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State of the Race with Kasie Hunt

Detroit News: Trump Recorded Pressuring Republican Election Officials In Michigan To Not Certify 2020 Election; Republicans Respond To Trump's Attacks On Immigrants; Biden Campaign Presents Trump As Threat To Democracy. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired December 22, 2023 - 11:00   ET




JOHN AVLON, CNN HOST, STATE OF THE RACE: New recording, new problems for Donald Trump. We're learning more details about a call where the ex-

President urged Michigan officials not to certify the 2020 election. It is damning. But, will it have any impact on the primary campaign? Then

Christmas, Congress is home for Christmas. But, it has got a festering list of crises waiting for them when they return, including aid to Ukraine and

badly needed border security. We will speak with Representative Seth Moulton about the prospects for success. And experts predicted a recession

this year under Biden. It never happened. The economy is booming as inflation continues to slow. So, why don't voters trust President Biden on

the economy?

Good day, everyone. I'm John Avlon to our viewers watching in the United States and around the world. It is 11 a.m. in New York on Friday, December

22nd. There are three days until Christmas, 24 days until the Iowa caucuses, and 318 days until the election. This is today's State of the


Right now, there is new evidence of Donald Trump pressuring local officials to overturn his 2020 election loss. The Detroit News says it's listened to

recordings of Trump urging two Republicans to not certify county election results in Michigan. CNN has reported on this exchange before, but we

haven't actually heard the tapes. So, this is the first time we have an idea about exactly what was said. The Detroit News reports lines like this,

Trump saying they can't let these people take away the country. And he is no fan of the Motor City either, calling Detroit "crooked as hell". The

officials he is speaking to initially voted to block certification before backing down. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All those supposed say nay.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is no reason under the sun for us to not certify this election. This is reckless and irresponsible actions by this board.


AVLON: The Detroit News reports Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel is also on that call. McDaniel, by the way, is the niece of Never

Trump Republican Senator from Utah, Mitt Romney. She is quoted in this exchange, urging officials not to sign the certification, and perhaps most

damning, she and Trump tell the local officials they'll get lawyers to protect them. Of course, President Joe Biden ultimately won Michigan in

2020. His campaign in 2024 seems focused on trying to convince voters that Trump is a fundamental threat to democracy.

So, let's dive into all this with today's great panel. Pete Wehner was a Senior Advisor to former President George W. Bush. He also worked in the

Bush 41 and Reagan White Houses. He has written extensively for The New York Times and The Atlantic. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Trinity

Forum. Sarah Matthews was a Deputy Press Secretary in the Trump Administration. She was also a Spokesperson for Trump's 2020 campaign. And

we have former House Democrat Tim Ryan of Youngstown, Ohio. He was a candidate in the 2020 presidential election, and also his party's nominee

for the Senate in 2022. It's great to see all of you.

Look, early next month, CNN is going to host some town halls, and we're going to get to that later. But, I wanted to talk to you all about this

Michigan tape, because it's really striking. It's part of a piece, I suppose. But, the details seem pretty damning. Sarah, you were a

spokeswoman on the campaign. You worked in the White House. Is that kind of exchange that's being described, consistent with the effort that surrounded

you try to overturn the election?

SARAH MATTHEWS, FMR. DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY IN THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION: Most definitely. We were already aware that there were other phone calls

out there, most notably the phone call that President Trump had with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. And so, now, this is just

following a pattern of Trump being involved at the most minute level, I will note, in the effort to try to overturn the election. And so, I think

that this just makes Jack Smith's case stronger. Who knows if he was aware of this phone call? But now, that the American public is aware, it

definitely makes his case that much stronger.

AVLON: Sticking with you, Sarah, I just -- I wonder what you make of the detail about the offer to cover an attorney? That seems significant because

it implies that they're possibly doing something not only unethical, but illegal. How do you see over that?

MATTHEWS: Exactly. I think that this just goes to show how Ronna McDaniel was also very involved in these efforts. I mean, the language that her and

Trump are using in this conversation sounds quite like a mob boss mentality of saying that we will take care of it. We will cover the attorneys. And I

can't imagine being one of those Michigan canvassers and getting a phone call from the President of the United States asking for you to do this,

because this -- like you said, it's not just unethical. It possibly could be illegal.


AVLON: It's very, very striking, and your insights are valuable because you were there. All right. I want to go to Pete Wehner, because, Pete, you

write so eloquently about a very different Republican Party, a time of compassionate conservatism was the slogan that George W. Bush coined. And

obviously, the question with all these new revelations and all these escalating court cases is whether they will have any impact on the polls

when it comes at least to the primary. We've talked a great deal, for example, about Trump's apparently deliberate decision to double and triple

down on his rhetoric about immigrants poisoning the blood of our nation, the opposite of any kind of rhetoric that George W. Bush, for example,

would have used.

