justices to hold off on taking up his federal election subversion case, saying that it should go to a lower court first. Now, this is a delay
tactic after Special Counsel brought Jack Smith asked for a ruling on Trump's immunity claims. Now, the ex-President has been kicked off the
ballot by the state Supreme Court in Colorado. Judges there are citing the insurrectionist ban in the 14th Amendment. The Trump team, of course, has
vowed to appeal. So, move over Bush v. Gore. It looks almost certain the U.S. Supreme Court will have to get involved in the 2024 presidential
Let's dive into all of this with today's great panel, Michael Moynihan, host of "The Fifth Column" podcast; Margaret Hoover is a CNN Political
Commentator and host of "Firing Line" on PBS, and happy disclosure also, my bride, and Errol Louis is a CNN Political Commentator and Political Anchor
at Spectrum News. It is good to see you all my friends as we enter this holiday season. I want to start with just the unprecedented nature of the
series of court challenges that looked like are going to have a dramatic impact on the election.
Michael Moynihan, I know you're not a big fan of things getting all legalistic. But, how do you see these most recent charges?
MICHAEL MOYNIHAN, HOST OF "THE FIFTH COLUMN" PODCAST: There was a piece I saw late yesterday by my friend Peter Meijer, the former Congressman from
Michigan, who was one of 10 people to vote to impeach Donald Trump.
He voted to impeach him. And January 6 happened on his third day in Congress. And that's why he lost his reelection. I mean, he primaried and
he lost. And of course, that seat went to the Democrats. But, Peter wrote a very smart piece, I think, about why this is a bad precedent and why this
is not the right way of doing it. My feeling on this, and look, there has been a lot of Republicans who really loathe Donald Trump. I am not a
Republican. I love Donald Trump. And I don't think this is the greatest way of going about things. Chris Christie was pretty sensible on this too. And
it just rests on one basic premise.
Now, I think the problem is, when we see a lot of people talking about this in the media, it's a lot of people without legal training, that don't have
-- know the legal background of this stuff and the ins and outs of 14th Amendment, and making a lot of grand statements. But, I am not going to do
that, John. I will not do that for you. And I will just say this, that I don't like it when Donald Trump who has not been convicted of a crime and
the crime of insurrection, and it is a crime, and what he did that day and his participation in that is unconscionable. And every sensible American
should reject him for it. Unfortunately, voters aren't doing that. But, I do wish it were with the voters. And when it comes to, are you an
insurrectionist, it was with the court.
AVLON: So, you're making an argument that we're hearing a lot that.
AVLON: There hasn't been due process. The 14th Amendment has been invoked twice for two people convicted of --
AVLON: -- participating in the January 6 riot. But, that's a key difference.
Margaret, I see you, you nodding away. I want to play you a quote from Ron DeSantis and then get your reaction to this effect.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RON DESANTIS, U.S. REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And my fear is that Democrat states are going to go and move on this ground to do. What do we
want, asking Republicans, can we just go in and say, you know, Biden take Biden off the ballot? He let in eight million people illegally into this
country. He did not satisfy his oath of office.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AVLON: Now, that's kind of a promiscuous tit for tat that's not going to happen. But, you see the frustration that a lot of folks are feeling in the
Republican field. What's your take?
MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, & HOST, PBS "FIRING LINE": Well, look, I mean, also, that -- it's just a terrible advertisement for
Yale Law School, that kind of real cheap argument that you would expect more of from Governor DeSantis. Sorry. Because he, of course, graduated
from Yale. Actually, I believe he went to Harvard Law School, or did he also was a double Yale? John Avlon, you are a Yale grad. I know you can
AVLON: Oh God. I believe in this case, it's Harvard. But, let's not go with that one.
HOOVER: One of our panelists Errol Louis can also stray now whether he went to Harvard. Here is actually -- look, I'm sympathetic to Michael's
argument. It's also, by the way, an argument that was made by one of the Supreme Court justices in the state of Colorado, one of the Colorado State
Supreme Court justices, which is that to use a constitutional class to disqualify an individual from presenting themselves as a candidate for
President without having been convicted of the thing for which they are being prevented from entering the ballot, is actually -- it doesn't follow
sort of a legal path for logic. And that is the thing that gives me pause.
But, there is a political component here too, which is that this is happening 25 days, as you point out, before the very first Republican
caucuses, which then another week later is the first Republican primaries. We all know that whenever Donald Trump is vilified, and I'm sorry, and
really made the victim, he benefits politically. And so, there is a real political consequence here to the Colorado state's Supreme Court, and then
the Supreme Court acting, and that -- frankly, all of this elevates Donald Trump and creates a momentum politically for him, regardless.