And yet, a CNN/Des Moines Register poll found that Trump's poisoning the blood comments, 42 percent of Iowa caucus goers say it makes them more

likely to support Donald Trump. What's going on here within the Republican Party that accounts for this dramatic shift in the underlying values?


party. And Donald Trump didn't appear obscenely. He didn't come out of nowhere. So, in 2015, 2016, he tapped into something that was problematic

about the Republican Party, but, when he won the nomination, certainly when he became President, all that accelerated. And right now, the kinds of

things that would have offended most Republicans pre-Trump, and offend (ph) most people were not pro-Republican these days, actually makes him

stronger. It's almost like an evil character in a Marvel comic -- Marvel movie, which is the worst he acts, the stronger he becomes. And that is

just the reality.

There is a kind of psychic satisfaction, I would say, an emotional satisfaction that a lot of Republican voters, base voters get from seeing

Donald Trump transgress these lines, say these things, do these things that are awful or corrupt. So, this is to me been the great challenge. Donald

Trump I think is a sociopath. What he is doing is expected. The fact that he would turn virtually an entire political party into his defenders, his

supporters, and the instruments of his maliciousness and malignancy is really depressing, and really quite worrisome.

AVLON: Well, Tim, you have spoken really powerfully from the heartland of the country, but a different perspective. And Democrats really needing to

tap into populism without sliding over into Trumpism. But, for all the warning signs about Donald Trump's rhetoric, poisoning the blood and other

comments that seem descended from demagogues of the past, I was struck to see President Biden's campaign go so far as to, in a post, compare ex-

President Trump to Hitler. By anything resembling normal discourse, this is outside the bounds. I wonder if you think it is dangerous for President

Biden's campaign to draw that connection explicitly, because it degrades the discourse further, which is part of their claim about defending


TIM RYAN, FORMER U.S. HOUSE DEMOCRAT, & FORMER U.S. DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE FOR 2020: Well, I mean, I'm sympathetic to them wanting to do

that, because it's so abundantly clear what Trump is saying, has been said before, in the history of the world, and led to very dire consequences, the

othering of people, the separation, the vermin comment, all of that language, those words have been used before, and they lead to a great world

catastrophe. So, I understand that, and I think they do need to be very clear in identifying that, as are the courageous Republicans that I sit on

this panel with and the others who have had the guts to stick their neck out, because we're worried about our democracy.

At the end of the day, the campaign does have to pivot back to economic issues, because when you look at all the polling, it is jobs, wages,

pensions, food prices. Gas prices are coming down. But, that's still an issue for some people. And it's got to get back to those economic issues.

So, I think you draw a very clear line with what Trump is saying. And by all accounts, this is going to be a Trump-Biden race in which I'll be 1,000

percent behind Joe Biden. But, I think as Trump increases the energy in the Republican primary, there is also a risk of him really alienating moderate

independent voters, Republican voters. So, that's a big risk for him as well.

AVLON: Pete, you have been such an eloquent man of faith in politics taking that view of things.


And yet, I was very struck by a recent piece you wrote for The Atlantic, always excellent, where you said quite frankly Trump's rhetoric is clearly

fascistic. So, you must agree with on some level this critique. But, I wonder if you think the current sitting President of the United States

doing so via his campaign actually declines to that defining deviancy down.

WEHNER: Yes, good question. I mean, some of Trump's rhetoric makes mind count seem like a subtle test, and that's a real problem. I'm not sure that

comparing him to Hitler is the right way to go. I just -- my intuition is that's probably a little bit too far. I would really focus in on the threat

that he is. There are a lot of other really pernicious figures in history to use. Hitler has always been separate and apart for obvious reasons, and

rightfully so. I do think that it's an indication that it's -- that the campaign is dawning on them, that they really have to go hard at Trump

directly. They may have waited a little bit too long, and really make this a referendum on Donald Trump.

And I agree with Tim Ryan. The economy is going to matter a lot. But, I do think that the overarching issue of this is really the same one that was

2020. I think Biden understood the theory of the case in 2020, which was about the soul of the country. And I think there is something similar going

on as well. They really do have to train their guns on Trump figuratively. They have to do so in a pretty skilled and focused way.

AVLON: And it will, and we're going to discuss the economy at great length later in the show. Sarah, I want to end with you, because one of the things

-- I mean -- I think Pete did a good job of explaining how Trump is such a sticky resilient figure in Republican psyche, in the realm of grievance

politics, and yet the record, the downstream record of his figures and the election results since he was first elected have been pretty bad, not only

in the election results that we've seen Democrats outperforming, but in the state of the state parties. Florida State GOP in chaos right now. But,

Michigan GOP, great reporting from CNN that I highly recommend people read, about a state party that it seems like insolvent on -- the verge of

insolvency and being called an incompetent dumpster fire by other leading members of the party.