I'll just say one other piece and then I can't wait for Errol. The Supreme Court and the courts are an equal branch of government, given by the
founders, equal authority as the Executive Branch and the congressional branch. And so, I'm incredibly tired of Republicans pretending like the
courts don't have the authority which they are constitutionally endowed with.
AVLON: Sure. Look, Errol, I mean, I understand the arguments being made by Michael and Margaret, of course, but Judge Michael Luttig, a conservative
jurist saying that this is a self-executing amendment. It's in the Constitution. The originalist perspective of the courts would seem to
apply. And one argument you're hearing a lot from folks as well, it doesn't apply to the presidency. And that's what I history nerd out with you for a
second, because that's not accurate with regard to the intent around the ratification.
I want to pull up a quote, and this was cited on page 78 of the court case, but it's a good deep cut. So, the senators in 1870 -- 1866 are debating the
ratification. There is a question where Senator Reverdy Johnson, great name, says this amendment, he says, doesn't go far enough because past
rebels maybe elected President or Vice President of the United States.
Could Jefferson Davis just write (ph) back here? And then his colleague Senator Lot Morrill says "Let me call the Senator's attention to the words
'or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States." The language from Section 3. At least for that objection that exchange would
seem to sort of take it off the table. Tell me where I'm wrong.
ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, & SPECTRUM NEWS POLITICAL ANCHOR: That's exactly right. That's exactly right. And despite the flowery,
courteous language that they're exchanging, these men were part of a faction called the Radical Republicans. This is strong tonic, for sure. And
I understand why people might be upset about it. But, this is exactly what the Constitution calls for. It was an extreme situation of former traders,
armed traders against the Republic, trying to perhaps sneak back into the Congress or into other positions of authority. And these Radical
Republicans said, no.
I will point out, by the way, that Donald Trump did get due process in Colorado. There was in fact a trial that lasted five days. Evidence was
presented. It's not a criminal trial. And it doesn't have the high standards of a criminal trial, like proof beyond a reasonable doubt. But,
it was in fact a fact-finding mission, and they compared the law to the facts that they decided that just as you have to meet certain requirements
to run for office, like you have to be a resident and you have to be a citizen, and you have to be of a certain age, and you have to have not
tried to overthrow the Republican in an insurrection. And they said --
AVLON: But, when you put up like that, it sounds very sensible, Errol, I don't know.
LOUIS: I mean, of the qualifications, just like you have to be, I don't know, 35-years-old, you should probably not have tried to have overthrown
the country that you now (inaudible).
AVLON: You're given either comfort. Yes. I want to interrupt you all, because we're getting some breaking news on the immunity case. Special
Counsel Jack Smith on Thursday, today, reiterated his request the Supreme Court immediately decide whether Donald Trump has immunity. Now, this is
significant, of course, because Trump's team has been saying delay, delay, delay. But, now you're seeing directly from the Special Counsel Jack Smith
saying you got to actually do the opposite, expedite this, because it's necessary for the country to get clarity. Margaret, what are your thoughts
HOOVER: Well, the sooner the better when it comes to the political consequences, because again, as soon as close as this is, the closer these
decisions fall to the initial caucuses of the primaries, the larger impact they will have politically. And my concern as a Republican that -- is
aligned with Liz Cheney's thinking that Donald Trump should be nowhere near the White House ever again. But, confronted with a real reality that he has
the base of the Republican Party, which is disproportionately favored in these primary processes, particularly in Iowa, South Carolina and the rest
of the southern states, less so New Hampshire because independents are allowed to vote.
These -- this is going to have political consequences that --
HOOVER: -- will likely break towards Donald Trump's favor. So, I would prefer all of this be expedited. The Supreme Court now has two decisions in
front of it, and that -- two questions immediately in front of it, Jack Smith and then also the question of this Colorado Supreme Court ruling.
AVLON: Well, no, and in fact, they're three, which just means this is all heading to the courts, which is Michael Moynihan's worst nightmare.
Michael, before we move to the next topic, I want to discuss New Hampshire, the "Live Free or Die" state, right? This is where --
AVLON: -- a lot of libertarians like yourself tried to move and have a dramatic impact on the election. There are more registered independent
voters that Democrats or Republicans. It's an open primary. And here is the one state we really see Nikki Haley closing in on Donald Trump. I want to
throw up a recent poll there, CBS/YouGov, from earlier this month. Haley at 29 percent, Trump at 44 percent, DeSantis, Christie, and Ramaswamy, all the
way at the base there. Is this Haley's last stand? Is this New Hampshire the best place to fundamentally change the momentum of this race? And what
do you think knowing the state and those libertarian-minded folks as well as you do?