This has this kind of Trump contagion that seems to foreshadow failure. How is that record on the local level not reflecting on the kind of people he

has empowered and inspired?

MATTHEWS: Yeah. As you said, a lot of these state parties in key battleground states have kind of been very loyal to Trump, and have become

some of his most ardent supporters and defending him. And as a result, they've just been losing. And that has been my message to a lot of

Republicans is that, why would we go with Trump who sets the tone at the top, and then there is this trickle-down effect with him where down ballot

we continue to lose races time and time again. He hasn't won an election since 2016, and he has continued to hurt our prospects as Republicans since

then. You look at 2018, 2020, 2022. And I think that that same effect will happen in 2024 where he'll hurt Republicans down ballot.

And so, I think that it is time for Republicans to turn the page on him. But, as we've seen from these state parties and a lot of current elected

officials, it doesn't seem like that's happening despite the losing record.

AVLON: Despite the losing record and despite the chaos in those parties. You wonder when the reckoning will really sink in. Sarah, Pete, Tim, stick

around. Thank you. More great conversation ahead about the economy.

Now, first, a programming note, though. CNN has announced that it will host back-to-back town halls with Republican presidential candidates early next

month. They're slated for Thursday, January 4 in Iowa, 11 days before voters head to the polls in that state. First, Ron DeSantis will appear in

a town hall moderated by CNN Anchor Kaitlan Collins at 9 p.m. Eastern, followed at 10 p.m. by Nikki Haley, with CNN's Erin Burnett moderating.

Again, that's Thursday, January 4.

The halls of the House and Senate are now empty with members of Congress decking the halls at their homes. But, what will they face when they return

in Washington? A mess of unfinished business. That's next.




AVLON: The mess at the southern border, urgently needed wartime aid for Ukraine and Israel, and a looming government shutdown, they're all part of

a lengthy to-do list put on hold with Congress now home for the holidays. And it sets up what is sure to be a chaotic start to the New Year.

Democratic Congressman Seth Moulton joins us now from his home in Salem, Massachusetts. It's good to see you, Congressman. Let's get --

REP. SETH MOULTON (D-MA): Good to see you.

AVLON: -- started on this sort of stalled deal that they're trying to work out in the U.S. Senate before it even gets to the House, tying border

security, which is clearly an urgent issue, with aid to Ukraine and Israel. What is your sense of not only the Senate prospects, but when it gets to

the House, will there be the will to get a balanced deal done?

MOULTON: Well, look, this is incredibly important, not just for our allies' national security, but for our own. And we've been making this argument for

months that if Putin isn't stopped in Ukraine, he'll go into Europe. That means U.S. and NATO troops are on the line. We've got to stand up for our

allies in the Middle East, including Israel, and making sure there is not a wider regional war. We've got to do something about immigration policy,

because clearly, it's failing across America. So, these are all things that are important. Ironically, John, they would actually make it through if

they were passed individually. Usually, you combine things like this because you can't get them separately. But, we could get them separately,

and we all recognize are important.

AVLON: So, why is that approach not being done, or do you think that's ultimately the way it gets across the finish line in the House?

MOULTON: Well, I think the problem is the Speaker of the House, who is catering to the extremists in his caucus, knows that each one of these

would pass individually with Democratic support. And so, he is not doing the right thing in just bringing them up for a vote. He is trying to tie

them all together, and get -- and therefore extract more conservative demands. If you think about it, Ukraine funding is supported by the

majority of Democrats, but a lot of Republicans would join too. The vast majority of Democrats and Republicans support funding for Israel.

The border security issue, a border deal is not that hard to imagine. You need to tighten border security but you have to do that hand in hand with

providing a pathway to citizenship for kids like DACA kids, who came here with their parents through no fault of their own, and are essentially

living as aliens in their own country.


The majority of Americans, Republicans and Democrats alike, know that we need to give them a pathway to citizenship. But, extremist Republicans are

trying to hold this all hostage. That's what's going on here. And the question is whether Speaker Johnson is willing to vote with his extremist

colleagues and the right thing for the country and our allies.

AVLON: The other question, obviously, for Speaker Johnson, is this question about government funding. There has been a pattern of kicking the can, any

sort of deal ended up being what scuttled former Speaker Kevin McCarthy from his own party. I wonder as you look at the various deadlines for

partial government shutdown and then a full government shutdown coming down the barrel on top of Supreme Court rulings, potentially, Congress returning

defamation lawsuits, Iowa caucus, New Hampshire primary, I mean, January is jam packed with a lot of distractions. Do you think that makes a shutdown

more likely or less likely?

MOULTON: I mean, January is going to be a mess. And it's all about how the Speaker of the House, the new Speaker of the House, the new Speaker with no

experience running the House, navigates all these crises. Sometimes having a lot of deadlines together is good. It's helpful. As you know, John, it's

a good way to force the issues and get people to come to the table. But, I worry that his lack of experience may make it difficult for him to navigate

all of this.

So far, Speaker Johnson, who has held himself as more conservative than McCarthy, has been following McCarthy's playbook exactly, which is catering

to the extremists in his caucus, the people who don't want to do anything right, who want to shut down the government, who want to cut off funding to

our allies, catering to them as much as he can. And then, at the last minute, getting bailed out by Democrats to do the right thing. Of course,

that's exactly what got Kevin McCarthy fired. But, hypocrisy doesn't mean much to these Republicans. Johnson may be able to keep his job, but whether

he can juggle all these balls successfully, it's going to be tough.

AVLON: It's high stakes when the world is watching. Speaking it out, I want to quote a letter to the editor you wrote to The Wall Street Journal about

Israel and the Biden administration, because I thought it was significant. You wrote, "The Biden administration isn't pressuring Israel to change

tactics to restrain its mission, but to ensure it succeeds. Hamas must be eliminated. Most of us have simultaneously rejected calls from the left for

a unilateral ceasefire, because had Israel followed that advice, every hostage would still be in enemy hands." That's a strong clarifying line.

And yet, I want to contrast that with a recent poll by Pew on a Biden administration's response to the Israel-Hamas war. Just 44 percent of

Democrats approve, 33 disapprove. And that's divided along generational lines. How do you make sense of that double blind between what the

administration is doing, as you characterize it, and the lack of clear public support?

MOULTON: So, this is a complicated mission. This is very complicated. Even what I'm trying to explain from my experience fighting in the infantry, in

the Marines in Iraq, and how that applies to the situation in Gaza, where Israel has to be more targeted, more surgical in its approach, or else, it

risks losing the war for the sake of these tactical victories against Hamas on the ground. These are complicated issues. And sadly, a lot of people in

America today get their news by TikTok or Instagram in little snippets. It's not conducive to understanding these complicated situations. I think

that's part of the generational divide you see in this poll as well.

AVLON: That's interesting. Before we go, quickly, originally the Biden administration put forward this balanced plan border security, Ukraine,

Israel, but also funding for Taiwan. This is an issue that's near and dear to your heart. You just mentioned TikTok and the broader challenge from

China. Is Taiwan still being part of that conversation, from a legislative standpoint?

MOULTON: Well, it certainly should be. I mean, it's another example of something that would get passed on its own. A lot of Democrats and

Republicans support the need to beef up Taiwan's defenses to prevent China from invading and potentially starting World War III in the Pacific. So,

it's an incredibly important priority. And this is what's at stake for Speaker Johnson here. He has got a lot to navigate in January, and the

consequences are really high. I mean, if we fail to deliver aid across the world, if we shut down our own government, a lot of people are going to


AVLON: Congressman Seth Moulton, thanks for joining us. Be well. Merry Christmas and happy holidays.

MOULTON: Thank you, John.

AVLON: All right. I want to go back to our panel, because there is a lot to discuss with regard to those issues. But, I want to focus really on the

border because the border really is in crisis right now. And I don't think anyone can credibly deny it.

Tim, I want to go to you on this, because do you think that the Biden administration and Democrats are doing enough to play offense on the issue

of concern about illegal immigration and the border crisis? And we can look at this video in the background while you get off for your assessment.


I'm sorry. I'm not hearing Tim.

RYAN: Democrats -- sorry about that, John. Democrats have traditionally been afraid to kind of take on this issue, really kind of going back, you

mentioned George W. Bush, when he was trying to take it on, and he had problems from the right, and it's been a polarized issue really ever since,

even to the point where Congressman Moulton just mentioned with DACA, with kids who brought here by their families, had no idea that where they were

going or whatever. But, I think taking it on with a strong plan, why aren't Democrats saying look, e-verify? Why aren't Democrats saying we're going to

crack down on businesses that are hiring illegal immigrants? Because we know that there is a strong pool from the labor force that can come into

the country.

And Democrats have to be very clear. Look, we need to get in line. You can't just wander into the country. Of course, we want to deal with people

who are suffering or being abused or coming from narco states or wherever. They should always be welcome. We should be a big hearted country to be

able to accept them. But, you have to get in line and set up a processing facility, add money to that to say we will welcome you into this country,

but you have to get in line. You have to get processed. But then, go hard on the e-verify. Go hard on the businesses that are benefiting from this

labor that work in the shadows that they don't have to pay a minimum wage. They don't have to pay benefits, all of that. And I think there is a

consensus there.