MOYNIHAN: Yeah. John, I do really want to clarify that the libertarians who moved to New Hampshire in some sort of almost Marxist/Utopian idea of
changing the government are not my libertarians. They're very different libertarians.
AVLON: Then you're not a free-state guy?
MOYNIHAN: I'm not a free-state guy. I'm not open carrying. I'm not that kind of person. But, it's also interesting to keep in mind about New
Hampshire is that, because of the kind of favorable tax status in New Hampshire, a lot of people in Massachusetts have moved there. It's not the
same New Hampshire as it was in the 1960s and 1970s. There is a pretty liberal element in New Hampshire, and people that have kind of seeped
across the border from my home state of Massachusetts. But, in Nikki Haley's case, look, there is a lot of us who look at Donald Trump, and it
makes her skin crawl. And there is a lot of wish casting here with Nikki Haley. And I think that Nikki Haley in the last debate that, Donald Trump,
of course, didn't show up to, it didn't make much of an impact.
I mean, she held her own. She was rattled quite a bit I think by Ron DeSantis. But, I was just looking at this kind of wish casting of also
Ron's (ph). And the best place she has an opportunity is obviously in New Hampshire. 24 percent is still a very distant second place. Unless Chris
Christie can bail out and say maybe we should all rally around Nikki Haley, I don't suspect that we're going to see anything but another unfortunate
Donald Trump victory in New Hampshire.
AVLON: Well, we shall see. Stick around, guys. We got to move on. But, we're going to have plenty of time to talk among us. Here is what's
happening next Congress, Congress, already out the door, pouring itself some eggnog at home, leaving behind a dirty laundry list of unresolved
issues and setting up a messy start to the New Year.
AVLON: The so-called do-nothing Congress has slipped out of D.C., heading home for the holidays. And they are punting on a huge to-do list, setting
the table for what's sure to be a chaotic and high consequences January. That list includes border security deals, something many Republicans say
must be resolved before they'll even consider desperately needing funding for Israel and Ukraine. And last but not least, lawmakers will have only
around 10 days upon return to avoid a partial government shutdown, all in the midst of an incredible political calendar.
Let's bring back our panel. Guys, we all know political parties promise big things. But, I want to play this clip for you because I rarely have seen a
frustrated admission of failure like this speech on the House floor from Representative Chip Roy. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. CHIP ROY (R-TX): One thing, I want my Republican colleagues to give me one thing, one, that I can go campaign on and say we did. One.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AVLON: Margaret, that's not exactly (ph) an advertisement for an ineffective Congress. I mean, why do you think that Republicans have had
such a hard time getting anything done? Putting aside divided government, it seems most of their energy is spent attacking each other.
HOOVER: Well, I mean, that's the point. We don't just have divided government in the House of Representatives. You have a divided Republican
Party that can barely pick a leader that can barely stick with a leader, and can't at all decide on a coherent agenda moving forward, because they
don't agree with each other. I mean, I've spent some time speaking with members of Congress in the Republican conference just in the last week who
make Chip Roy's frustration look really pleasant and serene. There are --
AVLON: Serene. OK.
HOOVER: -- members who are conservative. And there are members who are conservative. There are members who are moderate, who can't even be in the
same room with members of the Freedom Caucus, because there is so much backbiting personal venom, personal animus. All of it's a recipe for
actually nothing happening in January. And the only reason anything could happen at all -- and by the way, when we say January, we really mean
February 2, which is the drop dead deadline for the shutting down of the government. And I think that's going to be the major forcing function that
will force anything to get done, if anything does get done.
AVLON: The crazy part is this is all happening coincident with the heating up of the political calendar, let alone the wars that are ongoing concerns.
I mean, it is -- they have set themselves up for a clown car crash. And that's not even saying the court cases. I mean, buckle up for January.
Errol, the thing I want to do though is put some numbers on this frustration that folks are feeling. New York Times broke down sort of the
dysfunction by the data. It turns out they've taken 220 this year, they passed only 27 bills that became law despite 724 votes. Now -- OK. That's a
lousy record, fine. But, what's striking is that with a sibling narrow majority, Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats were actually able to get a lot
done last time, not from taking any -- taking a lot of heat from the outside, and a fairly divided conference with a progressive wing that
doesn't always agree with the party's more moderate wing. How do you account for that difference?