But, if you let the Republicans just define it with the videos that are constantly on Fox News, then you're going to lose that argument, which I

think the Democrats are losing right now. The polling all reflects that. So, they've got to play offense on this issue.

AVLON: Play offense on that issue, Tim Ryan with a prescription for the Democratic Party. Let's see if they listen.

All right. Stick around, guys. Still ahead, new numbers out confirm it. Inflation does continue to slow. Yet, few Americans are giving President

Joe Biden the credit, and it really could cost him at the polls.




AVLON: Welcome back to State of the Race. I'm John Avlon live from New York. It's an issue that affects every American voter, and it could help

determine who they choose to steer the biggest economy in the world. New figures out today show that inflation continues to slow. The Fed's favorite

inflation gauge, the Personal Consumption Expenditures Price Index, say that twice fast, ended the year at 3.2 percent. And as you can see, that's

down from last year, a step closer to the central bank's two percent target. But, statistics don't always ease voters' concerns. A recent poll

shows that only 28 percent of Americans approve of President Biden's handling of inflation.

Back now with our panel. Guys, it's the end of the year. So, we've got real data to work with. We began the year with virtually every economist and

analyst predicting a recession. Axios wrote it up as "The Big Whiff: Why everyone was so wrong about the 2023 economy." So, the question is, the

delta between what the data shows of an improving economy with still stubborn inflation interest rates, those stabilizing and are coming down,

and how people feel. It seems like there is short-term optimism, long-term pessimism. Pete Wehner, how do you see it?

WEHNER: I think it's a problem. I mean, I think public perceptions in reality are at odds. And that's somewhat unprecedented in politics. I think

there are several factors that may be at play. A lot of Americans, at least in summer, felt like the recovery was a mirage. So, they're still uncertain

that it's going to continue. There is always a lag effect. The good news and people don't feel it. It's only been recently that wages have been have

been catching up with the inflation.

But, this is a problem. I mean, this is probably the central policy issue that, in fact, it's almost certainly going to be the central policy issue

that's going to define the race coming up. And the Biden -- I'm sympathetic with the Biden administration, is a campaign in terms of what do you do? Do

you try and convince people even if they don't feel it that things are better than they think, and you amass the data to do it? Or do you accept

that they actually are not happy with the economy, and you can't change it? So, you have to change the channel. It's a tough problem.

AVLON: Well, sir, you're a communications professional. And one thing I think anyone needs to give Donald Trump credit for is being a hype man,

being a marketer. And he constantly hammered home every day, it seemed, the state of the economy and how it impacted different people. Even when there

was a certain delta between the reality and his rhetoric, we're seeing that now, he is saying the nation is on the verge of a depression when, of

course, we're a no such thing. In fact, I was struck by this stat. There are more jobs created at this point in the President -- in Biden's

presidency than Trump's by more than a factor of two. And new jobs have outpaced where we were before the pandemic.

So, where do you -- I mean, I hate it when politicians blame comms. The communication isn't effective. But, where do you think they're falling

flat, and what should they do?

MATTHEWS: I kind of think that the Biden administration in campaign chose a wrong strategy when they chose to brand Biden's economic policy as

Bidenomics, because it honestly gave the right a term to use and to kind of whack them over the head with it. And obviously, I think that some of the

metrics have been trending upwards. We have seen a growth in the economy, like you noted, with the amount of jobs created. But, people are still

reeling from the effects of inflation, even if it's gone down. On average, inflation has averaged 5.8 percent under Biden, which is more than double

the level of inflation under the last four presidents.

And so, while the Biden administration is trying to paint this rosy picture, people are still kind of suffering --

AVLON: Yeah.

MATTHEWS: -- and experiencing things like the cost of groceries, the cost of buying a home, which are still on the rise. And so, I think that there

is just a miscommunication with how their communication strategy has been because it seems a little tone deaf to the American public, when they might

not necessarily be feeling these effects just yet.

AVLON: And I think that's such an important point, Tim. There was a cadre of folks in the Democratic Party who said, we could spend anything we want.

Inflation and high interest rates, they're never coming back. And yet, now we see the fundamental, not just political, but economic and kitchen table

problem when they do. One of the reasons I love talking to you is that you represent Youngstown, Ohio, in Congress. That's where my family was from.

And I think it's a great lens into the country, the middle of America.

One thing Biden has talked about since he was a Senator, ran for President at 88 is the importance of rebuilding the middle class. I wonder what you

see from your position in Northeast Ohio about manufacturing, about the middle class. There have been some gains made. But, are they -- are people

feeling it in their bones and on Main Street towns?


RYAN: Yeah. Well, I agree with what Sarah said. I think labeling it Bidenomics was a huge mistake, and they still have time to course correct

and get out of that. There is a -- in the text "The Art of War", there is a notion of orthodox to extraordinary. You meet people in the orthodox. You

lead them to the extraordinary. And so, to try to just bang people over the head with data and GDP and all these numbers that they're not going to

understand, I think is folly. It's a big, big mistake. They're in pain. Their brains are still in fight or flight mode. You have to meet them where

they are, understand their concern. And once you do that emotionally, pivot to your accomplishments.

I mean, this President, I don't care how you feel about him. He has reindustrialized the United States of America between the infrastructure

bill, the CHIPS Act, which is reshoring chip manufacturing that we lost to Asia over the last 30 years, the Inflation Reduction Act. All you have to

do is come to Ohio. We have battery plants being built that are now unionized, where the UAW organized and got their wages up. Some people will

be making 40 bucks an hour. Intel is putting $100 billion facility just north of Columbus, Ohio. They're going to have 7,000, 8,000 union

construction workers building this facility for the next 10 years.

I mean, there is economic activity happening. But, if you don't meet them emotionally, when you start bragging about what your accomplishments are,

it doesn't land. And so, that's my recommendation, is meet them where they are, and then list this laundry list of tremendous accomplishments of

President Biden. I was in Congress 20 years, John, as you know, representing the Steel Belt, Rust Belt, looking for a comeback. This

President -- we were screaming about reindustrializing the United States. This President has led the way, and you got to give him credit for that.

AVLON: Well, and that's the question of the credit. I mean, some of these things are lagging indicators. I agree. The industrial policy may do more

to shower (ph) up the middle class, which was decimated in what sometimes is called the Rust Belt for so long. But, Pete Wehner, you've written about

this dichotomy in one of your recent columns about President Biden. You list all his accomplishments. You say the man we thought was a transitional

President is turning out to be a consequential President, but he is not getting credit for it. Is that because some of these things are lagging

indicators, or is there a fundamental problem not with -- just with the message, but with the messenger, do you think?

WEHNER: Well, I think some of it is lagging indicators. And I agree with what Sarah and Tim said in terms of how they should approach it. I do think

that underneath this, and in some respects, over it and around it, is a broader distemper within the country. And that just has complicated

reasons. Some of it is, I would say, the after effects of COVID and the pandemic. But, it's also that a lot of people are just unsettled by our

politics. So, I think underneath all of this are the tectonic plates are shifting around. And I think that all of the issues and political leaders

are getting sort of sucked into that. And this, by the way, is not just an American phenomenon. I mean, if you look at leaders across the Western

world, they're doing poorly, whether the data supports their record or not.

So, I think that these are deeper trends and deeper currents that Joe Biden is facing. And on top of that, I do think his record is impressive in a lot

of ways. But, he is not a candidate who is compelling. He never has been, and he is not. He is 80-years-old. And so, what it takes to overcome the

sort of disposition and sentiments in the public, which is, to some extent, dependent on the person making the case.

AVLON: Yeah.

WEHNER: Is that an inspiring figure or not? And he is not. And I think that's a problem, even though, as I said, I credit him for doing well on a

lot of different fronts.

AVLON: Leadership matters, no question. And there is also the dynamic of -- in an environment, and recent poll coming out show Americans are concerned

about the future of our democracy, but for different reasons along partisan lines where the arsonist can present himself as a firefighter, and that has

a destabilizing impact.

I wanted to address one thing because we also know social media is distorting perceptions of reality by amplifying unhelpful things. There is

this trend going around. Is the U.S. in a silent depression? The economists weigh in on the viral TikTok theory. So, the idea that America is in a

silent version of the Great Depression, going viral on TikTok. This is the kind of thing that frustrates me as a part-time historian, because it's

utterly absent of reality. So, we -- I had some of the folks who work on the show pull some statistics, just to compare what the -- actually the

depression was like. Real GDP is down 29 percent, unemployment up 25 percent. This is in the Great Depression versus now. Failed banks, 7,000.


Let's look at how things are going now by comparison, real GDP up 2.9 percent, close to that three percent mark that seems so difficult to reach.

Unemployment is down to 3.7 percent, under four percent for months and months and months.