LOUIS: I think the big difference here is that people like Chip Roy have studied for the wrong test. If it's an all or nothing issue between the
different factions within the Republican Party, it's a formula for frustration, because their majority is too narrow for any faction to really
prevail. And so, they deadlock and they get nothing done. By contrast, Nancy Pelosi always made clear that it was kind of a big tent, that there
was going to be compromises. And more importantly, she set out as the standard, did we get some of what we wanted? Did we move the country an
inch or two in the direction that we would like to see, rather than the much harder test, the unpassable test, frankly, of did we get everything?
Did we get everything that the most --
LOUIS: -- extremes wanted that we shut out the other side altogether? That's not the way the system is set up. It's not the way democracy works.
It's not the way to succeed politically.
AVLON: To that extent, I mean, there is -- Chuck Schumer, the Senate Majority Leader, is really making an effort to say that there is progress,
in fact, being made at the border, that he and McConnell are working together as government should, that -- maybe the middle 60 holds together.
And yet, there is some concern that some folks don't want to see success. Take a look at this quote from Schumer. "I think they realize",
Republicans, "that it's the right thing to do and I think that Democrats have moved much more to the middle on border security."
Margaret, do you buy that Kumbaya, or are you concerned that folks are going to try to scuttle it because they'd rather have the issue than solve
HOOVER: Well, I think it's important to distinguish, as a resident Republican, between which Republicans are constructive collaborators --
HOOVER: -- who understand the process of bargaining and negotiation, which ones don't. The ones in the Senate do. And I think there is a very good
chance the Senate could get to 60. I think Mitch McConnell's joint statement with Chuck Schumer is actually incredibly promising. So, I do
actually think that there is a very good chance that the Senate will get there. There'll be an agreement. I, however, do believe, John, there are,
and I don't believe this, I know this, we can see this, there are Republicans in the House of Representatives who have absolutely no interest
in letting President Biden win on the border issue, because that's how this will be perceived.
If there is a border deal that President Biden signs, they know President Biden will campaign on that, and they don't want to give it to him. So,
they say H.R. 2 or nothing. Well, that means nothing. And so, there are some who just have absolutely no interest in getting anything done. And
that's where the rubber is going to hit the road. It's in the House of Representatives. It's not the Senate.
AVLON: I mean, for all the urgency, I think folks in cities and -- are now seeing around the migrant crisis.
There is an opportunity to solve this problem. It would be malpractice if it's held up for ideological reasons when there is clearly a demand to do
something about it.
Michael, I haven't forgot about you. I just wanted to turn to another story that's I think right in your wheelhouse, which is Harvard's President once
again in the hot seat. House Committee saying it's expanding its investigation into the university to include accusations of plagiarism
against President Claudine Gay. A Harvard spokesperson refused to comment on the House probe, but the school previously maintained the President's
actions did not reach the level of misconduct. And this fall is, of course, the uproar over Gay's congressional testimony on antisemitism at Harvard.
Michael, among many things, you've done a great deal of work on the subject of plagiarism, exposing it in many cases, usually in journalistic confines.
And I know you've covered closely the self-inflicted wounds of the inability to denounce antisemitism and calls for genocide on campus. How do
you see the state of play with regard to Claudine Gay at Harvard right now?
MOYNIHAN: Well, you're not the only one who thinks that about me, John. I'm happy you went for the Europe plagiarism hunter, and not just the truculent
libertarian. I got those. I got those allegations about two weeks before they came out. Someone sent them to me. So, this was actually being
marketed, and people were -- and it made me feel slightly uncomfortable that there was a kind of political reason for it. But, at the end of the
day, it doesn't matter if it's politics or not. It is plagiarism, or it is not. And in this case, it absolutely is.
I mean, the original examples, I thought were bad enough, but the most recent kind of tranche of 40 odd other citations that weren't citations,
including one that was absolutely shocking to me, is that she appears to have plagiarized her acknowledgments. There is acknowledgments in a paper
which seemed to be borrowed from somebody else in her own department, which was really, really stunning to me.
And of course, look, I mean, when they -- these people who are up on Capitol Hill, you have a difficult situation where you understand what
Elise Stefanik is doing. You understand the kind of -- it was kind of a dishonest line of questioning. But, these are people that are completely
unprepared despite being the presidents of the most prestigious institutions in America, which I mean, if you wanted an advertisement for
kind of MAGA, it was like these are our elites, and they can't even answer the most basic question. And she walked into it right then. But, this point
now where Harvard is circling the wagons, the thing that you notice about plagiarism, and I've done many stories about plagiarism is, who gets dinged
by it and who doesn't?