And yes, there're failed banks but they're 5,000 versus 7,000. So, spare me this hyped up social media nonsense about a silent depression. It's utterly

reality challenged. It is fact challenged. It's bogus. It's BS. And I don't know if it's simply a lack of appreciation of history, Sarah. You are Gen

Z. But, we need you to bring some reality back to folks who maybe are getting all their news and snippets that may or may not be manipulated by


MATTHEWS: Certainly. I think that we've seen this across TikTok on a plethora of different issues where it's been able to influence and shape

the perception of young voters, even if it's different than reality. And this is a prime example of that. I can admit, my TikTok feed is filled with

people who are talking about their grocery bill and are struggling to make ends meet. I've seen these kinds of videos out there. And so, it definitely

feeds into that sort of, I think, impression that we're in this silent depression. But, that is not in line with the facts. But, again, as I think

this panel has noted, people aren't necessarily feeling the effects just yet. And so, it might take a little bit more time for these economic

metrics to hit their pocketbook.

AVLON: Watch that space. Rarely do social media feeds are preoccupied by inflation. We're going to see whether or not these are organic or ginned up

by some folks, TBD, as they say. Thanks a lot. Stick around.

It's been a historic week for the presidential race by any measure. And still ahead, we're going to talk to a political historian about Donald

Trump being kicked off the ballot in Colorado and its potential impact with a sense of perspective.


AVLON: We talk a lot about the rise of violent rhetoric in our politics and the decline of basic civility. But, things have been getting even uglier

beneath the Capitol dome this year.


You may recall last month when that incident -- when Congressman Tim Burchett accused former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, fellow Republican, of

elbowing him in the kidneys, shortly after he voted to oust McCarthy. It was absurd. But, that same day, this surreal threat fest happened

underneath the U.S. Senate as Oklahoma's Markwayne Mullin challenged Teamsters President Sean O'Brien to a fistfight.


SEN. MARKWAYNE MULLIN (R-OK): This is the time. This is the place. If you want to run your mouth, we can be two consenting adults. We can finish it



MULLIN: You want to do it now?

O'BRIEN: I'd love to do it right now.

MULLIN: Well, stand your butt up, then.

O'BRIEN: You stand your butt up.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): Hold on. Stop it. (Inaudible). Oh no. Sit down. Sit down. You're a United States Senator

actively. Sit down, please.


AVLON: You are a United States Senator. All right. Joining us now is the author of "The Field of Blood", Professor of American history at Yale

University, Joanne Freeman. Joanne, it's great to get you back. I appreciate it. I want to start there, because, look, people get worried

that our politics have never seen anything as bad as this. But, your book, which I love, reminds us there were over 70 acts of violence on the House

floor before the Civil War, which is not to say that we shouldn't take that kind of incivility for granted. We should more be concerned about where it

could lead. How do you see that tenor in our politics with your historic perspective?


incidents and sort of released them into the world in a book, some people take away from that the idea that, Oh, it's all fine now, because look, it

happened before and it was worse. I don't necessarily think that's the best lesson to take from the fact that there is a tradition, or at least for a

time before the Civil War, traditional violence in Congress. There are moments where there is a big sort of cropping of violence in Congress, when

there is a reason for it. And whether that reason is kind of a national uproar of some kind, whether it has to do with the nature of the dynamics

of Congress or the parties in Congress, there are reasons for that violence, and there are implications of that violence.

So, looking at the present moment, as a historian, I naturally think to myself, OK, so what is it about this moment that's causing this behavior?

And some of it has to do with the dynamics of Congress, and particularly the Republican Party not really being a cohesive party, because much of

this sort of you stand your butt up, no, you stand your butt up, kind of behavior was, in that case, a Republican against, I believe, a Teamsters,

but most of it was Republicans against Republicans. It reflects the divided Republican Party, and it reflects the divisiveness of our current moment

that it feels often, particularly sometimes on the right, that it's more fueled by emotion than specific policy.

AVLON: And a quickness to get to levels of threat. You talk a lot about the politics behind threats that can, of course, spill into violence. That's by

design. You write a lot about what sometimes called aggressive defensiveness, which was a posture particularly in and around the Civil

War, where people would claim they were aggrieved and use that as an excuse to escalate. We're having a debate right now about the 14th Amendment

Section 3. As a historian, that must warm your heart only because people are talking about the context of the Reconstruction-era Amendments, perhaps

in more detail than ever before.

But, what we're also hearing is that kind of accountability, even rooted in our Constitution, could provoke violence. People are saying don't -- if you

apply that kind of accountability, it'll be really divisive. We saw -- I was reading an essay of yours a similar rhetoric around the impeachment --

the second impeachment of Donald Trump after the attack on the Capitol. Put the 14th Amendment in context for us.

FREEMAN: Well, I do want to say, as I'm leading into that, the idea that allowing things to work through the court system or putting constitutional

precepts into play that they shouldn't -- that shouldn't happen, because it might make people upset. To me, that's not a very useful or even a very

safe argument. Now, the 14th Amendment is -- comes about logically enough in the aftermath of the Civil War, and you have the Confederacy and any

number of people who literally took up arms against the United States. So, the 14th Amendment, and particularly the third section of the 14th

Amendment, relate to those people. And the idea behind it being that they should not be allowed to take office again because they violated their oath

of office.