The people who are ultimately powerless, people who don't have a large reputation. They don't have allies. They don't have a big platform. They
had (ph) to stay around. So, about a week ago, I said I don't believe to a friend of mine that Ms. Gay is going to go anywhere. I think that she is
probably going to weather this, although these new allegations do change my mind slightly. But, you see a number of people who have been accused of
plagiarism, but are kind of too big to fail. They're too famous to get dislodged from their positions. And she appears to be one of those people
right now in there. It's because of the political component too. People -- they don't want to appear to be giving in to people like Elise Stefanik.
AVLON: Well -- and Errol, let me press that point, and not just because you're a Harvard grad, because this does -- this is where the
politicization of some of the attacks runs squarely into the evidence of things that would be firing offenses for a student, let's say. And how do
you balance those two competing claims in your mind?
LOUIS: Well, look, in my mind, the first thing to do is what those university presidents should have done when they were sitting in front of
Elise Stefanik's Committee, which is acknowledge and call attention to the fact that all of the inquiries are being made in utter bad faith. Right?
Elise Stefanik was not concerned about antisemitism on campus any more than Christopher Rufo is --
AVLON: Well --
LOUIS: -- concerned about plagiarism. Right? I mean, there are people who are pursuing other agendas, Bill Ackman, another one. They're pursuing very
different agendas. And my -- I personally make it a habit of not participating in bad faith conversations. You denounce it for what it is
and then you head for the door. Claudine Gay now, the President Gay, is now in the middle of this firestorm. And I think that the transparent bad faith
of her inquisitors is going to be what rescues her, and not just her reputation, but the fact that the people who are raising it don't really
care about academic freedom. And they're pretty clear that that's not what they're about.
It's a shame in a way, because there are some interesting questions here. I did a semi-deep dive into some of the stuff after reading some of CNN's
reporting on it. And plagiarism has come a long way since when I was in college when it was -- the rule was just don't do it about where do you put
the attribution, where you put the quotation marks. It's a lot different than it used to be and much more detectable.
AVLON: Margaret, we've got to go. But, I saw you wanted to jump in there, I think perhaps on the question of whether all the inquiry was in bad faith.
HOOVER: Errol, I think, probably knows, I'm no fan of Elise Stefanik. I worked with her in the Bush White House. I've known her for several years.
I was a big supporter of hers when she first ran for Congress, and helped gather support for her. So, I have a long history with her. I fundamentally
disagree with how she has handled herself in Congress since deciding to align herself with Trump and especially around the January 6 insurrection.
That said, I don't think that these series of questions was in bad faith. I think a broken clock can be right twice a day. And even if she was looking
for a fundraising bump afterwards, which I think she probably was, from strong supporters of Israel and freedom of free speech issues, I do think
she is actually right on this issue.
AVLON: Well, we're going to have to leave it there. But, there is -- clearly, this issue is not over. And I do think we need to make a
distinction between the politics, the accusations of plagiarism, and the apparent inability of campus leaders who are often focused on
microaggressions to clearly denounce what would be clearly classified as a macroaggression, which is a call for genocide. In any case, thank you all
very much. We're going to have much more coming up.
And up next, an environmental lawyer, one of the most famous last names in politics, seems to be making gains as a third-party presidential candidate.
He is not doing it all on the road, and there is controversy alongside him. Stay with us.
AVLON: An update on the breaking news we're following, the deadly shooting at a university in Prague. At least 10 people are dead and 30 wounded,
according to Czech emergency services. The shooter is also dead. The shooting happened at the philosophy building at Charles University. We're
seeing live pictures there now. Melissa Bell is covering this from Paris. Melissa, what's the latest?
MELISSA BELL, CNN PARIS CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, extremely violent scenes earlier this afternoon. Night is now falling in Prague. We're seeing the
live images of the Charles University in central Prague. This is one of the most highly visited touristic areas of the Czech capital. And you can see
there an entire perimeter that's been entirely cordoned off. We understand there is a pyrotechnic examination going on there, going building to
building to see what might have been hidden or left. But, we understand from Czech Police, who are about to hold a press conference, at which we
hope to find out more, John, about who this shooter was, what his motives may have been.
But, at least we understand for the time being a terrible toll as a result, 10 dead, 30 wounded, with no word yet on the precise nature of the wounds
or how severely or critically wounded they may have been. But, this would have been in the afternoon hours when it happened, late afternoon, a busy
campus in the middle of a bustling city. There would have been plenty of people around.