It doesn't only refer to the Civil War. It's an amendment to the Constitution. But, that's primarily what it's about, is people who in one

way or another violated their oath and therefore should not be allowed to take government -- hold an office of government again.

AVLON: Right. And it's a level of accountability, and Jill Lepore, by the way, wrote a great article, I recommend to folks, about the implications of

not being applied to Jefferson Davis or accountability not being applied.


Before we go, I want to get your take on a controversy regarding a monument to the Confederate dead at Arlington Cemetery. There is an extended debate,

obviously, about Confederate statues, but also here at Arlington where America's soldiers died. It seems to be the latest front. How do you see

this as being such a flashpoint in 2023?

FREEMAN: I think the removal of that monument is linked to so many other things, including what we were just talking about, when you're talking

about how people understand the Constitution, how they understand who should or shouldn't be qualified to be President, how they're processing a

supposed threat of dictatorship, how they're thinking about books that should or shouldn't be banned, and now, who -- what kind of a monument

should or shouldn't be standing. In one way or another, we really, as a nation, are debating where we've been, where we are and where we're going.

We're writing, in a sense, a part of our national narrative in a very distinct and kind of apparent kind of a way. And I don't think we're all

sitting around thinking, Ah, we are authors of narratives.

But, we're making some pretty important decisions here. And I think in one way or another, most people understand that we're going to be making some

major decisions about what the United States is and should be.

AVLON: And I suppose that's what the debate always is, how to form a more perfect union? And one of the things I think your work reminds us is that

it is fitful, success is not guaranteed. And indeed, there has been a fundamental resistance to evolving towards a multiracial democracy that has

characterized our history occasionally with outbursts of violence. Joanne Freeman, I want to thank you for everything you do for making us smarter

and giving us perspective. Thanks for joining us today.

FREEMAN: Thanks for having me.

AVLON: All right. It's time for a quick break. But, stick with us because our panel is going to be back with one more thing.


AVLON: Welcome back to State of the Race. My panel rejoins me. And before we go, I want to ask for one more thing. What's one thing on the campaign

trail in Washington that you're watching for in the coming days? Your thoughts, 30 seconds each. Sarah, take it away.

MATTHEWS: One thing that I've been particularly paying close attention to is Nikki Haley's rise in the polls, particularly in New Hampshire. But,

Chris Christie is potentially going to be a spoiler candidate there. In a recent poll, it showed Donald Trump at 44 percent, Nikki Haley at 30

percent, and Chris Christie at 12 percent. Now, Christie has said that he is not going to drop out of the race before New Hampshire, but his campaign

is solely centered on the idea of defeating Donald Trump. So, if I think he wants to do that, he needs to put his money where his mouth is, and drop

out of the race before New Hampshire, and endorse Nikki Haley, who has some momentum on her side.

AVLON: All right. Tim Ryan.

RYAN: Well, I'm going to be waiting to see if the Biden administration will course correct on Bidenomics, if they'll hit the reset button and go back

to really trying to identify emotionally with the pain that people are going through economically, that they feel like they're experiencing

economically, meet them there, pivot to your industrial policy and all of your accomplishments. But, I think if -- I'm going to be watching. If they

don't do that, I think it's going to be really, really hard. I think Trump will come in and say, hey, remember the good old days, even if they weren't

all that good. And that could be a dangerous proposition for the administration.

AVLON: Pete Wehner.

WEHNER: Yeah. Mine was the same as Sarah, but I'll build on it a little bit. I do think that this is the week that Chris Christie is going to

decide whether he is going to be into. The other thing that I'm interested in is not just New Hampshire but South Carolina, because that is where she

was governor, and Trump has a large, large lead there. So, even if she does well in New Hampshire, the question is, is that sui generis?


And the map gets harder, not easier after New Hampshire for her. I hope she beats him, but I'd say she has less than a one in 10 chance of doing it.

But, she has to win New Hampshire to give her even a chance.

AVLON: Well, I suppose you imagined keep hope alive. I'll end with one. We're heading into Christmas break in the week before New Year's. It's a

time for reflection. And I hope people remember it's a time for choosing here in the United States that democracy is not a spectator sport, that

self-government is a sacred trust, and the rationalizations that sometimes accompany political decisions, the fixation on some character of the other

side falls short. Remember our deepest principles, our highest hopes, aspire to forming a more perfect union, realizing that's your opportunity,

your responsibility and your privilege as a citizen of the United States.

Thank you, everyone. I'm John Avlon. That's State of the Race today, Friday, December 22. One World is up next.