What we saw on some of the images that we were getting from Prague just a short while ago, John, were first of all, as the shooting was taking place,
students barricading themselves inside of rooms, seeking shelter on window sills, climbing out of windows to try and hide and cover and find safety
where they could. The man himself very quickly eliminated. But, as I say, for the time being, no indication as to why he may have acted the way he
did. And I think it's important to understand how rare these sorts of mass shootings are here on the European continent.
So, extremely shocking scenes there from Prague. We understand that the Czech Prime Minister is on his way to the scene, as is the Czech Interior
Minister. And as I say, soon a press conference in which we hope to find out more about what theories they may have had about why this man acted the
way he did today. But, tragic scenes coming to us there from the Czech capital. Videos also, John, that show the immediate aftermath of people
just trying to run away from what would have been scenes of extreme violence and presumably very loud gunshots. But, a terrible toll already
this afternoon, John.
AVLON: How rare it is only highlights the horror. Melissa Bell in Paris, thank you.
Now, if you want to understand the state of the race this year, you need to understand there is a much larger normal -- much larger than normal number
of third-party candidates running for President. Already, independent voters outnumbered Democrats and Republicans. But, in this case, one of
these independent candidates, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., he is polling higher than any third party or independent candidate in a generation. That's
drawing increased scrutiny as well as prominence.
Back to our panel. Guys, I'd be remiss to not note that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. just won, hot off the presses, the dubious annual honor known as the
"PolitiFact Lie of the Year". I'd like to read you the citation. He said "Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s campaign based on false theories is PolitiFact's
2023 Lie of the Year. Kennedy's political following is built on a movement that seeks to legitimize conspiracy theories", going on to describe
vaccines and medical experts and COVID-19 conspiracies. I'm acknowledging that. But, that is not the focus of this conversation, because I don't
think you can make light in any way of the impact that these independent candidates could have on this election's outcome.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is polling very well. I'm going to show you a poll recently from Michigan, obviously, one of the key battleground states of
this election. This is from late November, early December CNN poll, Trump in first place, Biden trailing by eight percent. But then, look at the
independent candidates who are over a quarter of the electorate in this. Bobby Kennedy Jr., Cornel West, and other one percent, Jill Stein, the
Green Party candidate got well over one percent in 2016, making up the margin of victory between Trump and Hillary Clinton. And then there is the
possibility of a No Labels, the third-party candidacy as well. This is an unprecedented situation.
You all know I'm a nerd about this kind of thing. But, the highest net percent vote for a third-party candidate over the last 100 and plus years,
Teddy Roosevelt and Ross Perot at 19 percent. This was potentially much higher than that. So, how do you see this impacting the ultimate outcome?
Michael, we'll start with you.
MOYNIHAN: I mean, the nuttiness of Perot and the nuttiness of Wallace too in 1948. But, yeah. I mean, look, Bobby Kennedy, I have done nothing but
attacked Bobby Kennedy since he came on the scene, 16 percent to 21 percent national polls. That was the last I looked on RealClear what the average
was. It was in between there. And so, that's a lot of support. And I know it's the Kennedy name in some ways, but it's also the fact that, when I see
this, I shudder because everything that Bobby Kennedy says, with the exception of -- actually he was just very good on Israel in a debate that I
saw online recently, very, very good.
But, with the exception of that, I mean, he is completely bananas on everything, even considering also the assassination of his father which he
says was a conspiracy. But, the JFK one I've heard, that is rather new. But, the thing about this is, it reminds me of living in Europe. I mean, in
Europe, we have this atomization of politics which ends up being eight parties, right, nine parties, and you have to form these very delicate
coalitions. And people in America have complained about the duopoly, the two-party system. And then, when it comes down to this happening, everyone
starts running for the exits, and say, Oh, my God, this is going to screw up the entire election that we have Bobby Kennedy polling like this.
He does speak to a disaffected -- I mean, the question is, who is he going to pull? Is he pulling from Democrats? Is he pulling from Republicans? I
think he is going to pull a lot more from Republicans. That's just the kind of hunch that I have.
AVLON: That's what polling shows to date. And to your point --
MOYNIHAN: Yes. It does.
AVLON: -- everybody is mixed. He was a very respected environmental lawyer before he went down certain paths.
Errol, notably, most of these so far declared third-party candidates are to the left of President Biden. And certainly, in the case of the Green Party,
the legacy had an ambiguous here. It's not just Jill Stein making up Hillary Clinton's margin of loss as it were in three critical states. But,
in 2000 where Ralph Nader got 98,000 votes in Florida, which George W. Bush ultimately won by 537, meaning there is almost 98,000 Green voters in
Florida who thought Al Gore wasn't good enough on the environment. I think that we all know how that looks in the rearview mirror of history. The
question is, do you think the left understands that legacy, or are they going to walk into this buzzsaw again?
LOUIS: Well, there are a couple of things that have made this time different. One is that there is that history that you just cited. The other
is that Robert Kennedy's appeal is not on issues. Even with a Green Party label, Jill Stein's appeal was not based on issues. These folks were coming
from a very different and somewhat dangerous place. And to the extent that Joe Biden is facing off against Donald Trump, they're going to make -- the
Biden team is going to make craziness and wild politics the issue.
Like, I think there is some interesting evidence out there that Robert F. Kennedy, for example, pulls more from Trump, because --
LOUIS: -- if you're looking for something crazy out-of-the-box wild thinking, well, that's a Trump voter, to a certain extent, or a certain
faction of the Trump base.
AVLON: Maybe. Yeah.
LOUIS: It's not clear to me that these folks are necessarily going to be a problem for Joe Biden and traditional Democrats. They are a problem for
people who want a sort of a play off on the margins. And it's not clear where -- on which margins they're going to be pulling from.
AVLON: Well, at some point in close elections, the margins makes the difference.
Margaret, very quickly, 30 seconds. You know there are a lot of folks who feel politically homeless. They see a choice between Biden and Trump.
They're uninspired. What do you folks who are center right, like yourself, do in this kind of a situation?
HOOVER: I mean, I would argue you have to vote for the person who is going to uphold the Constitution. I would argue it's a binary choice. And I would
argue that Republicans have to vote for a Democrat. But, many Republicans will stay home or many Republicans will vote for another -- an alternative.
By the way, you didn't -- we haven't even talked about the No Labels alternative. There could be an incredibly appealing candidate at the top of
another third-party ticket. Let's be clear. Third-party candidates don't win, but they can affect the outcome. And in recent history, they have. It
creates chaos. It creates unpredictability, and it could create a constitutional crisis.
AVLON: That is a reasonable last word. Thanks, guys. Stick around.
Up next, religion in politics, how much does faith matter? Can it be a bridge, or is it always a wall? Our next guest will explain the critical
role religion plays in the political world, and how it's changed.
AVLON: America is a religious country, founded in part on the promise of freedom of faith. And the evangelical community can certainly be a pivotal
voting bloc in every contemporary election. But, interestingly, there was a time when religious leaders kept politics at arm's length. Well, we're long
past that now.
Joining us now is Tim Alberta. He is one of the best reporters of his generation, in my mind, a Staff Writer at The Atlantic, and the author of
the new book "The Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory: American Evangelicals in an Age of Extremism." Tim, it's good to see you. You write about this
from a personal standpoint. Your father was a pastor. You are a person of faith as well as a reporter.
But, the shift in the evangelical community that you detail in your father's flock was deeply disconcerting. And I want to just symbolize that
in terms of its context with politics by showing up a statistic about the percentage of the evangelical vote that Donald Trump got versus George W.
Bush, who was, by all accounts, a person of faith, someone who was described himself as being born again. Bush 2004 reelect, 78 percent of the
evangelical vote. Trump 2020, 84 percent. That's always seems stunning to me, because of the men's very different relationship to faith. How does
that symbolize the shift in the evangelical community in a time of extremism, as you say?
TIM ALBERTA, AUTHOR, "THE KINGDOM, THE POWER, AND THE GLORY", & STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: Yeah, John. I think the thing to understand here is
that if you just study American life dating back 20 years, looking in the 9/11 era at the shifts on the American right, not just the evangelical
right, but on the right as a whole, what you see is a certain panic over the deteriorating state of the culture, as they see it, a country that is
becoming unrecognizable, both demographically, with the non-white share of the population accelerating and rising at an unprecedented clip, culturally
with same-sex marriage, and LGBTQ issues at the forefront. And now the latest issues of critical race theory and indoctrination as they see it in
the public schools.
All of this has created this sense of a moral panic on the right, and that is most acutely felt in the evangelical community, where for many of these
people it's not a question of Republican policies versus democratic policies, conservatism versus progressivism. It's good versus evil in many
cases. There is a sense that there is an evil secular plot to take down Christianity in America and that they're doing it systematically and that
it is orchestrated and that they are coming for the church, which is why, by the way, COVID-19 represented such a flashpoint when you had governors
issuing shutdown orders and saying -- implicating houses of worship, saying that you need to close down for some period of time.
That felt like an apocalyptic moment inside the evangelical church. And so, in this moment of great fear and insecurity, these people are doing what
people have done throughout human history. They are turning to a strong man. They are turning to someone who they view as a protector and a fighter
and someone who can stand up for them, and maybe even someone who is willing to do the dirty work in a way that they themselves aren't willing
to do because of their beliefs.
AVLON: In our divided times, I'm always looking for hope. I'm always looking for a sense of perspective. And we just showed a clip of President
Biden leaving a church. He is by all accounts a man of deep Catholic faith. Raphael Warnock, an ordained minister from MLK's own Ebenezer Baptist
Church serves in the U.S. Senate. And even though it's largely forgotten, there was once a tradition of sort of a social gospel in American politics
where there was an effective religious left. I'm sure Martin Luther King, an example of that, even though it's in kindle. In the 1920s, there is
Rabbi Heschel and Jimmy Carter, who actually, ironically, is our first modern born-again President, a Democrat, before the Moral Majority moved
that movement decidedly to the right.
My question to you is, is there a chance of that faith tradition being rekindled in a way that can make religion less polarizing in our politics
today, make it more bipartisan article of faith?
ALBERTA: Well, it's a complicated question, John. I think the reality is that you have progressive churches that are just as invested in partisan
politics as conservative churches. I think the difference in this moment is the sort of radicalism and conspiracy-laden politics that have infiltrated
the evangelical church, whereas the progressive church still is more wedded to some of those traditional social gospel tenants. And I want to be clear,
part of the reason I wrote this book is as a warning against political idolatry and political identity in the church, period, across the board. I
think it's unhealthy.
To your point, listen, if we were to have something of a ceasefire moment here across the board in American Christianity, and if actors of good faith
in both parties were willing to not just selectively apply biblical principles as they might pertain to their partisan platform, but if they
were willing to embrace a holistic vision of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and if they were willing to put that into practice in their politics, and
let the chips fall where they may on election night, then that would be one thing. But, I think what we see consistently is that people in both parties
have a very opportunistic approach to the intersection of faith in politics, and they are willing to adopt certain Christian doctrines when
they are consistent with their own partisan goals.
But, this -- the sort of thing you're describing, I think, would be wonderful. And I think it's probably unlikely because, John, here is the
thing. Bad theology makes for good politics, but good theology makes for really bad politics. And that is a realization that people in both parties
came to a long time ago.
AVLON: All the more reason for that old adage, the separation of church and state. Tim Alberta, thanks for joining us. I appreciate your work.
All right. It's time for a quick break. But, stay with us. My panel is going to be back with one more thing.
AVLON: Welcome back to State of the Race. Before we go, I want to ask our panel for one more thing. What's one thing on the campaign trail or
Washington that you're watching for in the coming days? Your thoughts, 30 seconds each. Margaret Hoover, go first. Excuse me. We have no audio on
you, which is distressing. But, as a result, we'll go to Moynihan.
MOYNIHAN: I'm trying to avoid politics. And so, I just -- want to end this, John, by saying that there is not enough coverage of the death of the
greatest poet of the second half of the 20th century, Shane MacGowan.
AVLON: Shane MacGowan. I figured you were going there. Shane MacGowan, I always appreciate it. Errol Louis, what's your one more thing?
LOUIS: We should -- the mother of (TECHNICAL DIFFICULTY) campaign is heading our way. We've got a bunch of (TECHNICAL DIFFICULTY). We've got
TikTok. We've got (TECHNICAL DIFFICULTY) social media. It's going a really spin on how to cover elections going forward.
AVLON: I think that's right. Margaret, do we have audio for something quick?
HOOVER: Joe (ph) audio?
AVLON: Yes. Quick.
AVLON: One more thing.
HOOVER: Great. I will do super quick. I actually -- I am with Moynihan. I don't want to do U.S. politics. We do so much of it. But, I do want -- this
is an international audience as well. And one thing that's of great concern to me are democracy movements and freedom fighters around the world who are
fighting for democracy. And just yesterday, the Biden administration granted -- President Biden --
HOOVER: -- granting clemency to an ally of the Maduro regime, which is a big blow to the democracy movement and the freedom fighters in Venezuela.
So, our hats off to all those around the world who are fighting for democracy in their own countries.
AVLON: All right. Thank you, everyone. I'm John Avlon. One World is up next.